Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Uses Racist Term to Describe Coronavirus; Trump Administration in Denial as Pandemic Spreads?; White House Admits Trump Involved in Firing of Top U.S. Attorney After Trump Claimed He Wasn't; Fellow NASCAR Drivers Offer Show of Solidarity for Bubba Wallace Before Today's Race. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 22, 2020 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Today, the coronavirus curve is going in the wrong direction again. It is rising, as the number of new cases surges in the United States, with hundreds of people continuing to die across the nation every day from the virus.

In total, more than 120,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus in the United States. The U.S. has roughly 4 percent of the world's population and, according to official numbers, 25 percent of the world's coronavirus deaths.

Instead of doing what health officials say to do to stem the spread of the virus, the president is instead mocking those who wear masks, making jokes about testing, and he even embraced the racist term kung- flu to describe the virus.

This afternoon, Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany tried to defend the president's use of the racist term by first denying that he had used it.


QUESTION: Why does he use racist phrases like the kung-flu?


What the president does do is point to the fact that the origin of the virus is China. It's a fair thing to point out, as China tries to ridiculously rewrite history, it's not a discussion about Asian- Americans, who the president values and prizes as citizens of this great country.

It is an indictment of China for letting this virus get here.


TAPPER: Kayleigh McEnany's claim that the president doesn't use the term is, of course, a lie. We all heard it for ourselves. Back in March, we should note, when a CBS News correspondent reported

that an unnamed White House official had used the racist phrase, the counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway was both skeptical and also furious. Conway called the use of the term wrong.

And she noted her family's racial heritage, because, of course, such a term could especially offend Asian-Americans.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: That's highly offensive American. I'm married to an Asian-American. My kids are 25 percent Filipino.


TAPPER: Finding the term highly offensive remains a reasonable position.

The only difference is, today, with the White House defending, are, one, the president used the term to cheers in front of a crowd of his supporters. And, two, we're also in the middle of a national conversation about race and racism and ways that minorities in the United States are dehumanized.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, it's not the only comment on coronavirus that the White House is today trying to clean up.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the way, it's a disease, without question, has more names than any disease in history.


TRUMP: I can name kung-flu.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After the president used that phrase to refer to coronavirus on Saturday night, the White House defended it today, despite criticism that it's racist and anti-Chinese.

MCENANY: He is linking it to its place of origin.

COLLINS: The White House says it's not racist and that Trump doesn't regret using that phrase, despite civil liberties groups arguing that terms like that can inspire racism against Asian-Americans.

Instead, the press secretary claimed it's just like when the media referred to it as the Chinese coronavirus, though no major outlet has referred to it as the kung-flu.

(on camera): The media has never called it the kung-flu. Calling it the Chinese coronavirus and calling it the kung-flu are very different things.

MCENANY: The media and your network specifically--

COLLINS: -- called it the kung-flu?


MCENANY: The media and your network specifically have repeatedly used the term China virus and Wuhan virus and then gone on to deride the president as somehow using a term that they themselves have never used. So we can go through CNN's history.

COLLINS: That is not a medical term, Kayleigh.

(voice-over): It wasn't the president's only comment from Saturday night's rally that has drawn scrutiny. Today, the White House faced questions after Trump said he instructed his staff to slow down coronavirus testing.

TRUMP: Testing is a double-edged sword. When you do testing to that extent, you are going to find more people. You are going to find more cases. So, I said to my people, slow the testing down, please.

COLLINS: At first, White House officials said Trump was just kidding.


TAPPER: Did the president -- did the president--

NAVARRO: You know that was tongue in cheek. Come on now. Come on now. That was tongue in cheek, please.

COLLINS: But when the president himself was asked Monday whether he had directed officials to slow down testing, he paused.

QUESTION: But did you ask to slow it down?

TRUMP: If it did slow down, frankly, I think we're way ahead of ourselves, if you want to know the truth. We have done too good a job.

COLLINS: The White House didn't explain why the president didn't say he was joking.

MCENANY: The president said he used that opportunity to extol the fact that we have done more than 25 million tests, that we're finding more people because we're doing more testing.

COLLINS: Trump addressed a partially filled arena in Tulsa on Saturday night. And sources later said he was seething over the rows of empty seats, though his aides claimed he was in a great mood.


MCENANY: These media reports that he was somehow furious on the plane, there is no grounding in fact to that. I was with him on Marine One on the way there, on Marine One after. He was very, very pleased with how the rally went. COLLINS: Video of Trump returning to the White House Saturday night

showed a president who appeared deflated with a loosened tie around his neck after campaign aides had assured him that nearly a million people had requested tickets.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, on Saturday, we told you that six campaign staffers on the president's reelection effort had tested positive for coronavirus ahead of his arrival in Tulsa.

Later that night, we learned that two Secret Service officers had also tested positive. And now the Trump campaign has just told CNN that two more campaign staffers have tested positive for coronavirus.

Tim Murtaugh, the campaign's communications director, said in a statement that after another round of testing of campaign staff that was in Tulsa, two additional members of the advance team have tested positive for the coronavirus. He says these staff members attended the rally, but were wearing masks during the entire event.

He says, "Upon the positive test, the campaign immediately activated established quarantine and contact tracing protocols."

So these are two people, Jake, who actually went to the rally. Those six who had tested positive before, of course, did not go. These two staffers did. So now we have eight campaign staffers and two Secret Service agents who have all tested positive after being in Tulsa on Saturday.

TAPPER: OK, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

I want to bring in now CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, to talk about the virus and the continued threat it poses to the American people.

Sanjay, so the president used a racist slur to describe the virus. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told me, with no evidence, that perhaps the Chinese government had purposefully spawned the virus.

And we also learned today that the White House is no longer requiring temperature checks for staffers as they enter the building. What's your take on the example that the president and his team are doing and whether or not they're doing the right things to beat this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, I mean, I think it's become clear to just about anybody that we're not doing the right things to beat this.

You talked about some of the statistics at the top of the show, Jake, in terms of where we are, a country less than 5 percent of the world's population, and you see that the right side of the screen. I mean, it's pretty clear.

I think that not only -- I'm realizing now, not only did we get a late start, which I think is also clear, but we now are running the risk of going backwards, of not even trying to catch up. And it's going to be tough to catch up, even under normal circumstances, because we went so long, several weeks, without really trying to get a grip on this thing.

You look at countries like South Korea -- and I know people hate these comparisons, but you look at countries like South Korea, you realize, Jake, South Korea never actually went into shutdown mode? They didn't have to. People complain about the shutdowns. We could have been in a position where either we didn't need one or a very short one, if we had done what South Korea did.

So it's a terrible example to set. It does raise the question about the best path forward. I talked to Zeke Emanuel, who worked during the Obama White House on a previous pandemic, asked him what he would have done. Take a listen.


GUPTA: What would Dr. Emanuel have advised the president?

DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL ADVISER: Well, in I think the third week of February or something, I did advise the president.

And I did say to the president that you have got to do what, say, Lyndon Johnson would have done or Franklin Roosevelt would have done, which is, you create a tornado of activity that -- so you have got a task force that deals with testing.

You have got a task force that deals with PPE. You have got a task force that deals with ventilators. You got a task force that deals with contact tracing. And they created a small task force at the White House, which was supposed to do all of that. And that just was totally inadequate.

And I think it would have made a huge difference.


GUPTA: We look back on this, Jake, and it's pretty clear now every step of the way this has been a minimized problem.

I mean, there was no tornado of activity for a significant issue as this was, and we're paying for it now, Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, I mean, they did succeed with some of those elements. Ventilators comes to mind. But, certainly, the testing and the containing and the isolating, we're going in the wrong direction.

I want to show everyone this map now. The states in red and orange are the 23 states that are seeing an increase in cases right now. There are five more states seeing an increase in cases today than there were at this time last week.

We are months into this pandemic. And why are we seeing this happen now?

GUPTA: Well, I think that we closed too late. We opened too early.

And you look at these states. At the beginning of the week last week, it was, as you mentioned, 18 states that were sort of headed in this direction. Now it's 23. And, unfortunately, Jake, and I hate to talk about this stuff this way, but the numbers of states that are going to be affected, I think, are going to continue to go up, because this virus is spreading.


And we still don't have a good handle on it. I mean, the -- it's sort of a house on fire sort of situation. I think people are trying to figure out the specifics, do we do X, Y, or Z, and these minimal sort of incremental changes?

We have a significant problem on our hands right now. It's a significant problem in the United States. And it's becoming increasingly unique to the United States, in the sense that there are other places around the world who -- where they are headed in the right direction.

We should see much more states in green right now. That slope should be coming down. And I think, instead, we found the basement of 20,000 new people becoming infected every day, several hundred people dying every day. And that's sort of at this position where we're saying, that's the best we can do.

It's not the best we can do.


GUPTA: Because now it looks like these numbers are start -- it's going to start to head up.

TAPPER: And Florida passed 100,000 cases today. The governor there, Ron DeSantis, says those cases are -- quote -- "shifting in a radical direction toward people in their 20s and 30s," finally an admission from the governor there that this is not because of just an increase in testing, it's actually an increase in cases.

GUPTA: That's right.

And you measure, the testing, obviously, but you're also looking for the positivity rate. How many of the tests that you perform come back with a positive result? As that positivity rate goes up, that gives you a sense of just how widespread this virus is in the community, in the environment.

So the positivity rate has been going up in Florida as well. So it is not just testing. If you were doing the right amount of testing -- first of all, if you had started doing testing at the beginning, we probably wouldn't be in the situation that we're in now.

Leave that aside, because we clearly didn't start on time. But now, if you're doing the right amount of testing, the case number should actually go down, because you find people, you isolate them, you start to break the cycle of transmission. It's not perfect. People will violate isolation, people will still go out and about. There's going to be people who do that.

But it makes a significant impact. Again, look at South Korea as one example. Look at the E.U. as another example. Those places have had significant decreases, not because they have anything that we don't have.

TAPPER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The White House this afternoon admitting that President Trump was actually involved in firing the prosecutor who was in charge of multiple Trump-related investigations, after the president's initially denied it.

Plus, the fallout from John Bolton's explosive claims about President Trump. Will Democrats call Bolton to testify before the House of Representatives?

Congressman Adam Schiff will join me ahead.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: This afternoon, the White House admitted that President Trump was, in fact, involved in the controversial decision to fire Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of (AUDIO GAP) office has prosecuted and is investigating several Trump associates, ranging from Michael Cohen to Rudy Giuliani. President Trump had previously said he had nothing to do with the decision, that it was all Attorney General Bill Barr's doing.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a very capable attorney general. So that's really up to him. I'm not involved.


TAPPER: I'm not involved, he said. But today, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president was involved that Berman was ousted, so the outgoing chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission who has no prosecutorial experience could take the job.

Joining us is CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates.

Laura, let's just start with the obvious. First, the president said he wasn't involved. And now the White House said the president was involved. I don't know which one of those claims is a lie. But one of them is. LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And neither of them is very good.

The right hand must tell the left hand what it's doing in order for people to have trust and faith that they're saying things that are truthful. And here, either the president of the United States is completely ignorant of the fact that the attorney general is going to oust somebody that he himself sat down personally with to have an interview, unlike any of the other U.S. attorneys that he replaced at that point in time, but suddenly, just said out of the blue, no, thank you, I'm going to do it autonomously, unilaterally here.

Or the president of the United States had his thumb on a scale involving a prosecutor who oversaw cases with people who were within his orbit.

So, either way, the president is kind of between a rock and the hard place. The American people are at a disadvantage because they cannot trust the words coming out of either Attorney General Barr or President Trump. It doesn't bode well.

TAPPER: So Berman's office was involved in a number of high-profile cases or investigations with individuals with close ties to President Trump, including Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, Trump's current attorney Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani's Ukrainian associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman as well as the Trump inaugural committee.

We should also note that in John Bolton's book, Trump promises Turkey's President Erdogan that he will stop Berman's investigation of the Turkish state-owned Halkbank. So, I guess the first question I have is, what happens to any pending investigations now that Berman's gone?

COATES: Well, perhaps the biggest criteria for him deciding to step down for Berman was to say at this point yesterday morning was who would actually succeed him? Would it be somebody who would simply be a political pawn perhaps? Somebody who would just do the president's bidding?

Remember, this is called the sovereign district of New York, not to denigrate them or have some sort of hubris, because of matter of saying they don't bend to political pressure. This is supposed to be autonomous. No political figure going either direction.

So perhaps his first action was to say on that very notion, Jake, who will replace me? Now it'll be his deputy who I assume he trusts a great deal and has credibility in the office, that is going to make a huge difference on whether these cases can continue to go forward or whether they have to take a step back on the backburner and be ignored. But ultimately, the theme you have there, of all the cases you've named there, Jake, all are around kind of campaign finance related issues from Cohen to Lev Parnas to the Trump campaign.


And so here we are a few month as way from an election. And for some reason, it has not been articulated yet, clearly. Suddenly this person who oversees campaign-related matters and finance-related matters has been ousted. What is this saying to the American people?

What message and signal are you trying to send? Is it a matter of saying we don't want oversight in this capacity? We already know what's happened to the FEC and how it has not had the same strength that ones had. So, this is very foreboding for people looking at the election coming up and SDNY's ability to prosecute independently.

TAPPER: All right. Laura Coates, thank you so much. We always appreciate your expertise.

Coming up, a show of support after a noose is found in the garage stall of NASCAR star Bubba Wallace. We're going to take you to the Talladega Speedway next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: At this hour, a major show of solidarity for Bubba Wallace, NASCAR's only black driver in its top circuit, one day after some awful person left a noose in his garage stall. Before today's race, his fellow drivers pushed Wallace's Victory Junction Chevrolet down pit row as others followed in procession.

This comes as the Department of Justice announced it is investigating this case.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is at Talladega Super Speedway in Alabama where today's race is happening.

And, Dianne, that noose was found in a restricted space. Shouldn't that help narrow down who might've been able to put it there?

DIANNA GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. And in theory it should. In fact, I mean, look, it's quite possible that the person who placed that noose in that garage stall was watching that emotional procession from right here at the track today, because it was limited to essential personnel. So, we're talking about NASCAR teams, officials, medical and security personnel, people who have credentials.

Now, the timeline that the FBI, the Department of Justice are looking into right now is as follows. Apparently, a team member of the number 43 car found that noose in that garage stall. They alerted NASCAR.

Bubba Wallace never actually saw the noose himself. It was the president of NASCAR who informed him about it. The FBI is here on site in Talladega right now going through evidence. We know there are cameras. But NASCAR would not say if anything or what was caught on camera that might help lead them to it. They said they are talking to people who may be in the area.

Now, Bubba Wallace has focused on trying to lead NASCAR into a more civically minded -- to becoming a more civically minded sport. After that emotional profession, he tweeted this selfie of him with all of those other drivers, those member of the garage behind me, standing in solidarity, #Istandwithbubba was actually painted on the infield, Jake, to show that the sport is behind him in this.

TAPPER: And we should note that Bubba Wallace, he led the call on NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag. And NASCAR complied. They went along with it.

Some fans of course say that decision does not sit well with them. What are they telling you as to why not?

GALLAGHER: That's right, Jake. There are signs actually up here near the track that say no Confederate flags letting people know why. NASCAR made that choice. I've been to a lot of NASCAR races across the entire country. I've never seen so many Confederate flags that there were right across the street from here in Talladega yesterday on Sunday. Five thousand fans were let in, but a lot of people showed up to protest.

This is why one woman says that the ban doesn't sit well with her.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I think of the Confederate flag, I just think of good old red neck boys. I really didn't have a problem with the flag. It's just I feel like they're taking people's rights away.


GALLAGHER: Yes, I will tell you that NASCAR executives have been extremely vocal on the fact they feel they made the right decision. Bubba Wallace, as well as many other NASCAR fans, people of color, Jake, have thanked them for that saying it's now a more inclusive place, they believe.

TAPPER: The Confederate flag, a symbol of treasonous army that took up arms for the right to rape and kill and own black Americans.

Dianne Gallagher, thank you very much.

Also this hour, in the same church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta, the public is getting a chance to pay respects to Rayshard Brooks. Brooks, of course, is the 27-year-old black father who was killed by a since-fired Atlanta police officer on June 12th in a Wendy's parking lot in Atlanta.

That former officer Garrett Rolfe faces 11 charges including felony murder.

One of Georgia's Republican Congressman Doug Collins is calling for an independent prosecutor. Collins says that the district attorney rushed to charge the officers involved to score political points for his upcoming election. We should note that Collins also has an upcoming election. He's running for Senate.

CNN's Natasha Chen is in Atlanta as people are beginning to line up to offer condolences today.

They are also watching closely how this case is being handled, Natasha.


The people who lined up here this afternoon told us that they really are here to support the family.