Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Takes Criticism of Dr. Fauci Public; Ousted Vaccine Chief: U.S. Faces "Darkest Winter" Without Better Response; L.A. Times: FBI Serves Warrant to Senator Burr in Stocks Investigation; Wisconsin Supreme Court Strikes Down Stay-at-Home Order; CDC Shelved Report Provides Detailed Guidelines for Reopening. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 14, 2020 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:28]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. It is a big morning ahead.

Just one hour from now ousted vaccine chief, Dr. Rick Bright, tells his side of the story under oath. Bright's testimony set to, quote, "warn the darkest winter is ahead," if the administration does not come up with a better response to COVID-19.

Today's hearing comes after he filed a whistleblower complaint claiming he was fired for opposing an antimalarial drug touted by the president as a potential COVID treatment.

SCIUTTO: Yes, the president attacking him this morning.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: As Bright faces what is shaping up to be a contentious day, the president is increasingly at odds with the nation's top infectious disease doctor, Anthony Fauci, as well as other experts in this administration on the death count, schools reopening and when to get the country back up and running.

It's of course a delicate balance that states face and one that just got even more tense in Wisconsin after the state's Supreme Court there struck down the governor's stay-at-home order.

More on that in just a minute, but first CNN's John Harwood. He's at the White House, as well as Manu Raju, he's on Capitol Hill.

So, Manu, what do we know about what Dr. Bright will testify when this hearing begins at the top of the hour.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we've seen is a prepared testimony. He's going to make it very clear that he believes that the United States was not prepared for the coronavirus pandemic and also needs to take additional preparations to prevent significant causalities, significant deaths, significant amount of illnesses in the months ahead if those preparations and precautions are not taken.

Now he is also going to make it clear that he believes that he was retaliated against from -- and removed from a key post in charge of developing vaccines for the federal government. Removed from that post because he is the one who was raising concerns about a drug that President Trump frequently touted, hydroxychloroquine, as a potential vaccine for COVID-19. He's going to say that he made it clear that there should be caution and skepticism, and that's one big reason why he believes he was removed from this office by raising those alarms.

Now expect Democrats, they have been eager to hear this from the aftermath of all of this and after he filed his whistleblower complaint just days ago. Expect them to allow him to tell his story. Expect Republicans to push back and raise concerns about what he is saying and try to paint him as the president has as a disgruntled employee.

The Health and Human Services Department is pushing back in his testimony already so expect a very lively day as this witness will raise some major concerns about what was not done initially and what needs to be done in the days ahead -- guys.

HARLOW: John Harwood, at the White House, the president just moments ago trying to undercut the credibility and testimony that we'll hear from Dr. Bright. Tell us more about what the president is saying but also explain the key position that he held as head of BARDA in a moment like this.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president made an interesting tweet going after Dr. Bright. He called him a so-called whistleblower, a disgruntled employee. Obviously he's disgruntled. The question is whether he has good reason to be disgruntled.

The president added a little middle school taunt in there saying nobody liked him anyway, but Dr. Bright held an important position in the development of vaccines in the country and in the development of therapeutic responses to pandemics of this kind. He -- an interesting twist into Dr. Bright's testimony is he presents in more exaggerated form the same nature of disagreement that the president has with Dr. Fauci. It's just that Dr. Bright's language is much more florid and amplified.

Dr. Fauci has also questioned the use of hydroxychloroquine, not as sharply as Dr. Bright has in his whistleblower complaint and testimony, and he's also indicated that the nation needs to do a lot more to be prepared. Dr. Bright again turns that up to 11.

SCIUTTO: John, we know the president in private has been griping about Dr. Fauci for some time. So why the choice now to take those complaints public?

HARWOOD: I think because he is in a position where he is trying to make a full-bore switch from coronavirus control mitigation suppression to economic reopening, and Dr. Fauci is an inconvenient presence with an inconvenient message at that time.

[09:05:05]

Fauci is saying let's be prudent. Let's follow the guidelines that the president and I laid out a few weeks ago. The president is saying set aside those guidelines. Let's move ahead on the economy. He thinks it's important for some economic reasons and for political reasons for his re-election.

SCIUTTO: John Harwood, Manu Raju, thanks to both of you.

Joining us now CNN's Omar Jimenez for more on that Supreme Court -- state Supreme Court decision in Wisconsin striking down the extension of the governor's stay-at-home order there. Some bars in Wisconsin, they opened up last night immediately after the court's decision. How was this playing out across the state?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Within hours of this decision coming down, some bars decided to open and then others, there are people more willing to go and actually get into some of these bars, again, despite warning from health officials.

Now, Wisconsin is no longer under a statewide stay-at-home order after the Supreme Court struck down or I should say overturned Governor Evers' decision to extend the stay-at-home order through May 26th, and this is an order that was brought forward, a lawsuit, rather, by the Republican lawmakers and their majority legislature arguing that this extension overstepped the governor's authority and that it would put too many residents out of a job and hurt too many companies.

Governor Evers, on the other hand, saying that this is going to harm people health wise, that this ruling is a mistake and that it sends his state into chaos. Now as far as what we are going to see moving forward, we are seeing local jurisdiction step in, either keeping in place their own safer-at-home orders like we've seen in Milwaukee, or putting in place new ones like we are seeing in Green Bay and in the state capital of Madison there as well.

So there are a lot of moving pieces still with this and to put something in place long term, the governor and the legislature are going to have to work together, which may be difficult -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: It was striking to read the language in that opinion certainly from the judge -- the decision last night.

OK. Omar, thanks a lot.

New this morning, CNN has obtained a copy of the guidelines that the CDC prepared at the request, I should remind everyone, of the White House weeks ago about how to reopen the country and then not applied by the White House. The recommendations in that document were shown by the Trump administration and they were far more strict and far more detailed than the reopening plan laid out by the White House.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Kristen Holmes, she joins us now with details. So, Kristen, Dr. Deborah Birx, of course on the Coronavirus Task Force

of the president. She was the one who requested the full report from the CDC. What recommendations were in it that are now being shown by the White House.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jim and Poppy. Well, certainly nothing that allowed for what you saw in those bars in Wisconsin last night. This is a very strict guideline. It's really exactly what businesses, individuals, employees have been asking for, even states have been looking for some sort of guidance on reopening slowly and safely.

Now we know the White House plan has essentially the stage in process which is similar to the CDC plan but there's so many more details in the CDC plan. It goes into what schools should look like, talking about separating desks six feet apart. Eating lunch in classrooms instead of cafeterias. Having food put on trays so there's no communal utensils.

Talking about business environments, closing down breakrooms, stopping all of those communal types of activities, any outside work activities, and really having shifts of employers so that in case someone gets sick they have a second shift of employees. You can come in and work within the office.

So, these, lots of details here. What is different in exact between this and the White House plan? Well, there are key points. One, I mentioned, this is a step-by-step guidance for communities across the country. It is not just saying, hey, governors, hey, states, you take it from here, do what you want in between. This is step-by-step for community.

There's also guidance on if flareups occurred as if they are possible. What to look for? It gives demographic breakdowns. And the big discrepancy I noticed on there was non-essential travel. The White House plan says that you can go not essential starting in phase two of their plan. CDC much more cautious. It says even in phase three that that is a time in which you can consider it but it doesn't say it's fully allowed there -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Kristen Holmes, thanks very much.

Joining us now to talk about this and more and Dr. Leana Wen. She's an emergency room physician and former Baltimore City Health commissioner.

Good morning, Dr. Wen. Always good to have you on. A big phenomenon that's taking place right now is that the president is now increasingly attacking not only the White House's own health experts, Dr. Fauci among them, but also the data itself, questioning the death toll that we have there on the right-hand side of the screen.

[09:10:10]

You're a doctor. Is there any doubt about how many are getting infected in this country and how many are dying from this? DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Well, if anything, Jim, the

numbers that we're getting are a significant underestimate of the actual number of infections and deaths. And that's because of lack of testing. We know of so many patients especially early on in the pandemic who came in to the ER's, who came in to their doctors' offices and were told, we're sorry, even if you have the classic symptoms of COVID-19 we just can't test you.

We don't have enough tests. And so just assume that you have COVID-19. Well, these cases were never reported and never counted as part of the official infection number. And also we know that there are individuals who would have died at home and may also have died during the peak of the flu season and were presumed to have the influenza rather than COVID-19. So if anything, these numbers are an underestimate and I think should call into question why we still don't have enough testing to get accurate numbers to really understand even where we are as a country even now.

HARLOW: One hundred percent. OK. So, some developments over the night that were pretty striking. I had to read it twice when I saw the headline that one of the leads at the World Health Organization said, look, COVID-19 may never go away, and compared it to the AIDS crisis just noting, you know, there has never been a full-proof cure or vaccine for AIDS.

Is that what we're looking at?

WEN: You know, we had the chance at the beginning of this outbreak to try to contain it. That's what the World Health Organization was doing, that's what we had the chance the U.S. to do, too. If we were able to identify every new case coming into the country, we were able to isolate the individuals, trace their contacts and we could have reigned in the infection and stopped it.

But unfortunately it's so widespread now in the U.S. and in other parts of the world that I just don't see how we can eliminate it. Right now we need -- the best that we can do is to try to live with it. We can reduce the risk of transmission until we can get a vaccine. And I think that actually is our best chance to continue to save lives. I think it's too late for us to eliminate this virus. We now need to live with it and wait for that vaccine to come.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Fauci was asked about this at the hearing earlier this week and he made the point that the coronavirus does initiate an immune response in the body and that with past coronaviruses that there has been a potential for vaccines because of that. On the good side, does that give us hope? And granted it'll take time, it'll take studies and data, but does that give us hope that there is the potential for a vaccine?

WEN: Yes. I think the potential for a vaccine is very high. The problem is how long is this going to take and how effective is that vaccine going to be? And also how quickly can we scale up production because it's not the vaccine that's going to save lives, it's the vaccination. And we need a national coordinated effort to get there in the way that we frankly have not seen for other parts of our response. HARLOW: It was interesting to hear Fauci say yesterday that they are

going to start manufacturing some of these vaccines at a loss, ahead of time even if they don't end up working, just to be ahead of the curve in case they do prove to be the one.

Eight minutes in the air is what experts are now saying coronavirus droplets could last. Eight minutes in the air. So what does that do in terms of potentially changing all of these guidelines? Social distancing, six feet apart. Does that change the game?

WEN: Well, the study that was done looked at how long the droplets, the respiratory droplets could be in the air. It doesn't look at whether the infection, whether the virus could live up to that time and then infect other people. But we do know that this is a highly contagious disease. That's why we're seeing outbreaks in call centers, in choirs and other places where people are in a confined space with a lot of others.

And I do really worry when social distancing guidelines are lifted. We know that we are going to see more spread and we're going to see it pretty quickly, and so the question is, can we contain it? And I'm afraid that question is probably not because we don't have the testing and other capabilities in place.

HARLOW: Dr. Leana Wen, thank you very much on all that.

A lot ahead this hour. And next, still to come, the president is going public, as we saw, with his frustration with Dr. Fauci. But who do you trust? And students across the country don't know whether or not they are going to school in the fall. Will it be safe?

SCIUTTO: Also, a PPE factory owner says the government ignored his offer to make millions of critical N-95 masks in the early days of the pandemic. He's going to testify before Congress today. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the re-entry of students into the Fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I totally disagree with him on schools, and we will have, I call them ambers, I call them spikes and he called -- I noticed he used the word "spike". Well, you might have that and we'll put it out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Well, that's President Trump and the nation's top infectious disease doctor, Anthony Fauci at odds more and more in public over key questions when it comes to battling this pandemic going forward. The president publicly criticizing some of Dr. Fauci's recommendations. Who should the American people listen to? In a new poll for many Americans, more than 30 percent more find Dr. Fauci credible on these questions than President Trump.

[09:20:00]

Joining me now is Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, we should note Senator Cassidy, he's also a doctor, and he serves on the committee that just questioned Dr. Fauci. Senator, it's good to have you on, we really appreciate you taking the time this morning.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): Thank you.

SCIUTTO: So, first, I want to begin on the data here. You're a doctor, you said that the response to this outbreak should be data- driven. What's new in recent days is you have the president not just questioning public health officials like Fauci, but even the data itself, inside the White House wondering whether the death toll might be overstating the true extent of this crisis. I just wonder as a doctor and as a lawmaker, whose data do you believe?

CASSIDY: So, I think -- we have to understand that right now the data is subject to interpretation. Let's just say that. But you've got to put your faith in it. But there is -- I think, let me get to the more fundamental question. Is it OK for the president to raise questions as to what experts are saying? Absolutely, yes, because experts are raising questions with experts.

Dr. Fauci -- man, so concerned about the children, the opportunity- cost children are paying for not being in school is the highest among any segment of our population, relative to their risk of having complications. But there's an article today in the journal of the American Medical Association of Pediatrics which basically says that children being at school is extremely low risk or very low risk in terms of communicating to each other and communicating back to their family. That's actually kind of in line with what President Trump said. Now, I'm not doubting --

SCIUTTO: I get that -- I get that on -- I mean, I get that on the disagreement about the recommendations, right? Because you and the president -- every has tough decisions to make here, weighing risks. But -- and I do want to get to the school's opening question. But just on the data itself because what's different here is the president is not just attacking or questioning the recommendation. He's saying well, I don't think that many people are actually dying. I mean, is that a -- is that a healthy criticism in the midst of this? Is that -- is that a basis?

CASSIDY: Yes, so, I can't speak for the president, I don't pretend to. On the other hand, of course, we have to be data-driven, accept forth shortcomings and live with the shortcomings. It's OK to say, wait a second, you're saying the total number of cases are going up, but did you do a lot more tests. And so therefore, as a percent of the total number of tests, it's actually in a decline. That statement has to be asked. Often it is not, it is overlooked. So -- but once you get into the nuance of the data, you've got to believe the data as to what we have now. I think sometimes --

SCIUTTO: OK --

CASSIDY: The nuance is overlooked.

SCIUTTO: Understood. One big data question, right, is this. And this is fairly unanimous among health experts that as you reopen more, you're going to have more cases. Just the nature of the way viruses work and spread. And the sad fact of a virus that can be deadly for a certain portion of the population, that if you have more cases you're going to have more deaths.

I mean, is that the way the models predict that increase in cases, do you find that credible --

CASSIDY: I find that incredible --

SCIUTTO: As the country reopens?

CASSIDY: Absolutely it's credible. But really we're asking ourselves, is there any way we can open up before 18 months from now? And that answer --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

CASSIDY: Has to be yes. We cannot stay shutdown for 18 months. So yes, there's a risk of reopening. There's a greater risk of not reopening, so we have to use our data to figure out how to thread that needle.

SCIUTTO: Yes, is the basic question for the American people really the honest one that yes, it's a sad fact that as you reopen, there are going to be more cases, and sadly, you know, more people will die from this, but that, that might be the price that we have to pay to reopen. I mean, is that -- is that really the honest question for the American people?

CASSIDY: I would add a very strong before that -- before that. We can reopen in a so-called micro-community, a school, a business in which we absolutely minimize the number of people who will be infected because of that reopening. We do that both with testing as well as --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

CASSIDY: Accommodations for those who are vulnerable. Now if we do that, inevitably, there's going to be somebody that dies that otherwise would not if everybody was a hermit in their home.

SCIUTTO: Right --

CASSIDY: But actually, your overall death rate might be lower because if somebody goes bankrupt, they're more likely to commit suicide. If somebody is -- SCIUTTO: OK --

CASSIDY: Socially isolated, they're more likely. So, the net effect might be that you save more lives.

SCIUTTO: So, you need testing, and you've been a public advocate for more testing, particularly when it comes to opening schools safely. The president has already said anybody who wants a test could get a test. It's not really in the data, yes or no? Does the country -- does the U.S. have enough testing today to reopen safely?

CASSIDY: I think it has enough testing if you have a strategy by which you implement. There's clearly people you need to test. A child going to school needs to be tested. The hermit living underneath a car hood in the Arizona desert doesn't need to be tested. And so we need to have a strategy in which you use your tests wisely and you strategically place it at that place where either someone is at higher --

[09:25:00]

SCIUTTO: Yes --

CASSIDY: Risk of infection or higher risk if they get infected. If we do that, I think we'll have enough tests.

SCIUTTO: OK, two more questions just quickly before I let you go. On the question of masks, wearing of masks. We came across an image of FDR's rationed book from World War II. A time when the country was being challenged, people had to ration for the war effort, and the president took part at the time. Do you believe that public servants, senators like yourself and the president should set a public example in this crisis by wearing masks themselves as they ask Americans to wear masks?

CASSIDY: Two things about that. I never speak for others, I keep my morality to myself as much as possible. But I wear masks, right now and everyone around me is wearing a mask, so I don't need to. If I have 6 feet between me and a committee member, I don't wear mask. If I know that I was antibody positive, I think I might not wear mask because I think that antibody positive means I'm immune. But with those caveats, I wear mask if I am around other people.

SCIUTTO: And you believe public servants should set that example?

CASSIDY: You know, I speak for this public servant, this public servant should. I don't try and --

SCIUTTO: OK --

CASSIDY: Impose my -- that particular value upon others, but this public servant thinks that he should.

SCIUTTO: Understood, and just final question because there was news last night that the FBI has confiscated now the cell-phone of your colleague Senator Richard Burr as it investigates stock trades he made the very day after a Senate briefing on the extent of the outbreak in early February. As a colleague, as a sitting senator, are you concerned about those trades and do they bear further investigation?

CASSIDY: Well, certainly, they bear further investigation. Senator Burr has called for further investigation. He feels like everything was in the up and up and he'll be exonerated. I've not read anything but the headline. But it's important that the American people have faith in Congress, and if that's part of it, Richard welcomes that, I welcome that.

SCIUTTO: Senator Bill Cassidy, Dr. Bill Cassidy, thanks so much for joining the program this morning.

CASSIDY: Thank you, Jim.

HARLOW: Great interview, good voice to have right now. All right, schools across the country are trying to decide whether or not they're going to open their doors in the Fall. They say before they make a decision, they need to hear more from the CDC.

Also to the economy, we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. We will watch to see how the new jobless claims that are just once again tragic, nearly 3 million more Americans filing for unemployment benefits for the first time last week. How that all factors into what is now a down-market again today.

Stocks have been struggling this week especially after those comments yesterday from chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell, saying the economic shock from COVID-19 could be significantly worse than any recession since World War II.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)