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Russian Bounties on U.S. Troops; Trump's Retweeted now Deleted Video; NCAA and SEC Welcome Change in Mississippi. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired June 29, 2020 - 06:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, "The Washington Post" reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan to kill U. S. and coalition forces. They are believed, "The Post" says, to have led to the deaths of U. S. troops. Overnight, President Trump denied that he was ever briefed about it. He says he was told the intelligence was not credible. And just now the Kremlin responded to these reports.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live in London with the very latest.

Nick, you've done your own reporting on this. A lot going on here.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes, I mean, what we know from a European intelligence official I spoke to on Saturday is of this plot by Russian military intelligence to pay Taliban to kill American and other coalition soldiers, that they believe this European intelligence official resulted in coalition casualties. Now, "The Washington Post" went further last night to say that actually the assessment was that American deaths were caused by this plot. A U.S. official with knowledge of the intelligence speaking to my colleague, Barbara Starr, also confirmed the existence of this plot, saying that reports of it began to surface and be discussed in February and March. Also suggesting that cash had, in fact, changed hands as part of this particular scheme.

This U.S. official, though, questioning exactly how verified the reports had been. and that seems to be where Donald Trump is, the president, leaning most of his response to this, tweeting that essentially the intelligence wasn't verified enough, that it was brought to him. That kind of doesn't quite tally with his press secretary's initial response to the allegations over the weekend, where they didn't really question the intelligence itself, more the notion that the president had been briefed on the intelligence, as "The New York Times" had reported.

We've just heard from the Kremlin here, the spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, call, essentially, the story a hoax and a lie, and pointing to President Trump's own comments on it to say how we shouldn't be listening to these allegations. The Taliban, too, denying their involvement entirely. But at the heart of this is a staggering development in America's longest war that essentially Russian military intelligence, the GIU, the same unit behind alleged interference in the Russian -- in the U.S. elections in 2016, and, indeed, even the attempted murder of the Skripal father and daughter in Salisbury here in the U.K. in 2018, have hatched yet another plot to try and kill American soldiers in Afghanistan using the Russia's former enemy when they were the Soviet Union, the Taliban, to do the dirty work for them.


BERMAN: This raises so many questions, so many questions to the U.S. administration about U.S. policy in the region, and vis-a-vis Russia. One of the questions, why would Russia do this?

WALSH: That is something, frankly, which the European intelligence official I spoke to on Saturday night said to me they found bewilders. They couldn't really understand the Russian motivation here. Now, at face value, yes, Russian wants to cause a cost to the United States. Maybe there's a legacy issue about how the Soviet Union was defeated by the mujahidin in Afghanistan, many of whom were funded by the United States. Is this about trying to get the U.S. out of Afghanistan faster by increasing the casualty toll, if indeed these reports are true?

Well, there's no secret that Donald Trump, who initially wanted to win the war there now wants out as quickly as possible. In fact, his officials, right as we speak, are trying to get peace talks with the Taliban themselves going again. They stalled over a prisoner exchange recently. So there are other suggestions possibly that this might be related to U.S. activity in Syria, where Russian mercenaries were killed at some point in 2018 as well. Lots of things moving in the geopolitical-increased tense battle between the U.S. and Russia around many of the world's hot spots.

But the startling thing here, frankly, is that the White House seemed more it seems interested in the process of quite who was briefed when and where then the actual allegation itself, which is startling, frankly, in terms of its geopolitical potential consequences.


Russian military intelligence paying Taliban mercenaries to kill Americans that may actually have resulted in American deaths. You have to wonder why precisely it's not that that is at the heart of the White House response. Rather, indeed, who was briefed, who, by when, where, and what.


BERMAN: Exactly. Exactly. And if there is any kernel of truth to it, Nick Paton Walsh, why no U.S. response? Nick Paton Walsh in London, thanks so much for your reporting. Really appreciate it.

So President Trump retweets a video of one of his supporters shouting "white power." Now, he did ultimately delete it, but the fact of the matter is, he re-tweeted a supporter yelling "white power." What is going on here? That's next.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: New controversy after President Trump's retweet of a video showing a supporter shouting "white power." The president thanked the, quote, great people in the video. Then hours later, deleted it.

Joining us now, Alexi McCammond, political reporter for "Axios," and CNN political commentator Bakari Sellers.


He's the author of the memoir, "My Vanishing Country."

So, it took a few hours, but that tweet was then deleted. And the White House deputy press secretary, (INAUDIBLE), said, the president didn't hear the statement, which was said twice in that video if you watched it, but, quote, what he saw was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters.

Bakari, though, in the past, the president has said he notices everything when he re-tweets things.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and even the statement about tremendous support from his many supporters, I mean, do you really want someone who chants "white power" to be a supporter of yours instead of rebuking that? And the answer to the -- to the question for the president of the United States is, yes.

Donald Trump knows full well that he only can win one type of war, that's a culture war. So he keeps trying to drive this country, drive us through these wedges and retweeting things like people chanting "white power," I have a fundamental problem with this president on many things. The most glaring issue this president of the United States has is one that he's racist. And he re-tweets racist people. And he wants us to believe that somehow he didn't hear it.

You know, if someone did not hear that, the first thing they would say is that, we don't want their support. That this is ignorant. That this is asinine. But the president of the United States won't do that because he's incapable of doing that.

We need somebody in the Republican Party, and this is me talking to Republicans, to stand up and say, enough is enough. But for three and a half years they've refused to.

BERMAN: Maya Angelou says, Bakari, or said, when someone shows you who they are, believe them.

SELLERS: Believe them.

BERMAN: The president is re-tweeting people saying "white power." Believe it. Believe it at this point.

And, Alexi, what's interesting about what Bakari is saying is the president keeps on trying to create these wedge issues, but the wedge, as it were, keeps on telling him, no thanks, not right now.

Mississippi, overnight, and I think this is important, I think the timing is so important within the 24 hours of the "white power" retweet from the president, Mississippi voted to remove the confederate battle flag from its state flag. This is Mississippi, after, what, 126 years I guess it was on the state flag. That's a big moment. And if Mississippi is taking that action, I think the country is telling the world, and the president should be hearing this, that it wants to move in a different direction.

ALEXI MCCAMMOND, POLITICAL REPORTER, "AXIOS": Yes, you know, it's a good point. And I've been thinking about this recently. Like sort of the hallmark things that President Trump is really standing for these days, that we're seeing in polling and in moves like what's coming out of Mississippi, that the American public is increasingly feeling the opposite of the president. This is the case with confederate statues, which poll shows that Americans, of course, understand that for many is kind of a complex issue and the fact that a lot of people haven't really been reckoning with what these statues really mean, represent and evoke in 2020 at a time where we're seeing continued police brutality and racism against Americans, where previously I think people only kind of wanted to think about their nod to American history, without thinking about the bad parts.

Now we're seeing polling show that Americans are increasingly interested in removing those statues because of what they represent. We know that the president doesn't feel that way. He even signed an executive order last week to prevent that from happening in different states around the country.

We also see this as an example with the masks, with coronavirus. The president, of course, doesn't like wearing a mask personally, but we see increasingly in polling and anecdotally in real life the number of people who are wearing masks, the number of people who are concerned about the virus and wearing masks in polling, they say, because of preventive measures. And also the number of people who are concerned about a second wave coming from this virus. So we really see sort of how the president and the American public are increasingly at odds on these hallmark issues that are really kind of taking over the country right now.

HILL: And it's fascinating, too, even as you watch the vice president wearing a mask in Texas. He was asked about the president. He sidestepped that, you know, in terms of wearing a mask. But -- but to Alexi's point, Bakari, as we look at this, it is increasingly clear where the president is and where the rest of the country is.

I mean do you anticipate any sort of reaction on the Mississippi flag decision, on that vote in the state from the White House?

SELLERS: Not at all. In fact, I don't -- I don't think that the White House wants us to make this cultural progress. I remember I was in the studio with Jake Tapper one Sunday morning before when we were doing "State of the Union" when the question of David Duke and his support for the president came up and the president of the United States -- well then candidate Trump -- wanted us to believe that he didn't know who David Duke was. It was the Sunday before the Mississippi primary. And so he knows how to play these wedge games.

I'm very, very, very proud of the state of Mississippi. There are so many people who gave so much. It's the home of Emmett Till, et cetera. And so to go through this and to come out on this right side of history, even if it took to 2020, I'm extremely proud.


I remember how difficult it was for us to take the confederate flag down in South Carolina. I remind viewers that nine people had to die for that flag to come down. And so I'm glad that we made this progress, even if it did take a hundred years.

The fact is, the president is going to sit in his White House. He's not going to address the progress that we make. He doesn't want to be on the right side of history. He thinks his only way of winning is by dragging along those individuals who were stuck in this not economic but cultural anxiety, a group of Americans who were angry simply because they believe brown folk are going to replace them in this country. That's his path to victory. Those are the villagers that you saw down in Florida chanting "white power." They are afraid that brown and black people are going to replace them in the American economy and it's driving them insane. And so that's his voter base and that's who he expects to turn out.

BERMAN: It is notable, by the way, that there were counter-protesters in the villages down there. People who were not in favor of Donald Trump. And Donald Trump has real problems if he's losing support in the villages.

And, Alexi, if you take the John Bolton formulation, that everything the president does is for his own re-election, you, I think, connect all of these stories into one, and then there's a fallback plan, right, which is to say that the election, when it happens, will be invalid to begin with. So the president, overnight, is once again attacking the notion of mail-in balloting. He writes, absentee ballots are fine. A person has to go through a process to get and use them. Mail-in voting, on the other hand, will lead to the most corrupt election is USA history. Bad things happen with mail-ins. Just look at special election in Patterson, N.J., 19 percent of the ballots a fraud there.

Absentee balloting, much of it, most of it, done by mail! It's done by mail! I mean it's largely the same process here. And he, once again, is saying that mail-in balloting is somehow in and of itself fraudulent, which isn't true.

MCCAMMOND: Well, it's just not true. It's also curious considering the president himself and members of his family and people close to him, as you all have well documented on this network, have voted by mail themselves. So the question obviously is why is it good enough for you and not fraudulent when you do it, but fraudulent if anybody else does it?

And I think the bigger picture, of course, is that a lot of Americans are feeling anxiety about whether and how they'll even be able to safely vote in November. One of, obviously, the cornerstones of our democracy is now threatened because of this pandemic. Of course we don't know the logistics of, you know, having a total mail-in ballot or even voting during a pandemic, but that's what experts are trying to figure out at the same time that the president, you know, from his bully pulpit, the telling Americans, or at least casting doubt on this way of voting to Americans and putting this seed of doubt in the American's minds when they're trying to figure out to do.

You know, the other interesting thing, of course, is that studies actually show that Republicans and Democrats benefit almost equally from mail-in voting. Obviously, before the pandemic, Republicans were voting by mail in larger numbers than Democrats. The thinking, of course, goes that if Democrats are voting by mail, that will increase turnout and, of course, help Democrats over President Trump. But studies, again, show that both parties are benefiting almost equally. So this could be something that could be good for Republicans --


MCCAMMOND: But the president isn't even really interested in looking into that right now.

BERMAN: And he might be depressing Republican mail-in vote when and if it does happen, which is fascinating too.

Alexi, Bakari, thanks so much for coming on this morning. Appreciate it.

SELLERS: Thank you.

MCCAMMOND: Thank you.

HILL: So will Americans be banned today from traveling to Europe? A big decision from the EU is expected. Details, next.



BERMAN: Breaking news, five people killed after gunman opened fire at Pakistan's stock exchange in Karachi. The director of the exchange says that four attackers entered from the parking lot, threw a grenade in the main entrance, and then opened fire. Police and security guards are among the injured, including some of the gunman. We're going to follow this breaking story throughout the morning.

HILL: The European Union is likely to ban Americans from traveling there, as the coronavirus pandemic worsens in this country. Ambassadors of the 27 member states are meeting today to agree on an official list of countries that will be permitted to travel into the EU. This is, of course, part of an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

And just take a look here at how the U.S. is actually going in the opposite direction, you can see there, from the European Union. According to this current criteria, this considers the number of cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks and the U.S. unlikely to make the cut.

BERMAN: All right, this morning, the heads of the NCAA and the SEC welcoming the Mississippi state legislature's decision to remove the confederate symbol from its flag.

Carolyn Manno with more in the "Bleacher Report."

Good morning.


Both of those entities threatening to no longer hold championships in the state, which is viewed by some as a tipping point. This vote coming just days after coaches from prestigious universities in Mississippi went down to the capital to rally for change. In a statement, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said, the students deserve to learn and compete in welcoming environments and that this decision is a welcomed action in the spirit of that goal. The NCAA also saying, championships back on the table after the decision was made.

Mississippi State running back, Kylin Hill, who's been out front in this effort, tweeting, big salute to every university in the state that helped. Hill had voted never to play for his team again until the change was made.

In the meantime, a source telling CNN the New England Patriots are being fined $1.1 million and will lose a third round draft pick for their television crews filming of the Bengal's sideline during their game on December 8th. The team admitted to filming the sidelines for an Internet series called "Do Your Job." That news coinciding with maybe the bargain of the off-season.

Free agent quarterback Cam Newton reportedly signing with the team. The 2015 MVP gets a one-year incentive-laden shot in New England after nine years in Carolina. Newton's dealt with significant injuries, John. He's going to have to prove he's healthy here. But this seems like a low-risk, maybe high reward for your Patriots. I'm just thrilled to be able to bring you some good news.

BERMAN: This is great. I mean there's absolutely zero downside. Zero downside to this.

Cam Newton --


MANNO: Spoken like a true Patriot.

BERMAN: Welcome to family, Cam Newton.

Great to have you. Carolyn, thank you so much.

So, inside a Houston hospital ward, they're seeing just a huge increase in hospitalizations there. See what doctors and nurses are dealing with to help keep people alive. That's next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Covid-19 remains a global threat. The U.S. in particular has yet to get a grip on the pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in a public health storm. This is unfortunately a public health disaster.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wash your hands. Avoid touching your face. And wear a mask wherever it's indicated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If businesses don't comply and if people don't comply, then we may have to look at some dramatic measures that we don't want to look at.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: We really do have a societal responsibility to be not part of the problem, but to be part of the solution.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we don't social distance, if we don't use face coverings in settings.