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EARLY START

U.S. Struggles To Get Coronavirus Under Control; President Trump Denies Being Briefed About Russian Bounties On U.S. Troops; President Trump Pulls Down "White Power" Tweet. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired June 29, 2020 - 05:30   ET

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


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[05:30:35]

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ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: This is a very, very serious situation and the window is closing for us to take action and get this under control.

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LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: More states pressing pause on reopening, trying to prevent a coronavirus disaster on the Fourth of July. Why Dr. Anthony Fauci says the numbers just refuse to come down.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And a startling story. The president claims the intel is not credible and denies he was briefed that Russia offered to pay Taliban fighters to kill American troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: White power, white power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: There you go, white power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JARRETT: An unmistakable message amplified to over 80 million people. The President of the United States forced to pull down a tweet of someone shouting "white power." That's where we are, folks.

Good morning, this is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

SANCHEZ: And I'm Boris Sanchez in for Christine Romans. We are 31 minutes past the hour. Great to see you this morning, Laura.

JARRETT: Good to see you, too, Boris.

And the human toll of coronavirus is getting harder to fathom by the day. Half a million people are now dead, 10 million have been infected globally. Coronavirus spiking virtually everywhere. More than 20 percent of cases in the entire pandemic have come in the last two weeks.

Here in the U.S., 31 states are still seeing a rise in cases. Only four states sprinkled across the northeast are dropping week-over- week. Almost 126,000 Americans have died.

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AZAR: This is a very, very serious situation and the window is closing for us to take action and get this under control. If we don't social distance, if we don't use face coverings in settings where we can't social distance, if we don't practice appropriate personal hygiene, we're going to see spread of disease.

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SANCHEZ: Now at least 14 states are pumping the brakes on reopening. Some, like Texas, are ordering bars to close and restaurants to restrict their occupancy. But, gyms, camps, amusement parks, and churches -- places where the virus can quickly spread -- they remain open.

"The Dallas Morning News" reports that Gov. Greg Abbott may have to tighten the shutdown quickly to avoid a disaster this Fourth of July weekend.

And this was Sunday -- Vice President Mike Pence visiting a church in Texas. You'll recall he had planned visits to Florida and Arizona that got canceled because of coronavirus. He wore a mask there on Sunday, but you're watching this choir of more than 100 people, none of them wearing masks.

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MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wear a mask wherever it's indicated or wherever you're not able to practice the kind of social distancing that would prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and we would strongly reiterate that.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, RESPONSE COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: I'm really appealing to every Texan to wear a mask. I think -- we know now there's scientific evidence that masks both keep you from infecting others, but may also partially protect you from getting infected. I think that's a new discovery and a new finding and it's very encouraging.

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JARRETT: New case numbers in the United States over the last four days have now eclipsed the previous highs from late April.

Florida reported 18,000 new cases this weekend alone, numbers rivaling what New York saw a few months ago. The governor says a whopping 20 percent of people between 25 and 34 are now testing positive, meaning young people with no symptoms are likely spreading this virus.

SANCHEZ: And some frustrating news from Dr. Anthony Fauci. He says that even with a vaccine for coronavirus, the U.S. may not achieve herd immunity because too many people may refuse to get that vaccine. Now, three vaccines are set for large clinical trials soon.

As he's said before, there's a sizable anti-science, anti-authority sentiment in parts of the country. A CNN poll last month found one- third of Americans would not get a Covid-19 vaccine even if it's widely available and affordable.

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DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I doubt seriously that any vaccine will ever be 100 percent effective. The best we've ever done is measles, which is 97 to 98 percent effective.

Although that would be wonderful if we get there, I don't think we will. I would settle for 70-75 percent effective vaccine because that would bring you to that level that would be herd immunity level.

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[05:35:04]

SANCHEZ: Fauci blames the current surge on Americans who are not following social distancing and wearing masks. He also says the U.S. is not doing well with contact tracing. It's difficult in hotspots, he says, because 20 to 40 percent of those infected are asymptomatic.

JARRETT: California's governor is ordering bars closed in Los Angeles and six other counties.

In South Florida, beaches in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties will be closed for the Fourth of July weekend. More counties could be added, as well.

And with ICU beds at 100 percent capacity, Texas Medical Center hospitals suddenly stopped updating key metrics on their Web site for days.

CNN has reporters covering this pandemic from coast to coast.

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ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Alexandra Field in Houston, Texas, where the case count is soaring. Gov. Greg Abbott trying to get control of the surge here by shutting down bars. He says the majority of cases are now affecting younger people.

Still, ICUs hit near capacity in Houston last week. Hospitals across Houston are now moving to their surge capacity plans, and local health officials are warning it could be just a matter of weeks before hospitals are entirely overwhelmed.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Paul Vercammen in Los Angeles where a 27-year-old man says that 28 of his family members contracted Covid-19. That includes his father, 60-year-old Vidal, who died the day before Father's Day.

Richard Garay, the son, wants everyone to know about the story. They were extremely cautious, he says.

They used that hand sanitizer, they socially-distanced. They were also wearing their masks. They don't know how the father got it but they say if it happened to their family it could happen to anyone.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Natasha Chen in Pensacola Beach, Florida.

Less than two months from the Republican National Convention being held in Jacksonville, Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis visited this area Sunday to address the rising cases of Covid-19 across the state, reminding people to socially distance, wear a mask in public, and not be around crowded spaces with a lot of other people -- all things that would be happening at a convention of that size.

We asked whether he had assured President Trump he could hold such a large gathering indoors with no mask requirement. DeSantis said that it's a dynamic situation -- one that he hopes would improve two months from now.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Evan McMorris-Santoro in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a health department investigation this weekend into an apparent Covid outbreak in Westchester County.

According to officials, an asymptomatic individual who was positive for the virus traveled from Florida to the county just outside New York City to attend a drive-thru high school graduation ceremony. Four people that individual came in contact with came down with the virus. Now everyone who was at the drive-thru graduation and surrounding events has been ordered to quarantine until July fifth.

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JARRETT: Thanks so much to all of our correspondents for those updates.

Overnight, the president downplaying intelligence that the Russians offered and may have paid bounties for Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops. The president denies he was briefed about this intelligence back in March. That timeline was first reported by "The New York Times" and confirmed by CNN and others, which now says that spies and special ops forces warned about this as early as January.

The president dismissed what he referred to as "so-called attacks" on U.S. forces. "The Washington Post" is now reporting those attacks are believed to have resulted in the deaths of multiple U.S. troops.

Nick Paton Walsh has reported extensively from Afghanistan. He joins us live now from London. Nick, what more are you hearing about this?

NICK PATON WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Well, it is a confusing picture to some degree, but also a startling simple allegation at the heart of it. So let's talk about what we at CNN know and what else has been sort of floating around -- this detail in this.

I've been told by a European intelligence official that there was this Russian military intelligence plot to give cash rewards to Taliban fighters to kill American or other coalition soldiers. That has also been confirmed by U.S. officials speaking to my colleague Barbara Starr, in Washington.

There are differentiations in parts of this. The European official I spoke to said that there have been coalition causalities as a result of these payments that had, in fact, gone through -- cash, had it seemed, changed hands. It was unclear if there were death or injuries -- these casualties.

The U.S officials our colleague spoke to, they seem to be slightly more skeptical about verifying this intelligence as well. We've subsequently now heard "The Washington Post" report that, in fact, these coalition causalities were U.S. deaths, which now brings us to the White House's position on this.

As you said, President Donald Trump calling these so-called scams -- sorry, so-called payments and downplaying both the severity of the confirmed level of the intelligence and whether or not it resulted in deaths.

[05:40:05]

Frankly, if there were any possible U.S. fatalities that may have resulted from a plot like this it's impossible to imagine that it would not have been put on the desk of the U.S. president. But the White House, when the story first came out, seemed to suggest that they weren't willing to necessarily dismiss the intelligence itself -- more, take "The New York Times" to task on their suggestion that, in fact, President Trump had been briefed on this intelligence.

Where the Taliban stands -- well, they deny this entirely and say they don't need foreigners to tell them how to run their insurgency and that they're personally suing for peace at the moment. And the Russian Embassy in Washington has issued a blanket denial as well.

Why would the Russians do this? Well, perhaps to speed the U.S. exit from Afghanistan. But, Donald Trump's made it clear he wants out anyway.

Remarkably, though, this has turned from a story about the rather deadly and terrifying Russian plot of massive geopolitical potential consequences to a story about White House process -- and again, it seems, Donald Trump's curious nature when it comes to bad news about Russian malfeasance.

Back to you.

JARRETT: Yes, a lot of questions here.

All right, Nick, thank you so much for all of your reporting, as usual.

So, with the news of the Russians potentially putting bounties on the lives of U.S. troops, here is what President Trump decided to share first thing Sunday morning with 82 million Twitter followers.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: White power, white power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: There you go, white power.

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JARRETT: That's right, an endorsement of white power from the President of the United States.

This confrontation you're seeing in the video took place at The Villages, a retirement community in Florida.

The president deleted the tweet three hours later -- a rare concession, I suppose under pressure, including from Republicans.

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SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): If you watch the entire video -- you can't play it because it so profanity-laced -- the entire thing was offensive. Certainly, the comment about the white power was offensive. There's no question.

I mean, we could play politics with it or we can't. I'm not going to. I think it's indefensible and he should take it down. That's what I think.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: The White House says the president did not hear the statement on the video but did see, quote, "tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters."

There are two possibilities here -- that President Trump didn't watch the video, merely retweeting without looking or listening closely, which we've seen happen before. Or that the president watched it, thought it was worth posting, praised those supporters, and then took it back when he started catching heat for it.

President Trump has spent years stoking divisions and now, as his poll numbers plummet and we get closer to November, the effort to rile up his base has become more urgent than ever.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By a vote is 36 to 14, motion passes.

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JARRETT: I a historic move, Mississippi lawmakers voting to change the state flag and remove the Confederate battle emblem, which is now understood as racist. The bill now goes to Gov. Tate Reeves, who said he plans to sign it into law.

A Commission will design a new flag, without the Confederate emblem, that includes the phrase "In God We Trust." The new design will then go before Mississippi voters in November.

SANCHEZ: Well, he refused to serve a customer without a mask. First, he got shamed but then he got paid. This story and more, next.

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SANCHEZ: Welcome back.

Parts of the Middle East are reimposing restrictions as a second wave of coronavirus begins. In Iran, things were getting under control in early May, but a second wave has erased all progress. Now, facemasks are going to be mandatory starting next week.

CNN's Sam Kiley is live in Abu Dhabi with more. Sam, President Hassan Rouhani calling this a, quote, "most difficult year."

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, most difficult year, I think, for Iran because as he points out, the Iranians are dealing with not only the corona pandemic --

And remember, of course, Boris, as you'll recall that Iran was hit fairly early on in the spread of this disease after China, when they were recording over 100 deaths per day. That figure is back. The most recent figure, 144 dead and 220,000 or a bit more than that of known infections.

But Iran is also reeling economically from American sanctions, which have crippled its ability to trade internationally because it trades, as do most people, in the U.S. dollar and cannot use the federal banking system since the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal designed to restrict Iran's development of nuclear weapons and other issues.

But as a consequence of that, the economy is now expected to shrink by 10 percent this year. Inflation is at 35 percent.

And the Iranians are saying that they're not able now to afford to import the medical equipment, the PPE equipment, the ventilators, and others that they need to treat the spread of this virus -- and that was all coming after they thought they got a grip on it and had released some of the lockdown, a pattern we're seeing elsewhere in the Middle East, too, Boris.

SANCHEZ: From Abu Dhabi, Sam Kiley. Thanks for that.

Let's shift to the European Union now finalizing travel restrictions. Laura, you've got more on that? JARRETT: Yes, exactly, Boris. They are finalizing those travel restrictions and we've just learned 15 nations will make the cut to travel for now.

CNN's Nic Robertson is live for us in London. Nic, what do we know about those who've made the cut?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, this still tentative. There are 15 on the list.

[05:50:00]

What has happened over the weekend, each country -- each of the 27 nations went away with the criteria that were agreed on Friday, and each country came up with its own list of nations that could come into the European Union.

And what's happened this morning, the E.U. ambassadors meeting in Brussels took all those 27 different lists and made them into one final list of 15 countries. Now, that final list has to get voted on and those -- the vote on it is expected to happen today. So it could be as early as tonight that we learn who -- which nations are on the list of 15 nations that can come to the European Union.

The United States is not expected to be on it because its rates of infection are too high and also, E.U. citizens are banned from going to the United States at the moment.

So the E.U., as well, considering how long its review process will be. Will it be a 10-day or two-week review process? They're trying to figure that out at the moment.

But their priority all along has been the health and well-being of the half-billion people that live in the European Union. That's their priority. So right now, those 27 ambassadors in that room in Brussels and there will be -- there will be a or several votes today on that list of 15.

JARRETT: Still just amazing, the idea that the U.S. travel could be blocked. But, no, the numbers don't lie.

All right, Nic, thank you so much.

SANCHEZ: Something to keep top of mind heading into the Fourth of July weekend.

A local emergency declared in Saratoga Springs, Utah because of a wildfire sparked by fireworks. More than 3,000 homes are being evacuated. Aerial operations have been halted because of high winds. The fire now burning 2,000 acres.

JARRETT: And an urgent search for three hikers who've gone missing on separate excursions over the last 10 days in Washington's Mount Rainer National Park. Officials say park rangers and mountain rescue teams have not asked for any public assistance because of the hazardous conditions there. The weather has prevented them from deploying search teams on foot.

SANCHEZ: If you needed another reason to wear a mask, here it is. Georgia officials warning of a potential health risk as a Saharan dust cloud hovers over the state. It's expected to hang around for the next few weeks. Officials say people with chronic lung problems should be extra careful.

The dust plume originated in Africa earlier this year and it's expected to be especially worse, even though we see it occasionally in the southern part of the country.

JARRETT: Well, let's take a quick look at markets around the world. Asian markets closed lower. European markets have opened slightly higher today.

Moving over to Wall Street, futures are pointing to a slightly higher -- maybe a mixed opening to start the short trading week. Stocks fell Friday as investors worried about the growing number of coronavirus cases across the country.

Chesapeake Energy Corporation was once the nation's number-two producer of natural gas and now is the biggest oil and gas bankruptcy of the pandemic. Bankruptcy rumors have swirled around Chesapeake for years and low oil and gas prices made it difficult -- made the company difficult to repay its debt. The coronavirus crisis has made those challenges even worse.

Oil prices have fallen sharply this year because of excess supply and a sharp drop in demand as millions stay at home. So far, 18 oil and gas companies have defaulted on their debt this year compared to just 20 of all of last year.

Well, Boeing has green-lit the -- to begin test flights of its 737 MAX jet as soon as today. The jet has been grounded since March of last year after two crashes killed 346 people. Boeing restarted production of the plane in May but airlines have canceled or delayed delivery of the jets because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, the FAA said it does not have a date yet for when the grounding will be lifted. The plane cannot return to service until it receives final approval from the FAA.

Well, now you can eat a slice of pizza fit for Shaq. "USA Today" reports Shaq and Papa John's will launch 'Shaq-A-Roni' pizza with the company's largest slices.

The NBA Hall of Famer is a member of the Papa John's board and franchise owner. He came up with the idea for the 16-inch, extra-large pizza topped with extra cheese and 66 slices of pepperoni.

Papa John's says it will donate one dollar from every 'Shaq-A-Roni' to the Papa John's Foundation for Building Community.

SANCHEZ: I may have to get a few, Laura. If it's for a good cause you can't say no, right?

JARRETT: You always need an excuse for pizza.

SANCHEZ: I do not need an excuse for pizza, Laura.

Check this out. A barista at a San Diego Starbucks who was publicly shamed by a customer because he refused to serve her without a mask has received nearly $80,000 in tips.

Twenty-four-year-old Lenin Gutierrez tells CNN the woman flipped him off, cursed him out, and posted a picture of him on Facebook with a critical message. That post went viral and resulted in an immense show of support. A GoFundMe page for virtual tips raised nearly $80,000 in less than a week, all for asking this woman to please keep her mask on.

Thanks to Lenin for doing that.

[05:55:15]

JARRETT: I mean, $80,000 -- that is not a joke. That's some serious tips.

SANCHEZ: It is not. Good stuff.

Thank you so much for joining us today. I'm Boris Sanchez in for Christine Romans. Great to see you, Laura.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over half of the country seeing coronavirus cases surge this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, unfortunately, the stay-at-home measures need to be reenacted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Officials are calling on governors to roll out statewide mask mandates.

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