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CNN NEWSROOM

Pence Staff Tests Positive for Coronavirus; Trump: Some Governors Opening Slowing to Hurt My Reelection Chances; California Taking 1st Significant Steps to Reopening Economy Today; Larry Levitt, Kaiser Family Foundation Executive V.P., Discusses Concerning Impact on Minorities, Nursing Home Residents & Poll Showing Most Americans Say Reopening Not Worth Risk; Trump Attacks FBI Chief in Wake of Flynn Charges Dropping. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 8, 2020 - 13:30   ET

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


[13:30:00]

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Again, they are exceptional, Vivian. The president and the vice president came in contact with somebody with the virus and they're not self-quarantined.

VIVIAN SALAMA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: They're not self- quarantined. This is a pattern, John, we've been seeing for the last couple of months where, I suppose, their appetite for the risk is higher. And it could be very dangerous.

My experience being on these trips, as other colleagues, a lot of people go on these trips. These planes are packed. You have members of Congress that often travels with the vice president or the president when they're going to state visits. Cabinet secretaries. We believe Sonny Perdue is on the plane, among others.

And you have to think of other people and the people they're coming into contact with. The people in Iowa who they're going to be meeting with are going to be exposed.

Last year, Air Force Two was supposed to go on a trip to New Hampshire and they pulled the plug on that trip at the last minute because it was revealed there was a convicted interstate drug dealer that may come into contact with the vice president during that trip. So they pulled the plug at the last minute when everyone was on the plane and the plan was on the tarmac ready to take off.

There's precedent for pulling the plug on these trips when there is a risk to the vice president or his staff. Why they took off in the first place is one of the other questions we'll be asking.

KING: We'll keep on asking that question, Phil, both you and Vivian, part of our reporting team, about how the White House mindset has switched in recent days.

It is an election year and the president sees the unemployment numbers. He wants to focus on reopening. He wants to focus on - he took a trip to Arizona. The vice president is traveling today -- on at least some things are safe. We can safely open a little bit. I want to listen to the president this morning on a day a devastating unemployment report came out. The president knows the potential impact of that.

The president suggesting that some governors are going slow not to protect their citizens, not because of health and safety, but because they're trying to hurt the president's reelection chances. Listen

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): You look at some cases, some people think they are doing it for politics. Here we go again. But they think they're doing it because it will hurt me the long it takes. It'll hurt in the election, the longer it takes to open up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There's a lot of remarkable thing the president says. I am going to put that one high on the list.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's entitled to his own opinion. There's no evidence of that. When you talk to aids to governors throughout the country, no governor wants to have their states locked down. No governors want the state-based economic numbers that's aligned with the national economic jobs number like the job numbers we saw today.

Every governor is cognizant of a couple of things. One, people are going crazy in their homes. And small business owners are watching their small businesses starting to fall off the cliff. Federal support is not enough. There's no basis in that.

What's interesting -- Vivian took the lead on the story we worked on -- is the shift you see on the White House on reopening in general. There's a recognition right now, over the course of the last several weeks.

Some people were asking is this job number going to be a gut punch for the president, for his economic team. The answer is no. They knew this was coming. And that, in large part, the knowledge of depth of the crisis, of the economic pain around the country has been, in large part, what led to their shift.

It was very public health focused. It was, listen to guidelines and task force focused. It's now very economic focused.

And one of the reasons why -- and we can talk to White House officials and congressional officials, outside groups as well -- is there's a belief inside the White House that reopening is the only way to get the economy back, not the two to three trillion dollars in stimulus that's pumped in and not what the Federal Reserve has been doing. Only reopening will help.

And while there are very significant concerns, and you can see that on a state-by-state level, but whether the public health realities actually merit that point, inside the White House, the decision has been made that it is time to focus on reopening because, if they don't, over the course several months, the economy is going to get significantly worse -- John?

KING: As they do so, Vivian -- we can put up a national map here. How do they answer when you discuss the risk of this? You get political calculation from the president. But if you look at this map right now, there's a lot of red there. Those are states where cases this week versus last week. The cases are still going up. Only 15 states are going down.

So there's a huge risk in this gamble to put your foot on the reopen accelerator.

SALAMA: That's right, John. It's rebuffing. Everything is rebuffing. Everything that the medical experts have been saying, a lot of warnings that a hasty reopening of the country could trigger another severe wave of the virus come next fall and winter.

This is something that economists kept on warning us as well when we were doing this story. Even White House officials kind of acknowledged that we could see another waver because of the fact that we are rushing to reopen. We could be exposing ourselves to another serious wave of the virus.

[13:35:00]

Economically speaking, there's a danger in that and of the whole stop- start scenario of reopening and possibly closing again, if it is so severe and we had to shut down again, could be detrimental for an economy already reeling from this.

The White House officials acknowledge that. But say they can't think far ahead. We need to have progress now. And that's what they are focusing is now and not six months or a year from now, which is worrying a lot of people watching this closely.

KING: The election just shy of six months from now.

Vivian and Phil, excellent reporting.

Go to CNN.com. I urge to read to read the whole thing. It's great reporting on the mindset of the White House and around the Republican Party.

Up next for us, new data highlights the devastating impact on nursing homes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:40:35]

KING: By Sunday, all but three of the 50 states will be at least partially reopened. That's 47 states each with its own strategy. Including letting stay-at-home orders expire or loosening rules in phases. California is one of the go-slow states. It was one of the first states in the nation to have a stay-at-home order go into effect. Today, it begins easing restrictions around certain businesses.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is outside a floral shop in Los Angeles.

Stephanie, what is allowed in California and what is not?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, one of the things they are saying is key here, that they are seeing a stabilization of hospital rates. That's why they're allowing some businesses to come back online.

You will see some industries, as in manufacturing, see some construction coming back, rental cars coming back. All of that is based on having new measures to distance people and safety while they are working.

There's also retail, like flooring can come back, and some stores. Everything has to be sold curb side, delivery. They can't come into the stores generally.

We see all these flowers here. This is right before Mother's Day. So it is great for these businesses. But there are still concerns that perhaps we are opening up too soon and some business may have to close longer.

Take a listen to what this florist had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FLORIST: I think there are still places that needs to be close, it depends how big of a risk it is.

For me, as a small shop, I'm not going to let. I can operate but not ownership everything because we'll have a second wave and we'll go back to square one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ELAM: That's part of the fear there, that whole idea of the second wave. We know the virus is not going on vacation. The virus is here and present.

One ray of sunshine is that you see these are all orders coming in because people are putting in bigger orders, she tells me, because they're not able to go see mom. That's a good bit of news there.

The other thing is trails are opening up here in Los Angeles. But in San Francisco, they're saying they're keeping their city closed a little longer. You see a little bit of difference throughout the state -- John?

KING: Stephanie Elam, appreciate the report. Beautiful flowers. It is nice to see beautiful flowers especially of what we have been going through the last couple of weeks. Stephanie, thank you very much.

Let's take a closer look at some of the impact of coronavirus, including this. Take a peek. In 13 states, half or more of the deaths come from long-term care facility. That from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The executive vice president for health policy at Kaiser, Larry Levitt, joins me.

Mr. Levitt, when you look at those numbers, in 13 states, more than half of the deaths attributed to long-term care facilities, A, do you see any evidence that they finally get it and enough is being done or this is going to be a legacy stain of this coronavirus when we get to the other side?

LARRY LEVITT, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT FOR HEALTH POLICY, KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION: This is a massive crisis within a massive crisis when you look at long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

In some states, it's more than half of the deaths. In some states, it's almost three-quarters of the deaths.

There are some states that's trying to do something about it. There's massive testing in these homes. They're trying to segregate patients, so creating homes that are COVID only nursing homes where and you can isolate those patients.

But it is tough. We are dealing with people who are old and often have chronic conditions and are in confined spaces. So it is a recipe for disaster.

KING: One of the things the Kaiser Family Foundation is trying is take a look and get a better understanding of the at-risk adult population. We can show you some of the data. Some are at higher risk for illness. You see African Americans. You see Native Americans. You see Hispanic- Americans.

What are you learning when you look at this data that is unique about the coronavirus?

LEVITT: The virus can infect anyone but there are certain groups that are much higher risk for severe illness. Meaning needing to go to the hospital or at higher risk of deaths. It's people with preexisting conditions.

We talked a lot about preexisting conditions in the context of the Affordable Care act and efforts to repeal it. The coronavirus is vulnerable to people with preexisting conditions as well. People with diabetes and heart disease and lung disease.

Those are the people at higher risk of severe illness. And they are dying in nursing homes. A lot of people at nursing homes have that condition as well.

[13:45:16] KING: Let me take what you know and what the foundation is studying about this and overlap it with public opinion. This is a new number form a ABC News poll out today. Opening the country right now is a third of Americans. A third of Americans, 34 percent, answer worth it. But 64 percent, nearly two-thirds of Americans, say is not worth it.

Does that number surprise you given what you see in the data and what we know about the nastiness of this virus?

LEVITT: I don't think it surprises me. Our polling shows similar results.

When you are looking at those people who are at risk of severe illness, because you're old, you have one of these preexisting conditions, we are talking about 100 million people. That's a lot of Americans and family members or friends. So people know the risk that they face here and they're worried about it.

Everyone wants to get the economy moving but you have to balance that with getting to the point where you can manage this pandemic and prevent these kinds of horrible outcomes.

KING: Larry Levitt, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, really appreciate your insights today. Thank you, sir.

LEVITT: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

When we come back, shifting from the coronavirus. The president is happy, his former national security adviser, case dismissed. But he's mad at his current FBI director.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:50:00]

KING: The president a happy man today, praising his attorney general for dropping charges, trying to remove the Justice Department from the case against the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

As the president said that was good news -- listen here -- he also raised some questions about his current FBI director, Christopher Wray.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP (voice-over): Well, a lot of things are going to be told over the next couple of weeks. And let's see what happens. He was appointed by Rod Rosenstein.

Let's see what happens with him. Look, the jury is out with regard to that. But it would have been a lot easier if he came out rather than skirting and going through 19 different ways except through the FBI.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Let's bring in our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, I can't quite follow what the president is trying to say there about his current FBI director. He appointed Christopher Wray. He's trying to blame Rod Rosenstein, which tells me he's not happy with Christopher Wray.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it does seem to indicate what we've been hearing that the president is not happy with Christopher Wray. I think it's clear that the president wishes he could maybe get rid of Christopher Wray. But it appears that the political implications of that is what's stopping him.

And the irony of this is this, John. Christopher Wray helped some of these investigations. He appointed FBI agents to help with this review that produced some of these documents that have now led to the Justice Department dropping these charges against Michael Flynn. He turned over some of those documents previously to the inspector general, which looked at some of these things.

So it's not clear why the president is so fixated on Christopher Wray and think Wray is some kind of problem. Again, as you pointed out, he's the one who picked Christopher Wray, not Rod Rosenstein.

KING: This is a pattern of the president. He works in law enforcement in the Trump administration. Therefore, he must have already joined the deep state.

Listen, the president is happy. Michael Flynn pled guilty twice. Michael Flynn pled guilty twice. Two plea agreements. The Justice Department now saying, never mind, it doesn't believe in the predicate of the Mueller investigation. But the judge has to approve this and the judge was harshly critical of General Flynn.

PEREZ: He has. And I think that's an important point for us to really underline here. The judge in this case, Emmet Sullivan, has a history of doing unpredictable things. As you mentioned, being very harsh from the bench against Michael Flynn.

I wouldn't be surprised, John, if this judge says, I want to know why the Justice Department is doing this. I want to examine this further.

Keep in mind, Michael Flynn stood before this very judge and said that he had lied. So he told the judge that he had lied. He also pleaded guilty before another judge.

So this judge is not going to like the idea that Michael Flynn essentially lied to him. And judges don't tend to like that kind of thing. So he's going to want to know a lot more about catholic what happened exactly what happened here.

Yesterday, one of the prosecutors from the Flynn case withdrew from the case. And another prosecutor, also involved, did not sign that document that was submitted. There's a lot of questions that remain as to exactly what happened here. The attorney general, Bill Barr, who has been working on this issue

closely, says that, essentially, that there was no reason for this investigation. Well, we still know that Michael Flynn said that he lied.

KING: He did that. He did say that before a judge in a federal courthouse.

Evan Perez, thank you so much for the reporting. We'll continue to stay on top of the reporting.

[13:54:29]

Up next for us, a northeast governor taking steps towards reopening.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Quick look now at some of the states easing restriction. This weekend, Rhode Island's governor said her state, the Ocean State, the first in the northeast to lift the stay-at-home order. That ahead of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Social gatherings limited to up to five people. Retail stores can start reopening in Rhode Island again tomorrow.

Pennsylvania allowing counties to open in color-coded phases. See it right there. Today, 24 counties, moving from a red phase to yellow and can begin a limited reopening.

And hair, nail and tanning salons are now on the list of businesses open in Texas, despite cases there increasing this past week by 10 percent to 15 percent since the state reopened some of its businesses.

Thanks for joining us today. Hope to see you on Sunday morning at 8:00 in the east if you can get up early with us.

Brooke Baldwin picks up our coverage right now. Have a nice and a safe weekend.

[14:00:07]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me on this Friday afternoon. You are watching CNN's special live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.