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Trump Denies Bounties Briefing; States Pause or Readjust Opening Plans as Cases Soar; Spike in Gun Violence and Deaths; Aired 9:30-10a

Aired June 29, 2020 - 09:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This morning "The Washington Post" reports that a Russian plot to pay Taliban fighters to kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan is believed to have led to the deaths of multiple U.S. service members.

President Trump is denying he was ever briefed about the situation. Last night he tweeted that U.S. intelligence did not find those reports credible. The Kremlin, of course you'd expect them to, also disputing those reports this morning.

Joining me now is CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for "Yahoo News" and, we should note, relevantly, author of "Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump." That is out in paperback this week. It's definitely worth the read.

Barbara, if I could begin with you. You reported over the weekend that in response to these intelligence assessments that U.S. forces in Afghan took steps to increase force protection. Would they do that if the intelligence was not considered credible?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think to them it was credible on the ground. Credible enough certainly that they wanted to do something about it.

And that's the real difference about what's going on here. Troops on the ground, on the front line, in combat, are going to do -- their commanders are going to do everything to protect them if there is the slightest hint that someone is coming after them. That's exactly what you would expect them to do. And those decision points are made pretty much regardless of what the politicians are doing back in Washington.

This intelligence did begin to emerge, we now know, in the February time frame, that there were Russians trying to pay off Taliban related militias to go after U.S. and coalition troops. "The Post" saying it's believed that some were killed, some U.S. troops were killed. That, perhaps, goes to a very central question now today.

Whatever the White House says about whether the president was briefed or the president was not briefed, the key question in Washington is, what is the White House doing about all of this to find out exactly what did happen, and if U.S. troops were killed literally at the hands of Russian cash, don't they owe those military families some answers about all of this? Expect to see Congress ask a lot more questions, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And what would the president do to penalize Russia?

Michael Isikoff, so notably you've drawn attention to this. The White House statement does not deny that the intelligence assessment exists. They just leant on the idea that the president was not briefed on that.

Now, why wouldn't he? If there was, as Barbara said, credible information that U.S. forces were responding to about a threat to U.S. service members deployed abroad, why wouldn't the commander in chief be briefed on that?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "YAHOO NEWS": Well, that is an excellent question, and it's one you're hearing more and more from Republicans on Capitol Hill right now. Look at Liz Cheney's statement yesterday, why wasn't the president briefed on this? And in some ways, if, in fact, the White House assertions are true, and he wasn't, that may be more damning than anything else, because it raises the question of why wouldn't he be, given the seriousness of this matter.

And it's pretty inescapable, it's pretty hard to escape the conclusion that there's a long pattern of Trump resisting briefings and information about Russian misbehavior, because it immediately cues him into the Russia hoax that he believes has plagued his presidency from the outset and has tainted his election.

That's the way -- that's the prism through which he views everything about Putin and Russia. And so it may well be here that top national security officials withheld the information from the president because they feared how he might react or not react.

SCIUTTO: It's remarkable, right, that they would have that reluctance.

Barbara Starr, this is happening as the president is reducing U.S. footprint on the ground in Afghanistan, withdrawing forces, and his administration is in the midst of peace talks with the Taliban. How does this affect those ongoing negotiations?

STARR: Well, I think the word from the State Department and the Pentagon really is full steam ahead. They are determined to meet the president's wishes to get out of Afghanistan, America's longest war, of course. The troop withdrawal, it may get slowed down a little bit because of all of this and because, more importantly, the Taliban, in the last several weeks, have really been on an all-out effort to exert an awful lot of violent attacks.

But the plan right now is there's just under 8,600 troops perhaps in Afghanistan. They want to go down to 4,500 in the coming months and get out of there as fast as possible because that's what the president wants. SCIUTTO: Yes.


STARR: And the question may only deepen about the stability of that country and growing Russian and Iranian influence in that very strategic area, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And almost over the objections or at least reluctance, trepidation, of our Afghan partners on the ground.

Michael, just finally before I let you go, because it's an intelligence failure, is it not, on the part of Russia to have such an operation exposed, is it not, I mean even if you look at, you know, election interference as well, you know, that, you know, they're trying to conduct these operations in secret.

ISIKOFF: Yes, or --

SCIUTTO: But it's out there. You know, it's -- is that a way to look at this, that they -- this is an intel failure on the part of Russia?

ISIKOFF: Yes. Or you can consider it an intel success by the United States in being able to piece this together.


ISIKOFF: But the caveat here is, there's still a lot we don't know about this and particularly what the intelligence was, you know, what was the confidence of the intelligence agencies in various aspects of it and, most importantly, did this go, is there anything that points to this going to approval or direction at high levels of the Kremlin or could be, you know, rogue operators or semi-rogue operators in Afghanistan.

One thing we do know, which is very interesting, is that the -- the reports indicate that this is tied to a GRU unit, that GRU being the Russian military intelligence agencies, that has been directly linked to assassinations and poisons around the world.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and that's the same military intelligence directorate that was involved in the 2016 campaign interference.

ISIKOFF: Correct.

SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr, Michael Isikoff, thanks to both of you.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: New cases of coronavirus are surging in states such as Texas and Florida. Up next, we're going to speak to the mayors from both of those states. What are they doing now to address the spike in infections?



SCIUTTO: Right now, coronavirus is rapidly spreading in Texas and in Florida. Both states, as a result, re-imposing some restrictions as cases and hospitalizations, that's key, spike at disturbing rates. Beaches in south Florida will be closed now for the July 4th weekend.

With me now is the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Mayor Carlos Gimenez, and the mayor of El Paso, Texas, as well, Mayor Dee Margo.

Thanks to both of you for coming on.

Mayor Gimenez, if I could begin with you, so you've ordered all beaches in Miami-Dade closed for the Fourth of July weekend. I wonder if it was a mistake to have opened them.

MAYOR CARLOS GIMENEZ, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: No, and we opened them after Memorial Day. And we also put what we called beach ambassadors out there to make sure that social distancing was maintained. And so, no, it wasn't. And we haven't had any problems here in Miami-Dade with the beaches being open.

I was afraid, though, of a surge of people coming in for the Fourth of July weekend, and our inability, possible inability to control that. So that's why we closed the beaches for the Fourth of July.

SCIUTTO: Well, what do you then attribute, if I can, the rise in cases since reopening took place? Where are you zeroing in to say, OK, this is where the outbreaks are happening and why.

GIMENEZ: We think that it's -- the problem is, and we know what the problem is, the problem is young people. People 18 to 34, 35 to 44 are basically disregarding the rules that we put in place. We have -- you have to have a mask any time you're indoors in a public place. You have to have masks outdoors when you're closer than six feet and you can't maintain social distancing. But we feel that young people are doing what young people do, and getting together maybe not in public places, maybe they're getting together in homes, individual homes.

Also saw last week on Miami Beach, as I walk -- as I drove around, I saw them -- there were a lot of people walking in the streets, that they were not wearing their masks and they were not keeping social distancing, and they were not, obviously, part of the same household. And so those are some of the problems that we're seeing. And our problem is, yes, we're seeing a rise in the infection rate of young people. They will then, in turn, eventually bring it in and to their parents and their grandparents and then we're really going to have a problem.

SCIUTTO: Mayor Dee Margo, medical experts say that states, such as Texas, they're experiencing a spike of infections because of lax reopening when it happened. I wonder, as you look at decisions made in recent weeks, do you regret some of them? Do you say, well, yes, we might have reopened too quickly?

MAYOR DEE MARGO (R), EL PASO, TEXAS: Well, the spikes we've been seeing were primarily the last couple of days where we looked at it, where the 20 to 30-year-olds, something like 46 percent of our positives were 30-year-olds.

And we think that was a direct result of congregations in the bars and failing to adhere to the rules that were established through the governor and that -- that I implemented in my emergency directive, which said you can't congregate at the bar. You had to be seated to be served. And the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission shut down a couple of bars already previous to this and then on Friday the governor shut down all bars.

But we also noticed yesterday, we've had three (INAUDIBLE). On the 27th we had 113 new cases. On the 28th, we went to 294. A new record. And then this morning we're going to announce 131 new cases. So it's kind of going up and down. But we noticed yesterday our health director was saying that we're starting to see the ages increase, not just the 20, 30-year-olds, but increasing above 30 years old.


So I just think people are failing to adhere to the basics that you've got to do, that all the medical experts agree on, and that's the face coverings, social distancing, and washing your hands frequently.


So you got a tough job. You both do. Mayor Margo, does it help or hurt you that the president is not providing an example on a simple measure, like you mentioned there, with masks or even things like holding big indoor events, right, because these are the things that the science shows has helped, you know, the infections are stopped by wearing masks and by avoiding events like that.

Mayor Margo, are you helped or hurt by the president's example of this?

MARGO: We -- as I stated, you need to wear a face covering, period. I mean that's just what everyone's agreed to. Now, we reduced our large gatherings. I had the approval for large gatherings at 500. We -- the governor has reduced that down to 100. I have to give permission as a -- as the mayor for any -- any gatherings greater than that.

And we've hey some issues related to high school graduations, et cetera, which would exceed that. But they were maintaining social distancing and they're all wearing face coverings. And we have mandated that our businesses in El Paso and throughout the state require that any patrons or customers must wear face coverings when they enter those businesses.


Mayor Gimenez, of course, as you know, the Republican National Convention has now been moved to the state of Florida, far north of you, but to the state of Florida. I wonder, if the president's campaign said we want to hold an indoor rally in Miami-Dade County, what would you say?

GIMENEZ: No, you can't -- you can't hold an indoor rally in Miami-Dade County. We don't -- we don't allow large gatherings inside there. You can hold some gatherings inside, but we have to approve the social distancing. You will be nowhere close to the capacity of that venue.

And, look, it's not just indoor gatherings of a lot of people. It's outdoor gatherings of a lot of people, too, because the way you transmit this disease, the number one way is particles from your mouth going close to somebody who then inhales it. That can happen indoors and outdoors. Obviously it happens more indoors but outdoor -- large gatherings of outdoors -- outdoors is also very dangerous. That's why we don't allow anything more than 50 people to be gathered here.

And, you know, it's not coincidental that two weeks after demonstrations happen here in Miami-Dade County, a lot by young people, that we've had this spike. So I'm not saying that's the entire thing, but that's certainly contributed to the spike that we have because we haven't had any bars open here in Miami-Dade. We've had social distancing.

We've had the mask wearing. But, again, young people are disregarding these rules and I think that that's the contributing factors as to why we've had this spike of Covid-19. Eventually, though, unfortunately, they'll take it to their parents and their grandparents and then we're going to have serious medical issues here in Miami-Dade.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Young people, you're not immune to it.

GIMENEZ: No. They're not.

SCIUTTO: Listen to the experts and the mayors.

Mayor Gimenez, Mayor Margo, thanks so much to both of you. We wish you both luck in your communities as you get a handle on this.

GIMENEZ: Thank you very much.

MARGO: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: As tensions grow between the police and members of many communities, the NYPD reports a disturbing trend, shootings up in New York City compared to the same time last year. Why? We're going to take a look.



SCIUTTO: As the nation debates police reform, New York City has now seen a marked increase in gun violence in recent weeks. The NYPD says there were 75 shooting incidents over a seven-day period. Those numbers up sharply from the same time last year.

CNN's Brynn Gingras joins us now live.

Brynn, the spike in shootings comes as tensions between police, the community there running high. You've got some early retirements, et cetera. What's happening? BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean there's just a whole mix

of things happening. I mean we talked last week about this, Jim, and how the chief of department, Terry Monahan, here at the NYPD says he hasn't seen crime levels this bad in about 25 years. And you're seeing that in the numbers. As you just described, those shootings.

Let me put up a screen for you. Five hundred and three shootings so far this year in New York City. That's compared to 350 just from a year ago. And just look at the weekend. From Friday, there's been about 30 shootings here in New York City. So this is a significant uprise in violent crime.

And I want to show you video of just one incident that we are aware of here in -- that happened in Harlem, where police responded at about 4:00 in the morning to Shot Spotter, which is basically technology the NYPD uses to track when shots are fired in an area.

And when they arrived, they were met with hundreds of people in the street and eventually who somewhat started throwing bottles and things at police officers who had had to retreat from the scene before being able to even disperse that crowd two hours later. So these are the kinds of things that police are encountering in some cases as they make all these response calls across New York City.

And you talk about retirement. Well, that's another thing Terry Monahan talked to us about, how morale is at a significant low at this point, at least within the NYPD. And, again, the numbers somewhat reflect that.

If you look at the retirements that have been happening in the NYPD, 217 people have filed for retirement. Last year that number was 131.


So the other numbers, as far as people who already are retired or who have resigned are somewhat the same as last year, but the new filings is significantly up.

So, again, this points to where police at their -- in their mind right now and also what they're facing day to day on the streets. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Brynn Gingras in New York, thanks very much.

Mississippi's governor says that he will sign a bill to remove the confederate emblem from the state flag.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By a vote of 36-14, the motion passes.


SCIUTTO: Big move there. The Mississippi statehouse passed the measure yesterday after weeks of debate. Mississippi's was the only remaining state flag to feature the confederate insignia. You see it there. A commission will now develop a new flag design without the confederate emblem and that includes the phrase "in God we trust." Voters will design on the new design this November.

As cases of coronavirus spike around the country, we're going to take you inside one small hospital to see how they are coping with waves of now critically ill patients.