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CNN RIGHT NOW

Top Military General Says, Military Prepping For All Scenarios, Including Pandemic; Trump Litmus Test Added For Prospective Administration Hires; John Bolton's Book Delayed Until May Due To White House Review. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 3, 2020 - 13:30   ET

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


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[13:30:00]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: Top U.S. military officials say they are planning for all coronavirus scenarios, including a pandemic. Just last hour, the Pentagon released what actions it is taking as a precaution.

For military installations overseas, some of these measures include suspended travel to many locations in South Korea and Italy. Military exercises in South Korea and Israel have been suspended or they've been canceled. The Navy has ordered all ships that have visited countries in the Pacific region to effectively self-quarantine.

We have former Defense Secretary and Senator Chuck Hagel here with us. He was first enlisted combat veteran and the only Vietnam vet to serve as defense secretary and that was during the Obama administration.

[13:35:04]

Sir, thank you so much for joining us.

So military installations around the world are preparing. We've seen in South Korea there is a service member and his wife who already have the virus. I wonder if you are worried for members of the military, or if you are comforted by the fact that they tend to be young and healthy and that maybe with confidence, they can navigate this.

CHUCK HAGEL, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you're always concerned, because this is potentially a pandemic health issue that's going to affect and is affecting now over 70 countries and thousands, tens of thousands, of people. So you're always worried and you prepare. You do the best you can.

I don't know of an institution in the world that's better prepared than the military, but that doesn't mean that you won't have problems. I think you've got to give the commanders on the ground a lot of latitude to protect their troops and to make the calls there. Obviously, it has to be in coordination with the commanders at the Pentagon and with our government.

But there are good news, parts of this for the Pentagon. Like you said, they're young, they're healthy, they're energetic, they're active, but that won't necessarily inoculate them from this.

KEILAR: And you're confident that commanders will be given that latitude by the Pentagon?

HAGEL: Well, I hope they will be because this is not a political issue. I mean, this is a real life issue. And I was the Secretary of Defense when Ebola broke out in 2014. And the Pentagon was called upon to really focus on that as a priority, and we did. We sent thousands of people over there because we had the ships, we had the resources, we had the doctors and nurses. We could build dispensaries, we could build runways, we had the money. And working with HHS and CDC and others, the Pentagon was a big part in containing Ebola in West Africa.

And depending on where this goes, the coronavirus, the Pentagon probably will play a very big role in trying to contain this.

KEILAR: I want to shift gears now and talk about this U.S.-Taliban agreement aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, the longest ever, almost 19 years now. And we do actually have some news that the Taliban says that President Trump and the Taliban political deputy have spoken, so that is certainly something of note. You have said before that a ceasefire with the Taliban was the right side of the debate, but I wonder overall how you're feeling about this deal that's been struck.

HAGEL: Well, I'm encouraged. I think we have to be hopeful. But as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details.

The concern I have with it is the same mistake that was made during Vietnam when we negotiated that peace agreement in 1972-'73. We excluded the government of South Vietnam. We did the same thing here. And that's going to lead to some problems.

Already President Ghani has said that 5,000 prisoner exchange commitment that the United States made that, that we would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners before we sit down and talk on March 10, Ghani said no. That will be negotiated. I mean, those are the kind of things that will undo an agreement. And these are always difficult to monitor and enforce anyway.

Afghanistan's is worse because of the geography, because of the dynamics, because of the terrorists, because of so many other factors that is different than Vietnam. But I'm hopeful, and I hope we can continue to hang in there because I think we all understand, the United States does have to leave Afghanistan after almost 19 years, $2 trillion in spending.

What we have not accomplished is the Afghan government is still dependent very much on us after 19 years.

KEILAR: Is it possible, after all this time, there just is no good way to leave Afghanistan?

HAGEL: Brianna, I think that's exactly right. I think what you just said is the bottom line. There is no good way. This will be uneven. It will be unfair. It's going to be raggedy. But I don't think we should just leave entirely. I don't think we can do that, just like I don't think we can leave Africa entirely. We have interests.

The United States must understand we have interests all over the world. And what happens in Africa, what happens in Afghanistan, India, Iran does affect this country in security ways, economically and other relationships, alliances. So I don't know how it ends.

I'm hopeful. I'm always hopeful, but it's going to be difficult.

KEILAR: Okay. Finally, the 2020 race for president. Have you decided who you are supporting?

HAGEL: I thought you were going to ask me if I'm a candidate.

[13:40:00]

KEILAR: Are you getting in the race?

HAGEL: No, I'm not getting in the race.

KEILAR: Have you decided who you're supporting?

HAGEL: Joe Biden is not only a good friend but he's a man I had admired for many, many years. I worked with him in the Senate, I worked with him in secretary of defense. I don't know of a more experienced, a better person, a more decent person in politics. He's smart, he understands, he listens. There is no perfect candidate. But I think Joe Biden, for this time in our country, with the challenges that we have, I think he's the right person.

KEILAR: Why Joe Biden over Bernie Sanders?

HAGEL: Well, I think what Joe represents and where he is on positions, I know Bernie Sanders. I like Bernie Sanders, I worked with him in the Senate. But his positions and his issues are just too far left, I think, for this country. And I think Democrats up and down the ballot will have an issue if he is the candidate.

But I'll let the Democrats sort this out. I'm still a Republican. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm still a Republican, and I'll let the Democrats sort out who they want to be your candidate. But as far as I'm concerned, as an American, I think the best president would be Joe Biden. And I hope he is the nominee, and I'll help him, definitely help him if he is.

KEILAR: All right. Secretary, thank you so much. We always love having you in the studio.

HAGEL: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: And the Dow, again, right now, falling again because of the coronavirus. It's down even more than the last time we checked earlier this hour, down over 600 points, despite the Fed announcing that emergency rate cut, the biggest emergency -- only emergency rate cut actually since the Financial Crisis of 2008. We'll have more ahead on that.

Plus, as the purge escalates inside the White House, we're getting word of a new litmus test for prospective officials. Stand by for that story.

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[13:45:00]

KEILAR: The White House is now doing even more to make sure the Trump loyalists get open jobs. They have developed a special litmus for perspective hires.

Our Jeremy Diamond is here with us along with Sophia Nelson, former House GOP Investigative Counsel during the Clinton impeachment.

Jeremy, tell us what you're learning.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, there's a questionnaire that political candidates for political appointments in the Trump administration have to fill out. And that questionnaire was just updated and sent out to all the departments across the government yesterday. And it now asked a series of Trump- focused litmus tests, including, for example, what part of candidate Trump's message most appeal to you and why, also asking prospective candidates to describe their political evolution, what their interest is in serving in the Trump administration.

The previous questionnaire that was used to ascertain a candidate's qualifications didn't mention Trump once. Now, it's at least five times in this document that we have obtained where it says Trump and asks people for their views of the president.

So this goes beyond the kind of ideological test that other administrations have also used to ensure that everyone is in line with the president's objectives. Now, it's very much focused on the president himself. And, of course, this is coming at a unique moment in Trump's presidency after the impeachment trial. The president has been looking to purge disloyal aides and really surrounds himself with officials who have been loyal to him and his campaign for a long time.

Now, we do have a statement from Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary. She said, every president has the right to appoint who are in line with their agenda and policies.

KEILAR: Sophia, you're over there shaking your head.

SOPHIA NELSON, FORMER HOUSE GOP INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: Well, Brianna, look, every president does have the right to have people that he or, hopefully, one day, she will have in line with their views. That's fair. But no president has the right to ask you these questions about themselves as if they're an emperor or a king, because we don't have that here in the United States of America.

And this president continues to go down a path that's like nothing we've ever seen. I've applied for jobs in the administration before, I've been vetted by the White House, the Office of Personnel Management, all that, it's very standard. And, of course, they want to know that you're a Republican or a Democrat, but they never ask you what your personal feelings are about the president.

And some of these questions, particularly the one about your political evolution, not sure what that means, but the one here that they talk about most appealed to them, he really wants a litmus test of, are you loyal to Donald Trump versus the government of the United States of America. And they're very different.

KEILAR: All right. Stand by for me. We have other things to talk about here, because only hours after former Vice President Joe Biden won the South Carolina primary, Senate Homeland Security and Governor Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson sent a letter to panel members of his plans for the first subpoena in the probe.

And in it, he writes this, quote, as part of the committee's ongoing investigation, it has received U.S. government records Indicating that Blue Star sought to leverage -- sorry, pardon me -- Blue Star sought to leverage Hunter Biden's role as a board member of Burisma to gain access to and potentially influence matters at the State Department.

Sophia, as you look at this, what is the GOP trying to accomplish here?

NELSON: Well, I'm not sure that it's the GOP trying to accomplish, as much as it is senators falling in line with what Donald Trump wants.

[13:50:00]

And Donald Trump fears Joe Biden. Go look at his Twitter feed, particularly post-South Carolina. And that this came after that is very telling. Because if you really cared about this, Senator Johnson, why didn't you investigate it while Joe Biden was still the vice president of the United States? Moreover, you had a whole lot of time between then and now to look at it, even during impeachment or before.

So this is more of the GOP that I left proudly, will never go back to because of this kind of nonsense and drama that they do. This is the GOP that is now Donald Trump's Republican Party. This is not a Republican Party. These are people that fall in line to do what he says and to go after the people that he wants. I don't think it's going to stick, by the way, but whatever.

KEILAR: Sophia Nelson, Jeremy Diamond, thank you to both of you.

We have new details on the coronavirus and the first possible community spread in New York. So what we're learning about this, next.

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[13:55:00]

KEILAR: This just in to CNN. The publication of John Bolton's book about his time working for President Trump has been pushed back until May as a result of the White House' review of the manuscript. Let's bring in Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter. He broke this news and he joins me on the phone.

Brian, tell us more.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this delay revives questions about whether the Trump White House is unfairly holding up Bolton's book for partisan political reasons. Simon & Schuster wanted to release this book on March 17th. But it's been going through this publication review process inside the White House.

Now, that is normal. But what is not normal is that Trump has been attacking Bolton. And according to The Washington Post, Bolton told, Trump says he wants the book delayed, he wants the blocked. So both employers say they're going to (INAUDIBLE). But today, Simon & Schuster said they are delaying the book on March 17th all the way until May 12th. They say government review of the work is ongoing, so it's a very unusual situation. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Brian, thank you so much.

And next, there is growing confusion in the state where a coronavirus outbreak has hit over whether people should be tested.

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