Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
DOJ Reviewing Meadows Criminal Referral After House Vote; Dr. Fauci on Omicron Spread and Surging COVID Cases; Biden Tours Tornado Damage Beyond Belief; Derek Chauvin Pleads Guilty to Federal Civil Rights Charges in George Floyd's Death; Mayor-Elect Selects NYPD's First Female Police Commissioner. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired December 15, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Researchers discovered the existence of the barreleye in 1939 but sightings are extremely rare. This dive team said of the 27,000 hours it has spent under water, its divers have spotted the barreleye only nine times.
Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a criminal referral against Mark Meadows is underway at the U.S. Justice Department after the house voted to punish the former White House chief of staff for defying the January 6th investigation. This as the name of one of the GOP lawmakers who said bombshell text to Meadows was just revealed. I'll discuss it all with a member of the select committee, also with the veteran journalist, Bob Woodward.
Also tonight, U.S. health officials revealed new details on the rapid spread of the omicron variant as the CDC now forecasts a rise in COVID deaths in the coming weeks. Dr. Anthony Fauci is standing by live. He will discuss all of these disturbing developments. The pandemic is escalating right now here in the United States.
And President Biden just got a firsthand look at tornado destruction in Kentucky. He's calling it beyond belief and vowing to do whatever it takes to help communities rebuild.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We begin with the insurrection investigation. Key witness Mark Meadows now just one step away from potential prosecution for failing to comply, fully comply with the January 6th committee.
CNN Law Enforcement Correspondent Whitney Wild is working the story for us. Whitney, you have new information right now about who was behind one of the explosive text messages to Meadows revealed by the select committee. What are you learning?
WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning that it was Representative Jim Jordan who texted Mark Meadows this, that, as president of the Senate, the vice president, Mike Pence, should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all. It is a critical piece of information, Wolf, as the committee seeks to learn what Mark Meadows knows and what he did.
WILD (voice over): Tonight, Mark Meadows' fate now resting in the hands of the Justice Department after the House voted to hold the former White House chief of staff in contempt of Congress.
REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We don't take this step lightly. Mr. Meadows is in contempt, he must testify.
WILD: Republicans Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger who sit on the January 6th committee voted with Democrats to recommend the DOJ pursue criminal charges against Meadows. Today president Biden saying he hasn't spoken to anyone about the case. The DOJ is supposed to be independent, but weighing in.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: It seems to me he's worthy of being held in contempt.
WILD: Meadows case is a bit more complicated than the case brought against another Trump loyalist Steve Bannon last month. Meadows do hand over thousands of documents including some text messages read by committee member on the house floor, Tuesday.
REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): He, presumably being President Trump, quote, he thinks the legislatures have the power, but the V.P. has power too, end quote. The power to do what? We could guess the power to overturn the election results, the power to reject the will of the voters. And days later, a violent mob tried to get Vice President Pence to do just that.
WILD: But Meadows also used signal and encrypted messaging app so those messages remain secret and he refused to meet with the select committee claiming executive privilege in filing a lawsuit against them.
MARK MEADOWS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: There has never been an intent on my part. I've tried to share non-privileged information. But truly the executive privilege that Donald Trump is claimed it his to waive, it is not mine to waive.
WILD: The committee pressing on and continuing to interview witnesses, including rally organizer Jennifer Lawrence today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you likely see right here, he's got a treasure trove of documents in there.
WILD: Her fiance and fellow organizer, Dustin Stockton, met with the committee on Tuesday.
DUSTIN STOCKTON, ORGANIZER FOR PRO-TRUMP RALLY ON JANUARY 6TH: the wheeler (ph) really served this kind of a central hub of all these different organizing. There was just a whole host of -- I mean, all of the top right-wing personalities, advisers.
WILD: He told CNN he now feels betrayed by the former president.
STOCKTON: They weren't going to listen to anybody but Donald Trump specific. They were looking to hear instructions from the president and they weren't getting it so they continued to do what they were doing.
It feels like when you get conned, right, like when you finally realize and the shades pulled from your eyes, and you just look back at all of the different warning signs you should have picked up on.
WILD (on camera): Well, Stockton met with the committee for seven hours, he says, Wolf. And he added that he believes this is a thorough substantive investigation and not, as some people have tried to characterize it a political witch hunt.
BLITZER: All right. Whitney Wild reporting for us, thank you very much.
We're joined now by a member of the January 6th select committee, Representative Stephanie Murphy. She's also the chief deputy whip for House Democrats. Representative, thanks so much for joining us.
As you heard, CNN has now confirmed it was Republican Congressman Jim Jordan who messaged Mark Meadows the day before the January 6th attack with a plan to try to block the electoral count. These are your own colleagues. Why isn't the committee itself naming which lawmakers were texting Meadows? So far, you're keeping those names secret.
REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-FL): Well, at this point, the committee is not releasing certain information in order to protect the integrity of our investigation. This process is just too important to be rushed. And so we're taking every precaution to get the information that we need. And what I can assure you, though, is that when we do produce all of our findings we will do it so in a way that makes sense and will give the American people the best insight into what happened on January 6th and will be a full picture.
But we are in the midst of an investigation right now and so, you know, some of this information is coming out piecemeal, but we really want to make sure that the investigation is reliable, that people believe -- understand that we are acting in a way that is in the interest of this country and that is not partisan. So, we really are trying to do our best to protect the integrity.
BLITZER: The texts that have been released already are just, what, part of the explosive new details your committee has shared this week. Have you been surprised, Representative, at just how broad, how brazen this coup attempt actually was? A lot of folks believed what you have already released publicly and it is pretty damning, it is but the tip of the iceberg. MURPHY: You know, what is really disappointing to me, as somebody whose family -- my family and I escaped a communist country. And I understand the fine line that exists between democracy and autocracy. That in America, in the land of the free, in a democracy, that there was such a coordinated effort to try to overturn the will of the people.
We started this investigation looking at January 6th and understanding that a big lie was pressed. And that resulted in this violent attack on the Congress. But as we have uncovered details, it turns out that there was a far more malicious effort to find ways to corrupt our democracy to overturn the votes of the people, and that to me is so scary.
I've worked at the Department of Defense on countries that have fragile democracies and that -- this has been a chilling experience for me to see the details coming out, as they have.
BLITZER: It is a very, very disturbing development. And as I say, a lot of people believe it is only just beginning, the information that's being released. We shall see.
Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the vice chair of your select committee, cited a specific criminal statute asking, and I'm quoting her now, did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress's official proceeding to count electoral votes, close quote. So is a criminal referral against the former president, do you believe, on the table?
MURPHY: You know, we will go wherever we need to, to get the information that we need in order to understand what happened in the run-up to January 6th and what happened on January 6th, to make sure that no one feels like they're above the law and that we never have this happen again.
Can you imagine what happens to our democracy if people who are running for the highest office believe that they can, through force or through hook or crook, basically, change the outcome of the election? We cannot make that happen. So, we will follow the facts to whomever they lead.
BLITZER: Before I let you go, Congresswoman, I want to ask you about another very important issue. I know you've been fighting for Sergeant Alvin Cash, a Floridian from your district, who died after trying to save others in Iraq, he's about to receive a posthumously the Medal of Honor.
That will finally happen tomorrow. How meaningful is this moment to you?
MURPHY: You know, in a moment in time where I think the American people feel a lot of distress about our government, this story is an incredible story. And I'm so proud to be able to uplift what he did, his service to his country, and give him the Medal of Honor that he deserves.
He served in Iraq in 2005. His vehicle was struck by an IED. And while he was not injured, he was covered in gasoline and fuel. And despite that fact, he went in repeatedly under fire and on fire to rescue his fellow service members.
And that should be a reminder to us in this moment that people still believe in this country and are willing to sacrifice for public service. And I just think it is a great -- a great honor for him and I'm really glad to have been a part of this because it is important to us.
BLITZER: It certainly is and thank you for what you've been doing. Representative Stephanie Murphy, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, Dr. Anthony Fauci is standing by live. There you see him. He's going to join me in THE SITUATION ROOM. We have a lot to discuss, including new information just released by U.S. health officials on the threat posed by the omicron variant. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Top U.S. health officials are now urging Americans to be vigilant and to get their COVID vaccine boosters as we all brace for the omicron variant to become the dominant variant here in the United States at this critical moment, ahead of the holidays.
There is a lot to discuss with Dr. Fauci, the president's chief medical adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci, thank you so much for joining us.
With delta still surging here in the United States, flu cases on the rise and omicron taking hold, just how worried should Americans be right now about the next few months, what do we anticipate they will hold for us?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, for the unvaccinated, it is going to be a very difficult time, Wolf, because they're going to be very vulnerable. We are already in a delta surge. I mean, the cases are going up. We have an average of about 117,000 cases, we have an increase in the percentage of hospitalizations, deaths are still over a thousand. And then you have, looking over your shoulder, the omicron variant, which we know from what is going on in South Africa and in the U.K., is a highly transmissible virus. And that is the reason why we're encouraging people if they haven't been vaccinated, to get vaccinated.
But as importantly, for those who have been fully vaccinated, to get a booster. Because what we're learning about the omicron variant is that although it has the capability of really evading the immune response by monoclonal antibodies and vaccine-induced antibodies, when you get a boost, you really reconstitute back up that level of protection that is lost by the particular aspect of the omicron variant, which loses some of the protections. So, if you're vaccinated, that is great, but get boosted if you're eligible to be boosted. That's really important --
BLITZER: But even if you get boosted, Dr. Fauci, you're still potentially capable of getting the omicron virus because it is so highly transmissible. You might have a very mild case but you presumably could pass it on to an elderly person or to a young kid. It is still very, very dangerous.
FAUCI: Well, I mean, you have to take it very seriously, no doubt about that, Wolf. But one of the things that is important is, yes, there will be breakthrough infections, no doubt about that. I mean, we know that from the emerging experience we're getting from people in South Africa and particularly in the U.K. And we will be seeing that in this country.
The critical issue and the importance is that you might be protected from infection. But, clearly, protection against severe disease will be greatly enhanced by getting vaccinated and getting boosted. The vulnerable people are the people who have not been vaccinated, and I hope that the possibility that we're seeing, that we're going to be getting a surge of omicron, which is almost inevitable given its characteristic of high degree of transmissibility, we have the tools, Wolf, we have the tools to be able to blunt this. We just need to implement them.
BLITZER: If being boosted, Dr. Fauci, best protects people from omicron, this new variant, as the data clearly shows, why wait to change the definition of fully vaccinated to include a booster shot, why not make that change now?
FAUCI: Well, it is almost the semantic thing for the regulation, as it were, of what is a requirement for vaccination. You know, that's being discussed and implemented in legal proceedings about whether or not one can do that with regard to OSHA, and you know that story.
But putting that aside, Wolf, we know what optimal is. Optimal is getting a boost. So instead of worrying about what the definition of fully versus not fully is, I'm telling people if you want to be optimally protected and your vaccinated, get boosted, that is the message and not worry about a definition.
BLITZER: Well, should schools and businesses require boosters?
FAUCI: Well, right now, that is not part of the definition of fully vaccinated. We examine this on a regular basis. And as I've said before, everything is on the table of discussing whether you're going to change or not what the definition of fully vaccinated is. But, again, instead of worrying about that, just go do it, just go get boosted and not worry about a specific official definition.
BLITZER: Let me also get your advice, Dr. Fauci, about how to navigate the holidays, Christmas, New Year is coming up, how to navigate these holidays safely as we clearly face a growing threat from omicron and delta still a huge threat, as we all know? If you're boosted, is it safe, for example, to go to an indoor holiday party maskless with other vaccinated people?
FAUCI: Well, if you know that they're vaccinated -- I mean, I can give you an example of something that I've actually done myself. I went to a place where you had to prove that you were vaccinated, you had to show proof of vaccination and people actually went the extra step and tested people at the door. And you could do that with a test that you could do in ten minutes. So, one of the things that you can do is try to restrict your activities to situations where you know the vaccination status of people. And that is easy to do.
And people ask you, well, what about the family setting? If you're vaccinated, your family members are vaccinated, you should feel comfortable in the setting of the holiday season to have dinners and social events at home. People should not feel that, that is not safe. I mean, nothing is 100 percent, but when you talk about the relative risk, when you're dealing with vaccinated and particularly boosted people, you can feel comfortable enjoying the holiday.
BLITZER: And, finally, before I let you go, is it safe right now, given what we know to fly on planes if the planes are packed, for example, right now?
FAUCI: The answer is, again, if you are vaccinated, and particularly if you're boosted, you're going to have to wear a mark on the plane any way. That is a regulation. But be prudent and careful. When you go to the airport, particularly that is an indoor congregate setting, you don't know the vaccination status of people around you, then wear a mask. That is the CDC recommendation.
I believe if people follow the recommendations of the CDC, about indoor masking, take the advice of getting vaccinated and getting boosted, we should be fine for the holidays and we should enjoy it with our family and our friends.
BLITZER: Get vaccinated and certainly get boosted, good advice from Dr. Fauci. Thank you so much for joining us.
FAUCI: Good to be with you, Wolf. Thank you for having me.
BLITZER: And if I don't see you, have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year's with your family here in D.C.
FAUCI: Thank you, Wolf. You too.
BLITZER: Coming up, President Biden visits the tornado devastation in Kentucky where more than 100 people are still unaccounted for, this as we track a new round of severe storms barreling across the Midwest right now. Numerous tornado warnings are now in effect.
BLITZER: President Biden has just wrapped up a trip to Kentucky where he saw firsthand the devastation from the weekend tornado outbreak calling it, and I'm quoting him now, almost beyond belief.
CNN's Brian Todd is in Mayfield, Kentucky, for us tonight. Brian, the search for the victims, I understand, continues tonight?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. We have new information on casualties tonight and it is still very grim. 71 people in Kentucky confirmed dead. Now, that's revised slightly down from yesterday. But more than 120 people are still unaccounted for tonight. And this does come as President Biden just got an up close look at this annihilated town.
TODD (voice over): On the ground, President Biden gets a jarring firsthand look at the damage in Dawson Springs, Kentucky, meeting with victims in the aftermath.
BIDEN: The scope and scale of this destruction is almost beyond belief. When you look around here, it's just almost beyond belief. These tornados devoured everything in their path.
TODD: Promising help for a hard hit states.
BIDEN: And I intend to do whatever it takes as long as it takes, as long as it takes to support your state, your local leaders and as you recover and rebuild.
TODD: The state's governor grateful for the help.
GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): We've gone from looking for our dead to starting to haul away the death and destruction around us. And the steps to start rebuilding have already begun.
I hope the people of Kentucky know that I care deeply about them, and the president does too.
TODD: In Mayfield, Biden sees the destruction of a town the emergency director says, quote, doesn't exist. Downtown, residents of a ruined apartment building pick through the remains and worry for friends and neighbors that lost everything.
JIMMY HENLEY, RESIDENT OF DAMAGED APARTMENT BUILDING: I don't know where they're going. And -- I'm sorry. But I've known these people all my life and they're helpless. I don't know what to do for them.
WILMA TURNER, DAUGHTER OF DAMAGED APARTMENT BUILDING RESIDENT: Every time I look around here, I grew up here. And it's horrible.
TODD: Volunteers offering assistance for victims in places like the Mayfield Fairgrounds.
Barbara Anderson's sister lost her house.
BARBARA ANDERSON, SISTER DISPLACED BY TORNADO: I have seven people staying in my house. No power, no water, we were living in two rooms.
TODD: Mike Goode has run an excavation business in Mayfield for 40 years. His teams are scrambling to clear falling trees from Red Duck Creek, a key drainage ditch. Officials fear if the creek is not cleared soon, parts of the town will flood during rainstorms that are coming.
MIKE GOODE, MIKE GOODE EXCAVATING, MAYFIELD, KENTUCKY: The danger is everywhere. There are buildings that are not stable, of course, as I'm sure you've seen.
TODD: Survivors still returning to their neighborhoods vowing to rebuild.
GENTIAN EMINI, BOWLING GREEN RESIDENT: This right here it's just a lesson for us that, you know, we're not here to live forever.
TODD: On this street in Bowling Green, 11 people died, including five members of one family there Bosnia.
EMINI: They had a lot of kids. I remember them going outside playing and all that. And just seeing this right now, this is devastating.
TODD (on camera): And we have new information tonight from the National Weather Service on just the horrific scale of the tornado that came through here and in Dawson Springs. The National Weather Service saying that this tornado had a maximum width of a mile or more. Had peak winds of 190 miles an hour and was on the ground for 128 miles at least.
Meanwhile, this freakish end of the year tornado surge, which rarely happens, is continuing tonight. Tornado watches in six states covering 4 million people. And, Wolf, we've got reports of eight tornados touching down tonight just in Nebraska and Iowa so far.
BLITZER: Awful situation indeed. All right, Brian Todd reporting, Brian, excellent reporting, thank you very much.
And to our viewers, if you want to help tornado victims and I hope you do, go to cnn.com/impact to learn ways that you could impact your world.
Other news we're following right now, the president appears to be making, at least right now, little headway in winning support for his massive social and climate spending plan from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin whose vote could make or break the bill.
Our Senior White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is joining us from the White House. Phil, talks between the president and Senator Manchin apparently have reached, we are told, a standstill and with it a key part of the president's agenda. What are you hearing?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The president's $1.75 trillion economic and climate package is really the cornerstone of his domestic agenda but he needs all 50 Senate Democrats in order to advance it, and at this point he's missing at least one after multiple phone calls with Senator Joe Manchin, the key holdout senator from West Virginia, there is still no real progress toward a resolution.
Sources say, one of the key outstanding issues, the expanded child tax credit. Biden and Democrats want to extend for up to, or for an additional year. It is considered one of the biggest achievements of Biden's first year in office but Manchin has issued with structure and the cost of it, particularly its short-term nature.
And, Wolf, what this really means when you talk to sources here at the White House and on Capitol Hill, they say this is not going to kill the bill. The negotiations aren't ending by any means. But there was a Christmas deadline set by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. That is almost certain out the window right now as there is no clear pathway at this moment to the 50 votes necessary to move this bill forward. Right now, the cornerstone domestic issue for the president likely kicked to 2022, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Phil, all of this comes tonight as we have a new CNN poll just out today. What does it reveal about President Biden's presidency right now as he approached the end of the first year in office?
MATTINGLY: You know, Wolf, according to the poll, the president entered his second year in office with a 49 percent approval. That is actually a couple of points higher than the CNN's poll of polls, the average of the five polls in December, which has him at 45 percent.
But the real issue for the White House is when you look at numbers related to the economy. Inside that poll, 45 percent of those polled say the president's economic policies are actually making things worse. Only 30 percent say they're makings better.
And you get a better sense of how Americans are viewing inflation that has hit a 39-year high, issue after issue, after issue, Americans say, they are feeling the price increases, that's why you've seen the White House so focused on this, something they certainly will be focus on in the months ahead, Wolf.
BLITZER: They certainly will be. All right, Phil Mattingly, at the White House thank you very much.
Coming up, Mark Meadows could become the first former White House Chief of Staff since Watergate to face criminal charges. I'll ask the legendary journalist, Bob Woodward, about the case against Meadows -- there's Bob, he's here with me in THE SITUATION ROOM -- and how the January 6th investigation compares to the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon.
BLITZER: The former Trump White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, now facing potential criminal prosecution right now. We want to dig deeper into the case against him and his role in the lead up to the insurrection.
We're joined by the veteran journalist, Bob Woodward. He's the author of the bestselling book Peril. He's also Associate Editor at Washington Post. He's the co-author, I should say.
BOB WOODWARD, THE WASHINGTON POST ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Yes, Robert Costa.
BLITZER: I don't want to forget about Robert Costa.
WOODWARD: Yes. He did 60 percent of the work.
BLITZER: He's a good reporter and he's an excellent reporter as well.
WOODWARD: Indeed. Yes.
BLITZER: Let's talk about what is going on right now. We are already learning a lot from the select committee investigating the insurrection, but based on your own experience, going back to the '70s, when you and Carl Bernstein were breaking stories on Watergate, do you think we will really know -- will we ever really know what happened this time?
WOODWARD: Well, let's hope so. And I think the burden is on the media. I brought you a holiday present, a Haldeman's Diaries. he was Nixon's Chief of Staff. Now, these diaries were secret for 20 years. They are a remarkable document, equivalent to the Nixon tapes. And it didn't come out in after he died -- after had served jail time, after he died. And so I'm not suggesting that Mark Meadows wrote 700-page diary, but maybe somebody did.
And the technology during the Nixon period, the Nixon tapes, these 20- pound tape recorders were in a closet right beneath the Oval Office and hooked into five microphones in the resolute desk. And so the question is, who has some documents? As we know, you can make tape recordings, just with your cell phones. I mean, who was doing that in the Trump White House or was Trump doing it?
BLITZER: So, what you're saying potentially there is a lot of information out there that could really get us better educated on what exactly happened. That Mark Meadows, potentially, if the Justice Department decides to so, could face criminal charges, would be the first time since Bob Haldeman. He was the White House chief of staff and after Watergate, what, he went to jail for a year-and-a-half.
WOODWARD: Yes, he did. And so it's got to be pursued but it's got to be pursued in a comprehensive, systematic way, and that takes time.
BLITZER: What does it say about this moment in history?
WOODWARD: It says that this could be Watergate. It could be the sort of evidence, you know, some obscure White House aide going into a Trump meeting in the White House, just turning on his cell phone and having a recording. That is the smoking gun, exactly explaining what happened.
We don't have that yet. The January 6th committee is in pursuit and Robert Costa and I and hundreds of reporters are looking at this, rightly so, because the answer maybe is out there, somebody sitting in their den saying, watching you and saying, oh, I wish they knocked on my door.
BLITZER: You say the reporters are looking at it, but the select committee, they have potentially a lot more evidence than reporters do.
WOODWARD: Oh, they do have. I mean, they have done a marvelous job up to this point. But, you know, they might lose their case in the Supreme Court in terms of forcing people to testify. So, there is a lot of doubt surrounding this. But it is the old Ben Bradley rule, may I say, nose down, rear end up, moving slowly ahead. That is the only way to deal with this.
BLITZER: Republican Congressman Jim Jordan has now confirmed that he was sending these text messages to Mark Meadows the day before the insurrection. He's confirmed that the text that was released, unnamed text was his. How disturbing is it to see sitting members of Congress get involved at that stage in trying to overturn the presidential election?
WOODWARD: Well, I mean, this is the web and it is got to be connected. I was very struck by another one of those texts in which somebody unidentified in Congress said, let's go to signal. Well, of course, that is the encrypted voice system that national security agency, I've had people say get that. It is the way that no one will find out what you said or what you ever said.
So, you destroyed the record, and who is that, let's go to signal. There is this system, VPN, I don't know if you use it on your computer, but the NSA people say it really buries a lot of communication.
BLITZER: A lot of that communication has already released and a ton more, I'm told, is about to be released. We'll see what happens. Bob Woodward, excellent job, as usual. Thank you so much. Bob Woodward is the author of Peril, the co-author of Peril. Thank you very much.
WOODWARD: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis Police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, admits responsibility for Floyd's death as he pleads guilty to two federal civil rights violations.
And later, the Biden administration releases more than a thousand secret documents about the Kennedy assassination.
BLITZER: Former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin has now pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating George Floyd's civil rights. Chauvin was convicted back in April of murder in Floyd's death, sentenced to 22 years in prison.
CNN security correspondent Josh Campbell has more.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the first time since the murder of George Floyd last year, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin is admitting responsibility, pleading guilty Wednesday to federal civil rights charges that he violated Floyd's constitutional rights.
It's all part of a plea deal for the man convicted of killing Floyd last year by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. In addition to the more than two decades Chauvin was sentenced to by the state, prosecutors have asked for a concurrence sentence of 25 years on federal charges, adding fewer than three years to his overall prison time, far less than the life sentence he could have received.
In court, prosecutors asked Chauvin, as Mr. Floyd lay on the ground handcuffs and unresisting, you kept your knees on Mr. Floyd's neck and body even after Mr. Floyd became unresponsive, correct? Correct, Chauvin said. When asked if he agreed the offense resulted in Floyd's death, he gave the same one word response.
Afterwards, Floyd's brothers have mixed reactions.
RODNEY FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: I wish it would have happened when the first day we had the state trial.
I want to hear that at the very beginning. So, right now, it just -- it don't mean nothing. It don't hold weight.
PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S BROTHER: To me, this is big, because blue wall fell and it never falls. Cops usually are solid, but they are opening up and they all say that that was wrong.
CAMPBELL: Now, Wolf, those federal charges stemming from the death of George Floyd weren't the only crimes that Derek Chauvin admitted to in court today. He also pleaded guilty to assaulting a 14-year-old boy while on duty in 2017. That victim was in court today, at the end of this hearing, George Floyd's brother turned to that boy and said, it's a good day for justice -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Josh, thank you. Josh Campbell reporting.
Let's get some analysis, CNN legal analyst, Joey Jackson, is joining us. So, Joey, legally speak, what does it mean that Chauvin is now
admitting he's guilty of these charges?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, Wolf, good to be with you. It's quite significant. Remember, the distinction between the two. There is a place not only for a state prosecution, which we saw in the state he was convicted, of course, of three counts, as it related to the murder of George Floyd. And now, we get to the federal prosecution, which relates to the deprivation of a civil right.
And so, the distinction being that the federal government was very concerned, thereby indicting him for violating someone's civil right, that someone being George Floyd. Everyone has the right to walk around unimpeded, un-interfered with by members of law enforcement and when that interference relates to the deprivation of your liberty and it further relates to serious bodily injury or death, there is something to be said.
And so, in court, what you saw was him take ownership of that and accountability in terms of him violating the civil rights. And as Josh Campbell pointed out, it was not only as to George Floyd who, you know, is very much dead as a result of his actions but it was as to a 14-year-old juvenile.
And so, this is significant for many reasons, and it's not only symbolic, I want to point out. In addition, it adds significant time to his sentence.
BLITZER: Just two months ago, as you know, Chauvin had pleaded not guilty in the federal civil rights case. Why do you think he changed his plea today?
JACKSON: So, there's a couple of things. I think the first thing is that the evidence was overwhelming. We certainly saw that in the televised trial that I think so much of America followed with respect to his actions, with regard to, you know, just the brutal force that he used.
And so, when you are talking about a federal prosecution where you have to show the deprivation of liberty interest, I think there is really no way out of that. So, from a practical perspective, I think he would not have prevailed.
Another perspective is when you are facing a life sentence, I think that causes you to rethink fighting, as well. And let's just be clear on a couple of things. As it relates to his state sentence, he got 22 1/2 years. He will do about 15 years of that time or two-thirds.
Because of this federal sentence, yes, it's 300 months which is 25 years. But in federal court, you serve 85 percent of that time. So, you are talking about 21 years. That's much better than life, of course.
And so, I think he came to the conclusion that there was no way out, and as a result of that, accepted accountability. We saw that through the allocution which is him being asked specific questions as to what he did, and him making admissions as to all of his misconduct on that day.
BLITZER: All right. Good -- good explanation. Joey Jackson, as usual, thank you very much.
Just ahead, the Biden administration declassifies more than a thousand secret documents about the assassination of President Kennedy.
BLITZER: New York City and its police department are making history with the selection of a new commissioner.
CNN crime and justice correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is joining us right now.
So, tell us about this, Shimon.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Truly historic, Wolf. When you think about the NYPD's been around for over 176 years. It now has its first female leader. The Mayor-elect Eric Adams today introducing her. Her name is Keechant Sewell. She will be the first woman to run the department.
She is a 22-year veteran of the Nassau County, Long Island, Police Department. She knows New York well. She certainly has worked with law enforcement agencies all across the city and state.
But what makes this so interesting is that Eric Adams said that there are other candidates, perhaps, much more experienced people who are currently running police departments or have ran police departments, but he chose her because he wanted someone different. He wanted a visionary. Something different. Certainly, to make a statement and to bring in something fresh to run this police department.
Now, Wolf, she started on December 31st at midnight once the ball drops in Times Square, she will be sworn in as the next police commissioner -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Wish her only, only the best. And you look good over there in New York as well, Shimon. Thank you very much for that report.
PROKUPECZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: Also tonight, almost 1,500 previously classified documents on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy are available to the public. Historians and conspiracy theorists are looking for any new information, but researchers say the cache probably doesn't contain anything that would change the official finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot the president in Dallas back in 1963.
Even after the release, more than 10,000 documents, by the way, are still either partially redacted or classified. We will see when they are released, if they have any new information. We're watching that story as well.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can always tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
And THE SITUATION ROOM, by the way, is also available as a podcast. Look for us on CNN.com/audio or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.