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Mark Milley Calls Lafayette Square Appearance a Mistake; Trump Cabinet Officials Continue to Deny Systemic Racism Among Police; Coronavirus Cases Spike in a Dozen States. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 11, 2020 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Brianna Keilar. It is the top of the hour, and we're watching America's reckoning. The nation is experiencing profound change since the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day.

You can look at the transformation that is under way in policing. At least a dozen cities or states have banned police use of chokeholds or strangleholds. In fact, the Republican leader of the House just announced that he supports the ban, which is a key Democratic priority.

Some cities have cut police budgets. Polls show more people than ever support Black Lives Matter. Both parties in Congress are crafting reform legislation. More cities and states are calling for opening records on officers' past conduct, and making them public. We saw more departments quickly fire officers who were seen using excessive force, and demonstrators say for the first time, they've had officers kneel and even walk with them in solidarity.

And Americans are experiencing a cultural shift too. More businesses and brands are acknowledging the problem of racial inequality, and they're promising that they're going to work to end it. NASCAR just banned all Confederate flags and symbols. The NFL commissioner apologized, saying that the league was wrong not to listen to its players' protests during the anthem.

The CEO of CrossFit resigned after saying he was not mourning for George Floyd. Social justice groups have received major donations, including a $100 million pledge by Michael Jordan and Nike. And LeBron James has helped forma group focused on protecting voting rights.

Networks are pulling programming like "Gone With the Wind," until they can add an explainer to it. And "Cops," these programs that are out of sync with the push for racial justice. Statues of historical figures like Jefferson Davis and Christopher Columbus are being toppled. Sephora promised to dedicate 15 percent of its shelf space for black- owned brands.

And Americans are showing that they want to know more: 15 of the 20 top-selling books in the U.S. right now are about race, racism and white supremacy. Despite the sea change that we're seeing across the nation, the

president is digging in on racial and cultural wars. This includes his refusal to consider renaming the bases honoring Confederate leaders, even as military leaders said they were open to it.

And as he rejects this move toward progress, the president himself was just rebuked by the nation's top military officer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, now apologizing for being seen here in this walk, wearing his uniform, with President Trump last week.

General Mark Milley wore those combat fatigues while he and other top aides went with the president to a church, where the president posed with a bible.

To secure the president's walk, immediately beforehand, police used tear gas to clear that street of peaceful protestors, demonstrating over the death of George Floyd. Well, today, General Milley expressed regret over the incident during a recorded speech to some graduates at the National Defense University.


MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched. And I am not immune, as many of you saw the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week. That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society.

I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military, involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned, uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.

We who wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation. And we must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic.


KEILAR: With me now is retired Army Brigadier General Peter Zwack who is a global fellow at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute, and he was also one of 280-some former national security officials who signed a letter, criticizing the president's push to use active duty military against demonstrators.

General, thank you so much for joining me.


KEILAR: You know General Milley. What does it say to you that he made this apology?

ZWACK: I think that there's -- I -- the profound words he mentioned yesterday, I am not immune. And that is a recognition that our times are evolving, they're fluid, situations change, legacies change. That was a brave statement. [14:05:00]

I've served on the Joint Staff, I've seen General Milley in Afghanistan, I've seen him on the Army's staff, I saw him as the president of a court-martial court and I've seen him as the chairman. He is a moral man. He is a principled man, and he's struggling with these plate-tectonic changes that are going on in our country.

But to say I'm not immune is a recognition that one needs to adjust and grapple as legacies evolve. And this goes on everything with what occurred with George Floyd and what happened in front of Lafayette -- in the church on Lafayette Square, and the renaming, if you will, bases.

No, I have the utmost respect for him, standing up there and doing that, writing his letter, very personal letter on the second of June. So I think he's doing the right thing.

KEILAR: So, look, I think we all know, just from watching, when administration officials go against the president, what they're really opening themselves up to, right? Certainly not professional stability, if we want to sort of say it that way.

So, knowing that, I wonder what kind of pressures do you think Milley was dealing with when it came to -- I guess you mentioned legacy. If he had not done this, what would this have meant for his legacy and even how other top brass would see him?

ZWACK: I don't think he could have lived with himself after something -- if he had stayed silent. He obviously was troubled during the event, as it dawned on him what was going on.

Loyalty, yes, there is a loyalty by oath to the Constitution, and you support the commander in chief. But loyalty, Brianna, goes two ways. And the -- and a military leader is such a consequential -- the biggest loyalty that he owes the president is his candor and his -- and his perspective on all the experiences of his extensive career.

That's what real loyalty is, it goes two ways, it just doesn't go to an individual. His first loyalty is to the Constitution. He serves the commander in chief. He has -- if he has deep, deep misgivings, there is a judiciary and a legislature to take it to as well.

KEILAR: Sir, thank you so much for joining us, General Zwack, we appreciate it.

ZWACK: Pleasure's mine, the honor.

KEILAR: Now, as the nation protests systemic racism, multiple members of the Trump administration are denying that it exists.


BILL BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's racism in the United States still, but I don't think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist. CHAD WOLF, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I do not think that we

have a systemic racism problem with law enforcement officers across this country.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I don't believe, nowadays, we have systemic racism. We do have some bad apples in the police department, and that can be changed.


Karen Attiah, global opinions editor for "The Washington Post," joining me now. And, Karen, I mean, these are -- they're key cabinet members, they have a lot of power in this country and they appear to be in the denial phase. What kind of impact do their statements have?

KAREN ATTIAH, GLOBAL OPINIONS EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, just look around us. That we're having a systemic reckoning. If systemic racism didn't exist, we wouldn't be seeing what we're seeing across all sectors, we wouldn't be seeing monuments coming down, we wouldn't be seeing black journalists staging virtual walk-outs at media rooms, we wouldn't be seeing these resignations of heads of companies who are acknowledging that their companies have participated in the silencing, inequality, discrimination.

So, you know, I mean, they've got jobs to do, they've got jobs to pretend that this problem doesn't exist. And, you know, it's quite rich, coming from them, considering the Trump administration was, you know, elected on the wings of racial incitement and rhetoric, calling Mexicans rapists, using the functions of government to enact a Muslim travel ban. We all saw what happened in Charlottesville, you know, when Trump called those people very fine people.

This is deeply baked into America's DNA. So, you know, yes, they're going to trot out their -- you know, their speaking points, but if systemic racism didn't exist, we wouldn't be having this nationwide systemic reckoning right now.


KEILAR: Yes. You wrote an op-ed, and I want to read part of it. You said, "George Floyd has become the Emmett Till of this moment." You called Floyd's death "a spark that was the Emmett Till for a digital generation." Tell us more about this.

And, you know, we're really two weeks from -- a couple weeks, now, out from this moment. So you're in the middle of history, right? But what do you think it is going to tell us, looking back on it?

ATTIAH: You know, in the midst of all the protests and, you know, these systemic reckonings, at the end of the day, a man lost his life, a man was killed in front of our eyes. And his funeral was just two days ago.

And we saw the family of George Floyd, opening their pain up to us. And that is very -- that is almost the exact play that Emmett Till's mother did in 1955, when her 14-year-old son was falsely accused of whistling at a white woman, and was beaten and lynched and thrown into a river.

And so the fact that, you know, I got a lot of push-back, saying, How dare you compare, you know, George Floyd and his record to Emmett Till? Look, at the end of the day, Emmett Till sparked the Civil Rights Movement, shocked (ph) the world.

George Floyd's video, his murder, shocked us all and shocked -- I would argue, shocked white people into feeling, perhaps, shame for what this country has been doing to black people for 400 years.

And so, you know, I think -- even -- and not even Emmett Till's murder achieved a worldwide -- you know, getting people into the streets this way, risking their lives in the middle of a pandemic, risking jobs to speak out. This -- this is a historically monumental time that we're living in. And, you know, it seems like it's still just getting started.

KEILAR: And, Karen, you opened your heart in this as well, because you start out your piece, talking about your dad, who immigrated here from Ghana nearly 50 years ago, how you had never seen him cry until now. Tell us about the moment, and why you decided to share it.

ATTIAH: Yes. My father just lost his best friend a couple weeks ago, and I'd imagine, you know, if he were here, he'd be discussing what's happening, you know, in the country with his friend, my uncle David.

You know, I think it's not just, you know, white people having to kind of deal with this reckoning and a facing of the truth of who America is and has been, it's also immigrants. I mean, I grew up hearing, you know, if you just work hard, if you just speak a certain way, if you just have the right degrees, if you're just kind of, you know, distance yourself, in a way, from black Americans, you'll be safe, you'll be fine. Just love everybody.

And I think this is, for the first time, where my parents are speaking very openly about the racism they've experienced, and are -- it's sad, it's tragic but I think at the end of the day, they're also like -- they're hopeful that, you know, there can be change.

But, again, gone is this belief that if you just come here and succeed, that you're immune from America's anti-blackness.

KEILAR: Karen, thank you so much, global opinions editor for "The Post." I can't tell you, Karen Attiah, how much we enjoyed this conversation. Really appreciate it.

ATTIAH: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: So we're also following some major developments on the coronavirus. The Trump administration, now under scrutiny for shipments of personal protective equipment. Some nursing homes now report the gear that they're getting is defective.

Plus, a new model predicts 170,000 people will die in the United States. We're going to take you live to the hotspots.


And then later, the creator of "Friends" admits she did not do enough to promote diversity. And I'm going to ask one of the few women of the women of color who was cast in the show, Aisha Tyler, what she thinks of this apology.


KEILAR: Here in a few minutes, the White House Coronavirus Task Force will meet behind closed doors as the numbers of U.S. cases passes the 2 million mark.

Just yesterday, the head of the Task Force, Vice President Mike Pence, tweeted this photo, and then he deleted it. It shows a large group of Trump campaign staff, they're standing very close together, no social distancing going on, no masks.

And this is important, because it's the opposite of what the White House and Pence's own Coronavirus Task Force recommend.

Plus, new criticism is emerging from nursing homes about the personal protective equipment that they are receiving. CNN national correspondent Erica Hill is in New York for us.

What are their concerns here, Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, some of the issues, some them, telling us that the masks that they received are paper-thin. Some of the gowns, Brianna, didn't have armholes so they couldn't wear them properly. They shared those concerns with CNN.

You may remember, the president touted that the administration was really going to shore up the PPE stores at nursing homes around the country, and they were set to receive shipments in May and June, some of them getting what we just discussed.

So CNN reached out to FEMA. And in a statement, FEMA responded, saying that all the equipment delivered meets FDA or AAMI certification, but did acknowledge that there were these concerns out there.

TEXT: "The AAMI-approved gowns came with instructions from the manufacturers. However, due to concerns from those who received them, the contractor is working on a short instructional video about proper use of these gowns which will be shared with the nursing homes."


HILL: And then the statement went on to say -- and I'm quoting here -- "the contractor is working on an instructional video about proper use of these gowns, which will be shared with nursing homes." So we'll see where that goes.

In the meantime, as you mentioned, we are seeing the number of cases and the number of deaths rise in the country, and there is concern that those numbers could continue to increase as more reopening is phased in. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILL (voice-over): As Americans embrace summer and shifting restrictions, officials are focused on disturbing new data trends.

MAYOR STEVEN REED (D), MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA: Montgomery should not be 10 percent of Alabama's total cases --

HILL (voice-over): Cases nationwide, continuing to rise. And while testing is more widespread, it doesn't tell the whole story.

MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D), AUSTIN, TEXAS: We had a huge spike in hospitalizations in our city yesterday. We're not getting, I think, the messaging we need from the state, that this is still real serious. And it's like, they kind of put us in a real horrible place here in the next couple weeks.

HILL (voice-over): Texas is one of at least a dozen states seeing a spike in COVID-19-related hospitalizations. In Arizona, nearly 80 percent of the state's ICU beds are now in use.

JAY VARKEY, INFECTIOUS DISEASES PHYSICIAN: I think that a critical shortage of ICU beds is absolutely the nightmare scenario. That was the whole reason we were emphasizing about flattening the curve.

HILL (voice-over): In some of the first states to reopen, the curve is not flattening, Florida's still posting more than a thousand new cases a day. In South Carolina, daily counts have been rising over the past two weeks.

LINDA BELL, SOUTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL: I am more concerned about COVID-19 in South Carolina than I have ever been before.

HILL (voice-over): Much of the West and South, also reporting an uptick as new modeling forecasts nearly 170,000 COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. by October 1st.

ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Somehow, as a country, we have decided that hundreds of thousands of Americans dying from this virus is OK, and that is unbelievable to me.

HILL (voice-over): In Los Angeles County, which is averaging 1,300 new cases a day, film, TV and music production can resume tomorrow. Disneyland Resort is eyeing mid-July to reopen. While in Iowa, the iconic state fair has been postponed for the first time since World War II. No butter cows, and no campaigning.

Human trials are staring for the first antibody cocktail to treat and prevent coronavirus. And in Chicago, a medical first: A successful double-lung transplant for a women in her 20s, whose lungs were damaged by the virus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday, she smiled and told me just one sentence. She said, Doc, thank you for not giving up on me. As health care providers, there is nothing more gratifying to hear. This is why we do what we do.

HILL (voice-over): A bit of hope in uncertain times.


HILL: Now, that young woman had actually spent about six weeks in a COVID ICU, when she was on a ventilator as well as some other machines to help her heart and lungs. And the doctor said today that there had been irreversible damage to her lungs, and that a transplant, Brianna, was really the only option.

KEILAR: Erica, thank you so much. Erica Hill in New York.

The spike in coronavirus cases is a big concern for state and local governments -- this includes Arizona and South Carolina. CNN's senior national correspondent Kyung Lah is in Phoenix for us. CNN national correspondent Natasha Chen is in Greenville.

Kyung, what are officials there saying?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're just hearing from the mayor of Phoenix today, and she is certainly raising the alarm bell. She says her city and her state is absolutely not recovering from COVID, and she said, quote, "We opened too much, too early."

So what is she talking about? She's referencing this graph. If you look at those yellow bar lines there, Brianna, what you are seeing is that in the last few weeks, those numbers, the new cases here in Arizona, they have risen dramatically.

Those numbers, certainly speaking for themselves. The state health department, today, announced more than 1,400 cases just today. Compare that with just a few hundred a few weeks ago.

Now, the health department is asking the hospitals in this state to activate their emergency plan. Why? You heard it briefly mentioned in Erica's story, 80 percent of the ICU beds in this state are now occupied. So, certainly, this state is preparing for that surge. We're hearing that growing sense of alarm from the officials.

But, Brianna, walking around here, from the airport to the restaurants, you're seeing some precautions. Some tables, spaced out; people giving each other space. But we're barely seeing any masks. A lot of life here in the state of Arizona feels like it is returning to normal -- Brianna.


KEILAR: Wow. Natasha, tell us what you're seeing.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, not a lot of masks here either. And that's after the state epidemiologist yesterday was urging people to put them on in public. That's why I have mine on on the city street. But we're hearing from locals that it's really hit-or-miss, whether people are wearing them and properly socially distancing.

Now, I want to show you the charts that we have for South Carolina. There's a seven-day average in new cases that's been trending upward since the state began reopening some businesses on April 20th. And, remember, South Carolina was the very first state to announce any reopenings at all. And unfortunately, now, we're seeing that upward tick.

We also have some numbers showing the seven-day average of daily new deaths. That has unfortunately also been trending upward. And, like I said, the state epidemiologist said this is the most concerned she has been since the pandemic began. She said this spot where we're in Greenville County, is a hotspot.

And I just spoke with the office of Congressman Joe Cunningham, who represents the Charleston area and some of the beach communities on the coast. The Low Country, his office says, has seen a doubling of daily new cases since Memorial Day weekend, when we saw a lot of crowds come to those beaches. So he is very concerned about that as well.

In fact, some of those beach towns have even called for their July 4th festivities to be cancelled because of this. Still, Governor McMaster is very resolved in having businesses stay open safely, because he says people have to have a way of making a living -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Natasha, Kyung, thank you so much for showing us these two locations.

President Trump announces he'll be holding his first rally in months on Juneteenth, as the nation struggles with racial unrest.

Plus, the actress who played the first main African-American character on "Friends" will join me, live. What she thinks about the show's creator apologizing for a lack of diversity on the popular show.