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The Situation Room
Los Angeles County Reinstates Mask Mandate; Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) Meets with Trump as Book Reveals Top Generals Feared Trump Would Attempt a Coup after Election Loss; Source Says, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Expected to be Questioned by New York Attorney General Saturday about Sexual Harassment Allegations; COVID Cases Surging in Tokyo One Week Before Olympics; Dozens of Large Fires Scorch 1 Million Acres Across 12 States. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 15, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Of course, he is already present here in the United States. So, Jake, the president said he'd give us an update in a few days.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD: All right, Kaitlan Collins, at the White House for us.
Now, our coverage right now continues with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in The Situation Room. Thanks for watching. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, in the latest sign of major setbacks in the fight against the coronavirus. Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the entire country, is now reinstating its mask mandate.
Also, tonight, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy makes a pilgrimage to former President Trump's golf club, a very high profile display of loyalty, as he prepares to select members of the January 6th committee.
And this, as a new book reveals. The top U.S. general fear the former president with stage of coup during his final days and even compared Trump's lies about the election to Adolf Hitler's rhetoric.
Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.
We begin with the very sobering news out of Los Angeles right now, where officials have just reinstated the county's mask mandate as new COVID cases surge.
CNN's Erica Hill is on the story for us right now. Erica, tell us more about this very, very stunning decision.
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, understandably, this is getting a lot of attention, Wolf. As you mentioned, Los Angeles County was populous, more than 10 million people live in L.A. County. And we just learned that as of Saturday at 11:59 P.M., that indoor mask mandate is coming back regardless of vaccination status.
Now, we're told we'll have more details. The full order will be posted tomorrow on the county's health website. But the tidbits that we have at this hour, again, it goes into effect this weekend, and this is because of a consistent rise in cases and hospitalizations in Los Angeles County.
Earlier this week we were talking about a 500 percent increase in new cases in the county over the past five months. And this, of course, is fueling concerns about rising cases, hospitalizations and deaths that we are continuing to see across the country.
HILL (voice over): In a seemingly endless sea of noise, the White House tried to cut through.
DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: When it comes to information, not sharing is caring.
HILL: A new surgeon general's advisory pointing the finger at social media and social divisions as the major drivers of vaccine misinformation amid rising cases and a continued drop in vaccination.
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: We are losing time here. The delta variant is spreading, people are dying. We can't actually just wait for things to get more rational.
HILL: On the front line in Louisiana, frustration.
DR. CATHERINE O'NEAL, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, OUR LADY OF THE LAKE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: It is a little bit disheartening. Honestly, it's a lot disheartening to see people continue to come in and a surge happening again when we really have made this a preventable disease.
HILL: The CDC now projected COVID hospitalizations will increase over the next four weeks after months of decline.
O'NEAL: The cases are younger. They're largely unvaccinated, almost predominantly unvaccinated. And they are also people who made this choice. They chose not to take the life raft that we've been throwing at them.
HILL: Decisions that go far beyond one person.
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: What kind of choice is it to infect other people, including other people's children?
HILL: The FDA hasn't yet authorized the vaccine for kids 11 and younger. 12 to 17 year olds have the lowest vaccination rate of any age group, only about 30 percent.
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: I absolutely am worried about those numbers. I am worried about every demographic that has low vaccination rate.
HILL: But boosting those numbers, will take more than a new push from health experts in Washington.
DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: I wish I could say there was a single solution, as would so many problems in the world. It's not. It's a variety of things.
HILL: A new CNN analysis shows many states that prohibit proof of COVID vaccine have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. At least 13 states now have similar bans in place. At least seven prohibit public schools and universities from requiring COVID vaccination. Ohio's governor signed a similar bill Wednesday night targeting vaccines that don't have full FDA approval.
DR. JAY VARKEY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, EMORY UNIVERSITY: What I tell my patients is, again, think about your loved ones. If anything, do it for them.
HILL (on camera): And, Wolf, just a little more information on what we are learning about what is happening in L.A. County in California, keep in mind, California was the first state in the country to go into lockdown back in March of 2020.
As for L.A. County, if talking about masks indoors sounds familiar, it should. Because it was just about two and half weeks ago that the county recommended as a precautionary measure that people should continue masking indoors, in public spaces, like grocery stores, in pharmacies, because they were concerned.
They noted that the vaccines are important. They're helping to stop the spread.
But said at the time that as a, quote, precautionary measure until they better understand how and to who the delta variant is spreading, they recommended there to continue masking indoors.
And, again, today we just learned that starting Saturday, 11:59 P.M., masks will be required in most indoors settings in Los Angeles County with the sum 10 million-plus people, regardless of vaccination status, that goes into effect, Wolf, this weekend.
BLITZER: Yes. That delta variant is really, really dangerous. Erica Hill, thank you very much.
Let's get some more right now from our Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Elizabeth, so what does the decision by L.A. County to reinstate the masks say about the public health threat right now, not only there but around the country?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think you were just talking about this, that this delta variant is a game changer. You know, the positivity rate that they're seeing in L.A. County, it hasn't been this high since February. And I think that we were all feeling pretty great through May, through June and things have changed. The blame for a lot of that plays at the heart of the delta variant and the people who have refuse to be vaccinated. They are propelling this spread.
You know we can think back to sort of the happy days of mid-May, when Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC, said, hey, people who are vaccinated, we're going to be given new guidelines that they do not need to wear masks, but she also said that could change as the situation changes and that the situation may change in different part of the country, that there are different conditions at the different parts of the country.
I think what we are seeing in L.A. County is that the situation changed. And I wouldn't be surprised if other areas also decide to reinstate mask mandates. And, really, again, the blame for this lays largely on unvaccinated people who have not -- if they got vaccinated, this wouldn't be happening.
BLITZER: Elizabeth, stay with us. I also want to bring in Dr. Zeke Emanuel, former White House Health Policy Adviser during the Obama administration. He's the Author of Which Country Has the World's Best Health Care. There you see the cover.
You know, Zeke, how concerned are you? And apparently officials in L.A. County are very concerned about the transmission of this virus right now, especially this delta virus. How concerned are you?
DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE HEALTH POLICY ADVISER: Very concerned. And, again, you don't have to look at L.A., look at Southwestern Missouri, around the Springfield area, an area I know well. You've got hospitals full of patients with COVID, areas that have been skeptical of the vaccine where people are resistant.
And it's not just hesitancy now. There is a lot of disinformation. It's not just misinformation, it's intentional spreading of false information out there that is giving people bad ideas and making them hesitant. And it's -- we are going to have, and I think I predicted last week when we were on, many surges in different areas of the country because of low vaccination rate and very, very transmissible delta variant.
BLITZER: So, even in places, Zeke, where masks aren't mandatory, at least not right now, would you recommend that Americans start masking up indoors once again even if they are fully vaccinated?
EMANUEL: Look, we know that the vaccines protect people from serious illness and death, and they do that at about 95 percent effectiveness, even with delta. What we are less clear about is asymptomatic and very mild cases of the COVID.
And I do think if you are going to go inside, you know, we've got some conflicting data from Israel, from Britain, it is not clear how much transmission still happens with the vaccine with the delta variant. And, therefore, I personally, when I go to the grocery store or the post office, I wear a mask. I don't dine inside because of that. And I don't dine inside at restaurants because of that. And I do think that, it is a small precaution. We spent 16, 17 months now fighting this. We have to get our arms around it. And I think as was said, you know a big part of the problem is, we still have over half the population unvaccinated. And the administration is trying to do everything it can to counter that, and that's key.
BLITZER: It's certainly is. So Elizabeth, what do you think the public response will be to this reinstated mask mandate?
COHEN: I think people who are vaccinated, they get it, and they will understand that they need to do this. I think, unfortunately and ironically, the unvaccinated people will be the ones who try who may try to cheat it and not wear a mask. So, it is so easy to wear a mask. It is incomprehensible why this like little piece of fabric has become such a symbol.
BLITZER: Yes, when you look at the numbers in the last 14 days, an average of 246 Americans have died every single day, and 20,161 new cases on average every single day.
All right, Elizabeth Cohen, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, thank you very much. We will stay on top of the breaking news.
Also ahead, stunning revelations from a new book about former President Trump's final days in office, top U.S. military officials feared he would stage a coup and compared his lies about the election to Adolf Hitler's rhetoric.
BLITZER: As he prepares to select Republican lawmaker to serve on the January 6th committee, the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, decided to pay a visit today to former President Trump at his New Jersey golf club.
Let's get some more from our Congressional Correspondent Ryan Nobles joining us from Capitol Hill.
Ryan, this meeting to the House minority leader and the former president was clearly a show of loyalty.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about that, Wolf. It has been a whirlwind day for the House minority leader. He's at the White House right now, having dinner with the president, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. But earlier today he was pledging his allegiance to the former president, showing once again that Donald Trump remains the de facto leader of the Republican Party.
NOBLES (voice over): Tonight House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, making it clear where his loyalties lie. Kevin McCarthy will be meeting with me this afternoon at Trump National at Bedminster New Jersey, much to discuss, former President Donald Trump announced in a statement. McCarthy paying yet another visit to the former president just days before he is expected to unveil his picks for the January 6 select committee.
GOP sources say the meeting is not about the select committee but that Trump and McCarthy plan to talk about Republican fundraising and the upcoming midterm elections, something that House Republicans like Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma have no problem with.
REP. TOM COLE (R-OK): I think it's perfectly appropriate for him to be visiting with the former president or any other political figure, that, you know, people of my view, that's sort of his business.
NOBLES: But the timing of the meeting comes the day after the committee announced plans for their first hearing on July 27th, and both McCarthy and Trump who spoke on the phone the day of the insurrection could be called in front of the committee to testify.
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Well, he has acknowledged that he had a call. They'd been other Republicans who say he had called. And that would be part of the collection of evidence necessary to produce a report.
NOBLES: This, as new details have emerge about Trump's chaotic final days in office. According to a new book, I Alone Can Fix It, from Washington Post Reporters Carol Leonnig and Phillip Rucker, the top U.S. military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley, Trump's and his allies might attempt to coup. They may try but they're not going to f'ing succeed, Milley told his deputies according to the authors. You can't do this without the military. You can't do this without the CIA and the FBI. We're the guys with the guns.
Milley also viewed Trump is, quote, the classic authoritarian leader with nothing to lose, the authors write. And Milley drew parallel to Trump's rhetoric of false claims of election fraud with that used by Adolf Hitler, referring to it as, quote, the gospel of the fuhrer, according to the book.
In addition to Trump, the book details the actions of other Republicans surrounding the events of January 6th, including a heated moment between Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Ohio Congressman Jim Jordon, a Trump ally. Cheney described the exchange to Milley, while these maniacs are going through the place, I'm standing in the aisle. And he said we need to get the ladies away from the aisle. Let me help you. I smacked his hand away and told him, get away from me. You f'ing did this.
Tonight, Donald Trump is denying he ever threatened or spoke of a coup, but did add, quote, if I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with is General Mark Milley.
NOBLES (on camera): And, of course, McCarthy's role in all of these is important and it could be a focus of this January 6 said committee. McCarthy has said in the past that he has no problem talking about the event that day, specifically the phone call he had with President Trump as rioters were descending on the Capitol building, and said, I will talk to anyone about it. The question now is, Wolf, will he talk in an open hearing in front of the select committee. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, we shall see. All right, Ryan, thank you very much.
Let's get some analysis from our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, our Chief Domestic Correspondent Jim Acosta and CNN Political Director David Chalian.
Dana, the House minority leader went to visit the former president today at his golf club in New Jersey even though the former president is still spreading lies about the election. He's insisting that it was stolen from him. How dangerous is this?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's incredibly dangerous. What the stated reason for the visit was fundraising, talking about the midterm elections, things of that nature. And McCarthy's office insist that there was not going to be, full stop, any conversation about the January 6th select committee, never mind the commission, which is not happening, but the select committee which we don't know if it will have any Republican other than Liz Cheney because McCarthy has not said whether he would appoint any. And there's so much -- you know, so that's what they say. We don't know because we're not in the meeting, whether or not that the former president brought it up. It's hard to imagine the he didn't at least try.
But kind of a big picture, it's a reminder on the backdrop of this book and all of the bombshell reporting in this book about General Milley and others that this is not history. This is current events. And this is proof that those who are -- the leaders of the Republican Party, Kevin McCarthy included, is not leaving Donald Trump behind, is embracing him and will not speak out against the lies and the conspiracies that he pushed as recently as Sunday.
BLITZER: Yes. It's really, very, very potentially dangerous. Is Kevin Mccarthy, Jim, from your prospective, and you covered Trump for a long time, is he still sort of unfazed by the dangers that Trump still poses out there right now?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is a different Kevin McCarthy. Remember back in January when he said Donald Trump bears responsibility for the insurrection on January 6, this is a totally different Kevin McCarthy. And it's tough to square things for the Republican Party right now. They have been talking about repressive regimes down in Cuba and the Caribbean while at the same time kissing the ring of the want-to-be dictator in Bedminster. I mean, that's exactly what they're doing right now.
And Donald Trump is a liar. We know from looking at these recent books that have come out that perhaps he had visions of being a Hitler, like a tyrant who wanted to overthrow the government. That was at least the estimation of the chairman of the Joint Chief's Mark Milley. I mean, I don't understand how you could see those excerpts last night and then hop in a car and head into Bedminster today. It just doesn't make any sense.
And it's another example of the Republican Party, leaders of the Republican Party thinking, Wolf, that they can control Donald Trump, that they can manage Donald Trump. We've been talking about this for four or five years. They can't.
BLITZER: Do you think he's getting marching orders, McCarthy, from Trump?
ACOSTA: It sure sounds like it. It sounds like Donald Trump is now the organ grinder of the Republican Party. And, you know, earlier this year, he was almost like a dictator in exile. He's now a dictator making a comeback. And he's being enabled by people like Kevin McCarthy at this point. I'm still think there's -- they're breathing life into the tattered ruins of his presidency and it's just shameful to watch.
BLITZER: David Chalian, we're getting new details about the final days and the concern that top U.S. military commanders, including General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they were worried that Trump would actually try to stage a coup. And Milley was talking, if you believe what is going on in these new books that are coming out, in rhetoric that Trump was talking in a rhetoric reminiscent of Hitler.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. And Milley said he had a stomach-churning feeling going on. And so the question is, why isn't Kevin McCarthy's stomach-churning. Why is only General Milley's stomach-churning.
And to Jim's point about the difference in Kevin McCarthy, here's what Kevin McCarthy is consistent. From that moment on January 13th, when he said he bears responsibility to the moment now on this day going up to Bedminster and continuing to kiss the ring, Kevin McCarthy, at both moments, thought it was a path for him to become the next speaker of the House. He thought the politics and the moment and the immediate aftermath of the insurrection was, oh, maybe the party will going to back off, Donald Trump, here for a minute, I want to make sure I have a foot in that camp here, realized really quickly that's not where the party was going and so he is moving.
Now, to me, that makes Kevin McCarthy a follower, not a leader, which is in his title, and that's the problem here. So it's not -- obviously, I totally agree. It is totally shameful to watch these people in positions of power and leadership right now still commit themselves to Trump where the main requirement is to sort of believe and play into this election fraud big lie of 2020. That's a huge problem for the Republican Party.
But what Kevin McCarthy being in Bedminster today tells me, he still sees the political success for the Republican Party is through Donald Trump, not around. ACOSTA: The fundraising, too.
BASH: Yes. And, look, in the short-term, that is the truth, the open question is how long this is going to last? Does the former president have the staying power he has now and does that continue? I talk to people, maybe they are Republicans, maybe they are -- I have wishful thinking, because they do not want the former president to have staying power. They argue that without social media, with all of the things that he doesn't have at his disposal as supposed to before, that if you take the long view that his power will wane. But his power won't wane if he is empowered by the people who are elected to lead the party, like Kevin McCarthy.
ACOSTA: And, Wolf, I would say this very quickly. I talked to a Trump adviser earlier today, who still advises the Trump team. And I said, was he really that out of control around this time? And this person replied, yes, exclamation point, exclamation point. And I followed up to that question with, you know, what is this stuff about Adolf Hitler? What's going on with that. This person would only say, well, he did like the blitzkrieg.
We can't let our eyes glaze over here with some of the details coming out of these books. They, I think, confirm and aligned with a lot of what we were reporting at the time. Donald Trump was totally out of control. And we came very close to having a constitutional crisis in this country.
And thank goodness for people like Mike Pence and, yes, he enabled him for many years, but thank goodness, form some of these folks who are trying to make sure that Donald Trump did not succeed.
BLITZER: And General Milley too.
ACOSTA: General Milley was right there, Wolf.
BLITZER: Absolutely. All right guys, thank you very much.
An important programming note for our viewers, be sure to join us Wednesday for a CNN town hall with President Joe Biden. CNN's Don Lemon will moderate live from Cincinnati. That's Wednesday 8:00 P.M. Eastern only on here on CNN.
Coming up, major new developments in sexual harassment allegations against the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo.
BLITZER: Just in to CNN, a major new development in the sexual harassment allegations against the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo.
CNN Crime and Justice Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is joining us right now from New York. Shimon, sources telling us that Governor Cuomo is expected to be questioned by the state attorney general on Saturday. So what does this mean as far as the investigation is concerned? Is it coming to an end?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It certainly could indicate, Wolf, that this is coming to an end. You know, most people who've been following this investigation have said and have expected that he would be the last person to be interviewed after all the women and some of the staff members have been interviewed, it's been expected that the governor would be the last one to be questioned in this investigation.
Of course, the questioning and investigation being done by people outside the attorney general's office. The attorney general here, Tish James, she brought in two lawyers, one of them federal -- former federal prosecutors to run this investigation, they are expected to be in Albany on Saturday, where he will be interviewed. His lawyers obviously will be present.
But what does that is certainly gives us some indication that this is an escalation in this investigation and that perhaps, perhaps, Wolf, that this is going to come to an end, and perhaps we could see a report sometime next month.
BLITZER: And when he's questioned, Shimon, he's under oath, right?
PROKUPECZ: Yes, he's under other. There will probably be a deposition or either a recorder or someone would be able to ask to record what it is that he's saying so that there is this is this public record eventually, hopefully that will become public at some point.
But, obviously, what could also happen is, Wolf, let's say, if they ask the governor something and it doesn't jive with something they have heard, they can extend the investigation and bring other people back in to kind of a try and need to collaborate or trying to somehow match what he is saying or hurt his credibility somehow.
BLITZER: All right, Shimon, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on this. CNN Legal Analyst Jackson is joining us. Joey, I'm anxious to hear. What do you make of this news?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, listen, Wolf, this is a huge development. Why? Because now you have the opportunity to get the governor on record with respect to what happened, when it happened, why it happened, what your perspective is as to it happening, if at all. And I certainly would expect, right, in any case you're going to have conflicts and inconsistency.
But if you are under oath, right, I just heard you asking Shimon respond, that if he is under oath, is which we have every expectation that is, he's yet into very steep territory. What do I mean? When you are under oath, you are raising your hand, you're swearing to tell the truth. To the extent that you do not do so, that's a crime, it's perjury. And so you have to be careful to answer the question specifically. And make no mistake about it these are veteran lawyers who will ask with probing questions. The other thing, briefly, Wolf, is that they have a (INAUDIBLE) of information. They've investigated, they've reviewed, they have various statements, they have materials, they have documents, they have other things. And so they will be questioning him and pinning him down on specific issues that occur or allegedly occurred. And his responses to those questions will be very important. They will be reviewed, they will be parsed, they will be analyzed. Very important, if you are representing him that he tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but, so help him God.
BLITZER: Joey Jackson, good advice. Thank you very, very much.
Coming up, new COVID concerns surrounding the Olympic Games just days before they're scheduled to begin.
BLITZER: Now, more on the surprising revelations about Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley who, according to a new book, feared that former President Trump was contemplating a coup following his election loss last year.
CNN's Brian Todd is working on the story for us. Brian, the authors of this book say Milley actually had a plan.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did have a plan to go against Trump, Wolf, according to the authors of this new book. They write that General Milley saw parallels to Hitler in the way Trump was behaving at the time. And it went against the General's instinct to separate the military from the civilian in power.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Frankly, we did win this election.
TODD (voice over): In those tense days just after last year's election, Joint Chief Chairman General Mark Milley was fearful that then-President Trump and his allies might try to stage a coup to say in power. That's according to a new book by Washington Post Reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker who write that Milley and other members of the Joint Chiefs discussed the plan to resign, one by one, rather than carry out orders from Trump.
General Milley told his deputies, they may try, but they're not to f**'ing succeed, the author's write. You can't do this without the military. You can't do this without the CIA and the FBI. We're the guys with the guns.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET): Crushing, crushing the amounts of pressure. And it became very clear to a lot of people that the president might not step aside.
LT. GENERAL MARK HERTING (RET), FORMER ARMY COMMANDING GENERAL, EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY: And he was place in an extremely stressful and difficult situation. Without a whole, a lot of people he can talk to on getting advice on how to take action.
TODD: Following his own instinct was something Mark Milley appeared ready to do from an early age. According to a 2019 New York Times profile of him, Milley's father, who fought with the Marines at Iwo Jima in World War II, did not want his son to go into the military, and even got one of Mark's brother to sabotage his visit to West Point. Mark Milley instead went to Princeton, lettered (ph) in hockey for two year in the late 70s. He went on to study at Columbia and MIT as well.
MARKS: And, intellectually. You know he's an intellectually very, very brave dude.
TODD: Over four decades in the military, Milley served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, came under fire several times, commanded high profile units with the 10th Mountain Division and 101st Airborne.
HERTING: He has been, let's say, in almost every deployment since the late '80s. All of those are really tough jobs where you not only have to be tactically and operationally proficient but you also have to be a damn good leader and be able to have that emotional intelligence to fill the room.
TODD: Instincts that would be tested in the summer of last year when Milley, dressed in fatigues, walk with Trump to Trump's infamous photo-op at the church after racial justice protesters have been violently cleared out of Lafayette Square. Milley took heavy criticism and later apologized.
GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.
TODD (on camera): General Milley and the defense department did not comment specifically for our story.
Now, regarding the account in the books of his fears of a Trump coup, a defense official close to the general told CNN, he won't publicly address the issues raised in the book but the official also did not dispute them.
Former President Trump today issued an scathing statement on General Milley, Trump not only denying ever speaking about a coup but also calling Milley a, quote, better politician not a general, trying to curry favor with the radical left. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, CNN Military Analyst Ret. General Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, and former Defense Secretary William Cohen. Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us.
Secretary, you and I have spoken many times over the years. What goes through your mind when you hear these reports of what General Milley thought during those final days of the Trump presidency?
WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, in any type of activity like this, there's usually an after an action report, what took place, what are the lessons learned, what do we do about it, what do we do for the future to make sure you don't elect a president who has actually no regard for the rule of law, who toys with the notion that he's going to appoint his generals and they will be loyal to him and to him alone and not to the Constitution, not to the people of this country?
What is it that we have to learn and do and prevent that from taking place? The ballot box is important, but look what is taking place. They are taking the ballot box away from people who have a real, justifiable interest and helping to vote for a president of the United States.
So, we have lessons learned and one lesson is we knew this was coming. We could see President Trump as candidate Trump that he had very little regard for the military, for our intelligence community, for our Justice Department and only for himself and had no respect for the rule of law.
And you may recall on January 3rd, there were ten former secretary of defense, all of us, all of who are living signed a letter to a Washington Post open letter, do not ever use the military to turn to a political enforcement on behalf of any administration, including the Trump administration.
BLITZER: Yes. I remember that letter. That was really a significant moment.
General Clark, you know General Milley personally. What is your take on the fact that he issued these warnings, which were so, so stark?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: You know, first of all, I think, as the other general officer said, this is a very well-grounded man. He's well-read, he studied, he's an expert in his profession, he understands his duties. And he saw the implications of the conduct that President Trump from the time he was Army chief. He saw all four years of it.
And as chairman, he was very close to the White House. He listened to the rumors, the whispers. He was with the president. He had reason (INAUDIBLE) accurate, he had reason for these fears and doubts. And I'm very proud of him. And I know so many of our retired general officers are so proud of him for being prepared to do the right thing, for understanding the situation he's in, for handling his role with expert adroitness.
BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people are praising him base on this new information just emerging. You know, Secretary Cohen, the former president, Trump, he pushed back on his claims, he insisted he never threatened a coup, adding this, he says, if I was going to do a coup, one of the last people I would want to do it with was General Milley. What do you make of that response?
COHEN: Why even speculate hypothetically if ever I would to commit a crime. I wouldn't use General Milley to help me commit the crime. What he should have said is I never said anything of that notion and I would not, under any circumstances, and so I deny that I said it and let that be the end of it.
This is typical of what he does. Anyone who at all is critical of him, he goes after, try to destroy them or to denigrate them and somehow make them less of who they are. He is in no position to try to reduce the accomplishments and the general capability, the generalship of General Milley. He is in no position to try and denigrate that, he, who had made it a point to avoid serving in a military, no position to try to degrade him.
BLITZER: Yes. And I think it's significant that General Milley is staying silent today. He is not -- he's refusing to comment at all, which suggests that these reports that are probably true.
COHEN: Anybody who served with this former president knows exactly what was taking place in the White House. There are more people who can and should talk. And when this commission finally gets underway, and I hope it does soon. And I hope if the Republicans don't want members, then go without them. Let's get the facts laid out so everybody can understand why he represented such a threat to our fragile -- this eggshell that we're on in terms of democracy that he was trying to take it out.
BLITZER: Well, let me get a final thought from General Clark. Go ahead.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILTARY ANALYST: So, I think -- I think, you know, America should be proud of the men and women at the top of the armed forces. They were honorable, they follow the, law they took an oath to the Constitution.
But I think, as Secretary Cohen said, this was a very close call, and I hope the American people will pay close attention to this. We've got to allow people to vote, we've got to scrupulous follow the laws, and we've got to listen to our democracy. And that democracy is in danger right now.
BLITZER: And as a former Pentagon correspondent, I never thought I would hear a chairman, an active chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, expressing fear of a possible coup, coup d'etat here in the United States.
General Clark, thank you. Secretary Cohen, thanks to you as well.
Coming up, is Japan about to make a major mistake hosting the Olympic Games in the middle of a COVID surge? CNN is on the ground in Tokyo. We'll bring you an update right after this.
BLITZER: Right now there's a growing concern about a surge of COVID-19 cases in Tokyo, just as the city is about to host the Olympic Games.
CNN's Will Ripley is on the scene for us.
Will, we're seeing very disturbing new numbers tonight.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are one week out from the start of the Olympics, and case numbers here in Tokyo are now at their highest daily level since January, according to national broadcaster NHK and metro government data. This is absolutely not what Olympic organizers are hoping for. The IOC president Thomas Bach has praised Japan and has praised Tokyo for being one of the best prepared cities ever to host an Olympics.
And yet, vaccination rates here in Japan are still less than 20 percent, leaving the population vulnerable if a major outbreak or super-spreader event occurred, with thousands of athletes, officials and journalists converging on the Japanese capital in the coming days. But the number of positive cases arriving into Japan relatively low, the higher numbers are actually in the Japanese population, including eight hotel staff who tested positive ahead of the arrival of the Brazil's judo team -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Will, thank you. Will Ripley in Tokyo.
Just ahead, dozens of major fires burning in 12 states. We're live in one town that just saw homes burn to the ground for the second time in eight months.
BLITZER: High temperatures are fueling dozens of wildfires that have scorched 1 million acres across 12 states.
CNN's Sara Sidner is joining us right now.
Sara, this is really a dire situation.
SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. This really tight-knit town of Doyle, California, can only take so much damage. The fire is now burning. We saw five of them just cropping up in the last 30 minutes and it's burning so hot, take a look. Hot enough to melt glass.
CHIEF KATHY CATRON, DOYLE FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT: The entire town was evacuated. SIDNER (voice-over): This is the second time in just eight months
Kathy Catron's home town has lost more than a dozen homes to wildfire.
CATRON: It sounded like a freight train coming down the mountain. The smoke rolls over you. All of a sudden, it is dark. All you see is this big huge orange wall of flames everywhere you look.
SIDNER: Catron is the volunteer fire chief of this town of about 600 residents. She is often the first one to call residents to tell them their home is gone.
KELLY GROSS, DOYLE RESIDENT: I'm still kind of numb. I mean, after losing everything I worked for, all these years. It's gone and everybody says, oh, it's replaceable and stuff. Well, no, a lot of it isn't.
SIDNER: Saturday, Kelly Gross lost one of the 16 homes burned in Doyle. Everyone thought the danger was over. But on Monday the fire came roaring back, devouring more homes. Chief Catron and several residents were angry that air drops from state and federal agencies didn't come earlier.
CATRON: We were like the lone ranger. A lot of the engines weren't where they should have been and weren't down there, you know, maybe. And I was, at that point, I was ready to say, I can't do this anymore.
SIDNER: Apocalyptic fire scenes are appearing more and more across the West. So far 67 large fires across 12 states have burned an area nearly five times the size of New York City.
CAPT. DENNIS SMITH, CAL FIRE: The frequency of fires has skyrocketed.
SIDNER: Cal Fire Captain Dennis Smith has spent 25 years battling some of the biggest blazes in the state of California.
SMITH: We used to get some what you would call career fires, maybe once every few years. We're seeing career fires, 100,000-plus acres, is a common occurrence every year now.
SIDNER: It's the new normal.
SMITH: The resources are spread through the state as we're burning from the Oregon border down to Mexico.
SIDNER: California is on track to have an even more devastating fire season than 2020 which was the worst on record with 4.1 million acres charred.
DEP. CHIEF CHRIS TRINDADE, CAL FIRE: Being from California, I'm sure you hear this fire season will be the worst fire season, right? Every year we hear that.
SIDNER: Which means the grueling work must go on for longer in days of 100-plus temperatures in some places.
And once the big flames are smothered, days of intricate work begin on hidden hot spots. There is one goal in mind. Save lives and then property.
Are you proud, you look around this entire house and it's charred 360 around this house. But the house, perfect.
SMITH: Yeah. The house is still standing.
SIDNER: But 250 miles away in Doyle, the local fire volunteers are devastated. And residents are worried they're at the beginning of what used to be the start of fire season.
BLITZER: Sara, this is so, so devastating. Excellent reporting as usual. I know you'll stay on top of this story for our viewers. Thanks very, very much.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.