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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Trump Set To Hold Campaign Event In Arizona; Dr. Fauci Warns Of Coronavirus Surge; Texas Governor Warns Safest Place Is At Home As New Cases Surge; FBI, NASCAR Say Bubba Wallace Not A Target Of A Hate Crime; SEC Threatens To Remove Championship Events From Mississippi Over State Flag's Confederate Symbol; Debunking Trump's False Claims On Mail-In Voting. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 23, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

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.

This hour, President Trump is in Arizona, preparing to hold another indoor campaign event, in defiance of coronavirus concerns, in a state seeing record spikes in new cases and deaths.

His response to the pandemic remains alarming and confusing. He now suggests that he did ask for a slowdown in testing here in the United States, as infections have surged, contradicting the White House spin that he was only kidding.

All this as Dr. Anthony Fauci and other Coronavirus Task Force members have been painting a rather dire picture of the spread of the virus during hours of congressional testimony today, the CDC chief warning that COVID-19 has -- and I'm quoting now -- "brought this nation to its knees."

Also breaking, the FBI says it's determined that NASCAR's only African-American star driver was not -- repeat -- not a target of a hate crime. Authorities say a rope fashioned like a noose found in a garage assigned to Bubba Wallace was a door pull that had been there as early as last fall.

First, let's go straight to Arizona and our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, as the president prepares for tonight's rally, he's clearly not on the same page as health experts or his own top aides.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

President Trump is on his way to a campaign event in Phoenix after visiting his border wall earlier today. The president is in damage control mode, trying to clean up a comment that he told administration officials to slow down testing for the coronavirus. First, aides to the president said he was just joking about that.

Then the president contradicted his own aides by saying he doesn't kid.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Even after more than 120,000 deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S., the president and his top aides are having a tough time explaining whether Mr. Trump is just kidding or being serious when it comes to testing for COVID-19.

QUESTION: Were you just kidding, or do you have a plan to slow down testing?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't kid. Let me just tell you. Let me make it clear. By having more cases, it sounds bad. But, actually, what it is, we're finding people.

ACOSTA: The president is trying to talk his way out of the mess he started at his rally in Tulsa over the weekend, when he said he's ordered officials to slow down testing.

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

ACOSTA: White House officials first claimed the president was kidding.

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

ACOSTA: Asked about Mr. Trump's comment that he does not kid, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters on Air Force One: "He was noting he was making a serious point, but he was using sarcasm to do that at the rally."

At a hearing in the House, Dr. Anthony Fauci testified, the administration is not dialing back testing.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I know for sure, but, 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.

ACOSTA: But the president's no-kidding claim runs counter to excuses he's used in the past, like when he suggested to Americans that they inject themselves with disinfectant to kill the virus.

TRUMP: When I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump later said he was kidding.

TRUMP: I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you, just to see what would happen.

ACOSTA: Or when he claimed to be chosen by God.

TRUMP: I am the chosen one.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump tweeted: "The media knew I was kidding, being sarcastic." Contrast all of that with the somber warning from Fauci that the coronavirus is surging in some parts of the U.S.

FAUCI: We are now seeing a disturbing surge of infections. Right now, the next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surgings that we are seeing in Florida, in Texas, in Arizona, and in other states.

ACOSTA: That contradicts Mr. Trump's repeated claims the virus is disappearing.

TRUMP: If you look, the numbers are very minuscule compared to what it was. It's dying out.

ACOSTA: The president is visiting Arizona to tour parts of his border wall, the pet project he turns to when he needs to play to his base. Mr. Trump has only managed to build a fraction of the border barrier he sold to voters. Instead of Mexico paying for the wall, as he promised, American taxpayers are picking up the tab.

TRUMP: I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.

ACOSTA: To rev up his supporters, the president is also seizing on the latest destruction left by demonstrators protesting police brutality with threats of jail time, tweeting: "Numerous people arrested in D.C. for the disgraceful vandalism in Lafayette Park of the magnificent statue of Andrew Jackson, 10 years in prison. Beware."

TRUMP: We actually had a nice crowd, despite the fact that we had some pretty bad people waiting there waiting. They shouldn't have been.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, it's no secret why the president is in Arizona.

Polls show former Vice President Joe Biden could win this state. If the president loses Arizona, it is hard to see how he wins a second term in office.

On the coronavirus, the European Union may be about to construct a wall of its own, as E.U. officials are considering blocking American visitors from entering that part of the world due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.

[18:05:09]

Now, back here, here in Arizona, as you can see from this wall behind me, building a fence is easier said than done. Plenty of wall behind us where we're standing right now, but where we are panning over to right now, you can see there is no wall. Crews are working on that stretch as we speak.

And, Wolf, as we mentioned, this is a wall that Mexico is not paying for. Is the American taxpayers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, indeed.

All right, Jim Acosta in Arizona, thanks very much.

Let's stay in Arizona. Let's go to Phoenix right now, the site of the president's political event that's coming up fairly soon, we're told.

Ryan Nobles is on the scene for us.

Ryan, the city of Phoenix has an ordinance requiring face masks in public. But at this event and the folks behind you, I saw earlier, I didn't see many face masks.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, you're right, Wolf, very few, if any people complying with that ordinance that was passed by the City Council and the mayor not long ago, and it was passed because of a surge in coronavirus cases in the state of Arizona and specifically here in Phoenix.

In fact, there's been very little, if any precautions taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus at this event. The folks that came into this venue that seats about 3,000 people did not get their temperatures checked. There's little to no social distancing and, as you mentioned, Wolf, no masks either.

So, the president expected to be here in about a half-an-hour. There is six feet between him and the crowd, but we are inside a venue where there is a lot of people talking. As you can tell, they're very enthusiastic. There's a lot of cheering.

It's a recipe for what many public health experts say could be a disaster when it comes to the spread of the coronavirus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Saturday night, you were in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at that event where there were about 6,200 people in that arena. And we know that six of the president's advance team, campaign advance team, they tested positive. They didn't go to the event in Tulsa.

They were there, two Secret Service agents as well. But two of the campaign advance personnel, they did go to the event, they did test positive. Were their tests before, and are there going to be tests after this event where you are in Phoenix?

NOBLES: It's a good question, Wolf. We haven't been given specific guidance on that, because this particular event, not run by the White House, not run by the Trump campaign, instead being run by a third- party organization called Turning Point Action and their subsidiary called Students For Trump.

So they have not made us aware of any attempts to test folks that are here, the staffers that are associated with it, and those that are going to be surrounding the president. And, as I can tell you before, Wolf, very few people taking any sort of precaution to spread the -- for the potential of the spread of the coronavirus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, those young people there should all be wearing masks. Even if they think they're not going to get very sick, they could clearly pass it on to their moms and dads, their grandparents and others, if they get this disease.

All right, thanks very much. We will stay in close touch with you, Ryan Nobles, on the scene in Phoenix for us.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and our senior political commentator, David Axelrod.

Sanjay, looking at how the United States has handled the virus, does it make sense for the E.U. to now consider a more long-term ban on American travelers trying to get into European countries?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's hard to believe this is a consideration, but there is some logic to it, Wolf.

I mean, just look at the right side of your screen. I mean, out of the world, we represent now 25 percent, roughly, of the world's infections of this coronavirus, and, sadly, 25 percent of the world's deaths as well.

So, that's what's driving the decision, I'm sure. That's the criteria. Other countries as well, such as Brazil and Russia, have also -- they're sort of these hot spots. So that's what's factoring into this.

Having said that, just from a pure public health standpoint, it's not a silver bullet to think about these travel bans. I mean, they can be very disruptive. The World Health Organization is an organization that is generally against them, thinking that the risks outweigh the benefits of these things.

There's other sort of stopgap measures you can put in place, like people who are traveling to a country, they may need to quarantine themselves for 14 days before they can actually go out into the country.

Testing, which we talk about all the time, Wolf, if there was more testing in place, that would also obviate some of these concerns. People could be tested, and have some confidence that at least at the time that they are negative. But, again, because we don't have enough testing, that makes that more difficult to address as well.

BLITZER: It would be, Gloria, a big embarrassment to the president if the Europeans did impose this longer-term travel ban, at a time when he says it's dying out -- his words -- dying out here in the United States.

How will he react, do you think, if they do this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think he will probably be pretty angry about it, because he likes to say that the that the curve is going down, which, of course, it isn't, as we know, in parts of the country.

[18:10:09]

And he likes to say that the United States is having more success with its testing than any other country. It also brings to mind that the president, at the outset of all of this, was very fond of saying that: I acted first. I banned anybody flying in from China.

And now, if the European countries are banning us from flying there, it kind of puts those -- U.S. and China, in a way, on a par that would not make the president happy. The notion of Americans being banned from going to European countries will, I think, make him crazy.

He will be very upset about it, because he wants to portray the success the United States is having, not the failures.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point.

David Axelrod, Dr. Fauci and other Coronavirus Task Force members, testifying before Congress today, said, the president never asked them to slow down coronavirus testing. But also today, the president said he wasn't joking when he made that comment Saturday night at that political rally in Tulsa.

So what do you make of this mess on messaging, when more than 120,000, right now, more than 121,000 Americans are dead from this virus?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Wolf, first, let me say, I worked with Dr. Fauci back in 2009 when I worked in the White House on the H1N1 flu pandemic.

And, yes, I saw what I think the country has come to see during this crisis, which is that he is a total straight shooter. I'm sure that if he says that the president never asked him to slow down on testing, then the president never asked him to slow down on testing.

It doesn't mean the president hasn't expressed himself to others around him to slow down testing, including his most immediate aides. He's made his view on this very clear. He views it as inconvenient to know the truth about how pervasive this virus is.

He wants to will it away. He thinks it is politically inconvenient. Look what he's doing today, modeling the wrong behavior. He's the president of the United States, and he is engaged in an activity here that completely contradicts the advice that public health experts are giving.

And he's doing it in a state that is currently hurtling toward a public health disaster because of this pandemic. So, I believe Dr. Fauci, but I also believe the president when he says he doesn't want a lot of testing because he finds it inconvenient to know the numbers, because he has said that before.

This wasn't the first time, Saturday night, that he said it. He's expressed that sentiment before. And it goes right back to the beginning of this pandemic, when he, for six weeks, ignored all the warning signs because he did not want to concede that this was going to be a crisis. BLITZER: At the same time, Gloria, the president seems to be using Dr. Fauci's credibility, his trustworthiness to bolster his own response.

BORGER: Right, because, as David was saying, Fauci said, I haven't been told to do fewer tests, we're going to do more testing, not less. And he said, nobody told him to slow down.

It was interesting to me today that the president in a tweet noted Dr. Fauci's popularity, which is at a stratospheric level of, I believe, 72 percent. And his whole point is, well, if you like him so much, and he says we're OK, why don't you like me? Why don't you believe me that I'm not doing better?

So, also, by the way, anybody having a higher popularity rating than the president is a dangerous place to be for somebody working in the White House. But the president is saying, wait a minute, you trust Fauci, but what about me? He works for me.

BLITZER: Sanjay, let me get your thoughts on what the president's about to do. He is about to speak to these young people who support him.

We're looking at live pictures, a pretty crowded room right there. A lot of young people. You heard Ryan Nobles tell us very few, if any of them are really wearing face masks. They're all jammed in pretty close together right now.

The president is going to walk in there probably in a half-an-hour or an hour or so from now, deliver a speech. This could be awkward and potentially dangerous.

GUPTA: I don't think history will judge us very well for what's happening right now, Wolf.

I mean, you can look at the right side of the screen. Again, we're not even 5 percent of the world's population, 25 percent of the world's cases, 25 percent of the world's deaths. The European Union is considering a travel ban for people coming from the United States.

The numbers are going up in just about all these places where the president has been, Oklahoma, now Arizona. Arizona had an emergency order that went into place because they're concerned about their hospitals becoming potentially overwhelmed with patients.

[18:15:03]

And you see the -- what's happening in this rally, basic public health measures not being followed. It's the worst-case scenario, from the CDC's perspective, indoors, lots of people close together, no physical distancing, not wearing masks, duration.

If you're next to somebody for longer than 15 minutes, that adds another level of risk. People will then go home, potentially spread this virus to their -- to their families, to their communities.

I mean, it defies logic to do this sort of thing, especially given where we are in the country right now.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a serious issue, indeed.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Gloria Borger, David Axelrod, guys, thank you very much.

Just ahead, we're going to hear more from Dr. Fauci and other task force members testifying about alarming spikes in new coronavirus cases here in the United States.

And the Texas governor now urging residents to simply stay home after that state was among the earliest to reopen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:19]

BLITZER: The coronavirus death toll just rose above 121,000. That's in the past four months. Right now, half of all states are seeing the rate of new cases go up and up.

CNN's Nick Watt is in California with the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FAUCI: If you look at how we have been hit, we have been hit badly.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A checkup from Dr. Anthony Fauci, praise for New York, where they are for now controlling COVID- 19.

FAUCI: However, in other areas of the country, we are now seeing a disturbing surge of infections.

WATT: Black Americans are being hit harder. Does institutional racism play a part?

FAUCI: The answer, Congressman, is yes.

WATT: And a vaccine?

FAUCI: I still think there is a reasonably good chance that, by the very beginning of 2021, that, if we're going to have a vaccine, that we will have it by then.

WATT: Meantime, they say, it must be masks, distancing, and handwashing.

FAUCI: The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surgings that we're seeing.

WATT: Case counts are now rising in half our states.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: As we move from total lockdown to a public health model of testing, tracking, isolating, and quarantining, we have yet to see any state make that transition effectively.

WATT: Here's what happened in Texas since reopening began. We knew daily case counts would go up. They have about quadrupled.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Because the spread is so rampant right now, there is never a reason for you to have to leave your home unless you do need to go out.

WATT: He says even tougher actions might be needed if those numbers keep rising. Here's Florida since reopening began. Average case counts have tripled.

DR. ANDREW PASTEWSKI, JACKSON SOUTH MEDICAL CENTER: A week ago, we had eight patients, none on a ventilator. We are now at over 40-plus patients, four on ventilators. We have had to find a second COVID unit. And they're looking for a third COVID unit right now.

WATT: More than 60 percent of all infections in the U.S. are in those under 50, according to the CDC, increasing fears for schools in the fall and the return to sports.

The world's number tennis player, Novak Djokovic, just tested positive days after hosting an up-close-and-personal tournament, a decision another player called boneheaded.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: And two new records today in California, Wolf, both of them bad, the most new COVID cases in a day, more than 5,000, the most COVID patients in the hospital, nearly 4,000.

During that testimony on the Hill today, Dr. Redfield from the CDC, he said that this virus has brought the country to its knees. And Dr. Anthony Fauci says that, unless we get ahold of it before the fall, then you're essentially chasing after a forest fire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Watt reporting for us -- Nick, thank you very much.

Let's bring in Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Dr. Jha, thanks so much for joining us.

So, when the CDC director, Robert Redfield, says the virus has brought this nation to its knees, what do you think lies ahead, as the virus is clearly spreading throughout the country? Let's talk about the next few weeks and months.

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

As I have said before, we are early in this pandemic. We are nowhere near done with this thing. And so, unless we really start acting very differently, and taking this virus much more seriously, we're going to have a lot more cases in the upcoming days and weeks in the states that we're seeing big outbreaks. And in the months ahead, especially as we get into the fall, I'm

deeply worried that we're going to see large outbreaks in many parts of the country. I think we can avoid that. But it's going to really require a lot of action, both at the state and federal level.

BLITZER: What kind of action?

JHA: Well, first of all, I know it's -- it feels inconvenient to some number of people, but we have all got to wear masks.

When we're out and about, when we're going to retail stores, when we're going into bars, we got to wear masks. That's going to be one key thing, and I believe we should have a national law or certainly every state should pass a law requiring masks in public places.

Secondly, I think people have to maintain social distancing. And that means getting rid of things like nightclubs. I mean, we just can't afford to have nightclubs and super packed bars right now, in the middle of this pandemic.

And then the third, which we have talked a lot about, which was a focus of the testimony today, is, we have got a really keep pushing on testing and tracing. It's the one tool that we know works to bring the virus levels down.

BLITZER: Yes, that's really, really quickly article.

[18:25:00]

You probably know this. The renowned scientist William Haseltine tells CNN, there's no evidence of what's called herd immunity for coronavirus. Do you agree with this assessment that, much like the common cold, immunity for COVID-19 and anyone who has recovered potentially could be short-lived?

JHA: Right now, Wolf, I just don't know.

We haven't been -- we haven't been dealing with this virus long enough to know how long immunity lasts. It is possible that it could be as little as six or 12 months, which is what we see with the common cold. It could be longer.

But I think counting on herd immunity really requires a strategy where many hundreds of thousands of Americans die, and we may not get herd immunity out of it. I don't think that's a good strategy. This is why we have got to hold out for a vaccine. And we have got to play it smart until then.

BLITZER: Yes, and maybe some treatments that might prevent people getting overly sick or dying. That would be a major breakthrough as well.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Fauci testified before Congress that he still thinks, in his words, there's a reasonably good chance we will have a vaccine by the beginning of next year.

Do you agree?

JHA: I do, Wolf.

I think the science is moving along very nicely. The scientific community has done an extraordinary job. I think, in the fall, we're going to start seeing some large clinical trials. And I'm hoping, by the end of the year or early next year, we will have a vaccine.

But then we have got to make hundreds of millions of doses. We have got to do that in a way that's safe. And then we have got to give it to people. And so I don't really expect, until the end of the first quarter, or maybe more like the second quarter, April, May, June of next year, is when we have enough vaccinations that the virus really starts slowing down and maybe even coming to a halt.

BLITZER: This virus is going to continue for some time.

Dr. Jha, thank you so much for joining us.

JHA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: As coronavirus cases spike in Texas, first responders are being directly impacted. I will speak with the Houston police chief.

And there's more breaking news we're following on what appeared to be a noose found in the garage of NASCAR's only top black driver -- why the FBI now thinks it was all a misunderstanding.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: With breaking news tonight, the governor of Texas is now warning all residents that the safest place to be is at home, as the state sees its highest numbers of new infections and hospitalizations nearly two months after reopening.

Let's discuss with the Houston police chief, Art Acevedo. He's also the President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Chief, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know better than anyone, more than a hundred Houston police officers are quarantined right now with coronavirus. How is this spike in cases impacting your work?

CHIEF ART ACEVEDO, HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well we're lucky because we are able to handle it so far. Just think about it, in last three weeks, June 1st, we only had ten officers out with COVID, recovering from COVID, and as of today, we're at 113, and we've only had 165 totals. So that's tells you what a spike we've had in three weeks.

So, so far, it's had a manageable (ph) impact. We have -- we still running on all eight cylinders but its -- you got to worry about it because we've got to keep our workforce safe and we have to keep this community safe, so we're watching it very closely.

BLITZER: Do you know how these officers got the virus?

ACEVEDO: You know, that's a good question, because we had all the protests and we had a lot of close contact, but the state also opened significantly about 25 percent leading up to Memorial Day weekend. Then it went to 50 percent capacity, then at 75 percent.

And so the question is how much of it is from the protests. I think a lot of it is consistent with what we're seeing with the general population, that ever since we opened the state, we're seeing alarming increases across the estate of Texas and Houston is not immune from that.

BLITZER: And you tell me you were worried, you just got another test right? And you just got the results.

ACEVEDO: Yes, thank God, I was very worried about my own results but I just got my second COVID, the one with the -- the one that goes up your nostril and it came back negative. And so I've had two COVID tests are negative, I've had three antibody tests that are negative so I've been fortunate. But my officers are going to double down in terms of our efforts to make sure we stay safe.

BLITZER: Yes, let's hope it stays that way.

Your Governor, Greg Abbott, says the safest place now is to be at home. Do you want to see tougher health restrictions put back in place?

ACEVEDO: You know, Texans are so independent to that it seems like if you tell them they have to do it, some of us would be hardheaded. I just think it's a right thing to do. You know, we should be doing this things and taking this precautions not because we have to, because the government is telling us, but because we're caring Judeo-Christian society and we know that the data shows and the science shows that if we simply take some precautions, wear our masks, it's not for yourself, it's for the people around you. It's the right things to do.

And I know that there some orders are being issued here locally that the businesses have to have -- folks have to have masks on. And we expect our businesses will enforce that to protect their own workforce and the people that are coming in from the community.

So we should start seeing hopefully these measures working in the upcoming days.

BLITZER: Are you increasing your police presence and enforcement in places like bars, other places where crowds may be gathering and folks aren't wearing masks?

ACEVEDO: Yes, you know the ABC, TABC under the direction of the governor, has actually done enforcement throughout the state this last weekend.

[18:35:08] And I'm happy to report that they're doing a good job of keeping our bars and our establishments honest. They have suspended the liquor licenses for 30 days of these bars. And so young people seem to be thinking that they're immune from it and I think that, quite frankly, it's young people going back to bars have been part of the problem.

And so we're starting to see more enforcement from the police department. We're going to continue to focus on violent crime but people need to keep in mind that in the state of Texas the property rights are taken very seriously.

And if a business tells you can't come in, forget whether or not the government is telling you. That business entity has every right to keep you from coming in. You'll probably end up getting criminal trespass violation if you do not abide by the orders and the direction of the private entities telling you what to do.

BLITZER: And those young people have to know that even if they get it and have a very mild case or totally asymptomatic, they can pass it on to their mothers and fathers and grandparents and friends. That is extremely dangerous. Chief Acevedo, thank you so much for joining us.

ACEVEDO: Thank you, have a great day.

BLITZER: You too.

Just ahead, the FBI reveals what it just found out about the noose found in the garage of NASCAR driver, Bubba Wallace. We'll get the latest.

And this, are positive coronavirus cases right now among student athletes putting college sports in real jeopardy? I'll ask the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, all that coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We're back with breaking news on an incident that appeared to be a new flash point in the fight against racism. The FBI just revealed its findings on that noose-like rope found in the garage of the NASCAR star Bubba Williams. CNN's Alexandra Field has details for us.

Alexandra, the FBI says this was not, I repeat, not a hate crime.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not a hate crime. So there will be no federal charges, no evidence of a federal crime, no evidence of a crime against the driver, Bubba Wallace. They assigned 15 FBI agents. It now seems that the noose found in his garage was part of a garage door rope pull.

NASCAR has just put out this statement explaining the FBI report concludes and photographic evidence confirms that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team's arrival and garage assignment. We appreciate the FBI's quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba. We remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a welcoming an inclusive environment for all who love racing.

Certainly there's been a lot of support for Bubba Wallace in the last few days, and also in the last week or so since he called for NASCAR to ban the confederate flag at all of its events, a move that NASCAR decided to take on and quickly implement it. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, Bubba Wallace. I misspoke earlier. He's truly, truly a great American. We'll watch the story unfold. Thanks very much, Alexandra, for that update.

Meanwhile, the Southeastern Conference is warning the State of Mississippi that it won't host championships events, unless a confederate symbol is removed from the state's flag. For more on this, we're joined by the Southeastern Conference Commissioner, Greg Sankey. Greg, thank you so much for joining us.

Tell us why you decided to issue this ultimatum to the State of Mississippi?

GREG SANKEY, COMMISSIONER, SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE: It really goes back just over five years now when the tragedy in Charleston resulted in nine deaths in a church shooting, I was asked in my first year as Commissioner of the SEC, what's your position on these state displays of the confederate battle flag and that time, I called for change.

And in my statement last week identified really an encouraging tone that we're past the time for change. And I truly believe that I needed to be said in a clear statement.

And we're going into a cycle where we looking at some future championship sites. We rotate certain championships between our campuses, which are welcoming places and have identified that that's, if you will, a lever that we could use to encourage change because we want our campuses, we want our states which are field with great people to be the kind of welcoming environment for our student athletes that we would expect.

BLITZER: We've seen other sports leagues that confront racial injustice as well. Do you think we're entering potentially a new era of athletes and sports leagues, using their influence to fight for social change?

SANKEY: You know, I was on a call of our head football coaches almost two weeks ago. And one of our coaches observed that our student athletes, our young people are asking us for support rather than permission. And perhaps years ago, it was permission. But they're looking for support.

And we provide guidance, and education along the sort of conversations and governance and politics and leadership. And I think these types of statements are a reflection of that support expectation and the outcome of growing leaders which is basically what we do every day on our campuses.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on the potential return of college sports during this coronavirus pandemic. A lot of experts believe the virus will still be a big threat when students return to campus in the fall. Several schools have already reported athletes testing positive for the virus during their summer workouts. If the current situation holds, would it be safe to play college sports in the fall?

[18:45:01]

SANKEY: Well, I think the reality is, nothing related to our current circumstance over the last three months has helped. We do have the virus. We had the virus back in March and we cancelled our basketball tournaments. You have -- we learn every day. We engage medical experts in helping us understand how to best to oversee, how best to monitor and how best to sanitize and treat our young people.

And there's a difference between some of the reports about numbers on isolation or quarantining, because we're in this tracing program, and we have had positive tests. I think in any endeavor right now, you're going to have those positive tests but we want to be aggressive to stop the spread. And we're on a journey and my focus is preparing the play season as scheduled.

But the reality is the circumstances around the virus will guide us in that decision making. But I think right now, we're at an appropriate point in our preparation and both our learning, but most importantly in our care for our young people.

BLITZER: That's the most important thing. You're absolutely right.

So, do you think we'll see college football, for example, in the fall and if we do, will there be fans in those big stadiums?

SANKEY: Yes, the beauty is I don't have to answer every one of those questions in final right now. We're seeing opportunities for fans to be at events. We were talking about Talladega. A very small number.

I don't -- I don't expect that the numbers would remain necessarily that small but we're going to -- we're going to pay attention to our state and local and campus public health officials in guiding us to make the determination about fans. I would think the game itself would look much like we're accustomed to, but there are fewer people around the sidelines. You know, the presence of masks I expect to be some place around our competitions.

That doesn't mean in, but if we've got people measuring first downs, you're going to see that type of reality we're seeing in our lives every day. But the message is we want to engage in those public health exercises now, wear a mask, engage in social distancing, engage in hygiene so that we can have these opportunities come forward.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a whole new world for all of us. Commissioner, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck.

SANKEY: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, President Trump repeats he now

debunked attacks against mail-in voting. We're going to bring you the facts on mail-in voting when we come back.

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BLITZER: President Trump is once again now attacking mail-in voting here in the United States with some new baseless and false claims.

CNN's Brian Todd is gathering the facts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seems to be President Trump's conspiracy du jour, his recurring claims about voter fraud in this year's election, specifically fraud with ballots that are mailed in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you do all mail-in voting ballots, you're asking for fraud. People steal them out of mailboxes. People print them and then they sign them and they give them in and people don't even know when they're double counted.

TODD: In one barrage of tweets this week, Trump pounded on the idea. Mail-in ballots will lead to rigged election. Millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries and others. It will be the scandal of our times.

Trump's attorney general had the same talking points on FOX Business.

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Right now, a foreign country could print up tens of thousands of counterfeit ballots and it would be very hard for us to detect.

TODD: But William Barr himself said he hasn't looked into it and he's offered no evidence to back up the claim.

CNN has done multiple fact checks on the theories of widespread mail voter fraud and we found no evidence that any of it is true.

The Federal Election Commission and independent experts back us up.

MICHAEL MCDONALD, UNITED STATES ELECTION PROJECT: It's miniscule versus the number of ballots that have been cast.

TODD: Experts tell us committing mail voter fraud on mass scale in the U.S. is exceedingly difficult. Each county in America, almost every precinct, has different styles of ballots, they say. So fraudsters would have to duplicate them perfectly. And if a foreign country tried to inject counterfeit mail-in ballots, safeguards in place would nail them.

MCDONALD: The election officials themselves are printing bar codes on the ballots and the envelopes and to making sure that the ballots are going out to the proper voters, voters are signing those return envelopes, so there's signature verification that's going on on the election official's end.

TODD: About a quarter of American voters cast ballots by absentee in mail in 2016. President Trump has voted by mail as has Vice President Pence, Attorney General Barr, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. With coronavirus still a major health threat, experts say the percentage of those mailing in votes could go way up this year and should to be safer.

So, why does the president keep harping on the conspiracy?

LAURA COATES, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT VOTING RIGHTS ATTORNEY: I think that President Trump and A.G. Barr are fixated on voter fraud as a distraction. In the past, we've heard the president make comments that if you expand the franchise and have more people voting, that he believes it will minimize the chances of a Republican being elected.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But the president does not seem to have the backing of some top members of his own party for his conspiracy theory. CNN spoke with several Republican senators including those in top leadership positions.

[18:55:00]

None of them agreed with the president's comments about mail-in voting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting for us, thank you.

More news just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Finally, we pay tribute to more of the people the U.S. has lost to the coronavirus.

Sandra Krakow of Massachusetts was 69 years old, a nurse for three decades. She was known for sacrificing her own comfort to help others. Her husband says she never acknowledged the pain she was in until her dying moments when she asked "why me?"

Mike Lepine of New York was 81. He worked at his family owned butcher shop for half a century. His grandson worked their as well. He says his pops was the sweetest, coolest guy you ever met, and he says if you knew him, you were blessed.

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

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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