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Trump Claims CDC Chief "Confused" on Masks, Vaccine; Biden: Politics Cannot Interfere with Vaccine Research; Officials Considered Using Heat Ray on Protesters; Barr Compares Justice Department Staff to Preschoolers; Hurricane Sally Weakens But Still Dropping Torrential Rain; Smoke From U.S. West Coast Wildfires Reaches Europe. Aired 4- 4:30a ET

Aired September 17, 2020 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, President Trump goes after the head of the CDC over coronavirus masks and vaccines.

U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr ignites new controversies as he talks about a national virus lockdown and compares members of his own Justice Department to preschoolers.

And hurricane Sally has left its mark on parts of the Gulf Coast. We have the latest as it heads inland.

Good to have you with us. The U.S. President is once again in a public dispute with America's top health experts over the coronavirus pandemic. This time the issue was over masks and vaccines. After the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testified to Congress on Wednesday, President Trump immediately accused him of being confused and mistaken. Here's what Dr. Robert Redfield told lawmakers about the timeline for a vaccine.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, U.S. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: I think there will be vaccine that will initially be available sometime between November and December but very limited supply and will have to be prioritized. 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 the vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.


CHURCH: Well, that was not what the President wanted to hear.

(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. And I called him, and he didn't tell me that and I think he got the message maybe confused. I saw the statement, I called him, I said, what did you mean by that? And I think he just made a mistake.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You had the call and you said that you told him that he had made a mistake. What was his response?

TRUMP: No, I didn't tell him anything. I said what happened? And I got the impression he didn't realize he said what he might have said. I didn't see him say it.


CHURCH: The CDC later backed up the President saying in today's hearing Dr. Redfield was answering a question he thought was in regard to the time period in which all-Americans would have completed their COVID vaccination and his estimate was by the second or third quarter of 2021. He was not referring to the time period when COVID-19 vaccine doses would be made available to all-Americans. Well, then there was the CDC director's endorsement of facemasks. Take a listen.


REDFIELD: We have clear scientific evidence they work, and they are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this facemask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take the COVID vaccine.


CHURCH: And, again, President Trump was having none of it.


TRUMP: I called him about that, those were the two things I discussed with him. And I believe that if you ask him, he would probably say that he didn't understand the question and because I said to him -- I asked him those two questions. The one question which we covered and the mask question. When I called up Robert today, I said to him, what's with the mask? He said, I think I answered that question incorrectly. I think maybe he had misunderstood it.


CHURCH: And afterwards, Dr. Redfield issued this statement.

I 100 percent believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a COVID-19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life. The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds. Well meantime, the President's Democratic rival is expressing concerns

at the approval process of a potential vaccine could be politicized, and while outlining his own vaccine distribution plan Biden says he will follow the science and that the process cannot be rushed.



JOE BIDEN, U.S. DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We can't allow politics to interfere with the vaccine in any way. Americans have had to endure President Trump's incompetence and dishonesty when it comes to testing and personal protective equipment. We can't afford to repeat those fiascos. When it comes to a vaccine when it occurs. The stakes are too high. American families have already suffered and sacrificed too much. So, let me be clear, I trust vaccines. I trust scientists, but I don't trust Donald Trump.


CHURCH: And the jarring disconnect between President Trump and the medical experts over the pandemic is bound to cause a lot of unnecessary confusion. Earlier I spoke about this with Dr. Carlos Del Rio of the Emory University Medical School here in Atlanta. He said the President is just plain wrong. Take a listen.


DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: First of all, I'm very happy that Dr. Redfield spoke the truth. Masks are like a vaccine. We have them right now and if we use them appropriately, if 95 percent or more of Americans were using masks, we would be able to stop this virus. In fact, once we have a vaccine, we're still going to use the masks for quite a while because a vaccine is not going to be rolled out immediately. So, Dr. Redfield is wrong, and President Trump is unfortunately wrong. Dr. Redfield was right.

CHURCH: Right, exactly. So, Dr. Redfield also said only a limited supply of any approved vaccine would be available between November and December and that would need to be prioritized. And he said the general public wouldn't get access to the vaccine until mid-next year. Now Mr. Trump did not like that answer. Again, he disputed his CDC director and said he got it wrong. What do you say to that?

DEL RIO: I say, again, Dr. Redfield is absolutely right. We are going to start probably -- if everything goes well by November, December, we'll have limited supplies of vaccine. But the reality as for the general public to have access to vaccine, it will be middle of next year t0, you know, third quarter of next year. And that's why I frequently tell people the vaccine is not like a switch. It's not like they're going to turn the lights on, and everything will be done. It's going be more like opening a faucet slowly and with a drip. It will take a long time to get enough vaccine into people and that's why we need to start using a mask. Again, Dr. Redfield is right, and Mr. Trump is wrong. CHURCH: And the White House says that within 24 hours of any FDA

vaccine approval they will begin distributing doses. How possible is that? And will enough people trust this vaccine and take it?

DEL RIO: Well, you know, the distribution of vaccines is very complicated and it's particularly complicated in a vaccine like this one because as far as I'm aware, all of the vaccines require a refrigerator, many of them require freezing. So, you need to have enough of a freezer capability. Many of those vaccines require two doses. So, it's not just getting one dose but getting a second dose. So, it's not an easy issue to roll out the vaccine.

And in addition to that, you have the issue that you mentioned, have the issue of trust. You have the issue of people willing to come in and get the vaccine. So, it's not going to be easy. I can guarantee that you we'll struggle quite a bit to get this vaccine rolled out to people that need it the most. Which are primarily people, you know, minorities and people in the inner cities, and people that are poor. It's going to be hard to get the vaccine to everybody that needs it. It's going to take some time.


CHURCH: Well, you might remember the scenes of chaos back in June. Officials scrambling to clear peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors from a park near the White House. Now we are learning federal officials asked about using a heat ray on the crowds and that is according to written testimony from an Army National Guard major. A heat ray causes a burning sensation on the skin. One was not ultimately used, but as a CNN national security analyst tell us, the very request was highly unusual.


JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, it's called ADS. It's called the Active Denial System. It's just a way of emitting sort of just waves, right, that essentially sort of burn your skin, right. So, it sounds bad. It is bad. In fact, it's so bad that the military has never really truly adopted it. Both for practical reasons, it doesn't always work but also for basically, ethical reasons to be used against a crowd.

So, what we know from the story is, at least there's one email coming from the federal government, meaning the White House and DOD essentially, to the D.C. local National Guard. It's sort of a complicated governance system. Asking if they had access to an ADS system.


The very request is outlandish but shows you the mind space of a White House that was willing to do anything to clear that plaza.


CHURCH: Well meantime, U.S. Attorney General William Barr is coming under fire for comments he made comparing coronavirus lockdowns to slavery. During a college event Barr was asked about the constitutional hurdles involved in imposing measures to restrict the spread of the virus, and this is part of what he had to say.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, putting a national lockdown stay at home orders is like house arrest. It's that it's other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.


CHURCH: And at the same event Barr took aim at his own Justice Department employees. He slammed junior prosecutors working in his department and compared them to children. Take a listen.


BARR: 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.


CHURCH: So, let's bring in CNN legal analyst Areva Martin. She joins me live from Los Angeles. Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: Areva, Attorney General Bill Barr equating a nationwide coronavirus lockdown with slavery in this country. What's your reaction to that?

MARTIN: It's a pretty outrageous statement and really shows the ignorance of this Attorney General to even equate a health order, something designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus and to save tens of thousands of lives, to compare that to slavery is really an outrageous statement. And it just goes to show how far this Attorney General and his office will go to support the policies of this President. Even at the extent of offending, you know, millions of African-Americans who are -- you know, who bear the legacy of slavery in this country.

And it also shows his insensitivity about this moment that the country is in in terms of reckoning around systemic racism. So, at a time when most of America is coming to the realization that systemic racism still plagues this country and trying to find ways to resolve those issues and to work towards anti-racism policies, he sets that movement and those discussions back by making this really gross comparison, the lockdown done to save lives with slavery, which we know actually, you know, took thousands of lives from African-Americans. So, a really outrageous statement. CHURCH: Yes, and Barr's comments about slavery came just minutes after

he slammed hundreds of Justice Department prosecutors calling them preschoolers as he defended his own politically charged decision making in the Trump administration. What did you make of that? And what's he trying to achieve by saying that?

MARTIN: Again, he has made his support of Donald Trump -- he's made his efforts in terms of political patronage more important than a commitment to the rule of law. By intervening in the Roger Stone case as it relates to the sentencing for Roger Stone. Intervening in the Michael Flynn case, efforts to have that case dismissed even though Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI. And even going so far as to want to intervene in the civil defamation case against Donald Trump involving allegations of sexual assault.

At every point, this attorney general is acting more like the personal lawyer for Donald Trump rather than the attorney for the United States of America. And rather than upholding his commitment to the rule of law and to the Constitution. Again, inserting himself as if he's a political operative and really making the Justice Department, the United States Justice Department another branch of Donald Trump's campaign for reelection.

CHURCH: Yes, I mean, as you've said, we've seen Barr take a much more aggressive stance defending Trump administration policies in recent weeks. Criticizing state governors for their response to COVID-19, undermining mail-in voting, and attacking the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Have you ever seen this level of political interference from a U.S. Attorney General?

MARTIN: Absolutely not. There's absolutely no precedent for the kind of conduct that Bill Barr has engaged in. And when you talk about being critical of governors, again, it's all very partisan, Rosemary. He's not critical of governors in Texas, governors in Florida who are Republican governors who have seen some of the highest death rates as it relates to COVID-19, it's all of his attacks are targeted at states where the governors are Democratic.


And we also have learned that he even has asked his Justice Department to look into possible criminal charges against the Democratic mayor of Seattle in terms of how she handles certain protests that went on in that city. So, again, it's attack Democratic governors, attack Democratic cities while at the same time offering support for, you know, red states and Republican-run states. Again, suggesting and acting as if the country is divided and he's only the Attorney General for those states that support Donald Trump and the policies of Donald Trump rather than being the Attorney General for all of the United States.

CHURCH: Areva Martin in Los Angeles, many thanks.

MARTIN: Thank you.

CHURCH: Historic and catastrophic flooding left behind by hurricane Sally. The storm has now weakened but it still poses a flooding threat. We will have the latest on its path of destruction. Back in a moment.



CHURCH: More than 530,000 people will be starting their day without electricity after the storm formally known as hurricane Sally swept through. At this hour, Sally once a category 2 hurricane, is a tropical depression moving farther inland across the state of Georgia. The storm has left behind damaged homes, flooded streets and knocked down trees after making landfall Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama. Sally continues to drop heavy rain and with that comes the threat of flooding. High water already seen in Alabama and in the Florida panhandle. The fire chief in Pensacola, Florida, says the city saw four months of rain in just four hours.

And CNN's Gary Tuchman was in Pensacola Beach when Sally came ashore. He gives us a look now at the destruction it left behind.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here on this barrier island of Pensacola Beach, Florida, hurricane Sally brought hurricane force winds for much of Wednesday morning. Tropical storm force winds from Tuesday night into Wednesday afternoon. But the winds weren't the story of this hurricane. The winds were scary, but it was the rain. Torrential rain, buckets of rain that I counted for 23 straight hours without letup. And it caused immense flooding problems on Pensacola Beach, other parts of the Florida panhandle and the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Thousands of businesses and homes suffered flood damage. Like here, the Bimini Beach Bar now with flood damage. And next door, the Paris Sailing Wave Runners business, a restaurant, flood damage. And we see this all around the region.

Rescues were taking place today. Emergency officials in Alabama and here in Florida rescuing people who were surrounded by water in their homes, where they sought shelter during the storm. About 400 rescues took place.

I can also tell you about an accident that happened. There is a bridge to get from here to Pensacola Beach to the city of Pensacola, which is much bigger, you have to take a bridge called the Three Mile Bridge. Well, that Three Mile Bridge was damaged by a barge that got loose, maybe two barges. We're not sure. But either one or two barges hit the bridge, caused damage. That bridge is now closed. It could be closed for months. And that is the only way to get there quickly to Pensacola the city that this named after, Pensacola Beach. It's now a much longer ride to get there. So that gives you the idea of the damage that can be caused by immense storm.

There is concern there'll be more flooding tomorrow, on Thursday. And because of that -- because of that concern there is a curfew in place in this county, Escambia County, Florida, from dusk to dawn for the next three days.

This is Gary Tuchman, CNN, in Pensacola Beach, Florida.


CHURCH: And meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins me now with the latest on Sally -- Pedram.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Rosemary, you know, the flooding concerns of course are going to continue because a lot of this water upstream is eventually going to want to drain back into the Gulf of Mexico. You notice this particular storm still a slow mover now across the state of Georgia. Tropical depression Sally, 35 mile per hour sustained winds only moving at 9 miles per hour. An average tropical storm system moves around 25 to 28 miles an hour.

So really speaks to how slow this particular storm is here and it still as it moves over land and the amount of rainfall of course really translated well with all of this. Because up to 24 plus inches coming down in Pensacola. Other areas along the Coast, 10, 15, nearly 20 inches as well.

Power outages, exceeding about 600,000 customers at this hour. And the concern always remains the fact that is was peak tropical season. Look offshore, we've got seven disturbing systems.

We've had of course a couple areas of interest, one off the coast of Africa with a 60 percent possibility. It's vying for the W and the final letter of the 21 storm names we have available to us, that will be Wilfred. And then there's also a secondary area of interest with a higher probability of formation within the next week. That's in the Gulf of Mexico.

This particular run here, the models really shows you what we have ahead of us. Because water temperatures into the lower 90s. Keep in mind the lower 80s are all you need to allow a storm to develop a tropical system. And at this point, very early in the game so a lot of disparity between where this system will end up within the next few days. But general consensus is at least going to make an initial trek towards the north. And, Rosemary, you know exactly where that ends up right along the Coast of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. So, we're going to watch this story for the next few days.

CHURCH: And we know you shall. Thank you so much. Pedram Javaheri joining us there.

Well, firefighters are making some progress in battling the huge wildfires in California and much of the Western U.S. And scientists say vast amounts of smoke from these flames have now reached northern Europe. The agency in charge of wildfire management says the number of active fires in the Western U.S. has gone down from 87 to 79 and that California continues to have the most fires at 22. Officials in Oregon say at least eight people have been killed and 12 are missing. CNN's Martin Savidge has an update.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) [04:25:00]

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're on the outskirts of Lions, Oregon, it's about an hour and a half south of Portland, Oregon. It's a community where the Beachy Creek fire roared through a little over a week ago. And this is just an example of some of what it did.

You can tell that the fire that burned through here was fierce and just had incredible power. Just look at the trees, the way they didn't just burn, they exploded. And then if you try to look at the house and get an idea what it looked like, there's really no way. There's just sort of the chimney sticking out of the ruins and everything else is completely gone.

You can come on over in this direction and you can see the vehicles that were there. So, you'd recognize those. But otherwise, many people often say when they come back into a fire zone, they don't recognize their own home because everything has been consumed. Unlike a flood where once the waters recede, it pretty much looks the same.

And the fire didn't burn the same everywhere. Here you can tell it crept along the ground by the sign not burned at the top. You can see that the fire burned at the base until it got so weak the sign just toppled on over. And that's another example of how these fires can burn so oddly. And this is really an example of that. The house directly across the street, which looks perfect, right down to the manicured yard.

So how do you explain it? You can't. And the woman who lives here who I've talked to has extreme survivor's guilt. She was in tears when she was talking about how lucky she is and how she knows her neighbors have lost so much. There are 29 fires like this burning still in Oregon.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Lions, Oregon.


CHURCH: One of the most revered and respected science publications is breaking with tradition. After 175 years of staying out of politics, "Scientific American" is endorsing a presidential candidate. We will tell you who that is and what led to the decision.