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Interview with Bishop Elizabeth Eaton; Interview with Taavet Hinrikus; Twitter to Leave Trump's Joe Scarborough Conspiracy Theory Tweet Untouched. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 26, 2020 - 10:30   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yesterday, Governor Gavin Newsom issued reopening guidelines for places of worship. The church that's taking it to the High Court -- or trying to -- says it will amend its petition, but still go forward with this challenge.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, for weeks, many religious groups have been figuring out, themselves, how to move forward but to do so safely. Joining us now to discuss how her church is handling next steps, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. She's the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Bishop, thanks so much for joining us this morning.


SCIUTTO: So you've heard the arguments here. They're legal, they're political, a little emotional at times, saying this is a freedom issue. People have the right to go back to church regardless of the health risks of worshiping together. What's your response to that?

EATON: Well, first of all, let me say the church has never been closed. We found different ways to gather -- digitally, mostly -- but we're also continuing all of our work of prayer, bible study and also serving the neighbor.

And this is not the first time the Lutheran movement has been through this. in 1527, there was a plague going on in Wittenberg, where Martin Luther was, and he recommended to people to practice social distancing -- they didn't know what it was at the time -- to pay attention to science and medicine, not to risk somebody else in case you're infected -- and he was pretty drastic about that. But to keep the essential services of the church going.

And we have done all of those things. So I don't see this as somehow faith versus freedom, but that being careful is a way for us to be faithful.

HARLOW: Yes. I was struck, reading some of your comments. And one of them is this. You said, "I've heard from some in our denomination that it's faith versus fear, and that's just a false dichotomy, you say. Protecting others is the faithful response.

What is the data point for you that says we can congregate, and we should, and we should bring X amount of people together?

EATON: Well, as you've mentioned, we're all over the United States and the Caribbean. And states and territories and tribal governments are opening at different times. So we're going to be relying on the CDC, on science -- and science is a gift from God -- and also on state and local officials. And when they determine that more than 10 people can gather safely, then I think we have already protocols in place to help our congregations open safely.

SCIUTTO: Tell us how you handle the particular risks of worshiping together, I mean, singing. I mean, this is about data that singing in particular propels --


SCIUTTO: -- droplets from the infected into the air, into a large number of people. And there's been some data that that's led to some outbreaks. So what are the safe ways that you can get together?

EATON: Well, as we phase in on this, we're going to have to see. Singing is hugely important in our tradition, so that's painful, not to be able to sing together. But we'll probably be wearing face coverings when we're together, social distancing. And the congregation not singing and refraining from the sacrament, as we find our way through this and find ways where we can gather together but safely. It's -- this is not -- there's no one, no one's immune to this yet.

HARLOW: I want you to listen to something that California pastor Jim Franklin said on our show just last week to Jim. Here he was, making his case.


JIM FRANKLIN, PASTOR, CORNERSTONE CHURCH: Of course, this will not be church, quote-unquote, "as usual" as we had it before all of this hit. There'll be social distancing, sanitation, masks, no congregating. All of those things that the CDC guidelines that are being held in every other place, we're just saying, well, just let us do that same thing at church, don't put us in a separate category.


HARLOW: His point is, he feels like churches have been held to a different standard when other places can be open. You know, the president mentioned over the weekend, liquor stores for example. What do you make of that argument?

EATON: Well, I think that's a false equivalency, and I regret that statement by the president. But I've heard this argument as well. People can go to the grocery store. Well, grocery stores are usually a lot larger than our congregations. You're not sitting by someone for over an hour with a potential for infection.

Now, I'm glad to see that the pastor is following all the legal and constitutional remedies he can for his case, but we're just going to be very careful. But I want to emphasize again, the church has never been closed. And

our work of social justice and also feeding and caring for the most vulnerable, has never stopped. Neither have our prayers. And in our own homes, neither has our singing.

HARLOW: There you go, in your own four walls. Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, thank you. Thanks so much.


EATON: Thank you.

HARLOW: A blood test, a nasal swab and an app may help workers get employees back on the job faster. But not everyone thinks this is such a good idea. We'll talk about it, next.


HARLOW: Well, this just in. Of course, the phenomenal singer Andrea Bocelli -- you heard that great performance of him to the world --


HARLOW: -- just a few weeks ago? Well, he just revealed that he contracted COVID-19, but he has now fully recovered.


SCIUTTO: Thank God --


SCIUTTO: -- he recovered, and that that voice is still to be shared with all of us. He says he did not reveal he was sick sooner because he didn't want to alarm fans, and he also wanted to protect his family's privacy. Bocelli says he is donating his blood in a clinical study to help find a cure. Something we've been looking into as well on this broadcast.

Well, could a biological passport be the key to getting people back to work sooner? Immunity passports, as they've been called, essentially serve to verify your condition relating to the virus. Your testing and antibody data go into an app, then businesses can scan a code to determine if it is safe for you to enter.

HARLOW: Estonia, among the first countries to experiment with this. The World Health Organization, though, has a warning against it. Taavet Hinrikus is one of many working on this effort. He is the founder of the nonprofit organization Back to Work. He's also the founder and chairman of TransferWise, and a friend of mine.

We're doing a fellowship together, and that's how I got this idea to have you on. So thank you for coming, Taavet. There is controversy, so we'll debate it in a moment. But lay out for us how this is working, because this big hotel chain, Radisson Hotels, is actually using it. TAAVET HINRIKUS, CO-FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, TRANSFERWISE: Hi, Poppy,

thanks for inviting me here. So we got this idea maybe like seven weeks ago, when the first finger-prick tests were coming out. And (INAUDIBLE) said, wait a moment, one idea to get people back to work will be to give them some form of an immunity passport.

So we figure that there's a lot to be done here, and a lot to be discussed. But being entrepreneurs, we thought the best way to start is actually by doing a trial. So we set out to build a trial, and we launched last week in Estonia, which we believe is the first immunity passport trial anywhere in the world.

So we have a local Radisson Hotel, we have a local sport shop and a food manufacturing company that are all using it now.

SCIUTTO: Taavet, Estonia, just way ahead of the world in many forms of technology. I mean, they were among the first to have electronic voting, for instance. I wonder how you handle the questions from some about privacy here, right? Because there's been some push-back to apps like this, where individuals say, hey, I don't want the government testing my health data here. How do you address those concerns, that resistance?

HINRIKUS: So the people who are doing the tests are in control of the data. Basically, we give them an app on their phone, which they can use to share the test results with anyone they would like to share it to. There is no way to be querying this centrally.

Overall, we believe that this is a tool for making decisions based on data. People and companies in their head are thinking about this anyway: has somebody had it, do they have it now? So we're just giving some data, and then they can make their own decisions and form their own rules.

HARLOW: Taavet, you've --

HINRIKUS: Whether a company says that we're only going to let people to work who are immune or not --


HINRIKUS: -- we don't (ph) --

HARLOW: Taavet, you've seen what the World Health Organization has said, and they've said there's no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected, we just don't know yet.

But then there's this sort of bigger issue that I'm really interested in your take on, on the haves and the have-nots. Interesting "New Yorker" piece last week said, "Even if testing were universally available, people without antibodies will be shut out from the activities of everyday life, creating a divided landscape of antibody haves and have-nots." Does that worry you?

HINRIKUS: It absolutely does worry me. And the premise of this (INAUDIBLE), that we actually have a definition of what is immunity. Today, there's agreement that antibodies exist, but no one knows the parameters. So until we know that having antibodies means you have three months or three years of immunity, there's no point rolling this out more widely.

But if once we find out that antibodies exist and give you immunity, I'm a firm believer that it would be too naive to rule this out completely today. I think there are cases, whether it's taking care of elders, whether it's frontline workers in hospitals, where we deserve to know if they've had the disease, if they are immune or not. And there's lots of gray space which we have to figure out how to handle.

SCIUTTO: Final question, if we can. Has the U.S. government shown interest in this? Or state governments in the U.S., as they reopen, and are looking to reopen businesses more quickly?

HINRIKUS: So we have put our focus on launching a trial in Estonia, and we will stay (ph) laser-focused on getting something out in Estonia, which I think is why we're able to test now with a live pilot.

As there are many other efforts like this, the U.S. government is probably talking to a few of these. But they haven't reached us yet.

SCIUTTO: All right, Taavet Hinrikus, interesting work.


SCIUTTO: We look forward to checking in with you to see how it goes forward.


HARLOW: Thanks, Taavet.

HINRIKUS: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, President Trump has been using his Twitter page repeatedly, to push an unfounded conspiracy theory about the death of a Capitol Hill intern. Now, despite a plea from that victim's widower, Twitter says it's not going to take those tweets down.


HARLOW: new this morning, Twitter says it is denying a request to delete tweets by President Trump, promoting a baseless conspiracy theory about former congressman and current MSNBC --


HARLOW: -- host, Joe Scarborough.

You've noticed this, for the past few weeks now, the president has been insinuating that Scarborough was responsible for the 2001 death of his congressional staffer, Lori Klausutis. It is just baseless.


SCIUTTO: Take a moment to digest that, the sitting president --


SCIUTTO: -- is insinuating a journalist is responsible for murder.

Just in the last hour, he has now tweeted he's just, quote, "joining the chorus" of others touting the theory. Suggests law enforcement eventually will look into the case. Raises the question of what kind of pressure he might be putting on.

Joining us now to discuss this, CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter as well as CNN Business reporter Donie O'Sullivan.

Donie, if I could begin with you because you've been in touch with Twitter here. They say they're not going to delete these tweets, they're working on stuff that may eventually deal with this sort of thing. I'm just curious, if this doesn't meet the standard -- an accusation of being involved in a murder -- what is the standard then for unacceptable conversation on Twitter?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Jim. Twitter, this morning, telling us that these tweets do not break its rules. Here's the statement that they gave us. They said, "We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family.

"We've been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly."

So that is a very big, We're sorry, but we're not going to do anything about it. And they're also not telling us what these supposed changes to their policies and products are going to be, or if we'll ever really see them.

So really, you know, I think this is also just, I think, reflective of a much wider issue. I mean, you read the letter from that poor widower, and there is so much cyber-bullying on that -- on Twitter's platform. Some of it, obviously, coming from the White House, but there are so many victims of online abuse like this, and they just feel absolutely helpless and have nowhere to turn. And even in a high- profile case like this, Twitter is saying, We're not going anything about it.

HARLOW: Yes. I mean, Donie, you've been at the forefront of reporting on that cyber-bullying, you know, so many folks even tied to COVID, the piece you brought us a few weeks ago.

Brian, you got the letter from the widower, this plea?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is from T.J. Klausutis. He was married to Lori in 2001, when Lori died in Joe Scarborough's congressional office in Florida. Now, Scarborough was in Washington at the time. But even though he was many states away, there was this conspiracy theory that claimed Scarborough was responsible for Lori's death. It turned out Lori had an undisclosed -- undiagnosed heart condition, and that's why she fell and hit her head and died in the office.

And T.J.'s letter, the widower's letter says, you know, this is something that's haunted him ever since because the conspiracy theory guys have been after his family ever since. So it's always been a struggle for this family, and now the president's making it even worse. T.J. writing in part, "The president has taken something that does not belong to him -- the memory of my dead wife -- and perverted it for perceived political gain."

You know, that is ultimately what this is about. It's about the president sinking to yet another new low, trying to punish Scarborough -- because Scarborough's tough on him on TV, a critic on TV -- by dredging up the most crazy conspiracy theory from the fringes of the internet, and then making it more mainstream.


And you know, it's not just on Twitter, it's on Republican leaders as well, it's on White House aides, it's on members of Trump's own family, to have decency. But we haven't seen any from it. In fact, we've seen the president tweet about this twice again today, twice.

SCIUTTO: Donie, you've been covering Twitter and social media for some time. Why the resistance to this? Why the resistance to policing something like this?

O'SULLIVAN: I think Silicon Valley is afraid of President Trump. I think Twitter is very reluctant to upset its most prolific user, and we've even seen reporting from "The Wall Street Journal" this weekend, that the president, there was reports that the president is looking into setting up some form of panel that would look into the perceived -- the claims of anti-conservative bias.

And, I mean, you can probably bet the second -- if Twitter were to take action on these tweets, that there would be cries from the president, from the White House. There would probably be fundraising letters from the Trump campaign going out, saying, we've been censored.

So you know, normally it's sort of a tightrope, a delicate balance. But for Twitter on this one, it seems sort of blatantly obvious that they need to do something about this.

HARLOW: You'd think, Brian --

SCIUTTO: What a sad lesson for our kids.


SCIUTTO: What a sad, sad lesson for our kids, amazing.

HARLOW: Of course it is. And I just wonder, Brian, if you agree with that? Is Silicon Valley afraid of the president?

STELTER: I think they are. I think that is what this is about. You know, bottom line, most people ignore the president's tweets, but his hard-core fans are obsessed with what he posts. And that's why these families, the family of this, you know, poor woman who died 19 years ago, is going to get harassed and bothered and see her name dragged through the mud again? Shameful.


HARLOW: Brian, Donie, thank you both --


HARLOW: -- for that.

Ahead on CNN, former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden sits down for a one-on-one interview with our Dana Bash. You can see it right on "THE SITUATION ROOM," 5:00 p.m. Eastern, only right here on CNN.

Thanks to all of you for being with us today. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. NEWSROOM with John King will start after a very quick break.