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Americans Hit Roads, Skies for Busiest Travel of Pandemic; Health Officials Give Advice on Keeping Holiday Gatherings Safe; Defense Lawyer Responds to Criticism Over Racial Comments; Dollar Tree Raising Prices to $1.25; Retail Sales Climbing Despite Inflation, Supply Chain Costs. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired November 24, 2021 - 06:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, November 24, and I am Brianna Keilar along with John Berman.


A very happy Thanksgiving eve to everyone out there. It is, then, getaway day for millions of Americans who will be hitting the roads, taking to the skies over the long holiday weekend.

Travel is expected to be near pre-pandemic normal this Thanksgiving, if you can believe that. And that means millions more people, emboldened by COVID-19 vaccinations, are on the move than there were last year during the holiday season. It's the biggest test for airlines and the industry itself since the start of the pandemic.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Everyone always says pack your patience. I think that's dumb. Pack snacks. You need snacks. Trail mix. Mixed nuts. I always recommend that. And hydrate.

KEILAR: It's so healthy.

BERMAN: Right. I mean, well, look, you can always do fast food also.


BERMAN I'm not averse to that in any way. It's just a little harder to pack, because it gets greasy.

Anyway, the TSA expects to screen more than 20 million passengers nationwide over the next 10 days or so, with security lines resembling the pre-pandemic days.

The gas prices are the highest they've been in years, though they do appear to have stabilized, at least for now. Still, AAA says it will be like a typical Thanksgiving on the roads, which means crowded and busy.

CNN's Pete Muntean, the world's most interesting man, live at a travel plaza in Aberdeen, Maryland.

Good morning, Pete. What are you seeing? PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

You know, these numbers are going to be huge. AAA predicts they're really not going to be all that far off from where we were back in 2019 before the pandemic. AAA says 48 million people will hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday.

You can't not talk about it the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Those numbers really only about 3 percent from where we were back in 2019.

What's so interesting here is that people are doing this with the gas prices now at a seven-year high. The national average, $3.40 for a gallon of regular. That is up $1.30 from where we were this time last year.

So the bottom line here is the traffic is back, the cost is back. And what's so interesting is that people are still going to travel, even in spite of all of those challenges, according to AAA.


ANDREW GROSS, AAA SPOKESMAN: There's a lot more confidence. People are feeling better about traveling. And no matter what the gas prices are -- and they are quite a bit higher than last year -- people are still going to take that trip.


MUNTEAN: AAA says expect the most significant delays this afternoon. The worst times to travel, it says, generally, across the country, between noon and 8 p.m. tonight. The best time today, after 9 p.m.

But the Maryland Transportation Authority, responsible for this stretch of I-95 near where we are at the Maryland House Travel Plaza in Aberdeen, Maryland, they say the best time to travel is about right now, although you'd probably -- pretty come close to miss your window. Really, the better time to travel, later on tonight after 11 p.m. -- John.

BERMAN: Make sure you are well rested, to be sure. I knew I'd been at that travel plaza. It looks very familiar there.


BERMAN: Pete Muntean, thank you very much. Appreciate the report.

And Brianna, I only want to note, when I refer to Pete as the world's most interesting man --


BERMAN: -- he doesn't deny it, because he knows it's true.

KEILAR: Well, there's a reason we -- we call him that. The one day I was talking to him, because as you know, he is a pilot. And I said, Oh, do you fly a Cessna? He doesn't fly a Cessna. He flies, like, some other plane -- I don't know the name of it -- and it does acrobatics.

So Pete, you can, like, go upside-down.

MUNTEAN: I'm flattered, guys. Yes, I can fly upside-down. I'm not flying upside-down today, although I kind of wish I was, rather than being on I-95. The traffic is not very good. So, you know, I'd rather be flying today. But you know, driving is kind of the worst of the two choices.

KEILAR: Yes, well, even the most interesting man in the world needs an occasional day off, Berman.

MUNTEAN: Yes. Right.

BERMAN: Acrobat. Pete Muntean, acrobat.

KEILAR: It's unbelievable.


KEILAR: So there's a rise in COVID cases that is giving some people pause about celebrating Thanksgiving outside of their home. According to a new poll, two-thirds of Americans will do just that, though. So what is the recipe for a safe and healthy holiday?

CNN's Jacqueline Howard is joining us now.

Jacqueline, this is the year. People are vaccinated. But I think they still have older people this their lives. And they just want to make sure that they're being careful. Maybe they have kids that are unvaccinated. What do we need to do?

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is the year, but there are still some people who have concerns. And what we need to do, it really comes down to knowing who will be at the Thanksgiving dinner table with you.

And if you have concerns, asking some tough questions. You know, like, have people been vaccinated? Have they been tested? Will you be around anyone who's immunocompromised, who hare at increased risk for severe COVID? And if so, can you crack open a window to improve air ventilation?

You know, these are all some difficult questions for some people but important to ask. And it's interesting. A new Axios/IPSOS poll finds that people who do plan to gather tomorrow, about 30 percent of them say that they know they'll be around unvaccinated people.


And an additional 17 percent say they actually don't know what the vaccination status of people that they'll be around tomorrow.

But the reason why having this knowledge and knowing their status is key, if everyone in the room is fully vaccinated, it's OK to ditch masks and kind of, you know, be more relaxed. But if you are around unvaccinated people, you still want to consider some mitigation measures. Here's Dr. Anthony Fauci.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: For the people who are vaccinated, the people who can get boostered, enjoy your holiday season with your family indoors; grandparents, children. Do it.

But be aware, that when you are in a situation where you are traveling, for example, and you are in an indoor congregate setting and you don't know the vaccination status of people, you need to wear a mask.


HOWARD: So you see, Brianna, knowing the status helps make decisions around whether to wear a mask or not if you, yourself, are vaccinated.

So again, it's -- this is the year. But we still have to ask some of these questions -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. All right. Jacqueline, thank you so much for that.

BERMAN: A little more than two hours from now, the jury will begin a second day of deliberations in the trial of the three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.

The attorney for one defendant, Roddie Bryan, says his client was more of a witness than a killer, and that Bryan's video of the shooting actually helped the case move ahead.

This is the same attorney, Kevin Gough, who wanted black pastors supporting the victim's family banned from the courtroom.

CNN's Chris Cuomo confronted Gough on that overnight.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Why do you believe that the jury should not hold your client as responsible as the other two men?

KEVIN GOUGH, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR WILLIAM "RODDIE" BRYAN: Well, you know, I don't really want to get into the details or try and summarize an hour-and-45-minute closing argument.

But you know, the question here is when did Roddie Bryan know that the McMichaels were armed? When did Roddie Bryan know that they intended to shoot Mr. Arbery? And at that point, what could Mr. Bryan have done about it?

Those were the three questions that I asked repeatedly. And we're still waiting for answers on that.

CUOMO: Why are you trying to make this so intensely personal about Ahmaud Arbery? Why bring up black pastors and their presence and what you know is a public accommodation being this courtroom and that you don't have a say in who comes and who doesn't come and observe?

Why make that point? Why do you think about pastors in terms of black and white?

GOUGH: I don't think of pastors in terms of black and white. And let's be clear, if you were sitting in that courtroom sitting in my chair, representing Roddie Bryan, you'd be doing exactly the same thing.

CUOMO: No, I wouldn't.

GOUGH: So if it helps -- if it helps you to make that point, you could be -- if you were sitting there, you'd be doing exactly the same thing.

CUOMO: No, I wouldn't.

GOUGH: As would any --

CUOMO: You know you don't even have a right to do it.

GOUGH: -- good criminal defense lawyer in America.

CUOMO: No, they wouldn't.

GOUGH: Really?

CUOMO: To say you can't be in the gallery?

GOUGH: Really? Well, you know, I don't --

CUOMO: To say you don't want black people in the gallery?

GOUGH: -- file (ph) the motions based on the law that you're -- I'm sorry. I didn't say that. But we have no problem with black people being in the gallery. Never did, never will.

CUOMO: Black pastors.

GOUGH: Read the motions, Chris. Do the homework.

CUOMO: Black pastors?

GOUGH: Millions of Americans across this country are looking at you to understand these proceedings. Why don't you take the time and actually help them? Why don't you read the motions? Why don't you read the Supreme Court cases from the United States Supreme Court that we cited? Why don't you explain to me --

CUOMO: That say -- that say that people --

GOUGH: -- explain to the American people why the opinion of Supreme Court justices --

CUOMO: Counselor.

GOUGH: -- doesn't matter in this case. CUOMO: Counselor.

GOUGH: Because we think it does.

CUOMO: Counselor, saying a lot is not the same as saying something that matters. You can flood the zone. The interview doesn't end.

GOUGH: We can agree on that.

CUOMO: What I'm saying -- what I'm saying is this. There is no Supreme Court case that says you can make a determination of who can be in the gallery watching a trial on the basis of race.

You and I both know that. You said black pastors.

GOUGH: But the Supreme Court has said --

CUOMO: You confused Jesse -- Jesse Jackson with Al Sharpton.

GOUGH: -- is that the right of a defendant to a fair trial is paramount.

CUOMO: And it seemed at a minimum a fit of ignorance. And at maximum, you making a race play in this trial. Were you not doing that?

GOUGH: Chris, you can call me -- Chris, you can call me ignorant. You can call me anything you want. But I'm here representing Roddie Bryan, and I'm going to defend my client to the best of my ability. And I don't care whether the people in the cheap seats like it or not.


BERMAN: Joining us now, former prosecutor and defense attorney -- George Zimmerman's defense attorney, Mark O'Mara.

Mark, thanks so much for being with us.

Look, let's make clear, the jury will return to deliberations in just a few hours. We're watching that very closely.

In the meantime, though, that was a really interesting interview there, where Kevin Gough was pressed on what was one of the most, I think, glaring parts of this trial, where he repeatedly tried to get these pastors removed from the courtroom because of their race. Just talk to me, Mark, about that over the course of the trial.

MARK O'MARA, FORMER PROSECUTOR AND DEFENSE ATTORNEY: So the essence of his defense, Roddie didn't know about the gun, didn't know this, that's all great. And that's good defense lawyering.

But he cannot act -- it's the presentation. He cannot act in ignorance of the reality of what's going on around him.

One of the first things that he said when he first sort of made these presentations and these motions for mistrial. But when he talked about Reverend Sharpton being in the courtroom, literally, my ears perked up, because it was so unusual. And then he doubled down the next day.

I would like to think that it is just an inexperienced person or a lawyer not doing it the right way. But -- we can give him -- give him cover for one of those. But when he does it again the second day, does it a third day. When he's the one who actually says this trial -- moving forward with this trial is like a 21st Century lynching, an unbelievably significant term to use in America today, it is very frustrating to me, because there's no question. Rather than being dog whistles, these are sounding like, you know, megaphones to his jury, the 11 white people on that jury.

And it's horrid, because we are in an environment, a harsh reality where we have to be racially sensitive. We finally are addressing it in the media and in courtrooms. And then we have this. It's a throwback to the 1950s, well before I practiced.

KEILAR: He equated black pastors with the Klan, right? And, as you said, doubled down on it.

I just wonder about him being out there right now while the jury, you know, is deliberating, while the jury still has a decision to come to. Is that smart?

O'MARA: He's playing to his audience, Brianna. His audience are the people who might be listening to him, and 11 of them might be on that panel.

So we're sitting back almost as law professors going, how dare you? He's in Brunswick, Georgia, dealing with a case where three white guys from the neighborhood killed a black guy. And this is the path that he's taken, and not all ears that he's talking to are deaf.

BERMAN: Look, I've been saying this all along. People can be outraged by what he said and perhaps should be outraged by what he said.

But the real outrage should be over the fact that he thinks it will work, that in his experience and what he believes about the law and the people he's looking at, he thinks it will work.

O'MARA: And you're right. Chris, let's reverse engineer that. If he didn't think it was appropriate, if he didn't think that he was talking to somebody on that panel or somewhere, if he didn't think that, he is smart enough to know don't go anywhere near that.

But yet, time and time -- and literally time and time and time again, we hear these comments from him. Even last night with Chris Cuomo interview, it's the same thing. This is sort of who he knows will be presented well to whoever it is he's talking to.

KEILAR: And it's not just him, right? Another defense attorney, Laura Hogue, disparaged Ahmaud Arbery, talking about his long, dirty toenails. I mean, they're both revealing a lot, as other moments in the trial have, about the atmosphere of what is happening in Brunswick, Georgia.

I wonder, though, if you think that what the prosecution did yesterday in the rebuttal closing is something that is going to penetrate that atmosphere.

O'MARA: I think she did a good job of trying. Remember that she's, I think, a very good prosecutor. That showed itself in the trial. But she's also playing to those same 12 people. So she also has to be aware of the audience, her 12.

And coming out, perhaps aggressively against any suggestion of racial disparities or even racial connotations in this case could actually work against her because, again, it's only those 12 that count.

I thought she did a good job of sort of threading that needle a little bit, of showing the absurdity of it without losing the jury that, unfortunately, more people than she are playing to in this courtroom.

KEILAR: Look, every example that I heard her use or many of the examples where she was trying to equate, you know, if you're considering the crime, you're considering the law in a certain circumstance, a lot of times the victim was a woman. I don't think that was by accident as she was trying to make her point in court yesterday.

Mark, really appreciate you being with us. Thank you.

O'MARA: Great to see you. Happy Thanksgiving.

KEILAR: Happy Thanksgiving to you.

So up next, from Dollar Tree to Dollar and a Quarter Tree. Doesn't roll off the tongue the same way, does it? So why this company is passing the buck and raising its prices for good.

Plus, "very fined people." The millions of dollars a jury ruled organizers of the deadly Charlottesville rally are liable for.

BERMAN: And "do not sing for the murderers." Those words from Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee to Justin Bieber. Her desperate plea for the pop star to cancel his performance in Saudi Arabia.

KEILAR: My eyes are tired.


BERMAN: So is it the end of the dollar store as we know it? Dollar Tree, the nation's last surviving big dollar store chain, says it will raise its prices to a buck 25. The company is looking to expand its selection and bring new products and sizes to its stores.

Joining me now, CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans.

Romans, people are looking at this and wondering, is this a reaction to the rising prices, to inflation?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: It's this new environment. Call it Dollar and a Quarter Tree. Right? Dollar Tree will raise prices to a buck 25 on most of its products, and you can expect to see that early next year. [06:20:05]

It's another sign of the pressure low-cost retailers face amid the fastest inflation in 30 years. Inflation at the Dollar Tree, at the dollar stores, and at the breakfast table, John.

CNN has learned General Mills notified its customers it's raising prices mid-January. Hundreds of items: Cheerios, Yoplait, Fruit Roll- Ups, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, all of those could rise by as much as 20 percent.

Your grocery bill is rising as the economy is recovering from the pandemic shutdowns of a year ago. There are supply shortages, higher transportation costs. There are labor strains. Prices in October were more than 5 percent higher than the same time last year, thanks to those higher costs for the commodities, the labor, the shipping.

Some of America's biggest chains, though, are using their market muscle to manage through here. Buying power and locked in contracts give them leverage to demand first priority from vendors and from their cargo shippers. We know Walmart, Target and Home Depot have chartered their own ships to different ports to bypass bottlenecks, and they are stockpiling goods. Walmart, Target and Home Depot, combined, have $10 billion in goods on the shelves.

Walmart and Target say they are raising prices more slowly than competitors. They're betting that helps them keep the budget-conscious shoppers coming to them.

You probably noticed something called shrinkflation, too, John. Right? Maybe you had a big jumbo supply of, you know, 40 rolls of toilet paper. It's now 38. You can see some packages are getting a little bit smaller so they don't have to raise the prices.

But after, basically, our lifetimes of no meaningful inflation, inflation is here. And this is how you see it, John.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, thank you very much.

KEILAR: And with the biggest shopping day of the year just two days away, analysts are saying that sales are up this year, and shoppers are buying even earlier. There are, though, still some concerns with inflation high and global supply chains in disarray.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich is joining us live on this. All right. What are we watching as we get ready to buy, buy, buy?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can expect another really big Black Friday. We are seeing that consumers are getting out there early amidst inflation concerns. They want to make sure they get those deals. And they want to make sure that they get what they want as they're hearing about all of these supply chain slowdowns.

So we can expect to see some record holiday shopping in these last two months of the year. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YURKEVICH (voice-over): It's been a blockbuster season for retailers. Sales rose by 1.7 percent just last month, beating expectations.

BILL BOLTZ, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, MERCHANDISING, LOWE'S: The consumer is shopping earlier, and they've been shopping earlier. And we think that they'll continue that pattern throughout the holiday season.

YURKEVICH: The biggest shopping day of the year is still Black Friday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much.

YURKEVICH: But Lowe's has been running sales since October, trying to capitalize on the 46 percent of shoppers who planned to buy earlier than normal this year.

KATHERINE CULLEN, SENIOR DIRECTOR, INDUSTRY AND CONSUMER INSIGHTS, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: We're seeing consumers really move up their holiday shopping timeline, not just for this historical trend but also because of some concerns around supply chain disruptions and inventory issues.

YURKEVICH: And there's no indication 30-year record inflation is stopping shoppers from spending.

CULLEN: We are expecting for the overall holiday shopping season that retail sales will grow somewhere between 8.5 and 10.5 percent, which is certainly much higher growth than the level of inflation.

YURKEVICH: And it's not just growth but record spending, up to nearly $860 billion in the last two months of 2021. Two million more people are expected to shop from Thanksgiving day through Cyber Monday this year compared to last.

BOLTZ: Those are trends we're certainly seeing as it relates to how the shopping pattern is happening at Lowe's right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your total is $54.56, please.

YURKEVICH: But the surge in early holiday shopping is overwhelming some smaller retailers.

BRANDY DEIESO, OWNER, THE LITTLE APPLE: Having people come early was making me a little nervous.

YURKEVICH: Brandy Deieso, owner of The Little Apple in Philadelphia, says supply chain issues delayed key holiday merchandise.

DEIESO: Two of my large orders I ended up having to cancel.

YURKEVICH: And while she says she's had to raise prices to offset higher freight costs, she says shoppers are still buying and is expecting a larger than normal crowd on Black Friday. DEIESO: People are still coming to shop small on Black Friday, as

well, which has been a new phenomenon that's just started in the last couple of years.

YURKEVICH: But there may be another phenomenon for early shopping, and lots of it, this holiday season.

DEIESO: OK. Thank you.

YURKEVICH: Something that can't be defined by a number or economic indicator.

DEIESO: The holidays, of course, bring people together. And that's the spirit that, you know, people are trying to capture. And by coming out and shopping and buying gifts and things that are special and thinking of their loved ones, I think people have just been craving that for so long. Now they finally feel comfortable enough to do it again.


YURKEVICH: And that holiday spirit also reflects a little bit of consumer confidence. Folks are feeling comfortable spending their money. There may be a little bit of stimulus still in the economy and in people's pockets.


And Americans on average will spend about $1,000 this year on holiday shopping. Brianna, that's down from 2019 pre-pandemic. But that's about the same as last year. So we are still seeing that Americans are willing to spend on holiday shopping this season -- Brianna.

KEILAR: They certainly are. All right, Vanessa, thank you so much.


KEILAR: Coming up, organizers of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville are on the hook for millions and millions in damages after that demonstration turned deadly. But jurors did disagree on something.

BERMAN: And the January 6th Committee issuing five new subpoenas targeting right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.


KEILAR: It's going to cost them a lot. White supremacists who organized the --