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All Three Defendants Guilty Of Murder In Ahmaud Arbery's Death; Trump Legal Team: January 6 Committee Probe Could Permanently Damage The Presidency; Experts Forecast Busiest Travel Day Since Pandemic Began; Police On Alert After String Of "Smash And Grab" Burglaries. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 24, 2021 - 17:00   ET



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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we'll get a hazard pay on this.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Unlike the Michael Bay movie, however, NASA's mission will send an unmanned spacecraft millions of miles into space, 10 month trip what will likely not -- try to knock an asteroid off course. That doesn't work, we're telling NASA to call Bruce Willis.

That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Kaitlan Collins in for Jake Tapper. And our coverage continues right now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, breaking news, jury finds all three men on trial for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery guilty. The verdict sparking cheers in Brunswick, Georgia where Arbery's family has been waiting for justice ever since he was gunned down while jogging nearly two years ago.

Also tonight, attorneys for former President Donald Trump say the committee probing the January 6 attack on the Capitol could permanently damage the presidency. Well, a panel of judges buy his argument.

And we're tracking your Thanksgiving travel forecast as Americans hit the road and take to the sky, and numbers not seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. And you're on THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: And we begin with our coverage with the breaking news in Brunswick, Georgia where CNN's Ryan Young is standing by for us outside the courthouse. Ryan, a huge day down there in Brunswick, Georgia after a little more than a day of deliberations. This jury found all three men guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, outside the court, you could definitely see people who were just exasperated by this verdict. And in fact, this happened for more than two weeks.

You think about how this trial went on. This community was bracing itself for this decision. They were worried about what would happen. The next move really surprised a lot of people in terms of all the guilty verdicts.


JUDGE TIIMOTHY WALMSLEY, SUPERIOR COURT, STATE OF GEORGIA: Count one, malice murder, we the jury find the defendant Travis McMichael guilty.

YOUNG (voice-over): Today a jury convicted Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

WALMSLEY: Count three, felony murder, we the jury find the defendant Greg McMichael guilty.

YOUNG (voice-over): Travis McMichael was found guilty of all nine counts. His father, Gregory McMichael, was found not guilty on malice murder, but was found guilty on all other eight counts. William Bryan, the man who took the video of the shooting was found guilty on six counts.

WALMSLEY: Find the defendant, William R. Bryan, guilty.

YOUNG (voice-over): All three men left the courtroom today in handcuffs.

Arbery's mother sat in court when their guilty verdicts were read visibly crying. Outside the courthouse, she shared her gratitude.

WANDA COOPER-JONES, AHMAUD ARBERY'S MOTHER: I thank each and every one of you who fought this fight with us. It's been a long fight. It's been a hard fight. But God is good.

Thank you for those who marched, those who pray, and most of all, the ones who prayed.


YOUNG (voice-over): Black pastors who showed Arbery's family support during the trial also reacted to the guilty verdicts today.

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: And let the word go from all over the world that a jury of 11 whites and one black --


SHARPTON: -- in the Deep South. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right.

SHARPTON: Stood up in the courtroom and said that black lives do matter.


YOUNG (voice-over): The jury made up of nine white women, two white men and one black man deliberated for more than 11 hours after eight days of testimony from 23 witnesses. Earlier today, before reaching the verdicts, the jury asked to see the two video clips. One of them enhance from the deadly February 2020 shooting.

They also asked to hear the 911 call that Gregory McMichael made the day Arbery was shot and killed.

GREGORY MCMICHAEL, SUSPECT: I'm out here at Satilla Shores. There's a black male running down the street.

YOUNG (voice-over): During the trial, the three defendants had claimed they were trying to make a citizen's arrest of Arbery the day they jumped into a truck, chase Arbery and killed him. They said they suspected Arbery had burglarized a nearby home construction site referring to video of Arbery wondering inside that home months before being killed.

JASON SHEFFIELD, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: They wanted to stop him for the police to detain him.

YOUNG (voice-over): But the prosecution said Arbery was just out for a jog. He hadn't committed a crime and wasn't armed.

LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: Everybody in this case had a gun except Ahmaud Arbery.

YOUNG (voice-over): Now all three defendants are facing a sentence of up to life in prison without the possibility of parole for their actions in the killing of Arbery.

DUNIKOSKI: The verdict today was a verdict based on the facts.



DUNIKOSKI: Based on the evidence.


DUNIKOSKI: And that was our goal --


DUNIKOSKI: -- was to bring that to that jury so that they could do the right thing.

COOPER-JONES: Now, Quiz (ph), which -- would you know him as Ahmaud, I know him as Quiz (ph) --


COOPER-JONES: -- he will now rest in peace.



YOUNG: And Jim, when you think about the pain of this family have been experiencing, the fact that they had to wait so long before the charges were ever filed. We got to witness a few things today all play out right after court. You think about the three men being led away in handcuffs after the verdict. We also got to see Wanda Cooper-Jones talk about her emotion. And then Reverend Al talking about that empty chair at Thanksgiving.

You know, a lot of us are close during those holidays, the fact that no matter what, this verdict was going to be that you can never bring back a life and that really was punctuated today on the steps of that courthouse. Jim.

ACOSTA: That's right, Ryan, but we did see justice in Brunswick.

Ryan Young, thank you very much for that report.

For more reaction to the guilty verdicts, I'm joined by Ahmad Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones and her attorney Lee Merritt.

Wanda and Lee, thank you so much.

Wanda, our hearts continue to go out to you. But I was struck by some of the comments that you made earlier today. When you walked out of court today, you said that back in 2020 you never thought this day would come. Today your son's killers were brought to justice. What does that mean to you?

COOPER-JONES: It means a lot. It means that my prayers have been answered.

Early back in -- early in the case back in 2020 it was 74 days without an arrest. And we finally was able to go through a lengthy trial and get justice for Ahmaud. I said the day was a very good day.

ACOSTA: And Wanda, what went through your mind when you heard the judge say guilty for the very first time? I can't imagine the relief. What you were feeling at that moment?

COOPER-JONES: Again, we waited 74 days without an arrest. They form (ph) an arrest, we went two (ph) indictments. And to hear that the accused murders were actually found guilty. I mean, that was huge. We finally got the justice for Ahmaud that he deserve back in 2020.

ACOSTA: And Lee Merit, Vice President Kamala Harris released a statement just a short while ago saying that these verdicts send an important message. But she is taking issue with the defense team and some of the comments that they made, some of the horrendous comments they made during this trial. We could put this up on screen.

She says, Kamala Harris says, quote, "The defense counsel chose to set a tone that cast the attendance of ministers at the trial as intimidation and dehumanized a young black man with racist tropes. The jury arrived at its verdicts despite these tactics."

What do you think, Lee? Is this verdict proof that those racist tropes backfired on the defense? What's your sense of it?

LEE MERRITT, ATTORNEY FOR MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: Well, it's certainly a relief to hear Vice President Kamala step in and say, you know, you're not going to continue to talk about black children, black men in this way.

What the defense attorney did, they went down what we expect in terms of professionalism. Everyone's entitled to a defense. Obviously, their view of the facts are going to be a little bit different than ours.

We even expect a little criminalization of the victim, but to go out of our way to use terms like dirty toenails and scope (ph) to attack Ahmaud personally, knowing that his family was sitting in a courtroom, that was something that got under our skin a bit. And I certainly think that it backfired.

We're glad to hear that the jury wasn't going to be fooled by the invitation to make this case about Ahmaud's blackness and some stereotypes about the dangers of being black and male in America.

ACOSTA: And Wanda, I was wondering about your thoughts on this?

COOPER-JONES: Regardless of what they said about Ahmaud, how dirty his toenails were, who came out to support this grieving family, at the end of the day, all we wanted was justice for Ahmaud. And that's what we got.

ACOSTA: And you thank everyone who prayed for this verdict. Can you describe how your faith has carried you through all of this?

COOPER-JONES: Like I said in the very beginning, God has never failed me. He's never failed me. And I knew that he wouldn't begin to fail me now. So I knew that we would get a guilty verdict. I didn't know when, but I knew it would come eventually.

ACOSTA: And Lee, I'll be speaking to Martin Luther King, III in the next hour, I wonder if you feel in the words of his father that the long arc of the moral universe bent just a little more towards justice today. What do you think?

MERRITT: Well, we were certainly inspired to see Dr. Martin Luther or Reverend Martin Luther King, III present in the courtroom with us, supporting this family, continuing the legacy of his father.

You know, the moral arc of the universe is long, and I agree that it does bend towards justice, but it doesn't bend on its own. It takes fighting mothers like the one I'm sitting next to that I have the real honor and privilege to represent. You know, these things don't happen in a vacuum but it took sleepless nights. It took a lot of time on her knees in prayer and then she got up and she made it happen.

And so, you know, the -- and it's true for Dr. King as well. The reason his ministry, his career was so successful is because he was supported by black women, mothers who fought for change the United States and want to continue that legacy.


ACOSTA: And Wanda, what is your message to other mothers of black children who are watching right now and fearing that their own child may never get justice? And I wonder if you've thought at all about other mothers who have been in your circumstance, who have had young men who were sons killed by police, in cases where there wasn't justice? And I just wonder what your thoughts are on that?

COOPER-JONES: Yes, I often think of mothers like Breonna Taylor's mom, Tamika Palmer, we have Atatiana Jefferson over in Dallas, Texas, that she's getting ready to go into trial. But a lot of these families don't get justice. And my message to those families is, don't give up, keep pushing, keep fighting.

ACOSTA: And we're a day before Thanksgiving, Ahmaud will not be with you at the Thanksgiving Day table tomorrow. What thoughts go through your mind when you think about what you'll be experiencing tomorrow on this Thanksgiving? You have to be thankful for justice, but your son will not be there. Can you talk to us about that?

COOPER-JONES: This is a second Thanksgiving that will be without Ahmaud. But at the same time, this is the first Thanksgiving that we'll have with justice for Ahmaud. So I'm thinking tomorrow is a very thankful that day. And I give all praises to God.

ACOSTA: And what kind of man was he? What should people know about your son?

COOPER-JONES: Ahmaud was loved. Ahmaud was a kind young man. And he definitely didn't deserve to lose his life (INAUDIBLE).

ACOSTA: And Lee, the defendants who have now been convicted of murder, they are also facing federal hate crime charges. What message does that send? And what do you expect from that trial? Do you still want to see that trial?

MERRITT: We're certainly looking forward to the sentencing phase of this case. Well, our understanding as explained to us by the prosecutors of Georgia law is that each of these men are facing life sentences. The rest of their life in prison, we think that's appropriate.

We're looking forward to the federal prosecution. We have a trial date for January 20. We'll be down in Savannah pursuing these men on hate crime charges.

And, you know, injustice is a team sport. And so Jackie Johnson is facing criminal accountability. George Barnhill needs to face criminal accountability. And we're going to do everything that we can in our power to ensure there's accountability across the board.

ACOSTA: Should Americans tonight have more faith in our justice system do you think?

MERRITT: I think that what we witness was an anomaly. That's the reason that all the media and the people around the world are stopping to pause and say, oh, my God, they got justice in this case. So, that's not a good sign that people think that in a case as open and obvious, one that was recorded on a bright Sunday day, and just last year, that it was a big question mark, and there was a strong doubt that we will get justice. And so, it represents how far we have to go.

And of course, you know, getting here wasn't easy, but we had to dig through prosecutors before we landed on someone who was willing to do their job. And so, it tells us where we are, but that where we are is not where we ought to be. And so, there's still a lot of road ahead of us.

ACOSTA: Lee Merritt, Wanda Cooper-Jones, we'll take that anomaly tonight. Happy Thanksgiving to you. And our hearts are still with you. Thank you so much for your time.

MERRITT: Thank you.

COOPER-JONES: Thank you.

ACOSTA: We appreciate it.

Coming up, we'll break down the verdicts in the Arbery case. Did the defense teams racially charged strategy backfire?

Also ahead, former President Donald Trump says the January 6 probe could permanently damage the presidency. Will a federal appeals court buy that?



ACOSTA: Back for more breaking news, jury in Brunswick, Georgia finding all three defendants guilty of murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Let's get analysis from Defense Attorney Shan Wu, CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams and CNN Legal Analyst Jennifer Rodgers. Thanks to all of you, we appreciate it.

Elliot, I want to begin with your reaction to this jury finding all three defendants guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. We heard just a few moments ago from Lee Merritt that, you know, should Americans have more faith in the justice system tonight. This was an anomaly, he said. What do you think? What are your thoughts?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. Look, I don't think racism or bias or anything else is changed after this verdict. This was certainly the right verdict by one jury. But you know, no one should get complacent. And the very fact that this crime happened in the first place speaks to very dark factors that exist in American life today. So, let's put that aside.

Now, the manner in which the jury came to their findings here is quite significant. In that, they broke down convictions for each of the defendants, showing that they were really taking this seriously, right? Three different defendants with three different levels of culpability, levels of blame. With Travis McMichael, the person who actually pulled the trigger getting convicted of both the felony and malice murder, two different types of murder. His father not getting the same conviction, and then of course, Roddie Bryan.

So, it just shows the jury put some thought into this. I think it'd be much harder to take this verdict seriously if they had found everyone guilty of everything or no one guilty of anything. They'd clearly worked through this very methodically and came to the right choice, I think.


ACOSTA: Absolutely. And Jennifer, how significant is it that it's not just the man who pulled the trigger, but all three of the men who played a role in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, who were found guilty of murder today?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's really significant, Jim. I mean, the law does allow for these convictions, obviously, on a felony murder theory and an aiding and abetting theory. But you can see how a jury might say, well, listen, the other two didn't make the decision to pull the trigger, only Travis McMichael did that.

But I think when you take the evidence as a whole, and the prosecutor was so good about weaving together the pieces of evidence and making a really compelling argument to this jury that they were all responsible, they all chased him. Two of them had guns. There were two trucks pending him in and not letting him escape. You know, it really was a group concerted effort here. And I think the jury's results ultimately reflected that.

ACOSTA: Yes, Shan, I thought the prosecutor was excellent throughout this trial. I mean, it was just sort of a just the facts, kind of presentation. She's been widely praised for her performance.

And she said this verdict was based on the facts and evidence, we heard from earlier today, and that this is proof that the jury system works. Well, is that your takeaway too? What were your thoughts?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think she did a good job. But as has been eloquently put by the Arbery family, this is indication of other issues in our system. This is not a time, particularly for us, those of us in the legal profession, to be complacent, to sit around, pat ourselves on the back saying it's a great system.

These men who did this murder, they're the lineal descendants of the racism and the violence in our history. And unfortunately, our system is also part of that lineal heritage. And this case and others like Rittenhouse shows us there's so much we need to do to improve our system, to remedy that history of racism.

We don't even have a federal anti-lynching law on the books and we need to reform the peremptory strikes system just as two examples. So it's an important time to remember that certainly legal justice happened in this case, good job by the prosecution, but there's so much more to do.

ACOSTA: And we're looking at video of the convicted defendants leaving in handcuffs. They'll be sentenced in a matter of days. And we'll be on top of that, of course.

Elliot, before they handed down this verdict, the jury rewatched the video of armories killing, which I thought was an important moment to sort of gave us a window into their deliberations and what they were going through. What did you make of that moment? And just how important was the video evidence in a case like this? I mean, I think it has to be said that if it wasn't for the video, perhaps we would not be here today --


ACOSTA: -- with this kind of verdict.

WILLIAMS: No, and frankly, that was Roddie Bryan's point that, you know, we only had this because I was the one who was kind enough to take the video of this man being slaughtered.

Look, you know, that could have gone the other way of looking at the video evidence. And I -- it's, you know, at our great risk, do we try to divine what jurors are thinking at any given point, because so much of the compelling evidence from the prosecution was about the things that led up to the video. Why these guys were there in the first place? Why they got their guns? Why, you know, the 911 call, there's a black man running in the neighborhood, all of those things were very compelling evidence that sort of poked holes in the defense's case that they had a reason to make this stop or this arrest.

The video itself in isolation, a jury could have looked, could have looked at that and said, well, this is a scuffle. You know, in the in the heat of the moment, it's hard to know what happened. So, you just don't know what they were thinking.

Again, as I said a little bit earlier, the fact that they cut up the three different verdicts, as Jennifer and Shan have both noted, the fact they cut up the convictions in the ways that they did shows that they really were paying close attention here. And paid close attention to the jury instructions and the law and really followed it.

ACOSTA: And Jennifer, all three men now face life in prison sentences potentially. Do you think it's likely that these men will spend the rest of their lives behind bars? And what message do these convictions and those potential sentences? What message does that send?

RODGERS: Well, Jim, they likely will spend life behind bars. The judge does have the option of granting them the possibility of parole after 30 years. But that, of course, would then be a decision of the parole board.

Look, I think it sends a strong message. Of course, I mean, you know, not just the person who pulled the trigger, but all of these men who just really just slaughtered Ahmaud Arbery for running in the streets and not being willing to do what no one thought he had any reason to do which is stop and be interrogated by. So, I think it sends a strong message and it's a good thing and happened today.

ACOSTA: All right, absolutely. All right, Elliot Williams, Jennifer Rodgers, Shan Wu, thanks for breaking what a momentous day and just a huge case that we're all going to remember for a very long time. Thanks for all that analysis. We appreciate it.


WILLIAMS: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: Up next, new revelations about former President Trump's legal strategy in the fight to keep his presidential records away from the January 6 committee.


ACOSTA: And we're learning new information about former President Trump's legal strategy as a federal court prepares to weigh in on his claims of executive privilege over January 6 documents. CNN Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles is up on Capitol Hill for us. He's got the details.

Ryan, what's the latest?


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, what the Trump legal team is arguing here is that the release of these documents would damage the office of the presidency going forward. And even though the current White House document that President Joe Biden has said that he is not going to enforce executive privilege claims by the former president, that he is making the wrong decision.

In a court filing release today, the Trump legal team writes in point -- in part, to be blunt, a current president cannot destroy the confidentiality of the Executive Branch communications and the important reliance interests attached to that confidentiality for his own political advantage to the detriment of his predecessors and successors.

And essentially what the Trump team is arguing is that this is a long term problem, not a short term problem, and that Joe Biden and the House Select Committee has a political agenda here, not one where they're looking to seek the truth. Obviously, the committee and the Biden White House feels very differently about this. They believe that the interest of getting to the bottom of what happened on January 6th is much more important than protecting communications from a former president.

And also it's important to point -- to keep in mind that learning exactly the role that Donald Trump played on January 6th, is central to this Committee's investigation. They want to see just how far the connections reach not just into the Trump White House, but also to the Trump campaign, and that they believe that these documents will shed some light on that and a lower court has already agreed with that decision. This is of course, now at the appeals level.

Now the court will hear oral arguments on this case on November 30th. This court case is moving quickly, Jim. The Committee would like to have this resolved as soon as possible because they'd like those documents so that they can continue their investigation. Jim?

ACOSTA: That's right. And Trump's trying to just continue this cover up, which is why that work is so important. All right, Ryan Nobles, thank you very much.

Let's get more with CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. He is the author of "The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump." Andrew, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it. What's your response to the former president's argument that the House Select Committee is being so aggressive in its pursuit of these records, that it could permanently damage the presidency, setting aside the fact that Trump has damaged the presidency himself?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I'll tell you, Jim, that was my first reaction was listening to lawyers for the former president make the argument that he is now standing in the shoes of protecting the presidency. This from the man who ran his political convention out of the White House and half of the staff has now been cited for Hatch Act violations and was impeached twice. And just -- it's a bit too ironic.

But I'll tell you this, I think that argument is a very careful deflection. They'd like to turn this into a, an assault on the Committee because it's a way of distracting from the real point, which is it's not the Committee's decision to release these records. It is the current president's decision to release the records. And I find it very hard to believe that the courts are going to step in and supplant their own judgment for the current president's evaluation of what should or shouldn't be turned over.

ACOSTA: And a federal appeals court will hear oral arguments on this case next week. What do you think they're going to look at?

MCCABE: I think you're going to see, if the questioning from the hearing a few days ago is any indicator, I think you're going to see it, you know, concerns along the same line that you heard from Judge Chutkan at the district court level, which is basically acknowledging that executive privilege is an outgrowth of executive power. And it's something that the current president decides when and how to use for the benefit of the public. It's not meant to protect the President's political, you know, interests or his personal interests. And it's certainly not ever meant to protect the President from wrongdoing. And, you know, there's a long history of presidents, Republican and Democratic, making the decision to provide information to Congress, to provide presidential staffers, members of the staff and cabinet to testify in front of Congress about matters that are essential to the public well-being. You know, Reagan did it, Nixon did it, Bush did it, Obama eventually did it on Benghazi. So I think it's a little bit -- they're ignoring the reality that this is a presidential decision. It's one that's happened many times before. And I think it's unlikely the courts are going to try to unwind it.

ACOSTA: And just lastly, as former Deputy Director of the FBI, I wanted to get your take on today's verdict in Georgia, all three men, those defendants found guilty in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. What were your thoughts when you saw those verdicts come in?

MCCABE: Well, you know, like most of the country, I have been watching this very closely over the last couple of weeks. I was incredibly impressed with the prosecution's case. I thought they did an amazing job, the defense, some of the defense attorney statements and decisions in their course of representing their clients were a headshaking and offensive and I thought really appealing to the lowest common denominator in that jury making like overtly racist arguments, hoping maybe that one juror would go their way, incredibly satisfying to see that that didn't happen.


Again, this jury seemed to really just focus on the evidence, they seem to have gone through the charging the jury instructions very carefully and rendered a, considered and deliberate judgment, which I think really speaks loudly for, you know, the system isn't right all the time. But I think they got this one right.

ACOSTA: All right, I think they certainly did. Andrew McCabe, thanks again, as always, we appreciate it.

MCCABE: Thanks for having me.

ACOSTA: Just ahead, whether it's by plane, train, or automobile, millions of Americans are on the move and coming up, we want to ask what you're going to be making and whether you're going to be safe with COVID getting spread. You have to stay safe this thanksgiving. We have that next.



ACOSTA: Tonight, millions of travelers are crowding the highways and airports around the country in the last minute rush to get to their Thanksgiving destinations. Holiday travel is close to pre pandemic levels despite high gasoline prices, crowded airports, and continuing worries about the coronavirus. CNN's Pete Muntean is keeping an eye on the highways and more. Pete, when I was out there earlier, the roads were starting to get jammed up. People are on the move for sure. What are you seeing? PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No doubt, Jim. You know, I'm here at Maryland House, which is the big travel plaza on I-95 between Philadelphia and Baltimore. And folks have been telling me they just cannot wait to get out, really speaks to this whole notion of pent up demand, this whole Thanksgiving travel period will look nothing like it did in 2020.

According to AAA, 48 million people will hit the road. And that number really not that far off from where we were back in 2019 before the pandemic only about a 3 percent difference. But a lot of people are really going to take it on the chin when it comes to cost. The average price of a gallon of gas now $3.40 nationwide. That is up $1.30 and this time last year. So the point is the traffic is back. The cost is back. But it is not holding people back.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is price I have to pay. I mean, we can't be -- I mean, we still in a pandemic. We can't be isolated in the house again. So I'd rather pay more and be with my family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think family is important, time spent together is important. So I guess if you want to make time and get there, you'll go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last year, I couldn't make it. So this year again, it's worth it.


MUNTEAN: Let's talk about air travel for a second. The Transportation Security Administration anticipates a total of 20 million people take to the skies for Thanksgiving we set an at pandemic era air travel record back on Friday. We will see what today holds when the numbers come out tomorrow. Typically, this is a huge day, but Sunday is going to be the really big day according to the TSA. That's when everybody who left town for Thanksgiving begins coming home all at once. Jim?

ACOSTA: Pete, I'll be out there as well. You can't keep me for my mom's stuffing. That -- there's just no other way around to that. I got to get my car and go. All right Pete Muntean, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

The big question mark this evening is whether the holiday celebrations will spark a new wave of coronavirus cases. We hope that does not happen. But with us now is Dr. William Schaffner. He's a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center down in Nashville. Dr. Schaffner as we get ready for the Thanksgiving holiday, what questions should we be asking our friends and family before we get together? This is going to be one of those holidays where, you know, you might have to ask, you know, are you vaccinated before you come in the house? That's a conversation that's going to happen?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE, VANDERBILT MEDICAL CENTER: Well, Jim, for sure that, you know, that question should have been asked last week, as everybody was planning to get together, it may be a little bit too late to get vaccinated now. If you haven't been, for goodness sakes, wear the mask. And you can also get a test one of those rapid tests before you show up, making sure that you're negative. So peach numbers were astounding, right? All those people on the road, they need to be careful, particularly if they're in public transport, because they'll be surrounded by all kinds of other people whom you don't know what their vaccination status is. Wear that mask, good hand hygiene, do as much social distancing as you can, because we do expect that the virus will attend some of these holiday celebrations and spread causing disease going into December.

ACOSTA: And should families use those rapid tests. Even at this last minute, I think you were mentioning a few moments ago that that might be helpful. If somebody goes out to the drugstore this evening, or even if they find one open tomorrow morning and they get a rapid test, I suppose they might get those results fast enough where they can had have a little extra, you know, sense of security going into grandma's house.

SCHAFFNER: That's actually very important, particularly if you're gathering with people who have serious underlying illnesses, that grandma may have diabetes and some heart disease, Uncle Frank, maybe he has another serious underlying illness and he's going to be there. If everybody gets tested and turns out to be negative, well, the level of comfort goes down, the level of joy goes up.

ACOSTA: And that's the way we like it on Thanksgiving. Dr. William Schaffner. Thank you so much. Happy Thanksgiving to you, we appreciate it as always.

SCHAFFNER: And to you.

ACOSTA: All right, thanks.


Coming up, disturbing series of similar crimes across the U.S., burglars targeting high end retailers, smashing windows, and display cases, and grabbing anything they can.


ACOSTA: Police are on alert tonight after a series of brazen smash and grab burglaries targeting high end retailers across the country with these routinely making off with thousands of dollars in stolen merchandise and causing extensive damage. For more on that I want to bring in our senior law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey. Chief thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it. What can local law enforcement do in the face -- I mean will you share some of the video if we have it available in the face of these smash and grab robberies. They come in so quickly. There's usually a group of them, they move to the store pretty fast and they're out the door within seconds and with thousands of dollars of merchandise what can be done about it.

CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You know a few years ago in Philadelphia here we had something very similar take place, we call them flash mobs, where we had groups of young people that would go into a store steal and then run away.


Believe it or not, many of the kids that we arrested had no previous criminal record at all. Now, they were organizing these things on social media. So one thing departments can do is pay attention to social media, because that's how they organize and get together to decide where they're going to go.

And I would also send a warning to parents, because as I mentioned, most of the kids we arrested were had no previous record, so pay attention to what your children are doing on social media. I have no idea, you know, what they're thinking when they do these kinds of things. But it looked like it was pretty organized when I saw the footage in San Francisco. I believe it was where they actually hit one of those stores. That's very organized. But, you know, again, we've seen these things before, and they are very hard to guard against.

ACOSTA: Yes, I was going to ask you, is there anything retailers can do to prevent these kinds of burglaries. I've noticed here in Washington, there are some retailers who are limiting the number of people who can come in the stores.

RAMSEY: Well, that's part of what they do now, especially with the holiday shopping season, you'll see security there and only with so many people in the store at one time. But when you've got these big chains, you know, the Nordstrom or Macy's and stores like that, that's difficult to do. And again, you mentioned that they hit so fast, they're in and out that even when you call 911, the odds of police getting there in time, it's really not that high. But what police need to do is pay particular attention, especially to those kinds of stores, some of the high end stores, but also some of the more frequently used stores like the Macy's and places like that, because that was the place where they targeted mostly in Philly.

ACOSTA: And why do you think we're seeing these smash and grabs happen right now. What is going on?

RAMSEY: I have no idea. I mean, we've had uptick in crime, just in general. But you know, and I don't want to, you know, point fingers at anybody. But I do know that there are some cities where prosecutors have pretty much said, they're not going to prosecute shoplifting, or thefts and things of that nature. Now, I don't know if that's given people, any incentive to be more brazen with what they're doing. Because these, these things are very serious, and they need to be prosecuted once they're captured.

So, you know, I believe a couple of more caught, there'll be debriefed, and I think police will get more information and then share that information. So other cities know what's going on, and prepare for it because we're going into a heavy shopping season right now. And so this is really a problem.

ACOSTA: All right, you're absolutely right about that. Charles Ramsey, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

RAMSEY: Thank you, and happy Thanksgiving.

ACOSTA: And Happy Thanksgiving to you. And we're following other news tonight, a NASA spacecraft just embarked on a 10 month journey that just might save humanity, that's right, from a hypothetical killer asteroid at least that's the mission. CNN's Kristin Fisher has more on the groundbreaking mission.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three, two, one, and liftoff of the Falcon 9 and dark.

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

BILL NELSON, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: It may be the way to save planet Earth, if there's ever an inbound big asteroid that could really challenge our existence as a planet.

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

FISHER (voice-over): Even NASA Administrator Bill Nelson agrees it sounds like a scene out of the movie "Armageddon."

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

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

NELSON: If it's successful. Then if we had a real inbound killer asteroid, we could do that with it, and it would miss us.

FISHER (voice-over): It'll take the DART spacecraft 10 months to reach its target, the Didymos asteroid and it's moonlit, which is about the size of the Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It's so far away that NASA says it will not create a dangerous debris field in low Earth orbit. Like last week's test of a Russian anti-satellite weapon.

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


FISHER: Now, this asteroid is not a threat to Earth, nor is any other asteroid that we know of. Though it's likely only a matter of time but just in case NASA did invite Bruce Willis to this launch.

[17:55:06] Kristen Fisher, CNN, Washington.

ACOSTA: All right, and coming up next, we'll get back with the breaking news, guilty verdicts for all three defendants in the trial for the murder of jogger, Ahmaud Arbery.


ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news, the jury finds all three white men charged in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, guilty of murder. This hour, we'll go inside the tension filled courtroom and we'll unpack the verdicts and their implications.

Also lawyers the President Trump argued that the House broke have ended January 6th Capital insurrection could permanently damage the presidency. We'll look at what could happen, when a federal court weighs the claim next week.


And holiday travel, back to pre-pandemic levels. Tonight, COVID caution and celebration are all on the menu for America's second pandemic Thanksgiving. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.