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Afghan Contractor was Middleman in Bounty Scheme; Covid-19 Cases Increase among Military; June Jobs Report; Schools Grapple with Reopening. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired July 2, 2020 - 09:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news just in to CNN.

Longtime Jeffrey Epstein confidant and friend, Ghislaine Maxwell, has been arrested. And officials say she will soon face charges tied to Epstein's sex trafficking investigation. Maxwell is expected to have a court appearance later today. She has been named in multiple lawsuits by women who said they were abused by Epstein, some when they were under age. Maxwell has denied any wrongdoing. Epstein was found unresponsive in his jail cell in August of last year after an apparent suicide.

Later this morning, the so-called Gang of Eight of lawmakers will be briefed on intelligence surrounding Russian bounties for Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. According to "The New York Times," U.S. and Afghan officials believe an Afghan businessman is a key middleman in the alleged scheme. That man is now believed to be where? In Russia.

Let's begin with CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what's key about this is, is it speaks to the details, right, about the intelligence here, if they've identified a middleman. Of course the president has said this is uncorroborated, maybe a hoax. What do we know?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this reporting coming from "The New York Times," of course. CNN has not been able to independently verify it.

What "The New York Times" is reporting is that a middleman, an Afghan contractor, has been identified, someone "The Times" says traveled back and forth to Russia, brought money into Afghanistan and, at some point, a raid on one of the person's homes in Kabul yielded thousands of dollars, tens of thousands of dollars in cash. Officials "The Times" spoke to said they believe this middleman was representing that Russian bounty effort to try and target U.S. and coalition service members serving in Afghanistan. And there may have been something like $100,000 bounty on any service member that they could target. This all according to "The New York Times."

The Trump administration very much sticking to the line that it's unverified intelligence, but, nonetheless, continuing to brief members on Congress on what they do know about it. So there clearly is intelligence out there. Is it all verified? I think we are hearing from all of those members of Congress who have had the briefing that there is some contradictory intelligence, but nobody so far is saying there's nothing there.


SCIUTTO: Fair enough. Yes, and like you've said repeatedly, this information was passed on to commanders on the ground to increase force protection for troops deployed.

OK, another challenge for the U.S. military, of course, the Covid outbreak. New numbers from the Defense Department, what do they show?

STARR: Well, in the last two to three weeks essentially the number of cases -- positive cases of Covid in the United States military in active duty force has doubled, in some cases nearly tripled. This now across the active duty military.

The Air Force, very hard hit by this especially. And the Air Force telling us that they are seeing -- their -- the increases in some of the hot spots where civilian society, of course, has seen the increases, Texas, California, Arizona, Florida, where there are military bases. And it -- it is somewhat logical. Military personnel, their families, they are in these areas. They interact with local communities. They live there. They go out. They shop. So this is where some of this increase is coming.

For the military, their view is, one piece of good news in all of this is the hospitalization rate for the military has not gone up. So not the number of seriously, seriously ill people. But, nonetheless, they are seeing a significant uptick in these hot spot areas, Jim.

SCIUTTO: That hospitalization figure, key.

Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

STARR: Sure.

SCIUTTO: The economy added 4.8 million jobs in June. Sadly, it's not the whole story. We're going to discuss the details, next.



SCIUTTO: The U.S. economy created 4.8 million jobs last month. The unemployment rate falling to 11.1 percent. We should add, 1.4 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week. Those, of course, a measure of the folks who lost their jobs.

CNN political commentator Catherine Rampell joins us now. So, Catherine, this was the result of reopening in many states and a

bigger number than expected. How good of the news is this? How good a piece of news is this?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So the good news is that, yes, employers were able to rehire. There was some concern that once they laid off their employees, they would become sort of unattached to those previous relationships, it would be hard to get them rehired again.

The bad news is that this is a snapshot that was essentially taken in mid-June. That's when the survey from the Labor Department was fielded. And since then, of course, we have seen a huge spike, a resurgence of infections and reclosing of a lot of the very industries that seem to do a lot of the hiring. So leisure and hospitality, for example, had been responsible for about two of all -- two of every five jobs that were added and leisure and hospitality establishments have been reclosed in Texas, in California, in Florida, et cetera.


So that alongside a number of other metrics that we've seen in the -- in the couple of weeks since this survey was fielded have suggested that the recovery may have sort of plateaued, or even maybe stalling out despite these very strong looking numbers from mid-June.

SCIUTTO: A big picture issue here, right, is that -- is that you can't sustainably ride the roller coaster here, right? That, you know, many economists and health experts will make the point, and business owners I've talked to, that, you know, the two go hand in hand, economic recovery and controlling the outbreak because when you have people getting infected at big rates again, then that invariably brings shutdown, which brings economic consequences, right? I mean is that -- is that how folks should be looking at this?

RAMPELL: Right. Right. And it's not just the official government shutdown decree that matters here. There's actually a new working paper from a couple of economists from the University of Chicago that finds that what really seems to matter for business activity, and presumably resulting in hiring, has to do with how fearful people are of getting sick, independent of whether the government actually tells them you must stay home or tells them you can't go to work.


RAMPELL: So if there is fear out there of people getting sick, they're not going to resume their normal economic activities.

SCIUTTO: Yes, they're not going to go to the restaurant. They're not going to go on a plane for vacation.

Help me out with something that I just can't understand, because every time these numbers come out, there's a question about categorization and are the headline numbers somewhat misleading? Our Christine Romans was making the point, yes, 11.1 percent official unemployment, but then the reality, it's closer to 12 because of how the Labor Department is categorizing people.

Can you explain that?

RAMPELL: Yes, they're trying -- they're trying really hard to get these numbers right and every time this jobs report comes out, there's a little note at the bottom basically expressing the frustration. They say that we're telling our people who are administering these surveys to collect the data a certain way. But, you know, we're in a weird time right now.

This survey was not designed for what happens during a pandemic. And the result is that a number of people who are responding to these surveys are saying, yes, I'm still employed, I still have a job, I was just absent for work for other reasons. When, in fact, they should have been counted as being on temporary layoff.


RAMPELL: So that's what that miss categorization issue has to do with. It's not, you know, a conspiracy. They're trying to get it right.


RAMPELL: It's just really hard to measure.

SCIUTTO: It's hard. I mean, there -- listen, there are a lot of jobless coming across the transom at once. So it's sort of like drinking from a fire hose.

Catherine Rampell, so good to have you break it all down for us. Thanks very much.

The president has been speaking at the White House, touting these jobs numbers. Here's what he said just moments ago. Let's have a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The unemployment rate fell by more than two percentage points, down to just about 11 percent. We're down to the 11 percent number. We started at a number very much high than that. As you know, we broke the record last month and we broke it again this month in an even bigger way.

This news comes on top of May's extraordinary jobs report, which was revised upwards, by the way, to 2.7 million jobs. It was 2.5. That was last month. And that was a record setter.


SCIUTTO: The president there touting those jobs figures that we've been speaking about all morning. We're going to continue to monitor his press conference from the White House to see if he takes questions there. And we'll bring those to you.

Coming up, a big question right now, how do you bring millions of children back to school and safely? Superintendents from two epicenters of the outbreak will join me next as they wrestle with that question.



SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN from the Supreme Court. We're learning now that grand jury material from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation will not be released to the Democratic-led House of Representatives. That's at least for now. This a victory for the Trump administration.

The Supreme Court has agreed to take up the case next term, which means the decision not made before this election, therefore the Democrat-led House will not see those documents or very unlikely to before the election. A victory for the Trump administration. The court will hear the case, but not decide until next year. It's a story we're going to stay on top and we'll bring you the latest later in this broadcast.

Meanwhile, of course, we're looking at the Covid outbreak and how schools react to it. Schools begin in just weeks and right now coronavirus is surging in many states as top education leaders try to piece together plans to bring back millions of kids around the country, but safely.

With me now are officials from two of the nation's largest school systems, both also in active epicenters of the virus. We have the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Alberto Carvalho, and Debra Duardo, she's the Los Angeles County superintendent of schools.

Thanks to both of you. We know you have a lot on your plate. I'm sure you're hearing a lot from parent now who want to get their kids back to school.

Alberto, if I could begin with you because you're meant to announce your plan today. What can you tell us about how you're going to make this happen?

ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERINTENDENT, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Actually, Jim, good morning and thank you for the opportunity.

We announced our plan yesterday after we surveyed over 100,000 parents who are responsible for over 150,000 children, as well as surveying the vast majority of our teachers.


And we gleaned a lot of that information that helped us really come up with a reopening plan for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. It basically relies on four important elements. Number one, a series of preventive measures.

Number two, four different instructional models to reduce density in school. Number three, specific protocols for contact tracing and automated communication to entities that may have had contact with individuals that may become infected. And, number five, massive amount of training and education for parents and students about new social behaviors that we will expect.


CARVALHO: Obviously, mandatory wearing of masks.

SCIUTTO: OK. Are kids coming back, just to be clear, are they coming -- is everybody coming back on the same day, or are you alternating days, weeks? How are you balancing class size?

CARVALHO: Important question because obviously you want to reduce density in the school, maximize social distancing. That is why we have provided parents with options and we know the options parents want. That allows us to bring some students to school for a traditional five-day per week experience. The second model relies on 100 percent remote learning by qualified teachers, always with the cohort of the students.


CARVALHO: And then there are two hybrid models that allow for the alternating of different cohorts of students throughout the week, reducing, again, the total number of students or student density in the building at any one time.

SCIUTTO: OK. Debra, you've got similar challenges there. Los Angeles County, huge district. How are you going to get this balance right? Will it be a similar model?

DEBRA DUARDO, LOS ANGELES COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS: Yes, similar in some ways. We have about 2 million children in L.A. County. And we are also looking at providing options. So some students will come to school every day. There will be a hybrid of some having some of their days at school and other days receiving instruction at home.

We're also looking at which students have been most impacted by this pandemic and really looking at it through an equity lens to ensure that our students who have not had the ability to connect during this closures of school for many different reasons, making sure that those students have access first.

But we're also looking at many of our partners in the city and in the county so that for the students that may participate in a hybrid program where they're in school a couple days a week, looking at having learning centers either at libraries, parks, boys and girls clubs, other places where students can go during the day so that their parents can continue to work.

SCIUTTO: That's a big thing, you know, because a lot of people don't have the means, right, to take care of the kids at home.

Debra, you mentioned kids going home, perhaps spending part of the day, part of the week at home. How do you reduce the risk of kids binging the infection home, because while kids, of course, at less risk of serious cases of Covid, the concern is that they then expose adults in their household. How do you control that, Debra?

DUARDO: So that's all about following the safe and health -- health -- health and safety measures, the PPE equipment, the masks, the disinfecting of classrooms, keeping students with the physical distancing, limiting things. Like, we're not going to have our sports, you know, even things like music and instruments. We need to take a very good look at.

We've been working for the past three months on developing these plans so when students do come back we do it in a way that's safe, not only for the students, but for their families when they go home, and also for our employees. You know, we have many teachers and administrators that fall into that high-risk category. We need to make sure that we're monitoring for illness, taking temperatures --


DUARDO: Looking at how kids are entering and exiting our campuses.

SCIUTTO: Alberto, in Miami-Dade, what do you do for parents who say, we just can't take care of the kids at home during the day, we've got to get to work?

CARVALHO: That's why we offer a full, traditional model five days a week in school, exercising all the responsible, preventive measures, social distancing, mandatory washing cycles throughout the day, intense sanitization cycles to be done during the day and nights and weekends, in addition to the necessary PPEs that Debra described.

But, look, we are in a different place. One hundred percent of our students are digitally connected with access to the Internet and Wi- Fi. All of our students have devices, so we can actually pivot from one model of learning to another should conditions dramatically worsen or improve.


CARVALHO: And that ability to be nimble in pivoting between phases, based on local conditions, is critically important for us. But our theory of action is to provide parents options, also addressing the most fragile students.


We're going to bring those students back to school two weeks earlier. And they are right now in summer virtual programs to address the academic regression that they have suffered.


Well, it's a lot for both of you to handle and for folks across the country. You know, kudos to you for finding a plan for the way forward. We wish you the best of luck, Alberto Carvalho and Debra Duardo.

CARVALHO: Thank you, Jim. DUARDO: Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: As cases surge, a leading health expert says that this July 4th weekend could be a perfect storm for new infections. A lot of data coming out of Memorial Day. What can be done to get this under control so that it doesn't happen? We'll discuss.


SCIUTTO: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Scioto.

Right now 23 states have now hit pause on their reopening plans.


Why? Well, because of new surges in Covid infections around the country.