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Trump Uses Racist Term To Describe Coronavirus; Trump Administration In Denial As Pandemic Spreads?; NASCAR Shows Support For Bubba Wallace After Noose Found In His Garage; New Fallout From Ouster Of Top Prosecutor Who Led Probes Into Trump Associates, Allies; Monuments And Statues Coming Down As U.S. Confronts Racism. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 22, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:12]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM with breaking news on the scope of the coronavirus pandemic.

A new study just out now estimates that as many as 8.7 million Americans may have been infected in March, but 80 percent of them were never diagnosed.

Tonight, new coronavirus hot spots are also emerging, as the U.S. death fell surpasses 120,000. Twenty-three states are seeing alarming increases in new cases, with California, Texas, Arizona and Florida experiencing dramatic spikes.

In Florida alone. More than 100,000 people have now been infected, that since the pandemic began.

Also tonight, President Trump is refusing to directly answer questions about his truly stunning remark to supporters that he asked for coronavirus testing to be slowed down, as new cases surge. The White House is trying to brush it off as a joke, while also defending Mr. Trump's use of a racial slur to describe the virus.

Let's go straight to our White House Correspondent, Boris Sanchez.

Boris, the White House press secretary had a lot of spinning to do today after the president's Tulsa rally this past weekend.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.

Kayleigh McEnany doing her best to clean up for President Trump, trying to push this transition to great greatness narrative that the White House has been putting out, even as we're seeing a spike in coronavirus cases across the country.

She also tried to clean up for the president's racist remark and as he continues to dodge questions about whether he would like to see a slowdown in coronavirus testing. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUESTION: did you ask to slow it down?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): The White House today insisting the president was joking Saturday night in Tulsa upset about media coverage.

TRUMP: So, I said to my people slow the testing down, please.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was a comment that he made in jest.

SANCHEZ: The apparent joke coming as the U.S. surpasses 120,000 coronavirus deaths, and nearly half of U.S. states are reporting an increase in cases.

TRUMP: We saved millions of lives. And now it's time to open up, get back to work, OK? Get back to work.

SANCHEZ: Administration officials also eager to quell concerns about a second wave of cases this fall.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We know how to deal with this stuff now. It's come a long way since last winter, and there is no second wave coming. It's just hot spots, they send in CDC teams.

SANCHEZ: Though other administration officials admit the White House is preparing for a second wave.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You're preparing for a second wave in the fall?

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: Of course we're -- you prepare -- you prepare for what can possibly happen. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but of course you prepare.

SANCHEZ: The president pushing forward with a planned event Tuesday in a state surging with coronavirus cases, Arizona. Despite new rules requiring the use of masks in public, the mayor of Phoenix tell CNN Trump's speech will be an exception.

KATE GALLEGO (D), MAYOR OF PHOENIX, ARIZONA: We are not going to be focused on enforcement during the rally.

SANCHEZ: The speech coming after Trump's Tulsa rally failed to meet expectations, drawing far fewer supporters than anticipated and leaving the White House to try and spin his latest racist remark.

TRUMP: Oh, it's COVID. It's this again. It's -- by the way, it's a disease, without question, has more names than any disease in history.

(LAUGHTER) TRUMP: I can name kung-flu.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I can name 19 different versions of names.

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

MCENANY: The president doesn't.

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.

To be clear, I think the media is trying to play games with the terminology of this virus, where the focus should be on the fact that China let this out of their country. While the media wants to focus on nomenclature, the president's going to focus on action.

SANCHEZ: The press secretary also struggling to explain the surprise firing of Geoffrey Berman last week by Attorney General Bill Barr, the now former U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York who was leading several investigations related to President Trump, initially refusing to resign, ultimately ousted through a letter published by Barr saying Trump wanted him gone, though the president later claimed he wasn't involved.

QUESTION: Why did the president say he wasn't involved in the firing of Geoff Berman, when the attorney general said he -- the president was the one who fired him?

[18:05:03]

SANCHEZ: Because the attorney general was taking the lead on this matter. He did come to the president and report to him when Mr. Berman decided not to leave.

And at that point is when the president agreed with the decision of the attorney general, and to fire Mr. Berman and to promote Mr. Clayton.

QUESTION: So, he was involved in it then?

MCENANY: He was involved in the sign-off capacity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: And, Wolf, amid the fallout from Trump's campaign event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday, we're learning that two campaign staffers who were at that event tested positive for coronavirus. That's on top of six advanced team staff members who tested positive for the virus last week and two Secret Service agents who we have just now learned also tested positive that were at that event -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, 10 people, indeed.

All right, thanks very much, Boris Sanchez, reporting for us.

Let's break all of this down, the troubling trends in the coronavirus pandemic unfolding right now.

Our National Correspondent, Athena Jones, is in New York for us.

Athena, a new study suggests coronavirus was much more widespread back in March than we knew.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

The numbers we're seeing these days show that this virus is anything but under control. And that new study suggests just how far and why this outbreak spread earlier this year, as many states were trying to ramp up testing.

Based on a huge spike in doctor's visits for influenza-like symptoms, researchers say that as many as 8.7 million Americans contracted the virus in March and that 80 percent of them percent of them were never diagnosed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. AILEEN MARTY, HERBERT WERTHEIM COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: People are not practicing social, physical distancing.

JONES (voice-over): With coronavirus cases on the rise in 23 states compared to a week ago and more states moving to the next phase of reopening, experts are sounding the alarm.

MARTY: They're not wearing their masks. They're not paying attention. And they're not believing that there's a problem.

JONES: New confirmed cases nationwide topped 30,000 for two consecutive days, Friday and Saturday, with 10 states reporting their highest seven-day average of new infections, including Florida, Texas, and California, where hospitalizations recently reached their highest level since the pandemic began.

Florida today passing 100,000 cases. Many of those testing positive are in their 20s and 30s.

DAN GELBER (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: We know exactly what's happening. Young people are going out, because they do think they're invisible. They're getting the virus, and they're spreading it into the community. And it's just harder to protect people when that happens.

JONES: And while the White House suggests the jump in cases is due to more testing, experts say the high percentage of positive tests in Florida, where their rate is past 10 percent, and, in Arizona, where it is around 20 percent, show the increase is real.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, agrees. GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Even with testing increasing or being flat, the number of people testing positive is accelerating faster than that. And so that's evidence that there's transmission within those communities.

JONES: The startling new figures from around the country leading some to lament the swift reopening, like Austin's mayor.

STEVE ADLER (D), MAYOR OF AUSTIN, TEXAS: We're seeing the numbers really from the first phase. And they're -- and they're shocking. They're -- the numbers are going up so rapidly.

So, yes, I wish we had done this more slowly, so we could have seen the data along the way.

JONES: NFL players are now being advised to stop training together, and Major League Baseball is shutting down some training facilities in Florida and Arizona, where cases have nearly doubled in two weeks.

Moving ahead with reopening today, Georgia, where the Six Flags amusement park opens to all guests, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): We're now going inside. Folks are going to have to be careful, obey the rules. And this is a big step for us today.

JONES: While New York, once the epicenter of the crisis in America, is taking the next step in what has been a slow, cautious approach.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We had less than 1 percent transmission rate yesterday. We went from the highest transmission rate in the United States to the lowest transmission rate. If we see any tick in those numbers, we will respond.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now, phase two here in New York City means that offices can operate at 50 percent capacity. You can now get a haircut or visit a playground.

Outdoor dining is now allowed at bars and restaurants, but they risk losing their license if they don't enforce proper social distancing protocols -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Athena, thanks very much -- Athena Jones in New York.

Let's bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, also Dr. Ashish Jha joining us, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Sanjay, this new study suggests that, during the start of this crisis back in March, more than 80 percent of the coronavirus cases were never diagnosed. Could that mean the U.S. has had millions of more cases than the official count?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think without a doubt, Wolf.

And we have pretty much known that, I think, for some time that we're wildly undercounting the number of people who've been infected. This particular study, which is a model, it's sort of proposing the scenario, based on people who were showing up at doctor's offices and hospitals -- and, as you mentioned, they say, within the month of March, 8.7 million people may have been infected with this.

[18:10:15]

When you go back and look at how many people were diagnosed in the month of march, it was closer to 100,000 people. And now you look at the right side of the screen, 2.3 million, still a small fraction of the number of people who may have become infected in March alone.

So this is the issue. There's a lot of people out there who probably have been exposed to this virus, infected, that we're not counting. A lot of them may not have had symptoms or had minimal symptoms as well. So they could still be spreaders.

We just don't know who they are or where they are, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's so significant, potentially.

And, Dr. Jha, the news comes after President Trump said he told his team to slow down, to slow down coronavirus testing. If that's true, how would that hinder this overall fight against this very, very deadly and dangerous virus?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Yes, Wolf, thanks for having me on.

So, as you know, as we all know, testing is really a critical part of how we control the virus, because when we test people, we can identify who's infected, and we can quarantine them, we can separate them, so they don't infect other people.

The federal government just has not taken testing seriously throughout this entire pandemic. And the idea that we would actively slow down testing is really baffling to me, because it just makes it harder for us to beat this virus.

BLITZER: Certainly does.

Sanjay, we also just learned that two more Trump campaign staffers actually tested positive for the virus after attending the president's rally Saturday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And despite this, masks won't be required at the president's event scheduled for tomorrow in Arizona.

Should the campaign start rethinking its safety precautions?

GUPTA: Absolutely, Wolf.

I mean, unfortunately, the safest thing to do would be not to be having these indoor rallies with lots of people in close quarters without masks, because, I mean, that's just a very dangerous situation. There's no magic here. That's just -- it's a contagious virus. You create that sort of scenario, that's going to be a problem, without question.

So then I guess the question is, what can you do to try and reduce the risk as much as possible? Masks would go a long way toward that, trying to create physical distance. Obviously, people shouldn't go if they're vulnerable, if they have any symptoms.

After they go home, they should probably quarantine themselves, because they have just been in a high-risk situation. But, again, I don't think any public health people would think that this was a good idea.

You can't say you can make it safe. You can try and make it as safe as you possibly can. But, even then, there's definite risks here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, those two campaign staffers who attended the rally supposedly were wearing masks. Six others were positive for coronavirus just in the hours before. They didn't attend the rally.

Two Secret Service agents also tested positive for coronavirus, 10 people altogether who were in Tulsa for that rally.

Dr. Jha, just how bad do you expect things to get in some of these Southern states that are seeing a dramatic spike right now? Should we take any comfort in the line that many of these cases are younger people in their 20s and 30s?

JHA: Yes, Wolf, so it's obviously -- we know that younger people are less likely to get very sick and less likely to get -- to die from the virus.

But the issue is that, the more the virus spreads, those younger people have parents, they have grandparents, and they're going to go spend time with people and get them infected.

So, while we may see kind of lower mortality rates -- and, obviously, I hope we do -- the more the virus spreads, the more everybody is vulnerable, the more everybody is at risk. So, we have really got to find a way to curtail the virus spread, and not take comfort in the fact that the initial cases are primarily in young people.

BLITZER: Yes.

And young people, Sanjay, just to be precise, they may be asymptomatic, they may have only minor symptoms. But, as Dr. Jha points out, they're still contagious. They could pass along this coronavirus to those who have underlying health conditions, as well as their parents or their grandparents.

GUPTA: Yes, absolutely.

And you take a place like Florida, Wolf, and, I mean, there is a more vulnerable population. A lot of people go down there to retire. So people are likely to be older, have preexisting conditions. And you can, I think, predict pretty reliably, as you see the numbers

go up in Florida, which I'm very worried about -- my parents live down in Florida -- you can predict pretty reliably that hospitalizations are going to go up within a couple of weeks. And, sadly, deaths will go up within a few weeks after that.

I think there was a just report yesterday, Wolf, said 75 percent of the ICU beds in Florida are already occupied right now. So think about what happens as these numbers continue to go up, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's so sad and so depressing to even think about it.

All right, Sanjay, thanks very much. Dr. Jha, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, we will have more on the president's use of a racial slur to describe the coronavirus, the White House defense, and the message being sent to Trump supporters.

[18:15:06]

Also, a popular sport in the south confronts racism after a noose, a noose was found in the garage of NASCAR's only top African-American driver.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Trump White House is going to new lengths tonight to defend the president, after he very publicly used a racial slur to describe the coronavirus.

We're joined by our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and our CNN political analyst David Gregory.

Dana, I want you and our viewers to watch the White House press secretary today defending President Trump's use of that racist phrase. Listen to this.

[18:20:01]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

MCENANY: The president doesn't. What the president does do is point to the fact that the origin of the virus is China.

To be clear, I think the media is trying to play games with the terminology of this virus, where the focus should be on the fact that China let this out of their country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: While the media wants to focus on nomenclature, the president's going to focus on action.

So, Dana, the president uses a phrase like that to a crowd of overwhelmingly white supporters in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the other night, it clearly sends a very strong message, doesn't it?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a racist term, full stop. I mean, that's it.

Kayleigh obviously was ready for this question. The three of us have all been in that Briefing Room. We see when the press secretary brings in the briefing book. She turned to the page that was ready for her to give some responses on the questions about this.

And it was about as canned and as expected as you would think from this White House. You turn it on the media. But that's -- it's just no -- it's impossible to buy what they're selling. I mean, I think even people who are the most staunch Trump supporters listen to that response and say, I'm sorry, how is this the media's fault?

It's the president using what even a lot of people who support him have told me privately believe is a racist term, and he shouldn't have done it.

BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right.

David, it's clear the president is doubling down, though, on these racist messages, doubling down on what's called the culture war. What's unclear is whether it will actually rally his base, as it did in 2016.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's sad if that's the case. And there's no question in his mind that he thinks it revs people up to do that, to use overtly racist language, coded messages, to go after the media.

And he wants to create the idea that there's two sides of a culture divide. What he ought to be focused on is keeping his staff members from getting the coronavirus because he has these insane rallies that nobody who was thinking for two minutes would think would be a healthy, safe thing to do.

That's what he ought to be doing. I mean, his comments are beneath the presidency. And for the press secretary -- you put your press secretary in a very difficult job, but that's when you sign up for when you work for this president. And to turn it around on the media is, of course, ridiculous.

Again, there's an effort here to villainize China to deflect from the president's own handling of public safety and the administration's response to the virus.

BLITZER: That's true.

And, Dana, as we have reported, two more Trump campaign staffers have now tested positive for coronavirus after attending that Saturday night rally in Tulsa. But is the campaign taking a second look at its own health and safety precautions at all?

BASH: Well, they have no choice right now, because those people are quarantined. The people who are were around them are supposed to be quarantined.

And so, look, this is one of the big reasons why the numbers were not there in the way that the Trump campaign had publicly touted them. The president himself had publicly promised that they would be.

It's not just because of the protests in the street. It's more, importantly -- and people privately have admitted this to me -- because Americans, even staunch Trump supporters in the ruby-red state of Oklahoma, were afraid, particularly families with young children, people who were in the senior category, were afraid to go to a place that could end up being a hot spot and a super-spreader.

And the fact that the president's own campaign team, the people who were there in advance, whether or not they got it in Tulsa, which had been on the rise when it comes to the numbers, or in previous places, we don't know the answer to that, but it just completely knocks out and knocks down the whole notion that the president is desperately trying to put out there, which is that we're beyond the coronavirus.

We're not, not even close.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes.

GREGORY: And the thing, Wolf, that you see with this president time and time again, we have seen it really consistently, but there are certain degrees of it -- and I think, right now, he is projecting that he is under siege like we have never seen him before.

To me, it's reminiscent of Richard Nixon before full-blown Watergate, but when the Vietnam War demonstrations were starting to gain traction in the U.S., and they were really settling upon Washington, he and his aides really kind of doubled down on the idea of like, we're up against the crazies.

And that's what the president has done. He's taken this notion in his mind that there's a shutdown mentality in the country, and said that those people are on the other side of the divide, that they don't make any sense, that we have got to get back to work, that we have got to get back to having political rallies.

The reality is, he just wants to get back to having his rallies, so he might have a chance to look better than how he looks in response to the virus.

[18:25:03]

BLITZER: David Gregory, thanks very much,

Dana Bash, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, we're going to show you how other NASCAR drivers are responding after a noose was found in the garage of the circuit's only top black driver, Bubba Wallace.

And a public tribute is under way this hour for Rayshard Brooks 10 days after he was killed by police in Atlanta.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, NASCAR is making it clear that racism has no place in the sport after a noose was found in the garage of the only top AfricanAmerican driver on the circuit.

Our National Correspondent, Dianne Gallagher, is joining us from Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Dianne, tell us what happened at the track today.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And so, Wolf, today was the show of solidarity behind Bubba Wallace after that noose was found in his garage stall yesterday when the race was originally supposed to happen. It was postponed until today due to weather.

Now, according to NASCAR, a crew member of the number 43 team found that noose in the garage area. Bubba Wallace didn't actually see it. The president of NASCAR is the one who told him about it.

They then asked the FBI to get involved. They are currently here on the scene continuing that investigation going through the cameras, looking to see whether video may give them an idea of who placed it here.

The thing is, Wolf, this is a restricted area where they found it. This isn't a place where just anybody can go. And so, NASCAR is going through the individuals who may have been in that area. We're talking about team members, officials, people who work in security, people who work in the medical emergency area.

So these are a list of people they may be able to go through here, but the drivers wanted to show their support. And some of the drivers I spoke to said that this was this organic thing. They wanted to walk behind him as they pushed the number 43 car up to the top of the grid. They wanted to show that solidarity. They then stood around his car. As you can see, almost all of the garage, they're walking behind him in that show of support as they stood around him as they did the national anthem.

Richard Petty, of course, coming around. He owns the car that Bubba drives. The iconic number 43, comforting him as Bubba Wallace got emotional at the sight of this before they were driving on to this postponed race here. Wolf, I can tell you that it is been an emotional few weeks for Bubba Wallace. You probably remember of course. He led that call to get rid of the confederate flag here at NASCAR races.

We saw a lot of them out here yesterday across the street as people protest to bring out those confederate flags and then flying over the racetrack as well. NASCAR has a long way to go. But this is being seen as a good first step showing that support, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it is. All right, thanks very much, good report, Dianne Gallagher joining us. And let's bring in the President and CEO of the National Urban League, Marc Morial, right now. He's also the author of a new book, entitled The Gumbo Coalition, Ten Leadership Lessons That Help You Inspire, Unite, and Achieve. There you see the book cover on the screen.

So, Marc, what does it say to you that Bubba Wallace has been leading the calls for change at NASCAR and elsewhere was targeted in this brutal, awful way?

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Well, thank you, Wolf, for having me, and great admiration for Bubba Wallace's for his willingness to speak up against a symbol of hate, the confederate flag, and a sport that is overwhelmingly white and certainly dominant among southerners in terms of the audience that follows NASCAR. And the fact that he would be retaliated against in such a cruel and cowardly way should remind us that the flags, the symbols and the reality of hate still live in the hearts of too many people in this country.

So it was a positive sign to see the fact that NASCAR heeded the call and eliminated the display of the confederate flag at their events. And today, to see all of the drivers and the garage personnel stand with Bubba Wallace at a time in which his very integrity, his very life is threatened.

People need to remember the noose is the symbol of lynching. It's the rope that was used to lynch almost 5,000 African-Americans from the 1880s all the way into the 1960s. So it's not a prank. It's really a threat.

So we've got to recognize that at this time, we need people to stand up. NASCAR has stood up with Bubba Wallace who stood up. So we owe him, I think, a debt of gratitude for his courage and his conviction. And now I'll be pulling for him in every single race that he drives in.

BLITZER: Yes, I know he is truly very, very heroic in this effort.

You know, Marc, beyond the police reform bills that are moving through Congress right now, what does this very hateful incident tell us about the other ways we need to reform as a society?

MORIAL: I think it tells us that people still need to be educated and people's hearts and minds still need to be touched.

[18:35:08]

They need to be educated to understand the ugliness, the bitterness of what racial discrimination and racial terrorism meant in this country. And I think that too often, in some, it was glorified, in others, it was pushed under the rug. Let's not discuss it. Let's not talk about it. And, in fact, our history books did not treat it with great accuracy. So people have to reeducate themselves. The confederate flag is just a symbol of hatred and slavery.

I am a person from the south. There are many great southerners. Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were not great southerners. They were treasonous men who sought to overthrow the government of the United States, and they lost. So we've got to recognize that the symbols mean something. They mean something. They represent an ugly history we need to get beyond.

But also at this time, it's positive, Wolf, to see so many people, white Americans, I think, if you will, asking what can I do or opening their hearts and their minds to a new view and a better understanding of race in America.

And black Americans have withered so much, and have withered a lot in the last three years of this presidency with the continued spewing of hatred. You know, I cringe when there's any hatred against any group in America. Not just my own people, because hate is indivisible, discrimination is indivisible. Its root is some sort of crude notion of superiority and inferiority. Some people are better than other people and that others have to be devalued.

So at this moment, Wolf, I think we have this opportunity and this chance. And I appeal to everyone, everyone to recognize the moment we're in and the opportunity we have, and the necessity of this moment to turn it into something substantial and meaningful for this nation.

BLITZER: Let's hope that happens, well said. Marc Morial, of the National Urban League, thank you very much for joining us, as usual.

MORIAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead, we're going to get more on the attorney general's decision to oust the top federal prosecutor overseeing investigations involving President Trump and his allies.

Plus, a federal judge says former National Security Adviser John Bolton likely revealed classified information. Could he now face criminal charges?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We're learning more about the controversial decision to fire Geoffrey Berman, the powerful prosecutor atop the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office, who have pursued investigations that related to President Trump and his allies.

Let's bring in another former head of that office, our Senior Legal Analyst, Preet Bharara. Let me get your reaction, Preet, to the explanation from the White House press secretary today in the ouster of Geoffrey Berman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president held Mr. Clayton in very high regard. He wanted to nominate him to this position in SDNY, to keep him in the government as he returns to New York. Barr was working on a smooth transition. And when Berman chose to respond in the way that he did, that he came to the president and the president agreed and fired this individual, Mr. Berman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, Preet, do you buy that?

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, I don't. It's a very strange thing. They're trying very hard to suggest that they had some innocuous reason to pick someone who would be the least qualified nominee to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District in six or seven decades when that position was occupied fully and being handled very well.

You don't basically someone really back up to the city after having been doing a job in D.C. for a number of years. An election is coming up in four months and the terms is about to end. You don't swap those people out unless you have some other reason for doing so.

So, the idea that you put in one person because he decided he's going to change cities when you have a perfectly capable person in the job already and someone who the other evidence shows the president didn't like, whose independence the president didn't like. I think common sense dictates here.

BLITZER: And you've noted, Preet, and we've discussed this. The Southern District of New York, the district there, has been involved in many investigations that have some links to the president. Are you concerned that Berman's ouster right now could impact those ongoing investigations?

BHARARA: I don't think in the short-term, no. I'm very encouraged by the fact that the attorney general, Bill Barr, retreated from the position of wanting to impose some other person namely the U.S. attorney in New Jersey on the Southern District.

The way it is working now is that very capable and respected Deputy Audrey Strauss, who's been around a long time, is taking over the office as the acting U.S. Attorney, so long as she remains there. But she was selected by Geoffrey Berman. That's the person he wanted in the job to be in the number two position.

There'll be continuity. She has great integrity, respect from the people in the office.

[18:45:01]

And I would expect her to continue all the investigations that are going on before, in the same way that Jun Kim, my deputy, continued the cases that I was overseeing when he became the U.S. attorney when I was fired.

So, unless something changes there, I'm not concerned.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Let me also get your thoughts while I have you, Preet, on John Bolton, the president's former national security adviser, his new book. The federal judge says Bolton likely jeopardized national security by disclosing classified information.

What do you think?

BHARARA: Look, I think the judge has some legal basis to say that and factual basis to say that. I think John Bolton was playing kind of a dangerous game, both as a citizen and also as somebody who is putting himself in jeopardy with the law.

He decided to play a game where he wouldn't come testify before the Senate, and before the House previously, and kept all this information in his book and then says that Congress committed impeachment malpractice by not pursuing other things that he knew about and decided not to talk about.

The good news for the rest is, that the judge also said there's no way to put the horse back into the barn is I think the phrase that was used. And everyone will get the benefit of for what it's worth, the things that John Bolton said in the book which is a devastating account of how President Trump runs his office.

BLITZER: It is devastating indeed.

All right. Preet, thank you very much.

A quick programming note for our viewers. The former national security adviser John Bolton will join me Wednesday here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll discuss all of his allegations, the reaction that's been unfolding in THE SITUATION ROOM Wednesday during our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

Just ahead, we'll take a closer look at the impeachment calls for statues depicting Confederate leaders and historical figures to be removed. We have new information.

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[18:51:32]

BLITZER: Monuments of Confederate leaders, slave owners, and controversial historical figures are coming down across the country amid nationwide protests calling for racial justice.

CNN's Brian Todd has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 80 years, the statue of Theodore Roosevelt on horseback has stood outside New York's American Museum of Natural History intended as a tribute to Roosevelt's tireless work as a naturalist. But tonight, there are plans to remove the statue. Flanking Roosevelt are depictions of a Native American man and African-American man on foot appearing subservient to Roosevelt. MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: The statue, clearly, you

know, presents a white man as superior to people of color. And that is just not acceptable in this day and age. It never should have been acceptable.

TODD: Historians say Roosevelt did make progressive moves on race while he was president like inviting African-American leader Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House. But the museum called some of his views on race troubling and that particular statue has offended people of color for decades.

The Roosevelt family agreed it should be removed.

Observers say the protest movement following the killings of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and others has brought a turning point and a renewed debate over how Americans view their monuments.

PROF. MICHAEL DICKINSON, AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY, VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY: I think what has changed is that hopefully these perspectives of people of color and African-Americans in particular are finally being heard.

TODD: Early on, the movement went after Confederate monuments as examples of racism against African-Americans. But tonight, a broadening where symbols of the oppression of Native Americans and of European colonization are being targeted.

PROF. DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, HISTORIAN, RICE UNIVERSITY: Some monuments to Spanish conquistadors might be coming down in Latino communities. This is not just statue ripping season in the United States like Donald Trump will make it sound like.

TODD: The president has recently stoked the fires of a culture war over statutes and monuments, sometimes framing it as a partisan divide.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The unhinged left wing mob is trying to vandalize our history, desecrate our monuments, our beautiful monuments.

TODD: Trump lamented that statutes of figures who are still revered by many have been defaced or torn down, monuments to Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we think slave owners should have statues?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No!

TODD: Historians say this could present an opportunity for Americans to have a smarter discussion of the complexities of those men.

BRINKLEY: There are many sides to Thomas Jefferson. There is Jefferson the slave owner. Books are coming out on it. School kids learn about it. But there is also Jefferson who gave us the Declaration of Independence.

TODD: The answer one historian says may not be to destroy the monuments completely.

DICKINSON: They should be placed in spaces where they can be contextualized fully and I think museums are wonderful spaces for that, to tell the larger narrative of where we've come from and where we are going toward.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: The historians we spoke to say there are no simple answers in our debate over statues that no matter which monuments are brought down, someone will be offended. But they say this is the moment to have our discussions over this. That the country has been presented this opportunity by recent events and we've got to seize it now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, good report. Thank you very much.

More news just after this.

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[18:59:21]

BLITZER: Finally tonight, our nightly tribute to some of the lives cut short by the coronavirus.

Ward Harlow Jr. of Massachusetts was 86 years old. He was a former elementary school teacher and a chess master who also loved pitching horse shoes. Above all, we're told he loved his family deeply and treated everyone with kindness.

Bernice Greene of New Jersey was 65. She had a passion for science, education, and family, and loved giving back. Her daughter says she was always looking for the good in people and always saw their potential.

May they rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.