Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Death Toll Tops 92,000 As All 50 States Partially Reopen; Pence Travels For First Time Since Press Secretary Tested Positive; CDC Releases Detailed Guidance On Reopening; Positive Results In Animals For Johnson & Johnson Vaccines; Trump Falsely Claims States Illegally Sent Absentee Ballot Applications To Voters Threatens Emergency Funds; Pompeo Defends Push To Fire Inspector General. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 20, 2020 - 17:00   ET



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, we're following breaking news.

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic now more than 92,000 people, and 1.5 million confirmed cases. Also tonight the number of cases worldwide approaching 5 million, with more than 325,000 confirmed deaths. And for the first time since early March, all 50 states are now open again, at least in some form, even as cases are trending up in 18 states.

Meanwhile, President Trump is lashing out at perceived enemies, including states that are offering citizens the opportunity to vote by mail. He's threatening to withhold federal funds from some of them. And sources are telling CNN that the fate of CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield is in question right now as the White House looks for someone to blame for the devastating storm of this pandemic.

Let's go to the White House right now. Our White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond is joining us. Jeremy, there are serious questions tonight about the fate of the CDC director. What are you learning?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There certainly are Wolf questions about Redfield's future as the head of that critical agency in the midst of this fight against this coronavirus pandemic, a senior administration official telling our colleague Kristen Holmes that there have been informal conversations about the fate of the CDC director.

Last week, Wolf were told that the CDC director expressed confidence privately in his job security, but over the weekend, that began to change, particularly as we saw a top White House official, Peter Navarro, go out and publicly criticize the CDC. We also know that there have been tensions for weeks now between the CDC and the White House.

So amidst all of that we heard the President yesterday we were told that behind closed doors will he public -- he criticized the CDC in a lunch with Republican senators, that's according to sources that we spoke with. But publicly though Wolf, we are not seeing the President attack the CDC director, but we are seeing him attack many, many others.

And in fact, Wolf, it seems like this is really part of a patchwork -- pattern by the president to divert and distract from this pandemic. In particular Wolf, we are seeing the President's level a series of conspiracy theories both against his predecessor former President Obama, and today new accusations by the President, false accusations against the states of Michigan and Nevada accusing them of illegally sending out mail-in ballots.

So here is a tweet from the president from this morning he said, 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.

Now we should note Wolf, initially the President actually accused Michigan of falsely sending the ballots themselves not the ballot applications, but nonetheless Wolf, the President's claim here about some illegal activity appears to be false. And in fact, the White House press secretary was pressed just a little bit ago about what crime the President sees here, she did not have an answer. Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeremy, the Vice President Mike Pence, so traveling today for the first time since the day his press secretary tested positive for coronavirus. So tell us what he was doing down in Florida?

DIAMOND: That's right, the Vice President we saw him in Florida meeting with Governor Ron DeSantis. They actually went to a restaurant together. And Wolf, you can see on your screen now, neither of them wearing masks.

Nobody in the restaurant other than some of the reporters who are traveling with the Vice President appear to be wearing masks. This of course goes against what the CDC is recommending when you are not able to practice social distancing. You should wear masks not to protect yourself but to protect others from yourself.

And it's particularly notable because it's only been 12 days, Wolf since the Vice President's press secretary tested positive for coronavirus. The CDC recommends self isolating for 14 days if indeed you've been in close contact with someone who sets it positive.

This is just raising more questions about what the President will do tomorrow, Wolf. He is heading to Michigan to visit a Ford manufacturing plants. The Ford has already made clear that their policy at that plant is that everyone who is there must wear a mask. But the President yesterday was, you know, would not say whether or not he will indeed wear a mask Wolf. We will have to see if he follows Ford's policies or not.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens tomorrow. All right, Jeremy Diamond. Thank you very much. So let's get the latest now in the reopening of the country or national correspondent Erica Hill is working the story for us. Erica, it's back to business in many parts of the country, but hardly business as usual.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's for sure, Wolf. And we're hearing more throughout the afternoon, California, more than half the counties in that state will be ready to move into the next phase.

We just heard from the governor of Indiana who says, all but three counties in his state on Friday we'll move into stage three which increases capacity for retail to 75 percent it will, so mean that summer camps can begin opening state parks and even some sports fields like baseball fields although not everything he says football and lacrosse, still do not have the green light.


But as all of this is happening, you're right, it looks very different from what we remember just a couple of months ago.


HILL (voice-over): A 50 state experiment now in full swing.

JONATHAN RESSLER, ARCHIE MOORE'S: It's been a rough time. Two months without, you know, normal operations is not easy in the restaurant business when there are such thin margins.

HILL (voice-over): Restaurants offering outdoor dining in Connecticut, hair salons originally slated to reopen today, now on hold until June 1st.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of us here today we did what was necessary what was called for us to do and it just the rug got pulled out from underneath us.

HILL (voice-over): Salons in Miami Beach can open today, but beaches there remain closed.

DAN GELBER, MAYOR (D) MIAMI BEACH: We don't want to do is rush so fast that we create a spike in the virus.

HILL (voice-over): Further north, the shops and restaurants at Disney Springs welcoming visitors, masks are mandatory for ages three and up.

In person car sales now allowed in New Jersey, Los Angeles County, setting a goal of reopening on July 4th, as Alaska declares everything will be open Friday morning.

GOV. MIKE DUNLEAVY (R-AK): We now have the knowledge of this virus. We all know how it operates. So it's going to be up to us as individuals to deal with it.

HILL (voice-over): Alaska is one of 18 states seeing an uptick in new cases over the past week, along with Kentucky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we're humble enough to know that it's very possible we make a decision that we've got to pull back.

HILL (voice-over): New cases in 17 states, including Georgia are trending down, though there are questions about that state's tracking data after a misleading chart was posted on the Health Department's website. Florida's numbers also called into question.

The official responsible for this dashboard of COVID-19 information said she was removed from her job and caution future data would not offer the same level of accessibility and transparency. The State's Health Department said the official exhibit a quote repeated course of insubordination.

RICHARD BESSER, FMR ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: You have to know what's going on locally, you have to know that the data are good. I think that one way you do that is that you hear from the public health scientists who are doing that data rather than that rather than politicians who are interpreting that data.

HILL (voice-over): Long awaited CDC guidelines for reopening quietly released online overnight. Information for businesses and schools, though not for religious institutions. Despite a separate CDC report just hours earlier, detailing the spread of the virus at an Arkansas church.

REV. EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENATOR: I've heard stuff like well, Jesus will protect me or God wouldn't let that happen. Well, guess what other congregants have been affected infected with the virus. So, I think we really have to be smart about this. And I think it should have included the guidelines for all get groups that gather and including religious ones.

HILL (voice-over): In New York City, still weeks away from reopening new UV lights will help disinfect its subway cars. The nation's capital also remains on pause. Washington D.C. stay at home order was recently extended through at least June 8th.


HILL: In Chicago, Ford was able to resume production at a plant batter would have been temporarily closed after two employees tested positive. But then we also found out that in the truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan, and employee tested positive, so that facility for Ford is now temporarily closed.

The company saying they don't believe that the employee contracted the virus while at work, but anybody who has come in contact with that person they've been asked to quarantine for 14 days.

BLITZER: Which is an important decision. Erica Hill, thank you very much for that.

Joining us now, the governor of Delaware, John Carney. Governor Carney, thanks for joining us.

As you know, your fellow governors in all 50 states now have now decided to begin reopening at least partially. What does this pivotal moment mean? From your perspective for the nation, and what does it mean for Delaware?

GOV. JOHN CARNEY (D-DE): Yes, for us here in Delaware, it means that our message has to be strong that as we've moved to reopen sectors of our economy, really to phase one there on June the first this weekend, in a limited way, lifting restrictions on our beaches, allowing retailers today to sell curbside delivery.

And so it's a gradual rolling reopening, we've been following the science and the guidelines from the CDC. We do have declining percent positive cases on a day to day basis over a 14 day period of time. And most importantly, as we've discussed before, our hospitalization rate is down by 25% has consistently moved down even as we fought an outbreak of COVID-19 and among poultry workers in the lower part of our state.


So, my message to Delawarians is social distancing is working. But now's not the time to let up as we gradually reopen our economy, let's focus on staying safe. Wearing masks, keeping distance from one another, no large gatherings. And so if we work together, if we think about our neighbor, and that our actions affect our neighbor, then we're going to get through this together and we'll be able to open safely.

BLITZER: Those precautionary steps are so, so critical. Governor, CNN is also learning that the CDC director's job is apparently now on the line at the same time the President is once again defending his decision to take hydroxychloroquine despite the FDA saying it's not necessarily been shown to be effective against coronavirus. What message do you believe this sends to your residents about how much faith they should have right now in the health policy coming from the Trump administration?

CARNEY: Yes, it's exactly the wrong message. You know, we need reliable, consistent leadership at the federal, state and local level. We need to have consistent messaging and we need leaders who lead by example, who wear masks in public.

We heard early report on that who keep social distance when they're in public, who encouraged people to think about others to wear a mask, not so much to protect yourself, but to protect folks that are around you.

And so it's just kind of bizarre. Some of the things that we're seeing there with respect to taking that that drug there.

BLITZER: In your state of Delaware, you extended your state home order until May 31st. But starting today, as you know, retail establishments could open by appointment on Friday restrictions, as you pointed out, will be lifted on the state's very popular beaches. What led you Governor to feel comfortable about taking these initial steps to reopen Delaware before you lift the actual state home order?

CARNEY: Yes, so it was really that gating criteria that we got from recommended from the CDC and our local public health officials and the idea that we could achieve these modest interim steps allowing businesses to get some revenue as long as we kept them safe with various precautionary measures, face marrying curbside delivery appointment by or sales by appointment only, those kinds of things. And that way rolled into the opening there on June 1st.

You know, my biggest concern obviously is lifting some of the restrictions on the beaches. The people in the region love Delaware beaches, Delawarians love a Delaware beaches, now's not the time to come back in a while kind of way and kind of storm the beach. Now's the time to enjoy a walk on the beach.

Put your feet in the sand and in the water, but do it separate from folks around you. And we're going to limit access. And we're going to -- we've got a lot of messaging out there. And that's really what we need to lean into as leaders and as government officials is getting that information out to folks about how to be safe, and keep your neighbors safe as well.

BLITZER: Well, how will you enforce what you want everyone to do? The social distancing, the wearing a mask, the capacity limits on the beaches, especially coming up for this very popular Memorial Day weekend?

CARNEY: Yes, so first, it's education. It's the signage, we're going to have, what we're calling beach ambassadors. We borrowed that from another place around the country, folks that go up to individuals and tell them what the appropriate behavior is. Hopefully, folks will follow that.

That guy is ultimately, you know, we'll have enforcement by mostly by a driven by complaints. We will have Delaware State Police on the roadways. So with respect to the 14 day out of state quarantine reminding folks of their obligation there.

And then we'll roll into the next weekend. Learn from the experience of this weekend. Last weekend, we saw where people were really following the rules. They weren't big crowds on the beach, of course, it was under different set of restrictions. But people were following the rules. We'll see what happens over Memorial Day weekend. It's a big weekend, as you know, and then make decisions for the weekends after that.

BLITZER: Good luck, Governor Carney I know it's going To be a busy weekend for you and a lot at stake right now, as all of us know. Thanks so much for joining us.

CARNEY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have more on what we're learning about tension right now between the White House and the CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield are what it means for the fate of his job.

Plus, a potentially critical new development in the race for finding a coronavirus vaccine.


BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) meeting with the governors of Kansas and Arkansas that he answered reporters questions. Kaitlan Collins, our White House correspondent was inside the Cabinet Room for that event. So what did we learn Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, of course, a big topic here at the White House today has been the President's votes on Michigan alleging that something illegal is happening there after the Secretary of State since sent mail-in voting applications, ballot applications to the state's registered voters.

And you saw the press briefing. The White House press secretary repeatedly deferred to the campaign when it was asked, you know, what exactly is it that the President is alleging that was illegal here? Well, we had the chance to ask the President that ourselves and this is what he was saying about mail-in voting and what he believes happens.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Well, I think if we're talking about the mail-in ballots, if people mail-in ballots, there's a lot of illegality they send in ballots that they harvest balance, you know, all about harvesting and they do lots of bad things. Ideally people go out and they vote now, if you need a mail-in ballot, if you need a specific like as an example, I'm in the White House and I have to send a ballot to Florida. That makes sense.


So if you needed for some reason, or if somebody's not well, that's one thing, but when you send out 7.7 million mail-in ballots, there's forgeries. There's frankly duplication with a print balance on the same kind of paper with the same kind of machinery and you can't tell the difference. And they send in thousands and thousands of fake ballots. And I tell you what, this nation can't be going down that path because that's a very dangerous path to go down.


COLLINS: So you see there, Wolf, the President making a lot of allegations he did not cite any evidence to back up his claims about there being widespread fraud when it comes to mail-in voting. That's something he sought to say multiple times in recent months.

Though we should know it's not just Michigan that is making moves like this or seeing other Republican secretaries of state trying to move to this option to send people applications to request mail-in ballots, of course, because people are concerned about going to vote given the pandemic that's going on. And you even heard the President there say that he has voted by mail-in ballot both he and the First Lady did in Florida's presidential primary election just two months ago.

But Wolf, the President continues to go on about that. He also talked about the CDC, he denied CNN reporting that he was complaining about the CDC at a lunch with Republican senators yesterday, saying that they had botched testing early on is what multiple sources had told us.

He said he did not do that. But then he did go on to talk about the testing and the contamination that was going on in the early tests at the CDC that as we know now multiple health experts have said, actually is what led to a delay in testing here in the United States.

And one more thing, Wolf, we should say he did note that he said he had confidence in the CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, and he said he's got about two days left of taking hydroxychloroquine. Of course the drug that even the FDA has cautioned against coronavirus patients using.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to follow up on all of his statements fairly soon. Thanks so much Kaitlan. Kaitlan was in the Cabinet Room when the President answered a few reporters questions.

There's more breaking news we're following, U.S. coronavirus death toll now is well above 92,000, as all 50 states are moving ahead with plans to reopen businesses, schools and public places, at least in some form.

Let's talk about all that's going on right now with our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Ashish Jha. Yes, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Sanjay, as you heard CNN is learning that the CDC director's job maybe in question despite what the President just said now deny. He suggested anything negative about the CDC yesterday at that luncheon with Republican senators.

Our sources say the White House is right now prioritizing the politics the re-election campaign, if you will, over science. But give us some perspective. How critical is the CDC right now as the U.S. faces this truly unprecedented health crisis?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They -- you know, they've been at the forefront of all previous, you know, outbreaks, epidemics, pandemics. You remember Tom Frieden, he's the guy that we heard from during Ebola, Rich Besser during H1N1.

So I mean, they're really critical. I mean, we do know that there was problems with the testing that they first released earlier on. And that seems to have really been stuck to them, you know, as we move forward. We're not hearing from the CDC as much.

They are some of the best epidemiologists in the world who now give us a sense of how we navigate forward, how we start to think about, you know, life in the midst of a pandemic, schools, summer camps, getting on flights, all those things.

So I think they're critically important. And I think it's too bad, given their worldwide reputation that we haven't heard more from them. BLITZER: You know, Dr. Jha, the CDC has released now some detailed guidance on reopening the country guides that was previously shelved by the White House. How important is it that health and government officials have access to the CDC recommendations as they make these critically life and death type decisions about reopening?

ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Yes, so Wolf, thanks for having me on. You know, as Dr. Gupta said, the CDC has really been the premier public health agency of the world. And in this outbreak, they have been inexplicably sidelined in a way that has I think, been really harmful to the American people's made our entire response much harder.

I love the fact that those silent -- those guidelines are finally out. They are incredibly important for states and municipalities that are trying to open up safely. I think we need to be hearing more from the CDC and their expertise.

BLITZER: I agree. I think everybody agrees. We want to be hearing more. Normally, Sanjay and you've covered this for a long time. They would be having almost daily briefings to inform the news media and as a result, the American public about recommendations what everyone needs to know we have -- we've heard a thunderous silence basically over these past several weeks from the CDC.


Or on another sensitive issue Sanjay, we're learning of new findings in various studies on coronavirus, potential vaccines when it comes to animals. Of course, animal studies are just one step in vaccine development. But how encouraging is this late development?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's encouraging. Wolf, this is another fact we've been reporting on Moderna vaccine, this is another one Inovio vaccine trial. There's a lot of vaccine trials out there. I will say I think maybe this is your point, Wolf that that probably under any other circumstance, we wouldn't be reporting on this on your program this early on. Because, you know, with this new newest news, it does come out of animal trials and specifically mice and guinea pigs.

So we know that those are important, those important data points, but usually a bridge to start human trials. And that's when we start to see some, yes, I think more meaningful data.

So I think what I've been encouraged by is that when you look at Moderna, which is this, this type of vaccine that we've been reporting on the last few days that showed antibody production, these eight patients, and now we look at this other vaccine, which shows antibody production, these animals, there's evidence that there's things that are working, if it's going to be enough if it's actually going to provide protection, all of that we don't know yet. But so far, it's been not bad news. It's been good news, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Dr. Jha, you encouraged?

JHA: I am encouraged and, you know, essentially echoing Dr. Gupta's points, we don't know which vaccine is going to work out. So -- I, you know, is it Moderna? Maybe is it Inovio is at the, you know, one of the others. But I think more and more, I am getting confident that one of these vaccines will end up being effective and being safe. And so we got to keep going on all of them. And even if many of them don't work, as long as one or two do we'll be in much better shape.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm hearing from my sources. They're encouraged as well. Let's hope that they at least one of them really does work.

All right, Sanjay. Thank you very much. Ashish Jha, Dr. Jha, thanks to you as well.

Coming up, just a day before he visits the state, President Trump is picking a fight over Michigan's plan for mail-in voting.

Plus, is the President looking to make the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, escape code for his administration's failures and getting ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.



BLITZER: President Trump took to twitter today to lash out at multiple targets including China and states that are ramping up vote by mail efforts. Let's get the insights of our CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, our Political Correspondent Abby Phillip, and CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto.

He is the author, by the way, of a brand new book that's coming out later this summer, it's entitled "The Madman Theory: Trump Takes on the World." Congratulations, Jim. Looking forward to this new book.

Dana, let's talk a little bit about what so many people see as the President's erratic behavior today over the past 24 hours. What are you seeing and how do you understand it?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, the thing is that, we've become used to and unfortunately somewhat numb to the erratic behavior, as you rightly call it, of the President.

The difference in today is that a lot of it happened within the span of a couple of hours and it was kind of going in many different directions, from everything you've been reporting on so far from what he said about threatening to withhold aid to Michigan because of the fact that they want to do mail in ballots, to talking about a journalist in a way that I won't even repeat to other wild allegations that he has been -- he has made.

Probably the most potentially dangerous and the one with the most potential consequences that he has done that he denied, that Kaitlan reported that he denied just in the last hour or two was going to Capitol Hill telling Senate Republicans in their weekly lunch which he visited yesterday, how much he is -- how upset he is with the CDC. He did not, according to a source who I spoke to, he did not single out the CDC Director Robert Redfield's name, but he was very clear and how upset he is with the CDC.

And that does back up CNN's reporting about the tensions that we have heard about in private, they're bubbling out in public. And the question is, how is it going to impact us beyond what we already know, which is that the CDC has not been able to put out their fulsome guidelines for the states, all 50 states now that are reopening.

BLITZER: Yes, they put on a 60 page statement, but there are some sensitive elements that we're still missing from there, including what houses of worship, churches, synagogues, mosques, what they should be doing to protect themselves as well.

You know, Abby, you've been doing a lot of reporting on the President's threat to withhold funds from states like Michigan, Nevada, other states simply by suggesting that there should be more mail in voting during this time of a pandemic where people are nervous about actually going to voting booths. Tell us what you've learned about all of this.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. I mean, this is something that the President has become increasingly focused on as we get closer and closer to the November general election.

A lot of states are looking at their voting procedures and trying to determine what changes need to be made, and many of them are moving to make it easier for people to cast absentee ballots. But the President is really vehemently against that. He believes that it is rife with voter fraud, and also that it actually disadvantages Republicans.

Now, there is no evidence of either of those things being true. And I've spoken to a lot of Republicans, whether they're political operatives or secretaries of state who say that there is no political advantage to either party of mail and voting. And in many of these states, including in Michigan, they already have widespread absentee voting. Michigan is a state where you can vote absentee for any reason.

And so the president is sort of isolated in his very extreme view of mail and voting even while many Republicans want to combat fraud, but his claims this morning are just misleading in many cases false. Michigan was not trying to expand absent -- or send absentee ballots to every voter.

They were sending simply applications that are available online to anyone right as we speak now. And beyond that, the White House has not been willing to say if the President can even withhold federal funding for any of these states for how they administer their elections.

I spoke to some legal experts who made it very clear that the way that this works is that states are allowed to administer their elections, how they want to. And frankly, that is a position that many Republicans have been trying to defend. They do not want the federal government intervening in how states run their election. BLITZER: And you can't blame people, especially elderly people for being nervous about waiting in long lines at polling stations to go ahead and vote during this time of a pandemic.

You know, Jim, the President is also putting the blame on China for the pandemic. But we've found at least 37 times over the last couple of months where he actually praised China's behavior and all of this, and especially the Chinese President Xi, for the way they were handling the virus, watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have never had a better relationship with China than we do right now. It's a beautiful story.

I have great respect for President Xi. I consider him to be a friend of mine.

The relationship I have with President Xi is, you know, I think extraordinary.

And now we're friends with China. In fact, maybe we've never had a better relationship, and we're working with them very closely on the coronavirus.

He is working very hard. He is very capable. The country is very capable.

And as far as President Xi, likewise, he's a friend of mine. I believe that we are dealing in good faith.


BLITZER: Is he trying to rewrite history? Is that what he's doing, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's another case where the President's own words belie his most recent claims. You saw him there not only saying he has a good relationship with Xi, but complimenting Xi in China on its coronavirus response. The fact is early on China did hide the extent of this outbreak, CNN reported on it. They imprisoned and silenced local officials and doctors then turned around into quite an aggressive response domestically to lock this down.

What has changed during that timeframe, of course, is that the U.S. has had its own significant outbreak. And after initially praising China's response, the President now trying to turn attention it seems to China away from his own delay in responding to this.

And that's another case, of course, where the President's own words prove the point because the President was very publicly and repeatedly downplaying the threat from this virus until he changed tack around mid-March or so. So, again, for folks at home, who are watching just look at the record, and the record will speak the truth. BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thank you, Abby Phillip, Dana Bash, we'll continue this conversation down the road. Thanks to all of you.

Still ahead how workers say the lack of personal protective equipment in nursing homes right now is still having very tragic results.



BLITZER: Nursing homes around the United States have been among the hardest hit facilities in the coronavirus pandemic. And some workers say the lack of personal protective equipment for workers is contributing to the large number of cases. Our Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin is looking into this for us.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 25 years, Maurice Dotson worked as a nurse's assistant at West Oaks nursing home in Austin, Texas, changing bedpans, diaper sheets, and just being a friend of those elderly who no longer had any friends. That ended when he died on April 17th. The cause, COVID-19.

QUENTIN BROGDON, ATTORNEY FOR DOTSON FAMILY: He wasn't given basic personal protective equipment, such as a mask.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Maurice Dotson was one of 111 cases of COVID-19 at this nursing home. The state sent in Texas National Guard soldiers to disinfect West Oaks and other facilities. Quentin Brogdon is an attorney representing Dotson's family in a lawsuit, which says the nursing home failed to properly prepare, respond and provide its employees with personal protection equipment as required.

BROGDON: He gave his life to care for the residents of West Oaks. They were his second family. He could have called in sick. He could have quit, but it just wasn't in his DNA. He protected them, but he wasn't protected.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): West Oaks will not comment on the lawsuit. But in the statement, the company said, "Our operations and protocols changed profoundly with the release of the CDC guidelines".

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities from the start of this pandemic have been hotbeds of illness and death. One study shows 41 percent of coronavirus deaths in 36 states are connected to nursing homes. The virus spreads quickly to patients and staff who then leave work and spread it to others.

DEBBIE BERKOWITZ, NATIONAL EMPLOYMENT LAW PROJECT: In this pandemic, if a worker is infected with COVID-19, then they can not only spread it to their co-workers, but they spread it out into the community.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): A CNN review of hundreds of complaints to federal and state governments show that workers at long-term facilities feel their own lives are at risk. Writing complaints like, "Employees are not provided personal protective equipment such as masks". Using coffee filters as masks and garbage bag says gowns. Healthcare workers have died from the COVID-19 and the employer is unwilling to report it.

MARK PARKINSON, CEO, AMERICAN HEALTH CARE ASSOCIATION: We have been begging for additional equipment in nursing homes for the last two months and unfortunately, no one has listened. In some cases, we've had to go without it and the results have been tragic.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Mark Parkinson, president of the American Healthcare Association says in the rush to find protective gear for unprepared hospitals, nursing homes have been ignored.

PARKINSON: Unfortunately, the resources that were denied to nursing homes and were instead were sent to hospitals have had really tragic results because it's impossible to stop this virus if you don't have the facemask that you need to keep it from spreading.

BERKOWITZ: It's like government malfeasance on how little they have done.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Deborah Berkowitz is former chief of staff at OSHA, the government agency charged with protecting workers. She says the government has failed by silently allowing nursing home deaths to multiply without acting.

BERKOWITZ: OSHA put out no specific guidance just recently and has no mandates. And, you know, guidance is voluntary. Employers can follow it or they can ignore it.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): OSHA's guidelines on protecting nursing home workers during the COVID-19 pandemic were published only this past week, three months after the first deaths were recorded at a nursing facility in Washington. Far too late to help workers like Maurice Dotson.

BROGDON: He was 51 years old. He didn't need to die.


GRIFFIN: OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Wolf, tells us that investigates all complaints and has been paying particular attention for protections for those workers with high exposure to coronavirus. But that is of little comfort to the family of Maurice Dotson, Wolf.

BLITZER: So sad. All right, Drew Griffin reporting, thank you.

We have much more coverage of the coronavirus pandemic coming up. But also we're following another story. The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defending his push to fire the department's Inspector Generally even though Pompeo himself was under investigation.


BLITZER: We'll have more coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in just a few moments, but we're also getting some new information right now about President Trump's firing of the State Department's Inspector General, which came at the request of the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Let's go to our National Security Reporter Kylie Atwood. Kylie, did the Secretary explained today why he asked the President to fire the Inspector General?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: No. Secretary Pompeo didn't provide any details when he was pressed by reporters today about his recommendation that President Trump fire the Inspector General of the State Department.

Now, earlier this week, Secretary Pompeo did tell "The Washington Post" that the reason for that suggestion was because Linick had been undermining the mission of the State Department. And he hadn't been performing in the way that Pompeo had wanted him to.

But again, Wolf, really no meat on the bones of those allegations that Secretary Pompeo made when he spoke with reporters today. He did lean into the fact however, that he was the one who made the suggestion to fire Steve Linick to President Trump. Let's listen to what he said to reporters.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: So there's been lots of discussion about and I've read a number of reports. Let me say three things. First, the President has the unilateral right to choose who he wants to be his inspector general at every agency in the federal government. There are presidentially confirmed positions and those persons, just like all of us serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States.

In this case, I recommend to the President that Steve Linick be terminated. Frankly, should have done it some time ago.


ATWOOD: Now Pompeo, obviously indicating that tensions between him and Linick had been mounting for some time. And he also said that he would provide the details to the appropriate people over the specifics over why he suggested this firing. But again, no more details today.


And one of the issues at play here is did Pompeo know about the investigations that Inspector General Linick was carrying out that focused on the Secretary himself. Pompeo said that he generally has no idea about those investigations. But he did point to an instance earlier this year, where he provided answers that the I.G. asked him to, in regard to one of the investigations they were looking into. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, very interesting. All right, Kylie Atwood at the State Department for us, thank you.

Coming up, sources say the White House is seeking a scapegoat for the coronavirus pandemic. Will it be the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?