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Florida Sets Another Record With 4,000 New Confirmed COVID Cases; Judge Denies Trump Administration's Attempt To Block Release Of Bolton's Book; Berman Refuses To Resign And Vows To Just Do His Job; Florida Food Banks Struggle To Meet Demands Amid Lag In Government Aid; Dr. Craig Spencer Discusses Increased Virus Cases, Health Experts Encouraging States To Mandate Masks, Danger Of Trump Rally; Soon, Trump to Hold Rally in Tulsa as Virus Cases Spike in Tulsa County. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired June 20, 2020 - 13:00   ET



LESLIE GORDON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, FOOD BANK FOR THE NEW YORK CITY (via telephone): -- one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States and by the way, a place that seen its food pantries and soup kitchens closed because they're typically run by older Americans who are among the most vulnerable now. And so -- and we've pivoted our operations and reimagined that Food Bank, our serving people. And so, we're on the ground with large distribution centers all throughout the city.

We call them community resource partners, and we're moving food as quickly as we possibly can to communities who need it most. What's going to be really important as we think about the future, Fredericka, is that this is not a sprint, it's a marathon. And so, Americans, often our memories are short, and we turn our attention to the next thing and present days. But I'm here to tell you that this need will be excruciating Lehigh for some time to come could be, you know, a year or two years.

And so, we're going to continue to need good support from folks in New York City and all across the nation to make sure that our near city neighbors have access to the good nutritious food thing.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Leslie Gordon, thank you so much. That only underscores that we are really just at the beginning of this. Thank you so much.

GORDON: Sure. Yes.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We begin this hour with this breaking news. A Federal judge ruling today that former National Security Adviser John Bolton's book can hit store shelves blocking a Trump administration push to stop it's released.

Bolton and the President now reacting to the news. This as another legal standoff is unfolding. U.S. Attorney General bill Barr making a late night announcement that Southern District of New York prosecutor Jeffrey Berman would be stepping down.

But Berman, he's disputing that say he has no intention of leaving. Berman's office has been in charge of prosecuting several of President Trump's allies. Let's get started at the White House. CNN's Kristen Homes is there. So Kristen, John Bolton's book release, President Trump is claiming a court win?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. So essentially, here's why. In the judge's ruling, well, he says that the Justice Department did not have the arguments to stop the release of the book. He also notes that partly his ruling to not block the book is based on the fact that the damage was really already done that this book had leaked out, that it was no way to really stop it from continuing to leak on the internet even if he did issue this injunction.

The other part of this is that the judge really left the door open for future punishments for John Bolton. For example, he says in the ruling that if there is classified information inside of this book that Bolton could lose profit, that he could expose himself to criminal liability and, of course, it could imperil national security. Now, President Trump as you said, we'll pull up this tweet here is claiming victory now saying big court win against Bolton.

Obviously, the book was already given out and leaked to many people in the media. Nothing the highly respected judge could have done about stopping it. But strong and powerful statements and rulings on money and breaking classification were made. Bolton broke the law and has been called out and rebuked for doing so with a really big price to pay. He likes dropping bombs on people and killing them now he will have bombs dropped on him.

So, just to note, this came after he originally slammed Bolton and he has been of course, for multiple days here. I do want to note that Bolton, as you said is also responding through his attorney Charles Cooper, and we can pull that up here. It says we welcome today's decision by the court denying the government's attempt to suppress Ambassador Bolton's book.

We respectfully take issue, however, with the court's preliminary conclusion at this early stage of the case that Ambassador Bolton did not comply fully with its contractual prepublication obligation to the government. And the case will now proceed to the development of the full record on that issue. Full story of the events has yet to be told.

But it will be. So clearly this is not going away anytime soon. Bolton still claiming that he did the right thing here through his attorney or the White House, also saying they won this victory and the door is still open to punish Bolton for this.

WHITFIELD: OK. And again, contrary to what the President said the judge did not necessarily say that laws were broken but just to underscore. What you just said, yes, he had the doors open, just in case it is discovered that any kind of classified information is shared in the book.

All right, Kristen Holmes. Thank you so much. All right now two more on the standoff between the U.S. Attorney General bill Barr and a powerful U.S. attorney in New York who has investigated a number of the President's associates.

Moments after Barr announced that Geoffrey Berman was stepping down. Berman himself denied resigning, insisting that he has no intention of leaving. CNN caught up with him earlier today.


GEOFFREY BERMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: I have nothing to add to that. This morning, I'm just here to do my job.



WHITFIELD: CNN's Kara Scannell joining us now. So Kara, I understand that you are learning more about a conversation that Barr and Berman had on Friday.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Fred. So we learned that according to sources yesterday, Attorney General Barr spoke with Geoffrey Berman. He had offered Berman, a position in the main justice as the Washington, D.C.'s -- a position there in the Civil Division. But then what we understand is that Berman had told him that he was not interested in that position, but Berman was left with the impression that this was the first of possibly several conversations.

You know, Barr did not, you know, "Fire him during that conversation." So then later that evening, around 0:00 last night, the Department of Justice issued a press statement in which Bill Barr says that Geoffrey Berman is stepping down and he announces that the President has plans to nominate someone else to take that position. It was then about two hours later that Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. in the Southern District of New York issued his statements saying he did not resign and he had no intention to resign.

And this underscores some of the tensions that have existed between Barr at -- the Justice Department and Berman and STY. Berman has investigated many individuals with close ties to the President including Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney and is continuing to investigate Rudy Giuliani, the President's current attorney. And Giuliani for his efforts working to dig up dirt in the Ukraine.

Berman's office has brought indictments against two of Giuliani's associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman and that investigation is continuing now. Berman, you know, has been asked before about whether main justice has tried to interfere in the investigations and in particular into the Giuliani investigation. Here's what Berman told reporters in March.


BERMAN: The Southern District of New York has a long history of integrity and pursuing cases and declining to pursue cases based only on the facts and the law and the equities without regard to partisan political concerns. My primary commitment is and has been to maintain those core values. And that's how our office is operated.


SCANNELL: And Fred today, Berman is at the office as you pointed out earlier, we caught up with him, he's continuing to do his job. We're waiting to see if the President moves to actually fire Berman today or in the coming days ahead, but for now, Berman is there and SDNY is continuing to operate as it was before last night's bombshell, Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right Kara Scannell, thank you so much. Let's talk a bit more. Let's dive in with senior editor for the Atlantic Ron Brownstein. And National Politics Reporter for The Wall Street Journal Sabrina Siddiqui. Good to see both of you. So, Ron, you just heard with the U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said that, you know, he's going to continue to do his job. He has no intention of stepping down.

Why do you think the Trump administration or at least Bill Barr said he was going to be resigning?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you only understand this in the context of what we've been seeing for months since the Senate Republicans voted, you know, to impose no consequences on President Trump for his actions in Ukraine during impeachment, the dismissal of inspectors general at different agencies across the government, most notably the intelligence community.

The interventions by the senior leadership of the Justice Department in the cases of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. And now this, and the pattern, I think is very clear that the President is systematically working to undermine and debilitate any institution that could act as an independent check on him and he is doing so largely with the acquiescence of Congressional Republicans.

Lindsey Graham made some noises today about allowing the New York Senators of say in the Replacement which would perhaps delay this, but the basic reality is that when Susan Collins after impeachment said the President has learned a big lesson, she was right, only it was the opposite lesson that she thought. It's that he believes he can do almost anything to kind of undermine the accountability systems of checks and balances. And that the Senate Republicans will enable an excuse.

WHITFIELD: So Sabrina, do you see that the President has the authority and is likely to exercise what authority he may have to remove Berman?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST; Well, there is an opinion from 1979 from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel that suggests that the President has the authority to remove Berman. There have been of course questions about whether or not William Barr has that authority with many legal experts suggesting he does not but it really comes back to the motivations here. And the Southern District of New York has overseen some of the most consequential investigations into the President's closest allies that you includes, of course, the investigation that led to the conviction of the President's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, as well as investigation to the President's Inaugural Committee.


SADDIQUI: And then there's the ongoing investigation into Rudy Giuliani. And so I think that one of the things that we've heard in our morning at the Wall Street Journal is the tensions between Barbara and Berman actually began shortly after Barr was sworn in, as attorney general in 2019. According to our sources, he sought information on some of those investigations from the Southern District of New York.

So it also goes back to his broader trend in which you've seen William Barr willing to do the President's bidding. I think it's going to tee up another showdown within the Justice Department. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee already call -- suggesting that he would like Berman to testify on Capitol Hill whether or not he would ask Barr to testify. That'll be another question moving forward.

WHITFIELD: OK. Let's, you know, turn the page if you will. Now to the former NSA's John Bolton's book, you know, he getting a win from the court saying you can go ahead and sell that book. It's out there.

The President, you know, Ron is calling this, you know, a court win for him. You know, even though the President has said, you know, John Bolton, these all washed up, but this goes back to what is the President afraid of with the release of this book?

BROWNSTEIN: I mean, this is kind of a trifecta of horribleness. You know, John Bolton, if -- given the information that is presenting in this book, it is even more incredible, that he chose not to share direct information related to the inquiry of -- the impeachment inquiry with the country when the House Democrats offered, you know, sought to have him do so. I mean, he not only had information on the direct charge, he had information that went to a pattern in practice in which the charge was, was embedded. I mean --


WHITFIELD: And now he's criticizing the process when he could --


BROWNSTEIN: -- Republicans who voted not to hear from him, given the magnitude of what he is alleging that looks even more indefensible. And of course, the President's conduct itself is perhaps the most indefensible. I think it's interesting. I mean, in -- the political ramifications of that, I think will depend on the extent to which it reinforces what we are hearing from Mattis and others.

I mean, how many Republican voters particularly I think college educated white men will be moved by the testimony of these officials who work directly with the President, that they simply do not believe by either character or competence that he is fit for the -- I mean, it's an open question. But there is the possibility this could move a few points of previously Republican leaning college white men.

WHITFIELD: And Sabrina, it's not even just an issue of John Bolton, it's critiquing the President saying he's unfit, you know, for office. But he also says in the book that, you know, the President tried to get The Chinese President Xi to help him in the 2020 election and the administration is fighting fiercely against this saying it contains classified information that, of course, will still be, you know, determined but it is potentially very damaging for the President because it is supposed to be riddled with detail about how the President is abusing his power and now involving foreign countries in which to do so in this book.

SADDIQUI: To your point, some of that information is already out there, because a lot of people are already in possession of this book, which is one of the factors that the judge cited in his decision not to stop the book from being released. And I think it really is a question of the very damning allegations that are contained within this book. You mentioned, of course, the President allegedly seeking help from Chinese President Xi Jinping in his reelection asking China to purchase agricultural products from the United States.

As well as apparently President Trump giving his blessing to President Xi for the continuing -- for continuing to build internment camps against the Uighur population in China. There's also allegedly firsthand evidence of the President tying aid to Ukraine to investigations that he sought from the Ukrainian new government into former Vice President Joe Biden. Now there's this kind of back and forth over whether or not there's unclassified information in the book.

I'm sure that's going to be under review. But Bolton's attorney says that they did submit a manuscript to the National Security Council, as much as some people might say that is not the most reliable narrator that this administration has also had significant credibility problems. So I don't think there are many people who are buying the motivations behind they're seeking this book not to be released,

WHITFIELD: But then it gives -- the White House is also saying that even though he may have submitted, you know, information or the manuscript, he went ahead and send it to the publisher before the White House could actually weigh in on whether to publish or not. All right. The saga continues. Ron Brownstein, Sabrina Saddiqui, thank you so much.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Fred.

SADDIQUI: Thank you.


WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead. Hours from now the President will rally with supporters in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Health experts are concerned it could spark an outbreak of new COVID-19 cases. We're live from Tulsa next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Tonight, President Trump will be in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's his first campaign rally since March. But as the crowds pack in the arena, health officials are warning that this rally could become a super spreader event for COVID-19. The number of new cases continues to rise across that state. CNN's Abby Phillip is in Tulsa for us to cover tonight's rally. She's joining me right now by phone. So Abby, are people there and all worried about the risks involved.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hey, Fredricka. They really are not by and large. We see a couple of people as they walk in and stream into the arena. A few a handful wearing a mask but the vast majority of people are not.


PHILLIP: And many of the supporters that we spoke to say that they're not personally worried about the risk, they understand that there is a risk, but they are not personally worried about it. It is far more important to them to show their support for President Trump, one of his supporters told us that the President wants this rally to happen. So as a supporter, he felt an obligation to show up and I think that is the sentiment here.

There is a lot of pent up energy among the President's supporters to be gathered among like-minded people after several months of quarantine. And there is a lot of excitement in this crowd and very little concern about potential health risks. Now we know that they are being given mask as they walk in, there is going to be plenty of hand sanitizer available both from the campaign and from the venue itself which says they have hundreds of camp sanitizer stations all around the arena.

But even as people are streaming in now, you don't see people taking the mask they're being given and putting them on. You also see people, you know, saying that for months, they've been told to stay at home to quarantine. But they see protesters out the streets and they wonder why they can't have their own gathering, given the protests that have been habit happening nationwide.

So there is this sense that it is being driven by a desire to show political support by the -- for the -- for the President and support for the President's view, which is actually that the President himself does not wear a mask, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Abby Phillip, thank you so much from Tulsa. And this just into CNN, we're learning that an arrest warrant has been issued for a woman suspected of starting a fire at a Wendy's in Atlanta soon after the killing of Rayshard Brooks. We'll have a live report straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: Officials in Georgia have issued an arrest warrant, arson arrest warrant in connection with the fire at the Wendy's where Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by Atlanta police last week. CNN Natasha Chen joins me now from Atlanta with more on this. Natasha?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred. Well, we're learning that the fire department about an hour ago issued this arrest warrant for arson in the first degree for 29-year-old Natalie White. Sergeant Cortez Stafford with the fire department told me they believe that is her in the images scene setting fire to the Wendy's on Saturday night exactly one week ago. And staff reminds me there, there could be other possible suspects out there as well.

They're still obviously in the middle of this investigation. He made sure also to say that he feels this Wendy's burning down should not take away from what the protesters are out there for. And that's a similar message that I got when I sat down with Tomika Miller the widow of Rayshard Brooks on Monday, she told me, you know, you might as well burn down your own house, she asked the protesters to keep it peaceful and civil. Here are some other things she told me about that painful day.


TAMIKA MILLER, WIFE OF RAYSHARD BROOKS: I was I could just -- I wish I would have never left. I feel so guilty for leaving, for feeling tired for wanting to go home. Because I know it wouldn't have went that way (INAUDIBLE) let's not stop.

CHEN: Is there anything that you've heard about the incident that makes you think you could have changed what happened there?



CHEN: And just to bring you up to speed on it, the officers and their charges, that officer Garrett Rolfe, former officer Garrett Rolfe was terminated from the police department. The other officer on scene Devin Brosnan, he turned himself in on Thursday as well. Brosnan is facing three charges. Rolfe is facing 11 charges including felony murder. And of course, the charging itself is controversial, Fred, because there are folks including congressman Doug Collins, who's saying that the D.A. filing these charges before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is even completed with their report is a political decision and not a legal one.

But of course, the D.A. here is telling CNN his office is independent and they can make decisions independent of a GBI report, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Natasha Chen, thanks so much for bringing that to us. All right. Up next, mask or no mask. It's a heated debate in states that are seeing a rise in coronavirus cases. We'll break down all the headlines with our Medical expert next.



WHITFIELD: There are now more than 4,000 new cases of coronavirus in Florida. The highest number of reported cases in a single day the state has ever seen, according to a new model. The state is on track to become the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

But Florida isn't the only state seeing an increase in cases. Nearly half the country appears to be heading in the wrong direction. This, as the CDC is predicting the U.S. will surpass 135,000 coronavirus deaths over the next three weeks.

CNN's Polo Sandoval joins me now.

Polo, what's behind the spikes?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, think about it here. You have nearly a dozen states across the country, and Florida does seem to really pique the interest of health officials here because the numbers we've seen there.

Consider Thursday alone, about 3200 cases there. It was the highest single day increase since this pandemic started.

So putting it all in context, you have other parts of the country reopening. Here in New York, we're seeing about a 2 percent positive rate in terms of testing and yet states like Florida are seeing that increase here.

That is something that could be catastrophic, according to multiple health experts, because you have to consider the amount of nursing homes, long-care facilities you'll find in the sunshine state.

Additionally, also consider the aging population, for example, in the state of Florida as well. That's why authorities are taking a good, close look at the situation there and encouraging people to continue to remain socially distant. And to use facial masks.

Then taking it out broader, you have Arizona, California, the state of Texas as well, experiencing that uptick in these numbers.

And that question you asked a little while ago is certainly key. What could be behind this? It really depends on who you ask.

The governors of Texas or Florida that believe that increased testing is one of the factors even though when you hear from the experts, epidemiologists say that's not necessarily the case. They believe the more testing that you see, the lower those numbers should go, given that you have more tracers.


But ultimately, you have, in the grand scheme of things, that recommendation that people should still continue to exercise that social distancing and wear that mask if possible.

WHITFIELD: All right, Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

Also with me now, Randi Kaye. Randi, on top of the spike in cases, you know, really across the

country, Florida is now, according to some health experts, about to be an epicenter of this outbreak. And dealing with all kinds of other things like, you know, moratoriums on rent and housing being lifted and then the food crisis as well.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, of course. There's always the question of your health here, but there's the other issue of hunger.

So many people, Fred, around the country have lost their jobs or having trouble filling their car with gas or feeding their families. Feeding their children especially. You don't want to send a child out the door any time of day without food.

Hundreds of thousands of Floridians are looking to get their children some food. Congress promised hope months ago, back in March, and it's been very slow coming.


KAYE (voice-over): The sun is just rising at this Florida food giveaway and already more than 1,000 families are lined up. Many are parents who lost jobs, who still have hungry mouths to feed.

CHELA CAHVO, FLORIDA RESIDENT: We have no food, and I have a big family and they need to get fed. We don't have the money to buy groceries.

KAYE: More and more parents are turning to food banks to feed their children while they wait for governor aid that was promised months ago.

Back in March, Congress approved a program called the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or Pandemic EBT. It's to funnel money to millions of children who are no longer getting school breakfast and lunch.

Pandemic EBT issues cards to purchase food, $5.70 per day, per child or about $114 per child for four weeks of benefit.

SARI VATSKE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, FEEDING SOUTH FLORIDA: It's heartbreaking. You never want a child to go to bed hungry.

KAYE: This 12-year-old and her family haven't received any government aid yet. Instead, they waited in line for hours to pick up free food at this feeding south Florida food bank.

(on camera): Are you glad that you're here with your mom this morning to get some food?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Yes. Yes. Really glad.

KAYE (voice-over): About 30 million children nationwide are qualified to receive this aid but there have been challenges in getting Pandemic EBT rolling. Such as outdated databases and limited administrative ability to disburse the money. CRYSTAL WEEDALL FITZSIMONS, DIRECTOR, SCHOOL & OUT-OF-SCHOOL TIME

PROGRAMS, FOOD RESEARCH & ACTION CENTER: Some states have great state education databases that will identify kids who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals and you can link that up and easily get a card to them. For other states, it can be hard to identify the kids who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

KAYE: The federal government, specifically the USDA, has left it up to the states to figure out a plan to implement the program. That plan then has to be approved by the USDA before the cash cards can be given to children. And 42 states, D.C. And the virgin islands have been approved for the program.

Analysis by "the New York Times" shows that by May 15th, two months after the effort was approved by Congress, just 15 percent of all eligible children had received benefits.

WEEDALL FITZSIMONS: There's no border for hunger. Every state in this country has kids who live in households that are struggling to put food on the table.

KAYE: On May 27th, Florida was finally approved for Pandemic EBT. Even though they started rolling out two weeks later, hundreds of thousands of children are still waiting for their benefits.

(on camera): Without government aid, groups like Feeding South Florida have had to get creative. For the first time ever, they spent more than a million dollars to purchase food for families. And the demand is greater than ever. Feeding South Florida says they've seen a 600 percent increase in families who need food.

(voice-over): Jesus Sebastian has five children at home to feed. She is still waiting for government aid.

This woman brought her neighbor and two small children to get food.

ALINE LEVASSEUR, FLORIDA RESIDENT: She's had a hard time, for sure. Especially she hasn't got any government help.

VATSKE: We do wish benefits rolled out sooner. The need has been incredibly great. More than 40 percent of people coming to us are relying on support for the first time.

KAYE: In response to our questions about the delayed aid, the USDA said they are working every day to ensure all Americans have access to safe, affordable and nutritious food to feed themselves and their families.


KAYE: And, Fred, we spoke to so many families there. You can only imagine how hard it must be to explain why they are waking their children up in the predawn hours, packing them into the car so they can wait for hours to get free food.

[13:40:08] In fact, we looked inside some of the cars and the children were still asleep in the back seat and in the way back of the car. So it's very, very difficult for these families.

Feeding South Florida says that since the coronavirus pandemic started, they've now jumped from serving 700,000 families to serving about a million families. It's very, very difficult to feed those young mouths.

And also, Fred, because they don't have a lot of money, because they've lost their jobs, transportation is also a problem. Getting to the food banks to get the free food is a problem.

That's why they need these cards so they can stay close to home, maybe go to the neighborhood grocery, anything within walking distance -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: So terribly sad.

Thank you so much, Randi Kaye.

Joining me now to discuss, Dr. Craig Spencer, director of global health and emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center.

Doctor, good to see you.

So let's talk about, you know, this number of public health experts who are encouraging states to issue mask mandates in order to avoid another shutdown. Do you believe that will work?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER, DIRECTOR, GLOBAL HEALTH AND EMERGENCY MEDICINE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: The reality is, right now, we don't have a lot of other tools to control the spread of this virus. As has been mentioned, it's increasing in multiple hot spots throughout the country including Texas, Florida, the Carolinas.

We're seeing a lot of places now reactively issue mandatory masking. The problem, and the lesson we've learned in New York City is that taking actions, reactively as opposed to proactively, means it's already too late.

These steps need to be taken before we have community transmission of the coronavirus. Otherwise, you already have this virus circulating. You already have many people infected and infecting others.

It still helps, but again, it's something that should have been done much earlier. And one of the few things we have to control the transmission of this virus right now.

WHITFIELD: What do you think is contributing to this nationwide increase in cases in so many states?

SPENCER: It's the abject failure of our government's response to the coronavirus. It's not a secret.

Look, right now, the vice president and the president are trying to lull us into this sense of complacency. No bigger spectacle of that is this 19,000 people getting into an arena tonight.

This idea that 20,000, 25,000 cases at a base line near -- somehow our level of infectibility is crazy and should be unacceptable.

This is unlike anything that's being seen anywhere else throughout the world. Iran, a couple other countries have seen peaks and dips and peaking again, but we are an outlier in terms of how we respond to this.

I'm more concerned because now people are going to be less willing to do the bread-and-butter public health things we need to. Wearing a mask, staying at home, socially distancing, that we'll need to do to keep this virus at bay. And we're going to keep seeing this for the next couple of months.

WHITFIELD: So as a doctor, as a public health expert, it really must sicken you to your stomach to see pictures of so many people gathering. Right now, we're looking at the pictures out of Tulsa. Standing in line, going in, you know, to this arena.

Apparently, masks are being handed out, even clear face masks. But then, based on a lot of our reporters' accounts, some people are refusing to even take them and going in.


WHITFIELD: How does that make you feel knowing what you know about public health?

SPENCER: Sure. To be honest, that doesn't sicken me. That does worry me. We don't know whether this will be a super-spreader event. It's possible people there will be affected and people will leave with this virus.

What sickens me is, we're now four months into this, and we're still having 20,000 to 25,000 new cases a day. We're still having hot spots emerge all throughout the country when other countries have figured out how to flatten the curve and decrease it to the point they're able to open up sports again, open up back into society.

What sickens me is that we are still so bad at this, so far into this crisis, and we're basically being told that this is what our new normal is and we'll just have to deal with it.

WHITFIELD: Dr. Craig Spencer, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.

SPENCER: Thanks for having me.


WHITFIELD: Coming up, one of the nation's most prestigious black dance institutions commemorating the 1921 Tulsa massacre in a rather unique way. We'll speak with the artistic director of Alvin Ailey, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: This week's Juneteenth commemoration marks 155 years since word of emancipation proclamation reached slaves in Texas.

And as President Trump prepares for his Tulsa, Oklahoma, tonight, one day after Juneteenth, America is reexamining some of its history, including what's believed to be the single worst massacre of black people in America. Tulsa's 1921 massacre involved white mobs killing 300 black residents in their uniquely prosperous community.

That painful chapter in American history was the focus of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater this season this year before it was interrupted by COVID-19 shutdowns.

Now with this renewed attention on the Tulsa massacre, the dance group is streaming its "Greenwood" story starting next week. Have a look.





WHITFIELD: Robert Battle is the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and joins me now.

Good to see you, Robert.


WHITFIELD: So earlier this year, you and I were on stage together talking about your artistic rendition of this history telling of Greenwood, this rich Tulsa black community, Black Wall Street, and later the place of the worst massacre of African-Americans.

What do you say about this moment America is in and this renewed purpose of telling the "Greenwood" story?

BATTLE: Well, it's the story of this company, why Alvin Ailey founded this company in 1958, because he didn't see the stories being told about his people and about our culture and our contributions to this country.

And so, in a way, the way that this has intersected with real life events in terms of the riots that are happening now, in terms of the protests, in terms of the anger and the resentment, it is very, I think, poignant that "Greenwood," that was created last year, who knew that it would be so resonate right now.

WHITFIELD: Right. Do you now hope audience even look at the "Greenwood" story that you present artistically and that people will watch online now, do you hope that they'll look at that time differently given the current climate?

BATTLE: I hope so. Because that's the point for this company to not just be seen but be heard.

And I hope that when people engage with this work, that they will reflect on the world in which we live.

And I think dance, especially dance, has a way of delivering a very hard message. And sometimes, through its ambiguity, it is even more poignant. Because by the time you know what the dance is about or how you feel about it, you are so sucked into that work.

And Donald Byrd is just a brilliant storyteller.

WHITFIELD: He did a beautiful job with this, as did all of your performers, your dancers.


WHITFIELD: So what emotions, you know, are you feeling today? Juneteenth weekend, and on the day of the president's scheduled rally in Tulsa.

BATTLE: Well, I'm hopeful, you know. There's so much to not be hopeful about. But when I see what my dancers have been doing during this time -- we have something called Ailey All Access where they are making sure that these messages of hope of our common humanity continue to be celebrated to bring you online content, to bring dance to the people that Alvin Ailey wanted us to do.

I'm hopeful because people will be seeing "Greenwood" that may have not otherwise been coming to the theater to see it in the first place.

So I know that any time there's destruction, there's also opportunity to build and rebuild. And we want to be a part of that.

WHITFIELD: So Alvin Ailey has a long history of making audiences think, dating make to its conception during the civil rights movement, as you mentioned, and making us all see the world we all live in through different prisms.

So why is that more important now than ever, in your view?

BATTLE: In my view, it's important because what we have to realize that we are more alike than unalike. That dance celebrates our common humanity. It's very important, even as we're getting this messages that we don't need each other.

I think that this is a time when we need to realize that we need each other now more than ever. And there's a notion that what is in great dance, in great art is love. And I've been told that love can liberate. So, too, can the art of dance.

WHITFIELD: It is, indeed, a beautiful production, as all of the productions every year, but this one particularly poignant. And, as you said, wow, how fortuitous that you had this --


WHITFIELD: -- in the making last year, only for it to really come to the attention of so many and for a variety of reasons now.

Robert Battle, always good to see you. Thank you so much.

BATTLE: Always great to see you. Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: Fantastic.

All right. Straight ahead, in the next hour, a federal judge has declined the Trump administration's request to block John Bolton's book and now the president is responding.


The CNN NEWSROOM continues right after this.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaks news.

WHITFIELD: Hello, again, everyone. I'm Frederica Whitfield. Thanks so much for being with me.

We begin with President Trump set to take to the stage in Oklahoma, even as the number of new coronavirus cases is on the rise.

Just moments ago, we learned that Tulsa County has set its fifth record just this week for the number of new cases with 136 reported in just the past 24 hours. It's the same place where the president will speak to a crowd of thousands.

Let's go first to CNN's Abby Phillip in Tulsa.

So, Abby, what are people saying?


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Frederica, you're hearing a lot of excitement for this rally, a lot of pent-up energy from people who have been quarantined for several months.