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Sheriff: Gun Used By Alec Baldwin Fired A "Live Round"; In Final Hours Before Presidential Trip, Dems Struggle To Get Biden Agenda Deal; Attorney General Garland Faces Capitol Hill Grilling. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 27, 2021 - 12:30   ET



JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They'll likely be interviewing shooting ranges other places around this area, in order to determine whether some of these cast members were actually out conducting target practice or whether they were out in one of these many remote fields. All that will be information that they're trying to collect.

But it gets to the larger question, John, that, you know, which is obviously unfathomable, and that is a live studio set here, filming a movie that involves a shootout scenes, it's a Western type film, the idea that a situation like that would also find at the presence of the scene, live rounds of ammunition is obviously something that has so many people concern and so many questions about how that could have taken place.

The sheriff describing it as complacency, I think that's probably a little bit diplomatic. This obviously resulting in the death of one of these crew members, the injury of another and again, you know, they are going through all this evidence, these hundreds of rounds of ammunition to determine just how many live rounds were actually present on the day of the shooting.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Right. You say diplomatic, I agree. I think I would use the word cautious as well. The sheriff tried to be very careful in what he says in the early stages of what he says will be a lengthy investigation.

Let's get some legal perspective. Our Caroline Polisi is with us. And so Caroline, the sheriff says some complacency on that set. The district attorney there Mary Carmack-Altwies saying she knows of no precedent for this and she says she needs to research New Mexico law to see if you can make the term bridge was used, the bridge between complacency and criminal negligence. How would you try to construct that bridge, yay or nay? And what else did you hear from a legal significance?

CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL AND WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, well, really no surprises for me today, John. You know, there's a serious and fact specific inquiry that the D.A.'s office and the sheriff's office have in front of them. And they alluded to that. You're absolutely right. There is a very clear distinction between civil liability and criminal liability here.

No question, no question that there will be serious civil liability here and the reproductions will be grave. But as you noted, the question with respect to criminality and criminal charges being brought is still on the table. I think they narrowed the legal landscape pretty clearly today to those three people that were in the chain of custody that had access to the firearm, and that's obviously Hannah Gutierrez, Dave Halls, and Alec Baldwin.

And the sheriff said something I noticed specifically that I thought was indicative of how they're proceeding with this case. He didn't say they're investigating whether or not either or any of those individuals knew that the gun was hot, as it were, that there were actually bullets in the firearm. He said they should have known. And that is an illegal term indicating a degree of potential criminal negligence.

And, you know, there is -- there are statutes under which a criminal case could be brought in New Mexico and or an involuntary manslaughter case. You know, if the negligence was so severe that it evidenced an indifference to human life. And somebody is, you know, unfortunately, dead here. And I think that all options are still on the table.

KING: Anything, Caroline, from your experience as a criminal defense attorney in the sense that the sheriff made clear, he said, you mentioned the three people who are in the chain of possession of the weapon, the armor on the set, the assistant director and Alec Baldwin. He said all three have been interviewing and at least so far in the investigation, cooperating. Anything from that or anything else about interviews in cooperation that struck you from an investigative standpoint, if the sheriff seems to indicate so far, they've run into no roadblocks into getting the information that he needs.

POLISI: Yes, and that's a great sign for all three of them. Obviously, they are cooperating with authorities. I think there was, you know, a very small chance that there was the potential for actual malice involved in this case, I think we clearly ruled that out. If any criminal charges are going to be brought, it seems pretty clear to me that they're going to be brought under a negligence standard, meaning nobody actually had the intent to cause anyone harm, but always a good idea to cooperate with authorities.

It never looks good to not cooperate in these types of investigations. I still think there is real liability there, criminal liability for all three of these individuals, you know, regardless of how much they cooperate.

KING: And we'll watch as that plays out as we go forward. Let's bring into the conversation our CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas. Chloe, one of the questions here there had been turnover on this set. There have been some staffing controversies on this set. And one of the questions for investigators and for the industry was who was in charge, who was running the show, and how did this fall through the cracks?

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Exactly. Well, there is a chain of command, John, and I have spoken to prop masters, armorers in Hollywood. And there was clearly a breakdown here. At what point? We still don't know yet. But you heard the sheriff saying today, how they got there, meaning the live ammunition, why they got there because they should not have been there. John, it should not have been there.

And if it had been there, somehow if they were doing target practice and somehow something got in that gun, that is up to the armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed to be checking the gun. Then it goes to the Assistant Director Dave Halls. You heard his name mentioned today, right? He's supposed to check it. Then it goes to Alec Baldwin, and many actors and seasoned actors like Alec Baldwin, they check those guns themselves before they handle it.


You know, there is very strict protocol. And you heard the armorer that you were speaking to just now, the props master that, you know, there should never be live ammunition on the set. So how did it get there? Well, just like Caroline was saying, you know, the sheriff saying today that we are going to try to determine if they should have known.

Well, John, they should have known. So how did it get there and why? This is negligence, in my opinion. And so it will be interesting to see what the D.A. does next.

KING: So to that point, let me bring Larry Zanoff back into the conversation. Larry, you just heard it, laid out by Chloe, you were listening to the sheriff and the D.A. layout. Let me ask you as someone with such expertise in this area here, A, what are your biggest questions? And what did the -- was the sheriff raising the questions you would be asking? Or is there something he didn't raise that you think is key to this?

LARRY ZANOFF, HOLLYWOOD ARMORER & FIREARMS EXPERT: Well, first of, I would like to applaud the professionalism of the sheriff in the information that he gave in the way he gave it. Clearly, we have already stated that live ammunition should not be on set. He himself pointed out that the film and television industry has an extremely good record of safety. And we have extremely stringent guidelines that govern the use of firearms and black -- blank ammunition on set.

There is never to be live ammunition on set. This idea that, you know, they may have been blinking over the weekend or whatever. I can't comment on whether that happened or not. But we in this industry keep live activity and blank activity in parallel universes. There are some very, very limited situations where there might be some training involved for actors, but you're not dealing with the same firearms that are bought on to set.

What you have on a film set is a firearm specifically set up to fire these blanks and never shelve it to meet up. So, how a live round got on to that set is probably the key of the investigation. And I'm sure the professional law enforcement officials there will figure that out in the end. KING: Larry Zanoff, grateful for your very important critical insights for us as we go forward, Caroline Polisi as well, for the legal perspective, Chloe Melas and Josh Campbell, on the scene. Again, a very complicated investigation, the sheriff saying it will proceed in a methodical way. The next big question, Larry just touched on it. What is the FBI Crime Lab say about the other rounds, including the fatal round, but the other rounds found on that scene, how much live ammunition might have been on that set? And then the big question, how did it get there? We'll continue to follow that investigation.


Up next for us, though back here in Washington, some critical details coming together for President Biden's economic package. Can he get it over the finish line before he heads overseas? That's tomorrow.


KING: Democrats today say they are inching closer to an agreement on the Biden's social safety net plan. But there is little evidence right now that the few but still significant remaining issues can be resolved by the time the President heads overseas tomorrow. Here's what the House Speaker had to say when asked if they're actually going to see the final bill before the President boards Air Force One.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: When it's ready, it will be ready. As the expression goes, you'll understand when you understand.


KING: It will be ready when it's ready. You will understand when you understand, pretty clear there from the Speaker. With me to share their reporting and their insights CNN's Melanie Zanona, Paul Kane of The Washington Post, and Francesca Chambers from McClatchy. Often I asked you expert beat reporters to translate. We don't need to translate that. That was essentially Nancy Pelosi saying I'm tired of you guys keep asking me this question. When we're done, we'll tell you.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. And we're tired of asking it. We've been hearing the same thing over and over again, it's almost ready. It's almost ready. The reality is they are still very far from an agreement. There are a number of sticking points still left on everything from expansion of Medicare, drug pricing, how they're going to pay for the bill. I mean, these are really big issues.

Look, Manchin is now expressing optimism. He has been negotiating with the White House, so is Sinema. All the energy right now is with those two. They obviously hold the keys to the 50-50 Senate. You've seen Democratic lawmakers trying to personally lobby them, trying to tailor proposals to them. The White House is trying to put the pressure on them. So it's a little bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears of trying to get some of these provisions out. But it's still really, really hard.

KING: We're looking for just right, I assume that's what you mean by that. Look, lawmakers sometimes try to be funny just to pass the tension, MLS like this. This is Brendan Boyle to "Bloomberg" yesterday. We're just missing two things. What exactly is going to be in the bill and how we're going to pay for it? Other than that, we're good to go. You know, I get the -- I think it's humor there. But one of the things that came up with yesterday, Paul, was, you know, Senator Sinema has been adamant about just flipping the Trump tax cuts, reversing those, she says no, I'm not for that.

So they came up with this billionaires tax, it'd be tax gains on assets each year instead of at the time of sale, right? Who would be taxed? People who have a billion dollars plus in assets or $100 million in income for three consecutive years, it's about 7 or 800 people. That was the proposal, a lot of grumbling about it, but that was the alternative proposal. But Senator Manchin today is indicating he doesn't like that, right? And if Prime Minister Manchin doesn't want it, there's no deal.

PAUL KANE, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. First to Boyle, Irish Catholics from Philadelphia, I know them well. Yes, he was kidding. But there was a lot of seriousness in his bite. But what this is a Rubik's Cube and there are two pieces to the cube that they can never solve on any issue. On one time the cube comes together, Sinema is OK but Manchin is not. On the other, Sinema comes in and she's or Manchin is OK and Sinema is not.


ZANONA: Or they're both OK. And the progressives aren't.

KANE: Yes. So they have -- they're struggling with this and one of the things is they complain that we keep covering the process of it of this deadline or that deadline and this deadline. But they're the ones who keep setting up these false deadlines. They and the White House said, well, he must have this bill by the time he goes off to Glasgow for the climate summit. Well, now he's there. He's leaving tomorrow. And the bill is just not ready. They keep setting up these false deadlines. And that's why we end up having to shout these questions at Nancy Pelosi that she's tired of having to respond.

KING: And so I'll give them some grace in the sense that as we go through the process, we should remind people at home what's at stake for you. So here's what we know what is in universal pre-K, childcare funding, affordable housing funds, child tax credit expansion, they're working on climate provisions that are still TBD, but aggressive investment in the climate. The sticking points, Melanie, touched on the Medicare and Medicaid changes, paid leave changes, taxes, how do you pay for it, whether you allow the government to negotiate drug pricing?

So that's the substance they're trying to work out. And I think the Rubik's Cube analogy is quite good. You get it good for one senator and another senator complaints, there's also a question of what the President had hoped for, is they at least get a framework where they're 95, 98 percent there, and the progressives agree, OK, we will vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill to give you something as you head overseas, and then you can say we're going to come, well, as soon as I get back, we're going to finish the rest of this. But progressives in the House, they say no, even though the House Speaker would prefer, they say yes.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA), PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS CHAIR: Well, we're calling for votes on both bills at the same time. So hopefully, by next week, we can get them both done.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Speaker Pelosi, Congresswoman Jayapal just said that a framework agreement is not enough to vote for the bill.

PELOSI: Well, I think -- I think it is.


KING: The Speaker thinks it is. But I'm looking at our new reporting. It's not just the chairman -- chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, Congressman Jayapal, at least 40 progressives are prepared to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill until they get the reconciliation package. So this is all being done at once, no matter where the President is.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY: Well, and Joe Manchin, he had tried to thread the needle that way yesterday, also John, he had suggested if they passed that, then the President would have something to go to Glasgow with, he would have some climate provisions in there. But as you're saying, that doesn't look like something that's going to be possible. But how do you make this all work when you have Joe Manchin also saying he doesn't want to essentially pass the bill to find out within it, he wants to see text on all of these things before he agrees to something. So it puts the President in a bind as he prepares to leave tomorrow morning.

KING: Puts him in a bind. And another reminder, we'll come back to some of the details too, because it is important, I understand something I think they overdo it, but I understand some of the complaints about all process. The Democrats are on their own here. We're having this conversation, because they're going to get no Republican votes either in the Senate or in the House. But they've known that for some time. So as you watch this play out to pick up continue Paul's analogy of the Rubik's Cube, I mean, where in terms of who should we be watching at this moment or what should we be watching at that moment, what is it?

ZANONA: Sinema and Manchin, obviously, in the Senate. They hold the keys in 50-50 Senate. But progressives as well, I mean, you know, we have this new reporting that 40 progressives have said they will not vote for an infrastructure bill without a vote on the reconciliation bill. However, I think that if they were able to reach an agreement, and Biden came up to the hill and said, I need you to vote for this, I promise we'll get reconciliation done. Something he hasn't done actually yet. I think it'd be really hard for some of these progressives to actually vote against the infrastructure bill.

KING: Well, but and a key to that would be standing next to the President when he made that ask would be Senator Sanders, if Senator Sanders would go to the House progressives --

KANE: Yes.

KING: -- and say, I am comfortable. I've eyeballed Manchin. I've eyeballed Sinema, we are good. This is good. But Senator Sanders yesterday, was quite annoyed, because some of his signature issues seemed to be getting shoved aside at the end.

KANE: Yes, if you get to a point where you have Manchin and Sanders and Sinema all together, you know, in front of the camera saying this is a deal. I think the house progressives would go -- would be for it. But Sanders really, really, really wants some expansion of Medicare as a sort of down payment to Medicare for all which has been his issue for many years now. And Manchin is against it. Manchin is -- has been against this for months now. And that is just a huge sticking point. If Sanders doesn't get anything out of Medicare expansion, I don't know where he stands. And then that leads to the progressive revolt.

KING: Right, it makes him just as important anyone senator is key to this. And Senator Sanders point consistently has been, I've given a lot. I'm not getting anywhere close to what I would like.

KANE: Yes.

KING: But I'm part of your family. I wish those guys would think of it that way. To that point, as they try to go through how to pay for this, a pretty big part of it. I just want you to listen to Senator Chris Murphy here. This is on the subject of the billionaire's tax. And again, we're not even sure that's going to survive. That was the plan B or plan C that came up yesterday. But essentially his point is we got to get to the finish line so all of us are going to have to eat our piece.



SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): We have to thread a very narrow needle in the Senate. We have 50 Democrats, with the Vice President breaking the tie. I think each one of us would probably do this differently. If it were up to me, I'd go back and repeal the Trump tax cuts where the vast majority of the benefit went to the top income earners.


KING: That's what most Democrats campaigned on in the last election, whether we're talking about 2018 or 2020, repealing the Trump tax cuts. But if Sinema won't go along, they got to come up with something else. So I'm not sure where I am in the alphabet, plan B, plan C, plan D was the billionaire's tax. Now it looks like you might need a plan A, B, C, D, E, F, G where are we on? CHAMBERS: But even now, when you look at how much they want to spend on the bill, every time that you cut something in terms of the pay for, then you have to find another program to sunset or cut. And so that's where they are now is what -- how do you pay for it, definitely affects what's in the bill. But you asked about what to watch. One thing I'd also be watching tomorrow is the President's schedule. What time does the President end up leaving tomorrow if they're close, potentially he could delay.

KING: Yes. And what's the President doing with one of these right now, right now, in these hours ahead. Maybe it's a landline. We will see. Appreciate everybody coming in.

Next for us, Attorney General Merrick Garland facing some very tough questions right now up on Capitol Hill.



KING: Ongoing and important testimony this hour from the Attorney General up on Capitol Hill. Merrick Garland before the Senate Judiciary Committee, facing a wide variety of inquiries on the January 6th panel and the insurrection on the FBI's bungled Larry Nassar probe and on a controversial Department of Justice memo about school board meetings. The memo outlines how the Department planned to coordinate with state and local authorities to respond to more frequent threats recently, threats of violence against school board officials, it is provoking an intense and a partisan reaction.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), JUDICIARY CMTE. CHAIRMAN: Those who argue that school board meetings across America are not more dangerous and more violent than in the past are ignoring reality.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY CMTE. RANKING MEMBER: Mothers and fathers have a vested interest in how schools educate their children. They are not as the Biden Justice Department apparently believes them to be national security threats.


KING: Let's get straight to CNN's Jessica Schneider. Jessica, you hear some of the outrage there, Republican Senator Grassley. How did the A.G. respond?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This memo has really become a flashpoint John and the A.G. He is defending it actually a lot more forcefully than we saw him do when he was grilled just last week by members of the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans of course, they've been seizing on this memo for weeks now. They've been falsely stating that it's meant to stifle free speech, falsely portraying it as this directive to arrest parents who speak out at school board meetings when in fact this is a memo that directs the FBI to work with school board to discuss strategies to stop threats. And we've seen throughout this hearing it started at 10:00 a.m., Merrick Garland has been repeating his defensive memo saying that this is not targeting parents and in fact that parents are fully protected by the First Amendment to have these vigorous debates. In fact, he just told Senator Tom Cotton, he said, as long as there are no threats of violence, they are fully protected.

But he also noted that there's been a major rise in threats in recent months, not just against maybe school board members from parents, but also judges, election officials. It's something that we've been reporting on. And Merrick Garland is saying that the Justice Department, in his view had to step in here. Here's what else he said.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The only thing that Justice Department is concerned about the violence and threats of violence. Senator, the memo, which I referred to is one page. It responds to concerns about violence, threats of violence, other criminal conduct. That's all it's about. And all it asks is for federal law enforcement to consult with, meet with local law enforcement to assess the circumstances, strategize about what may or may not be necessary to provide federal assistance, if it is necessary.


SCHNEIDER: And the Attorney General talked about the fact that he directly wrote this memo, and he rejected allegations from Republican senators, including John Kennedy, that he was acting under the directive of the White House to issue this memo. He made clear that he wrote the memo himself that is completely independent from the White House. And John, Garland has also faced repeated calls from Republicans to rescind this memo that was out October 4th. He has specifically stated he will not rescind it, and that it was warranted. But of course, these questions they just keep coming as Republicans are seizing on this issue. John?

KING: And Jess among the other issues that came up as the January 6th insurrection and the federal investigations, there are some Republicans who think the Justice Department is being too tough and there are a lot of Democrats who want to know, are you going after the organizers? Are you going after former President Trump? Any news there?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. Sheldon Whitehouse saying, are you following the money? And of course, Merrick Garland, he wouldn't comment on this ongoing investigation, but he did reiterate that his prosecutors throughout the country that are looking into this, they're not being constrained in any way, basically saying that all doors are open, all avenues as to what investigators will look at and who potentially might be prosecuted here. John?

KING: Interesting day for the Attorney General. And again, that testimony continues. Jessica Schneider grateful for the hustle on the important breaking news there and we'll bring you more tomorrow if the Attorney General makes more news. [13:00:04]

Appreciate your time today in Inside Politics. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Busy news day don't go anywhere Ana Cabrera picking up coverage, right now. Have a good day.