Return to Transcripts main page


Just Two States In The Entire Nation Show COVID-19 Infections Declining; Interview With Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL); U.S. Sees Highest Single Day Of Coronavirus Cases With 46,853 Cases Today; White House Denies Trump Was Briefed On Russia Bounties; Trump Calls Proposed NYC Black Lives Matter Street Painting "Symbol Of Hate"; Pres. Trump Feeds Into Culture War On Race With Series Of Tweets. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired July 1, 2020 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: And thanks so much for joining us. Anderson starts now.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: A very good evening to you. Four months into a pandemic that has now taken nearly 128,000 American lives and no small part because the President of the United States has decided to occupy a persistent state of denial. That same President today remarkably declared victory and said once again, the virus will simply go away.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we did it all right. We did a great job. We're credited with doing a great job and I think we're going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that at some point, that's going to sort of just disappear, I hope.

QUESTION: You still believe so? Disappear?

TRUMP: Oh, I do. I do. Yes, sure, at some point.


SCIUTTO: Just disappear, he said. Those remarks which are not new, which are a theme for this President, in fact, come as cases are, in fact, rising in 37 of the 50 states now. Just two states in the entire nation show infections declining.

Those remarks and that claim by the President that we did great that this will all disappear are set against that chart, a curve that is not just rising, but rising more steeply every day. This is not what doing a great job looks like for a country.

However, this is what is prompting governors in some 22 states now to re-impose restrictions and for some, to mandate mask wearing. It is what moved European countries to ban travel from the United States starting today. That's right, ban the U.S. as it had banned travel from many other countries.

It is what is make thing country an outlier, a pariah, a health hazard in the judgment of the rest of the world; it is also what prompted the nation's most trusted public health expert to issue this warning yesterday.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. I think it's important to tell you and the American public that I'm very concerned because it could get very bad.


SCIUTTO: A hundred thousand a day. Late today, Dr. Fauci said he used that number to quote, "jolt people," perhaps to jolt just one person because as you know, the President has returned time and time again to this notion of the virus simply disappearing.


TRUMP: It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle, it will disappear and from our shores, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We'll see what happens. Nobody really knows.

It's dying out.

It's fading away. It's going to fade away.

It going away, but I think we'll have vaccines and I think we're going to have therapy and maybe beyond that, maybe a cure and it won't be in the long distance.

So I really think that's going to be helpful and regardless, it's going away.


SCIUTTO: Follow the facts. Follow the numbers. So, as astonishing as it is to hear, this is nothing new for this President and though, he has not said so out loud, it seems to be his justification at the end of the day for not taking the kind of steps that many other Presidents have taken in the grips of their own national crises.

The President, as you know, calls himself a Wartime President on this. Yet, he seems not to notice more Americans have died in this battle than in all the wars since World War II. He has essentially checked out, barely mentioning the virus in fact focusing instead of things like this -- people allegedly vandalizing statutes, posting their pictures like he is something of a crime show host, demanding the culprits turn themselves in or else.

Or attacking New York's Mayor, calling a proposed Black Lives Matter mural there on Fifth Avenue, quote, "A symbol of hate." Ironic for someone who just recently tweeted out to tens of millions of followers a video of someone shouting very clearly at the beginning of that video, "white power."

Right now, as the pandemic rages, this Wartime President is doing battle to save statutes of dead people and protecting the street outside Trump Tower from some words he simply doesn't like.

This Wartime Commander is not leading the federal charge in places such as Florida which continues to see case counts hit new highs almost daily. He is not leading the charge in Texas, which today reported more than 8,000 new infections.

He is not at the frontlines in California where the governor today facing this rising curve you see on the graph there, halted all indoor activities in hard-hit counties. Instead, it is every state for itself and mixed contradictory messages as always from this White House such as the President today on wearing a mask.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think masks are good. I would wear -- if I were in a group of people and I was close --

QUESTION: You would wear one?

TRUMP: I would -- I have. I mean, people have seen me wearing one.


SCIUTTO: Keeping them honest, he is only known to have worn a mask one single time. The rest of the time, he either shuns them. He has mocked others for wearing them or retweets memes deriding them again, to tens of millions of followers and again today, he said that mask wearing should not be mandatory.

Dr. Fauci said he wanted to jolt people, but the President seems unjolted at this point and late today, his spokesperson seemed to confirm it.


QUESTION: Dr. Fauci says that we're heading for the 100,000 cases per day. So why does the President have evidence that it would just disappear?


QUESTION: Could you say what's between a vaccine and it just disappearing?

MCENANY: One thing I would note with regard to cases, we're aware that there are embers in the country. We are aware that there are places with rising cases.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Thirty seven states, in fact, they still call them embers.

Joining us now, Florida Democratic Congresswoman and former Clinton Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala and Leon Panetta who in addition to his distinguished National Security resume, served as White House Chief of Staff in the Clinton administration. Thanks to both of you. We benefit from your decades of public service to get some perspective here.

Secretary Panetta, when this President says again that the virus will disappear and you've seen the graphs, they are going in one direction, up and very sharply, it shows well, a state of denial, does it not?

You, served as Chief of Staff to a President, what would you be telling him to do right now?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, it would be very different from what we're seeing because this President has essentially gone AWOL from the job of leadership that he should be providing a country in trouble.

This is a major crisis. We're looking at 41,000 new cases today and I think, Dr. Fauci has said there is a good chance we may go to 100,000 cases, but the President rather than bringing together some kind of national strategy to confront this crisis, simply resorts to tweeting about vandalism and other things to kind of divert attention from the crisis that's there.

He's not good at crisis, very frankly. He doesn't like to deal with things that he cannot solve easily or tweet easily about. And so the result is that he is trying to avoid any responsibility for doing anything about the crisis this country is facing and very frankly, that's a dereliction of duty.

SCIUTTO: Congresswoman Shalala, today, Admiral Brett Giroir, he is the Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services said, quote, "Testing is critical but we cannot test our way out of the current outbreaks."

I mean, you have an administration here and a President frankly who has derided testing, right, as he had even talked about it seems doing less rather than more. What would that mean in the midst of really growth across most of the country now in infections?

REP. DONNA SHALALA (D-FL): It would be tragic. This President's inability to lead has literally led to Americans dying. I don't think I'd ever say that about a President of the United States. This is an American tragedy. And we have to do testing as part of an overall strategy.

Look, we're about to celebrate the Fourth of July. This is about patriotism. Patriots wear masks, care about their country, men and women. They wash their hands. They practice social distancing, and they insist that the President of the United States provide enough testing and see testing and science as what we have to follow.

Literally, I'm running out of words about what to say about this lack of leadership.

SCIUTTO: Deliberate assault on science, you can even say. Secretary Panetta, you served decades in government at so many levels. Can you think of another time where there has been such a lack of a Federal response, Federal leadership to a major crisis and really, an attack even on the data and the facts showing the scope of that crisis?

PANETTA: Not in my lifetime. I have, one way or another served under nine Presidents and somewhere outstanding, some were not so outstanding.

But every President that I can remember over this last era since World War II has been a President that when faced with crisis has had to respond, and has been willing to respond whether it's war, whether it's 9/11, whether it is a natural disaster, they have had to respond.

And so, to have a President now who, confronted by a myriad of crisis, I mean, for goodness sakes, we're not just talking about COVID-19, which is out of control. We're not just talking about an economy that is in deep trouble as a result of COVID-19. We are not just talking about a country that's trying to face up to racial inequality that's gone on for 400 years, but we are also a country that has a leadership crisis on its hands.

We have a President that is not willing to stand up and do what is necessary in order to lead this country during a time of major disasters.

I have never experienced a President who has avoided that responsibility.

SCIUTTO: Congresswoman Shalala, the President has often deliberately attacked institutions in this country to undermine confidence in them and it has worked to many degrees. I don't have to list them for you.

What does that do to this country's ability to respond, to get people motivated to do what is necessary to hem this outbreak and even something simple, like wearing masks, easiest thing to do.

SHALALA: You know, if this crisis taught has taught us anything, it is that we need government and we need a strong government. We need a strong Federal government with first class leadership and certainly strong state and local government, but we cannot deal with this crisis without government, without public servants, without the great scientists that we have been investing in for years. That's what the crisis has taught us.

But more than anything else, it is Leon's point, it has taught us we need strong leaders with courage in a crisis.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Secretary Panetta, we can wait until we're blue in the face, I imagine, for that Federal leadership for that national leadership. It does not appear that it's going to come. Can this be done? Can we, as a country, get a handle on this state by state?

I mean, you see California. California had -- where you live -- had an enormous -- they were early on this and they seemed to get a handle on it and now, cases are rising again, but it shows that it's hard to get it right at the state level.

PANETTA: You know, I think that approaching this Fourth of July, one of the things that we can take some pride in is the fact that we, the people of this country are stepping forward at a time when there is no leadership coming from Washington.

I mean, the reality is that governors are struggling to deal with the situation in their states, that people are trying to deal with the situation in their communities -- I think the American people are trying to respond to the problems they are facing. They're not getting much leadership and that's a tragedy.

But the fact is, they are stepping up and they're trying to do what's right to protect themselves and their families, and thank God for that.

I still remain hopeful that even without leadership from Washington that we're going to be able to overcome this crisis.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and I've seen a lot of examples like that, like you're talking about myself. Congresswoman Shalala, Secretary Panetta, thanks very much to both of you.

Coming up next, a nationwide look at why it seems like this one may soon be vanishing because the virus is not. Dr. Sanjay gupta will join us.

And later, former National Security Adviser and potential Biden running mate Susan Rice on the breaking news about Russian bounties on U.S. troops and more broadly, the President's resistance to hearing anything negative about Russia.



SCIUTTO: The President, as we noted has said the coronavirus will just disappear. The breaking news, follow the numbers. They say otherwise. Just moments ago, we learned that the country saw 46,853 new cases of COVID-19. That is sadly a new daily record in this country, more now from across the country, from CNN's Nick Watt.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Nearly 10,000 new cases reported across California today, smashing the record. So, every state beach parking lot in Southern California and the Bay Area will now be closed for the Fourth of July weekend.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): A weekend that has raised a lot of concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WATT (voice over): Bars, dine-in restaurants and movie theaters will

also now close again in 19 Californian counties for at least three weeks.

And, today, the daily death toll in this state like we haven't seen since April.


NEWSOM: Do not take your guard down. Please do not believe those somehow want to manipulate the reality.


WATT (voice over): And record numbers now hospitalized in Arizona.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure what more we can do, with -- short of a total shutdown.


WATT: Record high hospitalizations also in Texas and long lines to be tested.


MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D), AUSTIN, TEXAS: Well, we opened in phases, we went from one phase to the next phase to the next phase too quickly, so we weren't able to see the data.


WATT (voice over): He is echoing Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the most respected voices on this virus, but no longer respected by all.


LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK (R-TX): He doesn't know what he's talking about. We haven't skipped over anything. The only thing I'm skipping over is listening to him.


WATT (voice over): Thirty seven states are seeing their case counts climb, at least 22 of them now pausing or rolling back reopening.

New York City was due to open indoor dining Monday. Not anymore. And a new warning from the Federal official in charge of testing: those under 35 are driving outbreaks right now, and testing alone will not be enough to stop them.


ADM. BRETT GIROIR, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Testing is critical, but we cannot test our way out of the current outbreaks. We must be disciplined about our own personal behavior, especially around the July 4th holiday, and especially among the young adults.


WATT (voice over): A vaccine would of course be the game changer. Some promising data from Pfizer today.


DR. ROBERT WACHTER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, UCSF: We have an effective vaccine proven on January 1st, this thing does not end on January 2nd. It is going to be another six months, nine months, it could be a year before we get it distributed in enough shoulders to make a meaningful difference.


SCIUTTO: So Nick, California forced to dial back its reopening after initially getting on top of this, ahead of the game, you might say. What will the state look like going forward?

WATT: Well, in the immediate term, Jim, expect to see maybe some more coastal cities closing their beaches. New Port Beach just pulled that trigger after a couple of lifeguards tested positive. Then it really depends who ends up on the governor's watch list.

Nineteen counties right now on that list. That is where he just closed indoor dining, but counties can come off and on that list, so we will see how that evolves.

Also, Jim, a lot is going to depend on how we behave. Here in Los Angeles today, we were just told over this weekend to avoid what they call the three Cs -- Crowds, confined spaces and close contact -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Smart advice, easy to remember, and it is on us. Nick Watt, thanks very much.

Joining us now CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, you know, we've talked a lot through these last weeks here and I measured your rising exasperation in the recent days with some of the comments and lack of leadership frankly coming from Washington.

So the President says today, again, the coronavirus is going to disappear. You heard the Lieutenant Governor of Texas saying he is not going to listen to Dr. Fauci anymore. What does that mean for the country when you still have that kind of resistance to the facts before us?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it makes you feel like you're going backwards, Jim. I mean, at a time when we need to go forward more than we have ever had to go forward in our country, we're going backwards because of this sort of stuff.

Let me give you a little bit of a peek behind the curtain, Jim. You know, the President says the virus is going to go away. Let me conceive this point. Nobody knew everything about this virus at the beginning. That's the nature of a novel coronavirus. There is a lot that we've learned and there is a humility.

But back in February, I interviewed the head of the C.D.C. who said it's clearly not going to go away. It's going to be here for the years to come. It is becoming endemic.

So the point is that it was known back in mid-February, February 13th timeframe, so why now at the end of June are we using that as some sort of statement when the Lieutenant Governor in Texas says I'm not going to listen to Dr. Fauci, we met all of the criteria for reopening.

Let me show you this graph if we have it. You remember what the first criteria was, Jim, to reopen a state? You and I have talked about it so many times, you have to have a 14-day downtown ward trend.

I don't know if we have the graph or not, but let me just say, the data doesn't lie. The 14 days, two-week time period before Texas reopened, it's a different graph, but nevertheless, in Texas, they did not have a downward trend. You can take my word for it.

The point is that the science matters here, Jim, more than ever.

SCIUTTO: And to your point, those guidelines came from this White House. I mean, their team wrote those guidelines and yet are endorsing states as they violate them.

So let's talk about a state, California that led the way in many respects, early on, even with a low number of cases that they had, some pretty comprehensive stay-at-home orders, et cetera. They seem to get it under control, began to reopen, conservatively. The numbers jump again. Did they do something wrong?

GUPTA: You know, I think it's an idea that the policies versus the people, right? I mean, you know, how much can you legislate of this in terms of how people are going to behave?

I think, you know, they followed a lot of guidelines. They also opened without meeting all the criteria, but I think, one of the things that Governor Newsom has also pointed at is the -- again, the people, if you are having these large private gatherings, for example, not a public institution, but large private gatherings, extended family and neighbors, community members. Those are a source that he thinks of significant spread.

So the numbers don't lie. Clearly, there has been explosive growth and you double the numbers every couple of days. You can get to a large number very, very quickly -- Jim.


SCIUTTO: Yes, and then you see Dr. Fauci's warning there has substance behind this. Sanjay Gupta, always good to talk to you.

GUPTA: You, too, thanks.

SCIUTTO: Just ahead, Susan Rice, the former National Security Adviser to President Obama will join us. We are going to discuss my new reporting on why the President's Intelligence briefers are wary of even raising Russia with him as we probe what the President knew about the Russians offering bounties to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.



SCIUTTO: We're breaking news now to report on President Trump's denials he ever received intelligence reporting about Russian bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Multiple former Trump administration officials who briefed the President tell me that Trump's resistance to intelligence warning specifically about Russia led his national security team including those who delivered the President's daily brief to him orally to do so less and less often.

Today, the President's national security adviser Robert O'Brien said the President was not briefed, because at the time the administrator -- the information rather was quote uncorroborated. However, CNN has confirmed that the information was in his written daily brief this spring. Still, President Trump today hung to the line that he didn't see it. Also, that there was nothing to see.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: When you bring something into a president and I see many, many things, and I'm sure I don't see many things that they don't think rose to the occasion, this didn't rise to the occasion. And from what I hear, and I hear pretty good, the intelligence people didn't even many of them didn't believe it happened at all. I think it's a hoax. I think it's a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats.


SCIUTTO: Well, in fact, it was information shared with U.S. commanders on the ground Afghanistan.

Joining me now Susan Rice, she was National Security Adviser under President Obama. She would be in the room as the President received his intelligence brief daily. She's also the author we should mention of Tough Love: My Story Of The Things Worth Fighting For.

Ambassador Rice, appreciate having you on the program tonight. I want to ask you --


SCIUTTO: -- what consequences are there for U.S. national security when you have a president who blows up when he hears critical information or intelligence about one of its primary adversaries Russia. What does that mean for the safety and security of this country?

RICE: Well, Jim, the advisors to the President, particularly the national security adviser, but also the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Chief of Staff, Director of National Intelligence, their job, and my job was to brief the president, to bring to the president all that he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear.

Not that it's nice to hear. And in fact, when I served President Obama, he would sometimes joke that I and others who brought bad news were the doomsday people, but he always listened to what we had to say and he never conveyed the impression that news was too bad to be worthy of him hearing.

You don't intimidate the messengers, you welcome the message and you get to the business of solving the problems and in resolving the threats that basically the American people. And this President is derelict in his duty as commander in chief to brush off information that is critical to the life and death of our service members, and do so just because he doesn't want to hear bad news.

SCIUTTO: You know, better than anyone that intelligence is rarely unanimous or 100% clear. And you said that if as National Security Adviser you received even raw reporting that Russia was paying Taliban fighters to kill U.S. service members, you would have walked right into the Oval Office to brief the president. Is there any reason that you can see to justify not raising intelligence like this directly to the commander in chief?

RICE: There's absolutely no reason, Jim. When it comes to our men and women in uniform in a war zone in harm's way in one of our arch adversaries, in this case, Russia, escalating their hostility towards the United States by actively paying Taliban terrorists to kill our forces. I would have walked into the Oval Office as soon as I saw that information, and even if it were pretty raw and unverified, I would have said, Mr. President, we have immediately here some very troubling information that the Russians are paying the Taliban to kill our forces.

I'm going to run this to the ground. I'm going to work with the Intelligence Committee community to figure out how strong it is. In the meantime, we're going to work on options for you to respond appropriately to Russia. And we'll get back to you and we know more you don't fail to tell him.

And Jim, let me just say, I don't believe that they didn't tell him. I believe the more we've learned about this, that when this information came to light in 2019, early 2019, which is now what we understand to be the case, I'll bet a dime to $1 that my predecessor John Bolton did just that and walked into the Oval Office and told him what he needed to hear.

I think they're obscuring that, they've prevented him from talking about it in his book. And now those around him who don't have the backbone that Bolton had probably weren't too scared to tell him when it was put again in the President's daily briefing. This is the top intelligence product. [20:35:33]

Everything in that is meant for the President's eyes. He doesn't read it. But the National Security Advisor has the obligation to make sure that he at least knows what's in it.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because the Washington Post is reporting tonight that President Trump has decided already that this is not actionable intelligence as it can be described, meaning he's not planning any response to it. He's made that decision already. What's your reaction?

RICE: How can you make a decision, Jim, let's think about this. First of all, it's not important, then it's fake news, then it doesn't merit as attention but all of a sudden, he knows enough to know it doesn't merit action. This all does not add up. We have known about this in some form or fashion for over a year.

It does not take the intelligence community over a year to come to an assessment about the validity of something of this importance. They come to an assessment, they put it in the PDB. They put it in the wire, which is you know, but let me tell your viewers is a document an intelligence product that goes to everybody with a clearance in Washington, and all over Capitol Hill.

So you don't put something out with that kind of dissemination, without the intelligence community having a certain significant degree of confidence in it. So the President is denying and deflecting, from his responsibility to protect our troops. And I think it's one of the worst breaches of his responsibility that we've seen today.

SCIUTTO: One of the most consistent features of President Trump's foreign policy is frankly, deference to Russia. You've seen it in a whole host of decisions that I've asked senior members of his administration repeatedly to explain that and they can't. They can't. They'll shake their hand -- their heads, frankly, at that. How do you explain it? And do you suspect that he's not willing to confront Russia?

RICE: I believe he's not willing to confront Russia. Look at the pattern that goes back before he was elected president. He called on Putin to interfere in our elections, to hack Hillary's e-mails. He praised WikiLeaks. He denied the fact of Russian interference in our election on his behalf.

He obstructed the Mueller investigation and then distorted its findings. He met with Putin in Helsinki and took Putin's word publicly over our intelligence communities. He withdrew U.S. forces precipitously from Syria and allowed literally Russian forces to take over U.S. basis.

And more recently, he called on Putin, he invited Putin to join the G7 again over the objection of our allies, he would -- he ordered the withdrawal of nearly a third of our forces from Germany without ever consulting with the Germans, which is a huge blow to our bilateral relationship and to NATO and a huge boon to Putin. And now we learn that even when it comes to the life and death, the

blood and toil of our soldiers, he could care less to even hear that the Russians may be doing something nefarious, which of course they are. So add all that up. And it is mind boggling and one cannot help but question, what are his motivations?

Why? Is it money? Is it something that they have on him? Is it some fascination with Putin in his power? There is something that must explain this. And I don't have the answer any more than his advisers do, but it's deeply, deeply troubling, when any president would put loyalty to somebody in a foreign government or to a foreign government above the health and safety of American forces.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this before we go, because of course, you know, you've been mentioned as a possible running mate to Vice President Biden. I know you're not going to comment on the on the process. But I will ask you very simply, do you want the job?

RICE: Jim, look, as I've said before, I'm deeply honored. And I'm humbled that I'm reportedly among this group of extraordinary women who are being considered for the job. I've also said that the most important thing in my mind and for this country is for Joe Biden to be the next president of the United States and for the Democrats to control the Senate as well as the House.

And that is what we need to write all of these wrongs. The fact that, you know, our foreign relationships or leadership in the world, the quality and integrity of our government, all of the challenges we face with coronavirus, the economy race, all of these issues need strong principled leadership of integrity and that's what I care about.


And as I've said, I will serve in any capacity that I can to help advance that objective of Joe Biden becoming our next president, and then to help him succeed if he does become president

SCIUTTO: Susan Rice, we appreciate you joining the program tonight.

RICE: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, President Trump's stoking the flames of racial division once again today. As we touched on, he is calling a proposed Black Lives Matter mural in New York in his words, a symbol of hate, but as press secretary, it says, no, you read his tweets all wrong. We're going to have more, when 360 continues.


SCIUTTO: It should be clear now that President Trump believes his road to reelection is paved with a daily culture war on his Twitter feed. In the last 24 hours. He has defended military bases named after Confederate generals and attacked fair housing regulations meant to benefit minorities.

This morning he went directly after the Black Lives Matter movement. His complaint was about the plan to paint Black Lives Matter outside his Trump Tower residence in New York. He said quote, New York City is cutting police money by $1 billion and yet the New York City mayor is going to paint a big expensive yellow, Black Lives Matter sign on Fifth Avenue denigrating this luxury every avenue.


And as we told you earlier he then called the proposed Black Lives Matter mural quote, this symbol of hate.

Just a short time ago, his press secretary was asked exactly what he meant by that. And as usual, her reply was that the press and anyone who read that tweet as offensive were the ones who got it wrong. See how she tries to explain it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Americans of all races have protested in all 50 states around that phrase, Black Lives Matter. And the President is here calling it a symbol of hate?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's talking about the organization.


SCIUTTO: Keeping them honest, nowhere in the President's tweet, does he refer to the organization or to its leadership, just the mural that says simply black lives matter?

Joining me now, Bakari Sellers, a CNN political commentator, and a former member of the South Carolina House. He also just published his memoir, My Vanishing Country.

Bakari, good to have you on


SCIUTTO: You know, when you hear these phrases here, you know, let's forget dog whistle because they're really blue -- bullhorn phrases, are they not, our heritage when talking about Confederate monuments, white power being proclaimed in that video that he tweeted, kung flu when you talk about coronavirus, but even calling Black Lives Matter a symbol of hate, a deliberate effort to appeal to two white supremacist. What's he trying to do here?

SELLERS: Well, this president as you stated earlier, in the introduction, he uses political and cultural wars as some type of currency. Even more importantly, he uses racism as political currency. I think that everyone needs to understand that that is a part of his political toolkit. For many of us though, there is a great deal of pain that goes with these stereotypes.

There's a great deal of pain that goes with things like the Confederacy and the Confederate flag in the statues. I remind people that if you want to juxtapose what a president is versus what Donald Trump is, you only have to look to five years ago were Barack Obama saying so eloquently, amazing Grace, while eulogizing my good friend Clementa Pinckney, after Dylann Roof walked into a Bible study and murdered him, along with eight others while he then had pictures of himself enveloped in the Confederate flag.

The President doesn't care about that pain of all Americans. Instead, he rather stoke these cultural wars because he believes that's the only path to victory.

SCIUTTO: So let's play if we can something that the White House press secretary said when she was asked exactly why the President is digging in on race specifically, why he opposed changing the names of military bases honoring Confederate generals. I want you to listen to her and then get your reaction.


MCENANY: He believes that our young men and women who left these bases overseas many of whom lost their lives, and the last thing they saw was being on one of these military bases that they should not be told that the base that they trained, and the last place they saw on American soil was a racist institution.


SCIUTTO: Do you buy that?

SELLERS: Not at all, and I mean, the prep. So there are a couple of things. One is the President's ignorance of history. And I know Kayleigh extremely well, and she's regurgitating. And when people get close to the President of the United States, that ignorance in metastasizes and so I'm going to say that that ignorance has grown on her as well.

And one of the biggest problems we have is that there are people of color, there are black folk who have served in this military who still served today, who had bled for this country and who still look at the Confederate bases that they served that that those generals, not the people they served with, but the basis they served on what it stands for those names as being symbols of hate.

And I think we have to explain this. Just so we're extremely clear, Jim. Black Lives Matter, I don't know if this phrase, if it makes you raise your shoulders or your eyebrows, then something is genuinely wrong with you. No one is saying that black lives are more important. No one is saying that black lives matter more than white hope.

But all we're simply saying is Black Lives Matter. And why are we saying that? Because there's not a question about the value of white lives in this country. There's not a question of the value of police lives in this country. But there is a question of the value of black lives. So if you can't even utter that phrase, it's something wrong with you. It ain't those of us who chant it and who wear it on our shirts.

SCIUTTO: So when the President says it's violent, a symbol of hate. SELLERS: I mean, this is the same president who would have been on the other side of SCLC, he would have been on the other side of snick, he would have been on the other side of core, I mean, hell, he would have been on the other side of Dr. King.


I mean, let's just think about that right now. Because a lot of these people who want to quote Dr. King don't understand that he was a radical revolutionary, right. Someone who was actually he was fighting for the rights of sanitation workers and labor workers when he was killed on April 4th, 1968. And so this President's ignorance of history and the bar that we've come to, Jim, I mean, this is such a low bar that my twin at 18 months old can probably jump over to be President of the United States.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, his language in the presidential race we haven't heard since George Wallace. Right. I mean, you got to go back 50 years.

Bakari Sellers, thanks very much.

SELLERS: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Just ahead, another step in the country's reckoning with racism and how remarkable. It is because that step was taken in the former capital of the Confederacy.



SCIUTTO: Here's a busy night of news Chris Cuomo, "CUOMO PRIME" coming up, you got two hours. Chris, what you're going to talk about?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: We'll take on a lot of the sticky bits. Now that the President is at least saying part of the right message which is, you know, have to wear a mask has to be part of it. He's not saying has to though, right? He's not making it mandatory.


CUOMO: So we're going to take a look with Sanjay with the number of cells has to be done, but then we're going to take on different aspects of disagreement here. We have someone who was in Arizona, which as we know is getting hit really hard. He's a gym guy. I'm a gym guy, you're a gym guy. I would love for the gyms to reopen, but they're not for a reason, especially in Arizona, but he wants to make his case. We'll hear him out.

We also have a leader who's now the new head of the city council in Jacksonville, Florida about what they're going to do to reconcile the medical needs with the coming convention and the mixed messaging.

SCIUTTO: I'm going to be watching Chris, we'll see in a few minutes.

Coming up next this hour, a monumental change literally in the heart of the Old South.


SCIUTTO: And what was once the capital of the Confederacy, the mayor of Richmond, Virginia used as emergency powers to order the removal of Confederate statues in the city this afternoon. The Stonewall Jackson statue was removed from its pedestal that's what you're watching there.

And it stood there for more than 100 years. This on the very same day a state law took effect giving localities the ability to remove or alter Confederate monuments in their communities if they followed a series of steps things like a waiting period. The Republican Party of Virginia however called the Democratic mayor's actions an illegal start.


It's time now to hand over to Chris Cuomo for "CUOMO PRIME TIME". Chris, it's all yours.