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The Lead with Jake Tapper

All Three Men Guilty Of Murder In Ahmaud Arbery Killing; First Thanksgiving Travel Rush Since COVID Vaccines; New COVID Cases Rising Steadily In Many U.S. States; New Data: Farmers Aren't Making More Money For Their Crops; Inflation, Supply Chain Problems And Labor Shortages Are Driving Up Wages And Costs; String Of Coordinated "Flash Mob" Break-Ins Hit Stores Across U.S.; Watchdog: Rule Of Law Not Respected In Venezuelan Vote. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired November 24, 2021 - 16:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: The DART mission, also known as the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, will deliberately crash a spacecraft into an asteroid, that's about 7 million miles away from earth. The goal is to nudge the asteroid's orbit, not to blow it to smithereens.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: A verdict the Arbery family is very thankful for.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking today, all three defendants found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. The dramatic scene in court as the verdict was read and what this means in the fight for racial justice in the U.S.

Bumper-to-bumper and COVID booster. Airports and highways jammed as the first post vaccine Thanksgiving weekend begins. Could all these family gatherings risk the progress that we've made?

Plus, growing anger. Why this year's pricey Thanksgiving is costing farmers, too.


COLLINS: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Kaitlan Collins, in for Jake Tapper.

We start today with breaking news. A jury in Georgia has found all three men guilty of murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Now, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan are in custody and facing potential life sentences for their crimes.

Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, crying in the back of the courtroom as the verdict was read. Just a short while ago, she thanked supporters outside the courthouse. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WANDA COOPER-JONES, AHMAUD ARBERY'S MOTHER: Early in, I never thought I -- to tell you the truth, I never thought this day back in 2020. I never thought this day would come. But God is good. Now, Quez which -- you know him as Ahmaud, I knew him as Quez, he will now rest in peace.


COLLINS: The three white men chased down and killed Arbery, a 25- year-old Black man, while he was jogging in February of 2020. They spoke to police on the scene, but the case stalled for more than two months before anyone was arrested. Until this video of the deadly encounter became public.

Let's get straight to CNN's Martin Savidge live in Brunswick, Georgia.

Martin, what was the reaction outside the courthouse after these guilty verdicts were read?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kaitlan, just before they were read, the tension was excruciating. I was in the crowd that had gathered quickly in front of the courthouse. They were listening on their cell phones, they were listening through their friends, and the moment the first guilty came down for Travis McMichael, there was a shout. And as each successive guilt was announced, it grew into a chorus.

And people just broke down, overwhelmed with emotions, because as you point out, justice in this case was delayed. But in the end, it was not denied.


JUDGE TIMOTHY WALMSLEY, CHATHAM COUNTY, GEORGIA: Count one, malice murder. We the jury find the defendant Travis McMichael guilty. Going to ask that whoever just made an outburst be removed from the court, please.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Loved ones of Ahmaud Arbery getting emotional in court this afternoon as all three defendants were found guilty of murder by a jury of nine white women, two white men, and one black man. Judge Timothy Walmsley going through all nine counts for each defendant.


SAVIDGE: Travis McMichael, the man who shot and killed Arbery, claiming it was self-defense, was found guilty on all nine counts. His father, Gregory McMichael, was found not guilty on one charge but guilty on the other eight.


SAVIDGE: William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., the man who took the video of the shooting, was found guilty on six counts. WALMSLEY: Guilty.

SAVIDGE: People outside the courthouse sharing their reaction to the verdict.

LINDA GAMBLE, ARBERY FAMILY FRIEND: Today, justice was served.

SAVIDGE: Did you ever doubt this day might come?

GAMBLE: I did not. I felt good.

SAVIDGE: The jury deliberated for over 11 hours after 13 days of testimony from more than 30 witnesses. The three defendants claim they were trying to make a citizens arrest of Arbery, saying they suspected he had burglarized a nearby home construction site, referring to the video of Arbery wandering inside that home months before being killed. After the verdicts were read, Arbery's family spoke outside the courthouse.

COOPER-JONES: It's been a long fight. It's been a hard fight. But God is good.

MARCUS ARBERY, SR., AHMAUD ARBERY'S FATHER: I wouldn't want to see no daddy watch their kid get shot down like that. So it's all our problem. It's all our problem. So, hey, let's keep fighting.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): You know, the jury came back relatively quickly here. We're talking about 11 hours of deliberation over a day and a half, really just one 24-hour period. So it's clear they didn't buy into any of what the defense was trying to suggest when it came to citizen's arrest or self-defense.


It's really a stunning defeat or you could say it's a stunning victory for justice, because everyone saw the video and many just wondered if the jury saw the same thing the rest of America did Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Martin Savidge in Brunswick, Georgia, thank you.

I want to bring in former prosecutor Charles Coleman Jr., also a civil rights attorney. And also with me is criminal defense attorney, Mike Eiglarsh.

Charles, let me start with you, because President Trump has also reacted to this verdict this afternoon, saying, quote, while the guilty verdict reflects our justice system is doing its job, that alone is not enough. You heard Arbery's mother also say there was a time when she thought this day would never come, so as a civil rights attorney, what was your reaction to this verdict?

CHARLES COLEMAN, JR., FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, I look at the remarks made by the president, and they are a stark contrast to what we heard from him just a week ago after the Rittenhouse verdict was rendered. And this is the type of rhetoric, these are the types of remarks that I think are befitting president of these times. I think it's important that we understand and place this into proper context, however. That collective sense of anxiousness, that sense of tension that was just described by the reporter that so many of us had is a reflection, it's an indication of how far we have to go.

It is fantastic to see that in this case, that people are going to be held accountable. But it's important for us to understand that until we are in a place where that becomes the expectation rather than the exception, we still have a lot more work to do.

COLLINS: Mark, you saw the guilty, guilty, guilty verdicts as they were being read. What was your reaction to this?

MIKE EIGLARSH, FORMER PROSECUTOR: I've got one word, and that's necessary. It was necessary. There was no other verdict that spoke the truth when you look at the evidence presented and the law as read to the judge.

And those who are saying the jurors are courageous, I think it's a bit of an overstatement. I appreciate their service. I'm so grateful for all they did, but this was the necessary outcome. Anything else would have been a miscarriage of justice.

It concerns me, though, my celebration is tempered by the fact that this may not have ever happened. That if it didn't have a videotape featured in this case, then prosecutors would never have brought the charges. And also, the fact that race relations have come far but clearly have not come far enough, anyone who is being intellectually honest knows if I was running through that neighborhood, these folks would never have batted an eye. If it was any of my kids running through there with lighter eye, they wouldn't have done anything.

So let's not kid ourselves. There's a long way to go, although again, I'm celebrating the only necessary outcome today.

COLLINS: Of course, race is obviously looming over this. Charles, you know, the jury was made up of 11 white people, one person of color. The lead prosecutor afterward came out said and the verdict shows the jury system works in this country.

How did you view those remarks?

COLEMAN: I was going to dovetail off what mark just said, and in terms of people who are overzealous to point to the jury system and the justice system working in this case, I think that we all need to cool our jets on that regard, quite frankly. The justice system did work in this case, but let's consider how we got here.

It worked after a crooked prosecutor who is now facing charges of her own attempted to shield three now convicted murderers. It worked after a refusal for almost two months to arrest three now convicted murderers. It worked after a video leaked showing that this murder took place on camera.

But for any of those things being present, can we feel confident in the fact that the system would have worked the way it did? The fact that many of us know from a place of intellectual honestly, to borrow Mark's phrase, that that's not true and is in doubt is demonstrative of the fact we cannot rest on the fact the justice system worked this time.

And the last thing I want to say on that point is, let's not conflate the notion of justice versus accountability. Unfortunately, because Ahmaud Arbery is no longer with us, the notion of true justice is out of reach. But today, three people are held accountable and that is a good start.

COLLINS: Yeah, and what you're of course references is it took over two months for anybody to be arrested in this. You saw right after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over, two days before you saw that these arrests were out there.

But, Mark, I do want to ask, you saw the third man who was involved in this, Roddie Bryan. He was the neighbor who helped chase Arbery, he filmed it. There he was in court today, as the verdict was being read. He was also found guilty of felony murder. Were you surprised by that at all?

EIGLARSH: No. Because what he did was he committed a felony by chasing down a man who was simply going for a jog, and by doing so, he committed aggravated assault, and that ultimately led to the death of an innocent person.


And I'm not surprised at all. Again, a necessary verdict.

And Aristotle defined justice is like cases being treated alike. Let's start seeing more of that in the criminal justice system, where everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, is treated the same way. I have yet to see it.

It's a good step in the right direction, but I think it might indication that when you have a videotape, justice occurs. Let's see what happens when there's not one.

COLLINS: Yeah, a videotape, we have seen that play out so much nationally. Obviously, not just with this case but others where the videotape was a necessary part of it. But this time, it was a defendant who filmed it, not a bystander.

And, Charles, I do want to ask you, though, because this isn't over. Of course, these men have to still be sentenced. But also, the Justice Department has charged each of them with federal hate crime charges.

So do you expect the Justice Department to continue to pursue that now that we have these guilty verdicts?

COLEMAN: I do. I think in fact this gives the Justice Department a bit of momentum going into their case around federal hate crimes against these three men. There was a lot of evidence that was weighed by the judge in this case that was not admitted that I do think that for relevant reasons will come in during the federal prosecution, particularly a federal civil rights violation.

So when you talk about prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, this is what it looks like. It looks like not only being held accountable on the state and local level but also where there are federal violations of someone's civil rights, also holding them accountable there as well.

So, I do anticipate that the Department of Justice will move forward with its prosecution of these three men.

COLLINS: And, Mark, these men are in custody now. They're awaiting sentencing. What do you expect when it comes to the sentences for them?

EIGHLARSH: I expect with certainty a life sentence, whether the judge gives them a possibility of parole or not, that's left to be determined. At a minimum, they wouldn't be eligible for parole at least until they served 30 years. So I think that likely at least the older folk will die.

And I agree that federal prosecutors should continue on prosecuting because at minimum, let's get a plea out of these guys in federal court so they have substantial time in federal court and thus in the very unlikely event that this state court case is ever overturned on appeal, and I don't believe it will, at least you have got that federal sentence there.

COLLINS: And the defense attorneys have said they will appeal this.

Charles Coleman Jr. and Mark Eiglarsh, thank you both so much for joining us on this massive headline today.

EIGLARSH: Thank you.

COLLINS: President Biden is anxious to prove he's turning around the economy, but that might be tough as Americans are seeing the price of their Thanksgiving meal surge.

And getting to that turkey dinner might take you a while. We'll show you the latest as Americans are hitting the roads and the skies.



COLLINS: In the national lead, the mad dash for Thanksgiving, the first since vaccines have come along. On the planes, TSA predicts some 20 million people will travel by air. For trains, Amtrak says this is one of the busiest days of the year. And oh, those vehicles.

AAA says the vast majority of people will hit the roads for Thanksgiving, as CNN's Stephanie Elam is at LAX, as holiday travel could hit pre-pandemic levels.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we only realized belatedly that this was going to be the busiest travel day of the year.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the first Thanksgiving since COVID shots started going into arms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it's good to get away. Let's put it this way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's good to finally feel kind of normal again.

ELAM: And Americans are traveling near pre-pandemic levels. But before getting to that, travelers have to get through this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kind of figured it would be more packed than usual, just not this intense.

ELAM: The TSA estimating 20 million people will fly for the Thanksgiving holiday, a pandemic travel record, and a far cry from the paltry numbers this time last year. AAA forecasting air travel will be up 80 percent from 2020.

For days, airport officials reminding passengers to be early, patient, and masked. Washington's Reagan National Airport tweeting, just an airport, standing in front of its passengers asking them to arrive two hours early.

But some Americans are skipping the airport all together, opting to hit the road.

JOSE ORDUNA, DRIVING FOR THANKSGIVING: I didn't want to spend too much time with security lines and I thought it would be faster to drive than to fly and probably be safer. I don't have to deal with the crowds.

ELAM: AAA predicted more than 48 million people will be driving for the holiday, an 8 percent increase from last year.

JADE HERNANDES, DRIVING FOR THANKSGIVING : Our thanksgiving goes on the date, you know? Just -- hopefully the traffic is not bad by Thanksgiving, because if it is, I'm probably going to cry.

ELAM: And while drivers won't be fighting TSA lines, they will be dealing with record high gas prices. The average price for regular gas is $3.40, according to government data. The highest price for the Monday before Thanksgiving in nearly a decade.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just got to pay it, I suppose. There's nothing you can really do about it.

ELAM: But no matter the traffic, crowds, and cost, millions of Americans say they're just thankful they can once again gather with loved ones.

KATHARINE ESTY, 87-YEAR-OLD PSYCHOTHERAPIST: I'm ready, despite the risk, to pick up the aspects of my life this Thanksgiving eve. I'm thrilled to be going to Connecticut to spend the holiday with my son. And it's just very special. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM (on camera): And I know when you look at me right now, you think it does not look this busy here, but the airport is warning that sometimes these flights do go in waves so do get here early and smile and relax and, Kaitlan, I know you're an airport warrior, too, as much as you travel. Getting here early allows you to be very, very thankful.

COLLINS: Yeah, so many people are smiling and relaxing at the airport is hard to come by.


You see Houston right there, but thank you so much for being there to bring us the latest, Stephanie.

Turning to our health lead, families are preparing for Thanksgiving with a rash of new COVID cases rising against the U.S., approaching 100,000 new infections per day.

CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins me live.

Elizabeth, families across the country are about to take off their mask, eat dinner in a group maybe for the first time since the pandemic.

So, what are you seeing in these new case numbers?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kaitlan, so many times during the pandemic, we have seen numbers go down. We all sort of feel this sense of relief and I think we think, oh, maybe this is it. Maybe this pandemic is finally ending.

But let me show you what's going on. If you take a look at this graph, you can see the last spring, the numbers were starting to come down. Then you see that huge surge in the middle, that sort of camel's hump, that was the delta variant doing its work over the summer and the fall. And now you see the numbers coming back up again, unfortunately. They went up, then down, and now they're coming back up again, all the way to the right side of that graph, resulting in this.

You can see that most of the country here is in red. That means high levels of community transmission.

And, Kaitlan, I want to talk about how quickly this has happened. Let's take a look at a map of the United States from October 21st, not that long ago, just about a month ago. October 21st. You only see one state in red, that means only in one state were cases going up. Now take a look at that same exact map, but today. Now you see that in 27 states, cases are rising. So it doesn't take long for cases to go back up again.

And, Kaitlan, perhaps the most important number for all of us to remember, 1,100 people in the United States dying every day of COVID- 19, do not let this be you. Do not let this be your loved ones. Get vaccinated, and if you're vaccinated more than six months ago, get a booster -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you for that reminder.

Next, there's new buzz about a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2024, who isn't named Joe Biden or Kamala Harris.



COLLINS: In our money lead, expect to see inflation show up at the dinner table tomorrow. Gas is costing 62 percent more than this time last year. And the American Farm Bureau says this is going to be the most expensive turkey day on record, 14 percent more than last year.

But as CNN's Gabe Cohen now reports, that's not translating to farmers across America who say they are losing money despite the increase in prices.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Jim Jones finishes the sweet potato harvest on his North Carolina farm, skyrocketing costs are slicing through his profits.

Are you seeing any more money from this inflation?

JIM JONES, SWEET POTATO FARMER: No, no. We're actually paying for it.

COHEN: The price of fertilizer, fuel, and labor are way up, with no ceiling in sight.

How did your profit change this year?

JONES: I would say maybe 10 percent, 15 percent.

COHEN: What about looking ahead to next year?

JONES: Add that much more to it again.

COHEN: Inflation may be cooking up the most expensive Thanksgiving in history for families. The USDA says the average dinner cost is up 5 percent. The American Farm Bureau says it may be as much as 14 percent. Their survey shows price hikes on most products from potatoes to cranberries to turkeys which are nearing a record high.

Despite those mark-ups at the market, many farmers say the price they receive for their crop isn't going up.

So your price is staying the same?

JONES: My price is staying the same. Or a little lower.

COHEN: Why don't farmers just raise the price of their crops?

PATTY EDELBURG, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FARMERS UNION: Farmers are price takers, not price makers.

COHEN: Patty Edelburg is vice president of the National Farmers Union.

Who is making the money from that inflation?

EDELBURG: Much more the middle man than anybody else.

COHEN: The USDA confirms that in many cases, processors and distributors are the ones passing along the surging costs with materials and ingredients still stuck on cargo ships and a shortage of labor and truckers driving up wages and costs.

TREY MALONE, AGRICULTURAL ECONOMIST, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: To some extent, we're also trying to pay for the uncertainty in the marketplace right now.

COHEN: Trey Malone is an agricultural economist at Michigan State University.

MALONE: So, we're in the middle of a perfect storm of unique events in agricultural production. I would say buckle up for a while longer of these higher input costs.

COHEN: Some farms are stocking up on materials in case suppliers run out. Others are waiting, hoping prices will drop.

All these costs, especially labor, are threatening Matt Alvernaz's California sweet potato farm.

MATT ALVERNAZ, SWEET POTATO FARMER: We were making $100,000 to $150,000 a year in profit. This year, we're probably going to lose $80,000 to $120,000.

COHEN: And it's only getting worse.

ALVERNAZ: We could potentially lose a quarter of a million dollars next year. We would not have enough cash to take into the following year in order to get our operating loan in order to operate for the following year.

COHEN: Farmers are used to volatility, and they're looking for ways to adapt, like downsizing or shifting to other crops.

JONES: It's going to worry you, but I ain't going to let it get me down. We'll survive somehow.

COHEN: As long as these money problems stop piling up.

JONES: We just need to get a fair price for what we're growing.


COHEN (on camera): Now, the USDA just announced $90 million in grants to help farmers get their products directly to consumers. And look, not every farmer is being impacted the same here. But there is widespread concern about these rising costs that just about everyone is dealing with.

And then, of course. the uncertainty heading into next year, especially when so many of these farmers, of course, don't even know how good their crop will be -- Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Gabe Cohen, thanks so much for that report.

Obviously, this -- my panel here is with me. This inflation that he is talking about, this uncertainty is plaguing voters all across the United States.

And there is a new poll from NPR out, Alice, that says that 39 percent of voters say inflation is their biggest economic concern, over wages, over labor shortages, other unemployment.

So how do you think that this is affecting the poll numbers that we are seeing of President Biden's also drop?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It has a tremendous impact, that is why we're seeing poll numbers at 42 percent approval rating. That is horrible. And you have to go back to when we first started seeing signs of inflation, the White House -- the administration told us that this is just transitory, temporary, it will be short-lived. But now we're seeing even from liberal economists anticipating this will last well into 2022.

So the longer this inflation and these high prices hit Americans, the more harmful it will be not just for this president but for the administration and Democrats. We saw in Virginia and in governor's race, pocketbook issues were the number one concern for Virginia voters. And as the prices continue to go up and inflation continues to haunt people, it is not good news for Biden.

COLLINS: But, Francesca, you see these price increases are obviously not good for the White House but there are other strong signs in the economy. Like when you look at the jobless claims, unemployment claims, what is with the disconnect? What does the White House believe is with the disconnect between some of the strong signs but also such pessimism over how the people view the economy generally.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: And I asked Jen Psaki about this yesterday. Why when they keep hammering these things in about the wages and the shelves being shocked are you seeing such a disconnects in the polling? And Americans do have this view that the economy is not getting better. And she essentially said that they just think that they need to draw a stronger context and keep putting the president out there and administration officials out there in order to convince Americans that it's actually better than the perception of the economy is.

COLLINS: Which is obviously a tough sell for them as we're seeing that over the last several months.

Bill, you're quoted in an interesting piece in "The Atlantic" today that says that if Biden essentially wants to raise his popularity, which clearly the White House is working doing, that he needs a villain, an enemy to unite the American people against. And James Carville, Democratic strategist, is quoted as saying as the now the White House does not have good storytellers and good stories need villains.

What do you -- do you agree with that? What kind of villain do you think that they are saying that the White House needs?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE BULWARK: I'm not sure that that was the thesis of the piece. I wasn't inventing villains. But in Virginia, where I live, I know some Democrats in real time evaluated all the Youngkin ads that were the most effective they just ran with focus groups.

The one that was most by quite a bit most effective Youngkin ad was he is going to cut the grocery tax in Virginia. I have lived in Virginia for a long time. There is a sales tax that I guess applies to groceries, you know? All the other stuff, critical race theory, all the other stuff, it was cutting the grocery tax because people are so sensitive to inflation.

STEWART: And suspending the gas tax as well.

KRISTOL: Yeah. I mean, so just brings home the point that you can have low unemployment numbers and get no credit and inflation takes off, and people are worried about inflation because if it keeps going and the Fed has to tighten, then you can get in the worst of both worlds. You can get unemployment going up, interest rates start to go up and you still have some inflation and that is the nightmare for the Biden White House.

As for a villain, I don't know.

COLLINS: This idea that he needs something to unite people against. Is it inflation?

KRISTOL: Yeah, but they can't effect that. I think that they are crazy enough to try to take more credit for what the progress has been made on COVID and keep hammering that. And frankly to criticize Republicans who have not helped get more people vaccinated, get more people boosted, get more kids vaccinated.

We're turning the corner on that did he spite despite the upsurge in the last month or so. Fewer are dying and those who are dying are the unvaccinated. And, I think, you know, Biden should say think where we were a year ago, and give a little credit for President Trump to getting the thing going a year and a half ago, at the beginning of the pandemic. But people are taking that good news for granted and then they are focusing on the bad news of inflation.

COLLINS: Yeah, but they are going to the grocery store and they are paying so much more. And I think the president has tried to make the argument about what happened year ago and look what's happening now.

STEWART: And also at the gas station, they are paying a lot more for a gallon of gas. [16:35:02]

And I think the problem to the tone of that piece, it's not about this president finding a villain. His biggest problem and the person he needs to focus on is himself and the policies that he is implementing. So often, as I've said for years, Republicans have focused on policy over persona and Democrats have focused on persona over policy and that has created a very problematic blind spot with regard to an agenda that will lift all Americans up.


KRISTOL: That thanksgiving dinner costing 40 cents more per person? There were no thanksgiving dinners a year ago. Why? Because the pandemic was raging and there was no vaccine. Shouldn't people have that in mind as they complain about things costing, you know, 40 cents more this year?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And you could hear in Biden's speech that they want to acknowledge the fact that people know that they are paying more. Yes, gas prices were lower last year because no one could go anywhere, but that doesn't change the fact that if you are trying to see your family this year, it costs a lot of money, and you don't have as much money because things cost more across the board.

So while the White House is trying to tout some of the things that they are doing to reduce or to I guess belie inflation, they also are having to acknowledge that people are hurting because they can't just flow through it and pretend they live in a different reality.

COLLINS: Right, and that has been the message that you have seen President Biden taking. Basically I feel your pain.

But, Jackie, I want your take on some speculation about 2024 because it is never too soon to start talking about the next election. There is a new police in "Politico" that says that the Buttigieg presidential buzz has penetrated the White House. And it has a quote saying that I'd say the other thing that I'm really enjoying about this job from the transportation secretary, although it is very demanding and requiring a lot, is that this is the least I've had to think about campaign and elections in about a decade and that is a very good thing.

Do you really think that Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, is not thinking about an upcoming election potentially?

KUCINICH: He's got a lot of people around help do that for him. And the rivalry that is playing out even on the staff level right now is just a glimpse of what we'll see over the next three years. Whether or not -- and I know Biden infrastructure around him has said that he is running again. Of course they have to say that.

If you don't say or not -- if he throws it in right now, no one is going to listen to him. He's not going to be able to get anything done. So that absolutely makes sense. But that is not going to stop these very, very ambitious people and

the people around them from marshaling what they can just in case the time does come for them to have to mount another campaign. They don't want to be caught flat-footed.

COLLINS: And the White House has said that President Biden is running for re-election. But obviously I think that the natural question and natural person that you would look to is the vice president. So what are your sources telling you about how her staff feels about all of this talk surrounding the transportation secretary?

CHAMBERS: Well, it's a difficult line for the vice president to walk in any scenario because she has to do a good job at her job in order to get that next job if he doesn't run in 2024. She decides to run at some other point. But you also have a transportation secretary who is out there putting his name on all these projects and getting to be seen out there with other people. So, you know, it is a difficult situation to be in for her.

KUCINICH: And she has all the hardest stuff. Her portfolio is pretty -- is pretty tough.

COLLINS: It is pretty tough.

Thank you so much to all for being here the day before the Thanksgiving. I really appreciate it.

Up next, the scary crime wave at stores as holiday shopping is picking up.



COLLINS: In our national lead, a crime spree of smash and grab robberies just as the holiday shopping season is kicking off. Cameras caught one group in action near Chicago where thieves rushed in to this Louis Vuitton store, pushed shoppers to the side and practically cleared the shelves.

And as Nick Watt now reports, it is not just high end stores that are becoming prime targets for these thieves.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Oak Brook, Illinois, a coordinated smash and grab swarm overwhelmed security at a Louis Vuitton store. More than 100 grand in handbags and more was stolen. In Downtown San Francisco this weekend, another Vuitton store and more hit by a mob.

CHESA BOUDIN, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, SAN FRANCISCO: This is not a problem limited to San Francisco.

WATT: Just outside the city, burglars arms filled with merch made their getaway from a Nordstrom Saturday night. An employee was pepper sprayed during the brazen raid.

BRETT BARRETTE, MANAGER, PF CHANG'S WALNUT CREEK: Probably saw 50 to 80 people in ski masks, crow bars, a bunch of weapons.

WATT: They fled in ten cars. Three arrests were made, two guns recovered. Sunday night another raid at another Bay Area mall.

CHIEF LERONNE ARMSTRONG, OAKLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT: What we're not used to is their willingness to use firearms and shoot at people.

WATT: And at the grove, a Nordstrom was hit Monday night, $5,000 worth of goods stolen, $15,000 worth of damage. And this mall had 3w50e6beefed u security after the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd.

RICK CARUSO, OWNER, THE GROVE: You saw bad guys with 20 pound sledgehammers having a very difficult time to break a window because all of our windows have ballistic film on it.

WATT: Many more malls now beefing up security, and Californian authorities promising action.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: These people need to be held to account. We need to investigate these crimes. We need to break up these crime rings. And we need to make an example out of these folks.

WATT: In Oakland, this weekend --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will have tactical teams deployed throughout the city.

WATT: But as we saw what that San Francisco raid, even when cops are quick to the scene --



WATT: -- with a mob, many will still get away.


WATT (on camera): So why is all this happening right now? Well, in the run-up to the holidays, stores are packed, so there is a lot to steal.

Also there is a market right now for the goods that are stolen. And you know, some security experts tell us also that penalties are just not enough. Here in California for example, goods worth less than 950 bucks, that is just a misdemeanor -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Nick Watt, thank you so much.

The partisan politics in this country are not only divisive and frustrating, but up next, how it can lead to a very dangerous path.



COLLINS: A European watchdog group says the rule of law was not respected in Venezuelan's elections in which strongman Nicolas Maduro claimed victory.

As CNN's Matt Rivers now reports, it's the latest example of a troubling trend across Latin America.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you are a fan of democracy, November has been a very bad month in Latin America.

The latest example, Venezuela, which held local and regional elections on Sunday. President Nicolas Maduro claiming victory for his party, which won 21 of 24 state governorships.

He says the result is because of our hard work and our honesty.

Critics, though, when the outcome was determined, the vote can't be trusted, they say, in a country where Maduro controls state institutions, allegations of coerced voting and violence against members in yesterday's vote have already surfaced.

And then there's Nicaragua where on November 7th, President Daniel Ortega won another term in what can only be described as sham elections. His regime unleashed a campaign of political terror back in June, arresting any prominent would-be opposition candidates and tossing them in jail.

Those in jail are sons of (EXPLETIVE DELETED) of the imperialist Yankees, he says. They're no longer Nicaraguans.

We even tried to get into Nicaragua ourselves to see what was happening there, but authorities deported my team and me after just a few hours. In his victory speech, Ortega spoke about journalists like us.

These scoundrels want to come cover the elections. We also know they're employees of the American intelligence agencies. So Ortega wins a fourth consecutive term, and Nicaraguan democracy is on life support.

But it's not just those three countries having problems. This is a map from Freedom House, a pro-democracy research group, and each country is given a score that measures its liberal democracy, green means an improving score. As you can see, there's not a lot of green on this map.

From 2019 to 2020, nearly every country in Latin America and the Caribbean island became less free or stayed the same. There are signs of creeping anti-democratic norms all over the place.

Like in Latin America's largest country, Brazil, led by right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro, who earlier this year, reminded many of the country's dark days of military dictatorship. He had approved a military parade on the same day that lawmakers were voting on a controversial change to the country's voting laws.

The law didn't pass, but Bolsonaro has since suggested he won't respect next year's election results.

From what I see, he says, I will not accept any election results that do not declare me the winner. My mind is made up. A dictatorial declaration, the kind of language some say is also coming from another country, El Salvador, currently run by dictator, Nayib Bukele, not my words. He wrote that himself on his Twitter bio earlier this year.

The millennial president might have been joking, but his attacks on Democratic institutions and the opposition are no laughing matter and have some concerned he could be Central America's next strongman. What's happening in these places might not stay there.

DAVID ALTMAN, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF CHILE: There is a threat of contagion, of diffusion, of these authoritarian trends. RIVERS: Across 18 Latin American countries, only 49 percent of people

said democracy is the best form of government, according to a late 2020 poll by Latinobarometro.

MARTA LAGOS, FOUNDER, LATINOBAROMETRO: The next four years, you might get worried because things can get very worse. You know, we will have all these monsters that will appear here and there.


RIVERS (on camera): But, you know, Kaitlan, Marta Lagos also told me that she is optimistic about the future because so many people actually still support democracy despite the economic hardship and corruption and even violence so many Latin American countries have experienced lately. And as one expert told me, where it's bad, it's really bad. But with thriving democracies in places like Costa Rica, Uruguay, even Chile, this expert says there's still a lot of hope to be had if you're a fan of democracy -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Which we are. Matt Rivers, thanks so much for that important report.

NASA's new mission is to crash into an asteroid. Cue the Aerosmith.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And liftoff of the Falcon 9 and DART --


COLLINS: That's the launch of NASA's first ever test mission to defend the planet, by intentionally crashing into an asteroid. I know what you are thinking. Yes, this is literally the plot of the movie "Armageddon".


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what we call a global killer. Nothing will survive, not even bacteria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: United States government just asked us to save the world. Anybody want to say no?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think we'll get hazard pay out of this?


COLLINS: Unlike the Michael Bay movie however, NASA's mission will send an unmanned spacecraft millions of miles into space, a ten-month trip to try to knock an asteroid off course. If that doesn't work, we're telling NASA to call Bruce Willis.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Kaitlan Collins, in for Jake Tapper.

And our coverage continues right now.