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THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Wears Face Mask While Visiting Wounded U.S. Troops; Mueller Defends Stone Prosecution And Says "His Conviction Stands"; Disney World Reopens As Florida Reports 10,000-Plus New Cases; Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) Is Interviewed About New COVID-19 Cases In Florida; Schools Battle With Reopening Plans As New Cases Surge; Atlanta Public Schools Nixes Plan To Return Kids To Classrooms; Trump Commutes Sentence Of Former Adviser Roger Stone. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired July 11, 2020 - 21:00   ET

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


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[21:00:46]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around and the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Trump, today, had a visit to wounded service members at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland just outside Washington D.C. He did something he has resisted doing for several months. He wore a face mask. The president put on the mask inside the hospital and in front of the White House Press Corps.

He told reporters beforehand that he was not against masks but believed they have a time and place. Stay there, we're live from the White House in just a moment.

Also today, from the CDC, a new estimate of how many people may be infected with the coronavirus while experiencing absolutely no symptoms at all. According to the CDC, as many as 40 percent, 40 percent are positive for the virus but not sick. The CDC also estimates about half of the COVID-19 transmissions happened between people before, before they get sick.

Across the United States right now, look how many states are reporting a rise in coronavirus cases. In some areas, that rise is so significant. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and today, we're hearing Texas. All reporting record or near record high numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections in a single day.

Let's go live to the White House. Right now, CNN's Kristen Holmes is reporting for us. Kristen, the president today visiting troops, wounded personnel, military personnel at Walter Reed. He wore a protective mask purposely in front of the White House pool, in front of the White House reporters. Something he has so far refrained from doing.

So what did he say about that? KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. And we know that this came after a lot of begging and pleading from aides and advisers who believed that it was time for President Trump to get on board with masks. And just to walk you through it, as we know for the last several months, President Trump has said they weren't for him.

That he has said that meeting with the dictators or other world leaders in a mask, he didn't see that really working out. And behind closed doors, he said that believing -- that he told aides that he believed that wearing a mask could send the wrong message to his supporters as he tried to get away from this pandemic.

Now, here is why he said he was wearing a mask today. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'll probably have a mask. If you must know, I mean, I'll probably have a mask. I think when you're in a hospital, especially in that particular setting where you're talking to a lot of soldiers and people that in some cases just got off the operating tables, I think it's a great thing to wear a mask. I've never been against mask. But I do believe they have a time and a place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Wolf, a time and a place, that is not the same message that his top health officials are giving -- who are saying anytime you cannot socially distance, you should be wearing a mask. So it's unclear whether or not this message that his aides and advisers were hoping that this photo opportunity would send that it's OK to wear masks.

That it's no longer a political issue. The fact that he himself, the president, is limiting it to just such a small setting, it's unclear if that message is going to get across to his supporters and to those who aren't wearing masks right now and not listening to those health experts.

BLITZER: And what happened today, Kristen, I just want to be precise and let our viewers know, it was different than a few weeks ago when he was at that Ford plant in Michigan. He was backstage, not in front of the White House Press Corps, he was wearing briefly a mask and someone got a picture of that, someone got a shot of him wearing that mask.

And he later said he wouldn't wear the mask in front of the White House Press Corps, he didn't want to give them the satisfaction he said of seeing him wear a mask. Today, the White House did allow the traveling White House press pool including the photo journalists to go ahead and have that picture of the president in the hospital wearing a mask.

That's the distinction. We did see one picture of him a few weeks ago, today, we saw a different picture with the White House blessings. The first time the White House has given the press corps the ability to go ahead and get that picture of the president wearing a mask.

We're also hearing, Kristen, for the first time, from Robert Mueller, the former special counsel who prosecuted Roger Stone, he's not talking about the president's decision to commute Stone's sentence. Tell us about that.

[21:05:04]

HOLMES: Well, this is incredibly striking, Wolf. This is the first time we have heard from Robert Mueller on his investigation, he is defending it in the public since last July when he testified in front of Congress. And he's issuing this op-ed in the Washington Post that seems to be a direct response to President Trump and the White House. And just to give you a little bit of what he's responding to.

When President Trump left today, he said how happy he was that he had commuted the sentence of Roger Stone. He said that Roger Stone had been treated incredibly unfairly and that other people were happy because of how Roger Stone have now been treated properly. So this appears to be some ort of a direct response to that.

He says that he felt like he had to write this op-ed, and Mueller says, that I feel compelled to respond to the broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office. And he says, Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so.

And then through this op-ed, he really walks through exactly how they ended up with Roger Stone, what the jury said, how they found him guilty of lying. He lays out all of the lies that Roger told or at least a portion of them here and why it was that he was convicted. But probably the most powerful part of this op-ed which is a direct response to Donald Trump and the White House is this.

He says, "We made every decision in Stone's case as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance to the rule of law. The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false."

And again, this is very striking. This is a man who has largely stayed out of the public eye. And this is the first time we are seeing him in public at all really talking about this investigation since last July and clearly issuing a staunch defense of everything involving that Russia investigation.

BLITZER: Yes, very important. You're absolutely right. Kristen Holmes at the White House for us, thank you.

For months, Cinderella's castle has been vacant. No more. Disney World in Florida reopened its gates this morning to welcome visitors back to the magic kingdom and animal kingdom. But some of the park's pre- pandemic magic may be missing in favor of new safety measures.

CNN's Natasha Chen reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Disney theme parks may be an escape to a fictional bubble but no amount of pixie dust can wipe away the realities of a pandemic.

ERICA M. WALT, DISNEY WORLD PASSHOLDER: It does feel a bit surreal.

CHEN (voice-over): It's a whole new world of temperature checks, parties separated on rides, touch less payments and entry and required face masks that must looped around human ears. There are also far fewer people in the parks due to significantly reduced capacity and a required advanced reservation for people wanting to go in.

WALT: I do feel a bit nervous when trying to do all the things I love and enjoy doing again, but also remembering to do them as safely as I possibly can. Wearing an N-95 mask to the parks, social distancing from other park goers, packing Clorox wipes, packing hand sanitizer, keep my hands clean at all the different hand washing stations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cool. I just washed my hands in the middle.

CHEN (voice-over): For locals and theme park bloggers in Orange County, Florida where COVID cases are rising rapidly along with the rest of the state --

CRAIG WILLIAMS, PRODUCER, "THE DIS UNPLUGGED": We feel safer at theme parks than we do at any other normal store or restaurant. It feels safer at the theme parks because they're putting in that extra effort.

CHEN (voice-over): He says the extra effort is more visible at Disney than he's seen at other theme parks that reopened in the past month. Rides frequently stop so employees could sanitize them, Plexiglas especially in tight queues, and something he doesn't always see outside Disney property.

WILLIAMS: It really blew me away that everyone was following all the rules. So I definitely didn't expect that.

CHEN (voice-over): Orange County officials were asked, Thursday, if they'd seen COVID cases stemming from the theme parks that are already open.

DR. RAUL PINO, ORANGE COUNTY HEALTH OFFICER: You know, I would be lying to say that we have not seen a case here and there that mentioned one of the parks. But we have not seen an outbreak in any of the parks that opened so far that we are aware of.

CHEN (voice-over): Disney's chief medical officer said in a blog post this week, "We have re-imagined the Disney experience so we can all enjoy the magic responsibly." And that includes the many restaurants on Disney property like Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' which has a new patio and spaced-out tables.

CHEF ART SMITH, OWNER OF HOMECOMING' FLORIDA KITCHEN AT DISNEY SPRINGS: Everyone wants to enjoy their time here but safely. And I think together, we're doing that.

CHEN (voice-over): He says people need a safe way to get a little comfort food and magic right now.

SMITH: (INAUDIBLE) how we are in good times. It's how we are in challenging times, OK?

[21:10:02]

CHEN (voice-over): Natasha Chen, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you, Natasha.

The catastrophe of this pandemic is clearly growing across the state of Florida. The state is already up to 95 deaths just so far today. The day isn't over yet, more than 10,000 new cases there. And you can see from the past month, the numbers are skyrocketing in Florida.

Joining us now, the Florida Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala. She is the former secretary of health and human services in the Clinton administration.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. Your district includes Miami and Miami Beach. How are the conditions there on this Saturday night?

REP. DONNA SHALALA (D-FL): Well, very sad because we've had to close the restaurants and basically close down our community. And it's tragic. I represent the hotels, the restaurants, the port, the airport, and Miami is just an economic disaster. And we have not controlled COVID-19. We may be edging up to closing the whole thing down again for 14 days or so because the infection is really out of control. It's out of control across the state because our governor -- our governor won't tell everybody to wear a mask. At least in Miami- Dade County, everyone must wear a mask when they're outside.

I wish we had the kind of resources Disney has to protect people in the restaurants. Our testing is limited and workers that have been asked to go back to work cannot even get tested. And even when you can get a test, it takes too long to get the results. So that all of the pieces that should have been put in place by the Trump administration have not been put in place. We don't have strong leadership out of the White House. And in our case, we don't have strong leadership from our governor.

BLITZER: Yes, we -- I mean, earlier in the week, we spoke with the mayor of Atlanta and she pointed out, she has coronavirus, it took her eight days to get the results of her coronavirus test. Keisha Lance Bottoms said she has coronavirus.

People are mentioning that all over the country. Right now, they're waiting three, four, five, six, seven, eight days for the results and that simply, simply too long. We just showed the viewers, Congresswoman, the scene over at Disney World, Florida's most famous amusement park. The largest employer in the U.S. right now. How worried are you that it is reopening be it in a limited basis with strict precautions?

SHALALA: Well, I'm not as worried about people that are in the Disney enterprise. But what happens when they leave and what happens when they travel to get there. That's the worry.

Disney has millions of dollars to spend. It tells you how difficult it's going to be to open schools if we don't have billions of dollars. But Disney can do it inside but no one else has that kind of money. And it's the people traveling there, if they have to stop and stay at some place, you know, they're not walking over there. So that's what the worry is. And we will not know for at least 10 days what the impact has been. But no one has that kind of money.

BLITZER: Your governor, Governor DeSantis says 21-year-olds have the most cases in your state right now. Here's the question, should bars, gyms, other places that draw 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds be open or shut down?

SHALALA: Well, we've shut them down here, and the governor has shut down bars. We also have limited people to 10:00 at night. But that's not -- that's just not good enough. We are not starving this virus. We should have done it months ago.

The worst thing that can happen to us, and I said this three months ago, is that we have to shut down again because we didn't shut down properly. So that's a situation we're in now. It's out of control and we're not driving this virus down and we're not starving it. We need to starve it. Contact tracing has no impact until you starve the virus down to the point where you can manage it.

This is an American tragedy. That's the result of a lack of leadership from the White House. And we're all running out of words for what we can say about this lack of leadership. The president putting on a mask today means nothing because he qualified it so much.

[21:15:01]

He refuses to follow public health guidelines and that's resulting in American illness as well as deaths.

BLITZER: Yes, he says he was wearing a mask because he was in a hospital. Then again, everybody has to wear a mask when in -- in a hospital. Right now, Congresswoman Shalala, good luck to you, good luck to everyone in Miami. We'll hope for the best. Thanks so much for joining us.

SHALALA: Thank you.

BLITZER: States across the country break new records in new cases. Some school districts are scrambling big time right now to try to figure out how reopen in the fall. But is it actually possible with students in classrooms? We'll take a closer look at how one city is planning to try to handle it.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: Educators across the country are trying right now to find a way to get students back in class safely. But how to do that and what will it look like are key questions that remain unanswered.

[21:20:03]

CNN's Bianna Golodryga reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: I think there's commonalty in the schools and the school leadership and the teachers and administrators that we all want to protect the safety of the children that are in schools.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST (voice-over): The CDC director on CNN's coronavirus town hall attempting to clear up the mass confusion caused by the president's shocking threat to withhold federal funding for schools that do not fully reopen. Something he does not have the legal authority to do on his own. As well as his rebuke of the CDC guidelines.

REDFIELD: We stand by our guidance, we think it's an important tragedy for helping the schools reopen.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): For months, school districts nationwide have been scrambling, trying to figure out just how to reopen safely as the acting superintendent of the Houston school district showed CNN back in May.

GRENITA LATHAN, INTERIM SUPERINTENDENT, HOUSTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: So, if we think of our students per table, possibly two students per table or we might even try one student per table as we think about having just about 11 students in a classroom at a time.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Since then, more districts have announced similar plans. Most recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio telling New York City's more than one million public school students they should plan to only spend one to three days a week inside a classroom. The other school days will be held online.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: At some point in a week, you're learning in-person in the classroom. At other points in a week, you're learning remotely.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Local officials have relied on guidelines issued by state and federal health authorities as well as the CDC. One of its top recommendations has been to maintain social distancing among students. The hybrid model where children would be divided into smaller groups, rotating hours and days in class seems to be among the most feasible.

But after months of inaction, the Trump administration is now pushing hard for schools to reopen full time in the fall. An endeavor made even more challenging as numerous states continue to see spikes in cases. In Florida, the education commissioner issued an emergency order this week requiring all schools to open at least five days per week for all students.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): If you can go Home Depot, if you can do Walmart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): But some educators in the state are now saying they won't follow the order if cases don't start to go down.

ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERINTENDENT, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: I think it would be counterintuitive.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

CARVALHO: With positivity cases increasing, would restaurants just this week being shut down again for us to pack up schools.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott said schools would have to offer more flexibility. In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey announced that in-person classes will be delayed until at least August 17th. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom saying that schools will reopen when the data says it's safe to do so.

Experts say it didn't have to be this frustrating but there still is time to get it right.

JOSEPH ALLEN, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, HARVARD T.H. CHAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: The time to plan is absolutely right now. In particular, when we think and healthy building strategies, schools have to be paying attention to and looking at their mechanical and ventilation systems right now. This is not something that can be started in early August.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Bianna Golodryga, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you, Bianna.

In Georgia, one of the earliest states to reopen, COVID cases are right now surging. More than 114,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,000 deaths. Against this backdrop, the Atlanta public school system is now saying no to classrooms when the new school year starts.

Lisa Herring is the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. She's joining us right now.

I understand, Lisa, you're going to start again with what's called virtual learning. So what factors went into learning this important decision?

LISA HERRING, SUPERINTENDENT, ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Hi, Wolf, and yes, thank you. You are correct. For Atlanta Public Schools, we appreciate this opportunity to have the conversation. But let me speak directly to what helped to direct us in this decision. First and foremost, it's to simply been the science of the data. We recognized that in Georgia and in Atlanta, community spread is increasing. Atlanta's become a hot spot. And as we've been trying to govern our decisions based on the recommendations of the Department of Public Health as well as Fulton County Public Health. We are in a state of substantial spread.

Knowing that a 10 to 14-day window allows for us to have a sense of how the spread continues to move, we had to make a serious decision relative to the safety and the wellness of our staff and students for reopening. Initially, our first day of school would have been August 10th. The recommendation is for us to move that to August 24th. And then most importantly, to do that in a virtual capacity.

BLITZER: Yes, it means they're not going to be going in class. They're not going to be there with their fellow students and their teacher. They'll be home trying to get through this.

What happens for the schools to reopen?

HERRING: So, yes, it does mean that in the first nine weeks, they won't physically be there.

[21:25:02]

And I do want to be first to say because certainly, we know that as we make these decisions, it's difficult to please the recommendations of all. But as a school system, our first priority is not only the safety and wellness of our children but also our staff.

We do want to take the time as we prepare to on board, throughout the month of August, we've identified the space where we cannot only focus on the continued professional development of our teachers for virtual instruction. We want to have an instructional integrity in that.

All of us were disrupted early on in March. And so we've had an opportunity to acknowledge what those challenges have been. And then we do want to have a chance to interface in small group with social distancing practices with the cohort of students as we transition. But then August 24th is that virtual learning experience.

I heard earlier, you know, the reference to hybrid models as well as face-to-face. It's important to note that in the Atlanta public schools, we've also identified those as potential considerations, but the data change, the science of what the pattern has been has to be a key figure in that.

And beyond the data, we've also spent the time for me and the leaders of our system, talking with infectious diseases specialists, epidemiologists, doctors, et cetera. It's not just an isolated decision but a complex one that we also believe require the expertise and recommendations and often times, opinions of experts in the field of public health.

BLITZER: What so heart breaking though is, correct me if I'm wrong, I assume there are a lot of kids from kindergarten through high school, poor neighborhoods, who don't have access to a computer, don't have access to internet right now. What do you do about them?

HERRING: So, that's perfectly stated. And the level of inequities that exists in a city like ours in Atlanta are real. We know and we knew that those disparities were already in place. Prior to even my transition, the district had taken action to not only helped outfit students who where in need but to also start an initiative to help keep APS connected.

Now, for us to make this decision relative to virtual learning, we've also had to commit to two things. The accessibility for devices for all students, any student who needs one. But we also know this, Wolf, you can't do the device if you don't have connectivity.

So we're also committed to making available hot spots so that the hot spots were also within the household. So when I mentioned the framework that we're looking at, the first two weeks of August, August 3rd to about the 21st, not only are we outfitting students -- I'm sorry, teachers, but we're also going to outfit our students. And you -- when you mentioned inequities, I think it's also important that we have to talk about the social and emotional challenges that have -- we've all faced during this time.

So, we have a recommendation and a plan to also look at trauma to transition. For those who also experience other challenges, whether they've been in the house or in other experiences in our country. And it's important, as an educator at heart and as one who recognizes the excitement tied to the first days of school. Whether they were going to a new school building or to a new teacher, we are not trying to take away that moment but we also recognize that there has be wellness in that experience.

And so when the time is right, we will receive them but in these first nine weeks, according to the data, it's simply has to be guarded and the decision has to be made carefully.

BLITZER: Yes, these are life and death decisions although it's so painful. All of us remember our first days at school and a lot of these kids are not going to be able to enjoy that at least right now.

Dr. Herring, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for all the critically important work you're doing in Atlanta. We're grateful t you.

HERRING: Thank you, Wolf. And on behalf of the Atlanta Public Schools, thank us -- thank you for letting us have this moment to express our (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Yes. It's education, it's so, so important. Once again, thank you.

So we just heard what Atlanta is planning to do with students. Should other cities be wise to follow the same plan? We'll discuss that. And whether the news that 40 percent of all cases are asymptomatic, should that make school systems rethink their own plans?

Stay with us. You're in "The Situation Room". [21:30:00]

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BLITZER: Back to school or keep learning from home? We're talking about a thorny question tonight. Joining us know, the Epidemiologist, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, he's the former Detroit Health Commissioner. Also with us, Dr. Megan Ranney, Emergency Physician at the Lifespan/Brown University.

Ranney, let me give your reaction to from what we heard from the Atlanta Public Schools commissioner, they've decided not to formally open the new school year, with classroom learning. They are going to do it virtually at least for the time being. Do you think that's the right decision?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, LIFESPAN/BROWN UNIVERSITY: You know, it makes me sad for those kids but I do think it's the right decision in Georgia. They're really are two big things that we think about, as to whether it's safe to open schools or not.

Our goal is to have them open for the kids' sake, but we have to look at the rate of COVID-19 in a community. Once it gets too high, it is not safe to open schools. And we have to look at the preparation of the school system and particularly for public schools, it is questions of whether they can maintain social distancing, whether they have enough masks, whether they are prepared to be back, whether they are able to handle transportation safely, things that are expensive and potentially difficult for public school system.

So given the rates of COVID-19 in Atlanta right now, I think it is very much the right decision for that school system.

BLITZER: Dr. Al-Sayed, what do you think? And I asked you because you were also the former Detroit Health commissioner. If you were advising Detroit's mayor, for example right now, what would you advise?

[21:35:07]

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would say, look, you need to do everything you can to prepare schools to open in the fall. That being said, it all has to do with where and what the status of transmission in the city looks like at the time of potential reopening.

The fact of the matter is, we've seen that this disease can double in a matter of two-and-half days. And so, for us to be making decisions about what's going to happen at the end of August and September, when many epidemiologists are forecasting a rise in transmission. I just think it's too early.

That being said, I think it's really smart as we heard from the commissioner Atlanta to be thinking about what we need to do to build out. And if the decision is going to be, look, we're not going to open up, then so be it. But if the decision is, we may want to have face to face learning, let's make sure that we're ready to go to do it safely, as Dr. Ranney said, but let's not make the call right now because this disease can move pretty quickly.

BLITZER: We got some disturbing information from the CDC, Dr. Ranney. It says that 40%, up to 40% of the people who have the virus may be totally asymptomatic. How worried are you about that?

RANNEY: You know, Wolf, that information is consistent with some preliminary studies that we've been reading all along. It is worrisome and it's part of the reason that all of us are cautioning on how important it is to maintain physical distancing and to wear that mask, even if neither you nor the person that you're with think that you're sick.

What that 40 percent asymptomatic number means is that, you can be around someone who seems perfectly healthy, and they could still be spreading COVID-19. It also of course applies to the school situation that we're talking about. And it's why I think going forward, having a percentage of asymptomatic testing, we need not just testing for people who have symptoms of COVID-19 but also for your average person who is out and about. That's going to be so critical for controlling this disease.

BLITZER: Yes. Dr. El-Sayed, a lot of these asymptomatic COVID people are in their 20s and 30s. They think they're fine and they're showing absolutely no symptoms at all. But they could pass on the virus to their parents, their grandparents, their friends, strangers. They don't even know -- that's why they should all be wearing masks, it's a simple procedure.

EL-SAYED: That's right. I want to be clear about something, Wolf. Being asymptomatic is not the same thing as being immune. And a lot of folks think that just because they may be young and healthy, with a lower probability of serious illness that somehow they're immune. They're not immune, they just may be higher likelihood of having asymptomatic disease.

And that's actually really dangerous for population spread, because, of course, we know that when people have symptoms, they tend to sequester themselves. It's the people who don't have symptoms that we're most worried about being out and about.

And so, the advice that we've been giving from the very beginning, that it's -- everybody should be acting like they have the disease and could be spreading it to others. That is the key, (inaudible) and social distancing. And at minimum, it means wearing a mask when you're out and about. And so, it's really, really critical that people follow this advice and don't be somebody who spreads the disease to somebody you know, or love, or care about.

BLITZER: Or somebody you don't know and that person winds up being very, very sick, and potentially could die at the same time. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, thank you so much for joining us. Dr. Megan Ranney, thanks to you as well, always important to hear what both of you have to say. We're going to have much more on the coronavirus epidemic here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up, but there's other news we're following, the President today forcefully defending his decision to intervene in the case of a former aide and now the former Special Counsel Robert Mueller is making a very rare public state. We have details, new information, we'll share it with you when we come back.

[21:38:52]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the coronavirus crisis in just a moment. But, first, we want to turn to the White House. On Friday night, late Friday night, President Trump commuted the sentence of his former advisor, long time friend Roger Stone.

Today, two Republicans senators spoke out against the decision. And this afternoon, the President tried to discredit the Stone case in stark contrast to what his own Attorney General Bill Barr has been saying about the conviction for months and in recent days as well. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Roger Stone was treated horribly. Roger Stone was treated very unfairly. Roger Stone was brought in this witch-hunt, this whole political witch-hunt and the Mueller scam. It's a scam because it's been proven false, and he was treated unfairly.

What I did, what I did, I will tell you this, people are extremely happy because in this country, they want justice. And Roger Stone was not treated properly.

BILL BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, as you know, the Stone case was prosecuted while I was attorney general and I supported it. I think it was established, he was convicted of obstructing Congress and witness tampering. I thought that was a righteous prosecution. And I was happy that he was convicted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Also tonight, Robert Mueller, the former special counsel of the Russia investigation, responded with an op-ed in the Washington Post. And he writes this, I'll put it up on the screen. "I feel compelled to respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office. The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so."

And joining us now, our Senior Legal Analyst Laura Coates. Laura, so what's your reaction to these rare public remarks from Mueller? He and Bill Barr actually appear to be on the same page when it comes to Roger Stone, the President obviously in a very different page.

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, the idea that we haven't heard from Mueller since July of 2019, it's been about a year since we've heard from him.

[21:45:09]

And to hear him talk about it, being compelled to offer the explanation and to defend in a way that frankly he didn't defend when he was in a hearing before Congress with the same vigor, to have him and Attorney General Barr talk about this being a righteous prosecution? Well, there's a reason for that, Wolf, because this was not somebody who was simply handed down a conviction by prosecutors. It was jury trial, remember?

And so, the idea here that the people of a jurisdiction, with the presentation of evidence decided that he was guilty of federal crimes. Remember, this is the same person where prior prosecutors stepped back because they were trying to roll back his sentence. That's how much they felt invested, that he had violated this federal law.

And so, now you have the president of United States, not fully pardoning but commuting, the guilty individual was still stand. But the idea here that they're both on the same page speaks volume that the President still does not feel as though the witch-hunt line that he's been running for the better part of three years now, he felt he still had to do this. It's shocking.

BLITZER: Yes, and it's pretty amazing too that Bill Barr, the attorney general, Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, Barr said, as we heard, the prosecution was righteous. The judge-- the sentence that judge gave was fair. You know, it's amazing that the President, two or three days after his attorney general says this, comes out with the commutation and in a totally different position.

COATES: A totally different one. Remember, he is just a few days from serving the sentence next week. And so the idea is why now? Why after all of this, why would the President right now be doing this?

Remember, Stone wasn't just sentenced yesterday or ever last month, or even two months ago. This has been looming for quite some time, so it begs the question about the President sort of MO about distractions, about why he tries to reorient certain thinking or the news with the headlines, but also about how he feels in the sense of what just happened a few days ago, Wolf?

The Supreme Court handed down two rulings about his financial documents, about his tax returns, and both of them he claimed to be some sort of a continuation of witch-hunt, in a persecution of him. And now, you see the President with almost a knee jerk reaction trying to show that he is going to do something about it.

And ultimately, what you have here is what probably should be happening on the legislative side, because now you have discussions among congressman and women about having parameters around the presidential power to pardon or commute, when it involve somebody who is related to the President and his dealing. And so, you've got a lot of Pandora's Box opening yet again because of the President's action.

BLITZER: Laura Coates joining us, it's always great to hear what you have to say. But especially great today, it's a very, very special day for you, Laura. Happy birthday to you, many, many more.

COATES: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very, very much.

COATES: I appreciate it, thank you. Happy 40, thank you.

BLITZER: You look much, much younger. Much younger than that. Appreciate it very much, Laura, thank you.

COATES: It's -- go on. Thank you. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Coming up, Mexico is forging ahead with plans to reopen despite breaking records for new cases, over 7,000 in one day alone. We're going there live.

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[21:52:53]

BLITZER: Some countries had success flattening the curve of coronavirus, and have begun to reopen. Mexico is trying the same but its on curve remains far from flat. CNN's Matt Rivers is in Mexico City with the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: From June 2nd to July 2nd, Mexico City's case total jumped about 65%. Also on July 2nd, Mexico City's open air markets, crowded and confined reopened.

Sixty-three-year-old, Ana Rosa Lara (ph) invited us to see her stall. She says she and seven family members all had COVID-19 back in April. But when the government opens markets back up, she jumps.

She says the people that work here live day to day and we can't survive otherwise.

People like Yusela (ph) could presumably survive, though, without shopping for clothes, but there she was. She says, God willing it stays open because it's really nice to have contact with people again.

But experts say it is contact with people that's the problem, though, most in this market didn't seem to care. They also didn't seem to care in other parts of the city like here Centro despite the government's "sana distancia" or healthy distance awareness campaigns. In many places, it is just not happening.

DR. MALAQUIAS LOPEZ CERVATES, PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERT: I think it is too dangerous to try to reestablish of the social activities in Mexico.

RIVERS: And we've seen what happens when places reopen too soon, thinking of course of the United States. Mexico City started reopening malls and restaurants, and markets last week when new cases were still high. This chart from Mexico City's government shows only a slight trend downwards in new cases from its peak, something health experts say could be easily reversed if scenes from market like this continue to happen. Though, the government insists they can do this safely.

He says, it's fundamental for the economy but we do have to be on top of everything, which it is clear they are not. Requirements like using anti-bacterial gel, social distancing and temperature checks were not enforced in most places. And people knew it.

And, you know, a woman just came up to us off camera and said, hey, stop filming, stop filming because when your video airs they are going to have to close the market back down. But the reality is that, whether we're here or not, I mean, look at this.

[21:55:08]

You don't have to be a public health expert to see that what is happening right now at this market is not safe.

Across all of Mexico, cases and deaths have roughly tripled since June 1st and they keep going up. And across all of Mexico certain sectors of local economies are reopening like this. That is a dangerous combination. Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you, Matt. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. I will be back tomorrow night, 7:00 pm Eastern for another special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. CNN's Special, "Things I Knew Before I Started Talking" starts right after a quick break, Michael Smerconish. We'll be right back.

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