Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Holding Campaign Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Despite Concerns over Coronavirus Spread; Judge Denies Government Request for Injunction to Stop Publication of Former National Security Advisor John Bolton's Book about His Time at White House; U.S. Attorney for Southern District of New York Denies He is Resigning after Attorney General Bill Barr Announced He was Stepping Down; Members of Advance Team for Trump Campaign Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Test Positive for Coronavirus. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 20, 2020 - 14:00   ET



ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, 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. But what you're also hearing is that these folks are not particularly worried about the coronavirus. They know it's being talked about, and they also understand their own personal risk. But one of the things that you hear from them is that they want to be here because the president wants them to be here. Take a listen to what one of the president's supporters said as he waited outside of the entrance to this rally.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not worried about the pandemic at all. Being how things have gone right now, the numbers decreased over the days and weeks, I'm not really concerned about it. So, we're here, we're here to support our president. And if he wants us there, then we're going to be there.


PHILLIP: Now, one of the challenges is, as you pointed out, that cases are actually on the rise where we are here in Tulsa, and in the state of Oklahoma. But Tulsa is really leading the charge. More populous parts of the state do not have as many cases as they do here, and health officials have been warning that this kind of event, 19,000 people inside an arena, indoors, not wearing masks largely. We've seen very few people wearing the masks that they've been giving out, it's a potential for this virus to spread just from one or two or a few people who might not even know they are infected.

The other problem for a lot of these folks is that they're coming from all over the country. They're going to -- if they do become infected here, they may very well take the virus back to their hometowns to their families.

But by and large, what you hear here from the supporters is that, to them, the most important thing is to be able to show support to President Trump at this particular time. They're taking their cues from him about whether or not this rally is something that is safe for them to do, or a relative acceptable risk for them to take. They're also taking their cues from him about whether or not to wear a mask. Remember, President Trump has personally not worn a mask, and has used mask-wearing as a liability against his political opponents, and his supporters agree with that assessment. Many of them are simply saying, it's just, for them, something that they don't feel like they have to do.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: So, Abby, you've got your mask on, and you reported earlier that they're dispensing masks as well as these clear kind of face shields. But then we also knew that reportedly they were going to be taking temperatures. Is any of that happening? Is there -- are people taking advantage of hand sanitizer? Are there any precautions that people are taking advantage of as they enter?

PHILLIP: Well, there are going to be -- So as people are walking in, they're going to be handed masks. Now, the face shields seem to be something that an individual has taken upon themselves to hand those out, too. But inside the arena, they're going to be -- they're also going to be given hand sanitizer from the campaign. And then the management company for the arena has also said they will have hundreds of hand sanitizer stations all over that arena.

To keep in mind here, inside the arena they're going to have concession stands. People are going to be eating and drinking. The arena themselves, they're concerned about making sure that as they are providing services to people who are in there that they are also taking health precautions for their employees as well.

So it's not really clear what is going to happen. They have just started streaming into that arena. It's not clear yet, we'll know in a few hours, whether people are going to don their masks once that room gets more crowded, whether they will be using hand sanitizer that's available to them. But just the attitudes that we've heard so far seem to indicate that many people say, or believe that they are personally at less risk and they personally are willing to take on whatever risk there may be.

WHITFIELD: And what about -- we've been reporting all week these signed waivers, essentially people saying, if they were to get sick, they wouldn't sue the Trump Organization or the White House. Who's collecting those? And is that really the case that they are being collected? People signed waivers?

PHILLIP: Well, it's really not clear what kind of protection that gives anyone. But when you rsvp'd to this rally and requested a ticket, you had to check a box that said I agree to this waiver that says I'm not going to sue President Trump or the campaign. Real questions, though, about whether that is actual -- that actually has any kind of legal force. And secondly, one of the concerns that I've heard locally from officials here is does that actually protect the BOK Center, which is hosting this event, which has canceled a lot of other events all summer because of the coronavirus. If someone does get sick, will any of these parties be held liable? It's really very much unclear.


And I think that this is going to be one of those open questions going forward, who is responsible, and can that responsibility simply be waived away by just checking a box online when you request an rsvp or a ticket.

WHITFIELD: All right, Abby Phillip, thank you so much in Tulsa.

So as many Trump supporters in Tulsa show little concern about packing all these bodies into the arena there for the president's rally, the manager of a major factory in the area is taking a much more cautious approach in order to keep his employees safe. Here now is CNN's Gary Tuchman.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Trump supporters started lining up for his Tulsa rally days ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plus, I want to be front row, front and center.

TUCHMAN: The daily number of new COVID cases is skyrocketing in Tulsa County, at the highest level yet. Thousands of people will be inside this arena and outside it for many hours. Masks are being given out, but they're not required to be worn, and social distancing is not mandatory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have absolutely no concern whatsoever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just doesn't concern me at all.

TUCHMAN: Rallygoers must agree not to hold the Trump campaign responsible if they contract COVID, which is not a red flag to anyone we talked to here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I French kiss anybody? No. But I can stand, and when I went to a dinner house over in Nebraska and nobody had masks on, and the lady says, you want more coffee? I felt normal. Normal.

TUCHMAN: So, nothing about this concerns you?


TUCHMAN: But in this very same city --

Why did you decide to close this place?

RODNEY THARP, MANAGER, NAVISTAR I.C. SCHOOL BUS PLANT: Well, it's for the safety of our employees.

TUCHMAN: Rodney Tharp is the manager of the Navistar I.C. School Bus plant in Tulsa where about 1,400 people work.

THARP: Last year we were the number one market share of building school buses in America.

TUCHMAN: Tharp shut down his plant this week. Confirmed employee COVID cases have been rapidly climbing over the last couple of weeks.

THARP: I purchased 1,400 COVID kits.

TUCHMAN: And earlier this week all the employees who are still being paid were told to come in to get tested. Based on the results, the decision will be made how long the plant has to stay closed. When it's operating, nearly 300 buses are made here each week. Lots of money is now being lost. But the plant manager says this was the responsible decision in an increasingly vulnerable city.

THARP: I've got to make sure people are safe.

TUCHMAN: Roberto Pineda is one of his people, a veteran at the plant, a husband and father of three.

ROBERTO PINEDA, TULSA SCHOOL BUS PLANT EMPLOYEE: I think it was the right decision and for our safety, not only my safety, but the safety of my family, because I get to bring that home if I do get it.

TUCHMAN: Bruce Dart is the health director of the city of Tulsa and Tulsa County.

With thousands of people in this arena, many or most without masks, how worried are you about a dramatic spike in cases in this county?

BRUCE DART, TULSA HEALTH DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR: In any event with people not wearing masks, we're concerned about a spike.

TUCHMAN: But with this many people, thousands of people?

DART: We're concerned. People coming together without taking precautions is what causes the virus to transmit. It gives the virus the ability to transmit from person to person. So of course, we're concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I'm not going to get it. I'm not going to give it to someone else.

TUCHMAN: How do you know that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the same thing if you get a damn cold.

TUCHMAN: One city, two completely different visions, a factory where people are relieved not to be inside because of the health threat, and an upcoming rally where people can't wait to get inside despite the health threat.

The plant manager says he's prepared for the possibility of many more of his employees testing positive.

THARP: We take it seriously, and it will continue to drive our energies until we drive it out of this plant.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN, Tulsa, Oklahoma.


WHITFIELD: And now to this major development in the legal standoff over an explosive book on the Trump administration. A federal judge now ruling that former National Security Advisor John Bolton's book can hit store shelves, blocking a Trump administration push to stop its release. Let's go now to the White House and CNN's Kristen Holmes. So Kristen, the president is claiming this a victory even though Bolton's book will be available to all.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and it will be available for publication, for people to purchase at bookstores as early as Tuesday. The reason the president is calling this a victory is because of the other points that the judge made. While he said that the Justice Department's arguments were not enough to stop the book, he also slammed Bolton for pushing through this publication, getting that done without the proper approval from the White House. And he left the door open for potential charges or punishments down the road. In fact, he said if there is classified information in the book, that Bolton could lose profits, that he could exposed to criminal liability. And then, of course, that this could be in peril to -- in peril to national security or imperil national security.

So a lot of stuff here town pack. President Trump, as you said, is saying this is a victory. I'm going to read to you from the tweet he put out. He says that "Big court win against Bolton. Obviously with the book already out and leaked to many people and the media, nothing the highly respected judge could have done about stopping it. But strong and powerful statements and rulings on money and on breaking classification were made. Bolton broke the law and has been called out and rebuked for so doing with a really big price to pay."


And I'm just going to stop there because the other part is unclear what he's talking about. Bolton's own attorney has issued a statement, and we want to pull that up. He 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 fully comply with his contractual prepublication obligation to the government, and the case will now proceed to development of the full record of that issue. The full story of these events has yet to be told -- but it will be." So very clear here this is just at the beginning, that is, the attorney, they're saying that this story is still going to be told, but right now we do know that that book will be out. They do have permission to put that out there on Tuesday.

WHITFIELD: All right Kristen Holmes at the White House, thank you so much.

All right, still ahead, a 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. So, is the top attorney for the Southern District of New York resigning or not? A live report next.



WHITFIELD: Today, a standoff between a U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr and a powerful U.S. attorney who has investigated a number of the president's associates. Moments after Barr announced that Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was stepping down, Berman himself denied that he was resigning and said he has no intention, in fact, of leaving. CNN's cameras caught up with him this morning he's showed up for work.


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


WHITFIELD: CNN's Evan Perez joining us now from the Justice Department. So Evan, what more can you tell with us this standoff? How did this come to be? What's going on?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, it doesn't happen very often in this building where the attorney general says, hey, you're fired, and the person who is supposed to be fired says, no, I'm not. I'm not going to go anywhere. So that's really what the situation that developed yesterday, there are was a meeting in New York between the Attorney General Bill Barr with Jeff Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan. He was offered another job, told we need you to step down and we're going to offer you a position here at Main Justice at the headquarters of the Justice Department running the Civil Division. Berman declined that offer.

And, according to sources, Berman thought that there was going to be further conversation. He didn't realize that just a few hours later the Justice Department was going to issue a press release in which the attorney general said that Berman was stepping down and he named a new nominee, Jay Clayton, who is the head, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission who is going to be, according to the Justice Department, the new nominee for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan.

As you've pointed out, Fred, this is a powerful office. This is an office that runs a lot of sensitive investigations, including, of course, the one that is focusing on Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney. It's an investigation, of course, that has gotten under the skin of the president. And Bill Barr, the attorney general has now decided that this is something that he wants closer, perhaps closer management of.

So we are now at a standoff. We don't know how this will end. It appears though, Fred, Berman is relying on one fact here, which is that technically he has been appointed by the court, by the judges in New York. There's a quirk in the law here whereby he has been sitting there without actually ever getting Senate confirmation. And so right now he's sitting there as an appointee of the court. And so the question is, does Bill Barr have the power to fire him? Certainly, the president does, so we're waiting to see whether or not the president actually does that.

WHITFIELD: All right, Evan Perez. Thanks so much for that.

PEREZ: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: And this breaking news into CNN. We've just learned several members of President Trump's staff in Tulsa have tested positive for COVID-19. We're live next.



WHITFIELD: All right, this breaking news. We're learning that some members of President Trump's advance team for tonight's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have tested positive for COVID-19. Let's go back to Tulsa with CNN's Abby Phillip. What are you learning?

PHILLIP: Hey, Fredricka. Well, we just learned that these are six staffers who have been here in Tulsa for the last several days preparing for this rally are positive for the coronavirus. I want to quickly explain what advance staffers are. They come in days before a presidential event, they scope the site, they figure out where everything's supposed to go and happen before the event.

Now, six of those individuals have tested positive, and I'll read the statement from the Trump campaign on what happened. The campaign communications director says "Per safety protocols, campaign staffers are tested for COVID-19 before events. Six members of the advance team tested positive out of hundreds of tests performed, and quarantine measures were immediately implemented. No COVID positive staffer or anyone in immediate contact will be at today's rally or near attendees and elected officials. As previously announced, all rally attendees are given temperature checks before going through security, at which point they are given wristbands, facemasks, and hand sanitizer."

So, again, as we've been discussing, those precautions are being taken, but the question is will attendees wear masks, which we know, according to the scientists and doctors and health experts, will slow the spread of this virus. It is not clear the campaign still says they will not enforce mask wearing inside that arena. Fred?

WHITFIELD: And, of course, we still need detail of prior to this positive COVID testing what the behaviors and practices were of these individuals. Is there any belief that we'll get that kind of information?

PHILLIP: It's not clear. But as you said, it's a critical question. Were these staffers wearing masks around each other as they scoped the site, as they walked around Tulsa? The problem for all of this is that it only takes one person to spread the virus to innumerable other people that they come in contact with, especially if they're not taking precautions. We simply don't know. We'll be asking the campaign to answer that question.

But if the campaign -- or if White House staff is any indication, as they go about their day to day lives on the White House compound, on based on what they said they will do when they come to this rally, White House staffers said some of them are not wearing masks. It is an open question whether some of these staffers who have been in this question, probably for several days now, have been wearing masks in their routine interactions with other people.


WHITFIELD: Right, among those who said they wouldn't wear a mask or anything like that was the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany. She was pretty emphatic that it's her choice and she's not going to. But I wonder if news of these positive cases now will change that approach within a matter of hours or minutes. The vice president is already close to being en route, correct?

PHILLIP: He is. And in addition to that, they're presumptively going to be engaged in contact tracing for these individuals. Every one of these people might have had contact with dozens of people within the campaign, outside of the campaign. Can they do that in enough time to ensure that are no one who had contact with those people are anywhere near this event, anywhere near individuals who will be coming to this event? It's a tall order.

It's also not clear, I should say, when they learned of these positive tests. We learned about it today via a statement, but it's not clear when the campaign did. That matters, because how much time they've had to figure this out will matter. We are five or six hours away from when events are going to start getting under way here. If it was today, that's a short period of time do all that tracing per the statement that we got from the campaign.

WHITFIELD: Incredible. What an incredible reality check just now hours before this event gets under way with the president on the stage. But, again, the doors have already opened. We saw people beginning to file inside that arena. Abby Philip in Tulsa, thank you so much.

Let's talk more about all of this. Joining me now is Anne Rimoin, epidemiology professor and global health director at UCLA. All right, good to see you. So Abby brings up some incredible points there, talking about when were these positive tests discovered? Has tracing -- has there been enough time to conduct any kind of tracing? And what were the behaviors and the practices of at least the six who have tested positive who were part of the advance team. What questions do you have?

ANNE RIMOIN, PROFESSOR, UCLA DEPARTMENT OF EPIDEMIOLOGY: Fred, I think you're asking all the right questions. We all really would like to know, who are these people? Where have they been? Exactly who they've been in contact with. Were they taking precautions? When did they arrive in Tulsa? Testing is -- you're not going to test positive the first day that you become infected. In fact, the probability of testing positive is very low within the first five to seven days of being infected. So the fact that these people are positive today is only reflective of what their exposure was a week to two weeks previous. And that's --

WHITFIELD: So in other words they could have been -- sorry to interrupt. So just it means, too, that they could have been asymptomatic for a number of days coming into contact with people before this positive test, if it was today or yesterday or whenever it was rendered?

RIMOIN: Absolutely. And it's unclear whether or not you test positive if the day or two before that if you are infectious, because we do know about this issue of being pre-symptomatic then having -- a couple days before you have symptoms, you are very contagious. But this is a big question of when you test positive, have you been contagious or not prior to that test positive? Because we don't know that these people have had symptoms, we just know that they've tested positive.

WHITFIELD: And you surprised, too, that we would learn that there would be a statement coming out from the White House on its advance team, that they would even reveal that these six have tested positive when the White House has been really so brazen and defiantly telling the world that they don't want to wear masks and that it's up to you and that people are being asked to sign waivers, come to this rally at your own risk.

RIMOIN: Fred, there's so many things that's surprise me. This is one of a long list. So, yes, I think that it's very interesting and intriguing that they have actually let us know that there are people that are positive. And I wonder what the impact will be. I think that this should be a stark warning to people that people are testing positive, and that this should be very seriously considered. We all have great fear as to what is going to be happening in this particular event that is forthcoming with thousands of thousands of people in this arena.

WHITFIELD: Anne Rimoin, thank you so much, appreciate it. Of course, we'll keep a close watch on all of this. We'll have much more on this breaking news at the top of the hour.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks so much for joining me today. The CNN special "Risk Takers" with Rachel Crane starts right now.

RACHEL CRANE, CNN INNOVATION CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to the CNN Business "Risk Takers" special. I'm Rachel Crane.