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The Situation Room

Expert: Lack of Oxygen Killed Floyd, not Drugs or Bad Health, Says Chauvin Kept Knee on 3 Plus Minutes After Last Breath; Multiple Victims Found after Shooting in Texas; Suspect at Large; Dem. Senator Joe Manchin talks to CNN about Role as Power Broker During Biden Presidency; Gaetz Associate to Strike Plea Deal; Dr. Gupta on the Vaccines and Coronavirus Variants. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 08, 2021 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @jakeTapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. I will see you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room.

Our top story right now, the murder trial of the former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. During several hours of very detailed and very graphic testimony, a medical expert for the prosecution made the case that George Floyd died from lack of oxygen, not, repeat, not from a drug use or health problems.

We're also following some significant developments out of the White House right now where President Biden unveiled a slate of executive actions to try to tackle gun violence here in the United States. The President called the recent spree of mass shootings an epidemic and international embarrassment.

Also, new tonight, a potentially dire turn of events for Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz. An attorney for Joel Greenberg, the central figure in the ongoing federal sex trafficking investigation says he's likely to strike a plea deal with federal prosecutors. That could set the stage for Greenberg to cooperate against congressman Gaetz.

And later this hour, we're going to bring you an exclusive interview with Senator Joe Manchin, as the West Virginia Democrat settles into his new role as a power broker during the Biden administration.

But let's begin with our coverage of what's happening in Minneapolis right now. CNN's Omar Jimenez is on the scene for us covering the Derek Chauvin trial.

Omar, today's expert witness clearly made a very significant impact on the jury with his medical analysis.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We always knew the medical part of witness testimony would be important, but I don't think we realize how quickly that would become apparent. I mean, by all accounts, this was the most engaged the jury has been in some days now. And this came as we shifted to that all important topic of George Floyd's cause of death, which at least the first doctor who testified today says was because of a low level of oxygen, causing damage in his brain.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you swear or affirm under penalty of perjury that the testimony about you give will be the truth and nothing but the truth?


JIMENEZ (voice-over): Testimony Thursday functioned almost like a class in medical school.

TOBIN: All of my research is related basically to breathing.

JIMENEZ: Dr. Martin Tobin, an award-winning pulmonologist started the day. Analyzing the same images many have seen from May 25, 2020.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doctor, tell us what we're seeing.

TOBIN: OK. You're able to see Officer Chauvin, you're able to see Officer Kueng and then officer laying down at his feet.

JIMENEZ: Also poking a major hole in the defense's argument that George Floyd died due to preexisting medical conditions and the presence of drugs including fentanyl in his system.

TOBIN: One, two, if it was with fentanyl, you'd be expecting a respiratory rate of 10. Instead of that you counted here yourself. And you can see when you counted yourself that the respiratory rate is 22. So, basically, it tells you there -- that isn't -- there isn't fentanyl on board. And that is affecting his respiratory centers.

JIMENEZ: He reinforced that conclusion by saying the very high level of carbon dioxide in Floyd's body was the result of the time between his last breath and when paramedics started ventilation.

TOBIN: It's a secondary reason why you know fentanyl is not causing the depression of his respiration. What you're seeing is that the increase in his carbon dioxide that is found in the emergency room is solely explained by what you expect to happen in somebody who doesn't have any ventilation given to them for nine minutes and 50 seconds.

JIMENEZ: The defense pushing back during cross examination.

ERIC NELSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You've taken this case and you've literally boiled it down into a nanosecond.

TOBIN: Oh, I wouldn't say that. No.

NELSON: You've not actually ever physically measured the weight of the equipment a police officer carries, correct?

TOBIN: No. I mean, I took the measurements that are important. The effort to breathe increases seven and a half times.

JIMENEZ: Throughout Thursday the doctor took the jury through diagram after diagram.

TOBIN: Half of his body weight plus half his gear weight is coming down, that's 91.5 pounds is coming down directly on Mr. Floyd's neck.

DEREK CHAUVIN, SUSPECT: It takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to talk.

Tobin: Even when the trachea has narrowed all the way down to 15 percent, you are still able to speak. So, it tells you how dangerous it is to think, well, if you can speak, he's doing OK.


JIMENEZ: Each analysis from the doctor singling out what he sees that the average I would including calculating down to the moment, all oxygen left George Floyd's body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, it was the knee then lifted off of his neck at that point there was no more oxygen in his body?

TOBIN: No, the knee remained on the neck for another three minutes and two seconds after we reached the point where there was not a one ounce of oxygen left in the body.

JIMENEZ: The day remained focused on the medical evidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the most notable findings in the hospital blood was the present of fentanyl at 11 nanograms per milliliter. In addition, we found methamphetamine at 19 nanograms per milliliter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would that be considered a low level of methamphetamine?



JIMENEZ: And they've gone back and forth on those fentanyl levels to determine how much that would have actually affected Floyd if he was a frequent opioid user. But we've spoken about juror attentiveness and how important that is, they paid very close attention during Dr. Tobin's testimony. There was even a moment where nearly all of them started touching their necks when Dr. Tobin asked them to as he was demonstrating the anatomy of a neck.

Virtually, all of them took excessive notes when Dr. Tobin said that Chauvin's knee was on Floyd's neck for over three minutes, after all oxygen had left his body. And then critically, toward the end of his testimony, he was asked whether he believed fentanyl or meth had anything to do with George Floyd's death. And he said no. Wolf.

BLITZER: Omar, stay with us. I also want to bring in our CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams and Major Neill Franklin, retired officer of the Maryland State and Baltimore Police Department. Elliot, this veteran lung doctor testified, as you heard, that George Floyd died from the position that Chauvin, the former police officer put him in that Floyd was slowly, slowly, very slowly deprived of oxygen and fentanyl didn't play a role at all. How big of a significant setback is this for the defense?

ELLIOTT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a setback. And I think one point that's not getting a lot of play in the articles and in the coverage of this is that one of the things he says is that even and a person of normal health would have expired under the kinds of pressure that was being put on the neck.

Lawyers love and judges and courts love these even if arguments or even if it were the case to that arguments and even someone healthy would have exerted (ph). So, let's even assume that Floyd had fentanyl or methamphetamine or whatever else or hypertension or anything else in his system, even somebody without those conditions would still have died. And that was a very powerful piece of testimony.

So, at, you know, look, the defense is going to put on their own experts and put the toxicology report into question. But this was powerful testimony from a quite credible witness that the defense, frankly, argued with at their peril given his credibility.

BLITZER: Yes, that's really significant.

Major Franklin, the doctor also said that the combination of Chauvin's knee, the handcuffs and the pavement, that combination was almost as if a surgeon had gone in and removed the lung. That's a direct quote. You had a three-decade career in law enforcement. Just how dangerous was this kind of restrain?

MAJOR NEILL FRANKLIN (RET.), RETIRED OFFICER, MARYLAND STATE & BALTIMORE POLICE DEPARTMENTS: Well, Wolf, we've already heard over the past couple of days in testimony regarding this efficient (ph) and positional asphyxiation. We've been teaching this to police officers for decades now. And every police officer knows this. We even heard the one police officer recommend to Officer Chauvin that we should place him on his side which Chauvin disagree, and kept him in the prone position.

I remember case back in 2015 that I had regarding the same thing, not quite as long as eight and nine minutes in that position with officers on this particular person's back. But it only took a few minutes for this person to die from similar circumstances.

You know, I'm hoping that our police chiefs and sheriffs and police trainers are taking note, not just regarding this, Wolf, but also regarding that saying that, you know, that we hear time and time again. If they can breathe, I mean, if they can speak then they can breathe. And this doctor, Dr. Tobin, put that to rest. So, I hope we change training. I hope we emphasize the importance of this, recognizing the fact that if someone says that they cannot breathe, that they're having difficulty breathing, that they're in respiratory distressed, not receiving the oxygen that they -- that they need to survive, and that we change our tactics. But I mean, I think it's clear, the experts, at least from the policing side, more than eight police officers thus far have made their case regarding this. And now we're going to see a battle of the experts from the medical side.

BLITZER: Yes, once there are other experts come out and make a different case.


Omar, how engaged were the jurors during this doctor's testimony today?

JIMENEZ: I mean, by all accounts from inside the courtroom, this was, again, the most engaged, and we've seen them. And what we try to look for is, what do they seem to be taking notes on versus what they don't seem to me. And actually, when I mentioned that all of them started touching their necks at one point during the demonstration the doctor was given, the defense actually called for a sidebar to which the judge then came back and told the jurors, you don't have to do that if you don't want to. So, clearly, they were already engaged to that point.

And then on top of that, it did seem the doctor seemed to be speaking directly at the jury for a lot of his testimony, either because he was experienced in testifying in trials like these or because he felt that maybe he was getting the most engagement from them. But either way, they did seem to be more engaged than we've seen in previous times, and even more so than what you would expect for a very intricate detail oriented med school like testimony, like what we heard from Dr. Tobin over the course of this morning.

BLITZER: All right, gentlemen, everybody standby. We have some very disturbing breaking news coming into the Situation Room right now. Yet another mass shooting here in the United States, this time in Texas.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is monitoring what's going on. What are you hearing, Stephanie? What's the latest?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is what we know right now. And this is happening in Bryan, Texas, which is northwest of Houston by a couple of hours here. We know that there was an event that happened that police responded to after it was done. We know that six ambulances were on scene, and that several victims were found injured this afternoon.

It's not clear yet the number of victims or the conditions of these victims right now, it's not clear. We do know that some of the victims have been transported out to the hospital.

But they're trying to piece together exactly what has happened here. They're saying that they're talking to witnesses, they are talking to employees to figure out what's happened. They don't have a description of the individual behind this event right now. But we're just still getting preliminary information here. And again, we know that six ambulances have left from this location. Still not clear, though, how many victims are hurt and how badly hurt they are. They're still trying to piece this one together. But they said that the event was done by the time the police officers did get there to respond to this shooting here. And you can see some images of what it looks like not too long ago there in Bryan, Texas, Houston, near Houston, I should say.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll continue to monitor this, yet another mass shooting here in the United States. We'll update our viewers when we get more information. Stephanie, thank you very much.

Also coming up, our exclusive interview with Senator Joe Manchin. We're going to hear from the West Virginia Democrat on how he plans to play his role as a power broker during the Biden administration.

And later, a key figure in the federal sex trafficking probe involving Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz is now expected to strike a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Could that spell some huge trouble for the congressman?



BLITZER: We're monitoring the breaking news, once again very disturbing breaking news out of Texas where there's been yet another mass shooting this time in the town of Bryan which is near College Station, the home of Texas A&M University.

Lieutenant Jason James of the Bryan Police Department is on the phone for us. What can you tell us, Lieutenant, about what happened?

LT. JASON JAMES, BRYAN, TEXAS POLICE (via telephone): It was today at around 2:30pm we got a phone call, not only one calls of shots fired, and we got to the location, we have several victims. They all been transported to one of our local hospitals. The suspect is at large. We're still investigating the motive behind this, what all led up to this point. And we're still investigating where that subject may be at this time.

BLITZER: When you say the victims have all been transported to hospitals, are their fatalities as far as you know right now?

JAMES: Right now, we're still investigating. I cannot answer if they were fatalities or not. I just know there were six that were transported to the local hospital.

BLITZER: And do you have any sense of how serious the injuries are?

JAMES: I do not know how serious it is all the injuries, just because I showed up and I've been on the outside. And we're still trying to gather up all that information that -- over these victims. It's a business. So, there's a lot of employees that were inside and they're investigating to sell what and how it all transpired. BLITZER: Now you say the suspect is on the loose right now. What can you tell us? Is there any indication, any identification? Anything we know about this suspect?

JAMES: No, sir, not yet. Nothing that we're given out. We're trying to find a connection to him in this business. And then we'll be able to figure out exactly who we're looking for and be able to get that out to the public.

BLITZER: But is he being pursued right now? Is there a chase ongoing?

JAMES: Not in the city of Bryan. We are -- we are not pursuing anybody.

BLITZER: So, he's he or she for that matter on the move right now. So, there's no description you could provide us of the suspect.

JAMES: Correct. We have no description of him. He's not in this location. And so, I figured he's on the move somewhere. And we're trying to track that down and disseminate that information of what vehicle we're looking for. And if we have a name that might be able to provide to the public.

BLITZER: So, what you're saying is that, just to recap, Lieutenant, that six people were shot, they have been transported to hospitals in the area right now. We don't know their condition. The suspect is on the loose, is out there at some point. Where did all this take place, the shooting?

JAMES: We had six injured. I can't say that they were actually all shot. We had six injured that were transported. And we're at 350 Stone City Drive in the industrial park of Bryan.


BLITZER: So, this took place in an industrial park and it didn't take place at a residence or anything like that. Is that would you say?

JAMES: Correct. Yes. It's a business. It's an industrial business.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we'll stay in close touch with you, Lieutenant. Thank you very, very much. We'll get more information as it comes in. A very disturbing information, yet another mass shooting here in the United States. We'll update our viewers once we get more information.

In the wake of all these mass shootings across the U.S. right now, President Biden today announced a series of executive actions to try to reduce gun violence in our country. Let's go to our White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly.

Phil, the President calls gun violence an epidemic. He says this is an international embarrassment for the United States.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 8 years ago almost to the day where Vice President Biden was in the Rose Garden with President Obama for a failure, the inability to pass a background check bill after the shooting that left 20 children dead in Sandy Hook. Today, back in the Rose Garden, starting what he called the first steps in the process to once again try and address what he calls an epidemic in the country.



MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, President Joe Biden taking the first limited steps to curtail gun violence.

BIDEN: Gun violence in this country is an epidemic. And it's an international embarrassment.

MATTINGLY: Coming on the heels of mass shootings in Georgia, in Colorado that left 18 dead. And if tragically on cue, less than 24 hours after yet another shooting left five dead in South Carolina.

BIDEN: As I was coming to the Oval Office, I got the word that in South Carolina, a physician with his wife, two grandchildren, and a person working at his house was gunned down, all five.

MATTINGLY: All bringing forth increasing pressure on the Biden administration from gun control groups to deliver on sweeping gun violence campaign promises. Even his legislative actions appear far off.

BIDEN: We got a long way to go. It seems like we always have a long way to go.

MATTINGLY: Biden issuing a direct and very pointed challenge to lawmakers.

BIDEN: They've offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress. But they passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence. Enough prayers, time for some action.

MATTINGLY: As he laid out a series of executive actions, instructing the Justice Department to craft rules for restrictions on so-called "ghost guns," guns that can be assembled piece by piece with no serial numbers, as well as pistol braces which can steady and improve the aim of smaller arms. Biden also redirecting funds to violence prevention programs, directing the Justice Department to draft model red flag laws and commissioning the first federal firearms trafficking report in more than two decades.

BIDEN: Vice President Harrison I believe he's the right person at this moment for this important agency.

MATTINGLY: The President also announcing his intent to nominate gun control advocate and former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent David Chipman to run the ATF, a position without a Senate confirmed director for more than six years now in line to be run by someone with unapologetic gun control credentials. Oh, as the White House is scrambling to manage the path forward for Biden's next major legislative agenda item.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're going to leave it to leaders in Congress to determine the mechanisms for moving things forward. But we think there should be every opportunity to do this on a bipartisan basis.

MATTINGLY: With Republicans opposed to Biden sweeping $2.25 trillion jobs package all eyes now on West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin who took to the pages of "The Washington Post" to reiterate opposition to ending the filibuster. And his concern about moving legislation through the arcane budget procedure that allows bills to pass in the Senate with a simple majority, a potential pathway for Biden's proposal. "Instead of fixating on eliminating the filibuster or shortcutting the legislative process through budget reconciliation, it is time we do our jobs," Manchin wrote. White House officials for now taking Manchin's position in stride and making clear they are only in the nascent stages of what they plan to be extensive outreach.

KATE BEDINGFIELD, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR: President Biden wants to have an open dialogue. He wants to hear concerns, he wants to hear ideas, and he knows this process is going -- is going to be a little bit longer.

MATTINGLY: And as Biden himself has made clear his plan is but the first step.

BIDEN: Debate is welcome. Compromises inevitable. Changes are certain.


MATTINGLY: And Wolf, when it comes to guns, the President is willing to acknowledge that unilateral executive actions aren't going to really do much of a difference at this point in time. Really pressing lawmakers today to take action. Two background check related bills that have already passed by House Democrats wants the Senate to move on though. He's also calling for a reimplementation of these -- the assault weapons ban, a ban on high-capacity magazines.

The reality on Capitol Hill is the pathway forward for any of those right now is unclear. However, there are discussions, bipartisan talks, I'm told, about background check legislation. White House obviously supportive of those. Where they end up, though, still an open question, Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Phil Mattingly at the White House for us. Thanks very much.

Let's get to that exclusive interview with Senator Joe Manchin. Our Congressional Correspondent Lauren Fox is joining us. Lauren, you traveled to West Virginia, you just had a chance to sit down and speak to the senator a few moments ago. Tell us what he had to say.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Joe Manchin, of course, the man in the middle in Washington, Wolf Blitzer. And, you know, that has been something that he has really carried with him back to West Virginia as he tries to sell the President's American rescue plan right here in his home state. You know, we heard from him why he is so committed to moving forward and getting bipartisan support for an infrastructure bill. He says he's not willing to walk away from the filibuster, not willing to walk away from bipartisanship. And here's why.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): January sixth changed man, I was very clear with everybody. I never thought in my life, I never read in history books to where our form of government had been attacked at our seat of government, which is Washington D.C. at our Capitol by our own people. Now, the British did it, but not Americans. So, something told me, wait a minute, pause, hit the pause button, something's wrong. You can't have this many people split to where they want to go to war with each other.

FOX: Did the Biden White House talk with you before rolling out their infrastructure plan? And do you have other concerns other than just the corporate tax rate?

MANCHIN: They've been very, very kind in talking. We do talk. We have communications.

FOX: How often?

MANCHIN: As often as I would like, as often as they would like. I'm always, you know, with the President, whenever --

FOX: President directly?

MANCHIN: Whenever he calls me, he calls me and we have a good conversation. We've had a good friendship and relationship for a long time. We understand each other. I'm so pleased to understand that we have a person sitting in the White House that understands legislating, understands how Congress works and should work. And understands that basically, we've got to represent the people that we represent. And I'm representing West Virginia to the best of my ability, and I'm trying to speak for my state.

FOX: Some of your colleagues joke that you're the president of the Senate now. I've heard them in the hallways remark that to you. Do you like this role? How does it feel?

MANCHIN: Let me tell you about it. Now, I've said this before, I'll say it again. I've watched people that had power and abused it. I've watched people that sought power and destroyed themselves. And I've watched people that had a moment of time to make a difference and change things and used it. I would like to be that third.


FOX: And of course, Wolf, he is the senator who makes up that 50 of the votes in the Democratic Caucus. And without him, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, they can't move forward with any of their key agenda items. And obviously, that could be a problem when it comes to infrastructure. That can be a problem when it comes to guns. That can be a problem when it comes to voting rights.

So, obviously, Manchin very much recognizing his role, very much taking it seriously, even though he did joke with me, no, he doesn't particularly like always being the guy at the center of the spotlight. Wolf.

BLITZER: He certainly is right now. I understand Senator Manchin, Lauren, also, as you know, all of our viewers by now know, he's been very outspoken about his position, as far as not, not eliminating the filibuster. What did he tell you today?

FOX: Well, obviously, you know, Manchin getting a lot of pressure from the left to give up on the filibuster, especially when it comes to that voting rights bill that he says he still doesn't support. But here's what he said about the filibuster and how he's not ready to give up on it yet.


FOX: Would you be willing to pass the For the People's Act by killing the filibuster? Would you be willing to carve out an exception on that bill?

MANCHIN: I'm not killing the filibuster.

FOX: Never?

MANCHIN: I've been very, very clear. I think if you read my op-ed, it was very clear. I think we can find a pathway forward. I really do. I'm going to be sitting down with both sides and understanding where everybody's coming from. We should have an open, fair and secure election. If we have to put guard rails on, we can put guardrails on, so people can't take advantage of people. And I believe there are Republicans that feel exactly like I feel.


FOX: And Wolf, he said when he gets back to Washington, he does plan to sit down with Raphael Warnock, the Senator from Georgia who's been arguing that Democrats need to create some kind of carve out when it comes to voting rights legislation, given what is happening in his own state of Georgia. So obviously, something to look forward to there, Wolf, as Manchin continues his conversations with not just his Republican colleagues, but obviously he has things to work on with his Democratic colleagues as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm glad you went to Morgantown, West Virginia, did this interview. We're going to have more of the interview, Lauren, coming up as you know in the next hour, very important information, indeed. Good work. Thank you very much.

I want to discuss right now with our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

So, what do you make of those comments from Senator Manchin, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in a way, he's not changing his mind. He's been saying, I'm against changing the filibuster. I'm against it. I'm not going to kill it. That's it.

And so, what this means is that Joe Biden, first of all, all has to get the rest of his Democrats in line if he wants to get anything done. And he's got to look for 10 Republicans on a lot of things.


And so, the larger things he might want to do, the DREAM Act, for example, voting rights, of course, is another example you were just talking about, minimum wage, a large infrastructure package. All of these things really hang in the balance. And the problem will fund the Congress right now is that their political rewards come from fighting, and not from finding common ground. Because if you fight, and you're a Republican, you're not going to get primary on the right. If you fight with Democrats, and right now, Republicans don't agree on much other than they ought to oppose everything Joe Biden proposes.

So maybe Manchin can find what he's looking for. But it's going to be very, very difficult. And we can all hope he has a great conversation with Senator Warnock and see what they can do about voting rights. But it's a difficult situation for the new president.

BLITZER: So does this spell some really, really serious trouble --


BLITZER: -- for President Biden's agenda? Does he need maybe even just start to rethink his strategy?

BORGER: Well, he may have to do things in a more piecemeal way, instead of these larger packages. He may have to scale it back. What Manchin does for him, though, is the progressives in the party who say to the President, you know, you're not doing enough? He can say to them, Look, I'll be lucky to get what I proposed through.

And so, he may need to scale things back. He's going to have to talk to some Republicans like those 10 or so Republicans who visited him on the Rescue Plan, see where they can find common ground. And by the way, he doesn't have all his Democrats in line either.

So, it's not only Joe Manchin, who doesn't agree with him on certain things. It's Kyrsten Sinema, for example of Arizona. So, there are lots of moderates he's got to deal with. So, the President is getting it from all sides, and it may push him to scale back a bit and see what is doable at this point. And as he said, at the beginning of all of this, he said on this new package, he said, Look, I know I'm not going to get all that I want. But here it is. We're going to have to work on it. And I think that's, that's what Manchin is trying to force.

BLITZER: Yes. They got their work cut out for him. Gloria, thank you very, very much. Up next, the potential nightmare, a nightmare for Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida. We've learned that Joel Greenberg a key figure in the federal sex trafficking investigation is now expected to strike a plea deal with prosecutors.



BLITZER: Tonight, a key figure in the federal sex trafficking investigation swirling around Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz is expected to strike a plea deal with prosecutors or senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is working the story for us.

Evan, walk us through what happened in court today. It was very dramatic, very powerful why Joel Greenberg's attorney said and I'm quoting him now, I'm sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, well, this was a status hearing for Joel Greenberg, who is a county official down there in the Orlando area. He's facing a number of charges, including sex trafficking, harassing a political appointee, wire fraud. And more importantly, he knows a lot about Matt Gaetz, according to sources, we've talked to the two of them were involved with a number of instances where Greenberg helped arrange for women to travel to have sex with Congressman Gaetz.

And so, the idea that Greenberg, according to his lawyer is working on making a plea agreement with the government. And perhaps, perhaps we don't know for sure, but perhaps might be able to tell the government more about what he knows. Well, that raises a lot of questions. Here's Greenberg's lawyer addressing that.


FRITZ SCHELLER, ATTORNEY FOR JOEL GREENBERG: I think that Mr. Greenberg, if he accepts a plea, or a plea agreement that he won, it will show his sense of remorse, which he does have and his sense of acceptance of responsibility. Number two, I think he's uniquely situated. I'm sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.


PEREZ: And I think that's an understatement Wolf with the development, as you heard, and look, I think it's very common and when you make a plea agreement that the government expects you to provide some cooperation in exchange for agreeing -- for supporting perhaps a lighter sentence.

BLITZER: So significant, a very dramatic moment. Indeed, you're also learning Evan that federal investigators are looking into a trip that Congressman Gaetz made to the Bahamas and whether women who were paid to travel for sex with him and others, what are you hearing from your sources?

PEREZ: Right, Wolf, for that is where federal law comes in and where possible sex trafficking prostitution laws may have been violated. What we understand from talking to sources is that the government -- that the theory that investigators are pursuing is that congressman gates benefited from these trips, as well as arrangements for women to have sex with him in exchange for political favors not only from Greenberg but from other men from other people, other political figures in Florida. There are a number of people that are at the center of this very, very big and growing investigation.


And this trip to the Bahamas in the last year or so, is among the things that investigators are looking into, again, the idea that the congressman would go to travel somewhere for these women to be provided would be -- for them to be traveling to have sex with him is among the things that would be a violation of federal law.

Again, one of the things that the congressman is under scrutiny for is potentially having a relationship with a girl who was only 17 at the time, but there were many other women who allegedly are part of this. Wolf.

BLITZER: Suspect we only know a little bit of what was going on right now. But we shall see sooner probably rather than later. Evan, thank you very much. Let's get some more now in the Gaetz investigation. I want to bring in the state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, Dave Aronberg.

Dave, thanks so much for joining us. And as you heard Joe Greenberg's attorney all of a sudden said today, and I'm quoting him now, he said, I'm sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today. I assume you agree with that assumption.

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Yes, definitely, Wolf, and good evening to you. I think is the least surprising thing in the world that Joel Greenberg is preparing to cut a deal with federal prosecutors, he has every incentive to do so because he is facing a potential life sentence, at least a 10-year mandatory minimum for child sex trafficking relating to the same 17- year-old girl in the Matt Gaetz investigation.

The fortunate thing for Greenberg, though, is that there's a bigger fish to flip on Matt Gaetz. And not only does he know where all the bodies are buried, he's going to be the first one in the door, which ensures that he'll get the best deal as they say, the first one to the table gets to eat. The last one to the table becomes dinner.

BLITZER: That's -- yes, I've heard that before. Greenberg's attorney also said his client and I'm quoting now, is uniquely situated. We know he and Gaetz were both friends, political allies. What sort of information potentially could Greenberg provide? How could that shape this case? Because clearly, if he pleads guilty and fully cooperates, that could have a dramatic impact on Gaetz.

ARONBERG: Yes, this is devastating news for Matt Gaetz, because Matt Gaetz's defense is that number one, he's never paid for sex. Number two, he's never had sex with an underage girl. Greenberg's testimony could totally destroy those defenses, especially if he has incriminating messages from Gaetz.

But really Wolf, when it comes to child sex trafficking, the laws are so broad, powerful, and the sentences are so harsh, so tough, and rightly so because we're talking about a very serious crime. But you don't even need to show sex with a minor. It's enough if Gaetz entice a girl to have sex with Greenberg, it's enough if he paid for the hotel room. It's enough if he provided her with the drug, ecstasy. It's enough if he stood at the airport with a sign with her name and drove her to the hotel. Any of those things would be enough to charge and possibly convict Matt Gaetz of child sex trafficking,

BLITZER: And if he does cooperate, if he does plead guilty, fully cooperate, spills, the beans say everything he knows the goal for him would be to get a reduced sentence, he wouldn't get a reduced sentence, right?

ARONBERG: Correct. He would get a reduced sentence. And he benefits from the fact that not only would he be the first one in the door, but also, he is a local tax collector. He's not quite the big target as a member of Congress is. And so yes, Matt Gaetz needs to switch to decaf, because at any moment, a federal official could be knocking at his door with a pair of handcuffs. And you know Matt has been losing a lot of sleep since Joe Greenberg was first arrested last year, because as the investigation has unraveled, you've seen more and more information.

Greenberg is a walking crime machine. He's like, the perfect person to flip because he's facing up to life in prison. And this is his only way out of it. And I think it is inevitable that he is going to flip against Matt.

BLITZER: Dave Aronberg will continue this conversation down the road. Thanks so much for joining us.

Our Sunlen Serfaty is -- has been taking a close look now at Congressman Gaetz. Sunlen joining us. Sunlen, the Florida Republican, he's been in a lightning rod during his brief career update our viewers.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right Wolf. He certainly has garnered a lot of national attention, mostly focused on his political stunts and combative ways on Capitol Hill, not on making deep relations or relationships or passing any legislation but for Matt Gaetz. That strategy is nothing new.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): The left in America has incited far more political violence than the right.

SERFATY (voice-over): Congressman Matt Gaetz, bombastic, antagonistic, unapologetic.

GAETZ: My fellow patriots, don't be shy. And don't be sorry.

SERFATY: The 38-year-old Republican from Florida has only been in Washington for four years, but his flair for drama has captured national attention.

GAETZ: You weren't elected by anybody.

SERFATY: Gaetz's theatrical style.

GAETZ: Our citizens come first sorry, not sorry.


SERFATY: Rooted in an upbringing once featured on the big screen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon. Good evening and good night.

SERFATY: Gaetz grew up in the house used to film the movie "The Truman Show."

GAETZ: In the mid-90s one day some producer just shows up in a golf cart and tells my mother that they want to make a movie in this house starring Jim Carrey.

SERFATY: In this white picket house in Seaside, Florida.

GAETZ: This is the house I grew up in, and this was my bedroom during my formative years. And walla, love America.

SERFATY: His mother is partially paralyzed after she suffered complications while pregnant with his sister and refused to terminate the pregnancy. It made an impression on a young Gaetz, who later said that it contributed to his anti-abortion stance when he entered politics.

GAETZ: So, every chance I get to stand up for life, I will.

SERFATY: The Gaetz's were wealthy and powerful in the community. His father Don Gaetz me to fortune over $25 million for profit hospice company. He eventually went into politics. Don Gaetz was elected to the Florida State House rising to become a power player in Florida politics.

DON GAETZ (R), FLORIDA STATE SENATE: He is the new America. He is the new Republican Party.

SERFATY: After graduating from William and Mary Law School in 2005, Matt worked as a lawyer in Florida for only a few years until a seat opened up in the Florida State House.

GAETZ: There is no cause in Northwest Florida, more worth fighting for than strengthening our military mission.

SERFATY: Matt leveraged his family name to easily win his first campaign in a special election to become a state representative in 2010.

GAETZ: I hope everyone's ready to cut some taxes today.

SERFATY: He served in the State House alongside his father for six years.

GAETZ: It is my privilege to introduce the President of the Florida Senate, a guy no -- I know pretty well. The senator from Northwest Florida Don Gaetz.

SERFATY: And took on the nickname Baby Gaetz among locals. And nada, his father's early influence.

MICHAEL VAN SICKLER, SENIOR EDITOR, TAMPA BAY TIMES: He's in the State House. There were there was a cadre of young lawmakers at the time that got a lot of attention. There was a crowd that like to stay out late and, you know, have fun.

SERFATY: Political observers say it was in the state house where Gaetz started to showcase his flashy and effective political instincts.

SICKLER: He would get on the floor of the State House and just speak in these spellbinding monologues.

SERFATY: It was then that Gaetz latched on to a tool that would help amplify his voice.

SICKLER: His approach on Twitter. Definitely anticipated the Trump era.

SERFATY: In 2016, Gaetz ran again, this time for Florida congressional seats and won.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey Matt, how you doing?

GAETZ: This is my mother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey mom. Good to see you. Yes, you just go right in the middle here. Just like that.

SERFATY: Came to Washington the next year.

DONALD TRUMP, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: Congressman Matt Gaetz, come on up Matt. A man I just watched last night on television, he was fantastic.

SERFATY: He quickly cozied up to then newly elected President Trump.

GAETZ: Hey Mr. President, it's Matt Gaetz. I don't need anything, sir. Just calling to tell you, you did a great job today. Don't let these people get you down. We're going to keep fighting for you with all we got.

SERFATY: Becoming one of the president's chief defenders.

GAETZ: President Trump sometimes raises his voice and a ruckus. He knows that's what it takes to raise an army of patriots who love America and will protect her.

SERFATY: And allies in Congress.

GAETZ: What we see in this impeachment is a kangaroo court and Chairman Schiff is acting like a malicious Captain Kangaroo.

SERFATY: On Capitol Hill he has cultivated a reputation as a brazen provocateur with a penchant for political stunts, focusing more on his personal brand than passing legislation.

GAETZ: We're going to try to figure out what's going on.

SERFATY: In 2019, leading a group of Republicans to storm a closed- door deposition that was happening during the impeachment proceedings.

GAETZ: We're going to go and see if we can get inside.

SERFATY: And causing a dust up with this tweet about Michael Cohen seemingly threatening the President's former personal lawyer with a release of damaging personal information ahead of Cohen's congressional testimony. After an uproar that he could have committed witness tampering, Gaetz issued a rare apology.

In March of last year he wore a gas mask while voting on the floor of the US House, mocking concern that was rising over the spread of COVID-19. And then just days later, having to self-quarantine after coming into contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus.

GAETZ: Defeat Liz Cheney in this upcoming election.


SERFATY: This February Gaetz went to battle against a fellow Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, traveling to her home state to lead a rally against her after she voted to impeach former President Trump.

GAETZ: I've been here for about an hour. And I feel like I already know the place a lot better than your misguided representative Liz Cheney.

SERFATY: Last year, the congressman announced for the first time that he has a 19-year-old son, a Cuban immigrant that he says he's been parenting for years as a single dad.

GAETZ: I couldn't imagine him loving him any more if he was my own flesh and blood. I've raised him for the last six years and he is just the most remarkable young man.

SERFATY: And announced his engagement this past December after proposing to his 26-year-old girlfriend at Mar-a-Lago.


SERFATY: And as he is fighting for his political life amid all these allegations, tomorrow will be a huge moment for him. He's keeping a long standing speech scheduled for Trump's golf property in Miami.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you so much for that report. Good work. We're also following here in the Situation Room. Tonight the race to vaccinate people across the United States in time to head off a new surge in coronavirus cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning the cases are leveling off and what he calls a disturbingly high level.

I want to bring in our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, Dr. Fauci also warning the Coronavirus cases have plateaued, he says at a disturbingly high level, once more young people are eligible and able to get vaccinated. Will that you think take care of this issue?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think that would help a lot, Wolf. I mean, we've seen obviously the impact on overall, the impact on the vaccinations on vulnerable people, older people, those are the people who are first in line. And I think that's why you're seeing, despite the fact that the cases have, you know, still been around 65, 70,000, we're still seeing a decrease in death rates 21 percent down as compared to last week.

Now we have to keep an eye on that, Wolf, because as you know, it's a lagging sort of thing. A few weeks after numbers go up of cases, that's when you typically see death rates go up. But I don't think we're going to see the proportional increase in deaths.

And now the message is pretty clear. We need to make sure younger people who may think hey, look, I'm fine, numbers are going down, the weather's getting warmer, I don't need this. They still need it because of a hope continue to bring the numbers down and keep us in better shape going into the fall.

BLITZER: You think the current vaccines are working effectively against this UK variant?

GUPTA: Yes, you know, so this has been tested. And this is a really important point. I mean, this is a more transmissible variant, there's evidence that it can be more lethal cause more severe disease, but the antibodies that you get either from having been previously infected, or the antibodies that you get from the vaccine, both seem to be effective against this, as well as the California variant as well, Wolf. So that's good news.

There is one variant, the South African variant, which you know, is of greater concern, some of the vaccine trials have shown a significant decrease in effectiveness on that particular mutation. So that's what -- that's going to be one that we got to watch out for.

BLITZER: The researchers they say that even before the vaccines were being administered, the Coronavirus mortality rate was actually dropping over time. And that's likely due to better treatments. What treatments are working well, against the virus?

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, you know, that that's the thing, Wolf. We really didn't know how to best care for patients with COVID initially, is even simple things like putting someone prone on their abdomen in their chest, seems to make it much easier for them to be able to breathe and recover but steroids. Wolf, oftentimes it's your own immune system that is the culprit here, it just overreacts. And if you give steroids you kind of decrease the inflammation that can be helpful. Monoclonal antibodies, you and I've talked about that quite a bit. It can be very effective. President Trump took it when he was diagnosed with COVID.

But also things like blood thinning medications, because we know this disease can cause blood clots. So blood thinning medications. My point is we have developed all these new clinical sort of guidelines to treat COVID that we obviously didn't know a year ago.

BLITZER: The key clearly right now is, first of all, wear a mask, stay safe. But also if you're -- if you could get a vaccine, get it as quickly as possible.

GUPTA: No question. You've been vaccinated, I've been vaccinated. They -- We feel very comfortable that we're not going to get severely ill require hospitalization or die, the more people that can get the vaccine and feel that same way as well as decrease the amount of transmission. That's how you bring the pandemic to, to a close.

BLITZER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, as always, thank you so, so much for your expertise. We are grateful.

Just ahead, we're going to have an update on today's developments powerful testimony from an expert witness who told the court that Chauvin kept his knee George twice neck for more than three minutes after, after he stopped breathing.



BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room. We're following critical new testimony that cuts to the heart of the murder case against the former police officer Derek Chauvin, a renowned expert testifying that George Floyd died from lack of oxygen caused by the police force used against him not, repeat, not from not drugs or health problems as the defense has suggested.

The witness had telling jurors that Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd's neck more than three minutes after his final breath. We're also learning at least one person is dead in a mass shooting in Texas. We're getting new information standby for details.