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House Oversight Committee to Investigate Postmaster General; More Than 7 Million Students in U.S. to Start School Year Online; Trump Launches Unprecedented Attack on Military Leadership; NYT: Trump Campaign Cash Advantage Has Evaporated. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 8, 2020 - 06:00   ET



DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Now you have schools opening. So I'm really worried about what happens to this nation as we head into the fall.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of the 16 districts that begin classes, 14 are starting the year entirely online.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole point of a vaccine, it all hinges on trust; and the president's been chipping away at that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe Biden said he would take such a vaccine if it went through a transparent process that was backed by scientists.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The vaccine will be very safe and very effective. He could have a very big surprise coming up.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I pray we have a vaccine as quickly as possible that is approved by the scientists and the public health professionals.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, September 8, 6 a.m. here in New York.

And it is back-to-school day for the majority of American kids. But the return to school in 2020 is nothing like parents and children have seen before.

More than seven million children starting the school year fully online, learning remotely rather than in the classroom. Kentucky reporting that nearly 20 percent of their new coronavirus cases come from kids 18 and under.

A former FDA commissioner acknowledges that Americans are exhausted by mask-wearing and social distancing, but he urges people to stay vigilant as we head into the fall and winter.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump is now fixated on floating the possibility of a vaccine being available by election day, which he now calls, quote, "a very special day in November."

But developing overnight, an official familiar with the inner workings of Operation Warp Speed -- this is the organization trying to get a vaccine out -- is dismissing this notion. The official tells CNN, quote, "I don't know any scientist involved in this effort who thinks we will be able to get shots into arms any time before election day."

And breaking overnight, "The Washington Post" reports that House Democrats are launching an investigation into Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and calling for his immediate suspension.

This probe follows reports that DeJoy gave bonuses to employees at his old company for making campaign contributions to Republican candidates. If true, this would be a textbook violation of campaign finance law, both federal and state.

So let's go right to CNN's Abby Phillip with the breaking details.

And Abby, if this were true, it wouldn't just be a textbook violation, it would, frankly, be ham-handed and an uncreative violation of the campaign finance law.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. More than a few people have faced serious legal charges for this very kind of allegation. This would be a straw donation, if true.

And now Louis DeJoy, the U.S. postmaster general, is now under increasing pressure by Democratic lawmakers, who are vowing to investigate this, calling for him to be suspended from his post.

This is amid a lot of controversy over his management of the postal service, but these allegations have to do with his role as a top Republican donor.

He is a top Republican donor and fundraiser for the Republican National Committee. And the allegations are, according to one official from his former company who was named on the record in "The Washington Post," that he pushed employees, allegedly, to donate to the Republican Party and Republican candidates, and then later directed bonuses to be given to them as a sort of reimbursement for those donations.

Now, DeJoy was actually asked about this very type of arrangement during an oversight hearing just a couple of weeks ago by Congressman Jim Cooper. Take a listen to what he said.


REP. JIM COOPER (D-TN): Did you pay back several of your top executives for contributing to Trump's campaign by bonusing or rewarding them?

LOUIS DEJOY, POSTMASTER GENERAL: That's an outrageous claim, sir, and I resent it.

COOPER: I'm just asking a question.

DEJOY: The answer is no.


PHILLIP: Now, President Trump was also asked about this allegation. Remember, President Trump named DeJoy to that post, and he was given that position in large part because of his role in the Republican Party.

Take a listen to what President Trump said when asked whether he would support an investigation.


TRUMP: I think let the investigations go.

Go ahead, please.

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 could lose his job?

TRUMP: Yes, if something could be proven that he did something wrong, always.


PHILLIP: So it is not clear where this will go, but Democratic lawmakers are already calling for North Carolina prosecutors to look into this issue. DeJoy could face potential felony charges for this kind of allegation -- John.

BERMAN: It was such an interesting response from the president. He's called every investigation I can think of a witch hunt, but this one of DeJoy, he's like, sure! Sure! If he did it, you know, it definitely is a problem. That was interesting.

All right, Abby, thanks so much. We'll talk more about this in a second.

Happening now, we are learning that dozens of hikers are trapped in central California, with all escape routes cut off by the growing Creek Fire. Officials call the fire an unprecedented disaster. Zero percent containment at this moment.

Rescue attempts are expected to resume this morning after smoke from the fire forced helicopters to abort the mission.

Firefighters are also battling the El Dorado fire in Southern California, sparked in part by a gender reveal party. It has now grown to nearly 10,000 acres, and officials say it's only 7 percent contained. CAMEROTA: OK, now to schools. Sixteen of the country's largest school

districts begin classes today. But in 14 of them, no students will be in the classrooms.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live in Atlanta with more.

What's the situation, Dianne?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, six months after the coronavirus pandemic began, more schools are going back, but they're going back online, and it is becoming abundantly clear why these schools are hesitant to go back into the classroom.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): It's the first day of school for over 1.8 million students. But for those attending 14 of the nation's 16 largest school districts opening today, classes will be held entirely online.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported over 70,000 new cases in children over the two weeks ending August 27. That's an increase of 17 percent.

And while grade schools evaluate the safest way to begin the academic year, some college towns are already turning into coronavirus hotspots.

In upstate New York, SUNY Oneonta reported at least 651 cases since the start of the semester. And at Iowa State, at least 900 students tested positive since August 1. At the University of New Hampshire, a cluster of cases has been linked to a fraternity party attended by more than 100 people.

BETH DALY, CHIEF, NEW HAMPSHIRE DHHS BUREAU OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE CONTROL: So we're concerned about any other individuals who may have been attending events there or visiting their friends at this location, just because we know that there have been at least 11 people who have tested positive.

GALLAGHER: That risk? Why NYU says it's suspended 20-plus students for violating the university's health and safety guidelines. This as health experts fear celebrations and crowds over Labor Day weekend could fuel another round of dangerous spikes, as seen over Memorial Day and the Fourth of July holidays.

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, FORMER CDC OFFICIAL: We're not in a sprint. It's very, very important that we continue to have all the social distancing, mask-wearing, avoiding large groups. We're all very concerned that the behaviors this weekend will be an accelerant and spread COVID virus even further. Flu is on the way. That will double the danger.

GALLAGHER: President Trump once again implying a vaccine could be ready by November.

TRUMP: So, we're going to have a vaccine very soon, maybe even before a very special date. You know what date I'm talking about.

GALLAGHER: But health experts say there is no guaranteed timeline, emphasizing that delivering a safe and effective preventive is key.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Really hopeful that we will have a vaccine by either year end or by early next year, but the key thing about the process for getting a vaccine is that it has to be driven by science and scientists, not by political or, you know, figures, or by political time lines.


GALLAGHER: Now, if we talk again about children and the rising infection rate, I'm want to use Kentucky as an example. Governor Andy Bashir said that, of the new cases on Monday, 20 percent were in people under the age of 18, that the youngest was just 1 month old.

And there may be some indicator that people are being a little bit more comfortable when it comes to traveling during the pandemic, and that's because there was a pandemic-era high in air travel on Friday. Now, it was just under 960,000 people screened by the TSA. John, that is a lot less than the 2.2 million on the same Friday a year ago, but it's the most that we've seen traveling since the pandemic began.

And AAA says that they predict many more people were traveling by car over this weekend.

BERMAN: All right. Dianne Gallagher, thanks very much.

You know, on the vaccine front that Dianne was just talking about, new this morning, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden says he would take a corona vaccine tomorrow, if one was available. But the former vice president echoed comments made by his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, saying that any vaccine rolled out before election day must be backed by science, not just President Trump.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: One of the problems is the way he's playing with politics, is he's said so many things that aren't true, I'm worried if we do have a really good vaccine, people are going to be reluctant to take it. And so he's undermining public confidence.

But pray God we have it. If I could get a vaccine tomorrow, I'd do it. If it cost me the election, I'd do it. We need a vaccine, and we need it now.


BERMAN: CNN's Arlette Saenz live for us in Washington.

Arlette, you know, you cover the Biden campaign. This is the day after Labor Day. It is the traditional kickoff of the home stretch.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, John. And you heard Joe Biden right there say that he would be open to taking a coronavirus vaccine, if it came before election day, but with the caveat that he wants this to be a transparent process that is backed by scientists. Biden saying that there needs to be a vaccine, but he wants to ensure that it goes through that transparent process.

Now, this comes as the president has accused Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, of playing politics and is calling on them to apologize for what he believes is an antivaccine message.

But what both Biden and Harris were just making clear with their statements is that they want this to be a scientifically-backed process and that they're concerned that it's the president who is the one that's playing politics.

So as we are heading into that fall election, the coronavirus vaccine is becoming a flashpoint right now.

Now, one common refrain that we often hear from President Trump and his allies is that Joe Biden has lost a step mentally. Biden often counters that by telling voters they should just watch him out on the campaign trail and judge their performance for themselves.


But yesterday, Joe Biden turned the tables on President Trump, even going a little bit personal. In an interview with a local Pennsylvania station, Biden saying, "Watch how I run up ramps and how he stumbles down ramps, OK?"

That being a reference to that moment after President Trump delivered the commencement speech at West Point when he walked down a ramp slowly.

Now, we are officially eight weeks out from election day, which means that both candidates are ramping up their campaign trail travel. We saw Joe Biden in Pennsylvania yesterday. He's heading back to Pennsylvania at the end of the week.

And tomorrow he's heading to Michigan, just one of those states that President Trump won back in 2016, that he's hoping to bring back to the Democratic column in November -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Ramping up. I like it. Arlette, well done.

BERMAN: Gingerly in some cases, or delicately.

CAMEROTA: Maybe they should have a ramp walking contest.

BERMAN: Or ramp --

CAMEROTA: That could decide this entire election. I mean, I'm sure the Biden camp would like that.

BERMAN: Three debates, plus a ramp walk.

CAMEROTA: Yes! And a sack race. Meanwhile, new this morning, President Trump attacking the motivations

of U.S. military leaders, suggesting they start wars in order to fund defense companies.

CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House with the latest.

Hi, Joe.


The president launching an extraordinary attack on the military top brass, accusing them of waging wars in order to boost the profits of military defense contractors, especially unusual because the president himself brags about increasing defense spending.

But the relationship between the military leadership and the president has become increasingly strained in recent months.

Now, this comes at the very same time of that report in "The Atlantic" alleging that the president referred to military personnel killed in action as "suckers" and "losers," also that the president himself decided not to go to a U.S. veterans cemetery, because he was afraid it would mess up his hair.

CNN has confirmed part of that story. So have some other media outlets.

Here's what the president said on Monday.


TRUMP: I'm not saying the military's in love with me. The soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren't, because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy. But we're getting out of the endless wars.


JOHNS: Now, we did ask the Pentagon about the president's statement. So far, no response at all.

Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe. We'll be speaking about this more in the program. Thank you very much.

Another member of the Trump administration now reportedly under investigation. What this means for the postal service ahead of the election. That's next.


BERMAN: Breaking overnight, "The Washington Post" reports that House Democrats are launching an investigation into Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and calling for his immediate suspension. The probe follows reports that DeJoy gave bonuses to employees at his

old company for making campaign contributions to Republican candidates, which, if true, is illegal and a clear campaign finance violation.

Abby Phillip is back with us. I want to bring in Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for "Politico."

And Anna, what struck me as so odd was yesterday, when the president was asked about this, he says, Yes, I think we should let the investigation play out, and if it's proven DeJoy did something wrong, he should lose his job.

Who was that in the president's body? I'm not used to him saying that an investigation should play out. Why is he, at least at a minimum, not defending DeJoy, and at a maximum, cutting his legs out from under him?

ANNA PALMER, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "POLITICO": It's a very different posture for this president, who regularly calls any investigation or criticism by opponents as a hoax or tries to really go for the jugular. He really didn't defend DeJoy at all up there.

You know, I think that this is a president under siege, though. You know, he is on the defensive himself when it comes to, you know, criticism of military leaders and some of that reporting recently; in terms of the COVID virus and the administration's response to that; in terms of being down in the polls.

And so, I think that this is partly a deflection strategy, if there is a strategy there, in terms of saying, Hey, look over there, instead of maybe where some of the other critical problems have been over the past 48 to 72 hours.

CAMEROTA: Abby, I just want to recap. This is from "The Washington" -- a "Washington Post" investigation that they have just published that something like seven former employees of the company where DeJoy worked in North Carolina said that this happened, that they were pressured to make campaign contributions to Republican candidates and then were reimbursed via bonuses, basically, which, of course, would be illegal. It would break North Carolina laws, as well as campaign finance.

But it was so interesting. The sound bite that you played from Congressman Jim Cooper on August 24, who, I guess, knew something about this, because asked about it. And DeJoy's answer also seemed as though he knew something about it, because it was kind of a ready -- he had a ready answer for it. So, let's listen to that exchange one more time.


COOPER: Did you pay back several of your top executives for contributing to Trump's campaign by bonusing or rewarding them?

DEJOY: That's an outrageous claim, sir, and I resent it. COOPER: I'm just asking a question.

DEJOY: The answer is no.


CAMEROTA: Sort of felt like he knew that might be coming.

PHILLIP: I thought that exchange in the moment when it happened was extremely interesting because, obviously, Jim Cooper was -- Congressman Cooper was not asking that question out of the blue. And -- and DeJoy was sort of up in arms about the allegation.


But what is interesting about "The Washington Post" allegation is that, first of all, one of the -- the former employees is the head of H.R., and he was quoted on the record about this alleged arrangement. And so it becomes a lot more difficult to deny.

And in fact, in "The Post" story, there is something of an apology for workers who might have seemed -- who might have felt pressured to donate to Republicans, but no real addressing of the allegation that they were later reimbursed. So it really seems to suggest that there is something there and lots of questions to be asked.

One thing I should note about the Cooper exchange. He asked about donations to Trump's campaign, but this investigation could be a lot broader than that. The allegations in "The Post" are that this was going on for many years, including before President Trump ran for office. So the scope of this could be well beyond President Trump's campaign specifically.

BERMAN: Yes, Louis DeJoy, call your office.

We'll leave that there for a moment. Anna, I want to ask you -- you brought it up before, the issue surrounding the president and his feelings about people who have served in the military.

Obviously, it was reported in "The Atlantic" last week, and CNN and others have confirmed different parts of the story that the president has referred to people who have served and died in service as suckers and losers. And that it's now a political sore spot for him, to the point where Joe Biden is commenting on it almost every day. Listen to what Biden said about it with the union leaders yesterday.


BIDEN: None of the veterans you know were losers or suckers. No president has ever talked about our servicemen and women in that way! And I'm sorry if I'm getting close to losing my temper, but the simple truth is, if that's how you talk about our veterans, you have no business being president of the United States of America, period.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: And Anna, the way the president has responded to this may be creating a new problem, which is to suggest, No, no, no, my problem isn't with soldiers -- although not addressing the specific claims here -- my problem is with the military leaders who start wars to make money.

That's an extraordinary charge, Anna.

PALMER: Well, and so far, we haven't seen the Pentagon respond to it. But I think what's really extraordinary is just how, in four years, as president has shifted.

He used to love to talk about the military. He respected the military. He wanted -- his chief of staff, John Kelly, to be a veteran steeped in the military. And now you really see this playing out in a very different way. Clearly, from those comments in the Biden -- from Joe Biden and the Biden campaign, they feel like this is an area where the president could be really weak, could lose some support from the military, which is going to play out over the next several weeks, for sure.

CAMEROTA: Also, Abby, it's just hard to know where President Trump stands in terms of policy. Has he turned into Michael Moore? I mean, does he want to disband the military industrial complex and dismantle it? Or is he funding it? Because sometimes he brags about how much money he's giving to the military.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, exactly. First of all, I'm not sure what the strategy is, if you're facing allegations that you disparage members of the military, now disparaging military brass as if there is -- there ought to be a distinction there. That's the first part.

But the second part is, this is a president who, for four years, has really bragged about how much money he has secured -- billions of dollars -- for the Pentagon, for these planes, these ships, these bombs that he now is saying are being used by corporations to push foreign wars. It just does not make much sense with the president's own previous claims.

Just probably a few weeks ago, the president talking about how this is a change of policy. He often likes to claim that he funded the military when President Obama didn't. Now he seems to be claiming that Pentagon brass want to -- want billions of dollars for planes and bombs so that they can go to war, because they like war.

This is obviously not something that jives with his own comments, and I don't really see how it's supposed to help him when the accusation here is that, in this moment, he disparaged military service members. It seems that it would make a lot more sense to steer clear of this line of attack altogether.

BERMAN: It might be that there isn't a strategy here. I think we always have to leave that possibility wide, wide open. I'm not sure there's nine-dimensional chess being played here.

Anna, another fascinating story over the last 24 hours. "The New York Times" was first reported, Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman reporting that the Trump campaign has burned through a ton of money and may be even having money problems with two months to go before the election. They've pulled back on ads in some places.

And now Bloomberg has reported this morning, and you just put this out in your note a few minutes ago -- Bloomberg's reporting -- and we haven't confirmed this yet -- that the president's considering spending $100 million of his own money in the campaign? How could this come to pass? I thought this was some death star financial juggernaut, the Trump campaign.


PALMER: Yes, absolutely. It's pretty stunning, that reporting out of "The New York Times," really kind of line-by-line, detailed excessive spending kind of internally, also funneling money to different LLCs that also benefit some of the family members of the Trump -- the Trump family, as well as campaign advisers.

The other thing that's just, I think, really noteworthy in it is just how expensive it is, though, to run a campaign, you know, from four years at a presidential level; whereas you really saw the Joe Biden campaign -- I think a lot of us reported, myself included, predicted potential money problems, because he hadn't been a very strong fundraiser in his previous presidential bids. But clearly, they have benefited from not having to travel, not having to spend money, really embracing the virtual fundraiser.

And so you see this dichotomy that I don't think most people would have expected, where you have Joe Biden coming into the, really, you know, today, the start of the general election, in a very strong fundraising position, compared to the Trump administration, which could potentially, where you'd see him put his own money into the race, which must be unprecedented at this point of the race.

CAMEROTA: Ladies, thank you.

BERMAN: Yes, the article's worth reading from Maggie and Shane, because it includes a quote from Brad Parscale, the old campaign manager, who throws the family under the bus. He says that, Everything I did, all of the financial spending decisions I made were approved by the family.

CAMEROTA: Family. I know what that means.

BERMAN: Jared, Ivanka. Exactly. That's what that means.

All right. Thank you very much.

So this morning, researchers working on a coronavirus vaccine are facing a major issue that could end up delaying a vaccine. So, what is that issue and what's being done to fix it? That's next.