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CDC Official Responds to Criticism from White House over Handling of Coronavirus Pandemic; Possible Coronavirus Vaccine Enters Phase Two of Testing; Number of Coronavirus Cases Likely to Increase as States Reopen Economies. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 08:00   ET

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


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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: White House adviser.

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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.

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BERMAN: This morning, we have new reporting on how the CDC is firing back. We begin with CNN's Nick Valencia live in Atlanta. And Nick, I have to say, the frankness with which CDC officials have responded to you overnight and the direct responses to the White House, I was surprised.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you should be, and I think a lot of Americans should be. This is not the type of language that we're used to hearing from an agency like the CDC, but very direct criticism responding to what you heard there from White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.

This is what that senior CDC official told me late last night, 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 Donald Trump." The official went on to say that "This administration has shown time and time again that they have a problem with science," that official adding "We are giving them science and they don't seem to want it."

You mentioned this at the top, John. This comes as we are reporting growing tension amid the CDC and the White House, particularly Dr. Deborah Birx, who we know has had a problem and raised concerns within White House Task Force meetings, taking issue with the data being given and submitted by the CDC. We're told that since the beginning, the White House and the CDC have been on two different pages, and here we are stretching into the tenth week of the response, John and Alisyn, and it seems that that tension and that sour relationship is only getting worse. John, Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Nick, thank you very much for all of that. We will speak about it for the next hour. Thank you.

But let's get right to the breaking news on the possible progress on a vaccine. Let's begin with CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Ashish Jha. He's the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

So Sanjay, the news that we're just being reported this morning, Moderna, that drug company, is moving into phase two of the vaccine, meaning that phase one went well enough that they're making progress. I know you talked to the folks at Moderna yesterday, so what do you know?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and they just released a press release as well about some of that phase one data. Very early, but if it holds up, very encouraging as well. There's two major points here. When you're doing these vaccine trials, the first phase is really to look for safety. And so far, the safety data does look pretty good. Again, they have got to analyze that.

But they also looked into trying to figure out in response to these vaccines, were people developing antibodies, a term that people have come to know, but basically it's the body's response to a virus, and they want to make sure the antibodies, which could fight the virus later on, were, in fact, being produced when given this vaccine. And the answer is yes, at least in this early, in these early results. And not only were antibodies being produced, but as you increased the dose of the vaccine, you were producing more antibodies, and these are the type of antibodies that are known as neutralizing antibodies. so what that means is you take some virus, you take some of the antibodies, you put them in a test tune together, do the antibodies neutralize the virus. And the answer, again, was yes.

So this is encouraging. Very early data. We knew they were going to phase two. There still has to be a phase three after this, so there's a process here that still needs to unfold. But we didn't get bad news at this point. We didn't get the answer that this doesn't work. It's not actually eliciting a response. The news so far is good. We're going to keep a close eye on it.

BERMAN: This is with eight participants in a study right now, eight people. It's small, but it's exactly what you want to see among those eight participants producing the neutralizing antibodies at the level with which they did. And Dr. Jha, one other aspect of this, Moderna says they're going to advance to phase three by July, that's widespread vaccine testing. What does that tell you?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Yes, so I want to just -- excuse me, good morning, I want to agree with Sanjay, first, that this is good news, and while we should be cautious because there have been plenty of cases in history where we have not been able to get from here all the way to end product, this is -- everything I'm seeing so far makes me optimistic. In terms of if they can enter into phase three by July, again, the

goal of being able to get to a vaccine by early next year I think becomes more realistic. So fingers crossed that this is headed in the right direction.

CAMEROTA: OK, Sanjay, I want to ask you about another story that got my attention over the weekend, and that is that these 13 sailors on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt -- so first it was five, then eight were added, now a total is 13, they came down with coronavirus, as did many of their shipmates.

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They then isolated for two weeks. So they had symptoms, they isolated for two weeks, they had no more symptoms, they tested negative. They then developed symptoms again and tested positive. What does that mean? When you hear that, obviously that gets a lot of people's attention. The thinking is you might be able to get coronavirus twice, but what do you, from your medical perspective, hear there?

GUPTA: Well, I'm going to go out on a limb a little bit here, because we're hearing a lot of back-and-forth on this over the last few months. Here's what I think -- and again, I'm going out on a limb, but I think once you're exposed to the infection, the chances are you develop some antibodies and you do have some protection. I don't know how long that protection lasts, I don't know how strong it is. But I think just from everything we know about how the body works, once you have the exposure, as we were talking about with the vaccine even, once you have the exposure you do develop antibodies.

I would find it very hard to believe that the sailors were re- infected. I don't know exactly what happened here. Did they have false negative tests at some point? Are they finding remnants of the virus that aren't actually the virus itself when they test again and they get a positive result? I don't know how to explain it exactly, but it doesn't make sense that they would get re-infected in that short duration of a time.

I can't say that for sure. I'm trying to say these things with a lot of humility because they're all learning as we go along, but from everything I've done, I've been a doc for a long time, I'm curious what Ashish thinks as well, but it just doesn't make sense that reinfection is the explanation here.

BERMAN: Dr. Jha?

JHA: I'm with Sanjay. I'm pretty skeptical that these people, these sailors got re-infected. Again, there's a lot here we don't know, and we should be humble. But everything we've seen from all the experiences in east Asia and Europe is that once you get it and once you truly clear it, you should be good to go for a while. Is that 12 months, 18 months, six months? We don't know. So I'm guessing that there's an explanation here that's not about people getting re- infected.

BERMAN: I wonder, if we can, put up the map of the United States, which has become this quilt that we're looking at every day about where cases are rising, the number of new cases going up, and where they're dropping. And it's about equal. It's a third, a third, a third. In 18 states the number of cases, new cases are dropping, in 15 it's steady, in 17 they're going up. And Sanjay, one of the states we are looking at most closely this morning is Texas, where they had their single biggest spike in new cases over the weekend. Now, there may be reasons for that. It may be because they're testing more. It may be because they're testing more around meat packing plants in Amarillo where these cases have known to come out. But what does this tell you?

GUPTA: Yes, I think that they are doing some more directed testing, and I think it's going to be this thing where the numbers are going to be harder to interpret because you test more, you will find more, and we're increasing testing.

I think, the way that I look at it is that the virus is still out there. It is still circulating. I wish it weren't, but it is. And as people start to come in closer contact with each other, especially in situations like bars or close quarters like that, the virus will spread. That's going to happen. When exactly we will see the reflection of that in the numbers, we know that between the time of exposure to the time of testing can take some time, it takes longer if people are hospitalized. Most won't be, thankfully, and then the death counts, these tragic death counts, that could be weeks away.

But I hate to be the guy to say this. No one likes to say this, but the numbers will go up in response to reopening. They will. I don't know when. They will happen. They may be less of an impact in some places compared to others, depending on density and depending on whether people actually, despite the fact they can go out, do go out. Just because states are reopened doesn't mean that everyone is back out all of a sudden like they were back to normal in December of last year. But the numbers will go up.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Jha, what's your take on that? because obviously we are right now embarking on a new experiment. We've never been here before, so 48 states as of today are reopening in some form, and I understand everything that Sanjay has taught us. There will be a honeymoon period where, for a while, it will seem great and there won't be new cases, and then it stands to reason that we'll see in some places cases spike up again. However, hasn't the virus been eradicated from some communities? Haven't some towns cleared all their cases? And if people go out there, are they safe?

JHA: Yes, so I think what we're going to see is a lot of variation. There are going to be states that are doing it carefully that have adequate testing that I think are going to be able to keep their caseloads low.

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There are other states where I think we'd all be more worried. They have a lot of cases, they may be rising, and they may not have enough testing given their caseload. I don't know if any community has eliminated the virus. We know the virus is circulating. Even if a certain town or let's say a state doesn't have it now, people are going to travel, people are going from town to town, county to county, state to state, and the virus will get reintroduced. So we all have to remain vigilant, and I think we have let data drive our decision- making. And right now, the data is concerning in some places, and other places it's more reassuring.

BERMAN: It's interesting, because you look at the states, there's a lot of noise in states like Texas and Georgia and Iowa, numbers going up and down. There are a couple states where it's not noisy, where it's crystal clear. If you look at New York and New Jersey, it's abundantly clear that the daily trend of new cases is going down, and fairly remarkably down, Sanjay, and these are still the states obviously -- and I'm not saying that everywhere in the country needs to be as restrictive as New York and New Jersey, but you see the direct impact of the policies in place here.

GUPTA: Yes, I think that's right, John. I think overall we may need to widen the aperture overall on our timescale. We understandably follow this day to day. Sometimes these things are measured in weeks and months, not days and weeks. But the other things is that, to your point, we do have evidence that the stay-at-home orders work. I guess most people probably realize that by now. But there was even a study over the weekend in "Health Affairs" that showed that had the stay-at- home orders not gone into place, there probably would have been tens of millions of more people who had become infected.

So we know that it works. We see the trends, as you point out. I'd like to see 14-day downward trends as was suggested by these gating criteria, and as Dr. Jha was talking about, testing in place. So because we know case counts will go up as you start to reopen, quickly identifying, quickly isolating, preventing them from going into exponential growth is going to be the key. But you're right, John, there is evidence now.

BERMAN: Dr. Gupta, Dr. Jha, I feel healthier just talking to you in the morning, so thanks so much for being with us. I appreciate it.

JHA: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, President Trump has fired another government watchdog. He has decimated these positions of inspectors general. Why? What does he have to fear from them? We're going to speak to a former inspector general about what's going on, next.

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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has learned that the State Department Inspector General fired by President Trump late Friday night -- and remember the timing -- that he was investigating whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a staffer perform personal errands, including walking his dog and picking up dry cleaning.

The President's firing of Steve Linick is the latest in a series of dismissals of independent government watchdogs. Joining me now is Gordon Heddell. He is a former Inspector General of the Department of Defense under President Bush and President Obama, thank you so much for being with us this morning ...

GORDON HEDDELL, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Good morning, John. Good to be here.

BERMAN: ... and helping us understand what happened. What do you make of this wave of dismissals from President Trump and his apparent disregard for the very institution of Inspectors General?

HEDDELL: Well, you know, John, this president claims to understand value, and yet, over and over, consistently has underestimated the value of so many of our fine government agencies.

Now, he is attacking our Inspectors General. You know, when the Inspector General Act was passed in 1978, it was passed for the expressed purpose of addressing a situation just like the one that we are currently in.

The thing that is astounding to me, is the fact that the law requires that the President has to show cause, but it didn't anticipate that he simply would say he had lost confidence.

But what's even more astounding is that the very people who created this organization, the Inspectors General, the United States Senate, who confirms I.G.s is amazingly silent right now. It's absolutely difficult to understand.

Now, as far as what's happening right now, I mean the President now, he has fired Michael Atkinson. He has now -- he announced his intention to fire Steve Linick.

He demoted Christi Grimm over at H.H.S. for expressing concerns in her reports about the lack of necessary resources to address this Coronavirus.

And then Glenn Fine. Glenn -- he is probably one of the finest, most capable, most highly qualified Inspectors General in the business. He is at Defense right now.

He has been acting Inspector General for several years, at least four years, I would say, and I will tell you something, you just don't get rid of an Inspector General at Defense and then expect to bring someone in unless they are extremely well-qualified because it's a difficult job that's put on you.

BERMAN: What does it tell? What does it tell you or what alarm bells does it set off that the President seems to want to do away with people in this position?

HEDDELL: Well, he wants -- it's very simple. He does not want to hear the truth. Inspectors General were created to provide transparency, and to do it in a way that is absolutely independent of politics.

And when these Inspectors General speak the truth, they are basically being told by this administration, we do not want to hear it. And if you do speak out, you're going to be admonished and in these

cases, fired.

This President, unfortunately, doesn't want to hear the truth. And you know, it's really ironic because the President talks about clearing the swamp, but in fact, the only people in Washington, D.C. who have been doing that are our Inspectors General. It's an irony.

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BERMAN: What's the impact of undermining this position?

HEDDELL: It's very serious. It is very serious. There's a point where these kinds of actions by the President -- I mean, look, it has taken over 40 years to develop an Inspectors General community that is fearless and courageous and they're willing to do the right things and they are people of great character. They have steadfast determination to do the right things.

But now, they have received a message. If you act in a way that I do not like or that I think that you're embarrassing me, you're going to be fired.

Now, what that does -- I don't want to say it's irreparable for the years to come, but in the immediate future, the next two to three years, this is going to have irreparable consequences. It takes time to rebuild.

So I'm very concerned about this -- it isn't. President Trump may be out of office, but just the impact of these actions are going to last for some time.

BERMAN: You said you were disappointed in how Congress has reacted to this. What's your explanation for why Congress isn't saying more about this?

HEDDELL: I think there is basically a fear. It's a fear that the President will attack them. It's a fear that this could hurt their chances, in some cases, for reelection. And it's their desire to stick together, I suppose.

But look, they weren't elected to stick together. They were elected to do the right things. And that's what they did under the leadership, by the way of John Glenn, back in 1978, when they pass this Act.

They said unanimously, we're not going to put up with a President anymore, who does the kinds of things that are unconstitutional, illegal and not in the best interest of the American people.

BERMAN: Do you think it's within the scope of the law for the President to be dismissing in this way? There's an issue of what he can do and what he should do.

There's an issue of law versus norms here, correct?

HEDDELL: Yes. The law says that the President, if he decides to fire an Inspector General, has to give the Congress 30 days' notice and he has to give cause.

Well, when the law said cause, the senators who passed that and the other Members of Congress who passed that law, they were not anticipating that a President would simply say, I've lost confidence.

No, they were anticipating that a President would explain why. What did this Inspector General do that is so egregious? This President has not done this.

Now, that is the fault of the law to some extent, because the law is vague. It simply says give cause, but I can already tell you, that there's a lot of conversation right now within the Inspector General community and on the Hill that this law needs to be clarified.

BERMAN: Gordon Heddell, we really appreciate your time this morning and sharing with us your experience your vast experience on this issue. Thank you so much.

HEDDELL: You're welcome, John. Thank you and good morning.

BERMAN: All right. Texas has announced a new reopening phase today after seeing its biggest one day spike in new cases over the weekend. The Mayor of Dallas joins us next.

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ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Texas Governor Greg Abbott is expected to announce additional reopening measures today, at the same time that Texas has recorded its biggest single day jump in new cases since the pandemic began.

Joining us now is Dallas mayor, Eric Johnson. Mayor, great to have you here. How do you explain the biggest jump since this began in Texas? What do you think is behind that?

MAYOR. ERIC JOHNSON (D), DALLAS, TEXAS: Well, more than likely, what you saw in the cases jumping in the past few days that we've reported is a change in policy with respect to the reopening of parts of our economy a couple of weeks ago, these things sort of lag.

The decision is made and then you don't see the results in the cases until a couple of weeks later. So, this is more than likely connected in some way to the opening of restaurants and movie theaters and retail and our malls up to 25 percent occupancy a couple of weeks ago.

So, I think it's probably the main reason.

CAMEROTA: I mean, that's interesting. So in other words, you think that more people are actually getting sick in Texas. The fact that these 1,800 new cases that we're seeing, it's not just that more people are being tested and it's not just you think a meatpacking plant, you think that actually more people have gotten sick?

JOHNSON: Probably multivariable. I mean, I think there's probably a couple of things going on at the same time. You certainly have an increase in testing in some places.

We're slowly ramping up our testing here in Dallas, thankfully, but you also have changes in policy. And so I think there's a few things working together at the same time to account for that increase in cases.

What we're seeing in Dallas County, in the City of Dallas, fortunately, as we believe our cases are starting to plateau actually.

So Texas is the big state, 30 million people, very diverse. And regionally, you're seeing different things. But here locally, our cases actually appear to be hopefully starting to level off.

CAMEROTA: Because you tweeted out this graph, this line graph last week about the hospital bed capacity and the ICU capacity and those top two lines right there show -- I mean, it's not a huge spike, but they're not going in the right direction in Dallas.

JOHNSON: Well, I've been watching hospital bed capacity and ICU bed capacity and ventilator capacity like a hawk, and we've never exceeded the high 60s in any of our bed capacities to either the general hospital beds or ICU beds, or ventilators have never exceeded 40 percent.

But that's something I think we have to keep our eye on. We want to make sure that we have that capacity in the event that there is any surge or any spike associated with the reopening of our economy.

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