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Former CDC Director Says He Thinks COVID-19 Originated in Chinese Lab But Has No Evidence; Fauci: Redfield Was Likely Expressing That There Are "Possibilities" of How a Virus Adapts and Spreads; Report: Trump Pits Potential Senate Candidates Against Each Other for His Endorsement; Biden Reacts to New Georgia Voting Law; U.S. Navy Expected to Send Assessment Team to Assist with Container Ship Stuck in Suez Canal. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 26, 2021 - 14:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:31:56]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: For the very first time, Trump's CDC director is voicing his opinion on where he believes the coronavirus pandemic originated.

Dr. Robert Redfield sat down with CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, this is unprecedented. Tell us about in conversation that you had.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well we had conversations with six of the doctors who were sort of leading the COVID response. All sat down, talked to us. All of them are private citizens except for one.

And they were illuminating conversations, Brianna, sometimes infuriating conversations as well.

The goal was to understand what happened this past year so that lessons -- see what lessons could be learned to try and deal with what's happening and for the future.

Dr. Redfield in particular wanted to start the conversation at the beginning. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: If I was to guess, this virus started transmitting in September, October in Wuhan.

GUPTA: September, October.

REDFIELD: That's my opinion. That's my opinion. I'm allowed to have opinions now.

I'm of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of the pathogen in Wuhan from a laboratory, escaped.

Now, the other people don't believe that. That's fine. Science will eventually figure it out.

It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens worked in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker.

GUPTA (voice-over): It's also not unusual for that type of research to be occurring in Wuhan. The city is a widely known center for viral studies in China, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has experimented extensive with bat coronaviruses.

GUPTA (on camera): It's a remarkable conversation I feel like we're having here. Because you are the former CDC director and you were the director at the time this was all happening.

(voice-over): For the first time, the former CDC director is stating publicly that he believes this pandemic started months earlier than we knew. And that it originated not at a wet market but inside of a lab in China.

(on camera): These are two significant things to say, Dr. Redfield.

REDFIELD: That's not implying any intentionality. You know, it's my opinion. All right? But I'm a virologist. I've spent my life in virology. I do not believe this came from a bat to a human.

And at that moment in time, the virus that came to the human became one of the most infectious viruses we know in humanity for human-to- human transmission.

Normally, when a pathogen goes from a zoonotic to a human, it takes a while for it to figure out how to become more efficient in human-to- human transmission. I don't think this makes biological sense.

GUPTA: In the lab, do you think that process of becoming more efficient was happening? Is that what you are suggesting?

REDFIELD: Yes. Let's say I have coronavirus I'm working on. Most us in the lab that trying to grow a virus, we try to make it grow better and better and better and better so we can do experiments and figure out about it. That's the way I put it together.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[14:35:02]

GUPTA: As you know, Brianna, again, Dr. Redfield, CDC director while this was happening, probably had access to data and then information that most of us did not. So this is his point of view now on things.

And it's a provocative point of view. The World Health Organization says this lab-leak theory is extremely unlikely.

Chinese officials have said that they are talking about a multiple origin theory, saying maybe it started in multiple places taut at the same time. That's not substantiated.

But the point is, a year later, Brianna, we still don't really know how this started exactly. So there's a lot of back and forth on this.

KEILAR: It is fascinating to hear him say that.

The nation's leading infectious disease expert, Sanjay, who you spoke with for the special, weighed in on the extraordinary comments. What did he say?

GUPTA: We did talk to Dr. Fauci and several other doctors. But Dr. Fauci was asked about Dr. Redfield's comments earlier today after we showed them. And here is how Dr. Fauci responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: I think what he likely was expressing is that there certainly are possibilities, as I mentioned just a few moments ago, of how a virus adapts itself to an efficient spread among humans. One of them is in the lab.

And one of them, which is the more likely, which most public health officials agree with, is that it likely was below the radar screen spreading in the community in China for several weeks, if not a month or more, which allowed it, when it first got recognized clinically, to be pretty well adapted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: So, again, Brianna, a year later, two of the doctors at the sort of center of the COVID response around this basic issue of how this started and still not consensus on this.

Brianna, let me say, as well, it's important not just because of intrigue of it but because understanding how best to deal with a potential future outbreak probably does -- you know, you get a lot of information and understanding how this one started.

More regulation around labs, different sort of surveillance testing, things like that.

There's got to be a lot of changes that need to happen. And figuring out the answers to questions like this can help make the changes actually occur.

KEILAR: Indeed. Sanjay, can't wait to watch this.

Again, a CNN special report, called "COVID, THE PANDEMIC DOCTORS SPEAK OUT." And that will be beginning Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern. Tune in for that.

Next, a new report that former President Trump is up to his old tricks, lining up four potential Senate candidates in a room, "Apprentice"-style to make them vie for his endorsement. We'll have details on that behind-the-scenes meeting. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:41:55]

KEILAR: Now to a preview of Republican primary season 2022 and the links that candidates may go to curry favor with former President Donald Trump.

It comes from this report in "Politico" that is titled "Trump's Secret Sit-Down with Ohio Candidates Turns into 'Hunger Games.'"

And this details what reportedly happened when the former president summoned four candidates to a meeting within, all vying to be Ohio's next U.S. Senator hoping to fill Rob Portman's seat when he leaves in 2022.

Let's talk about this with Alex Isenstadt, who is behind the story.

You're the national politics reporter for "Politico."

Alex, what a headline. "Hunger Games," huh? Tell us what went on behind the scenes here.

ALEX ISENSTADT, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "POLITICO": So basically Trump was in his golf club in Florida. And there was a fundraiser for an Ohio candidate running a different race.

And you had four Ohio Senate candidates who decided to make their trek all the way down to Florida to essentially kiss Trump's ring.

And the former president invites the four of them into a back room. He puts them in a circular table forced to face one another. And essentially, it's an audition that these four candidates engaged in, in order to sort of impress the former president.

And speaking with someone who is directly familiar with what happened, it felt a lot like Trump's old reality show "The Apprentice" where you had all these different candidates just trying to curry favor and impress the former president, in hopes of landing his all-important endorsement.

KEILAR: So any idea who did well here?

ISENSTADT: Well, it's unclear who did well. But you definitely had certain candidates, namely a guy by the name of Josh Mandel, who is a candidate running, who was really aggressive in terms of attacking another candidate, who was sitting right there beside him.

And he said -- speaking of the candidate, Mandel said he was going to crush her. He said he was defeating her soundly.

The speculation I got in talking and reporting off the story was that Mandel was really playing for an audience of one. That Trump would kind of like that bellicose kind of language and that would impress him.

KEILAR: I want to be clear, we reached out to all the candidates today and we have yet to hear back.

But on the bigger issue, Alex, where Trump is going to factor in the primary season, how significant will he be a king maker?

ISENSTADT: Well, I think what this story shows is that Trump is going to be ultimate king maker in in party. He is going to -- candidates are treating him as the guy who can make or break the outcome in these Republican primary races.

And it's really this remarkable thing. You talk to Republican candidates who are running races across the country, and it's as if the only thing that matters to them -- the thing that's most important to them is somehow nabbing Trump's endorsement.

[14:45:05]

And so what this scene really shows is the lengths to which they're willing to go out there and get it. It's something that we haven't really seen before with previous presidents.

You didn't see candidates really trying to curry favor in this way with Barack Obama or George W. Bush, for example. This is a different kind of thing.

KEILAR: Yes, the humiliation they will endure, it's almost uniform. We'll see how that goes coming up.

Alex, great reporting. Alex Isenstadt, thanks for sharing it us.

President Biden is making his first statement on the Georgia law restricting voter rights. That in a moment.

Plus, more than 200 now ships are now stuck -- see these -- in the Mediterranean and in the Red Sea because of this. One of the world's largest cargo ships run aground in the Suez Canal. We'll take you live there, next. We'll get the latest on when this will finally be resolved.

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[14:50:29]

KEILAR: Moments ago, President Biden released a statement with his reaction to the Georgia law voting rights.

I want to bring in CNN's chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins.

What did he say here?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House told us this statement was coming. And he's blasting this entire new law that the Georgia governor signed into law last night.

Going through the different aspects of it that we've been talking about all day, that voting rights groups and civil rights groups say is not only going to hurt black turnout but are making it harder for people to vote in Georgia.

President Biden is saying in this statement is that, we saw this historic turnout in the election, overall, and also Georgia. He won Georgia by a very slim margin. It's also the state that delivered Democrats that slim majority.

He said, instead of celebrating that, they are trying to rush through what he is calling an un-American law that is trying to deny people the right to vote, Brianna.

He also says, "This law, like so many others being pursued by Republicans in statehouses across the country, is a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience. This is Jim Crow in the 21st century. It must end."

He says, "We have a moral and a constitutional obligation to act."

And, of course, what he means by that, Brianna, and what he states pretty clearly at the end of this lengthy statement is that he wants Congress to pass those voting rights laws.

Of course, we know they face an uphill, if not impossible battle in the Senate. It seems really unlikely they're going to get passed. Now President Biden is calling on them in this statement to vote.

He says at the end -- I do want to read that last part -- he says, "If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote."

KEILAR: Kaitlan, thank you so much for that. Really appreciate it.

Next, the U.S. Navy is now sending help to get traffic flowing again on the Suez Canal after one of the world's largest cargo ships has run aground and it's causing a global trade backlog.

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[14:57:19]

KEILAR: Talk about muddying the water. The U.S. Navy is having to adjust its operations, and the Federal Reserve is warning of temporary price spikes, all because one giant ship has been stuck in the Suez Canal for four days.

It turns out the ripple effects are vast when you block up one of the world's busiest waterways.

I want to bring in CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, following this for us from Cairo.

Ben, what is happening here? When do they think this may be resolved?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It depends on who you speak with, Brianna. Some are hoping that, perhaps, by tomorrow that the ship will be free.

There are intense efforts by Egyptian authorities and international companies to try to dredge around this ship.

However, one Dutch expert told CNN that the idea that the ship will be free Saturday is a subject of hope, not reality. Reality is much harsher in this case.

We're already seeing that ships are being diverted away from the Suez Canal around Africa. The sister ship of the "Evergiven," that stricken ship in the Suez Canal, itself has been diverted around Africa.

The cost of shipping oil now has gone up by 47 percent since this crisis began.

The Swedish furniture and household goods company, IKEA, says they are having their shipments delayed by this problem in the Suez Canal.

At this point, if these hopes are not realized that the canal will be unstuck by tomorrow, experts are saying this could go on for, if not days, for weeks -- Brianna?

KEILAR: My goodness.

Ben Wedeman, thank you for that update.

I just wanted to share a personal note before your weekend. I want to let you know that I will be switching my hours up on CNN.

It has been quite the year that we have spent together here in the early afternoon. I know. We have gone through a pandemic, a racial reckoning, a presidential election and an insurrection together.

And many of you have been working from home, as you allowed me, and a very dedicated crew of talented CNN producers and writers who get this show on the air to join you for lunch.

I'm hoping you will be game to, instead, have your morning coffee with me in the weeks ahead.

I'll even be bringing a smart and funny friend, because starting April 19th, I'll be joining John Berman to co-anchor "NEW DAY" from 6:00 to 9:00 a.m.

[14:59:57]

And I'll be getting ready for that and getting my COVID vaccination, and then I'll be seeing you bright and early in a few weeks.

Thank you so much. As always, for watching.