Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Grim Forecast; Trump Criticizes Dr. Fauci; Interview With New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; Trump Reacts To GOP Release List Of Obama Officials Who Sought To Unmask Michael Flynn; Can Sports Leagues Resume Games Without Virus Risk? Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 13, 2020 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following breaking news on the president now taking on Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Tonight, the president is accusing the infectious disease expert of playing all sides, questioning Dr. Fauci's caution about schools reopening.
We're also learning that President Trump is privately questioning the accuracy of the coronavirus death toll here in the United States, as it now rises above 83,000. He and some aides are asking if the numbers may be inflated, despite Dr. Fauci's warning that the deaths may actually be undercounted.
Also tonight, an ousted vaccine director turned whistle-blower is planning to tell Congress that America will face, in his words, the darkest winter in modern history without a ramped-up coronavirus response.
The very grim forecast, as most states are moving to reopen with a national hodgepodge of rules and restrictions.
Let's get some more from our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, we just heard from the president a little while ago, and he doesn't seem to be all that happy with Dr. Fauci.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
We have heard a lot about this grumbling going on behind the scenes. Now it is out in the open. President Trump is going on after Dr. Anthony Fauci, saying he disagrees with his own health experts warning that states should be careful about reopening schools.
In the meantime, a tug-of-war has begun inside the Trump administration over whether the U.S. is overcounting the number of dead from the coronavirus.
ACOSTA (voice-over): After weeks of simmering tensions, President Trump is taking some overt swipes at one of his top health experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The president says he disagrees with Fauci's advice to carefully reopen schools across the U.S.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To me, it's not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools. Look, he wants to play all sides of the equation. I don't consider our country coming back if the schools are closed
ACOSTA: Fauci just warned lawmakers not to be cavalier with the health of the nation's school children.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I think we better be careful if we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune from the deleterious effects.
ACOSTA: With the enormous weight of the pandemic hanging over the White House, sources tell CNN administration officials are questioning the accuracy of the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. and whether the number of dead is being overcounted.
But that would fly in the face of testimony from Fauci, who said deaths are likely being undercounted, as some residents in hard-hit New York died at home and were never counted as COVID-19 fatalities.
FAUCI: So, in direct answer to your question, I think you are correct that the number is likely higher. I don't know what percent higher, but almost certainly it's higher.
ACOSTA: The president suggested New York's number of dead was too high last month.
TRUMP: I see this morning where New York added 3,000 deaths because they died, and they're now saying, rather than it was a heart attack, they're saying it was a heart attack caused by this.
ACOSTA: Trump allies on FOX News have zeroed in on Fauci as an obstacle to reopening the country, blasting the doctor's cautious approach to the pandemic.
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Is this the guy you want to chart the future of the country? Maybe not. This is very serious matter, the decisions we're making right now. Tony Fauci has not been elected to anything.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fauci, to be very blunt, is the face of this failed administrative state. I think we have got to question the entire premise of this.
CARLSON: I totally agree. The chief buffoon of the professional...
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Dr. Anthony Fauci also seems to favor what the Democrats want, and that is massive restrictions with no end in sight.
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: With all due respect to Dr. Fauci's expertise, no one elected him to anything.
ACOSTA: But there's one big problem for the White House. A CNN poll found a solid majority of Americans trust Fauci, not the president, when it comes to the pandemic.
Another public health official to watch, Dr. Rick Bright, a top vaccine expert who was removed from his post, he says, in an alleged act of retaliation.
Bright, who is set to appear before a House subcommittee Thursday, warns the U.S. must prepare for the pandemic to get worse, saying in his prepared testimony: "Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history."
Mr. Trump is brushing off Bright as an unhappy employee.
TRUMP: To me, he's a disgruntled guy, and I hadn't heard great things about him.
ACOSTA: With such dire predictions, the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was asked whether the November election might be postponed.
QUESTION: Do you commit that the elections will happen on November 3?
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's not my decision to make. So, I'm not sure I could commit one or the way, but, right now, that's the plan.
ACOSTA: Kushner later released a statement, saying: "I have not been involved in, nor am I aware of any discussions about trying to change the date of the presidential election."
But the damage done to the economy is beyond question, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who adds, working Americans are taking a major hit.
JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: Among people who were working in February, almost 40 percent of those in households making less than $40,000 a year had lost a job in March.
This reversal of economic fortune has caused a level of pain that is hard to capture in words, as lives are upended, amid great uncertainty about the future.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Now, on the race for a vaccine, Moncef Slaoui, the former head of the vaccines division at GlaxoSmithKline, has been tapped as co- lead of the so-called warp speed effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
We're told another official, U.S. Army Four-Star General Gustave Perna, has also been selected to help oversee this project. And the two will split responsibilities.
But, Wolf, no question about it, the most breaking news, I suppose you could say, at the top of this hour is that the president is going after Dr. Anthony Fauci. We have heard the president and other top aides inside the White House have been grumbling about Dr. Fauci for weeks. It is now well out in the open.
And the question, of course, with this White House is what they would do without Fauci -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good question.
All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.
Also tonight, a new warning that the coronavirus is here to stay, even as most states are moving ahead with reopening plans.
Our National Correspondent, Erica Hill, is joining us from New York right now.
Erica, as states reopen, we're learning more about the economic toll from the virus.
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
As we just heard from Fed Chair Jerome Powell, this is hitting the working poor hardest. It is unprecedented. And while he expects unemployment to level out in the next month or so, Goldman Sachs today warning that it expects unemployment to top out at 25 percent. That's one in four Americans.
All of that weighing heavily as states make their decisions to move forward.
HILL (voice-over): Shopping, restaurants, the beach, signs of pre- COVID life returning, as experts warn the virus itself may be here to stay.
DR. MICHAEL J. RYAN, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities. And this virus may never go away.
HILL: The CDC preparing to alert doctors to a new inflammatory illness in children possibly linked to COVID-19, which can present weeks after the virus.
DR. ESTHER CHOO, FOUNDER, EQUITY QUOTIENT: We just have to remember we have more to learn about the virus than we have yet learned.
HILL: New York state is now investigating more than 100 cases, prompting new questions about what school could look like this fall if children can return to the classroom.
GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT): Probably smaller classrooms, more distancing, teacher probably wearing a mask.
LILY GARCIA, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: I had 39 kids in my classroom one year. How are you going to socially distance 39 kids?
HILL: Across the country, grocery prices rising to their highest levels in nearly 50 years, new cases in Georgia and South Carolina, two of the first states to reopen, mostly flat over the past week.
South Dakota posting some of the highest spikes, along with Arkansas and Delaware. New Orleans, once a major hot spot, allowing some businesses to return this weekend, restaurants told to keep customers' contact information for 21 days to aid with potential contact tracing, as the push for a measured approach continues.
DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Opening up prematurely just sets us up for big outbreaks, which will force us to shut down again. So, if you care about not being shutdown, we should really let science drive how we open up safely.
HILL: Washington, D.C., extending its stay-at-home order today through June 8.
Colorado's tourism office asking out-of-state visitors to stay home, as Miami Beach offers a plan to reopen more than 1,600 businesses and restaurants.
RICKY ARRIOLA, COMMISSIONER, MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: And every day that we keep these folks out of business, it just prolongs the not just economic suffering, but the suffering of the families that work in these establishments.
HILL: Arizona and Florida announcing professional sports can return to their states.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): There's been reports that Major League Soccer may want to have their season in Orlando. Do it. We want to have you here. We want to have the basketball practicing again. We would love to have the Major League Baseball.
HILL: New CNN polling shows Americans are split on whether players should suit up. Locally, some teams are experimenting with social distant baseball.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's weird.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it definitely doesn't feel normal.
HILL: Disinfectant in the dugout, distant umpires and fans. Weird, but worth it.
HILL: And, Wolf, just about an hour ago, we learned about reopening plans for Maryland.
The governor saying that Friday, as of 5:00, stores, barbershops, nail salons, churches, they can reopen at 50 percent capacity. Social distancing and masks will be needed as well. Manufacturing can also resume.
Governor Hogan noting the state had met a 14-day plateau or decline in hospitalizations, ICU patients and new deaths -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Erica Hill in New York for us, thank you.
Let's get reaction now to the breaking news out of the White House and more.
We're joined by the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio.
Mayor de Blasio, thank you so much for joining us. We have got lots to discuss.
Let's start with the president, what he's now saying about Dr. Fauci's words of caution yesterday on reopening schools, the president saying at one point not an acceptable answer, that Fauci did not give an acceptable answer.
He said he's playing all sides of the equation. When it comes to schools, how worried are you to see the president undercut a public health expert like Dr. Fauci?
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY, NY: Yes, Wolf, I don't understand it.
I think Dr. Fauci is someone who's legendary in this country going back decades for the work he has done. And he's surrounding an honest voice of caution. And I share his view. I think we have to be very careful about the steps we take.
I have warned New Yorkers repeatedly the great danger of a boomerang here, that we move too fast, and we see a resurgence of the disease, a lot of people get harmed, and any restart in recovery is simply prolonged.
We're taking a very conservative approach here in New York. And we're the epicenter. We have learned the hard way, but we're being very careful.
So, I don't -- when I hear a voice of caution, I say that's a voice that's telling us something important, and we all want to be careful here.
BLITZER: In New York City, Mayor, you're now counting probable coronavirus deaths in your city.
What's your reaction to the thinking from the White House that the U.S. may now be overcounting the death toll?
DE BLASIO: I think that transparency is so important, Wolf.
And, look, we got to point here in New York where we knew that beyond the folks that it was 100 percent confirmed by health professionals that they died because of COVID-19, there were thousands of others that health professionals believed, you know, were dead because COVID- 19 played a role.
And we didn't want to ignore that information. We wanted simply to tell the people what we were seeing. So we came out with the list of the probable deaths as well, the numbers of probable deaths as well.
And I think that is something the people deserve to hear. Why are we trying to deny the magnitude of this challenge? In fact, by being honest about the magnitude of it, Wolf, it helps us make better decisions. So that's part of why we're being very rigorous here.
We are not going to reopen anything until we prove by real data that we have made enough progress to do it safely, and then we're going to do it in small, careful steps and smart steps.
But, you know, why would you want to deny what health professionals are acknowledging in terms of individual deaths? What good does it do to try and sweep that under the rug? We thought that transparency was important. We think people believe that that transparency actually gives them more faith that decisions are being made carefully and smartly about them and their family.
This is ultimately about the health and safety of every New Yorker and on the national level every American. What's more important than the health and safety of our people? That's what all of us who are elected to office are supposed to think about first. And being honest about the impact of this disease is part of how we make the right decisions.
BLITZER: Yes, full transparency is so, so important.
Dr. Rick Bright, the ousted official who had been working on a vaccine, plans to tell Congress tomorrow that this coming winter could be, in his words, the darkest in modern history. What are you doing to make sure New York City doesn't experience a worse spike than the one you have just gone through, which was so awful, so sad?
DE BLASIO: Yes, it's important to recognize the danger ahead, Wolf.
I have had this conversation not only with our local health leaders, but I have spoken to Dr. Fauci. I have spoken to Dr. Redfield. Everyone is very sober about the fact that, until there is a vaccine, we do have to worry about what comes next. We have to worry about the real dangerous potential of a combination of another round of coronavirus, combined with a heavy flu season.
And the flu is a danger unto itself and always has been. But the two sort of aligning at the same time could be very dangerous in particular.
The answer to me is to keep doubling down on what's working. We know that the social distancing is working, the shelter in place is working, the face coverings are working, the hand sanitizer, all these things, and then manage a reopening very carefully and smartly to make sure each stage is actually working, heavy focus on testing and tracing.
We're building out the biggest testing and tracing program this city or any city has ever seen, as a way of fighting back the disease. These are the things we need to do not only now, Wolf, but to prepare against the eventuality of any later phase of this disease.
BLITZER: I know you're desperately anxious to get federal funding for New York City.
There's a stimulus package that the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is putting forward. The president just said to reporters that's a nonstarter.
How critical is this financial need that you and the folks in New York City are depending on right now?
DE BLASIO: Wolf, we cannot get back on our feet without it. It's as simple as this.
And I commend Speaker Pelosi. And I appeal to the president. I appeal to President Trump to remember his hometown and remember cities and towns all over the country. We cannot recover without the stimulus, period.
Right now, what I have lost in this city, the human loss first, the families, the people are suffering first, but then think about what it means for our future that we have already lost $7.4 billion already in terms of our city revenue that pays for cops and firefighters and health care workers and teachers.
That's just after 10 weeks, Wolf. Think where this is going. So, if our federal government doesn't step in and fill that gap and help cities and states back on their feet, there won't be a recovery. There won't be a recovery. People will suffer much longer.
Why is there even that word stimulus? It is the idea of putting people back on their feet, recreating the energy of our economy, getting people back to work. That's why the concept of stimulus was invented to begin with.
And it will only happen if the president says that it needs to happen. We know the Senate will act if the president says to. But without that stimulus, there is no recovery. It's as simple as that.
BLITZER: Very quickly, is there going to be baseball at Yankee Stadium anytime soon? DE BLASIO: I would love nothing more than to see the Yankees and Mets
playing again and all the Major League teams, but, Wolf, certainly not with fans in the stands anytime soon.
That's much farther in the future, according to our very careful, slow reopening. But if they can find a way to do it that's really safe, we would love nothing more, of course.
BLITZER: To do it without -- with empty stadiums, no fans, right? Is that what you're saying?
DE BLASIO: Look, even with an empty stadium, there's a lot that would have to be done very carefully to keep players safe and all the employees.
But there's no context anytime soon for fans in the stands, because we're going to do our reopening very slowly and carefully, in the name of safety and health.
BLITZER: Mayor de Blasio, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in New York. I know these are really, really difficult moments that all of you are going through right now.
We will stay in very close touch. Thank you so much for joining us.
DE BLASIO: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, so, the breaking news continues next.
We're going to speak to our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta about President Trump doubting the U.S. death toll right think now, thinking it's being inflated.
And we will also have more on the president's remarks just moments ago accusing Dr. Anthony Fauci of wanting to -- quote -- "play all sides of the equation" when it comes to reopening schools.
BLITZER: More now on the breaking news, President Trump's remarks just moments ago taking issue with Dr. Anthony Fauci on schools reopening.
The president said Fauci, who strongly urged caution, wants to -- quote -- "play all sides of the equation" when it comes to reopening schools.
Let's get some more from our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and our White House correspondent, John Harwood.
John, we know the president watched yesterday's testimony in the Senate from Dr. Fauci, and it sounds like he wasn't all too happy with what he heard. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Look, he wants to play all sides of the equation.
Well, I was surprised. I was surprised by his answer, actually, because, you know, it's just -- to me, it's not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, does the president, John, feel what Dr. Fauci was saying is undercutting his message the American people?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, although it's undercutting his current message, not his message from a couple of weeks ago.
It's an odd comment from the president, because when he says he's playing to all sides, what he's really saying is that Dr. Fauci is considering all sides.
Fauci was cautious in that statement. He didn't predict gloom and doom. He said, if we don't do it right, if we move past the criteria we laid out, then we're going to have a problem. That was also President Trump's message a few weeks ago.
When they laid out those gating guidelines, what President Trump said was, we want to reopen the country, but we're going to do it safely. Now he's just ditched the second part of that equation and said, we want to reopen it.
And he doesn't want to hear the caution that Dr. Fauci is offering.
BLITZER: Let me play a clip, Sanjay, of what Dr. Fauci exactly said about schools reopening yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FAUCI: I want we better be careful if we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune to the deleterious effects.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Clearly, he's cautioning that we have to learn more about this virus before we feel totally confident about reopening the country.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
And I think Dr. Fauci is -- he's been pretty consistent on this, sort of saying -- look, first, he said it's a bridge too far that there would be a vaccine available by the fall.
I mean, everybody would love that, but I don't think anyone has suggested that a vaccine would be available by the fall. Maybe by January, I think, is what we heard, and even that is pretty ambitious.
We have learned a little bit more just over the last couple of weeks about the impact of this virus on children. This is -- we're all learning as we go along, as we have said. And, thankfully, it's rare. But there is this condition that I think Dr. Fauci was alluding to that in that statement when he was talking about the fact that some kids, fewer than 200 or so, have developed this Kawasaki-like syndrome known as PIMS, Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome, it's now called.
I think that may have been what he was referring to. But, yes, I think he was just saying, as John Harwood was saying, you just got to be cautious. We're learning as we go along. And before we open up schools, we have got to make sure it's as safe as possible, which is what he's always said along.
BLITZER: Got to be -- better to be safe than sorry.
And, Sanjay, CNN also has learned that the president and some of his advisers thinks the United States right now might be overcounting the death toll from the virus.
We heard Dr. Fauci say yesterday it's probably undercounting, a lot more people have died from coronavirus than are in the official count.
What do you think?
GUPTA: Well, it's been studied, Wolf.
This is hard to pin down, but I think anytime you have situations like this, you're probably undercounting. And the reason is that we didn't do enough testing in the beginning. So there were a lot of people who may have died of respiratory-like illness that at the time was thought to be maybe flu or something else that, in fact, was coronavirus.
And as people have gone back and looked at this, the numbers are actually higher.
There's two things to really point out. One is that there was this Yale study that looked between early March and early April and said probably there was in New York City alone maybe 15,000 people who died of coronavirus that were not otherwise counted.
Then if you look at the country as a whole and you say, how many excess deaths were there at this time period, as compared to last year at this time period, and the number is between 60,000 and 70,000. Now, those aren't all coronavirus, but the reality is that it's probably a higher number than the numbers people see on the side of their screen there.
BLITZER: John, how do you see it?
HARWOOD: Well, look, I think the president knows that the worse this pandemic is and is seen by the American people, the worse for his reelection campaign, the worse for his legacy, the worse for his sense of self, if he's seen as having blown this. It seems obvious what Dr. Gupta just said is correct, that, if
anything, it is -- we're undercounting. But I'm not even sure the stakes in that specific metric are all that important.
It's a huge catastrophic toll for the country. Whether it's 73 or 83 or 93 right now, I'm not sure that's going to be the decisive factor in how people see how President Trump has done. We have got more than a million cases in the United States. We have got 20,000 being added a day. Large numbers of people know someone who have had COVID.
We have seen the burdens on our hospital, a lot of suffering out there. That is what generates the fear that is generating the opprobrium on President Trump. And it's also what is going to complicate the economic recovery.
Unless you have confidence that the virus is under control, you're not going to have an economic resurgence. Having said that, there is some good news.
And I think Sanjay would agree with me. Levels of testing are rising, maybe not adequate, but rising. And the rate of positivity is declining. That is good. We need more progress, but some is better than none.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thank you very much.
We have got a lot more that we're covering. We're going to stay on top of all the coronavirus developments.
Just ahead, we're also learning some new information right now just released on officials involved in the so-called unmasking of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
And we will talk about the future of education here in the United States, as schools and colleges debate whether to reopen in the fall.
BLITZER: More of our coverage on the coronavirus pandemic, including the president's most recent remarks involving Dr. Fauci.
But there's other breaking news we're following right now. President Trump is responding to some just released information related to the investigation of the president's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and trying to use it against Joe Biden.
Let's bring in our Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez. Evan, first of all, tell us about these declassified documents that were just released by Republicans. What do they tell us, and also what they don't tell us?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these documents are released by the national security agencies simply tell you how many officials in the Obama administration were asking for the identities to be unmasked of Americans in intelligence reports in the weeks before Donald Trump took office. This is in December and January, December of 2016 and early January 2017.
Now, according to the Republicans, they think that there's some suspicion here that Americans' names were being unmasked or being revealed in these intelligence reports from the NSA. These were intercepts of conversations, Americans who were having with people who were under surveillance. And they believe that this shows a plot to bring down President Trump's incoming administration.
What they don't show is any of that. These documents don't show any political motivations. It doesn't show us that anybody who shouldn't have had access to this information, was getting access to it. We're talking about people like James Clapper and John Brennan, people in the Obama White House who had the power. These are people who had authority to ask for this information. And according to the NSA, this was handled exactly the way the NSA normally handles all of these requests, Wolf.
BLITZER: How common is it to request that identities be unmasked in these kinds of very sensitive intelligence reports?
PEREZ: It is quite a routine. Back in 2019, for instance, there were over 10,000 of these requests.
That's during the Trump administration. Back in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration, there were 9,200 such requests. So you can see the number of such unmaskings is way up under the Trump administration.
BLITZER: Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, was among the names who requested the unmasking, we've now learned. President Trump reacted to that moments ago. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And he said he knew nothing about anything. He has no idea. He knows nothing about anything, nothing at all. And then it gets released today that he was a big unmasker. So how do you know nothing if you were the unmasker? It's one of the big stories and I suspect you'll have if, it's possible, even bigger stories coming out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Biden campaign is responding, saying in part, let me read to you the statement, Donald Trump's attempt, a dishonest media manipulation, distract from his response to the worst public health crisis in 100 years has backfired.
These documents simply indicate the breadth and depth of concern across the American government, including among career officials over intelligence reports of Michael Flynn's attempt to undermine ongoing American national security policy through discussions with Russian officials or other foreign representatives.
Evan, how much of all of this is now about politics?
PEREZ: Look, I think politics plays a huge role in why this is now a story. It's an interesting thing that the president is bringing Joe Biden into this. Joe Biden is name is on this list of people. Again, we don't know, Wolf, why these reports are now being brought up this way.
Certainly, the Republicans who released them say that they don't actually know whether there's any wrongdoing at all at this point but they want to investigate further. And I suspect, as the president is telegraphing, this is going to be part of the election campaign coming forward.
BLITZER: I suspect you're right. Evan, standby. I also want to bring in our Chief National Correspondent John King and our CNN Legal and National Security Analyst, Carrie Cordero.
Carrie, what's your reaction to these developments, the unmasking of Michael Flynn and the individuals who are known to have asked for that unmasking?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Wolf, my take on this is that this is a 100 percent contrived scandal. From everything I have seen as far as the documents that have been released and the information that's been reported, all of the rules were followed.
This was an individual who was captured and overheard on a lawful surveillance of a valid foreign intelligence target as far, as we can surmise from the documents. The rules, as far as requesting national security agency approval to unmask or reveal his name, was done appropriately. In other words, procedures weren't bypassed, rules weren't broken, all of the rules were followed.
And now the names of the individuals who requested that unmasking looked to me to be all individuals of senior national security stature who had responsibilities and would have had a valid reason for requesting access to this information.
This is absolutely 100 percent politics, and, really, in the current environment, given what's going on in the country, I think is really a disgraceful abuse of the declassification system and an unfair disparaging of the intelligence community process.
BLITZER: You know, John, does this fit into the president's directive, and he used the words, to investigate the investigators?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have seen this movie in all of its pieces before. In the 2016 campaign when people started to see question Donald Trump's personal character, question his trust worthiness, he ramped up about the Clinton e-mails, he ramped up about the Clinton Foundation.
They threw all these innuendos out there. Essentially if you don't trust me, I'm going to make you not trust the other person to. I'm going to drag that person down with me, so that when we have an election, you don't have a clear distinguishing between one candidate and the other on issues of honesty and trustworthy and character. This is the pig pen strategy. Just throw up as much dust as you can.
We've also seen the president's Republican friends in Congress come to his aid now increasingly in this gimmick. Here's my challenge right here. Lindsey Graham, Ron Johnson, Chuck Grassley, they all chair the Congressional Committees. To get these unmasking, quote, unquote, the officials had to see something that alarmed them.
So they want -- they had to say, who is this American meeting with this person under surveillance, because I see this intelligence report that concerns me. They did not release the document when they release the names of the people who unmasked.
So, call a fair hearing, call everybody up, release all these documents and laid up. Let's see if the Republicans will do that. Because remember, Wolf, Lindsey Graham, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I'm going to investigate Joe Biden, I'm going to investigate Hunter Biden.
Go on the internet, look at his website, how many people he said he's going to investigate. How many investigation has he had? They throw out innuendo, they throw out the allegation and they won't follow-up in a fair, say, where Democrats too, go ask the question, where they could all in if they want it to Mr. Brenan, and General Clapper and laid out what happened if they wanted to do that. But then they would have to actually put all of the facts on the table, not just the little snippets they want to cause a little smoke.
BLITZER: Because some, you know, Evan, Michel Flynn was having conversation with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador here in Washington. Explain why someone like Michael Flynn, a three star retired general, somebody was at the defense intelligence agency for several years, was popping up in these NSA intelligence reports.
PEREZ: Well, partly, Wolf, is because he was the incoming national security adviser. He was in touch with people who were -- some of the foreign policy people that he was going to have to be dealing with. And so that's why he was making some of these phone calls.
Now, the reason why some of the Obama people were becoming concerned was, if you remember, were coming after the attack on the United States, the election, the Russian interference efforts -- the United States had sanctions announced against the Russian, expelling some Russian diplomats, the Russians were not responding.
Now, over 70 years of diplomacy, the United States have never seen that before and they were wondering why that was. And so, suddenly, they decided to try to see what was going on, what were conversations -- perhaps were there conversation going on that they didn't know about, and that's why, Michael Flynn, came up on these conversations. Now, none of these is necessarily improper. The question then becomes when Michael Flynn is confronted with these conversations, he decides to lie to the FBI and that's where, all of these becomes a controversy.
And until recently, Michael Flynn, had admitted that he had lied, that was not without -- with any doubt over that, until recently when the Justice Department decided that there was no crime here, and that there was no reason to ever ask Michael Flynn about this.
BLITZER: You know, Carrie, you have a lot of experience. You're the former Counsel to the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for National Security. So you understand how the intelligence community works on the sensitive documents to be sure. But when you ask for a name to be unmasked, as they did in this particular case, you don't necessarily know who that person is going to be, do you? Is it even possible to target someone this way?
CORDERO: Well, it would depend on the content of the conversation. So, normally what would happen is, as senior officials reading this intelligence information, it's relevant to ongoing intelligence investigations. Other national security of foreign policy activities that the United States was engage in that time.
Because, remember, this was all in the context of Russian interference in the U.S. election and intelligence community work that was going on with that. And then, if they really need to understand, and that's the standard, is the unmasking, is the revealing of that U.S. person's name needed in order to understand the intelligence?
And so if they meet that standard, then they have to go to the NSA and ask permission, and the NSA director. So it goes up to the very senior level, and has a process that that information would then be revealed.
So everything here was done according to rules. It's not as if the intelligence community was just including U.S. person information in their reports and that was spreading around to all the different intelligence community elements and personnel. These names were protected, his name was protected, and then they went through the process, the senior officials who needed access to that information.
BLITZER: John King, what does it say to you that the president, who has been in office now for more than three years, that he's still obsessing over President Obama, calling it Obamagate, and one point saying, Obama committed the biggest political crime in American history? What does that say to you?
KING: It says that he believes his path in politics has always been grievances. Find an enemy, throw your grievances against that person. Right now, if you look at the poll, he has a very competitive election, but even his own campaign is alarmed. If you look at his handling of coronavirus, the American people don't like it, nearly 6 to 10 Americans disapproved.
He's in a fight today with his top infectious disease expert, who believes there could be the resurgence of cases. The president wants to say no, no, no, all is good, safely reopen the economy.
When he is looking to change the subject and when he is looking to air his grievances, he often goes back to the prior administration. Now, President Obama has been a favorite target since day one. President Obama's vice president is now the presumptive Democratic nominee.
So, again, we saw this -- we lived through this in 2016 with how the president tries to smear and use innuendo against his opponents. I would just say this, as Carrie, even have laid out, even the president's acting director of national intelligence in the letters to Congress says, all the procedures were followed properly.
So then what is wrong? If you're going to say this is Obamagate, the vice president is an unmasker, all these other people lay it out. Lay it out.
You can't just -- you can't have your own people say they follow the rules, and then have the president and his allies say there's a crime here, or there's some scandal here. Lay it out.
They have -- they are -- as I said before, they control the United States senate. Call a hearing. Have a fair hearing and lay all this out.
If something wrong happened, good, lay it out. Hold those accountable if they did something wrong.
But that's not what they do, Wolf. And President Obama is a favorite pinata, if you will, for the current president of the United States because it stokes up his base. Some of his base, and some of those red states has a coronavirus problem right now and he wants to change the subject.
BLITZER: Evan, very quickly, who made the decision in the U.S. intelligence community to go ahead and release all of these documents right now?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Ric Grenell, who's the acting director of national intelligence, a lot of these information, Wolf, Republicans wanted out much earlier and there have been some resistance in the government to releasing it. This is stuff that doesn't get released, hardly ever. The government doesn't even acknowledge that there's this program that captures this kind of intelligence, this type of intercept.
So, it's a very sensitive information that is normally not released. And one thing -- one last thing I should mention, what they're not releasing is the actual call between Michael Flynn and Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time. We should see that transcript of that phone call so we can see what people were looking at, why they were so concerned. And that's I think would explain a lot of what's happening.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to stay on top of this story. Guys, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, we'll get back to our coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, as sports leagues make plans to resume playing games here in the United States, possibly without fans in attendance. We'll take a closer look at how this could be done safely.
BLITZER: As the country battles against the coronavirus, some sporting events in the United States have been either canceled or postponed. But at least one major sports league may be finalizing plans to resume games soon.
CNN's Brian Todd has details.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The crack of the bat may soon return. The roar of the crowd won't.
Tonight, Major League Baseball has a plan that could allow regular season games to start around the Fourth of July weekend, according to multiple news outlets including "The New York Times" and ESPN. They report the season would be cut roughly in half to 82 games. The games would be held without fans and played in team home stadiums, but only in jurisdictions where local governments and health officials would allow it.
BARRY SVRIUGA, SPORTS COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: They might have to move some teams away from stadiums in places like California where restrictions are likely to be more stringent to some place like Arizona where already the governor has said that they're open for business for major league sports.
TODD: Tonight, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is courting major sports teams from hard-hit areas of the country where local officials may not want to resume sports yet.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: We'll find a place for you in the state of Florida because we think it's important and we know that it can be done safely?
TODD: Baseball's plan still hasn't been agreed to by the players' union. The challenge for baseball to return this summer are enormous, starting with ensuring the health of everyone involved.
BOB COSTAS, HOST, MLB NETWORK: The safety of the players will be a concern for the Major League Players Association and not just the players and the ancillary people. Even without fans, you got a large contingent of people who are not in uniform as players.
TODD: Tonight, other major sports leagues are struggling to navigate a return. ESPN reports top NBA executives are discussing ways to resume this season, but weighing the health risks. The NFL plans to hold its 2020 season as scheduled with fans in the stands. Germany's top soccer league is returning. England's is considering it.
Top doctors warn those contact sports carry significant risks.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CHIEF, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: They are leaning against each other, they are breathing within each other's space, they are less than six feet apart. That is certainly fair game for a virus to transmit from one person to another.
TODD: Experts say players would have to be tested almost every day. Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC Sports those who test positive would likely have to be segregated from the others.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Those who are positive, you know, are taken out of commission for 14 days until they become negative, then that's a possibility.
TODD: And there's a huge debate over when to let fans back. When will major sports return in earnest? Could it look like South Korea where the only fans at their baseball games are painted on seat coverings?
WALENSKY: I think until we have real control over this epidemic, and perhaps a vaccine, I hate to say it, it's going to be hard to fathom how we can safely have thousands and thousands of people gathered in one space.
TODD: And sports analysts say in order to return safely, the major sports teams are going to navigate the dynamics between their players and maybe one player on a team will be eager to get out there on a given night, but another player will say they have a pregnant spouse at home or small children and they don't want to play to risk infecting them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you very much, Brian.
Much more news right after this.
BLITZER: Finally tonight, we want to share with you more personal stories of Americans who have died from the coronavirus.
Neil Lasher of New Jersey was 73 years old, a music industry veteran who became a substance abuse counselor after getting sober more than 30 years ago.
Mohammad Kator of Los Angeles was 76. The grand son of a regional ruler in Pakistan, he immigrated to the United States in the 1980s. His family says he dedicated his life to making sure his 12 children would be educated and would excel. We offer prayers to all families in mourning, including our Muslim
friends marking the holy month of Ramadan right now. May your loved ones rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.