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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

U.S. Sending Russia Ventilators; Interview With Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy; President Trump Blasts Mail-In Voting. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 20, 2020 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There's just no -- no question about that. Maybe that's obvious at this point.

Yes, the distancing, the physical distancing, but, also, you have got to take into account the duration that people are in -- are in close proximity. So, even if they're six feet apart, if they're together for an hour, two hours, that could be a higher risk.

Are they wearing masks? That's going to be another thing. Do you have the ability to test? Because if someone becomes -- tests positive, can you quickly contact trace and find people? Someone died. That was a contact of that religious group in Arkansas as well, had nothing to do with the particular religious organization, but just came in contact with somebody there.

So all those things need to go in place. It's tough to say for sure, Jake, that you do this and then it's bulletproof, it's going to be totally safe, because the virus is still out there. But this is what we're learning, not just distance, duration, masks, no symptomatic people, all those things have to fall into place.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis just said this in response to the fact that a lot of people criticized him for not enacting stay-at-home orders several months ago. Florida was one of the last to do -- take restrictions, enforce restrictions and one of the first to start reopening.

And he pointed out that the death toll actually has not exploded the way it was predicted. I want you to take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): So we have succeeded. And I think that people just don't want to recognize it, because it challenges their narrative. It challenges their assumption.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, I mean, it is true that a lot of folks, including you and me, expressed concern that maybe there would be an explosion. And there wasn't, thankfully. Thank God there wasn't.

GUPTA: Right.

TAPPER: What do you make of the criticism?

GUPTA: Well, I think there's a few things.

One is that, as states either started to close down or reopen formally, from a policy perspective, I think it is important to wonder what was happening actually in the state.

So, for example, if you take two of the larger counties in Florida, Miami-Dade and I believe Broward, they started to do things earlier than the rest of the state because they were concerned. So I'm not sure you can lump in the whole state together, because there were different communities that were behaving differently and different communities that are reemerging.

I think for a lot of people in the state, especially given that you have more elderly people there, there was greater concern and people have been maybe more likely to stay home. Maybe that's a factor here.

Maybe the weather played some sort of role here. As you know, Jake, this is still a question mark. How much of a role does weather play in terms of mitigation -- mitigating the virus? It doesn't make it go away. We can say that for sure. But it may slow down the spread.

And like you, Jake, I hope that -- my parents live in Florida. I mean, this is a constant conversation. I hope that the numbers stay low. I think -- and there's good chance that they will.

But we're not through this yet. That's the other part, Jake. I mean, I think people are hearing this and they're saying, hey, we did it. We're through it. That's not the case, sadly. I wish it were. We have still got to stay vigilant here. And people talk about a second wave, whatever you want to call it. We're not done yet.

TAPPER: All right, Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Always good to see you.

GUPTA: You got it.

TAPPER: Be sure to tune in tomorrow night for a CNN town hall, "Coronavirus: Facts and Fears," hosted by Dr. Gupta and Anderson Cooper, as always. That's tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

Coming up: President Trump is now threatening to withhold emergency funds from states over an issue, over something that the president just did himself.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:51] TAPPER: Today, President Trump falsely accused the states of Nevada and Michigan of illegally sending out absentee ballots to its residents. The president later corrected that with a brand-new falsehood, that there was something illegal about sending out absentee ballot applications.

This is all a continuation of the president's opposition to mail-in voting. In one tweet, the president wrote -- quote -- "Michigan sends absentee ballot applications to 7.7 million people ahead of primaries in the general election. This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue secretary of state. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this voter fraud path."

Moments, CNN's Kaitlan Collins asked White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany about this, pointing out that the president himself voted by mail just two months ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, first, with regard to the president doing a mail-in vote, the president is, after all, the president, which means he's here in Washington, he's unable to cast his vote down in Florida, his state of residence.

So, for him, that's why he had to do a mail-in vote. But he supports mail-in voting for a reason, when you have a reason that you are unable to be present.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, there's a pandemic.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: Of course.

COLLINS: But there's no evidence that there is widespread voter fraud with mail-in...

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: So there's evidence. You can go look this up on ProPublica.

There is a bipartisan consensus on the fact that mass mail-in voting can lead to fraud. There was a 2005 commission by none other than president Carter, who's not a member of the Republican Party, And also James Baker, about this, concluding that these ballots -- quote -- "remain the largest source of potential voter fraud."

So this is a concern. The president's right to look at this. We want a free and fair election. And that's his concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We should point out that, a few days ago, former President Jimmy Carter called upon the United States to significantly expand vote by mail. CNN's Abby Phillip joins me now.

Abby, McEnany not clarifying what exactly is illegal about a secretary of state mailing absentee ballot applications to voters, presumably because there isn't anything illegal.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.

I mean, not only is the press secretary not saying what is illegal about that, but nobody in the president's circle appears to be explaining what he might have meant.

[16:40:07]

I have asked several officials with the Republican National Committee, also at the White House. No one will actually say. And that's because Michigan voters themselves voted to give themselves the ability to cast an absentee ballot for any reason, before the coronavirus pandemic.

These applications are also available online. And in a statement, the Michigan secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, said the president is still wrong, even with his corrected tweet.

She says that: "Every Michigan registered voter has a right to vote by mail. I have the authority and the responsibility to make sure they know how to exercise that right."

We also just got a statement from the Nevada secretary of state, who is a Republican. And she defended her decision to move to a mail-in- only primary in that state's upcoming primary. She says she lawfully declared the 2020 primary election as a mail-in election. And in a recent court order, a federal judge ruled hold Secretary Cegavske lawfully exercised her authority granted to her by state law."

So it appears that there's very little basis for these tweets from the president this morning.

TAPPER: That's a polite way of saying it.

Abby, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

There have been promising new signs about a vaccine and potential treatment for coronavirus, so why haven't we seen the data to back these claims up?

I'm going to talk to a former U.S. surgeon general about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:39]

TAPPER: In our health lead: more promising news on the vaccine front.

Two new studies found monkeys showed encouraging signs after getting several vaccines from Johnson & Johnson. But doctors warn that some vaccines that work in animals turn out to be failures in human.

As our friend Dr. Offit once said, when it comes to trials -- quote -- "Mice lie and monkeys exaggerate" -- unquote.

Monday, there was big hype around Moderna's possible coronavirus vaccine, which was tested on eight people. The company claimed there were positive early results, but has yet to release more than a little data to back up those assertions.

And three weeks after the NIH's clinical trial claimed that the drug remdesivir shortened the hospital stay of coronavirus patients, the actual proof to back up those claims still has not been published.

Joining me now is former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Dr. Murthy, thanks so much for coming back.

We all want to be hopeful. We all want treatment. We all want a vaccine. We all want it to work. But do you think we need to see more than press releases before we start celebrating these early results?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, thanks, Jake. It's good to be with you.

I was optimistic when I heard the news about the Moderna study earlier this week, but I was also hungry for more data. And I think, before we put too much hope on a press release, we have got to make sure that we're looking at the actual hard data that tells us what's working, what's not working, and what more needs to be investigated.

What we know from the Moderna trial is that people who were given the vaccine actually responded with antibodies. But it was a subset of those people who actually have what were called neutralizing antibodies. Those are the kind of antibodies you want, not just binding antibodies, but neutralizing antibodies that actually will slow down the replication of the virus.

And the rest of the people who received the vaccine may, in fact, develop those neutralizing antibodies. But that's one of the things that we have to understand. We also have to keep in mind that the Moderna trial was done in younger patients aged 18 to 55, people who are generally healthy.

And it also showed people develop antibodies, but we don't know how long those last. The real questions are going to come when we test this vaccine in older patients, recognizing they're also the ones who are at greater risk.

And we also need to know whether this really protects people from getting infected, whether the immunity lasts in the real world. So these are open questions. We should see the Moderna study is one step forward.

But we should take it with a grain of salt until we see all of the data. TAPPER: I mean, we're so hungry for information and for positive

signs that I have never -- I can't remember any time where we're talking more about un-peer-reviewed papers, medical papers and the like.

Typically, not in this kind of circumstance, but typically, would you expect to see the underlying data before the press releases are issued?

MURTHY: So, you would expect at least see them at the same time, because what you want -- and what you have to realize when you put out a press release like that -- and I understand that the pressure to generate good news in a situation that is as difficult and challenging as COVID-19, that pressure is really high.

But when you put out a press release that doesn't have enough data, sometimes, you generate more questions than you do answers. And what we don't want is for people to be skeptical about data. We want -- don't want them to cast aside the entire trial because there are unanswered questions.

That's why the data has got to come, if not at the same time, pretty quickly afterward. It's also notable, Jake, that, again, this is a trial that was done in partnership with the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, which led -- which is led by Dr. Tony Fauci.

It was striking to many of us that we didn't hear more from NIAID about these trial results when Moderna announced them earlier in the week.

TAPPER: What's your response to those who say, we need positive news right now, what's wrong with giving some people hope?

Is the hope dangerous itself?

MURTHY: Well, hope is a good thing, but hope has to be grounded in facts and full information.

And when you put out a press release like this, what you have to do is, you have got to make sure you're telling people what you know, but also what you don't know. You have got to give people the caveats.

Now, even with the best of intentions, even if you do that, if the hunger for good news is so deep, people may not even hear the caveats. They may just run with the good news.

[16:50:03]

And you have to keep that in mind as well and take that into account when you're deciding about whether to release information like this. Once you create either a sense of exuberance or optimism that's not warranted, what that can do is, it can lead people to sometimes not even be as cautious as they should be.

TAPPER: Yes. Dr. Vivek Murthy, thank you so much for your time.

And you can learn more from Dr. Murthy from his new book. It's called "Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World."

Coming up: Talk about role reversal in just a matter of weeks. Up next: why the U.S. is now sending coronavirus aid to Russia.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:18]

TAPPER: In our world lead today: Moscow is getting help from the United States today.

Russia is receiving a shipment of ventilators to treat the sickest patients. That country now surpassing 300,000 coronavirus cases, the second highest number in the world, behind only the United States.

CNN's Matthew Chance now looks at how the country that just a month ago said it had the virus under control is now looking to the rest of us for help.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are the first images of a batch of U.S.-made ventilators being loaded on a military transporter banned for Moscow.

Now it's America's turn to send Russia medical aid. U.S. officials say there's 50 in the shipment. Another 150 will be sent soon. But a few months ago, it was Russia sending aid, including doctors and medical equipment, to Italy at the height of the pandemic there.

From Russia with love is what Moscow called it. With critics, it was more like propaganda from the Kremlin. Russia was projecting an image of control. Even the U.S. got a handout, a planeload of Russian aid sent to New York, as that city became the American epicenter of COVID- 19.

No matter it later emerged the Russian ventilators were unsafe, the fact Moscow was helping America in a crisis was a P.R. coup for the Kremlin.

With extremely few recorded infections back then, Russia appeared to bask in its performance.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Thanks to the prompt measures taken in the first weeks of the epidemic, we managed to contain the massive penetration and spread of the infection in Russia.

Now, despite the potentially high level of risk, the situation is generally under control.

CHANCE: But it wasn't and it still isn't. Perhaps the first sign was this, Putin in full plague garb visiting Moscow's main coronavirus hospital in March.

Previously, he had appeared unprotected. Soon, Russia had record daily infections, the grim truth of Russia's pandemic emerging as key figures, including the prime minister, then Putin's longtime spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, were hospitalized, fueling concerns about Putin's own health.

Soon, with the highest number of infections after the U.S, Russia seemed to descend into a coronavirus hell. Images of infected medics coughing in makeshift wards exposed hideous conditions. Here, a doctor is arrested trying to deliver much-needed medical supplies. She argued the country was in denial about its coronavirus problem.

At least three more critical of the pandemic response mysteriously fell out of hospital windows, more out of desperation with their workload, said colleagues, than a conspiracy to silence critics. Two died of their injuries.

It's why this first shipment of U.S. aid to Russia is so significant, not just the returned favor to the next worst-affected country in the world, but also an admission by Russia, finally, that it needs help.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: Jake, the latest figures to come out of Russia really underlying how much help it's need -- it needs, more than 8,000 new infections recorded in the past 24 hours.

It brings to 308,000 the number of people recorded as infected. The death toll still under 3,000, but I think everybody focusing on this now knows very well the real figure is going to be much higher than that -- Jake.

TAPPER: That's right.

Matthew Chance, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

In our national lead today: Today, we will remember two nuns working for the charity of St. Joan Antida in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. These nuns devoted their lives to serving others. Both passed away from coronavirus.

Sister Gabriella Nguyen was known for her warm smile. She immigrated to the United States from Vietnam, and worked at St. Joan Antida High School, where she was once a student.

Sister Monica Fumo served for more than 50 years at that same high school, teaching and mentoring thousands of young women in her decades of service.

Five other nuns in Wisconsin died in April of coronavirus, all living at a facility for retired religious sisters. May their memories be a blessing.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.