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Texas Bars Shut Down as COVID-19 Hospitalizations Spike; President Trump May Have Received February Briefing on Putin Bounties Out for Killing of U.S. Troops in Afghanistan; California Closes Bars in in Seven Counties as COVID-19 Cases Soar. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 29, 2020 - 10:30   ET



JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: The right-wing had already written off John Roberts after his 2012 vote to uphold Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. So, you know, they had seen him inching to the left. They saw his vote, in February of 2019, putting a hold on this Louisiana law. It was not out of the question that he was going to do what he did.

But, as I said, it's the very first time he has ever, on the merits, voted to not revive an abortion regulation. So this is huge. And I -- as I said, the Right Wing had already sort of dismissed John Roberts, but it's going to make the vetting for the next judicial candidate, if it comes during this administration or the next Republican administration, be all the more adamant and serious because they fear this.

But, you know, this is -- this is -- these are matters that are important for the country, not one particular party. And I just want to --


BISKUPIC: -- stress that, that what John Roberts did here went beyond party politics and went beyond his own personal ideology.


SCIUTTO: Sabrina, before we go, just on the politics of this, I am sure that someone is already writing a Trump campaign on this, right? Saying vote for me, I'll bring you another justice, right? He's already made that point after the DACA and the LGBTQ decisions, has he not? Where does the political argument -- campaign argument go from here after a decision like this?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, think about it, in 2016, the primary argument that Republicans made in favor of then- Candidate Trump, with whom they disagreed on a host of issues, was, thinking about the Supreme Court. This election is all about appointing more conservative justices to the Supreme Court, and that was really a rallying cry for conservatives to get behind someone like Trump, who of course was unorthodox and controversial in more ways than we can list.

And so I think that in many ways, it could put the Supreme Court back on the ballot because clearly, two justices is not enough for President Trump, based on some of these decisions that we've seen in the last couple of weeks.

And there's also a question of whether or not Democrats can, for once, galvanize their own base around the Supreme Court because they have really struggled to make the judiciary a key -- a wedge issue within their base, and one of the key motivators to get voters to the polls. And so I definitely think that this firmly places the Supreme Court as an issue in this next election.

SCIUTTO: Sabrina Siddiqui, Joan Biskupic, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much to all of you, covering really momentous decision today from the Supreme Court.

Please stay with us, we'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: Several restrictions are back in place in Texas as the coronavirus surges there. Bars are re-closing as hospitalizations -- and that's key, hospitalizations -- spike, that means people getting sick in the last six days. Cases have jumped by more than 5,000 new cases each day in Texas.

With me now is Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, he's a primary care internal medicine physician in Austin. We should also note, Dr. Gandhi is running for a congressional seat in Texas. Doctor, good to have you on.


SCIUTTO: So the Texas governor who -- Greg Abbott, who pushed for reopening in the state, now says that the outbreak has taken, in his words, "a swift and very dangerous turn" there. What do you attribute that to?

GANDHI: We're very concerned here. Look, June 6th, we had 80 hospitalizations in Austin due to this virus. And today, we have 350 people in the hospital in the Austin area.

It's quite clear, the reality is that we don't have a mandatory mask mandate in place. We have not been able to pursue effective social distancing, and bars operating at full capacity and restaurants operating at full capacity for indoor dining has led to a situation where we've seen the massive spike that we have.

We've had a just exponential rise in cases and hospitalizations since phase one and phase two of reopening here in Texas.

SCIUTTO: OK, so what needs to happen now to get this under control? And can stay-at-home order -- I mean, listen, masks goes without saying, folks have got to wear masks. I mean, even the vice president's saying that now. But in terms of reopening, do you need to see a statewide stay-at-home order or can the state be more targeted to cities and counties that are seeing the biggest spike in cases?

GANDHI: I don't think we need to have a statewide order if the state can master basic public health fundamentals. Without a question, bars needed to close down, which they have. I do believe that we need to shut down in-person dining. Right now, we're at 50 percent capacity as of today, per the order from last week.

But we have to go beyond that. We need to be putting up pop-up testing sites in neighborhoods. Right now, we're expecting people to take public transportation to come to the drive-through testing sites if they don't own a car.


GANDHI: And that's not a way to be able to test the folks that we need to test. So we need pop-up testing sites. We don't have nearly enough contact tracers, we need to hire the thousands of unemployed Texans to do that work. And so there's work to be done.

And even at the basic level -- we're talking about PSAs that could be put on television about the importance of wearing a mask and social distancing, especially as early voting gets started today here in Texas.


SCIUTTO: It's not anecdotal, it is in the data now that more conservative folks, who rely on more conservative media, have a different view of this virus, how dangerous it is, what they need to do about it. And the fact is, the president is one of the sources for that, right? He doesn't wear a mask, he questions why the outbreaks are happening, not backed by data. In Texas, does that make it harder to respond to this effectively?

GANDHI: It absolutely does. You have seen colleagues of mine in public health under attack across this country. Unfortunately, it runs concurrently with the rhetoric of a president who has espoused science denialism from the very beginning of his term.

It makes it extraordinarily difficult to be able to convey basic scientific principles when those very same thoughts are under attack by a president who either peddles therapies that don't work or are proven to harm the American people, or decides to go around the country without wearing a mask.

I mean, this is the reason why we need diversity in leadership, and science-driven leadership at all levels of our government. And so we need examples at the highest level and we're just not getting it from the president.

SCIUTTO: We have July 4th weekend coming up. Around the country, folks like to do things, they like to go to public spaces, they like to see friends, they like to go to restaurants, they like to go to beaches, et cetera. What should people do and not do this weekend?

GANDHI: I think it's -- I think without being said, folks need to wear a mask. There's no doubt about it, wherever you are, outside in large or small gatherings, please wear your mask. Think critically about the need to be out in gatherings in public. This is the time for Texans to double down on staying safe and staying indoors, isolated if possible.

We are deeply worried. I cannot convey to you what it means -- I'm in my scrubs because I'm about to head to a clinic. We have 21 patients scheduled for drive-through testing this morning. Four weeks ago, we had three patients scheduled.

ICUs in the Houston area are near capacity. We are quite clearly talking about people's lives, your neighbors' lives, the well-being of the health care professionals on the frontline. So wear a mask, avoid large gatherings, try to stay with your family indoors if possible, avoid in-dining at restaurants. These are basic things that we can do to get us through these next two or three weeks.

SCIUTTO: We'll see how many people listen. Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, thanks very much.

GANDHI: Happy to be here.


SCIUTTO: So President Trump denies that he was briefed about a Russian plan to pay Taliban militants to kill U.S. forces in Afghanistan, but CNN has just learned that the U.S. shared that intelligence with the U.K. about this plot last week. We'll have much more, next.


SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN, while President Trump continues to deny that he was briefed on intelligence that Russia offered Taliban fighters bounties to kill U.S. forces in Afghanistan, sources tell CNN that the U.S., just last week, shared that very intelligence with British officials, of course, its closest ally, one of its closest intelligence-sharing partners. And today, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the plan is believed to have led to the deaths of multiple U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Joining me now is CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. You know, the essential administration argument now -- and the president, repeating this via Twitter -- is that, well, there may be some intel but it wasn't that reliable. That said, you've reported that in fact the military on the ground in Afghanistan took it very seriously.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They did. And, you know, clearly moved to try and make sure that U.S. and coalition forces were well-protected. It's a combat zone, it's the frontline. Any intelligence about a threat to forces is going to be met with those kinds of force protection measures, and of course a lot of concern also about British partners on the ground: close, close coalition partners with the U.S.

The intelligence emerging back in the February timeframe, but it may well have been that some of this activity was going on for months before then. And what they are trying to do -- clearly, in military and intelligence circles -- is go back and verify everything they have, verify what they know, try and come to some conclusions about whether or not they can demonstrate to their satisfaction that -- if any troops were in fact killed as a result of this bounty money being paid.

That may be something that's -- in the end, could be very hard to prove one way or the other, but clearly they fell they have intelligence indicating that the Russians were up to this, that they were spreading money around Afghanistan with Taliban-related militant groups, and encouraging them to go out and kill U.S. and coalition forces.

What the president decides to do about now, a very open question. Whether he confronts the Russians about it, perhaps doubtful in the eyes of many. But there are going to be --


STARR: -- American and British military families that are going to want some very clear answers about this, and we are seeing, hour by hour, Congress getting more and more involved, wanting briefings, wanting to see the intelligence for themselves -- Jim.


SCIUTTO: No question, very reasonable questions. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

STARR: Sure.

SCIUTTO: New cases of coronavirus are also on the rise, this morning, in the state of California. I'm going to speak with one county health official there about why California is seeing that surge. That's coming up.


SCIUTTO: California is taking new steps as coronavirus cases soar in the state. Governor Gavin Newsom is ordering bars in seven counties to close, including Los Angeles County -- that's a big one.

TEXT: NEW: Due to the rising spread of #COVID19, CA is ordering bars to close in Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, San Joaquin, and Tulare, while recommending they close in Contra Costa, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, and Ventura.


SCIUTTO: Initial gains to slow the spread of COVID-19 have all but been erased. Nearly a third of all confirmed cases in California have come in just the last two weeks.

Joining me now, the public health officer for Ventura County, Dr. Robert Levin. I wonder, Dr. Levin, if this surge and just how quickly those gains from the prior shutdown were eroded or even wiped away, indicate California opened too quickly?

ROBERT LEVIN, VENTURA COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICER: Well, I think we did open too quickly in terms of this being purely a virus question. Part of what drove us to open at all and at the rate we did was concerns about getting our economy moving. And of course, one can easily make an argument that having a robust economy is a public health issue as well.

SCIUTTO: No question. And that is the balance that state and national and local officials have to make every day.

I mean, is there -- are you learning about how to tailor these stay- at-home orders? For instance, the governor taking particular aim at bars. And I'll tell you, I was speaking to mayors in El Paso and Miami-Dade earlier in this broadcast, they were talking about bars and young people. I mean, is -- as we learn more, can state officials target these stay-at-home orders, these closures more?

LEVIN: I think so. I think the problem -- I think you have to find out or identify where the cases are arising from. We know they're arising from congregate settings, so these are senior living facilities, these are prisons, jails.

But people are also coming together in gatherings. And this is the most correctable thing that we can address, and we've got to find ways of addressing it. And some of these are occurring in different communities for different reasons, so we have to respond individually.

SCIUTTO: Tell us about the importance of young people in this, because that is a consistent feature in this latest kind of -- it's not a new wave, right? Because we're still in the first wave. But it's the latest outbreak and into the young population. Why is that happening and why does that matter?

LEVIN: You know, the young people are looking around -- as are people of all ages -- and aside from feeling cooped up and wanting to get out, they're seeing all of these openings that we've done.

And I don't think that it's the openings themselves that are so damaging, except that they leave young people and people of other ages with the impression that it's OK, we can be free now, this thing is over. And so perhaps young people more than others are ignoring these issues of social distancing and quarantining themselves. It's important to continue to stay home, and to not go out for frivolous reasons.

SCIUTTO: We've known for a long time that masks make a difference, not only to protecting yourself but protecting others from yourself, if you turn out to be infected. The White House has resisted that, the president's resisted that. Notably, the vice president, Dr. Birx, some Republican lawmakers, beginning to say, Well, you know what, it's actually a good idea to wear a mask.

How important is that, for there to be a consistent national message on masks?

LEVIN: I think any time that you want the public to follow some guidance, it's important that we see that guidance from the bottom to the top. And so masks play an important role in this. The majority, the vast preponderance of expert opinion supports the use of masks, but without hand-washing, maintaining social distancing, masks by themselves (INAUDIBLE)

SCIUTTO: Final question, just quickly before we go. California was something of a model, right? Because they went in on stay-at-home orders and a lot of restrictions early, seemed to get it under control. How concerned are you about seeing some of those gains being given back now?

LEVIN: I am very concerned. In our county, one month ago, we were having 20 hospitalized patients due to COVID across our county, pretty much on a daily basis. The most recent report has us in the high 60s. This is a dramatic change, and I can't help but be very concerned about it.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, we'll continue to watch it very closely. We wish you the best of luck as you try to get a lid on it. Dr. Robert Levin from the state of California, thanks very much.


And thanks so much to you for joining me today. A lot of news today. I'm Jim Sciutto. NEWSROOM with my colleague Kate Bolduan starts right now.