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CNN NEWSROOM

U.S. Explores Possibility Virus Spread from a Chinese Lab; Defense Secretary Says All Options Are on the Table about Reinstating Fired Carrier Captain; Michigan Governor Responds to Protests Over Her Stay at Home Order; Women leaders praised for effective coronavirus response. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 16, 2020 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

JAMIE METZL, FORMER NSC STAFF, CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: -- they've had many security breaches. And then there's the other story that which I don't believe at all, is that it emerged in this seafood market and their "Lancet" wrote about this in January. There were cases of coronavirus in Wuhan prior to that cluster that emerged in the seafood market. So, it's a possibility that there was some keep of natural jump and it didn't go through the intermediary of the lab.

But I think that if I had to just bet just based on what I've read and logic, I would bet it's most likely this was an accidental leak from a lab. But there's really no way for now for anyone on the outside to prove that.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And what makes this so difficult, this conundrum of what happened is the secrecy of Chinese government, right?

METZL: Well, that's the problem. And everybody knows about these doctors, that were the whistleblowers that were silenced, and "Nature" had a piece today about the suppression, the censorship of all scientists in China who are seeking to publish anything about the origins of this crisis. Everything has to be approved by the Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Education. There are scientists who have disappeared. This is really, really serious. And we have to get to the bottom of this.

And I'm not one to associate myself with President Trump or Secretary Pompeo or any of these guys and I'm against anything that could be construed as nonconstructive or racist or intolerant. But we need to know what happened not as an act of finger pointing but for all we know there are other even worse pathogens that are out there. When a plane crashes we don't say, oh too bad, a plane crashed, now is not the time to point fingers. We say, wow, a plane crashed, that's really dangerous. If we don't get to the bottom of this quickly another plane could crash.

And that's why we have to look at the failures in China and the failures frankly here in the United States because whatever the failures were in China, they were massively exacerbated by the failures of the Trump administration here. KEILAR: You've seen this "Washington Post" report on State Department

cables from 2018 that showed concerns about the safety and management of the Wuhan Institute of Virology biolab. This is really the context in which this is happening. Tell us about that.

METZL: Yes, so, two years ago consular official -- one consular official from Wuhan -- the U.S. Consulate -- and one embassy science expert from our embassy in Beijing visited the Chinese Institute of Virology in Wuhan which is the only level four bio security institute in all of China. And they were appalled because this institute was studying highly contagious coronaviruses and they said, they were really worried. The "Post" Josh Rogan and the "Post" had a great piece about this.

And this why I talk about Occam's Razor, it seems logic dictates that we just look at the facts and that is that China has a lot of break outs. They tend to happen in Yunnan province in the south or Guangdong Pearl River Delta and they rarely would happen here.

And so why here? I mean one option is, yes, maybe the seafood market was selling bats and pangolins and civets which seems highly unlikely. Or there was a biosecurity lab 300 feet from this market and so I just think that we have to use logic, but we have to be rational. We have to be fact based. And we have to look at this. And China can't just say that looking at this question is being nonconstructive or being racist.

KEILAR: Jamie, thank you so much. Jamie Metzl, for coming on.

METZL: My pleasure. Any time.

KEILAR: All right. Her state has the third highest coronavirus death toll in the country. So why now is the Michigan Governor facing protests over her stay-at-home order?

[15:35:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: The Navy commanding officer fired for sounding the alarm about coronavirus on his carrier may now get his job back. Captain Brett Crozier warned in a March letter the virus was spreading among his thousands of sailors only to be fired by the acting Secretary of the Navy. Which is a decision the President fully supported.

And as of today, there are 655 sailors on the Roosevelt that have tested positive for the coronavirus, six sailors in the hospital and one has died.

I want to talk now with Rear Admiral John Kirby, who's our CNN military analyst. Who's also the former spokesperson for the Pentagon and the State Department. And I wonder, Admiral, how likely do you think it would be that Crozier would actually be reinstated?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well just going on history, Brianna, the odds would not be good. This would be a nearly unprecedented move. I can't recall a time when a fired commanding officer was put back in charge. There may be cases. But I can't remember one. So, it would be exceedingly rare if it happened.

KEILAR: And this discussion about whether this would happen it seems like it's coinciding with the question of how much worse the situation on the Roosevelt would have been had the captain not sounded the alarm? There is one dead sailor at this point after all.

KIRBY: Right, clearly, I mean, his letter, his concerns seemed prescient given what we know has happened on the Roosevelt.

[15:40:03]

And I think any decision whether or not to reinstate him or not would certainly have to take into account, you know, his leadership going into that situation. And then what affect it would have on the crew and chain of command to bring him back.

KEILAR: And I wonder, Admiral, this isn't just one event. Right? This is something that a lot of people in the military not even just the Navy and other branches as well are looking at. So, what does this mean for military officers who are trying their best to protect their service men and women from this virus?

KIRBY: Yes. Great question. And part of the discussion about him being fired was this whole, you know, the degree to which Pentagon leadership wanted honest candid feedback from commanding officers. And there was a concern that firing Crozier, the way he was fired, would be having a chilling effect on other unit level COs, O5s and O6s that are out there, commanding ships and squadrons and other units on the ground.

Hopefully it won't have that chilling effect. Now we'll see what the result of the investigation is and what the Navy decides to do. But I think what his case does show is how important it is for commanding officers to put their people first and to be honest with their chain of command about what their concerns are and what they need -- what they believe the need to do to protect their people.

KEILAR: Do you think it will have a chilling effect?

KIRBY: I don't know. I don't think we have enough evidence to see that it did have a chilling effect. That was one of my big concerns when this happened. That said, since Crozier's firing, the Pentagon has been more proscriptive now with leaders, not just commanding officers but all the way up to the flag level, generals and admirals. They been more proscriptive about what they want to see done, such as the wearing of face masks for instance.

That's good sign because I think that' what needed to happen. The Pentagon needed to take a little bit more of a harder turn on this at top leadership levels rather than just leaving it to commanding officers to decide for themselves.

KEILAR: All right, Admiral Kirby, thank you so much. Good to see you. Stay safe and healthy. KIRBY: Thank you, too.

KEILAR: And in Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer is responding to backlash directed at her and her actions to slow the coronavirus cases in her state.

Protests organized Operation Gridlock right outside of her office. They are pushing back on the Governor's stay-at-home orders. And as CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports the Governor says that very protest may force her take further action as Michigan battles one of the highest rates of Coronavirus infection in the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D) MICHIGAN: And it's been unrelenting. The losses have been devastating. We have had very few successes to offset that.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is listening making her daily check-in call with doctors and nurses on the front lines in the fight against coronavirus.

WHITMER: How are you taking care of yourself? I mean, I can't imagine the stress that you're under.

ZELENY: Just outside her office window the front lines of another fight. Protesters surrounding the capital in a drive-by demonstration. Sounding off against the strict stay-at-home orders she's imposing to try to slow the deadly outbreak.

On the job for 15 months Whitmer is front and center in the battle between the nation's governors and the White House.

WHITMER: It's been incredibly challenging time.

ZELENY: She's become one of the most visible Democratic governors in the country with President Trump dismissively referring to her like this.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't call the woman in Michigan. It doesn't make any difference what happened.

ZELENY (on camera): What went through your mind when you first heard President Trump say the woman in Michigan?

WHITMER: I don't think that way. Honestly, you know, I'm not looking for a fight with anyone frankly. I'm looking for help. And when that happened, I was very concerned that it might undermine my ability to get the help that Michigan needs.

ZELENY (voice-over): And Michigan need help with her state recording the third highest reported coronavirus death toll following only by New York and New Jersey.

She extended her statewide order until the end of April with some of the nation's toughest restrictions including prohibiting people from most travel between their residences and visiting vacation rentals in the state, and closing businesses she deemed non-essential including garden shops.

Her actions sparked a conservative group to organize a protest Wednesday.

WHITMER: It looks a lot like a political rally out there as opposed to something that really is about the substance of the stay home order and why it's important that we take this grievance stance with COVID- 19.

ZELENY: She knows she will be judged by how Michigan weathers the pandemic and rebounds from the economic toll it has taken on the still fragile manufacturing state.

A critical battle ground in the 2020 Presidential race. In 2016 Trump narrowly carried Michigan. Two years later Whitmer was elected. She's now a national co-chair of Joe Biden's campaign.

[15:45:00]

And by his own admission on his list of potential running mates, showering her with praise on his new podcast.

JOE BIDEN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Whitmer is an outstanding governor. She is one of the most talented people in the country in my view.

ZELENY: For Whitmer it's created a delicate balancing act. She acknowledges the state's recovery from the crisis depends on a working partnership with

the White House and federal government.

(on camera): Do you care what President Trump cares about you?

WHITMER: You know, all I care about is making sure that I'm able to deliver for the people of Michigan and I will work with anyone who is in the White House in order to do that.

ZELENY: But you've held your tongue a little bit. You've not perhaps said things publicly that you may otherwise have.

WHITMER: Yes.

ZELENY: Why?

WHITMER: Because I've got to get things done.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now Governor Whitmer and other governors from across the country are on the phone right now with the President. He is telling them he wants to reopen states by May 1st. But, Brianna, the governors say that they will do it on their own timeline. And the regional governors including several seven mid-western ones, two Republicans and five Democrats are saying they're going to form an alliance to open together -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny, great report from Michigan. Thank you for that.

New Zealand, Taiwan, Iceland and Germany all have relatively low coronavirus death rates and all of their leaders have one thing in common. We'll discuss.

[15:50:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Most countries seeing a low death toll and number of cases took an aggressive stance early on, Germany, New Zealand, Iceland, all praised for their quick action and strong response to coronavirus. Actions that were based on the data that appeared to have saved many lives and helped slow the spread. So, what do these countries have in common? Well, as CNN's Max Foster reports, they're all run by women.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the virus spread beyond China, countries and territories run by women appear to have had particularly effective strategies.

Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen was one of the first leaders to recognize the threat to her island. Her aggressive, early response included restricting flights from mainland China and ramping up production of personal protective equipment, such as masks. To date, Taiwan has reported only six fatalities linked to the virus. Amongst its population of 24 million.

JACINDA ARDERN, PRIME MINISTER, NEW ZEALAND: New Zealand's efforts have been huge.

FOSTER: Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand was even more aggressive. She enforced a national lockdown before any deaths were even reported. And she banned tourists, which are the country's biggest source of income.

ARDERN: From 11:59 p.m. tonight, we will close our border to any non- residents and citizens attempting to travel here.

FOSTER: When the virus hit Europe, female leaders, were similarly proactive.

In Iceland, Katrin Jakobsdottir offered free testing to all citizens, whether they were showing symptoms or not. And she used a tracking system, so she didn't have to lock down and suffocate the economy.

Compare that to Sweden, which has by far the highest death rates in the Nordics and is also the only country there that isn't led by a woman.

Smaller nations are perhaps easier to manage, but that doesn't explain Angela Merkel's success in Germany, a nation of 83 million. This chart compares Germany's noticeably low death rate with other comparable European states and the U.S. So, what explains the apparent link between low virus mortality rates and female leadership?

SAMANTHA POWER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Each of the leaders you mentioned brings a combination of compassion and rigor. I think to the way that they've engaged the public, fact-based, evidence based, science-based early. But also, really showing empathy and showing and speaking to the humanity of what's at stake here in the crisis.

FOSTER: Managing a crisis requires recognizing it early on and acting decisively. The international evidence so far shows a disproportionate number of female leaders successfully taking that approach to the current pandemic.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOSTER: It is an empathetic style of leadership which women are more closely associated with, it probably needs to be studied more closely here, Brianna. Because it's that ability to get people on site, to buy into the messaging, something that Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand has been praised for, for example. And interesting to see's well as she's just taken a 20 percent pay cut along with the rest of the cabinet to show they're not isolated from the economic harm done to New Zealand right now.

KEILAR: Study it. Bottle it. Max Foster. Thank you so much for reporting on that.

President Trump doing a phone call with the country's governors, what we're learning about his plans to reopen the economy next.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.

Right now, there are more than 650,000 -- 650,000 confirmed coronavirus cases here in the United States. Nearly 31,000 people in the U.S. have lost their lives. That's double the death toll from just one week ago.

Worldwide more than 2.1 million have been infected with the global death toll now topping 140,000. We are told President Trump will deliver new guidelines for states to begin to open up their societies and their economies and potentially ease social and physical distancing restrictions.

We have some brand-new reporting. Moments ago, President Trump in a phone conversation with governors said that they, the governors, will call the shots, according to a person familiar with the call.

The President also said that the May 1st date to reopen came in consultation with Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx of his coronavirus task force. Dr. Deborah Birx says that at least nine states, Nebraska, Maine, Vermont, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming and West Virginia currently have fewer than a thousand ---

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