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CNN This Morning

Opening Statements to Commence in Dominion Voting Systems Defamation Lawsuit against Fox News; Moscow Court Denies Appeal of "Wall Street Journal" Reporter Evan Gershkovich for House Arrest; Man Who Shot 16-Year-Old Black Child Charged with Felony; U.S. Border Officials Record 25 Percent Jump In Migrant Crossing In March; Sen. Bob Menendez Details New Immigration Proposal. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 18, 2023 - 08:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also, and antithetical to what the Supreme Court has ruled, right, in terms of corporations having a voice, Citizens United. This is going to be fascinating to watch. We're glad to have your perspective. Mary Ellen Klas, thanks.

CNN THIS MORNING continues now.


CLEO NAGBE, RALPH YARI'S MOTHER: He went and rang the doorbell, and he was supposed to stay outside and his brothers were supposed to run outside, get in the car, and they and they come home. And that was what was supposed to happen. And while he was standing there, his brothers didn't run outside, but he got a couple of bullets in his body instead of a couple of twins coming up out and giving him a hug.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us. That is Ralph Yarl's mom speaking just moments ago. Kaitlan is off today. But now we have another mother who is sad, who's crying. Thankfully, her son is still with us. But we're going to speak to her aunt -- to his aunt just moments from now, and the attorney. Ralph Yarl, all he did was ring a doorbell. And now prosecutors have announced that they're bringing felony charges against the homeowner who shot him. Moments from now, again, as we said, his aunt is going to join us live to weigh in on how he is doing.

HARLOW: Plus, after a surprise delay, the high stakes FOX News defamation trial begins in one hour.

LEMON: And new this morning, Moscow, a courtroom there just denied the appeal of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich. We're following up on all of that.

In the meantime, we're going to begin with this. Take a look. Now you're looking at the courthouse. This is where FOX News is about to go on trial. This is in Wilmington Delaware. Look at that line there. In one hour the court is set to reconvene for one of the biggest defamation cases in the history of American media, unless there is a last minute settlement deal. Dominion Voting Systems is suing the network for more than $1 billion. The company has accused FOX News of spreading lies and conspiracy theories about Dominion after Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.

And this could be an agonizing trial for FOX. The network's highest- ranking executives, including Rupert Murdoch, prominent hosts such as Tucker Carlson, could take the stand to testify. If FOX News loses, it could be one of the largest defamation defeats ever for a U.S. media outlets.

CNN's senior media reporter is Oliver Darcy. He is standing outside the courthouse. Good morning to you, Oliver. I understand there are some folks out there. People are lined up. What is the very latest?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Good morning, Don. Yes, in just hours we're going to see opening statements in this $1.6 billion case. This comes after, like you said, some 11th hour drama. And you nailed it, it's going to be an excruciating process for FOX News. They're going to have people like Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson before us to take the stand and testify about why they put election lies on the air knowing that Donald Trump's nonsense about the 2020 election was just that, nonsense.

It's also going to be an uncomfortable position, I think, for FOX News. Usually when they are in controversy, they sail through it through a time-tested playbook of really distorting what critics are saying and attacking the media. That's not going to work, Don, in a courtroom. The judge is going to force FOX News to advance a truth -- facts driven, true argument in court. And that's an unfamiliar position to some extent for the network, because they have often twisted what critics are saying, made bad faith arguments, and just kind of sailed through controversy. Not going to work here where a judge compels them to tell the truth, and also where a judge has removed some other arguments ahead of the court in pretrial hearings that they hope to make.

So it's going to be really interesting to see how FOX News defends itself in court knowing that this is a really different situation, an uncomfortable position for the network from where it's used to being.

LEMON: Oliver, I don't want you to miss going into the courtroom as there's a crowd behind you and they're going in now. Do you need to go? The horde of people?

DARCY: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Yes? I guess that means yes. Oliver Darcy.

DARCY: No, no. I am with you if you want --

LEMON: No, we were trying to point out the number of people who are going into the courtroom, and they're lined up as if it's an event to take place in Washington.

DARCY: Yes. It's a bit of a media circus out here, Don. And right now, what you're saying is people lined up behind me. They're going to actually go into the courtroom, and they're finalizing jury selection right now. And then after that jury selection is finalized, it shouldn't take too long, they're going to start opening statements. So that's what you're seeing behind me.

But like you said, this is a really big trial, and there's a lot of media out here, and there's a lot of interest in what happens because the stakes are so high, because this is so important for not only media defamation law but for really democracy here, given the election lies told on FOX News, it's airwaves.

LEMON: Oliver Darcy, thank you.

HARLOW: Happening moments ago, a Moscow court has just denied the appeal of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich.


This appeal was over where he would be held until trial. It was about pretrial detention. And he was hoping to be placed under house arrest instead of being held in jail. He has been detained in Russia for nearly three weeks on espionage charges. He denies them vehemently as does the U.S. government. We just learned his legal team says that it offered bail of over $600,000 to the court to release him from detention. Still, the court denied even that bail.

Let's get straight to our Matthew Chance live in London. Matthew, what can you tell us?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, 50 million rubles is what his legal team offered. That's about just over $600,000 U.S. dollars, as you mentioned. That's the bail they offered to allow Evan Gershkovich to be basically let out of the Lefortovo high security pre-detention center, the prison in the middle of Moscow where he's currently being held.

They also asked separately if his custody could be reduced to house arrest. Both of those appeals were rejected outright by the court in the center of the Russian capital. Afterwards there were remarks from both his lawyers who spoke about the condition of Evan Gershkovich, and also from the U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy, who said that she could say, only say how troubled it was to see Evan, an innocent journalist, held in these circumstances. She said the charges brought against Evan are baseless, and she called on Russia for his immediate release, and the immediate release of another U.S. citizen, Paul Whelan, who has been held in custody -- he has been held having been convicted of espionage in Russia since -- he's been held since 2018. Both men, the ambassador said, deserve to go home to their families now.

But it is not looking at this point that there is any progress from the soundings I've been taken amongst diplomats in Moscow, any progress at this point towards any kind of deal that's going to get Evan Gershkovich or, indeed, Paul Whelan out of prison anytime soon, Poppy.

HARLOW: Wow, Matthew Chance, we really appreciate the update. A lot of significant developments in court there this morning. Don?

LEMON: I want to go now to Kansas City, Missouri. That's where an 84- year-old man is now facing serious charges in the shooting of a black teenager.


ZACHARY THOMPSON, CLAY COUNTY PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: The defendant, Andrew D. Lester is charged with the Class A felony, assault in the first degree. It carries with it a range of punishment of up to life.


LEMON: Prosecutors say the teen, Ralph Yarl, went to the wrong house to pick up his younger brothers. He accidentally went to the shooter's home on 115th Street instead of 115 Terrace. Now, all Ralph did, according to officials, was ring the doorbell when he was shot twice, once in the head, through a glass door. Ralph, thankfully, was released from the hospital and is recovering at home this morning. This all happened last Thursday. Homeowner was charged yesterday. He was taken into custody the night of the shooting but was released two hours later.

So Ralph Yarl's aunt Faith Spoonmore, joins us now, and the Yarl family attorney Lee Merritt. We're so glad to have both of you on. Thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it. Ms. Spoonmore, I know that, listen, the mom was on this morning. She talked about the injuries, that that he was shot on the top of his left eye, shot again in the upper right arm, but that he is doing OK. How is he doing, because he was released from the hospital Monday, correct?

FAITH SPOONMORE, RALPH YARL'S AUNT: He was released on Saturday.

LEMON: Saturday.

SPOONMORE: Saturday, yes. He is doing well, doing well, considering everything that he has been through in, what, less than a week. There's a major part of Ralph that died on Thursday, and basically, right now it's just recovery and healing and processing and trying to understand everything that is happening.

LEMON: I just want to make sure that I heard correctly what you said. You said there was a major part of Ralph that died on Saturday. What did you say?

SPOONMORE: There's a major part of Ralph that died on Thursday.


SPOONMORE: What went through, like, he lost a part of himself that day. A lot has changed since that happened. The way in which he's going to walk through this world is going to be totally different because of what happened. There's a lot of healing that's going to have to happen after that event. And every single day is a challenge. Every hour is a different story. And it's a long road. So right now he's just healing.

LEMON: A lot of physical healing?

SPOONMORE: Yes, still has a lot of physical healing.

LEMON: And a lot of emotional --

SPOONMORE: A lot of emotional -- yes.

LEMON: Yes. Talk to me about that.

SPOONMORE: That is hard to explain, because there's no words that you can describe that with right now.


There's a lot to process. It's trying to make sense of something that is senseless. You just can't wrap your head around it. You just cannot wrap your head around it, from being shot for doing absolutely nothing wrong, to crying out for help and not being able to get help, to finally getting help, but having to do something to get that help, and then going through surgery to stay alive, coming home, and knowing that the person who did this went home and was able to sleep in his bed. And seeing your family have to fight to get the justice and the attention that you should have gotten it from the beginning. So there's a lot. There's a lot to process.

LEMON: How do you feel now that the suspect has been arrested and charged?

SPOONMORE: A little better, a little better. But, yes, it's not as simple as turning a page, because, yes, it's just not as simple as turning a page.

LEMON: Go on.

SPOONMORE: But it is a little better. It's a little bit -- it's a little better than he is hopefully going to get part of what he deserves.

LEMON: Lee you said when Faith was speaking that he lost his innocence.

LEE MERRITT, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF 16-YEAR-OLD RALPH YARL: Yes, absolutely. The trauma that he experienced by just knocking on the door can't be undone. And he had to face an ugly reality here in the States that the color of his skin is often seen as a threat in and of itself. The shooter, Andrew Lester, said he looked out of the door. He saw a black boy and he feared for his life. And that's something that we've heard a lot in American jurisprudence and police shootings and shootings of young black boys, that their skin in and of itself is a threat.

LEMON: He said he feared for his size. And listen, there's one study, and there are a number of studies that -- feared for his life because of the size, right. He said he saw a black man, he thought he was a black man, obviously is only 16 years old. There are studies that show from the American Psychological Association and beyond that found that people see black men and black youth as bigger, stronger, and scarier than white men of the same size. Do you think that factored into this?

MERRITT: Absolutely. In this country from decades, hundreds of years of conditioning, we've decided that black and criminal is almost anonymous, black and dangerous is almost anonymous. It's been repeated in Hollywood. It's been repeated in the laws that we created. And we're just getting to a point in this country where we're trying to break that down, where we're trying to adjust the reality of race and racism. But we see old vestiges pop in your head on a daily basis.

LEMON: Faith, what do you think of that? He said he was scared because of Ralph's size.

SPOONMORE: I don't understand how. I really don't understand how you can possibly see someone -- I doubt Ralph is even 170 pounds. Ralph is not even six feet. Like Ralph, when you see Ralph in all of the pictures that you have seen on social media and everywhere else, I don't see how you see fear. I don't know how you can see fear when you look at that kid. There's no way you can see fear when you look at that kid. If you really look at him and not just the color of his skin, there is no way you can see fear.

LEMON: Your nephew didn't have his cell phone with him. He wasn't on GPS. He was following his mom's directions. When you look at how close these two addresses are and how similar the names are, and people will say it's a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that does not warrant getting shot.

SPOONMORE: No, it does not. And then the wrong place at the wrong time -- OK, how many lines have you gotten a package at your house That is not yours. like how many times have someone RANG your doorbell looking for someone else? Should those people be shot. No. No. It should not happen. If we don't want to open doors don't open the door. You can close your blinds. You can turn the lights off. But this individual chose to open his door. He was not in any danger because there was a glass door between him and my nephew. He shot him through the glass door. He was perfectly safe.

LEMON: Lee. I want to talk to you about that, because, according to Ralph's statement, he says that he did not pull on the door, that Lester said don't come around here. Is that a valid defense given Missouri's stand your ground law?

MERRITT: No, the Missouri stand your ground law or even the castle doctrine, which is probably a little more appropriate given where the shooting took place, don't apply to this case for one key reason.


Those are self-defense statutes. Those are saying that you have the right to protect yourself against force exerted against you. The Stand Your Ground law says you don't have to retreat, the Castle doctrine says you don't have to retreat back into your home. But once you're confronted with force, she can respond with equal or even greater force. He was never in front of a force. Ralph never even tried to door handle, he rang the doorbell and he waited. And he was open -- the door open, and he was confronted with a man with a gun and hostility. And the law simply doesn't protect him under these circumstances.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I'm wondering Faith because I just want to go back to what we talked about in the beginning, you said there's going to be a lot of physical healing. I don't want to get too specific and be inappropriate here. But are you saying to us that Ralph is not going to be the same person that he was Before? Is that your concern? Is that what doctors are saying to you?

FAITH SPOONMORE, RALPH YARL'S AUNT: In regard to physically? Of course, there will definitely be changes, like he was shot in his arm, there's going to be scar tissues, there's going to be a lot of things. He's going to forever have a scar on his head, that's going to remind him that I was shot because of the color of my skin. Every time he looks in the mirror, he is going to have that reminder every single time. Yes, Ralph is mobile, Ralph is up, he's able to walk. However, if we just judge based on physical appearance, to decide if someone is injured, if someone is hurt, that is part of the problem.

LEMON: What do you want?

SPOONMORE: Because a lot of the pain Ralph dealt with is internal, emotional, mental. And that's the worst one to heal.

LEMON: What do you want to come out of this?

SPOONMORE: I want justice to look the same across the board, that's what I want. I want justice to look the same. I don't want sympathy, I don't want pity, I don't want the age have to be a factor. Because Ralph's age should have been a factor. Ralph's life should be a factor. I don't care that he's in his 80s. No, I don't -- I want equality. And it should look the same all across the board.

LEMON: Faith Spoonmore, Lee Merritt. Thank you both. Please, keep us updated.

SPOONMORE: Thank you.

MERRITT: Don, thank you for having us. We'll be updated.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Don, thank you. For them, that important to hear for the first time we're hearing here on CNN from his family. New data this morning on U.S. border officials shows an increase in migrant crossings last month after a few months of a decline. Also, the expectation is the number is just going to rise. So, Senator Bob Menendez has a new immigration plan. He's given it to the White House. And he's here with us to explain it this morning.



HARLOW: New this morning, immigration officials have recorded a 25 percent increase in the number of migrants crossing the Mexican U.S. border this was just in March. The data reveals an upward trend of border crossing since December, and it comes as a COVID era border restriction known as Title 42 will expire in May. And that is prompting a lot of concerns among U.S. officials about an increase surge. Migrants crossing the border may have already traveled many thousands of miles fleeing lack of opportunity, often violence at home. Our CNN team of journalists made the five-day trek in February through the Darien Gap, documenting the horrors of this trail.

Their full story aired Sunday night on the whole story with Anderson Cooper. Joining us now to talk about all of this is Senator Bob Menendez, the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. He is unveiling a new immigration plan this morning calling for executive action to expand legal pathways to reduce pressure at the border, like a parole program for states in need of workers, increases to border resources and processing asylum seekers, expanding humanitarian assistance for migrants and refugees across the Americas. And he's calling on us to do more to counter human trafficking and smuggling.

Senator, good morning.

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Good morning, Poppy, good to be with you.

HARLOW: It's really notable, this is not legislation, right? You're not saying Congress do it, because they haven't. We all remember you were part of the Gang of Eight that was a decade ago, and still no comprehensive action. This is an ask of the White House. You gave them this on Friday. Have you talked to them?

MENENDEZ: I did, we had a conference call last evening. And I think it is a constructive effort to deal with our challenges of the southern border in a way that we haven't. We have just been reactive and punitive. And that hasn't worked, people keep coming.

So, you have to look at this, in terms of the hemisphere. There are 20 million displaced people/refugees throughout the Southern Hemisphere. The U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees says 20 percent of the world's refugee problems are right here in the Western Hemisphere but only (ph) spends 8 percent of its money.

So, if you understand that there are 20 million people already displaced throughout the hemisphere. Then you need to deal with the countries in the hemisphere to meet part of that challenge, to create legal pathways in their countries, to incentivize them to the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, to create those legal pathways.

And at the same time, there are things that we can do, that the administration can do, like the asylum officer rule that replaces immigration judges. And allows an asylum officer at the border to begin the process of determining whether someone has a legal claim or not. And if they don't, then they get deported.

And finally, you have Republican governors, even, who are calling for a greater immigration flows for the purposes of dealing with a 10 million jobs -- HARLOW: Yes.

MENENDEZ: -- in America that are unfulfilled.


MENENDEZ: Well, here's an opportunity to meet both challenges, create productivity, economic opportunity for America. Provide these people a parole to do some of those jobs that we can't get Americans to do. Those are just some of the elements of our four pillars and 28 recommendations.

HARLOW: So, the White House has read through this. You talked to them last night. I read through the whole 16-page plan, about 10 pages of it is actual actionable things they could do. Did they agree to do any of them with you on the phone?

MENENDEZ: Well, we didn't get to an agreement that they're going to work on our plan immediately. But they are looking for, you know, suggestions that are different than their plan because their plan simply hasn't created any less action at the border. If we continue down the road where we've been, which is reactive and responsive and an enforcement-only mechanism, we're going to continue to have the same problem that you cited earlier in terms of the new figures.


HARLOW: Senator, it sounds to me like you're saying, so I'll ask you, are you saying the Biden administration has failed, on immigration, on the southern border?

MENENDEZ: The Biden administration had a vision which I introduced into legislation in the first year of the administration. That was the right vision. But unfortunately, it didn't put -- the pandemic and then other issues, it didn't put the effort behind it necessary to realize the goal.

And so now, it finds itself reacting to what's happening at the border. And instead of having a more broader plan and a vision that actually can embrace dealing with countries so that people don't come to the border in the first place, to be able to process those that do come to the border in an efficient manner. And those who don't have a right then have to get rejected.

And then lastly, creating new legal pathways that have shown themselves. Even some of the administration's initiatives have shown themselves to stem the tide from certain countries. When you create a new legal pathway, all of those things would dramatically change the reality of the southern border. I hope that they can take this moment and actually change course, in a way that can actually make for a more secure, safer border.

HARLOW: The Biden administration has not called this a crisis, despite repeated asks. I asked Secretary Mayorkas that a few months ago, "60 Minutes" just asked him if this is a crisis. He does not call it a crisis. Do you call it a crisis?

MENENDEZ: Well, I don't call it a crisis, but it can become one. If you understand that there are 20 million people in the Western Hemisphere in Latin America and Central America who are displaced, who are refugees, who are seeking asylum across the hemisphere, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that unless we work with other countries in the hemisphere, they're going to make their march up north. So, the numbers we're looking at now would be insignificant, compared to 20 million people on the march.

HARLOW: Right.

MENENDEZ: This was the time to engage them where they are.

HARLOW: OK. You said last month that President Biden himself risks becoming, and these are your words, "the Asylum Denier-in-Chief" if the administration follows through with plans that they're weighing right now, to restart family detention for migrants.

They came into office saying, we want a more compassionate approach. But now we know from reporting they're considering detaining these migrant families. We also know what the science shows about the impact of that on children, even if they are detained with their parents.

What would Biden have to do to have you say that he has indeed become the Asylum Denier-in-Chief?

MENENDEZ: Well, Poppy, first of all, thanks for pointing this out. Look, the reality is that failed. All of that family detention didn't stop people from coming to the border. But it created enormous stresses on children, and it didn't result in what we wanted, number one.

Number two is asylum has been part of our history as a nation, it's in our laws, if we are a nation of laws, this is one of our laws. It started going back to when Jews were turned away during the Nazi era, and then the United States Congress passed the asylum law.

So, since then, we have had asylum as an opportunity, it doesn't mean that you get it automatically. We need to preserve that if the administration continues on its transit ban, and other elements in which basically, it undermines even the opportunity to make a case for asylum. Then it would fall into that category. I hope it doesn't do that. I think it's looking for a different path.

HARLOW: I do want to ask you about just a stunning story. On the front page of "The New York Times" this morning. They're reporting that the White House and federal agencies repeatedly ignored warnings, that many of these migrant children were working in dangerous jobs that violated child labor laws across the United States. They document many children that were taken to all sorts of different states and put into this dangerous work with a real lack of follow-up. They couldn't even find some of the children.

The White House says it's unacceptable that companies reduce child labor. They said they're working on strengthening the system.

But what is your level of concern about this after reading it?

MENENDEZ: Well, I think it's outrageous and it's horrific that when a child comes and ultimately becomes part of our custody, that they are released in a way that allows them to be exploited in terms of child labor.

In the 21st century in the United States, child labor, I don't care which child it is. It's horrific, it's unacceptable. And we have to do a much better job of ensuring that when a child ultimately comes within our custody before we release them, that we are releasing them into an environment in which they will not be exploited.