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CNN NEWSROOM

U.S. Wildfires; Coronavirus Pandemic; Former Officers Charged In George Floyd's Death Appear In Court; Osaka And Azarenka Go Head To Head In New York. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired September 12, 2020 - 04:00   ET

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


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NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Wildfires raging in the western U.S., taking more than 2 dozen lives and destroying an area the size of New Jersey.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state's history.

ALLEN (voice-over): We'll have more about it this hour.

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ALLEN (voice-over): Also, Dr. Anthony Fauci, publicly rejecting Trump's claim that the deadly pandemic is rounding the corner. As an influential model shows, Americans should prepare for what's been called a deadly December.

And Bahrain joins the UAE in normalizing ties with Israel. We'll go to Israel for the latest on this development.

We're live from CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Natalie Allen. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

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ALLEN: Thank you for joining us.

Our top story, this year's fire season in the western U.S. is already one of the worst ever recorded. More than 100 massive wildfires are now racing unchecked through 1 dozen states, pushed by hot winds across bone-dry landscapes.

At least 26 people have been killed since the fires broke out in mid- August. And in an ominous sign, the death toll almost certainly will go much higher, Oregon officials are preparing for mass fatalities as they search through burned out home and communities. The governor says dozens of people are currently unaccounted for. And she issued this dire warning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. KATE BROWN (D-OR): I can't say this enough. If you are notified by emergency officials to evacuate, please do so immediately. You may not get a second chance.

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ALLEN: California, where at least 19 people have died, is battling about 2 dozen major fires across the state. One San Francisco Bay Area resident said the orange sky, ash and smoke feels a little like doomsday.

Back to Oregon, 500,000 people have evacuated or ready to leave their homes in a moment's notice. Lucy Kafanov is there.

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LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Across the west, an explosion of raging infernos, devastating and deadly. The flames consuming over 1 million acres in Oregon. Dozens are missing. At least 15 killed in Oregon, California and Washington, among them 13-year-old Wyatt Tofte (ph) and his grandmother, Peggy.

Both died in the wildfires in Oregon's Marion County, the boy, trying to escape the flames, was found in the car with the body of his dog in his lap. More than half a million residents have been ordered to evacuate. More than 10 percent of the state's population. Highways packed as residents flee approaching flames.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I only managed to grab my family and my dog and some supplies. But otherwise, it's awful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just feel sorry for all of the people. Hopefully they -- got all their animals and stuff out.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Many coming back to find their neighborhoods incinerated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my front room. There's my oven, my cast iron wood-burning oven.

KAFANOV (voice-over): In neighboring Washington state, the fire claiming the life of this 1-year-old baby boy, badly burning his parents, who were hospitalized in critical condition. Smoke-choked skies casting an eerie orange glow across much of Oregon and the city of Portland. The mayor declaring a state of emergency.

The air quality here, now one of the worst of any major city on Earth.

The fires across the West, fueled by winds and dry conditions. Climate scientists say hotter and drier temperatures are causing flames to burn with unprecedented intensity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in the midst of a climate crisis. We are experiencing weather conditions the likes of which we've never experienced in our lifetime. We are experiencing what so many people predicted decades and decades ago but all of that now is reality. It's observed.

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KAFANOV (voice-over): Satellite images show smoke smothering the West Coast from California to Washington state. A hundred major fires are burning over 7,000 square miles, and area the size of New Jersey.

In California five of the largest wildfires ever, burning this year, more than 1,400 firefighters battling to contain the blazes that have scorched over 3.1 million acres.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This fire, one of offsides (ph) around us, all the roads.

KAFANOV (voice-over): And with no end in sight, many are fearing a scene like this one, in Phoenix, Oregon, these before and after satellite images show the town obliterated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything is gone. We tried to take as much as we could but we didn't think it would get this devastating. It's awful. It's awful.

KAFANOV: Now the biggest fires across the state are hovering near 0 percent containment. Weather conditions have been so bad the firefighters have been focused on saving lives and evacuations.

That is expected to change; they're hoping to make some progress this weekend. But officials are warning about a potential, quote, "mass fatality incident" and Governor Brown says that recovery could take years.

I want to emphasize this is what climate change looks like. Officials are bracing for this to be the new normal -- Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Estacada, Oregon.

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ALLEN: If that is the new normal, you've got to feel for the people who live in these states.

Stefan Myers is with Oregon State Fire Information Team. I spoke with him earlier about two major fires there that are threatening to merge. Here's part of our conversation.

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STEFAN MYERS, OREGON STATE FIRE INFORMATION TEAM: At this point, those two fires have not merged. So we're really grateful that fire conditions were more favorable today and allowed us to get ahead and make some real progress today.

ALLEN: At first, people outside of Portland didn't want to evacuate. I know there might have been some evacuations near Salem as well.

For the most part, are most people out of harm's way?

MYERS: Yes. At this time, there's still areas in level three evacuations and people that can't get back to their homes. But due to fire conditions, we're hoping those may change in the near future. But we're glad we're not dealing with as much evacuations and rescues as we were in the first critical days.

ALLEN: Unlike the California fires, we mentioned you're there in Salem. The Oregon fires have come very close to large cities, Portland included.

Does that still cause some danger or potentials for trouble within the cities?

MYERS: The reality here in Oregon is, we don't usually have fires that are touching up against our cities in this way. We're burning this side of the Cascade Mountain range. So this is a really unique event.

We're working with communities right now that have never expected this was going to be happening right in their back door. So they've been great in cooperating with us. We're seeing lots of people working together.

And we have fires all across our state. Firefighters back home in my fire department have been fighting fire since Monday night, on three- day shifts. So the whole fire community is working really hard so that those communities will stay safe.

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ALLEN: We want to move to the opposite side of the country. Another tropical weather system is threatening the U.S. in this extremely active Atlantic hurricane season we're seeing. Tropical depression 19 formed Friday afternoon. The National Hurricane Center says its direction is not clear.

But a tropical storm watch has been issued for southeastern Florida. And 19 is expected to strengthen to a strong tropical storm by early next week and rake the Gulf Coast.

We turn, now, to the latest on the coronavirus. The rate of new infections has decreased in the last month in the United States. But as the country approaches 200,000 deaths, an influential model now predicts it could double by the 1st of January. The doctor that runs that model says this year's holiday season will likely be grim.

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DR. CHRISTOPHER MURRAY, INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH METRICS AND EVALUATION: When we look ahead into the winter, with seasonality kicking in, people becoming clearly less vigilant, mask use is down, mobility is up in the nation, you put all those together and we look like we're going to have a very deadly December.

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ALLEN: This, as the nation's top infectious disease expert breaks ranks with President Trump. Dr. Anthony Fauci says the U.S. is not rounding the corner.

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DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I'm sorry but I have to disagree with that because if you look at the thing that you just mentioned, the statistics, Andrea, they are disturbing. We're plateauing at around 40,000 cases a day and the deaths are around 1,000.

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ALLEN: In an earlier interview with CNN, Dr. Fauci said he was "cautiously optimistic" about a vaccine but that it would still take time for life to return to normal.

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FAUCI: I think it will take several months before we get to the point where we can really feel something that approximates how it was, normally, before COVID-19. And for that reason, I made the projection of getting back to that state of normality, well into 2021. And very unlikely before then.

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ALLEN: We've got to hang on for a much longer time.

Coronavirus infections are increasing in the United Kingdom. Officials say the virus reproduction number is above 1 for the first time since March. This involves statistics but it's not too difficult. The R number tells us how many secondary cases are caused by a single infected person.

An R number of 1 means each sick individual is infecting at least one other person. With the R number above 1, it is an indication the virus is spreading. Let's go to Scott McLean. He is standing by for us in London.

Good morning, Scott. We know the R number is watched closely.

What do we know about the growing cases there?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The R number above 1, the government's estimate puts it between 1 and 1.2; but an Imperial College study out of London puts it at 1.7. That means for every 10 people infected with the virus, they are expected to pass it on to 17 other people.

You can do the math and imagine how quickly the virus spreads. It also means the number of cases is expected to double every seven or eight days. This is a trend we're seeing across Europe, with the rising number of cases. The second wave of daily infections has eclipsed the first wave. Obviously more testing has caught more cases.

But still the overall trend is pretty concerning. The U.K. is now reporting 3,500 cases in a single day. They haven't seen numbers like that since May. Perhaps France and Spain are providing a glimpse into the future.

Health experts here think that the U.K. Is a couple of weeks behind them in terms of development of the virus. But they have started to see hospitalizations and deaths really ramp up, something they haven't seen a lot of here in the U.K. Deaths have been in the single digits over the last couple of days.

That's because the virus is primarily being found in much younger people. That's obviously good news. But there is a trend, according to health experts here, that it's starting to be more commonly found in older people, especially those 85-plus, which is the most vulnerable group.

As a result, British prime minister Boris Johnson has instituted new rules. Beginning Monday, the maximum number of people allowed at a single social gathering will go from 30 down to six. The only exceptions are things for COVID-secure weddings and funerals and work and school are exempt from that.

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MCLEAN: The rule changes come after the police complained that the hodgepodge of rules that are in place right now are too complicated and too difficult to enforce. So the prime minister is promising, with these rules will come stricter enforcement, as well, Natalie.

ALLEN: And hope people will be able to follow along. Thank you so much, Scott. We appreciate you.

If and when coronavirus vaccines become available, many people may not trust them enough to take them. That is what a study published Thursday in the medical journal "The Lancet" suggests.

Researchers surveyed 300,000 people between 2015 and 2019 and asked if they felt comfortable taking any vaccines. Take a look at this map that shows where things stood in 2018. Dark blue that you see, means most of the country felt that vaccines are safe.

But deep orange indicates that fewer than one-third of the country's residents felt so.

Again, that was before the COVID-19 set in. Let's talk about where we are now. Heidi Larson is the director of the Vaccine Confidence Project and a professor of anthropology, risk and decision science. She is author of "Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start and Why They Don't Go Away."

Professor Larson comes to us from London.

Welcome, Professor, thanks for coming on.

HEIDI LARSON, VACCINE CONFIDENCE PROJECT: Thanks, good morning.

ALLEN: At a time when the world is racing towards a vaccine for COVID, this study found there are hesitancy hot spots around the world that could undermine the effort.

Where are these hot spots and what are the underlying causes?

LARSON: The hot spots are one of the things we found in the paper that we've been monitoring that has seen confidence continue to is it's very up-and-down. So it needs constant nurturing and attention. Europe remains one of the more skeptical regions in the world. It's better than it was about five years ago because they had seen how low it was getting and what bad measles outbreaks were happening across the region in Europe.

There has been an effort made so it is coming up a bit but it's still quite low. Pockets in the U.S. We have a few countries in conflict with high security issues.

But one of the things we find is it's not just about trust in the vaccine but about trust in who is providing it. With the acute polarization and if a vaccine comes another political party or a Western government you don't trust or your own government that you don't trust, those are some of the drivers that are at risk here.

From the public perspective, the hype of a fast vaccine may be great for politicians and may even feel good for some of the scientists in the race, as it were. But for the public, that's a very uncomfortable concept that they're getting raced, they're quicker. Maybe they are missing their safety regulations. So that's inhibited people from the uptake of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine. Just -- it was all too quick for the public.

ALLEN: Without large-scale acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine when one is approved, how hard will it be to end this pandemic, if some countries don't support it?

Doesn't the world need to come together on this?

LARSON: Absolutely. The world needs to come together on it. And also, we can already see that people are wearing thin with a collaboration cooperation around masks and distancing.

People are warned and you think they would want to leap into something like a vaccine that would, in a sense, liberate you from some of these other restrictions. But for some members of the public, even the vaccine is something imposed by government. So we'll have some resistance there.

But I do think we have a huge opportunity with -- when and hopefully if we get a COVID vaccine if we can make sure that it is -- we already work with employers and schools and others around this vaccine, well beyond health departments. This needs an all-of-society approach to prepare for and encourage

acceptance of a new vaccine, once we have one that is safe and effective.

ALLEN: We talk about encouraging change.

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ALLEN: So many people are skeptical for myriad reasons, depending on their culture and their society and the politics there.

How do you go about combating that and trying to alter that?

LARSON: It's tough for an immunization program or health department because so many factors that influence confidence are outside of health departments. But I think given the state of things, we need to start local. The more local engagement can happen, the more specific interactions are made. I don't think we can wait for the top to embrace this ways and infect the publics are very not necessarily confident with the direction coming from central government in a number of countries.

So I think local efforts will be crucial, mayors, other community leaders, even religion leaders, frankly. They've been quite interestingly one of the more cooperative in shutting down religious gatherings, coming up with alternative online options.

Obviously vaccines is not something you can do online. So I think we need to start public discussions and engagement with community on what advice they give.

Where would it be convenient for them to get a vaccine?

What time of day?

We want to understand and make people feel they have been consulted in this process.

ALLEN: Very good advice. Hope it comes around at some point. Professor Heidi Larson in London, thank you so much. We appreciate your time and your expertise on this.

LARSON: Thanks so much.

ALLEN: Next here, Bahrain joins the UAE in agreeing to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel. We'll have a live report from there.

Also, how the deals are part of U.S. president Trump's hopes for peace in the Middle East. Live in Israel coming up.

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ALLEN: For the second time in a month, an Arab gulf nation has decided to normalize ties with Israel. Bahrain and Israel are going to have full diplomatic relations. U.S. president Trump helped to broker the deal. And he is promising more to come. Oren Liebermann joins me on this story.

Did this come as a surprise?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Perhaps the biggest surprise is the order in which this happened. If you were to ask a couple of months which of the Arab states is likely to normalize or is closest to Israel behind the scenes, Bahrain would have been at the top of most lists.

But the expectation was that Bahrain would only act after Saudi Arabia decided to normalize relations with Israel. Right now, Israel and Saudi have no diplomatic relations.

Bahrain are not waiting for the Saudis although following in the footsteps of the United Arab Emirates. So on Tuesday, at what was supposed to be a signing ceremony marking the agreement with UAE and Israel, Bahrain will join as well.

The biggest surprise, that the Bahrainis struck out on their own. That almost certainly means there was tacit Saudi consent for the Bahrainians to move forward. Israel will be connected to two major business hubs in the Gulf, in Abu Dhabi and in Bahrain. This is a major foreign policy accomplish for Benjamin Netanyahu but also for President Trump, just a couple of months before an election in which Trump is behind in the polls.

Where does this go from here?

It will be interesting to see how this is taken on the ground in Bahrain. It's a Sunni kingdom with close ties to Saudi Arabia but is a Shia majority population. They may view this very unfavorably. We may see some protests.

How big and long will the protests go?

For that, we have to wait and see. One more open question here, as we move a few days away from that White House ceremony. We know what the UAE got from normalization. It halted Israel's annexation of the West Bank.

And they expect it will be clearer to get F-35s from the U.S.

What does Bahrain get from the normalization, from Israel or the United States?

That's an interesting and unanswered question at this point.

ALLEN: We know Mr. Netanyahu will be heading to Washington to make this official. Thank you, Oren Liebermann for us. Coming up, people and politicians of all stripes set aside their

differences as the United States remembers the September 11th terror attacks.

Also, 19 years after the U.S. went to war over those attacks, historic peace talks are now underway between the Taliban and the Afghan government. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

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ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen.

New York City commemorated the September 11th attacks on Friday, with twin beams shining high into the night sky, stunning. Look right there. That's from the site of the World Trade Center.

The light symbolized the Twin Towers that once stood there. Ceremonies to mark the anniversary were scaled back because of the COVID pandemic. Both President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden left the campaign trail to attend memorials. CNN's Jeremy Diamond has more about it.

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JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WIHTE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a moment of silence on Air Force One, today, President Trump commemorating the 19th anniversary of 9/11 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nineteen years ago on this day, at this very hour on this field, 40 brave men and women triumphed over terror and gave their lives in defense of our nation. 9/11, we'll never forget.

DIAMOND: As Trump honored the heroes of Flight 93, vice president Mike Pence marked the moment at the World Trade Center Memorial, alongside Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee.

A brief reprieve from a campaign roiled by Trump's damning admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he intentionally misled Americans about the coronavirus.

TRUMP: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic.

DIAMOND: And his false defense.

REPORTER: Why did you lie to the American people and why should we trust what you have to say now? TRUMP: That's a terrible question and the phraseology. I didn't lie. What I said is we have to be calm. We can't be panicked.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: There were times when I was out there telling the American public how difficult this is, how we're having a really serious problem, you know?

And the president was saying it's something that's going to disappear, which obviously is not the case. When you downplay something that is really a threat, that's not a good thing.

DIAMOND: Trump now comparing himself to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

TRUMP: When Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, great leader, would often times go to a roof in London and speak. And he always spoke with calmness.

DIAMOND: But that's not true. Churchill didn't sugar-coat the truth.

WINSTON CHURCHILL, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous time. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.

DIAMOND: Trump is still spewing coronavirus misinformation.

TRUMP: We're rounding the turn. You see what's happening. You see the numbers are plunging.

DIAMOND: Dismissing the reality of 35,000 cases per day over 800 daily deaths and warnings about a potentially deadly fall and winter. All while addressing a crowd of thousands who mostly refuse to wear masks.

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DANIEL GUILDER, TRUMP RALLY ATTENDEE: I'm not afraid. The Good Lord takes care of me. If I die, I die. We got to get this country moving. What are you going to do, wear masks and stay inside for another year? Where will that get us?

DIAMOND: And President Trump on Friday, announcing that the U.S. has brokered an agreement between Israel and Bahrain, to establish full diplomatic relations. Bahrain is the fourth Arab country to normalize with Israel, after the U.S. brokered a similar agreement between the state of Israel and the United Arab Emirates last month.

The leaders from all three of those countries are expected to join President Trump at the White House on Tuesday, to sign that agreement, which they are calling the Abraham accords -- Jeremy Diamond, CNN, the White House.

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ALLEN: Joining me now, is Natasha Lindstaedt, a professor of government at the University of Essex She's in Colchester, England.

Good morning, Natasha. You often come on to help us weave through this political process, the election process we're seeing. I want to talk about the 9/11 anniversary. If there ever were a time for the candidates to come together and be cordial, between Biden and Pence when they bumped into each other, it would be this 9/11 anniversary.

There was much reminiscing about the national unity in the aftermath of 9/11. We're in the middle of a national global crisis.

Do you think we can get back to that unity in the U.S., now that we're battling a common enemy at a time when we're so polarized?

NATASHA LINDSTAEDT, PROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX: I don't know. I think we've been seeing the last several decades that the American public has become increasingly polarized and levels of trust of one another are dwindling.

They're just lower levels of tolerance of the other side. And we're also seeing that the views are becoming more extreme. They're very extreme in terms of how to tackle COVID.

You can see from the clip you showed, a Trump supporter saying mask doesn't work, staying home doesn't work.

And you would have Biden supporters that might feel the opposite, that we need to stay at home, social distance and wear masks.

So we have completely different approaches to how to tackle this problem. That makes it more difficult for us to come together. Equally difficult is that the president isn't really sending a message of unity. Instead, he is trying to sow divisions.

ALLEN: Let's talk about the bombshell this week, involving the president. Let's talk about how he's faring.

Is he weathering the storm when it was revealed he told Bob Woodward, he played down the pandemic, when he knew it was dangerous back in February?

LINDSTAEDT: These tapes were astounding. I had thought originally that Trump just didn't understand what was going on with the virus or was incapable of understanding or wasn't listening to advice. In the tapes, he came across lucid, that he knew what were the dangers.

And I think he needs to understand, there's a difference between exercising calm and lying to the American public. And that's basically what he did again and again when he was telling Americans that this is just like the flu, that it's going to go away.

He needs to learn about leadership from the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who was able to present a clear and coherent message about the dangers of COVID, while emphasizing unity and that the country could come together on this.

And the other thing that is implausible, is he wants to exercise calm when this presidency has been about fearmongering and sowing discord and chaos. None of this aligns well with anything that he has done in his presidency.

We're going to see that I think it's only going to harden the views of those that are going to support for Joe Biden. And I think that you're going to see some of the people in the middle, really question whether or not this is the best person to lead when we have hundreds of thousands of people dying.

ALLEN: Right. At his rally, he indicated that the U.S. has turned the corner on COVID. And we heard Anthony Fauci saying it is likely to get worse and reminding us that 1,000 people a day are dying.

Do you expect the president to continue on his track to only make positive remarks about the pandemic as he leads up to the election?

LINDSTAEDT: Yes, I do, because he doesn't want the election to be about COVID. He's trying to make the issue go away. And in terms of how this resonates with his base, this is working. They don't want to talk about COVID, either. They are hoping it will magically go away.

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LINDSTAEDT: And what he's going to try to do is make the campaign more about the dangers of a Biden presidency, the chaos of a Biden presidency, the chaos on our streets, the protests that have become violent, the looting.

He wants it all to be about law and order so he can distract the American public from the real crisis, which is that COVID isn't going away anytime soon. And the country is just not in anywhere near able to control it.

ALLEN: Natasha Lindstaedt, we appreciate your insights. Thanks for coming on.

LINDSTAEDT: Thanks for having me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are underway in Doha, Qatar, right now. U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo is also there to support the process.

The United States is drawing down troops in Afghanistan with the goal of being out of that country by next April.

That will be quite a turn of events.

CNN's Sam Kiley joins me now from Abu Dhabi to talk more about these negotiations and what hope that something concrete will come from them.

Hello, Sam.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we have got going on here, Natalie, is a historic moment, after 19 years and a day since the 9/11 attacks, perpetrated by Al Qaeda, operating out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

That precipitated the war in Afghanistan that rumbles on today. This year has seen a lower number of civilian casualties, which people involved in this diplomatic process are putting down to repeated cease-fires and an effort to de-escalate within the Afghan communities, i.e. the government and the Taliban.

But the problem is, for critics of what the Trump administration are doing, is by announcing their plans to reduce troops from about 8,500 by the fall, the administration's term, you are signaling a degree of weakness, in the sense of, why would they make concessions or agree to the sorts of pressures they will come under from the Afghan government, if they don't have to wait too long before the Americans will unilaterally halve the number of troops they have there?

And that effects allies working alongside the United States. The counter to that, is that both the Taliban and the Afghan government have moved a very, very long way. I was talking to somebody in Doha there, part of the international delegation, saying it's a remarkable scene.

You're seeing Taliban officials, senior mullahs in the Taliban, being interrogated, quite aggressively, by Afghan female correspondents, as to what the future for women is in that country. And that, at least, is a sign for some hope.

ALLEN: Yes, it is. Sam Kiley for us, thank you so much.

Former police officers charged in the death of George Floyd appeared in court Thursday. The pretrial hearing was mostly procedural. But it was the first time that all four men were in court together. More about that in a moment.

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ALLEN: George Floyd's death during an encounter with police back in May ignited protests for racial justice around this country. On Thursday, the four former officers charged in his death appeared in court together for the first time. Our Josh Campbell was in the courtroom.

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JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: We're here outside of the county justice center building in downtown Minneapolis, where a hearing just concluded with four of the officers that are charged in the death of George Floyd. This is the first time we saw all four of those officers physically

located with each other. I was in court. None of them seemed to acknowledge one another. They weren't talking to each other. It was strictly business inside the courtroom, with defense counsel and state attorneys going through a number of motions that had been presented.

Now the key takeaway that we saw from that hearing was really an embarrassing moment for county prosecutors here. The judge in the case, ruling that the county attorney and some of his staff would be removed from the case.

This following an incident where some prosecutors met with a witness. The judge calling that inappropriate and sloppy, removing them from the case. There were several other motions that did not get addressed today in any type of conclusive way.

For example, there's a motion underway for a change of venue, to move this trial out of the Minneapolis area, defense attorneys arguing that the defendants cannot get a fair trial in the city. The judge wants to get more time and gather more information.

Another issue is whether these four officers will be tried together or separately. Defense counsel asking for individual trials. The state saying they want them all tried together. The judge not ruling on that motion yet, as well.

You can see behind me, there's a crowd gathered, that have been calling for racial justice and calling for justice in this case. We heard earlier from Ben Crump, an attorney for the family, who weighed in on what transpired today.

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BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY: We just sat through a very emotional hearing where people tried to kill George Floyd a second time. They made all kind of foolish allegations, talking about he died from a drug overdose.

Exactly. They're trying to claim the knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds had nothing to do with his death. They're trying to claim some asinine theory about a overdose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

CRUMP: I want to be clear about this. The only overdose that killed George Floyd was an overdose of excessive force and racism by the Minnesota, Minneapolis police department.

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CAMPBELL: As far as what comes next, there's a lot of issues this court still has to address, working with state prosecutors and defense counsel. The defense attorneys are still waiting to receive the full body of evidence, from state prosecutors.

[04:50:00] CAMPBELL: All of the documents and recordings they have, that is something they need to put on their defense. As that proceeds, the judge has set March 8th for the start of this trial -- Josh Campbell, CNN, Minneapolis.

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ALLEN: The George Floyd story sent the campaign for Black Lives Matter all across the country. In fact it went all the way to the women's U.S. Open tennis tournament. The championship is tomorrow. We'll talk about the players' statements about that next.

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ALLEN: We're just hours away from the women's final in the U.S. Open championship. Former champ Naomi Osaka will go up against fellow Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka, who defeated Serena. As CNN's Carolyn Manno tells us, social and political concerns are on the minds of both players.

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CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I'm in Queens, New York, where the street behind me would normally be flooded with tens of thousands of spectators, making their way through the gates for the final weekend of the U.S. Open. Coronavirus has left its mark on the first major tennis tournament back since the pandemic began.

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MANNO: Off-court news making headlines like it never has before. In the women's singles final, the meeting between Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka felt something like destiny on both sides.

Before the tournament began, Osaka made seven face masks, each bearing the name of a victim whose death has sparked outcries for racial justice. Seven also the number of years it's taken Victoria Azarenka to get back to a grand slam final. She, too, has not been able to fully escape politics here in New York.

Normally a sports-crazed country, Belarus is currently embroiled in protests, concerning the autocratic president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has suppressed such demonstrations since winning his election back in August. Azarenka's tone has been notably more subdued this year when referring to the situation in her country.

VICTORIA AZARENKA, TWO-TIME GRAND SLAM WINNER: Obviously what's happening in Belarus is very dear to my heart. And at this point, what is it going to do? I think what it is, you know, I feel like sports has always been a celebration in our country. It's always been really appreciated and people really love sport. MANNO: The two women will put off-court issues to the side, when they

battle on Saturday. Two years removed from her U.S. Open win here, Naomi Osaka defeated 25-year-old American Jennifer Brady in a hard- hitting battle that lasted three sets.

Azarenka took down the woman who'd beaten her in 10 previous majors, Serena Williams, whose quest for a record-tying 24th grand slam title comes up short once again. I spoke with one coach inside the bubble, who told us this has all of the makings for an all-time great meeting between two champions, a big server and hitter in Naomi Osaka and one of the best returners of the game in Victoria Azarenka.

And we know, both women feel like they can win.

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ALLEN: That wraps our first hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. I'll be right back with our top stories.