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Trump And Fauci At Odds Over Masks, Testing, Shutdowns; Interview With Mayor Dan Gelber (D), Miami Beach, FL About Coronavirus Crisis; Bipartisan Outrage Grows Over Trump's Commutation Of Roger Stone's Sentence; Interview With Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA); White House Pushes Schools To Reopen Despite Rising Cases Of Coronavirus. Aired 7- 8p ET

Aired July 12, 2020 - 19:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

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

Tonight we begin with increasing evidence not only that the United States is losing the fight against the coronavirus, but also of a new fight. Not against the virus, but against the man trying to end the pandemic.

At this hour, there are nearly 3.3 million cases here in the United States alone. More than 135,000 Americans have died over the past five months. Just yesterday, 685 Americans lost their lives to the virus. While worldwide, over 230,000 new cases have been reported to the World Health Organization in the past 24 hours alone. A new record.

The numbers here at home are equally worrisome. In the past three days, we've seen more than 60,000 new confirmed cases each day. And while we have no time to lose when it's most critical for the president and top health officials to be working together, we are now learning that the White House may be trying to actively discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert.

Let's go to the White House. Kristen Holmes is joining us right now.

Kristen, this is a really worrisome development, what we're learning. Tell us about this growing rift.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. It's pretty ugly right now. So we reached out to the White House about these tensions that we were seeing play out in the media between Dr. Fauci and President Trump, and I'll get to that in one second.

And in response, we heard from a senior administration official who said this, several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things, and then they went onto list comments broken down by section that Fauci made early on in the pandemic. This regards masks or asymptomatic spread as well as shutting down the

country. And make no mistake, these are comments that Fauci made and then later changed as the pandemic was developing. But to see this at any point in time, a White House publicly attacking one of the nation's top health experts, that would be extraordinary. But to see it during a pandemic is incredibly jarring.

And this comes after about a week and a half or more of this public tension playing out between Fauci and President Trump. We should note that the two of them have not spoken in person in months. Now Fauci was on air, on interviews, podcasts doing several different talks in which he talked about the government's response saying that we were not doing a great job. He actively disagreed with the president on numerous occasions.

And when President Trump was asked about Fauci, he said, he's a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes. And I want to note here that I have heard from several White House officials who say that they believe that Fauci has good intentions, that his motives are good, he's trying to get that public health message out there.

But the problem is, when those motives, when that public health contradicts the president, and that is when some administration officials start to believe he doesn't have the president's best interest at heart. But again, he is trying to get this message out there about the pandemic. We're at a point where these cases are surging and it's just extraordinary to watch this playing out in real time.

BLITZER: Kristen, so I take it that there's no official statement, nothing coming from the White House disputing our reporting about this growing rift, is that true?

HOLMES: Well, that's what this statement was. When we asked about the rift, the statement that we got says several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things. Now I do want to say, I reached out to Michael Caputo, we had a phone conversation, he is the assistant secretary for Public Affairs at Health and Human Services, and he did not talk about Fauci.

But he said this wasn't some sort of rift between the White House and scientists. He specifically put out a statement saying we have great faith in the capacity of all of our scientists and doctors on the Coronavirus Task Force to impart necessary public health information, people like Admiral Giroir, Surgeon General Adams, and others carrying these messages very effectively.

I will note, again, he does not mention Fauci here. And we do know that these are the people who the White House is putting out. We saw them do interviews today this morning on the Sunday shows. But interesting, no mention of Fauci and clearly here, again, the White House responding to our questions about a rift with what looks like something akin to opposition research, something that we might get if we asked about Biden or a Democrat or Democratic policies.

[19:05:03] So it's striking to see this with a top health official.

BLITZER: It's striking, it's extraordinary indeed. All right, Kristen Holmes, at the White House for us, we'll stay in close touch with you.

The rift between the president and Dr. Fauci certainly didn't happen overnight. CNN Reporter and fact-checker Daniel Dale is joining us right now.

Daniel, you've been watching and covering this now for weeks as it's been escalating, exploding. How far back does it actually go?

DANIEL DALE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We know it goes at least as far back as April, Wolf. That's when the president retweeted the words, #FireFauci. He denied that he actually wanted to fire Fauci, but it was clear he wasn't very happy. And we know from Kristen's reporting and others' reporting the president has been frustrated by this cycle in which the president makes a remark about the pandemic and he's promptly corrected in public by Dr. Fauci.

Things like, the president saying hydroxychloroquine is going to be a medical game changer. Fauci saying, hold on, we don't have evidence of that yet, or repeatedly the president saying this is under control or going away and again and again, as he did this past week, Dr. Fauci saying, hold on now, that's not true.

And Wolf, I should just add as a fact-checker, these corrections from Dr. Fauci have almost always been good, needed corrections because the president repeatedly is conveying information that's not even close to correct.

BLITZER: It's an important point indeed. The White House is saying Dr. Fauci made several mistakes. So tell us specifically what they're referring to.

DALE: Well, there are a few things. So the president had complained that Dr. Fauci flip-flopped on the matter of masks. He advised the public early in the pandemic that they didn't need to wear them. Dr. Fauci and his supporters note that he was concerned about a shortage of professional-grade masks that were needed for health care workers and that there wasn't yet strong evidence for the effectiveness of amateur, you know, home cloth masks and so on.

The president has complained that Dr. Fauci allegedly opposed his travel restrictions on China and advocates of Dr. Fauci say that there's still not great evidence that that ban was effective because the virus was already here. And they also complained that Dr. Fauci in late February told people that they didn't yet need to change their personal day-to-day habits.

And in that same interview on the "Today" show, Dr. Fauci noted that this could change quickly if evidence emerged that there was community transmission in the U.S. and by early March, like a week, he had changed his tune and was issuing pretty sharp public warnings.

BLITZER: The latest ABC News-IPSOS poll, as you know, Daniel, came out the other day. It showed 67 percent of the American public disapprove of the president's handling of the pandemic. Only 33 percent approve of the president's handling of the pandemic. Back in March, 55 percent actually approved. It's collapsed from 55 percent down to 33 percent which suggests maybe the White House is looking for some sort of scapegoat right now.

DALE: I think that's very possible. I also think it's hard with this White House to know what is the strategy and what is just the president's mood. So is this a strategic effort to find a scapegoat to help defray the cost of this pandemic on the president's political fortunes or is the president just angry and has he just quietly instructed his people, just go after this guy because he contradicted me yet again the other day? I don't know which is which, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, a source tells us that the White House doesn't think Dr. Fauci has the president's -- the president's best interest at heart. Should it worry us that the White House sees his job as more about helping the president than helping the country as a whole in fighting the virus?

DALE: I think without being too opinionated here as a reporter, Wolf, I think this whole thing is worrying. I mean, as Kristen said, as you said, this is the White House spending time amid a pandemic that's killed 135,000 Americans and counting, trying to discredit a government official. This is a White House sending out opposition research effectively on someone serving in the government who by even their own account is trying, has good intentions, is trying to get good information to the public.

And I don't think it suggests that the White House is entirely focused to say the least on the issues that matter to Americans which is keeping them safe and getting them back to work, back to school and back to their daily life.

BLITZER: I've known Dr. Fauci for a long time. He's worked for six American presidents, six administrations. He always tells the truth.

All right. Daniel, thank you very, very much.

Let's go to Florida right now. That's the state that today reported more than 15,000 new cases. That's a record high for any U.S. state during this entire crisis. Florida's recent surge now eclipsing the worst peak seen in New York state. That was back in April. Reflecting this alarming spike, the positivity rate of tests in Florida is hovering right now around 20 percent. The hardest hit area, Miami-Dade County, home to nearly a quarter of the state's cases right now.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber is joining us.

So, Mayor, when you and I spoke the other day you said the ICUs where you are were still in pretty good shape. We just learned that over 7500 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized statewide in Florida. So what's the status right now of the hospitals where you are?

[19:10:10] MAYOR DAN GELBER (D), MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: They're reaching their capacity. We have almost 1900 census of patients, 400 in intensive care, 200 on ventilators. All records. You know, we're going to start moving regular beds into ICU beds. So we're clearly being strained at this point and there's obviously an impact on non-COVID cases which also need to be taken care of. So this is really straining our health care system dramatically.

BLITZER: They certainly are. So what specifically, Mayor, are you doing in Miami Beach to mitigate the surge?

GELBER: Well, the county has started to roll up the carpet, so to speak. Restaurants inside are now closed. They've been opened. We have a curfew. We're not allowing liquor sales after -- so we're trying to do the things that might limit activity.

But I will tell you something, listening to the last report, Dr. Fauci is the only person in the federal government we're listening to on the local level. Because obviously, you know, this is all falling to mayors and commissioners to not only get people to comply, but to actually do these rules that people have to comply with. And he's the only one we've been listening to.

It's nuts that the federal government has decided that he's upsetting the president so we should all not listen to the doctor anymore because we don't like what he's telling us.

BLITZER: I mean, it's certainly amazing when you think about an effort that some are describing as opposition research against the nation's top infectious disease expert, someone who's been working for decades in trying to help not just the U.S. but the world in dealing with these kinds of health crises.

I know that you and several area mayors down there in South Florida have been very critical of Florida's contact tracing efforts. You said the program -- you told me the other day it was woefully unprepared. So what led to this breakdown?

GELBER: Well, I think what's going on is, and it's something that's sort of larger than just the contact tracing. The state and federal government officials seem to be very concerned about making sure they're not going to admit that they're unprepared or admit that they're losing ground. All the local folks, the mayors and commissioners have to do it. So we've been really all over this contact tracing and -- which is the only way that you actually control the spread of the virus once it happens.

You have people call -- you know how it works is you call people up, you call up the people that they contacted, these are all people who might be positive or are positive and then that way you get people quarantined and it's really a pretty big investigative effort. We found out last week that of the thousands of people that were positive in a day, only 17 percent were actually even contacted because the state government had not put enough contract tracers in town to take care of that. And that means that 80 percent were never called and told what to do

and they weren't allowed to even give the information as to who they might have been in contact with so those people could be called and told what to do. So this is really a total dereliction that's going on right now. And I just think it goes back to the fact that part of our government, state and federal, is very worried about looking bad.

And those of us on the ground who are dealing with it, we're just trying to stop this thing from surging through our community the way it is in Miami-Dade County right now, in Florida.

BLITZER: What's the latest as far as reopening schools full time? You're supposed to do that I think by the end of August for the fall semester. What's happening in Miami Beach?

GELBER: Well, you know, this is just another example of it. Our governor and the president have said, you got to open everything up and our county school board superintendent rightly says, well, we'll follow the science and the medicine on this. We're not going to just -- because somebody wants to look like we're doing fine going to put people in danger. And that's what's going on.

So they're trying to come up with different plans. But we're not going to follow some mandate from the president or even from the governor that says everything has got to be open. I have kids in school. I have a high school kid myself who I want socialized, believe me, I want him in school.

But, obviously, if it's dangerous for the teachers and for the families of the students and the students themselves, we can't act -- it's almost like these guys are untethered from what's actually happening in the communities that they report to represent. It's very unsettling at this point.

BLITZER: Going back a few weeks, did you ever think, Mayor, that Miami-Dade, your county, would be at the epicenter of this coronavirus pandemic here in the United States?

GELBER: No. No. But I'm not -- on the other hand, I'm not surprised. You know, when you have all of these mixed messages -- if people just followed all these rules, and my residents have done pretty well. It's just all the visitors that are coming here looking for social interactions who believe that putting on a mask is a political statement and who hear all these mixed messages. You know, the vice president was here last week saying that we were -- our curve was in the right direction.


And we all know that it's not because it's been going straight up for the past week and a half in ways that we have not been able to control. So there's a total disconnect between what is happening and what is being said out of Washington and even Tallahassee unfortunately and what is happening in some of these communities right here.

BLITZER: I love Miami. I love Miami Beach, and I'm so sad to see what's going on right now.

Mayor Gelber, good luck to you. Good luck to all folks down there. We'll stay in close touch.

GELBER: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the virus coming up. We're also following this breaking news out of Southern California tonight where an explosion and fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard has injured at least 21 people. The explosion happened while the ship was docked at the U.S. naval base in San Diego.

Right now we're told firefighters are working to put out the flames and remaining hotspots where firefighters are warning that the fire could continue to burn aboard this ship for days. 160 crew on board were evacuated from the ship. There's still no word on the cause of the explosion, but a U.S. Defense official tells CNN that it's believed the fire started in the well deck of the ship where small landing craft can enter and exit.

A personal quick note, I spent time reporting from aboard the Bonhomme Richard back in March of 2005 in the aftermath of the Gulf War. I was there in Iraq, Kuwait, went aboard that ship. It's a great ship, a great crew. Let's hope for the very, very best. Our thoughts are with all of the sailors on board.

Coming up, we'll have much more on our new reporting about a rift between the White House and Dr. Anthony Fauci as the country is now grappling with soaring coronavirus cases. How will this affect the fight against the pandemic? We'll have new information when we come back.



BLITZER: A senior administration source tells CNN that some White House officials are actually raising questions about the nation's top coronavirus expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a man who has served six presidents of both parties.

According to the source, these officials think Dr. Fauci doesn't have the best interest of the president in mind when he openly disagrees with him. The two men are not even on speaking terms at this point. The last time they spoke we're told was June 2nd.

Joining us now to discuss this and more, Dr. David Shulkin, former secretary of Veteran Affairs in the Trump administration, and CNN medical analyst, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. She's chief of the Infectious Diseases Division over at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Secretary Shulkin, you were part of the administration. What does it say to you, this reporting about Dr. Fauci, that there seems to be an effort to try to undermine right now, an effort emanating from the White House? DR. DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT

TRUMP: Wolf, I'm so sorry to see this going on but I can't say it's a surprise. You know, being a physician in the administration, in President Trump's Cabinet, I know how difficult it is to be able to stand up and to speak your mind. And in this case, we have Dr. Fauci who clearly is standing up for what he believes in, being able to share with the American people, and we're seeing this type of campaign against him.

I think what most people don't realize is, Dr. Fauci is not a political appointee like I was. Dr. Fauci is a career official. He served in the government most of his career. He served so many different administrations and frankly I believe Dr. Fauci were a political appointee, he'd probably be fired by now. But you can't fire a career employee that easily. And so we just have to hope that Dr. Fauci continues to do what he believes in, the American people want to hear from him.

Nobody can be able to predict this virus without making some errors. That's not what we need. We don't need somebody to be right all the time. We need somebody to be truthful with us and share with us what's best and what science is telling us to do to be able to protect ourselves.

BLITZER: Let me get Dr. Walensky to weigh in as well. I don't know if you know Dr. Fauci. I know him. I've known him for many years. He's a career civil servant. He's worked over at NIH for, what, 30, 40, 50 years right now. He's 79 years old. And over the work in dealing on infectious diseases, he's probably helped saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives around the world and now to be going through this is clearly unacceptable.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Indeed. Wolf, I have had the great pleasure of knowing Dr. Fauci. You've called him a national treasure, you know, and I would agree. You know, I don't pretend to know how Dr. Fauci feels about the president. What I do know is Dr. Fauci's job is not to look at the president's best interests, but to look at the nation's best interests, at the public health's best interests.

Early on we had a lot of surprises about this virus. SARS COVID-2 actually has asymptomatic transmission unlike SARS COVID-1. But what I also know is that Dr. Fauci is an exquisite consumer of the data, of the evidence, and he often has the access to those data and that evidence before many of us. He takes that -- he compiles it and he gives us his best opinion. And I have to say, if we are not going to trust Dr. Fauci with the evidence, with delivering us the truth, I don't know who we would trust.

BLITZER: That's an important point. Secretary Shulkin, when you were secretary of Veterans Affairs, did you actually work with Dr. Fauci on various issues?

SHULKIN: I worked very closely with all of my NIH colleagues and, you know, Dr. Fauci was always there being able to provide help when it came to issues related to veterans and so that working relationship between VA and the Department of Health and Human Services and NIH was very important for us.


BLITZER: It certainly was. Dr. Walensky, let's talk about schools. The Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke earlier today with our own Dana Bash and she repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether schools should follow CDC guidelines. Clearly she's under pressure from the president who wants all schools to reopen immediately, without any problems, otherwise he's threatening to cut off aid to various school districts. What's your reaction to this?

WALENSKY: Wolf, I am a physician and a researcher, and I look to the evidence. And I was rather shocked and disturbed today when I heard what the secretary said that we heard little about the evidence.

Here's what we know, in countries like Denmark and Norway, where they had limited community spread and they cautiously opened schools with small class sizes for only young students, they were able to not have outbreaks in those school systems.

In countries like Israel where they had community spread, active community spread, and they opened schools without limiting class sizes, without limiting the number of students and the age of students that came, they had numerous uncontrolled outbreaks that required them to reclose.

I think we never heard about evidence from Secretary DeVos. We also did not hear about guidance. We need guidance on ventilation systems and filtration systems in the schools, about surveillance testing, about bussing, about class sizes and masking, about choral practice and lunch systems.

And so I think in the absence of both evidence and guidance, we didn't receive the leadership that we needed in order to safely open schools. These are our children. They are our future. They deserve better.

BLITZER: It's true. You know, Secretary Shulkin, you were in the Cabinet together with Secretary DeVos when you were in the Trump administration. Let me get your thoughts on -- when you believe -- and you're a physician -- when you think it will be safe for kids all over the country including, let's say, Miami-Dade County or in Texas or Arizona or California, to resume in-classroom learning, Monday through Friday, across the board, across the country?

SHULKIN: Wolf, I think the one thing that we've learned about this virus is that it's somewhat unpredictable. So I don't think that we should be naming a specific time and date. I think what we have to do now is we have to be preparing very hard for the reopening of schools because this is not going to happen safely unless we prepare. And that's why those CDC guidelines are so important and so good.

And what they really say is that every community has to risk stratify. They have to know the incidence of infection in their communities. What I tell people is, there's more than 1200 infections per 100,000 people, or your rate of decline -- of increase in the past 14 days is above 10 percent, you really have to be concerned about doing something like reopening.

And so we're going to have to take this by the day to be able to make sure that our safety of our children come first, but that we are well prepared, and those CDC guidelines are critical to helping us do that.

BLITZER: Dr. Shulkin, thank you very much. Dr. Walensky, thanks to you as well. We'll, of course, stay in close touch with both of you.

We're going to have much more coverage of the coronavirus pandemic ahead. But also there's another story we're following after a rare public defense of his Russia investigation related to the president's decision to commute the sentence of Roger Stone. Will we see Robert Mueller testify once again up on Capitol Hill?

Congressman Adam Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, he's standing by live. We will discuss that and more when we come back.



BLITZER: We have much more coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here in the United States in just a few moments, but there's other developing news we're following right now.

There's growing bipartisan outrage over President Trump's commutation of his longtime friend Roger Stone. The former special counsel Robert Mueller wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post" among other things, saying this, "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."

In response, Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted this and I'm quoting him, "Apparently, Mr. Mueller is willing and also capable of defending the Mueller investigation through an op-ed in 'The Washington Post.' Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have previously requested Mr. Mueller appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about his investigation. That request will be granted."

Joining us now, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.

Congressman, I want to get to all of that in a moment. But let me get your quick reaction to this effort by White House officials right now to undermine the credibility of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert here in the United States. When you hear about these reports, what goes through your mind?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Dr. Fauci is the most respected voice in the country on how we ought to be dealing with this pandemic. And to be trying to sideline him or diminish him or discredit him is just atrocious, but it is so characteristic of Donald Trump.

He can't stand the fact that the American people trust Dr. Fauci and they don't trust Donald Trump, and so, he has to tear him down. But look, we need people more than ever to be able to speak truth to

power to be able to level with the American people about what we're facing with this pandemic, how to get it under control, how to protect ourselves and our families. That's what Dr. Fauci has been trying to do, and by sidelining him, the President is once again interfering with an effective response to this pandemic.


BLITZER: Yes, hundreds of Americans are dying every single day and we need an expert like Dr. Fauci to help deal with this. All right, let's get back to the Roger Stone business.

Do you think Robert Mueller does need to testify as Lindsey Graham, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee now wants?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, call me skeptical about Lindsey Graham's motivations, after all, this is the guy who just even before the commutation was announced said that he thought it was a perfectly good idea.

I suspect that all Lindsey Graham wants to do is continue his counterfactual counter narrative that is that Donald Trump was somehow the victim when Donald Trump was the one inviting Russians to help him get elected in the first place.

He was the one making use of this ill-gotten gain, the hacked materials from the Clinton campaign. His associate Roger Stone was the intermediary between Mr. Trump and Russian Intelligence. Stone was directly in communication with Russian Intelligence, and their cut out WikiLeaks that they were publishing this information.

So call me very skeptical about what Lindsey Graham has in mind.

BLITZER: Were you surprised about the clemency that was offered to Roger Stone?

SCHIFF: The President had been telegraphing it for quite some time. But you know, I think my reaction was much the same as many, many Americans which is shocked, on the one hand, not surprised on the other. It is a shockingly corrupt abuse of the President to commute the sentence of someone who not only lied to Congress, not only obstructed the investigation, not only intimidated witnesses, but did so to cover up for the President.

And stone made no secret of the fact that he wanted this relief, and that he was withholding information to protect the President.

So, I mean, it's hard to imagine a more flagrant attack on the rule of law. But of course, we've come to expect nothing less from this craven President.

BLITZER: But the Constitution grants what unlimited authority to a President to issue a clemency, pardons -- is there anything realistic you can do about his decision Friday night? SCHIFF: You know, there are things that we can do to discourage abuse

of the pardon power, and you know, I've introduced a bill, I guess it was last year that would provide that in a case where a President, any President is a witness subject or target of an investigation, and they pardon someone connected to that investigation, and complete investigative files would be provided to Congress.

That way Congress can determine whether it's yet another act of obstruction of justice, and some of those acts may warrant the removal of the President.

I have no illusions about whether Republicans would meet their constitutional duty. They didn't when we provided overwhelming evidence during the impeachment trial, but that is ultimately the remedy. But we can enact by statute deterrence to the abuse of this power.

BLITZER: I want to also ask you about the reported bounties that Russia gave to Taliban fighters to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan. President Trump says he wasn't briefed on that matter. He says, and I'm quoting him now, "The Intelligence people, many of them didn't believe it happened at all." He said, "I think it's a hoax. I think it's a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats."

You've been briefed by top Intelligence officials. You're a member of the so called Gang of Eight. How strong is this Intelligence? Do you believe the Russians were paying Taliban fighters money to kill American troops?

SCHIFF: Well, I would say the Intelligence is serious enough and credible enough for us to act and as well to demand more from our Intelligence Agencies. But we ought to take steps to protect our troops and we ought to take steps to deter Russia from any further malevolent activity, maligned activities in Afghanistan.

The administration's explanation doesn't hold water. For one thing, they seem to be claiming that it was serious and significant enough to be included in the President's daily brief, but somehow not credible enough for them to actually tell him about it. That makes no sense whatsoever.

And I certainly support the call of some of my colleagues in the Senate to produce that presidential daily brief. Let's see whether it's a hoax as the President says, and they never reported it to him, or in fact, they did report it to him, he just didn't bother to read it, and they didn't want to confront him with it verbally because they were afraid that like so many times in the past, if you bring up Russia, and you suggest that Vladimir Putin doesn't have America's best interests at heart, it's a one way ticket out of the Cabinet.


BLITZER: Why is that?

SCHIFF: You know, because the President has this bizarre affinity for Vladimir Putin, other autocrats as well. Where that comes from, we don't know. In fact, we've been trying to find out whether it's because of financial entanglements with people like Putin or Erdogan or Saudi Arabia.

We will ultimately get those records as a result of the Supreme Court decision, but they will be delayed and you know, every day they are delayed, sadly, is another day that the country is at risk, but for whatever reason, he refuses to accept or believe anything ill said about the Russians or Putin and that endangers our country, it endangers us, I think in Afghanistan, it endangers us in Syria, it endangers our allies in Ukraine. And it's just dangerous, I think for America.

BLITZER: Yes, I was in Helsinki at that news conference when he said he believed Putin and not the head of the U.S. Intelligence Community. At the time, it was a pretty extraordinary moment as a lot of us remember.

SCHIFF: And this is, Wolf, this is another echo of that. You're absolutely right. In Helsinki, he took Putin's word over his own Intelligence Agencies, and by what he is saying now about these Intelligence reports on Russian bounties, he is saying, I don't believe my Intelligence Agencies. I think what they tell me is a hoax. I believe Putin and Russia and it's just more of the same sycophancy towards Putin by Donald Trump.

I think he's afraid of Putin. But Putin certainly has him dancing to his fiddle anyway.

BLITZER: Yes, it was a moment for the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats at the time when the President basically ridiculed his assessment, based on the U.S. Intelligence Community, he said, you know, he believed Putin at that time.

All right, Congressman Adam Schiff, the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, thanks as usual for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: As the President demand schools reopen and reopen quickly, many doubt that's the right move amid a surging pandemic. And here's a case in point. Three Arizona teachers shared a classroom this summer, and all of them got the virus and now one of them is dead. Her story coming up, next.


BLITZER: Just a few weeks now until schools are scheduled to reopen and it's still very unclear whether they will. A fierce debate is raging right now over the risk of bringing kids and teachers together once again when the coronavirus is surging in so many parts of the country.

Let's go to CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro who is joining us right now. Evan, something horrible happened in Arizona where you are right now that shows just how risky potentially all of this can be in the current school environment. Tell us about it. EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, tragically, Wolf,

you're right. What this story is really about is how to open classrooms safely.

Three teachers at the Hayden Winkelman School District, which is about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson, thought they knew how to do it. They decided to get together in one classroom and teach their online classes together. They wore PPE. They had masks and gloves and hand sanitizer. They sat at a distance, but it wasn't enough.

All three of them got COVID-19 and one of them Kimberly Chavez Lopez Byrd, 61. She is a teacher who died on June 26, Wolf and her colleagues who were with her in that classroom, talked to CNN about what they've learned from this tragedy.


ANGELA SKILLINGS, TEACHER WHO CONTRACTED COVID-19: It's very heartbreaking what we have gone through and my main thing is, if we can't stay safe, how are students going to stay safe? Last year, I had 20 students and I was lucky if they were six inches apart. I can't imagine keeping them six feet apart.

JENA MARTINEZ, TEACHER WHO CONTRACTED COVID-19: Today is my best day yet and on about a month. I still have a cough. I still am taking breathing treatments to relieve the tightness in my chest.

SKILLINGS: I am feeling the worse today than I have in the last month. I retested a week ago, came back positive again. So next week, I will go back and get tested again. Hopefully this time it is negative.


SANTORO: Now, Wolf, schools in Arizona actually start pretty early. I'm at Holbrook High School in Holbrook, Arizona, and these gates are supposed to open in just 17 days on July 29th. But the Governor has delayed that to try and combat this pandemic.

But the real question is, how can any of these gates across the entire country open safely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Truly a worrisome development. Evan McMorris-Santoro on the scene for us. Thank you very much.

W. Kamau Bell, by the way, is taking on injustice and inequality across America as part of an all new season of "United Shades of America" that premieres next Sunday night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Residents in Melbourne, Australia got another crash course in their so-called new normal. The city went back into lockdown this weekend in hopes of preventing a second wave of COVID-19 from spreading. Here is CNN's Michael Holmes.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Weekend number one of a stay-at-home lockdown that the city of Melbourne is being ordered to repeat. Officials say it is the only way to extinguish a new rash of coronavirus cases that have been reported in record numbers across the State of Victoria.

On Saturday, the Army manned checkpoints to make sure that the only people on the streets were out for essential reasons and the rest were staying at home.


DANIEL ANDREWS, VICTORIA PREMIER: It is the simple stuff. The common sense, just doing the right thing, the smart thing, that is how we will get to the other side of this. This is not an ordinary weekend. It is anything but that.


HOLMES (voice over): Earlier in the week, authorities closed the border between Victoria and New South Wales hoping to reduce community spread of the virus and fend off a second wave of the outbreak. But they warned, even if people followed the guidance, the numbers will get worse before they get better.


BRETT SUTTON, VICTORIA STATE CHIEF HEALTH OFFICER: There is absolutely reassurance in the level of testing that we are doing, because in finding those cases, they can be identified and they will isolate.

But it is an indication of the transmission that was occurring a week ago that is showing up in the numbers.



HOLMES (voice over): Health officials in other states are also taking extra precautions; in Sydney, they've set up a pop-up testing center near places where people have been infected, though some people complain it is not an easy process.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're here for five and a half hours last night and we got to the top of the hill before they shut down.


HOLMES (voice over): Meanwhile, in Melbourne it is just the beginning of round two of a fight against the virus that just won't quit.

Michael Holmes, CNN.


BLITZER: Thank you, Michael. Also tonight, details about a rift between the White House and the man leading the charge to end the coronavirus crisis.

We have brand new CNN reporting about how White House officials are now actually trying to undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci.