Return to Transcripts main page

Don Lemon Tonight

January 6 Plans To Subpoena John Eastman; Heavy Negotiating At The White House With Deadline Looming For President Biden's Agenda; CNN: District Attorney Says Criminal Charges Not Ruled Out In Fatal Shooting On "Rust" Movie Set; Trump COVID Coordinator Says 130,000 Plus People Unnecessarily Died Because The White House Was 'Distracted' By Elections; What Happened To Jelani Day? Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired October 26, 2021 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Here is our breaking news tonight. The House Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection planning to subpoena John Eastman, the lawyer who advised the former president on how to overturn Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election.

Also tonight, negotiations on President Biden's social safety net bill at a fever pitch right now. His agenda hanging in the balance as new disagreements threaten a deal between the moderate and progressive Democrats. The White House wants an agreement before Joe Biden leaves for Europe on Thursday. I'm going to speak to a member of the Progressive Caucus about all of this.

And word tonight that criminal charges are not ruled out in the shooting death of the cinematographer on the set of the Alec Baldwin movie "Rust."

So, joining me, CNN White House correspondent John Harwood and senior political analyst John Avalon. Gentlemen, good evening to you.

John Harwood, I've got to get your take on this breaking news. An aide to the January 5 Select Committee telling CNN they plan to subpoena John Eastman, the Trump lawyer who drafted ways to overturn the 2020 election. Is that significant and if so, how significant is it?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Very significant if they can get John Eastman to testify and testify truthfully. The problem, of course, is that people close to Trump have been attempting to delay, to avoid service, to challenge the right of the committee to compel their testimony.

Don't know how long they can drag that out, but John Eastman was at the center of the effort to thwart the Constitution and overturn the will of the American people as expressed in the election last November.

We learned from the Bob Woodward and Robert Costa book that he came up with this memo and strategy of trying to get the Electoral College to declare a result without some states counting, and then if that proved a problem then throw it to the House of Representatives.

It was a crazy scheme. It was ultimately thwarted by Mike Pence, but it seems to be integrally connected to what happened on January 6th. Sussing out what exactly happened on January 6th does, in fact, trace back to the White House, people close to the president and people like John Eastman. We have to figure out how strong those connections are.

LEMON: John Avlon, I want to turn now to Democrats racing to reach a deal on Biden's economic agenda. Senators Manchin and Sinema were at the White House tonight. The head of the Progressive Caucus met with Speaker Pelosi earlier. Negotiations seem to be changing by the minute. How critical, do you think, are the next 24 hours?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely critical. I mean, we -- the White House has tried to impose another deadline before Biden leaves for Europe, but they need to pass something soon. You know, you've elections that are coming up next week in Virginia. You've got the midterms looming.

And we are at a place where now we seem to know what some of the bottom lines, particularly for Senator Sinema are, this billionaire's tax and a corporate minimum tax, which are different ways to raise revenue to pay for these programs. It seems the White House is doubling down on a fairly generous slice of this bill being directed to the environment. Bernie Sanders is saying, look, some of it has got to cover Medicare coverage for hearing and dental.

So, what everyone's positions are now pretty clear and the question is whether Joe Biden can draw in his (INAUDIBLE) in the Senate and bring everybody to the finish line. Democrats need this win. There must be a way to reason together. And it looks like while the devil is always in the details, they're closer than ever. We will see.

LEMON (on camera): John Harwood, the president hitting the trail tonight for Terry McAuliffe. He needs a boost. I mean, John Avlon just mentioned it. He needs a boost, right, because it is deadlocked in Virginia in this governor's race. Biden is hammering Glenn Youngkin for his ties to Trump. Watch.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Terry's opponent has made all of his private pledges of loyalty to Donald Trump. But what is really interesting to me, he won't stand next to Donald Trump now that the campaign is on.


BIDEN: Think about it. He won't allow Donald Trump to campaign for him in this state. He's willing to pledge his loyalty to Trump in private. Why not in public? What's he trying to hide? Is there a problem with Trump being here? Is he embarrassed?


LEMON (on camera): So, who -- is he goading Trump to weigh in here? What is happening?

HARWOOD: Sure, he is. He is obviously frustrated that Donald Trump hasn't been there. You know, we learned in the California recall that mobilizing Democrats against Donald Trump is not a bad formula when you're not in a presidential election year.

The challenge for Democrats in Virginia is Biden is in a rough patch. Politics is increasingly nationalized. So, what happens in Virginia reflects the national environment. Biden is down. They're struggling to pass his agenda. And Biden doesn't excite voters particularly much. And so, what Joe Biden would like to have and what Terry McAuliffe would like to have would be a more active and vibrant presence by Donald Trump as a boogeyman to get Democrats out.

It is a very close race. The relative skill of the campaigns at getting their people out and energizing them is going to decide the result. And Donald Trump is an asset for the Democrats that they're not able to exploit as much as they would like.

LEMON (on camera): Yeah. So, let's go to the media market there, what is happening, right, John Avlon? Glenn Youngkin releasing this new ad that features a Virginia parent. Her name is Laura Murphy, who tried to ban Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Beloved," from her high school senior school. Take this.


LAURA MURPHY, VIRGINIA PARENT: When my son showed me his reading assignment, my heart sunk. It was some of the most explicit material you can imagine. They passed bills requiring schools to notify parents when explicit content was assigned. But then Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed it twice. He doesn't think parents should have a say. He said that. He shut us out.


AVLON: So, yeah.

LEMON (on camera): I mean, look, we -- "Beloved"? I mean, there's been a movie about "Beloved." The book is -- you know, Toni Morrison is Pulitzer Prize winner.

AVLON: A Nobel Prize winner.

LEMON: A Nobel Prize. I mean, this is a book about slavery. The truth is explicit. I mean, look, Huckleberry Finn, the N-word is in there. I don't know. I don't know what is going on but --

AVLON: Sure, you do.

LEMON: Okay.

AVLON: I mean, sure, you do know what is going on. Look, not for nothing. The name "Beloved" and Toni Morrison are never mentioned. Neither is the fact that it was assigned to her son almost a decade ago in an A.P. senior English class.

And yeah, if it is rough stuff, it is because the horrors of slavery here are real as well. This is literature. It is not trash. But it is designed to make people afraid. It draws on this whole, you know, CRT panic and associated stuff.

This, I think, could create a blowback because I think once people realize what they're actually talking about, you know, Toni Morrison, "Beloved," in a senior English class, it doesn't ring true, but it is about the culture war wedge issues that Republicans think they can win on, as long as they walk that line, distance themselves from Donald Trump in public and playing the culture war card, which can resonate with a lot of swing voters.

So, we will see. Look, Terry McAuliffe always runs like he is behind. The problem is 10 out of the last 11 elections, the Virginia governor's race goes for the opposition party to who -- than the president who is just elected. So, it is an uphill climb, but this is a little bit of a desperate play. It is a culture war play. We will see whether voters see through it or not for what it is.

LEMON: A senior in high school.


HARWOOD: Don, it also just so happens -- it just so happens that that kid, who was so traumatized by Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, happens to have grown up to work for national Republican Party political committee.

AVLON: He got over it. He got over the trauma.

LEMON: So, I guess, you know, they want "Fun with Dick and Jane." See Dick run. Run, Dick, run. I mean, that's -- you know. Hey, that's -- I mean -- come on, people.

AVLON: Snowflake, anyone?

LEMON: Oh, my gosh. Talk about snowflakes. Imagine, imagine how the kids of color feel when they have to read stuff about slavery. Okay. Bye-bye. See you guys. Thank you.

AVLON: Take care, Don.

LEMON: Lawmakers huddling tonight on Capitol Hill with Democrats under mounting pressure to get something passed. Details still being worked out on key sticking points. They include Medicare expansion, climate and support for families.

I want to bring in now Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, a member of the House Progressive Caucus. Congressman, thank you. Here we are. Good evening.

Senators Manchin and Sinema at the White House tonight to negotiate on Biden's agenda.


LEMON: There's also frantic energy to cut a deal on Capitol Hill. But there are still some details that need to be finalized. We see that. Do you feel any closer to an agreement tonight?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Don, I do. We had a meeting with the Progressive Caucus executive board this evening, ran late. And everyone there wants a deal.

LEMON: How soon?

KHANNA: I think it's possible to have a deal this week. The key is that we need some of the priorities in there. The Medicare expansion, that is a huge issue for Senator Sanders, for many progressives, making sure that we have robust climate provisions. But there's a willingness to compromise. There's an understanding that we need a deal this week.

LEMON: Do you -- okay. Do you understand -- listen, I had Larry Sabato on last night and he said that the Democrats as a whole, meaning in Washington, didn't understand how this is being perceived around the country and that the sort of nitpicking and infighting wasn't helping, especially Virginia, not helping the midterm, not helping other folks who may be up for election, and that the Democrats don't see the big picture. They don't see the forest or the trees.

Do you understand what he is saying? Do you agree with that?

KHANNA: I agree that the infighting hasn't helped. But the forest here are the American people. Are we going to actually get them child care? Are we going to actually get universal preschool? Are we actually going to get seniors the dental, the vision, the hearing that we've promised?

And so, we're not going to say, okay, we're not going to have any fights, but we're just going to forsake the American people and forget our campaign promises. But I agree the time has come to compromise, get it done and deliver on as much of the agenda as we can.

LEMON (on camera): So, Congress -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal today. But there's still disagreement over whether framework on spending is enough to have a vote on infrastructure. Listen to this.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): What we said consistently and we've been really clear about this is we want to vote both bills. Now, you know, we are willing to, if there's agreement on the Senate moving forward and the president has, you know, an iron clad commitment from all 50 senators, we will vote both of them out of the House.

UNKNOWN: Congresswoman Jayapal just said that a framework agreement is not enough to vote for the bill (ph).



LEMON (on camera): So, other progressives echoing the need for a firm commitment. Where do you stand?

KHANNA: Well, I think this is a lot of conflict over proceduralism. Here is what I think will happen. There will be a deal announced. We will all go to the White House, those who are invited, I don't know if I will be invited, but we will go to the White House, we will say we have a deal. And that is, I think, what the message will be.

Now, it takes maybe a week to actually write the language into a bill to get a vote. But the key in my view is that the president before he goes to Glasgow needs a deal on the climate provisions, and he will have that. I mean, as long as we can come to an agreement. And I think that's what is going to matter to the American people.

Can they see a unified Democratic Party, not whether the vote is this week or the vote is in a week from now or two weeks from now? That depends on how long it is going to take to put it into text. What I want is a win behind the president.

LEMON: Okay. So, you said -- you know, you had kind of chuckled and said, I don't know if I will be invited, but the is, would you like to be invited? What would you say if you do go, if you have the opportunity?

KHANNA: Well, I have been fortunate to be invited to two meetings with the president. I would go and say this is a historic achievement, that the president has really done something extraordinary to deliver this much for working Americans with only 50 votes in the Senate and only a three-seat House majority. He has delivered because of his experience.

When I've seen him in these small groups, he's on top of all of the details. He is engaged. He knows what every lawmaker wants. He's actually a very impressive legislator, and he will deserve a lot of credit for getting this done.

LEMON: Congressman Ro Khanna, thank you. I appreciate your time.

KHANNA: Thank you. One comment on Toni Morrison because I'm so outraged by that. Are they going to ban Melville next and Hawthorne next? I mean, it is such anti-intellectualism. Toni Morrison is one of the great American authors. They're the ones going after our heroes. I just have to get that in.

LEMON: I'm glad you said that. Do you understand that message, though, congressman, since you brought that up? That message seems to be working. Obviously, it is penetrating. Look at Youngkin, where he is standing in the polls. And he is running on that message.

KHANNA: I mean, I think when people see the facts that they are going after Toni Morrison -- I read one of her novels in 7th grade and it so inspired me. She is literally one of the great American writers. Forget whether she is Black, white or anything. She is just a brilliant writer.

For all of the republican rhetoric, don't go after our heroes, don't knock down our statues, I mean, that's what they're doing. They're taking out of the American canon, one of the great writers. So, we just need to get the facts out there.


LEMON: And I think most Americans aren't that anti-intellectual and they will really resent going after a Nobel Prize winner who people have described as just one of the great writers of world literature.

LEMON: Congressman, thank you. Appreciate it.

KHANNA: Thank you.

LEMON (on camera): More breaking news tonight, word that criminal charges have not been ruled out in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins who was shot by Alec Baldwin on the set of the movie "Rust" in New Mexico.

Attorney telling CNN the incident remains under active investigation. We are learning that the autopsy for Hutchins could take weeks. The state medical examiner's office is saying that it won't release information about the projectile that killed her until the autopsy report is final.

More tonight from CNN's Lucy Kafanov.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This may be the last image of 42-year-old Halyna Hutchins alive on set with Alec Baldwin while filming the movie "Rust" posted on social media by a crew member.

Filming now halted indefinitely, according to a letter from the production team obtained by CNN, as chilling details emerge about what may have happened in the hours leading to the fatal shooting.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Two people accidentally shot on a movie set by a prop gun. We need help immediately.

KAFANOV (voice-over): One of the actors on "Rust," Ian Hudson, opening up about frightening moments on set.

IAN HUDSON, ACTOR: When the rounds were released, when they shot at me, I actually did feel the blanks hitting my face and my body, and I could feel the wind from the shotgun, you know, being discharged. It was heavy. It was strong. I would talk to my fellow cast members afterwards and we all agreed how intense that was and how scary and real it was.

KAFANOV (voice-over): This as "The Wrap" citing a source with knowledge of the set reporting that hours before the cinematographer was killed, some crew members used guns with live ammunition for target practice to pass the time.

SHARON WAXMAN, CEO AND FOUNDER, THE WRAP: There's this past time that crew members sometimes do. It is called plinking. They go out into the rural areas and they shoot at beer cans. This has been live ammunition.

KAFANOV (voice-over): CNN has not been able to confirm the report. In a statement, the producers of "Rust" said they were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set and will be conducting an internal review of procedures while production is shut down.

According to the report, one of the guns used was later handed to actor Alec Baldwin, who was rehearsing for a scene. Court documents obtained by CNN show ammunition was found on the set and seized by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office. Authorities seized three revolvers, nine spent shell casings, ammo, and 14 swabs of suspected blood.

Court documents don't reveal the type of ammunition, whether it was live or blanks. According to an affidavit for a search warrant, Dave Halls, the assistant director of the film, grabbed one of three prop guns that were prepared by the film's armorer, Hannah Gutierrez.

BILL DAVIS, ARMORER, FIREARM TRAINER FOR FIELD AND TELEVISION: Live ammo has no place on a motion picture or television studio set. It has no place on a set anywhere at any time.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Neither Halls nor Gutierrez responded to a CNN request for comment. A veteran prop master tells "The L.A. Times" he turned down a job on the movie "Rust," saying the film was an accident waiting to happen. Neal Zoromski is speaking to NBC News this morning.

NEAL ZOROMSKI, PROP MASTER: I turned the job opportunity down on "Rust" because I felt it was completely unsafe. I impressed upon them that there were great concerns about that and they really -- didn't really respond to my concerns about that.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Santa Fe, New Mexico.


LEMON: All right. Lucy, thank you very much. We got a lot more to come on this. Who is responsible for what happened to Halyna Hutchins on the set of Alec Baldwin's movie and what has to change to make sure nothing like this ever happens again?




LEMON: More on our breaking news now. The Santa Fe, New Mexico District Attorney's Office is telling CNN they're not ruling out filing criminal charges in the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Alec Baldwin's movie "Rust," saying the incident remains under active investigation.

A lot to discuss now with CNN contributor Nischelle Turner, host of "Entertainment Tonight." Nischelle, good to see you. Thank you for joining us again on this very important story.


LEMON: One of the crew members from "Rust" posted what he says is the last photo of Halyna Hutchins alive. You can see her in the pompom hat. We have the arrow right there. Take us through what you are seeing in this picture. What do you know about it?

TURNER: Well, basically, it is showing either, you know, a rehearsal of a scene. We see Alec Baldwin in the picture as well. We believe the director, Joel Souza, also in this photo. We see some sort of rehearsal or some sort of scene about to be shot. It does look like there's yet another person that is interacting with Alec, and I don't know who that person is. We don't know when this photo was taken.

But, yes, that crew member does say that this -- they believe this is the last photo taken of Halyna Hutchins alive. But, yeah, it just looks like a typical day on set, which we know that, you know, last week was anything but typical.

LEMON: Yeah. Court documents are revealing that there was, Nischelle, ammunition lying around the set. Last night, Sharon Waxman from told us that they are reporting crew members were shooting at targets the morning Halyna was shot.

TURNER: Right.

LEMON: What does that all say to you about the set was being managed?

TURNER: Well, if that is in fact the case, what it is saying is that the set was mismanaged. I mean, I've talked to so many people in this business that work on procedural dramas, cop dramas, TV shows, movies, and they've all said the same thing. There is no reason for live ammunition to be on a set. There's just no reason for it. No one has ever said anything different.


TURNER: So, if, in fact, this is the case that these weapons are being used for plinking and for target practice and there was some sort of mishap where the gun wasn't emptied properly and there was live ammunition left there, I mean, I cannot even imagine the neglect there.

You know, Don, we have obtained, "Entertainment Tonight", a new letter from the "Rust" production team to its crew members tonight, saying that they have hired an outside legal team to come in and conduct an investigation along with the OSHA investigation that's going on.

They did indicate to the crew they believe that it is too soon to really be discussing, you know, their feeling of that, but they do know they need to get this information sooner rather than later. So, this outside firm, Jenner & Block, is going to be doing an investigation along with them to see what they turn up. And they said their findings. They're going to abide by this company's findings.

LEMON: So, "Rust" has hired an outside investigating team to do its own independent investigation?

TURNER: Absolutely.

LEMON (on camera): Okay, news from Nischelle Turner of "Entertainment Tonight." Nischelle, also this. I want to play this interview from one of the actors from "TMZ" and get your response to it. Here it is.


HUDSON: As a new actor, you know, I don't want to cause trouble. I don't want to, you know, make an issue about things. I just want to do as well as I can and get the footage that they want. So, I held my tongue for a lot of it. But some of the other actors who had worked on a lot more sets than I have as principal characters, they were double and triple checking our weapons after the armorer gave them to us, whether they were cold or hot.


LEMON: Look, he also feels -- he said that he could feel blanks hitting his face and chest when he shot, you know, when he was shot at in some of the scenes. Can you speak to the pressure that this unsafe environment puts on people? I mean, feeling thankful that he has got a big break, right? I mean -- and they maybe -- a lot of them may be too scared to even speak up.

TURNER: Yeah, of course. I mean, this was an independent film. It was not attached to a studio yet. But it did have names. It had Alec Baldwin as a name. He was also attached as a producer. Frances Fisher as a name. Jensen Ackles as a name. So, there were working actors on this movie.

So, you can understand if there's a young actor that gets a break, they just want to try to make a name in this business and they might be quiet to a lot of things that some other more experienced veteran actors should speak to. I have not heard any of those other actors really speak to that.

We have heard crew members talk about working -- walking out. We have heard crew members talk about environments that they believe are unsafe, but we have not heard any other actors. That's shocking. I hadn't heard that sound, Don, and that's shocking if, in fact, that is the case, that this actor was in these situations and in these scenes like this and felt that unsafe on this project.

LEMON: Nischelle Turner, always appreciate having you and your perspective. Thank you so much. Nischelle Turner of "Entertainment Tonight." Also, thank you for the news, about the letter that you guys got. Thank you so much.


LEMON: So, take this. So, the men allegedly shot by Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin can't be called victims in the upcoming trial. That is according to Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder. But calling them rioters and looters, well, that apparently is just fine with the judge.


BRUCE SCHROEDER, JUDGE, KENOSHA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT: Let the evidence show what the evidence shows. And if the evidence shows that any or more than one of these people were engaging in arson, rioting or looting, then I'm not going to tell the defense they can't call them that.


LEMON (on camera): So, the judge laying out the ground rules in a pretrial hearing Monday. When prosecutors understandably pushed back, Schroeder offered this defense.


SCHROEDER: The word "victim" is a loaded, loaded word. And I think alleged victim is a cousin to it.


LEMON (on camera): So, victim is a loaded word, but rioter and looter, not loaded? Judge Schroeder says it is a long-held belief of his that attorneys avoid the word "victim." But the choice of what can and can't be said at trial really raising some eyebrows.

So, let's rewind because Rittenhouse faces charges that he killed Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum and wounded Gage Grosskreutz during protests that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse has become a symbol for some on the right who believe that the unrest and not the police violence behind it was the real issue. But two people are dead here. So, why can't the prosecution call them victims?


LEMON: The question is where is the justice in that? Ultimately, it will be up to a jury to decide and selection begins on November 1st.

The former president's COVID coordinator testifying today, saying that he put elections above people's health to the detriment of some 130,000 lives. Stay with us.


LEMON: Dr. Deborah Birx, former president's White House coronavirus response coordinator, was asked today by the Select Subcommittee pm the coronavirus crisis whether he did everything in his power to slow the spread and save lives. [23:35:00]

LEMON: Her answer, an unequivocal no.

So joining me now, Andy Slavitt, a former Biden White House senior advisor for COVID response and he author of "Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response."

Andy, thank you. It is so good to see you. Dr. Birx told the committee that 130,000 lives could have been saved if the Trump administration had implemented measures like mask mandates, increased testing, and reduced indoor dining and family gatherings. Where would we be today if the Trump White House simply listened to the science?

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER BIDEN WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: Well, many more people would be alive today. I think she is right about that. It wouldn't have been asking a lot of the president. What he would have had to do is, number one, tell the public the truth as soon as he knew it. If he had warned people in January as soon as he knew that a deadly pandemic was coming, many more people could have been prepared.

If people had worn a mask and if he had listened to scientists and not fired the scientists or diminished the scientists like Birx who were trying to, in fact, reduce the spread, a lot of lives would have been saved. So, it is really a tragedy of 2020.

LEMON: Well, Birx also testified in the fall of 2020 that White House officials' narrow focus on reelection distracted them from the pandemic. She tried to get them to reengage and implement a plan, but gotten nowhere. She says after that, Trump was focused on the big lie. What did losing that time mean for the overall fight against COVID? I mean, that was a very critical time.

SLAVITT: Well, I'll give you one example. Jared Kushner said to me in the book that you referred to, "Preventable," that the president was going to take credit for opening up the economy in April and then he was going to leave it to the governors to take the blame if and when things went poorly.

And as far as I was concerned when he told me that and I'm sure that Birx was aware of this as well, I haven't talked to her, at that point in time, he was pretty much washing his hands of the pandemic and saying anything bad that happened wasn't his fault. And as you look through that summer and that fall, he hardly paid the pandemic any attention, including when he himself got sick.

So, it really was usurping, just giving up his responsibility that he had been elected to just protect the American public.

LEMON: The FDA's vaccine advisory board voted 17-0 with one abstention to recommend emergency use authorization for Pfizer's COVID vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old. The FDA is expected to take up that recommendation. This means that as soon as next week, around 28 million kids ages 5 to 11 could be eligible. Vaccinating kids that age, is that the last hurdle to get out of this pandemic?

SLAVITT: I don't know if it is the last hurdle, but it is a day that we've been waiting for a long, long time. And many, many parents are going to be excited to do this. One of the big differences between this vaccine delivery and the delivery of vaccines to adults is that 25,000 pediatricians, most of the pediatricians in the country, will be able to administer those vaccines and, importantly, answer questions that we know parents have.

We know many people -- many parents are eager to vaccinate their kids and many kids are going to get vaccinated. Others have questions. Legitimately so. They want to understand the risks. They want to understand the benefits. They should ask away. Only they should not ask Facebook. They should ask of their pediatricians.

LEMON: I'm wondering if you are worried about vaccine hesitancy for that age group because we put up the poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. It shows that around a third of parents of 5 to 11-year- old kids will vaccinate their kids as soon as it becomes available.

SLAVITT: Yeah. Well, look, when it comes to our kids, we want to be understandably cautious. Many people are willing to vaccinate themselves with a little less information, but they want to make sure they understand the risk/benefits.

Parents have a simple question, is the benefit of giving this vaccine reducing the long-term side effects, reducing the risk of hospitalization, worth whatever risks we are taking? There are very rare side effects. So, it is important that parents understand the full picture, that they get to ask those questions.

I'm okay with the fact that only a third of the people have gotten those questions answered so far. What I do hope is that the other two- thirds seek answers to those questions from reliable places. Pediatricians are used to answering those types of questions, giving those vaccines out. I think they will find that the evidence suggests that under almost every circumstance, it makes sense to vaccinate their kids.

LEMON: Let me get your reaction to this. It is in Massachusetts. Hopkinton High School is going to drop their mask mandate for a three- week trial period for vaccinated students and staff. They're able to do it because overall vaccination rate in their school is like 80% or more. Is that a good idea?


SLAVITT: Well, look, we will find out in three weeks. I don't mean to be flip about it, but with -- as cases drop, we are going to be able to relax some of our precautions. Now, when exactly to relax those precautions is really a tough judgment call, and I think that, you know, the school ought to be prepared that if the kids are vaccinated and they do see a rise in cases to make an adjustment.

But I think it sounds like a calculated decision. I don't know more about it, but, hopefully, you know, we will be seeing continued progress. They will be monitoring it closely.

LEMON: Andy Slavitt, thank you. I appreciate it. I will see you soon.

SLAVITT: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: A 25-year-old studying to become a doctor disappears. It takes weeks to discover his body and even longer to determine his cause of death. But now, his family is questioning everything. CNN looks into Jelani Day's death next.




LEMON (on camera): Tonight, the family of Jelani Day is calling on the FBI and the Justice Department to investigate his death. The body of the 25-year-old grad student was found floating in the Illinois river in early September. Yesterday, a coroner ruled his cause of death as drowning, but said that how Day went into the river is unknown. His family does not accept any suggestion that Jelani Day died by suicide.

More on the story now from CNN's Omar Jimenez.


UNKNOWN: Keep hope --

CROWD: Keep hope --

UNKNOWN: -- alive!

CROWD: -- alive!

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a call for answers that are far outweighed by questions in the case of Jelani Day. The LaSalle County coroner ruling his death a drowning but also writing it is still unknown how he got in the river.

JESSE JACKSON, REVEREND, RAINBOW RUSH COALITION: The coroner's report yesterday was an insult to our situation. It assumes there's a kind of suicide planned.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Reverend Jesse Jackson was among those in Illinois Tuesday rallying and driving in a processional to raise awareness to demand answers and that federal authorities get more involved.

Jelani Day was last seen on August 24th at a retail store in Bloomington, Illinois about 130 miles from Chicago. Almost 70 miles north is Peru, Illinois where his vehicle was found just two days later. From the road, it looks like a dead end.

(On camera): You can still see the remnants of when Jelani Day's vehicle came through here. Plants knocked on their sides. The question though is whether he was driving the vehicle when it did. Authorities found his car just down this path and off to the left side, according to the former attorney for the family. The thing about this location though is it isn't in the middle of nowhere. It has got a YMCA on one side and it is surrounded by homes.

(Voice-over): Jelani Day's body was found about a week afterward, just about a mile away off the bank of the Illinois River east of the Route 251 bridge. His body wouldn't be officially identified until nearly a month later.

But around when the body was found, his wallet was discovered about a mile and a half away from the water. Still, a half a mile from the vehicle with a lanyard of his and some clothes found in separate locations as well, according to the Peru Police Department.

His mother says none of it adds up and that this wasn't an area he was familiar with.

JIMENEZ (on camera): That he would come all the way --

CARMEN DAY, MOTHER OF JELANI DAY: That he would come all the way here. I mean, there's plenty of bodies of water in Bloomington. We're in Peru, a town that Jelani doesn't have any friends, no -- no ties to. His car was parked in a wooded area that you wouldn't have even know how to get to had you not heard about this.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): When Jelani Day's body was found in the river, his organs were completely liquid, according to the former family attorney, after over a week of significant deterioration in the river. The coroner's report said there was no evidence of injury prior to death, including strangulation or assault.

DAY: He doesn't have any skin to determine bruising. So, none of this makes sense. You want to tell me that there's no physical trauma done to my child? Do I accept this? They tell me that this is my son. I accept it, but I still need to know why my son is not here anymore because somebody knows.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): The Peru Police Department writing to CNN in part, there are hundreds of hours of video to look through, numerous follow-ups to conduct. The members of the unit are working tirelessly to find out what happened to Jelani Day. But not fast enough for a mother left searching for answers.

DAY: Would you believe that somebody with common sense would come all the way to Peru to do something to themselves? So, see it with your own eyes, see why I'm so adamant about finding out what happened to my son.


LEMON (on camera): CNN's Omar Jimenez is here now. Jelani Day's mother says the coroner's report is an insult. So, what are they doing about it? Omar will tell us next.




LEMON: We have more now on the family of Jelani Day calling on the FBI and the DOJ to investigate the death of the 25-year-old graduate student.

Back with me now, CNN's Omar Jiminez. Omar, hello to you. The question, there are calls for a federal investigation into Jelani Day's death, right?

JIMENEZ: Yeah, Don, and those calls are coming from a number of fronts. We heard them today from the family, of course from Reverend Jesse Jackson, and most recently from Congressman Bobby Rush, who specifically called on Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray to launch a federal investigation into the disappearance and death of Jelani Day.

I want to read a little of the letter that Congressman Rush sent to Attorney General Garland and Director Wray.


JIMENEZ: He described it as a letter of great concern and compared it to Emmett Till, saying, as I learned the details of Day's case, I was reminded of the lynching of Emmett Till, whose body was found floating in a river in 1955 and still, decades later, no one has been held legally accountable for his death.

And, of course, Jelani Day was found floating in the Illinois River and his family is asking for accountability. I should mention the FBI did tell me today that they are in contact with the Peru Police Department, providing support when asked for it, Don.

LEMON: We heard from Jelani's mother, Carmen Day, in your reporting, Omar. She says that the county's autopsy was insulting. Are there other autopsies being performed?

JIMENEZ: Yes. As we understand from Carmen and the family, there are at least two other autopsies being performed, both of them hired by the family.

When I asked her why a third one, she told me something that some people might find a little disheartening. She said, well, she just didn't know what to believe at points. She felt like she's lost so much faith in a lot of these systems and that this investigation has been playing out at too slow of a pace for her to get reliable answers.

And that's really the spirit of this investigation. Carmen, the mother, feels like she is the one that's propelling this investigation forward when she feels like it should be the police departments, the federal government, and others that should be pushing her with this investigation forward, Don.

LEMON: Yeah. Omar Jimenez, we appreciate that. We'll keep our viewers updated, Omar. We will continue to follow. Thanks so much.

And thank you for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.