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CNN NEWSROOM

Nearly Half of U.S. States Reporting Rise in New Coronavirus Cases; Florida Governor Now Backing Down Comments on Testing; NASCAR Investigating Noose Found in Bubba Wallace's Garage; Trump Fires Top Federal Prosecutor Who Investigated His Allies; Florida Sees Alarming Number of COVID-19 Cases. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 22, 2020 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And listen to this, Dr. Anthony Fauci telling us that these 13 states in particular are the ones to watch because, quote, "These increases cannot be explained solely on the basis of increased testing." President Trump has, as you may have noticed, frequently pointed to testing as the sole reason for the spike in cases.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hospitalizations are also on the rise. And that's key. In Arizona, ICU beds nearly all full, nearly at capacity. That is where the president is still planning on holding an event tomorrow night despite fears of this virus spreading and despite the fact that his own administration is preparing for a potential second wave.

Our teams are standing by to cover every angle. Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us first on this surge in cases.

I mean, it's so key. This is not just about testing more. Jim pointed out importantly those 13 states, and this is also about a rise in hospitalizations.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And when you see a rise in hospitalizations, that's -- nobody can make that up. I mean, what the president is trying to say is, oh, it's just that we're testing more. Don't worry about it. First of all, that's not true, as Dr. Fauci pointed out. Second of all, when you see that hospitalizations are going up, that's an actual real number of bodies that you can count. So we know that this is for real.

So let's take a look at the national map, Poppy. What we're seeing here is 23 states that are seeing increases. And of those, and that's the orange and the red you're seeing now. Of those, the dark red ones, that's 11 states that are seeing more than a 50 percent increase last week over the previous week. So 11 states are seeing more than a 50 percent increase.

Let's look at one state that's seeing a high increase, and that's Arizona. Arizona had 52,591 cases, 1,349 deaths. And then let's take a look at this graph. What we're seeing here is this very dramatic rise in cases in Arizona starting around early June. Those numbers are real. You can see it right there, that those case numbers have gone way up. And there's no mystery here. When people get together more, the number of cases, the number of hospitalizations, the number even sometimes of deaths is going to go up -- Poppy, Jim.

SCIUTTO: All right. Elizabeth, from the beginning, the general view has been children largely not vulnerable to this. But we are seeing an increased number of younger people testing positive for the virus. What does that tell us? And in addition to testing positive, are they being hospitalized is the question.

COHEN: Right. And so I think we can anticipate that they won't be hospitalized in the same numbers as older people. Nothing about this virus has changed, Jim. What's changed is that as we've started opening up, younger people are sort of taking advantage of that more. I mean, we've all seen the pictures. Memorial Day Weekend, other weekends, other festivities, younger people are taking advantage of going out more, and not always doing it wisely.

So they're going out, they're not socially distancing, they're not wearing masks. And so we're going to see more of them be diagnosed. Now they will continue to have cases that are not as serious as older people but the concern is, is that they're going to go home and get their parents sick or get their grandparents sick. They're going to become vectors in all of this. Now -- and some of them will get seriously ill. But that is the concern mainly is that they will become vectors more and more.

SCIUTTO: And that a concern with school opening in the fall as well.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

Let's go now to Rosa Flores. She's in Miami.

So, Rosa, Florida, of course one of the states that closed late, opened early. It's now seeing a huge spike. The governor there first blamed, like the president, the surge in testing. Now he admits that's not true?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right. Governor Ron DeSantis finally acknowledging that the increase in cases here in the state of Florida is not just due to the increased in testing but also to community spread. And he's saying that this is spreading in the young population, so much so that the median age is plunging. It used to be 65 back in March. Now according to the governor, most of the cases are between the ages of 18 and 35.

The governor says that they are not social distancing, not wearing masks. So what is the governor doing? According to Governor Ron DeSantis, he's going to publish PSAs and he's also going to send inspectors to businesses to make sure that they are complying with COVID-19 guidelines.

Here's what the governor is not doing. He is not shutting down the economy, he is not requiring masks statewide. Instead he said that that's going to be up to local governments. Now the other big metric, hospitalizations. According to the governor, there are plenty of hospital beds out in the state to deal with this pandemic. But of course, there is one metric that the state does not release, and that is the daily number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients.

[09:05:03]

But, Jim and Poppy, we are getting a sense of what those are looking like by Jackson Health. They are releasing their numbers. And in the past two weeks they've seen a 75 percent increase in COVID-19 patients -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: The numbers are startling there. Thanks, Rosa, very much.

With us now our CNN medical analyst, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at George Washington University.

Good morning. Thank you very much for being here.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Good morning.

HARLOW: Just, I think, the facts for the American people so important this morning after misleading statements from the White House on testing, now Florida's governor has reversed course. That's important. But also the president saying in that rally over the weekend that, you know, he told his people to slow down testing.

What are we facing in terms of this spike? Is this the beginning of a second wave?

REINER: No, this is the middle of the first wave. This is not a new wave. This is not a part of the country that has suppressed the pandemic and now we're seeing a second wave. This is very much the first wave of the virus hitting the south and the southwest.

And about what the president said on Saturday, that really chilled me and made me, you know, quite angry. What the president said was, he told his people to slow down on testing. As a reminder, the first U.S. patient tested positive on January 20th. It took 51 days to test 20,000 patients. That's roughly the number of patients we test now in an hour. So it took almost two months to test 20,000 patients.

If the president, indeed, told his people to slow down because he didn't want his numbers to go up -- and remember, he said that about the cruise ship anchored off the West Coast, that he didn't want to bring them here because he didn't want the numbers to go up. If he told people on the task force to slow down on testing, and that's one of the explanations for why it took so long to ramp up testing, then that itself has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Americans and Congress should probably investigate that.

SCIUTTO: We'll see, given the politics of the day. Dr. Fauci, as we mentioned earlier, is focusing his attention on 13 states, and we have a map of this, in which he says the rises cannot be attributed solely to testing. You can see them there. These are big states, Texas, Florida, et cetera, you know, and includes several states that closed late and opened early.

When you look at the data, is there a direct tie between early and aggressive opening -- reopening and the spike in cases?

REINER: Yes. Absolutely. And also the lack of social distancing, the at best mixed messages on the use of masks. And when you look at the rise in cases, the way to tease out whether or not this is simply an artifact of the fact that we're testing more or it's actually an increase in the incidents of the disease is to look at two things. You've already mentioned in the open about increase in hospitalizations. That's one clue.

The other clue is look at the percent of patients that test positive, so the positivity rate. And that has risen in multiple states in the southwest. When you're just testing more and finding more just because you're testing more, the positivity rate drops. That's not what we're seeing now. More hospitalizations, higher positivity rate means the virus is really active. And it's dropped dramatically in other parts of the country.

The reason why our nationwide daily count is over 20,000 and has remained that way is because it's risen in the south.

HARLOW: You believe that there is a real likelihood that some parts of some states will have to shut down again.

REINER: I think that we have to be prepared for that. You know, this is what happened in Japan. Japan opened the island of Hokkaido after about a three-week shutdown. And then after a few weeks they realized the virus was rising again, and then they closed down again.

We have to have the political will to do that. That's how we achieved the success in places like New York and New Jersey and Pennsylvania and Michigan and Massachusetts, by shutting down and social distancing and all the other things that we've done. We just can't say that it's inconvenient now or it's politically inexpedient to do that. That's how we extinguish the virus. And we have to have the political will to do that.

SCIUTTO: Folks, watch the data. The numbers don't lie on this.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, it's good to have you on to focus attention on that.

REINER: My pleasure. Be well.

SCIUTTO: Other story we're following this morning and a disturbing one. Just a shocking scene playing out at one of NASCAR's biggest races. Officials discovered a noose in the garage of driver Bubba Wallace at the Talladega's Superspeedway.

HARLOW: It's awful. Wallace is the only black driver in NASCAR's Top Circuit.

[09:10:02]

He's also been a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement and successfully petitioned NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at events.

Our Nick Valencia is following the developments this morning.

I was horrified, I think we all were, waking up to this news this morning. Do they know who did this?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim and Poppy, it's especially troubling when you consider all of what you laid out. Bubba Wallace, the only black top tier driver in NASCAR. He's been very vocal about the BLM movement in recent weeks and he was also leading the charge to remove the Confederate flag from the sport.

NASCAR releasing a statement saying that they're investigating, trying to get to the bottom of who did this. And this is what they said in a statement yesterday. "We are angry and outraged and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We've launched an immediate investigation and we'll do everything we can to identify the person or persons responsible and eliminate them from the sport."

So let me make this clear. NASCAR says that this happened in a restricted area that was only accessible by essential personnel. So we're talking NASCAR teams, security personnel, medical staff. It should be pretty easy for NASCAR to deduce who exactly was behind this because fans weren't allowed in this area. And you consider just how strict security is given the pandemic, the coronavirus that's going on.

Bubba Wallace taking to Twitter last night to express his emotions about this saying, "Today's despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism." He goes on to say, Jim and Poppy, "This will not break me. I will not give in, nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in."

And we mentioned just how vocal Wallace has been. He led the charge to get the Confederate flag removed from the sport and that's created a lot of controversy and upset a lot of NASCAR fans. Yesterday we saw just across the street from the Talladega Speedway people selling Confederate memorabilia and also somebody decided to fly the Confederate flag in the air with a message to NASCAR, saying "Defund NASCAR."

So clearly a lot of emotions behind this but Bubba Wallace expected to race today if they aren't canceled again because of weather. A lot of people rooting for him. But of course this has generated a lot of controversy, which it shouldn't, in the sport -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: There are a lot of cameras around where those cars are. It's about competitive issues. You have to wonder if some of this was caught on camera.

VALENCIA: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia, thanks very much.

Still to come, calls to investigate Attorney General Bill Barr this morning after the firing of a top U.S. attorney who was investigating the president's personal lawyer. The latest on that next.

Plus, President Trump's own National Security adviser John Bolton says that he hopes Trump is a one-term president, calling him, listen to these words, he served the president, naive and dangerous. He didn't stop there.

HARLOW: Also, 40 percent of black-owned businesses will not survive this pandemic. With many shut out of the federal loan program, how are communities stepping up to help?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

HARLOW: Calls for investigations into Attorney General William Barr growing louder this morning after the firing of a U.S. attorney who investigated the president's allies. House Democrats are inviting former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman to testify in a hearing, Jim, that they have on Wednesday. I guess we'll see if that happens.

SCIUTTO: On Friday, Barr said that Berman had resigned his post as the head of the Southern District of New York. Berman said no, he hadn't, and even showed up to work on Saturday. But then President Trump stepped in to fire Berman Saturday night, although we should note the president said it was all up to Barr, I wasn't involved.

Anyway, set that aside for a moment, joining us now, Elliot Williams; he's a former federal prosecutor and former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Let me ask you this because I'm curious about this, Elliot Williams. Of course the president has broad powers to fire U.S. attorneys. But we know this U.S. attorney was investigating the president's personal lawyer.

Does the conflict of -- first of all, does that constitute a conflict of interest from a legal standpoint? And two, would that at all create a case to challenge the firing?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: So, look, conflict of interests arise within the Justice Department, even when there's the appearance of impropriety, even if the conflict isn't a real one. Look, what we've seen is a conflict of interest over the last several years and a number of instances where we've seen the president attempt to sort of politicize the Justice Department or even weaponize some of these hirings and firings.

At a minimum and even setting aside the fact that the president is the head of the executive branch, all of this just looks like poor management. When you have the head of an institution saying that someone has been fired, a senior executive has been fired, and then moments later, that individual is putting on a press conference saying no, I haven't been fired and I haven't resigned. What are you talking about?

Clearly, the place is being managed badly. Setting aside and then getting to the different question of what is this good for government generally?

HARLOW: For sure. Let me ask you about this in terms of how this all unfolded. Listen to this from the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's all up to the attorney general. 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)

HARLOW: I'm not involved, Elliot.

WILLIAMS: Because under -- and not to get too deeply into the weeds here, based on how Mr. Berman was appointed, there's a legal question as to whether Barr even had the authority to terminate Berman. And so as you saw, you know, ultimately the firing did in the end come from the president --

HARLOW: Right --

WILLIAMS: Put it in quotes --

[09:20:00]

HARLOW: Right --

WILLIAMS: Even though Barr carried it out. So that again, I'm talking about just bad management here. But also stepping into this legal mind-field over this question of whether that was even proper, that termination. So all of it --

SCIUTTO: Right --

WILLIAMS: Just smells bad. But at this point, it doesn't really smell bad when this is just the smell it's had all along. And what we're seeing is just the latest example of the president's heavy thumb on the scale and mismanagement of how the Justice Department ought to be treated as an independent entity.

SCIUTTO: Well, but some of the questions here, are they not, about more than just bad management because you've had opposition from within the Justice Department. For instance, to Barr's interference in the sentencing of Roger Stone, or Barr's interference in the Flynn case which was brought by the Justice Department itself. And then you have a new attorney general killing the Justice Department's own case there.

I mean, I'm curious, you used to work for the Justice Department. You, I imagine are in touch with Justice Department lawyers. You've had something of an open rebellion from inside the department of lawyers resigning in the midst --

WILLIAMS: All right --

SCIUTTO: Of some of these decisions. What is the mood there? And do people who work in the Justice Department look at this as just not bad management, but as undermining the Justice Department's mission?

WILLIAMS: Yes, so number one, the resignations point is very big. We've seen a few very high-profile ones from the Roger Stone matter and so on. And the people should not lose sight of how significant that is when career prosecutors, regardless of the party they come from are stepping down. What this really all comes back to is that the -- you know, there's this hearing on Wednesday about politicization and the number of people sort of in the whistle-blower class will be testifying.

Who we really need to be hearing from in Congress right now is Attorney General Barr. These are serious questions of like -- as we were talking about earlier, management of the department but also potential conflicts at the department and the buck stops with the attorney general.

And what the House Judiciary Committee ought to be doing right now is preparing, if not a subpoena for testimony, a number of written questions or whatever to get clearer answers out of the attorney general about what is actually going on there.

HARLOW: About -- if we can just switch gears here for a moment -- OK, we're out of time, I'm sorry about that. Elliot Williams, we'll have you back, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

HARLOW: A disturbing trend in Florida after a sharp rise in cases in that state. Officials are warning that more young people in their 20s and 30s are testing positive for the virus. The mayor of Miami is with us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:00]

HARLOW: Florida is one of several states seeing an alarming increase in new cases of COVID-19. On Saturday, a record, reporting more than 4,000 new cases statewide in a single day. In Miami, Jackson Health Systems there reporting a 75 percent increase in COVID patients in just the last 13 days. I'm joined now by Francis Suarez; the mayor of Miami. It's very good to have you.

I wish I wonder better circumstances, Mr. Mayor, and I wonder if you agree with the analysis just a few days out of the University of Pennsylvania that said it looks like Florida has all of the markings of the next large epicenter of coronavirus transmission.

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ, MIAMI, FLORIDA: Yes, I wish it were under better circumstances. You know, what's happening is the high watermark for Florida during the time that we implemented the stay-at-home orders was 1,300 new cases. We had 4,700 new case which is more than three times that amount. In Miami-Dade County, the high watermark during that same time was 533 cases.

And the last report that we had had us at over 900 cases which is twice the high-water mark. So we are obviously extremely concerned. I was actually -- just got off a call with the Department of Health to get on this interview, and I'm going back to that call, to determine what other measures we can continue to take to make sure that businesses are safe.

HARLOW: Well, I know you're working with the Department of Health today to distribute masks in some of the clusters that you're seeing around Miami. I wonder where your head is on potentially mandating mask-wearing everywhere outside like it is inside now.

SUAREZ: That's certainly an option that we cannot discount. All the options have to be on the table. There's no way that you can say that none of the options are on the table. Right now, we are trying to do a strict enforcement campaign. We're working with about 10 or 15 other mayors that we're going to have a press conference later today to talk about enforcement which we are -- we're doubling our efforts on.

But we're seeing a tremendous uptick in cases particularly among young people, 18 to 35. But we are also seeing an increase in hospitalizations. Though we're not yet seeing an increase, as far as I know and I haven't gotten all the information yet, in ICU beds and in ventilators or in deaths. But that has a tendency to trail behind --

HARLOW: Right --

SUAREZ: The increase in new cases. So that has yet to be determined. It could actually go up significantly over the next couple of weeks.

HARLOW: We saw the president hold a rally in Tulsa over the weekend even though cases were going up there and hit a record high over the weekend in terms of daily cases. Would you support the president holding a rally in Miami given the numbers we're seeing now?

SUAREZ: We decided last week, and we're probably going to maintain that, that we're not going into phase three. And phase three means we're not having -- we're not opening night clubs, we're not opening large venues where you could have any sort of large congregation of people, whether it's a sporting event, whether it's a rally. So none of those kinds of things are open in the city and won't be open after today's data which is worse than last Monday's was.

HARLOW: So if the White House -- it sounds like you're saying if the White House has to do this, your answer would be -- would be no?

SUAREZ: Yes, I mean, it's not about who asks. It's just about those things are not --

HARLOW: Yes --

SUAREZ: Available, they're not open. They're not going to be open.