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Two Men Convicted of Killing Malcolm X Exonerated; Paul Gosar Retweets Violent Video; Rittenhouse Jury Continues Deliberations; Defendant Testifies in Ahmaud Arbery Trial. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 18, 2021 - 15:00   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Up until now, there had been no real clear path in order to avoid a potential default next month.

But in a key sign of movement, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, just sat down and met for about 15 minutes to discuss a way forward. And I am told from multiple sources that they're talking about a way to expedite the process, to allow Democrats to raise the national debt ceiling on their own, to make it a little faster, so Republicans won't actually have to supply the votes to raise the debt ceiling, but they would not stand in the way to let the Democrats ultimately do that, because the Republicans don't want to be ones actually casting what could be a politically toxic vote.

Democrats control the Senate. The Republicans have the -- they have the tools procedurally to drag things out if they want to. They're suggesting they don't want to do that. So all of this is an indication that the two sides are trying to avoid any possible default sometime next month.

McConnell leaving the meeting did not want to get into the details, but called it a good discussion and suggested there will be more talks ahead, so a potential breakthrough, a sign that the two sides are talking, which is different than last time. Perhaps they can avoid a debt ceiling default, or concerns of a default weeks before the deadline -- guys.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, Manu Raju with the for us force on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Top of a brand-new hour. Good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

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

A lot of activity right now inside and outside the Brunswick, Georgia, courthouse in the trial of the three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.

The defense's third witness took the stand a little more than an hour ago. Now, earlier today, prosecutors finished cross-examining the man who admitted shooting Arbery, who was unarmed, and grilled him over inconsistencies in his story. BLACKWELL: Now, here's what's happening outside. Pastors and

attorneys are leading a rally and a march in support of Arbery's family.

You're seeing some live pictures right now.

CNN's Martin Savidge is following all of it for us.

Martin, what's the latest?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, truly a pivotal day, and, as you point out a pivotal day both on the inside and outside of the courthouse here.

So that march is under way. And it's anticipated that those that participated in the rally are now taking part of this march that goes from the courthouse to a kind of community center, where there is a very large mural that has been painted of Ahmaud Arbery. And it's expected there that they will pause, pay respects and then carry on again.

Also, earlier, there was the rally outside of the courthouse. Several hundred people gathered, many of them pastors, leaders of faith. And one of those who spoke to the gathered crowd was Ahmaud Arbery's, WANDA Cooper-Jones, and she talked about that very difficult time in her life after her son was killed, and yet it appeared little was being done to investigate.

Here's her words.


WANDA COOPER-JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: When Ahmaud was killed on the 23rd of February, I -- the family had some of the darkest times of our lives.

We asked questions. We got no answers. We submitted e-mails, but no reply back. But in the midst of all that, I prayed. I asked the lord to somehow tell me what happened to Quez.

My daughter talked to me like weeks after. And she said: "Mom, we don't even have an attorney."

And I prayed. I told Jasmine. I said: "When the lord get ready for us to have an attorney, we will get one. Not until then."

I just want to say thank you. My heart is full of just joy in the midst of this broken heart.


SAVIDGE: Travis McMichael, who is the man who killed her son, Ahmaud Arbery, he was on the witness stand again today, this time mainly for a very harsh cross-examination by the prosecution.

And they went over two key factors that have been the pillars of the defense. Number one, he admitted his father and he were not chasing him Ahmaud Arbery and saying, we want to conduct a citizen's arrest. And the other was, he seems to waffle now on the issue of whether Ahmaud really did try to grab for his shotgun, which is a key element of self-defense.

So it appears that the prosecution did real damage to his testimony from the day before -- Victor and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Martin Savidge, thank you for all that.

Let's bring in CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig. He's here, along with Alexis Hoag, assistant professor at the Brooklyn Law School. Sometimes, it's hard to get through all of your titles, Elie, so I just cut right to legal analyst.


CAMEROTA: Elie, we have heard from Travis McMichael, one of the defendants who is accused of shooting Ahmaud Arbery.

But there are three defendants. So, does Travis McMichael speak for all of them? How does it work when there's three defendants in this?


ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, so, Alisyn, it's important to remember, legally, each of these three defendants stands alone.

Each of the three of them has the opportunity to testify if they want. I think it's very, very unlikely we hear from the other two. I think, strategically, what happened here is, they understood somebody had to testify to make this self-defense claim, and he was the one who ended up being chosen.

So that's important to remember. What ends up happening in a multiple defendant case like this sometimes is, there's a race to be the forgotten one, right? You want the jury focusing on your client as little as possible. And, right now, I think that's William Bryan, the neighbor who was down the street.

And so the prosecutors have to remember they have charged three people here. Obviously, Travis McMichael is the lead defendant, but they have to remember that they have to explain to the jury why the other two are guilty as well.

BLACKWELL: Alexis, I want to go back into the courtroom in just a moment.

But we have got the live pictures of what's happening outside up. So let me ask you about this. Again, this defense attorney, Kevin Gough, who represents William "Roddie" Bryan, asked for a mistrial because of the president of Jesse Jackson. The judge didn't grant it yesterday or the day before. He's not going to do it today. Why does he keep doing this?

Is this for potentially on appeal? Is this for everyone who's watching at home? Because the jury is not in the room. What sense does this make?

ALEXIS HOAG, BROOKLYN LAW SCHOOL: You know, Victor, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me at all.

Strategically, I'm not seeing what's going on here. I spent about a decade as a federal criminal defense attorney. And this is not the sort of move I would have been making. I think all of the attorneys for all three men are thinking about potential appeal.

I don't think we're going to get an acquittal in this case. And so they are thinking ahead. And perhaps, if there is something they can point to about media were bias somehow infiltrating the courtroom, perhaps, that's why he keeps raising this issue.

But what I want to remind all our viewers is that trials are public. And there is a 6th Amendment right. It's connected to the defendant, but also the public at large, that courtrooms are meant to be for the people. And so this idea somehow that the defense should ask to exclude certain people, particularly black pastors, we cannot ignore the racism that is seeping throughout this case from the get-go, the originating event.

And so I want to remind our viewers there's something very particular and insidious about a defense attorney that's asking for black pastors to be removed.

CAMEROTA: Alexis, I have another racism question for you.

And that is that law enforcement had reported that they heard one of the McMichael -- one of the McMichaels say the N-word over the body of Ahmaud Arbery. Is that going to be admissible? I know that there's been questions about that.

HOAG: Yes.

So I do teach evidence. And one of the major principles in evidence is this concept of hearsay. And it's a term that we hear a lot, but what it means is, it's a statement made outside of the courtroom not by the person testifying necessarily that's entered in for the truth of the matter. And what that means in layperson's terms is that what is said outside can't necessarily always come in.

And here we have, as Elie explained, Roddie is not going to be testifying. So this is not going to come in from him having heard one of the McMichaels. One of the McMichaels is certainly not going to repeat this statement.

And so could we potentially have a law enforcement officer testifying about this? This is a lot of layers of hearsay. So it's unlikely that this statement could come in, unless there is some very narrow exceptions. We have got to sort of hold out and see what the state is going to do with that information.

BLACKWELL: Elie, the lead prosecutor here asked Travis McMichael about other options, things he could have done short of pulling out a shotgun and then firing at Ahmaud Arbery. Let's play that moment and then talk about it.


LINDA DUNIKOSKI, COBB COUNTY, GEORGIA, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: You could have just continue to drive behind Mr. Arbery and not even speak to him or confront him at all. Isn't that true?


DUNIKOSKI: And you could just let him run away when he took off in front of Mr. Bryan's house. From the night owl video we saw, you could have just gone, OK, he's running, we will just let him go or just drive behind him really slowly, right?

MCMICHAEL: Could have, and we did after I let -- after I realized that he was not going to talk to me and turn around and ran away.

DUNIKOSKI: And you could have stayed in your truck over on Holmes Drive, right?

MCMICHAEL: Could have, yes.

DUNIKOSKI: And you could have stayed in your truck until he ran by and then driven away to go ahead and follow him, right?

MCMICHAEL: I could have, yes.


BLACKWELL: Seems like one of the I guess tentpoles, the most important moments of what we saw today from the cross-examination.

HONIG: Yes, Victor, this goes right to the heart of the case, right to the heart of self-defense. Who was the aggressor?


And the point that the prosecutor made there, I think very effectively, was, if you took this whole incident and hit pause at any point in there, you would see opportunities. You would see Ahmaud Arbery trying to get away, trying to avoid confrontation, and you would see the McMichaels and Bryan escalating this, and not letting him get away, and bringing this to its ultimate tragic conclusion.

So I think that's a really effective argument that we heard just there.

CAMEROTA: Alexis...


BLACKWELL: Go ahead.

CAMEROTA: Well, just quickly, a federal indictment, what does that mean? HOAG: Ooh.

So what we learned was the new administration came in. So this is under A.G. Merrick Garland, and also Pam Karlan is a deputy in that office. The federal government actually charged the three men with federal hate crimes for the shooting and killing of Ahmaud. And that law did not exist at the state level.

There is now a Georgia state law against hate crimes. But at the time of the shooting, there wasn't. And so what the federal government will do, we will wait to see how the state prosecution goes, and then we may hear about a potential trial date in federal court.

BLACKWELL: All right, Alexis, Elie, thank you.

HONIG: Thank you, Victor.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy vows to give back Congressman Paul Gosar his committee assignments if Republicans take back the House. We will talk to one of Gosar's biggest critics, his sister, next.

CAMEROTA: And with just hours left on the clock, the governor of Oklahoma commuted the death sentence of Julius Jones. What happens now?



CAMEROTA: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is vowing what will happen to Representative Paul Gosar if the GOP takes back the House in 2022.


QUESTION: Do you plan to give Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar their committee assignments back if you take the majority?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): They will have committees, the committee assignment they have now. They may have other committee assignments. They may have better committee assignments.


CAMEROTA: Congressman Gosar was censured and stripped of his committee assignments yesterday, after he posted a Photoshopped anime video showing him appearing to kill Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez and attack President Biden.

He had taken it down, but he has since retweeted it.

Joining us now is Congressman Gosar's sister Jennifer Gosar.

Jennifer, great to see you, as always.

Are you satisfied with the punishment that your brother got yesterday?

JENNIFER GOSAR, SISTER OF PAUL GOSAR: I'm satisfied that it's a good first step, Alisyn, but in no way shape or form is this sufficient for the crimes my brother has committed.

And I use the word crimes specifically because that's what they are.

CAMEROTA: So, beyond just tweeting out this violent imagery, I know that you have long maintained that he has done other things that are worthy of censure or actually removal. Such as?

GOSAR: Oh, my goodness, and threatening to endanger the life of a colleague repeatedly.

So this most recent anime threat is not the first action account that he is linked to. Through the A.Z. Mirror, was reported on having done it previously, but it was maybe less graphic. But he was a superhero again, had the ability to murder people through writing a death note, and that Representative Ocasio-Cortez was on that list, as well as then Vice President Joe Biden or former Vice President Joe Biden at that time.

So this is not the first, and it isn't the last, because as you just reported, within an hour or so of being censured, he retweeted all of that again. And doesn't that go with the apology that he gave on the floor, like oh, I in no way meant that? But, of course, I mean that now. So what do we do? We just let that slide like it's somehow not what it is, and that this woman's life isn't in danger, and that 207 members of the House said, well actually, if it was my daughter, if it was my wife, yes, they should probably come down, it's not really a big deal to be threatened?

CAMEROTA: As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out yesterday, what's so hard about saying, I was wrong, that that shouldn't stand, I was wrong?

And it's been reported he never apologized to her. He apologized behind closed doors, I guess, or he said that -- I don't even know it was an apology. He regretted it behind closed doors to his fellow Republicans.

But why do you think that he is unable to apologize to her?

GOSAR: In particular, because his story, the story that Paul tells himself, is about Paul the hero, Paul the most intelligent, Paul the number.

One and he echoes everything about the Klan-esque right, white supremacy (INAUDIBLE) movement that he's a part of, Paul first. So, how could Paul be first if he's apologizing to a woman, much less a brown woman, much less a younger woman?

In these different ways, that doesn't -- like, that doesn't land with Paul. And of course he wouldn't do that, because there's also political and career and criminal implications. Again, this continued threatening of her is only one of the actions. And, of course, we can just name the biggest elephant in that room, which is the January 6 insurrection and his co-conspiracy role in that.

CAMEROTA: You think that he had a hand in January 6?

GOSAR: Oh, absolutely. I absolutely think he had a hand in it.


And there's a lot of evidence to back me up on that. I mean, he was, by Representative Zoe Lofgren's report, the House member that tweeted -- he was the congressional member that tweeted the most the big lie. He showed up at all the rallies.

In fact, election night, he impeded, he and others impeded the ballot counting because of the rally that they had. They were armed. They were heavily armed, and, of course, his friends the Oath Keepers and other white supremacy mice (ph) were there as well.

So, this is not sort of like guesswork kind of thing. Where the problem really is, is the accountability. And the person that has the most leverage here is Attorney General Merrick Garland, and gets -- the Congress took a step. They can re-censure him again, and I think they should for what he did yesterday by retweeting those images.

But, again, Attorney General Merrick Garland has the leverage. And it must be done.

CAMEROTA: Jennifer Gosar, thank you. We always appreciate getting your perspective on this.

GOSAR: Well, thank you again for giving me an opportunity to speak, Alisyn. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: For the first time ever, the U.S. has surpassed more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in a single year, shocking statistic for a lot of people, but not for the two mothers you are going to talk -- we're going to talk to next. You're going to hear from them, their fight against the epidemic.

That's next.

CAMEROTA: Plus, we have some breaking news. Two men convicted of killing Malcolm X will be exonerated. Everything that we have learned in the past hour next.



BLACKWELL: Breaking news now.

Two men convicted in the 1965 assassination of civil rights icon Malcolm X have been exonerated. A 22-month investigation found evidence of their innocence was withheld at trial. So, just moments ago, Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance moved to vacate their convictions and issued an apology.


CYRUS VANCE, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I apologize for what were serious, unacceptable violations of law and the public trust.

I apologize on behalf of our nation's law enforcement for this decades-long injustice, which has eroded public faith in institutions that are designed to guarantee equal protection of the law.

Your Honor, we can't restore what was taken away from these men and their families. But, by correcting the record, perhaps we can begin to restore that faith.


CAMEROTA: Joining us now, CNN national correspondent Athena Jones.

Athena, these men spent decades of their lives in prison. So walk us through what some of the problems were with this case.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn. You're right. These men spent the prime of their lives in prison.

Muhammad Aziz, who is still alive, was only 26 when this nightmare began, as one of the lawyers put it. And even when they were released from prison, they had to live with the stigma of having been convicted of this crime, we now -- we know wrongfully and they knew wrongfully that they were convicted.

They maintained their innocence the entire time. Now these convictions being vacated on the basis of newly discovered evidence and failure to disclose exculpatory evidence. There were a lot of problems with this case even at the time.

There was a witness, for instance, the third man convicted of killing Malcolm X, who confessed on the witness stand to having been involved in the shooting and said that Mr. Aziz and Mr. Islam, these two men who have now been exonerated, were not -- were not his co- conspirators, that they were innocent.

That man, Mr. Halim, was called a liar. We heard from the lawyers here that the FBI and the NYPD withheld evidence. In the weeks after the shooting of Malcolm X in 1965, they gathered a trove of evidence implicating five men in New Jersey, and yet they hid that evidence both from the defense and from the prosecution, so clearly a blatant miscarriage of justice.

And, of course, as I mentioned, one of the men who has now been cleared, Khalil Islam, died back in 2009. And so this is something that these people, these men and their families can't get that time back.

We did hear from two of Mr. Islam's sons. Here's Shahid Johnson talking about how he lost face -- lost faith in the criminal justice system. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHAHID JOHNSON, SON OF KHALIL ISLAM: I stopped believing in it, for sure.

I almost just had to just disconnect from the whole thing and just try to live my life.

QUESTION: How's it feel for the day to have finally come?

JOHNSON: Bittersweet. Like my brother said, it's bittersweet.

It's going to take some time just to learn how -- we have to learn how to appreciate it, because, right now, we can't fully appreciate it right now. It just -- it's a good thing that happened. But it's not -- it doesn't replace everything that we lost.


JONES: And so that's Mr. Islam's sons.

I also spoke with Abdur-Rahman Muhammad, who was part of this six-part documentary on Netflix that really launched the reopening of this case. After it aired last year, Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan DA, decided they would be reinvestigating.

And I asked him, what questions do you have? Why was this evidence hidden for so long by the FBI, the NYPD? And he says that's something they still want to get to the bottom of. One of the directors saying that they still have some questions to answer, and yet another member of the team saying, look, this is -- there's an ongoing debate in this country about whether inequality and racism are systemic, are embedded in our systems.

And he says this is yet more evidence, as if more is needed, that that is the case, this racism and discrimination is systemic -- Alisyn, Victor.