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Senior CDC Official Rebukes White House Criticism as Tensions Escalate; Trump Faces Backlash After Ousting Another Government Watchdog; Source: Ousted State Department Inspector General was Investigating Pompeo. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


This morning, new hopeful developments in the race for a vaccine. Biotech giant Moderna is announcing early results from a clinical trial that show participants developed antibodies to coronavirus.

SCIUTTO: Yes. This study conducted with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. It is a small study but potentially of significance as the nation pushes to reopen with no cure yet, no nationwide testing plan.

Markets reacting positively this morning. Dow futures are up more than 600 points already.


SCIUTTO: We're going to keep an eye on that.

Let's get right, though, to CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen for more on this trial.

So this portion of the vaccine trial, it's early, it's a small number of participants, and really focused on safety at this point. But good news, is there not, in the development of antibodies of those who took this trial vaccine?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, so they're focused on safety, Jim, but they're also trying to see what it does to the person's immune system, what does it actually do, and what they found was that it did get people to manufacture what are called neutralizing antibodies, so that means antibodies that bind to the virus, and theoretically would prevent it from actually infecting a human cell. In fact they found that when they were in the lab it did prevent it from entering a human cell.

I spoke this morning with the chief medical officer at Moderna. He's name is Dr. Tal Zaks. Let's take a listen.


DR. TAL ZAKS, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, MODERNA: This is really a very first important step in the journey towards having a vaccine available for the people who need it the most.


COHEN: Now safety, you mentioned that this is a trial that looks at safety. What they found was that they only had serious adverse events. These are people who felt kind of flu-like symptoms that went away when they gave a very high dose so they're not going to be giving that dose in the clinical trial.

So let's look at what this means moving forward. So as of now, as of today, they have vaccinated between 60 and 100 people in this Moderna clinical trial. In July they plan on starting their large scale clinical trials that will tell us whether or not in the real world is this vaccine effective. That typically involves tens of thousands of people. And then Dr. Zaks at Moderna says that he thinks that the vaccine could be available on the market sometime between January and June of next year. This is also the timeline that Dr. Fauci has mentioned.

I will say this is sort of an aspirational timeline. No one is making any promises. This is what they're hoping for -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very, very much.

Joining us now is Dr. Celine Gounder, CNN medical analyst, infectious disease specialist.

Wow. I mean, look at the market reacting to this and it shows the hope that is being placed in this. One thing I found really interesting from these initial results are the fact that, you know, they gave different doses of this vaccine to different people in the trial and the more vaccine they gave, the more antibodies it created.

Does that just, you know, increase the level of hope people should have in this?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, you're right. They studied low, medium and high doses of the vaccine in the clinical trial volunteers and that's really important and it's why we do this kind of research because what you want to do is weigh the benefits of higher doses of the vaccine versus the potential side effects of giving a higher dose.

And what they really found was that at the lowest dose patients developed antibodies but probably on par with what a natural infection would cause. The medium dose of the vaccine actually caused higher levels of antibodies than what a natural infection would cause and some very mild side effects, you know, redness at the site of infection or at the site of injection and then the high dose of the vaccine caused more significant side effects like fevers and muscle aches, kind of like having the flu. So this helps us figure out what dose to move forward with. HARLOW: OK. It's still pretty small there. I believe in the sort of

second round of it, there were eight people that were tested so it hasn't been peer reviewed, et cetera. What are your question marks here?

GOUNDER: Well, I think we need to see much larger numbers and to see if this is a consistent finding, if this happens across the board and then more importantly when these people have been vaccinated and then are later exposed to the virus, is this truly protective? We think based on (INAUDIBLE) with SARS that neutralizing antibodies will be protected but we don't yet have confirmation with this yet.

HARLOW: We heard Dr. Fauci testifying last week to the fact that there are some vaccines that the government is essentially going to pay for it to get ramped up and mass produced just in case they proved to be effective broadly.


Is this one of the best candidates for something like this?

GOUNDER: We do think this is one of the leading candidates. Now there are a couple of things that are unique about this vaccine which do make it a little bit higher risk. Our older vaccines were based on either killing the virus or weakening virus and using that as your vaccine, some of our newer vaccines involve producing the protein of the virus, proponents of the virus, not the whole thing.

And this is different because this is really providing a person with a genetic code of a piece of the virus that their cells then produce. So you're really turning somebody's cells into the factory for the virus protein, which you then develop antibodies to.

HARLOW: Right.

GOUNDER: And that's a very different technology than we've used before.

HARLOW: The way our Sanjay Gupta explained it this morning that was really striking to me is the question mark before these results were, can this vaccine do everything? Meaning can it create sort of a blueprint, a small blueprint of the virus, create some of that in your body and then create antibodies without having too severe side effects, and as Elizabeth said just some sort of flu-like symptoms in some people. So that seems to be a breakthrough.

GOUNDER: No. It definitely is a breakthrough to be able to do this, to be able to produce neutralizing antibodies. In the studies of mice this vaccine seems to have blocked replication of the virus in the lungs of these mice, experimental mice, so that all bodes well but again we need to see this in more people and we still need to see this among people who are then later exposed to the virus.

HARLOW: Sure. 100 percent. Dr. Celine Gounder, thank you so much.

GOUNDER: My pleasure. HARLOW: Jim.

SCIUTTO: It is a fine line for governors and community leaders across the country keeping people safe while kick-starting the economy. Hours from now Texas is set to announce phase two of the state's reopening plan, despite seeing the highest single-day jump in cases over the weekend, that following a new round of testing.

And in Florida all counties are getting the green light to loosen restrictions despite the state also seeing a rise in cases. What is not clear yet is whether these spikes are due to that increased testing or to cases of clusters of the virus, the virus spreading.

We're going to be in both states. Let's begin, though, with Arlington, Texas Mayor Jeff Williams.

Mayor, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So as you see this, and listen, I know you guys got a tough -- you have decisions to make at a thousand different levels here. You want to keep the number of cases down but you also want people to get back to work, businesses to open, et cetera.

When you see something like this, the number of cases jumping in a particular area after there's a new round of testing, what do you do? Do you zero in on those people? Do you do contact tracing? You know, how do you respond to that?

WILLIAMS: Well, we do all of that. In fact we have worked very hard to increase the amount of testing and tracing that we're doing. We also have created a lot more capacity in our hospitals, and they have been very cooperative, but then we remind our people that the virus is not gone, and that this is a very important time for you to be able to practice the social distancing, the cleanliness, the hygiene, so that we can operate our businesses successfully and then yet not spread the virus.

And it's a very important time, and it's something that each one of us can do. We can fight this unseen enemy, and by using the various methods of social distancing and cleaning and so forth to make it happen.

SCIUTTO: You're aware of this, you've seen it. I mean, these stay-at- home orders, social distancing, et cetera, they become political. And you do have some people protesting them saying it's a matter of freedom, refusing to follow some of these guidelines.

I wonder what you say to folks like that, in terms of not just protecting the community but protecting themselves.

WILLIAMS: Well, it's so important that we are able to continue to provide for our families while still providing for the public health, and of course, it's very important that we are able to have a sustainable economy and still provide for the public health of our people, and so it's up to us. We've got to adjust our behaviors and adjust to a new normal, so that we can have success, because all of this -- it's not a situation of do we have economy or do we have public health?

No, we need to have public health and an economy at the same time, and it's going to require behavioral changes and I've been very proud of our citizens. They have worked well. In fact, we believe we've been able to achieve 90 percent social distancing during the stay-at-home because of the great numbers that we've had.


However, now we're moving around, and we need to realize that it is still -- the virus is still here.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I imagine, do you provide yourself -- does the state and does the community like Arlington provide itself the flexibility to ratchet things back up if need be? You know, if you see an outbreak somewhere, a certain kind of business, certain neighborhood, do you have the ability to say OK, guys, we let things relax, but now we got to tighten them for a little bit?

WILLIAMS: We do, and in fact, the channels have been open all the way through our county and through our state here to be able to provide that information, and in fact, we have seen great success, especially in our nursing homes, and assisted living, where we have seen the cooperation at the local level, the county, the state, and even the federal government, because that has been our hot spots for the most part.

And we've achieved great success through isolation, testing and cleaning there and it has been a very helpful method that we have been able to employ throughout the state. I think it's happening throughout the country, and so cooperation is even more important now than ever before so that we can achieve success.

SCIUTTO: Yes, wise words. We're in it together.

Mayor Jeff Williams, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

WILLIAMS: Well, the last thing, Jim, I'd like to say is that we have got to continue to realize that the virus is still here and that we can have a sustainable economy if we work on our behavior and follow the guidelines. It's got to happen.

SCIUTTO: It's good advice. I hope folks listen. Thanks very much, Mayor.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, Florida as well set to enter its first full phase of reopening today as businesses there prepare to open doors in the two counties most impacted by the epidemic.

HARLOW: That's right. Our Rosa Flores joins us from Doral in Miami- Dade County.

I mean, on Sunday, I think they saw more than 700 new cases across Florida. What does today look like in terms of this next phase of reopening?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this next phase is important, Poppy. And like you mentioned the most populated counties are entering phase one for the first time, joining the other 65 counties in the state, but most of the locations that Americans might think about when they think about Miami are still closed. When you talk about the city of Miami, Miami beach, iconic Ocean Drive, they're still all closed.

I'll get to that in just a moment. But first about these two counties, Miami-Dade and Broward, because they are the most populated counties and they also account for about 50 percent of the nearly 46,000 cases in the state and what this means, as they re-enter phase one is that now restaurants and retail will be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity, but there will be restrictions, and that is of course face masks and social distancing.

Bars, pubs and hotels will remain closed. Now back to Miami Beach, and the city of Miami. The mayors of these cities have said that they want to take it slow. They don't want to rush into anything, because they know that their cities are magnets for people around Florida. People are going to want to go to Ocean Drive and to South Beach, and so that's why they're taking it slow.

They are not reopening today. They plan to reopen retail starting on Wednesday, and then a week from Wednesday they plan to reopen restaurants.

Now, Jim and Poppy, I want to leave you with this. I'm live in Doral because this is one of the cities that is actually reopening in Miami- Dade, the strip behind me is reopening and the barbershop opened up at 8:00 a.m., and they're not closing until midnight, so all of those people that have been in quarantine in south Florida might be asking for appointments here.

There are restrictions. There's about 15 minutes that are required between appointments, but again, barbershop here open until midnight -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. It says a lot. We wish them luck as they go through phase one. Thanks, Rosa.

We have a lot ahead this morning. A senior official at the CDC fires back at criticism from the White House, saying this administration has a, quote, "problem with science." We'll have the latest update on that.

SCIUTTO: And sources say the State Department's inspector general, who was fired by President Trump late Friday, happened to be investigating whether the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a staffer do personal tasks such as walking his dog and picking up his dry cleaning.

Plus, colleges could take a major hit this fall but why is this crisis hitting historically black colleges and universities particularly hard?



SCIUTTO: Well, a public dispute growing between the White House and the nation's leading public health agency. A senior official at the Centers for Disease Control pushing back after scathing criticism from the White House trade adviser Peter Navarro. Here's what Navarro had to say about the CDC yesterday.


PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: Early on in this crisis, the CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test, and that did set us back.


HARLOW: Nick Valencia joins us now. Nick, I would just say Kevin Hassett, his colleague and senior economic adviser of the White House just said the CDC is doing the best that they can.



HARLOW: You're hearing from the CDC. I mean, how are they taking this criticism from some of the top ranks at the White House?

VALENCIA: And well, Poppy, you know, since the very beginning, it's been very clear that the CDC and the White House had been on two different pages, and as we've been following the response to the pandemic, that tension, that divide seems to only be growing deeper. I want to be clear about this. we don't usually hear language like this coming out of the CDC, not even on background.

But it was late last night that I met with the senior CDC official responding directly to the White House trade adviser Peter Navarro's scathing criticism over the weekend specifically on testing. This is what that senior official said in response to Mr. Navarro, saying quote, "we should remind Mr. Navarro that the CDC is a federal agency, part of the administration.

The CDC director is an appointed position, and Dr. Robert Redfield was appointed by President Trump." Now, the official went on to say, "if there is criticism of the CDC ultimately, Mr. Navarro is being critical of the president and the man President Trump placed to lead the agency." I mentioned this growing divide. We reported just a few days ago that there had been growing tension, a divide between even Dr. Deborah Birx who CDC officials see as failing to correct the president on misinformation.

They're also getting increasingly angry and frustrated that the CDC would show what they label as conflicting information from the White House. They say it's very clear that this administration has been given science time and time again, and it seems that they just don't want to take it. Now, some of the specific examples that I was given from the senior official had to do with a six-page decision tree that was taken from the larger 68-page draft document.

He said decision trees having to do with, you know, how to return to workplaces, bars, restaurants, camps, things like that. This is what that official had to say. Now we're being too general. Before it was too much specificity, we continue to get mixed messages from the White House, the official said. We are allowed to release what they allow us to release.

This is very concerning, it should be concerning for the American public. You know, you hear from the public health community that it is essential. It is, you know, very essential that the CDC is part of controlling the COVID-19 response. Right now though, it seems that there is just a souring relationship between this federal agency and those at the White House. Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Yes, difficult to watch in the midst of a health crisis. Nick Valencia, thanks very --


SCIUTTO: Much. President Trump has fired another government watchdog. Up next, we've got the details on what the latest ousted Inspector General was investigating.



HARLOW: Well, CNN has learned the most recent State Department Inspector General, the most recent Inspector General to be fired by the president was looking into something important, was looking into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's actions.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Sources tell CNN that Steve Linick was looking into whether Pompeo had a staffer do personal errands such as picking up dry cleaning, making dinner reservations and walking his dog. CNN senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt has more.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Jim. Well, Steve Linick is part of what critics of the Trump administration are calling a purge of watchdogs. The latest in a string of firings of Inspectors General over the past few weeks. Let's remind our viewers, Inspectors General are -- they are watchdogs, they are tasked with overseeing agencies and departments, keeping watch out for any wrong doing and reporting it.

Steve Linick had been at the State Department for the past seven years, he was appointed by President Barack Obama. In the last few years, he had issued two critical reports of the State Department under President Trump, he had also played a small but pivotal role in the Ukraine investigation that then led of course to President Trump's impeachment.

And as you note, he had been carrying out an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who according to a Democratic aide speaking to our colleague, Zach Cohen, that investigation looking into whether Secretary Pompeo had used a political appointee for personal tasks including making a hotel -- making a restaurant reservation for he and his wife, picking up dry cleaning and walking their dog.

This dismissal according to Democrats may be illegal. Listen to what Speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi had to say.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): New to us and typical of the White House announcing something that is very unsavory. They would do it late on a Friday night. The has the right to fire any federal employee, but the fact is, if it looks like it's in retaliation for something that the IG, the Inspector General is doing, that could be unlawful.


MARQUARDT: So Democrats questioning the legality of that. Democrats in both the Senate and the house on the Foreign Affairs Committees are looking into whether the firing of Steve Linick was illegal. in the meantime, he will be replaced on an acting basis by a man named Stephen Akard who is close to Vice President Mike Pence.

Akard most recently has been the director of Foreign Missions at the State Department, he's also served in several foreign posts around the world, but he did work closely with Vice President Mike Pence in Indiana when Pence was the governor there. Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Alex Marquardt, thanks very much. With me now to discuss further is James Schultz; he's former White House lawyer for President Trump and is now a CNN legal commentator. Jim, good to have you on this morning.


SCIUTTO: What's your -- what's your reaction to this? Because as you look and as you know, this is -- it's not the first time this has happened. You have the State Department IG fired while looking into the Secretary of State. You had the Intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, he was removed and he's of course the one who alerted lawmakers to the first whistleblower complaint of the Ukraine.