Return to Transcripts main page
Former Ebola Czar, Ron Klain, Shows Virus Playbook On Twitter After McConnell Criticizes Obama Administration For Not Leaving One; Jeremy Konyndyk Discusses Trump Administration Dismantling Obama Administration Virus Playbook; Update On Coronavirus Response Around The World; U.S. Supreme Court Hears Arguments On Whether Trump Should Release Tax Returns. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired May 12, 2020 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LORENA GONZALEZ, (D), CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLYWOMAN: The only positive out about this is maybe some folks out there will look at electric vehicles in a different light, and maybe we can tackle a little climb change with his tweet.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Can I ask you, real quickly, what happens if -- as we understand from reports, Tesla has been actually operations here for days. What happens if someone, an employee, dies?
GONZALEZ: Well, you know, that's the risk that Elon Musk is taking. But it wouldn't be the first employee to die at one his facilities. This is a man who has disregarded worker safety over and over and over again. And at the same time, he continues to take (EXPLETIVE DELETED) taxpayer money.
I'm sorry for my language. I really am. But that was the feeling that I had at that moment when I realized that Elon Musk doesn't care about his workers, he doesn't care about their families, and the people in California that are just trying to keep safe.
KEILAR: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, thank you so much.
GONZALEZ: Thank you.
KEILAR: We have more on our breaking news. Dr. Fauci warning about the consequences of reopening too early. Why he thinks the death toll is higher than reported and what should happen when it comes to schools this fall.
Plus, United changes its rules about social distancing. Hear what you can do if your flight is too crowded.
Senator Mitch McConnell says President Obama should be, quote, "keeping his mouth shut when criticizing the federal response." But he's actually completely wrong in his claims.
[14:36:03] KEILAR: Just a day after former President Obama ripped the Trump administration's response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had this sharp criticism of Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I this think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut. But I think it's a little bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you.
We want to be early ready for the next one. Clearly, the Obama administration did not leave to this administration any kind of game plan for something like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: And while President Trump and his allies continue to push the claim that the Obama White House did not prepare them for the pandemic, the facts and several officials say otherwise.
Among them, Obama's Ebola Czar Ron Klain, who responded to McConnell on Twitter, saying, "People have tweeted at me, oh, sure maybe they left the playbook, but was is specific about this kind of virus?" And Klain's tweet shows a copy of the manual, pointing out that page nine mentions novel influenza viruses, including the coronavirus.
Jeremy Konyndyk is the former head of U.S. Foreign Disastrous Assistance, where he led the U.S. government's response to large humanitarian crises. And he's also a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.
Thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate you being with us.
You were actual a part of this pandemic playbook force if you will. You worked on the Ebola response. So tell us what is in this manual and was the administration briefed on it?
JEREMY KONYNDYK, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT & FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. FOREIGN DISASTER ASSISTANCE: They were extensively briefed to the extent that they pay attention to these things during the transition.
We really did everything we could to try to leave them in a position to be prepared for this. We left them the detailed playbook, which specifically cited novel coronavirus as a tier-one pathogen risk.
We left them a dedicated team at the White House that was focused on preparing the world and the United States for exactly this kind of a major pandemic scenario.
And even during the transition, we -- there was an exercise, tabletop exercise for the incoming national security team that focused on a pandemic scenario.
So short of a flashing neon sign in the Situation Room saying, watch out for a pandemic, I'm not sure what more we could have done. KEILAR: Are there any areas, as you look at the response here, where
you think the administration has gotten it right or maybe they've righted the ship?
KONYNDYK: It is hard to find much that is going right with the federal response right now.
I think a number of states are getting on the right track. I think that California and Washington in particular have distinguished themselves by taking early action. That has prevented much worse outcomes.
In other states, I think the governor of Ohio has done a good job. Michigan has done a good job. You see governors, Massachusetts as well, that have taken the science seriously and acted on the science. And they're seeing the results of that in their states.
I think, at a federal level, we don't see that yet. What we see is over-promising, big, grandiose promises that don't pan out. We have seen that on testing, repeatedly seen that on vaccine and therapeutic production. We have seen that on predictions for the virus going away. First, it was going to go away in April, now in the summer.
We have yet to see any of those things pan out. I think, again, the president is not making policy based on science here.
KEILAR: It was three years ago, and you wrote in a piece for "Politico" that it was a matter of when, not if a new global health crisis occurred. You noted that every president, going back to Ronald Reagan, has dealt with one.
At the time, you said the Trump White House had undermined several key components of federal crisis management in just the first month in office.
Today, Dr. Fauci said the U.S. does not have COVID-19 under control completely.
What is your biggest concern for the weeks and months ahead?
KONYNDYK: Well, I think the big concern now is that we are beginning to -- well, states are beginning to reopen at a higher level of transmission than when they closed in the first place. The levels of transmission that began triggering the lockdowns when they began, state by state, back in March were still fairly small.
A lot of those states, I think, part of the reasons we have not seen more spread outside of New York and some of the early hard-hit areas is because the trend lines were developing later in some of the other states. So when they lock down in reaction to what was happening in New York, they managed to avert those terrible outcomes.
You know, a week or two of difference can make an enormous difference to the trend of your curve when you're talking about an exponentially growth in cases.
So the risk there, then, is they're mistaking that kind of -- the effectiveness of that early action for somehow some natural protection that they have or some natural way that they're going to avoid getting as bad as New York.
But the lesson, actually, of the lockdowns, I think, is the states that acted even a bit earlier did a lot better. They risk unlearning that lesson if they relax measures too prematurely. I think most states are not really truly ready.
KEILAR: You distilled it down when you say that they are reopening with infection rates higher than when they closed.
Jeremy, thank you so much. Jeremy Konyndyk, we appreciate it.
KONYNDYK: Thank you.
KEILAR: Caught on video, inmates purposely trying to infect each other with the coronavirus. We'll tell you why.
Plus, the other blockbuster today in Washington, Supreme Court justices listening to arguments about whether the president can keep his tax returns secrets and asking some tough questions. You'll hear it for yourself in just a moment.
KEILAR: After a number of new coronavirus cases in Wuhan, Chinese officials say they plan to conduct citywide testing to prevent the virus's further spread. The testing is expected to last 10 days and cover 11 million people.
Here's a look at other international pandemic headlines that we are covering.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Paula Hancocks, in Seoul. More than 10,000 people have already been tested in relation to one outbreak in Seoul's nightclub district and more than 100 of them have tested positive.
I spoke to Seoul's city mayor earlier today about this. He said even though the capital city had been enjoying a significant period of zero cases of local transmission, this shows a lesson to be learned, that we are still not safe and an outbreak can happen at any place, anytime.
FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Fred Pleitgen, in Berlin, where the German government says it is concerned about what could be a new acceleration of the novel coronavirus.
Germany saw a spike in new infections in a 24-hour period. The German Centers for Disease Control says the reproduction number for the coronavirus has been above one for three days running. Now, that could mean the virus is expanding once again rather than getting pushed back.
All of this as Germany is beginning to open up and easing some of the restrictions. However, the government has said, if there's a new spike in infections, the country could go back on lockdown.
THEO ELYETT, EYEWITNESS NEWS, BAHAMAS: I'm Theo Elyett, in the Bahamas. Its week eight of the lockdown, and the tourism sector continues to spiral as all cruise travel is prohibited.
The economy is down some 8 percent. And the prime minister here expects that unemployment will spike from 12 percent to 30 percent. The government is rolling out millions in unemployment benefit packages for thousands of furloughed employees.
Phases of reopening the economy has begun with construction resuming on some aisles. Essential services and public sectors are offerable. And businesses offering curbside pickup or delivery are in full swing.
Meantime, foreign affairs officials are investigating how Bahamian male, who tested positive for COVID-19, was on board a repatriated flight from south Florida to the Bahamas. Mass testing of all individuals on that flight is underway.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matthew Chance. The main spokesman for Russia's president has been hospitalized with coronavirus, raising questions about the health of the country's leader, Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin says Putin has been working remotely, but he's also had a few in-person meetings. So their statement says his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has not seen his boss for over a month.
Still it underlines just how pervasive the virus has become in Russia, which is reporting more than 10,000 new infections every day.
And there are signs of the strain. Earlier, at least five coronavirus patients were killed in a blaze at a hospital ward in St. Petersburg. In the weekend, another was killed when a fire broke out in a Moscow hospital. Emergency workers say both incidents were caused by faulty ventilators bursting into flames.
KEILAR: We'll have more on our breaking news ahead here. Dr. Fauci warning why he thinks the death toll is higher than reported.
Plus, news just in on the vice president and why he is staying far from the president.
And caught on video, inmates purposely trying to infect each other with the coronavirus. Hear why. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KEILAR: The Supreme Court today hearing arguments in a trio of blockbuster cases that go right to the heart of our country's separation of powers and the ability to investigate the president.
President Trump's lawyers are trying to persuade the justices to keep Trump's private financial records and tax returns out of the hands of two congressional committees and from New York state prosecutors.
Trump has sought for years to shield his tax returns and other records, claiming broad immunity because he's president.
The arguments today being heard by telephone because of the pandemic with the public listening in, in real time.
And at the outset, Justice Elena Kagan asked the president's attorneys if a ruling in Trump's favor would make it impossible for Congress to carry out its oversight powers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELENA KAGAN, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE (voice-over): This isn't the first conflict between Congress and the president as many of my colleagues have pointed out.
We've never had to address this issue and the reason is because Congress and the president have reached accommodations with each other and sometimes one has gotten more and sometimes the other has gotten more. But there's always been this accommodation.
And what it seems to me you're asking us to do is to put a kind of a 10-ton weight on the scales between the president and Congress. And essentially to make it impossible for Congress to perform oversight and to carry out its functions where the president is concerned.
And you're quite right in what you said before, this isn't going to be the last such case. And I wonder whether that fact isn't a good reason to reject your proposed rule.
PATRICK STRAWBRIDGE, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP (voice-over): Well, no, I don't think -- I don't think that is the case. Well, and for several reasons. One, the fact that this is the first time that Congress has attempted to subpoena this scale and this scope of documents from the president. And none of the other historical cases involved a direct subpoena for the president's documents in the way that this one does. I think it requires this court to draw a line.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: CNN Supreme Court analyst, Joan Biskupic, and our legal analyst, Carrie Cordero, have been following the hearing and joining us now.
Joan, you first.
Is there any indication on how the justices are leaning here?
All right, I think we're having trouble with Joan's signal so we'll try to re-establish that.
Carrie, did you get a sense, because even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asking Trump lawyers today, why should Trump be shielded.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is difficult to predict which way the court will go. And the decision will not be issued until the middle of the summer.
Basically, they're trying -- I think the court will have to find some middle ground. In other words, the question of whether or not a president is accountable in any way, whether it's to potential investigators, in the New York D.A. case, or whether it is to Congress, a separate branch of government, in the other cases, is at issue in the set of hearings that the court conducted this morning.
And so on one hand, the Congress has asked for information from third parties. And the New York D.A. is asking information from third parties. And the president's team is arguing that he shouldn't have to comply, the third party should not have to comply with any of those requests.
And what it sounded like the court was trying to get at was whether or not there's some middle ground, whether or not there should be a higher standard when it comes to a president but not that he should be completely unaccountable.
KEILAR: And one of the things that Justice Sotomayor pointed out was these were financial documents being sought that didn't come from the time the president is here in the White House, right? This happened from -- these came from before.
She asked, why should one not look at Trump's long-standing relationships. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SONIA SOTOMAYOR, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE (voice-over): I think it's fairly common knowledge that Mr. Trump, before he was president, was thinking about running for president for a very long period of time.
Why is it that Congress can't believe that looking at long-standing relationships and how those relationships changed or didn't change is important to knowing what undue influence might be occurring?
JEFFREY WELL, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP (voice-over): I think that makes the problem worse, not better, Justice Sotomayor. They are targeting the personal life of the president before he was a candidate for office. That raises, granted, somewhat different but deeply troubling and equally problematic constitutional concern.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: What did you think about that exchange, Carrie?
CORDERO: Well that is why, Brianna, this gets to -- because some, at least the New York case, it pertains to conduct before the president was actually president -- it gets to whether or not, just because he's president, he's above the law, that he's beyond any reach of either investigators who are looking at potential criminal conduct or, on the congressional side, whether his prior activities are relevant to legislation or oversight that Congress has a duty to conduct.
And so that is really the issue. Is he different than anybody else or does he also have to be held accountable in some way?
Of course, a lot of the org pertains to whether or not, when it comes to a president, this would be overly burdensome, these types of subpoenas would be overly burdensome prevent him from doing his job as president.
But these are directed to third parties, to an accounting firm and to a bank. So that is a hard argument to make that it is really going to burden the president from conducting his actual responsibilities.
KEILAR: Joan, I wonder what the outcome here might look like. And also it can't escape our attention that this is an election year. This is very important information that Democrats. no doubt, would dig into and hope to use against the president. What do you think?
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: That is exactly right. And I think that raises the stakes for these justices, particularly Chief Justice John Roberts, who was clearly looking for some middle ground.
He outright rejected the two strong extreme Trump positions here of either absolute immunity in the New York grand jury case or his argument that he couldn't -- he wouldn't have to have any subpoena issued against him from the House.
But the test that they decide for a middle ground test could ultimately favor the president and continue to run the clock.
That is a big deal here for both the House and the Manhattan D.A. These are subpoenas that were issued about a year ago. And we're going to probably be at November before any resolution or subpoenas are actually enforced just because of the protracted litigation.
So I think you have the competing interests here of the two branches and the Manhattan D.A. But you also have the fact that the details will determine who actually wins and loses even though I think we got enough clues today that Trump's extreme positions will not prevail.
KEILAR: So enough clues, you think.
I wonder what all is at stake here, considering the court is being asked to weigh into something so political. It seems like making a decision or punting, Joan, either way, they're kind of damned if they do, and damned if they don't. BISKUPIC: You're exactly right, Brianna. This kind of case has
overtones of Bush versus Gore and the Affordable Care Act case. These kinds of politically charged cases is where the public is paying attention. And where someone like John Roberts thinks that their ruling would really matter.
What kind of signal are they going to send to the public? Is President Trump above the law or will they come up with a standard that, frankly --
BISKUPIC: -- doesn't appear to favor him as a threshold but, as I say, runs the clock and ensures that the subpoenas are not enforced.