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Seventeen Killed, Including Eight Kids, In Deadliest NYC Fire In Decades; Comedian, "Full House" Star Bob Saget Dies At Age 65; Pediatric COVID Hospitalizations Hit Highest Level In Pandemic; For First Time, Judge Weighing If Trump Can Be Sued For 1/6 Riot. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired January 10, 2022 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us on NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. It is good to be with you.

We're starting this hour with this devastating apartment building fire in the Bronx. The deadliest fire in New York City in more than 30 years. Now the number of people killed was revised to at least 17 people, including eight children.

CAMEROTA: The fire is being blamed on a faulty space heater. Dozens more were injured, 32 people went to the hospital with life- threatening conditions. And officials say the death toll could climb.

So firefighters say they found victims on every floor of this building. Many survivors feared they would not make it out.


KAREN DEJESUS, BRONX FIRE SURVIVOR: I could see the flames. I could see the smoke and everything, you know, and coming into my apartment. Okay. You're being trapped somewhere as you see we have no fire escapes, and obviously, the building was not fireproof like we thought it was. Okay. You know?

Just the smoke coming in, just the fact that we're in a building that is burning and you don't know how you're going to get out.


CAMEROTA: Wow, CNN's Brynn Gingras is joining us live from the Bronx.

Brynn, there was just a briefing from officials. What did you learn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Victor and Alisyn, you could just hear the panic that these residents were feeling as they were trying to escape this fire yesterday. Officials pointing to the cause of the fire as the space heater on the third floor of this building here behind me. That apartment rather is actually a duplex. And what happened according to fire officials is when the residents of that particular apartment tried to escape, they left the door open to their apartment. No blame of course in that panic state.

However that allowed the smoke from this intense fire to just billow all the way up into the building. We're actually told the 15th floor was pretty bad as well, completely damaged because the door to that stairwell was also open. And that is something that investigators are going to be looking into, asking these questions of why these doors which are made to close permanently, why there was an issue with those doors, actually they reminded residents to check doors to make sure they close automatically. This is a good time to do that.

But again, just so much panic, so much fear for these people as they tried to escape, and the mayor talking about how they're going to give PSA throughout the school systems to remind kids and adults and everybody about closing doors in order to save lives.

But I want to you hear from the mayor as he talked about just reaching out to the community here, devastated by this fire.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: We sat down with the principal and the teachers and just wanted to have a private moment to let them know that we're here to support them as they go through this tragedy. They shared just personal notes of these children and it was something that we heard universally.

Each child that we lost is how much they smiled, how much they brought life to the school. This is a global tragedy because of the Bronx, and New York City is representative of the ethnicities and cultures across the globe.


GINGRAS: Yeah, eight children lost in this fire. And again, as you guys mentioned, this number could go up.

The ambassador the Gambia saying that we're going to come together as a community as many of the people living here were immigrants from that country. And we have been seeing a lot of people who have survived this fire coming back here to their homes trying to figure out what they could get from their homes, if there is anything left and hoping they could eventually get back into their homes which they love so much -- guys.

BLACKWELL: Just heartbreaking there. Brynn Gingras with that report, thank you so much.

Now, there are so many questions about the unexpected death of comedian and actor Bob Saget yesterday. He was found dead in a hotel room in Orlando. He was traveling for his comedy tour.

Bob Saget was 65 years old. He's best known for his role as Danny Tanner, the wholesome dad on "Full House" and he was host of America's funniest home videos. Now, later he pursued a much edgier brand of comedy.


BOB SAGET, ACTOR: I know what the surprise is. Joey, you're making that chili again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to love this.

SAGET: I have a date tonight. I have a date tonight.

You have such a good heart. You care about people. That is why people care about you.


And everybody who knows the real DJ thinks she's pretty terrific.

UNIDENTFIED FEMALE: Thanks, dad. I love you.

SAGET: I love you too.

You know, they say the measure of a man is judged by the company he keeps. I'm (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

Norm McDonald, Norm, you're the funniest man that I know because these are the other people that I know.


CAMEROTA: There has been an outpouring of love and memories for Saget from his "Full House" co-stars. Candice Cameron said 35 years wasn't long enough. And John Stamos tweeted, I am broken. I am gutted.

CNN's Stephanie Elam joins us now.

So, Stephanie, what do we know? Do we know anymore what might have caused his death?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know yet, Alisyn and Victor, and that's part of what's making this so difficult to process. That someone who seemed so vibrant at just 65 years of age would be found alone in his hotel room by a security guard and he was -- he had no pulse and was not breathing, and was declared dead at the scene. That is what we know at the point.

We also know that the authorities there in Orange County, Florida, are also saying that they don't believe there was any foul play or drugs involved in this at all.

And you look at how people are responding and in San Francisco people are showing up at the "Full House" house to pay respect. In fact, take a listen to what a couple of fans had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is definitely sad news. He's like the dad of the '90s. So, for everyone, you know, just loves the show very much. Not just "Full House" but everything else that he did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was raised in a generation throughout the country. A big impact on people as children as the Tanner family and as adults and Bob Saget and his sort of comedy career as well. I think he touched a lot of people, and he was a cultural icon.


ELAM: And that's really true. A lot of people grew up watching Bob Saget. So he's a part of their childhood in many ways. And so, seeing someone so vibrant gone right now is also what plays into this. It feels like a part of people's childhood is also passing away.

It is worth noting what Bob Saget posted on his Instagram just a day before -- the day that he passed away and he wrote in part, I have no idea -- I had no idea I did a two-hour set tonight, I'm back in comedy like I was when I was 26. I guess I'm finding my new voice and loving every moment on it.

He goes on to say he's going everywhere until I get the special shot and probably keep going because I'm addicted and he's talking about addicted to comedy. What is so great that he passed away doing what he loved on this tour, but what's so sad is that he had plans to do so much more of it -- Alisyn and Victor.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. Stephanie Elam, thank you.

Well, coronavirus hospitalizations are nearing record levels in the U.S. the health care system is once again on the brink. Nearly a quarter of the nation's hospitals are seeing critical staff shortages.

ELAM: Child hospitalization for some age groups are setting new pandemic records and the rise in adolescent cases fuelling the debate over how to keep kids safe in schools.

CNN's Alexandra Field has details.


MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO: Parents are outraged and they are making their outrage known to the teachers union. This is a very different dynamic than ever before.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tensions mounting in Chicago, more than 340,000 students missing school for a fourth day. They're teachers refusing to return to the classroom.

MICHELLE EGAN, CHICAGO POUBLIC SCHOOLS PARENT: We're very frustrated that there are no public health leaders standing up and saying that we should be moving to a remote learning environment especially for a district of this size.

FIELD: In Los Angeles, students are due back in school in person tomorrow with widespread testing turning up some 50,000 positive cases in the district. Metro Atlanta schools also returning to in-person learning after almost a week of going remote.

The largest district in the nation, New York schools, started the New Year in person. So far, just one single classroom in partial quarantine.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY BOARD OF PUBLIC HEALTH: I think at this point there is no good explanation for having remote schools.

FIELD: Still disruption ripple throughout the country. Some students in the Greensboro, North Carolina district are without school buses due to a bus driver shortage made worse by rising COVID-19 cases.

And a more dire situation for hospitals. Nearly one in four nationwide now reporting critical staffing shortages, federal data shows while COVID hospitalizations numbers near the pandemic's all-time high.

JHA: Among unvaccinated people and among un-boosted high risk people, it is putting a big strain given how much infection there is, our hospitals really are at the brink right now.

FIELD: For children, average daily hospitalizations are well above any pandemic peak we've seen before. More than 800 children are being hospitalized with COVID daily. Children who can't be vaccinated or aren't vaccinated make up a majority of those cases, according to CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: And for those children who are not eligible for vaccination, we do know that they are most likely to get sick with COVID if their family members aren't vaccinated.

FIELD: Amid a shortage of COVID testing nationwide, some testing labs report they're already overburdened. The University of Washington prioritizing tests for those with respiratory symptoms or a known exposure. The University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill also restricting tests to those issuing symptoms, university employees and people needing a test before surgery, with the omicron crush not letting up yet.

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: If you look what's happening across the East Coast right now, New York City, Washington, D.C., Maryland, probably floor as well, have already peaked and maybe Delaware and Rhode Island, you're going to start to see that in the statistics this week. You're going to start to see those curves, those epidemic curves bend down. You're already seeing that in New York City and Washington, D.C. The risk now is to the Midwest where you have rising infection.


FIELD (on camera): And there really isn't broad consensus yet about whether the northeast is at or getting past that peak. We'll have to watch these numbers over the coming days very closely. At the same time, the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, is saying the company is forging ahead with a omicron specific vaccine. He says it will be ready in March. He doesn't know if or when it will be used but they do plan to move forward with it -- Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: Alexandra Field, thank you so much.

A federal judge has deciding right now whether former President Trump is protected from liability after his supporters attacked the Capitol on January 6.

CAMEROTA: And the brother of fallen officer Brian Sicknick slams Trump, saying he does not care about police at all.



BLACKWELL: A federal hearing is happening right now that will determine if former President Trump could be sued for the siege on the Capitol.

CAMEROTA: Three lawsuits against Trump and some of his supporters were filed by some Capitol police officers and a dozen House Democrats, including Congressman Eric Swalwell.


REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Donald Trump and others are saying that they cannot be sued because they have absolute immunity. Our theory of the case is that there are limits to that and when you incite and aim a violent mob at the Capitol to stop lawmakers from counting votes and to terrorize them and hurt police officers, you're out of bounds.


BLACKWELL: CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider has been watching this hearing, started about an hour ago.

Get us up to date. What's going on?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, what's interesting about this, Victor and Alisyn, is the first of the lawsuits was actually filed 11 months ago. And this afternoon, it's the first time that they're all being heard by a federal judge. It's a critical question that is being asked. Should the lawsuits be dismissed or can they move forward?

If the judge allows them to proceed, it would open up all of the defendants here to sworn depositions and all kinds of discovery. That includes former President Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., plus Congressman Mo Brooks, also members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.

Now, the people suing here, there's three different lawsuits. They include several members of Congress, also Capitol police officers. They contend they were threatened by Trump and the others as part of this conspiracy to stop the election certification an January 6. And on top of that, they say that Trump should be held responsible for directing the assaults here. Now Trump's legal team, they're arguing in part that Trump can't be

sued because they say he has presidential immunity and it extends so what he said on the ellipse that day right before his supporters stormed the Capitol. We're about an hour into this.

The judge is hearing this case. He has seemed skeptical about that argument of broad presidential immunity. But his ultimate decision will be key here in whether the lawsuit against Trump and the others will move forward.

And if it does, Trump will be deposed here. He would finally be forced to answer crucial questions about what he was doing on January 6, possibly before January 6.

Alisyn and Victor, this is a court hearing. It's 2:00 now, 2:15, this could stretch hours into the evening and crucially here, we're not expecting a ruling as to whether the lawsuits could proceed today, but possibly in the coming days. We'll find out if the lawsuits against the former president and others could move forward -- guys.

CAMEROTA: OK. Jessica Schneider, come back to us as soon as there are any developments. Thank you for that.

Let's bring in Steve Vladeck. He's a professor at the University of Texas School of Law and CNN contributor, and Charlie Dent, our CNN political contributor -- commentator I should say, and a former Republican congressman for Pennsylvania.

Gentlemen, great to have you here.

Professor, can a president be held responsible for inciting an angry mob?

STEVE VLADECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah, Alisyn, I think that is the question. And that is why as Jessica suggested, the judge is hearing hours of debate on this very topic. The problem here is that we haven't been in this fact pattern before. So when courts are looking for precedent, they don't have many.

Much of the discussion at the hearing so far has been bout this fairly cryptic 1982 Supreme Court decision where the court said President Nixon, former President Nixon had absolute immunity when he fired someone while he was president.

A lot of ways to distinguish what President Trump said on the ellipse than firing someone in the White House. The real tricky part, though, and the sticky wicket here is whatever judge make the rules, it is going to be appealed because this is a novel question, because it's a novel circumstances. And so, we're not going to have a definitive resolution probably any time soon.

BLACKWELL: Congressman, I'm sure there are a lot of members of your conference who are watching this trial, this hearing pretty closely.


Mo Brooks is the only one sued and is at issue today. But how do you think this resonates there in the halls of Congress?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I have to think there is a fair amount of nervousness, because I think really what this is all about is accountability. Are the evens of January 6, are the people who are directly responsible, those who attacked the Capitol, physically, are they the only one held to account or are those who may have incited them, will they be held to account? I think that is the novel question. Is it -- if it is just the people who entered the Capitol, that means all of the others from the president and other leaders who incited this mob may escape accountability.

But you -- as a member of Congress and certainly as a president, you know, part of your official act, it is not part of your official duty to incite a mob. I mean, I don't see how that could protect you legally or criminally. I'm saying this as a non-lawyer. But I think this is a huge problem.

And if I were a lawmaker, I would be a bit nervous because it is a novel question, this will set a precedent going forward, of course, there are all sorts of First Amendment implications. When they were speaking, were they talking figuratively, figures of speech, kick butt, fight like hell, or were they talking literally. These are the questions that I think the court is going to have to figure out.

CAMEROTA: Yeah, I mean, sometimes you change your phrasing when you look out at a crowd and they're wearing combat fatigues and body armor. So, I mean, you know, I understand what you're saying, Charlie, but, Steve, isn't it true that if you say we're going to have trial by combat and let's go kick some ass, it is different based upon your audience?

VLADECK: Yeah, I mean, Alisyn, there is no question this is a probably pretty outwardly convincing case for holding speakers accountable, for knowing what they were saying. As Jessica said in her story and in err interview with you, much will depend on what comes out in discovery if we get that far.

And so, I think, you know, it's important to keep the separate track separate. This is going to be a big fight. Whatever the judge rules, whoever loses will surely appeal to the D.C. circuit and eventually the Supreme Court. This is all happening at the same time as former President Trump is still resisting turning over a bunch of documents about January 6 to the January 6 committee, we're also waiting for the Supreme Court to rule, perhaps as early as next week on whether he's going to be able to continue resisting that.

So I think Congressman Dent is right, the bottom line here, the watch- word is accountability and if it can't come through the civil suits, where else can it come from.

BLACKWELL: Yeah. Congressman, we heard from the former president bragging about the size of the crowd there at the rally before the insurrection. And this morning on "NEW DAY", we heard from Ken Sicknick, who's the brother of Brian Sicknick, one of the officers, the five officers who lost their lives in relation to what happened that day. I want you to listen to what Ken Sicknick said.


KEN SICKNICK, BROTHER OF FALLEN CAPITOL OFFICER: He's a narcissist. Not one -- not once, at least not that I heard, has he ever mentioned the five police officers that died because of the events of that day. Not just my brother, but Liebengood, Smith, Hashida and deFreytag, they shortly afterwards committed suicide and directly really to what happened that day. You can't tell me any different.

He's so blinded by his own -- by himself that he can't see what he caused, the pain.


BLACKWELL: Hundreds of officers injured, five lost their lives. You're reaction to what the former president prioritized. And how do you call yourself the law and order anything if you don't acknowledge those five law enforcement officers lives lost?

DENT: Well, Ken Sicknick I think nailed it pretty well in terms of the president's narcissism, his lack of concern about the well being of those police officers and frankly everybody else in the Capitol that day, had very little regard for how his rhetoric might impact others.

But that has been the case for this president for sometime. I never thought we would witness it in such a horrific violent way. But I think the lawsuits, particularly the police lawsuits, these people were put at real risk and many were injured and assaulted and some lost their lives, and they're expecting accountability too.

And I would love to hear what the president has to say, what was his frame of mind? Was he -- in the White House, all reports suggest that he seemed to be enjoying the show. He was derelict in his duty. He was aiding and abetting.

I would argue, he was aiding and abetting this mob that was intent on disrupting official proceedings of Congress, which is a crime. So, bottom line is, the family of officer Sicknick has ever right to make those statements.


And like every else, they wanted to be held -- want the former president to be held accountable.

CAMEROTA: Charlie Dent and Steve Vladeck, thank you both.

BLACKWELL: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right. For a fourth day, more than 300,000 students are not in school in Chicago. What will it take to get them back into the class? We'll discuss with a parent who is also a third grade teacher next.

BLACKWELL: And here is a look at some of the other events we're watching today.