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Clyburn: Not Giving Up On Voting Rights Bills Yet; Court Hearing This Week For Oath Keepers Leader Charged With Seditious Conspiracy; Remembering Legendary CNN Stage Manager Jay Conroy. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 10:30   ET



PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: In the world that I used to work in, that is the counterterrorism world. Even females were very rare in that world, but females have her pedigree picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan and then with a profile she had with extremists, I think that's one reason she became a cult leader. And then that went around the jihadi world, the extremist world like wildfire. She is still talked about often.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. She was arrested in 2008. The U.S. says she was carrying documents with plans for the manufacture of a dirty bomb or radiological bomb. She -- he, the attacker, was able to get into this country weeks ago from the U.K., do you see a security failure there?

MUDD: I don't, for a few reasons. First, you know, he's only here for a few weeks. And it's not clear that he had much of a profile here. He didn't seem to talk too much. It's not clear who he mixed with. The one question I'd have it's still unclear to me what the status of a weapon was, how somebody like this would have acquired a weapon, but if he wasn't on the British radar, so they couldn't have tripped us obviously. And he was only here for a few weeks. I'm not sure how he would crop up.

Now, as you mentioned, in the intro, a couple people in northern U.K. have been arrested. The question there would be what they knew in advance, for example, do they know he was coming over here with morbid intentions, but if they didn't talk, how would you know?

SCIUTTO: Quickly before we go, the idea that this ended with the hostages alive and the attacker dead? Those are difficult odds when you have situations like this, how much of an achievement, how much of a remarkable achievement was this and the way it did?

MUDD: Well HRT, the hostage rescue team, keep from the FBI, if you want to be a proud American, look at those guys. They are really good. I was talking to an officer down there who was himself after years in uniform, incredibly impressed by HRT, but I would say factually, most incidents end up with a hostage being released alive. So it's not unusual, but it's a great day.

SCIUTTO: It is indeed and for their families as well. Phil Mudd, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

MUDD: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead this hour, civil rights leaders continue to push for voting rights as they honor the legacy today of Martin Luther King Jr. What a steep challenge for the president, for Democrats. We'll talk about it coming up.



SCIUTTO: Happening now hundreds of people are marching toward the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge here in Washington for the D.C. Peace Walk. It's an annual event to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This is House Majority Whip James Clyburn says there's still some hope for voting rights legislation.


REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): They're maybe on life support. But, you know, Louis, and others did not give up after the 64 Civil Rights Act. That's why we got the 65 Voting Rights Act. So I'm going to tell everybody. We aren't giving up.


SCIUTTO: They're not given up. Joining now CNN White House correspondent John Harwood on the North Lawn and Melanie Zanona, she's on Capitol Hill. John, I wonder, does anybody in the administration share that hope? Are they moving on to plan B, C?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, I don't think so they don't have any illusions. They've gone through the process of trying to get the votes to change the filibuster and pass that Voting Rights Act. They think it's important to the future of democracy, it's important to their constituency, because many Democratic voters are who are on the other end of those voting restrictions that Republicans are pushing at state level.

But I don't think they see much path at this point possible bipartisan compromise on the Electoral Count Act. But I think that's something that the White House is going to wait and see how much Republican support materializes for that. And whether that becomes a realistic possibility, mostly, at the one year mark, Jim, I think what the White House is intending to do is get back to the fundamentals of their administration, one getting COVID under control.

That means trying to catch up on masks and testing, continue to push vaccines and on the economy, do what you can't on inflation, which isn't much on supply chains and try to get that Build Back Better Act passed, which is hit the same roadblock that voting rights did, but they think they've got a chance to get through that hurdle.

SCIUTTO: We'll see Melanie Zanona you're on the Hill. I wonder what you hear from Democrats on the Hill. Do they have an alternative path here? I mean, is Electoral Count Act reform really the only thing that's possible?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, I can tell you there is a real sense of disappointment over here on Capitol Hill, especially after President Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer did such a heavy lobbying blitz last week to try to move the needle on this issue. And yet they weren't able to. The Senate is still pushing ahead with these two votes this week. First, they're going to try to vote on the voting rights legislation that has the support of all Democrats but it cannot overcome the Republican filibuster.

At that point, Chuck Schumer is going to try to move to change the Senate rules. But Sinema and Manchin are still firmly opposed to those changes. So that is going to fail. And at that point, the really, the question really becomes can Democrats work with Republicans on something far more modest, as you mentioned, the Electoral Count Act, that's something that they're looking at, that oversees the process that Congress uses to formal certs -- formally certify the election. That is something that Donald Trump and his allies tried to use to overturn the election.

And Senator Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah actually said over the weekend to "NBC" that there is a bipartisan group of senators who are looking into those potential changes. I mean this is something that top Republicans have left the door open to potentially because they don't want any changes made to the filibuster. But progressives so far is saying this is insufficient. This is half a loaf. I mean, really a quarter loaf compared to what they were trying to do. But I do think that this issue could potentially gain steam, if Democrats feel like this is their only hope for victory, Jim.


SCIUTTO: Yes. If it's all you got, right? Melanie Zanona on the Hill, John Harwood at the White House, thanks so much.

Breaking news this just in to CNN, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley has tested positive for COVID-19. A spokesperson says that the general is experiencing very minor symptoms isolating working remotely. The spokesperson says General Milley most recently had contact with President Biden last Wednesday, but tested negative several days prior and every day following contact with the President.

Until yesterday, we should know that the Pentagon does say that he has been vaccinated and boosted. Experts are dismissing the latest CDC school guidance as out of touch and unrealistic as the agency calls on schools with places with high community spread to cancel extracurricular activities such as football, and band. CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins me now. Elizabeth, I mean, the question stands now how many schools would this apply to but also I suppose how many end up following this kind of guidance?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, I asked that question of several school associations, and they had not heard of a single school that was following this suggestion. So let's take a look. This was sort of buried in the school guidance that got updated a week or two ago. And a lot of people miss this. But basically the CDC is advising schools to cancel high risk

activities. They've been advising this for a while. Things like football, wrestling, band, extracurricular activities that involve singing, shouting or exercise. They say that if you're in a high transmission area, if you're a school in a high transmission area, this is what you should be doing.

So let's look what exactly is a high transmission area, take a look at this map, more than 99 percent of the U.S. is in a high transmission area. So the CDC is telling more than 99 percent of schools, essentially, you should be canceling these activities. Now, not only that, but there's another piece of advice the CDC has been giving that the experts I talked to said seems very unrealistic.

They say, look, if you're in isolation, you get out after five days, you can go out and about and be in the public, but you should avoid 80 percent of the public, you should avoid certain people because they're at a high risk for getting COVID or for getting very sick from COVID.

So let's take a look at who the CDC says to avoid. They say for example, to avoid people who are overweight, to avoid people who are suffering from depression, to avoid current or former smokers to avoid people who are pregnant. You know, I think it's just common sense. It would be very hard to know who is a former smoker. It will be hard to know who is suffering from depression or who was in the early stages of pregnancy.

The concern I got from experts and these are people who advise the CDC, who have worked with the CDC, who have the utmost respect for the institution and their scientists that when the CDC does this, when they give advice that is unlikely to be followed, either because how could you follow it or because it's just unrealistic, it erodes faith in their agency. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes. Lots to follow, lots of changes to follow no question, Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.


Still ahead this hour, the Oath Keepers leader at the center of the January 6th sedition charges has another court hearing this week. What his case could mean for former President Trump next?


SCIUTTO: A judge will decide this week if Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers charged now with seditious conspiracy in connection with January 6th Capital attack will be released from custody before his trial date or remain behind bars. CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elliott Williams joins me now to discuss. Good morning, Elliot. Of course, he's innocent until proven guilty, due process. How likely is it a judge, the judge here decides it's safer to keep him in detention during the trial?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I think there's a really good chance that he's kept in detention. Here's the point, Jim, what the process seeks to do is make sure that number one people actually show up for trial. And that number two, the public is kept safe from someone who might be dangerous. And there's a really good, both of those provide good bases for locking him up.

Number one, these were crimes of violence involving a lot of weapons. Number two, there were all sorts of encrypted communications between Rhodes and his coconspirators to evade detection by law enforcement. Number three, he's got a network of people around the country who are loyal to him that he's already communicated with, again, via these encrypted channels that could be used to sort of hide him or help him flee.

And so for all of those bases, it's in the public interest. And I think prosecutors will argue very hard that public safety and frankly, the integrity of the judicial system can't be secured unless he's detained before trial.

SCIUTTO: The Attorney General had gotten criticism for not aiming high enough with the charges going after the ringleaders as opposed to just the folks on the front lines here. Here they are going after the leader of the Oath Keepers. Do you think that some of that criticism was premature?


WILLIAMS: I think it was premature. It takes a long time Jim to build investigations, and number one. Number two, this is an individual who wasn't even in the Capitol. He never breached a base on what we know now, have never breached the walls of the Capitol on January 6th.

So clearly the investigation has expanded beyond the people who've just been charged with trespass, and so on. I quickly -- I've said on this program, a number of times that I think people were getting a little carried away with coming down on the Justice Department, just because we didn't know what evidence was available to them. And as more available evidence has come to the Justice Department, they brought charges, and I think they will continue to.

SCIUTTO: OK, how high I suppose they go here. Do you see a basis any evidence that the former president faces potential legal jeopardy under similar charges? Or are we just not there in terms of what we know?

WILLIAMS: Yes, right now, I think not. So number one, you're just not going to get the former president on a seditious conspiracy charge based on the evidence that is available. Now what you would need to find is the kind of evidence you have against Stewart Rhodes, text messages, e-mails, specifically directing people not just to overturn the election, you know, to not certify the results, but to overturn and stop Congress from functioning by forced, e-mail from the President saying, Please attack your member of Congress. It's a very high bar to get that and based on what we see right now, it's just not there, number one.

On broader conspiracy points, a statement that Rhodes made on January 6th, in a text message at 1:38 p.m. actually helps the President greatly, Rhodes texts. All I see Donald Trump doing is complaining. I see no intent by him to do anything. Trump's lawyers would go right into court and say, look, the ringleader of the people that you're saying I helped whip up is even saying that I didn't intend to help him.

So right now, the case isn't great against the president. But again, we just don't know what the Justice Department is going to uncover.

SCIUTTO: Elliot Williams, thanks so much for joining us.

WILLIAMS: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: We lost a dear, a dear member of our team this weekend, Jay Conroy. He was our stage manager. Someone just out of the camera frame, making sure we get you the news every day. Far more important, he was a good friend, a deeply special person. He was kind, sincere, he was generous, and trust us, just so funny. And he looked out for us.

When we had to evacuate in 2018 due to a letter bomb threat, it was Jay, there he is there on the left who shepherded us, ordered us in fact, off the set and out of the building to safety.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: It was the people around us. I mean there are people, Jay come over here. There are people that you don't see every day like Jay on the set, like Marlon if he can come up here that rushed us off the set. We didn't want to leave. You were like the dad. You turn the lights off. He took our mics off.

SCIUTTO: Yes, he didn't give us a choice.

HARLOW: And he walked us out.

SCIUTTO: Look at that smile. Second only to his kids whom he loves so much and told us about, his favorite topic of conversation was his favorite band Aerosmith. When he went to his 100th Aerosmith concert in 2012, CNN surprised him with this moment.


JAY CONROY, CNN STAGE MANAGER: I can't believe I'm standing here talking to Aerosmith.


SCIUTTO: He went to a lot more Aerosmith concerts after that. He chronicled his passion for music on his website rock hard. And he made us laugh a lot more times to like when he would sneak, look at him there into the bump shots at the end of the show, and say with a smile to us, this is how I get on T.V. He did make us smile. Jay survived by four children, Tyler, Colton, Corinne and Carly. It's a sad day for us. And we at CNN Newsroom will miss very much.

Poppy's here with me now, Poppy he's a good guy.

HARLOW: Yes, I mean, he was he was a great guy. I think Jim you and I both saw him just a few weeks ago full of smiles, full of laughs with the best hair on television. You're second only to Jay, Jim. And he was warmth. And he loved his children. If they're watching, he loved you so much. You brought him so much joy.

SCIUTTO: He loved you too. He loved the team at CNN very much. And he expressed it. And folks if you didn't know him, look at those pictures, you could see the personality coming right across.

HARLOW: And what a life he had and he got to meet Aerosmith. And he was our rock and we will always remember him.

SCIUTTO: He was. Keep him in your memories and we're thinking of you his children and his family right now.


And thanks so much for all of you for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy continues our coverage right after a short break.



HARLOW: Hello everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in today for Kate Baldwin. Here's what we're watching at this hour. Winter blast, tens of thousands without power as a major winter storm slams the East Coast and escalating tensions.