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White House Braces for Chauvin Verdict; Racism in America in Focus; Capitol Officer Died of Natural Causes; U.S. Ambassador to Russia Returns to U.S. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired April 20, 2021 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: His advisers say that President Biden is closely watching the events unfolding in Minneapolis as we await a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial and the possibility of protests in cities around the country depending on the outcome.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: White House aides say the president is likely to address the nation whenever that verdict does come, calling the situation a tinderbox that becomes more volatile by the day.

Let's go to the White House. Jeremy Diamond is there.

Interesting development that we've just learned about, Jeremy, and that is who the president spoke with yesterday.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Poppy. We know that President Biden has been in touch with the family of George Floyd since his tragic killing.

He not only spoke with the family in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd being killed, but he also then traveled to Houston ahead of George Floyd's funeral and met with the family in private for more than an hour. And we're now learning that the president, President Biden, also spoke yesterday with the family of George Floyd as those closing arguments were taking place.

Listen to George Floyd's brother, Philonise, recounting that conversation.


PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: He was just calling. He knows how it is to lose a family member. And he knows the process of what we're going through. So he was just letting us know that he was praying for us and hoping that everything will come out to be OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP) DIAMOND: And now President Biden has been keeping a close eye on this trial as it has been unfolding. Of course, it's been appointment television for so many Americans across the country and dominating daytime TV. So the White House and President Biden, they have their TVs tuned to the news coverage over the last week or so.

They know that this is a, quote, tinderbox situation according to one senior White House official. And President Biden has voiced concerns, including last week in a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus about what the fallout from this trial might be, in particular if it is indeed a not guilty verdict.

He and Vice President Kamala Harris have been having conversations about what the fallout might be. And we do expect that President Biden will eventually address the verdict in this case, whichever way it goes. And, of course, White House officials are in touch with governors and local officials as well in the state of Minnesota bracing for what that fallout might be.

HARLOW: OK, Jeremy, we'll be watching. Thank you very much, at the White House.

And as the jury deliberates in the Derek Chauvin murder trial, the city of Minneapolis clearly on edge. But this goes beyond the trial. Listen to the mayor of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, right next to Minneapolis, and, of course, that's where Daunte Wright was killed by a police officer last week. This is the mayor speaking with our Wolf Blitzer.


MAYOR MIKE ELLIOTT (D), BROOKLYN CENTER, MINNESOTA: It's not safe to drive in Minnesota while you're black. I mean the fact of the matter is, there's so many of us who drive, you know, and if we see police behind us, we're afraid. You know, we're trembling.


And that is a kind of terror that no -- no citizens of the United -- no citizen of the United States should ever have to face. It's constant. It's ever present.


HARLOW: And it's happened to him. Listen to what he said when Wolf asked him about his personal experience with racism in Minnesota.


MAYOR MIKE ELLIOTT (D), BROOKLYN CENTER, MINNESOTA: I've had an officer almost throw me off my bike just coming back from biking down the parkway, you know, saying that, you know, someone called and said they saw their neighbor's back door open and saw me riding down the sidewalk, down the street and thought maybe for some reason I had burglarized their neighbor's home.


HARLOW: Let me bring in Sondra Samuels. She runs the Northside Achievement Zone. It's a nonprofit working with thousands of families in the most underserved communities in Minneapolis. And her office is just a few miles away from where Daunte Wright was shot by police.

Sondra, thank you for being with us, especially on a week like this.


HARLOW: What is the power in hearing a mayor say that following the words of the lieutenant governor, who's a white woman, Peggy Flanagan, saying over the weekend, Minnesota is a place where it is not safe to be black.

How important is it to hear it from them?

SAMUELS: So, you know, truth crushed to earth will rise again. Poppy, it's so important that we tell the truth right now around the real reality in Minnesota and Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center, in Gary, Indiana, in New York. And, you know, we are a microcosm, so to speak, of what's going on all over our country. So it's powerful to have an elected official share his experience, and our lieutenant governor.

HARLOW: And I think, of course, the obvious question is, well, what are you going to do about it? And I don't mean you. You're already doing so much about it. But I mean action by those elected officials. I mean you've talked about feeling helpless as an adult, feeling like you can't protect your -- the children of your community. And you've said this last year that it struck me. You said, thank you, George Floyd, thank you for giving us the opportunity to see ourselves and to wake up.

SAMUELS: Yes. Yes, Poppy, you know, if the question is, what should be done, I am hoping that we use this moment to -- to not scapegoat police. And what I mean by that, Poppy, is, police have got to stop killing black people.

My husband and I were at a peaceful protest last night and all you saw were, you know, people from indigenous community, you know, white, black, just from all over, saying the same thing, this has got to stop. The cycle of the murders and then the protests and then the -- the -- and letting the police officers go, the exoneration of the police, that has got to stop. So I'm saying that strongly.

And, at the same time, what I keep saying, Poppy is that, you know, our sensibilities are pricked because we saw the murder, because we keep seeing the murder, we see the results. And what we don't see, Poppy, are -- is all of the racism that's underneath the waterline of this big iceberg. If the killing of George Floyd was the tip, there's a bunch underneath him. We've got to get to the system and the system of racism.

HARLOW: The work you do, for anyone who is not familiar with the Northside Achievement Zone, it's a remarkable thing that you've built, close to where I, you know, grew up and spent, you know, all of my childhood. You help the most vulnerable. You help the most underserved kids.

What are they saying to you today, Sondra? What are those black and brown children saying to you as they watch this play out in their city?

SAMUELS: You know, Poppy, they -- we used to have a youth group called Northside Youth Stand Up and they had a whole -- we had a whole movement called "Don't Shoot, I Want to Live." And it was both in terms of the police, as well as the community violence that happens in addition.

And that is something, again -- and, Poppy, it has all -- there's all kind of social, structural, racist reasons for it happening. But the main thing is that our children are the ones who are suffering the most.

So either they are killed by a police officer or they're killed by -- especially if you're in a low-income community, someone from the community. And, in fact, this year, Poppy, we have -- I mean it's so -- what I'm trying to say is, they're dealing with trauma all the way around, and they're looking to the adults to protect them. And it's something we've all failed to do.

HARLOW: Yes, we've failed and we owe it to every single one of them.

SAMUELS: (INAUDIBLE) Every single one of them.

HARLOW: I want to be very clear for our viewers about your view of police.


We heard in the closing arguments yesterday from the prosecutor, this is not an anti-police prosecution, this is a pro-police prosecution. Interestingly, you are part of a group actually suing the Minneapolis Police Department because you want more police in your community.


HARLOW: So what is your message to some really high-profile Democrats that are calling now to abolish the police?

SAMUELS: Yes. So it's a naive approach, Poppy. We have -- I mean we have got to change the system of policing. And, Poppy, we've got to also change the system of education. And we've got to change the system of housing and banking and lending and jobs. I mean the disparities in this state and around the country are ginormous. And what we're saying is, I live in a community that is disproportionately African-American.

On Thursday, right before Daunte was murdered, a 16-year-old got shot in front of my office, Poppy. Yesterday, one of our partners in early childhood, because we on do wrap-around support for families, said a 15-year-old got shot in front of her business. I have -- I live in this community of north Minneapolis. I have

neighbors who are moving, who can move because they can't take it anymore. A woman was murdered and her five -- her baby, she was pregnant, at George Floyd Square last year, her baby survived about five weeks. I mean businesses, black businesses, Poppy, are begging for more protection because they are losing their livelihoods.

I mean this is part of the thing that we're demonstrating for, for racial justice, so that we can live and so that we can live well. And to just simply say, let's dismantle the police without dismantling the structures that hold up the Chauvins of the world is disingenuous at best, and evil at worst.

And so, Poppy, what we're trying to say -- because we've lost about 200 to 250 police officers across the city. And you know where everyone's dying? We've had 21 homicides this year, 85 percent of those homicides are African-American men, and 83 percent of them have happened right here in my neighborhood.

And so we need the system to change. Cops have to be held accountable to change our arbitration rules, to make sure that we put systems in place so that it doesn't happen again and so that we have good cops who can work alongside mental health workers and social workers when that's called for.

But, Poppy, we have to do both and. We have to be able to chew gum and walk. And simply saying (INAUDIBLE) doesn't work.

HARLOW: Sondra Samuels, thank you. Minneapolis is lucky to have you. I'm glad you were here with us this morning.

SAMUELS: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: We'll be right back.

SAMUELS: Bye-bye.



HARLOW: A significant development in the investigation into the death of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. You'll remember him, of course, because he died one day after the January 6th riot at the Capitol.

SCIUTTO: An extremely significant development.


SCIUTTO: There had been allegations that protesters led to his death.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins us now.

Explain why prosecutors, based on this finding by the medical examiner, may not be able to pursue homicide charges here. And is this finding definitive?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's what the medical examiner is saying now. You know, after three months, Jim and Poppy, the D.C. medical examiner finally announcing the cause of death here, saying that Officer Sicknick died of natural causes. Specifically the report saying that he suffered two strokes. That is the conclusion here.

And it is significant because, as you guys mentioned, over the past 100-plus days since January 6th, there has been a lot of speculation about how Officer Sicknick died. Capitol Police, they initially announced he died due to injuries on duty that day. An official said that they were pursuing initially a federal murder investigation.

But then in February, the investigation actually stalled because the exact cause of Sicknick's death was undetermined. And in the meantime, two men have been charged with assaulting Officer Sicknick and two other officers with chemical spray. And there was that question whether the chemical spray could have been the cause of Sicknick's death.

But, of course, now, the medical examiner saying there is no evidence that Sicknick had an allergic reaction to the chemical spray. That's according to "The Washington Post." So because of that, it is likely that no one will be charged in connection to Sicknick's death.

In addition, however, the medical examiner, though, did tell "The Washington Post," quote, all that transpired played a role here. So that's a looming question.

But other looming questions here, you know, whether or not Officer Sicknick had any pre-existing conditions. That's something that the medical examiner couldn't answer here.

As to the timeline of events, you see it. Officer Sicknick was sprayed around 2:20 on January 6th and then hours later he collapsed at the U.S. Capitol. He -- it was an office that he collapsed and he was brought to the hospital where he died one day later.

So a lot of questions here still looming. You know, whether or not there were any pre-existing conditions that Officer Sicknick had. But the definitive conclusion coming from the medical examiner now, that it was natural causes that Officer Sicknick died of two strokes.


SCIUTTO: Jessica, to be clear, they're still pursuing possible charges for an attack on Sicknick, but no longer that that attack caused his death. Is that the --

SCHNEIDER: Right, the existing charges right now are assaulting Sicknick.


[09:50:01] SCHNEIDER: You know, we heard there was a federal murder investigation. We have not heard definitively if that's gone away, but it likely has with this report.

SCIUTTO: Understood.


Jessica, thank you.

We'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: Amid growing tensions between Washington and Moscow, including Russia's seeming public attempts to slowly kill the main opposition leader in that country, U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, will now be heading back to the U.S. this week.

HARLOW: And this follows President Biden imposing fresh sanctions against Russia and as the country continues to amass troops along the border with Ukraine.

Our Kylie Atwood joins us at the State Department this morning.


Kylie, Russia recalled its ambassador from Washington last month and now there's this. And then the big question is, what's next?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that right. I think, you know, there has been a tremendous amount of things that have happened in U.S.-Russia relations since the Russian ambassador here in Washington was recalled to Moscow. And now we are seeing this morning that Ambassador Sullivan, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, is going to be returning here to Washington later this week.

This comes after the Russian foreign minister suggested that the Biden administration bring back Ambassador Sullivan for detailed conversations about U.S.-Russia relations. As you said, that was after the Biden administration imposed a tremendous number of costs on Russia for interference in the 2020 election and the SolarWinds hack.

I want to read you a statement from Ambassador Sullivan about his return here to Washington. He said, quote, I believe it's important for me to speak directly with my new colleagues in the Biden administration in Washington about the current state of bilateral relations between the United States and Russia.

Now, he also noted he hasn't seen his family in over a year. That's a number of -- that's one of the reasons he's coming back to Washington. And he said he will return to Moscow before any meeting directly between President Biden and President Putin. We know that's something that's being discussed between U.S. and Russia at this point.

Jim and Poppy. SCIUTTO: Yes, Sullivan, a rare holdover from the Trump administration at this level.

Kylie Atwood, at the State Department, thanks very much.

Jury deliberations in the Derek Chauvin murder trial, they're underway right now for a second day as the nation braces for their verdict. We're going to be live in Minneapolis, next.