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China Concealed Severity of Virus; Reopening and Bankruptcy in Retail; Pandemic Threatens Meat Supply Chain; Kim Jong-un's Health. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 4, 2020 - 09:30   ET



DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. is putting forward a lie. They're pointing specifically at Mike Pompeo, as you pointed out, just in the evening newscast tonight. The CCTV state broadcaster, which carries heavy propaganda from -- from the government, they were saying that he's evil. And they go on to say that he creates rumors recklessly in the face of science. But their whole approach is that this is a narrative that essentially is a deflection for the U.S. government because they weren't prepared for what was coming their way.

But as you mentioned, Jim, it's going to be really trying for them to keep going with that if you've got Australia, if you've got the U.K., if you've got other countries within Europe who likewise start questioning the origins of this virus.


Mike Rogers, let's talk about the intelligence for a moment here, because there has been reporting that intelligence officials are concerned the administration is doing what's called conclusion shopping here. In other words saying that they've already decided China's responsible and now is pressuring intelligence agencies to find intelligence to support that claim.

That said, we do know that China at least delayed letting word out about the extent of this outbreak here.

What do you see, given the differences between the public statements from the intelligence agencies on this saying we're looking into it, not saying we have evidence, and the secretary of state and the president saying we've seen the evidence, it's real.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Yes, well the intelligence community has come to the conclusion that they don't believe that it was created, a manmade virus in a lab for the purposes of some bioterrorism or at least studying bioterrorism. They've come to that conclusion.

SCIUTTO: Right. ROGERS: So the very strong rhetoric coming out of the U.S. administration, and at least questioning around the world, Pakistan has asked the U.N. for an investigation. I know that members of parliament in Great Britain and Australia as well have asked for study of origin. So there's -- the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. And my argument here is, they may have seen it and then brought it in for testing, but weren't honest with the world about what it was -- where it was and what it, you know, the protocols of this particular virus, Covid-19, were. And that, in fact, probably caused a rippling effect of the impact of Covid-19 around the world. So a little bit of culpability all around.

And why China's reacting so hard, Jim, is this really flies in the face of their free (ph) warfare plan, the first and foremost is controlling public opinion at home --


ROGERS: Let alone internationally. And they're kind of losing this fight and I think you can see that it is driving them absolutely crazy.

SCIUTTO: You're the perfect person to ask this, Mike Rogers, to distinguish between the politics and the intelligence here on this, right, because there were missteps in this country as well in terms of getting on top of this early.

When you see the Trump administration so aggressively go after China and now, frankly, it's talking about punishing China for this series of sanctions, et cetera, is that largely based on the facts of this, or is there a political motivation here as well in terms of diverting responsibility?

ROGERS: So I'm going to guess that the intelligence has shown that China knew and didn't disclose it to -- not only to their communities, but to the world. So there was some delay in them understanding the severity of this and not have full reporting. That's why they didn't want scientists on the ground. They were trying to control again the public opinion of what this was.

The intelligence so far has claimed that they don't believe it was lab made. It's a manmade event. So the real question, and I think why you see these questioning around the -- around the world is, did they, in fact, know about it, were they -- did they bring it in for testing. And that doesn't mean they released it, it just means they were testing on it. So those things I just don't think are yet determined.

I do think if you're going to make this claim, at the least the administration should be doing is briefing that intelligence, those cables to the appropriate members of Congress so that you have a whole, unified effort here.


ROGERS: Having the United States fighting each other about who shot who in Wuhan is not helpful at all. SCIUTTO: Yes.

And those kinds of briefings, administration to the relevant committees, are ones that have become less common in this administration on sensitive intelligence.

David Culver, I'm curious there, because there were -- there were questions inside China, were there not, early on, about the degree of this. You had that crackdown on some of the first doctors and officials who raised a red flag about the virus, although China eventually turned it around.

Are there questions among the Chinese public right now about the origin of this outbreak?

CULVER: Any sort of questions that surface now are quickly censored, if they're brought up on Chinese social media. But you're absolutely right, early on, and this is part of the broader narrative that has played out here, even with Chinese media, some of those with a more independent streak traditionally, were breaking stories about cover- up, silencing of whistleblowers and some of the dire need for medical supplies at the front lines.


Medical personnel saying that they were going into battle so to speak, without armor. Something that was repeated in the U.S. and elsewhere just a few months later.

But what has been portrayed here is that that was a local government misstep. And so it was the local government that was behind that cover-up. They have been pushed aside. The central government stepped in and, Jim, when that happened, all sort of questioning of how they handled it had stopped. And that has continued to be halted.

SCIUTTO: Well, we do know that China -- China's central government has enormous influence around the country, so we should question that line -- line argument, too.

David Culver in Shanghai, Mike Rogers, always good to have both of you.

For the first time, a national retailer says that the virus outbreak will force it into bankruptcy, while another gets ready to reopen its stores. But will shoppers -- and this is the key question -- be willing to come?



SCIUTTO: Macy's is reopening stores across the country today, while J. Crew becomes the first major retailer to file for bankruptcy protections as a result of the outbreak.

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans joins me now. Christine, you know, major retailers, they were already in a bad way

before this, were they not?


SCIUTTO: I mean because of online sales.


SCIUTTO: People just aren't going to the department stores as they were before. I mean is this going to be a death blow for some of these companies?

ROMANS: For some, but you're going to see some different -- a different experience, I think. A retail experience. And these retail CEOs, Jim, are telling us that, you know, look, they don't have a playbook for this. This is not like bad weather or storms that you can get over and the consumer comes back just the same. They've already had all this competition from, you know, Amazon and from online sales, so they've already been struggling. And this Covid just really was difficult.

For Macy's, they're going to start slowly, carefully reopening this week. Maybe 68 stores in certain states. It will be a different retail experience, though. A hand sanitizer, no tailoring, no ear piercing, you know, no fittings. It's going to be a different kind of experience for those mace's stores and they hope to have everything up and running by the middle of June. But, again, it will be different there.

Meantime, you've got J. Crew, which has announced he is filing for bankruptcy. It just didn't make it. It's going to try to reorganize its debts and come out the other end as -- as a different kind of company to handle the new reality of both online shopping and a post- Covid consumer who is cautious.

You know, how many times have I heard people say, are you going to go to the -- to a store and try on a pair of jeans someone else has just touched, right? It's just going to be a different kind of retail experience.

SCIUTTO: OK. One of the stories of the Paycheck Protection Program, one of the big responses to this for small businesses has been the not so small businesses taking advantage of the program. Another major company turning around, sending the money back.


Yes, this is a company called Ashford Hospitality Group and it's a group of luxury hotel chains and boutique hotels and also real estate investment trusts that all together controlled by, you know, by thee same person was able to get tens of millions of dollars, the Treasury secretary saying today, that $68 million has been given back, will go now to truly small businesses.

I'll say, though, this company had defended its move, pointing out that the Congress wrote this law specifically for companies like this to be able to go in multiple times and file for this paycheck protection money. But, you know, it wasn't really the intent. I mean I think the public outcry really of luxury companies with other means of getting capital, tapping into the small business loans, it just didn't -- it just didn't look good.

SCIUTTO: Christine Romans, always on top of it, thanks very much.

ROMANS: Bye, Jim.

SCIUTTO: This morning, Tyson Foods is warning to expect more closures of meat plants this year. Also we've learned that nearly 400 workers at a single pork processing plant in Missouri have now tested positive for Covid-19. These things just the latest threats to the fragile meat supply chain here in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 115 meat and processing facilities across 23 states have reported Covid-19 cases. Nearly 5,000 workers have tested positive for the virus, 20 have died.

Something about the concentration of people at these plants.

CNN's Omar Jimenez live in Chicago.

Omar, you spoke with ranchers as well as workers who were understandably concerned about this. I mean this is a real issue because a lot of them have had to destroy food, have they not, because they can't get it to market?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. I mean, look, we are seeing these new continued outbreaks at meat packing or processing facilities nearly every single day it seems like. And while there are clear health concerns there, there are also sending ripple effects throughout the food supply chain that are really being felt from farm to table.


JIMENEZ (voice over): It's a farm in its fifth generation. But one that's never operated in an environment like this.

TERRY QUAM, MARDA ANGUS FARMS: We'll make the changes we need to make.

JIMENEZ: Terry Quam is an Angus beef cattle farmer in Wisconsin and represents the first link in a farm to table food supply chain with segments on the brink of crisis.

JIMENEZ (on camera): How concerned are you specifically?

QUAM: There's no handbook for this. There's no answer of when things are going to come around and be normal. When will people get to go back to the restaurants and eat the -- the healthy beef that we produce at the restaurants?

JIMENEZ (voice over): Quam has mostly been affected by the stay-at- home orders, but he also markets to meat packers, the same types of facilities that are now seeing coronavirus outbreaks across the country, including in Brown County, which includes Green Bay, Wisconsin, where more than half of all confirmed cases in that county stem from meat packing plants.


Filiberto Martinez says he was concerned workers like himself weren't being given enough protective equipment, so he said something about it and now he's unsure if he's been suspended or fired.

I don't think I did anything wrong, he says. I simply asked for more protection and more safety so that myself and everyone who works there don't get infected or lose their lives.

Martinez says he, along with the workers' rights group, Voces De La Frontera, filed a complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, claiming they were having to work at a faster speed due to less workers being present and that their PPE was get so wet with sweat, some was dripping onto the raw meat.

One of our co-workers next to us, we saw him sick, he says, and said, you know what, if you're feeling bad, why don't you go home and go get checked. He said, no, I don't have anything. But like I said, there's a fear that this person had to lose the benefits of his job. It's a balance workers across the country are trying to find.

ERNEST LATIKER, TYSON FOODS EMPLOYEE: They told me I have a better chance of catching the coronavirus going out to Walmart than at Tyson. Come to work, you're safe.

JIMENEZ: Tyson told CNN they couldn't address the specific situation as described, but that particular Tyson plant in Iowa closed with over 150 confirmed cases tied to the facility. This as thousands of other workers in the U.S. have either shown symptoms or been hospitalized. And with President Trump's executive order compelling these locations to reopen or stay open, workers are caught in the middle.

Who wants to die, Martinez says. I think no one. And so it's not the same thing to be in the danger versus when you're looking at the danger.

The effects have been noticed at grocery stores, too. Kroger, for example, putting limits on some meat purchases tied to shopper demand.

Back on the farm, the worries are less about what people are eating and more about finding places to sell.

QUAM: When Mother Nature throws us a curveball, you've got to figure out a way to get around it and work with it and take care of business.

JIMENEZ: And the business of keeping America fed is being tested alongside the health of the many who make it a reality.


JIMENEZ: And with President Trump's executive order, now comes down to these companies to try and put in place safe practices as laid out by the CDC and Department of Labor for these workers, workers that are scared in some cases to try and keep this food supply chain moving. And, Jim, it's a dynamic that isn't going away any time soon.

SCIUTTO: Workers and consumers, too, right? Their concerned that they won't have what they want on the store shelves.

Omar Jimenez, thanks very much.

Out of the public eye for weeks, speculation swirled about his condition, as did intelligence. South Korea now insists North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un has been fine all along. We're going to have a live report from Seoul, next.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

A U.S. official tells CNN that images of the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un released by North Korean state media are legitimate, according to earlier analysis. This comes as South Korea says it does not believe that Kim had any surgery during the three weeks he vanished from public view. Global speculation, as well as U.S. intelligence about Kim's health have been swirling since he missed the celebration of his grandfather's birthday on April 15th.

Paula Hancocks is live in Seoul.

Tell us what South Korean officials are saying to explain his absence.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, at this point we have from an official with the Blue House, the presidential office here, that they don't believe he did have any surgery. They also don't believe that he had any kind of medical procedure. Now, they say they do have reasons for that assessment, but they can't give those details to the public.

Now, this afternoon, officials have consistently said that they believed nothing was amiss in North Korea. We had one of the advisers to President Moon Jae-in telling us that Kim Jong-un was alive and well.

So what we have seen as well from the Unification Ministry is a bit of pushback. They have been criticizing some of the reports that have been out there saying that baseless information had caused unnecessary chaos for South Korea, urging caution on reporting on North Korea going forward.

But this is something that South Korea had consistently said, that they did believe that he was alive and well. And they say, from what they have seen, there is absolutely nothing to suggest that there is anything different with Kim Jong-un and no procedures have been carried out.


SCIUTTO: So there were shots fired between North and South Korea on Sunday. What do we know? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeming to say that they may have been accidental?

HANCOCKS: Well, that's the impression we're getting from the South Korean side as well. This was early Sunday morning when North Korean soldiers fired upon a South Korean guard post within the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. Four of those gunshots hit the wall of the guard post but no one was injured.

But what we are hearing from a South Korea military official is that it was foggy. It was the that North Koreans generally check their equipment. And there we also North Korean farmers in the field. So everything was relatively normal.

Now, they haven't explicitly said so, but given that information, it would implicitly suggest that this appears to have been an accident.

But as far as we know, at this point, that the South Koreans did give a verbal warning. They fired back twice, which is the usual protocol we're told by the JCS, the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


And as far as they're concerned, they don't believe anyone was hurt on the other side either.


SCIUTTO: Paula Hancock in South Korea, thanks very much.

It is a significant shift by President Trump, who says the number of Americans killed by coronavirus could near 100,000.

And in moments, a monumental day at the Supreme Court, a place that does not change very often. Justices are about to hear arguments with no one in the same room, and, crucially, we can hear it live as it's happening.


SCIUTTO: Good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

It could be even deadlier. President Trump has revised up the possible U.S. death toll from the outbreak to 100,000 people. This comes as more states are moving to reopen their economies today.


Other states keeping restrictions in place despite growing pressure.

The pressure also building, of course, to get a vaccine.