Return to Transcripts main page


Feds Investigating Noose in Nascar Garage; Former Nascar Driver Speaks of Changes; Stock Rise after China Clarification; Tennis Star Tests Positive for Covid-19; Reshaping Kentucky's Senate Primary. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired June 23, 2020 - 09:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: An act to punish an vandals with up to 10 years in prison.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Another story we're following this morning. The FBI and Justice Department are now investigating the noose which was found in the garage of Nascar driver Bubba Wallace.

There was a huge show of support. And, really, you should watch this. It's emotional. Support for Wallace yesterday. These are all the Nascar drivers, their pit crew members, others, walking with him as they escort his car to the front of the line at the Talladega Superspeedway.

HARLOW: Our Dianne Gallagher is there this morning.

It was such a moment to see and we'll get to more on that in a moment, but can you tell us where the investigation stands into trying to figure out who put the noose in his stall?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Poppy, Jim, the FBI was actually here on site yesterday as that postponed race was happening while that display of support and solidarity was going on, going through interviews, potentially looking at some of the cameras that they have in that restricted area.

And, you know, all of those people who were out there supporting Bubba Wallace, in all likelihood, the person who placed that noose in his garage stall may have been out there as well, because the key here is the security of that area.

You have to be credentialed. It is essential personnel only. And Nascar acknowledged, look, somebody could have snuck in, but it's highly unlikely because of just how tight security is. So they're dealing with the fact that it could have been one of their own.

Now, look, as a whole, the sport, those drivers gathering behind him. I talked to some of the drivers. They organized that on their own, through this group text message, trying to show support, not just for Bubba, but for diverse fans, for people to just let them know that Nascar wasn't going to stand for this. Bubba tweeted just a few moments ago kind of a mashup of all of that video, saying, "family." He tweeted "together" earlier with a selfie with the drivers behind him, really leaning in on that unity aspect of this.

But I'll tell you, there was an aspect of this that even I think caused more people to stand up. And it was afterward when Bubba Wallace, finished the race, walked over to those fans. So the race -- the sport's only black driver greets this diverse group of fans, many of them wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, just a day after a confederate rally had been held in front of this track because at his urging Nascar had banned the confederate flag. There are signs here at Talladega Superspeedway right now.

And it was kind of in that moment you saw that the sport, which has a long way to go, and a well-earned history with racism here. Nascar has not done much to stop it except in recent history. But it shows that they are moving to make a difference right now. And that's what Nascar wants to focus on going forward.

SCIUTTO: It was quite a moment.

Dianne Gallagher, thanks very much.

Well, today, Bubba Wallace is the only black driver in Nascar's top circuit.

HARLOW: Bill Lester knows what it's like to break barriers in the racing world. He was the first African-American to win a Grand Am race. He joins us now.

It's so nice to have you. Thanks for being with us.

BILL LESTER, FORMER NASCAR DRIVER: I appreciate you guys having me on. Thank you.

HARLOW: Let's listen to a little bit more of that moment that Dianne just showed us and what Bubba Wallace said yesterday.


BUBBA WALLACE, NASCAR DRIVER: The sport is changing. The deal that happened yesterday, sorry I'm not wearing my mask, but I wanted to show whoever it was that you're not going to take away my smile. And I'm going to keep on going.


HARLOW: Bill, you lived some of the racism within Nascar and the community. So is this the moment of change?

LESTER: Well, I hope it is. It's definitely a step in the right direction. The fact is that the public is aware that change is in the air. Nascar's made some very strong statements and put some processes in place, such as the banning of the flag, that lets folks know that we are serious, Nascar is serious and that it is time for change.

So I don't know what the rest of the plans are. I think the banning of the flag is just the first step in a number of many. I'm not privy to what those next steps are, but I reached out to the president of Nascar, Steve Phelps, and indicated that he has my support. And whatever it is I can do to try to help move the initiatives in the right direction, I'm there for him.

SCIUTTO: Bill, I don't have to tell you, you know, how intractable some of these problems are. And you saw that in, you know, a plane flying a confederate flag over the raceway the other day. You know, hats and shirts with the confederate symbols still selling well outside the raceway. Our team was there filming some of that in the last couple of days.

I don't want to under or overestimate the driver's ability to move this, right, to move their fan base. I'm just curious, do you believe -- do you believe they can in this environment? Do you believe there's something different now about addressing this and changing this?


LESTER: Well, there's clearly something different now. When I was racing in the mid-2000, you know, if I was to really try to move the needle, I would have been completely ineffective. You know, the ears were not open, the reception was not there. I had already gone on notice on public -- you know, to the media, and on, you know, public record that I was not comfortable around the confederate flag. And while that was written, you know, there was no change. It was not time for change.

Now is the time for change. The movement is real. And I'm just proud of the fact that Nascar has really stepped up and that a lot of the fans of Nascar are very supportive of the initiatives that Nascar has put into place as well. This isn't a matter of just, you know, black folks being happy that this is the case. This is the situation where a lot of white fans are happy that this is happening, that it's long overdue.

HARLOW: Yes, for sure.

In terms -- in terms of how you diversify the sport, I mean you've been pretty candid in calling out big corporations and calling on, rather, big corporations that sponsor these drivers and saying you have a lot of the power here to affect change.

LESTER: That's right, Poppy. I mean, you know, the sport is driven by money. People don't realize just how much it costs to race in the Cup series. It's an $18 million to $20 million proposition each year, per car. So, you know, these cars don't run around the track on their own.

And corporate America is key to the success of drivers being out there on the track. And the access to that capital has been something that's been lacking in the African-American community. I mean we just have not gotten the financial support that allows us to race on the top level, you know, for any extended period of time.

Yes, I broke into the Cup series and I raced a couple of races, but, you know, my sponsor at the time, Waste Management, already had a full-time commitment to another team and couldn't break it. And so I was essentially, you know, one and done, you know?

And so Bubba, fortunately, has had more of a platform to stand on, but even with all the exposure he's gotten, which is what these sponsors want, you saw that that car just had Petty Racing or Petty Motorsports on it. I didn't have significant corporate sponsorship on it. What does that tell you?

SCIUTTO: Wow, that's interesting.

HARLOW: Yes. All right.


HARLOW: It's so interesting and, frankly, Bill, something I hadn't really thought about until reading a lot more about this. So thank you for being a voice on that and for joining us this morning.

LESTER: It's been my pleasure. I appreciate you guys having me.

HARLOW: Of course.

We'll be right back.



HARLOW: Let's go to Wall Street, where the Dow is up this morning after the White House went to do some damage control after Trade Adviser Peter Navarro -- after his comments about the China trade deal, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and some genuine confusion about what exactly he meant by these comments.


SCIUTTO: CNN business chief correspondent Christine Romans joins us now.

Now, the words were, like the trade deal was over, but it seems like when you look at the words, he was talking about the goodwill following the trade deal.


SCIUTTO: I mean what's the truth from your reading of this?

ROMANS: Yes. You know, my read is that the markets freaked out about this, maybe a little too much, because he was talking about progress on implementing that trade deal and the goodwill and the -- just the channels of communication between the U.S. and China following China's complacency he says on the origin of the coronavirus.

So this is how he tried to clean it up. You know, he said, look, my comments have been taken wildly out of context. They had nothing to do with the phase one trade deal, which continues in place. I was simply speaking to the lack of trust we now have of the Chinese Community Party after they lied about the origins of the China virus and foisted a pandemic upon the world.

And then the president, of course, very quickly, was out tweeting, trying to show that this big signature achievement, as he sees it, of his administration is in place. The China trade deal is fully intact. Hopefully they will continue to live up to the terms of the agreement. That from President Trump.

And then the markets recovered a little bit. But the idea that maybe the coronavirus and the very strained relationship between the U.S. and China could maybe delay some of those ag purchases, something the market felt keenly yesterday and has recovered this morning.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And that has been the key criticism of the phase one trade deal is what were the actual requirements.


SCIUTTO: Were they pledges or were they requirements? We'll be watching that closely.

Christine Romans, thanks very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: Now this just in to CNN.

The world's number one tennis player, Novak Djokovic, he has tested positive for coronavirus.

Poppy, this is interesting because he has said in the past he -- he might resist taking a Covid vaccine if it were to come out.

HARLOW: Yes, a vaccine. Exactly what I was thinking this morning.

Andy Scholes is with us.

And this also comes, Andy, after a tennis tournament that he held in Croatia.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Poppy and Jim.

And Novak Djokovic, he really was the face for this charitable exhibition tournament. He's taken some heat for helping organize those tournaments in Serbia and Croatia because, you know, players having to fly in from all over for the event. And by all accounts, there wasn't any social distancing taking place during these matches at this event. And Djokovic, when he got tested, his wife got tested, his children got tested, he and his wife tested positive for coronavirus, but his kids tested negative.

Now, Djokovic releasing a statement saying everything we did in the past month we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions. Our tournament meant to unite and share a message of solidarity and compassion throughout the region.

Djokovic went on to, you know, apologize to anyone who may have been infected as a result of this event. Three other players, including one of those player's pregnant wife, have all tested positive for Covid- 19.

And you guys mentioned, Djokovic had said previously he was against taking a vaccine for coronavirus, even if it was mandatory for travel.


The U.S. Open still planned for later this summer in New York, of course, without fans. But, you know, Jim and Poppy, now players still going to have to fly in for that event from all over the world. Certainly they're going to have protocols in place for social distancing there at Flushing Meadows. But, still, definitely a concern considering what happened at these exhibition tournaments that Djokovic was hosting.

HARLOW: Andy, thank you for that. We wish him, his wife and everyone who contracted it there a quick recovery.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes, it's going to be a big question for all these sports leagues.

Coming up, how the pandemic and recent protests are having a major impact on the Kentucky primary.



HARLOW: This afternoon, funeral services will be held for Rayshard Brooks, the man shot and killed by police outside of that Wendy's in Atlanta.

SCIUTTO: Mourners paid tribute at a public viewing yesterday. The current pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, of course a revered institution where Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King once served as pastor, he will deliver Brooks' eulogy. The officer who shot brooks, Garrett Rolfe, was fired. He's been charged with 11 counts, including felony murder. The other officer, Devin Brosnan, is charged with aggravated assault.

HARLOW: The coronavirus pandemic and protests over police brutality have radically reshaped today's Democratic Senate primary in Kentucky.

SCIUTTO: It's amazing how quickly the political tides may be turning. But Amy McGrath, she was a front-runner, this, of course, in the Democratic primary, but State Representative Charles Booker has been gaining momentum, this after Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency responder, was killed by police in Louisville in March. The winner, they're going to go on to a highly watched race. That is the race against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the fall.

CNN's senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, he is in Louisville this morning.

So, Jeff, adding to today's drama, state election officials decided to close most voting precincts. What's happening there? I mean this has happened in other states leading to allegations of voter suppression.


There's no question that voting in the era of a pandemic is entirely different. And it's not that state election officials decided to close most precincts, they've decided to change how the vote is going to be conducted. In fact, this primary was schedule to be conducted last month, so they had to readjust because simply there is not an availability of poll workers to work in all these precincts. So now 3,700 polling places normally have been boiled down to 170.

But take a look at this quickly. We are here in Jefferson County in Louisville. Look at this giant exposition center. It looks largely empty. We've seen a steady stream of voters coming in throughout the morning. But many people, tens of thousands, have already voted absentee voting by mail. So that is what is driving this.

I just talked to the secretary of state of Kentucky. He said even if no more votes came in at this point, they would still break the record for primary voting, at least in recent memory, because of vote by mail. A request was sent to every voter in the state. So that's what is shaping this Kentucky primary race. So interesting, Democrats, of course, are watching this because whoever wins will take on Mitch McConnell.


STATE REP. CHARLES BOOKER (D), SENATE CANDIDATE, KENTUCKY: This is happening in Kentucky right now! We are in a moment, y'all. We are in a moment.

ZELENY (voice over): A sleepy Senate primary race suddenly electrified in Kentucky.

BOOKER: This time has to be different, for my cousins, for my little ones, for y'all. This has to be different for Breonna, for Mr. McAtee, for everybody that's a hashtag.

ZELENY: A national reckoning on racism and police brutality is resonating loudly here, where Louisville police killed 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an EMT, in March, and David McAtee, the owner of a barbecue restaurant in June.

Weeks of protests have injected fresh uncertainty into the campaign over who Democrats will choose in today's election to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's Kentucky's best chance to move on from Mitch McConnell.

ZELENY: Amy McGrath, a former Marine pilot, is the hand-picked choice of party leaders in Washington. Her primary victory was seen as a foregone conclusion, but State Representative Charles Booker is now riding a wave of momentum.

BOOKER: From the hood to the holler! From the hood to the holler!

ZELENY (on camera): You've said that you are campaigning from the hood to the holler. Explain that.

BOOKER: Well, I'm trying to build a movement here by speaking to our common bonds. And there's a reality that there are so many similarities in the hood that you would see in the -- in places in the hollers of eastern Kentucky and in the mountains, that if we realize our common bonds, we can change the world.

ZELENY (voice over): With a political awakening underway, McGrath has struggled to find her footing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you been on the ground in Louisville with the protesters the last three days or in Lexington or elsewhere, Ms. McGrath?

AMY MCGRATH: I have not.


MCGRATH: Well, I've been with my family and I've had some family things going on this past weekend, but I've been following the news and, you know, and watching.

ZELENY: Booker turned that moment into a TV ad. While she's dramatically outspending him, $14 million to his $1 million on advertising alone, the closing momentum is on his side.

The race is playing out here in Trump country, where the president won the state four years ago by nearly 30 points.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump and Mitch McConnell, delivering for Kentucky.

ZELENY: From the streets of Louisville, to small towns like Campbellsville, Booker is making the case for progressive change. His policies closely align with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both of whom have endorsed him.


BOOKER: We've got to be that change. We've got to bend that arc.

ZELENY (on camera): Do you wonder if he's too progressive for Kentucky?

BRUCE WHALEY, KENTUCKY VOTER: Sometimes I think about that, but it's time for a change. Everything is evolving, man.

ZELENY (voice over): A more urgent test is the mechanics of voting. While more than 500,000 have voted early or absentee, only one polling place is open today in Louisville, with precincts consolidated because of coronavirus.

BOOKER: It's been hard to vote in Kentucky for a lot of us for a long time. And what we're seeing now is really a continuation of that. It's just naturally going to disenfranchise people. And that is a concern.


ZELENY: We are seeing a steady stream of voters here throughout the morning. The results, though, will not be known on Election Day. Kentucky officials say they will not have them until a week from today because of all that absentee voting.

Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Jeff, fascinating what's happening there. Thanks so much for being on the ground.

The president just left the White House. Before he left, he weighed in on his comments about slowing down coronavirus testing. The White House had called them a joke. This morning the president says, I don't kid. More, next.