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U.S. Treasury Secretary Pitches $916 Billion Stimulus Deal; Most of California Locks Down Again as Cases Surge; Gym Owner Adapted to Virus by Moving Business Outdoors; Whistleblower Alleges Retaliation from Florida Government; New Threats to State Officials Amid Trump's False Fraud Claims; Democratic Lawmaker Receives Death Threats After Election Fraud Hearing; China Claims COVID-19 Can Be Imported in Frozen Foods. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired December 09, 2020 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: It is the first move by the Trump administration since election day to end the standoff.

Well right now to the California where more than 2/3 of residents received emergency text alerts from the state asking them to stay-at- home and abide by new health orders. The move comes as California grapples with a massive surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations. California also reached a grim milestone on Tuesday recording more than 20,000 COVID-related deaths. It's hoped the stay- at-home orders will help reduce the number of cases.


DR. MARK GHALY, SECRETARY, CALIFORNIA HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: For California part of the reason why we went with what we know works is the stay-at-home concept is an order people can really relate to and understand. It's one of the hardest of those directions and recommendations, but it is something that is clearer than some of the different approaches where we're looking at sector to sector and giving out guidance that some call arbitrary, some feel overwhelmed and frustrated by.


CHURCH: Sandy Duvall is a small business owner and landlord. She joins me now from Sierra Madre in California. Thank you so much for being with us and for agreeing to share your story.


CHURCH: So you have felt the impact of this pandemic from both sides as a tenant paying leases for multiple businesses and as a landlord collecting rent from multiple properties. What has been the hardest part about this stay-at-home order and what are your biggest fears going forward? DUVALL: Well, you know, I'm in the fitness business for over 25 years

and I also have pet businesses. I have one in the desert in Palm Spring and then I have one here, in Sierra Madre So we've been impacted quite a bit, but also, I'm from a town which is small. Sierra Madre, which is about 13,000 people, and, you know, we owned several properties, which is probably 10, 11, 12 different units. So in saying that, not only am I owner occupied with my businesses but also, we have several small businesses that rent from us that have gone through several shutdowns also. In saying that it's -- you know, I'm here to help small businesses. Obviously, I'm an advocate for that, and we've done everything we can, waiving rents. You know, I don't know what's going to happen with the third shutdown.

CHURCH: So how are you surviving at this point? And how do you think you and your employees, and your tenants will survive right through till Christmas?

DUVALL: Well, I'm not really sure. Obviously -- here in California our outdoor gym -- which we built, you know, back in our last shutdown. We built a huge outdoor gym which was financially a lot for us. So right now we're OK with our outdoor gym. I'm not sure how that's going to play out in the next week or two. Because obviously we need to stay healthy and fit and, you know, the psychology of all of this stress with everyone. We've followed every protocol there is, but I don't know what's going to happen next.

Now as far as our tenants, we're doing everything we can. As far as the government, you know, there is no more government money. We did our PPP. We did everything that we did. But I don't know about this third round because we brought back all of my employees, which is probably over, you know, 30 employees now. I'm not sure if we're going to have to lay them off or furlough them again. And is there a PPP or any SBAs out there again for us. Because we are a substantial business. We're, you know, needed in this town. So everything is up in the air. I just feel so bad for all of these small businesses. A lot of them -- a lot of my friends have just given up and walked away.

CHURCH: It is a tough situation, isn't it? Because COVID hospitalizations, cases and deaths across California are at record levels and surging. So clearly something needs to be done or health care professionals there are going to be completely overwhelmed. So what do you think the state's governor and other leaders should be doing to deal with this pandemic? What other options do you see apart from these stay-at-home orders?

Well, believe me, I'm very -- I'm in the health business so, yes, I feel for all of these health care workers. You know, I think the mandate on, you know, masks at all times, it's a hard thing to navigate.


At our facility, it is -- you come in with a mask or you don't work out. We've really stuck to that because I do believe the science that's been out there from the beginning, from March. Now as far as the states, they're trying to, you know, subsidize and give some funds but I think there are so many businesses out there that I just don't know if this is going to work this time. They need money right now. And we don't have access to any of that right now. And then, you know, you have landlords that are knocking on their door and it's a tough thing.

CHURCH: Indeed it is. You do wonder if everyone had worn a mask from the beginning right through to this day how differently things would be right now. Sandy Duvall, thank you very much for talking with us.

DUVALL: Thank you so much.

CHURCH: A data scientist in Florida has been tracking and publishing the state's fight against the coronavirus. At times criticizing the governor for his response to the pandemic. On Monday police raided the home of Rebekah Jones seizing her phone and computers. Jones says she was fired after refusing to cook the books to make the state's COVID numbers look better. Now she and some legal experts say they are concerned the raid could expose her sources and leave them open to possible retaliation. Florida officials tell a very different story. CNN's Drew Griffin has the details.


REBEKAH JONES, DATA SCIENTIST: They have a gun out. They have a gun out.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They came with guns drawn, a camera in the hallway showing the moment Florida Department of Law enforcement officers raided Rebekah Jones's Tallahassee home.

POLICE OFFICER: Police, come down now.

GRIFFIN: All of this over an unauthorized text message allegedly sent through an internal system at the Florida Department of Health.

JONES: He just pointed a gun at my children.

GRIFFIN: The officers say Jones refused to open the door for 20 minutes. She says she was getting dressed. They did not make an arrest but seized computers and phones and thumb drives that Jones says contains evidence of corruption at the state level.

JONES: On my phone is every communication I've ever had with someone who works at this state, who has come to me in confidence and told me things that could get them fired.

GRIFFIN: A search warrant affidavit obtained by CNN says someone accessed a state emergency planning system and sent a group text to more than 1,700 recipients urging state workers to speak out before it's too late. The system uses an app called READy App, and everyone in the department just uses the same username and password.

Yet according to the warrant, investigators traced the IP address of the message to Jones's house.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Did you send that text on that system?

JONES: No. I have not had access to any systems at DOH for over six months. I'm not a hacker.

GRIFFIN: On CNN, Jones claims the raid, the investigation, was nothing more than Governor Ron DeSantis using police to shut her up.

JONES: This is just a very thinly veiled attempt of the governor to intimidate scientists and get back at me while trying to get to my sources.

GRIFFIN: A spokesman for the governor insists the governor's office had no involvement, no knowledge, no nothing of this investigation.

Jones, who helped build Florida's online coronavirus data dashboard was fired in May in what she argued was retaliation for her refusal to fudge the numbers and minimize the scale of the outbreak. E-mails obtained by CNN show Jones pushed back against instructions to limit access to raw data on the state's dashboard.

I'm not pulling our primary resource for coronavirus data because he wants to stick it to journalists, she wrote, referring to another official. State officials say she was fired back in May for insubordination and making changes to the state's COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval. Florida Governor Ron DeSanctis at the time said this.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: She was putting data on the portal which the scientists didn't believe was valid data.

GRIFFIN: Jones filed a whistleblower complaint and launched her own online dashboard of Florida coronavirus data. The website that she says was operated from one of the computers officers seized Monday.

JONES: DeSantis needs to worry less about what I am writing about and more about the people who are sick and dying in his state. And doing this to me will not stop me from reporting the data, ever.

GRIFFIN: Governor Ron DeSantis has faced stiff criticism for his handling of the virus, refusing to order shutdowns, institute mask mandates and some say, downplaying the numbers of Floridians who've become sick and die.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


CHURCH: As President Trump continues to push false election claims, some election officials are facing threats and intimidation. More details after the break.



CHURCH: As President Donald Trump continues to deny the U.S. election outcome, election officials, including many Republicans, are facing protests and death threats. CNN's Brian Todd has more on the most recent incent in Michigan.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSONS (chanting): Stop the steal.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said she felt threatened by these protesters outside her home Saturday night. Some yelling obscenities, she says, and some armed. She says it happened while she and her four-year-old son were finishing up decorating the house for Christmas. The protesters wanted to reverse President Trump's loss in Michigan. But the attacks got person.

Benson issued a statement saying, there is a line cross when gathering are done with the primary purpose of intimidation of public officials.

But the intimidation continues.


TODD: Michigan State Representative Cynthia Johnson was at a hearing recently went from attorney Rudy Giuliani presented unfounded accusations of election fraud. On her Facebook page Johnson just posted threatening voicemails she received after that hearing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, VOICEMAIL RECEIVED BY MICHIGAN STATE REP. Cynthis A. JOHNSON (D) DETROIT: You should be swinging from a f-ing rope, you Democrat.

TODD: Michigan is one of five states were election officials or poll workers say they and their family members have faced serious threats recently as they counted ballots and certified results. That's according to a PBS frontline investigation.

One of those places is in Georgia where the Lieutenant Governor, a Republican, sees long-term risks.

GEOFF DUNCAN (R), LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, GEORGIA: All of us in this position have got increase security around us and our families. And it's not American, it's not what democracy is all about but it's reality right now. And so we're going to continue to do our jobs.

TODD: One top election official in Georgia, Gabriel Sterling, couldn't contain his anger recently when he spoke of threats that he and his colleagues have received in certifying Georgia's win for Joe Biden.


GABRIEL STERLING, GEORGIA ELECTION OFFICIAL: Someone's going to get hurt. Someone's going to get shot. Someone's going to get killed and it's not right.

TODD: And the fallout continues from Trump campaign attorney's Joe diGenova's recent tirade against Chris Krebs. The top U.S. cybersecurity of official who was ousted by Trump after he rejected the President's claims about voter fraud.

JOE DIGENOVA, TRUMP CAMPAIGN LAWYER: That guy is a class a moron. He should be drawn and quartered, taken out at dawn and shot.

TODD: DiGenova said he was being sarcastic, that the comments were meant in jest and he meant Krebs no harm. Krebs told CNN he is worried about the broader fallout on election workers.

CHRIS KREBS, FORMER CYBERSECURITY DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND: I think it's ultimately corrosive. I think we're going to have a hard time recruiting election workers going forward. I feel like election workers are going to have a hard time during elections.

TODD: law enforcement officials are concerned about President Trump continuing his baseless claims of fraud and doing nothing to tamp down the threats to election officials.

CHARLES RAMSEY, FORMER PHILADELPHIA AND WASHINGTON DC POLICE CHIEF: The President is continuing to dispute the election results and, again, his supporters are getting more and more riled up. Not all of them, but many of them are, and some of those folks could very well act out something.

TODD (on camera): And it's not just President Trump and his base supporters generating uneasiness, there's concern about Republicans in Congress not accepting Trump's loss. "The Washington Post" recently contacted all 249 Republican Senators and House members and asked them all one simple question, who won the election? 220 of them, 88 percent, didn't take a position on it including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Michigan State Representative Cynthia Johnson who was mentioned in that report received appalling and deeply distressing racist messages after she criticized Rudy Giuliani's fraud claims and she spoke to CNN about how she's feeling.


REP. CYNTHIA JOHNSON (D), MICHIGAN STATE HOUSE: I'm not afraid of those threats. What I have found is that many of these cowards are just that, cowards. They speak behind the computer or they'll call me and if I ask them to pick up, most of them will hang up. So to ask me if I'm afraid? I thank you for that question. I appreciate that. And for all the well-wishers, I am fine.


CHURCH: Inspiring words there in the face of such vile abuse.

Well, China says imported frozen food is a source of COVID-19. We will look more at that controversy or claim with a live report from Beijing. That's after the break. [04:50:00]


CHURCH: Well, China has been trying for months to eliminate COVID-19 after largely containing its the initial outbreak. But small sporadic clusters have continued to resurface. Officials there claim imports of frozen food are partly to blame. The theory though contradicts guidance from international health authorities.

And our David Culver joins me now from Beijing with more on all of this. Good to see you, David. So what more did you learn about this controversial claim made by China?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a bit controversial, Rosemary. Good to see you well. This is something has been surfacing really in recent days, weeks and months and continues right now with this most recent cluster outbreak that's playing out in Chengdu. Seven cases there, doesn't seem like a lot compared to the rest of the world. However for China, it's concerning given they had mostly gotten this under control, according to the official numbers.

Going forward though, they're looking at the source of these most recent cluster outbreaks. And they're thinking it's the imported cases that you mentioned. That then says the perceived threat now going forward is external.


CULVER (voice over): Health officials in China blaming imported cases of COVID-19 for recent cluster outbreaks. They warned that it has been carried in not only by some human travelers, but also and perhaps more alarming, on goods imported from other countries. As CNN saw firsthand, it has sparked immediate changes in the handling of international cargo that now entered China.

You'll notice the crew members behind me are in full PPE from head to toe. We have been told strictly not to go within a certain distance of them. And we've also been told not to touch any of the cargo. The reason is, there's growing concern here in China that the imports from other countries might be carrying the virus. Particularly, frozen food. And so those who are handling that cargo as it is coming in or going out, now have to undergo these new measures.

While both the World Health Organization and the U.S. CDC insist there is no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 from food or food packaging, Chinese media is airing images of the strict precautions now being taken. Food transport trucks spray down with disinfectant. Frozen seafood like shrimp and salmon. Along with the surfaces of all types of packaging all frequently tested for COVID-19.

This is one of the cold chambers here in a cargo wing of Shenzhen International Airport. Now the concern with the frozen food has gotten so sensitive, that if I were to walk in just like this, I'd have to do two weeks of quarantine as soon as I walked out. Full body suits now required for those working in these facilities.

China's ministry of transport warning that before and after transporting the cold chain products, one should disinfect the used transportation means and body parts that may have touch the containers. Chinese health officials believe recent confirmed coronavirus cases might have been caused by contaminated imported goods. Last month two Shanghai airport cargo handlers tested positive for COVID-19.

In September, to dock workers in Qingdao handling imported frozen seafood also contracted the virus. And back in June, a massive Beijing market shutdown. State media reported more than 300 people tested positive. Some have suggested that cluster outbreak might have been linked to imported salmon.


Health experts say COVID-19 is tough enough to last for a long period on surfaces, but they warn --

DR. SRIDHAR SIDDHARTH, DEPARTMENT OF MICROBIOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: This is not the most common way by which COVID-19 spreads. In most situations COVID-19 spreads from person to person. Directly by little particles in which the virus is present through the air.

CULVER: Still Chinese state media are using the imported case fears, to repeatedly put into question the actual origins of the virus. Stressing that Wuhan is the place the disease was first identified, but probably not the place where the virus originated from. Sowing seeds of doubt ahead of a WHO field team upcoming trip to China. They will investigate the origins of COVID-19 as China works to keep new cases of the virus from seeping in through its borders.


CULVER (on camera): Chinese officials have been careful not to say that the direct link and source of these most recent cluster outbreaks is in fact the imported foods. Instead they're saying, Rosemary, let's wait until science takes over and fully investigates this and then we'll look at the verdict that they've come up with.

But that W.H.O. visit is going to be very telling. Because it's going to happen in the next few weeks. We do anticipate that they will go to Wuhan where the outbreak was first detected. So it will be interesting to see how this narrative that's now surfacing plays into their ultimate findings.

CHURCH: Yes, timing of this all very significant. David Culver joining us live from Beijing. Many thanks.

And thank you for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. "EARLY START" is up next. You're watching CNN. Have yourselves a wonderful day.