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Democrats Clash with Barr on Hose of Issues; U.S. Lawmakers to Question Tech Leaders on Competition; Teacher's Warning About Socially Distanced Classes; Miami Marlins' Season on Hold as More Players Test Positive; Pro Sports Scramble to Keep Players Safe as Cases Rise; NFL Cancels Preseason Games Ahead of Uncertain 2020 Season. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired July 29, 2020 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Jessica Schneider had the details.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bill Barr standing his ground.

WILLIAM BARR, 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 it is precisely what I've done.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats today laid into him.

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 into investigate the origins of the Russian 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 cited, 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 President's use 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 explanation.

NADLER: The President wants footage for his campaign ads, and you appear 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 police departments.

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 AG'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 attacked you, they've been attacking you ever since.


CHURCH: So, let's now discuss now with Elie Honig, a CNN legal analyst and former assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Good to have you with us.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thanks for having me.

CHURCH: So Elie, in his heated testimony Attorney General Bill Barr rejected accusations from Democrats that he does the bidding of the President tilting justice in his favor. How convincing was he?

HONIG: I found that very unconvincing for two reasons.

Reason number one is Bill Barr's own track record -- it's one thing to get in front of a microphone today and declare that everything you've done as Attorney General is not politically motivated and is good and pure and righteous.

It's another thing to look back over the 18 months that Bill Barr has been in office and see all the times he has done Donald Trump's political bidding. He distorted the findings of the Mueller Report. He tried to deep Ukraine whistleblower complaint which ended up resulting in impeachment from going to Congress.

He intervened in cases involving Donald Trump's political allies, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn. Beyond that in one breath, Bill Barr says I'm not political, yet he spent a good amount of time today really parroting Donald Trump's political talking points. About the quote- unquote, Russian-gate hoax. About blaming the Obama administration for some of the failed response to coronavirus. These are straight up political talking points that have no place in anything that an Attorney General should ever be doing.

CHURCH: All right, do you think it's being political, or he just happens to be on the same page as Donald Trump?

HONIG: I think it's political. It would take a remarkable coincidence if everything that Bill Barr has done, I mean everything he has done during his tenure here has always come out the same direction. Has always come out exactly as Donald Trump would want it, exactly in Donald Trump's political favor.

And I'll give you an example here. The two cases that William Barr has ever come down from his perch at the top of the Department of Justice to intervene in and undermine his own line prosecutors are Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, two of Donald Trump's political allies, one of whom was convicted of lying in order to protect Donald Trump, Roger Stone.

What are the odds that out of over 60,000 cases the Department of Justice handles every year he decided to get involved directly in those two? I mean that would be a remarkable coincidence.


CHURCH: You're right and Bill Barr also defended the current actions of federal agents in Portland, Oregon and the use-of-force on peaceful protesters outside the White House in Lafayette Square in June, to make way for the President's photo op at that church holding up a Bible. How did the Democrats respond to his efforts to justify these actions on legal grounds?

HONIG: Yes, I would have liked to have seen a little bit more push back there. I think Barr managed to be sort of wishy washy and soft play the issue. Here's what I wanted to see Bill Barr asked.

First of all, are you OK with unmarked, unidentified federal agents interacting with the public?

Second, have you become aware of any instances where any federal agents used excessive force and if so, will you investigate?

And third, are you aware of any instances when any of the federal agents out there made an arrest without probable cause. That's the legal requirement to make an arrest. And again, if so, are you investigating, and will you follow up?

Because those are three very specific questions. Barr spent a lot of time explaining the idea behind protecting federal property which is not problematic at all. But the question isn't are these federal agents protecting federal courthouses properly, it's are they going beyond? Are they overstepping the boundaries of the law?

CHURCH: So, Elie, what happens now? I mean what purpose did this --

HONIG: Yes, really the only purpose is accountability. But accountability is important and long overdue. Bill Barr has been in office 18 months. It's been over a year since he's testified in any Congress, either House. And he has never until today testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee which is the primary committee charged with oversight.

So, look, part of his job obligation here to the American public is to get up and answer questions, and I don't think he fared particularly well. But the American people have a right to see that and make their own judgments.

CHURCH: Elie Honig, thank you so much for your legal analysis. We appreciate it.

HONIG: Thanks, Rosemary.

CHURCH: In the coming hours CEOs from four of the world's most powerful and influential companies will be the focus of an historic antitrust hearing. The first of its kind by the U.S. Congress in more than 20 years.

The heads of Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook will face questions about their dominance of the tech economy. and whether they have too much control?

Clare Sebastian has the details.


CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When these four CEOs come before Congress, albeit remotely, it will be hard to know who is the most powerful in the room.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): Google controls nearly all the search market in the United States. Amazon controls nearly half of all online commerce in the United States. Facebook has approximately 2.7 billion monthly active users across its platforms. And finally, Apple is under increasing scrutiny for abusing its role as both a player and referee in the App Store.

SEBASTIAN: A yearlong investigation is looking for ways to check that power in what experts say will require a new understanding of U.S. competition law.

WILLAIM KOVACIC, FORMER CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION: A major point of these hearings it to move away from a conception of competition law as focusing on the wellbeing of citizens as purchasers of goods and services, and to adopt a broader conception that looks at the citizen as an employee, as a resident of a community, as a consumer of news.

SEBASTIAN: The four companies have all denied anti-competitive behavior.

NATHAN SUTTON, ASSOCIATE GENERAL COUNSEL, AMAZON: We don't use any seller data to compete with them.

SEBASTIAN: Apple even commissioning a study last week that found its App Store commission rates were in line with others. Several have also voiced concerns that regulation might make them less competitive globally.

SUNDAR PICHAI, GOOGLE & ALPHABET CEO: I worry that if you regulate for the sake of regulating it, it has a lot of unintended consequences. You know, if you take a project like artificial intelligence, you know, it will have implications for our national security and, you know, how -- or for, you know, other important areas of society.

SEBASTIAN: And yet even the COVID-19 pandemic has made these companies ever more essential and more valuable they've been facing growing backlash. Protests over safety at Amazon and an advertiser boycott of Facebook over hate speech.

KOVACIC: I think they come into the hearing not with halo but with great concerns about exactly whose side they're on? And that should be a matter of concern. Again, you look at the mood of the Congress, you look at how Republicans joined Democrats today in scolding these companies. That's a combustible environment for the leading enterprises.

SEBASTIAN: The House investigation is expected to lead to a recommendation for new legislation. Perhaps bringing great scrutiny of tech acquisitions. Deals like Facebook's purchases of WhatsApp and Instagram. And Google buying YouTube and Fitbit. It could also ramp up the pressure on other ongoing investigations. A delicate moment for these titans of tech.

Clare Sebastian, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: And it's worth mentioning, Jeff Bezos' ex-wife is making good on her pledge to give away most of her fortune.


MacKenzie Scott has already donated more than $1.5 billion to organizations focused on racial equity, LGBTQ equity, democracy and climate change. Scott signed on to the Giving Pledge Initiative last year. Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates launched the initiative to encourage the world's richest people to give a majority of their wealth to charitable causes. Well done. We salute you.

Still to come, how do you make children socially distance in the classroom? The answer, it's very difficult, as one fifth grade teacher is discovering. My conversation with her is next.


CHURCH: I want you to take a look at this double rainbow appearing over the U.S. Capitol building where the late U.S. Congressman John Lewis lies in state. A CNN photojournalist captured the colorful image on Tuesday.

Thousands of people have been streaming past Lewis' casket to pay their final respects. Lewis served as a representative for Georgia for more than three decades and was widely seen as the moral conscience of Congress because of his long fight for civil rights. Lewis' body will return to Atlanta in the coming hours to lie in state at the Georgia State Capitol. More services are planned for Thursday including his interment.

Well, the top infectious diseases expert in the U.S. Dr. Anthony Fauci admits that returning kids to school is quote, part of the experiment of reopening. In a frank conversation with school administrators, Dr. Fauci said the full impact of children returning to in-person learning isn't known yet, and there is no one size fits all approach for schools.


Well, for many teachers returning to the classroom presents a huge logistical challenge. A fifth-grade teacher in Colorado has been sharing her journey on how to socially distance a classroom. It's a task she hasn't found easy.


CHURCH: Katie O'Connor is joining us now to talk more about what she's going through to open her classroom. Thank you so much for being with us.

KATIE O'CONNOR, FIFTH GRADE TEACHER IN COLORADO: Well of course, thanks for having me.

CHURCH: And Katie, you have been working very hard to get your classroom ready for your fifth-grade students and their imminent return to in-person learning. So, I did want to ask you first, how you're feeling right now about teaching in the middle of a pandemic while COVID-19 cases are still surging?

O'CONNOR: Yes, right now I think, I'm mostly just feeling anxious. Because there's just so much we don't know yet. There's so much we don't know what's going to happen, what it's going to be like. We're making all new routines and procedures for our whole school and it's just a little anxious feeling. A little anxiety brewing.

CHURCH: Understood, and as you get your classroom ready -- we're looking at some pictures there from your classroom. You've very carefully socially distanced all those desks, getting ready for in- person teaching. So, what else are you doing to prepare for your students coming back and what will be the hardest part of all of this, do you think?

O'CONNOR: I think the hardest part is going to be just having my 10- year-olds sitting in those desks so far away from each other, and still making sure that they are making connections and that they still feel welcomed and loved, and they're not just in this sterilized space. I still want to feel like a classroom and that's just hard to do right now.

CHURCH: And so clearly all of the students will be wearing masks. You'll be wearing a masks. Do you intend to wear a shield as well over your face, a transparent shield?

O'CONNOR: No, just a mask.

CHURCH: Right, and so what will happen if a few weeks into in-class, in-person learning someone gets infected. What's the plan?

O'CONNOR: I know that my district does have a kind of layout right now of what to expect if that happens. I'm not sure what it is at the moment, but they say they are working on it.


CHURCH: They're working on it. Well, thanks to fifth grade teacher Katie O'Connor for talking with me there.

The Miami Marlins baseball team is now facing criticism after more players test positive for the coronavirus. The details ahead.



CHURCH: The home opening game for the Minnesota Twins baseball team paused in its fifth inning for a moment of silence in memory of George Floyd. The game paused at 8:46, eight minutes and 46 seconds is how long a former police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck. Floyd lived in Minneapolis when he was killed.

Well, Major League Baseball has postponed this week's remaining games for the Miami Marlins after several teammates tested positive for COVID-19. And the rest of the season could be in doubt. ESPN reports 17 Marlins players and coaches have now tested positive. The Marlins say they told baseball officials about the positive test results before playing the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday.


CHURCH: Joining me now is Alicia Jessop a sport law professor at Pepperdine University and a writer for "The Athletic." Thank you for being with us.


CHURCH: So just a few games into the season and Major League Baseball has postponed multiple games after half the Miami Marlins team tested positive for COVID-19. What impact might this have on the baseball season? Can it even survive this, do you think?

JESSOP: Well, in America baseball is a central part of our summertime so we hope that the season can survive. But players and teams have been raising deep concerns about their health and safety. We have top players like Ryan Braun and Joc Pedersen, we have managers

in different divisions in the league raising questions about the feasibility of things going forward. Without a stronger testing protocol that allows for rapid responses and daily testing it's making me wonder if we will actually see the full -- partial MLB season that we were promised.

CHURCH: Right, I mean they've certainly got the funds to do all of that testing and the treatment, haven't they? But the Miami Marlins have been criticized for their handling of this and for showing a lack of discipline to solve the problems associated with playing during a pandemic. Should baseball and perhaps other major sports commit to playing in a bubble-like basketball is doing right now in an effort to remain viable?

JESSOP: One thing that's certain thus far is the bubble's working for the NBA and the NHL. Major League baseball players are part of the strongest union in professional sports here in the United States. And that union negotiated on behalf of those players to have more freedom, for them to move about. We're unsure who "player zero" was on this Marlins franchise and we're not sure where this person contracted the virus.

But if this virus keeps spreading like wildfire like it has thus far, one could assume that Major League Baseball owners will go back to the bargaining table with the MLB Players Association in an attempt to negotiate a bubble. It's likely that that might be needed but it's uncertain if the union will actually agree to it.

CHURCH: Right, and then the NFL has announced it's cancelling all pre- season games ahead of the 2020 season.


But how viable is the NFL season given a large portion of their players would be considered in the at-risk group of getting severe symptoms from COVID-19?

JESSOP: Absolutely, so NFL players arguably carry the greatest risk of any American professional sport player. Beyond that, though, just how football is played, the deep physical nature, the sweaty bodies and the heat outdoors, I have grave concerns for the sport of football both at the NFL and NCAA level given how this virus transmits through air particles.

So I think Roger Goodel, the Commissioner of the NFL, team owners and players alike are really keeping close tabs on MLB to see what happens with their season because likely if MLB has to shut down, we can expect that that will signal a huge red flag to the NFL and we may miss or delay this 2020 season.

CHURCH: Yes, there's so many things they have to figure out at this point. Alicia Jessop, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH: Well, Dr. Anthony Fauci has become such a cult figure in the U.S. he has his own baseball card. And it's now the bestselling card ever for Topps' limited-edition series. The card shows him mid-pitch in that terrible throw he made before the Washington Nationals season opener. But his fans clearly don't care how bad it was. They snatched up more than 51,000 of his cards in just 24 hours. He is a superhero after all.

Thanks so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. EARLY START is up next. You're watching CNN. Have yourselves a great day.