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Democrats Nearing Infrastructure Deal?; Alec Baldwin Fires Prop Gun in Deadly Shooting on Film Set. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 22, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Thanks for joining me on NEWSROOM. Victor is off today.

Alec Baldwin is calling the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins a tragic accident. The sheriff's department in New Mexico says Baldwin fired a prop gun on set during production of the movie "Rust," accidentally hitting Hutchins. The 42-year-old cinematographer was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The film's director, Joel Souza, was also injured. These photos show a seemingly distraught Baldwin after this shooting. And a short time ago, he tweeted this -- quote -- "There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I'm fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred. And I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna."

CNN correspondent Stephanie Elam is covering all of the new developments for us from Los Angeles.

So, Stephanie, you have got some breaking details from the local prosecutor in New Mexico. What's happening?


That's because, Alisyn, we have not heard anything about whether or not charges would be filed. We know that the investigation is very much open, and that they continue to talk to witnesses there in the Santa Fe area.

But this new statement coming in from New Mexico's First Judicial District attorney, which she says that right now it's unclear if charges are going to be filed. That's one part of it, but also says: "We will look into all facts and evidence of the case with great discretion and have further information at a later time. Our thoughts are with all affected by this tragedy."

And, of course, at this point, we are starting to hear more from people who knew Hutchins and knew her work and saw that she was a rising star, as many have referred to her to be, including the agency that represented her. They put out a statement on social media, saying -- quote -- "All those in her orbit knew what was coming, a star director of photography who would be a force to be reckoned with. All of us at Innovative Artists are heartbroken. We mourn for her family. And we hope this tragedy will reveal new lessons for how to better ensure safety for every crew member on set," which is obviously a big topic of discussion.

And you can see that people who were there on the set are starting to remember her. If you look at Frances Fisher, an actor who you have seen in a multitude of roles, I feel like, from "Titanic" on down to "Watchmen," she is also part of this production of "Rust" that's been filming there in New Mexico.

She posted this really beautiful picture of her with Halyna, where she just says that: "Rest in paradise dear, Halyna. I loved watching you work" -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Just devastating on so many levels.

Stephanie Elam, thank you for all that breaking information.

So one crew member from the set of "Rust" just posted this. This is an image of a safety meeting during production of the film just two Fridays ago.

Joining me now is Steve Wolf. He's a theatrical firearms safety expert who has investigated multiple on-set accidental shootings, including the killing of Brandon Lee during the filming of "The Crow." Also with us is CNN legal analyst and attorney Areva Martin.

Steve, I want to start with you.

I have always appreciated being able to call upon you for the past years. You have taught me some gun safety, and I have really appreciated it.

So you have been on sets like this. How does something like this happen?

STEVE WOLF, THEATRICAL FIREARMS SAFETY EXPERT: Well, the physics of how bullets injure people has been known for about 5,000 years. So there's really no excuse for something like this to happen.

In order to shoot someone, you have to have a firearm capable of discharging a projectile. You have to have a casing. You have to have primer, and you have to have a bullet. You put those things together, and if a bullet comes out and injure someone, that's exactly what it's designed to do.

So, you have to figure out, how do you make sure that doesn't happen? And a couple of things you can do. One, you can make sure by looking inside the cylinder that there's actually nothing in the gun that can come out. And, of course, you want to make sure that there's no bullet on the end of the ammo that you're loading into the gun. So you have to break several rules. Even if you have a real live gun,

real live ammo, and you don't point it at somebody, you're not going to put a bullet in them.


CAMEROTA: But, Steve, hold on. I have a question about that, because when you just showed us the, barrel, right that's empty and you can make sure that it's empty, if there are blanks...


WOLF: I'm showing you this (AUDIO GAP) from the revolver that you can see right through.


WOLF: And that you can see that there's nothing in there.


CAMEROTA: Yes, but what about blanks? If you put a blank in there, don't you see something in there?


WOLF: Yes, if you put a blank in there, first, you look at the blank and you make sure, yes, that's a blank. There's no bullet on the end of it. It's hollow. It's got just gunpowder and a piece of paper that holds the powder in.

You can then load that in there. And then all that will come out are hot expanding gases, flame and smoke and a noise. And that (AUDIO GAP) range is also lethal, at a distance, not so lethal.


CAMEROTA: Hold on, because I want to ask you about that.

WOLF: Yes.

CAMEROTA: Because -- so what you're saying is that a blank can also be lethal depending upon the distance.

And so from what you know, from what little we know so far of what happened on this movie set of "Rust," do you have a sense from your experience of whether this was a blank or this was an accidental real bullet in there?

WOLF: A projectile came out of the gun and killed her, so there was something in there. Whether it was live ammo or not, I don't know. I haven't done an investigation there yet.

But something was in here and shot out as a deadly projectile.


WOLF: ... projectile in here, though, if you point it off-camera, rather than pointing it at camera or pointing it at somebody, a bullet will whiz past them and you won't kill anybody.


WOLF: So you have got the wrong kind of gun, the wrong kind of ammo, and not following proper safety procedures of not pointing guns at things you don't want to see a hole in.


Let me bring into Areva right now.

Areva, do you have a sense of if charges will be filed? This just sounds like a horrible, at the moment, tragic accident. Could charges be filed against someone?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What we know, Alisyn, in the state of New Mexico, which is where this occurred, they do have an excusable homicide statute, which allows for someone not to be charged when they are engaged in a lawful activity, such as this, shooting a movie, and something terrible happens, an accident happens, where there's no intent to cause harm, there's obviously no intent to kill the person.

And the question of reasonableness comes up, whether there were appropriate actions taken, steps taken to prevent this kind of unforeseen event. And we -- you mentioned that safety meeting, the tweet from someone on that crew, who tweeted out that safety meeting.

So, a lot of questions are going to be asked by these sheriffs about what was said in that safety meeting, what kind of information was provided. We heard Steve talk about what was actually inside of this gun. Was it a blank? Was it something more deadly than a blank?

So, I think there are a lot of questions to be asked before we get to charges. We know the John Landis case back in the '80s. He was actually charged with involuntary manslaughter when three people were killed. That was a helicopter accident. It was different.

And we know, in the Brandon Lee situation in 1993, there weren't any charges file when Brandon Lee was accidentally killed by a bullet on set. So we have two prior cases that we can look to, two very different outcomes, but lots of questions to be asked about who knew what about what was in that gun and the safety training that was provided to Alec Baldwin.

CAMEROTA: So, Steve, let's talk about that, because you were part of the investigative team in the Brandon Lee killing.

Whose fault is this? And is there something that is similar from that experience that will inform this horrible case?

WOLF: Several things, right? Was there live ammo in the gun? Was the gun supposed to be pointed at anybody? Was Alec properly trained and told, don't point this at anyone or you're going to kill them? And then, if he did that, OK, well, then I would say there's some criminal liability there.

But benefit of the doubt that he didn't intend that, then the responsibility would lie with the prop coordinator or the armorer who was on set, who is supposed to make sure that nothing can come out of the gun that's going to hurt anybody.

CAMEROTA: And with the Brandon Lee thing, Steve, was that a blank or was that live ammo? What happened?

WOLF: That was a combination.

So, sometimes, you want to see someone loading ammo in a gun on a movie set. Someone's getting ready to shoot something, and they take the ammo, and you want to see it putting -- being put into the gun.

So since we don't want actors handling live rounds, we give them a casing that has no powder in it, no primer on the back, but it does have a bullet. So, externally on the outside, it looks like live ammo.

If you put this into a gun, and then say, OK, we're done with that, now we're going to go to the blanks, you pull this out of the gun, if the bullet unseats from the casing, the bullet could actually be still sitting inside the cylinder, and then, when you take a blank, and you put it behind the bullet inside the cylinder, you now have primer, casing, powder, and the bullet that you didn't realize was in there.

And that's how Brandon Lee was killed. So they brought all four components of a cartridge together inside the gun unwittingly, and that is how that homicide occurred.

CAMEROTA: And, Steve, because you have been involved in this, how long do these investigations take? When will we know the answer to this?


WOLF: Really, it should only take a week or so. And we have got to see the gun, see the ammo, see the medical information on the coroner's report.

If they recover a bullet, we can pretty well say that there was light ammo there. Whether it was a complete cartridge at the time, or whether there was a bullet in the gun and then someone loaded a blank behind it, we will just have to wait on the investigations to get that.

CAMEROTA: Areva, Alec Baldwin has tweeted out that he's cooperating fully. What's the potential next move for him?

MARTIN: Well, hopefully, he's answering questions, all the questions that Steve just raised in terms of what was actually in the gun, what happened during those safety meetings, what kind of training he received, who was on set at the time that he was handling the gun as the scene or this rehearsal was taking place.

Fortunately, for the family and I think for the entire industry, Alec has expressed his remorse. There are pictures of him crying outside of the sheriff's department, and him now saying he is cooperating fully.

You should expect lots of lawyers to get involved, lawyers on behalf of the family, as well as those on behalf of this movie set. But there are lots of questions to be answered. And I'm just happy to hear that Alec Baldwin at this point is participating in the investigation, responding to those questions.

Lots of questions for that the prop gun person who was there who was responsible for the safety of everyone on that crew. Unfortunately, obviously, things weren't sufficiently learned from the Brandon Lee tragedy, because no one should die while shooting a movie.


CAMEROTA: Steve Wolf, Areva Martin, yes, sorry guys, we're out of time. Really appreciate both of you and your expertise. Thanks so much for being here with us.

WOLF: Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, now to this. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she's hopeful there will be a vote next week on infrastructure after President Biden revealed new details about these long-going negotiations with Democrats in last night's CNN town hall.

Plus, Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, apparently, you can take your pick. The CDC signs off on all three vaccine boosters for eligible adults.



CAMEROTA: Negotiations on President Biden's social safety net plan are moving ahead today, we're told.

The president had breakfast with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And we have also learned that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined by Zoom. The president pulled back the curtain on these negotiations at CNN's town hall last night. He listed the sticking points, climate change, paid family leave, Medicare expansion, drug pricing and revenue.

Those sound like a lot.

Joining us now, we have CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox and CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

So, Lauren, where at this hour do the talks stand? LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we caught up with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just a short time ago and asked her, what are the state of these conversations?

Here's what she said just a little while ago.


QUESTION: It sounds there's a drug price negotiation compromise you're working on? Is that accurate?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): There are many decisions that have to be made. But I would say that more than 90 percent of everything is agreed to and written.


FOX: Again, it's that remaining 10 percent that has consistently been a problem for the Democratic Party as they have tried to resolve issues surrounding health care, surrounding Medicare negotiations and surrounding climate change.

That has been a key sticking point for moderate Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. You also have this larger issue playing out behind the scenes, where Kyrsten Sinema, another moderate from the state of Arizona, has been opposed to increasing the corporate tax rate. That had been a key pay-for the Democratic Party, something they have campaigned on over the last several years.

But that negotiation is also playing out. One of the big problems here is, even if you can agree on what to spend $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion, you have to find a way to finance this bill. And at this point, it doesn't look like there's a solution that's imminent.

CAMEROTA: So, Kaitlan, President Biden made a lot of news at our town hall last night. What are his next moves today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and all that news were -- it was the details of really what was going on behind the scenes in these closed-door negotiations.

And so, today, really what it revealed to us last night was just the reality of whether or not they're actually going to come to an agreement today, which is what we know Democratic leaders were hoping for.

And Jen Psaki, the press secretary, is briefing reporters right now talking about some of these concessions that the president made last night about what is going to be in the bill and what's likely not going to make the cut.

And she says the alternative is not a larger package. It's no package at all, given what the president said last night.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: You're also proposing for the first time ever federal paid parental leave.

At one point, you talked about 12 weeks. Now there's reports it's down to maybe four weeks.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, it is down four weeks.

And the reason it's down to four weeks, I can't get 12 weeks.

COOPER: One of the other things that Democrats are looking to do is to expand Medicare to include dental, vision and hearing. Will all three of those still be covered?

BIDEN: That's a reach. And the reason why it's a reach, it's not -- I think it's a good idea. And it's not that costly in relative terms.

But here's the thing. Mr. Manchin is opposed to that.

So far, Mr. Manchin and one other person has indicated they will not support free community college.

COOPER: There's a lot of Democrats in the House and Senate who are confused about where Senator Sinema actually stands on things.


COOPER: Do you know where she stands?

BIDEN: First of all, she's smart as the devil, number one.

Number two, she's very supportive of the environmental agenda in my legislation. Where she's not supportive is, she says she will not raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side and/or on wealthy people.



COLLINS: So, those are the details. Alisyn, the president saying paid leave is likely going from 12 weeks to four weeks. That Medicare expansion that Senator Bernie Sanders is pushing for is likely going to be much more limited in scope. Those two years of free community college also out, and raising taxes on corporations, which has been a very popular part of this bill, also likely not going to make the final cut as they search for alternatives.

Now, when it comes to whether or not they're going to come to an agreement today, which is an unofficial deadline that Democrats have set, it does seem unlikely, based on what the White House is saying, which is that the president is going to continue to have agreement or conversations with lawmakers throughout the weekend, but they don't have any new deadlines to set right now.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kaitlan, Lauren, thank you. Joining me now is CNN political commentator Charlie Dent. He's a

former Republican congressman. And CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, he's a senior editor at "The Atlantic."

Ron, you have this new piece out, and the headline is grabby. It says "Democrats Stare Into the Abyss."


CAMEROTA: So, what do you mean by that? And what what's your sense of where the negotiations are now, after everything President Biden said last night at our town hall?


What I mean, by that, Alisyn, is that if you look at history, it's clear that big legislative accomplishment is not a guarantee of success in the midterm election that comes the next year, but it's pretty clear that big legislative failure is a guarantee of electoral failure in the election that comes the next year.

And I think Democrats have rounded that corner, where even Manchin and Sinema seem to have reached the point where they recognize that allowing this all to collapse would be catastrophic. And they are trying to reach a deal.

And, look, it is -- Biden, the president, last night was extraordinarily candid, and I thought extraordinarily serene. I mean, you have basically every Democrat in both chambers except one willing to undo the Trump tax cut tax -- tax rate cuts that they all voted against. And he said, I got to find a way around it.

You have every Democrat in both chambers except one willing to establish a clean electricity standard. And he said, I have got to find a way to work around it.

I thought it was very revealing when he said, if you look back at the history of Social Security, the program as we know it today was not what Franklin Roosevelt passed in 1935. And the key is to move these ideas forward, to kind of anchor them in law, and then try to improve them as you go down the road.

CAMEROTA: So, Charlie, while Democrats haggle over all of these details, as Ron just laid out, Republicans, some Republicans, at the state level are quietly and it seems methodically dismantling some aspects of democracy as we know it.

Just yesterday, in Texas, the governor, Greg Abbott, named an election denier. This was -- this is an attorney who worked very briefly for President Trump. This is a guy named John Scott. And he was part of Donald Trump's big lie of denying his election loss.

He's just been named secretary of state in Texas. By the way, Texas also just gerrymandered the heck out of their congressional districts. And so what is the answer for this, Charlie? CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let me just quickly

say, by the way, when you negotiate big spending bills, like they're doing right now in Congress, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. So they still have a ways to go.

Now, with respect to Texas and the secretary of state, my experience has been with these folks who carry out elections, whether at the county level or at the state level, they always saw themselves as more of administrative agents, almost clerks. They didn't want problems. They simply wanted to run of clean and fair election, run the election, count and tabulate the votes, and then announce a winner.

What's frightening about all this is, when you appoint people to those positions who have a predetermined outcome in their minds, that's dangerous. It sounds like they want an outcome. And that's not their job. And that, I think, is a bigger threat to democracy than just about everything else.

So we can talk about all the bills that are out there and early voting and drop boxes. But, at the end of the day, if you have people in places who don't understand what their role is, is to run a clean and fair election without showing any favoritism, that's when we run into trouble.

So I'm very concerned about what I have heard in Texas.


CAMEROTA: Ron, I mean, what Democrats think one answer would be what is this sort of federal voting rights legislation, but that would require getting rid of the filibuster, basically, for Democrats.

And last night, President Biden sounded different than he has in the past.


CAMEROTA: So listen to this.


BIDEN: Well, that remains to be seen exactly what that means, in terms of fundamentally altering it, and whether or not we just end the filibuster straight up.

COOPER: When it comes to voting rights, just so I'm clear, though, you would entertain the notion of doing away with the filibuster on that one issue? Is that correct?


BIDEN: And maybe more.


CAMEROTA: How about that, Ron? BROWNSTEIN: That was far beyond anything he has ever said.

And I think it reflects the urgency that many, many Democrats, civil rights groups, voting rights groups feel about the changes that we are watching under way in the red states, both the efforts to make it tougher to vote, and also what Charlie was talking about, the efforts to increase partisan control over the administration and counting of votes.

And Democrats have only -- the Supreme Court has made clear it is not going to intervene. Democrats don't have the votes in the states. The one option they have to try to push back against this is the ability to pass federal legislation establishing a nationwide floor of voting rights and creating new protections for the administration of election.

All 50 Democrats have now signed on to that legislation. Of course, they have been blocked again by a Republican filibuster. So that's why, in that story that you mentioned today, I note that what -- however reconciliation ends, there are going to be a lot of Democrats annoyed at Manchin and Sinema over everything that they have forced to be removed from the package.

So maybe the way to resolve all of this and to get momentum for the party going into the midterm would be a kind of grand bargain in which progressives would agree to the smaller footprint that they are demanding for reconciliation and Manchin and Sinema, in turn, drop their opposition to exempting voting rights from the filibuster, because it is very clear now that there is no other path.

Manchin was given the summer to find Republican support for a compromise bill. He assiduously tried to do that. Not a single one supported it. None of them will vote for it, in all likelihood, maybe one, Lisa Murkowski, next week when they bring up the Voting Rights Act itself.

And I think the path forward is now clear. Either they act unilaterally or they allow the Republican -- the red states to make unparalleled, I think, incursions on the ability of Americans to vote.

CAMEROTA: Charlie, is that the answer, get -- to change the filibuster to protect voting rights in this country?

DENT: My answer is this. If they're going to make any changes to the filibuster, it must be done on a bipartisan basis.

I wish many of you could have been in the House Republican Conferences that I sat in during my term. And I would hear the most conservative members of the House Republican Conference say, we need to get rid of the filibuster. I was one of those who pushed back, because I know what their agenda was.

They wanted to pass extreme legislation and hope the Senate would just concur. I have always felt that that filibuster is the only mechanism in Washington that compels some level of bipartisanship. Is the filibuster abuse and overuse? Of course it is. Should they reform it? Yes.

But they have to do that on a bipartisan basis. Last time the Democrats messed with the filibuster, look what happened to them. They rued the day because then Republicans turned around and did what they did on the Supreme Court justices.


CAMEROTA: All right, but then what do you about the voting challenges that you say to scare you?

DENT: What do you, you can get a consensus in the country.

Look, I think they should reauthorize the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. I voted to reauthorize it myself, and I think they can simply come to an agreement. But some of these other bills, I'm going to pick on New Hampshire, has very high participation rates. They don't -- I'm told those officials up there don't like a lot of these changes.

They run good elections. They have some of the highest turnout in the country. I served in a legislature for 14 years. Some of these changes truly are in the purview of the states, not the federal government.

Now, I get it with respect to the discrimination against African- Americans that we saw many years ago. And that's why we have a Voting Rights Act. But I think to impose this on a national basis, I do think could create some problems in states where there aren't that many.

CAMEROTA: Well, it's really interesting. And we're going to talk much more about what can be done as we watch things that are happening in Texas just -- that's just one state where they're trying this.

Ron, Charlie, thank you both very much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you, Alisyn.

DENT: Thank you.

OK, now to this. Pfizer releases new promising data on how effective their vaccine is in young children. So what this means as the FDA weighs recommending shots for 5-to-11-year-olds.

And, also, follow the money. House investigators are targeting the financing associated with the January 6 attack on the Capitol. We have new details on this ahead.