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White House Won't Outright Denounce White Supremacy When Pressed; Trump to Hold Rallies in Wisconsin Despite Alarming Figures. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired October 1, 2020 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS: A very busy news day, stay with us. Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage right now. Have a good day. Stay safe.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHTNOW: HI there. I'm Brianna Keilar, and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

For two days now, President Trump has been unable or the unwilling to condemn white supremacists in a way that would make it clear he does not welcome their support of white supremacists. He danced around this during the debate when he told a far-right group to stand back and stand by.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups --


WALLACE: -- and to say they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we have seen in Portland? Are you prepared to specifically --

TRUMP: Sure, I'm willing to do that.


TRUMP: I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing.


KEILAR: And when asked a second time to denounce white supremacy yesterday at the White House, he said this.


REPORTER: White supremacists, they clearly love you and support you. Do you welcome that?

TRUMP: I want law and order to be a very important part -- it is a very important part of my campaign. And when I say that, what I'm talking about is law enforcement has to -- police have to take care and they should stop defunding the police, like they've done in New York -- like they have done in New York. I just told you.

REPORTER: But you denounce them? Do you denounce --

TRUMP: I have always denounced any form, any form, any form of any of that.


KEILAR: And while the Proud Boys have taken the president's debate remarks as a call to action and nervous Republicans are urging the president to be more forceful and direct in renouncing racism, in denouncing it, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany says, the president's beliefs are clear. Here is what she told CNN's Kaitlan Collins moments ago.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The Proud Boys are people who consider them to be members of this group, give voice to these misogynistic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant views, they're a despicable group by pretty much anyone's standards.

So when the president was asked about them, and you say, he denounced them, that's what you're insisting that he did on the debate stage the other night, if that's the case, then why are they celebrating what the president said on the debate stage in front of millions of people?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I don't speak for that group, so I'm not sure why you're asking me why they're saying --

COLLINS: If someone denounce you, you probably wouldn't put it on a T-shirt and make badges of it, right?

MCENANY: The president did denounce them. He was asked, will you tell them to stand down, he said, sure. He went on to --

COLLINS: Stand down, which seems like an instruction.

MCENANY: He said, stand back. And then just yesterday when he was asked, he said specifically, stand down, a synonym with stand back. And the president said, sure, when asked by the moderator, whether they should stand down.

So, again, it's really interesting too to see the media is only one putting the names of these groups into headlines, into media reporting. He didn't know who the Proud Boys were. First time I heard of them was in the debate. But the media continues to putt these names into circulation and give them a lot of public attention. COLLINS: It was given 12 hours more than that since the debate from when he was asked to clarify yesterday, and he didn't come out and clarify yesterday. Instead, he did what you did when John asked you to unambiguously denounce these group, you just pointed to past things that you've said.

I just don't understand why you're numerating (ph) to these questions and you don't want (INAUDIBLE) to just say, we do unambiguously denounce these groups and --

MCENANY: Do you know what is -- do you know why people have lost trust in the media? There is a reporter from your network yesterday, your network, and in a tweet, quote --

COLLINS: I'm asking you a question. I don't even know what you're --

MCENANY: I am answering your question. I sat here when you lobbed your partisan attack question, so you will allow me to give an answer.

The president and someone from your network said yesterday in a tweet, the president dodged a question about white supremacy. That was a tweet from a CNN reporter. The president specifically, verbatim, asked yesterday, white supremacy, do you denounce them, to which he responded, I have always denounced any form of that. Those are the facts. And, CNN, I know that truth is of no moment to your moment, but those are the facts.

COLLINS: Republicans are calling on the president to be more forceful, his own party.


KEILAR: I want to bring in Nia-Malika Henderson, our Senior Political Reporter.

And, I mean, as much as Kayleigh tries to say that that is a very clear denunciation, it isn't. And what he said initially, sure. That's not how you would normally respond to denouncing something like white supremacy. And when pressed, she couldn't flat-out do it herself, Nia.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And why is this so important? It is so important because the biggest domestic terrorism threat comes from white supremacist groups like the Proud Boys, which the president claims now that he has never heard of, doesn't know what they are, but they, of course, are using his words in that debate as a rallying cry. We saw part of this, I think, in 2016 with the David Duke thing.


The sort of ambiguity is part of the strategy here from this president. He is not going to out and out consistently denounce a group that backs him and in some ways hold some of the ideology that he seems to hold too. If you think about sort of his anti-immigrant rhetoric, these are the same kinds of things that groups like Proud Boys believe. KEILAR: Yes, ambiguity. I think that's the perfect way to put it, Nia. And it's really -- it is despicable.

Nia, if you could stand by for me, at a rally last night in Minnesota, the president again deployed fear and sowed division, he renewed attacks on a freshman Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar while playing on racism and lying about what Joe Biden has planned for that state.


TRUMP: What -- what is going on with Omar? I have been reading these reports for two years about how corrupt and crooked she is. Let's get with it. Let's get with it.

How the hell -- and then she tells us how to run our country. Can you believe it? How the hell did Minnesota elect her? What the hell is wrong with you people?

Another massive issue for Minnesota is the election of Joe Biden's plan to inundate your state with a historic flood of refugees.

Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp and he said that.


KEILAR: Congresswoman Omar is a refugee from Somalia who fled the country with her family when she was eight years old. She has been an American citizen for two decades. She has been a frequent target of Trump since she was first elected to Congress two years ago.

The Trump administration announced yesterday that it will be slashing the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to a new low next year.

And I want to discuss this now with Nia and also bring in Maria Santana, who is an Anchor and Correspondent for CNN en Espanol.

Nia, this -- I mean, look, we have seen this. This has been a page of the president's playbook since the moment he came down that escalator and declared the candidacy in 2015.

HENDERSON: That is exactly right. Demonizing black and brown people, demonizing immigrants as well, and this idea of who the country belongs to, who are the real Americans. If you think about his 2016 campaign, that was what it was all about.

And the idea was to turn the country back to a time when it was certainly much whiter than it is now and certainly white people had much more power than they do now because America has become a much more democratic country, it's become a much more diverse country, as well since the 1950s. But, again, he is playing on these white anxieties about a diversifying country. It is despicable and it's quite dangerous.

I think people look at this election as obviously a referendum on Trump. But I think one of the things that's frightening is that he has stirred up such anger and fear among his base that, win or lose, this is likely to be around for quite some time with these followers of Donald Trump's, this sense of anger, this sense of wanting lash out in violence, if you are group like the Proud Boys, in a sense that somehow this country is being taken away from them by people who don't look like them.

This is a despicable, I think, chapter in this country and I think it is just the beginning in terms of Trump's involvement in it and what he stirred up.

KEILAR: And, Maria, you have learned that the president is planning to put his law and order message on display in a very public way targeting immigration violators and playing on racism. Tell us more about this.

MARIA SANTANA, CNN EN ESPANOL ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brianna. We spoke with two sources who are familiar with the proposal by the Trump administration to put up billboards highlighting immigrants that have committed crimes and that have been released to local authorities.

This is, once again, seen as a move at targeting these so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, these sanctuary cities, places that limit cooperation between federal immigration authorities and the local police.

Now, it is unclear right now where or when these billboards would go up. Sources are telling us that they are trying to have this ready before the elections.

It is also unclear what they will look like. Will they include people's names, people's faces, photos of these immigrants and what crimes they have committed?

And what we are learning from some former and current officials is that this is a pretty unprecedented move. None of them have ever heard, the people that we spoke to, of something like this ever being done before.

And some people are really questioning the motives behind this, like how does this bolster immigration and customs enforcement's message? What is it doing? And it really is coming off right now as being strictly political, something to bolster the president's campaign, his law and order image.


But most importantly to stoke fear in these communities, because what these billboards would really be telling people is, here is a person, they don't belong here, they are dangerous, they are scary and they are living in your community.

And there's a lot of concern about what that could lead to if something like this does happen. But it is also yet another federal agency using their position to help bolster the president's election campaign. And that's what we are hearing from some of these sources. Brianna?

KEILAR: Maria, thank you so much for sharing your reporting with us. Nia-Malika Henderson with us as well, thank you.

I want to talk about the national security implications of all of this, and we have Peter Strzok here to discuss. He served as the chief of the FBI's counterespionage section before he was fired from the agency in 2018 after inflammatory comments that he made about the president in text messages were revealed. He is now suing the Justice Department saying that his firing was politically motivated. And he is the author of the book, Compromised, Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump.

Peter, you write in your book, quote, I don't feel that I have the option of keeping quiet about the clear and present that I know the Trump administration poses to our national security. Considering recent developments, just a couple of them, false claims about voter fraud, failing to denounce the threat of white supremacy in a very clear way, do you think the president is a national security threat?

PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI CHIEF OF COUNTERESPIONAGE SECTION: Brianna, thanks for having me. Yes, I do. I started in the FBI mid-'90s right after the Oklahoma City bombing, and I worked the beginning of my career against domestic terrorism groups, particularly including violent white supremacists.

And time after time again, academic research and the investigations that we saw proved time and again that this sort of acknowledgement certainly from anybody in a position of power is both a powerful recruiting tool, and we see that going on right now from these groups, and more insidiously it sort of builds an acceptance within the general kind of mental state of America that as hideous and is terrible, as violent, racial extremism is somehow okay.

And so for the president to be saying is really damaging and it's more than a societal damage, that is a damage to our nation as a whole. And then, of course, that's just one facet of everything we're seeing in sort of the revelations of his tax records showing all this financial exposure to foreign nations but it presents a picture of a man who is, in fact, a danger, in my opinion, to the U.S. national security.

KEILAR: And I want to talk to you about his financials in a moment. But just back to your point about domestic extremists, and this is obviously something as you said you have experienced with, when the Department of Homeland Security has a draft assessment that says, white supremacists are the most lethal threat to the U.S., What are the concerns that the FBI would have about how that could play out?

STRZOK: Well, I think the FBI has the knowledge through investigations of looking at all these incidents of violence within America. And if you look at these mass shooting events, the preponderance of these attacks have taken by individuals who have some link or basis to a link to ideology that involves some sort of racial supremacy.

That's concerning because that is what is a lot of these cases driving people towards violence and it is something we absolutely have to be taking a stand against.

The FBI can investigate and the Department of Justice can prosecute it, but it's going to take more than that. We have to have the sort of leadership coming from the top of our nation all the way down in our government, in our society saying this is not acceptable. Racial violence is not who we are and any instance of it should be snuffed out and stifled and denounced, not accepted, not both side-isms, but the sort of things that we hear coming out of the president's mouth.

KEILAR: So, explain why it is so clear or why it's so important for the president to be clear. I mean, we hear the White House say over and over, oh, he has denounced it. But, I mean, when I think of his occasional denunciation, it comes like pulling teeth.

I think of him denouncing white supremacy under considerable pressure a couple days after Heather Hire was killed in Charlottesville. This latest -- I mean, sure is not a denunciation, right? That is not a very clear word.

Explain why even as the White House insists people want to dictate the language the president should use, why clear language is so important.

STRZOK: Well, he shouldn't be issuing apologies. The first thing he said should be denouncing it. He shouldn't be willed-out through surrogates or himself giving these muffled excuses of what he said. The fact of the matter is, when he talks about Charlottesville, the first thing he says is, there are good people in both sides of the issue. That's reprehensible.

Similarly when he talks and makes the comments -- referencing the Proud Boys to stand by, that's unacceptable.


It is not enough that, oh, well, I've got a half-baked excuse or an explanation afterwards. That's not okay.

In the first instance, he should be seeking to tamp down unrest, he should be seeking inclusion, he should be denouncing. How is it objectionable? How can it possibly be problematic to say, I am against racial violence? To have any other position at all is simply unacceptable with what we stand for as a nation. And every person needs to think through exactly what it is that's coming out of the mouth of the president of the United States.

KEILAR: I want to listen to another moment that happened during the debate.


TRUMP: But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can't go along with that. And I'll tell you what --

WALLACE: And what does that mean, I can't go along? Does that mean you're going to --


TRUMP: I'll tell you what it means. It means you have a fraudulent election.


KEILAR: Peter, is that voter intimidation? And what role does the FBI have in this right now?

STRZOK: Well, I think it's certainly casting doubt on the efficacy of our voting system. Look, academic research from very prestigious universities around the U.S. very recently has shown that mail-in voting is amongst the most secure way we have as a nation to cast our vote.

So when he -- when the president gets up there and says that he sees all these instances of fraud, which don't exist in reality, there is no data, there is no evidence to support the assertions. What he is doing is, one, undermining the faith of Americans in their electoral process, two, laying the groundwork for contesting the election, and third, most disturbingly, this is exactly the sort of disinformation that Russia, among other people, are pushing into the social media right now.

So when you see all these things lining up, again, you have to ask yourself, when something isn't supported by the facts, when something isn't possible based on research that's being done, and then, at a third time, when a hostile foreign nation, who is actively working to re-elect President Trump is saying exactly the same thing, that is an extraordinary concerning combination of factors.

KEILAR: The president has, as I'm sure you are well aware, been criticizing the current FBI director, Chris Wray, who has spoken honestly about Russian interference, about seeing no widespread voter fraud and about the white supremacy threat in the U.S. Do you worry that the president could fire Wray?

STRZOK: Well, I worry about what the president is doing across the board to the United States government, to the leadership of that. Certainly, Director Wray got up in front of Congress and confirmed that the fact that Russia was actively working right now to denigrate Vice President Biden, and thereby assisting in helping President Trump.

I look at some of the reporting that's coming out that there was a CIA survey that concluded that Vladimir Putin himself was likely personally directing the interference to aid President Trump's re- election, drawing on more than three dozen pieces of information. And I can't begin to imagine the pressure that is on the leadership of the CIA right now.

But when you go time and again across all these government institutions who are trying to stand up against political manipulation, and as a result of being threatened by innuendo that they might be fired, of course I'm worried. And I think all of America should be worried any time we see the president placing undue pressure to provide anything other than the truth.

KEILAR: Peter, thank you for joining us, Peter Strzok, we appreciate it.

STRZOK: Brianna, thank you so much.

KEILAR: The president set to hold rallies this weekend in Wisconsin despite an alarming rate of COVID outbreaks there.

Plus, one vaccine maker gives a blunt assessment about when most Americans can expect a vaccine. It's later than you may have thought.

And new studies contradict the idea that children and adolescents are not spreaders of the virus. We'll see what researchers have found.



KEILAR: This weekend, the president will hold back-to-back rallies in Wisconsin, a state that is experiencing an alarming rise in coronavirus cases. Officials report a whopping 2,335 new cases a day up, which, compared to last week, is up 24 percent.

And Wisconsin is not alone. There are states across the U.S. that seeing a disturbing spike in cases. Several zip codes in New York are reporting infection rates five times higher than the general infection rate of the state.

CNN National Correspondent Brynn Gingras has more on these hotspots.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, New York State Governor Cuomo saying this is a stark reminder that we are not out of the woods yet when it comes to COVID-19. He identified 20 zip codes across the state where, combined, the daily positivity rate is five times greater than the total statewide. So, now, resources are just being flooded to those areas, including mobile testing, education about wearing masks and social distancing.

Looking at the state, the positivity rate is hovering just above 1 percent, which is still much lower than many areas across the country. Brianna?

KEILAR: Brynn, thank you.

I want to discuss these trends now with Dr. Peter Hotez. He is a Professor and Dean of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Peter, it is always great to see you.

And I want to begin here with Wisconsin because it has the third highest rate of new cases in the country. And we're going to see the president having rallies there over the weekend, which obviously flies in the face of advice given even by his own task force. Could this be a super-spreader event?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, absolutely, Brianna. This is actually quite unbelievable, isn't it? I mean, Wisconsin is now leading the nation or near the very top in terms of states of new COVID-19 cases and transmission, the Green Bay area especially where I think one of the rallies is proposed to be held. I mean, it makes no sense to do it there.


We have now possibly the beginning of that fall surge, that fall third peak that everyone has been talking about. It looks as though it may be happening in Wisconsin, maybe the Dakotas as well, but at Wisconsin, especially, as one of the largest ones, 16,000 new cases over the last week, I believe. And Green Bay seems to be the epicenter and the president is proposing to hold a rally there.

I just don't understand what the logic is and why he's so defiant of the science. It's really extraordinary.

KEILAR: You are involved in a race for the vaccine there at Baylor. And so I want to ask you about this announcement from Moderna where they say they're not going to have a vaccine before the election. Does that surprise you at all?

HOTEZ: No. This is what we have been saying all along. I mean, I have been saying that it will be the second or third quarter of 2021 before a significant amount of vaccine is released to the public. The public has access to it in the United States. And Dr. Redfield said that a couple weeks ago and Dr. Fauci has been more or less consistent about that.

So this is very much fitting in the timeframe that we won't even know if any of the three vaccines that are now in phase three trials in the U.S. actually work until closer to the end of the year, November, December. And that's really an important point.

We still don't have evidence that any of these vaccines actually work. They are looking promising in terms of inducing virus-neutralizing antibodies in phase one trials. But we shouldn't assume necessarily that they work or that they are safe. We'll know better over the next couple of months and then we can start making decisions about if and when we start releasing that to the public either through full licensure emergency use authorization.

So it's important to be cautiously optimistic, as Dr. Fauci always says, but not overly optimistic. We still don't know for sure if these work.

KEILAR: All right. Dr. Hotez, it's great to see you. Thank you so much.

HOTEZ: Great to see you, Brianna. Thank you.

KEILAR: A new study shows that the biggest spreader of misinformation about the coronavirus is the president himself.

Plus, the CDC director loses his fight with the White House over the reopening of cruise ships.

And iconic American companies announcing tens of thousands of job cuts over the past 24 hours. This includes a big hit to the airline industry.