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CNN NEWSROOM

23 States Recording More Infections This Week Versus Last Week; CDC Director: Vaccine Likely Available To General Public In Mid-2021; Bill Barr: Junior Members Of Justice Department Shouldn't Set Agenda; Bill Barr: Prosecutors "Inserted Themselves" Into Political Process; Bill Barr: AG & DOJ Are "Political" But In A "Good And Necessary" Way. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

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JOHN KING, CNN HOST: It's top of the hour. Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a very, very busy news day with us.

A big day in the 2020 Presidential campaign, Kamala Harris in Pennsylvania the president holds a rally today in Wisconsin and the Democratic Nominee Joe Biden fielding questions from voters at a CNN town hall.

More evidence the COVID jobs recovery is uneven at best. 860,000 Americans filed for first time unemployment benefits last week for and an Airline CEO is at the White House today to warn tens of thousands of furloughs could come very soon if the industry doesn't get another 25 $billion bailout.

Also today, a big public break between the president and his top scientist. The president says masks are sometimes bad, not essential. Doctors Redfield, Fauci and Birx say there is at this moment no better weapon than a mask to fight the COVID spread.

The president also says his CDC Director was mistaken when he cautioned that COVID vaccine won't be ready for wide scale distribution until 2021. Well, just this morning the drug maker Moderna says it will know if its COVID vaccine candidate will work in November?

The president of course wants that vaccine ready by the election and that's early November and gets annoyed when the scientists say they'll follow the rules and the data last night Nominee Joe Biden making clear how he sorts this out?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: So let me be clear I trust vaccines. I trust the scientists. But I don't trust Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: More than anything else especially with the conflicting political rhetoric we trust the numbers and the data. Let's take a closer look at where we are. Right now, if you look at the 50-state map, we're trending in the wrong direction. This map not as good as it looked not as favorable as it looked just days and especially a week ago.

23 states, that's the orange and the red trending up. What does that mean? Reporting more new Coronavirus infections this week compared to a week ago 23 states now trending in the wrong direction. 21 that's the beige holding steady that includes Arizona and California and Florida those three of course were big drivers of the summer surge and they're steady at the moment.

Only six states reporting fewer new infections right now than a week ago, only 6, 23 trending in the wrong direction the death trends follow the case trends and this map also taking a turn for the worse in recent days.

You see it right there 25 states, 16 of them reporting 50 percent more deaths this week than a week ago but 25 states trending up meaning more deaths this week than last week 12 holding steady only 13 states having the data down when it comes to death this week compared to last.

One of the ways to think about what's coming around the corner is to look at the positivity rates out in the states. And you see the darker the blue, we don't have any data on Texas that's why that is gray it's a glitch no data today.

It happens every now and then but if you look at the darker blue that's double-digit 16 percent positivity in Idaho, 13 percent in Utah, 15 percent in South Dakota, 15 percent in Kansas. Not big, not highly populated states but still you have a higher percentage of positivity. Just wait a week or two the case count goes up that's part of the problem Mississippi and Alabama 15 and 16 Florida still at 12 percent.

You look at the case trend. The question is, where are we and where are we going? We are halfway down from the summer peak. You're looking at about 70,000 cases - new infections that is the day here with 20,000 coming into the summer up to near 70. Now we are down 36,000 new infections on Wednesday. It's a plateau if you look; let's follow the line this way.

Last month really or at least the last several - more than a month back to late July the question is can we get it down below 40,000, down below 35,000? Or are we coming back up in the last couple of days? Let's follow this through the rest of the next week and into next week.

Now the experts say its fall. Guess what, even currents that have done well around the world you're seeing more orange and red around the world. Orange and red means more cases now than last week and you see it trending up all over the world. The president likes to focus on Europe. He says the United States is doing great, Europe has a problem. Well, Europe does have right now more of a problem. You see the United States went way up, has come down somewhat now appears to be and trickling up a little bit in recent days.

Europe got past stayed flat for a long time but yes as we get to fall a number of European countries starting to come up, up and up. So whether you're in the United States, whether you're in Europe, no matter where you live in the world you are asking, when will we have a vaccine?

That would stop this, right? If we could get a vaccine all the numbers would come down. The Head of the CDC Dr. Robert Redfield says, be patient.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CDC: So if you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of a vaccine to get back to our regular life? I think we're probably looking at third - late second quarter, third quarter 2021.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We know the president doesn't like that answer. Let's get straight to CNN's Nick Valencia for more on this confrontation between the president and his top scientists. Nick, the president very much at odds there. Dr. Redfield says late second quarter, maybe essentially this time a little earlier next year. The president says he's mistaken.

[12:05:00]

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The big question is whether or not this was a slip of the tongue or this is something that the president just didn't like what he heard.

I just got off the phone with the federal health official close to Dr. Robert Redfield who tells me that despite this latest spat between the president and Dr. Redfield, that president pushing back on his own CDC Director that Dr. Redfield shows no signs of resigning or has not indicated it all that he is interested or is considered resignation at all.

But really what has played out here between Dr. Redfield and President Trump is just the latest in contradictory messages coming from both men. Just listen to the president a push back on Redfield yesterday during a press briefing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he made a mistake when he said that. It's just incorrect information. I called him and he didn't tell me that and I think he got the message maybe confused, maybe stated that incorrectly. We're ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced and it could be announced in October or it could be announced a little bit after October. But once we go we're ready.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VALENCIA: I think it's important to look at the details as well John. You notice that the president made that statement without the presence of Dr. Fauci or Dr. Birx there at the press briefing yesterday. We did reach out to the CDC as that was happening and they did send a statement which appeared to try to clean up Dr. Redfield's comments at the hearing but not walk back his testimony.

It said the time period was talking about was when all Americans would have completed their COVID vaccination. He was not referring to the time period when COVID-19 vaccine doses would be made available to all Americans.

And just very quickly here John, I've been speaking to sources within the CDC who tell me that they feel as though Dr. Redfield, that this is just another example of him not being willing to stand up to the president and they feel as though some senior CDC officials feel as though Dr. Redfield has been a convenient punching bag for the president. John?

KING: Many of the scientists have had it coming from the president without a doubt. Nick Valencia, as always I appreciate the important reporting by the very important agency in the middle of this pandemic. Thank you.

And joining me now to discuss this further, the Former CDC Official Dr. Cyrus Shahpar. Dr. Shahpar, just this of the top, have you ever seen anything like this. I know this a pandemic like no other, it's a novel Coronavirus. It is taxing all of the scientists and yes, it is taxing the politician who happens to be the President of the United States in an election year.

But the idea that the - whether it's Dr. Birx, whether it is Dr. Fauci, whether it's Dr. Redfield, if you go back through the last ten days two weeks almost every day they are saying things that the president's having these rallies, the president is mocking mask wearing, saying they're not effective and his scientists almost every day are out there saying things that are essentially are don't listen to the president, listen to me.

DR. CYRUS SHAHPAR, FORMER CDC OFFICIAL: No, I think the degradation of science and trust in science that we're seeing now is unprecedented. Really I haven't seen it before. Especially, you know, when we consider that what's at stake are tens of thousands of lives and three should be general agreement that science should guide us toward basically controlling COVID.

KING: And I want your expertise and insights. Dr. Redfield was saying yesterday yes, there might be a vaccine available by the end of this year or early next year but he is just trying to think about ramping up production, how long that would take first - first comes first responder's health care workers? You heard him say late second quarter or may be third quarter next year; Dr. Fauci has a similar view. Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: That doesn't mean that you're not going to be vaccinating many of the vulnerable people early on namely, early in 2021. But the idea of getting the entire population that wants to get vaccinated in a month or two that's going to be very, very difficult to do. So I kind of think if you sit down and try and parse that out there really wasn't that much of a disagreement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He's trying to be a diplomat there but there's a disagreement when you hear the president say we might have this by Election Day. We might have this in late October. And all the scientists say well, no, that's most unlikely.

But my point on this is, my suspicion I guess is the right word it to be open about it, is there are a lot of people are voting now. A lot of people are going to vote before the last week of October, before November 3rd and the president trying to tell them something that the scientists say is not true.

DR. SHAHPAR: Yes. I think - essentially talking about two different things. The president I think thinking of when a vaccine under emergency use authorization might be first announced and hoping that it will happen in the next several weeks.

And then the CDC Director correctly answering the question about when something is generally widely available to the American public which according to the CDC guidance and the time lines of how this will be rolled out is in 2021, you know in the second or third quarter of 2021. So the CDC Director was correct but I think there's a difference in what they're trying to talk about.

KING: The CDC generally is looked at an honest broker here if you will.

[12:10:00]

KING: State and public health officials, local public health officials look to guidance from the CDC. The CDC website is supposed to be the gold standard of what should I do? Who should I follow or what are the best practices?

Over the past few months we've seen the CDC has changed its testing guidelines to suggest asymptomatic people don't need testing or don't need not as many are needed to be tested. Updated it's guidance on reopening the schools has had asked hospitals to report data to HHS.

The HHS hasn't that taking it away from CDC then allegedly reversing it changing guidelines in reopening churches. The confusion, do you view this as the CDC not understanding its role? Do you view this as the White House and HHS meddling too much in the business of an agency that to the degree possible? There is always some politics but to the degree possible should be left out of that?

DR. SHAHPAR: Yes. I think science should not be influenced by politics. Science is based on evidence and what does the evidence show? I think when we look to CDC, when I go on the CDC website, when I want to hear from CDC officials, I'm looking for the scientific answer based on the best evidence.

And when it's influenced by politics that becomes extremely problematic and then when I hear messages I'm not sure who is really behind the messages and that can damage things like trust and we need trust right now for things like vaccine once it's rolled out.

KING: Dr. Shahpar, as always, grateful for your expertise and insights and will continue this conversation. Thank you, sir.

DR. SHAHPAR: Thank you.

KING: Up next for us, the Attorney General Bill Barr compares lockdowns to slavery and his subordinates at the Justice Department to preschoolers.

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[12:15:00]

KING: Simply remarkable speech from the Attorney General last night, in it Bill Barr painted the Coronavirus lockdowns as a historic abuse of civil liberties only short he said of slavery. He also delivered a singular message. Barr answers to the president and no one else. His take on being in charge of the Justice Department also included a comparison of career junior prosecutors to preschoolers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Name one successful organization or institution where the lowest level employees' decisions are deemed sacrosanct. They aren't. There aren't any. Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good idea for a preschool but no way to run a federal agency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joining me now is Donald Ayers. And Mr. Ayer was the Deputy Attorney General under George H.W. Bush and knows Bill Barr from those days in the first Bush Administration. Mr. Ayer, it is great to see you today.

When you hear the Attorney General who's the leader of a large, very important organization spread out across the United States, essentially compare the career people to preschoolers, they're Montessori students, I'm the principal. I make the calls around here. What did you think of that?

DONALD AYER, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, I was frankly appalled although I really wasn't surprised and the reason is that Bill Barr has for most of this year since the turn of the year and became the election year really signed up personally and brought his powers as Attorney General to the task of getting President Bush - excuse me, President Trump re-elected.

And so he is doing and saying shocking things in many, many ways and that particular regard he is essentially trying to justify the interference that we have all heard about, the interference in the cases of Stone and Flynn and so many other things that he's done by making a completely outlandish claim.

In fact, another thing he said is essentially that prosecutors are "Head Hunters" which is utter and complete nonsense. But the key point and you can go on at great length in many, many areas is that Barr is probably Trump's strongest campaign spokesman.

And he here is doing exactly that, trying to appeal to the base, the folks who don't want to wear masks, the folks they hope will be suspicious of may recall-in voting, the list goes on and on of things he's saying and last night's performance was a total piece of that picture.

KING: And part of it is an assault on his own department and as you know many of the career people work over several administrations, many could make more money in the private sector as attorneys. They do this out of public service. Listen to this part of the assault here and there is no question here. He doesn't say the words but this is about the Mueller investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARR: Our prosecutors have all too often inserted themselves into the political process based on the flimsiest legal theories. We have seen this time and time again with prosecutors bringing ill conceived the charges against prominent political figures or launching debilitating investigations that thrust the Department of Justice into the middle of the political process and preempt the ability of the people to decide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If the people - Rod Rosenstein, who was the Deputy Attorney General who - everything Bob Mueller did. Who was a Trump appointee, who was a Republican who is also a career Justice Department official, who cares about law and order?

Bob Mueller, a Former FBI Director, a Former U.S. Attorney in both San Francisco and in Boston, you can disagree if you want and Bill Barr clearly does with your decisions. But he mocks them in denigrating ways here.

AYER: Well, that's right. This is factually complete garbage, OK? I mean, he is saying these things. One of the things that he's taken to doing more and more lately is he is projecting on to other people precisely the things that he himself is doing. He is a really good practitioner of the horrendous big lie technique that Joseph Garble pursued for Adolf Hitler where if you tell a big enough lie and then maybe people will believe it because they can't believe you would tell a lie that big.

So what we have got here is Bill Barr purporting to be the one who's trying to deliver us from uneven handed justice, trying to protect you know this same speech goes on earlier on at great length about the need to protect the rule of law.

[12:20:00]

AYER: He even quoted a famous speech by Justice Jackson from 1940 when Jackson was the Attorney General where I've actually quoted this speech myself where Jackson talks about the extraordinary powers of the United States prosecutors and their ability to abuse people by unfair treatment.

Well, I have quoted it precisely because that is exactly what Bill Barr is threatening to do now. And the uneven handed way that he has applied the law with Stone and Flynn and others is one of the greatest abuses of those powers and he here is claiming the mantle.

He keeps talking about how he is going to protect and save the rule of law and even-handed justice and that's what this speech really is about. Essentially he is saying well, I as the Attorney General have all the power and I need to override the young prosecutors who are head hunters and out for scalps and all those kind of nonsense when in fact he is the perpetrator.

He is the one we don't trust. He is the person who you have to look at and say what in the name of God is he going to do in connection with this Durham investigation which by the way shouldn't even exist.

It is redundant largely of the Mueller report, of the Horowitz IG Report and indeed of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation. Anyway Barr is accusing other people of doing what he's done and it is getting very scary because we're getting close to the election and the abuses that he's going to perpetrate in the next month and a half we're all sitting here and waiting and wondering what he is going to do?

KING: Those are very strong words, Garble's comparison to obviously the - days in Germany. You're worried about something between now and the election. It is important for me to continue the conversation because of your prospective.

You know him from the George H.W. Bush Administration. You are watching him play out now and I just want to Jody Hunt is a Former Trump Assistant Attorney General. He is served with Bill Barr in this administration. He left a couple of months back.

He tweeted this last night. Not accurate to suggest that career officials are less experienced than political appointees. Many supervisors are career officials who often have more experience than political, and the career officials generally work hard to apply principled positions across administrations.

I raise that point because before I sat in the chair like this, I used to love to get a chance to cover the courts. And you know the hard work that these people put in. You talk about this context between now and the election.

The election could change this conversation. We might have a different Attorney General in January and we might not. What is it that you're worried about? To Mr. Hunt's point there about how the career system works? What is your take on the impact of hearing your boss the Attorney General say these things about your work?

AYER: Yes. Let me maybe make two points. One is that the system in the department, really, is a system of layered review, it is a deliberate and a careful process. Nobody gets to go off and chase scalps and do crazy things.

There's a review process and the review process does include political people. They are at the top of the process, but they have to be well intentioned political people. They have to believe in the principles of our system and of the Department of Justice that Attorney General Levy and Attorney General Bell reinstalled and made very clear after Watergate.

And that is above all else we in the department bend over backwards to make sure that we are being fair to people. So the process is one that properly involves multiple layers of career people and a layer or so at the top of the political people.

And the idea that there's some craziness going on down among the career people as Jody Hunt points out is utter and complete nonsense. Now what I'm afraid of, you know, and I think a lot of people are afraid and wondering, you know, is mainly - well, there's a lot of possibilities.

But the biggest single thing that a lot of people have been talking about is this report that he's gotten John Durham, a career prosecutor, to take over for him and it has been going on for a couple of years.

As I said before I think it's utterly redundant of other investigations that have been done. But it has been dangling for months and Barr has been personally dangling it by making public comments, comments by the way that are utterly incompletely inconsistent with explicit rules of the department that say that we in the department don't talk about ongoing investigations.

We don't even disclose them generally. And we don't talk about what we're finding. Well, Barr has been talking for months that what went on under the FBI investigation of Russian interference was as he put it long ago and he has repeated this in various terms.

The greatest travesty or maybe he said one of the greatest travesties in the history of the United States and he has talked about the FBI spying on the president and spying on the president's campaign and all of this kind of stuff. [12:25:00]

AYER: So he keeps saying now in many, many interviews, mostly with Fox News but others as well that he's very hopeful that we're going to have action and we're going to have enforcement and we're going to have - perhaps we're going to have indictments.

And he hopes that will be before the election. And he says that's OK even though the department has a general policy to avoid impacting elections nonetheless Barr wants us all to think that something is probably going to happen before the election.

Now a lot of your viewers may recall and be aware that a prominent person in that investigation Nora Dannehy, a longtime Associate and aside to John Durham himself who has been there. I think the number two person on that investigation - she just quit the department a few days ago.

And she hasn't made a public statement, but a lot of people think it's because she thinks she is leaned on and this is going in the wrong direction. Now I don't know what's going to happen and I don't know why she resigned?

But you can see the clouds that are forming and that we know for sure because he tells us about every week that Barr wants this to be something, we're all very worried about. And then I think he's very much hoping that he will have some trash to announce within the next month or so that will hopefully impact the election. One last thing I want to say about that is that--

KING: Quickly, please.

AYER: Barr is really on a mission. Barr is on a mission to install the president as an autocrat and we could another long talk about all the things he's done in order to do that. But the one thing he knows is that that project of his which he's believed in for 35, 40 years.

That one's going into the garbage if Trump doesn't get re-elected. So Barr is working full-time to get Donald Trump re-elected president and using all the resources he can muster of the Department of Justice in order to do that.

KING: Mr. Ayer, I appreciate your insights and experience at the Justice Department. I hope what you're saying turns out not to be true, but I certainly understand the concerns and fears. And we will keep in touch as we go from now through the election. I appreciate your time today, sir, very much.

Coming up for us, Joe Biden has a big town hall tonight in Pennsylvania. How is he preparing to take questions from voters?

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