Return to Transcripts main page


Anthony Fauci Defends Early Mask Policy; Confusion Mounts over President Trump's Stated Testing Slowdown; Trump to Issue Jail Time Executive Order Punishing Statue Toppling. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 23, 2020 - 14:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Top of the hour now, I'm Brianna Keilar and Trump administration officials are testifying on Capitol Hill today about lessons learned in the nation's early response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats, blaming the president for a lack of leadership, and some Republicans asking Dr. Anthony Fauci if he has any regrets.


ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We know what the failings were, early on: a lack of enough PPE, a lack of enough N95s, hospital bed issues, ventilator issues. All that is right now being stored up in the Strategic National Stockpile, in preparation for what we hope never occurs, but which very well might occur. So it's the preparation.

Also, as Admiral Giroir had mentioned, as we go into the fall, we likely will have the capability of doing 40 to 50 million tests per month, which means we can get a much better grasp of what the situation is of the dynamics of virus in the community. So hopefully we will be much better prepared -- if in fact we do get this second surge -- than we were months ago.

REP. DAVID MCKINLEY (R-WV): Do you now regret not advising people more forcefully to wear masks earlier?

FAUCI: OK, we're going to play that game. Let me explain to you what happened back then.

MCKINLEY: Should be a yes or no.

FAUCI: No, there's more than a yes or no by the tone of your question. I don't regret that, because let me explain to you what happened. At that time, there was a paucity of equipment that our health care providers needed, who put themselves daily in harm's way of taking care of people who are ill. We did not want to divert masks and PPE away from them to be used by the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: With me now, live from the Hill, is CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, I wonder what stood out to you, and I certainly -- that tone from Dr. Fauci, answering that question from a Republican congressman, I mean, he clearly was feeling like he was taking some blame for something that he should be taking blame for, as he was trying to save the lives of frontline responders.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly defending his approach, and the early approach by this administration, as we look back about what happened and whether or not more could have been done.

One of the things that has stuck out in this hearing is how different the tone has been from these public health experts about the concerns that they have about this disease continuing to spread in this country, much different than what we are hearing from the president and the vice president.

The vice president, of course, said last week there will be no second wave. The president has essentially suggested that testing is overrated, is essentially a double-edged sword in his view. He believes that that's the reason why there are more cases.

Well, Anthony Fauci says the reason why there are more cases is because, in his view, there's a disturbing surge in more infections happening in the United States. He said it's been a mixed bag, how things have been dealt with, and both -- and all four witnesses are making it very clear that more testing is needed in the United States.

Now, one of the big things, going into this of course, was the president's comment from Saturday at a Tulsa rally, in which he said -- he suggested to staff to slow down testing for COVID-19. But when asked today, the four witnesses indicated they have not been asked by the president to slow things down.


FAUCI: I know for sure that to my knowledge, none of us have ever been told to slow down on testing, that just is a fact. In fact, we will be doing more testing.


RAJU: Of course, the president's staff afterwards, after he made that comment, said that he was only joking. They spent the last two days saying that. This morning, the president said he was -- doesn't kid around, when he was asked specifically if he was joking about that remark.

But the person who's in charge of testing for this administration, Admiral Brett Giroir, testified that more testing is needed. He said the only way that we'll be able to understand this disease -- who is infected and who can pass it and do the -- is to do the appropriate contact tracing as well as to test as many people as possible. So that is the message, they want to test 40 to 50 million people per month by the fall. [14:05:01]

Thus far, we've only had 27 million tests that have happened in the United States up to this point, so a dramatic push needed by this administration that is being voiced by the administration officials that states (ph) need to undertake, and needs to happen in order to safely reopen, much different than what we're hearing from the president -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Certainly is. Manu, thank you for that report from the Hill.

President Trump has just landed in Arizona today, that's where he's going to be holding a number of events. And it's happening in a state where coronavirus cases are just surging.

After making a stop at the border wall, he heads to Phoenix to address thousands of young supporters inside of a church. No masks required for that event, which the mayor says violates safety rules against large gatherings. All of this, happening in a state that is quickly becoming a hotspot for the coronavirus outbreak. Today, setting a new single-day record with more than 3,500 new cases and 42 deaths.

Before leaving for Arizona, President Trump, insisting he was serious when he said he asked his administration to slow down coronavirus testing. Of course, this contradicts claims from his top advisors, who say the president was just joking.


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



PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: You know, it was tongue in cheek. Come on now, come on now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did the president --

NAVARRO: That was tongue in cheek, please.

TAPPER: I don't know that it was tongue in cheek at all.

NAVARRO: I know it was tongue in cheek --

TAPPER: He has said similar things for months --

NAVARRO: -- that's news for you, tongue in cheek, OK?

TAPPER: -- he has said similar things for months.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TIM MURTAUGH, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN: It was clearly -- I understand that there's not much of a sense of humor at CNN Center, but the president was joking. I'm not surprised that you're either unable or unwilling to understand that the president had a tongue-in-cheek remark there --



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't kid. Let me just tell you, let me make it clear.


KEILAR: CNN's Jim Acosta is traveling with the president in Arizona. And yesterday, Jim, the administration said he was joking. today, he says he's serious --


KEILAR: -- also, today, his top health officials are saying they haven't been asked to slow testing. Set this straight for us, because heads are spinning trying to figure this out.

ACOSTA: Yes. I'm not sure we have enough time to set it straight, Brianna, but you're right, this has been tying the president and his top advisors into knots over the last couple of days. We can tell you that the president just arrived here in Yuma, Arizona. He's going to be making a trip out to the border in just a short time from now, to go check on the progress of his border wall that's being built along the border of the U.S. and Mexico.

Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, was just asked about this during a gaggle on Air Force One. She is trying to clean up the president's -- clean-up of his comments from Saturday. And she said, just a few moments ago, that when the president said, earlier today, "I don't kid," he was trying to make a serious point, she says, about the importance of testing. And so those are the latest comments coming from the White House press secretary.

But as Manu was just laying out and as you just laid out, a few moments ago, they are essentially in clean-up mode right now, they're in damage control mode right now because, as the president said on Saturday, he instructed officials inside the administration to slow down testing.

And the aftermath of that comment, which has been turned into political ads already by the president's adversaries, we've seen the White House press secretary say the president was just saying that in jest. We saw Peter Navarro, the trade advisor, saying the president was saying that tongue-in-cheek.

And then the president comes out this morning on the South Lawn of the White House, and says, I don't kid. Now, one thing we should point out, Brianna, is that the president and

his top aides have used this kidding excuse in the past. When the president said, I am the chosen one, back in 2019, he later tweeted that he was just kidding about that. When the president suggested that Americans inject themselves with disinfectant to ward off the coronavirus, he said the next day that he was just being sarcastic about that.

And so when the president says, this morning, on the South Lawn of the White House, "I don't kid," he's obviously not telling the truth. He's lying there because he has used that excuse in the past. That is of course, Brianna -- that depends on whether those statements that he made in the past were falsehoods, when he was saying he was kidding about recent, you know, and past controversial comments.

The other thing we should point is, as the president heads out to the border wall, later on this afternoon, he's going to be checking on a border wall that only amounts to about 200 miles of border wall that has been constructed during the Trump administration. It is, in most cases, replacing existing wall or augmenting wall that was -- or border fencing that was already encased.

There's really only been a few miles of actual new wall that has been built during the Trump administration, and so we'll hear from the president in just a short while from now, while he meets with border authorities, and we'll have more on that as it develops -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Jim in Yuma, thank you.

Joining me now is Dr. James Phillips, physician and assistant professor at George Washington University Hospital. He's also a CNN medical analyst. Doctor, thanks for being with us, always good to see you.



KEILAR: You said -- you heard the president say he's serious that he wants the U.S. to slow down testing. Yes, there seems to be a little clean-up at the White House, but he says it wasn't a joke when he talked about it. What's your reaction to that?

PHILLIPS: I want a clear answer. As a citizen, as a constituent, as someone the president works for, I would like to know the truth, that if he did say that, to whom did he say it. Four people have said it wasn't them, but there are others -- you know, Secretary Azar, some other folks -- that maybe he was referring to.

And if he's going to say something so idiotic and so contrary to the things that we've been working so hard to do, I think that we deserve answers as citizens. As a doctor, it's just absolutely alarming.

KEILAR: Yes, because what would it mean to slow testing with the goal of, you know, affecting numbers and trying to make it look like there are less cases? What would the goal be there? PHILLIPS: Yes, you know, this isn't the first time that this administration has made comments that make it clear to the public that they believe that lower numbers are better for them politically. And I don't understand that. I think that the strength that they could be showing is in wanting to get more testing, preventing more disease.

You know, the two fronts that we use as physicians -- and you know, my partner's in infection control -- are to test so that we can know who has the disease, but even more importantly is infection prevention measures, which is simply wearing a mask and washing your hands and staying away from other people. And unfortunately, the president, his leadership style, he just doesn't want any of that to be something that we abide by.

KEILAR: We're seeing sort of attempts to scrub the numbers, right? To make them look like they're lower. We're seeing, in Florida, a change to ICU reporting, which is really raising the ire of medical professionals who say that's ridiculous.

But I wonder from your perspective, I mean, you can't -- we know that people are dying from coronavirus, right? You see those numbers, you can't get away from those numbers, they're there. So I guess I would ask you, when it comes to the idea of, like, maybe reducing testing or even fudging ICU numbers, does that in the end, is that any way to really hide what's going on?

PHILLIPS: I don't understand the approach at all. You know, what we need, moving forward, is the ability to test anybody that needs a test, that may have symptoms or have been in contact, to be able to do it as close to instantly as possible, and to warn people that they've been around that they require testing too.

This idea of manipulating numbers, you know, these changes they were trying to make with ICU reporting in Florida, it makes no sense. You know, we need accurate numbers so that we can know hospital census, so that we know how prepared different communities are.

The White House Task Force itself, when it put out its reopening guidelines, required that sort of hospital capacity as a gateway to move forward with further phases. It's the president's own plan, and now we are working completely contrary to that.

And it's even stranger that just two weeks ago, I remember, we were discussing the fact that states like Arizona and Florida and some others were actually adding antibody testing numbers to their nasal PCR numbers, thus inflating the number of tests that they'd actually been performing in reality.

And now, it seems that, you know, the president wants to move completely in the opposite direction and reduce the number of tests. Politically, I just don't understand the point.

KEILAR: Yes. It's a very interesting point you bring up about adding those antibody tests to show that, actually, they're doing a lot of tests, when maybe not doing as many of the actual tests for the virus as they say they are. Dr. Fauci today was reminding Congress and the American public, when

he testified, that deaths -- the death number always lags behind cases. So as we're watching right now, well over 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases, we've seen 120,000-plus dead and we're seeing spikes in a lot of these states, are you expecting that we're going to be seeing a spike in death numbers?

PHILLIPS: It's going to be interesting. What we're seeing now, as the capacity for us to test the general public increases, we're starting to see a divergence in the number of infected patients and the number of hospitalized patients who then go on to die.

And what we've seen in the data is that there's a shift from the older population getting infected, to the younger population getting infected, the 30- and 40- and 50-year-olds, who have a known lower risk of death.

And so it doesn't take away from the seriousness of this, but I think that as long as we continue to protect our older and vulnerable populations, we may continue to see a lower death rate, which I personally hope for. But we are going to continue to see a rise in the total number of cases.


So it is very important to keep an eye on the number of actual hospitalizations, and the death rate. But just because those are going down doesn't mean that this isn't serious and that increasing percentages of the public are getting sick.

KEILAR: Yes, that's a very good point. Dr. Phillips, thank you.

We have some more breaking news on the pandemic, another state, California, reporting a new record for cases.

Also, the mayor of Seattle says it is time for protestors to leave their police-free zone, setting up a potential standoff.

And President Trump orders the Feds to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys statues, after protestors tried to topple Andrew Jackson outside the White House.

This is CNN's special live coverage.



KEILAR: Before leaving for Arizona today, President Trump announced he's preparing a new executive order to protect monuments. The president, vowing extensive jail time for protestors who damage any statues that are on federal lands.


TRUMP: We are looking at long-term jail sentences for these vandals and these hoodlums and these anarchists and agitators -- call them whatever you want. Some people don't like that language, but that's what they are, they're bad people. They don't love our country.


KEILAR: Now, that threat comes after protestors tried unsuccessfully to pull down a statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, across from the White House last night. They spray-painted -- as you can see -- the word "Killer," there on the base of the monument, before officers dispersed the crowd.

Trump has long cited Andrew Jackson as his hero. A portrait of Jackson hangs in the Oval Office -- you can see it right there. Jackson, the nation's seventh president, was a slaveowner, and perhaps most famous for his pivotal role in forcing Native Americans off of their lands.

I want to bring in CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley for a historical perspective on all of this. The Cherokees called Andrew Jackson a killer. Trump says, I'm a fan of Jackson. Just explain, Doug, to our viewers, Jackson's controversial legacy and the president's affinity for him.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, Andrew Jackson was our seventh president. And in some ways, he opened up voting franchise. He was our first president from the frontier.

But he was known as what they used to call an Indian fighter, and that Indian fighting ended up being a very cold, callous, even genocidal attitude towards Native extermination, which culminated in the Trail of Tears, the marching the Native peoples from the southern zone to Oklahoma. And so he is a troubled historical persona, Andrew Jackson.

Now, some people honor him for the Battle of New Orleans, for helping us win the War of 1812 and liberating ourselves from Great Britain that second time. There's much to discuss about Jackson's presidency.

But of all of the U.S. presidents, I think under scrutiny right now, Andrew Jackson probably tops the list of ones that are -- he used to rank high in the polls, and there used to be Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners, Brianna. And now, Democratic Party has sort of abandoned Andrew Jackson, Trump has adopted him and even went to his home, the Hermitage, in Tennessee.

All that said, that statue should not be torn down in Lafayette Park in a willy-nilly fashion because those protestors or people that do that will get arrested. It's like blowing up a U.S. mailbox or something. So I think protest, but don't rip down federal statues or you'll find yourself in deep water.

KEILAR: So what do you make of the president's threat today to arrest protestors who target statues? This is something that you feel has teeth?

BRINKLEY: I think it has teeth for Donald Trump if it's federal property. If you looking to go into a national park site and start desecrating things that are run by the federal government, you're going to get arrested. Now, cities that own city statues, dismantling may be dealt with different by a city council. You know, it's -- or a particular state might take a different way of looking at it.

But I think Donald Trump's threat about U.S. federal property, where monuments are -- meaning if somebody tried to damage the Jefferson Memorial or the Washington Monument, I would believe his threat, that he is at least going to start putting the full force of the Justice Department, going after those perpetrators or those who are -- those vandals.

KEILAR: All right, Doug, thank you so much. Douglas Brinkley, we appreciate the historical perspective.

We do have some more breaking news now on the pandemic. Another state, California, is reporting a new record for cases.

Plus, the police union in Minneapolis speaks out to CNN after the death of George Floyd and the charges against the fired officers involved. We'll hear what they're saying.



KEILAR: California has hit yet another daily record high of coronavirus infections. Public health officials say the state topped 5,000 cases Monday. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is joining me now to talk about this.

And this is the fourth daily case record here in the past week, Elizabeth. This is -- that's significant. How are state leaders responding?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They're responding by saying, You know what, we need to go back to socially -- to doing more social distancing, people need to wear masks. There's been a really heavy emphasis on wearing masks.

There's also been an emphasis on leaders saying to people, You know what, it's not just these mass events, you know, when people get together, for example, for a protest or even when people get together in bars, that a lot of this is people getting together for, say, graduation parties a couple of weeks ago, when young people were graduating.

It's people getting together in individual homes, that we all need to think about how we're leading our daily lives. And it's so hard because this has been going on for so long, but just because we want to be able to, you know, have a graduation party for our children doesn't mean that we should.

KEILAR: Yes, I think we're all seeing that --