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Alec Baldwin To Be Charged After Film-Set Death Of Crew Member; U.S. Hits Debt Limit, Setting Up Standoff In Congress; Records Contradict Santos' Claim His Mom Was In South Tower On 9/11. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired January 19, 2023 - 14:00   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM.


Actor Alec Baldwin says that he plans to fight the criminal charges he will soon face for the movie-set death of his colleague, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October 2021. Hutchins was killed by a live round in a prop gun that Baldwin was holding rehearsing for the film Rust. Well, today, the district attorney in New Mexico said that Baldwin will be charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. A special prosecutor assisted in that investigation.

CAMEROTA: Baldwin will be charged as both a producer of the film and as the actor who pulled the trigger.


MARY CARMACK-ALTWIES, NEW MEXICO FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY: This is really about justice for Halyna Hutchins. We've talked to many actors A-list and otherwise that have said that they always check their guidance that -- or they have someone check it in front of them. So, it's not -- an actor doesn't get a free pass just because they're an actor.

ANDREA REEB, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR FOR RUST SHOOTING INVESTIGATION: The piece that really stood out to me was that this -- again, this set was run very loose and fast and that those bullets were not checked properly before in -- putting them into that gun, and then Alec Baldwin did not check them either with the armorer.


CAMEROTA: The armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, is also facing the same charges. She was supposed to be overseeing the guns on the set. Prosecutors say assistant director David Halls signed a plea agreement in this case. CNN's Josh Campbell just interviewed the district attorney. So, Josh, what did she tell you about how she reached this decision? JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, she said that this did not come down to one single piece of evidence. She looked at the totality of the circumstances as her team investigated this 2021 shooting. And she -- what she said is that she determined that there was a pattern and practice of unsafe operations on the set. We know that there were previous accidental discharges, there were some complaints from some of the employees on the set, and she said that all factored in.

You know, asked her well, do they ever determine how that live round of ammunition actually got in that prop gun? She said she believes that's somewhat of a red herring. That's not what's not most important here. Interestingly, I also asked her about this whole idea of this being an accident.

Now, in a state report, the State Medical investigator signed off saying that there was no compelling evidence that this was intentional, that this appears to be an accident by all intents and purposes, but the prosecutor is saying when it comes to these involuntary manslaughter charges, unintentionally is actually beside the point. Take a listen.


CARMACK-ALTWIES: Just because it's an accident doesn't mean that it's not criminal. Unintentional means they didn't mean to do it. They didn't have the intent to kill. But it happened anyway. And it happened because of more than mere negligence because of the extra -- they didn't exercise due caution or circumspection. And that's what happened here.


CAMPBELL: Now, both actor Alec Baldwin as well as the set's armorer, that was the person responsible for firearm safety on the set, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, they have both maintained their innocence. We expect that they will fight these charges.

I'm going to read you a statement that we just got in from the attorney of the armorer. They say that we were expecting the charges, but they're absolutely wrong as to Hannah. We expect that she will be found not guilty by a jury and she did not commit manslaughter. She has been emotional about the tragedy but is committed no crime.

I asked the district attorney if she expects people will criticize her saying that she's overcharging this. She says she sees it differently. She will prosecute this case, guys.

BLACKWELL: Josh, are we hearing anything from the family of Halyna Hutchins?

CAMPBELL: We are. And, of course, we can't lose sight of the fact that in this tragedy, there was a victim who lost her life, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. She was the one who was fatally struck by that round from the gun that Alec Baldwin was holding. Now, her family issued this statement. I read part of it. They say our independent investigation also supports the charges are warranted. It is a comfort to the family that in New Mexico, no one is above the law. We support the charges, we fully cooperate with this prosecution, and fervently hope that the justice system works to protect the public and hold accountable those who break the law.

Now, as far as what happens next, I asked the prosecutor when these charges will be filed against Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, she told me that she expected they will be filed by the end of the month. And then there will be a process set up where the two defendants will appear either in person or perhaps via zoom to make their initial appearance. She expects that they will plead not guilty. And then the wheels of justice will turn here. We'll see if this actually goes to a jury trial where prosecutors will have to lay out their evidence.


BLACKWELL: Josh Campbell for us there. Josh, thank you so much.

Joining us now is CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas. Misty Marris, a defense attorney. And Steve Wolf. He's a theatrical firearms safety expert who says prosecutors asked him for his opinion in this case, but he was not an official consultant. Thank you all for being with us.

Steve. I'm going to start with you and that consultation unofficially. What did they ask you and what did you tell them?

STEVE WOLF, MOVIE GUN SAFETY EXPERT: Well, essentially, they asked me whether they thought there were grounds for filing criminal charges. And I told them that there were. As your previous guests have said, just because it was an accident doesn't mean that a crime wasn't committed.

CAMEROTA: And, Steve, you're a -- you know, gun safety expert, I've been relying on your advice for more than 10 years when covering stories like this. And so, you're -- you've also been on many movie sets. In your experience, Steve, does every actor open the chamber before they're shooting a scene and check to see if there's a live round in there, or if somebody hands them a gun and says, cold gun, are they good?

WOLF: It really depends on who it is that's handing you the gun. I don't expect even though it's quite easy to learn that every actor will know how to check the gun properly, Mr. Baldwin was offered the opportunity to gain that knowledge from the armorer and he declined the opportunity for that firearm safety lesson. And in not having the armorer present, then he was essentially saying I don't need you, I got this, but he didn't get this clearly. So, having somebody check the gun is essential. And in this case, nobody checked it. And he knew nobody checked it.

BLACKWELL: Misty, on these specific charges, two counts each of voluntary man -- involuntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act. So, one of those each for each of these two who are charged. Contrast these two and what it'll take to prove them.

MISTY MARRIS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Absolutely. So, here, we see prosecutors presenting two alternative theories of the case. So, one, the first, involuntary manslaughter. This is a negligence standard. This means that they have to prove that they did not act reasonably and that there was a foreseeable risk, and those that are charged did not act reasonably. That carries an 18-month maximum sentence.

Now, contrast that with the other involuntary manslaughter charge, negligence in the commission of a lawful act. This is a bit of a higher standard for prosecutors to prove. It is more than just general negligence. So, here, they have to prove a recklessness standard, disregard of -- for the foreseeable risks. And this carries an 18- month sentence. However, when a firearm is involved, there is a mandatory five-year penalty.

So, the stakes are a bit higher on the second charge, commission of a lawful act, but it's more difficult mens rea, more difficult of a state of mind for prosecutors to prove. So, you see now they've laid out both of these theories, they'll have the opportunity to put those both before the jury and let a jury determine which legal theory applies.

CAMEROTA: Chloe, what's Alec Baldwin's response today to all of this?

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: I mean, he says he's going to fight this and that he's going to take this all the way to a trial. In a statement to CNN saying via his attorney Luke Nikas, this decision distorts Halyna Hutchins' tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice. Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun or anywhere on the movie set. He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges. And we will win.

I do want to talk about that breakdown of the chain of command. When I sat down with Alec Baldwin in an interview for CNN in August, he spoke to me about that. And on the set, Dave Halls, the assistant director, according to Alec, according to the OSHA report, hands him the gun and declares it a cold gun. So, I think that that is obviously a very important point to point out that there was someone who checked this gun and it's Dave Halls and he's accepted a plea deal here as one of the people being charged.

Also, Alec Baldwin is saying Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, where was she? How did she not know that there were live rounds on the set? The district attorney saying today we may never know how a live round got to the set. I want to play a little bit of my interview with Alec Baldwin from this past summer. Take a listen.


ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: I pulled the hammer all the way back without locking it and the gun went off. I've never played with a gun. I never took a gun and pointed at somebody and click the hammer -- the thing. I never pulled the trigger on a gun aimed at someone in my life. And you could probably find countless people that would testify to that fact.



MELAS: Alec Baldwin telling me repeatedly that he never pulled the trigger. But in Josh Campbell's interview today with the DA, she believes -- their office believes and its reasons why they are charging Alec Baldwin that he pulled that trigger. Alec Baldwin maintains that he did not pull that trigger.

And then as for Alec Baldwin's role as a producer because he's being charged as both an actor and a producer, we know that, according to Alec, he did not have anything to do with hiring Hanna Gutierrez-Reed or other individuals. He was not part of that hiring process on the set. There were other producers who were enlisted to do so. So, Alec has maintained that this was just a tragic accident.

BLACKWELL: Steve, let me come back to you. And I understand that you might be able to show us what either actually happened or what should have happened once this gun was handed over to Alec Baldwin.

WOLF: Right. And Alec knows that Dave Halls is not a firearms expert. And his message, cold gun, shouldn't have been any more important than if the caterer had said cold gun. He knew who his armorer was and he knew she wasn't there. And before a gun was placed in his hands, he should have said can you have the armorer check this? You're the AD, you have no standing on this.

But what I believe happened when he said that he didn't press the trigger, we've seen footage from the rehearsal where his finger is through the trigger guard. In the picture, you can see the trigger guard breaking the frame of his finger, which means his finger was in the trigger guard. If his finger was in the trigger guard on a gun like this -- if it's not in there, and you pull the hammer back, and nothing happens. If you then press the hammer, it falls.

However, if your finger is on the trigger, and you're not aware that you're pressing it, and you pull the hammer back and release it, the gun will also fire. And I believe that that's why he's saying he didn't press the trigger. But his finger was already on the trigger with sufficient constant pressure to take the (INAUDIBLE) and let the hammer fall. So, absolutely --

BLACKWELL: So, both things can be true then -- both things can be true that he didn't consciously pull a trigger, and then pull the hammer back and, of course, the gun fired?

WOLF: Right.

BLACKWELL: And the -- I guess the DA can say you pulled the trigger because a bullet fired from this gun.

WOLF: Right. And it really -- and it -- really, it doesn't matter, right, whether it was intentional or not.


WOLF: He pointed a gun at someone. The first rule of gun safety, all guns are always loaded until proven otherwise. So, this was not proven. Nobody looked at it. And in my opinion, that is gross negligence. You don't point guns at things that you don't want to see holes in no matter what the circumstances are. It doesn't matter if you're making a movie or anything else. You don't point guns at people, and especially, you know, in this environment where they did have live ammo in the set, and they knew that.

CAMEROTA: That's the very first thing Steve told me. I went to Texas. He trained me on shooting a gun. The very first thing he said was all guns are loaded. That's your mantra. That's what you have in your mindset at all times. And I've never forgotten that, Steve. That is such a helpful approach to just knowing anytime you pick something up, it's loaded. That's just what you have to assume.

Misty, why isn't -- why isn't Dave Halls being -- I mean, I know that he took a plea agreement, but if he's the person who handed over the gun and said cold gun, why -- or is the DA allowing him to have a plea deal? Why isn't he being charged to the fullest?

MARRIS: Yes. So, here, the prosecutors were focused on those who are in the chain of custody. So, we know that this gun, it went from the armorer, then it went to Halls, he yells cold gun, he hands the gun to Alec Baldwin. Now, Alec Baldwin has the gun. My guess, each person would have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Back in August, prosecutors had asked for a budget to potentially prosecute this very case. They said there were maybe up to four defendants, including Alec Baldwin. From August until now, absolutely, there has been behind-the-scenes plea discussions between prosecutors and the defendants that we see here today. So, my guess is Halls agreed. He was going to be cooperative.

Plea agreements also generally contain cooperation clauses. That means that they will testify on behalf of the prosecution. The others look like they declined any sort of plea agreement if it was offered, and prosecutors are always going to go through an analysis of who holds the most culpability and then in that assessment, potentially offer these plea deals. So, it's always a balance test. There's no clear-cut answer. But it could be because prosecutors did want somebody on their side to ultimately testify in court about what was going on with respect to that set because that's going to be the critical inquiry. What happened before, where there are foreseeable risks, and what happened on that day?


CAMEROTA: Well, Chloe Melas, Misty Marris, Steve Wolf, thank you all for your expertise and for helping us understand these charges today.

WOLF: Thanks, Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: A financial crisis is looming over the country right now after the nation hit the debt ceiling today. Now, if that limit is not raised by June, the U.S. could default on payments.

CAMEROTA: The Treasury Department says it will now take "extraordinary measures to keep paying the bills, but it's up to Congress to find a solution." CNN Economics and Political commentator Catherine Rampell is with us. She's also an opinion columnist for the Washington Post. OK. so first, Catherine, just remind us all what is the debt ceiling.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS & POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The debt ceiling is the statutory limit on how much the government can borrow to pay off existing bills. So, this is not about authorizing any new spending. This is just about paying off our existing bills that Congress has passed have already accrued. They've already authorized. So that's things like military salaries or interest on the national debt, the Social Security payments, medical bills, things like that, and pretty much anything else you can think of that the government has to make good on.

BLACKWELL: OK. So, we hit the debt limit today. What happens now?

RAMPELL: Well, a bunch of bad things. We hit the borrowing limit today. That doesn't actually mean that we default on our debt. There are some extraordinary measures that the treasury can undertake, and we can get into that. But basically, right now, the job of the treasury is to buy time. We maybe have until June until we run out of those extraordinary measures, but it could be sooner than that. If there's a recession, for example, and tax revenues fall, that means Uncle Sam has even less money coming in to again, make good on all of those obligations that already has.

CAMEROTA: So, Catherine, what are those extraordinary measures?

RAMPELL: OK. So, let's go through some of them. They're basically a bunch of accounting gimmicks. Part of it is things like Janet Yellen can decide not to make additional investments into government retirement plans, savings accounts, health plans, etcetera. At some point, she will have to undo that and say, OK when this crisis is over, we will make good on those obligations, but not yet. There are some other kinds of accounting gimmicks, things like moving money around from one agency to another. And then there are even wilder proposals. So, if -- those of you may remember the 2011 debt crisis, there was talk of a trillion-dollar platinum coin.

At the time, then-President Obama ruled that out, I've heard some people propose at this time. I think it's very unlikely. And there are some other things too, like selling treasury bonds that above face value that they don't want to acknowledge, are in the playbook, but could potentially be.

BLACKWELL: All right, if we get closer to June, maybe we'll have to talk about that platinum coin. But for today, how does it impact people who are watching?

RAMPELL: Good question. So, there are a few ways -- or a few reasons why people should care about this. First, no biggie, but it kind of violates the Constitution. The Constitution literally says the validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned. So, kind of a problem there.

And then, like I said, this borrowing limit is used to make good on existing obligations, like paying military salaries, Social Security checks, hospitals for patients who have Medicaid or Medicare, and bondholders, all of those payments could be put at risk. It's unclear how easy it will be for the federal government to prioritize among those things. Beyond that, that's the near-term problem. Beyond that, borrowing costs for the federal government will go up.

We have been able to borrow very, very cheaply over the years. This is part of the reason why the U.S. has the world's global reserve currency and the dollar. Because everybody trusts us to make good on our debt. If in fact, we look like we're deadbeats, we are unreliable borrowers. Our borrowing costs go up that actually is worse for federal debt over the long term.

And then finally, not to worry anyone out there but recession -- financial crisis could be in the offing because, again, if we suddenly look like we're much riskier borrowers the U.S. government than had been previously thought, that will send panic throughout financial markets for pretty much any other asset that's out there that is benchmarked against the believed safety of U.S. Treasuries. So, not exactly what we're looking for like there's no great time for a financial crisis, but probably the worst possible time is when you're already worried about a recession.

BLACKWELL: That all sounds awful.

RAMPELL: I know.

BLACKWELL: Katherine Rampell, thanks so much.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right, Congressman George Santos caught in yet another whopper of a lie. He claimed his mom was in the World Trade Center on 911, but new documents appear to show she was not even in the U.S. More details next.

BLACKWELL: And new details from inside the home of the alleged Idaho student killer what police found, and how it could shape the murder case against him.



BLACKWELL: Embattled New York Congressman George Santos has been caught in another lie. New immigration records show the Republican's mother was living in Brazil in 2001 despite his claims that she was a survivor of the 9/11 terror attacks.


REP. GEORGE SANTOS, (R-NY): My mom was a 9/11 survivor. She wasn't the South Tower, and she made it out. She got caught up in the ash cloud. My mom fought cancer till her death.


CAMEROTA: CNN's Eva McKend joins us now. Eva, what's the truth?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: So, Alisyn and Victor, he has told different variations of this story about his mother suggesting she died as a result of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. But immigration records obtained by CNN contradict this. Not only was Fatima Devolver not in New York during the terrorist attack, she wasn't even in America. Devolder who died in 2016 was in Brazil between 1999 and 2003. She indicated as such on paperwork.

This latest revelation is just part of a troubling pattern of deception from the newly elected congressman who largely avoided intense scrutiny during his campaign. But it's the fraud he allegedly carried out on a New Jersey Navy veteran that nearly led Rich Osthoff to take his own life, who says Santos never turned over money raised to rescue Osthoff's dog. Take a listen.



RICHARD OSTHOFF, DISABLED VETERAN WHO SAYS GEORGE SANTOS SCAMMED HIM: At that point, I started getting frustrated. I knew that I wasn't going to be getting any money out of this guy. So, I kind of -- I hurt him a little bit when I told him that I didn't think that he was legitimate. And then I thought he was -- like he was mentioned before, mining my dog and my friends and family's hearts for their money. That was the most offensive thing he'd ever heard.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: George Santos refuses the claim. This is what he told me, OK? He says I have no clue what he was talking about. And the crazy part is that anyone that knows me knows that I'd go to hell and back for a dog and especially a veteran.

OSTHOFF: Well, then, go to hell.

LEMON: Go on.

OSTHOFF: He said -- he said to go to hell and he'd go to hell and back, well, and go to hell, George. This guy. He doesn't deserve to be where he's at. He doesn't deserve a government pension. I'm a very personal private person. I don't have very many friends. I stay at home with my dogs for the most amount of time. I don't want to be out here doing this. I don't like the media attention. I don't like my phone blowing up and stuff. But when I saw him on the news, as Anthony Devolder, I put two and two together it ripped the scab off and it felt like my dog died yesterday. It hurt me that much all over again.

LEMON: What would you say to him if you -- if he was here now? What would you say to him?

OSTHOFF: Do you have a heart? Do you have a soul? And he probably would lie about that. I mean, I don't want you to ever hurt anybody like you hurt me again, George. And nobody else should ever have to go through that. I almost killed myself when that dog died. That's why I'm here. I don't want him to be able to do this again.

MICHAEL BOLL, FRIED OF RICH OSTHOFF: We're able to pay the bills and all that.

OSTHOFF: I had to panhandle to have the dog euthanized and cremated.


MCKEND: So, as you heard there in that exchange, Santos denying these allegations regarding the pet charity. In a tweet, he says the reports that I would let a dog die are shocking and insane. Alisyn, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Just awful. Awful what has happened to this man? Eva McKend, thank you for the reporting.

CAMEROTA: Here's some breaking news right now into our newsroom. The Supreme Court has not been able to identify who was behind that infamous leak.

BLACKWELL: Joining us now is CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider. What are you learning?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, the Supreme Court has just released a statement pretty much saying after eight months of this investigation into the leak of that opinion, overturning Roe v. Wade, they have been unable to identify any person potentially responsible. This is something that has swirled in Washington for eight months ever since this was released at the beginning of May. The Supreme Court, of course, appointed the marshal of the court to undertake a thorough investigation. And today, the supreme court is saying that at this point, no one has been identified.

And they go into this in a lengthy report here talking about all of the measures that they've undertaken. In part, they say. After months of diligent analysis of forensic evidence and interviews of almost 100 employees, the marshal's team determined that no further investigation was warranted with respect to employees.

They continued on with their investigation. But today are definitively saying that at this point, no one has been able to be identified as connecting to that leak. The -- this is extremely interesting because, of course, this leak back in May was really unprecedented. It was the first time that a full draft opinion of such a consequential decision had been leaked to the public almost two months before it was actually released from the court. So, the court has been undergoing this review.

And we finally learned that not only has the martial of the court been taking up this review, but also, they asked Michael Chertoff to step in. He was the former Secretary of Homeland Security, also a former judge, former U.S. attorney. He went through the evidence and looked at the investigative steps. He also released a statement today, basically saying that he has independently reviewed all of this. And he says that at this point, they undertook a thorough investigation, and there was not thorough -- sufficient evidence at present for further action. He did recommend several steps that the Supreme Court can take to make sure that this doesn't happen again. He said things like limit the distribution of hardcopy versions of these sensitive documents, limit the e-mail distribution of sensitive documents, and also e-mailing the access of sensitive documents on mobile devices.

But, Victor and Alisyn, you know, while much of the country much of Washington has been sort of waiting with bated breath for the past eight months on this very big leak that really did rock the court and rocked the justices, many of them calling it at the time, you know, a grave betrayal, a shock, there is still no conclusion to this, no definitive answer to who exactly leaked. Now, it appears based on this statement that the review will continue, but maybe not in such a fulsome way as it had been over the past eight months since they have really done a thorough review here.