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The Lead with Jake Tapper
COVID Cases Spike In U.S. As Holiday Gatherings Begin; Danish Scientists Predict Record Case Surge, Warn Other Nations; After Blasting Manchin Decision As "Inexplicable Reversal," White House Changes Tone Today, Says Biden & Manchin Are "Friends;" After Blasting Manchin Decision as "Inexplicable Reversal," White House Changes Tone Today, Says Biden & Manchin are "Friends"; New Manhattan D.A. Pledges to Focus on Trump Investigations; Trump Sues to Block NY State Investigation of His Businesses; Once Missing Chinese Tennis Star Appears in Video Denying Sexual Assault Claim Against Top Communist Party Official. Aired 4-5p ET
Aired December 20, 2021 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: This year's hottest stocking stuffer is a COVID test?
THE LEAD starts right now.
The holiday season looking grim. Some tough weeks and months ahead, warns Dr. Anthony Fauci. As the nation sees cases surge days before families gather for the holidays.
While Democrats fume over Senator Joe Manchin's decision to torpedo the Biden agenda, word today of a counterproposal. We're going to talk to a leading progressive Democrat on whether it's enough.
Plus, he's about to be in charge of the Trump investigations. The incoming Manhattan DA talks exclusively to CNN.
BROWN: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.
And we start with the health lead and COVID cases spiking across the U.S. We're now averaging 130,000 every day. That's up 10 percent in a week. Hospitalizations are also up about 35 percent in the last month. With about 1 in 5 of all ICU beds in this country taken up by a COVID patient.
Health officials warn the highly contagious omicron variant will soon be responsible for most cases. But for now, it's that other super- spreader, the delta variant, driving this December surge.
And as CNN's Athena Jones reports drugmaker Moderna has encouraging news about its boosters and the fight against omicron.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter.
ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America, bracing for a tough winter that's beginning to look a lot like last winter, already in the midst of a delta surge, the new omicron variant accounting for just under 3 percent of cases, but spreading fast.
FAUCI: This virus is extraordinary. It has a doubling time of anywhere from 2 to 3 days. It's going to take over.
JONES: The U.S. now averaging about 1,200 deaths a day and 130 new COVID-19 cases a day. That figure up 10 percent from a week ago. Hospitalizations nationwide up 35 percent over last month, and intensive care unit beds nearly 80 percent full. Cases rising much faster in parts of the Midwest, the South and the Northeast.
New York setting a record for new cases for the third day in a row on Sunday. New York City an early epicenter of the pandemic seeing a spike in cases officials say is being driven by omicron.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: We have to move faster. That's why we're focused more on vaccination. And we know vaccination helps address omicron.
JONES: Still undecided on whether crowds will fill times square for New Year's Eve. As COVID infections have upended the worlds of sports and entertainment and education in recent days, forcing "Saturday Night Live" to cancel its live audience. The NBA, NHL and NFL also postponing games due to COVID issues, and schools like Harvard University moving graduate and professional schools to online classes for the first three weeks of January.
Health workers and government officials increasingly focused on boosters.
BILL MANNS, PRESIDENT & CEO, BRONSON HEALTHCARE: We see that those who are vaccinated, those who received their booster, aren't coming into the hospital at the same rates.
JONES: Moderna today announcing preliminary data shows its half dose booster shot increased antibody levels against omicron. Noting that a larger size dose raised them even more. The company says it's working on variant specific boosters as well.
MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH & POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Right now, you need that third dose. I wish we'd stop calling it a booster. It's a three-dose vaccine.
JONES (on camera): And here in New York, Governor Kathy Hochul in a briefing just said the state is seeing a vertical increase in COVID cases, meaning they are going straight up. But the governor said as she has in recent days, stressing that this is not March or December of 2020. There are vaccines and boosters available to protect New Yorkers -- Pamela.
BROWN: We're in a very different place. Athena Jones, thank you.
And I want to bring in Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health.
So let's start with what Athena just said there. You know, the spike in cases, we're seeing it not just in New York but in many places across the country. We're back to levels we saw around the summer surge. But nowhere near where we were last winter before the vaccine. Generally as we know, hospitalizations lag about three weeks behind cases but given the fact that so many people have either been infected or had a vaccination at this point or both, how should we be viewing this spike in cases?
DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yep. So, Pamela, thank you for having me back.
That is the key question. We've got to do a mental shift. For the entire two years of this pandemic, infections always preceded hospitalizations which preceded deaths. I think we're going to finally break that link.
Now let's be clear. We're still going to see hospitalizations and deaths but largely among people who are unvaccinated or people who are inadequately vaccinated, who have not gotten the booster, who are elderly and high risk.
For others who are older but have two shots plus a booster, you see a lot of infections. I would not be surprised if we surpass infection numbers from last fall and winter. But we're not going to see that population get particularly sick or get hospitalized or die. And so, I think we're going to see a divergence and should pay attention to hospitalizations and deaths as our primary metric.
BROWN: Right. I mean, to your point, as a case study you look at New York, despite the record cases there, New York City does not have a sharp rise in hospitalizations. So that seems to be an encouraging sign given that this was once the pandemic's epicenter.
JHA: Absolutely. And that's because New York is really well vaccinated. They can do better. Every place in the country could do better. But New York is among the most vaccinated places in the country and they are starting to show this.
And I do expect some hospitalizations to happen in a few days or weeks more but nothing like what we would have seen a year ago, if you saw a spike of cases like this. So, people have to pay less attention to the infections and more attention to hospitalizations.
BROWN: New York City as we know is reviewing plans for the New Year's eve ball drop next week. Although it's outside, they must show proof of vaccination. Would you advise the city to cancel the event?
I spoke to Mayor-elect Eric Adams last night. He said at this point, he would let the celebration go forward.
JHA: You know, we have not seen any evidence of significant spread in the outdoor setting. And if you're going to have everybody vaccinated outdoors, I think it's pretty reasonable, pretty safe.
You could do more. You could detensify a little bit. You can make sure everybody is wearing a mask outdoors. Masks are totally necessary.
But there are other ways of making it safe. I don't think we're at a point you have to cancel.
BROWN: All right. Well, that is good to hear from you.
So, it's the Monday of a holiday week. People are starting to travel. If they haven't left already, what would you advise? I guess it would depend on their vaccination status, right?
JHA: It would. I mean, if you are unvaccinated and you are going and spending time with anybody who is high risk, it's just a bad idea right now. If you are vaccinated, you are boosted and your kids are vaccinated or even if the youngest ones are not, I think it's pretty reasonable to get together. Wear a high quality mask during the travel, when you're on the airplane, on a train, wear a high quality mask and then when you get there, especially if you'll see somebody who might be vulnerable, it's really important to use one of these rapid tests. Make sure you test negative.
That makes the whole thing safer. Nothing is going to be 100 percent this holiday, but I think we can keep holidays pretty safe, avoid people getting really, really sick, and still be able to enjoy spending time with family and friends.
BROWN: But here's a problem, you mentioned the rapid test. I was looking for one today. They were all sold out. The places I was looking at.
What do you think about that?
JHA: Yeah, it's frustrating because, again, two years into the pandemic you'd think we'd be in better shape. I think the administration has done a lot of very good things. This is one they've not done a particularly good job.
We need to get a lot more rapid tests out there. They're coming in and out. You can get them and then they disappear. More show up. I would suggest, just be persistent. Keep looking for it. It's possible to get them, but they are far more scarce than they should be at this point.
BROWN: I wanted to turn to this Moderna news today. Moderna saying the current dose of its booster can raise antibodies by 37-fold. And if approved a larger dose is even more effective, raising antibodies by 83-fold.
Should a larger dose be approved? Would it be worth it?
JHA: Yeah, I'm not convinced that there's going to be a large clinical difference. The goal is not what is the highest number of antibodies you can get. The goal is what's enough to keep you protected?
Based on everything I've seen, I think the half dose is going to be more than good enough for most people. So I think that that probably is what's going to end up getting authorized. We'll see what the FDA says.
A bigger dose is probably not -- probably not a problem, but my sense is that half dose is probably going to be enough for most people.
BROWN: All right. Speaking of Moderna, it also says it's working on an omicron specific booster which could take months to complete. Of course you wonder, by that time it's approved, wouldn't we be dealing with yet another variant?
JHA: Yeah, it's a really good question. So, first of all, I'm glad they are working on it right now. It's not going to bail us out of this specific wave so basically the reason to develop that, omicron will still be around. You probably want to think about a multi-valiant vaccine that has been -- maybe there are several different types of variants built in there. It would be great to get a universal coronavirus vaccine. I don't think we'll have that in short enough time. But I still think it's a really important endeavor.
BROWN: Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you so much for that important information.
JHA: Thank you.
BROWN: And up next, why a massive COVID surge in one European country could predict some trouble heading to the United States.
Plus, the fate of a former police officer accused of killing Daunte Wright now in the jury's hands. What jurors heard in closing arguments, ahead.
BROWN: In our world lead, it seems like Denmark is doing everything right, staying on top of the ever-changing virus with world class testing, modeling, contact tracing and an impressive, almost 78 percent of its population fully vaccinated compared to the United States' 61 percent.
But despite all of that, cases are skyrocketing there, and projected to fly off the charts.
And as CNN's Scott McLean reports, Denmark's top scientists are warning the rest of the world it's about to get really, really bad for the rest of us.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The gates of the famous Christmas festival at the Tivoli Amusement Park are closed for the season. The rides are shut down and the staff have all gone home. It's all thanks to a massive surge in COVID infections that has already dwarfed the previous peak. New modeling published this weekend shows that if left unchecked, infections in Denmark could be ten times that number, followed by record high hospital admissions by Christmas and well beyond in the New Year.
Troels Lillebaek is the epidemiologist in charge of managing the risk of new variants in Denmark, a country blessed with more than three quarters of its population double vaccinated.
But Danes are quickly discovering that two shots are no match for the new more infectious variant. And the booster shot program simply cannot keep up.
Denmark has among the highest rates of testing and sequencing in the world, and has reams of data at its fingertips. And while there are some thoughts omicron could be less severe than delta, they don't know how much less severe.
TROELS LILLEBAEK, STATE SERUM INSTITUTE EPIDEMIOLOGIST IN CHARGE OF VARIANT RISK ASSESSMENT: Less dangerous as delta because if many, many thousand or tens of thousands are testing positive the same day, then the strain on the hospital system will be high anyway.
MCLEAN: Danish lawmakers weren't willing to wait and see. Instead, they've shut elementary schools, museums and theaters, put curfews on bars and restaurants, mandated masks indoors and COVID passports on some public transit. The ghosts of lockdowns past now the Christmas present.
But Lillebaek is optimistic that decision has helped avert the worst case scenario.
It sounds without the restrictions it would be absolute chaos.
LILLEBAEK: I think that's a high risk that if we were just, you know, leaving everything open, doing nothing, I think that would be extremely difficult and a situation, yeah.
MCLEAN: You wouldn't advise any country to do nothing.
LILLEBAEK: You don't want to end up in a situation where you are too late at doing what's necessary.
MCLEAN: And while many European governments are facing protests over tightening restrictions, in Denmark, they've been so broadly accepted that some Danes support even tighter rules, according to this researcher.
MICHAEL BANG PETERSEN, HOPE PROJECT: When we directly ask citizens whether they cannot cope with any more restrictions, only 10 percent say that they cannot do that. So there is no real sign of fatigue yet.
MCLEAN: It sound like Danes are rule followers.
PETERSEN: To a large extent, we are rule followers, but it is not sort of blind obedience. It is because we feel that we are being explained why we need to do it and what we need to do.
MCLEAN: His research found Americans followed COVID rules to a lesser extent than Danes, but omicron won't hit the U.S. any less hard.
PETERSEN: I think that we will be facing very tough times across the world with omicron. And the only thing that we can hope of is then that the severity of the disease will be mild enough that the health systems are not being overwhelmed.
MCLEAN (on camera): Omicron infections are also soaring here in the U.K. Today was the second highest number of new infections ever, but the government is still on the fence about what to actually do about it. Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson that there would be -- said there would be no new restrictions, at least between now and Christmas. He wants to see more data on how severe an illness omicron actually causes before deciding if new rules are needed, Pam.
BROWN: All right. Scott McLean live for us from London, thanks so much.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin blindsides the White House and sinks the president's agenda. We'll talk to one leading House progressive who says the fight isn't over yet.
BROWN: Topping our politics lead, so you're saying there's a chance. The White House taking a softer tone today in contrast to its damning statement yesterday, today, insisting the president and Joe Manchin are still friends. This after Manchin effectively torpedoed the president's agenda this weekend. Manchin says he's always willing to work and listen.
As CNN's Phil Mattingly reports, Manchin is blaming staffers at the White House even as members of his own party say they have every right to be furious with him.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): This is a no on this legislation.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The seven words that shook Washington and put President Biden's cornerstone domestic legislative effort on life support. Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat and critical holdout on Biden's $1.75 trillion economic and climate package -- MANCHIN: I have a problem.
MATTINGLY: -- making clear again on Monday his stunning announcement is firm and deep rooted.
MANCHIN: We're in a 50/50 Senate. You all are approaching legislation as if you have 55 or 60 senators that are Democrats. And you can do whatever you want.
MATTINGLY: And now in a war of words with Biden's team, after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki released a scathing statement calling it a, quote, breach of his commitments to the president, Manchin responding with this.
MANCHIN: This is staff, ands they drove some things and they put some things out that were absolutely inexcusable. They know what it is. And that's it.
MATTINGLY: The White House attempting to take down the temperature.
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He considers Senator Manchin a longtime friend and our focus is on moving forward and getting this done.
MATTINGLY: As Democrats seek a pathway to bring things back on track.
Chuck Schumer pledging to vote on the bill. In a letter to colleagues and, quote, keep voting on it until we get something done as the White House considers ways to pare back the proposal to keep it alive.
PSAKI: He's going to work like hell to get it done.
MATTINGLY: For Biden's agenda, a devastating 24 hours with large scale repercussions. Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs moving immediately, slashing its growth forecast for the U.S. economy in the wake of Manchin's pronouncement and Biden's COVID policy initiatives like universal pre-K, child and home care subsidies, the largest investment in combating climate change in history and the extension of the child tax credit now all at serious risk.
PSAKI: Our objective and focus now is moving forward.
MATTINGLY: But sky-high ambitions setting the stage for a crushing reality and with significant blowback from progressives.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I think what Senator Manchin did yesterday represents such an egregious breach of the trust of the president.
MATTINGLY: Pamela, behind the scenes there have already been discussions between White House officials about how to structure things to move forward. But the reality is this: nobody is totally sure whether Senator
Manchin is willing to move forward. In part it's not just a policy discussion right now. There are very real emotional considerations based on what we've seen over the course of the last 24 hours. As one Democratic senator told me when I asked, what are the next steps here? He said, take a breath -- Pamela.
BROWN: The emotional considerations. It's such a good point. I imagine they are going to take a breath before they restart those talks.
All right. Phil Mattingly at the White House, thank you so much.
Joining me live to discuss is Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He is deputy whip of the House Progressive Caucus.
Hi, Congressman. Thanks for joining us.
So, Senator Manchin effectively slammed the door on the president's signature agenda item, Build Back Better. Do you feel betrayed by him right now?
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Pam, I'm not interested in assigning blame, and I'm frankly not interested in how I feel or my colleagues or politicians feel. What I'm concerned about is how we deliver for the American public, how we get child care, how we get universal preschool, how we have a pro-growth agenda that grows the economy.
And I'm confident that there's a way forward. I'm willing to still sit down with him and the president and work to get to a passing a bill.
BROWN: But the bottom line is, clearly, the president in his statement that we know that he had a heavy hand in crafting and signing off on felt betrayed by Manchin, saying that he would not vote on Build Back Better. That's a reality. So the question is, can you trust Senator Manchin moving forward if there are talks that are renewed about moving forward with something similar to what you have on the table now.
KHANNA: Pam, I trust President Joe Biden. He had a commitment at the $1.75 trillion framework from House Democrats, from progressives and from 50 senators.
Now, if the goal posts have moved, here's the reality, we need Senator Manchin's vote. I mean, that's just the math of the situation.
So, if the president says we need to go back to the drawing board and here's how we get something done, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as I think are many progressives because something is better than nothing.
What we are going to do? Leave the American public without child care, without a child tax credit? Without an economy that is growing?
I mean, Goldman Sachs says the economy isn't going to grow. It would be devastating if we don't get something done. BROWN: And as you know, Senator Manchin, he did an interview today.
He said that he has been consistent from the beginning. That he has not moved the goal post.
CNN confirmed this afternoon Manchin's counteroffer to Biden last week included universal pre-k for ten years and expansion of Obamacare and hundreds of billions of dollars to combat climate change. It did not include an extension of the child tax credit.
We know the child tax credit is, of course, important to the president and progressives, other Democrats, but those three other items are pretty significant.
Do you think the White House should have just accepted the deal?
KHANNA: I don't, Pam, because my understanding is the $1.75 trillion that the 50 senators signed off on did include the child tax credit. And let's be specific about what this means. It means 300 bucks per kid for working class families. This is the difference between whether some kids get a Christmas present or not. This is the difference between whether they get winter clothes to go back to school.
This is real for families and there is -- it ends on January 1st. And what the president says is we can't take 300 bucks a month away from working families. That has to be part of the agreement. I'm hopeful that we can work with Senator Manchin to get back to as close to the framework as possible.
BROWN: But I mean, I understand what you are saying about the child tax credit, but if you can get these other big items now, would it be worth it to put the child tax credit on the side to get these other big items that Joe Manchin said he agreed to in this counterproposal to the White House?
KHANNA: Well, I think he had agreed to everything initially.
And so, the question is, if he has concerns about the child tax credit, I want to hear what those concerns are. My understanding from his own words is he said I understand the importance of the child tax credit.
That benefits a lot of working families. I understand the importance of giving kids a fair start at life.
And so, I'd want to see what do we need do to get his support? He obviously at one point was fine with the $1.75 trillion and how do we craft it? And let's have that conversation. But I believe we can get there.
If he wants additional compromises and the president says we need to have additional compromises, what I'm saying is we have to be open. We have to be constructive and name-calling each other is not going to help do anything to advance the ball for the American public. BROWN: Your colleague Pramila Jayapal told CNN it is time for
President Biden to start using executive action to pass some of these priorities. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had a similar suggestion on MSNBC this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I think right now that leader -- Democratic leadership has a large number of tools at their disposal, the president particularly. And it's really about time that, you know, we take the kid gloves off and we start using them to govern for working families in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So do you agree that Biden should start taking executive action? And if so, which parts of the bill should he tackle first?
KHANNA: Yes. So, let me suggest two places he can take executive action. Obviously, you need Congress, too. But first is we could expand the Federal Financing Bank which actually Senator Rubio and I are working on that would allow billions of dollars to help reindustrialize America and help invest in new climate. That is something the president could do and I believe he could get bipartisan support.
Second, he ought to forgive student loans for working families that would provide some relief. There are other areas that, of course, we need Congress. But my colleagues are correct that the president does have executive powers that he should use to get some of this agenda through.
BROWN: All right. Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you very much for joining us for your time.
KHANNA: Pam, have a happy holiday and happy holidays to your listeners.
BROWN: You, too.
Up next, former President Donald Trump sues the New York attorney general. But does his legal argument hold water?
BROWN: In our politics lead, there are significant new developments in a pair of legal cases involving former President Donald Trump. Manhattan's incoming district attorney says he will focus his attention on investigating Trump's business practices, which has been a years-long focus of the DA's office there.
CNN's Kara Scannell spoke exclusively with District Attorney-elect Alvin Bragg.
So, tell us, Kara, what did he tell you?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Pam, so I spoke with Alvin Bragg, who will take over office on January 1st. Now, we still have about two weeks here and waiting to see if the current District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. will make any kinds of announcements on this ongoing investigation.
But Bragg will take over January 1st. He will get briefed by the staff on this.
And from my interview with him, he indicated that he has no plans to disrupt this ongoing investigation. He says he's asked two top prosecutors who have been working on the case to stay on.
One of them, according to sources, has agreed to stay, that's Carey Dunne. He worked on this case from the beginning. He is involved in the courtroom presentations, and he argued it up to the Supreme Court.
Now, Bragg also said that he will get briefed on this. He'll bring his own experience as a former federal prosecutor to bear in this investigation. And he said he may even add attorneys to the team if he thinks it's warranted.
I also asked him, you know, this has been an ongoing investigation. Certainly one that is controversial. Trump has called it politically motivated. And I asked him what will he -- how will he think about the possibility that he might be making a decision on whether to charge a former president.
Here's what he told me. He said we'll apply the analysis that we've always used, I've always used in multiple offices. Would you bring this case otherwise? That's got to be the guiding light.
I also asked him, this is a case where some people think it may be a no win. It could distract from his big agenda. He said that he's not going to be swayed by that. He's done many investigations before involving FBI agents for lying and sitting state lawmakers. He said they just put their head down and do their job -- Pam.
BROWN: All right. And today, Kara, we know Trump also sued New York state's attorney general over her investigation of him. What does the lawsuit allege?
SCANNELL: Right. So Trump and the Trump Organization suing Letitia James, saying that she's violated his constitutional rights. They are focusing in on a lot of public statements she's made over the years, including during her run for New York attorney general that they say are biased against Trump and would influence this investigation.
Now they are asking a judge here to stop her from participating in any criminal aspect of this because her office has two attorneys that have teamed up with the DA's office on this. And they want them to stop her civil investigation into the former president and his company. Now this comes on the heels of Letitia James, her office sending a subpoena to Trump to have him sit for a deposition early in the New Year. Trump's attorneys said they'll move to quash that subpoena -- Pam.
BROWN: All right. Kara Scannell, thank you with that exclusive interview as well. We appreciate it.
Let's discuss with former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.
So, Renato, I want to start with the Trump lawsuit against the New York attorney general. What do you think? Is this just a delay tactic or does he have a legit legal argument?
RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yeah, I don't think it's worth the paper that it's printed on. It is, I think, designed to generate the discussion we're having here to get people talking, to highlight a talking point. I do think that certainly, if and when criminal charges are brought or civil investigation, you know, it turns into a civil lawsuit, I certainly think that's an argument that will be raised. And there's something to that argument in other words that she campaigned on this.
But bring this now, there's no way that a judge is going to stop a constitutional officer in the state of New York from -- who is duly elected from carrying forward her duties at this stage of the game.
BROWN: Now you have in Manhattan, given what the new Manhattan district attorney told Kara about the investigation of Trump's businesses, do you expect a similar Trump lawsuit alleging a witch hunt? Wouldn't be a surprise, right?
MARIOTTI: Yeah, I think that's right. I think it's a little harder there, but exactly right. That was obviously a topic of discussion in the race. And if criminal charges are brought, absolutely, particularly if the Trump organization is a defendant. I think that will be their argument. They will argue, and I think there's something to the argument any defense attorney would make this argument that there's a bias on the part of the prosecutors.
But the law is very much on the side of the prosecutors on that issue.
BROWN: So what is the practical impact of -- if these lawsuits, if he does bring a lawsuit against the DA, how long could either of these lawsuits take to get to trial, if at all?
MARIOTTI: Yeah, I don't think this lawsuit is going to get to trial. I think it's going to get tossed out early on. But he's getting the message out there. He's developing this talking point, and I think partly he's playing to the jury pool potentially in this case. Or trying to create some -- previewing for the other side what their risk might be.
If they move forward he's going to try to advance this argument. That is going to be his, you know, part of his defense and he's going to try in push that to a jury. And I don't -- I think that certainly may be an issue if the case is brought, but at this stage it's not going anywhere. BROWN: Are you surprised how long it's taken with these
investigations both at the state level and the district attorney level? It's been going on for quite awhile.
MARIOTTI: Yeah, I'm not surprised because I spent a lot of my life investigating white collar crime, and other very complex white collar matters. So these investigations often take years.
On the defense side, I now represent people on the defense side. It certainly takes long from that perspective state or federal and so I would urge the public to be patient, and I think that people being careful when investigating a former president and his business is a good thing.
BROWN: So, in other words, we shouldn't be reading into it?
MARIOTTI: Exactly right.
BROWN: All right. Renato Mariotti, thank you very much.
MARIOTTI: Thank you.
BROWN: And in our national lead, a Minnesota jury is deliberating right now in the manslaughter case against a white former police officer accused of killing an unarmed black man during a traffic stop, after mistaking her Taser for her gun.
CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is outside the courthouse.
Adrienne, we just learned the jury is asking a question to the judge.
ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, they are. As we enter hour three of deliberations, members of the jury want to know what day did potter interview with Dr. Miller. And for those of you who may not remember, Dr. Miller was the psychologist called on by the defense to testify. It was revealed during testimony potter, during that interview, which was conducted via zoom, told Dr. Miller she does not make mistakes.
Mistakes is something that came up repeatedly today during closing arguments. Let's start with the prosecution. The prosecution arguing today Daunte Wright was shot to death by a gun in the hand of a highly trained police officer. Prosecutors calling that reckless.
On the other hand, Defense Attorney Earl Gray said this was a mistake, and he also challenged members of the jury to consider this question as they deliberate. And I'm paraphrasing here, but he said, how could Potter act recklessly if she didn't know she had her gun in her hand?
Listen in to some of those arguments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIN ELDRIDGE, PROSECUTOR: This was a colossal screw up. A blunder of epic proportions. It was precisely the thing she had been warned about for years, and she was trained to prevent it. It was irreversible, and it was fatal.
EARL GRAY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Everybody makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect, ladies and gentlemen. And this lady here made a mistake, and, my gosh, a mistake is not a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROADDUS: And in the room where members of the jury are deliberating right now, they had the same gun that potter used on that day in April when she shot and killed Daunte Wright.
They also have the Taser she intended to pull. This is an opportunity, as the jurors deliberate, to see the difference between the two weapons -- Pamela.
BROWN: And if you would, remind us what charges the jurors are deliberating.
BROADDUS: There are two charges. Each deal with manslaughter. Manslaughter in the first degree and manslaughter in the second degree. The first count deals with recklessly handling a firearm. The second count, more so culpable negligence and endangering the safety of others around.
And today, during those closing arguments, the prosecutor slowed down that body camera video going frame by frame, also showing members of the jury the reaction made by Officer Lucky. One of the cartridges from the gun hit his face -- Pamela.
BROWN: Adrienne Broaddus, thank you.
Up next, a top Chinese tennis champ changing her story about sexual assault allegations weeks after her mysterious disappearance.
Plus, third graders allegedly asked to re-enact the Holocaust. What the school is saying now.
BROWN: In our world lead, unfiltered admission or carefully orchestrated stunt? Reaction has been pouring in following once- missing tennis star Peng Shuai's latest appearance. Former tennis great Chris Everett saying it's unsettling and the woman's tennis association saying there are quote, significant concerns about her safety that still haven't been addressed.
After a cell phone interview posted by a pro-China news outlet showed Peng addressing her allegations of sexual assault against a top Chinese official. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PENG SHUAI, TENNIS STAR (through translator): In terms of the Weibo post, first of all, it's my personal privacy. There possibly has been a lot of misunderstanding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Let's get right to CNN's Will Ripley in Hong Kong.
So, Will, what are we to make of this? What are you hearing about this video?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pam, I read that Weibo post. It was erased in less than 30 minutes and is now not searchable on the Chinese Internet. But we were able to read it and it's very graphic and detailed and lays out a very painful account of alleged sexual assault.
So, to see Peng Shuai now, even though it's a cell phone video, even though it's an international media reporter, albeit for a newspaper from Singapore that has such a pro-Beijing editorial line, you can get it in the mainland. It's the only overseas Chinese language newspaper you can buy in the mainland. You can look at their website without a VPN.
So brush that aside. The fact it's this raw organic video and looks like Peng Shuai was shouted questions by this reporter. Are you taking a video? Yes, I am.
A lot of people aren't buying it. The Women's Tennis Association certainly isn't buying it. They say that they still have really big concerns about whether Peng Shuai is able to be speaking freely, whether she's not being coached, coerced, whether she hasn't been kind of like trained to do this and to respond to this kind of situation.
BROWN: And, of course, the Winter Olympics are just weeks away in Beijing. The timing of this is certainly interesting.
RIPLEY: Yeah. You have millions, hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars on the line in terms of ad revenue. Beijing wants these games to go off without a hitch. The man she accused of sexual assault, Zhang Gaoli, was the Chinese face of Beijing 2022 before he retired.
And so they, along with the International Olympic Committee, have been consistently saying that she's fine. They are trying to kind of essentially make this go away so that people aren't talking about it at the opening ceremonies. But it's not stopping people from talking about it. You showed that tweet earlier from Chris Everett, the former tennis great, saying that it's unsettling to see Peng Shuai basically echoing the same kind of lines that Chinese state media reporters have been saying on Twitter, even though they're talking about it on Twitter, a platform blocked in China.
Inside China they continue to completely ignore the story. The story is censored on Chinese media and even right now as we speak, CNN's life signal goes to color bars every time we talk about Peng Shuai. BROWN: Unreal. Will Ripley in Hong Kong, thank you for that, Will.
In our national lead, an instructor at a Washington, D.C., school is on leave for allegedly making third graders re-enact events from the Holocaust, including mass shootings.
CNN's Jean Casarez joins us with more on this very bizarre and disturbing incident.
So tell us what happened, Jean.
JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, here's what we know at this point.
First of all, D.C. schools is telling CNN this was never a lesson plan. It was never something that was authorized by the school. It would not be. They are saying that it did involve third graders and it's Watkins Elementary School.
Now, "The Washington Post" is saying that this actually was the library class where it occurred, and that the instructor casted students in various roles. One student was allegedly casted as Adolf Hitler. Other students were cast to be the shooters of their fellow students. Others were cast that they would be digging the mass graves. And so, that's the scene that is being really shown to us at this point.
Now we do have a full screen because a letter was sent to the families from the D.C. schools. We want to read a portion of that. CNN received this.
And it says: Students should never be tasked with acting out any atrocity, especially genocide and war. Additionally, there were allegations of a staff member using hate speech during the lesson, which is unacceptable and not tolerated at our school.
And, Pamela, what we do know is that the students are meeting with a mental health team. The teacher is on leave of absence.
BROWN: Right. And do we know anything more about the teacher? I know details are really hard to come right now, but do we know anything more about this teacher?
CASAREZ: We don't at all. Nothing at all. No comment, no statement.
Her state of mind critical. Do we know that? We don't unless she allegedly said that the school is saying that there were words of hate as part of this project from the instructor. That is left to be confirmed.
BROWN: Just -- these are third graders. Wow. What a story. Jean Casarez, thank you.
CASAREZ: Thank you. BROWN: Well, I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper today. You can follow me on Twitter, @pamelabrown or tweet the show @TheLeadCNN.
Our coverage continues up next with Wolf Blitzer and "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a great rest of the day.