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Interview With CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky; Lindsey Graham Testifies in Georgia; Colorado Mass Shooting Investigation Continues. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 22, 2022 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The Fulton County district attorney's office says the South Carolina Republican senator might be able to shed light on Donald Trump's efforts to subvert the 2020 election.

And the president of the United States has called Richard Fierro and his wife, Jessica, one of the individuals who tackled the gunman, of course, in that shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs.

Thanks for your time today.

Our coverage of that important story continues, as Ana Cabrera picks up right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks so much for joining us.

A hero is speaking, and a coward isn't. Officials tell us the gunman accused of killing five people and injuring more than a dozen others at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado refuses to talk. Investigators say, even without his cooperation, they're looking into whether this was a bias-motivated crime, in other words, whether he acted because of hate.

And, if so, he could face hate crime charges. We're told those charges won't be formally filed until the suspected shooter is out of the hospital, however. He's been there since the attack. It appears the suspect was injured by two heroic club goers who took him down.

Army veteran Richard Fierro says he grabbed onto a loop on the back of a flak jacket the shooter was wearing to pull him to the ground.


RICHARD FIERRO, U.S. ARMY VETERAN: I proceeded to take his other weapon, the pistol, and then just start hitting him where I couldn't get. But the armor is in the way.

And I just started -- I found a crease in his -- between his armor and his head, and I just started wailing away with his gun. And then I told the kid in front of me, kick him. Keep kicking him. And we were -- I was guiding people. I was telling people, call 911. Call 911. I brought him down. I -- I was in mode. I was doing what I did -- I do downrange. I trained for this. I don't want to ever do this. I didn't even retire because I was just -- I was done doing this stuff. It was too much. I told him while I was hitting him, I said: "I'm going to kill you, man, because you tried to kill my friends."

My family was in there.


CABRERA: Such a brave, brave man.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Colorado Springs for us.

Rosa, as officials look for the motivation here, what more are you learning about the suspect's past?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what we do know, Ana, is of an incident in June of 2021.

There was a standoff with police involving the suspect that lasted for hours. And we have video of him surrendering to police. Now, according to a press release that was issued,at that point in time, authorities say that his mother was the one who called into police, calling in a bomb threat, saying that her son had ammunition and that he had weapons.

Now, inside the home, what was going on, according to a livestream that CNN was able to obtain, was the suspect actually ranting about police. Take a listen.


ANDERSON LEE ALDRICH, SUSPECT: This is your boy. I have got the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) outside. Look at that. They got a bead on me. You see that right there?

(EXPLETIVE DELETED) got their (EXPLETIVE DELETED) rifles out. If they breach, I'm going to (EXPLETIVE DELETED) blow it to holy hell.


FLORES: Now, according to that same press release, the suspect are faced multiple charges, including felony menacing and also first- degree kidnapping.

But according to the district attorney, those charges were dropped. Those cases were never adjudicated and the file was sealed. Now, the -- according to the DA, what we know is that if he would have purchased a weapon after that, it would have not come up in a background check.

So that is the key point there, because those records were sealed. Now, we're also learning that the suspect changed his name back in 2016. This was just before his 16th birthday. His name was Nicholas F. Brink. And he changed it to his current name, Anderson L. Aldrich. And all of this is according to court documents out of Texas.

Now, what we're learning is that, the year prior to that -- and this is according to some investigating that our CNN investigative unit has done -- they found that he was subject to vile bullying online. Now, all of this was pulled from Web sites that show that he was bullied.

This Web site shows that he was mocked for his weight. He was accused of illicit activity. They were making fun of his grandmother for raising money for him. It was just very vicious, very insulting.

And, Ana, we have to share that we don't know if any of this is related or even relevant. But, again, it just speaks to some of the background leading into this tragic incident -- Ana.

CABRERA: There's still so much more to learn, and, again, the suspect not hocking in this case.


I should note, though, we're just learning the president has now called that hero you heard from at the beginning of our show, Richard Fierro, to express his gratitude for his heroic actions.

Rosa, thank you for your ongoing reporting on this.

We're also learning more about the five victims killed in this attack.

Kelly Loving is described as caring and sweet, a wonderful person who everyone loved.

Aston, Daniel, was a bar supervisor at Club Q, and was called the best boss. He had moved to Colorado Springs to be closer to his parents. Derrick Rump was the bartender at the club, and his sister says he shined there. One co-worker said, every bar should have a Derrick.

Ashley Paugh worked for a nonprofit that helps find homes for foster children, and she worked closely with the LGBTQ community to find welcoming placements. Ashley leaves behind a daughter, who was her world. Raymond Green Vance was out the club for the first time with his longtime girlfriend, who's part of the Fierro family. They were celebrating a birthday. His family and friends say Raymond was so loved.

Turning now to the investigation of documents seized from Mar-a-Lago. In less than an hour, former President Trump's lawyers will face off against the Justice Department at a key hearing. It puts the freshly appointed special counsel in charge of this appeal seeking to scrap the special master.

Now, CNN's Paula Reid is outside the courthouse in Atlanta.

Paula, explain what's at stake today.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, attorneys for former President Trump had just arrived here at the courthouse. This is the first hearing since the appointment of special counsel Jack Smith.

And while he will not be here today, he has personally approved all of the arguments that prosecutors are going to make in this building behind me as they try to convince a panel of judges to do away with this requirement that a so-called special master review thousands of pages of documents that were obtained in that Mar-a-Lago search.

The former president asked for this special master because he claimed that privileged material may have been swept up in that search. A lower court judge surprised a lot of people by granting that request. But, today, prosecutors are here to try to convince this panel to remove the special masters, so they can move this investigation along a lot faster.

Time is, of course, of the essence, as they do not want this to extend too far in to the 2024 presidential cycle. We even heard the attorney general on Friday try to assure people that the appointment of a special counsel was not going to slow this down.

CABRERA: Do we expect to get a ruling or an answer on this today?

REID: So, we don't expect a decision today, but some good news already today for prosecutors.

Now, previously, this same court had granted prosecutors a carve-out to this special master requirement, saying that they could go ahead and investigate classified materials. And, Ana, we learned this morning that two of the three judges who were on that panel are also on today's panel that will have to assess whether to do away with this review process.

They're all three GOP-appointed judges, two appointed by former President Trump and one appointed by former President Bush.

CABRERA: OK, Paula Reid, keep us posted. Thank you.

And that's not the only high-profile legal proceeding happening in Georgia today. The other is one Senator Lindsey Graham spent months trying to prevent. But, today, the Republican senator is finally testifying in front of the Fulton County grand jury investigating Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 election.

CNN Sara Murray is covering this hearing.

Sara, Senator Graham took this fight all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him and cleared the way for today's testimony. Set the scene for us.


Senator Graham really did not want to have to appear today. But he has been. He's been testifying before this Fulton County grand jury. The Supreme Court said he did have to appear, they were not going to get in the way of this. But they did carve out some areas where he will not have to answer questions. The courts have said that, if he's being asked about activity that would be related to his legislative activity, related to his decision about whether to certify the 2020 election, that is off the table.

But they can ask him questions about his coordination with the Trump campaign. They can ask him any questions that might have to do with him cajoling election officials. And that's what the district attorney they're really wants to know. They want to know about Graham's calls to election officials, including one to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Raffensperger came away from that call believing Graham was suggesting he should throw away ballots, perhaps in a way that would be favorable to Donald Trump. Graham has denied this. So that's really the heart at what the district attorney wants to get to before the grand jury today. And, again, we will see how far she gets with this testimony.

Graham still has the opportunity to challenge specific questions, and we suspect he's doing exactly that before the grand jury.

CABRERA: OK, Sara Murray, thank you for that update.

Let's bring in former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Harry Litman now.

Harry, we know the Fulton County DA is very interested in this phone call between Graham and Georgia's secretary of state after the 2020 election.


But, as Sara mentioned, the Supreme Court ruled Graham could object to certain questions. Will he have to testify about that call?


So what he tried to say all the way up is, this was his legislative activity, like voting on the floor. And that's what the court's all the way up rejected. This is not part of what a senator does, try to, probably in his courtly senatorial way, browbeat a state elections officer to get more votes.

Now, if the questioner or prosecutor veers into territory that are -- that's really legislative, he can stop the music and try to say, I don't want to answer that. And they may in fact, have to take a break while that's determined.

But the heart of what Willis is seeking here, he's now going to have to give up. And the big question is, for other Trump partisans, when it's come to the end of the line and they have been ordered to testify, they have taken the Fifth Amendment. Is that what Senator Graham will do? He's a sitting senator, slightly different situation.

CABRERA: If you're the prosecutor, what do you ask him in front of that special grand jury?

LITMAN: What exactly did you say, and why do you why did you say it?

Because, remember, they have already heard from Raffensperger and other people. They don't have the audiotape. But Raffensperger is a credible observer. And if Graham does a story that is completely apart from it, that, I think, puts him more in the soup, not just for the actual substantive charges of election tampering, but even potentially perjury.

CABRERA: Let's turn to the Mar-a-Lago investigation.


CABRERA: You have the special master dispute playing out between Trump and the DOJ. And this was all before a special counsel was appointed.

LITMAN: Right.

CABRERA: So, now Jack Smith, the new special counsel, is coming into this midstream.

Do you see that as a disadvantage?

LITMAN: No. For today, it isn't. They have already developed this very much.

Remember, this was really -- it's a little complicated, but everything was going along smoothly. Trump filed this motion and got a judge to basically really freeze the linebackers. The 11th Circuit granted a stay as to part -- as to the classified documents, and now they're considering the merits of the order in the first place.

And I think, given what they said before there, there's a pretty good chance that they will reverse that order. For Smith, he's just come in and, like for everything else, quickly getting up to speed and has authorized, checked the box, saying, you may go in and do that. Everybody has a first day. When I was a U.S. attorney, you came in the first day, there was still arguments going on.

And you said, yes, OK, go do that. But it's not as if he really has to completely master the case to do that.

CABRERA: Now, Jack Smith, again, the special counsel, he's leading two entirely different cases. That makes his job even more complicated. You have the 2020 election scheme and the January 6 investigation connected to that, and then you have the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago.

Is it unusual to bring varied probes under the same umbrella like this?

LITMAN: Yes, unless you start in one place and something else develops.

But the thing that's even more unusual, Ana, is to come into a probe that's so advanced, which especially the Mar-a-Lago one is. The January 6 is sort of several probes, in and of itself. So it's a whole kind of office and section of the Department of Justice for probably a few years.

But the immediate thing is Mar-a-Lago, where the indications are that they are getting close to a charging decision. That decision now will be his, but he is going to have to rely on all the work that's come before him for months.

CABRERA: Harry Litman, it's great to have you with us. Thank you so much, as always

LITMAN: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: It's getting worse at the worst possible time, hospitals stretched to capacity as a triple threat of viruses surge and as crucial antibiotics run low.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, joins us live.

Plus: It happened again, the state of Alabama now suspending executions after botching a lethal injection for the third time in months. What's going on?

And he's calling his fellow soldiers idiots. He's detailing huge losses. We're hearing from a Russian soldier as he talks to his girlfriend from the front lines in Ukraine. And CNN has the exclusive audio.

Stay right there.



CABRERA: A tripledemic is putting a major strain on hospitals across the nation. We're talking a perfect storm of COVID, flu, the RSV respiratory virus all hitting at the same time

RSV hospitalization rates are roughly 10 times higher than normal for this point in the season. It's so bad, in fact, children's health leaders have called on the federal government to declare an emergency to help support hospitals. And, to make matters worse, we're also seeing a shortage of antivirals and antibiotics used to treat these viruses.

I want to bring in Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thank you so much, Doctor, for taking the time.

Children's hospitals are telling us that this is basically the equivalent to what a lot of health care facilities were experiencing when COVID first hit, and they were just so overwhelmed, so stressed, only, these are facilities, of course specifically focused on children.

Administrators at Children's Minnesota Hospital are telling us they're running out of ICU beds. Take a listen.



DR. MARC GORELICK, PRESIDENT AND CEO, CHILDREN'S MINNESOTA HOSPITAL: We are seeing the biggest surge of respiratory illness, wintertime respiratory illness that we have ever seen going back.

Our number of admissions, patients admitted to our hospital for respiratory illness in October was double the previous record number.


CABRERA: So, this is a full-blown crisis. Why is this happening?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Yes, thank you, Ana, for having me.

So we have an intersection of three viruses that are happening right now. And two of them actually, RSV and influenza, are peaking and coming very high earlier than we usually see them. So, RSV impacts the littlest children. We saw really high numbers of RSV earlier than we generally do.

We are -- in some of those areas where he's seen high numbers, in the South-South Central region, even in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, we're starting to see some of those numbers come down and plateau, so we are hopeful for those continued trends.

Influenza also peaked very -- is peaking earlier this year. We haven't seen influenza rates as high in a decade as we're seeing right now. So, in the big picture, what this means -- as we also worry about the contribution of COVID-19, in the big picture, what this means is to have really a three-pronged approach, first being get your vaccines for which you can get vaccinated, influenza, as well as COVID-19.

Second, take those measures that you can take to protect yourself. Avoid people who are sick. Don't go out if you're sick yourself. Wash your hands. Consider wearing a mask, improved indoor ventilation. And then, if you are sick, present to your clinician, so that you can get those antivirals that you need.

CABRERA: Given in the lessons learned from COVID, why isn't the health care industry better equipped to handle the current level that they're seeing, even if it is coming earlier than expected?

WALENSKY: Yes, so we have done a lot to foster improved and increased capabilities and our health care systems.

It is also the case that these -- every year during respiratory virus season, we see these peaks, we see these challenges in the health care system. It's also the case that, right now, the viruses that are -- that -- are impacting children more frequently than some of our older adults. RSV is well-known to cause challenges with children during respiratory virus season. What we have seen is that, because of COVID, because of all the

mitigation strategies that we have had over the last several years, many of those children did not get exposed to RSV. So we have several years of children who've never seen RSV before. And because of that, we have these layers and more children who are requiring hospitalization than we see generally in a given season.

CABRERA: You had said this may be an early peak. And we all hope that's the case that it's going to start coming down.

I think the fear is that this is not the peak yet. And it's already this bad. How much worse could it get? In the past, we have seen COVID cases spike a couple of weeks after holiday gatherings, for example. Do you expect a post-holiday surge this time, whether it's COVID, RSV, or flu or all three of those?

Could this situation get worse?

WALENSKY: Right, yes, which is why we're really encouraging people to take all those preventive measures that they can right now. Get your COVID-19 vaccine, your bivalent vaccine, if you haven't gotten it already. Get your influenza vaccine.

It's everyone over the age of 6 months old is eligible for an influenza vaccine. So, we're really encouraging people to take those prevention measures. We have seen in some regions RSV numbers starting to trend downward. Flu numbers are still on the rise. And we are concerned that, after holiday gathering, lots of people coming together, that we may see increases in the number of COVID-19 cases as well.

And it's all, in a summary, to say, do everything you can to prevent it by getting your vaccines.

CABRERA: Should parents of young kids try not to gather for Thanksgiving?

WALENSKY: You know, we have had a couple of really hard seasons, and I do know that people are very interested in being together with family.

But the important thing is, if you are up to date on your vaccines, you have done those prevention things, if everybody is well, if people are not gathering, wash -- when they are sick, wash your hands, improve your ventilation. Wear a mask if people have symptoms or consider wearing a mask. Consider wearing a mask and starting now, so that you're not exposed in the week as you're traveling.

Certainly wear a mask if you're traveling, which continues to be CDC guidance. And then we really want to see that people have a safe holiday season.

CABRERA: We're reporting on this shortage of antibiotics used to treat some of these illnesses, amoxicillin, Augmentin, Tamiflu, among others. We're told this isn't necessarily because of a manufacturing issue, but rather just the higher demand than usual. So what can parents do if their child is really sick and they can't

get medicine?



So, importantly, the FDA is really tracking this and tracking it closely, working with manufacturers to see what they can do on the supply side. It does speak to the real importance of prevention in this holiday season, in this respiratory viral season. Do everything you can to prevent disease.

And then, of course, there are some options for other antibiotics. And so reach out to your provider if you can't get the one that is initially prescribed.

CABRERA: So you are talking about alternative medicines that could be potentially beneficial in different cases.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, thanks for taking the time and offering your expertise. Happy Thanksgiving.

WALENSKY: Thanks for having me. You too.

CABRERA: Comedian Jay Leno was just released from the hospital.

And, for the first time, we're now seeing the extent of his injuries from a gasoline fire. The 72-year-old had been working under a car in his garage when a fire broke out, causing burns to his face, his chest, his hands. Now, after two surgeries Leno's doctor is optimistic that he will make a full recovery.

The hospital says Leno is looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with his friends and family.

This is how desperate they are for a new life, more than 180 migrants, some children, rescued from an overcrowded boat off the coast of Florida. We have the details here.

And Alabama pauses executions not because it's rethinking the death penalty, but because they keep botching them.