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Coronovirus Fears Drives Stocks Down Almost 1,200 Points; HHS Whistleblower Claims Workers Cared For Wuhan Evacuees Without Proper Precautions. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 27, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM and we're following breaking news. Another very, very deep dive on Wall Street where stocks just closed down almost 1,200 points on growing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. Six days of losses have now wiped out more than $2 trillion in value. And there's deep concern the spread of the virus could lead to a recession here in the United States.

Also the Washington Post is now reporting that a whistleblower inside the Department of Health and Human Services alleges that US workers assisted American coronavirus evacuees without, repeat, without protective gear.

I'll speak to the reporter who broke the story in just a moment, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by. First, let's go to the White House.

Our White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond is working the story for us. Jeremy, we're getting new information, disturbing information about what's happening behind the scenes as the White House tries to handle the coronavirus outbreak.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, since returning from India yesterday, President Trump has been trying everything he can to try and show that he's on top of this coronavirus outbreak. And yesterday, that's why we saw him in the briefing room trying to reassure the public, but also trying to reassure the markets which is a key point here as he faces reelection this year.

Now the question of course is, how does this go forward? And today the President trying to reassure the markets, but again, another sell-off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND (voice-over): Tonight growing concern here in the US over the coronavirus outbreak. Fueled by rising fears of a pandemic, US markets suffering losses for the sixth day in a row.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: While the risk to the American public remains low, as the President said yesterday, we are ready. We are ready for anything. DIAMOND: Vice President Mike Pence on his first day in charge of the federal response looking to reassure the public and calm the markets announcing several additions to the coronavirus task force, treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Chief White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow and Ambassador Deborah Burke, the US Global AIDS Coordinator, an Obama appointee. But at the top, more confusion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you leading the task force?

PENCE: I'm leading the task force. We'll continue to rely on the secretary's role as chairman of the task force and the leader of Health and Human Services. But we've known each other for many years. We worked together very closely over the years. And the President has every confidence in the secretary as I do.

DIAMOND: That decision coming after Trump returned from India on Wednesday, and grew frustrated with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar amid spiraling markets and lawmakers drilling his cabinet officials.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Mike is going to be in- charge and Mike will report back to me. But he's got a certain talent for this.

DIAMOND: Now, several people close to Pence fear it could spell disaster, putting him in an impossible position as health experts warn the situation will inevitably get worse. Pence also has a controversial record combating an HIV outbreak as governor of Indiana in 2014.

PENCE: This is truly a crisis that is centered on a crisis of drug abuse.

DIAMOND: Pence initially opposed a CDC recommended needle exchange program which could have helped prevent the spread of the virus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she told Pence she didn't think he should be in-charge.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: Unfortunately, up until now, the Trump administration has mounted opaque and often chaotic response to this outbreak.

DIAMOND: This as a patient testing positive for coronavirus in Northern California is now the first US case believed to have been contracted from exposure within a US community.

TRUMP: No, I don't think it's inevitable. I don't think it's inevitable.

DIAMOND: President Trump contradicted the health officials tasked with fighting the illness at Wednesday's news conference.

TRUMP: No, I don't think it's inevitable. I think that there's a chance that it could get worse, there's a chance it could get fairly substantially worse. But nothing is inevitable.

DIAMOND: A stark contrast to officials who warn the situation will inevitably get worse.

ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: The degree of risk has the potential to change quickly, and we can expect to see more cases in the United States.

ANNE SCHUCHAT, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CDC: We do expect more cases. And this is a good time to prepare.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DIAMOND: And, Wolf, the vice president is now, not just in-charge of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus, sources are also telling us that the vice president is in-charge of all messaging efforts around this effort as well.

[17:05:06]

That means that any statements or any TV appearances from administration officials need to first go through the Vice President's Office before they can go forward. Of course, this comes after there's been a lot of mixed messaging from Trump administration officials in recent days. But one thing that it's not going to solve is the President. Just as he did yesterday, contradicting his own officials. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Jeremy, thank you. Jeremy Diamond over at the White House. Let's get to more breaking news.

The Washington Post report about a whistleblower complaint alleging that US workers weren't adequately trained or equipped for those flights that evacuated Americans from coronavirus hot zones.

Yasmeen Abutaleb is joining us. She write for the Washington Post. Yasmeen, thank you for joining us.

And you and your colleagues, you've obtained a copy of this whistleblower complaint. Tell our viewers what did this official, a high ranking official with lots of experience see that was so troubling?

YASMEEN ABUTALEB, THE WASHINGTON POST: So, this official is within the administration for children and families, which is a unit within HHS. And she was distraught because several people, more than a dozen workers were sent to receive the first American passengers who were repatriated from Wuhan, China, at the center of the coronavirus outbreak. And they weren't given proper training or the protective equipment that they felt they needed.

And her concern was that, these workers were exposed to coronavirus without proper equipment, and then they weren't tested or quarantined after that. And many of them flew back home to their regular jobs on commercial flights.

BLITZER: That's so disturbing. And what's even more disturbing is that it looks like this whistleblower, correct me if I'm wrong, is now facing some sort of retaliation by the Trump administration? ABUTALEB: So, she was given an involuntary reassignment, which is what her complaint alleges. She was told that if she did not accept the reassignment within 15 days, which would take us to next Thursday because she was told this on February 19th, that she would be terminated. And that's what she stated in her complaint.

BLITZER: And she's been working in the Department of Health and Human Services for a long time.

ABUTALEB: Yes, she's been there for decades.

BLITZER: And she's received also several awards, you reported.

ABUTALEB: Yes. Her lawyer said she received some awards from Health and Human Services Alex Azar and got good performance evaluations. I think it's important to note that one person who was familiar with the situation said that the workers were not sort of considered at high risk of contracting the virus because they didn't quite meet the criteria for who would be tested, and that none of them showed symptoms. If they did that they would have been tested.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk about these federal workers. They went on these flights. They went there, that they traveled back to other parts of the country after their possible exposure to the virus. What are you hearing about them? They must be concerned.

ABUTALEB: Well, we know that from people who are familiar with this that there is some concern among people within the agency that these workers weren't quarantined and were sort of sent back out, you know, flew back home and weren't tested. And so, there is concern that they could have been exposed and not sort of properly treated afterwards.

BLITZER: What concerns, Yasmeen, does this raise about the government's protocols as they handle this clearly growing, very evolving threat.

ABUTALEB: Well, you know, as you said, this is sort of evolving and everyone is figuring it out as we go along. But I think it's sort of raises the concern about who gets tested and how quickly you're able to identify cases who could potentially be carrying the virus, but not yet showing symptoms.

So I think that -- we've reported earlier in the week, my colleagues reported that there were concerns that not enough people in the US were being tested, even outside of the situation. So I think that just sort of underscores some of the concerns that already existed.

BLITZER: All right, Yasmeen, thank you very much. Yasmeen Abutaleb writes for the Washington Post. Excellent, excellent reporting you and your colleagues, Yasmeen. Thank you so much.

ABUTALEB: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Let's get more on the growing financial fallout from the coronavirus outbreak. Our business editor at large Richard Quest is joining us. Richard, this was a huge hit for the markets not only today, but over the last several days.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN EDITOR AT LARGE: More than 3,000 points over the course of the week, 4.5% just alone today. And look at the way the selling accelerated during the afternoon in the last hour or trade. That is the largest points fall in history, by the way, 1,190.

And, Wolf, what you have here are concerns, fears, worries and deep uncertainties about what's likely to happen next. That's the core of why the market is falling. And the accelerants and flames that go on top of that are things like Microsoft, which announced that it can no longer rely on its guidance to the market of last week. Microsoft was down 7% so far today.

[17:10:07]

If you look at companies in Northern California, where this community spread may have taken place, the mere thought that large part of the California economy may be shut down or people couldn't go to work. You have fear, you have lack of information, but we're getting drip, drip, drip, Wolf, that's telling us that no sector of the economy, no company is likely to be unaffected if this gets much worse.

BLITZER: And as you point out, the 1,190 point drop today, the largest point drop in the 124 year history of the New York Stock Exchange.

I just did the math. Over the past week, Richard, the Dow Jones has dropped 3,581 points since last Thursday alone. Here's the question to you. Could the US economy now go into recession if the coronavirus spreads here in the United States?

QUEST: Right. The qualifications to that, Wolf, is the last bit of your question, if it spreads in the United States. At the moment, there's no reputable economist that is forecasting a global recession or a US recession if the status quo maintained, i.e. as (inaudible) periodic expansions of this with just a few more cases.

However, if there was a full scale outbreak and you start looking at large parts of the US economy being shutted down, no question about it. A recession would be on the cards.

And in fact, one other point, this is the largest, this is the biggest week of turmoil since 2008. When you remember the market turmoil then, it got so bad that the recession almost becomes inevitable. We're a long way from that. There's a lot more (inaudible) to come if it was -- if it does get worse. But at the moment, I would say the market is flashing amber with a hint of red and getting ready for something worse.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, we'll watch it together with you, Richard Quest. Thank you very, very much. Let's get some more on all of this.

Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas is joining us. He is a member of the Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. WILL HURD (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Always a pleasure to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So let's discuss all this disturbing developments. First, let me get your reaction to the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's criticism of the president's response to the coronavirus. The speaker says the president, in her words, "has mounted an opaque and often chaotic response to this outbreak." Based on what you've seen so far, do you agree with it?

HURD: I'm getting disappointed that people are playing politics with public health. You know, I'm from San Antonio, Lackland Air Force Base has hosted people that were quarantined by this. A medical facility in San Antonio is housing, some of the people that repatriated back to the United States that has coronavirus. Every question I've had of HHS, Health and Human Services, of CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Department of Defense has been answered. There's been a number of -- there's almost every other day, weekly telephone calls with the staff and relevant folks within the government that is dealing with the coronavirus outreach. And there's been a number of briefings here in the House from the senior leaders of our government to talk about this COVID-19 outbreak.

So, look, people are concerned. Constituents are concerned. People are rightfully nervous. And yes, this is a global problem. The potential threat to the United States by COVID-19 is high, but for individual folks, that are not associated in the healthcare sector dealing with these folks, the risk to them is still low, and we will likely see additional cases.

But for me, I want to be hearing from epidemiologists. I want to be hearing from CDC professionals. And these are the folks that I'm already hearing from. And so for me, I think this -- the information has been forthcoming. But this is moving so fast, all right?

The criticism we can talk about is how opaque the Chinese government was in the very beginning and still are to some extent. Their inability or their unwillingness to allow some of the best experts in the world on these kind of viruses come to China to understand ground zero when this was happening, to share what called sequences so that we can get vaccine done.

And the fact that we have a test for COVID-19 pretty much 2.5 months after we first learned about this unique virus is, you've never seen that happen in that short period of time in recent history. So these are -- there's a lot of information and it's important that we continue to talk about and I'm glad you're shining a light on these things.

[17:15:00]

BLITZER: Well, we certainly are. And I want to get to that. But we have now, CNN, confirmed this Washington Post report that US officials who went and received these Americans who were evacuees from Wuhan in China.

They went there without the necessary protective gear. They went there without the necessary training. You've seen -- you've heard our -- the Washington Post report, which we have now confirmed. How disturbing is this to you?

HURD: Well, let's -- I want to hear from these individuals. Anybody who is dealing with the response specifically of individuals that may have COVID-19 or suspected to have it, they should, of course, be given all the proper personnel protective equipment that they need in order to handle this.

I do know when some of these people are being evacuated. These individuals that were in Wuhan, they had been tested about three or four times prior to landing in the United States for the virus. So it's hard to say if there's, you know, now without having any information other than a Washington Post article.

But if someone saw something that shouldn't have happened, you don't need to be a whistleblower to provide that information. You should be suggesting it to your superiors and suggesting that, you know, the proper protocols that should be happening on the ground.

I have been to one of these facilities. I didn't go into the area that was actually quarantined, but I inspected the perimeter. I saw the tactics techniques and procedures that were being used for people going in and out of places that are quarantined on military bases. And I saw a level of professionalism.

The person that's running this in San Antonio dealt with Ebola, dealt with SARS and MERS. And you have to remember, this is not the first time we're dealing with something like this. You can go back to 2005 with the swine flu, H1N1. From there, from that pandemic, we create a national pandemic plans on how to deal with this in the future.

BLITZER: Clearly, congressman, there's an enormous concern right now. Just look at the markets right now, look at the fear that people have, and look at what people are doing in terms of buying protective gear and other things. We're going to stay obviously together with you on top of this story. Congressman Will Hurd, thank you so much for joining us.

HURD: Always a pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Up next, has the United States turn the corner with the coronavirus spreading throughout the community? We have new information. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:50]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. CNN has just confirmed a whistleblower for the Department of Health and Human Services reported workers who assisted coronavirus evacuees from Wuhan, China did not have proper training or productive gear. Let's discuss this and more with our medical is and political experts.

Eric Feigl-Ding, you're an epidemiologist in the Harvard School of Public Health. What do you think of this report? We confirmed the Washington Post report. ERIC FEIGL-DING, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, it's very troublesome because we know this virus is just so infectious. You know, if you go back to the cruise ship, a Japanese quarantine officer fully geared, went on the ship, came back off the ship, he was diagnosed with this virus. And he was fully protected. To health workers go on to that plane with known cases and have no protection is just gross misconduct and irresponsible

BLITZER: But tell us also about this very disturbing development in California, where CDC officials now say they have confirmed the first known what's called community spread of the coronavirus here in the United States.

FEIGL-DING: Yes, it's very troublesome, because this is the first case in the United States in which this person had no travel to China nor have any contact with people in China. It is an unknown origin and we believe it's the first canary in the coal mine, sign it, it's spreading in the communities.

But the problem is, we have almost no testing. We've only have less than 500 tests in the whole country. South Korea has 40,000. And that's why we're kind of driving in the dark with no headlights, without any sufficient testing.

BLITZER: It's so disturbing when we hear these developments, Gloria, especially now this whistleblower complaint, a formal complaint by a respected highly regarded official of the Department of Health and Human Services who is saying that the US sent these people in there without protective gear.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think it's a real problem. And I think what the American public wants to hear from the government right now. And by the way, in this kind of a crisis, the American public generally believes what the government is telling you. They want to believe you.

What they want to hear from is the scientist. They need to hear from the scientists like Tony Fauci, who according to the New York Times, may be kind of muzzled by the administration. He can't speak unless he's allowed to, and he is someone who's spoken on infectious disease for decades and decades.

BLITZER: A regular guest on our program.

BORGER: Right. They don't want to hear from the politicians right now. They want to hear from the scientists to know what is being done, what needs to be done, what we're missing, such as the testing, for example, and what they can do to protect themselves instead of getting platitudes, which the President delivered yesterday, which was everything is great. We don't think it's going to spread here but if it does, we're ready.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, at least, you know, to give the President some credit, I think what he was trying to project is that, America's health and scientific community is prepared that we have a lot of means. I think that is good information. People do want and need to know that.

But I agree with you, what we need is information. As a citizen, I want the government to be working at the federal level in a united way, because only the government has the scale and the ability, that you were saying, to quarantine and to get this testing up and going. That's what's so important.

[17:25:09]

I just -- I cannot urge the political class enough to step back from accusations of weaponizing information and trying to make the President look bad. Everybody has got to be rooting for our government to be organized and to be transparent, and to clear the way to make sure what the health and scientific community needs it gets, and at the same time that we communicate really effectively with people and my own family.

I mean, my kids are asking me what do I need to know about this. You know, a lot of misinformation in the age of social media. Boy, the fear can --

BLITZER: And what do you think about this effort now to control the messaging, and prevent people like Dr. Anthony Fauci who is in charge of infectious diseases at NIH, from going out?

GREGORY: I think it's a really bad idea. I think that, look, Tony Fauci is somebody we both have known, all of us have known for decades, leading combatant in health community even the HIV virus and AIDS. So he's an expert. And when he speaks, people not only listen, but they are reassured. You want him to do that.

I don't like the idea that the administration would try to shut those people down. I think it's a good thing, frankly, that the vice president is tasked with this effort because he's got proximity to power to the President and the organizational abilities. But let's make sure we lead with our health and scientific community.

FEIGL-DING: Yes. CDC and NIH should be able to stand on its own. They are scientific bodies, public health scientist, people who know how to contain and control this epidemic. They need to have an independent voice ...

BLITZER: You heard the President say yesterday, last night that he doesn't regret cutting the funding for the CDC and NIH.

FEIGL-DING: Yes, that's very unfortunate. And right now, we need more than just the $2.5 billion requisition. We need probably 10x that. Because, you know, the number of scale of testing that we need to do to fully capture and stop this virus is on an order of magnitude this country has not seen before.

BORGER: And this is where the funding cut hurts, because if you had had the funding, one could argue that you might have had more of those testing kits. That you might have been more prepared for something like this. Now, I'm not saying that we can't get prepared. Our public health community is amazing as you know. And they're -- but they can only work so hard and do so much in a limited period of time. And don't forget the President was saying initially that this is a seasonal issue and that it would all go away by the spring. I hope he's right. But the public health officials are saying not so much, we just don't know.

BLITZER: And, by the way, the CDC just put out a statement saying because of this one case out in California, of what's called this community spread of the virus, they are now changing the criteria for testing, which is going to be a whole big ...

BORGER: We have to get the kits in the hospitals.

BLITZER: Yes. Everybody standby for a moment, we're going continue all the developments we're watching, all the developments in the race as well for the Democratic presidential nomination. Joe Biden is focusing on the must-win state of South Carolina where voters go to the polls in just two days. Will they revive his campaign?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:33:14]

BLITZER: With the South Carolina primary now just two days away, Joe Biden is laser focusing in on the state while many of his rivals are actually looking ahead to this Super Tuesday contest next week. Let's get some insight from our political experts, David Axelrod. You're one of our political experts. What are you looking for, first of all in South Carolina, but also on Super Tuesday?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, look, Joe Biden needs his firewall to hold because Iowa and New Hampshire did not and he did very poorly in both those states. He rehabilitated himself somewhat in Nevada with a second place but he has to win in South Carolina State that he's always suggested he would has a large African-American population as much as 60 percent of the vote could be African-American. Maybe a little less that.

I'm going to be looking for whether he can get 40, at least 40 plus percent of that vote and do well enough among white voters 20 plus. If he does those two things, he ought to have a good wind in South Carolina and he needs too, Wolf, to have some propulsion into Super Tuesday. Right now his campaign is broke. They've got half a million dollars on television in the 14 Super Tuesday states.

Mike Bloomberg has, I think, run $171 million just to give you a point of comparison, and he needs the momentum from Saturday to Tuesday. If he gets that, he could still be in this race and still be nipping at Bernie Sanders heels here. If he doesn't, he may have to reconsider his race.

BLITZER: He's going to be in trouble if he does it then. And I think David Axelrod makes an important point, Chris Cillizza, that it's not just enough for Biden to win in South Carolina -- CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Right.

BLITZER: -- the margin of victory could be critical.

CILLIZZA: Yes, I think that's the central point. Look, Biden has to win. If he loses, he's out.

[17:35:04]

But I think at this point given what David I think really importantly identifies, Joe Biden's fundraising has been somewhere between not good and really bad throughout the campaign. It's really hard to raise money when you come in fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, and you're the ostensible frontrunner going into those things. He needs to win this, I think by double digits, because all he has is momentum from South -- presumably from South Carolina to Super Tuesday.

He's just not going to have TV. He has his name, people know his name. And if it looks like he might be a winner, his name might be enough to get him second in that delegate count behind Bernie Sanders after Super Tuesday. If not, people don't like to vote for someone they don't think has a chance, even if they like him.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And it would be really healthy, I think for the Democratic Party at this juncture, especially when Elizabeth Warren says, look, it's the progressive ideas that are really popular with Democratic voters to be able to say, hey, we ought to have two, we ought to have someone in this moderate lane and someone in the progressive lane and they ought to really be able to fight it out. But I was just in California the last couple of days and, you know, you go to the first commercial break of it, I need to be, and it's a Mike Bloomberg commercial.

CILLIZZA: Unbelievable.

GREGORY: So it's going to be tough unless he's got the money to compete with someone who's got unlimited money. And the real danger for Biden as he can do well, and he could still be splintering that vote with Mike Bloomberg against the progressive one.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And I was talking to somebody who's very close to the Biden campaign, who said to me, look what we're going to look for in Super Tuesday, assuming they survive over the weekend, what we're going to look for is the difference between what how we do and how Bloomberg does. Now, we don't expect maybe they can win a couple of contests, but when you look at the overall delegate count, if they're sort of in Bloomberg range, and I don't know what that means -- I pressed on that but I didn't get an answer -- if they're within Bloomberg range, then they think they can live to compete another day.

So they're looking at Super Tuesday sort of as a whole. And just as, you know, how many delegates they can rack up and see if it's realistic to compete with Bloomberg. And --

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Hold on, David.

CILLIZZA: Just very quickly to Gloria's point. I think one thing that you have to think about David mentioned -- David Gregory mentioned, Bloomberg's money and how it's so pervasive. We overlook Bernie's money. Now it's not -- he's not where $62 billion, but Bernie Sanders basically goes -- and $10 million comes pouring out from his small dollar grassroots base. And so you are now dealing with two people who have effectively close to unlimited ability to raise money. Bernie Sanders raised $250 million in 2016, in a campaign no one thought he could win.

So, can you, if you're Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, can you compete because that can be over after --

BLITZER: That's an important point. Go ahead, Dave.

AXELROD: Let me say, if Joe Biden has a great night on Saturday night, Mike Bloomberg will have had a very bad night. His whole theory was based on Biden collapsing in his first four contests so that he could coalesce that center left lane. If Biden is resurgent for coming out of South Carolina, it could make the Bloomberg campaign very, very speculative.

GREGORY: But my question Ax (ph), I mean, maybe you can address this is, you know, if you're Bloomberg, you obviously have the ability to go the distance. And all of them even kind of living hand to mouth could try to push this to the convention, what prevailing wisdom causes someone to say no, we've got to narrow this down for the good of the party to at least find out the progressive wing and the moderate wing.

BORGER: Remember, he said he wasn't going to get in if buying -- it was -- and he obviously thought Biden was a loser. If Biden looks like a winner --

GREGORY: Yes.

BORGER: -- maybe that would be something he would consider.

AXELROD: I think he's going to come under enormous pressure. If Biden looks like he can be competitive to reconsider what he's doing, because that was the predicate of his campaign was -- there needed to be an alternative to Bernie Sanders.

GREGORY: Right.

AXELROD: If he doesn't appear to be the alternative, then what is his purpose in this race?

GREGORY: But do you think he waits at least? I mean, isn't his gambit to see how he does on Super Tuesday?

BORGER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK) CILLIZZA: He can't. If you're Mike Bloomberg, you've got two days to wait --

GREGORY: Right.

CILLIZZA: -- in South Carolina and Super Tuesday.

BLITZER: I think all of them are going to wait until Super Tuesday.

GREGORY: Yes.

CILLIZZA: I mean, honestly, if you are anyone not named Bernie Sanders, the news from Elizabeth Warren last night that she plans to go all the way through this thing, which, you know, plans change. But that's the greatest news that you've heard because what you need is some way to keep Bernie's delegate can't. The more that Bernie can totally consolidate liberals and win up delegates 30 plus percent, the worst shape you're in because let's say you need 1991 delegates win. If Bernie's at 1,800, it's going to be hard to keep it from him. So they want Elizabeth Warren in.

BORGER: But the stories will come --

CILLIZZA: Yes, they try.

BORGER: -- above what candidates we can draft. The Democrats will start talking about that.

CILLIZZA: Michelle Obama's phone starts ringing.

[17:40:00]

BLITZER: All right, everybody, standby. We got more news. We're following the Vice President Mike Pence's appointment as the head of the coronavirus task force is raising some questions right now about how he handle an HIV outbreak in Indiana when he was governor. CNN's Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, there's some criticism of the Vice President's record on that health crisis and others.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. We've been digging on Mike Pence's handling of that crisis. And we interviewed a medical expert who investigated Pence's response to that HIV outbreak. He's among several medical professionals who are shuttering tonight over Pence's appointment to that job.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Mike Pence today exuding confidence as the newly appointed head of the White House's coronavirus response team.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're ready for anything.

TODD (voice-over): And President Trump touts his second in command as being uniquely qualified for the job.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's really very expert at the field.

TODD (voice-over): But the Vice President's appointment doesn't inspire confidence among those who've investigated his management of medical crises.

GREGG GONSALVES, INVESTIGATED PENCE'S HANDLING OF HIV OUTBREAK IN INDIANA: Vice President Pence doesn't have a great track record when it comes to public health in his own state.

TODD (voice-over): Epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves led a Yale University study of how Pence managed a 2015 outbreak of HIV in Indiana when he was governor. The HIV virus had spread quickly in rural areas of Indiana among people who were reusing needles to inject opioids. Medical experts and law enforcement officials pleaded for Pence to immediately start a program of needle exchanges, arguing that if people used new sterile needles, the state could head off the outbreak.

But Gonsalves says Pence waited at least two months to even declare a public health emergency.

GONSALVES: With a pattern of delay of equivocation on what to do.

TODD (voice-over): Pence told The Indianapolis Star, "I don't believe effective anti-drug policy involves handing out drug paraphernalia". The pressure mounted. Pence prayed on it, according to The New York Times, then reluctantly agreed to the needle exchange program. It worked. The number of HIV infections decreased. But Gonsalves says the damage had been done.

GONSALVES: Over 200 people became needlessly infected with HIV. The needle exchange came too little too late.

TODD (voice-over): But Indiana's HIV outbreak isn't the only instance where Pence's judgment on medical issues comes into question. In 2000, he wrote in an op-ed, "Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill".

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CO-AUTHOR, "THE SHADOW PRESIDENT": He can be captured by his own interests or by political interests, or as was the case with him by the money that came from individuals and corporations that don't want us to know that certain products kill.

TODD (voice-over): Michael D'Antonio, co-author of a book on Pence says Pence's motivation to write that op-ed could have been connected to his family's one time ownership stake in a chain of convenience stores called Tobacco Road, which sold cigarettes.

D'ANTONIO: When it comes to the coronavirus, we're going to have to watch him carefully to see if, for some reason, be it political or economic, he's going to go short on science and long on science denial.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: We contacted Mike Pence's office to respond to the criticism of how he handled the HIV crisis in Indiana. They referred us to the office of Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who said he worked closely with Pence in Indiana during that crisis. Adams sent CNN a statement saying, their efforts became a model for how other states responded to similar crises. And another former top Indiana health official, referred to us by the White House, called Pence's efforts in that crisis heroic, and he credited him with getting laws quickly changed to allow that needle exchange program. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you very much.

Coming up, our authorities doing enough to solve the mysterious disappearances of more than two dozen Native American women and girls.

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[17:48:35]

BLITZER: We're following urgent demands for action from families that say authorities in Montana aren't doing enough to solve the mysterious disappearances of more than two dozen Native American women and girls. Our National Correspondent Sara Sidner has been looking into this for us. Tell us more Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, Native American families say their women and girls are going missing and turning up dead far more often than anyone has cared to notice. Until now, we visited Montana where the issue is particularly acute.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (voice-over): Paula Castro stops just found the exact spot where her daughter's body was discovered on this Cheyenne Reservation.

PAULA CASTRO STOPS, MOTHER OF HENNY SCOTT: And I remember seeing that in a picture.

SIDNER (voice-over): All the sorrow and questions flood her mind. Why did her daughter walk away from a remote house party in the dead of winter wearing no jacket? Why did it take so long to find her body which was discovered just a couple 100 meters from that same home?

(on camera): You do not believe this was sheer accident?

STOPS: No, I don't.

SIDNER (voice-over): When she reported her daughter missing, there was no amber alert and no immediate official search. In the end, it was community members, not reservation police or FBI who found Henny Scott weeks later. The medical examiner determined she had died of exposure aided by alcohol found in her body.

[17:50:03]

STOPS: She was only 14, because she was that young and they didn't make it a priority. SIDNER (voice-over): Eight months later, another teenager from the same reservation disappeared. 18-year old Kaysera Stops Pretty Places went missing in August 2019. Her family says the Big Horn County Sheriff's Office made things worse, not better.

(on camera): How hard was it to get them to act?

YOLANDA FRASER, GRANDMOTHER OF KAYSERA STOPS PRETTY PLACES: They really didn't act on it. They said she's probably just out with her friends.

SIDNER (voice-over): Kaysera had gone missing more than a half dozen times before trying to cope with a broken family and a difficult life on the reservation. As her grandmother and legal guardian Yolanda Fraser wants answers.

(on camera): What disturbs you about the investigation into Kaysera's case?

FRASER: Pretty lack of investigation.

SIDNER (voice-over): The sheriff's office did not return multiple e- mails and calls for comment. Unbeknownst to the family, her body was found just days later. Still six months on, Kaysera's cause of death is listed as undetermined but suspicious. Kaysera was one of 28 indigenous women or girls to go missing or be murdered in Big Horn County in recent years.

ANNITA LUCCHESI, RESEARCHER: Montana has the highest number of MMAW cases by state nationally based on our data.

SIDNER: Researcher Annita Lucchesi says the best numbers she has show a terrible trend. The government doesn't even have a proper count of all of their cases.

LUCCHESI: There's a lot of coverage of this issue that describes it as a mystery. Like we don't know what's happening. We don't know what's going on. As if native women are kind of like a rabbit in a magic act like we just mysteriously disappear. And that's not real.

SIDNER (voice-over): Native Americans make up 6.7 percent of Montana's population. But according to state data, between 2016 and 2018, they accounted for more than a quarter of the missing person reports. Montana's U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme was the only government official involved in some of these cases who spoke with us on the record.

KURT ALME, MONTANA U.S. ATTORNEY: There is a serious problem with missing Native Americans, particularly Native American women.

SIDNER (voice-over): Now the families working together with activists may be having an impact. Three task forces are now being set up, a county state and the latest, a federal task force ordered by President Trump.

ALME: I think one of the real positive things being done by the White House Task Force is going to be try to provide some standardization like the rapid deployment teams that can be brought anywhere, quickly.

SIDNER (voice-over): Six months after Kaysera Stops Pretty Places was found dead, a 16-year old Native American girl was reported missing. A van she was riding and left her behind after breaking down.

(on camera): Authority say Selena Not Afraid was last seen alive here at this rest stop on January 1st. It took nearly three weeks to find her body which was three quarters of a mile to a mile away from here. And in a place like this, authority say one of their biggest issues in trying to find missing indigenous people is the sheer vastness of the place and the limited manpower.

(voice-over): But in Selena's case, the initial response was totally different.

CHERYL HORN, AUNT OF SELENA NOT AFRAID: VLM flew their big high powered drone over here. We had a helicopter fly over. We had people walk in. This is all day one.

SIDNER (voice-over): The corner determined Selena died of hypothermia and sheriff's officials intimated the case was over. But then the county attorney sent out a scathing rebuke, saying the investigation was open and active. Selena's family found themselves, like the others, mired in confusion created by officials.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Justice!

SIDNER (voice-over): In all these cases, the families have taken to the streets to express their frustration with local authorities. Horn says she's hoping President Trump's task force will finally simplify all that.

HORN: I would say you're on the right track, sir. You're on the right track.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Selena's family happy about what President Trump has done. And those task forces we mentioned are only in place though for a limited time, and the families wonder if enough can be accomplished to save their girls before they are found dead. Wolf?

BLITZER: So sad Sara. I'm so glad you did that report for us. Appreciate it very much. Sara Sidner reporting.

There's breaking news just ahead. Stocks tumble again as more economists say the coronavirus outbreak could trigger a recession right here in the United States. And a very disturbing new whistleblower complaint tonight alleges that U.S. workers helped American coronavirus evacuees without protective gear.

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[17:59:58]

BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.