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CNN NEWSROOM

DHS: White Supremacists Most Persistent and Lethal Threat Thru 2021; House Oversite Committee to Investigate Postmaster General; Trump Expand Oil Drilling Moratorium for Florida; Tuscaloosa Mayor Reopens Bars Despite COVID Spike; West Virginia University Suspends In-Person Classes Amid COVID Spike; Rescues, Evacuations Underway in California As At Least 22 Wildfires Burn. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 8, 2020 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And look, one the reasons why this document was posted is simply to see what the final product that comes from the Homeland Security Department looks like.

We know, Brooke, that this is something that the President gets really bothered about. He doesn't like that people are focusing on white supremacists and white extremists. These are people that he sometimes uses language welcoming their support. So, that's one of the reasons why this is an issue that is so sensitive inside this administration. In normal times this is not something that the administration or any President would welcome. But these are not normal times.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: No, they're not. And we listen to the DHS. Evan Perez, thank you for that.

And after weeks of criticism over mail slow-downs and allegations he was trying to derail mail-in voting in order to help President Trump at the election, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy who is also a Trump donor, is now facing a Congressional investigation. But the investigation has nothing to do with his current job. Instead, lawmakers are now looking into reports that DeJoy reimbursed former employees after pressuring them to donate to Republican candidates.

In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson said DeJoy had, quote, sought and received legal advice, end quote, from a former FEC official to ensure his company complied with the law. When asked about the man he tapped to run the nation's Postal Service, this is what President Trump said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think let the investigations go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President a follow up please if you don't mind. If it's proven to be a campaign finance scheme, do you think he should lose his job? TRUMP: Yes, if something can be proven that he did something wrong,

always.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill for us. He is our senior Congressional correspondent. And so, Manu, what are you hearing from the oversight committee regarding this investigation?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they just only announced it last night that the chairwoman of the committee Caroline Maloney said that they plan to launch an investigation in the aftermath of that report in "The Washington Post" that found between the years 2003 and 2014 that DeJoy when he had that North Carolina logistics company he and his aides urged employees to contribute to Republicans, Republican campaigns. And they reimbursed those people for that including in the form of increased salaries and bonuses and the like.

And this is against the law to reimburse people for such donations. There's no statute of limitations in the state of North Carolina, although there is one under federal law. And in North Carolina the state Attorney General has announced an investigation or wants to and launch an investigation into what occurred in DeJoy's company.

Now what Caroline Maloney, the chairwoman of the House oversight committee, wants to do is also look into these reports. And also, she contends that when DeJoy came before the committee in a very contentious hearing last month, she contends he lied to the committee.

She said that in a statement that came, that's in reference to an exchange that DeJoy had with a member of the committee when he was asked whether or not he reimbursed any people in his company to President Trump's campaign. So, there will be a lot of questions about that. Certainly, more follow-up questions to be sent to DeJoy. We'll see if he's asked to come back and testify on Capitol Hill.

But, Brooke, this is all significant of course because right now Democrats believe DeJoy is taking steps to make it harder to vote by mail and posing policies that they want reversed. DeJoy has denied that. But that it comes at this critical time here. So, we'll see if DeJoy cooperates with this investigation. But the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, today, Brooke, said that he does expect DeJoy to cooperate with Democrats.

BALDWIN: Good. Manu, thank you. We'll be watching it right along with you as that plays out on the House side.

Quick programming note for everyone watching, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden sits down for an exclusive interview with Jake Tapper. So, make sure you tune on Thursday 4:00 p.m. Eastern on "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper.

Coming up, COVID cases, they continue to rise on university campuses across the country. But that's not stopping the mayor of one college town from saying, hey, let's open the bars again. Why? That's next. [15:35:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Right now, President Trump is in Florida, his 11th trip to the battleground state as a new poll shows he and former Vice President Joe Biden are tied among likely voters. Now, the President is using this latest visit to tout what the White House calls environmental accomplishments. Even though, to be clear, the Trump administration has dismantled a slew of environmental protections ever since he was elected. CNN's Randi Kaye is in Jupiter, Florida. And so, Randi, tell us about the event today.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, the President spoke just a few moments ago. He has now wrapped up his remarks. He stayed pretty much on message though. I will say, really talking mainly about the environment, a little bit about jobs, took a couple of jabs at Joe Biden as well. But mainly about the environment, came here to tout environmental protections that the administration claims he has taken part in as well as conservation efforts.

He said he had a big announcement early into his remarks and he certainly did announced that he's going to sign, which he did just moments later, an extension of the moratorium on offshore drilling here in the state of Florida. So, he expanded the ban on offshore drilling along here in the state of Florida. Also, in the Gulf Coast, so that was good news for folks there and certainly expanding that to the Atlantic, that bill will be well received.

[15:40:00]

Also, to the coast of Georgia and South Carolina he said so that officially expands this decade-long ban on offshore drilling for another ten years. It was supposed to expire in 2022. He says that they can create jobs and safeguard the environment at the same time. Here's what the President said today, Brooke, about jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We can create jobs, safeguard the environment, and keep energy prices low for America and low for our citizens. And you see that. You also see it when you pump the gas into your car and you're paying sometimes a lot less than $2 lately, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: Now Trump can tout his record on the environment all he wants of course. But as you said he has rolled back a slew of environmental protections or attempted to roll back including those he's done. He's weakened carbon dioxide emissions for power plants as well as cars and trucks.

He's made some changes to the Clean Water Act as well. Florida Democrats today saying, you know what, the President is just trying to spin his, quote, destructive environmental record and trying to distract from the failures in handling the pandemic. Brooke, back to you.

Randi Kaye, thank you, in Florida for us just after the President spoke.

Coming up, the mayor of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the home of the University of Alabama, is not letting a big rise in coronavirus cases stop him from reopening bars. That's next.

[15:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: The mayor of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is allowing bars to reopen today after being closed for more than two weeks. The move, which allows for 50 percent capacity, comes despite a recent spike in COVID cases at the University of Alabama there in Tuscaloosa.

So, on Friday, the school reported more than 850 new infections among students and staff over the previous week and a total of about 1,900 cases. 1,900 since the beginning of the semester. And while the mayor says he has seen an improvement, Alabama health officials say there has yet to be a steady decline in positive cases in Tuscaloosa.

So, what could possibly go wrong? Another college town experiencing a big spike in cases. Morgantown, West Virginia, the home of WVU, West Virginia University. It is moving to all online classes for undergraduates until at least September 25th. That move is coming less than a day after it's suspended more than two dozen students after reports of large parties, especially at fraternity houses.

So, with me now Corey Farris is the dean there at West Virginia University. So, cory, thank you so much for coming on with me today.

COREY FARRIS, DEAN, WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY: Happy to be here. Thank you.

BALDWIN: Listen, I know this is tough. We've all been to college and we know students don't always pay attention to the rules. Let me just say that. But why did you make the decision to go all online? And how will you know if it's truly safe to return to in-person learning later this month?

FARRIS: Well, so, once we brought our students back and started classes a few weeks ago or prior to that, we tested all of our students and faculty and staff. So, we were able to see what our baseline rate was. And then since that time we've seen the number of cases spike. The number of positive students that have tested positive has gone up. And it's gone up at a quicker rate than we anticipated.

As you might imagine, and as you said, we knew we've had some positive and we know what students are like. And so, with these positive cases, plus we had some incidents occur over this weekend where we had some student organizations that had some parties. And some of those members of those organizations were positive or in quarantine. And so, we had to take a pause here to stop that in-person and spread our students further apart than what we were doing prior to the weekend -- I guess prior to the weekend.

BALDWIN: Do you feel like -- I mean, I know hindsight is 20/20, but do you feel like the university did enough preventively? Because obviously these students aren't playing by the rules and are getting other students sick, thus throwing you into this lurch of having to do everything online. Did the university do enough prior to the start of school?

FARRIS: Great question. Personally, I think we did. When we went online in March, as many campuses did, we started planning for fall. We ran through quite a number of different scenarios of how we would operate and how we would teach our students. And we continued to do that work over the summer. I mean, and that included from, you know, many campuses did not, but we were certainly one of few campuses that tested every single student, faculty, and staff before they arrived on campus.

We had a number of communications that went out to our students and actually went out to the students and to their parents and their families. We had live conversations, what on this campus we called "campus conversations" where we discussed particular topics once a week probably from the end of June all the way through August.

Where we presented information. We also took questions from students and faculty and staff. And we had an online education module for those students and faculty and staff that were going to be on campus. So, we've got ...

BALDWIN: I'm listening to you and I'm just going to stop because you're checking all the boxes. Like you -- it sounds like, you know, you all did so much right. Yet, college students will be college students. So, my questions for you, you know, I was just talking about what's going on in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and now you have the mayor of this, you know, popular college town saying, hey, all right, I'm going to open the bars off campus.

[15:50:00]

50 percent capacity but still that's 50 percent. And, you know, given the cluster that already exists there, one can only imagine how that situation may go. So what conversations are you having, you know, with folks in the town of Morgantown and in bars? Because once you start those classes again, how are you going to, you know, put the fear of god in these students to behave?

FARRIS: Well, we're doing some of that. I think you're aware that we're doing an interim suspension of some of our students who flagrantly violated the rules. Currently the bars in Morgantown, in Monongalia County, are closed. So, we're doing what we can. We've got great partnership with our city, with our governor, with our county. So, we'll keep doing what we can do to stop it.

Dean Corey Farris, thank you so much. Good Luck stay well.

FARRIS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

People and their pets plucked out of the flames and flown to safety. Coming up next, the dramatic rescues happening right now, in California.

[15:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Even more rescues are underway in California, one of several western states just being ravaged by wildfires. Look at this picture. Look at that. At least 13 people in the Sierra National Forest were airlifted to safety overnight as the Creek fire continues to burn in an area the size of Central Park every 30 minutes.

But that is just one of nearly two dozen fires burning across California breaking a record as it's now scorched more than 2.2 million acres and counting. CNN's Dan Simon is live in the middle of the aftermath of the Creek fire. And it is still smoldering where you are. I mean, tell me some of the stories you've been hearing -- Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Brooke. This fire is just devastating these small mountain communities in Central California, names like Big Creek and Huntington Lake and Shaver Lake where I am.

You can see that gas station which was destroyed. And this general store, the Cressman's General Store had been around since 1904, 116 years old, had an old-fashioned soda fountain in there, had fishing bait. They sold ammunition. We've actually been hearing some of the leftover ammunition sort of popping off inside.

But what a situation here, Brooke, as we pan around. You can see these trees that had been charred. And yesterday we actually drove through here. This was all intact. So, this is fresh devastation from overnight. We're talking about 144,000 acres that have been charred. And at this point this fire is zero contained. So, this is destined now to be one of the largest wildfires in terms of acreage that has burned in state history. So, we're really talking about an unprecedented situation, Brooke.

And those airlifts are continuing. So far just today 148 people have been airlifted out of here. These are people who were enjoying the long Labor Day weekend, people who were hiking or camping and just couldn't get out because the flames blocked some of the pass and just couldn't get out. So, the military helicopters came in and rescued them -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank goodness for those helicopters and those firefighters burning an area of the size of Central Park every half hour. Dan, thank you to you and your crew for being there for us.

Also, two people are under arrest after violent clashes between supporters of President Trump and counter protesters in Oregon. CNN's security correspondent Josh Campbell has more from Portland -- Josh.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke. The ongoing tensions between pro-Trump supporters and counter protesters here in the state of Oregon took a violent turn over the long holiday weekend. A large caravan of Trump supporters traveled from the Portland area down to the state capitol in Salem, squaring off with counterdemonstrators.

Police say that different factions were firing paintball guns at each other, launching projectiles. Two people were arrested. Now those arrests come just over a week since another violent encounter here in downtown Portland. And that incident, social media videos showed pro- Trump members firing paintball guns into a crowd of protesters. One pro-Trump supporter was later shot and killed. His alleged shooter died in an encounter with law enforcement.

Now President Trump, as he is prone to do, has been weighing in on Twitter with his commentary about what's happening here in Portland and the larger state of Oregon. But I think it's important to understand what he is picking and choosing to weigh in on. After that shooting occurred with law enforcement killing the suspect that was believed to have shot a pro-Trump supporter. President Trump came out as celebrating appearing to congratulate law enforcement for the job that was done there.

Contrast that with what we saw over the weekend. We know that there was a video of a "Black Lives Matter" protester being beaten by two men and clad in tactical gear and fatigues. Those two men were arrested by police.

The President is coming out and congratulating law enforcement for shooting and killing the man that's believed to have shot and killed a pro-Trump supporter, we have not heard President Trump come out and congratulate law enforcement for arresting the two men who were seen on video beating a "Black Lives Matter" protester -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Josh Campbell there in Portland. Josh, thank you so much. It's so important to have you there continuing to tell the story.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me. Let's go to Washing. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper.