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Trump Calls Russia Bounty Story Hoax; Interview With Former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; U.S. COVID-19 Deaths Undercounted?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 1, 2020 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We cannot wait for the day that you get to bring those baby boys home. And thank you for such an important message.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Our special coverage continues now on "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER."

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the health lead today, an alarming escalation in the coronavirus pandemic, with a 75 percent increase in new cases in the United States compared to just two weeks ago, according to Johns Hopkins University. It totals more than 2.6 million people infected in this country.

At least a dozen states are seeing hospitalizations for COVID-19 rise as well, most dramatically in Texas, where there are currently more than 6,000 coronavirus patients hospitalized. So far, 19 states are either pausing or pulling back their reopening plans.

A reminder, it did not have to be this way. The United States has about 4 percent of the world's population, yet a quarter of all coronavirus cases and deaths, at least official numbers say.

And, as we see cases spiked to the highest level so far here in the U.S., the European Union, not to mention many other countries throughout the world, has been able to drastically flatten the curve there. The United States is the only Western and wealthy nation that has had such a disastrous and failed response.

And now, as the official death toll in the U.S. surpasses 127,000, a new study finds that the U.S. likely has undercounted the total number of deaths linked to the pandemic.

CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now.

And, Elizabeth, this new study from "The Journal of the American Medical Association" specifically looks at deaths between March and May. Why were so many deaths accounted for, and by how much? ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's take a look at what the study authors did. Let's sort of retrace their steps here, Jake.

What they did is they looked at deaths between March and May this year and compared it to previous years. What they found is, there were 122,300 more deaths this year, in that time period, than in previous years. The study authors believe that the majority of these deaths are attributable either directly or indirectly to COVID.

But when you look at the actual official death count for COVID, it's only 95,235 deaths. So, the study authors believe that that is an underestimate. They say, look, we have this many excess deaths this year, compared to last year. We think that the vast majority of those are attributable to COVID.

So they think that 95,000 number is very low -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

In California, a record-breaking number of new coronavirus cases, 9,740, that's by far the highest recorded number since the pandemic started. The previous record was 7,149 one week ago today.

CNN's Dan Simon is live for us from Pacific Palisades.

And, Dan, Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is holding a press conference this hour. What's he expected to say?


The governor said he is going to issue some new restrictions, or however you want to look at it, go back to some of the old restrictions. But the bottom line here, Jake, is, he has to do something significant. The numbers are increasingly grim.

We know that L.A. County, the beaches are going to be closed over the Fourth of July weekend, no fireworks either. What might the governor do? He says he has a toggle switch, that he can sort of make the dimmer go up or down.

Might he shut down the restaurants once again? There's increasing speculation that he might do that in a place like L.A. County, which is seeing a surging amount of cases.

As for how we got here, Jake, one leading doctor in the state, Dr. Robert Wachter, he's the chairperson of the UCSF Medical School. What he is saying is that, basically, around Memorial Day, there was a spirit of complacency that took place. People stopped wearing their masks, and people got lazy, and that's how we got in this situation, particularly among young people, where we are seeing the cases really surge, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Dan, a lot of West Coast states are now seeing a surge of new coronavirus cases, including Oregon, Washington, even Alaska, not really a West Coast state, but a Pacific state. SIMON: Yes, you look at a place like Alaska, Jake, that, in the month

of May, basically had no cases. Yesterday, they had 48 cases, not a ton relative to some of the other states.

But what does that tell you? It tells you that no state is immune -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Dan Simon in the Pacific Palisades, California, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss, Kathleen Sebelius, the former health secretary under President Obama and also the former governor of the great state of Kansas.

Secretary Sebelius, thanks for joining us.

I want to get your reaction to this new study that says the death count in the United States might actually be 28 percent higher than the nation's official number.


What do you make of that?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, FORMER U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, I think that's probably pretty accurate.

We see death counts often be adjusted at the end of every flu season. People go back and look at why somebody may have died during this period of time, and then it's attributable after the fact to flu.

COVID was new. People weren't carefully identifying or testing at the very beginning. And even in the month of May, we only tested people who really thought they had COVID and were on their way to the hospital.

So it doesn't surprise me that, whether it's nursing homes or some other incident that happened, that a death was not directly attributable to COVID, and after the fact will be reanalyzed and doctors and scientists will again identify the fact that that probably was one of the underlying causes, that that person would still be alive if it was for getting the virus on top of some other things.

TAPPER: Dr. William Haseltine, a professor at Harvard medical and public health schools, told CNN last night that, in the absence of national leadership on this issue, it's going to be up to mayors and governors to curb the pandemic.

Take a listen.


DR. WILLIAM HASELTINE, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT: I think you're going to see the mayors and the governors singing a very different tune from now on.

They know it's in their backyard and it's their job to take care of it if no one else does.


TAPPER: You're a former governor. What do you make of that?

SEBELIUS: Well, Jake, I think we continue to feel the absolute void in a national plan.

The reason other countries did so well, as they tried to flatten the curve, the reason that they're able to emerge from some of the economic shutdown, send kids back to school, is that there was a very specific national plan emphasized from the leadership at the top, carried out all the way through.

We have never had that. This has been an administration from day one that wanted to declare victory, that wanted to, first of all, deny that there was a virus, then to put it as fast as possible on the backs of states and local governments.

Governors are doing their best, but we're a big, mobile country. People travel in and out of states. States make different plans. And this president, for the first time, I think, in anybody's memory, has politicized a public health crisis, has made it about him, has made it about his party affiliation.

And nothing could be more dangerous. My 4-year-old grandson doesn't like to wear his mask. He is scared of it. He doesn't want to put it on. His parents know it will protect him from others and it will protect others from him. So he wears his mask.

We have a president of the United States who refuses to follow even the most simple steps and refuses still, with this amazing surge in cases and terrifying overuse now of ICU units in -- both in Arizona, and Texas is nearing the breaking point, we still don't have a national plan.

Governors can't do this on their own. They're trying to. Our governor just reimposed some guidelines, slowed down the reopening, made a mandatory mask policy, because we saw cases beginning to go up. But we have people coming back and forth from Missouri and from Oklahoma and from Arkansas and Colorado.

Governors can't do this by themselves. And we absolutely have to have a national message that's consistent, clear, direct about mask wearing, about social distancing, or we are going to continue. As Anthony Fauci said, we will be looking at 100,000 cases in the near future.

TAPPER: Let's talk about Kansas; 19 states have rolled back their reopening plans or paused them.

In the state you once were the governor of, Kansas, the Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, just recommended that communities stay in phase three for at least two more weeks. Is that enough, a recommendation? Should she be mandating different steps for local communities to take?

SEBELIUS: Well, unfortunately -- she did mandate mask wearing. That happened yesterday.

We have a divided legislature. We have a legislature controlled at this point by Republicans in both the House and the Senate. And we have had legislative leaders who have fought every step along the way about the public health guidance, have demanded that she stop trying to issue edicts to individuals in the state.

I think the good news is, in the major areas, where there are denser populations, local leaders have pretty follow the public health guidance and adopted the regulations.


But we definitely have people who see themselves as followers of Donald Trump, who want to model the president, and who are fighting at every step along the way what the public health guidance should be.

So, she did mandate masks. She is strongly recommending that people pause on phase three. She continues to do regular briefings with a very competent health secretary, giving clear data, giving clear information an everyday basis. And I think most Kansans not only appreciate, but follow that guides.

TAPPER: You know, it's -- I get that a lot of Republican officials have been disruptive, at the very least, and also just anti-science in their reaction.

But if you look at the facts of the matter, Fauci says there's not one state, not one, Democrat-controlled or Republican, that followed the Coronavirus Task Force's own guidelines in terms of reopening. And then you look at California, where people are not wearing masks, going out to eat in restaurants, et cetera, it's -- this isn't just a Republican problem, I guess is what I want to say.

I understand the frustration with Republican officeholders, and I'm not discounting that, but there are a bunch of Democrats who are discounting this as well.

SEBELIUS: Well, I would just remind you that CDC put out guidance and talked about having a 14-day trajectory downward in the disease before any reopenings started.

The following day, the day after his own Centers for Disease Control and Protection put out that guidance, the president of the United States began to tweet about Democratic governors, that they should liberate Michigan, that they should liberate Virginia, made it very part -- that was the act that I think made this debate a very partisan debate.

You then had armed protesters show up in the Michigan capitol. You had protests encouraged across this country. I would agree that people tried to take this a step at a time. And when populations prove themselves to be unsuccessful at monitoring themselves, you need to crack down.

We need to enforce mask wearing, I think, across this country, and make sure that that step is taken. It's simple, but it will save lives. In the meantime, the work goes on, the vaccine and some drug remedies, but we have to do the best we can.

And I think what you see in many states is, they attempted reopening when it looked like they had flattened the curve. And now, as populations refuse to follow the guidance, they're going to tighten up again. But we still -- since those days in April, we still don't have a national message.

We still don't have a president that says follow the CDC guidance. This is what I'm calling on you to do. It's your patriotic duty to save other Americans. It's all of us in this together. And wear a damn mask.


SEBELIUS: To watch the vice president go to a church and have a maskless choir sing to him in an interior space, all of the things that CDC says are kind of at the top of the list of do not do, is just shocking.


SEBELIUS: And, somehow, that's acceptable behavior.

TAPPER: So, just a yes-or-no question, and then I got to go, because we're over time here.

But are you saying that President Trump's leadership, or lack thereof, has cost American lives?

SEBELIUS: Absolutely.

TAPPER: Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

The surge in coronavirus cases coming just as school districts try to decide whether to reopen in the fall. The new study further complicating those decisions ahead.

Plus, President Trump just spoke about masks minutes ago. What he said will surprise you -- or maybe not. That's next.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today: Coronavirus cases in the United States have increased 75 percent compared to just two weeks ago, but you will find little mention of this deadly pandemic on President Trump's Twitter feed, where, instead, he is stoking the flames of racial division, today calling the phrase Black Lives Matter a symbol of hate, where he's defending Confederate monuments and statues, and suggesting the 2020 election is a -- quote -- "battle to save the heritage, history and greatness of our country" -- unquote.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live for us at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, what do we know about why the president is so focused on these divisive issues, instead of paying attention to the pandemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think, most simply put, Jake, he just feels like it's more comfortable territory for him. And that is why -- that's something he's been digging in on Twitter, while he's ignoring those grim assessments that we heard from his own health officials, people like Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said the U.S. is headed on the wrong direction coronavirus.

And instead of talking about that, matching that public messaging, at least, the president has instead focused on pursuing these cultural battles ahead of his election.

He's talking about Black Lives Matter and the decision by New York, the lawmakers there, to slash the city's police department by -- their funding by a billion dollars. And he's saying that they should not be painting Black Lives Matter on Fifth Avenue. Of course, it's also painted right out in front of the White House as well.


And then not only that, Jake. He's also targeting a Fair Housing Act regulation, saying he might do away with it because he believes it targets suburban -- people who live in the suburbs.

He's also going after this defense spending bill, saying he may not sign it because it includes that provision that would allow for the renaming of those military bases that are named after Confederate leaders. So he is threatening to veto a defense spending bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he's fine with over this one provision that, of course, we should note passed a Republican-led committee.

TAPPER: The politics of division.

And, Kaitlan, another issue the president likes to divide the country on, he's been reluctant to wear a mask during this pandemic. He was just asked minutes ago about wearing a mask. He said he had no problem with them?


Even though he has refused to wear one publicly, the president said he has no issue with masks. Listen to what he just told FOX Business a few minutes ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm all for masks. I think masks are good. I would wear -- if I were in a group of people, and I was close...

BLAKE BURMAN, FOX NEWS: You would wear one? TRUMP: Oh, I would. I would. Oh, I have. I mean, people have seen me wearing one.

I sort of liked the way I looked.


COLLINS: He says he has no problem wearing one, though he has refused, he has said it's unpresidential. He's gone to places where masks are required, and the president has not put one on.

There's only one occasion when he's worn one briefly. The only reason we know that is because we later saw a photo of him wearing it. And, Jake, he's been in situations where masks have been required or they would be recommended by health experts, and he's refused to do so, though he seems to be changing his tune on that, as you're seeing more and more Republicans tell him to just wear a mask.

But I want to point to something else he said, which is, back in February, the president claimed, one day, coronavirus is just going to disappear. Here we are in July, with cases reaching record numbers, and the president repeated that sentiment in this interview with FOX Business.

And when he was pressed, do you really think it's still going to just disappear, and he says, yes, that one day, he believes it will.

TAPPER: Well, existentially, Kaitlan, at some point, all of us are going to disappear. Maybe that's what he meant.

Thanks so much for that report.

Today, President Trump also claimed that intelligence reports that Russian officials offered Taliban terrorist bounties to kill U.S. and British soldiers are all just a hoax, made up by the lamestream media.

Obviously, that's a lie. The facts are this.

There is disagreement within the intelligence community about the information, but the intelligence was serious enough that sources confirm U.S. intel leaders brief their counterparts in the United Kingdom about the threat.

And President Trump's National Security Council held a meeting in the spring about possible response options to the intelligence.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is at the State Department for us.

And, Kylie, you asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about this intelligence today. What did he have to say?


Well, throughout his remarks at the State Department today, Secretary Pompeo repeatedly defended how the White House, this administration has responded and handled this intelligence, saying that they took it seriously and they responded in precisely the correct way.

But when I asked the secretary if he thought, in his opinion, as the former CIA director, as a former soldier, if the president should have been made aware of this intelligence, even if it wasn't fully verifiable, he didn't answer the question.

He took issue with the premise of the question, saying it was based on some assumptions. But, as you said, Jake, just earlier today, the national security adviser acknowledged that this intelligence had been received by the National Security Council.

They had been working on interagency responses, if the intelligence proved to be true. And what Pompeo did in responding to the question is talk about broadly when he decides to bring threats and make them aware to the president.

Let's listen.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: When the threat is sufficiently serious, the scale of the threat is of such importance that there's an action that I think that the president needs to be aware of, and the information that I have seen is sufficiently credible, then we make sure that the president is aware of that.

The president has been consistently aware of the challenges that Russia presents to us, and he is aware of the risk in Afghanistan.


ATWOOD: Now, he said that President Trump is made aware of the risks posed by Russia in Afghanistan, but still begging the question, why wasn't the president made aware of the risks posed by -- U.S. troops in Afghanistan by Russia, Jake?


And, Kylie, a Pentagon report released today found the Russia has been working with the Taliban, in an attempt to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Tell us more about that.



So, the U.S. has long known, Jake, obviously, that Russia had been supporting the Taliban over the last few years. This report puts a bit of a finer point on it, saying that Russia was doing that in order to speed up the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Now, this is significant, given the context of the conversation we're having today, this criticism about how the administration handled this intelligence regarding Russian threats on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

And, of course, it's important, given the context of the continued U.S.-Taliban negotiations -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kylie Atwood at the State Department for us, thank you so much for that report.

With a lack of statewide measures, the city of Sarasota in Florida is now implementing a mask mandate. I'm going to talk with the mayor, who is preparing for a visit from the vice president.

That's next.