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Appeals Court Orders Judge to Dismiss Flynn Case; Florida Breaks Daily Record, Adding 5,500+ New Coronavirus Cases; New Poll Shows Trump Trailing Biden by Double Digits; Last Night's Primaries Send Message to Trump & Pelosi. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 24, 2020 - 11:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing this very packed news day.

Up next this hour, a big vote for the police reform package in the U.S. Senate. Democrats say that Republican bill is not salvageable. That's their word. And they threaten to block the measure.

If they do, that will derail an already difficult process and dramatically decrease the odds those protests in the streets actually produced action here in Washington dealing with police misconduct.

There's fresh evidence that voters are looking for something different. The president's primary endorsement win streak is over. The candidate he backed in the North Carolina House race lost yesterday to a 24-year-old.

And progressive wins in New York will mean younger -- more younger liberal members complicating Speaker Nancy Pelosi's map.

But the biggest election year factor is the number you see there on the top of your screen, 121,000 Americans now perished from the coronavirus. The president says the virus is fading away. The numbers tell us something very different.

A check of the map shows 26 states now recording more cases this week than they did last week. And this is important. The average of new cases each day, just below the 30,000 threshold right now. That is very close to the pandemic's worst levels we were counting every day back in April.

The president blames the increase on testing, calling it a double- edged sword, and dismissing testing's value to guide the pandemic response. More on the pandemic in a little bit.

First, breaking developments this morning in the big back-and-forth legal fight over the Michael Flynn case. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals a short time ago ordering Judge Emmet Sullivan to dismiss the case. Sullivan said he wanted to vet the Justice Department's decision to drop the charges against the former Trump national security adviser.

The president, just minutes ago, giving his nod of approval on Twitter.

CNN's Evan Perez joins us now with the details.

Evan, why did the circuit court say, sorry, Judge, let it go?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This is a 2-1 decision from the appeals court, John. And what they're saying is essentially that this is the business of the Justice Department. The Justice Department is the one that has the discretion to bring charges and they also have the discretion to say that they no longer want to have those charges go forward.

So what these two judges, including --the opinion was written by Neomi Rao, who was appointed by President Trump.

I'll read you a part of what she wrote. She said, quote, "This is not the unusual case where more search and inquiry is justified." She said that this was about individual liberty.

As you know, General Flynn, who had pled guilty twice before judges to lying to the FBI in this case, has now asked to take back that plea.

And the Justice Department, after a couple of years of pursuing the case and supporting the prosecution, now says that there were mistakes made and that the case should never have been brought. And so this is where we are.

We don't know whether or not this case will be appealed. Again, it's a 2-1 ruling. We could see another appeal. But in a case like this, John, where it's essentially ordering the judge to dismiss the case, it's not clear if he'll fight this anymore than they already have.

KING: Evan Perez, very much appreciate the reporting on this breaking news story. The president's starting to celebrate that. And we will see how it plays out.

Let's go to Florida, one of the states experiencing what Dr. Fauci calls a dangerous coronavirus surge. New numbers just out.

And our Rosa Flores is live in Miami.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, and here we are. You and I talking about Florida breaking their own record of the number of infections per day. The new number for today, 5,511. This breaks the record from Friday, which was 4,049.

Again, the state of Florida, these numbers keep rising. We keep on talking about how the number of infections is rising and the number of hospitalizations is also rising. The latest number posted by the Florida Department of health, 5,511 cases which brings the number of total cases here in the state of Florida here to 109,014. This, as Governor Ron DeSantis continues to dig in his heels saying

he's not going to shut down the economy and that he is not going to require masks to be worn statewide.

We've learned of a letter that was written and sent to Governor Ron DeSantis by various lawmakers trying to encourage him to require masks statewide.

Locally, we do know that in Miami-Dade County and in Palm Beach County, commissioners and also local mayors making it a law, a regulation here that you must wear a mask when you're out in public.

And this, of course, because of the staggering numbers. This area of the state, southeast Florida, is the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in this state.


We just looked at the numbers released from Miami-Dade County alone. And if you just look at those numbers, the positivity rate in the double digits, 25 percent in Miami-Dade County tested positive. Two weeks ago, that number was 9 percent. The number of hospitalizations is up 42 percent in Miami-Dade County.

Again, this is what we've been hearing from experts, John, that these numbers continue to rise and that something must be done because they do continue to increase.

And again, breaking news here out of Florida is that Florida breaks its record. Again, the latest number of COVID-19 infections, 5,511 in just one day -- John?

KING: And I want to stick with you, Rosa, to follow up on this point because there are a lot of people out there, including some politicians, who say stop focusing on the case count, that that doesn't tell you everything.

It doesn't tell you everything but it does tell you something. When you have record after record after record, it is certainly a cause for concern.

You touched on two incredibly key points as you connect the dots. The hospitalizations are up. The percent of positivity in the testing heading up in a dangerous direction. And it's when you combine those factors, that's when you're talking about managing versus an epidemic that's about to spread perhaps out of control.

FLORES: You're absolutely right. We've talked to experts, John, who say you can't focus on the economy when there's a public health issue. And right now, this is a public health issue.

To share another stat that's important, Jackson Health, one of the largest health systems here in the state of Florida, is releasing that in the past 15 days, they have seen a 101 percent increase in the number of COVID-19 patients. Again, these numbers are staggering. We continue to see, regardless of

what portion you look at and how you break down these numbers, they're all pointing in the same direction. There are more infections. It's not just that they're increasing testing. More people are infected and more people are getting this virus and it's spreading.

Yes, Governor Ron DeSantis acknowledged finally that it was not an increase in testing. That it is, indeed, younger people out and about that are not social distancing and they are not wearing masks. And that is how this virus is spreading in the state of Florida.

Now add that to the concern the fact that these young people do not live in a bubble. They work with other individuals that are a little older. They live with individuals that are older, their parents and grandparents. That is a huge concern from experts.

And we talked to experts here, John, who say they don't know how else to express it other than something has to be done because these numbers keep growing.

And unless -- unless lawmakers and unless the governor does something to encourage people to do the basics, which is just wear their masks, it will be difficult to control this virus -- John?

KING: Rosa Flores, again, appreciate the critical reporting and important context as we watch Florida deal with this growing crisis. Rosa, thanks so much. I'm sure we'll be at it again tomorrow.

The president celebrating the Michael Flynn ruling today. But there's bad news for the president, who we know has been frustrated in recent days. Another poll showing him trailing Joe Biden by double digits.

Here with me to share their reporting and their insights, Toluse Olorunnipa, of the "Washington Post," Lisa Lerer from the "New York Times," and CNN's John Harwood.

I want to start, ladies and gentlemen, with what we just heard from Rosa, and put the coronavirus in context because the president yesterday was in Phoenix, also a state -- Arizona is a state this week, like Florida, reporting a 50 percent increase in its cases this week versus last week.

Listen to the president, speaking in a room -- actually, could we show the pictures of the room first?

The president went into a church, there were a couple of thousand people in there. The mayor said he was violating the city's own ordinance -- own regulations, restrictions against having a big gathering in the middle of COVID.

You see there, these are young supporters of the president, most of them not wearing masks.

And in his remarks about the coronavirus, the president says this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's got all different names, Wuhan.


TRUMP: Now, Wuhan was catching on.


TRUMP: Coronavirus, right?


TRUMP: Kung flu. Yes.


TRUMP: This is during, hopefully, the end of the pandemic.


KING: John Harwood, you're at the White House. I want to start with you.

Is there anyone on the president's team who is worried that when you look at these rising numbers, that he just sounds out of touch to say the pandemic is ending. Never mind the racist language he uses there. I can't -- I'll throw that aside. I probably shouldn't, but I'll throw that aside.

But the fact that these numbers keep going up. Florida is a Trump state he needs to win. Texas is a Trump state he needs to win. Arizona is a state he needs to win.

The people who live there, whether they're Democrats and Republicans or in between, they know what's happening. And the president sounds like he's clueless.


JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president is clueless. But he's the president and he can say what he wants.

And, in fact, John, that clip that you just played encapsulates the irrationality of his position and the depth of his problems, both the making light of the coronavirus and the appeal to racism.

We have two major crises in the United States right now, the coronavirus pandemic and a crisis in race relations, brought on by the aftermath of the George Floyd killing. That "New York Times"/CNN that you mentioned shows that 60 percent of the American people disapprove of his handling of both of those things.

And he is determined to stick with the formula that he thinks could possibly work for him but it's not working for him. And you mentioned, in the conversation with Rosa, that politicians say, oh, don't focus on the testing because that's misleading -- don't focus on the case counts because that's misleading. What they need to focus on is the fear of the American people.

And the "New York Times"/Siena poll says that a majority of the Americans say getting on top of the virus is more important than reopening the economy. And as a matter of fact, getting on top of the coronavirus is important to reopening the economy.

President Trump can't get his mind around that and that's why his problems are so deep right now.

KING: And again, we keep hearing it, hearing it, and hearing it, wearing a mask is a way you can reopen the economy and it is a proven safety measure.

Lisa, if you look more closely -- this is your newspaper -- the "New York Times"/Siena College poll. This part, to me, is interesting, the partisan the divide: Is the worst over with the coronavirus pandemic? And 60 percent of Republicans say yes, 31 say no. Only 17 percent of Democrats say yes, nearly 80 percent, 76 percent, say no.

Look at that Republican number. Republicans who listen to the president are thinking the worst of this is over. The issue there is, if they let down their guard too much, that could become a safety issue, a health issue.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Right. Of course. The political issue here is public health experts tell us that the worst of it is over. So the president will have to find some kind of message around this virus that acknowledges, as you point out, the reality that many Americans are living in and continue to be living in.

I think, when I've listened to the president in these two rallies, which have been his big re-election events that we've seen in the past couple of weeks, what's been most striking to me is what's not there, what he's not saying. There's no agenda for the second term. He doesn't really have a clear line of attack against former Vice President Biden.

And those were what he did have during his first run. He had an agenda. It was "build the wall," it was "keep jobs at home" and it was "drain the swamp." It's not clear what he's telling to Americans for his second term, particularly at a moment when people feel angry and uncertain and a lot of people are worried and feeling much less optimistic about the future of the country.

But, by the same token, he also doesn't have a clear-cut line of attack against Biden. I'm old enough to remember when it was the president running on the economy and Hunter Biden, and we aren't seeing that kind of clear messaging at all.

KING: We may get there in the next four months. But, Toluse, that's an interesting thing. And I'll read you a quote from Terry Sullivan, a veteran Republican strategist, quoted in the "New York Times" today. Terry is very colorful but he understands how to win big state, states that matter, Florida, for example, a state he's worked in many times.

This is what he said about the president: "He's not disciplined enough to focus that," meaning his reelection needs. "He needs the constant quick fix of people loving him."

"Mr. Trump," continued Mr. Sullivan, "is the Rod Stewart of politicians. He may keep coming up with new materials but, deep down, he knows the fans just want to hear 'Wake up, Maggie.' So he keeps playing the same tune because he can't stand the thought of them not loving his performance. It's a very colorful way to say the president has his ways and so he doesn't like to change.

We all know the president defied gravity in 2016 so we should be very careful about making absolute statements in 2020. But he just sounds so out of touch with the moment.

Does he and his campaign team believe that the moment will change and he'll be in the right place come November or is there pressure on the president to change?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON POST": He's starting to see some of these poll numbers that show him slipping significantly behind Joe Biden, in part, because he's stuck with the same strategy that had been so ill-suited for the moment and so ill- suited for a pandemic.

And some of the public polling that we're seeing is mirrored by the private polls that he has been shown by members of his campaign.

But they haven't been able to break through to him with the broader part of the message, which is, if you want the poll numbers to change, you need to be more disciplined and focused on the pandemic and getting it under control and not just declare victory.

Over the past several weeks, the president has tried to put the pandemic in the rear-view mirror by declaring victory, saying that the economy is coming back, saying even if we don't have a vaccine or any therapeutic, that this will go away and everything will be fine.


And now we're seeing the case numbers go up and really refute the idea that this is something that can be taken care of without proactive measures.

And I think members of the president's campaign know that he needs to turn the ship around and know that he needs to focus on a message that is not just drilling down and giving the base the red meat that they like.

But they haven't been able to get that message through to him. He seems to be focused on just trying to get the adoration of his base by going to these big rallies despite the public health concerns of these kinds of events.

KING: I think that's a fascinating point because the adoration of the base but also to keep the support of his base. Because if you look deeply into these numbers, he's declining among some of his base.

Which is why, John Harwood, you see something like this -- this is the president on Twitter yesterday." "It's a shame that Congress doesn't do something about the low lives that burn the American flags. It should be stopped and now."

I am not a fan of burning the American flag, but I am a fan of the First Amendment.

OK, of course, he's entitled to this opinion. Many Americans share that opinion that you shouldn't burn the American flag.

But is that really what the president needs to be focused on when the economy is in the tank and we're in the middle of a pandemic and you have the racial reckoning across the country. Really?

HARWOOD: Obviously, it's not what he should be focusing on.

Before -- to take one moment of personal privilege, unlike Lisa Lerer and Terry Sullivan, I'm old enough to remember the name of that song is "Maggie May," not "Wake up, Maggie."


HARWOOD: But in terms of the president and his message, look, he was elected in 2016 with the message of racial grievance. That's what he knows politically. Racial conflict has been shot through his entire life as a business executive before he got into politics.

He's going back to that message even though the country has changed. The country continues to become more diverse. The reaction to the George Floyd murder, the protests, have had broad effects in the country.

You see in that "New York Times"/Siena poll, young white people are fleeing President Trump. And so he has not been able to adapt himself to the reality of America in 2020 and he's paying a big political price for that.

KING: We'll see as it rolls up but interesting moments where he just seems a step off.

John Harwood, Toluse Olorunnipa, Lisa Lerer, appreciate your insights today. We'll continue the conversation.

Coming up for us, primaries last night, we don't have all of the results but we do know the message to both the president and the speaker of the House.


KING: There was a major primary upset in North Carolina. It was a big night for progressives in New York and a close one in Kentucky, where we may not know until next week which Democrat gets to face off against the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

Joining me now to discuss last night's key primaries, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, along with CNN political commentator, Errol Louis, the host of the podcast, "You Decide."

Errol, I want to start with you.

Help me understand. This is your home, New York. In 2018, it was Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez who beat Joe Crowley in that primary to show us there was progression unrest in the party, both ideological and generational change.

She won her primary in a walk last night that there were a lot of people trying to take her out in her first election. Alexandra Ocasio- Cortes wins her primary in a walk.

And Eliot Engel, a Pelosi key ally, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he loses to a progressive challenger. And we're still counting votes to find out about Carolyn Maloney, another key member of Nancy Pelosi's team, and a longtime member from New York.

Put it in context for us.


KING: This has not been a great year for progressives until now. Do they feel they've sent that ideological, generational message again?

LOUIS: They'll call it an ideological, generational moment. I'll give you a little local overlay, and that is ethnicity. Eliot Engel, although he was there for 30 years, he was, in fact, a party stalwart from the moderate, central party apparatus, he also represented a mostly non-white district at this point.

And that was a problem. That actually tracks with how AOC won her race in the first place.

So you have a longtime, entrenched white male incumbent, and you have a progressive and, in this case, African-American challenger from a different part of the district. And, you know, the numbers just kind of fall into place.

Taking nothing away from the progressive groups, many of the progressive groups who put hundreds of thousands of dollars behind Jamaal Bowman, the candidate who is leading Eliot Engel in the balloting. They nationalized the race, in effect. They brought in a lot of outside money into that district and the results look pretty good.

Something similar happening with Carolyn Maloney. Not so much because of a progressive, but her main challenger, who is making a second run at her, has sort of an ethnic base.

Comes, again, from a different part of the district and represents southeast Asians, who, if he is successful, Mr. Patel would be the first southeast Asian elected to the New York congressional delegation. So there's a lot of pride.

Again, a lot of outside money people regionally have been pouring money into this race because they want to see one of their own get into Congress. So that is a factor there, as well.

KING: Jeff, you're in Kentucky. Let me start with the big question. We won't know for some time, right? Democrats, it's an uphill fight against Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader in Kentucky in a presidential year.

But they thought they had a candidate and then you had a progressive challenger close it. We're not going to know for a while, right?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We're not. We do know that Mitch McConnell has won his primary, no surprise, winning some 87 percent, 88 percent of the vote. But he doesn't know who he'll be running against.

It will be one of two people. They've been planning for months to be running against Amy McGrath. She is the hand selected candidate of Democratic leaders, Chuck Schumer and others, in Washington. They believed she had the best chance of, if not defeating Mitch McConnell, giving him a run for his money.


In the last few weeks or so, here in Louisville, that race has changed because of the rise of the candidacy of a state representative whose name is Charles Booker. He's from Louisville, represents the west side of this city. And he gained prominence as the political moment changed.

This primary was scheduled initially to be on May 19th. Since then, there has been so much churn going on against police brutality, against racism in this country, and certainly here in Louisville.

And that gave rise to Charles Booker. He is a dynamic speaker, a dynamic leader. And Amy McGrath had some missteps here.

We do not know the outcome of this. Amy McGrath is narrowly leading because of the early returns. But it is going to be taking at least a week to determine the absentee and mail-in vote. That was the majority of the votes here cast yesterday, which is interesting.

I talked to the Republican secretary of state, who agreed with absentee and mail-in ballots happening. And I asked him, will you do that in November. He said, we'll see what the pandemic is, John.

But the pandemic is changing primaries in so many ways, ideologically as well as the mechanics of casting the votes, and that's why we're not sure who won yet. We have to have patience in the time of pandemic voting.

KING: We'll have patience.

And one more quick one before we go, gentlemen. The president's streak is over. He likes to brag -- and it's not that big of a deal, it's Trump's party -- but he likes to brag about the fact that when he endorses candidates they'll win.

And the candidate in North Carolina -- Madison Cawthorn is the young man's name -- he got 65 percent of the vote, nearly 60 percent of the vote. He's not even 24 years old. He'll be old enough to take the seat in Congress by the time the election happens.

Lynda Bennett was the candidate favored by the president of the United States and by his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, the former holder of that seat in North Carolina.

CNN politics wrote this: "Hawthorne's victory marks the latest surprising victory of a Republican winning the primary, despite the preference of the president. And on Tuesday, Kentucky Rep. Massie overwhelmingly won his primary despite Trump calling to throw the congressman out after he held up the coronavirus aid package in March."

Errol, I don't want to make too big of a deal about this. This is the president's party. However, he likes to brag about things and he's lost one of his cards.

LOUIS: Yes, he certainly has lost one of his cards.

It's an interesting marker. People who follows politics -- and no one follows it closer than politicians -- and when their own necks are on the line, everyone is in business for themselves.

They can love Donald Trump as much as they like. They can know that their voters like him a lot. But in the end, they'll do what's best for them. And some of the magic seems to be fading.

This is an early indicator, along with fundraising, along with a number of other factors that tell you that this is a president who is very much on the ropes. This is more of an indicator than anything else. And, frankly, it's an important one.

KING: We have a ways to go, at this moment, but you're right --


ZELENY: To be clear, though, this candidate --

KING: Go ahead, Jeff.

ZELENY: But to be clear, this candidate is someone who supports President Trump and he will win that district. This will not affect the balance of power. This is more because he consolidated some of the eight other

candidates who were in the runoff here. And this is a dynamic, young, rising star here, a motivational speaker. He'll support President Trump. He said so today -- John?

KING: The president will find a way to make him his friend now that he's won the primary.

Jeff Zeleny, Errol Louis, appreciate your insights, gentlemen.

Up next for us, more states requiring people to wear a mask. And now the former defense secretary, James Mattis, weighing in, in this new PSA.


GEN. JAMES MATTIS, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: And I am here to talk about that nasty little virus, COVID. We got introduced to it about six months ago and it is clear this little bugger is not going away on its own. So let's wear those face coverings and let's work together on this to beat COVID.