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Gov Cuomo Won't Be Prosecuted For Forcible Touching Charge; A.G. Merrick Garland To Update 1/6 Investigation Tomorrow; Attorneys For Prince Andrew Call For Lawsuit To Be Dropped; World Races To Vaccinate Amid Omicron Spread. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 04, 2022 - 13:30   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: What a way to kicks off 2022. Drive safe.

Thank you.


HILL: And stay with us. We'll be right back.



HILL: Breaking news into CNN. The district attorney in Albany, New York, has just announced he will not prosecute former Governor Andrew Cuomo for a charge of forcible touching.

CNN's Athena Jones is following the latest developments.

Athena, what more do we know about this decision?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Erica. Well, the Albany district attorney, David Soares, issued a statement explaining his decision.

And here's what he said, the key line from what he said in the statement:

"While we found the complainant cooperative and credible, after reviewing all of the available evidence, we have concluded that we cannot meet our burden at trial."

What he is talking about is the burden of proof, having to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

This is an important move here. This move comes two months after the same district attorney had already called the criminal complaint in this case potentially defective.

He cited issues like the lack of a sworn statement from the woman making the allegations of Brittany Commisso, a former aide to Governor Cuomo.

To be clear, the former governor denied these allegations.

He was set to be arraigned in this case next month so the decision is coming at a key time.

And it's just the latest decision among several made by district attorneys in the New York area.

It comes after the district attorney in Nassau County and Westchester County said the former governor would not be facing criminal charges over misconduct allegations.

And it also comes after the Manhattan's D.A.'s office closed its investigations into a separate issue dealing with the nursing home deaths from COVID-19.

That investigation was closed and there's no criminal liability for state officials like Cuomo.

So the -- the former governor is getting a lot of good news right now.

But the bottom line is he's still facing a federal investigation of sexual harassment allegations. And the dropping of these charges in Albany does not preclude a civil lawsuit.

Brittany Commisso's lawyer hinted in a statement that that could be coming down the road -- Erica?

HILL: Athena Jones, appreciate the update. Thank you.

Tomorrow, Attorney General Merrick Garland plans to deliver an update on the January 6th attack on the capitol.

According to a Justice Department official, Garland will, quote, "reaffirm the department's unwavering commitment to defend American democracy from threats of violence."

Congressman Reuben Gallego, who was on the House floor during the insurrection, says it's time for action from the DOJ.


REP. REUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): I think Merrick Garland has been extremely weak. And I think there should be a lot more of the organizers of January 6th that should be arrested by now.


HILL: CNN legal and national security analyst, former FBI special agent, Asha Rangappa, joining us now.

Asha, there's not a lot of specifics that it the attorney general is likely to offer tomorrow. There's only so much he can say.

We know he's under pressure and some lawmakers feel he's not doing enough. But based on all of that, realistically, what should we expect from the speech if he can't really go into detail? ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Erica, I

don't know what he has planned. And you're right that he can't speak with specificity about particular ongoing investigations.

But I really hope that he goes beyond just stating, you know, the unusual -- the Department of Justice upholds the rule of law platitudes because I think that there's, right now, an erosion of faith in -- in the Justice Department.

To uphold the rule of law, it's not enough for justice to be served. Justice has to be seen to be served.

And, you know, for three years the Department of Justice was weaponized and used as an arm of the White House under President Trump.

We even have a high-level Justice official who is implicated in the January 6th coup.

So while Garland can't speak about specific cases, I think he can offer some insight into how he is approaching January 6th.

Are there any red lines? They have been incredibly efficient and admirable in prosecuting these, you know, ground-level minions who were at the capitol, but are they going after the planners and the plotters?

And these are the questions that I think he needs to answer.

And the silence that he's had for the last year only makes it more imperative that he speak a little more forcefully and substantively about what is happening at the Justice Department.

HILL: When he was sworn in, Garland vowed to restore the independence of the Justice Department. So he may not be moving as the speak but we know some lawmakers, as we just heard, as the congressman would like, but there has to be that balance.

You just said you feel the Justice Department is weaponized for three years under the last administration.

Can he be both independent while also dealing with a timeline and a wish list that's coming from democratic lawmakers in this case. How do you square those two?

RANGAPPA: Erica, I square it by -- I think that Garland just needs to explain things because the lay public really doesn't understand the inner workings of the Justice Department.


I have no doubt that the FBI and prosecutors have their heads down. They are working very hard on, you know, this enormous investigation.

But most people don't understand, for example, how long investigations take, that high-level investigations involving things like conspiracy and coordination won't be prosecuted as something as quickly as trespassing or vandalism.

For him to speak a little bit more about that would be helpful.

He did re-establish the independence of the Justice Department. He instituted new policy about contacts between the White House and the Department of Justice. But he never made a statement about it.

I don't think move people know that he re-established that norm very clearly, you know, within the Department of Justice as a policy.

So I think that he can go a long way by just giving the public a window into steps that are being taken, how things work, you know, his -- what interest he is balancing as he approaches, you know, these cases, like when he's thinking about whether to charge somebody with contempt of Congress.

I think that that would reassure the public much more than what they are feeling now.

HILL: We'll all be watching, right, to see how much that have we actually do hear and what ultimately is said tomorrow.

Asha, as always, good to have you here. Thank you.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

HILL: Up next, he once argued an accusation of sexual assault against him couldn't possibly be true because he's not a sweater. Well, now, Prince Andrew's attorneys are in court trying to get the same lawsuit dismissed. Their latest argument. We'll get you up to speed next.



A federal judge said he'll decide pretty soon whether to dismiss a civil lawsuit accusing Britain's Prince Andrew of sexual assault.

In that lawsuit, Virginia Giuffre said Jeffrey Epstein forced her to have sex with the royal when she was just 17 years old. Prince Andrew denies the allegation.

His lawyers just argued in a hearing, which wrapped up a short time ago, that an agreement between the accuser and Jeffrey Epstein actually protects him from prosecution.

CNN royal correspondent, Max Foster, joining us from Hampshire, England.

Max, update us on this hearing this morning and what happens next.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: A critical hearing for Prince Andrew and his team. And the judge said he would come back pretty soon with a ruling as well.

On the basis -- it's obviously a very complex case. But on the basis of this latest judgment, quite simple really.

What Prince Andrew wants to do is get this case thrown out of the court based on a 2009 agreement between Epstein and Giuffre.

In that agreement, Giuffre does agree, in return of $500,000, not to sue anyone associated with Epstein who could potentially be seen as a defendant.

Prince Andrew very much feels he could be categorized as such, whereas, the Giuffre team say he's not even a third party to that 2009 agreement so there's no way that he can use it in this New York case.

So therefore, they feel the case should continue disregarding the 2009 agreement.

The judge, interestingly, Erica, did appear to veer on the side of the Giuffre team argument.

The judge said -- he acknowledged the Giuffre argument and said that this was a secret agreement in 2009 and, therefore, it could only be enforced by Giuffre or Epstein.

Epstein has passed and can't enforce it and Giuffre isn't enforcing it.

It does feel as though the judge in New York is falling on the side of Giuffre in arguing that the case should continue and potentially go to trial in September -- Erica?

HILL: Which would really be something.

Max Foster, appreciate the update. Thank you.

For more than lawsuit against Prince Andrew, let's bring in CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan.

Paul, as Max pointed out, the judge was saying this is a secret agreement, and since Jeffrey Epstein has died, right, and Virginia Giuffre said she is not enforcing it, what does this tell you about where this could be headed?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It sounds like the judge, Erica, is leaning in favor of allowing the case to proceed.

He comes up with a very interesting view on it, and that is since Epstein is dead and if Giuffre chooses not to enforce the agreement, the judge is really saying the agreement doesn't really exist and wouldn't bind the court.

So that's kind of a novel argument that the judge is asserting. I haven't heard that used before.

Because these types of agreements are quite common in civil litigation in both state and federal courts.

HILL: I mean, specifically, really quickly, Prince Andrew's legal team says she waived her right to sue because of this agreement, right, of potential defendants?

I mean, who -- when you look at that, who has the stronger argument legally?

CALLAN: Well, it's a very close call. And I have to say that, because these agreements are used across the United States and are very, very important in getting cases settled.

The reason this happens, these kinds of agreements are used, Erica, is because, a lot of times, there are multiple potential defendants in a civil lawsuit.

And one of them has the money that you want to settle with. But that person isn't going to settle if he's going to get dragged into another lawsuit in the future.


So this agreement is made that, hey, I'll settle with you, but you have to agree you won't continue with these lawsuits against anybody, because I don't want to get dragged back into it again.

So that's a common kind of agreement, very important to help resolves civil cases.

So a precedent could be set in this case that would be an important precedent in the United States about how to handle these releases, these general releases.

HILL: Could Prince Andrew be forced to testify?

CALLAN: Yes, he can be forced to testify in this sense: In a civil case, if you don't testify in your own behalf, your failure to testify can be used against you.

It's very different than a criminal case where you have the right to remain silent.

So, he's really going to have to testify or the jury can hold it against him in the U.S. litigation.

HILL: Paul Callan, we'll be watching to see what this judge decides. Thank you, my friend.

CALLAN: Thank you.

HILL: Still to come, President Biden set to speak about the rapid explosion of COVID cases as his administration sends mixed messages on isolation guidelines.

Also struggling, of course, with this continuing, massive testing mess.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HILL: The race to vaccinate the world is now butting up against the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

CNN is tracking its impact across the globe. Let's begin in Europe.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Scott McLean in London. The surging Omicron variant is piling pressure on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to tighten restrictions in England.

Not because of the number of patients showing up at hospitals but because of the number of hospital staff who are not. Several health regions have declared critical incidence because of the growing number of staff absences.

In England, the number of staff out sick with COVID doubled in just two weeks, and the situation is even worse in London.

The country's largest nursing union is calling for tighter restrictions in England, though the government insists that hospitalization numbers do not merit any change.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Paula Hancocks in Seoul. Hong Kong has announced it will tighten its vaccination rules in order to try and contain an, as yet, small outbreak of Omicron cases.

You'll need to be vaccinated in order to enter museums, public libraries, and schools by February 24th, although they haven't yet decided if all students will be included in that requirement.

Elsewhere, in India, there have been record numbers of new cases in both Mumbai and New Delhi.

In the national capital territory of Delhi, there will be a weekend curfew put in place to slow down the spread of new cases.

But elsewhere, in other states, five states where there are elections coming up early this year, we are seeing massive political rallies with thousands of people in attendance. In some cases, a lack of masks and social distancing is raising concerns.


HILL: Paula Hancocks, Scott McLean, appreciate the reporting.

Thanks to all of you for joining us this afternoon. That does it for me.

Victor and Alisyn will take over after a quick break.