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U.S. Calls for Houston Chinese Consulate Closure; U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. Woody Johnson Accused of Ethics Violations; Family Contracted COVID-19 While Distancing But Without Masks. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 22, 2020 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Tensions between the U.S. and China, reaching a fever pitch here. The U.S., now accusing China of an illegal spying operation, and has ordered the immediate closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas -- that's a big one.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It's a big one. Beijing says there will be consequences if the U.S. does not reverse course. Our international correspondent David Culver is in Beijing with more.

The central question is why, right? What was the action? Marco Rubio out (ph) of (ph) Senate Intel, saying spying, et cetera. Do we know the why and what the repercussions could be from China?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy and Jim, that's the question that they're asking here. Why now in particular? So why focus on Houston? As you mentioned, Senator Rubio -- who, by the way, is one of the few officials who's been officially sanctioned by the Chinese government -- is suggesting that that was the center of espionage on behalf of the Chinese government within the United States.

Now, that question was also put to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who by the way is traveling to the U.K. and Denmark on a trip that he says, top of that agenda, was targeting the threats made by China and the Chinese Communist Party in particular towards the freedom-loving nations, as he put it.

But he was asked, Why now? Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: President Trump has said, Enough. We're not going to allow this to continue to happen, where they -- you've seen the remarks that National Security Advisor O'Brien gave, that FBI Director Wray gave and that Attorney General Barr has given. We are setting out clear expectations for how the Chinese Communist Party is going to behave.

And when they don't, we're going to take actions that protect the American people, protect our security, our national security, and also protect our economy and jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CULVER: China has called this outrageous, unjustified. They're saying that this will sabotage China-U.S. relations. The question, Jim and Poppy, is what will they now do, if anything?

What we have seen in recent months, as the tensions have been rising in the South China Sea, in Xinjiang, the far western province, where allegations of widespread human rights abuses are taking place; in Hong Kong, which has been stripped of its special trade status because of the national security law that China has imposed on that territory. And even with the pandemic, and the alleged cover-up and mishandling has been rhetoric, strong rhetoric on behalf of the Chinese.

But now, it seems, the nationalism has grown to a point here that they have to respond with some action. And that's being, really, pushed by state media as well. And that could result simply in the closure of a U.S. consulate, of which there are six, including in Hong Kong, in addition to the U.S. embassy. So we'll see what Beijing will do next here -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Typically, these diplomatic things happen in a tit-for-tat fashion, back and forth. They rarely end easily. David Culver, thanks very much.

Now to a CNN exclusive, a troubling accusation against the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., the billionaire NFL owner Woody Johnson. Sources tell CNN that Johnson was investigated by the State Department inspector general over allegations he made racist and sexist comments to staff, but also this, that he tried to use his government position to benefit President Trump's personal business.

HARLOW: That's right. Our Kylie Atwood joins us this morning from the State Department.

Good morning, Kylie. What is your reporting at this hour?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's a lot that we have learned over the course of a long time here, in reporting this story out. First of all, yes, as you said, Ambassador Woody Johnson was investigated by the watchdog of the State Department, the State Department inspector general, due to allegations that he made sexist and racist remarks to staff at the U.S. embassy in the U.K. And also, that he sought to use his government position to benefit the president economically, to drive business to the president's personal businesses in the U.K.

So let's go through what some of our reporting is on these racist comments. We are told that Ambassador Johnson questioned why the black community would want a separate month to celebrate black history. We are also told that he questioned, when they were organizing an event, if it would be filled with all black people.

And specifically, with regard to the black community, he said that the real problem is that there are not fathers who stay inside the families. Now, that really stunned one of the sources that we spoke to, and we are told that that specific incident is among the many that were reported to investigators.

Now, when it comes to the sexist comments and actions taken by Ambassador Johnson, we are told that he hosted events at a men's-only club -- these were officials events that he hosted at this club -- in London. And he was told by a diplomat at the embassy, he couldn't do that any longer. Obviously, hosting events there meant that women could not attend the events.

He is also said to have made sexist comments to women at the embassy, made comments about what they were wearing, and questioned why they should host a feminist event for International Women's Day.

[10:35:07]

And now, we get into the allegations that he was using his government position to try and prop up the president's personal business. In 2018, after he had a meeting with the president, he came back to the embassy officials and told them that the president wanted to host the Open, that's a prestigious -- sorry, prestigious golf tournament in the U.K., and he wanted to host it at his personal Turnberry golf resort.

Now, embassy officials told Ambassador Johnson that would be inappropriate, he couldn't do that, that was unethical; he couldn't mention it with U.K. government officials. But he did so even though he was told not to. He brought that up with a U.K. cabinet minister one meeting; we are told by the U.K. spokesperson for the government that that was not mentioned, but they didn't mention the specific Turnberry resort request.

Now, we do have comments from Ambassador Woody Johnson, but he doesn't deny any of the specifics of our reporting and he says, quote, that he is -- "It is an honor of a lifetime to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the U.K." The State Department says they stand with Ambassador Johnson.

HARLOW: All of this, apparently, in 2020. Wow, boggles the mind. Kylie, appreciate the reporting, keep us posted on what you hear.

Well, ahead, you're going to want to heard this. Two doctors, their young child and major regrets this morning. Next, a physician tells us why he truly regrets not wearing a face mask at a family gathering, and what happened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:41:14]

HARLOW: While coronavirus cases continue to rise across the country, a doctor and his physician wife are warning, Do not make the same mistake that they did. My next guest writes, in part, quote, "We visited family this weekend" -- this was two weekends ago -- "and eight of the 11 people we saw -- not all at the same time -- are now lab-confirmed COVID-positive. We did not wear masks while visiting with family because we let our guard down and thought we were safe. Please be careful, everyone. COVID-19 is just so contagious."

With me now is Dr. Miles Cobia. Good morning. I'm sorry that you have had this, your wife; you're both doctors, you're both generally pretty careful. You've got a sweet little girl, almost two years old, Claire, she was symptomatic as well. What is your warning to people? Like, what did you do -- and despite those precautions, this happened?

MILES COBIA, NEUROLOGIST: Yes. I mean, for those of you that haven't seen the tweet, to set this up, you know, we have been -- my wife is pregnant, she's 28 weeks pregnant. We have been exceedingly precautious, both at work and outside of work. We've really just been at home, we've been ordering even our groceries through delivery services and things.

We had a long vacation set up for July. And I finished my fellowship in June, 13 years of training. And so I actually had scheduled time here in July to take off, we were going to take a long vacation to Florida

Obviously, we didn't feel like that was safe. We scrapped that idea. And a couple weeks before the weekend, we ended up going to the lake, which was the -- July the 11th and the 12th. We decided that maybe a secluded lake house on a smaller lake in Alabama might be a better option for us, so we went ahead and booked that for a couple days.

And then as we got closer to the trip, we entertained the idea of -- you know, we hadn't seen our family, really, much at all, obviously, in five months, and a lot of, you know, fatigue had started to set in with us, especially my wife being pregnant and she's a hospital medicine physician who's been around, you know, COVID sporadically throughout the last five months.

So we opened the idea of inviting our family to the lake, immediate family only. We went through and carefully selected who we invited, we -- there were some people that we just didn't feel comfortable inviting because they had been to bars or had certain opinions about masks and hadn't been wearing them in public, so --

HARLOW: Right.

COBIA: -- we invited the ones that we thought had been safe. We went to the lake house on the 11th and 12th, really basically from noon on the 11th, on a Saturday, until noon on Sunday. We were outside the entire time. At no point were all of the adults there together.

In total, if you count my wife, my daughter and myself, there were 11 total people that interacted that weekend. But at no point was everybody there. Some people were there on Saturday, some people Sunday. But we were outdoors the entire time in the lake, in the river, you know, in the yard, on the porch. We went to bed at 10:00 p.m., that's the only time we were in the house --

HARLOW: Right.

COBIA: -- asleep. Woke up the next morning, went out. And were outside the whole time. HARLOW: So look, you guys, the one thing you didn't do that you are

very open about is --

COBIA: Didn't have masks.

HARLOW: -- you didn't wear masks. And I have so many friends, and know so many people that are sort of operating in these pods or these quarantine circles, they're talking about it for school, if school doesn't start, maybe getting their kids together to educate.

Your message to them is, do not -- do not do it without a mask.

COBIA: Yes, that's the real message. Is that even though we were outside, and we tried to stay socially distanced, even then, eight people out of that 11 are now positive with symptoms. I mean, so you know, that's really the message to people on this.

I know there are areas of the country where people -- that were hit harder, where people, I'm sure, are very reluctant to have these gatherings. But I can tell you from experience, having been on that lake and looking around the lake while we were there, every single house was packed, it looked like it was the Fourth of July weekend, so.

HARLOW: So when you talk about Alabama -- because you're right, I mean, things are different here in New York right now, we'll see what happens, but they're different in different states. You're -- the state of Alabama's seen the highest seven-day average for new daily cases.

[10:45:05]

Governor Kay Ivey has issued an executive order, mandating masks across the state. But it expires on July 31st. It's the 22nd today. Does it need to be extended far beyond a week from now?

COBIA: That would be, obviously, my recommendation. I mean, we have obvious anecdotal evidence that in our case, you know, I truly trust masking, we've been doing it religiously for five months. And the weekend that we didn't do it, regardless of whether we were outside, we still spread it. So --

HARLOW: Yes.

COBIA: -- you know, I would be very big advocate for extending it until we know that there is no longer rampant community spread of the virus.

HARLOW: Dr. Cobia, thank you for you, you know, your candor here, telling us this so we can all learn from what you say is your mistake. Good luck to your wife, congratulations on the little one on the way.

COBIA: All right, thank you.

HARLOW: Talk to you soon -- Jim.

COBIA: All right.

SCIUTTO: Yes, we wish them the best of luck.

Well, Africa's worst-hit country in the COVID outbreak is part of some very encouraging vaccine research, but there are still challenges. A live report from Johannesburg, South Africa, next.

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[10:50:34]

SCIUTTO: New this morning, the president of Brazil, who repeatedly expressed doubts about the seriousness of the COVID outbreak, has now tested positive for COVID-19 for the third time. Jair Bolsonaro has been working in semi-isolation from the Presidential Palace since July 7th, when he first announced he had tested positive. He has said he initially had a low-grade fever, but no serious symptoms.

HARLOW: He's walked on the grounds of his residence to greet supporters since he was diagnosed -- you see just yesterday, he is the video. Yesterday, he did tell this crowd he hoped his latest test would come back negative so that he could get back to work. But a third positive test, here, for the Brazilian president.

SCIUTO: A potential COVID-19 vaccine, being developed by Oxford University, is showing some early promising results this week.

HARLOW: That's right, the first indicators of whether it will work, really, could come from South Africa, where it is being put to the test in the middle of a COVID surge there. Our David McKenzie joins us live in Johannesburg.

They're looking so closely at what the results are there.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, Jim, good morning. Yes, this is a critical trial of that Oxford experimental vaccine. That's just happening just a few miles from where I'm sitting right now.

We went inside that effort. And, you know, we're right in the middle of a surge here of the pandemic in Johannesburg, in South Africa. That makes it incredibly challenging, but possibly very promising.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATT HANCOCK, U.K. HEALTH SECRETARY: The Oxford vaccine produces a strong immunity response in patients.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): It was the announcement he was hoping for.

MCKENZIE: This isn't it, right?

SHABIR MADHI, VACCINE TRIAL HEAD: This is far from it.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): But the head of South Africa's arm of the Oxford study is far from comforted. MADHI: Guess what keeps me awake at night now? That we're doing the

study first on the African continent, but we're doing it in the midst of a pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was vaccinated two weeks ago --

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Madhi's team is testing the same experimental vaccine in the middle of a COVID-19 storm, where even finding enough negative volunteers to make up their 2,000-participant study is a challenge.

MADHI: It might well be that we fail, not because the vaccine doesn't work in protecting people, but simply because the force of exposure is so tremendous. So this is really going to test the mettle of this vaccine.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): South Africa's number of confirmed cases now ranks among the highest in the world. What happens here over the next few weeks, the WHO warns, is a troubling marker of what the rest of the continent could face.

MADHI: We -- and we could experience multiple waves of an outbreak for the next two to three years. So the thing that's going to probably break the back of this pandemic at the end of the day -- not just in South Africa, but globally -- is a vaccine.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): In just the last few weeks, Nurse Neliswa Zozi has seen colleague fall ill, family too.

NELISWA ZOZI, NURSE, VACCINE TRIAL: So by doing this for me, it means a lot because we are not only trying for the communities, we are trying for our lives also, for our families also.

MCKENZIE (voice-over): Her hours here at the trial site are long.

Same for the team inside the lab, working seven days a week, 16 hours a day. But no one is doubting their sense of purpose as cases surge. All the potential payoff, when the South African results are expected to be released in November.

MADHI: If this vaccine works and if the circumstances in South Africa wane (ph), this vaccine would work anyway.

MCKENZIE: It's high-risk, high reward?

MADHI: Exactly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCKENZIE: You know, these scientists are exhausted, working so many long hours to try and figure out whether this vaccine has efficacy in the general population, Jim and Poppy. And if they manage to do it here, you know, they are hoping for solidarity when it comes to access to any vaccine that works, because they say everyone's in it together -- Poppy, Jim. HARLOW: I'm so glad you said that. It was brought up earlier in the

program, you know, are wealthier countries going to get more of this, whatever proves to be effective? David, great reporting. Thanks a lot.

[10:54:30]

Ahead, the San Francisco Giants' manager is now firing back at the president, who criticized him and the team for kneeling during the National Anthem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Well, the manager of the San Francisco Giants, Gabe Kapler, he is standing with his players -- rather, we should say, as you see there, kneeling with them -- during the National Anthem for the second time in a row.

HARLOW: That's right. This, after the president criticized those who kneel for social justice during the anthem when it plays at sporting events. Listen to Kapler's response, here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GABE KAPLER, MANAGER, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: I see nothing more American than standing up for what you believe in. I see nothing more patriotic than peaceful protest, when things are frustrating and upsetting. What matters the most is that we're unwavering in trying to do what's right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right, there it is.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Thanks so much for being with us. We'll see you back here tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.

[11:00:00]