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THE SITUATION ROOM
Attorney General Barr Spars With Democrats Over Accusations He Tilted Justice For Trump In Heated Hearing; Interview With Miami Beach, Florida, Mayor Dan Gelber (D); Interview With Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy; Major League Baseball Postpones Multiple Games After Miami Marlins Players Test Positive for Coronavirus; Russia Claims It Will Approve First Coronavirus Vaccine Within Two Weeks Despite Safety & Effectiveness Concerns. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 28, 2020 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And we're following all the breaking news, the president using his coronavirus briefing just moments ago to once again tout hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus, despite FDA caution against its use.
Stand by for more on that from what we just heard from the president, as the virus takes a growing toll here in the United States, the number of deaths now approaching 150,000, 150,000 Americans dead in the last five months alone, the nation once again reporting 1,000 deaths in a single day.
That was yesterday. Another 1,000 Americans died just yesterday. The infection rate is rising right now in 22 states, as the total number of cases in this country rises above 4.3 million confirmed cases.
Let's go to CNN's National Correspondent, Erica Hill, to begin our coverage this hour. She's tracking the spread of this deadly, deadly virus.
Erica, as the virus surges in parts of the U.S., indeed, in parts of the world, Russia, by the way, is now claiming it's on the brink of a major development. Update us on that.
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, that's right. They're calling this a sputnik moment.
CNN has learned that Russia intends to approve a coronavirus vaccine in less than two weeks, the defense minister saying that soldiers have been used as -- voluntarily in the human trials.
But here's what's really important to point out, Wolf. We haven't seen any of the scientific data. It hasn't been released. CNN has not been able to verify these claims on safety or effectiveness. But, again, this is the claim that's coming from Russia. Meantime, here in the United States, more states are now under a microscope, as the virus continues to move and surge, with no respect to state lines.
DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, PROFESSOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Wuhan, China, in the total epidemic, has 70,000 cases. We're having one Wuhan a day in the United States. That is just an out-of-control epidemic.
HILL (voice-over): In Mississippi, 80 percent of infections now linked to social gatherings, in New Jersey, outbreaks among lifeguards at the state's beaches, infections among young people rising in Pennsylvania and Maryland, as cases tick up in 22 states and Puerto Rico over the past week, concern growing for the middle of the country.
DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We can see the virus moving north. And we can see the test positivity rate rising in Virginia. We have been in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee.
HILL: Bars and restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, must close at 10:00 p.m. starting tonight, Kentucky's bars shuttered for the next two weeks after consulting with the White House Task Force.
GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): I don't want to be a state where a doctor has to look at 10 young people, knowing they have three ventilators and make a decision in possibly who lives and who dies.
HILL: Tennessee's governor resisting calls from Dr. Birx to do the same.
GOV. BILL LEE (R-TN): I have said from the very beginning of this pandemic that there's nothing off the table. I have also said we're not going to close the economy back down, and we're not going to.
HILL: Since reopening began on May 4, Florida's seven-day moving average for new cases has skyrocketed, up more than 1500 percent, the seven-day average positivity rate just over 19 percent.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: We just can't afford yet again another surge. We have got to get back to a very prudent advance from one stage to another.
HILL: While new cases in Florida over the past week are now holding steady, daily reported deaths hit a new high on Tuesday.
DAN GELBER (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: People need to have a sense of urgency that this is important. When they hear the governor and they hear the president saying, don't worry, they believe that maybe this is a green light to do whatever you want.
HILL: At least 27 states have now paused or rolled back reopening plans. Less than a week into its shortened season, baseball is also facing
setbacks, the MLB postponing multiple games out of an abundance of caution after several Marlins tested positive, the NFL canceling its preseason games, and more players opting out altogether.
HILL: Here in New York state, Governor Cuomo has added three more states to that mandatory quarantine list for travelers.
So, if you're coming from Illinois, Kentucky or Minnesota, in addition to Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, all five have now been added to that list for a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
And in Connecticut, Wolf, I should point out, the governor -- the state, rather, announcing earlier today they're concerned about anecdotal reports about youth sports teens traveling to states on Connecticut's quarantine list and reminding them that that 14-day quarantine applies to them too upon returning home.
BLITZER: It certainly does.
All right, Erica Hill reporting from New York, thank you.
Let's get some more now on the breaking news out of President Trump's up briefing just a few moments ago.
We're joined by our White House correspondent, Jeremy Diamond.
Jeremy, the president started off on script, read very carefully -- a carefully written script on a whole bunch of issues, including domestic production of pharmaceutical products.
But then in the Q&A, he went off the scripts, and he started saying some, let's be honest, some extraordinary, extraordinary and potentially dangerous things, specifically promoting hydroxychloroquine.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.
Well, we have seen the president over the last 24 hours really tear apart that script that White House aides have prepared for him to show Americans that he's taking this pandemic seriously. And it was today, when he was asked about those tweets, nine tweets that he issued last night touting once again hydroxychloroquine, this drug that the president can't seem to quit, that the president went far off-script once again in today's briefing.
The president once again insisting that he believes hydroxychloroquine is effective, despite the fact that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows that it is not effective as a treatment for coronavirus, despite the fact that the FDA itself, of course, has revoked that emergency use authorization that it put forward for hydroxychloroquine early in this pandemic.
So, when the president says that he's been talking to a lot of doctors, a lot of experts about this, and he believes it works, it's certainly not the experts within his own administration. Instead, the president seems to be looking to these doctors who made these outlandish claims yesterday, including one who said that she believes that hydroxychloroquine is a cure for coronavirus, and said that masks are no longer needed.
And, Wolf, when the president was pressed about that doctor's credentials specifically, some claims that she has made about alien DNA being used in vaccines, about vaccines being created to make people no longer religious, the president then said: "I thought her voice was an important voice, but I know nothing about her."
So, the president there taking no responsibility, it seems, Wolf, for the fact that he is amplifying to millions and millions of people these dangerous misinformation claims about coronavirus.
Now, there was another issue where the president also seemed to distance himself from what he has said, and that is on his criticism of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Just yesterday, Wolf, he criticized Dr. Fauci in a retweet, saying that Fauci has misled the country.
The president was pressed on that today, and it was a very revealing answer, Wolf, because he talked about the fact that Dr. Fauci has higher approval ratings than him. And, frankly, Wolf, the president seemed jealous.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So it sort of is curious: A man works for us -- with us, very closely, Dr. Fauci, and Dr. Birx also highly thought of. And yet, they're highly thought of, but nobody likes me. It can only be my personality. That's all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DIAMOND: And so you can see that response, Wolf, very telling, some very interesting insight into the president's thinking, as we have seen him interact with Dr. Fauci, whether it is tweeting these criticisms, or, last week, when he announced that he was going to be throwing out a pitch after -- a ceremonial first pitch, after Dr. Fauci was scheduled to do the same thing that very same day.
And, Wolf, it seems that the polls the president is referring to are not necessarily approval ratings, but it's a question that has been asked in many polls, which is, who do you trust more to tell you the truth, to tell you the facts about coronavirus?
And, Americans, Wolf, have overwhelmingly picked Dr. Fauci over President Trump. BLITZER: Yes. No, those polls are all consistent. Overwhelmingly,
overwhelmingly, Americans trust Dr. Fauci when it comes to dealing with coronavirus, not the president of the United States.
All right, Jeremy, thanks. Stand by. We will get back to you.
I want to bring back our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, along with the former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who is now serving also as an adviser to the Biden campaign.
Let's talk a little bit about hydroxychloroquine, Dr. Murthy, the president once again promoting this drug use, saying it's very effective, based on everything he's seen.
Let me get your analysis. You're the former surgeon general of the United States. Is it effective in treating early stages of coronavirus? And, at one point, the president said, if you take it with azithromycin and zinc.
DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, Wolf, it's good to be with you again.
And I must say, I'm sorry and disappointed that we have to once again be talking about hydroxychloroquine. We have, unfortunately, had to talk about it many times, because we, unfortunately, keep seeing these claims made that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19.
And the simple truth is that we do not have evidence that that's the case. In fact, the clinical trials that have been done have not shown this medication to be effective at treating COVID-19.
There are two big problems here, Wolf. One is the fact that, whenever the president or anyone in leadership repeats false claims like this, there is a segment of the population of people listening who will take that to heart, who believe that that leader is speaking with accurate knowledge.
And, in this case, that is not -- that is not the case. And what that means is that people may be prompted to take medications that are not only not helpful, but can actively be harmful, because these medicines all have side effects.
But the other big concern I have, Wolf, is that all the time that we have to end up spending dispelling these myths around hydroxychloroquine is time that we are not spending working on solving the actual problem in front of us.
It's a problem that the government is not spending actually shoring up our testing capacity, ensuring that we have universal masking rules around the country, building an army of contact tracers. These are actually the things that we need to do.
It's where our leaders need to be prioritizing their time and effort. And the more that they continue to splinter their focus and give attention and time to issues that do not matter, the more that we are going to find this COVID-19 pandemic prolonged, and the more the pain is going to continue.
And, Dana, even Dr. Fauci, he says hydroxychloroquine, it may be effective in dealing with malaria, with lupus. It may be very effective for those diseases, but he says the overwhelming prevailing clinical trials that have looked at the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine have indicated that it is not effective in coronavirus disease.
You would think the president would also differ to the FDA, his FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Stephen Hahn, who put out a statement weeks ago saying, it is not effective, don't use it, and potentially could have very serious heart-related side effects.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You would think, but he can't let it go. And it's vintage Donald Trump that he can't let it go.
He started talking about this months ago. He insisted that it was something that could help, despite the fact that he has been told, no, that's not right by, as you mentioned, his own FDA head and so many other scientists. He continues to look for people who support him.
And that's why he retweeted that. And that was a video -- this is what we're talking about here -- it was a video with doctors who are claiming that this drug was effective that was taken down by all the social media platforms because it was misleading.
And that's really the key thing here. The other thing, if we kind of take a step back, Wolf, is, the whole reason that the president and his team wanted him to restart these briefings last week was to have a political course correction, not a policy course correction, though the two should go hand in hand, but a political course correction, because he was finally convinced that he cannot win reelection by pretending that this virus doesn't exist and wishing it to go away.
But the other thing, just -- this is the politics of it -- the other thing that he was trying to do was try to somehow deflect from his -- this being a complete and total referendum on his leadership, and start to talk a little bit about Joe Biden in a way that people would pay attention to.
The more the president does what he did today, in talking about hydroxychloroquine, in talking about the fact that he is sad because Anthony Fauci's poll numbers are higher than his, the more we're talking about Donald Trump and all of that and less about Joe Biden in the way that the Trump campaign wants to define him.
And I can tell you, just in texting with sources, they're pulling their hair out, because it is not helping the way that they hoped.
BLITZER: Yes, when he says he has a high approval rating, referring to Dr. Fauci, "Why don't I?" he said. And then, at one point, he said, "Nobody likes me."
He is obviously very, very sensitive to the approval rating that Dr. Fauci, understandably, has, given the fact that he's worked in this field for 40 or 50 years.
I want both of you to stand by. We have a lot more of our special coverage coming up.
Also, Florida now sees a new one-day record for coronavirus deaths. We're going to talk to the mayor of Miami Beach.
Plus, more Major League Baseball games are now postponed, as more players test positive for the coronavirus.
BLITZER: We're following all the breaking news on the coronavirus pandemic, as the U.S. death toll is nearing 150,000 tonight; 150,000 Americans, 150,000, have died from coronavirus in the past five months, in March, April, May, June, and now July.
More than 1,000 Americans died only yesterday.
Let's get an update from the hard-hit state of Florida right now, joining us, the mayor of Miami Beach, Dan Gelber.
Mayor, thanks so much for joining us.
Among other things, you just heard, at the president's news conference, he's once again promoting the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine, despite clinical trials finding it is not effective against coronavirus.
What's the message this sends, for example, to the people in Miami Beach who are so worried about this disease? The FDA itself says it's not effective. What's the impact on real people, for example, in your city?
GELBER: People have no faith in the messaging they're getting.
And until we have a vaccine, communication is our vaccine. Giving people information that they can use is the only way we're going to get through this, how to get around it, what to wear, how to comport yourself, what to do.
And when you give out false information, it's like totally deteriorating the one vanguard we have against the spread. And so it's -- listen, you're going to hear stories about people taking it, when they shouldn't, like you did earlier. And that's just -- it's a waste.
I think people are beginning -- should just not listen to the president, because I think they're worried that it's the -- almost the opposite of what they should do at this point, which is a shame, because he has a real opportunity to lead, I think, right now.
BLITZER: Yes, and the president's own FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, in April put out a statement that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine could cause abnormal heart rhythms.
In June, they updated it, basically saying the same thing. Don't use it to deal with coronavirus. And on July 1, this month, a summary issued, this includes reports of serious heart rhythm problems and other safety issues, including blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries and liver problems and failures.
You would think the president would be listening to his own FDA. And, instead, he's tweeting overnight all these glorious things about hydroxychloroquine, and just now saying before a huge television audience out there he took it for 14 days, and he said, look at me, I'm doing just fine.
Let's talk about Florida for a moment while I have you, Mayor, a new record for daily coronavirus deaths in your state today. At the same time, your Governor Ron DeSantis is touting what he calls a positive development the state's progress against this pandemic.
Is that how you would characterize Florida's fight against coronavirus right now?
GELBER: Our incredible increase is slowing down. And if we end up hovering, we're going to be hovering at a level that will bring 20 to 30 people every single day to their deaths, because 100 to 250 people are going to go into the hospital every single day.
So, we can't -- there's this impulse from both Governor DeSantis and President Trump to try to downplay the impact, because they think, I guess, it reflects poorly on them. But I think it's time that they just started telling people what they need to hear, not what they think they want to hear.
We have 6,000 -- over 6,000 deaths in Florida. We have had 1,425 deaths in my county alone. And based on the projections, I think we're going to have 20 to 30 or more deaths every single day ongoing just in my county, which is -- as I think a lot of us fear, we're beginning to normalize something that should never be normalized.
But, of course, downplaying it statewide or nationally makes people think it's not urgent and it's just fine and business as usual.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a dangerous, dangerous situation Florida right now, one of the real, real dangerous hot spots, especially Miami-Dade County, where you are.
Mayor Gelber, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Miami Beach. Thanks for joining us.
GELBER: Thanks. BLITZER: So, just ahead: Russia now claiming it will have the world's first coronavirus vaccine ready within a matter of only two or three weeks. We're going live to Moscow.
Plus: Major League Baseball is now postponing multiple, multiple games after at least 17 members of the Miami Marlins test positive for the coronavirus.
Is the baseball season right now, the abbreviated 60-game baseball season, in serious jeopardy?
BLITZER: Major League Baseball is now postponing multiple, multiple games, after at least 17 players and coaches on the Miami Marlins tested positive for the coronavirus.
This latest outbreak is raising a lot of new questions about whether sports can be played safely in the midst of this pandemic.
CNN's Brian Todd is looking into all of this for us.
Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, medical experts and sports analysts are openly questioning whether any of the major sports can return safely. And they are aghast at how Major League Baseball and the Miami Marlins in particular have seemingly shown a jarring lack of discipline.
TODD (voice-over): A stunning decision just a few games into the new and bizarre season. Major League Baseball announces several upcoming games, many of them involving the Miami Marlins, will be postponed, after what medical experts call a team outbreak, at least 17 players and staffers testing positive for coronavirus, according to ESPN.
The league tonight says those people are in isolation and are -- quote -- "receiving care."
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: This is exploding. This is a huge problem for Major League Baseball. And it is happening so soon. I think that's what's really the key headline here, if you look at it. The real surprise is how soon this has unraveled.
TODD: According to "The Philadelphia Inquirer," the Marlins players wanted to play their game against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday and made a collective decision in a group text, even though the team knew a few players had tested positive.
Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas acknowledged the group chat and was asked if the players had considered not playing. MIGUEL ROJAS, MIAMI MARLINS: That was not our mentality. We always -- we knew this could happen at some point, and we came to the ballpark and ready to play.
TODD: Some Marlins players were observed not distancing during the games this past weekend.
BRENNAN: The Marlins handled this horribly. I think there's no other way to describe it.
TODD: Marlins CEO Derek Jeter said in a statement today, the team is taking this entire situation -- quote -- "very seriously."
Was the league's decision to postpone games forced by one of the Marlins' upcoming opponents? According to unnamed sources cited by multiple news outlets, the Washington Nationals voted as a team not to travel to Miami for a series this coming weekend against the Marlins.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who has been treated for a heart condition, was blunt about the general climate.
DAVE MARTINEZ, MANAGER, WASHINGTON NATIONALS: I'm going to be honest with you. I'm scared. Right now, you don't know, because of my heart condition, what happens to me if I do get it. So...
TODD: Tonight, health experts are skewering Major League Baseball for not playing its season in a bubble, isolating play in one or two cities and in closed-off environments, like the NBA and the National Hockey League are about to do.
ARTHUR CAPLAN, DIRECTOR DIVISION OF MEDICAL ETHICS, NYU LANGONE MEDICAL CENTER: I think it's absolutely inexplicable that baseball is traveling in middle of a play. You have outbreaks in many of the areas where teams are located, Miami, Phoenix, Southern California, Texas that are out of control. This plan that baseball has come up with makes no sense.
TODD: Baseball's breakdown comes as the NFL has announced its canceling all pre-season games ahead of the 2020 season. Football, like baseball, not planning to play in bubble.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think if you're in a bubble, you have got a good shot of finishing the season. But if you're not in a bubble, I think this is showing us that it's going to be very difficult to finish the season and it may be difficult to start a season.
TODD: There's another stark reality that baseball's problems are exposing, according medical experts. Major League Baseball is a $10 billion a year industry that has the resources to tests and treat players constantly. And so far this, experiment has not worked for them. Experts are worried about us bringing back schools in session in school systems that don't have anywhere near those resources. Wolf? BLITZER: Yes. It's a really, really potentially very dangerous situation that's unfolding right now in the world of sports. Thanks very much, Brian, for that.
Let's get some more on the significant announcement from Major League Baseball. We're joined by hall of fame broadcaster and CNN Contributor Bob Costas. So, Bob, thanks very much.
Given the fact that Major League Baseball have to make major postponements already in the coming days just after a handful, only a few games, what do you think the chances are the league will actually be able to play the rest of this abbreviated 60-game season?
BOB COSTAS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: In fairness, I want to give them credit for meticulous protocols but you can't expect everybody to abide by them outside a bubble. I think they had the best possible intentions but I see this as an ongoing game of whack-a-mole. You get the marlins situation under control if they can, something else inevitably going to pop up somewhere else. And as Brian Todd's report pointed out, there are franchises located in cities and states where the virus is surging.
Also, in fairness to baseball, if they were going to try to have even an abbreviated regular season, it didn't make as much sense to do that in a bubble as it made for the NBA and the NHL, which essentially were trying to finish the seasons they had already started and go right into the playoffs. But outside a bubble, it's just impossible to believe that you can thread every one of these needles all the way through to the end of October without another circumstance.
I'd like to believe that the Marlins are one-off but common sense tells me that's not likely.
BLITZER: Just to differentiate, the NBA in a bubble, everyone is in the same place. They are playing the games, no fans. Clearly, NHL, same thing. Baseball, they are traveling, they are flying to different cities. They are going home spending time at home with their families, their friends. It's a potentially very risky operation, right?
COSTAS: And, by the way, if and when the Marlins resume their season, where do they play? In South Florida, one of the hot beds, which is why the Nationals balked at heading down there. So you could see, if the Marlins are able to resume, you could see them being in the same boat as the Toronto Blue Jays, and now are going to play in Buffalo, the AAA affiliate, because the Canadian government says we don't want any other teams coming in here.
We've flattened the curve. We're not going to run that risk. So they might have to find a new temporary home for the Marlins.
As I said, I sympathize with what baseball is trying to do, but it seems like they are almost swatting at locusts. There's just too many things going from too many different directions.
BLITZER: How would you assess what Major League Baseball has done right because it's really worrisome? I worry about these players and I totally can understand my Washington Nationals, the team voting, they're not going to Miami right now. This is too dangerous.
COSTAS: In fairness, out of the other 29 teams, excluding the Marlins, there have been no positive tests and the rate of positives was very, very low, less than 1 percent going back to what they gathered what they're calling summer camp through the first few games of the resumption of the season. But do you have an outbreak?
There were four Marlins on Sunday. There were 17, 48 hours later. This is now a cliche, but it's true. You can plan all you want but the virus has other plans.
BLITZER: Yes. And baseball players, they don't want to go to Miami right now, which is totally understandable especially in the midst of a pandemic that's unfolding there. It's a hotspot but also the play against the Marlins right now could be potentially dangerous.
Bob Costas, as usual, thank you very much for joining us.
COSTAS: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, a testy showdown right now up on Capitol Hill as Democratic lawmakers, they accuse the attorney general of the United States, William Barr, of doing President Trump's bidding.
And we'll have an exclusive report coming up from Moscow on Russia's new claim that it's on the brink of a coronavirus vaccine breakthrough.
BLITZER: We have more breaking news for you right now. The attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr, wrapped up very heated testimony up on Capitol Hill a little while ago.
He spent much of the day, five hours or so, sparring with Democrats over accusations that he has tilted justice in President Trump's favor.
Our Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us.
Jessica, Barr was very aggressive in trying to defend himself and the Trump administration.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He was, Wolf. And this contentious clash was wide ranging with the attorney general punching back amid those criticisms that he's only working for the president, and the repeated questions about those controversial cases involving Michael Flynn and Roger Stone. But Bill Barr has said that he has always acted independently.
Democrats though digging in and airing their numerous grievances against the A.G.
SCHNEIDER: Bill Barr standing his ground.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The president has not attempted to interfere in these decisions.
SCHNEIDER: In the long awaited showdown between the attorney general and House Democrats, holding firm that he is not using his position to do the president's bidding.
BARR: On the contrary, he has told me from the start that he expects me to exercise my independent judgment to make whatever call I think is right, and that is precisely what I have done.
SCHNEIDER: Democrats today laid into him.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Shame on you Mr. Barr.
SCHNEIDER: Accusing him of politicizing protests around the country by sending in federal agents, inappropriately stepping to investigate the origins of the Russia probe and protecting the president's allies, like Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.
But Barr pushed back.
BARR: You say I helped the president's friends. The cases that are sided, the Stone case and the Flynn case, both cases where I determined that some intervention was necessary to rectify the rule of law to make sure people are treated the same.
I agree the president's friends don't deserve special breaks but they also don't deserve to be treated more harshly than other people.
SCHNEIDER: Barr also repeatedly defended the presence of federal officers in Portland, Oregon.
BARR: We're trying to protect federal functions and federal buildings. If the state would come in and keep peace on the streets in front of the courthouse, we wouldn't need additional people at the courthouse.
SCHNEIDER: But the committee chair brushed off Barr's explanations.
NADLER: The president wants footage for his campaign ads and you appeared to be serving it up to him as ordered.
SCHNEIDER: Referencing the killing of George Floyd, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee confronted Barr about police brutality and she said the DOJ has failed to adequately pursue federal cases against officers accused of police brutality.
BARR: I don't agree that there's systemic racism in the police department.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): That's what we need you to join us on, Mr. Attorney General, and to recognize that institutional racism does exist. And until we accept that, we will not finish our job and reach the goals and aspirations of our late iconic John Lewis.
SCHNEIDER: Republicans went on the attack, accusing Democrats of targeting the attorney general because he has ordered a probe into the origins of the Russia investigation and because of the A.G.'s previous assertion the Trump campaign was spied on.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It sure is. And since that day, since that day, when you had the courage to state the truth, they attack you. They have been attacking you ever since.
SCHNEIDER: And Bill Barr was asked repeatedly about the upcoming election. He says he doesn't believe it will be rigged. But, Wolf, he did repeat the false claim that there could be widespread discrepancies with some of those mail-in votes. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Jessica Schneider reporting from Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
Let's get some analysis of today's contentious hearing. Our Chief Legal Analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is with us. He's the author, by the way, of an important new book, True Crimes and Misdemeanors, the Investigations of Donald Trump. That comes out officially early in August. We'll discuss that book at length, Jeffrey.
But right now, I want your big picture, was this a performance by the attorney general for an audience of one, namely the president of the United States? What did you see?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, in a way, it was. But I don't think Bill Barr was performing. I think this is what he actually believes. And i think this is why he was chosen as attorney general.
Donald Trump didn't have to tell Bill Barr to help his friends to assert that there is no such thing as systemic racism in police work because those are beliefs that Barr has held for years. He believes in an extremely expansive view of executive power.
So, yes, this was a pleasing performance for the president but this is who William Barr is and he didn't have to manufacture favorable views for the president because he already held them.
BLITZER: There were several really, really powerful exchanges he had with the Democrats, Republican members of the committee that obviously took a very different stance. The attorney general though, at one point, Jeffrey, and you heard it, couldn't recall a single other case where he intervened in the sentencing recommendation like he did with President Trump's longtime friend, Roger Stone.
You've done extensive reporting over the years on Roger Stone. What did you make of Barr's defense of his intervention in that specific case?
TOOBIN: See, I thought that was one of the Democrats' very -- most effective moments. David Cicilline, the congressman from Rhode Island, other -- other Democrats raised this issue, is that why out of all the federal criminal prosecutions in the country, why did you feel this one prosecution of Roger Stone was an excessive sentences. Is it possible out of all the thousands of others that there were no excessive sentences?
I thought the Democrats made a very effective case that this was a special case of justice, a special case of privilege for someone who was a friend of the president as Roger Stone is, and the idea that he intervened simply because this was an excessive sentence was hard to credit when you consider it was the only one he's ever intervened in during his tenure as attorney general.
BLITZER: Yes, Barr said the 7-year, 8-year sentence that he got for a 67-year-old with no criminal background, no record at all was too much and he recommended, what, they cut it in half maybe three or four years.
Barr was also grilled in his role in the crackdown on protesters outside the White House last month. The use of federal agent, did you hear a sound legal justification for those actions?
TOOBIN: Well, you know, this is an example of, again, why -- why the president chose William Barr in first place. He is someone who doesn't approve of any sort of aggressive protesting. He did not -- you know, he did not acknowledge this was interference with peaceful protesters.
And I thought one of the real core conflicts that came out today, Sheila Jackson Lee brought this out, others brought it out, is that the attorney general does not believe in the premise of the Black Lives Matter movement. He does not believe, as President Trump does not believe that there is systemic racism. That police, as a general matter treat black people worse than they treat white people.
This is a core difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, between Joe Biden and between Donald Trump. And all you heard today was William Barr really representing the view that there is no systemic racism problem in the United States, and we'll see how the voters decide that question in November.
BLITZER: Ninety-eight days to until the election, but who's counting, right?
Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much for that.
Just ahead, a CNN exclusive, we'll go live to Moscow for details of Russia's claim of a coronavirus vaccine breakthrough. Much more right after this.
BLITZER: Russian officials tell CNN they intend to approve the world's first coronavirus vaccine in less than two weeks.
Our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is in Moscow for us with this exclusive report.
What are you learning, Matthew?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Russians are calling it a Sputnik moment, a reference to that successful unexpected satellite launch by the Soviet Union in the 1950s that surprised everyone. This time though, it's a coronavirus vaccine that Russian scientists are launching into the global pandemic.
It's been in the pipeline for quite a while, but tonight, we've got the first and clearest indication of when that vaccine will be set for approval for the Russian public. We've been given a date by Russian officials on the 10th of August or even earlier which is, of course, extraordinarily quick.
Now, there are a couple of reasons for that speed. First of all, Russian officials say that the technology they've used has been used in the past. They're simply adjusting an old virus to be relevant to the coronavirus and they're doing that with data they've already got, so they've managed to do it much quicker.
But they've also set aside the conventions, the human testing, and this is a vaccine that the scientists injected into themselves. And we've also learned tonight that the phase three crucial human trials will take place as the vaccine is made publicly available.
BLITZER: Who would be the first, Matthew, to receive this vaccine?
CHANCE: Well, the Russian health ministry saying that's going to be frontline health workers, followed shortly after by other vulnerable categories. But I've just been given other figures as well, saying by the end of the year, they expect to manufacture 200 million doses of this new Russian vaccine, 30 million in Russian alone, the other 170 million in other countries.
And so, you know, there's a great deal of skepticism around the world about the claims of the effectiveness and safety of this virus, it looks like, you know, within the couple of weeks, the next couple of months, hundreds of millions of people are going to be taking it.
BLITZER: We'll soon find out. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you.
We're going to have much more news right after this.
BLITZER: Finally, our nightly tribute to some of the victims of the coronavirus.
Dr. Antoinette Helena Akita of New York was 68 years old. She practiced medicine for more than 30 years, raising a son with her husband who's also a doctor. Over a decade ago, she worked tirelessly to contain the spread of the H1N1 flu pandemic.
John Leinhardt of Virginia was 62. His former wife describes him as a great dad to their son and her daughter who found humor in life while taking his Jewish faith very seriously. She says their son's bar mitzvah just months before he passed was the happiest day of his life.
May they rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.