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Officer Who Killed Babbitt Speaks Out; Biden Vows to Continue Evacuations; Deaths in Kabul Attack; CDC Speaks about Gun Epidemic. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 27, 2021 - 06:30   ET



JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Biden administration last night. And I'll just tell you what Jen Psaki said afterward.

As a result of this ruling, families will face pain -- the painful impact of evictions, and communities across the country will face greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's unless Congress acts. And, at least a few week ago, they didn't have the votes.

Joan Biskupic, thanks so much for that.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, the Capitol Police officer who fatally shot pro-Trump rioter Ashli Babbitt during the insurrection publicly revealing his identity and speaking out for the first time in a new interview.

And CNN's Whitney Wild joins us now.

You know, this is fascinating because what happened that day, this has really been depending on I think which side of whether you are supportive of the rioters or not, this is a -- really quite a, you know, it's an -- it's sort of an incendiary thing that happened.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely. People on the right are trying to paint Ashli Babbitt as a martyr because, you know, for a list of reasons. But I can go into her background. I mean they point to the fact that she's an Army veteran. However, she was also a pro-Trump rioter that day. She was a QAnon conspiracy theorist. In that moment, she was trying to climb through a window into the Capitol where Lieutenant Michael Byrd, that is the name we now know because he's decided to come forward on his own, Lieutenant Michael Byrd truly thought he was the last line of defense.

He has been exonerated by the Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Justice, as well as his own department, the U.S. Capitol Police. None of that matters, though, to people who still believe, again, that Ashli Babbitt is a martyr.

So last night he took the chance to begin to command his own narrative. Here is his -- just a brief bit of his interview with NBC's Lester Holt where he speaks about what happened in that moment and also how he feels about the reaction from people on the right, including former President Trump.


OFFICER MICHAEL BYRD, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: I had been yelling and screaming as loud as I was, please, stop, get back, get back, stop.

You're ultimately hoping that your commands will be complied with. And, unfortunately, they were not.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: Former President Trump has -- has talked about you and this -- and this incident. He says she was murdered. What does it feel like to hear that from a former president?

BYRD: Well, it's disheartening. If he was in the room or anywhere and I'm responsible for him, I was prepared to do the same thing for him and his family.

HOLT: Would you have his back today if you were so assigned?

BYRD: I sure would because it's my job.


WILD: An extraordinary burden he took on.

In that interview, he also shed tears. Brianna, he has also been the subject of death threats because his name was outed in some of the -- the far right extremist blogs. So this has been a tremendous burden for him.

Now, again, coming forward, trying to take command of the narrative on his own.

Meanwhile, yesterday we learned that seven Capitol Police officers are suing the former president, as well as organizers of the stop the steal rally and members of far right extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, alleging that all of these things together, this spread of election lies, this effort to try to overturn the 2020 election directly resulted in the violence of the riot, directly resulted in their harm, Brianna. They're seeking unspecified damages.

But it just -- it is another reminder that the trauma that these officers went through does not end. Again, Lieutenant Michael Byrd now trying to, you know, tell his story because the story has been dictated on the right in a way that is just not factual.

KEILAR: And so often in this discussion about the death of Ashli Babbitt, what's lost is where this occurred, right? She was climbing through a window into the speaker's lobby, which for people who -- you know, this isn't just like all the other pictures you saw of people walking through doors. This is a door that goes right up against the chamber of the floor where all of those members were hunkered down.

WILD: Right.

KEILAR: This is feet, feet from doors on to the House chamber. And she had a lot of people behind her.

WILD: Absolutely. And one -- one person I spoke with, who's a long- time law enforcement -- member of law enforcement described it like this, she was the first drop of what was -- eventually could have been a waterfall of this crowd that was behind her. And we've seen -- you have three law enforcement agencies now say that was not -- not only was it not criminal, it was also well within the policy of U.S. Capitol Police.

KEILAR: Whitney, thank you so much. Whitney Wild.

Evacuations underway again in Kabul this morning despite ongoing security threats. We just got the latest numbers on how many people have been evacuated here over the past 24 hours. That's next.



BERMAN: All right, we do have breaking news.

We just learned that more than 12,500 people were evacuated by U.S. and coalition flights in the past 24 hours. That's even with the terror attack on the airport in Kabul. The question remains, how many Americans are still in that country trying to leave?

Kylie Atwood joins us now from the State Department.

Kylie, this has been such a complicated question to answer.


What the State Department said yesterday is that they are in touch with about 1,000 Americans who they believe are still in Afghanistan. Two thirds of those they said are making plans to leave the country. So that's about 750 of those Americans who have decided that they do want to leave. And the State Department said that some of those are on their way out of the country, if not already out of the country.

The reason for them, you know, couching all of this is because this is a constantly changing situation. There are flights coming in and out. But the bottom line is it looks like there are less than 1,000 Americans in Afghanistan who still need to get out of the country, somewhere probably in the hundreds right now.

But the other thing, of course, is all of these thousands of Afghans who want to get out of the country, who have been trying to go to the airport, unable to get on those evacuation flights.


And President Biden said that after the U.S. military mission ends on August 31st, they are still going to continue to try and get those Afghans out of the country.

But, of course, there are two major factors there. One, will the Taliban allow them to leave the country. They have said they don't want Afghans leaving the country. They have prevented many of them from getting to the airport.

And, two, the airport. Will the airport remain open? Right now the U.S. military is the one basically in control of that airport. When they leave, it's unclear who is going to be in control. The Taliban don't have the capacity to do it themselves. So there would need to be some sort of agreement with an international partner, an international -- another country. But that has yet to come to fruition. And that is a major question here.


BERMAN: Yes, it's unclear whether there will be flight operations at all after August 31st, at least for a period of time.

ATWOOD: Exactly.

BERMAN: And then there are questions about whether or not people will be allowed across land borders and how risky it is for them to get there. These are the considerations being made as the U.S. draws its troop level down to zero over the next few people.

Kylie Atwood, 12,500 people taken out over the last 24 hours. Thank you so much for giving us the latest news.

And, this morning, there are huge crowds again gathered outside the Kabul airport, even with the terror attack there. We're going to talk about the security threat that exists at this moment, next.



KEILAR: Overnight, evacuations have still been continuing even after deadly blasts near Kabul's airport where thousands again are still waiting, desperately hoping to escape. Thirteen U.S. service members and at least 90 Afghans were killed in this attack. And the Pentagon says that the threat from ISIS-K is still imminent.

Tom Foreman is here now at the magic wall to give us a better sense of what the airport looks like and also the dangerous conditions that are really contributing to this ongoing threat.

Take us through this, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we're really seeing here, Brianna, as you've so well laid out this morning, is a clash of determination and desperation. The desperation outside here is people stream up from Kabul here past a Taliban checkpoint and then they hit basically the fortress of the airport and they start spreading out along these walls trying to find any way that they might be able to come inside. That's the desperation. The determination is inside, the troops who are trying to maintain some sense of order to keep those flights going out that you've talked so much about.

You put them all together, and this is where you wind up with this crush of people trying to get in. The troops, in many cases, only feet away, trying to deal with it, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, talking to this vast network of people stateside who have been trying to shepherd Afghans to the airport, I know that they have been focusing -- and it changes. Look, it changes day to day but they had been focusing recently on the Abbey Gate. Tell us a little bit about the Abbey Gate and who's been going through there.

FOREMAN: The Abbey Gate is at this location, a little bit further off from that main entrance we mentioned. This is where the first blast happened, second at the Baron Hotel. A very short distance away.

The Baron Hotel was the site of a lot of the British evacuations, Europeans coming through there, but a lot of Americans and Afghans, too, have been shuttling through this area. And when they get here, the Pentagon was talking about it yesterday, ultimately, as close as everyone is, then they get to this point where, look at all these U.S. troops here with Afghan people coming this way. This is all along that area where at some point they actually have to clear people up close and bring them through. That is clearly what we're -- the fear is, at the Pentagon, that's where the terrorists would want to exploit their close contact with U.S. troops as people try to go through. At the Abbey Gate, that's where the attack happened.

KEILAR: So it -- it was clearly a vulnerability. Does it remain one?

FOREMAN: It remains one as long as you continue to have this crush of people trying to come through that area. If you could have some way that you could diminish this or somehow know who might be a terrorist in a crowd like this, then it could be diminished. The Pentagon was talking about the idea of trying to get a little more intelligence out to the Taliban out there to maybe find a way to fortify the earlier checks before people reach this point. But, again, with this desperation, with people feeling like the door is closing on getting out of Afghanistan, many folks are doing all they can to push up there to the front to try to get through. And as long as that's going on, Brianna, I don't see that this risk could be eliminated for sure and even making it smaller is a big challenge.

KEILAR: All right, that is what U.S. forces are still facing.

Tom, thank you so much for taking us through that.

Coming up, we're going to speak with a journalist who is still on the ground in Kabul as the United States continues what is clearly a dangerous evacuation mission.

BERMAN: Plus, an exclusive CNN interview with the head of the CDC, why she's deciding to break the department's silence about gun violence.


ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CDC: Every day we turn on the news and there are more young people dying. I swore to the president and to this country that I would protect your health. This is clearly one of those moments.




BERMAN: After decades of silence, the CDC is speaking up about America's gun violence epidemic. The gun violence archive reports every weekend this summer more than 200 people have been killed on average and nearly 500 injured. In an exclusive interview with CNN's Elizabeth Cohen, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is announcing what she plans to do about it. And Elizabeth Cohen joins us now.

People need to know, this is unusual for a CDC director to speak like this.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. I mean you would think that they've been speaking up for years now, right? I mean gun violence kills tens of thousands of Americans a year. It's clearly a public health threat. But, actually, for the past about 25 years, CDC directors have been pretty much silent on the topic of gun violence. The fear was that the more they talked, that the NRA, the powerful gun lobby, would pressure Congress to make even more cuts in CDC's budget. But in my exclusive interview with Dr. Walensky, she says it's time to speak up.


COHEN (voice over): Guns --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, he shot that guy in the stomach.

COHEN: They leave a toll of death and despair across America. Mass shootings --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The shots just kept coming. So we were going down. And when we got down, there was a man that was shot right there.

COHEN: Urban violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a victim over here. He's got gunshots wounds to the left and right side of the chest.

COHEN: Road rage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said, mommy, my -- my tummy hurts. So she went and she picked him up and he was bleeding on her.

COHEN: Suicides.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He walked into a gunshot at 11:02. Somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. that afternoon he shot himself.

COHEN: While Americans have begged for an end to this violence --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not going away.

COHEN: The National Rifle Association is a powerful force in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Semiautomatic firearm technology has been around for 100 years. They're the most popular guns for hunting, target shooting, self-defense.

COHEN: In the 1990s, the NRA convinced Congress to cut all of CDCs funding for gun research, a loss equivalent to millions of dollars a year. Fearing further cuts, CDC leaders publicly were all but silent for decades, even as tens of thousands of Americans died from gun violence year after year after year.

But now, in a stunning turn, the current director of the CDC is announcing a plan to reduce gun violence, sharing it exclusively with CNN.

COHEN (on camera): This is actually a stunning moment that a director of the CDC is even talking about this issue, is even using the word guns. It hasn't happened in years and years.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CDC: Every day we turn on the news and there are more young people dying. I swore to the president and to this country that I would protect your health.


This is clearly one of those moments, one of those issues that is harming America's health.

COHEN: But there's a reason why your predecessors didn't address it.

WALENSKY: Perhaps.

I want to share my heartfelt gratitude for your --

COHEN (voice over): We're used to hearing Dr. Rochelle Walensky talk about the COVID-19 pandemic.

WALENSKY: Vaccine safety is a top priority.

COHEN: This is her first interview on America's epidemic of gun violence.

COHEN (on camera): One recent weekend in Chicago, we had 74 people shot. That same weekend, a party in Florida, five teenagers shot. That same weekend a man in New York City, in Times Square, shot in the back and the list goes on and on, week after week after week. Can anything be done about this?

WALENSKY: Something has to be done about that. So 40,000 firearm- related deaths a year, 120,000 serious firearm-related injuries per year.

The scope of the problem is just bigger than -- than we're even hearing about. And when your heart wrenches every day you turn on the news, you're only hearing the tip of the iceberg.

COHEN: When you wake up on a Monday morning and you hear all the reports of the children who were shot the previous weekend, as CDC director, what does that feel like to you?

WALENSKY: That's heavy. It hurts. It -- it hurt before I was CDC director.

I think any American citizen that turns on the news just can't fathom another one of these mass violence issues.

COHEN (voice over): Dr. Walensky's strategy, restart the gun research.

WALENSKY: My job is to understand and evaluate the problem, to understand the scope of the problem, to understand why this happens and what are the things that can make it better. To research that, to scale that up, to evaluate it and to make sure that we can integrate it into communities. We have a lot of work to do in every single one of those areas because we haven't done a lot of work as a nation in almost any of them.

COHEN: And this time she wants the CDC to find common ground with gun owners.

WALENSKY: Let's agree we don't want people to die. Let's just agree there. What can we do to stop people from dying?

COHEN: She wants to allay gun owner's fears.

WALENSKY: Generally the word "gun," for those who are worried about research in this area, is followed by the word "control." And that's not what I want to do here. I'm not here about gun control. I'm here about preventing gun violence and gun death.

COHEN: And she wants to involve gun owners in the CDC research to save lives.

COHEN (on camera): If a gun owner said to you, Dr. Walensky, I'm afraid you want to take away my gun.

WALENSKY: And my answer to that is, come be part of the solution. Come to the table. Join us in the conversation. I don't want you to feel that way, right? I want you to teach me what you have done to make your gun safe. And then I want you to teach everybody else.

COHEN (voice over): Dr. Walensky's plan has brought her here to vermont to help solve this problem. According to a 2015 study, in the United States an estimated 4.6 million children lived with a loaded and unlocked gun. That number has likely increased dramatically since then.

KIDS: I pledge allegiance to the flag --

COHEN: These children in Vermont are learning how to shoot guns and how to store them safely. Dr. Chris Barsoti, a gun owner and an emergency room physician, teaches this 4-H community program.


COHEN: By funding this program and studying what they do, and repeating it across the country, Dr. Walensky hopes to prevent accidental gun deaths among children.

WALENSKY: CDC is here, we're here because today you're our teachers. We want to learn from you.

COHEN: The CDC is also funding this project at gun shops to help put a stop to gun suicides.

JACQUELYN CLARK, CO-OWNER, BRISTIECONE SHOOTING TRAINING AND RETAIL CENTER: It's a poster that talks about how gun owners can help, different signs to look for.

COHEN: Dr. Barsoti knows that Dr. Walensky will get pushback.

COHEN (on camera): When gun owners hear that the federal government, the CDC, wants to reduce gun violence, what do they hear?

BARSOTI: I think, at the end of the day, they're worried about gun confiscation.

COHEN: Confiscation.

BARSOTI: Confiscation. And barriers to access, to purchasing and owning firearms.

COHEN (voice over): CNN reached out to the NRA to ask if they were willing to work with Dr. Walensky, and they did not respond.

But Dr. Walensky stands firm.

COHEN (on camera): If you're worried that even just saying the word "guns," you're even talking about firearms, that you're going to get a whole sector of the United States just really angry?

WALENSKY: Of course. I also worry that if we don't do anything about it, we have a whole sector of the United States that's really angry.

COHEN: How high a priority is this for you?

WALENSKY: This is one of the leading killers of our young people in this country. [07:00:01]

It's a high priority.


COHEN: We don't know if the NRA is going to fight Dr. Walensky on her initiatives.