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THE SITUATION ROOM
Coronavirus Sends Stocks Plunging to Worst Week Since 2018; Federal Appeals Court Delivers Two Major Blows to President Trump's Immigration Agenda; White House Official: Tax Cuts, Other Measures on the Table to Respond to Coronavirus; Trump To Nominate GOP Rep. Ratcliffe For Intel Director; Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) Is Interviewed About The Nomination of Rep. John Ratcliffe for Intel Director; CDC Wants State & Local Health Departments Testing For Coronavirus By End Of Next Week; New Evidence Columbia Was Warned Decades Ago About Doctor Accused of Assaulting Evelyn Yang and 77 Others. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired February 28, 2020 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
We're tracking the coronavirus outbreak on multiple fronts right now. Financial markets are rattled once again today as the enormous scope of the crisis comes into focus. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped again more than 350 points today ending an awful week of historic losses on Wall Street, the worst since 2008.
Another breaking story, a federal appeals court has handed a major victory to former White House Counsel Don McGahn ruling he does not have to testify before Congress.
We will talk about all of today's breaking news with Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And our correspondents and analysts will have full coverage of today's top stories.
First, let's go to CNN's Brian Todd for today's late coronavirus developments. Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are new concerns tonight about further spread of this virus in the United States, concerns that continue to be reflected in the stock market. Top American health officials are now saying, not nearly enough people in the U.S. have been tested for coronavirus.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, an uptick in confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. and around the world, concerns over the virus' spread triggering another massive sell-off in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and in stock markets worldwide.
The Centers for Disease Control says tonight that it wants every state and local health department in the U.S. to test for coronavirus by the end of next week. Tests have been delayed officials say some test kits sent out were flawed. As a top CDC official says, quote, "This has not gone as smoothly as we would have liked."
Top health officials continue to warn of a pandemic, and their assessment tonight seems to indicate it is very close.
TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high at global level.
TODD: But what does that mean considering that the virus has already infected more than 80,000 people in more than 50 countries outside China?
ERIC FEIGL-DING, PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERT, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: I think that what they are looking for is how many sustained transmissions within each country, community transmissions are there.
TODD: More than 60 cases are confirmed tonight in the United States, including one mystery case. A patient in California listed in serious condition and intubated has no relevant travel history, health official say, was not one of the evacuees from Asia. And as far as officials know, was not exposed to another known patient. They simply can't trace where she got it. And they say that this could be the first instance of so-called community spread in the U.S.
FEIGL-DING: This is what is so dangerous about community transmission. Because once it is in the community, it is unchecked and it could be almost everywhere.
TODD: Fears of coronavirus in America are triggering a run on hand sanitizer, face masks, cleaning supplies according to major retailer. Chains like CVS and Walgreens are racing to keep up.
My biggest fear is that Americans -- and really not just Americans but this is something that you -- I'd expect to see among people across the world is his hysterical reactions and panic. Some of that might be a run on necessary medical supplies.
TODD: While pharmacies and convenient stores are crowded, large venues around the world are not in Italy, one of the nation's hardest hit by coronavirus Inter Milan among the most popular soccer teams in world played an important game in a completely empty stadium on orders from the Italian government.
TODD: Can a coronavirus vaccine come to the rescue here? The head of the World Health Organization says there are more than 20 vaccines being developed all over the world as we speak. And the first test results could come within a few weeks. But experts say with more tests test required, a usable vaccine will not be in circulation for several more months. Still, they say the virus can be defeated without a vaccine. Quarantines, other social distancing and people taking personal measures to fend off the virus that would contain - could contain this outbreak. Wolf?
BLITZER: You know, Brian, when the CDC says it wants every state and local health department in the United States to test for coronavirus by the end of next week, does that mean every person in every town has to be tested?
TODD: It is a good question, Wolf. I asked a prominent public health expert that. He said that it does not mean that every single person has to be tested. He is not what he calls the crop dusting stage yet. He says what communities do need to do is start testing people who have strong symptoms of the flu, and a lot of people have to self- report. If you are feeling strong symptoms, go in and get tested for this.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you.
Let's get some more now, the White House response to the crisis. Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, the president's messaging on coronavirus is under increasing scrutiny.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf. And we've just learned the White House is considering a number of measures including a new round of tax cuts in response to any damage done to the economy by the coronavirus. President Trump just a few moments ago tried to assure Americans that his administration has a handle on the outbreak. But as the White House is clamping down on its messaging on the virus, top officials are shifting the blame, going as far as to say Democrats and the media are hyping the public health emergency to damage the president's re-election prospects.
ACOSTA (voice-over): With Americans growing more anxious by the day and the stock market plummeting over the coronavirus, President Trump is straining to contain an outbreak of fear.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am spending a lot of time on it just in coordination. Mike Pence is doing a great job. Dr. Fauci - Dr. Fauci is great. They are all doing really a fantastic -- Alex Azar is right on top of it. We are all watching it very closely.
ACOSTA: Leading the administration's coronavirus response, Vice President Mike Pence discussed new measures for the health emergency with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. That was after Pence attended a fundraiser in the 2020 battleground state.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to make sure that not only does HHS, CDC, Homeland Security and other agencies have the resources they need for whatever may come. We are going to make sure that -- that states like Florida and your local health officials have the resources to be able to be prepared for any eventuality.
ACOSTA: The Vice President's Office is now coordinating the administration's coronavirus message raising concerns among Democrats that the White House would try to muzzle government scientists who might be too candid about the outbreak.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I do think that if it is true, and I don't know if it is, that they are saying unless you have an approval of the Oval Office, no scientists can make any statements about this is not encouraging.
ACOSTA: The White House has jumped into damage control mode with Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney accusing the media of exaggerating the threat posed by the virus to hurt the president.
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The press was covering their hoax of the day, because they thought it would bring down the president. I get a note today from a reporter saying, what are you going to do today to calm the markets?
I'm like, really, what I might today to calm the markets to tell people to turn their televisions off for 24 hours.
ACOSTA: After a week of steep losses on Wall Street, one big concern for the administration is the economy.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell released a statement saying new stimulus measures may be necessary if the virus seriously damages the economy, adding: "The coronavirus poses evolving risk to economic activity. The Federal Reserve is closely monitoring developments and their implications for the economic outlook. We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy."
The White House economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, is urging investors to start buying stocks.
LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I would say, so far, the numbers coming in on the economy have actually been quite good, including today. You might think about buying the dip.
ACOSTA: The president had his eye on the 2020 campaign, tweeting about polls he liked and didn't like, at one point remarking: "Worst polls just like in 2016, when they were so far off the mark, are the FOX News polls. Why doesn't FOX finally get a competent polling company?"
ACOSTA (on camera): And the president is pointing to his immigration policy as one reason why the coronavirus isn't doing more damage inside the U.S. but the White House just suffered a setback on immigration as the federal appeals court just blocked the administration from enforcing a recent policy that was sending asylum seekers back to Mexico while they waited for their cases to be heard. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House. Thank you. Also breaking right now, the former White House Counsel Don McGahn won a major victory from the federal appeals court tonight with just ruled he does not have to testify before Congress. Our political correspondent Sara Murray has details. She's here with me right now.
So, Sara, what happened?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a big victory for both Don McGahn as well as the White House. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the House of Representatives' efforts to force Don McGann to testify. But they did it in an interesting way. They did not rule on the merits of whether Don McGahn has absolute immunity as the administration has claimed, instead the court basically said that we don't have the authority to police this case.
It was a split decision. It was a 2:1 decision. I want to read you a part of the opinion that Judge Thomas Griffith wrote. He wrote, "If federal courts were to swoop in to rescue Congress whenever its constitutional tools failed, it would not just supplement the political process. It would replace that process with one in which unelected judges become the perpetual overseers of elected officials."
Now, in the dissent, Judge Judith Rogers wrote that basically this decision all but assures future presidential stonewalling of Congress and further impairs the House's ability to perform its constitutional duties.
Now Wolf, the House has 10 days to appeal this, so it is possible that this legal action could continue. But as of today, it is a certainly a big victory for the president and Don McGahn.
BLITZER: It certainly is. All right, Sara, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. A key Democrat is joining us from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger.
Congresswoman thanks so much for joining us. We have a lot to discuss. But first, what does this ruling on Don McGahn say about the power of the House of Representatives at least for now?
We're going to try to fix your audio. For some reason, Congresswoman, I am not hearing you. I don't think our viewers are hearing you either. Let's try to fix the audio for the Congresswoman.
Can you hear me now, Congresswoman?
REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA): I can hear you.
BLITZER: All right. Now we hear you.
So let me repeat the question, because you heard the breaking news that this court, a federal court has now just ruled that Don McGahn does not have to appear before the House of Representatives at least for now, a very significant win for him and for the president. What do you think?
All right, unfortunately we are having major technical problems. We're going to come back to you. Let's take a quick break. Much more of our coverage right after this.
BLITZER: We had some major technical problems with Representative Abigail Spanberger. We're still working on those problems. We'll try to fix them and get to her shortly, but we will continue to follow all the breaking news right now with the World Health Organization today sounding major alarms about the coronavirus being a global level risk.
The Dow Jones Industrials Average winding up its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis. President Trump seems to be downplaying the threat while some members of his team are actually trying to score political points.
Joining us now, the former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who also served as CIA director and as President Clinton's White House chief of staff. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
I want you to watch a portion of what the president just said a few moments ago. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: A lot of people are getting better, very much better. Most of them are in really good shape. One of the people is -- I would not say not doing well, but she is very sick, but she is hopefully getting better. But we are at the same number. We have only -- so essentially we have only had 15. We are hopefully getting lower from that number, but let's see what happens into the future. We have not lost anybody yet. And hopefully we can keep that intact. There have been no deaths in the United States at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So do you believe, Mr. Secretary, the president has the credibility to handle this potential major public health crisis?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think that is a major problem right now is the credibility of the president, and for that matter the credibility of politicians in Washington. I think the most important thing now is to have the professionals talk to the American people about what the status is. So they ought to be providing a daily report to the American people. The truth and information that represents the truth is the most important antidote right now to what we are facing on this coronavirus. BLITZER: President Trump is also accusing Democrats of weaponizing the coronavirus to try to hurt him politically. He is also going after the news media. What impact does that have?
PANETTA: Again, I think all of that just undermines the credibility of people in Washington speaking to this issue. I mean, this is a serious problem. We know that the coronavirus is going to continue to expand. And it is really important for the American people to be getting the truth. And the best way to provide that truth is to have the professionals at HHS, at CDC, at the agencies that are responsible for dealing with this problem to be able to report to the American people, and it should be done on a daily basis. We ought to be having regular reports provided by the professionals as to what the situation is. So that the American people have credible information on this, what is likely to be a pandemic.
BLITZER: The administration has added that Dr. Deborah Burke to the coronavirus task force. She was appointed, as you probably know, by the Obama administration and has had a three-decade career in global health. Are you at least encouraged by her role in the response?
PANETTA: Absolutely. I think she has the background and capability and the credibility to be able to speak to this problem. Look, there's a tremendous amount of uncertainty right now, and that is what is impacting on the markets. That is what is impacting on our economy. That's what's impacting on the American people and the world for that matter, a tremendous amount of uncertainty. And it is going to be up to the health professionals to get their arms around this issue, and be able to define just exactly what is taking place.
And whether or not we are able to deal with mitigating what is happening with this virus. I don't think that we can contain it anymore. I think this is really an issue of mitigating the impact that it is having on people here and around the world.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is having an enormous impact right now with just the math, the Dow Jones Industrials over the past week, down nearly 4,000 points in one week. That is the worst since the economic crisis in 2008. While I have you, Mr. Secretary, I want to turn to the Democratic presidential primary. Your state, California, will be voting in a few days next Tuesday, Super Tuesday. Can you tell our viewers who you are going to vote for?
PANETTA: Wolf, I've already voted for Joe Biden. I have known Joe for over 40 years. I have worked with him in the Congress. I worked with him when I was in the Clinton administration and as CIA director and secretary of defense. And I just think at a time of crisis, of polarization, and of dysfunction that we have to have somebody who is well qualified and experienced to be president of the United States and can unify this country and hopefully try to heal this country from what we have been through in the last four years.
BLITZER: Yes, they have early voting in California, and that is why you have already voted. What are your concerns if you have concerns if Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, were to win the Democratic presidential nomination?
PANETTA: I'm just concerned that it could divide the Democratic Party and that ultimately, it will hurt our chances of being able to win in November. We have candidates that are out there. They have a lot to offer this country, but the most important thing right now is not the promises, it is whether or not they can unify this country. Whether they can govern this country and whether they can restore the values of honesty and decency and respect for human beings back to the Oval Office. Those are the primary objectives that we ought to be looking at in a presidential candidate.
BLITZER: If Bernie Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination, would you support him?
PANETTA: You know, obviously, I would support anybody who is running against Donald Trump. But I would be very concerned about what that candidacy could do to the ability of the Democrats to be able to retain the House of Representatives and have a chance at winning the Senate of the United States. We have to have a strong system of checks and balances in this country.
BLITZER: And so you are afraid if Bernie Sanders were the nominee, he would lose to Donald Trump but the Democrats would lose the House of Representatives and the Republicans would still be in control of the Senate. Is that your fear?
PANETTA: That's -- my concern is that it could have an impact on those that are running in tight swing districts and that is just a reality that I think we have to realize if the Democrats are going to be a party that maintains the strength that it needs in order to be able to represent this entire country. We're going to have to have a candidate that can appeal not just to the blue states, but to the red states as well and try to unify this country. That is what we need in order to be able to maintain our strength in Washington.
BLITZER: Secretary Panetta, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.
PANETTA: Thank you.
BLITZER: We always appreciate having you here in "THE SITUATION ROOM."
Coming up, we will have more on the breaking news, a major court ruling for the White House, the former White House Counsel Don McGahn won a major victory from a federal appeals court today which just ruled, he does not have to testify before Congress.
Plus, new questions emerging right now about the mystery coronavirus case in California. How did someone with no known exposure to foreign travel or link to the unknown victims become infected?
BLITZER: Breaking news coming into "THE SITUATION ROOM" right now. I want to go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, tell us what has just -- you have just learned.
ACOSTA: That is right, Wolf. In just the last couple of minutes the president announced in a tweet that he is going to nominate Congressman John Ratliffe - Ratcliffe -- excuse me, to be the director of National Intelligence. You will recall, Wolf, that the president had nominated Ratcliffe last year for this position at DNI but then pulled the nomination after questions were raised about Ratcliffe's qualifications. But Ratcliffe checks at least one box for the president.
He has been a staunch loyalist up on Capitol Hill for this president, defending him vehemently during the impeachment process that obviously earned him a lot of trust inside this White House and particularly in the Oval Office. I'm going to put the President's tweet up on screen. He says, "I am pleased to announce the nomination of Representative John Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence". "Would have completed process earlier", the President tweets, "but John wanted to wait until after I.G. report was finished. John is an outstanding man of great talent."
And you recall earlier this week, Wolf, we asked the President about whether or not it was a good idea for him to have an acting DNI and the current U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Rick Grenell, who critics say does not have the kind of experience that is needed in the intelligence field to lead the Director of National Intelligence office, that obviously is the office that was created after 911 to make sure there aren't any more 911s.
And so the President is obviously thinking that Congressman Ratcliffe fits that bill. We'll find out whether or not he's been able to overcome some of these concerns up on the Hill, about his qualifications that were raised last year. Because we'll recall, Wolf, that the President had to pull that nomination in August of last year, and we have not had a permanent DNI since Dan Coats left that post and in 20 -- excuse me, last year as well.
But, Wolf, one thing that should also be noted in all of these is that this obviously is going to go a long way. And I guess laying some concerns inside the administration that he is not going to have somebody there at the top of the Director of National Intelligence, who is a loyalist. Obviously the President is deciding to pick on somebody who is a loyalist for that position moving forward, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want you to the standby, Jim, because I want to get some analysis of reaction. Gloria, remember when they pulled the nomination back almost a year or so ago, it was because of a tepid response from Senate Republicans.
This is a position that has to be confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee and then by the full Senate. And at the time, "The Washington Post" had revealed that Ratcliffe had falsely claimed on his congressional website to have arrested over 300 illegal immigrants on a single day when he worked as a federal prosecutor. That was not true, and that caused some concern. And as a result --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. BLITZER: -- the nomination with -- the consideration was withdrawn.
BORGER: And he pulled his own --
BORGER: -- nomination. It was the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Burr, who actually raised concerns about this. And so I'm wondering whether the President has run it by anybody in the Senate, letting them know that he was going to do this. As Jim pointed out, and I think this is key, when thinking about Ratcliffe, he was one of the President's most vocal defenders in the House, in the Intelligence Committee hearings on impeachment.
And when all of the people came to testify, like the ambassadors, Ambassador Yovanovitch, Ambassador Taylor, et cetera, he was the one who continually represented the President's point of view on this and we know that the President was a viewer of all of this. So he is clearly picked somebody. He knows his honesty.
BLITZER: Yes. What do you think, Elliot, about this nomination? The President just made it official.
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's just hard to know, given that they've already withdrawn at once. It's hard to see how this successfully gets -- well, it'll get -- it could get through Republican Senate.
BORGER: It could sure.
WILLIAMS: But the problem is that, who's in charge over there. And, you know, how effectively our candidates being vetted. You know, this all gets back to, from the beginning of the nomination, they should have found this information out and either decided whether to proceed with it or not. And so again, it just looks sloppy --
WILLIAMS: -- with anything else.
BORGER: Well, it's emboldened though. This is the President who is emboldened after impeachment to do what he want.
BLITZER: Well, let me go to Ron Brownstein to weigh in right now as well. What do you think, Ron?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's the big point. I mean, this is a continuation of the President's behavior post-impeachment where he has concluded that he can basically push anything on the Republican Senate and they will not in any way resist him. I mean, you know, the kind of actions that we saw marching Vindman out of the White House and so forth. This is just an extension of that.
And probably, you know, not the end of the arc. I mean, it's probably the middle of the arc in terms of his sense of the degree to which he has been unshackled. And certainly if he is reelected, I think it is just a preview of the of the kind of actions that you might see from him confident in the belief that Republicans are essentially too coward at this point to put up any resistance, though, to almost anything. Although we'll see, since this was something they had opposed earlier, whether there are at least a few noises this time around.
BLITZER: Let's see what happens. I want to get some reaction from Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, Virginia Democrat. Congresswoman, we fixed your audio. Fortunately, you're a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. You're a former CIA Case Officer, what do you think of this nomination?
REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA): Well, the nomination just came out via tweet I guess while we were experiencing the audio problems. Perhaps that delay was worth that I got to weigh in on this topic. You know, as a former CIA Case Officer serving in the Intelligence Community, I find it quite astounding that the President would nominate someone without an intelligence background.
When we look at what the focus of the Intelligence Community should be, what the role of the DNI is, it's supposed to be someone who is bringing together intelligence communities across the United States, across our I.C. to pull the information together, to coordinate what's happening and to be a solid, intelligence-driven member of the President's inner circle. And the notion that we would have someone without an intelligence background, without that respect for what it is to be driven by facts and evidence and not kind of partisan politics, I think this is overall very detrimental, because I question what type of advice and what type of input the President will be getting from someone who's driven far more by partisan politics than the pursuit of the truth.
BLITZER: Well, you served -- as you correctly pointed out -- as a CIA Case Officer, what's the impact on the average men and women who work in the Intelligence Community very often risking their own lives when the President does something like this?
SPANBERGER: Well, the notion that the President would appoint someone when they're -- I mean, there are many, many qualified people who have experienced, direct experience in the Intelligence Community who could be tapped. Backgrounds in intelligence, backgrounds in the military, who could bring to bear the real life and lived experience that so many of our officers on the ground have. And so I think from the perspective of an employee, knowing that you're taking risks, you're out in the field, you're pulling together valuable information, sometimes spending years tracking down leads, trying to determine, you know, what are the answers to some of the greatest questions that should be informing U.S. policy. I think the question of whether or not that intelligence is actually making it to the President's desk whether or not the DNI is going to present it in a way where he feels comfortable challenging a president or a vice president and having that push and pull of ideas and facts and answering some of the hardest questions. As a former CIA Case Officer, I find it deeply troubling that perhaps that absence of a real focus on an -- intelligence as we consider it to be nonpartisan, not driven by any ideology or any goal other than delivering the most honest assessment in the instance where that slacking, I am very concerned.
BLITZER: Because it comes on the heels of the President putting in place an acting Director of National Intelligence, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Rick Grenell, who doesn't have any real intelligence experience either. He's still on the job as DNI and will be until this new nomination, John Ratcliffe, is actually confirmed by the Senate assuming he will be confirmed by the Senate. I just want to get your sense because Grenell replace the other acting DNI Joseph Maguire who had extensive intelligence experience.
SPANBERGER: Well, the challenge here as we see where -- when the Senate -- with our separation of powers, it is the role of the Senate to confirm these appointees who are individuals serving in lead roles within the administration. And it is supposed to be that checks and balances that are helpful to the nation. I think as we're seeing still the aftermath of the strikes in Iran, and certainly now with the threat of the coronavirus in this outbreak, we need to know that the best and the most valuable intelligence is making its way to the President's desk.
And there are experts at the CDC, there are experts at the agency, NSA, who are providing incredibly valuable information and we as American people, and certainly as a Member of Congress should have faith that those who are bringing reports back to the President are doing it without a partisan lens.
BLITZER: And just to remind our viewers, DNI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, that whole operation was created after 911 to make sure that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies from the CIA, the DIA, NSA, all the various agencies that they were working together and the left hand of the U.S. government knew what the right hand of the U.S. government was doing --
SPANBERGER: That's right.
BLITZER: -- because that didn't happen before 911.
SPANBERGER: Yes, after 911 when the assessment was made, that perhaps there were places where the communication wasn't as strong as it could have been. The decision to put a DNI in place was in order to ensure that all of these different agencies that are collecting information, human intelligence, signals intelligence, you know, reading what's out in the open source and newspapers around the world, that they could come together, ensure that we could answer every possible conceivable question that may relate to our national security priorities and national security threats. And so this role is far beyond a high level position that interfaces with the President.
This is a high level position that interfaces with agency after agency whose employees are taking risks day in day out domestically, overseas to ensure that we are keeping the American people safe and that we are protecting American holdings abroad and around the world.
BLITZER: And that comes at a time, Congresswoman, when the President has had his issues with the U.S. Intelligence Community. I was in Helsinki when the President met with Putin in Helsinki and sided with Putin and specifically mentioned that the then Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, he disagreed with him when he suggested that Russia was directly involved in the U.S. election interference. And the President in a rather amazing moment said at that news conference in Helsinki that, you know, he basically believes Putin rather than believes the DNI, the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats and the entire U.S. Intelligence Community had come to that conclusion that was an amazing moment.
SPANBERGER: A deeply disturbing moment. The President of the United States, whoever is holding that office at whatever point in time should always have the full faith in the DNI. And the notion that the President of the United States would ever take the word of a leader of an adversary nation over the leader of our Intelligence Community is something I will never begin to understand.
BLITZER: Yes. It was moment indeed. You know, hold out for a moment Congresswoman, I want to get Gloria and Elliot to weigh in as well. It's a very, very sensitive issue right now, Gloria, that the President is nominating John Ratcliffe representative, a Congressman to be the next Director of National Intelligence.
BORGER: Well, particularly -- and since the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, when this was raised last time, was completely unenthusiastic about it. Because this is someone whom a lot of people up on the Hill believe -- exaggerated and embellished his national security credentials. And that's a problem when you are asking somebody to head up the intelligence apparatus in this country. What's important to the intelligence apparatus? The truth.
And if you have somebody who is exaggerated his resume, how can you expect that person to tell the truth to Members of Congress who oversee intelligence or even to the President United States, by the way.
WILLIAMS: And to some extent, it's the death of experience of the administration. The President, as we know, this is an anecdotal at this point that the President prizes loyalty. And we've seen, you know, across the State Department, frankly, the Department of Justice, where the President seems to consolidate people who are loyal to him rather than folks with significant experience. And this is -- and it's very clear that that's the case.
BLITZER: And Ron Brownstein, clearly, the President has been emboldened since his acquittal in the U.S. Senate. BROWNSTEIN: Yes. It's very revealing in that sense, in that the President is coming back to someone that Senate Republicans basically said we wanted no part of. It shows how much he feels the power balance has shifted toward him in that relationship. It was never that even to begin with, but is now even more lopsided.
But I think to Elliot's point, this is also very revealing. And that, you know, as I've said before, the President views the entire federal government as an extension of his will. And more and more it is apparent that the principal qualification that he looks for in these jobs is not only loyalty, as we have defined it, it is someone who will essentially execute his will rather than kind of underlying qualifications for the job itself. And you see in the coronavirus, not only the kind of the substance of risks that that might create, but also the political risks it creates for the President because one of the, you know, he -- his hold on his audience, his voters is much more about assertion and identity and affirming the shared values.
One of the biggest Achilles heels that he has are questions about whether he is simply focused enough on the job itself. And so while he may prize loyalty, and who is appointing, I think ultimately the American public prizes competence in responding to real threats. And that is the challenge that he will face with a government that is essentially picked solely on the basis of its willingness to do what he says.
BLITZER: Let me get Representative Spanberger to weigh in on the coronavirus controversy. The uproar that's developed right now, the deep concern not only here in the United States, but certainly around the world. What are your biggest concerns about the way the President and the administration is handling this crisis?
SPANBERGER: Well, I serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee, as you mentioned, and we've had now two hearings in our subcommittee focused on the coronavirus. We've heard from epidemiologists, we've heard from Ron Klain, who headed up the U.S.'s reaction and handling of the Ebola virus. Just yesterday, we had another hearing with the Director of CDC, Dr. Redfield and leadership within the State Department. So we've had a broad group of witnesses come before our committee to talk about what we are seeing, how we should be reacting and it is a priority that we have a singular point person who is driving U.S. engagement on this issue.
This is a global public health crisis. Other countries are engaged. It's an issue of diplomacy. It's an issue of --
SPANBERGER: -- public health. And we need someone who is leading the charge on this. I do find it difficult that we, in the President's decision to put the Vice President in charge of this, the Vice President is engaged as a Vice President. This is a 24/7 job. And I would have preferred that there be someone appointed to this position to focus on coordinating our engagement and our outreach and our response. And, frankly, communication to the American people.
What we've heard in -- in my office, I represent Central Virginia, is we're hearing from constituents who just don't know what to do, and they're scared and we, representatives and the administration, need to be able to communicate clearly and succinctly that we are united in our efforts to deal with this virus that the United States will do everything necessary to contain this disease and to make -- ensure that our people can be safe, but that starts with being realistic about the threat. And when we hear on the news, one person saying that this is what the threat is --
BLITZER: All right.
SPANBERGER: -- and then we hear contradictory evidence that makes it very, very difficult. I'd like to see better communication and a unified message.
BLITZER: Strong views. We got to go unfortunately. But thank you so much for joining us, Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger. Much more --
SPANBERGER: Thank you.
BLITZER: -- news right after this.
BLITZER: A disturbing new development in the case of a doctor accused of sexual assault by Evelyn Yang, the wife of former Democratic Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang. CNN has uncovered evidence that Columbia University where the doctor work was told about an alleged assault more than two decades ago. He kept seeing patients said dozens of women have come forward since Evelyn Yang first told CNN her story last month. There are now more than 75 accusers against this very same doctor.
Our Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin has this exclusive story. A warning, some viewers might find the details disturbing.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Columbia University was warned. Decades ago, one of its top gynecologists may have sexually assaulted a patient. This 26-year old letter proves it. Dr. Robert Hadden now retired, stands accused of assaulting more than 75 former patients. Dian Saderup Monson may have been one of the first. In 1993, pregnant with her second child, she had her first and only visit to Hadden's office and says she was sexually assaulted.
DIAN SADERUP MONSON, FORMER HADDEN PATIENT: I was exposed. And then he pushed my knees down. He masturbated me at some point. He start masturbating me. And I said -- and I didn't even say anything. I just went, like my eyes were like, you know, and he said, just lubricating the outside. And like it was just centered. GRIFFIN (voice-over): She left Hadden's office in disbelief. Did her doctor just assaulter her? Hours later alone on her couch, she says she realized the answer was yes.
MONSON: And I just started sobbing and sobbing.
GRIFFIN (on camera): You were molested?
GRIFFIN (on camera): You didn't think, I'm a victim, I should call the police?
MONSON: No. It didn't even cross my mind.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): She thought no one would believe her. But she knew she had to report it.
On May 30th, 1994, she wrote this letter to the Acting Chair of Columbia-Presbyterians OB/GYN Department. She says she sent a copy to the University's Risk Management Office. The letter details two separate prolonged breast exams, pulling very hard on the nipple, awkward and uncomfortable positioning. He fondled her genitalia running two fingers up and down.
She knows Columbia received the letter because two weeks later, the Chairman Dr. Harold Fox wrote back.
MONSON: I will immediately follow up your express concerns and have a discussion with Dr. Hadden. You may expect a response from me.
GRIFFIN (on camera): You didn't hear back from him?
GRIFFIN (on camera): You didn't hear back from Risk Management?
GRIFFIN (on camera): You didn't hear back from anybody at Columbia?
MONSON: Never heard anything. But I thought this is Columbia. They will keep this letter. They will put it in a file, whatever file they keep on their doctors, it will be there in a prominent way, it will be marked. And surely, in the next few years, he'll get either verbal or written complaints and they will do something.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Dr. Robert Hadden continued seeing patients at Columbia for nearly 20 more years. He was finally arrested and indicted for abusing six of his patients. But in a sweetheart plea deal with the New York District Attorney's Office, Hadden pleaded guilty in 2016 to just two of the nine charges against him. His punishment, to surrender his medical license and walk free.
MONSON: This man belongs in prison. He is a danger wherever he is. He is a compulsive serial predator. GRIFFIN (voice-over): Questions over Hadden's criminal prosecution and zero jail time came back to life last month when Evelyn Yang, the wife of former Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang told CNN she was one of Hadden's many victims.
EVELYN YANG, SAYS HER DOCTOR ASSAULTED HER: There are a lot of women who experience sexual assault. And then it's almost like they're assaulted again, or they're betrayed again by the institutions that were supposed to protect them.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Since Yang story aired, at least 40 more women have said they too were assaulted by Hadden. Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance's office announced it is reopening the investigation into Hadden based on new cases.
Monson and Yang are now among the more than 75 former patients who have joined together to sue Dr. Hadden in Columbia University. Hadden has denied all the allegations against him except the two charges he pleaded guilty to.
MONSON: I am 100 percent outrage. I'm just completely outraged. I was so happy to find those letters because I felt like the institution needs to change. They need to change the way they do things.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Columbia University did not respond the detailed questions by CNN saying in a statement, "At the time of Hadden's 2012 arrest, we did not know about the 1994 letter. Had we been aware of it, we would have shared that information with the District Attorney's office".
And Columbia says it is cooperating with the new investigation. That former Chairman of the OB/GYN Department who wrote Dian the letter, Dr. Fox, said through an attorney he cannot comment because of the investigation.
Drew Griffin, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Drew, for that report.
Coming up, the latest on the coronavirus threat much more right after this.