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FDA Authorizes 2nd Antiviral Pill for COVID, from Merck; NYC Scales Back Times Square New Year's Celebration; Ex-Officer Kim Potter Found Guilty of Manslaughter in Daunte Wright's Death; Two Georgia Election Officials Sue Giuliani, OAN for Peddling Election Lies; House Panel Asks SCOTUS to Respond Quickly to Trump Record Request. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired December 24, 2021 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Friday morning. I'm Erica Hill. Brianna Keilar and John Berman are off. Jim Sciutto joins me on this NEW DAY.

[00:59:47]

Christmas Eve travel hitting pre-pandemic levels, but not without some turbulence, as hundreds of flights are grounded, thanks to Omicron.

And CDC reducing the isolation time for healthcare workers who tested positive, as some of the airline industry push for the same.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Good to be here this morning.

A guilty verdict for former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter after four long days of deliberations. We will speak to Daunte Wright's mother, just ahead.

Plus, hail the hero. A TSA agent jumping over the conveyor belt to save a choking baby, all of it caught on camera. You're going to want to see it.

HILL: And good morning to our viewers here in the U.S. and all around the world. It is Friday, December 24. A very merry Christmas Eve to you, Jim, and to everybody else at home.

It is last call now for shopping, for gift wrapping. Santa likely already starting his deliveries. He's out there making the rounds.

And so is COVID. For the second year in a row, the pandemic bringing a lot of folks the equivalent of a lump of coal.

The surging Omicron variant grounding hundreds of flights before Christmas as airlines struggle with a shortage of flight crews and operations staff.

Overnight, the CDC announcing a big change in its COVID guidance. Healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 but are asymptomatic can now return to work after seven days with a negative test instead of ten days. The agency says the isolation time can be cut even further to prevent staffing shortages.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's a big change. Omicron has now surpassed last summer's Delta surge in terms of infections. The daily average of new infections topping 182,000.

In Washington, D.C., COVID cases breaking the previous record. The nation's capital has seen a 386 percent increase over the last seven days.

But keep this in mind. The key metric that we, health officials are watching, and that is hospitalizations. And so far, we are not seeing a drastic spike. Omicron showing, at least for now, that it doesn't cause as severe illness.

There is more good news. Another weapon added to the nation's COVID- fighting arsenal. The FDA approving a second anti-viral COVID pill, this one from Merck. We're going to have more on that just ahead.

Let's go first, though, to CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean. He's live at Reagan National Airport.

And Pete, the issue here, it seems, right, is that some airport staff are testing positive, and that's causing some trouble with flights.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: You know, that's right, Jim. You know, the Omicron variant isn't really stopping people from traveling, but it is causing these problems at the airlines.

The uptick in cases is leading to staffing shortages, the airlines say, and that is causing them to cancel flights.

These are the latest numbers from Flight Aware: 165 cancellations at United Airlines today; 115 cancellations at Delta Airlines today.

We obtained this memo from United Airlines, which says this is all about the uptick in cases impacting the airline's flight crews and its operational staff.

In a statement, United Airlines says, "We are unfortunately having to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of coming to the airport. We're sorry for the disruption, and we're working hard to rebook as many people as possible and get them on their way for the holidays."

The goal here, according to United, is to not strand people at airports where we saw long lines yesterday.

The TSA tells us a little bit early that the numbers of yesterday, 2.19 million people screened at airports across the country. That was to be one of the busiest days for air travel of this holiday travel season.

And it continues this streak where we have seen numbers near or above 2 million people a day for about a week.

You know, the TSA says just getting started, though. We're going to see about another 20 million people traveling by air between now and January 3. And that's when everybody begins coming home all at once.

SCIUTTO: And by the way, that's what the president, health officials are saying do. Keep your vacation plans as long as you're vaccinated.

OK. So the airline industry, it's asking the CDC for help here to shorten the isolation period for airline workers so that they aren't faced with as many cancellations as they're seeing now. Any sense if that's going to happen?

MUNTEAN: We'll have to wait and see how this pans out, Jim. You know, the airline -- the top lobby for the airlines and Delta Airlines have both written to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, saying that if we shorten the isolation period, which right now is 10 days for somebody who is fully vaccinated and gets a breakthrough case, to 5 days, that that will allow workers to return to the job more quickly and avoid some of these operational issues we've been seeing.

Today, case in point. But also, over the fall, when airlines had to cancel hundreds of flights due to staffing shortages, Jim. So we'll see how this goes.

SCIUTTO: We know you'll be on it. Pete Muntean, thanks very much.

All right. New York is seeing a record seven-day average of new COVID infections, nearly 25,000. But again -- and this is the good news here -- hospitalizations are not near, not near record levels.

[06:05:09]

Meantime, New York's New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square is still on, though it is being scaled back significantly.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz live for us in Times Square. So how big will it be and what kind of restrictions are they going to take to keep it safe?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly not as big as prior years. Certainly bigger than last year where only frontline workers were allowed to come here.

What the city is doing is they're only allowing 15,000 people in each viewing area. Normally, they allow close to 60,000, about 58,000 or so, people into these viewing areas. They're scaling that back because of the spread of the Omicron virus.

So what they're doing is they're saying, OK, we're going to allow people to come here much later in the day, starting at 3 p.m. on New Year's Eve, and we're going to put about 15,000 people in each viewing area.

You're also going to be required to wear a mask. And you're going to be required to be vaccinated. They're going to have police officers at checkpoints, checking everything, checking people in.

So the party is going to go on. It's just going to be much smaller. This was going to be a big, big event for the city, for New York City. And the mayor wanted it to go on. So scaling it back was appropriate.

Of course, Jim, as you said, for several days now, we have seen this virus just explode around New York City. We are over 20,000 cases just in New York City.

Across the state, close to 40,000 cases. So this virus is continuing to spread, the city and the state really seeing over 11 percent positivity rate.

But as you said, hospitalization -- and that is the key. The city, the state is not seeing anywhere near the hospitalization rate that they saw during the peak of the virus back in March of 2020. So that has given them some positive feeling that they can continue to do events. People can continue to live. Of course, the mayor saying don't hunker down. Don't hide, just stay safe. Come out and just stay safe, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Not insignificant news, right? Hospitalization rates staying low. And by the way, the show is going to go on. That's good news, too. Shimon in New York.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Thanks so much.

HILL: Joining us now to discuss, the former secretary of health and human services under President Clinton and former Democratic Florida congresswoman, Donna Shalala.

Good to have you with us this morning.

I think as everyone is trying to calculate how they should handle the virus and the holidays, we're told repeatedly testing is going to be key here. We know the testing issues that exist despite what is coming down the pike.

CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen told "The Washington Post" that she sees a failure of imagination and leadership, that the administration, she believes, should have given testing the same focus as vaccinations. Would you agree?

DONNA SHALALA, FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSWOMAN: Yes, I do agree. And also contact tracing, as well.

You know, this is a combination of things. And we also need more positive messages. I -- I really think we have to reset here.

It doesn't do any good to tell people, if you don't get vaccinated, the chances are, you're going to die. That's a negative message. And that has not worked.

And so staying safe is a better message, a positive message that we can control this virus. We can't eliminate it, but we certainly can control it.

But we need a more positive method to get people collectively to see that we're all in this together. And during this season in particular, I think it's very important that we send that message.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about other steps. Because we saw the CDC significantly shorten the quarantine times for healthcare workers, in part to avoid a shortage, but also in response to Omicron not showing to be as virulent as feared.

Do you think the quarantine time should be shortened for others, as well? You have the airline industry asking. I mean, even folks at home. I mean, you have businesses, right, who have to grapple with this, as well.

SHALALA: It ought to be based on the science. And obviously, shortening it to seven days is based on the science.

It's not just Omicron. We're learning a lot about how much we can shorten that.

But we also have to emphasize to everybody, look, wear a mask. I'm in Cleveland now, Cuyahoga County. It's an epicenter. And I was shocked, going into stores, that so few people were wearing masks. And -- but there has to be a positive message that we're all here together, that -- that we need to pull together. And masks are one small piece of the overall strategy.

HILL: It's interesting. You mentioned where you are. Yesterday, I was speaking with a doctor from the Cleveland clinic. And his hospital, one of -- I believe it was one of six in the area, that took out a full-page ad with the very simple message, help.

[06:10:10]

Is it your sense -- I mean, you talk about a more positive message. You talk about the easy things we can do, which we know, a mask. Which unfortunately, like so many things, has been politicized.

But do you think those messages from the folks on the front lines are getting through at this point, nearly two years in?

SHALALA: I have always believed that a grassroots effort -- it's not just healthcare workers. Healthcare that workers we know, as well as ministers and all kinds of religious leaders, community leaders, everybody sending the same consistent message. There are things that we can do beyond vaccinations that will make a difference.

And look, we are our neighbor's keeper. And we care about your communities. So we need this kind of grassroots approach now.

SCIUTTO: So, schools, we heard -- I was talking to the education secretary earlier this week, that the Biden administration's guidance is keep the schools open. We're not going back to virtual.

You have seen, at the university level, some schools going virtual, at least for the days after the holidays. Is that a smart move? How long should it be?

SHALALA: I do believe it's going to be relatively short-term. Look, I spent the year teaching 125 students with a mask on, and they had a mask on. And they were all vaccinated. We got through this.

But the kids want to be back in class. So we have to figure out everything we possibly can do.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

SHALALA: We're the adults in this society. We have to make sure --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

SHALALA: -- if we can that the kids are vaccinated. But also, that they're wearing masks.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

SHALALA: Going back with masks, I think is what we're going to end up doing.

SCIUTTO: If only the adults acted like adults consistently. That's -- that's what I want for Christmas.

HILL: It's like you read my mind, Jim. I was just thinking the same thing.

SHALALA: Me, too!

HILL: We are all in agreement. Pleasure to have you with us this morning. Happy holidays. Thank you.

SHALALA: Happy holidays.

HILL: The former Minnesota police officer who drew her gun instead of taser found guilty of first-degree manslaughter. Why that verdict surprised some legal experts.

And we are following a tragic story this morning out of Los Angeles. A teenage girl killed by stray police fire. She was inside a dressing room. Those breaking details, just ahead.

SCIUTTO: Heartbreaking.

Plus, what took so long. A full-throated endorsement, now, of COVID vaccines from former President Trump, about a year into this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:15:21]

SCIUTTO: Former Minnesota police officer Kimberly Potter was handcuffed and escorted out of a Minnesota courthouse yesterday after being found guilty on two counts of manslaughter. This for the killing of Daunte Wright.

Potter says she mistook her firearm for a taser during what was a traffic stop.

Outside the courthouse, supporters of Daunte Wright and his family celebrated the verdict. They say they got justice here.

Joining us now, CNN legal analyst, criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson.

Joey, good to have you on here. First of all, there were some lawyers who did not expect the trial to go this way, at least on both counts here. Were you surprised?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I was not, Jim -- good morning to you -- for the following reasons.

It's a very difficult process that we have in having 12 people reach an accord. And so that's really built into it. And then when you get the different dynamic facts here and you have an officer, who people generally don't like to convict, there's going to be factions. There's going to be infighting.

And it's oftentimes the case, believe it or not, where you have a jury that comes out and says, Judge, we're really divided, and we just don't know what to do. I'm -- you know, I'm summarizing, of course. And the judge says go back and deliberate, and they reach a consensus. And they did that here. And so it's not unlike so many other cases that involve, and don't involve, police that happen in America every day.

SCIUTTO: I don't want to draw lines between cases with fundamentally different facts. But fact is we've had a couple high-profile cases here, with Derek Chauvin, and this one, where juries held police accountable for the use of deadly force when we have seen, and you and I have talked about in many cases, where the jury's tendency has been to give police officers more leeway.

Do you see any trend there in terms of how juries are seeing cases like this, or is it, well, far too early?

JACKSON: You know, Jim, it's a great question. And the fact is that I do. And I don't think it's early. I think that, when you look at what -- what juries are doing, I think it's huge what they did.

Now, let's look and understand. You had a jury, right, remembering six men, six women. Nine white, two Asian, one African-American woman. And I think a lot of people, you know, may have concluded that, because you have a jury that does not look like the defendant, perhaps they wouldn't be sympathetic to that defendant's perspective. They were.

And I think that says an awful lot. And so in an era where we haven't seen police held accountable, to see them held accountable back to back and, as you say, on largely different facts, I think it's ushering in a new era of so much, right, of equal protection under the law for all concerned, of accountability, no matter whether you have a badge, no matter whether you don't. And just really, people who need to be responsible for their actions in the event they engage in criminality. So I do see it moving in that direction.

SCIUTTO: Both of these cases, the video played a central role. In the George Floyd killing, of course, it was video shot by eyewitnesses. In this case, it was the -- it was the body cam video. You saw this play out as it happened and then the reaction of Kimberly Potter afterwards. That's central, I imagine, to these guilty verdicts.

JACKSON: You know, interestingly enough, you mentioned whether there was a trend before. You know, so people say, Hey, listen, you know, two, is that a trend? I think so.

But to your question, I think we're going to see a trend as it relates to technology and courtrooms. We do have body cams that are on so many police officers throughout the country.

In addition to that, Jim, we know that we have video as it relates to people having cell phones, you know, everywhere they go and people having Ring and so many other surveillance things.

And so I think that this technology is not going to be unique to Kim Potter. It's not going to be unique to George Floyd. It's going to be out there. And so it's a very important thing, because it provides context with respect to what occurred.

We saw it also in the last case involving the McMichaels. The videotape was introduced. So, yes, it gives you another measure of what happened. And then you can argue and interpret what happened. But it's very powerful for the prosecution.

SCIUTTO: OK, sentencing coming up. You know, I think oftentimes mistakenly, we look at the maximum sentence here. But the maximum for the first-degree, 15 years, for the second-degree, 10 -- ten years.

But Kim Potter has no criminal history. The testing guidelines point to about half that, given her past. You've been in a lot of courtrooms. You've dealt with cases like this before. If you had to game this, what kind of sentence do you think she's looking at?

JACKSON: So yes. Just as we have, you know, this nice chart here regarding sentencing, we know, to your point, we have a statutory sentence of 15 years to the top count. A statutory sentence of 10 years for the second-degree murder count.

[06:20:05]

But then there are these guidelines that call for between 6 and 8.5. But then, Jim, you have what are called aggravating factors and mitigating factors. What on earth is that?

An aggravating factor is what prosecutors often argue. You're a police officer. You should know better. You're trained, et cetera. You abused your authority. Make it more, your Honor.

Defense, to your point earlier, saying first offense; didn't mean to do it, largely an accident, although reckless and negligent.

And so I think a judge takes all those into consideration. I do think there will be some deviation from the guideline, potentially lower, right?

And I think just last point, Jim, the judge did, I think, also a remarkable thing. Right? When the defense said, Keep her out.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

JACKSON: Do not have her go in. Do not remand her. The judge said, I'm not treating this any differently in that regard. She's going in.

But I think when a judge puts someone in, they signal that they're going to give them time. I just don't know that it will be the six to eight and a half years under these circumstances, based upon the uniqueness of this case. But she will be held accountable and will do significant time in jail, in my view.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Joey Jackson, good to have you on this morning.

JACKSON: Thank you, Jim.

HILL: New overnight, Los Angeles police promising a fast release of body-cam video after a teenage girl was shot and killed by police. She was in a dressing room.

Police were firing on an assault suspect. Police rushed to the scene on a call for assault with a deadly weapon in progress.

Well, officers tracked down the suspect, and police say they opened fire on him after a short encounter.

Following the shooting, that's when police found the 14-year-old's body behind the dressing room wall, which had been penetrated by gunfire. The police chief calling the incident devastating and tragic.

Rudy Giuliani sued by two Georgia election workers who say his spread of misinformation made their lives a living hell.

SCIUTTO: And the Supreme Court standing between President Trump and the January 6th Committee. Where does it go from here?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:26:03]

HILL: Two Georgia election workers suing Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani and One America News Network for pushing a series of false election fraud claims in 2020. They say their reputations are destroyed, and Trump supporters have been harassing them.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz live in Washington this morning with more. What more are we learning in this suit?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is yet another lawsuit claiming that the right wing, especially OAN, Rudy Giuliani, were pushing lies during the election that were severely hurtful and even defamatory.

In this case, this one is a little bit different, because it's two Georgia election poll -- absentee ballot processors. So they were working, processing ballots at the State Farm Arena in Georgia after election day. They were on video. And that video became part of this right-wing narrative that there was election fraud, people accusing them of either tampering with the ballots.

Georgia officials say that didn't happen at all. And instead, these two women say that after this video was circulated of them, they were doxed, and they tell a story of personal harassment.

So one of the women, her name is Ruby Freeman. Freeman says that the FBI told her that she needed to leave her House on January 6, the day of the insurrection. She had to leave her House for safety, because a crowd had gathered outside. She didn't return for several weeks.

She was getting emails, text messages, even Christmas cards that were threatening, had messages in her -- messages to her that were quite harassing.

And then the other woman, named Wandrea Moss, she says people were showing up at her Grandma's House. They found her Grandma's address, associated with her, and were trying to make a citizen's arrest.

So we have asked for comment from OAN and from Giuliani in response to this lawsuit. We haven't heard anything back yet. They will have some time in court to come back, make their arguments. There's a long road ahead for a case like this. It's a very serious defamation case.

But I can say right now we have already seen cases like this from places like Dominion Voting Systems against Giuliani, OAN.

And specifically, a case against Giuliani, it wasn't frivolous at all. A judge looked at it and allowed it to move forward toward trial.

So this really is a serious case that both the right-wing media and Rudy Giuliani are looking to have to deal with in D.C. District Court in the future.

HILL: Serious. And even, you know those few details you give us of what these women went through. It is so disturbing and so frightening.

Katelyn, appreciate it. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: The House panel investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol is asking the Supreme Court to weigh in, and quickly. This after former President Trump's latest appeal for the high court to block the release of his White House records.

CNN's Paula Reid, live with more.

I guess the question is how quickly will the Supreme Court decide this?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we never know exactly how quickly that high court will move.

SCIUTTO: Right.

REID: But former president has asked them to block a demand for some of his White House records from the House Select Committee investigating January 6th.

Now Trump's request comes after two lower courts rejected his arguments that the records are protected by executive privilege. The U.S. Court of Appeals also backed the legitimacy of the investigation overall.

Now, President Biden has refused to invoke executive privilege over the disputed documents, citing the extraordinary circumstances of January 6th.

Now, the Supreme Court is not obligated to hear Trump's lawsuit, which seeks to prevent the National Archives from giving the House Select Committee documents that include activity logs, schedules, speech notes, which investigators believe could reveal some of what was going on inside the White House during the insurrection.

Now, Trump has asked the court to block the records from being sent to the panel until this overall issue is decided.

Now, following Trump's request, the lawyers for the January 6th Committee asked the Supreme Court to act sooner than its normal rules call for, citing the, quote, "indisputable importance and urgency" of the committee's investigation. They're asking for at least a decision on whether they'll take up the case by mid-January.

Now, the final decision in this case will have significant implications for the investigation, as several key witnesses are refusing.