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House Oversight Committee to Investigate Postmaster General; Trump Launches Unprecedented Attack on Military Leadership. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired September 8, 2020 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is in New Day.

And forget summer. It's gone. It's over. I can't wear white anymore, at all. It's fall now, at least according to the school calendar. But for millions of children this morning, going back to school doesn't mean going back to a physical school. It means remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 7 million kids are beginning their school year fully online.

This morning, health officials are concerned about another possible spike in cases after the Labor Day holiday heading into fall with the school year. In Kentucky, nearly 20 percent of the state's new coronavirus cases have come from children 18 and under.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: President Trump says he really wants a vaccine available before what he calls a very special day in November. But an official familiar with the inner workings of Operation Warp Speed tells CNN, quote, I don't know any scientist involved in this effort who thinks we will be getting shots into the arms of Americans before Election Day.

And breaking overnight, CNN confirming that House Democrats are launching an investigation into Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. They are also calling for his immediate suspension. The Washington Post reports that DeJoy gave bonuses to employees at his old company for campaign contributions they made to his preferred Republican candidates.

CNN's Abby Phillip is live with breaking details now for us. Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Alisyn. Louis DeJoy is now facing intense pressure from Democrats, based on these allegations in The Washington Post, that he pressured his employees at his former company to donate to Republican candidates and the Republican National Committee, and in exchange for those donations, arranged for those employees -- allegedly -- to receive bonuses. That is an arrangement that would be considered a straw donation. It would be a felony.

And now, the chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, Carolyn Maloney, says she believes that DeJoy could face not only criminal exposure but she says he could face penalties for lying to her committee. The reason why? Take a listen to what DeJoy was asked just a couple of weeks ago when he appeared in the committee just a couple of weeks ago.


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: So, lots of questions now being raised about whether he was being truthful in that exchange. It's notable, also, that these allegations are not specific just to this period of time in which President Trump was running for office and that he has been a big donor. DeJoy has been a big Republican donor, fundraiser, for many, many years.

And President Trump was asked about this issue in part because he pushed for DeJoy to be put on the U.S. Postal Service Board -- I'm sorry, to be named as postmaster general by the Postal Service Board. Here is what President Trump had to say. He seemed to leave the door open to an investigation.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I think let the investigations go. Go ahead, please.

REPORTER: Mr. President, 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 could be proven that he did something wrong, always.


PHILLIP: So, this entire situation is on top of the pressure DeJoy has been facing over his management of the Postal Service and delays in the delivery of mail ahead of this election. But, clearly, these allegations are very, very serious and could expose him to potential legal troubles.

Many people in the past have faced significant legal troubles for similar allegations in the past, Alisyn and John.

BERMAN: Yse, clearly, textbook campaign finance violation, if true. Abby Phillip, thanks so much.

Am I crazy? Is it just me, or is the president's response to this incredibly odd?

CAMEROTA: Well, it's unusual for the president, because to say, yes, absolutely. Normally, he defends his people.

BERMAN: For anything.

CAMEROTA: For anything. And so, it's unusual for President Trump to say that.

BERMAN: Go ahead, investigate. If he did it wrong, sure, he should lose his job.

CAMEROTA: Fire him.

BERMAN: There's something going on there. It clearly needs explanation.

All right, in the meantime, 16 of the country's largest school districts begin classes today, but in 14 of them, no students will be in the classrooms. We're talking about remote learning, obviously.

Joining us now, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, look, there's the social issue of what do kids lose by not being in school. That's a little bit of a separate discussion right now. But medically speaking, there is still this open question about whether or not it is safe for kids to be in the classroom. At this point, what have we learned?


Where do we stand on kids getting sick and kids as vectors or spreaders of the virus?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've learned a fair amount over the last few months, but I think we still don't have all the answers here. Because if you look at what's happened in most places around the world is that it's primarily been adults or, you know, even older teenagers who have been out and about the most. You know, younger kids are just now over the past few weeks starting to get out and about. So we just don't have the same sort of data in terms of how much these younger children may spread the virus.

We do know a couple things. We do know that children can become infected with the virus, very important. Becoming infected does not necessarily mean you get sick. It means you have the virus inside your body, they have found the virus inside the nose, the mouths of younger kids, even if they're not sick. And sometimes, those viral loads, the amount of virus, has been much higher even than in adults. And we do know that in some situations, kids can get sick.

The big question now, and in some ways, we're going through this, an experiment, altogether over the next several weeks as these kids do return to school in some of these districts, to see how much do they spread the virus now. That's the big question. They can get infected. They have the virus. They're not as likely to get sick. But how much do they spread the virus? That is what we still don't know for sure. And I think, you know, one way we're going to find out is what happens over the next few weeks.

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, I want to show people where we are in terms of the numbers right now. Of the 101 largest school districts in the country, 67 of them are starting online for at least the foreseeable future, okay? 17 of them are starting either online or in person. Parents get to choose. 11 are starting with the school's hybrid plan, whatever that looks like. And six of them are starting with some unique combination of plans that is too complicated to get into.

But I guess the point is that -- we just had Dr. del Rio on last hour, who sort of, I think, basically suggested that we shouldn't kid ourselves as parents, that those of us who have kids at home, and where homeschooling is happening or online learning, they may have to repeat a large chunk of this year. It may not be as effective a learning model.

GUPTA: Yes, I worry about the same thing. I mean, I think, you know, partly, we all put our parents' hats on this year, and we've already been going through it here in Atlanta, my kid's at home doing virtual schooling. And, you know, look, I think the school district, at least our own, is doing as good a job as they can, but it's not the same.

And I think especially for my younger kids, it's even harder. For older kids, maybe a little bit better. I think for college students, the experience may be more beneficial, but not the same. And I think that's going to be a big question, and it's part of the push.

I think the big question for a lot of these other school districts now that are returning kids to school or doing a hybrid is what is the plan in terms of testing, what is the plan in terms of triggers to possibly send kids back home? I don't like it, to your point, Alisyn. I'd rather have my kids in-person school, but it's a challenging sort of question, I think, right now.

And if we can get the viral load under control in these communities where kids are doing virtual learning, we may have the opportunity, even within the school year, to send them back. It's not a foregone conclusion that this entire year is going to be virtual. But the viral load, the viral spread in that community has to be low and we have to show that kids aren't spreading it to themselves, to the teachers, to the faculty, or bringing it home to their parents.

BERMAN: Look, and it also creates a social or economic disparity, or exacerbates it, because we talk about the larger school districts. These tend to have low-income students, those that are staying home, while the wealthier school districts are figuring out a way to refurbish or reinstitute their schools to get kids in the classroom. This is just a social problem that needs to be dealt with above and beyond, I think, of the medical considerations.

Sanjay, your name was invoked in a big article over the weekend having to do with the vaccine rollout. This has to do with the president's continued political push -- political push -- to have a vaccine available before what he calls a very special day in November.

The Washington Post has some reporting which suggests that one of the things they want to do or may try to do is to get sign-off on highly respected, very public medical experts, like yourself, beforehand, so there can be buy-in here.

Let me read the exact quote here we have. The White House plan would stress to the public that a vaccine went through the traditional FDA rigor as well as seek validations from throughout the scientific community, in medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, and from medical professionals with large media platforms, such as CNN's Sanjay Gupta, according to the senior official.

What was it like to read your name here, Sanjay?


And what would it take for you to sign off publicly on a vaccine like this?

GUPTA: Well, you know, this is an interesting point. I mean, because I think the data being shown to a wide variety of people, and being very transparent about this is important. And, basically, what I would be looking for, I think, is very basic. And I think what most people would be wanting is the same.

You want to show that it's a safe vaccine, that it's not causing some sort of unusual side effect, which we've seen in other vaccine candidates in the past. There was a vaccine, you know, back in the '70s that caused this Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is a sort of ascending paralysis. It was only after you started giving it to larger numbers of people that you recognized how significant a side effect that was.

So I really would want to look into that data, really pour into the side effects of this. Because, remember, even in some of the early trials, at the higher dose of these vaccines, there were significant side effects.

And then in terms of how well does it work, it's an interesting question, right? Because you have two groups of people, one group that received the vaccine, another group that received the placebo. On one hand, you're sort of banking on the idea that the placebo group gets a lot of infections. You kind of want that. It sounds backwards, but that's what you want. And you want to show that that rate of infection is much higher than in the vaccinated group.

I'd really want to look at that data and see how much higher is it. Is it possible that it's random or that it's more just, you know, sort of a coincidence that people in one group are getting infected at a higher rate than the other group? And then, you know, see if this is sort of playing out over time. Remember, this is two shots, not just one shot, but two shots. What happens to the people's blood who receive the vaccine? Are they generating enough of these antibodies?

But there's another big question that I thought a lot about over the weekend, talked to a lot of people, is you know, shots will go into arms. They're already going into arms as part of these trials. The question is, are we going to have enough to really roll out this vaccine to the country, to the general public? You're talking about 600 million syringes. You're talking about the purity of the vaccine that's being manufactured in these manufacturing facilities. Anything goes wrong with any of those processes, that's a problem.

And remember, this is a country that got stymied by nasal swabs. We've got to make sure we've got all the components to actually do the rollout of the vaccine also. So, there's lots of different things here that I'd be looking for, that everyone should be looking for.

CAMEROTA: That's a dubious distinction, stymied by a nasal swab.

BERMAN: If I had a nickel for every time --

CAMEROTA: Right, somebody claimed that about you.

All right, so, Sanjay, good news in Florida. Let me pull up the confirmed cases. This is what the graph looks like right now of the seven-day moving average of confirmed cases. Look at their numbers, coming down so significantly in Florida, I mean, just since, you know, mid-August. And so, how do you explain it?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's interesting. I mean, how you explain it really is banking on how the virus behaves. I mean, the virus is a contagious virus. It likes to jump from person to person, from host to host. We are the hosts. When we are not such willing hosts, the numbers start to come down.

I mean, it's interesting, because we always try and apply a policy sort of reason for this. And the state of Florida did not, you know -- there were many policies that did not sort of fit with what we're seeing here. There is no statewide mask ordinance. There wasn't a statewide closing of indoor locations where people closely cluster. But a lot of counties did this on their own.

And you know, what I have found, Even where I live, where there is no mask ordinance, it is typically the people even more than the policies, right? So, even if there's not a mask ordinance, even if you are allowed to go to bars and stuff like that, people still wear masks. People are less likely to go to bars. People are less likely to travel, even over Labor Day weekend. So, it's just that we are making it harder -- or in this case, Florida is making it harder for the virus to jump from person to person.

You know, Alisyn, this isn't that hard. It really isn't that hard. We repair people after massive trauma. We take brain tumors out of their brains. We do all these things. In this case, we just have to not be such willing hosts for a period of time, let the virus sort of start to wither away, and then we can really get our arms around it.

CAMEROTA: I mean, you take brain tumors out of people's brains. John and I are stymied by nasal swabs. But you, you do take brain tumors out of people's brains. So we thank you for that, Sanjay, as well as all of the information. Great to talk to you. BERMAN: I did pick a scab on my arm the other day.


BERMAN: Does that count?




BERMAN: All right, okay.

CAMEROTA: But thank you.

BERMAN: I just where that qualified next to neurosurgery.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for sharing that.

Meanwhile, happening now, dozens of hikers are trapped in Central California with all escape routes cut off by the growing Creek fire. Officials call this fire an unprecedented disaster with 0 percent containment.

CNN's Ryan Young joins us now from San Bernardino County. What's the situation there, Ryan?


RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. Alisyn, look, when you talk about the fires spreading throughout the state, people are definitely concerned. The fire where I'm standing actually started because of a gender reveal party. That's been reported to authorities. You can see the scorched earth behind me.

A family arrived. They started using one of those smoke sort of pyrotechnics, and it caught the grass on fire and spread quickly. You're talking about over 8,000 acres burning so far. It's about 7 percent containment.

But the Creek fire that you were talking about, the one that they're desperately concerned about with the conditions is the fact they've actually had to rescue people using helicopters. You add in the fact that heavy winds and the hot temperatures, this has made it very difficult for firefighters to deal with this blaze.

Look, they are dealing with not a lot of sleep here as they battle back-to-back fires with these poor conditions. They're hoping things will improve a little bit today, but when you talk about that Creek fire, they're dealing with 0 percent containment and over 135,000 acres that have burned so far.

CAMEROTA: Ryan, thank you very much. We will check back with you throughout the program.

All right, President Trump launching an attack on his own military leaders. What he said and why it surprised so many people.



BERMAN: New this morning, President Trump is attacking the motivations of U.S. military leaders, suggesting that they start wars in order to fund defense companies.


TRUMP: Military is 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.


BERMAN: CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon. Barbara, what's the reaction been inside the Pentagon, just accused of starting wars to fund defense companies?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with a few facts here. All of these top leaders now, the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the top brass, are all people, essentially, that the president has appointed. There is civilian control in this country of the military. It is the president of the United States that orders troops into war, and the top brass follows orders. That is the reality.

Very interesting that he's going after them, however, for very specific allegation he's making, that they're going to war to fund defense companies, because, of course, it is President Trump that has bragged for years now about how much funding he has gotten the military, those funds, obviously, going to defense contractors. He has facilitated billions of dollars of weapons purchases from defense contractors to countries such as Saudi Arabia.

So, he has been firmly in the camp. He has advocated for these defense contractors, saying that they have the best weapons, talking about them providing American jobs. His attacks now, more than puzzling, perhaps.

I don't think you're going to see an immediate reaction from the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Mark Esper pretty much remains on thin ice with the White House. But that in itself is interesting, because Mark Esper is the one that right now is carrying out the president's desires to bring troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. John?

BERMAN: Barbara, some of the supporters of the president, since the president has said this is like, oh, he is just said what Dwight Eisenhower has said when Eisenhower criticized the military industrial complex. And I printed a copy of that speech just to reread it for myself. And Eisenhower warns of unwarranted influence of the defense industry and misplaced power, but nowhere does Eisenhower ever say the generals of the Pentagon, they are going to start wars to make money.

STARR: Right. I think that's a critical difference. Look, this nation, the U.S. military, the government, everyone has a lot of lessons learned about not going to war for 19 years. But, again, it is the president of the United States that has the power of commander in chief, that directs wars, that sends troops into harm's way.

I think there is a side point to make here. Many retired top brass retire and then join the boards of defense contractors and major American corporations. They have post-retirement careers doing that. That's a very valid point to take a look at. Not illegal, perfectly acceptable, but maybe some people object to it.

But the point you make, John, is the critical one. The facts are that a U.S. president sends troops to war. Generals follow that. And if you were to accuse them of going to war simply to support U.S. defense manufacturers, which I don't believe Eisenhower ever did, that would be illegal. The United States goes to war to defend the country. John?

BERMAN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, Barbara, thank you very much.

Joining us now, CNN Washington Correspondent Ryan Nobles, who is traveling with the president to North Carolina today and covers the Trump campaign, and CNN Political Reporter Arlette Saenz, she has been covering the Biden campaign.

And, Ryan, of course, this whole discussion doesn't get to the issue at hand, which is the story reported in The Atlantic and now confirmed in part by others, including CNN, that the president has called people who have served and died in wars suckers and losers. So, to an extent, this is trying to take the eye off the ball.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You're right about that, John. And what's interesting is that, you know, it's not -- the president often has to push back on reporting critical of him or, you know, accusations that he said or did something behind closed doors that someone might find offensive. But what we're seeing this time around is a much more coordinated defense of the president saying that this did not happen.

You know, a long line of administration officials, both current and past administration officials, coming out on the record, refuting that this happened, some who may have been near the president during this timeframe, some who are just trying to, you know, provide context to his character.


The most recent being Zachary Fuentes, who is, of course, a longtime close aide of General John Kelly who was chief of staff at the time and was around the president during the time in question.

So, you know, we're seeing the White House pushing back on this in a big way. It's obvious that they know that this is a problem for the president and that it reflects poorly upon him. The question is, John -- and this gets back to almost everything having to do with President Trump -- if you support him, you probably believe him. If you don't support him, you probably don't.

CAMEROTA: Yes, Ryan, you make such a good point. But, Arlette, it should also be pointed out, it's not just The Atlantic at this point. So many other press and news organizations have confirmed it, you know, confirmed parts of the story, from The New York Times to Fox News. And so, it's not just one isolated report. You know, there are lots of sources saying this same thing.

So, Joe Biden felt compelled to respond to all of this. This is what he said yesterday.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: 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 coming 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.


CAMEROTA: Arlette, your response and the response to that.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's clear that Joe Biden and his campaign is eager to keep this issue front and center right now. That event that Biden spoke at was relating to union workers. And he made it a point to bring up those comments. He also met in the backyard of a Lancaster, Pennsylvania, home with three union workers who also happened to be veterans.

We've also seen the Biden campaign is repurposing an ad that was released earlier in the year relating to Biden's support for military families. They are going to start running that ad again this week, as they are looking to further highlight the president's comments.

And what this all comes down to is this character argument that Joe Biden has been making against President Trump from the start of his campaign. And the Biden campaign is hoping that this, once again, highlights the character divide that they believe exists between the president and Biden.

And you've also heard Biden talking about this in very personal terms as he talked about his own son, Beau Biden, who served in Iraq, as he's talked about how his own son was not a sucker or a loser for going over and serving, as he's continuing to try to present this contrast with the president on this issue.

BERMAN: Arlette, Joe Biden is obviously campaigning a little bit more, which means we hear more from him, which means that he has more of a chance to respond directly to things that President Trump has said. And he rolled out, I think, which was interesting, a new response to the questions that the president continues to raise about whether or not Joe Biden has lost a step, in some cases, literally. So, what did Joe Biden say about that?

SAENZ: Well, we've heard continuously over the summer, the president and his allies suggest that Joe Biden is mentally declining. And the usual comment that Biden has is telling voters to take a look at him on the campaign trail and judge for themselves what they believe.

But Biden yesterday turned a little bit personal as he turned the tables on President Trump, talking about that moment when President Trump, after he delivered the commencement address at West Point, when he walked down a ramp slowly. Biden told a local Pennsylvania station, he told them to watch -- let me pull up the exact quote -- watch how I run up ramps and how he stumbles down ramps, okay?

So, this is just Biden, you know, trying to turn the tables on the president, who has continuously raised questions about his mental acuity as we are getting into this more heated contest heading into November's election.

And you are going to start seeing Joe Biden making that on-the-ground push in battleground states in the coming weeks. He spent yesterday in Pennsylvania, last week traveled to Wisconsin. He'll be back to Pennsylvania on Friday. But tomorrow, he's heading to Michigan. All three of those states, states that President Trump won back in 2016 that Biden is hoping to bring back to the blue column in November.

CAMEROTA: Arlette Saenz, Ryan Nobles, thank you very much.

BERMAN: So, his wife suddenly died more than a decade ago while working for a former congressman. But because of the tweets by the president, one man must now relive the pain. He's now speaking out for the first time. The reporter who did this interview brings it to us, next.