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Trump Fires State Department Watchdog; Coronavirus and Navajo Nation; President Trump Currently Taking Hydroxychloroquine?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Breaking news: As the U.S. passes two more grim milestones, 1.9 million cases, confirmed cases of coronavirus, and we have also passed 90,000 deaths, at least, from coronavirus, this as President Trump is taking questions at the White House.

He just mentioned that he is taking hydroxychloroquine, the medication the president has promoted in the past as a potential treatment for coronavirus, though the FDA says that you shouldn't take it outside of a clinical trial at a hospital, and other studies have shown it doesn't work on coronavirus.


The NIH has also issued warnings about using the drug for coronavirus patients.

I want to bring in Jeremy Diamond, joining me now.

Jeremy, what exactly did President Trump say? He's taking hydroxychloroquine?


President Trump has repeatedly touted this drug, but he just announced moments ago for the first time that he himself has actually been taking hydroxychloroquine for the last week-and-a-half.

And the president says that he's taking it essentially as a prophylaxis to prevent getting the disease in the future, despite the fact that there is so far no substantive medical evidence to back up the fact that it works, not only as a treatment but all the more as a prophylaxis.

Listen to what the president said just a few moments ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been around for 40 years for malaria, for lupus, for other things. I take it. Front-line workers take it. A lot of doctors take it.

Excuse me. A lot of doctors take it. I take it.


DIAMOND: And, Jake, just we should note there, as you were saying at the top, no studies so far have shown that this is an effective treatment against coronavirus.

In fact, there was a pretty significant study that showed that there was no effect on mortality or on the duration of a hospital patient's stay, in the same way we have seen with the drug remdesivir.

But President Trump certainly putting his money where his mouth is with this. The question, though, is, Jake, what effect is this going to have on the general population? What are people going to think when they see that President Trump, the president of the United States, is taking this drug, despite the fact that it have any proven medical benefits?

Will Americans then want to take it themselves? That certainly is a big question here, Jake. And, again, we do know that this drug has significant side effects, including potential heart issues for people, so certainly something that could be concerning -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, no medical evidence that it helps or prevents coronavirus.

Jeremy Diamond, thanks so much.

In that same event, President Trump is also answering questions about his firing of the State Department inspector general, Steve Linick. Linick was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

President Trump said he didn't know Linick.


TRUMP: I never even heard of him. But I was asked to by the State Department, by Mike.

I offered -- most of my people, almost all of them, I said, these are Obama appointees. And if you would like to let them go, I think you should let them go.


TAPPER: Secretary Pompeo also just told "The Washington Post" that he was not aware of the investigation into whether or not he was misusing a political staffer to do personal errands, but he claimed Linick was not working to make the department better.

A Democratic aide told CNN this weekend that Linick had indeed been investigating whether Pompeo made a political staffer perform personal errands, including walking his dog. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: And now I have you telling me about dog walking, washing dishes.

And you know what? I would rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes because maybe his wife isn't there or his kids aren't there? What are you telling me? It's terrible. It's so stupid.

You know how stupid that sounds to the world? Unbelievable.


TAPPER: Linick's firing is the fourth government watchdog in charge of overseeing the Trump administration to be fired or removed.

The editorial board of "The Boston Globe" is now calling on Congress to fight back. The editorial board writes: "The Trump administration is building a veritable trophy wall decorated with the heads of government watchdogs. Until congressional leaders work up the nerve to respond with something stronger than finger-wagging. There's no reason to think this abuse of presidential power will stop."

Joining me now is "The Boston Globe"'s editorial page editor, Bina Venkataraman.

Thanks for joining us.

You write -- quote -- "It's past time for Congress to use its constitutional power to withhold funds for presidential projects and White House activities to curtail the attack on federal watchdogs."

So, what exactly do you think Congress should do?

BINA VENKATARAMAN, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Well, there are a few options on the table here.

And let's keep in mind, as you mentioned, Jake, that Linick is only the latest in a series of firings that have followed the president's impeachment acquittal, starting with the removal of Michael Atkinson, who was the inspector general at the intelligence community who forwarded the whistle-blower complaint that led to the impeachment, that perfect phone call account from that whistle-blower in the Ukraine affair.

Now, what Congress has at its disposal is much more than just the (AUDIO GAP) calls for investigation that you have seen coming from the likes of Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa, Republican, from Susan Collins of Maine, from Mitt Romney.

If Congress wants to take this seriously, particularly if congressional Republicans want to take this affront, this purging of independent nonpartisan federal watchdogs seriously, Congress can do one thing, which is to not just investigate these firings on an individual basis, but to look at them en masse, as a pattern of behavior, and understand the motivations behind them.


You don't have to look too deep, because the president himself has admitted why he wanted to remove Atkinson. He's also openly criticized Christi Grimm, the inspector general of HHS that he removed (AUDIO GAP) that he removed after a scathing report showing severe testing kit shortage for coronavirus tests and of PPE across hospitals in the country -- hospitals across the country.

So, I think it's, for one, braiding and bringing together this series of firings and oustings to show that they're greater than the sum of their parts. Second, Congress has the ability...



TAPPER: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

VENKATARAMAN: No, I was going to say, second, Congress has the ability to withhold, using the purse strings, withhold funding.

And that's not a power...


VENKATARAMAN: It's articulated in Article I. James Madison wrote about it in The Federalist Papers.

It's not a power that they have used to actually hold this White House back. And what we know is that this president is sort of immune to calls for decorum, calls for adhering to democratic norms, public backlash against his transgressions.

So we need something stronger from Congress here than just the sort of wrist-slapping, woebegone sort of...

TAPPER: Right.


TAPPER: But, Bina, he has the right to do these firings. I mean, it's not as though it was unconstitutional.

It might be setting a precedent that we really don't like, in that it's dangerous, and if we replace all the watchdogs with lapdogs, who knows what the next president is going to do, et cetera.

But he has the right to do it.

VENKATARAMAN: Well, he has the right technically to remove inspectors general.

But it is very -- it is unprecedented, as you note. No president in history has removed en masse groups of inspector generals at this clip, inspectors general. And, also, it's important to note that he has the obligation, and under the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act, to notify Congress 30 days in advance, but also to provide justification.

And that justification has to beyond just a simple no-confidence vote, like what you saw in his letter to Nancy Pelosi about Steve Linick on Friday night.

Chuck Grassley has pointed out -- Republican from Iowa -- has pointed out that the president really has to provide a rationale for removing an inspector general, based on these reforms that were passed in 2008 to expand the protections for these inspectors general.

Now, the whole idea of an inspector general dates back to the founding of the country. George Washington insisted on one for the Continental Army.

TAPPER: Right.

VENKATARAMAN: But the real apparatus that we have for inspector general in the U.S. grew out of Watergate.

So, it grew out of the recognition that we needed across federal agencies a check on presidential power, a check on abuses of the executive branch, and internal watchdogs that would independently investigate (AUDIO GAP) incidents.

TAPPER: Right.

VENKATARAMAN: And so, if you look at it from the perspective of democratic norms, of protecting the rule of law, protecting our institutions, it might not be strictly unconstitutional, what the president has done, but it certainly violates the spirit of what inspectors general do in our government (AUDIO GAP)

And, also, they're important, the important legacy for the future protecting such (AUDIO GAP) for future abuses of power.


TAPPER: OK, great.

Bina Venkataraman, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it. Provocative editorial.

Coming up: They have been trained to sniff out cancer and malaria. Now could dogs be able to detect coronavirus in humans even before symptoms appear?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: The future of the fight against COVID-19 might look a little bit furry.

A trial is under way in the U.K. to see if six specially trained dogs can sniff out the virus early before symptoms appear, as dogs are able to do for diseases such as Parkinson's and malaria.

And now, as CNN's Max Foster reports for us, man's best friend might be the best defense in this pandemic.


MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This dog is being trained to detect prostate cancer. She's presented with urine samples and rewarded when she identifies the correct one.

This dog is able to identify the odor of malaria sufferers. Their next mission here is to train dogs to sniff out people infected with COVID- 19.

DR. STEVE LINDSAY, DURHAM UNIVERSITY: The way we're going to do that is by collecting using face masks, and we're asking people to wear these face masks for a few hours. And then we carefully collect those.

And the other thing we're going to do is get people to wear nylon socks. That sounds a bit strange, but we know, from our previous experience, that this is a really good way of collecting odors from people, and it's such an easy way to do it.

FOSTER: If the training is successful, one of their first deployments is likely to be airports, where dogs are already used to sniff out drugs and other contraband.

If they help reopen the travel industry, that could be the boost to international trade that governments everywhere have been looking for.


FOSTER: The trial due to last three months.

If successful, these doors could be in airports in three months' time, sniffing up to 250 people an hour, Jake. So it could have a profound effect.

TAPPER: All right, Max Foster, thanks so much.

Coming up next, one community so remote, so spread out, you would think the virus would not spread, but the exact opposite is happening.

Why people living here in this place now have the highest coronavirus infection rate per capita in the United States.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead: Coronavirus is ravaging the Native American community, especially the Navajo Nation, which has the highest coronavirus infection rate per capita in the entire U.S. And, as CNN's Sara Sidner reports for us now, limited access to health care and the lack of running water in many areas have contributed to the devastating impact.


SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The beauty of the Navajo Nation masks the vengeance coronavirus has exacted on its people, even in the most remote places.


In this household:

FELISITA JONES, CORONAVIRUS PATIENT: I don't know where. It came about and just whipped through us.

SIDNER: Felisita Jones is one of five people in her family who has contracted the virus that takes your breath away.

JONES: I would just go -- but I didn't want to go to the hospital.

SIDNER (on camera): How afraid were you when you realized that your mom had it, that your sisters had it, and then you had it?

JONES: I didn't want to leave my kids behind, because it hurt so much (INAUDIBLE) with them. I have, all together, nine kids.

SIDNER (voice-over): She didn't want to go to the hospital because too many people she knows never made it back home alive.

(on camera): This is one of the hospitals where members of the Navajo Nation would be brought if they needed to be in an ICU, for example.

(voice-over): The nation's now recording nearly 4,000 COVID-19 cases in a population of 175,000, which means they surpass New York and now have the highest infection rate per capita in the U.S.

This is partly because the Navajo Nation says it's tested more people than any other state, 11 percent of its population. But, unlike New York, just getting to a hospital with these kinds of resources can take hours.

KELLY MANUELITO, NURSE: It's really hard for them to get the care they need, if they need to be intubated. They have got to have someone transport them from a facility to, like, Albuquerque. Phoenix is where we're starting to send people, because our ICU is only eight beds.

SIDNER (on camera): The Navajo Nation spans 27,000 square miles.

There are no short distances here, which is one of the difficulties with getting resources to all of its people, with the exception of here.

I'm standing in the Four Corners, where, with one step, you can walk into four different states. (voice-over): But, with the vast distances, self-distancing might

seem easy. It isn't, because mostly everyone shops at the same stores.

JONATHAN NEZ, PRESIDENT, NAVAJO NATION: There are a lot of people living here.

SIDNER: The president of the Navajo Nation says infrastructure and resources long ago promised by the federal government were never realized. And now there's a perfect scenario for the virus to spread.

NEZ: Forty, 40 percent of our citizens here on the Navajo Nation don't have the luxury of turning on a faucet.

SIDNER (on camera): They don't have running water?

NEZ: They don't have running water.

SIDNER (voice-over): Also, generations of families often live in one home. So, if someone gets the virus, isolation is often impossible, never mind frequent handwashing.

NEZ: And we can change that with the help of the federal government.

SIDNER: For now, he's placed the strictness of measures on his people, 8:00 p.m. curfews on weekdays, and, on weekends, a 57-hour lockdown. Not even the gas stations are open.

And their lucrative tourism and entire gaming industry are closed down until further notice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're talking more than tens of millions, not just amongst the gaming, not just amongst the tourism, but also all of our other enterprises throughout the Navajo Nation.

SIDNER: The COVID-19 battle Native Americans are facing is just like the rest of the nation, except, on their tribal lands, the suffering is more acute. Forty percent of families here already live below the poverty line.

So, when the tribal government traversed their nation handing out healthy food and bottled water:


SIDNER (on camera): Why is this important?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me to eat and my family to eat.

SIDNER (voice-over): The lines seemed endless. Many were gathering items to help others survive, like Felisita Jones, still self- quarantining after a bout with COVID.

(on camera): How are you feeling now?

JONES: Right now, I feel great.


SIDNER: She feels great because she survived.

But we learned that, just this weekend, more than a dozen people did not due to COVID-19.

We should also mention that, because of the spikes here, the president of the Navajo Nation told us that he made an all-call for help. And help did arrive. He is now getting help from Doctors Without Borders.

But, Jake, we should mention that Doctors Without Borders started helping in the United States with the COVID-19 response in New York -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Sidner, thank you so much for that report.

And, today, we'd like to remember a father and son lost to coronavirus, Miguel and Daniel Moran. The night that 56-year-old Miguel died in A Long Island hospital from COVID-19-related complications, his son Daniel and four other family members rushed to be by his bedside.

Daniel, wearing protective equipment, held his father's hand and promised -- quote -- "One day, we will join you in heaven."

Eight days later, the 23-year-old did just that, the father and son now buried together. The rest of the family in that room, including Miguel's wife and daughter, have all, sadly, tested positive for coronavirus.

May Miguel and Daniel's memories be a blessing. Our thoughts go out to the Moran family.

Our coverage on CNN continues now, right now.