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CNN Reports, Several Wuhan Lab Scientists Hospitalized in November 2019; Arizona's Bogus Audit Restarts amid Legal Challenges. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 24, 2021 - 10:00   ET


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In Belarus because he's also on their terrorism list as well.


As you can imagine, a lot of condemnation coming in from the E.U. and the U.S. as well. I want to read you a statement from Antony Blinken, obviously, the secretary of state. He's saying, quote, the shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers including U.S. citizens. Initial reports suggesting the involvement of the Belarusian security services and the use of Belarusian military aircraft to escort the plane are deeply concerning and require a full investigation. Guys, the E.U. also will meet today to decide what measures to take, guys.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Listen, does that public outrage make a difference? It hasn't for Alexei Navalny, as you know, in Russia. We'll see if there's any different approach here. Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much.

A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


This morning, new information and growing questions on the origins of the COVID pandemic. CNN has learned that a U.S. intelligence report found that several researchers at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill, got seriously sick in November 2019, so sick, they had to be hospitalized. The big takeaway here, they were hospitalized, it goes a lot further than what we knew before.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration State Department released a fact sheet that said Chinese researchers had indeed gotten sick in the autumn of 2019, a whole month before China reported its first case of COVID-19.

SCIUTTO: This new intelligence that the Wuhan researchers were sick enough to seek hospital care shortly before the confirmed outbreak more broadly is now fueling a debate within the scientific community. Whether the virus has a natural origin, remember the stories about the wet market there in Wuhan, or the result of an accidental leak from a Chinese laboratory.

Joining us now is CNN's Kylie Atwood at the State Department, David Culver as well in Shanghai.

Kylie, let's begin with you on your reporting here. Does the U.S. Intel Community have more confidence now in this intelligence, this evidence and, therefore, the true origin of this virus?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this piece of intelligence that we are being told was in a U.S. intelligence report is just that. It's only one piece. It does not give the U.S. Intelligence Community writ large any more confidence to know exactly precisely when and where the COVID-19 virus originated.

Now, what we should note is, as you guys laid out, this is new and noteworthy because what we're learning is that these researchers in November of 2019 sought hospitalization because of these symptoms that they were facing. And it builds off of what we have learned in previously declassified information provided by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his way out the door as the Trump administration was leaving.

But the big picture here, you know, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told Congress earlier this year that the U.S. Intelligence Community still does not know precisely when this virus originated, how and where it did. So there is still a lot of questions. But this is one very interesting and obviously pertinent data point as the U.S. Intelligence Community looks at this.

And I do also want to point out that the Biden administration has been looking into this, of course, they have been critical, however, of the World Health Organization's investigation into this matter, particularly because they haven't been able to get all of the underlying data that they need to investigate the origins of this virus from the Chinese government.

HARLOW: So, David, going to you in China, how is the Chinese government responding to all of this?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, they do not like any sort of story that has to do with the origin and the lab leak, in particular. They have pushed back against this from the beginning. And it is something that they are continuing to do even just a few hours ago from the podium of the foreign ministry where they say that this is all U.S. hype.

And a Global Times article came out today, that is state-run media, and it's a tabloid, really, of sorts here, that really criticized any sort of suggestion that this has some sort of validity to it. In fact, the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab was quoted in it, and I'll read you part of that. He says, I've read it, referring to the U.S. intel report, at least the reporting on the report, it's a complete lie. Those claims are groundless. The lab has not been aware of this situation and I don't even know where such information came from.

This is to be expected. This is something that is a very sensitive matter for them because, really, it has to do with the public image.


And China has been really concerned, especially with developing countries, in which they're trying to spread influence and even have done a lot of investment in that this could look as though they have some culpability in the spread of this virus.

Now, what you're looking at here is some video that we shot when we were down in Wuhan, our third trip down since the outbreak. That was January 20th of this year. And we drove past the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It is heavily fortified. There is a lot of security there. And that may be in part because it is a biosafety lab of a certain degree. But also it could be because they simply don't want people to get close enough to know what exactly is going on there. That's been something that has been made very clear to those of us who are journalists here, and as you mentioned, Poppy and Jim, those who are investigators from the science perspective.

HARLOW: Yes, exactly. David, thank you very much for that. Kylie, thank you for the reporting. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Joining me now is James Clapper. He's the former director of National Intelligence. Director, thanks you for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: As you know, far better than me, intelligence is rarely the full picture but it's an indicator here. How confident should we be in the U.S. intelligence here, and does it change your view, at least potentially, or open your mind to a different story for the origin of this virus?

CLAPPER: Well, first, Jim, I'm obliged to say leaking intelligence reports is not good, not to mention the fact that it's unlawful. So, as a professional intelligence type, I'm obliged to say that. Secondly, I don't think this test much like one way or another in resolving the issue of the actual origins of the COVID-19 in China.

I think DNI Haines and CIA Director Bill Burns in their worldwide threat testimony earlier this year laid out the fact that there are two theories, one, naturally occurring, one, it wasn't, it occurred in a lab. And Director Burns, I think, appropriately highlighted and reminded us about the fact that the Chinese had been less than transparent and less than forthcoming about. I don't think, bottom line, is intelligence in and of itself is ever going to resolve this issue.

SCIUTTO: There is a different thread here, right in, and that you have scientists involved, Dr. Fauci among them, who initially dismissed this. And now based on the science, Dr. Redfield led the CDC under the Trump administration as well, looking at the science of this as well, saying perhaps there is another story, perhaps that the lab escape theory has some basis.

I just wonder could this mean, at a minimum, that this has to be investigated more fully and the investigation to this point led by WHO, for instance, has been insufficient?

CLAPPER: Well, I think, as DNI Haines indicated, the Intelligence Community is going to pursue this as aggressively as they possibly can. I did read a lot of significance into Dr. Fauci's statement about the fact that you can't completely rule out the possibility that it could have occured in a lab.

This reporting in and of itself, I don't think, does much to resolve that. But you can't rule out the possibility in the absence of total transparency on part of the Chinese, which is probably not possible now since the lab has undoubtedly been cleaned and the Chinese don't allow forensic access to DNA of the virus. So, again, it's unlikely intelligence in and of itself will resolve this.

SCIUTTO: I hate to ask you hypotheticals, but just to understand the context of this, if it is further corroborated that this was a lab escape as opposed to something in the wet market there, as China has said from the beginning, what would that mean? What would that have meant this was an attempt to weaponize potentially based on what we know about this lab or more likely shoddy research, right, of a coronavirus?

CLAPPER: Well, those are certainly two viable options. I don't know. I mean, certainly, the notion that this was being pursued as a weapon, certainly, Intelligence Community, I'm quite confident, has not rejected that out of hand. That's still an open possibility. But that's the problem here. There are any number of alternatives. And in the absence of more definitive empirical evidence, one way or the other. I think the debate will go on. The important thing is the Intelligence Community, I'm sure, has not ruled out any possibility.

SCIUTTO: Remarkable, something, of course, we need to delve into more deeply.


Director Clapper, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jim, for having me.

HARLOW: All right. Let's continue this conversation from the medical perspective. Dr. Jeffrey Gold, Chancellor for the University of Nebraska Medical Center, is with us. Good morning, Dr. Gold.

Let me begin with something that Dr. Anthony Fauci said two weeks ago about this. He was speaking with PolitiFact. Here he was.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I'm not convinced about that. I think that we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we find out to the best of our ability exactly what happened. Certainly, the people who have investigated it say it likely was the emergence from an animal reservoir that then infected individuals, but it could have been something else and we need to find that out. HARLOW: What are your biggest medical questions given what Jim and Director Clapper just talked about and what this intelligence tells us now?

DR. JEFFREY GOLD, CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA MEDICAL CENTER: Well, I certainly agree with Dr. Fauci, as I almost always do. And the more we understand about how this pandemic started, the higher our chances are of preventing the next one or mitigating the impact of the next one.

I know it's been said by many. The only thing we know for 100 percent certainty about this pandemic is that it's not going to be last one that we're going to face over the future years. And so if we could learn more about how it started, about what the specifics are, about the sequencing of this virus, it will give us some insight as to things we might do differently should this start to occur in other parts of the world or our own nation in the future. So, I agree fully with what Tony said.

HARLOW: I mean, how -- I just wonder what your thought is as a medical professional. You guys were at the forefront of greeting, you know, some of the first infected people in the country. I remember when they landed on that tarmac in Nebraska and helping treat them and coming up with innovative therapeutics. I wonder what your thought is this morning as you look what this newly revealed intelligence assessment says it could have been.

GOLD: Well, it's certainly concerning. But, you know, as I listen to this breaking news, it's not clear to me what is cause and what is effect. So, for instance, it could be that this is a breakdown in protocol or an accident in a research laboratory halfway around the world, or it could be community spread of a novel virus that is being worked on in this particular laboratory because of something that happened in a wet food market or in a, you know, viral transmission in the community, that these individual researchers got exposed and then needed hospitalization.

So it's not clear to me, you know, what the cause or what the effect is here, and that's where some transparency would be very helpful.

HARLOW: Yes, to say the least, right?

Let's switch gears completely and talk about going back to school in the fall and colleges, because you're the chancellor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. And the University of Nebraska Omaha says, at least now, in its plans for students coming back in the fall, it will not require vaccinations. You've got Indiana University, University of Michigan, a number of others are requiring vaccinations. Why wouldn't you guys require it?

GOLD: Well, first of all, it's just only recently that the full age cohort of college age students are fully able to get vaccinated and, you know, now high school students 12 years of age and older, middle school students as well. But having said that, we're seeing pretty good voluntary adoption by our students and certainly faculty and staff across the university of our system of the vaccines. And so rather than require it, we have taken a proactive look and trying to do it on a voluntary basis.

Now, at the same time, we still have emergency use authorization and not full FDA approval. We don't have longevity data 9 and 12 months vaccine efficacy. And so I think, over time, you're going to see more and more universities do that. And I think, over time, we may consider it.

But, currently, we're pretty pleased with the way that our faculty and students and staff are moving across the University of Nebraska system, so we have chosen a voluntary approach.

HARLOW: Good to see a lot of people opting in and we'll see if you don't get the numbers you want, if you do mandate it. Dr. Gold, thank you.

Still to come, a controversial election audit, a very partisan carried out by the Cyber Ninjas, it resumes today in Arizona. The secretary of state is raising more red flags. She will be with us live this hour.

SCIUTTO: Plus, this sad headline, at least 13 mass shootings in just three days in this country, including at a house part in New Jersey, an explosion of gun violence once again stretching across the U.S.


And the FBI is calling it simply astonishing. An analyst accused of putting the nation's secrets at risks and it involves information about Osama Bin Laden.


SCIUTTO: This morning, a bogus election count resumes in Arizona. Election is already decided there, confirmed by Republican and Democratic officials.


Graduation events this weekend mean the 2.1 million ballots being subject to this review had to be moved. Now they're back. That means former President Trump's big lie continues, and that is despite no evidence of fraud from any previous audits in that state.

HARLOW: Our Dianne Gallagher joins us with more. Dianne, good morning to you. We've been reporting on the deep divide within the Arizona Republican Party about this, and those willing to stand up for the truth and those not. What reporting do you have this morning on all of this as the audit resumes?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, look, Poppy, what's important here is the fact that this audit, of course, is resuming after that break for high school graduations. They, again, have another deadline coming up. They initially were supposed to have been over and done with this, but it's taken longer than they thought it would. Now, the liaison is telling us they believe that this so- called audit is going to wrap up by the end of June because they have to give up the venue again this time for a gun show. Now, look, they've only gone through about a quarter of the roughly 2.1 million Maricopa County ballots at this point. So, I think it's fair to say they're moving at a snail's pace. And they've got to pick up the pace if they want to meet that deadline.

Now, it does appear that they could be doing that through an increase in staffing, as well as extending the hours of this so-called audit each day. In a letter obtained by our Keung Lah, first obtained by the Arizona Republic, it now indicates that a Trump-supporting fundraising organization that is being -- that was launched by a non-profit that's run by the former Overstack CEO, Patrick Byrne, is going to be organizing volunteer staffing.

Now, it's important to point that Byrne not only supports but has amplified the former president's big lie. The website for the audit used to say there were no openings for volunteers. Now it redirects to, where they have a whole host of things that they can do. They have this extra time that people can now go into 1:00 A.M. to do the audit.

Jim and Poppy, much like everything else here, where they talk about transparency, there is none here because it's a 501-c-4. We don't know where the funding comes from. They claim to have already raised $1.7 million there.

HARLOW: That's so interesting. I didn't realize that level of lack of transparency on funding and paying for it. Thanks, Dianne.

Let's bring in Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. Good morning, Secretary. It's good to have you.

So you call this, your words, a fraudit, not an audit. And you have got it under new control, as we just heard from Dianne, and a lack of transparency on the funding side. I'm interested in what Arizona voters from both parties think of this. Like when you're at the grocery store or outside of your job, which is largely done on this web camera, I'm sure these days, but when you're outside of that, what are people, Republicans and Democrats in Arizona, saying to you? Do they believe it?

KATIE HOBBS (D), ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE: Across the board, voters in Arizona, across political party lines, realize that this is really making a mockery out of our elections and a mockery out of Arizona again. We've been able to stay off late night comedy television for a while now, and now we're back, and this just makes us look really ridiculous.

For the most part, most voters, Republican, Democrat, Independent, they understand that this election was over in 2020, that Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States and that there was no fraud in Arizona's election. And this is just a sideshow that unfortunately is sucking a lot of public (INAUDIBLE) in being carried out.

HARLOW: You -- your latest big move on this front is to recommend because of -- and I read the letter from you -- because of DHS warnings, that all of the voting machines being audited now by the Cyber Ninjas may not be usable in the future. That's a big deal. How you are going to determine if they are secure or not?

HOBBS: Well, and I think that was the point of the letter. And I want to say that this is not new information to Maricopa County. We raised these concerns very early on in this process when we were encouraging them to appeal the ruling on the subpoena to begin with. So this is not new information.

And the point of the letter really is that there is no process available where we could actually figure out if something was done to these machines, if they were tampered within a way. There is nothing that will be able to provide assurances that it will be usable again in an election and our recommendation is that it's not.

HARLOW: So then you're going to toss all of them?

HOBBS: Well, that's up to the county in terms of --

HARLOW: You would recommend that?

HOBBS: That is our recommendation, yes. And that is based on guidance from DHS.


HARLOW: How much is that going to cost and who will pay for the new ones?

HOBBS: Well, the senate indemnified the county against loss in this (INAUDIBLE), so it looks like it will be the senate. But at the end of the day, it's the Arizona taxpayers.

HARLOW: Well, it is the taxpayers, but that's just interesting because it's the Arizona state senate president, Karen Fann, who's been pushing for this to be done. So that is just an interesting note.

On a personal level, and I'm sorry to have to bring this up, I'm sorry this is happening to you, but my understanding, having read recently, is that you're facing death threats. Your husband -- you, your husband, you have two kids over this. I mean, this is where we've come?

HOBBS: Yes, it's unfortunately where we are. You know, I'm not going to cave to their scare tactics. I'm doing the job that Arizona voters elected me to do and I'm not going to back down.

HARLOW: What's it like to have to go to work each day knowing those threats are facing you and your family?

HOBBS: Well, you know, the governor's office ordered a security detail to be on me. So, that is a little relief, especially for my family. So I feel safe.

HARLOW: I want to bring up -- not sure if you saw the Politico piece over the weekend, I just read it this morning, but about Republican proponents of the big lie running for secretary of state positions in several states, and it talks about Mark Finchem running for secretary of state in Arizona, someone who has really, really pushed the big lie over and over again, pushing conspiracy theories. I wonder what your reaction is to that this morning.

HOBBS: He actually said in a statement to supporters that if he had been secretary of state, Donald Trump would have won, and that is, as the chief election officer of the state, alarming. It is so alarming because I have taken a pledge and worked to be as nonpartisan as possible. It affects perception if it looks like I have my thumb on the scale any election official. And I know across the state they work to be professional and nonpartisan and do their jobs. We have to be focused on the process, not on the outcome.

and when the people in charge of our elections running the elections become more focused on the outcome than the process, we are in huge trouble.

HARLOW: Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, thank you for your time this morning. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, four months after the insurrection, National Guard troops are leaving Capitol Hill. Is the Capitol Police Department prepared? Do they have enough to take over again? We're going to talk about it, next.