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How to Honor John Lewis?; Trump Admits Failing to Confront Putin Over Russian Bounties; Brazil's Hydroxychloroquine Push. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 29, 2020 - 16:30   ET



MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Even if it was on the edge of maybe, but maybe not, it made it into the president's daily brief. That is screened by a whole bunch of agencies that come together to put forth what they think is going to be in the president's daily brief.

So, the intelligence exists. That's what it tells me. And it tells me that they have just decided that they're going to err the other way. And I think, when you have troops in the field in contact with the enemy -- and we already know General Nicholson said, hey, guess what, the Russians are giving money and guns to the Taliban. We knew that.

This bounty thing is not that far of a stretch. It's really concerning. We still have troops in Afghanistan.


And listen to this, because, as you note, even if the intelligence about the bounties isn't definitive, General Nicholson said, clearly, Russia has been helping the Taliban.

Listen to Swan press the president on that topic.


JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: John Nicholson, former head of forces in Afghanistan, said -- and this is when he was working for you -- that Russia is supplying weapons to the Taliban.

Isn't that enough to challenge Putin over the killings of U.S. soldiers?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia too.

SWAN: You surely heard that, right? I mean, it's well known in the intelligence community that they are arming the Taliban, Russia.

TRUMP: I don't know. When you say arming, is the Taliban paying, or are they are giving them?

(CROSSTALK) SWAN: Russia is supplying weapons and money to the Taliban.

TRUMP: I have heard that, but it's never reached -- again, it's never reached my desk.


TAPPER: So, not to put too fine a point on it, but that's literally a Kremlin talking point, the idea that the president is confronted with the fact that General Nicholson says, the Russians are helping the terrorists who are killing our soldiers, and the president says -- quote -- "Well, we supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia too."

And that obviously dates back to 1979 and the 1980s. What did you think when you heard that?

ROGERS: I have to tell you, my blood boils a little bit.

I don't know why he would even go on the defensive on this. He could have just -- I mean, if he just came out and said, I'm going to take the information, we're going to go back, and we're going to deal with it.

But he is so defensive on this. Listen, Mr. President, there are troops in the field who are exposed to danger. This notion that you're not going to do everything that you can to protect them and make them successful, meaning give them the tools and the policies and the support that they need to complete their mission, this stands in the way of that.

It is -- it defies logic to me that anyone, including the national security team around him, would say, yes, OK, whatever. Something better change on this. I mean, this -- I don't think he understands that this is an Achilles' heel to the many supporters of his in the military who look at this and think that somebody is turning a bit of a back to them.

I mean, my blood pressure goes up just talking about it, Jake, because we're not doing everything that we can. Listen, it's, again, no big stretch, the fact that the information that we was provided about the weapons and the money came in 2018. And in 2020, he says, never reached my desk, no big deal.

That is a problem. And, Mr. President, if it didn't get to your desk, do something about it.

TAPPER: It's just so odd that his first reaction is trying to come up with an excuse for the Russians doing this to our troops: Well, we did it to them back in the '80s.

You don't need to come up with an excuses, as you know.

On a related note, Mr. Chairman, today, nearly two dozen House Republicans said that the president is encouraging Russian aggression by withdrawing nearly 12,000 U.S. troops from Germany. The president is defending the decision, saying that Germany is delinquent in how much it spends on defense, per its NATO agreement.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney called this a gift to Russia. What do you think about the decision?

ROGERS: Yes, and, again, this is shocking to me. Those troops are not there because of trade or auto parts or auto cars coming into the United States. That is not why we have troops in Germany.

We brought -- those troops and that development of those command structures there, including air defense units, which they're moving as well, is a counterweight to Russian aggression in the Eastern Bloc. And so you're sending the wrong message.

This isn't -- yes, do I wish Germany would pay that 2 percent? I do. But there's other ways to go after that, vs. taking troops out. That hurts the interest of our national security, pushing back against Russian aggression. I mean, we still have 25,000 troops there. I don't think the sky is going to fall, necessarily.

But I think it sends a horrible message to both our allies and our adversaries about how we make strategic military decisions.

TAPPER: All right, Chairman Rogers, thank you so much for your candid thoughts today. We appreciate it.

Coming up, a look at what can happen when a world leader embraces and promotes an unproven and sometimes even dangerous treatment for coronavirus.


No, we're not talking about President Trump.

Stick with us.


TAPPER: Also in our world today, nearly half of the doctors in Brazil say they have felt pressured to prescribe an unproven medicine such as hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus, according to a new survey in Brazil.

Hydroxychloroquine, of course, has been heavily promoted by Brazil's President Bolsonaro and previously by President Trump. Doctors say it could actually make an already dire situation in Brazil even worse.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh looks at the cult in Brazil around hydroxychloroquine.



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice- over): Leaders are meant to give hope, but not this false. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his favorite miracle prop, whether he's with exotic birds or announcing he's recovered from coronavirus. It's the drug hydroxychloroquine.

In crestfallen hard-hit Brazil, it's government-recommended even for mild cases and pregnant women, and an easy sell to these supporters who just want to see him, even though security want them quiet.

"President, answer," he shouts. "Are you telling us to shut up?" He tested negative, one said. So today is a day to celebrate. He said since March to use the drug. He then launches into a passionate, but unproven explanation of how it works and sells.

Here, Brazil's suffering and confusion is often something Bolsonaro speeds past.

(on camera): No matter how powerful the person advocating for the drug, study after study has shown that hydroxychloroquine is not medically effective in fighting the coronavirus. It may even be harmful.

(voice-over): But its use here has become an act of worship almost. This evangelical church follows science and social distancing in its seating plan, as they offer a prayer for the president's health.

"I want us to pray for the country and him. Can we do that now?" he says. But science steps aside for belief when it comes to the drug.

"We're a congregation of 3,000 people," the pastor says. "And we have no deaths, none. People who are infected, some of them have followed the hydroxychloroquine protocol with azithromycin. Medicine isn't our focus. However, here in the church, we have some doctors and other doctors too today who agree with that protocol that the president speaks about, guided by a doctor."

Faith can only go so far, though. In this cemetery, the COVID funerals pile up, eight in a day. Two are for people whose relatives say they were using hydroxychloroquine. It's unclear if it hurt, but it didn't help enough.

The honor guard is for one 58-year-old police Sergeant Jonas Mendonsa (ph), who went in three weeks from healthy to suddenly dying Tuesday in hospital.

"Yesterday, the doctor was smiling, as he was getting better, but at 1:00 a.m., I got the call. The hospital gave him antibiotics, adrenaline and the hydroxychloroquine protocol. However, I'm also using hydroxychloroquine with other drugs, ivermectin and azithromycin, and I am here. Friends have too, and did very well. Sometimes, another issue causes the serious situation."

The stark fact it didn't work for Jonas is so, sadly, clear before them. But still, in this dark slump for Brazil, false hope seems better than none.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WALSH: I have to tell you, it was quite strange being at the grave site there in a debate about that drug.

And you have to remember the atmosphere here around. It's generally -- it sort of is part of the whole debate here whether the disease is serious or not. Startling, frankly, that you would -- in a country where tens of thousands of cases at least are being reported in every 24-hour period and 1,000 or so people dying on some days, that you would still have a focus on this unproven drug potentially being some miracle cure.

It does not work. And that survey you mentioned earlier on in Sao Paulo among doctors, well, two-thirds of them pretty much say the major problem is the distraction the debate around it causes. There isn't a debate, but that so much time is taken up discussing it -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were a road map designed by doctors and medical experts about how to end this pandemic? Well, one was just released.

We will tell you about it next.



TAPPER: Let's go back to our health lead.

Some of the nation's top medical experts are predicting that the death toll from coronavirus in the U.S. could skyrocket -- quote -- "well into the multiple hundreds of thousands." The dire warning comes from the Association of American Medical Colleges, composed of leaders of the nation's top medical schools, physicians, scientists, health care teams, and front-line workers.

CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now to talk more about this.

Elizabeth, what in particular is worrying these physicians?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, these academic doctors are particularly worried about people in their 20s and 30s who are infected, but either don't have symptoms or have very mild symptoms. They're not being careful and they're infecting older people or people with medical issues who really are at risk for getting very sick and dying.

They specifically pointed to that as a very worrisome trend that is contributing to this transmission that we're seeing.

TAPPER: And the AMC is saying that we could turn this around if we follow their road map. That includes national standards for face masks, increased testing capacity, a national criteria for stay-at- home orders. Is that all doable, do you think?

COHEN: Jake, it's doable if the CDC gets its backbone back.

Right now, the CDC has been rendered so much less powerful than they used to be. If the CDC was allowed to do their job and implement these national policies and get the states on board, then we would have a fighting chance.

TAPPER: And, interestingly, the AMC is also advocating for K-12 schools to reopen, and they suggest districts draft reopening plans in the coming weeks.

How are they saying that we could do that safely, considering their other concerns?

COHEN: You know, Jake, they're not giving really specific details about what needs to be done. They're just saying that basically there needs to be a plan.


I -- just a note here, it's unfortunate that we're hearing this at the tail end of July. School has been out in many parts of the country since the end. Here in the South, like in Atlanta, where I am, we're going back to school in just a few weeks. And to be coming up with a plan on this kind of short notice is really unfortunate.

One thing that this group does talk about is that, whatever you do, when you go back to school, collect real-time data. In other words, assess how you're doing. Are kids getting sick? Are they spreading the infection to other people? Are the kids who are opting for more of the online options, are they less likely to get sick?

We can't just do an experiment. We need to actually keep track of what's happening.

TAPPER: Imagine if we could test at schools even one-tenth as much as they test at the White House.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

What Democrats say is the proper way to honor the legacy of civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis -- that story next.



TAPPER: In our national lead, right now, Georgia saying its last goodbye to the late Congressman John Lewis, who is lying in state at the state capitol in Atlanta right now.

As we remember Lewis and his life's work, a large part of his legacy was his calm, but relentless pursuit for voting rights for every American. And, as CNN's Abby Phillip reports for us now, despite the civil

rights icon's passing, his legacy isn't inspiring a new push to protect the rights for which he fought so hard.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the work of his life. And now it may be his final call to action.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote.

PHILLIP: The death of civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis is jump-starting a new push to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a key part of which was largely invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.

The court invalidated a key section of the act, which required these states and counties with histories of discrimination to seek permission from the federal government to make election changes, like eliminating or moving polling places.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): I think that we ought to dedicate this election year to John Lewis.

PHILLIP: This year, the stakes are higher than ever, Democrats and civil rights activists say.

KRISTEN CLARKE, PRESIDENT EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE NATIONAL LAWYERS' COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW: We started 2020 seeing intense levels of voter suppression and voting discrimination. And that picture has been compounded by the pandemic.

PHILLIP: Across the country, Republican officials, led by President Trump, are resisting efforts to expand mail-in voting.

TRUMP: I'm very worried about mail-in voting because I think it's subject to tremendous fraud and being rigged.

PHILLIP: With long lines in states like Georgia and Wisconsin, where polling places had been moved or consolidated because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Congress is frozen, largely along partisan lines, on additional election funding for states during the pandemic and on the Voting Rights Act. But it wasn't always this way.

CLARKE: Every renewal of the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by a Republican.

PHILLIP: Today, 12 Senate Republicans who voted to extend the Voting Rights Act in 2006 are still in office. In the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, the justices told Congress that they had the power to fix it.

The Democratic-led House voted to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act in December, with Lewis presiding. That bill was renamed this week for the late congressman. But the Senate refuses to take it up. Since the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, a study conducted by a civil rights group found 1,688 polling place closures from 2012 to 2018 in the states and counties that had previously been covered by the Voting Rights Act.

CLARKE: We can't underscore enough how much backsliding we have faced in the country since the 2013 ruling.

PHILLIP: The stakes are high politically too. With the Voting Rights Act largely gutted, battleground states like Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and North Carolina are no longer closely monitored.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Lewis this week, he dismisses voter suppression as a factor in the upcoming election, telling "The Wall Street Journal": "There's very little tangible evidence of this whole voter suppression nonsense that the Democrats are promoting."


PHILLIP: And there has been bipartisan praise for John Lewis since his death, but, Jake, no Republican senators have come forward to say that they are willing to take up the Voting Rights Act any time soon.

TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillip, thank you so much.

Finally, we want to take a moment today to put a face on just one of the now more than 150,000 Americans who have died in this pandemic because of COVID-19.

Oscar Del Toro Sr. was celebrating Father's Day with his family at a Houston restaurant. In the days after, those relatives started getting sick. Seven were diagnosed with COVID-19, including Del Toro, who died a few weeks later.

His son hopes that his father's story will be a cautionary tale for the rest of us.


OSCAR DEL TORO JR., SON OF CORONAVIRUS VICTIM: We need to understand reality at this point, and specifically the Mexican-American community. They are together. They want to go and have a good time and chat and hug and kiss. But we need to stop for now.


TAPPER: Del Toro loved talking politics. He was always excited to vote.

Our thoughts and our prayers are with the Del Toro family. May his memory be a blessing.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.