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Merrick Garland Fires Back; Infrastructure Negotiations; Live Round Fired on Deadly Movie Set Shooting. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 27, 2021 - 14:00   ET



REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): It's important to reestablish the rule of law, that no one's above the law, that they're not going to treat you or me or any of my constituents differently than they would Steve Bannon, a friend of the former president.

And, at the end of the day, I think this is an early test of whether our democracy is recovering and whether everyone is equally subject to the wall.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you so much for your time.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: And thank you for joining me.

The news continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Victor Blackwell. Thank you for joining us.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

The local prosecutor in New Mexico saying moments ago that no one has been ruled out in terms of criminal charges for the accidental killing of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during that rehearsal of Alec Baldwin's film "Rust."

You're looking at what might be the final on-set photo of Hutchins. This was just before she was shot to death last Thursday. This afternoon, the DA and the sheriff held the first news conference on this case, saying they have much more work to do.


QUESTION: As the man who pulled the trigger and as a producer on the movie, does Alec Baldwin himself face the potential of criminal charges?

MARY CARMACK-ALTWIES, NEW MEXICO FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY: All options are on the table at this point. I'm not taking -- I'm not commenting on charges, whether they will be filed or not or on whom.

No one has been ruled out at this point.


BLACKWELL: Well, the sheriff also revealed that investigators extracted the suspected live round that he believes killed Hutchins from the shoulder of Joel Souza, the director of "Rust."

Now, the sheriff said the round is now with the FBI undergoing analysis.

CNN's Josh Campbell is in Santa Fe. He was at that news conference.

Josh, tell us about the evidence that Sheriff Mendoza says has been collected.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we learned a lot at that press conference, to include the amount of evidence that they collected, over 600 items, including 500 rounds of what's being described as ammunition.

Now, one step law enforcement has to take is try to determine whether that -- how much of that is live ammunition, how much might be inert dummy rounds that are typically used on a set. Of course, one of the key pieces of information we learned from this press conference is that there was live ammunition on the set, and we know how Halyna Hutchins died.

It was from a projectile coming out of that pistol that Alec Baldwin shot that ultimately took her life, that according to the sheriff. Now, I asked the question about how live ammunition could make its way onto a set. The sheriff said that that remains under investigation.

We'd heard reports earlier in the week that perhaps crew members were conducting target practice on the day or prior to that incident, but, of course, raising serious questions there.

Now, I also asked the sheriff about the whole idea of live ammunition being on the set. Of course, as we have covered this case, it's not just one incident here. We're talking about something that potentially industry wide could be impacted. You have producers, directors, cinematographers on sets all the time who want to work on a safe environment.

I asked the sheriff about live rounds on the set. Take a listen what he said.


CAMPBELL: Sheriff, can you speak to just the idea of public safety here on movie sets? Sheriff, you're obviously responsible for safety in this county.

Just curious about your thoughts about the use of real weapons on the sets of movies. ADAN MENDOZA, SANTA FE COUNTY, NEW MEXICO, SHERIFF: Well, obviously, I think the industry has had a record recently of being safe. I think there was some complacency on this set. And I think there are some safety issues that need to be addressed by the industry, and possibly by the state of New Mexico.

But I will leave that up to the industry and the state to determine what those need to be.


CAMPBELL: Now, these preliminary results leading us with this new information about the cause of death from the sheriff, that only the first part of the investigation. There's much more work to be done.

Investigators say they're still trying to determine how those live rounds got on the set. Interestingly, the sheriff's department did indicate that there were two people who handled that weapon prior to Alec Baldwin taking custody of it. It was the armorer, the person responsible for safety on the set involving firearms, as well as the assistant director.

Now, we're told from the sheriff that all of the witnesses are currently being cooperative and answering questions from law enforcement. But, of course, this is not over yet. According to the district attorney's office, they are still weighing all the evidence in this case. She says nothing is off the table. Everyone involved is still a potential target as they conduct this investigation and try to determine if anyone will be held liable for this tragic, tragic death here in Santa Fe.

CAMEROTA: OK, Josh Campbell, thank you for all that.

Let's discuss this now with Areva Martin, an attorney and CNN legal analyst, and Scott Coscia, a stunt coordinator and armorer.

Scott, I want to start with you. You do this for a living. Did you hear anything at that press conference, the first one that we have had in six days, that answered some of your questions?

SCOTT COSCIA, STUNT COORDINATOR: So, no. And, actually, I had more questions.


So we -- there were three firearms recovered from the set. One was a live weapon, which why that was on set is beyond me. The other he said was not a live weapon. So we don't know. Was this a blank-firing weapon? Was this a replica, as we call them, where it can't -- there's no firing pin. You could sometimes load bullets in them, but they wouldn't fire anyway.

And the third one was a plastic dummy gun. And that should have probably been what Alec Baldwin was drilling with, because, apparently, he was practicing a complicated cross-draw maneuver, which is not common, where the holster would be on the opposite side and you draw across your body.

So that's what he should have probably been practicing with. And, also, it's interesting that there were 500 rounds removed from the set, whether they were live ammo, blanks or dummy rounds. And what a dummy round is, it's basically an inert round. There's no gunpowder. The primer can't ignite. Sometimes, they're filled with BBs, so you could shake them, so you can hear what they sound like.

So I'm curious to find the breakdown of how many rounds -- how many of each type of rounds was on that set.

BLACKWELL: Joel, you point out the number -- I'm sorry. Scott, you point out the number there of rounds. This was a Western. I mean, we don't know if it's "Guns of Navarone," but it's a Western; 500 rounds, is that in a typical amount, regardless of the breakdown?

COSCIA: I have been on sets where you can you can pop 100 rounds in a day. I mean, it's not that difficult to do.

So, if they were -- if this was for the whole production, it's possible. I don't know what the script is like. I don't know how much gunfire there was. But it's -- that's not uncharacteristic for a production like this.

CAMEROTA: Areva, I want to ask you about the charges and whether any criminal charges will be filed. We heard the district attorney's say it's too soon to tell.

But there was a question about who might be responsible. And here was the district attorney's answer to that.


QUESTION: Have you ever covered a case -- are there precedents for a case like this in Santa Fe county, where you have somebody who fired a gun, did it clearly accidental, he thought it was a cold gun, but other people loaded that gun, where it's kind of not the person who actually fired it, but could be held liable?

Is there any kind of precedent for a case like this in your county?

CARMACK-ALTWIES: No, no, there's no precedent.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) factor into your investigation? I mean, this is very -- it's a tricky legal battle.

CARMACK-ALTWIES: It is very complex case. It will require lots of legal research and analysis and review.


CAMEROTA: Let's talk about that, Areva, someone who could be criminally charged who didn't fire the weapon.

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I think the district attorney put it best, Alisyn, when she said, this is a complex case. There's no precedent in her state for holding someone criminally responsible.

But what we are hearing from this press conference and from others that are speaking out, that this -- there was a lot of safety protocols not followed on this set. There were, according to some of the crew members, meetings not attended to, safety protocols as it relates to the handling of the gun, not followed.

Some reporting that this armorer was not sufficiently experienced to even be on this set. One person who was up for the job said he didn't take the job because there were lots of red flags with respect to how the production company was handling the set. And now we're learning that this assistant director was fired from another set because a gun was accidentally fired.

So there's so many red flags happening at this set. And I think, as the district attorney has said, no one is off-limits at this point. And a lot of folks are jumping to the conclusion that Alec Baldwin or other individuals may not be charged or may be charged. But I think this is a wait and see, a complex investigation.

And as this district attorney has said, everyone at this point is subject to this investigation.

BLACKWELL: Areva, Sheriff Mendoza categorized what you have described and other elements here as just general complacency on the set.

And the DA was asked if complacency can reach the level of criminality. She said her off-the-cuff answer was no, but she'd have to research it. Do you believe that complacency can reach the level of criminal negligence and there could be some criminal charges because of complacency?

MARTIN: Well, I don't know if I agree, Victor, with the characterization of the sheriff as complacency.

I think I see a lot more than complacency. If people are using live ammunition for target practice, as some reports are coming in, if safety meetings are being canceled or not attended, if the protocols for handling of a gun and use of live ammunition are not being followed, that doesn't sound like complacency to me. That sounds like something more than simple negligence.

Now, if that rises to the level of criminal culpability, I think we will have to wait and see. But I don't think we should dismiss this as a complacency. No one should die on the set of a movie. I think we have to just keep that front and center. This young woman, Halyna Hutchins, lost her life.

And something needs -- somebody needs to be held accountable. Now, whether it's criminally or civilly, I think that question is still out, but definitely changes need to be made with respect to this industry, because you should not go to work and get shot and killed.


CAMEROTA: Well, that's -- I think that that's the larger point here, Scott, which is, yes, this is one horribly tragic accident that we're all obviously following very closely because we know Alec Baldwin, we know some of the players in this, but this could change movies as we know them and how they're filmed and shot, because so many people are appalled by what happened here.

What are your thoughts?

COSCIA: So, I want to start off by saying the industry actually has a pretty good record as far as safety when it comes to firearms.

The two big tragedies are Jon-Erik Hexum and Brandon Lee. And a lot of changes have been made since then. As far as changes I would like to personally see, I think that guns should now fall under stunts, as opposed to props. They often fall under prop department, and not that there aren't many amazing, talented and experienced and qualified prop people.

But, at stunts, we tend to do things safe -- dangerous things safely. That's what stunts do. I would like to see them fall under that. And I would also like to see only modified firearms being brought onto sets. The weapon that Alec Baldwin fired that killed the director of photography was a live weapon. It was just a regular gun.

You go can up in any gun shop and buy it. I would like to see only modified weapons being used on sets. That, I think, are two quintessential changes. And every protocol that I heard -- that I could think of was violated on this set, honestly.

BLACKWELL: Well, we know that this investigation will continue and that there will be future interviews with many of the people there on the set, Sheriff Mendoza confirmed.

Areva Martin, Scott Coscia, thank you so much.

MARTIN: Thanks, Victor. Thanks.

COSCIA: Thanks for having me.

BLACKWELL: Well, Democrats are racing to find new ways to fund that social safety net package. We have got details on the tax plan targeting billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates.

CAMEROTA: Plus, new roadblocks are popping up, throwing negotiations once again in jeopardy one day before President Biden heads overseas. We have a status report this hour.



CAMEROTA: Democrats are racing to reach a deal on President Biden spending bill and particularly its climate provisions before he leaves for Europe tomorrow.

But several key policy issues are still unresolved. Senator Joe Manchin expressed optimism, though, that an agreement on a framework is possible. But he says there's still a lot of work to be done.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): We're not doing everything today. We're not going to have a complete -- this -- the Senate is going to take time. The president's been very clear. He will go over to the House. And he will basically explain to the House that I have a framework, but there's still an awful lot of work to be done.


BLACKWELL: Well, CNN has learned that at least 40 progressive House members are prepared to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill if they're presented with only a framework for the social safety net package. They want a vote on both bills.

CNN congressional correspondent Jessica Dean is with us now.

So, where do negotiations stand now? And what are the sticking points?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Alisyn, critically here, just in the last few minutes, we saw a letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to House Democrats outlining the next steps forward, and really outlining a lot of what we know right now about what may make it into this bill and what may not make it into the bill.

Interestingly, she said that they are making great progress on expanding Medicaid. That had been a critical sticking point, especially from Democrats from Georgia. They wanted to get that done. That they have made a lot of progress on climate, that they feel very confident about universal pre-K and child care. Those are all things that they feel very, very good about.

What is now kind of on the edge, she said they're still working on a paid family leave policy. And we have been talking to Democratic senators, specifically Kirsten Gillibrand and Jeanne Shaheen. They're trying to work something out as we speak. But it remains seen as if they can get that in the final bill. That had been a big one that they had wanted to get into the bill.

And the other thing is expanding Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing. That was a big one, is a big one for Senator Bernie Sanders and progressives. And, right now, it remains to be seen if all three of those will be included, if none of those will be included in Medicare.

So those are kind of some of the sticking points, but it is telling that we got to see that letter from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi kind of laying out the blueprint. One other thing that's important to note that she wrote -- and I will read it to you quickly.

She said: "We are facing a crucial deadline for the bipartisan infrastructure framework to pass. To do so, we must have trust and confidence in an agreement for the Build Back Better Act." Trust and confidence, Victor and Alisyn, that's not quite what progressives wanted. They want a vote. So the question now is, will this be enough to get those progressives on board? They're continuing to try to thread that needle here on the hill today -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Jessica Dean, following all of the fast-moving developments there on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's turn now to CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza.

So let's talk now about this new proposed billionaires tax and how Democrats got to this point. They may not be here long, because we're already hearing some people who don't like it.


Victor and Alisyn, let's -- first of all, Jessica outlined everything that might be in the bill. The other side of it is what the bill might cost. So I just want to note here, we're talking about probably in the vicinity of $1.7 trillion to $1.9 trillion, OK, which means if you have this, how do you pay for it?

Because, remember, Joe Manchin has said he will not vote for a bill that adds to the deficit, which means this all has to be paid for. So, how did we get here? Opposition to other more traditional tax proposals, Joe Biden said no taxes on the middle class. That was part of his campaign, so that's not going to happen.


And then more conventional tax hikes that usually Democrats might use to fund this, that's raising the top corporate -- excuse me -- personal income tax rate, raising the corporate tax that Donald Trump lowered, Kyrsten Sinema has said -- from Arizona, has said, we're not doing that. OK. So we're sort of out of the traditional ways this gets funded, which gets us to this latest billionaire tax proposal.

OK. What is it? All right. Well, it's kind of what it says. It's a tax on billionaires. If you make $100 million in the last three years, each of the last three years, or you have $1 billion-plus in assets, what it essentially does is say, we're going to tax unrealized gains. What does that mean?

OK, let's say that you buy $2 million in stock. OK, sorry, for my writing. And in the last five years, it's gone up to $12 million. Well, you have netted 10 million bucks. But you don't have to pay any taxes on that because you haven't sold this stock, right? You have no income from it. It just exists. That's what they want to do.

They want to say, stock shares, real estate, anything that increases in value over time, if you're a billionaire, if you meet these criteria, you pay based on that. Now, the problem here is this -- it raises questions about what counts as income. Yes, you technically have made $10 million, but you don't have the $10 million, right? You haven't sold the stock. So, again, unrealized gains, that's -- it's not realized gains. It's unrealized gains. So that's where you get into dicey territory.

OK, let's go to obstacles. All right, the legal piece. It's unclear that you can tax money that people don't have, even the uber-wealthy. You could get in trouble there. I will note this.

Richard Neal, who's the head of the Ways and Means Committee in the House, the head of all taxing policy in the House: "Do I like the politics of it? Yes. I think it's sensible. I think the implementation for the plan could be a bit more challenging," which, again, is how do you tax these things that people have not made?

They don't have this money. They got lots of money. They don't have this money. They're not liquid for it. So, like you said, Victor, we may not be talking about it all that long.

Now, just some context, who does this impact? Not that many people, but they're very, very rich. I mean, Elon Musk, richest man in the world, made $80 billion in the last like four days, Bezos, Gates, Zuckerberg, not having a great couple of weeks, but still very wealthy, and Warren Buffett.

I mean, we're talking about a very select group of people, but they have massive amounts of wealth. So if you start taxing their unrealized assets, you get a lot of money. And that helps you get to that $1.75 trillion to $1.9 trillion price tag -- back to you guys.

CAMEROTA: OK, just very, very quickly, if we tax -- there's something like 700 billionaires. Could that close the gap of paying for this? Would they, could they make up that amount of money that we need?

CILLIZZA: I'm no economist, Alisyn, so let me -- I think you would get a lot closer in terms of funding solutions.

The issue though, again, is unrealized assets, what does that entail? Who figures out what that specifically is? We're talking about private transactions for private individuals. It's one of those things that politically sounds good, because people are like, yes, billionaires, they need to pay their fair share.

And the truth of the matter is, a lot of these people, their income is extremely low year to year because they're not -- they don't need to draw a salary. And all of their assets are in stocks and those sorts of things.


CILLIZZA: So they don't pay a lot. And they could.

So, politically, as Richard Neal said, politically, it's a winner. The question is, can you actually practically do it? And to your point, Alisyn, how much does it actually yield? And, in truth, we saw this proposal a few days ago. I don't think the people who proposed it know the answer to that question yet.

CAMEROTA: I mean, this addresses what Warren Buffett famously said, that he shouldn't be in a lower tax bracket than his secretary, which he is. And so that would solve that, but I guess they have a lot of wrinkles to work out.



CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, thank you. Thank you very much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, guys.


CAMEROTA: OK, meanwhile, Attorney General Merrick Garland fires back at Republican lawmakers on that DOJ memo that has become a GOP rallying cry.



CAMEROTA: Attorney General Merrick Garland was on Capitol Hill today facing GOP lawmakers who are demanding that he rescind that Justice Department memo issued earlier this month.

BLACKWELL: So, the memo ordered federal authorities to coordinate with local law enforcement on how to address threats targeting local school officials.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has more on this hearing today.

And, Jessica, it really was the common denominator. And the questions from the Republican senators focused over and over on this memo.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's all that they have been talking about, guys.

And, to Alisyn's point, though, the attorney general refuses to rescind this memo. Republicans have really been seizing on this memo as a talking point for weeks now. They're falsely stating it's meant to stifle free speech, falsely portraying this memo as a directive to arrest parents who speak out at school board meetings.

In fact, though, this is a memo that simply directs the FBI, federal law enforcement to work with school boards to discuss strategies to stop threats.

Now, the attorney general has essentially been under attack since he issued this memo October 4, but, today, he's forcefully defending it, saying that he is not targeting parents, and saying that parents are fully protected by the First Amendment to engage in vigorous debates.