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Ousted Vaccine Chief Files Whistleblower Complaint; Essential Workers Bear Brunt Of Frustrations Boiling Over On Social Distancing, Wearing Masks; Intel From U.S. Allies Contradicts Trump Claim Coronavirus Originated In Wuhan Lab; China Warns Of Potential Armed Conflict Over U.S. Hostilities. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 5, 2020 - 14:30   ET




BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We are now getting breaks news, getting out first look at the complaint that's been filed by the vaccine expert who says he was dismissed as head of a federal vaccine agency as retaliation because he spoke out against the treatment touted by President Trump.

Let's go right to our White House correspondents, Kaitlan Collins and Jeremy Diamond.

This is all breaking as we're talking. You tell me, Kaitlan -- we're talking about Rick Bright. Tell me the details of this complaint.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We haven't heard Rick Bright's name since he was abruptly dismissed from his job, a job he had had for several years before the coronavirus outbreak, Brooke.

A lot of people may not know what BARDA is. It's a small governmental agency, but it's really powerful. It's in charge of leading the charge when it comes to the production and purchase of vaccines. So obviously, it's important right now.

Rick Bright has formally filed a complaint with the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services, basically saying he believes he was retaliated against and that's why he was removed from his job.

This is a lengthy complaint. We're still going through it. We know a lot of the basis of it after we got that initial statement from him from when he was dismissed.

As we were going through this complaint, you're seeing Rick Bright tell the story of how he believes he was trying to sound the alarm about coronavirus back in January, meeting with top leadership at HHS, including Secretary Alex Azar, who, of course, has been in the news for the last several weeks, but also other deputies at HHS, including Bob Kadlec, someone we reported on extensively.

Basically, he's saying he was going to them, telling them he was seeing serious warning signs and that the U.S. needed to make sure it was prepared when it came to resources, masks, vaccine, of course, and how they were going to move forward. He was saying a lot of those complaints were ignored by the leadership.

We're still looking into the complaints specifically. It's in pretty big detail as you're reading through this. Of course, the question will be, how does HHS respond.

So far, there's been basically completely silent since he was ousted from his job so abruptly, that he found out about the fact he was being pushed out of that role, Brooke, from an aide who informed him his picture had been taken over the Web site.


So we're still reading though this. But what he's saying basically is he saw warning signs at the beginning of this year, he tried to alert leadership of the warning signs, and he says they were ignored.

BALDWIN: I want to dig in more on the specifics of the complaint.

But Jeremy, to you, tell me more about -- Kaitlan mentioned BARDA. Tell me more about Rick Bright's background.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What's important to know is BARDA it's part of another office, which is the office of the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, which is the office in charge of preparing for unknowns like, for example, a global pandemic. But the leadership there is composed the political appointees.

One of those political appointees, also a doctor is Dr. Robert Kadlek. And our precious reporting has shown, Brooke, is there was a lot of tension, we were told, between Dr. Bright and Dr. Kadlek. There was a lot of friction between the two men event preceding this coronavirus pandemic. We have since learned that that friction exacerbated in the hectic response to this pandemic.

What we are also seeing in the 89 pages -- again, you can see it here. This is a really lengthy document we're still sifting through. But Dr. Bright is alleging he was retaliated against, that that is why he was moved from his position there to a lesser, more narrow position at the National Institutes of Health. And he's seeking to get his position as head of BARDA back.

As Kaitlan mentioned, some of the allegations he's making include that he was warning Dr. Kadlec and other senior officials at the Department of Health and Human Services about the need to purchase syringes for a potential vaccine, about shortages of testing swabs, shortages of masks. And essentially what he's conveying is that his warnings were not heeded in the serious manner that they should have been.

Of course, again, this is just his prospective. But he's providing a trove of e-mails to try to back up the claims he's making in this document. We're still sifting through all of those, Brooke. But again, a more serious picture is emerging of the retaliation he

said he faced and also, frankly, of the administration's response to the pandemic at the beginning and perhaps some warning signs that may not have been heeded, at least according to these allegations.

BALDWIN: It is startling, these allegations.

To the two of you, thank you. Keep digging, keep reading that massive complaint.

I want to get a little bit of analysis. I've got our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, with me, and our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

Gloria, from what we have all just heard, it sounds like Dr. Bright was the canary that was ignored.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly. Don't forget what his position was. He was in charge of developing vaccines, which is what we all want and what we're all looking for. He has a doctorate in immunology. And he is somebody, as we know from his previous statements, he thought things were being misdirected because of cronyism and politics.

There's a side story here. Alex Azar, the head of HHS at the time, told the Coronavirus Task Force that Dr. Bright had been reassigned and that it was a promotion. When they left that meeting, they discovered that, in fact, after they read Dr. Bright's public letter, that it was not a promotion, that it was a demotion, and that they felt blindsided.

You had the vice president of the United States feeling that the head of HHS wasn't being truthful about why he decided to reassign this qualified doctor, who, in fact, was in charge of what everyone in the country is looking for right now, which is a vaccine.

Don't forget, the timing of all of this was when the president was promoting all kinds of cures, Hydroxychloroquine being one of them. I'm sure that was one thing that got under Dr. Bright's skin.

BALDWIN: That's what I read.

Elizabeth, I'll put this to you.

Bright had been promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lacked scientific merit. Remind us about that. Remind us about that.

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We're at the beginning stages of this. But Dr. Bright says he felt pressure to make several drugs available widespread that could be potentially dangerous, and he specifically named Hydroxychloroquine. This is the drug that Trump was touting for weeks.

He pointed to a very small French study that now is under investigation, that shows that it worked, and it turns out it doesn't really show that it worked, but somehow he got hung up on this drug as being a close game changer.


And so it sounds like Dr. Bright felt pressure to make that drug widely available when there were issues. It didn't look it worked when more studies came out. And it looked like it could also cause heart problems.

It's interesting, in this document, Brooke, he notes he was trying to sound the alarm that there wasn't enough Remdesivir out there. Remdesivir, as it turns out, just recently, we found out, it's the only drug shown in clinical trials to do anything against the coronavirus.

And he says that he knew that early on, from what the Chinese were tell him, or what he was hearing from the Chinese, and he was concerned there wasn't going to be enough Remdesivir.

BALDWIN: Elizabeth and Gloria, thank you both for jumping in on the breaking story. We'll come back to it.

In the meantime, new intelligence shows where the virus likely came from, as Dr. Fauci rejects this right-wing theory.

And frustrations are boiling over across this country over social distancing, wearing face masks. And essential workers like store clerks and park rangers are bearing the brunt of it.



BALDWIN: All the protests against social distancing and stay-at-home orders have become dangerous, even now deadly. We are seeing more acts of violence as people refuse to heed public safety protocols.

Listen to this. A security guard at a Family Dollar store in Flint, Michigan, was shot in the head after an argument with a shopper about wearing a face mask. The alleged gunman who remains at large is going to be charged with murder.

In Michigan, police have arrested a Dollar Tree shopper who wiped his nose on the shirt of an employees who reminded him to wear a mask. Police say the man turned to the clerk and said, "Here, I'll use this as a mask." He's charged with assault.

In Austin, Texas, a park ranger was pushed into this lake after he tried to explain social distancing rules to a group of people at this Austin park. Look at this. That suspect is facing a state felony charge. His lawyer says he's feeling embarrassed about what happened.

In Stillwater, Oklahoma, store employees were threatened with physical violence when they asked customers to follow a citywide order to wear masks. The backlash was so abusive that the mayor was forced to lift the face-mask mandate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I'm going to get it, I'll get it. I feel like I may not even get it at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you should just err on precaution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not the mayor's business whether I wear a mask or not.


BALDWIN: A Colorado man was arrested this weekend after the FBI found pipe bombs and other illegal devices in his possession. A source told CNN he also had discussed attending a coronavirus anti-shutdown rally and openly carrying as a, quote, show of force."

CNN's Security Correspondent, Josh Campbell, joins me now.

Tell me what else have you learned? This is horrible.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is, Brooke. As FBI agents executed a search on this person's house, they found a small arsenal, finding pipe bombs, gun powder, other accessories that are used to make explosives.

When FBI agents asked the suspect what he planned to do with this material, he said he would use again law enforcement officers in the event they staged some type of entry on their home.

I'm also told by a law enforcement source that this the suspect and a number of associates also talked about going to the state capitol in Colorado and openly carrying firearms in a show of force similar to what we recently saw at the Michigan state capitol.

This source saying that this person shows that although people are out there exercising their Second Amendment right, you never know who is around you. As this person shows, that person could be a powder keg waiting to go off.

This incident follows a number across the country. You just went through several of them.

One police officer I talked to said, in any crisis, you're going to have bad people doing bad things to innocent people. For the thousands of police officers, FBI agents, law enforcement officers around the country, although, this remains a public health issue, for them, it remains a public safety issue -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Of course. Of course.

This is all happening as the FBI says they've seen a spike in gun sale background checks, right?

CAMPBELL: That's right. New data from the FBI, very interesting, indicating that the number of background checks for the sale or transfer of firearms remains high. In March. we reported that the number of background checking peaked to a record-shattering level of 3.7 million background checks. The number last month is lower than that but still higher than earlier in the year.

I talked to a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, who said, in this time of fear, people want to be able to protect themselves. I also talked to someone who advocates for gun violent prevention, who said that that argument is way off base, that the last thing people need right now, in this time of fear, is to introduce a weapon into their home -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Josh Campbell, thank you.

China warns of a potential armed conflict with the United States as tensions escalate over COVID-19.

And three frontline health care workers who mysteriously fall out of hospital windows in Russia, raising questions about why.

Moments from now, the president will arrive in Arizona for his first trip since the shutdown.


Stand by.


BALDWIN: New intelligence shows several key alleys contradicts claims by Trump and Pompeo that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory. Canada, Australia and New Zealand are sharing intelligence that it is unlikely the virus came from a lab in Wuhan and is likely a natural transfer from animals to humans.

Add to that, now Dr. Fauci saying, in a new interview with "National Geographic," that the scientist evidence shows the virus did not originate in a lab.

Josh Rogin is from "The Washington Post" and a CNN political analyst.

Good to see you.

As Fauci rejects this theory, you have the president and the secretary of state floating this despite the intelligence they have reportedly had behind the scenes?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. There are a lot of conflicting reports but I think could make sense of them all for you right now.

So when the administration talks about the evidence pointing to a lab accident theory, not bio, but an accident theory, they're referring to a case based on open-source evidence, not spy stuff. Just things we know, based on the fact that the closest virus to the one making us sick came from this Wuhan lab.

And we know the safety concerns about the lab dated back to 2018 and the Chinese government refused and then they found no evidence to support that that is true but it means they can't confirm through secret means what we're all seeing publicly that is raising our suspicions. They can't confirm the seafood market either.

It basically means they don't know squat either way. It is circumstantial an both sides. Trump officials believe it was a lab accident and Intel can't confirm it. And everybody is leaking to everybody so everybody is confused.

BALDWIN: OK. I appreciate how you laid it out.

Yes, Fauci was pouring cold water on it.

ROGIN: Fauci said it wasn't a manmade virus. He didn't think it was a lab accident. And if it was, it came from nature any way. Even if it came from nature and went to the lab and then escaped, we need to know that.

But the big question that no one could answer is, how did it get from a thousand miles away to Wuhan. It bit an animal that walks a thousand miles or they collected it, brought it to Wuhan and it escaped. One of those things has to be true.

BALDWIN: China. China is getting aggressive in rhetoric and warning of possible armed conflict with the U.S. is this just total bluster?

ROGIN: This is a paper written by a Chinese think tank. It doesn't represent the Chinese government. But there's a risk that the worst- case scenario on both sides could become self-fulfilling prophecy if the hardliners take control of the policy.

The fact that they're even discussing this shows you how bad U.S./China relations are. And both the U.S. and China has a responsibility to step back from the brink and figure out how to work together. Because it takes both of us to get through the pandemic but to have a U.S./China relationship that doesn't result in a conflict.

BALDWIN: Josh Rogin, smart analysis as always. Good to see you my friend. Thank you.


ROGIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: And an E.R. doctor is responding to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who said Americans should accept that many people will die in order to come back to America's livelihood, reopen business. So we'll talk to him live.

Plus, I will speak with a woman who is training thousands of people to trace the virus once people are infected. We'll talk when contact tracing.

And breaking news this afternoon. We're just now getting our first look at a that complaint filed by the vaccine expert who says he was dismissed as head of the federal vaccine agency as retaliation in Washington.