Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Sentencing for Three Men in Arbery Killing; Page Pate is Interviewed about the Arbery Sentencing; Deadly Protests in Kazakhstan; Marty Walsh is Interviewed about the December Jobs Numbers. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 07, 2022 - 09:30   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right at the top of the hour, the three men found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, will learn if they will spend the rest of their lives in prison. There's a chance the judge could offer them eligibility for parole after 30 years. Travis McMichael, his father, Greg McMichael, and neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, were convicted of murder the day before Thanksgiving. Their claim of self-defenses with rejected by a nearly all white jury.

Our national correspondent, Dianne Gallagher, is joining us from Brunswick, Georgia, right now.

So, what's going to -- what's about to unfold? What's on the table today, Dianne?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what's on the table today is basically the only question for the judge is whether these three men should get the opportunity to seek parole after serving 30 years. And that's because Georgia law requires a life sentence with these charges.

Now, they're going to have the opportunity, if they wish, to speak in their own defense. They're going to be able to -- their attorneys, to call character witnesses. And the family of Ahmaud Arbery is expected to speak as well. Wanda Cooper Jones, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, of course, this is coming up on the two-year anniversary of his murder, she is going to speak and give that victim's impact statement. She says that she doesn't think that the judge should give them the opportunity to seek parole.


WANDA COOPER JONES, AHMAUD ARBERY'S MOTHER: Ahmaud didn't get a chance to live. So with that being said, Travis should not get a chance to live as a free man. Travis should go to prison for life, without parole. And that being said, he should remain in prison forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP) GALLAGHER: Now, once the judge makes that determination on whether or not they should get the chance to seek parole, of course, that would be up to a parole board later after 30 years. He will also have to determine whether or not the other charges that they were convicted of by that jury back in November would be served concurrently or consecutively in those situations.

It's not the only charges, of course, that these three men are facing. There are also federal hate crime charges, Wolf. And we learned this morning that the Arbery family was approached about a plea deal on those charges, and they said that they rejected it.

BLITZER: All right, Dianne, thank you very much.

Dianne is on the scene for us there in Georgia.

Let's discuss what's going on with criminal defense attorney Page Pate. He's also in Brunswick, Georgia, this morning for us.

Page, thanks very much for joining us.

Tell us what you expect from today's sentencing. Will these men spend the rest of their lives in prison?

PAGE PATE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, Wolf, in Georgia, it is really up to the judge to decide if someone who has been convicted of either malice murder or felony murder receives a life sentence with the possibility of parole or a life sentence without the possibility of parole. I think there is a very good chance that the judge sentences Travis McMichael, because he was the man who actually shot Ahmaud Arbery, to life without the possibility of parole. But I expect we may see the other two defendants get a life sentence with the possibility of parole. But it is important to note that that's just a possibility. The judge does not give them parole, does not guarantee that they will get parole. That will ultimately be up to a parole board decades down the road.

BLITZER: Yes, 30 years. He might be eligible for parole after serving 30 years.

Look at this, Travis McMichael, who actually did the shooting, is 35 years old. Gregory McMichael, his father, is 66 years old. And William "Roddie" Bryan is 52 years old. Could age be taken into consideration during today's sentencing?

PATE: It certainly could. I mean the judge can recognize that even a life sentence with the possibility of parole could be an effective life sentence, especially for Greg McMichael, the older of the three defendants. But I think, at the end of the day, a judge is going to impose a sentence based on the severity of the crime, which here is obviously very severe, and the relative roles of each of these defendants. An that's where I think Travis McMichael is probably the most likely to receive a life without the possibility of parole.


BLITZER: Do you think we'll hear from the defendants actually today? Do you think they're going to give us some sort of statement?

PATE: Well, that's a great question. I mean, obviously, there are two things that might have their lawyers suggest that they not make a statement. Number one is, this case will be appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court right after the sentences are imposed. And, secondly, there is this federal trial that's going to take place next month, right here in Brunswick. And so anything these guys say in court could later be used against them. And so, while they may simply say they accept the verdict of the jury, they regret what happened, I doubt you're going to hear anything more substantial than that from any of these defendants.

BLITZER: We'll have live coverage coming up in the next hour of that hearing.

Page Pate, thank you very, very much.

Still ahead, violent protests right now across Kazakhstan. And now the president there is ordering security forces to, quote, kill without warning. How the situation further complicates the U.S. negotiations with Russia.



BLITZER: Today, NATO is set to hold what's being described as an extraordinary virtual meeting to discuss Russia's military buildup in and around Ukraine and broader European security issues. But there's also a violent conflict happening right now on Russia's southern border. Protests in Kazakhstan that started over fuel prices have now turned deadly. The president says -- the president there says he gave the order to law enforcement to, quote, open fire to kill without a warning.

And now a Russian-led military alliance has been deployed as well.

Let's go to our CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, who's joining us live from Moscow.

So, Nic, what is the mission, first of all, of these troops?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, the mission is to secure government buildings and to break up any protests. The rules of engagement allow them to shoot what's described as armed gangs. This is a massive deployment. There are over 70 Russian military aircraft that are involved in taking what's expected to be about 2,500 troops total to Kazakhstan.

The situation on the streets there is still complicated. Bodies are reported being seen on the streets. The Russian -- the military in Kazakhstan has set up command posts in the center of the city, in the center of Almaty. People can't approach those command posts because the military is shooting in the air above them. But from last night, witnesses on the ground say that the military was shooting all over the city, all night, with live rounds at people. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice over): On Almaty's streets, in a hard to verify social media post, an ugly overnight crackdown. People scream and scurry for cover. Panic, as well as bullets in the air.

They're dead, they're dead, a man says.

A motionless body just out of safe reach, stretched out on the freezing ground.

In the same city, the country's biggest, protesters fought pitched battles with uniformed forces, casualties accumulating on both sides. Law enforcement appearing to gain the upper hand with arrests and killings. Police claim they took deadly action overnight, describing an as yet unverified, shadowy shoot first, ask questions later crackdown.

SALTANAT AZIRBEK, ALMATY POLICE (through translator): Last night, extremist forces attempted to storm the administrative buildings and police department in the city of Almaty. Dozens of attackers were eliminated, and their identities are still being verified.

ROBERTSON: The mayor's burnt out office in Almaty, apparent testimony to the ferocity of the battles fought without offering proof. The Kazakh president claiming protesters are foreign-backed terrorists, an often used trope to deflect blame that the Russian government is also repeating. A characterization rejected by protesters.

We are neither thugs nor terrorists, this woman says. The only thing flourishing here is corruption.

We want the truth, this protester says. The government is rich, but all of these people here have loans to pay. We have our pain, and we want to share it.

But truth and facts here are in short supply. The Internet, down for a second day. Residents reporting a scary quiet, braving government warnings to stay indoors, to go out and search for open shops to buy essentials.

Russian state media reporting heavy on allegedly rampant looting by some protesters, as well as highlighting violence against Kazakh law enforcement.

As part of a regional security agreement, Russian paratroopers began deploying to guard state and military facilities. The fourth consecutive day of protests, gunfire and explosions still rocking Almaty.


ROBERTSON: Now, according to government officials, 18 law enforcement officers have been killed, more than 748 of them injured. But the numbers when it comes to civilian casualties just don't add up. The police say, or the government says, 26 have been killed, 18 injured. [09:45:06]

With so much live fire, with a shoot to kill policy without warning, it seems that casualty toll just cannot stand the test of scrutiny.

BLITZER: Yes, very, very disturbing indeed what's going on in Kazakhstan.

Nic Robertson, in Moscow for us, thank you very much.

Still ahead, the December jobs report here in the United States turns in the lowest growth numbers of the year and surprises economists. We're going to get perspective from the U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh in just a few moments.



BLITZER: This morning, the U.S. Labor Department released what's being described as a rather disappointing December jobs report. It shows the U.S. added just 199,000 jobs last month. That's well below what was expected. But there is some good news, the unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent.

Let's discuss what's going on with the U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. He's joining us right now.

Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.

So, 199,000 jobs in December. Below what the experts were projecting. It was the fewest number of jobs added in any month of 2021. Give us a sense of how the administration -- how do you feel about these numbers this morning?

MARTY WALSH, U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: Well, certainly, you know, we feel -- I feel it's a good, solid report. You know, obviously, the expectations were much higher. But when you look at 2021 as a whole, the president's economic plan is working. And 6.4 million jobs have been added since the beginning of the president's office -- since he's been in office. The unemployment rate, 3.9 percent, it dropped almost a full three points in 2021. And 84 percent of the folks that were -- have come back to work. We're seeing some gains all across there and clearly we have some work to do in early 2022 here as we move forward here. But, you know, we saw sectors like manufacturing, other sectors improving.

We still have issues around childcare and elder care and getting people back to work. But, you know, we have work to do. There's no question about it. But President Biden has worked extremely hard and he's demanding that same hard work out of myself and all of his cabinet.

BLITZER: Yes, and as you know, and as you point out, as we've pointed out, the unemployment rate did fall to 3.9 percent, which is good. That's the best it's been since the beginning of the pandemic. Is that very encouraging to you or is it, as some economists are

suggesting, a sign that the whole jobs environment here is shrinking right now, people are dropping out looking for jobs.

WALSH: No, I -- you know, it's encouraging, obviously. And I think it just shows that we all still have lots of work to do, both government and in the private sector as we move forward here into 2022. We're still recovering from a pandemic. You know, last time this country dealt with that was 100 years ago. So we have some work. We're working on the inflation as well. You know, President Biden made a main focus on that at the end of 2021, on working on supply chains and releasing -- easing some burden on supply chain and asking companies not to pass the increases on to consumers.

So, we have work to do. There's no question about it. But, overall, you know, the economic -- from the American Rescue Plan to the bipartisan infrastructure law that was passed, the president pushed forward, I see -- I see a very positive 2022.

BLITZER: Yes, and, certainly, as all of us know, the coronavirus surge in the United States, the latest one, driven by the omicron variant, has disrupted businesses, triggered widespread cancellations and closures, as we all know. Six of President Biden's former health advisers are now calling for the president to adopt an entirely new domestic pandemic strategy geared to living with the virus indefinitely.

Does the administration need to adopt a new strategy to deal with all of this?

WALSH: Certainly I think that every day that goes by we evaluate and we adjust to the pandemic. I think that, you know, we've gone through a couple -- we went through a surge last year with the delta variant, where this year we're -- right now, the end of last year and the beginning of this year we're working on omicron.

You know, I think all society is looking at how do we continue to move forward, you know, living with some sort of a variation of this virus for a while to come. We had this conversation earlier this morning about people working from home and telework. So, you know, again, I think that -- we're not going to -- we will return back to pre- pandemic at some point, but right now we do have to adjust as we continually, month by month, living with omicron now and potentially other variants coming down the road.

BLITZER: As you know, the U.S. Supreme Court, all nine justices, are hearing arguments this morning over two vaccine mandates, a vaccination requirement for workers at facilities funded by Medicare and Medicaid, and a requirement of businesses with 100 or more employees to mandate vaccines or test weekly. You told "The Washington Post" that President Biden's vaccine mandates got caught up in politics. Do you think the Supreme Court will split politically over these very, very critically important issues?

WALSH: Well, certainly we're looking today and looking forward to what the Supreme Court will come down with. But medical experts are saying that this is extremely necessary. Legal experts, clearly on both sides of the aisle, agree with our argument. And this is also about keeping people safe as we move forward here. So, certainly I'm looking forward to see what happens after today's court case. But, you know, I feel good today.

BLITZER: You feel good on that issue.

What about the Build Back Better -- the president's sweeping economic agenda, led by Build Back Better, at least for now has been sidelined? What's going to happen?


WALSH: Well, there's some good -- there's some great components of that bill. And, obviously, childcare, adult care, looking at making sure the job training programs, workforce development programs, when we talk about where we are in society with people going back to work, some people dropped out of the workforce because they weren't getting fulfilled or they weren't making enough money in their job. Having the ability to be able to train people, more people, and working with business, private sector companies, is important.

So I think, as we move forward here, there will be many more conversations around the Build Back Better bill as we move forward here. But the president also has prioritized some other bills in our country right now. So we're focused on a whole legislative package as we go into 2022.

BLITZER: All right, you've got a lot going on, critically important assignment.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

WALSH: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, minutes from now, a sentencing hearing will begin for the three men convicted of murder for Ahmaud Arbery's death. We're also expecting to hear from Arbery's mother in court.

Stay with CNN. We are about to start live coverage.