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Memphis P.D.'s SCORPION Unit Disbanded After Beating Death; U.S General Predicts Possible War Between U.S. and China in 2025; Democrats Booted by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) from Intel Committee Say, Bakersfield B.S. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 30, 2023 - 07:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The blood of Black America is on your hand.


So, stand up and do something.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. We're still covering the fallout from what happened in Memphis days later, and it's going to go on and on.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And part of that is increased pressure on Washington, what she was just saying there.

LEMON: And there should, right? Washington needs to act. That's what they have been saying there. That's what people have been calling for.

Thank you for joining us.

So, has this happened before? The Memphis Police Department's SCORPION street crime unit coming under new and intense scrutiny after the savage and deadly beating of Tyre Nichols. There are grows calls for police reforms across the nation, including right there in New York. We're going to speak to the mayor and retired Police Captain Eric Adam.

Plus this --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That is violence, serious violence escalating between Israel and the Palestinians, and a mysterious drone strike against Iran stoking tension in the region as America's top diplomat heads to Jerusalem right in the thick of it. The Biden administration facing a major test as this situation continues.

COLLINS: Also this morning, a bombastic warning from a top U.S. general who is predicting war with China potentially.

LEMON: We're going to start, though, with the Memphis Police Department permanently shutting down the SCORPION unit after the savage and deadly beating of Tyre Nichols. The special unit was once celebrated for cracking down on high crime areas but it is now coming under intense scrutiny. So, the big question is, was Tyre Nichols the only one or did other people also suffer brutal treatment at the hands of the SCORPION unit?

I'm so glad we have Shimon Prokupecz on top of this. And, Shimon, I really hope you get to the bottom of this. Thank you for joining us. Good to see you in New York. We were in Memphis. And you're going to stay on top of this. So, it has a very, as I understand it, correct me if I'm wrong, sketchy track record, the SCORPION unit. What do you know?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're hearing that certainly from people in the community. I mean, you were there. People would come up to us wanting to talk to us about this SCORPION unit, of course, the SCORPION unit. And we should remind people the name -- this name is even getting so much scrutiny. People were like, why you would use a name like SCORPION? Well, what it stands for is Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhood.

And the mayor was touting this, you know, as this crime fighting tool. They saw a large number of arrests in just two months from the time it was created until January. November 2021 is when it was created. And they saw nearly 566 arrests. That's a lot of arrests.

LEMON: It was created because there was a high crime rate and they wanted to tamp down on it, especially coming out of COVID and the lockdown and a lot of that. A lot of cities saw rises in crime and they wanted to tamp down. So, they started the SCORPION unit in 2021.

PROKUPEFCZ: Right, gang problems. The one thing that I keep hearing from people in Memphis is auto theft is a big thing, the break-ins, burglaries. And so that's what this unit was created to do, to try and -- you know, so that people can feel safe and live safely. But, obviously, their aggressive tactics are now coming into focus.

LEMON: Let's move forward in the investigation now. More charges coming for these officers or maybe some other --

PROKUPECZ: So, some others perhaps. The D.A.'s office, the district attorney there has not said that -- has not ruled that out. He said that is a possibility. And then when you look at the video, because so many of the officers are just standing around.

Since George Floyd and the aftermath of that, one of the things that Memphis did and the police department did was that there is a duty to intervene. And because of that, perhaps other officers, when you see them standing around not intervening, that there is a chance that other officers could face charges.

LEMON: How are they dealing with this around the country? How is it affecting police reform?

PROKUPECZ: Well, a lot of people who want to see more reform feel that this is a blueprint. A blueprint in the sense of that the way the police chief handled this in the immediate aftermath within a week or so, two weeks firing these officers, the district attorney moving so quickly to bring charges, and then the release of the video.

But they want to use this as the blueprint in disciplining officers and getting rid of bad officers quicker. Because, look, a lot of police departments have issues because of unions and municipalities and laws and rules that prevent the firing of officers so quickly. But now they want to use this as potentially a catalyst for change.

LEMON: Yes. I'm so glad you're staying on top of this. Thank you, Shimon Prokupecz, I appreciate it.

And straight ahead here on CNN This Morning, a perfect person to discuss all of this, we're going to talk to former police captain and current mayor of New York City, Eric Adams. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Also Tyre Nichols' parents are going to be in Washington next week when President Biden delivers his state of the union address after they were invited by the head of the Congressional Black Caucus. Chairman Steven Horsford says that he reached out to the family to let them know that they stand with them and to, quote, honor the legacy of their son. He is also hoping that the president will address police accountability and criminal justice in his remarks now. I'm told that their presence almost certainly means he will have to do so.

The influential Congressional Black Caucus is also calling for a meeting with President Biden to push for police reform negotiations.


HARLOW: Well, some legal experts are now asking if the second-degree murder charges against those officers who beat Tyre Nichols will meet the bar for a successful prosecution after officials released the video of his beating,

CNN Host Michael Smerconish, who is also an attorney, tweeted this, quote, gut reaction, it was hard to watch, tragic, sad, unnecessary, excessive, yes. But deserving of second-degree murder knowing the killing of another based only on what I've just seen, no. Smerconish defended his position on his show this weekend. Watch.


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If my thumbs failed me, it's that I didn't make a clear legal distinction that I was seeking. What I was saying is this. I wasn't saying that they hadn't killed Tyre Nichols. Sadly, they did. I was trying to say their actions seen on tape might not fit the legal standard for second- degree murder.


HARLOW: So, let's talk about all of this with the assistant professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, Alexis Hoag-Fordjour. How did I do?


HARLOW: Fordjour. Thank you. It's great to you have.


HARLOW: So, what Smerconish is arguing here is that to meet successfully prosecute on second-degree murder, you need knowing intent, you need intent.


HARLOW: You make a really interesting point that a first-degree murder but felony murder charge may have held up better. Why?

HOAG-FORDJOUR: Well, so, for first-degree murder felony murder, I means a murder happens in conjunction with an underlying felony. And here, every single charge that the Memphis district attorney charged these five individuals with were felonies. And the underlying felony that support a first-degree murder charge, a felony murder, is kidnapping.

COLLINS: And the kidnapping charge stood out to me because that seems unusual that they would do that. What is your sense of -- it's aggravated kidnapping. What is your sense of that?

HOAG-FORDJOUR: Exactly. That's actually two counts of aggravated kidnapping. So, one count has to do with the fact that a weapon was involved, a deadly weapon, which is a baton. And the other count had to do with the fact that there was serious bodily injury endured by Mr. Nichols.

And so what is unusual about a kidnapping charge in a confrontation with law enforcement officials is we obviously deputize law enforcement officials to make seizures, to make arrests. But at this point, their initially would have been legitimate behavior crossed the line into illegitimacy during that just initial traffic stop, which, again, the Memphis police chief, C.J. Davis, said there is no evidence that that was a lawful stop even to begin with.


LEMON: Even the attorneys for the police officers, they believe at least -- the two that I've spoken to, they believe that is overcharged and that is going to be hard to prove. Because you have to knowingly -- you have to know that your actions are going kill someone. And they don't believe that officers knew that.

HOAG-FORDJOUR: Yes. So, it's difficult. So, every criminal charge, there is going to be some sort of gray area. This is an adversarial system that we have. And those are exactly the kind of statements that I would want to hear from the defense counsel in this situation.

But in terms of second-degree murder, here, under Tennessee law, which is where I was originally licensed to practice, was that it takes an awareness that there is a sort of just likelihood, right, that you are reasonably certain that your conduct would result in somebody's death. And so here, there are facts that would have communicated to the officers that they should have known that what they were doing would have resulted in Mr. Nichols' death. His arms were pinned and they were striking him repeatedly in the head with their boots and with a baton. Those are both deadly weapons. And this idea that they had to have knowledge -- that's what we require. So, every criminal act requires an actus rea and mens rea. And those are Latin terms, basically a guilty act and a guilty mind.

HARLOW: Blake Ballin, is that one of the attorneys?


HARLOW: So, you will know this better than I because you were there talking to him. But I did think it was interesting that in the statement, he talked about his client, Desmond Mills, who basically says he arrived to the scene later and he says, we're confident, and according to the lawyer, pepper spray in his eyes by someone from --

HOAG-FORDJOUR: From his own colleagues.

HARLOW: Right, from one of the other officers. He says that we're confident the questions of whether Desmond crossed the lines that are crossed and whether he committed the crimes charged will be answered with a resounding no. There is this question of you've got five officers charged with the same thing. But --

HOAG-FORDJOUR: Exactly. So, Steve Mulroy, right, the brand new district attorney general Shelby County, he was brought in just -- he was elected last fall under a platform of criminal justice reform. So, what is interesting and perhaps unusual about the charges here is that all five officers are alleged to be equally culpable. All five officers received the identical seven charges, all felony counts.


And so it will be interesting to see what happens as this case moves forward, if it does go to trial, if defense counsel's strategy for each of the officers is to separate these cases.

LEMON: If it does go to trial.

HOAG-FORDJOUR: Exactly, if.

HARLOW: I think you're asking -- you're saying --

LEMON: If it does go to trial.

HARLOW: Exactly.

HOAG-FORDJOUR: So, the reality, and this is what I tell my student in criminal procedure adjudication, we talk about trials. But the reality is over 95 percent of cases in a state system settle and even higher percent in the federal context, and there will be concurrent, rather, consecutive, one after the other federal charges brought here.

LEMON: Interesting.

HARLOW: Fascinating. Thank you, especially since you practiced there as well.

HOAG-FORDJOUR: Yes, about a decade.

HARLOW: Thank you, very, very much Alexis.

LEMON: So, police in New Jersey are searching for a man who allegedly threw a Molotov cocktail at this Jewish synagogue in Bloomfield on Sunday. The glass bottle broke but no damage was reported. The temple also houses a preschool and K-12 religious school. Police provided this image of the suspect with his face covered. There it is right. Nearby police say they will increase patrols of area temples.

COLLINS: Minutes from now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is going to arrive in Tel Aviv, part of his several day visit to the Middle East. Of course, his trip is coming with new urgency after this wave of deadly violence that we've seen happen in recent days between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank.

Blinken is going to be meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is back in office in Jerusalem later today at a time when the United States has concerns over the new conservative government that is now in power. It includes the ultra nationalists and ultra religious parties.

Earlier today, Blinken was in Cairo meeting with the Egyptian president and the foreign minister there. He was talking about all of this. And we should put this in context because all this is coming as we're also learning in recent days about a U.S. Air Force general who is predicting that the U.S. and China will go to war in 2025.

The Washington Post is reporting that General Michael Minihan sent a memo to troops under his command that said, quote, I hope I'm wrong. My gut tells me we'll fight in 2025. Taiwan's presidential elections are in 2024. They're going to offer Xi a reason, he believes. The United States presidential elections are obviously also in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. He says Xi's team an opportunity are all aligned for 2025.

Now, of course, this is what he is saying. This does not necessarily the reflection of the consensus of the U.S. military. Republican Congressman Mike McCaul did tell Fox yesterday he agrees with the general's assessment.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): I hope he's wrong as well. I think he's right though.

We have to be prepared for this. And it could happen, I think as long as Biden is in office, projecting weakness, as did he with Afghanistan that led to Putin invading Ukraine, that the odds are very high, we could see a conflict with China and Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific.


COLLINS: Joining us now is CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent and Anchor Jim Sciutto.

Jim, I know you have been talking to sources about this. You've been speaking to military officials. What was their reaction? Because this memo is pretty bombastic and blunt in what his view of what could happen is.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is a difference between a gut sense and an official assessment of U.S. intelligence, the Department of Defense. A senior U.S. defense official said to me in the wake of these comments definitively that these comments are not representative of the department's view on China.

Now, to be clear, the department, members of Congress of both parties are concerned about the possibility of conflict with China in the coming years. But there is no hard data, hard intelligence to predict that a war is going to happen in two years.

I do want to give you a read from the U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson, Patrick Ryder, and he notes that this is in the national defense strategy. He says the national defense strategy makes clear that China is the pacing challenge for the Department of Defense and our focus remains on working alongside allies and partners to preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific.

What does that all mean? It means that the U.S. has identified China, even with Russia and Ukraine, as the primary national security threat to the U.S. They see potential flashpoints, particularly in Taiwan. They know that there is a risk of war over Taiwan. But it is not the U.S. assessment that war with China over Taiwan or any other issue is going to happen in two years.

And, frankly, I have spoken to folks both currently in the U.S. military and very recently in the U.S. military, and they say that it's not the position of the commander of U.S. mobility, Air Mobility Command, to make such a public prediction given, of course, China would be watching such comments very closely as well.

HARLOW: Jim, you know this region better than anyone.


I wonder, though, if you think -- you say they were publicly. There is publicly and then there is privately what they believe and what they prepare for. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board this morning writing -- the headline is telling the truth about possible war over Taiwan and they say that these concerns should be broadly shared. And they quote a Navy admiral in 2021 who testified before Congress that he thought that China could strike Taiwan before 2027.

SCIUTTO: Admiral Davidson's comment, I mean, they sparked a similar reaction at the time. And, again, there is a difference between publicly speaking about how real the threat is. And, by the way, I speak to folks on China and the U.S. Defense Department, National Security Council frequently on this topic. They treat it as a very real threat. But they are not saying that the U.S. will go to war with China in two years. And that is what a sitting U.S. Air Force general said. And, frankly, that's different.

And the assessments, by the way, that -- there are private assessments, there are classified assessments, but there are very public comments about the risk of that war. But a prediction of a war in two years is a different thing. It's a very different thing. And, of course, folks sitting in positions of power now on this side concerned that China will read the comments and say, wait a second, you know, we got to be prepared for war in two years as well.


SCIUTTO: So, part of avoiding escalation, right, is not making alarmist comments in public at that level.

HARLOW: Especially in a memo like this one was. Jim, thanks, your reporting on this is so helpful. I appreciate it very much.

Former President Donald Trump is taking aim at two of his biggest potential competitors in 2024. Pollster Frank Luntz is with us live.

LEMON: And House Democrats whose committee assignments are being targeted by speaker McCarthy sat down with our very own Dana Bash. She is going to join us to discuss. That's next.




REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): This is some Bakersfield B.S. It is Kevin McCarthy weaponizing his ability to commit this political abuse because he perceives me, just like Mr. Schiff and Ms. Omar, as an effective political opponent.


COLLINS: That's Congressman Eric Swalwell, as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's bid to strip a committee assignment from Congresswoman Ilhan Omar might be in peril this morning. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal says she does expect more than five Republicans to vote against kicking Omar off the foreign affairs committee, which would effectively block McCarthy from booting a third Democrat from a House committee given he needs a majority to do so.

Representatives Omar, Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff, each responded to the new House speaker's efforts on State of the Union with Dana Bash yesterday. And now, Dana Bash joins us.

Dana, I mean, Kevin McCarthy is coming dangerously close to falling short of the votes he needs when it comes to kicking Ilhan Omar off this committee specifically.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And we should note, and I think you sort of alluded to this, that when it comes to the intelligence committee, Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff, they're off, because the Republican majority, any majority can do it on that committee without a House vote. For foreign affairs and other committees, it is different. You need a House vote. And we expect that to be this week.

One of the biggest arguments, maybe the biggest argument against Omar for sitting on that committee, is they allege that she has a series of -- a pattern of anti-Semitic and they claim anti-American remarks over the years. She and I went back and forth. I put a lot of those to her on the anti-Semitism guys. She says that didn't understand that some of the terms that she used were historically anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic tropes, which she apologized for. And she says that this is learning experience. But when it comes to the process and whether or not she will actually get kicked off this committee, here's what she said.


REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): They have taken a position in the last Congress and they will continue to do that. And I believe that that is a really important piece here because their sense to stand behind two members that were accused of inciting violence and threatening the lives of members of Congress was to say the minority -- the majority should not have the job for removing the minority from their committees, and I hope that they keep their word.


BASH: Now, in that case, she is obviously talking about Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar. Those are the Republicans who Democrats voted to take off committees in different votes in the last Congress because of comments that they had made in the past.

And those cases, guys, Republicans joined with Democrats. In the case of Marjorie Taylor Greene, I believe it was 11 Republicans who joined with them. In this case, what the new Republican majority is struggling to do is keep their own members in line. So far, we have three Republicans who said they won't go along with their leadership on this. And they are Ken Buck of colorado and also Nancy Mace and Victoria Spartz. It looks like they can maybe only lose one more Republican if that. Otherwise, this effort to remove her could fail.

HARLOW: Dana, let's talk about -- you did this really powerful interview. You started your show yesterday with Ben Crump, the attorney representing Tyre Nichols's family. And he said, look, it's finally time to see the justice for George Floyd Act passed. Dick Durbin also called on Congress to restart police negotiation -- police reform negotiations. But Jim Jordan said, I believe it was on Fox yesterday, no law would change what happened. Do you get the sense in Washington that any sort of meaningful federal reform will come from this, because NAACP statement was so powerful, right?

BASH: It really was. It really was, and a statement basically saying, enough already. There is no question that it's going to restart the talks, which didn't go anywhere the last time around, the last Congress, after George Floyd.


We'll see if they can get the votes for it.

But the question that I put to Mr. Crump was whether or not that is even enough. And the answer is, and I don't need to tell you especially, Don, who was down in Memphis doing these incredible interviews and reporting, is that there is also a cultural issue that this country needs to deal with that is not possible to be legislated here in Washington.

COLLINS: Yes. Dana, quickly, before we let you go, though, you also had this interview with Governor Sununu, and he had some really interesting comments about potentially running for president in 2024. He said if he thinks if the primary was held today, that Ron DeSantis would win, but what did he tell you about his own run potentially happening?

BASH: That he's considering running. He said that he -- it's furthest I have ever heard him go in saying that people are talking to him, he is seriously thinking about it. His whole approach to this, he says, is that he has a lane potentially that others who are considering it don't. He considers himself a moderate on social issues, a conservative on fiscal issues.

Obviously, he is from and represents as governor the first in the nation primary state, certainly still on the Republican side. And he also makes an argument over and over again about the need for generational change. He's 48 years old. And so he is considering it. And so I think we're starting to see the movement in a lot of these potential 2024 candidates taking it, inching it a little bit further forward.

COLLINS: Yes. He was quite critical of Trump's speech in the state as well.

BASH: Very.

COLLINS: Dana Bash, great interviews all around. Thank you so much

BASH: Good to see you guys.

COLLINS: Speaking of former President Trump, he is continuing to criticize former allies, like Governor Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, who worked for him, but now may challenge him in 2024.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: So, Ron would have not been governor if it wasn't for me. Then when I hear he might run, I consider that very disloyal.

I talked to her for a little while, but I said, look, go by your heart if you want to run. She's publicly said that, I would never run against my president. He was a great president.


COLLINS: Joining us now is Pollster and Communications Strategist Frank Luntz to talk about all of this. Frank, we saw former President Trump on the road in New Hampshire, making several of these stops in South Carolina as well. I don't think it's surprising that he is criticizing DeSantis and Haley. I've been told he doesn't think anyone should run against him in 2024. But what did you make of it?

FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER AND COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST: And that's the whole problem. That's the challenge that Donald Trump faces, is that he sees everything from his perspective. The reason why he was successful in 2016 is because he offered to be their voice. He offered to take their concerns to Washington. Now, it's just a series of gripes and revenge and it's all about him.

And the Republican Party has a very difficult but important decision to make. Are they going to be focused on the future or the past? Are they going to be litigating the 2024 election or the 2020 election? And you see this all across the country.

And I want to make one important point about politics. Yes, Donald Trump is leading nationwide in every survey, but in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Ron DeSantis has pulled even or ahead on the states that really matter. This is a duplication of what happened in 2008 when Barack Obama was winning all the key states, even though Hillary Clinton is winning the country. In the end, the country does not vote in January and February, just these key states do. And Trump is already falling significantly. And he's even behind some of his opponents right now.

LEMON: So, Frank, listen, I feel like we're kind of falling back on 2016, where we just kind of talk about Trump to be talking about Trump because these are hypothetical matchups, right? We don't know. DeSantis is not in yet. Chris Sununu is not in. It's not the first time that Chris Sununu has said Trump can't win. He said in December he's not stopping anybody from joining the race, any Republican. Chris Christie said the same thing. He doesn't believe Trump can win.

So, if we can move forward and talk about something that is going to happen, the actual reality on the ground now, several polls have shown a drop in President Biden's approval rating ahead of next week's state of the union address. This is the CNN poll. It shows approval rating is now at 46 percent among registered voters, down from 48 percent in December. There is a new Marquette University Law School poll shows Biden down by 44 percent, the approval there. What does that data tell you?

LUNTZ: It tells me that Joe Biden is challenged but it doesn't say that he's going to lose. And I'm not even convinced he's going to run. And you save this clip, because I know what the White House says, I know what the president says, but I also know the age component and I know that this is not just an election about 2024. This is serving an office through 2029, January 20th through 2029.


And so he is not strong but he is not weak. He does have support from his base but he's lost some support among swing.