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7 GOP Lawmakers Briefed at White House on Russian Bounties Intel; White House Says No Consensus in Intel Community on Russian Bounty Report; Trump Denies Being Briefed on Bounties; 5000 People a Day Being Admitted to Texas Hospitals; Houston Mayor Asks Governor for a New Stay At Home Order; Mississippi Lawmakers Vote to Remove Confederate Symbol on State Flag; W.H.O. Says Pandemic Is Not Even Close to Being Over. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired June 29, 2020 - 15:30   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So we're still working on running that down. But we do know at least some of these Republicans, and these are Republicans who are raising concerns about the fact that the President wasn't briefed. One of those is Mac Thornberry, he's the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and he said, you know, even if these reports had a hint of credibility, the President should have known about it in his opinion.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Let's talk more about this. I want to bring in former Republican Congressman and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, CNN national security commentator Mike Rodgers. Chairman Rodgers good to see you always.

So, you heard Kayleigh McEnany there saying that there's no consensus among intelligence agents about the veracity of the report. She said it hasn't been verified. I've never heard the term verified used when discussing intelligence. But I guess the bigger question is, does there need to be consensus before the President would be told about something so important?

MIKE RODGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: No, not really. And by the way, when she says there is no dissent across the intelligence committee, that this is more than some errant piece of intelligence that might come in or get thrown over the transom either by an ally or some other collection where there just wasn't enough to it.

Clearly there was a lots of discussion and oftentimes even when there is kind of an affirmative agreement on what we think the intelligence says, there 'll be dissenting opinion and that dissenting opinion is normally heard because you need to make -- you need that information to make a good decision.

So, what worries me here, Jake, is that there was a lot -- think of how much was going on in the last year, the last few months. So, we know General Nicholson, who was there and leading troops in Afghanistan, when he retired said, listen, we know the Russians are giving weapons and there were large seizures of cash. So, this is not a big stretch that the Russians would go in to providing bounty for cash. So, we know that much.

And then in the interim they've been trying to make a peace deal. So, they've been releasing prisoners, they've been trying to scale down the numbers all of that without knowing the full picture of this, including, by the way, the President inviting Putin to be part of the G7. I mean that's what is so concerning to me. And it almost sounds dysfunctional at a level where we have troops in combat in the field exposed to bad decisions.

TAPPER: I don't know which is worse, to be honest, President Trump knowing about this and still having Putin -- still extending a hand and try to bring him into the G7, or, as he claims is the case, that he wasn't briefed. But let's assume that he's telling the truth on that. How concerning is it that the President wouldn't be briefing on that?

RODGERS: Well to me, again, he's making policy decisions, right. So, he came out and said he wanted Putin. Did he not know that? Apparently not. I think that's been verified. He didn't know, wasn't briefed, that is dysfunction to me in the national security enterprise. Something's going on. And by the way, it doesn't mean it would change the outcome. I would argue it probably should have. But maybe it didn't and that would be OK too, as long as you are basing that decision on good information.

Why they would withhold this information when they're doing Taliban prisoner exchanges? They've released some 2,000 Taliban fighters back onto the battlefield and we have U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

I think it would be good to know if the Russians were not only arming the Taliban but also providing money for bounties. That's pretty serious. Now you have 2,000 folks that will likely right back in the ranks of the Taliban, maybe even collecting those bounties.

And so, again, even if there wasn't 100 percent consensus on this, they should have been briefed. The principals should have been briefed. By the way, the gang of eight should have been briefed on this information. Now some of that may be complete dysfunction on Capitol Hill these days. But that just tells me we better get our act together. These are serious consequences.

TAPPER: So, listen to President Trump's former National Security Adviser John Bolton, listen to his reaction when I asked him about the report and the President's tweet yesterday.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The fact that the President feels compelled to tweet about the news story here shows that what his fundamental focus is, is not the security of our forces, but whether he looks like he wasn't paying attention. So, he's saying, well, nobody told me, therefore you can't blame me. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you agree with Ambassador Bolton?

RODGERS: Listen, I do think there feels like a lack of concern about the gravity of the information and what it meant for troops on the ground in Afghanistan. It just -- that's just to me not somebody that's taking it seriously. I mean I would have felt better if he would have come out and said, listen, I wasn't briefed, but I'll guarantee you by the end of the day I'll be briefed.


Well, I would have felt a lot better than this two days of denying it and then trying to craft a story about it wasn't my fault. And that worries me more than the fact that this happened, and the President wasn't briefed. And so, again, I worry about that.

And by the way, we're into this, what, our third day, and the story isn't quite consistent just yet and that tells me you're more concerned about what the public perception is than the fact that the information wasn't in the hands of the people making who were decisions about serious things like a peace deal with the Taliban, about inviting Russians to the G7, about releasing prisoners from the Taliban, back out in the battlefield. All of those are massive consequential decisions, not having this information should get people's blood pressure up. I know it gets mine up.

TAPPER: Absolutely. Former Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rodgers, thank you for your time today. We appreciate it.

It is the third largest county in the country. It is a coronavirus hot spot. What one Texas doctor says needs to be done to prevent things from getting worse. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead today, terrifying new coronavirus numbers out of Texas where for the third day in a row more than 5,000 people statewide have been admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. The head of one Houston hospital, United Memorial Medical Center expects to see his ICU completely filled in just days.


JOSEPH VARON, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, UNITED MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER: We have two types of patients. Those that have COVID and those who will get COVID. My concern as a health care provider is that when they get sick they don't all come to me at the same time which is what 's happening at the present time and that's what's going to kill patients because we won't have enough resources.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CNN's Lucy Kafanov is live outside of that hospital in Houston, Texas. And, Lucy, new restrictions on restaurants go into place today but have city or state leaders explained what other steps they're willing to take to slow the spread?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we're waiting for the Houston mayor to speak in about 20 minutes. We know that in Travis County, home to Austin, there's been a push to shut down public parks ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. But this is a growing public health crisis.

The fact of the matter is Texas doesn't know what the peak is in terms of the virus. They don't know how many cases are out there. We are in front of the United Memorial Medical facility. Take a look behind me, you see those lines of cars. Folks our here have been lining up since the early hours of the morning. One man said he was here from 4:00 A.M. There are more than 900 facilities across the state to get tested. But they are overwhelmed.

We know that this facility has tested about 85,000 people, they have a positivity rate of 16 percent. That is very high and another scary stat, this hospital sees all kinds of patients, whether you have a hang nail or a heart attack, you get tested for COVID. 47 percent of people who come in for completely unrelated reasons, Jake, test positive for COVID. It shows you just how rampant the spread of the virus is here -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Lucy, thank you so much.

Joining us now, Dr. Umair Shah, he's the Executive Director for Harris County, Texas Public Health, which includes Houston. Dr. Shah, thank you for joining us. Harris County, the third largest county in the country and it's now a coronavirus hot spot, I'm talking about population, obviously. How bad is it on the ground right now where you are?

DR. UMAIR SHAH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR HARRIS COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH: Well, Jake, first of all, thanks for having me. And you know, let me answer that in a couple of ways. One is that obviously when you see and hear the numbers that we're seeing, but also what you just brought up, our concern is really very much about the numbers are one thing but really, it's how busy the system is throughout.

Whether it's the health care system as you just mentioned on the top of the hour here or if it's really what we're seeing in the community with folks that are really trying to get tested. We have seen an increase in everything. And that's what really concerns us.

TAPPER: The Houston mayor says the city needs to move quickly to slow this explosion of new cases. What needs to happen right now to make sure that happens, so it doesn't get any worse?

SHAH: Well, as you know, Jake, we as a community did a fantastic job of fighting this pandemic early and, you know, all of our numbers show that, case rates, death rates, et cetera. And now what we've seen is since the reopening occurred starting May 1st and as you know the reopening was from the state side of what they had decided, how they had decided things were going to reopen. Since that period of time, we've seen increases in cases and hospitalizations.

And the key message that we're saying is that we need to make sure that as things reopen and you see three, four weeks later, a few weeks later that you start to see the impact of the reopening. Now when you dial back it's going to take a few weeks for you to start to see, has there been an impact of that dampening back or dial back. And that's what we're really concerned about, is that have we already set this in motion that it is going to be too late to get all of that? We don't think so.

We hope that we still have that opportunity as a community, if we all do the right things, stay home as our County Executive Judge Hidalgo on Friday raised the level of alert to red.


Stay home if you don't need to go out. Certainly wear the face coverings and do all of the things. But stay out of those big crowds and social distancing is an absolute must and certainly testing is the final aspect that we want to make sure that people don't guess. They take the test so we could certainly know who's positive in our community. That's our best chance to get out of this.

TAPPER: I want to show the rate of new cases in Texas because the rise is really dramatic. Just a few weeks ago Texas seemed to reach a plateau holding steady at fewer than 2,000 new cases a day. And now there's just this massive spike. What happened?

SHAH: Well, I think I just said it. It was reopening and what I call the layering effect. You layered reopening on top of holidays, milestone events, Mother's Day and Memorial Day weekend. You have the protests here at least in Houston on top of that. You had graduations, you had all sorts of activities that occurred.

People layered back onto their normal activities, as well as additional activities and that's when you started to see the increase. I'm glad that the governor and the state have dialed back but we are very concerned that urban communities such as Houston and obviously Harris County here, but also Austin and San Antonio and Dallas, we've got to make sure that we have those tools available to us so we can fight this, that may be different than the other 250 such counties in Texas. So, it has to be looked at differently in those urban communities as it is those rural jurisdictions.

TAPPER: All right Dr. Umair Shah, thank you so much and best of luck with this as Houston goes through this just horrific event.

It's flown for over a century but now Mississippi's flag and its Confederate emblem are coming down. So, what will replace it? Stay with us.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: With an overwhelming bipartisan vote, Mississippi, lawmakers have now agreed to get rid of the Confederate battle emblem on their state flag, a symbol for so many Americans of slavery, and segregation, white supremacy and hate. Now after 126 years Mississippi will be the final state to take down this ugly reminder of the United States' painful and shameful past as CNN's Martin Savidge reports.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the span of a weekend, Mississippi's legislature did what many in the state thought they'd never see in their lifetime, voting to remove the last state flag containing an overt Confederate emblem.

SEN. BRIGGS HOPSON (R-MS): How many states have a flag that forty or fifty percent their people in their state can't stand?

SAVIDGE: Recent national protests against racial injustice put renewed focus on Confederate symbols. All week pressure had been mounting on Mississippi from leaders in education, business, religion, and the sports world, demanding change.

SEN. DERRICK SIMMONS (D-MS): Real racial inequalities that exist in Mississippi, and the flag was just the start of something new in Mississippi that we need to address.

SAVIDGE: Then Republican Governor Tate Reeves signaled for the first time he was willing to sign a bill to create a new flag.

Tweeting, the argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it's time to end it.

The decision was cheered by civil rights leaders.

DERRICK JOHNSON, NAACP PRESIDENT: This is a long time coming. Finally, Mississippi decided to be one of the 50 states, and not the one state standing alone, still bearing the emblem of a segregated society.

SAVIDGE: Even the great, great grandson of Confederate President Jefferson Davis said it was time.

BERTRAM HAYES-DAVIS, GREAT, GREAT GRANDSON OF JEFFERSON DAVIS: Put it in a museum and honor it there, or put it in your house, but the flag of Mississippi should represent the entire population.

SAVIDGE: But not everyone is thrilled. There is still a significant number of Mississippians opposed to the change.

RANDY LACKEY SUPPORTS CURRENT STATE FLAG: This is not the Confederate battle flag, this is the flag of the State of Mississippi.

SAVIDGE: Once the bill becomes law, a nine-member commission will be tasked with coming up with a new flag design, guided by two requirements. It must say, in God we trust, and can have no confederate emblem. The final version will be voted on by the people of Mississippi this November. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: The only thing waiting now is the next step, which is the governor's signature. We've reached out to the Mississippi Governor's office to ask when that might be. Their answer was, soon.

When that happens, 15 days later, there will be a formal retirement ceremony. The flag will be taken down for the last time. And then Mississippi will be without a state flag until the voters approve a new one in November -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Martin Savidge, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The Republicans moved their convention from Charlotte in part to avoid a mask mandate. Well, now their new site, Jacksonville is requiring masks as well. That's next.

Plus, you know who isn't sure if we'll be 100 percent protected from the virus even if we get the vaccine? Dr. Fauci. Why? That's ahead.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. And we begin this hour our health LEAD explosive growth of new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations throughout much of the United States. Today, the head of the World Health Organization giving this blunt assessment.

The pandemic is, quote, not even close to being over, he said.

At least 46 of the United States are seeing surges in cases or holding steady. Only four states are showing a decline. An alarming spike since this time last week. And the consequences could prove even deadlier.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar telling me that the window to take action and slow the spread is closing. An ominous warning. As at least governors are pausing or even reversing steps in their reopening plans.

Right now, there are more than 2.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States with the death toll nearing 126,000 lives lost.