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Israel Hits Gaza with New Round of Airstrikes; Hamas-Run Gaza Health Ministry: 212 People Killed; Congressional Democrats Calling for Immediate Ceasefire; Demands for Answers After Airstrike on Media Building; Major Questions Swirl Around New CDC Mask Guidelines; U.S. Supreme Court Taking Up Key Abortion Case Next Term; Election Official Slams Trump's Voting Conspiracy Theory. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2021 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00]

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world, I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, Israeli rockets target Gaza in a second week of conflict with the death toll climbing and calls for a ceasefire growing louder.

Plus --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some people may want to continue to wear masks, even if they are fully vaccinated. That's a decision they can make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: America's guidance on masks has become a controversy of its own. Why some health experts think it's too soon to ditch them.

And the Pentagon now confirmed these UFO sightings were real. We will have one navy pilot's story about her out of this world encounter.

Good to have you with us. Well we begin with the fighting between Israel and Hamas where for the first time in a week no rockets were fired from Gaza overnight, but Israeli air strikes have not let up.

These latest strikes toppled a four-story building in Gaza near the U.N.'s Palestinian refugee agency and the Islamic University. Israel says it's targeting Hamas rocket installations, tunnels and the homes of the militant group's commanders. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reports 212 people have been killed since last Monday, including 61 children.

Israel claims Hamas is putting rocket launchers and military equipment in residential areas near schools and hospitals. Meanwhile, Hamas rockets fired into Israel have claimed at least ten lives since this fighting began. In a phone call with Israel's Prime Minister U.S. President Joe Biden voiced his support for a ceasefire.

Well, it is just past 11:00 a.m. in Tel Aviv and we are joined by CNN's Hadas Gold, she is there live. So Hadas, what is the latest on these Israeli air strikes now that Prime Minister Netanyahu says that he will continue?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm actually in a town just on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, this is the site of where one of the rockets fell on Saturday, one of the rockets that were launched from Gaza into Israel, one of more than 3,400 that the Israeli military have thus far been launched. And though this rocket landed in the street actually behind me the impact, the shrapnel from this rocket, as you can see, affected the buildings all around here and actually killed a man who was within one of the buildings on this street. The cleanup as you can see is continuing into today.

Now as you noted, we did have some period of calm last night between around just after 11:00 until just after 5:00 a.m. There were no rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, one of the calmest nights for the communities in southern Israel, especially air strikes, though, the Israeli military saying that overnight it struck more than 65 targets within the Gaza Strip including what they're calling the Hamas metro which is this tunnel system underneath the Gaza strip that they say Hamas is purposely putting near civilian infrastructure and where Hamas is hiding its military assets. They also say that they struck the home of five Hamas commanders calling them terror infrastructure. Also saying that they struck rocket launching stations.

Now we do know though that there are continuing to be conversations on the diplomatic level. We do know as you noted that President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu have spoken once again and Biden for the first time talking about a ceasefire but not quite yet demanding it, which I think is an important note to make about the tone from the Americans. Meanwhile, the Israelis say that their operation will continue. Take a listen to what the Prime Minister had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The directive is to continue to strike at the targets of terrorism. The IDF is doing well. Today it has eliminated another senior Islamic Jihad commander. We have hit the Hamas naval unit and we continue to strike at the underground medium, the Hamas metro. And there are other targets. We will continue to act as necessary to restore peace and security to all residents of Israel.

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[04:05:00]

GOLD (on camera): And the American officials telling our CNN colleagues in the United States the next 72 hours will be critical in terms of how the Americans will respond. Whether they will try to put greater pressure on both sides here to try and bring some sort of cessation to the hostilities. But as of right now the Americans are still saying that they understand Israel's desire to defend itself but do want to see a reduction in the violence. And that's also the impression I'm getting from my sources here, that the Israeli military has more military objectives, more military objects, targets it wants to hit. Because for them every target that they hit, every day of this operation in their mind brings calm in the future -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Hadas Gold joining us from just on the outskirts there of Tel Aviv, many thanks.

Well the Biden administration is facing growing calls from Democratic lawmakers to put more pressure on Israel and this comes at a time when Congress is reviewing a proposed arms sale to Israel. Sources say New York lawmaker Gregory Meeks is expected to call for the arms deal to be delayed. Meantime more than two dozen Senators are calling for an immediate ceasefire agreement. Manu Raju has details now from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A growing number of Democrats actually want to see a ceasefire happen between Israel and Hamas. We have seen that more from the Democratic side and less from the Republican side on Capitol Hill, including Senator Chuck Schumer who is the majority leader, in fact the first Jewish majority leader of the United States Senate. also someone who has defended Israel for years and years and years but has made clear here that he believes that there should be a ceasefire.

And he also is joining more than 28 Democrats in the Senate who have called for a ceasefire to happen immediately. Also Joe Biden himself said he expressed support for a ceasefire in a private conversation with Benjamin Netanyahu. Very clear that's the direction of the party. We are not hearing much on the Republican side on this issue. One Republican did join with a Democrat, that's Senator Todd Young of Indiana joined with Democrat Chris Murphy in pushing for a ceasefire.

But you're hearing more criticism also of those calls, such as from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who went to the floor and said this should not be an equivalence issue and attacked Hamas and said that Israel should not be forced to essentially -- the action -- should not be equate to what Hamas is doing. So you're hearing partisan split of sorts happening on Capitol Hill.

At the same time questions about a $735 million package, an arms sale that the United States is trying to move forward to Israel. This happened actually before the conflict, they moved forward with this arms sale, but Congress is currently approving this arms sale at the moment. But I am hearing that from my sources that it appears that that arms sale will go through and one key member, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez indicated to me that he does support that arms sale going forward even though some calls on the left, some Democrats such as Ilhan Omar are sharply critical of the Biden administration for moving forward with that.

Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHURCH: Israel is defending a strike that destroyed a Gaza building which held offices for the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. The IDF says there was a warning before the attack and that the building contained Hamas military intelligence assets. Hamas denies that claim. The managing director for Al Jazeera English says no evidence of a Hamas operation was seen in the building.

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GILES TRENDLE, MANAGING DIRECTOR, AL JAZEERA ENGLISH: We have no knowledge, we have no evidence of any Hamas operations in that building, and that's what we are demanding. We are demanding an explanation, but we're saying where is the evidence? I think the U.S. Secretary of State earlier today in a press conference in Copenhagen said that up until now he hadn't seen any evidence. That no evidence had been produced by the Israelis. And no matter how many times they keep saying this, they seem to be operating on the idea that the more you say something and the more you repeat it, it becomes accepted as truth and fact. Well, we don't accept that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: Israel insists it shared information justifying the strike with the U.S., but Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he hadn't seen it. The U.S. National Security Council hasn't commented and the White House said it couldn't provide any indication the intelligence had been received. Israel is not wavering in its position.

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MARK REGEV, SENIOR ADVISER TO BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Our intelligence is crystal clear and I can't talk about how the Americans filter up what comes from the intelligence community to senior leaders, but I can tell you the evidence has been shared with the United States and it is crystal clear. And this example of this building, of this high-rise, is a classic example of Israel doing things right. There was not a single casualty, no journalist was hurt, no journalist, heaven forbid, was killed. We gave an hour's warning so that they could clear out the building, in so doing of course we allowed Hamas to clear out as well.

[04:10:00]

But the goal was to neutralize what was an important Hamas target from our perspective. We succeeded without the loss of life.

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CHURCH: And we will continue to follow this story as it develops.

The Global Vaccine Alliance is welcoming U.S. plans to share more of its coronavirus stockpile with other countries. On Monday President Joe Biden vowed to donate at least 20 million doses of the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines by the end of June. The U.S. has already pledged 60 million doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca.

Now, this is a big boost for the COVAX global vaccine initiative which is falling short of its delivery goals. It's partner UNICEF says COVAX was hoping to get 170 million doses to low income countries by this week but has distributed less than half of that. The head of the World Health Organization put the vast inequities in vaccine access in stark terms.

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TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION DIRECTOR GENERAL: The world is in vaccine apartheid. As you know, high-income countries account for 15 percent of the world's population but have 45 percent of the world's vaccines, and low and low and middle income countries account for almost half of the world's population but have received just 17 percent of the world's vaccines so that the gap is really huge.

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CHURCH: Here in the United States there is now a confusing patchwork of rules in place nationwide governing who should wear a mask and when. The CDC now says fully vaccinated Americans can remove their masks even in most indoor settings. But major questions remain about how safe the new rules are and how to tell who is really vaccinated. Erica Hill explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Get the shot. Lose the mask.

DR. JEROME ADAMS, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: It was a little bit of whiplash for the American public in terms of them saying just a week before, keep your mask on.

CROWD: Yeah!

HILL (voice-over): The other issue is every uncovered face really vaccinated.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: In terms of the honor system, people have to be honest with themselves. You're protected if you're vaccinated. You're not if you're not vaccinated.

DR. CHRIS T. PERNELL, PHYSICIAN, NEWARK UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Public health doesn't work by the honest system. I want the CDC not only to look at the science but to think about human behavior and to think about real world scenarios. That's how we're going to build trust in our public institutions and that's how we're going to build to population or community immunity.

HILL (voice-over): That real world scenario today is a little confusing. CVS and Target the latest chain to drop mask requirements for vaccinated customers unless local regulations still require them, joining Starbucks, Costco, Trader Joe's and Walmart.

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CHIEF CLINICAL OFFICER, PROVIDENCE HEALTH SYSTEM: At some point, we have to actually allow for both private responsibility as well as the opportunity for businesses to do business on their terms.

HILL (voice-over): Kids still need to mask up at school but what about camp this summer?

WALENSKY: We're working on that right now.

HILL (voice-over): Amidst the confusion, more signs the vaccines are working. On Sunday, new cases hit a low not seen since March 25th, 2020. Hospitalizations down 11 percent in the last week, poised to drop below 30,000 for the first time in more than ten months.

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (R), MASSACHUSETTS: We're safer, smarter and better equipped in this fight than at any time since it began.

HILL (voice-over): Massachusetts will drop all COVID restrictions May 29th. It's one of seven states where more than 70 percent of the adult population has had at least one dose of the vaccine, President Biden's July 4th goal for the country as a whole. Several more are closing in but not these ten, where less than half the adults have at least shots.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now is the time to get your vaccine shot.

HILL (voice-over): President Biden also hoping to boost vaccinations globally.

BIDEN: Over the next six weeks, the United States of America will send 80 million doses overseas.

HILL (voice-over): The move health experts have been calling for to help close the equity gap.

HILL: New York state will adopt the CDC's guidance for fully vaccinated people as of Wednesday. Masks will still be required in schools and health care settings and also on public transportation. We're also learning that the New York City Marathon is coming back, now scheduled for November 7th. 33,000 runners, that's about 60 percent capacity.

In New York, Erica Hill, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: And one example of that patchwork of rules Erica talked about is new Jersey. That state's governor has lifted mask requirements for outdoor public spaces but he says the state will continue requiring masks at indoor settings. That's contrary to the new CDC guidance.

[04:15:00]

Murphy says the cautious approach is worth it.

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GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D) NEW JERSEY: I think we were the first state in America to put in place an indoor masking requirement. We know it's been hugely helpful. If we can save only one more life by waiting a couple of weeks longer, I'll sign up for that. We've got this thing on the run, this is my simple premise, we've got the virus on the run at long last. Twice before we thought we had this thing on the run and it came back and clobbered us again. I don't want to see that again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: In recent hours, medical experts we've spoken to here on CNN have largely backed the CDC's decision to lift mask requirements for the fully vaccinated, but they say it's now up to local officials to tailor the rules for their area.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: The CDC got the science right by saying that vaccinated people are completely protected, whether they are indoors or outdoors, whether they are wearing a mask or not, vaccinated people are protected. What states and localities need to understand is they should customize how they enact these guidelines.

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE BROWN UNIVERSITY: Some states are saying, OK, you're protected if you're vaccinated but I'm still going to protect the rest of the community for now and keep the mask mandates in place. Many states of course have gone the opposite direction and have gotten rid of mask mandates, potentially putting people who haven't had the chance to be fully vaccinated yet at risk.

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CHURCH: And there are a lot of Americans who haven't been fully vaccinated. Take a look at this map. Those same health experts are urging states to improve their vaccination infrastructure to help reach more people.

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up an important abortion case next term. It could pose a direct challenge to the 1973 Roe versus Wade decision legalizing the procedure. And the court now has a clear conservative majority. Ariane de Vogue has more on the case, how the court has changed and what's at stake.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN U.S. SUPREME COURT REPORTER: The Supreme Court will hear a major abortion case next term. It has to do with a Mississippi law that bars most abortions after 15 weeks. There are some exceptions but not for rape or for incest. Critics of this law say it's a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and lower courts who have blocked the law also cite Roe v. Wade.

This is the first real signal of where this new conservative court is going. It includes Justice Amy Coney Barrett, former President Trump's last appointee, as well as Justice Clarence Thomas who has already said that he thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned. This comes as Republican-led states across the country are moving to

push for more abortion restrictions. So supporters of abortion rights are worried that This Supreme Court is going to take up this law next term and they say that it raids alarms.

Ariane de vogue, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: Louisiana declares a state of emergency. Flash flooding across the state has authorities working around the clock responding to rescue calls. More on the severe weather next.

Plus, yet another election conspiracy theory from the former U.S. president. Why a Republican election official is now saying, quote, it has to stop. That is next.

[04:20:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHURCH: Louisiana's governor has declared a state of emergency due to life-threatening floods. The water has risen so high cars were nearly submerged. Authorities in Lake Charles are working with several agencies to handle more than 100 rescue calls. Some parts of the state had more than a foot of rain on Monday. More than they received from the two hurricanes that made landfall there last year.

And for more on this I'm joined by CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. Good to see you Pedram. So what's the latest on this flooding and how much worse could this get?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Rosemary, we've so much more rainfall on the way, fortunately only one more day for Louisiana, the energy shifts away from this region come Wednesday into Thursday. So we'll follow that carefully. But as you noted this is an area that has seen tropical activity in recent years and land falling hurricanes, and we've not seen this much rainfall come down with some of these storms.

Let me show you what's in place here. We have upwards of 30 million Americans across eastern Texas, portions of Oklahoma, into Arkansas and much of Louisiana here, that's the entirety of the state of Louisiana that are underneath flood alerts because of the intensity of this rainfall. As you noted, kind of look at this area and see the colors of yellows and oranges, 4 to 6 inches, the pink contours those are as rare as they get here and that's upwards of about 10 to 12 inches that has come down across this region of Louisiana. And Lake Charles in particular 12.4 inches of rainfall and that is in 24 hours. That is 260 plus percent of its monthly average.

I did the math on this. When you average out this amount of rainfall over the city itself that's the equivalent of 12,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools essentially being poured over the city in a matter of 24 hours. That is why we have flooding taking place to this extent. When you take a look this has been an ongoing event across some of these areas going back to March, rainfall amounts in Baton Rouge almost doubling what is normal for this time of year going back to March 1. And New Orleans almost tripling what is normal, getting 33 inches of rainfall, and then the rainfall risk here, 3 out of 4 on a scale of 1-4 there. Stretching into portions of Eastern Texas for heavy rainfall on Tuesday and then on Wednesday, you see a threat continue across this region. So the persistence of this heavy rainfall really making this a major concern over the next couple of days -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Pedram Javaheri at the CNN Weather Center, many thanks as always.

Well police in Los Angeles say they have arrested the man suspected of starting an uncontrolled wildfire burning outside the city.

[04:25:00]

The fire has destroyed more than 1,300 acres and at one point forced about 1,000 people to evacuate their homes. The L.A. Fire department said it was around 25 percent contained as of last night. California has been in a massive drought for weeks and experts fear it will only get drier and hotter meaning potentially another devastating wildfire season.

Arizona Republican officials are pushing back against more false claims from former U.S. President Donald Trump and his allies about the 2020 election. Trump is amplifying claims by Republican State Senate President Karen Phan that there is evidence election files have been deleted, but now the Republican official who heads the state's election department says he's had enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN RICHER, MARICOPA COUNTY RECORDER: Just stop indulging this. Stop giving space for lies. We found out about this latest accusation through the Arizona Senate's audits Twitter account, which is anonymously run, just accusing me and my staff of unlawfully deleting evidence. That's not appropriate and I called the Senate president and I said, do you really want to accuse me of unlawfully deleting evidence for an election that, by the way, I didn't even run because I took office in January, and she wrote back that she doesn't have any control over this Twitter account.

So I'm just wondering what's going on here. Who are these people who are defaming us, I don't think they are professionals and don't understand how to run elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: And this latest election conspiracy theory from Trump comes as Republican leaders of the Arizona senate press forward with a controversial election audit.

Well a former Florida official with ties to embattled House Republican Matt Gaetz has pleaded guilty to six charges in federal court. Among those charges Joel Greenberg admits to knowingly soliciting and paying a minor for sex. And as CNN's Randi Kaye reports, Greenberg's plea deal to cooperate with investigators could spell trouble for Congressman Gaetz.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): These courtroom sketches capture Joel Greenberg huddling with his attorneys. He was dressed in a dark jumpsuit, his hand shackled in front of him.

Greenberg is a former tax collector in Seminole County, Florida, who was once an ally of Congressman Matt Gaetz. That friendship may explain this banner someone was flying overhead during court. It reads "Tick tock, Matt Gaetz."

The Florida congressman could find himself in hot water given Greenberg's admission in court that he, Greenberg, knowingly solicited and paid for sex with a minor and says others did, too.

FRITZ SCHELLER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR JOEL GREENBERG: Mr. Greenberg has pled guilty pursuant to a plea agreement that has certain requirements and obligations on him and he attempts to honor that.

KAYE (voice over): Honoring that 86-page plea agreement means Greenberg could be called on to testify against others and provide information about co-conspirators who may include Congressman Matt Gaetz.

The Florida Congressman wasn't named in the plea agreement or in court, though investigators are still trying to determine if Gaetz has also been involved in sex trafficking, prostitution, or sex with a minor. Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime.

SCHELLER: Does my client have information that could hurt an elected official? I guess, this is just you know, must-see television, you'll just have to wait and see.

KAYE (voice over): In the plea agreement, and this is key, Greenberg admits he introduced that same minor he was sexually involved with to others who also had sex with her. Question is, who are those other men? And will Greenberg name them in the hopes of getting a lesser sentence? As part of his plea, Greenberg agreed to provide substantial assistance. That may be why the Department of Justice cut a deal with him, allowing Greenberg to plead guilty to just six Federal charges instead of the 33 counts he was facing.

SCHELLER: I think he is feeling a sense of acceptance, and he definitely feels a sense of remorse.

KAYE (voice over): At a Republican event over the weekend, Gaetz played down allegations against him.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I am being falsely accused of exchanging money for naughty favors,

KAYE (voice over): Naughty favors or something more, that may come down to what Joel Greenberg shares with investigators.

KAYE: Joel Greenberg is promising substantial assistance but he does have a credibility problem. Part of his plea deal included him admitting that he falsely accused a teacher of having sex with a student back in 2019 that was not true. He also admitted that he had posted on social media sites that the teacher had raped a student, again, that was not true. This was a political opponent of his so that is why he was spreading these false rumors. But all of this speaks to his credibility. He has on his resume, if you will, sex trafficking, false accusations, sex with a minor and he will have to answer to all of this as he goes forward with this case.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Orlando.

(END VIDEOTAPE)