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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Donald Trump Holds Rally Despite Threat From Virus; Trump Campaign Cancels Address To "Overflow Crowd" for Lack of Attendees; Attorney General William Barr Tells SDNY Prosecutor President Donald Trump Fired Him, President Trump Tells Reporters I'm Not Involved In Firing. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired June 20, 2020 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[19:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of "The Situation Room."

Today was supposed to be truly an important day in Trump's re-election campaign and it comes at a truly historic moment for the United States. But the entire day does not appear to be turning out as the President wanted or as he expected.

The President is in Tulsa, Oklahoma, right now for what he hoped would be a huge indoor rally with thousands of his supporters but you can see plenty of empty seats. The size of the clearly seems to be a lot smaller than the campaign expected.

The rally comes right in the middle of the pandemic, an outbreak that has already killed nearly 120,000 Americans in just three months. That's more than during World War I. And in an unforgettable reminder of that, we learn today that six Trump campaign staffers in Tulsa have already tested positive for Coronavirus and threatening to overshadow the rally itself, a stunning move by the White House, firing one of the most powerful prosecutors in the Federal Government. But even that did not go smoothly at all.

Let's begin in Tulsa. CNN is covering all the angles of President Trump's rally tonight with Abby Phillip, Ryan Nobles and Martin Savidge. They're in Tulsa for us. Our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is also with us.

Ryan, let's start with you. You're inside the arena. We know earlier in the day the campaign announced six Trump staffers tested positive for the virus. First of all, take us inside this arena. A lot of people clearly not wearing mask and we're seeing a lot, a lot, of empty seats. I take it they had to cancel the overflow rally outside because few showed up.

RYAN NOBLE, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. It's not too hard to understate this. This event has fallen well short of the Trump campaign's own expectations and the expectations of the President himself.

Just a couple of days ago, the President was talking about filling this entire arena up and then as many as 40,000 people outside. There were campaign staffers that suggested perhaps 100,000 people could fill the overflow event outside.

They announced to great fanfare that both the President and the Vice President would speak to that overflow crowd. But what has materialized here tonight is far short of that. This arena, as you can tell behind me is far from full. This is a good crowd Wolf by campaign standards.

This is a lot of people. But it is nowhere near what the Trump campaign had originally talked about? Now there are a number of reasons why that could have been. The Trump campaign is already spinning the reasons behind why this crowd did not materialize in the way they expected it to.

Campaign Communications Director Tim Murtagh suggested to me perhaps there were protesters preventing people from getting inside the venue. They also blamed the media claiming that members of the press were scaring people telling them not to come here tonight because of the Coronavirus.

We should point out Wolf, we don't have any evidence of protesters preventing people from going through security detectors and getting into this venue tonight and there were quite a few people that were able to get inside.

The simple fact is, Wolf, this just did not turn out to be what the Trump campaign expected it to be. As a result both the Vice President and the President are no longer going to speak outside as they were originally going to. But we do expect them both to speak here in just the next few minutes at this, the first campaign rally since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's interesting that that whole upper deck, there's a few people in that whole upper deck in that arena there. I wonder if your photojournalist can show us that upper deck. The President said and all of his campaign supporters had suggested this would be jam packed and it looks like there are some people in the upper deck. But if you go around, you see a lot of empty seats.

YOUNG: Yes, that's right, Wolf. I mean, there's plenty of seating in the upper deck for sure. And, you know, I should say the lower bowl where I am is almost completely filled but this area in front of me which is usually the most highly coveted area in terms of a campaign rally because that gets you as close as you can to the person speaking, in this case the President that area, there's plenty of space in.

So at one point the overflow had a very small smattering of people. I think they were encouraging people to come back inside here. And again I want to stress this, Wolf. This is a very big crowd by campaign standards. I cover a lot of campaign rallies. It's difficult to bring this many people into a venue like this. We're talking about what the campaign themselves talked about in terms of the standard here. They were bragging about more than a million people RSVP'ing to come to this event. Well, there are nowhere near a million people here. There's not even going to be 20,000 people by the time it all said and done, Wolf.

[19:05:00]

BLITZER: Looks like a lot less than 20,000 with that whole upper deck. The arena could basically hold about 19,000 and it looks like a lot of empty seats. Based on what you're seeing Ryan, you're seeing most of the folks not wearing masks, wearing masks? Clearly those who are there behind you are not engaged in any social distancing.

YOUNG: Yes, Wolf. You know, as you come into the arena, every person has the option of getting a mask. They were handing out hand sanitizer. They took temperatures. All except the temperature were optional. And inside the venue, there are a few people that are here as rally goers that do have masks on but it is few and far between.

Most of the folks here do not have masks on. There's little to no social distancing happening. And even though the campaign is encouraging people to do so, there are signs all throughout the arena that suggest you should attempt to encourage social distancing and take precautions to avoid COVID.

And the other thing I should point out, Wolf, is that as you're walking into this venue, there is a sign that warns you about the risks that you are taking by coming into this venue and the possibility of being exposed to Coronavirus.

And of course, as you know, as we reported about a week ago, every single person that RSVP'ed to this event clicked a button that said they were waiving any right of liability to the Trump campaign and the venue if they do acquire Coronavirus.

So you know I should point out Wolf that this is part of - the campaign is saying that's part of the reason that there aren't that many people here because of the reporting that we've done on the public health threat. Again, in part - exactly determine exactly what the reason is but this event not at all what we expected.

BLITZER: Yes, certainly those empty seats, the President is not going to be happy. We just got a note from one of our producers in Tulsa, Ryan. The campaign just sent out a message to everybody who RSVP'ed to come to this rally. I'll read it to you.

The great American come back celebration is almost here. Doors are open at the BOK Center. President Trump can't wait. There's still space. So even now with a little time left, they're trying to get people to show up. We know how sensitive the President is to empty seats at one of his rallies.

Standby Ryan, I want to go to Abby Phillip. She's just outside the arena. Abby, there was supposed to be this huge overflow crowd. What are you seeing? You're there on the scene for us.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we were expecting based on what the campaign said that there could be 40,000 people outside in this overflow section. That's what they said they were planning for. I've been watching this space all afternoon.

It is virtually empty. Just a few dozen people here milling around, walking toward the BOK Center and I suspect the campaign is urging the people to go inside because there is no programming happening outside anymore.

Both the Vice President and the President are no longer giving remarks here. It is far below what we were expecting to see even as we were coming to this part of the space this afternoon, it was just a trickle of people coming in, not nearly the kind of crowd you would expect if you're going to see tens of thousands of people here.

So, it's a clear underperformance based on what the campaign's own expectations are. Just to amplify what Ryan was talking about, the campaign is blaming protesters for blocking access to metal detectors. Well, right where we are, where this is the main entrance for the overflow part of this event there were no protesters.

There was no one there. The metal detectors were well into the space where people had to walk in. There were dozens of secret service agents in that area. We saw nothing to indicate that there were protesters blocking access in any way.

But there were also at the same time, Wolf, really not any crowds at all. For a President who is really fixated on crowds, this has got to be a disappointment. We already know based on our sources telling Kevin Liptak that the President has already been in a pretty bad mood today believing that his big reboot for his campaign has been overshadowed by other news including being overshadowed by Coronavirus concerns.

But one other thing we saw as we were just getting ready to come on air, just as the President was coming into Tulsa, Air Force One flew low over this area, flew over the BOK Center. There were only mattering of people out here, the people who were here cheered but as you can imagine, that seemed to have been what they wanted to be a moment, a moment that would have been for thousands and thousands of people had they been out here Air Force One flying over the venue. It just did not materialize the way that they planned, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just tell us, Abby, what was supposed to happen at this overflow crowd at this event before the formal rally indoors in the BOK arena? What was supposed to happen there? The Vice President and the President, they were expected to speak before what tens of thousands of people?

PHILLIP: They were. It was supposed to be in some ways a parallel programming, a kind of festival-like atmosphere outside. There are snow cone trucks out here. They're handing out water.

[19:10:00] PHILLIP: They were earlier this afternoon doing some of this Trump programming with some of his surrogates speaking and it was being piped into this area. All of that is basically gone. We can hear what is going on inside the rally, but there are no people here.

There is nothing happening on the stage. They had built a massive stage out here that seems to be protected by glass in the expectation that President Trump would have been speaking out here. There's nothing happening anymore. It's completely virtually empty at this point.

So, definitely not what they expected given that they were saying, as Ryan said, a million people had RSVP'ed. Perhaps they were expecting 100,000 people to be in town for the festivities around this rally. Now we're looking to see if they'll even get 19,000 people into that arena, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see with the empty upper deck pretty much empty right now in that big arena. We'll see what happens on that. Abby, I want you to stand by as well. I want to bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our Chief Medical Correspondent. He's joining us from Atlanta right now.

Sanjay, Tulsa was already a hot spot in Oklahoma. How troubling, when you see even though there are a lot of empty seats in the upper deck, down below there are plenty of people? There are thousands of people down below and they're not engaging in social distancing. And dare I say that most of them are not wearing face masks.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I wish they would spread out a bit, Wolf. It looks like they have space to do so. As I think anybody knows who's followed just even the basics about this virus over the last several months, this is the worst case scenario.

You're inside, a lot of people obviously not physically distancing. You don't know who the people are around you. You don't know if they've been diligent quarantining themselves. People could be putting virus into the air without showing any symptoms themselves.

The airborne time for those viral particles is going to be longer because you're indoors like this and there's a lot of people putting that virus into the air. And as you point out, I'm just looking at the same images, I don't see many masks at all, Wolf.

Just a very basic public health thing, even if you're in these situations, what are the various things you can do to reduce your risk? Best would be to not be in this situation. We are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. We'll look back historically and say this is the exact sort of situation you would want to avoid.

But separating out, wearing masks, you know, those things would help. But this is going to be tough. I think a lot of these folks are going to have to quarantine themselves after they leave here to try and not spread this virus even further.

BLITZER: How troubling is it, Sanjay that the campaign itself announced that six campaign staffers in Tulsa tested positive for Coronavirus? They've now been removed. They've been separated. But six campaign staffers tested positive for Coronavirus.

DR. GUPTA: You know, this was really troubling, Wolf, for a few reasons. I mean, I think once you start to test people who are coming to an event like this, people may be getting tested, there's no doubt that you're going to find people who are going to test positive.

I mean, it's clearly the virus is circulating. These staffers if in fact they are staffers at the White House my understanding was that the people were getting tested on a regular basis at the White House, some even every day.

And all of a sudden now you have six people show up who are testing positive. Now I'm curious what has been their proximity to the President and to the Vice President and others in the White House? I mean, you almost have to think of this - this is a virus, but you have to think of this as a potential threat as well.

So, you've got six people who may have been - were they working at the White House? I'm not clear if these were staffers?

BLITZER: Sanjay, these were members of the advanced team. In the days leading up to a huge event like this, the campaign sends an advance team out to do the preparatory work, take a look at the locations make sure everything is right.

Six members of the advance team from the campaign, they went out to do inspections, get ready for what was supposed to be a huge, huge crowd. There's still a very large crowd there inside, but it's certainly not what then campaign had anticipated. And six members of this advanced team came down with Coronavirus.

DR. GUPTA: A few things that you have to think about now. Again, with this advance team, where were they? Who else have they been in touch with? Were they in touch with people who then went into arena tonight? These are the concerns. This is why you don't want to do a big event like this. It becomes a logistical sort of nightmare.

Now you have to think about the contact tracing. We know that people who test positive for the virus, even if they don't have symptoms can spread it. I think hopefully most people understand that now. That is what asymptomatic spread means.

Typically you think I'm coughing, I'm sneezing, I don't feel well, that's when I'm contagious. That is typically the case.

[19:15:00]

DR. GUPTA: What we've learned over the past few months, this virus is different. So that asymptomatic spread and people who tested positive, presumably that they have tested positive because they didn't have symptoms but the point is they could have been spreading the virus.

Some data just came out and not that long ago Wolf that says you infect more contagious in the day or two just before you start showing symptoms. So again, just taking these six people as an example, if they develop symptoms tomorrow or the next day, it could be they're at their most contagious point now.

What were they doing today? Who were they in contact with? Who have they been in contact with over the last couple of days? That's the challenge now Wolf, in a big gathering like this.

BLITZER: Certainly. What is so disturbing, Sanjay, and I'm sure you'd agree that very few of those people in the lower deck who have gathered there, several thousand there, we saw very few face masks. Even though they were distributing face masks at the door, everyone had an opportunity to put one on.

We see very few people with face mask. Sanjay I want you to stand by. We're going to need you throughout our coverage here in "The Situation Room". Abby will be back, Ryan will be back, We'll also check in with Martin Savidge, he has got a lot going on there in Tulsa as well.

Coming up much more of our special coverage here in "The Situation Room" we're following what's going on in Tulsa, but there are several other major developments unfolding today. Not good news for the President at all much more of our coverage when we come back.

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BLITZER: Once again you're looking at live pictures coming in from the BOK Arena in Tulsa. You can see a lot of people are there a huge crowd on the main level. But a lot of empty seats in the upper deck as you can see right there.

This is going to be a significant disappointment for the President of the United States. He was expecting a huge, huge crowd plus an overflow crowd that was totally cancelled because not enough people were showing up only a few hours before, some 22 hours ago.

Brad Parscale the Campaign Chairman, he tweeted this, this outdoor stage for real Donald Trump's rally in Tulsa being built. This will be the first time POTUS speaks to both crowds in person inside and outside.

If you come to the rally and don't get in to the BOK Center before it's full, you can still see the President in person. While you can't see him at the outdoor location, you can see right there, right now it's empty. They cancelled that outdoor event.

Not enough people were showing up. The Vice President Mike Pence was supposed to speak there before the big rally, the President was supposed to speak there neither of course wound up speaking there we'll see what happens inside. We'll follow that but there's other major breaking news we're following as well.

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is leaving his post immediately after a nearly 24-hour standoff with the Attorney General of the United States, William Barr. Geoffrey Berman's team has investigated a number of Trump Associates including a conviction against the President's Former Lawyer Michael Cohen.

But after ignoring Barr's false announcement last night that he was choosing to step down and even reporting for work once again today, Berman is now ending the battle. Let's bring in our Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin is joining us right now.

Jeffrey, let's play some of the President's comments earlier in the day on the firing of Berman as he was leaving the White House heading to Tulsa earlier today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The Attorney General Barr is working on that. That's his department, not my department. But we have a very capable Attorney General. So, that's really up to him. I'm not involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, Jeffrey, the President was clearly trying to distance himself from the firing earlier, just minutes ago, by the way. We heard from a Senior Trump Administration Official who tells CNN the President actually agrees with Barr's decision which directly contradicts what the President said himself earlier in the day. Explain what's going on because this is another huge embarrassment for the administration?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: This is such a disgraceful episode, but let me see if I can do it in brief. Geoffrey Berman was the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, very important post. And in that job, he was investigating Rudolph Giuliani, Giuliani's associate's lots of people close to the President.

Last night, out of nowhere, long before Geoffrey Berman's expected departure from that job, William Barr, the Attorney General, announced that Berman was resigning. This, apparently, was news to Geoffrey Berman, and he said no I'm not resigning. I have no intention to resign.

Well, then today Barr announced that President Trump personally had fired Geoffrey Berman. Berman then faced a situation of was he going to leave because the legality of that firing is somewhat open to question.

Late in the afternoon, Geoffrey Berman said I am going to leave my job because Audrey Strauss, his Deputy, is going to take over. And she is a widely respected New York lawyer. But the question at the core of this bizarre episode is why?

Why did the Trump Administration decide to get rid of the U.S. Attorney who was investigating some of the President's closest aides? That question has not been answered, has not even been addressed. And that is really why this story matters.

BLITZER: Because what added to the confusion was that the Attorney General Bill Barr says the President has fired Berman. [19:25:00]

BLITZER: The President then makes a statement to reporters as he's leaving the White House I don't know anything about it, I had nothing to do with it - I'm paraphrasing right now - I'm not involved, that's up to the Justice Department, up to the Attorney General.

And then the Attorney General obviously goes ahead and makes more announcements. The President's aides top official, says yes, the President did go along with the Attorney General. That was adding to all of this confusion. And now Berman is saying he is going to leave. Who has the actual authority to fire a court-appointed U.S. Attorney which was the case for Berman?

TOOBIN: Well, Wolf, one thing is clear. Barr himself, the Attorney General, did not have the authority to fire him on his own. So, overnight, what the Attorney General said in a letter is we got the President to do it.

And under a 1979 opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel which is sort of the in-house lawyer for the Justice Department, the Justice Department said the President himself does have the power to fire a court-appointed U.S. Attorney. That's not a Supreme Court ruling. No one really knows how binding it is?

But Geoffrey Berman decided to honor the firing by the President himself which is what Barr said in his already. What makes this so bizarre and what makes the incompetence of the Justice Department so clear is that the President, as you pointed out, said, well, I had nothing to do with it.

Well, late in the day, the President's aide said, well, actually he did agree with it. But the idea that Barr said it was the President who fired him and the President said I had nothing to do with it, I think that crystallizes how incompetent and embarrassing this whole episode is for the Department of Justice.

BLITZER: Yes, we're going to stay on top of this story. It's really a significant development today as well. Another embarrassment for the administration to be sure Jeffrey Toobin is going to be with us. Don't go too far away. Much more ahead once again, take a look at live pictures coming in from the President's campaign rally that's supposed to begin fairly soon in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Plenty of empty seats in the upper deck, President is not going to be happy when he sees that much more of our special coverage right here in "The Situation Room" when we come back.

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[19:32:12]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: Jeffrey Toobin is still with us. Jeffrey, before I let you go, I wanted to get a little bit more on the dramatic firing of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman -- what -- 24 -- almost 24 hours or so ago. There's a lot of speculation out there that he was investigating Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City Mayor, a very strong supporter of the President, and they that may have contributed to the decision by the President and the U.S. Attorney General to fire him. What do you suspect?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it is a certainty that the U.S. Attorney's Office has been investigating Rudy Giuliani and his close associates, two of those associates who were intimately involved in the impeachment of the President of the United States, the two associates that Giuliani used to go to Ukraine to try to solicit the President to get dirt on Joseph Biden. They're under indictment in the Southern District of New York for campaign finance violations that the Rudy Giuliani is potentially involved with.

Now, also in John Bolton's new book, Bolton says that the President was putting pressure on the Justice Department to go easy on a case involving Turkey, where the President is very close to the President of Turkey, Erdogan that also is something that the President is trying -- you know, was trying to influence in the Southern District of New York.

What is desperately unclear here is why Geoffrey Berman was fired. Those examples of the political influence that the President is trying to put on the Southern District of New York certainly raise the possibility if not the likelihood that the President and the Attorney General fired Geoffrey Berman for political reasons to help the President's reelection, and that would be a desperately inappropriate reason to fire a U.S. Attorney.

And at the moment, no one has said anything about why Geoffrey Berman has been fired.

BLITZER: You do make the point that the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, someone you know, is highly regarded, but the person that the Attorney General wants to be the real, the next U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York has very limited, if any prosecutorial experience.

TOOBIN: Yes, I mean, this is yet another bizarre aspect of this story. When William Barr announced that falsely that Geoffrey Berman had resigned, he said that we intend to nominate this fellow Clayton, who is the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission at the moment.

[19:35:13]

TOOBIN: Clayton has zero -- zero -- prosecutorial experience when this is the premier U.S. Attorney's Office in the country. It's just a bizarre nomination if it even goes forward.

Fortunately, the Deputy U.S. Attorney who will be taking over is Audrey Strauss and as you pointed out, I had the opportunity to work with Audrey Strauss early in my career. Geoff Berman himself also worked in this investigation in the Iran Contra investigation led by Lawrence Walsh. Audrey Strauss is -- was an assistant U.S. Attorney earlier in her

career. She is widely regarded as nonpartisan, not involved in politics and the fact that she is taking over that office, at least for the short term, I think is a tremendous reassurance to people who care about the future of that office and of the Department of Justice.

Whether Clayton ever gets nominated, and if he even gets a vote. That seems like it's a very open question given his dramatic lack of qualification.

BLITZER: All right, Jeffrey Toobin with his analysis as usual. Always excellent analysis. Jeffrey, thank you so much.

I want to turn right now back to our top story this hour after days of hype and a supposedly record number of ticket requests, President Trump's first campaign rally since the coronavirus pandemic appears to be falling short of the campaign's expectations.

You can see the upper deck, pretty much empty there at the BOK Arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The President is not going to be happy. He is always sensitive to crowd sizes and take a look at this. So we've got some live pictures of workers now taking apart the podium for what was supposed to be the outside rally in Tulsa.

There was supposed to be a huge overflow crowd, tens of thousands who were supposed to be there. The President was going to speak before the formal rally. The Vice President was supposed to speak before the formal rally. No one spoke there, and now they're taking apart that outdoor rally site.

I want to bring in our chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter. Brian, so what do we make of this apparent enthusiasm gap? And I want to be precise, there's still thousands of people at that arena, but it's by no means full.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: There are and the President will cheer for those thousands and thank them for attending. But this does not match the expectations that were set by the Trump campaign and set by the President in recent days.

President Trump is the optics President. He cares deeply about the visuals and the images that he then creates and they are aired all over television. He was probably watching the coverage on Air Force One as he landed in Tulsa and he saw the crowds were not up to snuff.

You know this is going to be embarrassing for the President because he cares about crowd sizes. Past Presidents did not care to this degree, but he does.

And look at the way he criticized Joe Biden recently. He actually called out Biden for not having a big crowd. He tweeted just the other day, "This is Joe Biden's rally," he says. "There's zero enthusiasm."

Now in this tweet, you'll see a couple of people sitting nearby. This was not a rally. Biden is not holding rallies because it's dangerous. Biden held a speech, invitation only. They only let a few people into the room. But Trump lied about the crowd and said it was a small crowd and said Biden had zero enthusiasm.

This just goes to show how much the President cares about crowd size, cares about these issues and has cared all the way back to the first day of his presidency.

So, I think given the pictures that we are showing, given the undeniable images we're seeing from the rally, this is going to be troubling for the President.

He will either choose to make something up and say the crowd was bigger than it was. He'll blame the protesters. He'll blame the media. In fact, Wolf, the Trump campaign is already blaming the media saying that reporters frightened attendees and scared them away from the rally site, that they've spent three years saying the media is fake and saying you can't trust the media. So, that explanation doesn't really add up to me -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good work, Brian Stelter with that analysis. Thank you.

While supporters at the rally in Tulsa, there are -- of course, there are a lot of supporters of the President at that rally in Tulsa and millions of voters are right now deciding if they want four more years of President Trump in the White House.

Joining us now with more on this a moment that we're watching in Tulsa, our senior political commentator, the former senior adviser to President Obama, David Axelrod.

David, so what do you make of the President choosing first of all Tulsa for his first in person political rally during this campaign season?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I thought -- I think they thought that Tulsa was going to be very hospitable. It is a Republican area, generally Oklahoma, there was as friendly mayor there, friendly governor. They thought this was going to be a slam dunk positive event for them.

[19:40:10]

AXELROD: And events overcame this. First, we had the George Floyd murder. And second, they have this outbreak of COVID-19, very serious outbreak in Tulsa and both -- so instead of highlighting the President's relaunching of his campaign, they have instead highlighted the two things that have been dragging him down in polling lately and have created a negative narrative for themselves.

And it was compounded by the insensitivity of first scheduling it for the Juneteenth celebration day of Friday, and then without regard to that racial history of Tulsa itself.

So you know, this has been kind of a disaster for the President. And now, the lack of crowds, at least the crowds, they promised, really underscores -- it lends momentum to the negative narrative that his campaign is not going well. You know, the cardinal rule, Wolf, in politics is under promise and

over deliver, not the other way around. They have been valuing this event for weeks and weeks and weeks, a million people wanted tickets. They were going to have an overflow crowd of tens of thousands outside the arena and that did not happen.

And I think there's going to be a lot of unhappiness around the White House and a lot of recriminations around the campaign.

BLITZER: Yes, there's going to be a lot of embarrassment in the campaign, because you can see a whole ton of empty seats in that upper deck there. They were expecting a full house 19,000 or 20,000 people clearly, there's going to be thousands there. Let's not forget that, but it's not going to be by any means a full house.

Let's turn, David, from the rally to the attempted firing, but now the real firing of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, what's your reaction to how all of this unfolded over the past 24 hours or so?

AXELROD: Well, look, I think Jeffrey Toobin summarized it well. That also was kind of a disaster. But, you know, Friday night has become sort of massacre night within the administration.

In the last several weeks, we've seen Inspectors Generals fired who were troubling to the administration, and now we see this firing. And, you know, there is this habit that has developed here of trying to get rid of people who are providing aggressive oversight of the administration or allies of the administration and this fits in.

But the way it was handled, really created more embarrassment for the administration and the bottom line is they are not going to be able to effectuate the change they want anyway. So, you wonder whether this was done at the President's instance because he was in a fit of pique and wanted that U.S. Attorney gone, despite the fact that the way the system works, it's highly unlikely that he's going to get someone to his liking in that position, who will end the investigations that are troubling to him, particularly the investigation of Rudolph Giuliani, his lawyer.

BLITZER: Yes, which is obviously a very, very sensitive issue and getting back to what's going on in Tulsa, Oklahoma right now at this rally. You've watched the President, we've all watched the President. He is not going to be happy with the way this -- that the crowd didn't show up to the size they anticipated.

They are already blaming the news media, that the media scared people because of the coronavirus. Everybody knew there was a coronavirus. Everybody knew that huge crowds together, limited, if any social distancing, most people not wearing facemasks, everybody realized that was a dangerous situation.

AXELROD: Absolutely. And beyond that, the President took to threatening protesters in the last few days suggesting that they were going to be treated more roughly than they had been in other cities where they faced in some cases, rubber bullets and teargas, and that added to people's concerns, I'm sure about coming to Tulsa.

You know, the two big storylines in the country right now ran headlong into his rhetoric and his insistence that they move forward here. And he is paying a price for it here and he can blame the news media, but it was patently obvious that they were running a great risk by having this event and there may be ramifications as Sanjay Gupta said later of this event, even though the crowd was smaller, because you have a whole bunch of people indoors who are crushed together.

Well, maybe those who stayed away were more sensible.

BLITZER: And I'm sure, the President, David is not happy that six members of the campaign advance team actually tested positive for coronavirus. That's going to be another huge embarrassment.

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AXELROD: You can't -- you could not write this script worse for the President here. But in a sense, you know, he is the victim of his own whims and his own insistence.

He knew that he was sending people into a hotspot, and you know, he is the President of the United States. The odd thing about this, Wolf, is he is at war with his own government.

He is holding this rally against the recommendations of his own public health advisers who have -- and the C.D.C. who have said, there are certain conditions that should pertain for an event, and they're not meeting them.

And he is -- so in a sense, you have a President who is at once leading the government who is supposed to address the COVID-19 virus and all that it has meant for this country and on the other hand, he seems to be leading the resistance to the advice that his own government is giving and this rally underscores that paradox.

BLITZER: Yes, it's an important point as well. Don't go too far away. David Axelrod is going to be with us for our coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well. We're going to have much more right after a quick break.

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BLITZER: Tonight, we're watching events out of Tulsa, Oklahoma where President Trump's political campaign rally comes at a crucial moment for him and for the country. The President trying to convince voters he deserves four more years in office. The country reeling from a pandemic that is by no means over and witnessing weeks of protests demanding true racial justice.

Joining us now, the President of the National Urban League, Marc Morial. He's the author of "The Gumbo Coalition: 10 Leadership Lessons that Help You Inspire, Unite and Achieve." Marc, thanks for writing this book. As you know, Tulsa was home to one of the most violent race massacres

in American history.

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Thank you. Good to be here

BLITZER: This week, President Trump threatened to use force against protesters there. Walk us through the historic moment we're seeing right now and give us your context.

MORIAL: So, you know, originally, the administration and the President were tone deaf to schedule this rally on Juneteenth without any sort of understanding, without any acknowledgement, without any respect what Juneteenth represented.

I also believe that there's been no acknowledgement in these times of the massacre that took place in Tulsa, one of the worst massacres of black people in the 20th Century.

Tonight's events for the President are self-inflicted fiasco. The President promised extravagantly and he'll deliver meagerly. He promised a huge crowd, up to a million people, and now, he is having a hard time filling the arena.

What it shows is that he's like a pilot who flies into a storm, even though the radar system says you shouldn't.

What's been happening in Tulsa and Oklahoma the last several days is that coronavirus cases have been spiking, and the rally has no protective conditions imposed on voluntary use of masks. So, I think people are using good judgment and common sense in staying away from what could be a super spreader event.

But this is self-inflicted. This is poor decision making, to go ahead and seek to push even though people in his own administration, the Centers for Disease Control have warned against massive events for fear that coronavirus would spread greatly.

So this is a self-inflicted fiasco, Wolf.

BLITZER: The President this week, Marc, also said that he made Juneteenth, very famous, his words, very famous. When you heard that, what did you think?

MORIAL: I cringed, Wolf, but you know, I said this is classic Donald Trump. His own lack of knowledge in his own narrow way, he said, I made it famous. What he is really saying is, I, for the first time learned about Juneteenth.

Juneteenth has been recognized since 1865. It is recognizing 48 of the 50 states as it is not a paid holiday, it is a day of recognition, and given the environment with George Floyd. The battles that we're now waging against racial justice in this country. It's stunning that the nation's Commander-in-Chief, it's stunning that a President with access to hundreds and hundreds of staffers, who could do basic research would not be knowledgeable of the fact that his own administration had previously issued proclamations on Juneteenth.

So, once again, you know, is this a President who is even out of touch with what members of his own administration are doing? In the case of coronavirus and what his own administration is recommending should be the conduct of people in a time when we're still in pandemic and we're still under a state of emergency.

BLITZER: Very quickly, because we're almost out of time, Marc, a nationwide protest for racial justice in the U.S. They're now in their fourth week. Are you hopeful that we will see some major structural change?

MORIAL: I think the protests are going to have to continue and Wolf, I'll be participating in a Fathers and Families protest tomorrow in Philadelphia, which begins at City Hall in Philadelphia around 11 o'clock.

I think these protests as an expression in the tradition of the First Amendment to the Constitution must and should continue because they are bringing out and demonstrating I think to elected officials and people in positions of power to support areas for meaningful and substantial police reform, to support areas to attack and eradicate this nation of structural exclusion, structural discrimination and structural racial justice.

[19:55:23]

BLITZER: All right, well, good luck, Marc Morial, with the National Urban League.

MORIAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks so much, as usual for joining us.

MORIAL: Thanks, Wolf. Always. Good to be with you. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you. We're going to have much more coming up out of Tulsa. Right at the top of the hour, the President getting ready to hold his first political campaign rally since early March, but to a much, much smaller crowd that he touted throughout the week.

And one of the nation's top prosecutors who was investigating President Trump's inner circle fired by the President. Now, Congress is putting together a probe.

Lots going on. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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