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Florida Residents Prepare For Large Storm During Pandemic; California Reports Its Highest Number Of Daily COVID-Related Deaths; GOP Convention In Charlotte Closed To Press; Trump Trails Biden In Polls; Alleged Chinese Human Rights Abuses Exposed. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 1, 2020 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

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

There's breaking news right now, a potentially devastating one-two punch for millions of people in the COVID-hotspot state of Florida. Greatly complicating the public health emergency, an enormous storm will likely be a hurricane, once again, when it makes it makes landfall in the coming hours. Florida's emergency resources already stretched, now forced to handle a major storm during the pandemic. I'll take you live to South Florida in just a moment.

There's more breaking news we're following. The coronavirus spreads again up on Capitol Hill. Here in Washington, another US congressman tests positive for COVID-19. That's after he sat near a fellow lawmaker who also has the virus and makes it known that he refuses to wear a mask.

Also tonight, from major league baseball, tomorrow's doubleheader between the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers will not, repeat not be played. That's after more St. Louis players tested positive for the virus. The same two teams game scheduled for today, that was called off. The baseball commissioner telling teams that if COVID infections continue to pop up, he may actually shut down the whole season all together.

Now, it's a major emergency that's unfolding on top of another major emergency, a giant and unpredictable storm churning toward South Florida right now. It was a hurricane. One expert say it will be a hurricane once again in the coming hours, and come ashore at a time when a deadly coronavirus is surging in Florida.

CNN's Chad Myers is watching all of it at the CNN Severe Weather Center. CNN's Randi Kaye is West Palm Beach, Florida for us where the storm is beginning to announce itself. Chad, let's start with you. What can people in Florida right now expect in the coming hours? CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I recommend waking up early in the morning and seeing what this convection that we've just started to get three hours ago, is going to do to this storm, because now it is back in very warm water. This storm tried to kill itself all day long, dry air, running over islands, just really in sheer. But now, all of a sudden, it's back into the Gulf Stream, back into that very warm water that comes out of the Gulf of Mexico.

So here is that convection on radar. It's hard to see because it's so far away from Miami yet. But it almost looks like this storm is trying to move off shore, further away from land and redevelop, and then move up the East Coast. And that would be helpful, because that could actually make a miss of Florida.

Now, if you look at the cone, more than 50% of the cone is offshore, less than 50 on shore because it's right along the coast. But along the coast is where that damage would occur. The beach erosion, all of those winds and waves, and then eventually over the Carolinas and maybe even up toward New England. But by the time we get here, the error is so big. It's 300 miles one way or the other.

Models are getting better and where we are right now is somewhere between West Palm, maybe a little bit further to the north. If there is a landfall with this, the European and the American models always battle it out. The models today, though, are more on shore than offshore. The hurricane center will update everything at 11:00.

Here's the important thing to know. The Hurricane Hunter Aircraft in there right now, trying to figure out whether this storm is redeveloping, falling apart, redeveloping further offshore, and whether the models that we have here that ran just a few hours ago are going to be correct or not. Because we are going to see some power outages all the way up to East Coast.

When you see winds like this in some spots, 50, 60 miles per hour with those big trees that are around, with areas that have already been hit by an awful a lot of rainfall, we are going to see those power outages possible for the rest of the weekend into the beginning of next week.

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BLITZER: Yes. Just what Florida doesn't need right now, a hurricane, all right. Chad, we'll get back to you. Thank you very, very much.

Let's go to Randi right now. What about shelters, if people need them, I see it's already getting where you are. How is this being handled when people should not be gathering in groups because of the coronavirus, for example?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly, Wolf. I mean, here in Palm Beach County, one of the mayors, the mayor of West Palm Beach was telling people, don't have a hurricane party. You know, people like to gather and watch the winds. And he said, we don't need any large gatherings here in Palm Beach County, which was excellent advice.

But let me show you what the situation here is. If you look out behind me there, you can see the waves are still raging out there in the ocean. We're expecting a 2 to 4 foot surge there, and that's on top of the regular tide. And we have a high tide, the full moon coming on Monday, so we're going to have even higher high tides.

We've also been experiencing out here, 40 to 50 mile an hour gusts. We were told to expect maybe even 80 miles an hour or more. And it's easy to see why given the winds and the conditions here that they're talking about widespread power outages which Chad just mentioned. Florida power and light said that they have about 10,000 personnel gathered.

They have people from Texas, and in New York and elsewhere. They're gathered in Daytona. They have it as a staging ground so they can get to work right away if there are major power outages.

Right now, we know there are about 2,000 power outages in this area already, so they're already starting to work on those. We also know that the shelters are in play. Here in Palm Beach County, they've opened up five shelters including one where you can bring your dog, your cat, your bird, whatever you might have at home. Those have about 140 people in them at last check, in contact just a few moments ago with the mayor of Palm Beach County.

And then, you have the state which is looking to maybe open up some hotel rooms to avoid the shelters for people who are symptomatic. So there you have the intersection of COVID and this hurricane coming together. And then, you have the Division of Emergency Management also saying, look, if you're going to open these shelters, we have to keep it limited.

Keep it limited to 50 people if you can, trying social distance. They're providing masks and shelter kits, and sanitizers, so it's just an interesting issue here, Wolf, trying to manage two emergencies, one on top of the other here between the coronavirus and the hurricane that's heading this way, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Just what people of Florida don't need, Randi. Be careful over there, we'll stay in close touch with you as well. I'm joined now by the mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez. Mayor Suarez, thanks so much for joining us. As you know, Miami currently under a tropical storm warning, so what does this situation look like for your city right now? I know you're getting constant updates.

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MIAMI, FL: Look, so far we've been very fortunate, and looks like we, right now, outside of the cone of probability for hurricane force winds, which obviously is good news for us. We prepared, we have our Emergency Operations Center open early this morning. And we prepare always for the worst.

Hurricanes are unpredictable in terms of intensity and in terms of their direction. And so far, the day has been fairly calm and we hopeful that it remains that way overnight. And that we don't have to deal with anything more intense. And then, we obviously are hoping and praying for the rest of Florida, which is, you know, potentially at risk and threatened by this, what will become a hurricane most likely in the next few hours. BLITZER: Yes, it's got -- almost certainly going to be a hurricane again. Municipal facilities, restaurants in Miami, restaurants with outdoor dining, are they still scheduled to be open tomorrow?

SUAREZ: They are scheduled to be open tomorrow. Obviously, you know, we're going to be monitoring the storm overnight. And so far, again, we've been very fortunate not to get a direct hit or not to be within the cone of probability. But obviously, again, you know, these storms have a tendency to intensify very quickly and to change direction. And so, we'll be monitoring overnight and we'll a make a decision. But right now, looks like they are going to be open.

BLITZER: With higher numbers of people hospitalized than normal, a lot higher than normal in Miami, has that changed your storm preparations, particularly regarding power outages?

SUAREZ: You know, our preparation has been, you know, obviously the potential ED, the 20 shelters that were going to be open by Miami-Dade County, which thankfully did not have to be open, we have to -- we're going to have to be open with social distancing, with masks, and with, you know, with the hand sanitizer. The other thing was running an emergency operation center which requires people to be close to each other so that they can coordinate, is very different, you know, in a situation like this. So it has presented a variety of different challenges that we're not used to, but we've been able to manage it so far, Wolf.

BLITZER: When we spoke yesterday, mayor, you explained that the pandemic protocols being used in the emergency operation center for the storm are unique. Storm shelters, for example, are not open in Miami-Dade right now.

[21:10:06]

Despite these measures, are you bracing, potentially, for a surge in coronavirus cases following the storm, given that people are going to be congregating closer and closer to each other?

SUAREZ: It's very possible. The other thing is, you know, we shut down our testing sites and they're going to be shut down until probably Monday at the very earliest, so, you know, that could also, you know, create a surge in testing and a surge in cases.

We've been fortunate in the last two days, our case, our new cases have, you know, diminished a little bit, a percent positive. We had a day under 15, which we haven't had in a long time, in a day at 16, so which are below our 14-day average of 18%. So that's all positive.

But yes, it's very possible that once we resume testing, we may have another surge again.

BLITZER: Yes. And what worries me a lot is that hurricane season is, you know, down there, is going to continue until November, right now. So this may not be the end of this problem. The last thing, I say, that Florida needs right now is a hurricane given the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor Suarez, good luck to you, good luck to everyone in Miami.

SUAREZ: Thank you so much.

BLITZER: So Florida is not alone by any means. California is also struggling in trying to stop the spread after months keeping coronavirus at bay. The state is now reporting its highest daily death toll. Stay with us, we'll update you. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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[21:15:31]

BLITZER: California, once the poster child of flattening the curve, has become a coronavirus hotspot, big time. Much of the state now showing dark red as California's Departments of Public Health announced its highest number yet of COVID-related deaths. That number 219 in a single day. Since the pandemic started, more than 9,000 people in California have died from COVID-related complications.

Professor Anne Rimoin of Department of Epidemiology at UCLA is joining us right now for Los Angeles. Dr. Rimoin, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, California by no means is alone. Most of the country right now is in the, what we call the red zone. In July, the US saw ten days where COVID deaths surpassed a thousand, each one of those days. And the CDC is projecting. We'll see another 20,000 COVID- related deaths in the United States over the next three weeks alone. So, doctor, what is it like to see these numbers continue to spike and spike?

ANNE RIMOIN, PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, UCLA: Wolf, it's very frustrating as an epidemiologist to see these case numbers continuing to rise without a national strategy, without adequate testing, without contact tracing, as we need it. All of the things that we've been talking about for months and months, and these numbers are going to continue to go up, until we do have these things in place.

There's no mystery about viral transmission here at this point. We know how it's spread. We know how to get ahead of it. We see many other countries being able to do it. We have just not been able to come together and come up with a strategy that works here in the United States and to get around it.

BLITZER: Yes. So many other countries have succeeded in their national strategy, but there is no national strategy here. And states, in counties, cities, they're doing stuff but they need a national strategy, right?

RIMOIN: They need a national strategy. The bottom line is, we are a United States of America. We have open boarders. People move from place to place, and the virus is just going to continue to hopscotch as we see states doing different things at different times. We see that everyone is at risk. There's no way out of this pandemic, except through it. And the way to get through it is to use tools that we have in hand right now, the things that Dr. Fauci just talked about recently, masks, hygiene, hand hygiene, social distancing, avoiding bars, other crowded areas.

I mean, this is not rocket science. This is just a basic public health. And the whole issue, I think, that we're seeing here is this need for instant gratification, really pushing to be moving to opening everything up. We can't, we would love to, but we can't. And the more that we open up, the more that we give this virus opportunity to spread.

BLITZER: Dr. Rimoin, I assume you saw that CDC report that came out this week on a Georgia Sleepaway Camp that shows that the children, children of all ages are efficient spreaders of the virus. How worrisome is this news, especially schools across the United States are now grappling with how to reopen?

RIMOIN: We've had several studies come to light in this last week and a half or so that have made it very clear that children are not scotch-free or not hopscotch-free here. We've had this study that you've discussed about the summer camps. We've seen clear spread in all age groups, in significant numbers here.

We've also seen a study come out of Chicago that has shown that we have a significant amount of virus in the nose, in the nasopharnyx, also very suggestive of children being able to spite it, and then the studies that have come out of Korea, which is spread in households and also in schools.

So I think that the data is pretty clear. You know, I'm a big fan of letting the data speak and following the science. Following the science, kids are definitely at risk. They can participate in spreading the virus, and that has major implications for what's going to happen with schools here in United States.

BLITZER: It certainly does. Professor Rimoin, thank you so much for joining us. We'll stay in close touch with you, of course. And to our viewers, remember, we're only 94 days away from the US presidential election. But President Trump now says, he may try to actually postpone it, shocking lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. We have new information, stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[21:20:00]

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BLITZER: Breaking news this Saturday night involving the 2020 Republican National Convention later this month. The abbreviated gathering in Charlotte is just a few weeks away. I want to bring in our White House Correspondent, Jeremy Diamond, is joining us on the phone right now. Significant information you're learning, Jeremy, update our viewers. JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, look, this Republican National Convention has had one chance after that, initially it was President Trump demanding an in-person convention, even forcing RNC officials to look for a new city after the date of North Carolina demanded significant restriction due to the coronavirus pandemic.

[21:25:05]

Now, Wolf, we are learning that the Republican National Convention, the part of it that will, indeed, be taking place in-person in Charlotte, North Carolina. It will be closed to the press. That means essentially, that no press will be allowed on the site when the delegates, the Republican National Committee delegates vote to formally nominate President Trump as the 2020 Republican presidential nominee.

However, Wolf, those activities happening at the convention on that Monday, which includes the vote by the delegates to nominate the President as the Republican nominee, that part will be live streamed. So, no press allowed on site but still we will have video of this happening. It would have been extremely unusual, of course, to not to see that.

But that is what the Republican National Convention's initial statements indicated. And so, I was able to get clarification from a Republican official familiar with the plan who said that, indeed, the activities on Monday, including that crucial vote will formally nominate the President will, indeed, be live streamed.

That convention spokesperson gave me this statement. I want to read it to you, Wolf. This person said, given the health restrictions and limitations in place within the state of North Carolina, we're planning for Charlotte activities to be closed to press. Friday August 21st, the Monday, August 24th. And they also say, we are happy to let you know if this changes. But we are working within the parameters set before us by state and local guidelines.

And that is a clear sign, Wolf, that the Republican National Committee is essentially putting this on the Democratic Governor of North Carolina, saying that it is his limitations in terms of social distancing, in terms of capacity. That is the reason why they are not able to allow press to cover this on site.

But, of course, Wolf, as I said, this convention has changed from one day to the next. And so, I think it's certainly possible that we could see more changes coming. Of course, this is an unprecedented year, where you are seeing Democrats and Republicans addressing these conventions, and the business of campaigning in a different way.

And this is at least, for now, how Republicans plan to handle their convention, and that crucial date where the President will be formally nominated as the Republican nominee for 2020.

BLITZER: Well, that's somebody who has covered presidential conventions for a long time. That is simply, simply not acceptable that reporters, journalists are not going to be allowed to cover a presidential convention and actually be there. That is clearly going to be fought, I am sure. We shall see what happens, all right. Jeremy, thank you very much.

On this Saturday, we're about 94 days out from the presidential election. But President Trump is refusing to back off this week's dangling of the idea that the presidential election could actually be delayed. Something he doesn't have the power to order, simply up to Congress to do so, something that's never happened in American history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I don't want to delay. I want to have the election. But I also don't want to have to wait for three months and then find out that the ballots are all missing, and the election doesn't mean anything. That's what's going to happen. Do I want to see a date change? No, but I don't want to see a crooked election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with CNN's Presidential Historian, Douglas Brinkley, he's with us. Also CNN's Global Affairs Analyst, Susan Glasser, Staff Writer for the New Yorker. She has a terrific piece in the New Yorker out this week. To both of you, thanks for joining us.

And, Susan, let me get your reaction to this news from the Republican National Convention, given the health restrictions and limitations at place within the state of North Carolina, we are planning for the Charlotte activities to be closed press. No press allowed at a Republican Presidential Convention. Have you ever heard of anything like that?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: No. Wolf, I think your reaction is just right. It's breathtaking. It seems, certainly it's something that the press will protest greatly. You know, the lack of transparency on such a significant event, it really seems that Republicans are afraid to have journalists interview the delegates to their own convention. You know, it's something that really, once it gone, it's exploding a norm in American politics.

You know, already, the President's judgment I think is cast into question by the handling of this convention, insisting that it be moved away, in violation of public health standards, and now trying to blame, it sounds like from Jeremy's report, trying to blame the Democratic governor or journalists themselves for wanting to cover an event of national significance.

You know, I don't think that's an excuse that anyone's going to accept. Donald Trump has made more journalists a central part of his political campaign, essentially since the minute that he was inaugurated as president.

BLITZER: Yes. I suspect this is going to change, Doug. This is unheard of, it's unprecedented. Whoever made this decision at the Republican National Committee to bar the news media from covering a presidential convention, I don't know who made that decision, but it's simply not acceptable.

[21:30:03]

Have you ever seen anything like this in the United States of America?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Absolutely not. I mean, in recent years, I mean, since 1952, we started covering conventions on television. That's part of the drama, to, you know, listen and watch the delegates. It's a journalist galore there, the fact that they're going to boot journalists out of Charlotte, turning Charlotte into Beijing or Moscow, is a really sad statement of where the Republican Party is today.

And if they think they're going to put the onus of this on the North Carolina governor, they're wrong. I mean, this reminds me, Wolf, when Ronald Reagan banned the press in Grenada. And this press banning things never work out very well in history.

But Donald Trump is not really a normal American figure. He thinks he's running the revolution. He's authoritarian. He's already told us this week, not to trust our democracy, that we're all rigged, that our whole system is rotten.

So we're in a really serious crisis right now in the Republican Party is trying to strong arm the rest of the country and by staying in power no matter what, by crook or by thief, or by darkness of the night, or by banning of the press. They will do anything not to relinquish power. I hope Republican senators, Wolf, speak up quickly and say, this is unacceptable the way Mitch McConnell talked about postponing the election was not acceptable earlier this week.

BLITZER: Yes. And you wrote about this, Susan, tell us why you're so deeply concerned right now when the President throws out the idea of maybe it's going to be necessary to delay or postpone the election.

GLASSER: Well, look, Doug pointed it out. I mean, you know, our system of elections goes back to the 19th century in terms of the time, place and manner. That we're doing it as an act of Congress would be required to change this.

You know, Donald Trump making war on the very idea of the November presidential election, is something that no president has done. You know, this is a tradition that has survived the civil war, world wars, great division in our society. And, you know, it really -- it really was striking to me that you even had a co-founder of the Federalist Society, conservative group say this was essentially a fascist statement. This is someone who opposed impeachment, who opposed the investigation and said, the President attacking the foundation and legitimacy of American elections.

And to me, I know there's a debate about, well, should we just take the bait, isn't he just trolling us, we should just, you know, forget about it because it's just another hyperbolic pointless statement from Donald Trump. I disagree.

I feel like this is an example of we're the frog once again being boiled. And we are having a conversation that should be unthinkable in our democracy. . Where is the President saying, here's my plan for how we're going to make sure that our national election can come off safely in the middle of the pandemic, where is the leadership to secure the election rather than simply attacking the legitimacy of an election that the President fears he's going to be losing.

And I think the same thing is happening now with the convention. This idea that, you know, what is he afraid of, what are the Republican afraid of that journalists would interview Republicans at a Republican Convention? I mean, this really suggests that the President would rather make war on our democratic traditions, because he's afraid of what the outcome would be in a legitimate and normal process.

It's really -- it's yet, another line that's been crossed. And I know we're all exhausted and it's hard to figure out, well, which thing should I'd be really worked up about. I think this is one of those things that's legitimate to be worked up about at this point.

BLITZER: Yes. And you are worked up enough about a possible delay of a presidential election, and now baring journalists, Doug, from actually covering a Republican National Convention, the one that's supposed to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Give us historic perspective. It's never happened before in US history that they postponed or delayed a presidential election, even during World War II, even during the Great Depression, right?

BRINKLEY: Exactly, I mean, Susan just said that. I mean, in our correct way, I mean, Abraham Lincoln said in 1864 said we're going on with the election. He thought he was likely going to lose. George McClellan was running against him, and he allowed the soldiers to vote in the field, thinking many would vote anti-Lincoln, but Lincoln keep our democracy going.

FDR in 1944, in the middle of World War II, we run a presidential election. During the pandemic, we've been talking so much about 1918, we ran our midterm election. In 1968, we had a pandemic. We ran it. We do elections every four years, our country is about free and fair elections and Donald Trump is acting like Lyndon LaRouche right now by - or some kind of strange anti-American figure filled with a crank, with blown-up with conspiracy theories when he talks about postponing the election, and now banning journalists from covering GOP convention.

[21:35:19]

BLITZER: Yes. It's really unthinkable to think about both of those developments. I suspect it's going to change. Journalists will be covering. I predict journalists will be covering the Republican National Convention. Whoever made this ridiculous idea is going to have to back out of it very soon.

This is the United States of America, where we have a free press, and reporters are allowed. The news media is allowed to cover a presidential election. We'll see what happens in the coming hours if not days. All right, Douglas Brinkley, thanks as usual, Susan Glasser, thanks to you as well.

Meanwhile, President Trump is falling behind Joe Biden in almost all of the polls right now and he's losing a lot of ground or tied in states usually firmly in the Republican corner. Our polling guru, Harry Enten, he's standing by. Next, he's got new numbers, we'll assess. We'll be right back.

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[21:40:00]

BLITZER: Election Day 2020 here in the United States, just 94 days away. And poll after poll suggests an uphill battle for a Trump re- election victory, maybe even in some very traditionally red states. Joining us now, CNN's Harry Enten.

Harry, you've been looking at a recent poll, for example, from Georgia, what's going on there?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: Yes. You know what, sometimes it's not the states that you traditionally think of a swing states that tell the story of Georgia, right? Look at this, a recent Monmouth University poll that came out this week shows a tie, 47-47 in the state of Georgia.

I looked at a lot of polls from that state, it looks a lot like this one. And why is that such a big deal, because take a look at the presidential voting history in the state of Georgia, what do we see?

This is a state that hasn't gone democratic since 1992. Donald Trump won the state easily last time by five points. So the fact that he is in trouble in a state like Georgia tells you the story that he's in trouble nationally and he is trailing nationally, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Harry, what are these polls tell us about the larger picture of this presidential contest?

ENTEN: Yes. So I think this is rather important, right? So I basically looked at all the polls in each of the state, and assigned basically the polling average leader say that they're going to win those states in electoral votes. And what do we see right now?

What we see is that, overwhelmingly Joe Biden is the favorite, 353 electoral votes to Donald Trump's 185. States like Texas are competitive. Georgia, competitive, states that haven't gone democratic in so many years.

Now, what I should say, of course, is this is just right now, right? Things can change over the next 94 days. Trump at this point probably has about a one in five chance of winning, but there is historical precedent for someone like Donald Trump to get re-elected. You know, you do have to go all the way back to 1948. But what you see in that particular year was, take a look at this. Right in July, late July in that year, Thomas Dewey was up by 12 points over Harry Truman. And, of course, Truman went on to win that election by 5. So, look, it's early still, Trump's in trouble but things couldn't back shift.

BLITZER: Yes. So the Democrats should not take anything for granted right now, good point. Harry Enten, thank you very much for that analysis. There's more news we're following, much more on the coronavirus coming up.

But there's other important news right now, and it involves this, the Chinese government accused this weekend of forcing women to be sterilized against their will, sometimes violently. The voices of some of these women finally, finally being heard. Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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[21:47:20]

BLITZER: Very disturbing and important developments overseas tonight in the part of the world that the -- that Western eyes don't often see. We're talking about the region of China where the communist government reportedly is following an official policy of human rights abuses. Muslim women, Muslim women forced to be sterilized, sexually assaulted and even tortured.

Our Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson is joining us right now. Ivan, we're talking about the Chinese government's crackdown on one particular ethnic group inside China.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. We have been reporting for years now on the mass round up and incarceration of hundreds of thousands of members of ethnic minorities in China's Xinjiang Region. The largest ethnic group described as the Uyghurs.

This has been described by some as modern day concentration camps. And I think what is most chilling is hearing the testimonies of women who have survived these camps and hearing about their treatment.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WATSON (voice-over): Living in exile thousands of miles from their homeland, ethnic Uyghurs protest near the Chinese consulate in the city of Istanbul. A demonstration filmed a month before the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the speakers, Gulbakhar Jalilova, who talks about a war against Uyghur women in the China's Xinjiang Region. This was Gulbakhar before her ordeal. She's from ethnic Uyghur from Kazakhstan who was on a business strip to Xinjiang when on May 22, 2017, she says Chinese police came to her hotel and later dragged her to a crowded cell.

GULBAKHAR JALILOVA, CAMP SURVIVOR (through translation: They shoved me in. It was already midnight. I entered, there were 20 girls standing there.

WATSON: Gulbakhar says guards shaved her head, put chains around her ankle and periodically took her away for interrogation, where they tortured her to sign a confession. In one of those sessions, she said she was sexually assaulted.

JALILOVA (through translation): The officer was young, maybe around 30 years old. He said sign the document. I said why? I didn't do anything, I'm not going to confess. I don't understand what you wrote here. And he then took his pants off and put himself into my mouth.

[21:50:00]

WATSON: Gulbakhar says guards forced the inmates to take daily drugs and get weekly injections. She says her menstrual cycle and those of her fellow inmates completely stopped, an account that matches the testimonies of other camp survivors that CNN has interviewed.

Strict Chinese censorship makes it nearly impossible to confirm testimonies like this, describing the mass detention of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. This rare leaked footage from Xinjiang shows lines of men, heads shaved, blind folded with their hands tied. CNN cannot verify this footage but in October, China said, the transportation of inmates is part of normal judicial activities.

Beijing says that they've created a system of what they call vocational training centers, aimed at eradicating extremism through reeducation. The Chinese government denies subjecting detainees to any abuse.

But official health statistics published annually by the Chinese government revealed damning new evidence to academic Adrian Zenz. He found over a decade when sterilization operations dropped substantially on a national scale. The procedures performed on women surged in Xinjiang. The same goes for placements of IUD into (inaudible) and birth devices in women.

ADRIAN ZENZ, SENIOR FELLOW IN CHINA STUDIES, VICTIMS OF COMMUNISM MEMORIAL FOUNDATION: Maybe we should call it demographic genocide, because it specifically fulfills one of the five criteria of the United Nations Convention for the prevention of genocide which is the suppression of births.

WATSON: Zumrat Dawut is a Chinese Uyghur who says she was forcibly sterilized by the government. In October 2018, she says she was summoned to a government office and fined 18,000 won, the equivalent of around $2,600 for having one child to many.

ZUMRAT DAWUT, UYGHUR CAMP SURVIVOR: They said there is an order from above that says, you must have a birth control procedure done. We went to the surgery. They put me in bed and hooked me to an IV bag, and then I passed out.

WATSON: A doctor later told Zumrat, the sterilization was permanent. China's ambassador to the US denies allegations of forced population control.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUI TIANKAI, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO THE US: I don't know how absurd these fabrications can go.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: But that means you deny it?

TIANKAI: Of course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: The Chinese government has not responded to requests for comment from CNN.

For Gulbakhar Jalilova, her 15-month nightmare ended when police suddenly set her free and left her with this letter saying she was detained for suspicion of terrorist activities. In the video made months after her release, Gulbakhar explained she still suffering from skin rashes and sores.

She shows me the handwritten list of the names of more than 60 women and girls she met in detention. She says she's traumatized by the memory of the sounds of the screams of these women she left behind.

JALILOVA: I want help from the world to close the camps so that people can live.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: Wolf, on any day, if you saw government statistics showing a surge in sterilization operations on women in one region, on IUD placement, and a drop in reproduction, that would be certainly cause for concern. But the fact that this is happening at the same time as the internment of hundreds of thousands of people on an almost industrial scale, that's pretty disturbing.

Now, we have tried to report on the ground in Xinjiang, CNN\s Matt Rivers traveled there last year. He was followed and harassed by secret police everywhere he went and stopped at checkpoints. It's very hard to get independent information from inside Xinjiang.

And part of why we've learned about this, is because as part of the roundups, China detained citizens of other countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan. And when they were eventually released, that's how we're learning about what is going on in a region with an absolutely oppressive system of surveillance and censorship.

BLITZER: Ivan Watson, excellent reporting. Thank you very much for that report. Appreciate it.

Before we go, I want to take a moment to remember some of the people we've lost to this pandemic. Jose Perez was a 16-year LA firefighter veteran. He passed away last Saturday from the coronavirus at the age of 44. The first LA firefighter reported to have died of COVID-19. Perez is survived by his wife and three children. [21:55:00]

Another frontline worker, Dr. Joseph Costa also died last Saturday of COVID-19. Dr. Costa was the chief of Critical Care at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center. He was heroically treating the hospital's sickest coronavirus patience throughout the pandemic. Dr. Costa was 56 years old.

And in Detroit, a community lost a beloved pastor and educator Nick Sherman Edwards Jr., known as Mr. Ed to his students, served as a middle school and high school principal for over a decade. Edwards succumbed to the virus on May 6 at the age of 59.

Each one of these people will be missed, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends during this very difficult time. May they rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing.

Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back tomorrow night, 7:00 pm Eastern for another special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell is up next.

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