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Americans Hit Roads, Skies For Busiest Travel of Pandemic; Defense Lawyer Defends Calling on Pastors to Leave Courtroom; Brazen NASA Mission Underway to Deflect Asteroid. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired November 24, 2021 - 07:00   ET



STEVEN M. COHEN, REPRESENTS SURVIVOR IN TEEN RAPE CASE: But this shouldn't be about what's in Chris Belter's best interest. It should be doing about doing justice for the women he raped, for the women he sexually assaulted and protecting society at large.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: Steven, why do you think he's getting what really appears to be special treatment here?

COHEN: I don't know. I sent a letter in August 11th of 2020 when we learned that he was violating terms of probation. I sent it to the court, to the district attorney at the time, Carolyn Wotacek (ph), to the probation officer, Ashley Kreska (ph). I said he's violating his terms of probation. I never even got a response from them.

But when the judge was going to sentence Mr. Belter the first time, I sent an email to the court saying, look, Judge, this is a letter that I sent out back a year ago about all the violations that Mr. Belter is committing in his probation. You need to consider that. And the judge read it and he read my email in the courtroom. He didn't sentence that day, and he said, I want to have a hearing on whether he violated probation.

Well, then to everyone's, I don't know, I don't know if the word delight could possibly apply to this situation, but the prohibition officer acknowledged that, yes, yes, he did violate the terms of probation. Yes, he did install something on his computer that allowed him to circumvent the pornography restrictions, yes, he violated Judge Sheldon's, the retired judge's terms.

And then the judge said, well, I am not going to sentence him as a youthful offender, I'm going to sentence him as an adult. That was the clear signal that Chris Belter was going to get prison time, which he so richly deserves. And then when the judge said, I prayed over this and prison, incarceration is not the right thing in this case.

Well, I don't know what the right thing is. I don't know if the judge is -- what he's telling people, the parents and family of victims, do you need to take justice in your own hands? We depend upon the courts to do that. And the court system utterly failed these victims. KEILAR: Steven, it is confounding to legal observers and we appreciate you talking with us about this case. We'll continue to follow it. Thank you.

COHEN: Thank you.

KEILAR: New Day continues right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, November 24th. I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar.

It is Thanksgiving eve and Americans are ready to travel like it's 2019. Millions loading up their cars, or piling into planes to gather with family and friends after a pandemic year that put Thanksgiving traditions on pause. Crowds expected to be near pre-pandemic levels. The holiday crush putting airlines and airports to the test. The TSA expects to screen 20 million passengers nationwide over the next ten days or so.

KEILAR: The day before Thanksgiving typically one of the busiest of the year, and AAA says that more than 53 million people will be on the move over this long holiday weekend. The majority of them are going to be on the road. They are going to have to dig a little deeper. Gas prices, of course, at their highest in seven years. But that is not stopping them.

BERMAN: CNN's Pete Muntean live at a travel plaza along busy I-95 in Maryland. You have been manning that post, Pete, for some time now. Tell us what you're seeing.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's getting pretty busy here, John. We will see how smooth I-95 remains for the rest of the day. Because we know, according to AAA, that the vast majority of people will drive for this Thanksgiving holiday. 48 million people hitting the road.

And what's so interesting is that those numbers really not all that far off from where we were back before the pandemic, these new numbers down only about 3 percent from where we were back in 2019.

Remember, though, that gas is at a seven-year high, the national average for a gallon of gas now $3.40 a gallon, and that's down only about $1.30 -- up, excuse me, $1.30 from where we were this time last year. So, remember, the traffic is back. The cost is back.

And what's so interesting is that AAA says that people are still going to hit the road regardless. These are the best and worst times to travel. AAA says the best time to travel is not until well into the effect, after 9:00 P.M., the worst time, generally, across the country between noon and 8:00 P.M. today. The Maryland Transportation Authority responsible for this stretch of I-95 in Aberdeen, Maryland, between Wilmington and Baltimore, it says you're going to have to wait a long time for the traffic to get good, not until after 11:00 P.M. tonight, John.


BERMAN: That's late. I mean, look, if you're driving after 11:00 P.M., you might not have traffic but you have got a whole bunch of other problems there you need to worry about.

Listen, Pete, you make it sound so attractive. Thank you so much for being there. Please keep us posted. Everyone wants to know if they can get to where they want to quickly and safely. So, thank you.

KEILAR: So, here in about 90 minutes, a jury in Brunswick, Georgia, will resume deliberations in the trial of three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. The attorney for one defendant, Roddie Bryan, says that his client was more of a witness than he was a killer and that Bryan's video of the shooting actually helped the case move ahead. This is the same attorney, mind you, Kevin Gough, who wanted black pastors banned from the courtroom, who equated them with the Klan.

CNN's Chris Cuomo confronting Gough on that overnight.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Why do you believe 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 in this courtroom and that you don't have a say of 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 in that courtroom sitting in my chair, representing Roddie Bryan, you would 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 can be. But if you were sitting there you would be doing exactly the same thing.

CUOMO: No, I wouldn't.

GOUGH: As would any good criminal defense lawyer in America.

CUOMO: No I wouldn't. To say I don't want be in the gallery, to say, I don't want black people in the gallery?

GOUGH: I'm sorry. I didn't say that. We have no problem with black people being in the gallery. Never did, never will.

CUOMO: Black pastors.

GOUGH: Do the homework.

CUOMO: Black pastors.

GOUGH: Millions of Americans across this country are looking to 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 me --

CUOMO: That say that people --

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

CUOMO: Counselor.

GOUGH: -- doesn't matter in this case 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 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 on race. You and I both know that. You said black pastors. You confused Jesse Jackson with Al Sharpton. 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 really care whether the people in the cheap seats will like it or not.


BERMAN: Joining me now, Alexis Hoag, Assistant Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School and Charles F. Coleman Jr., Civil Rights Attorney and a former New York Prosecutor.

Professor, is the defense counsel right? Would any attorney do what he did, which was try to get black pastors thrown out of the courtroom?


CHARLES F. COLEMAN JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Yes, we're commenting from the cheap seats.

HOAG: Exactly. There are actually model rules of professional conduct that say that you cannot engage in racial discrimination. And so this idea that somehow he is zealously representing his client by saying that black pastors shouldn't be in the courtroom is not any credence that I adhere to as a defense attorney. And I wholeheartedly do not agree with that.

And what Chris mentioned last night about this idea of a public right trials, and this is part of the Anglo-American tradition of a judicial system, need to be public. There is a fundamental problem when we have secret trials for the public. Black pastors included have a right to physically be inside of a courtroom.


BERMAN: Your view?

COLEMAN: Well, what we have been talking about with regards to Kevin Gough and his antics was completely confirmed. He is not concerned with anything other than trying to speak to that jury. But it is also confirming to me that he believes that, on some level, his antics are going to resonate with that jury, whether that's something getting pack to the jury in terms of being leaked, in terms of just of just the overall environment, this circus of an environment that he has created with his remarks around black pastors. He has banked on, in terms of his client's freedom, that something that he is going to try to do is going to resonate with that jury.

He confirmed it last night. Because what he said, I'm not concerned with anybody else besides trying to get my client a fair trial and get him off. And so he believes it's going to be effective.

BERMAN: One thing Mark O'Mara told us is that he thinks the prosecution might be saying the same thing in the jury, because the prosecutor has consistently made some choices not to make this as much about race.

HOAG: Exactly. And what you have here is a 12-member jury with 11 white people and 1 black man. And my understanding is that in Glynn County, the community is approximately 27 percent black. And so you have already a jury pool that the jurors were drawn from that was underrepresentative. And then once you had jury selection even had the judge admit that he believed that the defense was engaged in intentional racial discrimination but he was going to allow the jury to be seated.

And so you have the prosecution, which is from Cobb County, another area of Georgia, that sees the people before him. And they're thinking what kind of case can I put on. And they actually avoided discussing race until closing arguments. So, they didn't put on any evidence. They didn't make any characterization about that the fact that the defendants viewed Ahmaud as inherently dangerous and inherently criminal, even though that clearly isn't a case that the prosecution made. COLEMAN: You know, John, from the outset of this trial, I was the one who said that race was the 13th juror in this case. And I was actually - I actually had the conversation with Mark last night. And I was the one who made the point that I feel like it's the prosecution who said, well, wait a minute, maybe we don't want to push on this issue because it could offend some of the jurors, while the defense is going full throttle in terms of pressing the gas and not shying away from it.

That says a lot about the demographic that we're talking about. This says a lot about our national discourse on race. And it may say a lot about how this trial plays out. That remains to be seen. But it is a very interesting thing to observe that the prosecution has really tried to walk a tightrope while invoking themes around white privilege, white entitlement with regard to their summation and their rebuttal. But they haven't gone all the way in terms of talking about race.

BERMAN: I've got to let you go. Your least favorite question, one- word answer, verdict today?

HOAG: They deliberated for five hours. It's before Thanksgiving. I think they will get there.

COLEMAN: Very possible. That's two words.

BERMAN: All right. Thank you both very much. I really appreciate it. And Happy Thanksgiving to both of you.

HOAG: Likewise.

COLEMAN: You too, John.

BERMAN: New CNN reporting, House lawmakers describing a toxic and hostile work environment.

KEILAR: And new doorbell video shows the arrest of the Waukesha suspect in the deadly Christmas parade crash, as we're now learning that a sixth victim, a young one, has just died.

Plus, Armageddon, it's happening, kind of. If it does, we're going to be ready though, right? We're going to talk about what NASA is doing right now to try to throw an asteroid off its path so that it doesn't just obliterate all of us in the future.



KEILAR: So, it is just like the movie Armageddon but with the animal cracker scene starring Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler. But, otherwise, it's totally the same, kind of. So this morning, NASA launched a spacecraft that is destined for an asteroid. You see why there is some similarities, right? They're trying to see if they can change the space rocks course. And also this asteroid, it's not actually threatening Earth, but scientists want to prepare in case that happens in the future. CNN's Kristin Fisher has more details on this. Totally like Armageddon except not.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: So similar. And, you know, Brianna, this one of those things where this has been such an exciting year for space travel, that it would be easy to kind of let this launch slip away and not give it too much attention. But what NASA is about to do has never been done before, never even been attempted.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three, two, one and lift off of the Falcon 9 and DART.

FISHER (voice over): The launch of NASA's first ever planetary defense mission, instead of carrying satellites, telescopes or people, this SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is launching a spacecraft to test a technology that someday could save the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It may be the way to save Planet Earth if there's ever an inbound big asteroid that could really challenge our existence as a planet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's what we call a global killer.

FISHER: Even NASA Administrator Bill Nelson agrees it sounds like a scene out of the movie Armageddon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States government just asked us to save the world. Anybody want to say no?

FISHER: But instead of destroying a killer asteroid with a bomb, like Bruce Willis, NASA's DART mission, short for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, is using something called kinetic deflection. That is a scientific way of saying that this DART spacecraft is on a kamikaze mission to smash into an asteroid and try to push it off course.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it is successful, then if we had a real inbound killer asteroid, we could do that with it and it would miss us.

FISHER: It will take the DART ten months to reach its target, the (INAUDIBLE) asteroid and it's moonlit, which is about the size of the pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It's so far away that NASA says it will not create a dangerous debris field in low Earth orbit, like last week's test of a Russian anti-satellite weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The DART mission is creating an explosion and a debris field way out, millions of miles in space where it is not harming anything.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FISHER (on camera): Now, NASA wants to make it very clear that this is just a test, that DART's target asteroid poses no threat to Earth. And there is no other asteroid out there that we know of that does either. It is likely only a matter of time before that happens.

But, Brianna, just in case, NASA went ahead and invited Bruce Willis to the launch last night. They wanted him to be there just in case something went wrong.

KEILAR: And? Come on, Bruce.

FISHER: It is Thanksgiving week. He probably had other things to do.

KEILAR: We're only talking about saving the world, but whatever. Okay, Kristin, stay with us because I'm going to bring in Adam Frank. He is a Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Rochester. He's also the author of Light of the Stars, Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth.

Okay. Adam, we have a lot of fun with this concept, but it all does boil down to something that is pretty serious, rare but serious, which is planetary defense.

ADAM FRANK, PROFESSOR OF ASTROPHYSICS, UNIVERSITY OF ROCHESTER: Yes. I just love the fact that where there even is an office of planetary defense in NASA. I want to go out and hang out there.

KEILAR: What is this doing for the future? Tell us what the goal is here and what they're trying to learn and how far this is from actually being operational.

FRANK: Yes. Well, the thing is we have only known about the danger that asteroids pose to us for the last like 50, 60 years when we recognized that the dinosaurs had actually been wiped out by asteroids. And there's lots of asteroids out there. We have only found maybe close to half of the ones that are dangerous to us, the ones that are more than 150 meters across. And we don't really know how to deflect them, how to blow them up, how to drag them out of their orbit.

So, this is a test. This is the first time we're trying to deploy some technology to see whether or not we could just gently push an asteroid off of its trajectory when it is many, many millions of miles away from Earth. And that way, just by getting to it early, we can try and push it out of an orbit that would have it actually slam into the Earth. So, this is really a technology test. We are just seeing whether the basic idea works.

BERMAN: Why be so gentle? I mean, look, if an asteroid is coming to destroy the Earth, I don't think you have to be so kind. And my second here is based on my research, and that includes Armageddon, the film, and Deep Impact, the choice seems to generally be to drill into the asteroid. Why is that not being considered here?

FRANK: Well, the problem is you don't really want to blow something up. Because when you blow it up, basically, what you are doing is you are creating a debris field, a bunch of smaller chunks of rock that are also going to hit you. So, the best thing you can possibly do is to just -- using this kind of we're going to throw something at it, and just knock it off of the trajectory it's on. Because if you get it far enough away, then by the time it gets towards the Earth, the Earth is not where it originally was -- or the asteroid is not going to be in the crosshairs of the Earth.

So, blowing things up is a bad idea. Gently pushing them out of the way or getting to them early. I mean, there is really nothing gentle about this mission where this thing is coming in, it's going to hit the asteroid at about 15,000 miles per hour. But the idea is to get there early. Because if you don't get there early, you know, it's going to be much more difficult and there's much more danger. Either you won't be able to deflect it. Or as I said, if you try and do the Bruce Willis thing, you're going to blow it up into a bunch of chunks, which then are going to rain down all across the planet as opposed to heading in one place.

KEILAR: I do see some plot holes in that movie Armageddon, as you were revealing it, in addition to the many others that we have seen.


KEILAR: So, I also want to talk about the run time here. The movie Armageddon, it was kind of long. It was like two and a half hours of brilliance. This is going to take forever, Adam.

FRANK: Because it's so far away. That's exactly the point. You've got to get there before you're surprised, right. You've got to -- and that's what NASA -- one of the missions of the directorate for planetary defense is to actually identify all of these things.


So, there's like -- we think there is probably 27,000 near Earth asteroids that will cross the orbit of the Earth and pose a potential danger to us. So, the first thing you have got to do is find them, which is hard, because 150 meters across, that is like about a football field size or so, 5 million miles away, good luck finding that.

So, step one, find them all. Step two, characterize their orbits, figure out which ones are actually -- that are going to target the Earth. And then you've got to get out there and do the gravitational tweaking, the orbit tweaking long beforehand. So, you've got to send something all the way out there. And then it's going to take a while to actually detect whether you really changed the orbit.

And there's a brilliant thing that they're doing here. They're using a binary asteroid. They're using two asteroids that are orbiting each other. They're slamming into one of them. In that way, they can detect whether the little orbit has changed.

If you tried to hit something that was solo, how would you really tell whether or not you've changed its orbit or not? You are changing the orbit by a couple of centimeters per second. There is nothing to base it against. So, using the binary orbit was super, super smart.

KEILAR: Yes. Well, look, this is fascinating stuff. It is amazing how life imitates art, if you can call Armageddon an art. Kristin and Adam, thank you --

FRANK: I like Deep Impact better.

KEILAR: Oh, you do?

FISHER: No way. Come on. Armageddon is a classic.

FRANK: Scientifically, it was better. Yes, it was much better

The one last thing I just wanted to say about this -- go ahead. I'm sorry.

KEILAR: No, no. I was going to say that you should say one more thing because this is the last time you'll be on the show since you like Deep Impact better, but go on.

FRANK: You're done. No, I just want to say people should recognize what's really interesting about this is having -- even having this mission kind of shows the big transition that humanity is going through where we can even have -- we're -- basically, we're paying insurance. We are growing up. This is humanity's maturation. And we've gotten to the point now where a mature enough space faring species to like have to pay attention to long-term dangers that come from space. So, this is like, you know, when you become 27, you're like, oh, I've got to pay insurance? So, this is a pretty important mission in that way.

BERMAN: We've grown up -- sorry, go ahead, Kristin.

FISHER: No. And it only costs about $300 million, which is nothing compared to most space missions.

BERMAN: Good stuff.

FRANK: And it's nothing compared to losing the entire east coast to an asteroid. So, there you go.

BERMAN: All right, Happy Thanksgiving.

FISHER: Happy Thanksgiving.

KEILAR: It was great knowing you, Adam. No, I'm just kidding. You actually have a lot of company there with the Deep Impact opinion. It's fine. We'll still talk. We just might need a little space. All right, Adam, Kristin, thank you so much.

We do have brand new reporting from Capitol Hill, why lawmakers on both sides are calling their work environment toxic.

BERMAN: Chilling new video of the man accused of killing six people by barreling his SUV through a Christmas parade, what he did immediately following the carnage. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)