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Trump Rails Against Foes at National Archives; Trump Administration Requested Heat Ray to Clear D.C. Protest?; Trump Continues Contradicting Health Officials on COVID-19. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 15:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And our special coverage continues now with Brooke Baldwin.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Brianna, thank you so much.

Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN on this Thursday. Thank you for being here.

We begin this hour with more evidence of the federal government's confused and chaotic messaging on the coronavirus pandemic. During congressional testimony on Wednesday, you had the CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, saying that wearing a mask may be more effective against the virus than any potential vaccine.

He also testified that the vaccine would not be widely available until next summer. Fast-forward to just a couple hours later. President Trump undercut Redfield, saying that the CDC director was confused or misunderstood the question.

He also offered up a completely different timeline for when a vaccine could be ready. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he made a mistake when he said that. It's just incorrect information. And I called him. And he didn't tell me that.

And I think he got the message, maybe confused. Maybe it was stated incorrectly. No, we're ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced, and it could be announced in October. Could be announced a little bit after October.

But, once we go, we're ready.


BALDWIN: Now, President Trump's continued undermining of his own senior health officials comes as the United States get ready to cross the unbearably grim milestone of 200,000 COVID deaths.

As of today, the virus has killed more than 197,000 Americans, and nearly half of all states are seeing an increase in new cases just over this past week, with five states seeing increases of more than 50 percent.

And here's a sign that the confusing messaging is really having an impact on the public. A new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that just 51 percent of U.S. adults say that they would definitely or probably get a COVID vaccine if it were available today. That is down from 72 percent just in May.

So let's get straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He is at the White House for us this afternoon.

And, Jim, it's like Groundhog Day. I mean, we hear the president repeatedly slapping down his own public health officials, Dr. Redfield here, case in point, when it comes to masks and vaccines.

Do you have any indication that Dr. Redfield will consider resigning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, it is getting crowded under the president's bus, with all these top scientists being thrown under it.

But I will tell you, I tried to ask the president this during a brief Oval Office photo opportunity a short while ago. He didn't answer the question.

But my sense of it, Brooke, talking to my sources here at the White House, inside the task force, inside the administration is that right now it does not look like Dr. Redfield is going to be shown the door. They're certainly frustrated with him.

And talking to a couple of sources, there are some wishes that Dr. Redfield had not mixed the subjects of masks with vaccinations. Those are sort of two different things.

But there's also a general understanding that what Dr. Redfield was trying to say is that, while we're all waiting for a vaccine to be developed and put out in a mass market way to Americans all over the country, that you need something to protect you in the meantime, and a mask does that.

Now, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, was talking to reporters earlier this morning. And he sort of shrugged off these contradictory statements between the president and Dr. Redfield and said, you're going to get contradictory statements all the time.

But you sort of have to throw the penalty flag a little bit on that comment, Brooke, because, during a pandemic, one would think, six months into all of this, that the White House, its task force, its top scientists would not have contradictory, mixed messages, that they would at least be on the same page on issues like vaccinations and masks. And the simple fact of the matter is, they're just not at this point, Brooke, and it doesn't seem to be the case they will ever get on the same page, because you have the president really advancing an election timeline.

He wants to see a vaccine come out, or at least be approved before the election, so we have something to hold up to the voters. And you hear from people like Dr. Fauci, Dr. Redfield, and so on, saying, listen, that timeline is unpredictable. Don't bet on that. Think more in terms of having the public fully vaccinated sometime next year, so we can get this pandemic under control.

But, obviously, as you know, Brooke, the president is looking at this from a reelection standpoint, through a reelection lens. And his scientists simply are not. They will be here whether or not the president gets reelected or not.

BALDWIN: They're maybe looking at it, looking into the fall and the winter and flu season. But, as you point out, the president knows, the election comes first.

ACOSTA: That's right.

BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, thank you for that.

ACOSTA: You bet.

BALDWIN: Let's go now to Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, internal medicine and viral specialist.

And, Dr. Rodriguez, let's go through some of what Jim was just hitting on you.

It was bad enough that the president himself didn't wear a mask in public, but this is going further. Here he is. He's basically telling the American people that masks don't work.


How dangerous is this?

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, INTERNIST: Well, that's very dangerous, because he is setting an example.

And, unfortunately, it's not just an example. It is a weaponization of that opinion. We have people that are protesting, going into public stores not wearing masks. So, he leads by example, and the example is a wrong example.

We now know that masks definitely play a big role in preventing the spread of this infection. So, he needs to lead by example.

BALDWIN: Well, you also just heard Jim talking about Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, also sort of shrugging it off. It's not just the president. It's Meadows saying that masks aren't designed to -- quote -- "make sure that we don't have the coronavirus spread," which is the exact opposite of what we heard from Dr. Redfield just yesterday, when he said -- and I quote -- "This face mask is more guaranteed to protect me COVID then when I take a COVID vaccine."


BALDWIN: We're about to hit flu season. We're about to hit flu season, right?


BALDWIN: It's about to get worse.


BALDWIN: So where does this leave the American people?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, where it leaves the American people is that, first of all, what Redfield was saying is that we don't know how effective a vaccine is going to be, if a vaccine comes out at all.

It probably will. So what he's saying is, listen, we have a vaccine that might be 70 percent effective. If -- that's one thing; 40 percent of the American population may be taking it. That's a second thing, which means that we're not going to get the protection that we think that we were going to be.

It's not a silver bullet. And here's this mask, all right? So don't think that you can throw this away just because there's a vaccine. I think that's what he was trying to get at.

So I really think that we're going to be wearing masks, those of us that are cautious and considerate of other people, probably for a year or more to come. That's where it leads us.

And a perfect storm of both the flu and COVID is very likely to hit come November and December. So, we cannot leave our guard down. That's the big message.

BALDWIN: Let me ask you about something else we heard from President Trump. He was talking about the death toll in this country.

So listen to this.


TRUMP: If we do a really good job, we'll be at about a hundred and -- 100,000 to 240,000 deaths. And we're below that substantially, and we'll see what comes out. But that would be if we did the good job. If the not-so-good job was done, you'd be between 1.5 million -- I remember these numbers so well -- and 2.2 million. That's quite a difference.

So we're down in this territory. And that's despite the fact that the blue states had tremendous death rates. If you take the blue states out, we're at a level that I don't think anybody in the world would be at. We're really at a very low level. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: You hear him there doubling down on the blue states.


BALDWIN: And, Dr. Rodriguez, I had a woman on this week who sent me a photo of the urn containing her late husband's remains.

RODRIGUEZ: I saw it.

BALDWIN: I will never, ever forget this. So he is now one of the almost 200,000 Americans killed by COVID.


BALDWIN: What do you make of the president so blatantly politicizing these dead Americans?

RODRIGUEZ: You know what, I think it's disturbing, at best, disgusting in other words.

First of all, blue state, red state, we're all states. This is the United, the United States of America. So, to cause division from the onset is horrible.

First of all, it's not a numbers game, all right? It isn't about 2,000 deaths or a million deaths. It's about 2,000 people who have died, 2,000 brothers, sisters, wives, sons. And talking about it in that analytical form is kind of repulsive, to be honest.

So, are we doing a good job? There's nothing to compare it. Could we be doing a better job? Absolutely. So, I think thinking about this as blue or red, them and us is going to make this pandemic even worse.

There are no divisions, because the virus does not care where you live. All right? It is the most unbigoted killer that we have. So, we need to stop thinking in those terms. And we need to stop thinking about numbers.

And like you said, to that lady, she doesn't care if it's a million people -- or, rather, 200,000 people. Her husband is the only person that mattered to her, and he died.

BALDWIN: Right. And she said to me, to know that the president, as we heard on the Bob Woodward tapes, knew how bad it was, and didn't tell us, is pretty nefarious.


BALDWIN: Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, thank you.


RODRIGUEZ: Thank you. Have a good day. BALDWIN: Coming up: the attorney general, Bill Barr, under fire today for comparing coronavirus lockdowns to slavery, and, his subordinates, calling them preschoolers.

We will play it for you. You can hear it for yourself.

Also ahead: Universities across the country are struggling to contain COVID outbreaks on campus. But that is not stopping more college football conferences from returning to play. Is it safe? We will discuss.

And Hurricane Sally's aftermath is causing chaos for hundreds of thousands of Americans there in the Southeast. We will take you there.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: We're back. This is CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

In a startling speech to a college tied to conservative politics, the attorney general, Bill Barr, is unleashing on the rank and file at the Department of Justice, accusing them of being -- quote -- "headhunters obsessed with taking down high-profile targets and not pursuing actual crimes," while claiming that the Black Lives Matter movement is only interested in using people as props.


But Barr's stunning comments don't stop there.


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 philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it is no way to run a federal agency.

These people are agents of the attorney general. And, as I say to FBI agents, whose agent do you think you are?

Putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders is like house arrest. It's the -- it's the -- it's -- other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.


BALDWIN: And in a recent call with federal prosecutors, the attorney general suggested charging violent protesters with the rarely used sedition law, which makes it a crime to conspire to overthrow the U.S. government.

That's according to a person familiar with the matter.

CNN legal analyst Elie Honig is ready and waiting in the wings to talk about this.

Listen, I know there were several things that Bill Barr said that you call dangerous and outrageous. And we will we will go through those in specifics.

But before we just dive into that, Elie, this is the top law enforcement official of the United States. And people at home may be pretty shocked by the attorney general's words.

But you, sir, are a former federal prosecutor, a former assistant U.S. attorney. Tell me, from -- just from that point of view, what you're thinking when you listen to him.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Brooke, my first reaction is, this is a disgrace.

I don't necessarily speak on behalf of all DOJ alums, but I would bet a great number agree with me. The two things that DOJ has, its credibility and its independence. Bill Barr, I believe, has trashed that since his first day on the job, and he's just getting worse. He's getting more political. He's getting more outrageous as we get closer and closer to the election.

BALDWIN: Let's go through some of the attorney general's remarks, specifically, his comparison of the COVID lockdown meant to stop the spread of a fatal pandemic with slavery.

HONIG: Yes, Brooke, that is just an irresponsible and ignorant thing for anybody to say, never mind the attorney general of the United States, to draw any comparison between coronavirus restriction and regulation and slavery.

I mean, on the one hand, you have a series of regulations that impose some restrictions on day-to-day life developed by doctors and scientists to get ahold of a global pandemic. On the other hand, you have the greatest sin in the history of this nation.

It shows you just how low Bill Barr is willing to go, just how outrageous things he's willing to say in order to prop up, really, the president's political talking points.

BALDWIN: You and I have also talked about how he's inserted himself in DOJ cases, and he defended his intervention, these cases led by junior staffers.

But you note that he's never tried a case in his life?

HONIG: Yes, that's absolutely true, Brooke.

I mean, how outrageous is it for this guy who's never tried a case to demean, belittle, infantilize the non-political career prosecutors, law enforcement agents, paralegals who work at the Justice Department, who fight these cases out in the trenches every day. And for Bill Barr to say it's like a Montessori school is really just ridiculous.

The other thing that Bill Barr does there -- and it's classic Bill Barr -- it shows how flawed his argumentative technique is, because he starts with an uncontroversial statement, which is: I'm the attorney general. I have the power to intervene in DOJ cases.

Sure, no doubt. But he doesn't address the problem, which is, he's exercising that power only in baldly political ways. DOJ charges about 60,000 cases a year. Which two has Bill Barr come down from his perch and gotten himself involved in? Roger Stone and Michael Flynn. That's not a cosmic coincidence. That's politics.

BALDWIN: So, if you're on the job, you're part of the rank and file at DOJ, what does this -- seriously, what does this do to morale? And what is the incentive to continue working or even fully prosecute cases that you know will make the big boss angry or invite him to intervene?


It's terrible for morale. But I want to say this. Having served in DOJ for eight years, four years under the Republican Party, four years under the Democratic Party, the men and women at DOJ will continue to do their job.

We used to say at the SDNY, just do your job. I think it's from a movie or something. They will all just do their jobs without fear or favor, without passion or prejudice.

And I think what animates the people who work the line in DOJ in the trenches is the knowledge that most of them were there before this administration. Most of them will be there after this administration, and hopefully be there when DOJ rehabilitate itself and gets back to its proper standing.

BALDWIN: Elie Honig on fire today, and understandably so.



BALDWIN: Thank you, my friend. Good to see you for all of that.

HONIG: Thanks, Brooke. All right, you too.

BALDWIN: Let's go back now to June.

And in order to facilitate a photo-op for President Trump at a local D.C. church, Attorney General Barr personally ordered authorities to clear protesters gathered nearby the White House in Lafayette Park.

You remember this, the show of force that followed sparking condemnation, as batons and gas canisters were used on those gathered. And now CNN has learned that the Trump administration wanted to go even further, with some officials looking into getting a heat ray that makes skin feel like it's burning for those protesters. CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju was up on the Hill

for us.

And so, Manu, this was all part of a -- the revelation was part of this written testimony provided to a House committee by an Army National Guard major who said that he was one of the senior National Guard officials there on the scene. What more can you tell us?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this investigation is being carried out by a House committee looking into exactly what went down.

And this individual, Major Adam DeMarco, provided this written testimony, so essentially sworn testimony. If you lie to Congress, that's a felony.

What he said in this written remarks to this House committee is that a federal official, a military police officer inquired, made an official inquiry to see whether there was even more powerful weaponry that could be used to clear out protesters, including a loud sound cannon and what he says is a device that -- quote -- "causes targets to feel an unbearable heating sensation."

That is a heat ray, a non-lethal heat ray. But just part of Mr. DeMarco's testimony says that this type of system can immediately compel an individual to cease threatening behavior or depart through application of a directed energy beam that provides a sensation of intense heat on surface of the skin. He calls that all overwhelming.

Now, the Defense Department is contending that these kind of inquiries were made just to essentially see what different things were available. That's not how the attorney of Mr. DeMarco characterizes this, said it was an official inquiry.

Now, on top of that, this testimony also says there were approximately 7,000 rounds of live ammunition that had been stockpiled in preparation for a clash that led to the clearing out of those protesters and to the president to walk across outside of the White House through Lafayette Square to that church, holding up that Bible for that photo-op.

So, Brooke, Republicans are criticizing this individual because he had previously run for a House seat on the Democratic side. But, nevertheless, this is written testimony, written remarks provided essentially under oath, and this is something that the Democrats say they're going to continue to investigate in the weeks ahead.

BALDWIN: Yes. Now it's all coming out.

Manu Raju, thank you for the update there.

Still ahead here on CNN: Coronavirus outbreaks are spiking on college campuses across the country.

How schools are trying to contain the COVID clusters and stay open.



BALDWIN: President Trump just wrapped up a fiery speech at the National Archives in Washington. He apparently went off on a variety of topics, including protesters, whom he referred to as radical mobs. He talked about the so-called cancel culture and "The New York Times"' Nikole Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project, which is designed to teach children about slavery.

So, let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, with more on what exactly the president said -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Well, Brooke, we have seen the president turn the White House into a campaign prop. Today, he turned the National Archives into a campaign prop.

He went down there with a reelection message. And that is of divide and conquer. This was not dog-whistling. This was using a bullhorn on the issue of race. He went off, as you were just saying a few moments ago, on new efforts to teach schoolchildren about the evils of slavery, the 1619 Project, and other public education efforts.

And during his speech, he talked about how the left has launched what he called a vicious and violent assault on law enforcement. He said today that he will never submit to tyranny, and the left-wing rioting and mayhem, he says, that we're seeing in this country are the direct result of decades of what he called left-wing indoctrination in our schools.

And so, Brooke, this is just another example of the president sort of throwing out this red meat to the conservative base. And here's a bit of what he had to say just a few moments ago:


TRUMP: But, as we gather this afternoon, a radical movement is attempting to demolish this treasured and precious inheritance.

We can't let that happen. As I said at Mount Rushmore, which they would love to rip down, and rip it down fast -- but that's never going to happen.