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Pentagon Report Says Russia Working With Taliban And Others To Expedite U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan; Update On Coronavirus Responses Across The Country; COVID-19 First Responder Dies, Family Denied Insurance Claim; CNN Staff, Mom With Twins In NICU Pleads For People To Wear Masks. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 1, 2020 - 14:30   ET




BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Senate Democrats say they were given insufficient briefings this morning on intelligence that Russia offered bounties for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

And this is all coming down as President Trump dismisses the allegations as a hoax.

And secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, defends the administration's handling of said intelligence.


MIKE POMPEO, 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 the president needs to be aware of and the information I've seen is sufficiently credible, then we make sure the president is aware of that.

The president has been consistently aware of the challenges that Russia presents us. And he's aware of the risks in Afghanistan. That's why we've spent so much time over this past year, at the president's direction, to reduce risk to our forces in Afghanistan in a way no previous administration has done.


BALDWIN: A Pentagon report out a short time ago says Russia has been actively working with the Taliban and other groups inside Afghanistan to expedite the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

And according to two administration officials, the Trump administration is close to finalizing a plan to withdraw more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan by the fall.

Samantha Vinograd is with me now. She is a CNN national security analyst. She served on the National Security Council under the Obama administration.

Sam, you've been in these briefings, handled unverified threat information. How did the president not know?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: If he didn't know it was because he was knowingly negligence.

Brooke, I've handled this reporting on a daily basis at the White House. You don't wait for fully verified threat reporting to brief the president.

There's an operational reason for that. If you wait too long, that really hamstrings the ability of the government to respond. It might be too late. And, frankly, presidents are expected to have decent reading


That's why daily presidential briefs and articles and oral briefings have caveats about intelligence, and they have caveats about intelligence. They have caveats about intelligence levels. They have caveats -- competence levels. They have caveats about whether there's a disconnect in the Intelligence Community about who actually believes the intelligence.

And the president is relied upon to be aware of these caveats and just to keep this information sometimes in the back of his bind so that if he's, say, on the phone with Vladimir Putin, he doesn't inflame the threat by talking about Afghanistan.

We have a president who is advertising on Twitter his own incompetence. He's saying he wasn't briefed, even though this article was in the presidential daily briefing.


And my big question coming out of this, Brooke, is: If he's only being briefed on fully verified threats, what else is he unaware of? What other balls is he allowing to drop?

BALDWIN: Initially, this went from the president wasn't briefed on it to the intelligence wasn't verified and now we've landed on the president calling it a hoax. It's pretty clear it wasn't a hoax. We know the Gang of Eight is meeting on this tomorrow.

What do you think the response should be?

VINOGRAD: When it comes to the Gang of Eight briefing, we have to remember something important. The Gang of Eight doesn't get the presidential daily briefing.

I have questions about what specific content is being briefed to the Gang of Eight with respect to the reporting. Is the current state of the threat? Because if the threat is actually live and relatively reliable, the Gang of Eight may want to take action with respect to that threat.

So, question number one is what's going to the Gang of Eight. Coming out of that, what kind of actions are they going to take with respect to the intelligence and the respect to the administration. The Gang of Eight should be conducting oversight of the administration and working with relevant committees. If, in fact, there was a serious threat and the president, A, didn't do his homework and didn't read his briefings and, B, if they were dragging their feet on a response.

But I'm really anticipating different reactions from members of the Gang of Eight. The Republicans are engaged in trying to do P.R. spin for the president already. While Democrats are, I think, trying to conduct oversight and, again, insure, if the threat is live, they're going to hold Russia accountable.

BALDWIN: We'll wait for the Gang of Eight meeting to happen tomorrow and see what reporting we can get out of it for now.

Sam Vinograd, good to see you. Thank you.

Breaking news. California's single-day new coronavirus case count just smashed its own record. Again, today's count reaching over 9,700.

Plus, you have United Airlines set to triple its flights come August, as another airline says it may ban people who refuse to wear a mask. Details as we head to this Fourth of July holiday weekend.



BALDWIN: New today, California smashing his own one-day record for new coronavirus cases. California reporting more than 9,700 new cases. By far, the highest reported since the pandemic started. And it tops the previous high of more than 7,000 a week ago today.

So, let's check in with our CNN correspondents for the latest headlines around the country.


EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Evan McMorris-Santoro, in Tempe, Arizona. The situation has become increasingly dire with a record number of cases and deaths reported by the Health Department just today.

That's lead the governor to close down things that had been open, like gyms. But members of the gym chain behind me, about a dozen locations across the area, have defied the order, deciding to stay open and sue the state over the new guidelines.

People here at this Tempe location came in and out like it was a normal day. One of them telling me, look, it feels safe because it's open.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: I'm Pete Muntean, in Washington. Major airlines are making major changes, essentially trying to make flying it what it was before the pandemic.

United Airlines says it's adding 25,000 flights in August, three times the schedule it flew in June. It's selling every seat on board its aircraft. A United executive has said that not selling middle seats was for public relations, rather than health.

American Airlines says it will fill every seat as well. And that decision drew ire from the head of the CDC on Capitol Hill, saying it will review decisions by airlines.

All this means you have a higher chance of being on a completely full flight. And when you do, airlines are requiring that passengers wear masks.

Alaska Airlines' flight attendants will now hand a yellow card to passengers who don't wear a mask, threatening to ban them from flying again.


BALDWIN: Thanks to our correspondents working across the country.

Coming up next, a south Florida sheriff's deputy dies from coronavirus. But nearly three months later, his family is still fighting the insurance company to get the claim approved. That deputy's brother joins me live in just a moment.



BALDWIN: A family in south Florida is facing the unthinkable right now, after losing Shannon Bennett, the first Florida law enforcement officer to die from coronavirus.

The family filed a claim with AIG insurance company for an accidental death in the line of duty. That claim, denied, twice. The family says the insurance giant told them that COVID-19 does not fall under the category of injury or accident.

And Darren Bennett is with me now.

I'm so sorry for your loss and appreciate you coming on. Thank you.

DARREN BENNETT, BROTHER OF DEPUTY DARREN BENNETT WHO DIED OF COVID-19: Brooke, thank you for having us on, on behalf of myself, my family, and everyone that loves Shannon. It means a great deal to us that you would bring us on and allow us time to tell the story.

BALDWIN: Of course.

Let's talk about. This is what AIG said. Shannon's death was, quote, "caused in whole or in part by or resulted in whole or in part from sickness or disease, specifically excluded under this policy."

Where do things stand of right now for you guys?

BENNETT: Still at a stalemate, still at an impasse. I will say the sheriff's office has been amazing. They let us know they will fight for us. There's attorneys from the command staff that are deliberating on our behalf, even now. But at this juncture, it's still very much at a standstill.

BALDWIN: I know you have said this isn't about the money. So what is this about for you and your family?

BENNETT: Essentially, about awareness. Here's the big premise, the upshot of our heart. You hear the word exclusion. Decade upon decade, laws have been changed, modified because people groups have been excluded. And the laws have changed so that those people groups could be included.

And I don't think that first responders should be an exception. I think they also should be included, especially when it comes to the fact that they're putting their lives on the line.

If I could just be quite frank and say this. If we're looking for a law modification or amendment, there was 600-plus laws that were modified when Christ died on the cross so they we all can have inclusion.


So certainly the AIG can give that same compassion and modification so our first responders can fill love.

BALDWIN: I'm just also sitting here thinking of the fact that I bet there are other families in your similar shoes. More than 125,000 Americans have died from coronavirus and many are first responders.

So what would you want to say to other first responders' families who may be going through a similar scenario?

BENNETT: Please be vigilant, be wise, check your policies.

I would say this to agencies that are co-laboring with AIG. If you love your first responders, your essential workers, make sure that you completely dismantle your partnership, your partnership with AIG. Because if they succumb to COVID-19, like my brother did, they will not be covered and their family will be stuck with looking for other avenues with which to have their loves one honored.

And so, again, I would say simply look through your policies and be aware of what is going on out there.

BALDWIN: My final questions to you, I want to close the conversation honoring your brother. And you tell me, why did he want to become a first responders?

BENNETT: It is a calling. My entire family, the Bennett family, we come from a pedigree of first responders.

I served 10 years with the sheriff's office. My brother, Joey, in California, served 25 years with the L.A. County Sheriff's Office. And Shannon did 12 years. It is what God made us to do. I'm now a public servant. We are a public service family. I shepherd

and pastor people. We love people. We have a heart for people. And that was Shannon's calling and he loved people. And he was willing to sacrifice his life to love people.

BALDWIN: Bless you and your family. And again, I'm so sorry. But keep fighting the good fight and we'll stay in close contact.

Darren Bennett, thank you.

BENNETT: Thank you, Brooke. I appreciate it. God bless.

BALDWIN: God bless.

Coming up next, an emotional message you need to hear. One of my dear friends, one of the writers on the team, is sharing with you two reasons why she's begging you to wear a mask.



BALDWIN: Before I go today, I want to share something with you that is personal. And it involves one of my longtime writers on this CNN show team, a bright young woman who is near and dear to me.

So this is Chelsea McGinnis, pregnant with her twins, her first babies. She was supposed to them in June. The babies had other plans. Chelsea went into early labor in March, just as the virus was sweeping her hometown of Atlanta.

So you could just imagine, 32-year-old Chelsea and her husband, Walt, blessed with two precious baby boys, Wyatt and Cameron, are suddenly on this strict four-hour-only visitation schedule at the Piedmont Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

So for the last three months and counting, she can't take them home. She can't place them in their cribs that she and her husband, Walt, have so lovingly arranged and all start their lives together there.

But because of COVID, her situation is gut wrenchingly worse. She can't kiss her beautiful boys. She can't introduce them to their grandmothers who desperately want to help. She can't hug her own mother even after her emergency C-section.

I love you, Chelsea. I'm sorry. I'm going to get through this for you.

Chelsea and her husband's worlds have been rocked. Wanting to love on the baby boys but consumed with keeping them from getting coronavirus.

And I asked Chelsea this morning, can I share her story today, and she said yes. And this is what she wants you to know so I'm going to read you Chelsea's words.

"Next time you're thinking about going out without a mask, next time you think this one time won't matter, or if I get it I'll recover, please think of me, think of Chelsea and my twin boys born premature at just 28 weeks.

My husband and I have been through hell and back. We almost -- we almost lost both of them one horrible night in April. The nurses called the chaplain. And we already knew what it is like now to plead with God to let you keep your children.

Please think of running into me in a hallway, in an elevator or a grocery aisle. And if you're not wearing a mask, if you're not social distancing, you are unknowingly giving the virus to me and, hopefully, I don't get sick because I too am relatively young and healthy.

But then I go visit my babies in the NICU for the four precious hours the restricted visitation rules allow. Please think of me scrubbing my hands raw at the surgical sink.

Please think of our NICU nurses, true angels on earth, who sacrifice seeing their friends and babies to protect -- their friends and family -- excuse me -- to protect my babies.

Please think of these two tiny boys -- look at them -- who have no idea about the world they will so soon be a part of and the thousands of families trying to protect immunocompromised children.

If simply wearing a mask protects them, is it really so much to ask?"


So, Chelsea, thank you so much for those words. 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."