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New Day

Sandy Hook Parents Testify Alex Jones Made Life "Living Hell"; Senate Finally Passes Bill To Help Vets Affected By Burn Pits; Vin Scully, Voice Of The Los Angeles Dodgers, Dies At 94. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 03, 2022 - 07:30   ET



MARK ESPER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Well, first thing, when I was in Taipei and I met with all the Taiwanese leaders, the topic at the time was lessons learned from Ukraine. So this is very important to understand what Taipei has learned and what Beijing is learning.

But to your broader point, John, look, China took a darker turn when Xi Jinping came to power in 2013. He has made clear he wants a modern military by 2035, and by the year 2049, wants to displace the United States as the world's leading power and change international rules and norms. And we have to be prepared to deal with that.

And you're right. I write about this in my book. I have an entire chapter on China. I've talked about the need now to relook our One China policy because I don't think it's credible enough, durable enough, principled enough to stand up and bear the weight of some heavy decisions we're going to have to take in the coming years.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm sure you saw President -- former President Trump met with Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban yesterday ahead of Orban giving a speech at CPAC.

What do you think of this? What message does this send?

ESPER: Well, you know, the Hungarian leader is an outlier if you will with NATO in terms of his nationalistic views and things he's said. You know, it -- I don't understand why he would be there and what that means.

I think it's important -- again, in the context of Europe -- that we stand up to Russia. I write again about this in my book about the need to push more forces further east toward the Russia -- Russian front line. It's important that the Western democracy stand up against the autocracies of the world and the autocracies led by Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

And that's why, again, I give Speaker Pelosi credit for going and asserting that principle, and drawing the lines. Look, this is important.

And what's happening right now -- I think, John, you asked this -- so much of this latest flare-up with China is all about domestic politics in China where Xi Jinping is now seeking an unprecedented third term as general secretary of the party. So, in my talks in Taipei, this was the other big item of concern for them is what happens in November at the 20th Party Congress and then in the months following that, once Xi Jinping is reaffirmed as Chinese -- China's leader.

KEILAR: All right, Mark Esper. Thank you so much for being with us --

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much.

KEILAR: -- this morning.

ESPER: Thank you both. Great to be with you.

KEILAR: The parents of two -- the parents of students killed in two school shootings, Sandy Hook and Parkland, making emotional testimonies in court.


ANNIKA DWORET, MOTHER OF PARKLAND SCHOOL SHOOTING VICTIM: We have an empty bedroom in our house. There is an empty chair at our dining table.

NEIL HESLIN, FATHER OF 6-YEAR-OLD SANDY HOOK SHOOTING VICTIM JESSE LEWIS: I can't even describe the last 9 1/2 years -- a living hell.




AVLON: Today, testimony continues in two key trials where families of school shooting victims are taking the stand. In Florida, loved ones of the victims killed in the 2018 shooting at Parkland High School describing their sorrow to jurors who will decide the gunman's fate. And in Texas, parents of children murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting testifying that right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has tortured them for years.


SCARLETT LEWIS, MOTHER OF 6-YEAR-OLD SANDY HOOK SHOOTING VICTIM JESSE LEWIS: There's records of Jesse's birth, of me. I mean, I have -- I have a history. And there's nothing that you could have found because it doesn't exist that I'm deep state.

It's just not true. I know you know that. That's the problem -- I know you know that and you keep saying it. You keep saying it. Why? Why? For money?

HESLIN: When it stated that Jesse's was fake, that is an indication that he didn't exist and he didn't live. He did live. I was blessed with him for 6 1/2 years.


AVLON: Joining us now, CNN anchor and national correspondent Erica Hill. Erica, it's still -- you know, when you hear a father say I was blessed to have him for 6 1/2 years, it just guts you every time. And what's at stake in these trials isn't -- obviously, there's no way to bring those children back, but the fact that the lies and the monetizing of lies and misinformation has compounded the family's pain.


AVLON: And the --

HILL: I'm sorry, go ahead.

AVLON: No, no. And I just want to get your sense of what happened yesterday. And then, I want you to respond to a judge really calling out his persistent pattern of lying.

HILL: So, in terms of that -- and I think we do have that sound if we want to play it from the judge. To your point -- and I'll get to that in just one second.

But to your point of what these trials are about, as we heard from Scarlett Lewis, who is Jesse Lewis' mom, who was on the stand yesterday and spoke directly to Alex Jones, right? She said she wanted to speak directly to him.

What she said is we've asked you to stop lying. We have asked you -- we've implored you and you haven't. And you continue to repeat -- obviously, I'm paraphrasing here -- but you continue to repeat these lies. And so, we're hoping that maybe by having a large financial judgment, maybe that will finally compel you to stop telling these lies.

So that's how we got to this --


HILL: -- point, right, where we're hearing this testimony.

But you're right -- it wasn't just Scarlett Lewis who was calling out Alex Jones. It was the judge as well. And I think we have that sound.


JUDGE MAYA GUERRA GAMBLE, TRAVIS COUNTY DISTRICT COURT: It seems absurd to instruct you again that you must tell the truth while you testify -- yet, here I am. You must tell the truth while you testify. This is not your show.


HILL: And an interesting note there on her saying this is not your show. The testimony that we heard yesterday was from Jesse Lewis' parents. So they both testified, but separately, in the morning. His father, Neil Heslin, was speaking and the attorney played part of

Alex Jones -- Alex Jones wasn't in court in the morning. He didn't show up until after lunch. But played part of his show during that testimony. Just saying look, they're here testifying. He's doing this.


And when Scarlett Lewis had the opportunity after lunch to speak directly to him, one of the things she said to him is when she said I'm real, my child was real. I gave birth. There are records to all of this.

And she said I want you to stop doing it to him and she directly said to him you're going to do this again. And he shook his head no. And she said but you just did it this morning. You just did it today.


KEILAR: When she's talking about the pain of being -- having a child shot in the forehead --

HILL: Yes.

KEILAR: -- and then the pain compounded by someone saying it's a hoax, it's unbelievable to hear her have to say that.


KEILAR: There's -- you just can't get away from this stuff because the Parkland shooter's trial is continuing today.

HILL: Yes.

KEILAR: And we heard tearful testimony from grieving parents. This is some of it.


GENA HOYER, MOTHER OF PARKLAND SCHOOL SHOOTING VICTIM: I still look over at the passenger seat and reach over and pretend I'm touching his cheek or putting my hand on his shoulder.

DWORET: Our hearts will forever be broken. We will always live with excruciating pain.

ILHAN ALHADEFF, FATHER OF PARKLAND SHOOTING VICTIM: She was supposed to get married and I was going to have my father-daughter dance.


KEILAR: The jury here is deciding if he gets the death penalty or if he gets life.

HILL: Right. So, this is the -- this is the third week of the -- of the penalty phase here and the jury will decide. They have to be unanimous, though, in that decision and they'll make the recommendation to the judge. It's up to the judge whether or not he wants to follow it. The prosecution is asking for the death penalty. Defense wants life without parole.

These moments, though. While the gunman, who pleaded guilty, right, did not show any visible emotion in court, a defense attorney and at least two jurors were seen wiping away tears as these parents talked about the lives that their children had led and the lives that they would not be able to lead.

KEILAR: A defense attorney?

AVLON: Yes. How can you not? How can you not if you have children? The pain these families have gone through -- the thought of losing a child that way shakes you to your heart and soul.

HILL: Yes. I mean, yes, we're all parents and it utterly guts you as a parent. But you look at this and you listen to these moments. If you are not impacted by that, I have to say, personally, it just raises questions, right?

KEILAR: The pain of listening to it and then you think of the pain of living it --

HILL: Every day.

KEILAR: -- you know?

AVLON: Unimaginable.

Erica, thank you very much.

All right. Ahead, we're going to be joined by Congressman Adam Kinzinger on the latest developments in the Justice Department's 2020 election probe.

KEILAR: And the Senate finally passing legislation to expand health care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. We're going to speak to the Veterans Affairs secretary on the impact of this bill.




SUSAN ZEIER, ADVOCATES FOR VETERANS SUFFERING FROM TOXIC MILITARY EXPOSURE: And so, last night, I fulfilled my promise to him, and I know he's looking down so proud of me. But there's nothing in this bill that benefits our family except the satisfaction of knowing we won't have to watch any other families suffer like we did.


KEILAR: This morning, a bill to expand health care for millions of veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins during their military service is finally headed to President Biden's desk. The bill was held up last week by Republicans but it passed overwhelmingly yesterday by a vote of 86-11.

And joining us now on this is the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough. Sir, this is a big day and veterans have been waiting for this for a while. So, can you just give us a sense when is the president going to sign this and when does implementation start?

DENIS MCDONOUGH, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Well, Brianna, thanks so much. And I know you, personally, have given your own (audio gap) troopers across the country.

The president wants to sign it as quickly as he can. We're working through that now. He called this, as you know, as an essential part of his unity agenda in the State of the Union earlier this year. He urged Congress to get it done -- put aside our differences to get it done as quickly as possible and I think 86 votes in the Senate is a pretty good sign on that.

As it relates to implementation, we've been getting ready for this over the course of a year, so we'll be ready just as soon as the president signs (audio gap) making sure that we (audio gap) and access to health care with the dispatch and with the urgency that this situation demands.

KEILAR: President Biden -- he called in over the weekend to speak with folks who were protesting outside of Congress, but he's largely been pretty hands-off with this. It means a lot to him personally, though. He has said he believes his son Beau died from glioblastoma, which is covered now because of this bill, from his service near a massive burn pit in Iraq.

Have you spoken to the president about what this means to him?

MCDONOUGH: Yes, Brianna, thanks so much.

I mean, the (audio gap) called for it in the State of the Union. It was the central plank of his unity agenda. And I think, frankly, without the president demanding it, I don't think it would have gotten done.


But, yes, I have talked to him about this. And you know what? The bottom line is obviously, as we've all witnessed as a country, Beau Biden -- Major Beau Biden is front and center in the president's thinking all the time.

But you know what? This bill overwhelmingly, in the president's view, was about others -- about what moms like the one that you just played, about spouses, about kids, and about vets themselves.

And so, this was obviously something that the president had Beau in mind on but at the -- at the end of the day, the most important thing he always underscored to me, including just last night, is that this was about all the vets across the country who for 30 years now have had to wait for this. That's just too long. KEILAR: Senator Rand Paul -- who has touted his family's history of

military service at veterans' events but has not, himself, served -- voted against the bill and said this on the Senate floor yesterday.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): We must take care of our veterans and keep our country strong. This bill puts our economy, though, at risk by creating presumptions of service connection for the most common of ailments.


KEILAR: He mentioned hypertension for Vietnam-era vets. He mentioned asthma for global war on terror-era vets. What do you say to that?

MCDONOUGH: Well, the president calls what we do at the Department of Veterans Affairs our one truly sacred obligation as a country. We have to prepare and equip our troops when we send them into war and then we care for them and their families when they get home, full-stop.

And so, I don't see how it puts our economy at risk. I do see that this bill, as everything we do at VA with the world-class providers, world-class team we have there, as a manifestation of our part of that sacred obligation.

And after our troopers -- like your husband, by the way -- when they raise their right hand and swear an oath to defend this country, we owe them this at the very least. We owe them, their families, their caregivers, their survivors and that's what we're going to do at VA.

KEILAR: Secretary, thank you for being with us. We'll be watching here in the coming days to see when this officially crosses the finish line. Thank you.

MCDONOUGH: Thank you so much, Brianna.

KEILAR: We'll also have some more on last night's primary races and one key race that is still in play. We have John King and David Axelrod joining us ahead.



AVLON: Legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully has passed at the age of 94. As baseball and America mourn the man who was the voice of the Dodgers for 67 years, here is CNN's Andy Scholes.


VIN SCULLY, BROADCASTER, LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant Thursday evening to you wherever you may be.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vin Scully, the revered face of the Dodgers, worthy of a yearbook cover. Flip inside and see the schoolboy who always wanted to become a sportscaster.

SCULLY: We had a big, old radio on four legs. And I would crawl underneath the radio so that the speaker was directly over my face and I would be listening to a game that meant absolutely nothing to me -- Alabama, Mississippi. But what intrigued me and thrilled me was the roar of the crowd.

SCHOLES (voice-over): The captivated youngster went on to play center field at Fordham University, graduating with a degree in radio. Scully broke in as an announcer with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1950, as the yearbook shows, mentored by legends Connie Desmond and, especially, Red Barber.

SCULLY: He was, indeed, another father. And eventually -- oh, many, many years later, he wrote in a column maybe I was the son that he had never had. Maybe the red hair had something to do with it. But we were that close.

SCHOLES (voice-over): Scully would make any father proud. Honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame, lauded by critics, including the author of "Voices of the Game."

CURT SMITH, AUTHOR, "VOICE OF THE GAME": I think anyone who really has studied baseball broadcasting or, indeed, heard Vin Scully would agree that Scully is the Roy Hobbs of baseball broadcasting and the best there ever was. He has converted more casual fans into hardened fans and more non-baseball fans into baseball fanatics than virtually any broadcaster that I can think of.

SCHOLES (voice-over): What words can describes Scully's words? Lyrical, poetic, master storyteller.

SCULLY: That 75 club, which bowed finally to the Big Red Machine.

SCHOLES (voice-over): But Scully thinks he made his mark with silence by not over-announcing the moment.

SCULLY: She is gone!

SCHOLES (voice-over): When Kirk Gibson hit the dramatic home run to beat the Oakland A's in the 1988 World Series, Scully didn't say a word for more than a minute. Then --

SCULLY: In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.

SCHOLES (voice-over): Scully called the New York Mets' comeback against the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series --

SCULLY: Behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!

SCHOLES (voice-over): He also delved into football, calling the catch -- Montana to Clark -- in the 49ers' famous playoff win over the Cowboys.

SCULLY: Throwing in the end zone. Clark caught it! Dwight Clark!

SCHOLES (voice-over): Scully's popularity often exceeded the players. Late in his career, he served as grand marshal of the Rose Parade and bowl game. In 2016, he signed off for the last time as a regular broadcaster after 67 seasons calling Dodgers games.

Weeks before hanging up his mic, Scully riveted a crowd at the Reagan Library.

SCULLY: If I have a trademark, it would be to call the play as quickly and as accurately as I possibly can, and then shut up and listen to the roar of the crowd.