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Former Trump Staffers Meeting With Insurrection Probe Committee; Democrats Close to Infrastructure Agreement?; New Details Emerge in Alec Baldwin Shooting; FDA Meets to Discuss Vaccine For Kids 5-11. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 26, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: I will see you back here tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

In the meantime, you can join me on Twitter @AnaCabrera. Have a great afternoon.

The news continues next.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to NEWSROOM.


We are learning that there were several warning signs on the set of "Rust" in the days before Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed the cinematographer. CNN now has court records showing detectives seized revolver, spent casings and ammunition in boxes loose around the set and in a fanny pack.

CAMEROTA: Crew members were reportedly using guns with live ammo just hours before Baldwin fatally shot the director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, during that rehearsal.

A source told the news outlet The Wrap that some crew members went plinking, meaning shooting at beer cans with live ammunition, to pass the time.

BLACKWELL: An actor who says he worked on "Rust" posted this to Instagram.

"Multiple blank rounds were fired at me over multiple takes. I felt pieces of the blanks hitting my body and my face. I'm heartbroken and honestly pretty freaked out, especially the more this story develops. I feel as if I literally dodged a bullet."

CNN correspondent Stephanie Elam is in New Mexico following the latest for us

So, Stephanie, this veteran prop master has come forward saying that he turned down a job on this movie because of some red flags. So what did he see?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Alisyn and Victor.

And it's noteworthy that, in the beginning, he says he was very excited about looking into this job, potentially taking it on. But he felt like there were too many cost-cutting measures that were being put forth. Most importantly is that he said that he wanted a five- member crew. That's what is what he told "The Los Angeles Times."

And they said, no, they didn't want to do that. Instead, they wanted to combine what he calls two very important jobs into one, the armorer, as well as the assistant prop master.

Take a listen to what Neal Zoromski told NBC.


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.


ELAM: And while he had those concerns, he's not the only one. We also know that there were people who were actually working on the "Rust" production who had concerns about safety as well on set -- Alisyn and Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, so, Stephanie, what are we learning about this A.D., Dave Halls?

ELAM: What we learned is that, in 2019, he was subject of complaints for two separate productions, but one in particular he was fired from. And it was a film called "Freedom's Path."

And this is after a gun mishap that had accidentally discharged, and it ended up injuring one of the sound techs there who recoiled from the sound of it. According to what CNN has learned, Halls was removed from the set immediately and he was later fired. We do know that that person had minor injuries who was recoiled and was removed from the set.

But this was the last production he was on, from what we understand, before this happened. Now, I should also mention here that we have reached out to Halls for comment, and he has yet to respond to CNN -- Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Stephanie Elam, thank you for the reporting.

BLACKWELL: All right, joining us now is Joseph Fisher. He is the founder of Cop Prop Rentals of New York.

Joseph, thanks for being with us. Let's start here with what we have learned, these details of what was

found on set, two boxes of ammo, loose ammo, and ammo in a fanny pack. The fact that there was this ammunition not just in one location, but around the set in other locations, what's that, the significance to you?

JOSEPH FISHER, FOUNDER, COP PROP RENTALS OF NEW YORK: Good afternoon, Victor. Thank you for having me.

What a situation like this, hearing something like that tells me that there was a very negligent and careless approach taken to handling the props and the ammunition on set.

Unfortunately, we don't know if it was dummy ammo that was vouchered, if it was blank ammo, or live ammo.


This practice of plinking, we're told that uses live ammo to -- I mean, the plinking sound is the bullets hitting these cans. Are people typically searched to determine if they are bringing in weapons or bullets onto a set? Is that something that should happen or does happen?

FISHER: Typically, the process would be to ask everybody to check themselves.

If somebody was just coming from a live firing range, we pay a little more attention to them and ask them to be a lot more thorough emptying their pockets, just making sure that they were safe as possible before they were allowed to enter a hot set.



Now, Ian Hudson, one of the actors on the set, who I quoted at the top of the show, told TMZ that more experienced actors check a prop gun or a weapon two or three times before they use it.

Is there some or should there be some onus on Baldwin to check that? Should he have checked it?

FISHER: In my experience, most of the actors that I work with will sit with me, and we will check the weapon before the weapon goes on set.

Is it their responsibility? In some way, it is. But the majority of that typically falls on either the armorer or the prop master handing them the weapon, which did not happen in the situation.

BLACKWELL: I understand you have I believe a prop gun to show us what that check should look like. And can you give us an idea?

FISHER: Yes, I do.

OK, this is a prop non-firing weapon. I'm going to keep it pointed in a safe direction during the demonstration.


FISHER: With a weapon like the one that they were using on set, the more historical weapons, they have a built in-clearing rod, which is right in here.


FISHER: That rod gets pushed from the front to the back of the weapon. And you could see -- let me open the port here.

You could see the rod extend past. That tells me there is nothing in that particular chamber. You would advance to the next chamber. You would repeat the process with the actor, so that they verify that each of the six cylinders are clear and empty on the weapon.

In addition to that, you would take a rod. You would insert the rod down the barrel. This weapon happens to have a plug barrel, so I cannot go all the way through. But what you would want to see is the rod extending through into the chamber of the back.

Once that's done, the weapon is considered safe, clear and empty. And you would be able to pass that weapon to the actor. With a non- revolver, it's a little bit easier. Once again, this is a prop, non- firing weapon.


FISHER: You would be able to open the chamber and do a visual inspection of the chamber one by one. You then also do a rod check, putting the rod through, making sure you can see the rod coming through the barrel without any debris, or any buildup, or foreign objects on it.

BLACKWELL: Now, that is the way that it's supposed to happen. And I thank you for that demonstration. It makes a lot of it more clear what should have happened.

But is that what always happens? I mean, we understand that sometimes safety precautions are lax.

FISHER: You can't compromise on safety, whether you're on a high- budget set or a low-budget set. There's no compromise for safety. And that weapon has to be inspected before it goes anywhere.

Otherwise, we will end up with another tragedy.

BLACKWELL: So, when you say it has to be inspected before it goes anywhere, on this practice of plinking where, in downtime, some of the crew members -- I guess it's target practice with live ammo, how common is that?

FISHER: I have never done that on a set. I would not allow any weapon that's going to be used on set to be used with live ammunition during downtime. Any of our prop weapons are secured when they're not on camera.

They're put in a lockbox. They're stored away. Any professional in this industry, whether it be the phenomenal guys at ISS props or the specialists here in New York, they take safety to another level. And something like this would never happen on a professional set.

BLACKWELL: A tragedy on many levels.

Joseph Fisher, thank you so much for your expertise and helping us understand what should have happened on that set. Thank you.

FISHER: My pleasure. Thank you, guys.

CAMEROTA: That was so helpful. Those demos really helped me understand what's supposed to be happening.


CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, look at this news alert right now.

There's this rare October nor'easter. It is drenching the East Coast. Millions of people are under flash flood advisories. In New Jersey, we have already seen multiple rescues of people trapped in floodwaters. Heavy rain, high surf and strong winds are expected to continue well into tomorrow.

BLACKWELL: CNN meteorologist Tom Sater with us now.

So it's a mess already?


BLACKWELL: Is it going to get worse? What are you seeing?

SATER: Well, the system still strengthening, so it will get worse. You heard this term bomb cyclone.

Since last Wednesday, we were watching a system of three, three areas of low pressure move and plow into the West Coast. As they move across the country, now we're seeing in the East Coast and it's strengthening. So the winds are going to get stronger. There's going to be more rainfall for some people.

So let's break it down. This area of low pressure that's hugging New Jersey's coastline, this is the one that as it moved across the country spawned a good 13 tornadoes, significant damage of Missouri and Illinois.


Well, now it's going to transfer its energy further offshore and become our first nor'easter the year. Thank goodness this is not happening, say, two months from now, because there would be a lot of shoveling going on. This is a snowless nor'easter. It's all rainfall, but it still has significant problems. You can just see all that funneling of moisture, already nearly three inches in Central Park, other areas over four, water rescues in parts of New Jersey. Where it's funneling, you notice the red, those are flash flood warnings, so significant more rainfall on the way.

Problem is, we have got a lot of leaves on the trees still. And with this heavy rainfall, those strong winds that they will buffet areas, let's say, from around Connecticut, Rhode Island up toward Cape Cod, we're going to have power outages. Some power companies are forecasting over 100,000.

But if there's any good news with that, I know it's a terrible nuisance, you don't want to lose power, you will be able to survive in your home. It's not going to be frigid winter-like readings.

But already we're starting to see significant rainfall and it moves off to areas of New England later on tonight. It'll exit the day tomorrow, mainly towards tomorrow afternoon. But hurricane-force wind gusts are possible in Nantucket, Boston, Cape Cod. Therefore, we have got those advisories.

The next system that plowed into the West with all the mountain snow and the rockslides out West, that's going to give us a chance of severe weather and a tornado outbreak later today in the Midwest. So that's what we're going to be watching, this series of three storms really from coast to coast providing all sorts of weather. So hang in there, crashing seas, coastal erosion, still a possibility of some flooding.

So, again, flood-prone areas, be very, very careful today.

CAMEROTA: OK, thanks for the warning, Tom Sater. Thank you.

So we are awaiting a major step in trying to curb the pandemic. An FDA panel is set to vote on authorizing Pfizer's vaccine for children aged 5 and up.

BLACKWELL: And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a very pointed message for her caucus: We cannot miss this opportunity.

We're live with updates on the Democrats' negotiations.



CAMEROTA: This afternoon, an FDA advisory panel is expected to vote on whether to approve Pfizer's COVID vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 for emergency use authorization.

BLACKWELL: Now, children are less likely than adults to be hospitalized or die from coronavirus.

But the director of the National Institutes of Health argues that vaccinated kids is one significant step forward in the fight against the pandemic. CNN's Alexandra Field has more.


DR. DAVID KIMBERLIN, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: I think we all have been feeling the urgency for a vaccine for children for quite some time.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If the FDA gives the green light to Pfizer's vaccine for children as young as 5, it would make 28 million more people eligible for better protection against COVID-19. More than six million kids have tested positive for COVID since the start of the pandemic, and more than a quarter of new cases in the past week were among children.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: If we can create a situation where more of these kids are not getting infected, we should be able to drive this pandemic down, which is what we really hope to do.

FIELD: With the possibility of those smaller shots in smaller arms within the next couple of weeks, health experts are making the case that it's about the public good, but it's about your children too.

COLLINS: One shouldn't actually discount the fact that kids can get pretty sick with COVID-19. Sadly, more than 700 children have died of COVID since this pandemic began. Kids can also get the long COVID consequences. Even though they might not have a severe case, it turns out some of them just don't seem to recover. They have the fatigue, the brain fog. Makes it hard to function in school.

FIELD: There are already new signs that life for kids could soon look more normal, more like before. In Massachusetts, beginning Monday, for three weeks, Hopkinton High School will try lifting its mask mandate for vaccinated students and staff.

In Georgia, Fulton County schools are planning to make masks optional if cases stay below 1 percent among students. Masks will then become optional 30 days after authorization of shots for kids as young as 5.

And in New York City, tensions are mounting over vaccine mandates for city employees. They're required to get a first shot by Friday night. The city's police union now pushing back with a lawsuit. Days before the deadline, 72 percent of the department has had at least one shot, according to the NYPD police commissioner.

DERMOT SHEA, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: Vaccines have been around for a long time. They have been mandated in many ways for a long time. I just think it's -- we're going through this unnecessary pain and losing people. And that's my 2 cents on it, for what it's worth.

FIELD: The feuding over masks continues too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's it really is about, a matter of respect. It's not a lot to ask to wear a mask for 10, 15 minutes. FIELD: In Florida, a state senator battling breast cancer says the newly appointed surgeon general refused to mask up for a meeting in her office, despite repeated requests.


FIELD: We are also learning today about a COVID outbreak at the Denver Zoo, 11 lions testing positive for COVID after they showed symptoms like lethargy, sneezing, and coughing, things that are familiar to all of us.

The zoo says they do have plans actually to vaccinate these lions with an animal-specific vaccine when more becomes available. And, previously, the same zoo had two cases of COVID among the tigers.

BLACKWELL: I didn't know that lions sneezed and coughed.


BLACKWELL: Should I have known that?

FIELD: And COVID is the thing for big cats. We're seeing it actually in cases across the country.

BLACKWELL: All right.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting. Thanks, Alex.


Well, as Democrats continue to negotiate a framework for the president's social safety net bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is telling her party today to embrace it for what it is.

CAMEROTA: She also sent this message to progressives inside her caucus -- quote -- "No bill is everything. We cannot miss this opportunity."


Jessica Dean is on Capitol Hill for us.

So, Jessica, where do things stand at this hour?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, Victor and Alisyn, we are waiting for Senate Democrats to come out of their weekly policy luncheon. This is where they gather and talk over various policies. You can imagine they have a lot to discuss today.

So we're hoping to get some readouts from that as to if they have made any progress on these various sticking points that remain. Among them, it really varies from how to pay for this, because remember, Senator Kyrsten Sinema has opposed raising individual and corporate tax rates, which was how they were going to pay for a lot of this. Will they now put in a billionaire tax? So they're talking about the details surrounding that to also what is

actually going to be in this bill. There's a number of issues that continue to be sticking points, chief among them, whether or not to expand Medicare coverage to include dental, vision and hearing coverage.

Here's Senator Bernie Sanders talking to my colleague Manu Raju earlier today. Take a listen.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): So, to my mind, any serious reconciliation bill must include real Medicare negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

A serious reconciliation bill must include expanding Medicare to cover dental, hearing aids and eyeglasses.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is that a red line for you? Is that a red line for you?


DEAN: And you see he wouldn't really respond to there to Manu when he asked if that is a red line.

And that's important, because, as we know, right now, Senator Joe Manchin and some others may be opposed to including dental coverage. So there's a lot of back and forth still around that issue, around the climate provisions.

Will they expand Medicaid to various states that have not done so, so far? And over in the House, we know House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talking to her caucus earlier today, telling them that time is really running out, that they have got to get this done and make some big decisions, Victor and Alisyn, really today, maybe a little bit tomorrow.

But they want to get a vote on the infrastructure bill through the House as early as tomorrow. And then that would allow them to move forward with the Build Back Better Act. We will see if they can get that done, again, waiting to hear now what comes out of this policy luncheon that is just wrapping up as we speak.

BLACKWELL: All right, Jessica Dean, thank you.

Well, CNN is now learning that at least five former Trump administration staffers are speaking with the committee investigating the insurrection. What this could tell us about where the investigation goes next.

CAMEROTA: So, first, Facebook under pressure, now lawmakers turning the spotlight on other platforms like Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube, all of social media's impact on kids.



CAMEROTA: CNN learning that at least five former Trump administration staffers have voluntarily met with the January 6 panel investigating the insurrection.

Members of the panel want information on former President Trump's actions leading up to that deadly attack.

BLACKWELL: All right, CNN congressional correspondent Ryan Nobles joins us now.

Ryan, what do you know?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor and Alisyn, this is a pretty significant development that the committee has made contact in is communicating with at least five former members of the Trump White House.

And, as you say, they're very interested in the role that the former president and any of his top-level staffers may have played on January 6 and the events leading up to it that could have been connected to the chaos and violence that we saw here on January 6.

Now, we're not exactly sure or clear about the level of engagement with these individuals, how often they have been communicating with the committee or if they have been asked to turn over documents and if they have been willing to do so. But we do know that there is a level of communication there, which is important.

Now, in addition to that, we know that the committee has also reached out to a broad range of former White House officials, including junior level officials as well. And some of them have said at this point that they are not willing to voluntarily cooperate. So that could lead to subpoenas down the road if the committee thinks that is necessary.

Now, in addition to what we're learning about those White House officials, we're also just now learning this new information coming in to CNN, my colleagues Zach Cohen and Geneva Sands reporting that both Ken Cuccinelli and Chad Wolf, the two top officials in the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration January 6, have also been asked to voluntarily communicate and cooperate with the committee.

Now, at this point, neither of them have actually begun that process of engagement. They aren't necessarily not cooperating. But, at this point, it's just an introductory level of communication between both of these men.

Of course, Cuccinelli and Wolf very important players in all of this, they could speak to whether or not the White House was using a pressure campaign on the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to overturn the election.

So, Victor and Alisyn, these are all very significant developments in terms of this investigation.

CAMEROTA: And it sounds like it.

OK, Ryan Nobles, thank you for that.

Let's discuss all this with Elliot Williams. He's a CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor and former deputy assistant attorney general.

Elliot, great to see you.

I want to ask what the incentive is...


CAMEROTA: ... for these former Trump staffers to comply, because, after they have seen Steve Bannon flout the rule of law, and at the moment face no harsh consequences, why should they feel that they should comply with this House committee?

WILLIAMS: Yes, you know, Alisyn, the overwhelming number of people who appear before Congress do so .