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Biden Shut Down Pompeo-Led Effort to Probe Lab-leak Theory of COVID-19; Union: Southwest Flight Attendants Assaulted, 2 Teeth Knocked Out; Officials Give Update on Deadly San Jose Shooting. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 26, 2021 - 13:30   ET



KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And of course, they were also looking into one of the questions out there, which is that it could have possibly been connected to China's Biological Weapons Research and Development Program.

Now, we should note the Intelligence Community still says they don't know where COVID-19 actually came from. The lab-leak theory is one possibility. Spreading from animals to humans is another possibility.

But as this effort developed here at the State Department, there was a bit of drama surrounding it.

There were folks who thought the State Department should be looking into this, that there were questions to be asked, that they were asking about the lab leak possibility.

But then there were critics of this effort who said it was being carried out in secret and that the findings were inconclusive.

And that there were briefings that were happening on an interagency level before the facts were solid. So there was a bit of drama.

When the Biden administration came into office, the State Department offices involved in this effort reviewed those findings. They then shut down the project.

Now, the State Department is refuting the fact that they shut down the project. They are essentially saying there was a report that was delivered and that this work had ended.

But the bottom line here is this small group of people is no longer working on this.

Now, this doesn't mean, Ana, that the Biden administration is no longer looking into the origins of COVID-19. They have -- we are learning, today, President Biden has redoubled efforts in the Intelligence Community to look into this. This is a statement that came out after our reporting just today. And

I want to read to you a key line from it, from President Biden saying:

"I have now asked the Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion and to report back to me in 90 days. As a part of that report, I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required including specific questions for China."

Now, President Biden said that he asked the Intelligence Community to provide him with a report earlier this year. They did so.

He said the conclusions from the Intelligence Community are still inconclusive and that is why he's asking them to redouble their efforts.

It's clear that facing some criticism the Biden administration is doubling down and looking into this more closely.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Kylie Atwood, great reporting. Thank you.

For more on this, let's bring in CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen.

Dr. Wen, was it a mistake to shut down this Trump-era probe into whether this was a lab leak?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Look, Ana, I think what we need, at this point, is an unbiased and full investigation, one that's based on the scientific method, which means you that don't go into this with a predetermined conclusion and then cherry-pick your data to fit that conclusion.

I don't know if that's what was going on with the previous administration, with their probe.

But I think what needs to happen now is we have these two hypotheses, one about the coronavirus emerging from animals to humans, the other being some type of lab leak.

Both need to be investigated. We need to look at all the facts on the ground.

And again, use the scientific method. We're not going into this saying one has to be correct. We need to look at all the science and information.

And the Chinese government must be a lot more transparent than they have.

CABRERA: It has been so long, though. We're talking about 18 months. How hard is it to backtrack?

WEN: I think it's going to be difficult, especially if we don't have all the information. The Chinese government, for example, has not been forthcoming with

things as basic as lab protocols. What exactly was happening in this Wuhan lab? What about the researchers?

There are reports now that some researchers sought hospital care. How sick were they? What did they have? Are there samples from the hospital stay that we can test?

There are so many records and information that is actually out there.

But at this point, the trust has been so eroded that even if the Chinese government turned over these records there's going to be a lot of accounting about are these records falsified.

And so I think that, at this point, all avenues of investigation have to continue, including actually looking for the intermediary animal.

If there, in fact, is an animal that was from the bat to another animal to humans, we need to find that animal as well because that animal as long as it's out there's going to be a reservoir of disease.

CABRERA: What is the difference? Does it make a difference if it came from an animal versus the lab?

WEN: I think it makes a difference when it comes to thinking about how to prevent the next pandemic.

If it is an animal, then we should double down our efforts on stopping wet markets and wildlife trade.

If there's a lab leak, then we really need to look at safety protocols, not just in China but labs around the world. Was this just a one-off incident or do we have to strengthen precautions in all labs?

And so I think the origin does matter. This is a pandemic that's affected now -- that's killed nearly 3.5 million people around the world and nearly 600,000 Americans.


And so I think finding the origin is important to prevent the next pandemic because for that I think a lot of us will agree it's not a question of if, but when that will occur.

CABRERA: You talk about the lack of transparency on behalf of China. We hear in the Biden officials over and over again China needs to be more transparent. They're trying to put pressure there. They want the World Health Organization to continue the investigation.

Do you trust the WHO to take the lead on this mission?

WEN: Yes, I'm really concerned about the World Health Organization and their lack of independence and forcefulness in this investigation thugs far. They did do an investigation earlier. They sent a team. But there were

people on the team, as we now know, who had significant conflicts of interest and did not pursue the Chinese government with the vigor that was really needed.

And so I do think that ideally we have an international investigation with cooperation from China.

But if that cooperation cannot be obtained through the WHO, then the U.S. needs to apply more pressure directly on the Chinese government because we have to come to the bottom of this.

And by the way, we also have to separate intentionality and culpability from the outcome.

I'm very concerned, as I know you are, too, about the rise of anti- Asian hatred in the U.S. and around the world.

And we have to make sure that whatever we identify as the problem, if the problem is with the Chinese government or even individuals in China, that's separate from animus toward a whole group of people.

So we just have to separate that in our discussions as well.

CABRERA: Absolutely. Amen to that.

I know you've done some research on the health care system in China. Do you think China actually knows the origin of this virus?

WEN: I don't know. But I think they are covering up what's available is really suspicious. It certainly makes you wonder, what do they know that they don't want the world to know?

And at this point, we are speculating. But the best way to put an end to that speculation is for China to open up their records and let independent investigators in to show what exactly happened.

This is for the good of the world here.

CABRERA: Dr. Leana Wen, it's always great to talk to you. Thank you so much.

And moments from now, an update on the deadly shooting in San Jose, California. These are images from earlier as we continue to gather more information.

Again, the latest that we just got a few minutes ago was that there are multiple scenes where investigators are currently looking into that are believed to be connected perhaps to this shooting this morning. We're standing by for a presser any moment now.

Stay with us. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[13:42:39] CABRERA: Airlines and TSA workers are bracing for a major travel weekend. And as more people fly, employees on the front lines are confronting more angry, sometimes violent passengers.

Just this past weekend, a Southwest flight attendant was assaulted by a passenger, losing two teeth and suffering injuries to her face.

Now, according to a spokesperson for the airline, the passenger repeatedly ignored standard in-flight instructions, ignored, I should say, and became verbally and physically abusive. Upon landing, the passenger was later arrested.

I want to bring in Lyn Montgomery. She is the local union president for Southwest flight attendants and joins us now.

Lyn, I'm so sorry to hear about one of your members.

What was your reaction when you learned of this assault? Two teeth knocked out. These are significant injuries.

LYN MONGOMERY, PRESIDENT, TWU LOCAL 556: They really are significant injuries. I was appalled, disheartened and shocked all at the same time.

CABRERA: You've said that this is just one of hundreds of incidents that have taken place in just the past couple of months. What else have flight attendants been experiencing?

MONTGOMERY: They've been experiencing an increased level of hostility from passengers on board, even when flight attendants are just trying to do their basic job and ask for basic compliance with regulatory provisions.

CABRERA: So what are passengers doing?

MONTGOMERY: So they seem to be almost angry before they step on board the aircraft. And they are verbally attacking flight attendants, calling them names, pulling on their lanyards, getting aggressive.

We've had to deal with almost riot-like incidences. And of course, this incident this past weekend where a flight attendant was actually injured in the face.

CABRERA: I know you have to be careful about her privacy, but can you just tell us, how is she doing?

MONTGOMERY: Well, she's doing very well. And we're going to ensure that she can have everything she needs to recover, both you know -- both physically and also mentally from such a traumatic event.

CABRERA: Yes. Of course, the big question is, what's going on here, why? What do you think has been triggering people to lash out like this?

MONTGOMERY: Well, obviously, with the civil unrest in the nation and also the pandemic, the lockdowns, people having been quarantined, the mask mandate seems to be an issue that adds fuel to the fire.


Just generally, everything that people have been experiencing seems to have created an increased level of hostility.

CABRERA: So are you seeing more of this kind of behavior than pre- pandemic?

MONTGOMERY: Oh, absolutely. Normally, you might have 100 to 150 passenger misconduct events in a year. Now, nationwide, the FAA's reporting we have about 2,500 this year alone.

I've been a flight attendant for 29 years, and we have never seen levels like this.

CABRERA: Do you think this is going to lead to different kinds of training for people who are flight attendants or who want to be flight attendants?

MONTGOMERY: Well, I think one of the best things to happen is public awareness. The public needs to know that it is a federal offense to interfere with a flight crew member.

And there are harsh penalties. You can face federal prosecution and even imprisonment. So I think that's part of what happens, needs to happen.

And flight attendants are already trained in self-defense and also trained in verbal judo to de-escalate situations.

And normally, we're able to de-escalate situations. But lately, they have been so aggressive and have escalate so quickly that it goes beyond even our training.

CABRERA: So sorry to hear.

Lyn Montgomery, really appreciate your time. Thank you for being with us.

MONTGOMERY: Thank you.

CABRERA: And I want to take you right now live to this press conference under way in San Jose, California.

DEP. RUSSELL DAVIS, SANTA CLARA, CA, SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: This morning, at 6:34 in the morning, Santa Clara County Communications Center received multiple 911 calls regarding a shots-fired call located at the area of 101 West Younger Avenue in the city of San Jose.

This building is a Valley Transportation Authority, VTA, transit building and houses a VTA control center at that building.

The information that we have so far is we do have multiple victims and we have multiple victims ranging from fatalities and major injuries at this point.

We do have a suspect that is pronounced deceased at this point. I won't go into information about identity information. That will be released by the Santa Clara County coroner's office at this point.

This is still an active and ongoing investigation. The sheriff's office activated our Santa Clara County active-shooter protocol where we activated multiple law enforcement agencies and fire department agencies in the surrounding county to assist with this incident.

This is still a fluid and ongoing incident and we're trying to figure out everything, what transpired and what exactly happened to this point.

But, again, this is still ongoing and we're still trying to gather the information of what exactly happened at this point.

Right now, with numbers, I can confirm with you at this point that there are eight victims that are pronounced deceased at this point. And there's one suspect that's pronounced deceased.

This is still ongoing, like I said. The numbers can change. OK? So this is still a fluid and active ongoing investigation.

We have all the resources out here from city, county, and federal agencies out here including the FBI and the D.A. and Homeland Security out here to assist with this investigation.

So, again, we have a lot of resources out here. Ourselves, we're trying to figure out what exactly happened, what's going on.

But we received information that there are explosive devices that are located inside the building.

With that being said, we activated our bomb squad, which is currently out on scene and trying to determine -- pretty much we're trying to clear out every room and every crevice of that building and ensure that the public safety is rest assured if we open up that building later on in the near future.

So that being said, getting the information out to all of you is going to be a little bit fluid and dynamic. It's going to take some time for us just to go in there and render the area safe so we can have investigators going on scene to determine -- collect evidence and gather all the information that we can at this point.

We do have a reunification center located next to me. It's going to be over at 70 West Heading over in the city of San Jose. It's going to be over at the Isaac Newton Auditorium.

If you have any family member that you're trying to reach out or gather any type of information, we ask you to call our Santa Clara County communications line, which is 408-299-2311. Again, 408-299- 2311.

This is still active, ongoing. And what I'm going to do is I'm going to route this over to our

Sheriff Laurie Smith, who will speak very briefly on this incident and then we're going to move on to the next person from there.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sergeant, about the eight. Does that include the gunman or - (INAUDIBLE).

DAVIS: I'm sorry, say that again.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The eight people that --


DAVIS: So the eight victims, it's eight victims, including -- and there's one suspect as well. So that's nine altogether.


DAVIS: So there's nine. Eight victims. There's nine. There's eight casualties from victims and then one suspect casualty at this point as well.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there a second scene?

DAVIS: So the building that they're at is 11 West Younger Avenue. Is a Valley Transportation Authority hub center. It's a control center. And that's where they're at, at this point.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The fire -- the fire --


DAVIS: The fire, we're still ongoing and trying to figure out exactly if there's connection or any information on that point. We're still trying to gather that information.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Was ammunition found inside this --


DAVIS: I don't. I'm trying to get that information at this point.

So what I'm going to do is I'm going to route this over to the Sheriff Laurie Smith. She's going to speak very briefly.

LAURIE SMITH, SHERIFF, SANTA CLARA, CA, SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: First of all, this is an active investigation. There are many, many components we are continues to discover.

We mentioned the victim unification center. Please, please have respect for the victims' families right now. There's still a lot to be done.

We appreciate San Jose P.D. was with us immediately going into the building and our teams showed exemplary behavior, what they're trying to do while the shots were being fired.

Our teams are entering the building when shots are still going on. We attempted rescues. It's uncertain where that is right now.

We don't want to take a lot of questions. We will give you all the information that we can, as it comes known. We really don't want to speculate right now. So we appreciate your coverage of this.

My heart goes out to the families and the victims. I'm just so sorry. It's a tragic situation. And we have some very brave officers and deputies.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sheriff, there's a device in that building, is there any danger to the public at large?

SMITH: No. It's pretty remote. We have the area cordoned off. Our law enforcement is there and we know which building.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How many devices do you think there may be?

SMITH: Right now, we're not certain. We're still searching. Again, there's a lot of other components.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You found at least one, which leads you to at least one?

DAVIS: We have explosive devices information that's on the building so we're going to use all of the necessary resources to ensure -- the biggest thing is we want to ensure public safety. That's the number- one priority right now.

So right now, we're trying to render anything safe if there are any types of suspicious devices. And then we'll go along with our investigation right there.


SMITH: And our bomb office is alerted and on it. And we're able to locate.

So, again, we're getting all the information we can right now and we will continue for provide updates as the goes along.

Thank you for your patience. We'll get to you as soon as we have any updates.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you talk about the fire at the house.

SMITH: I think that San Jose P.D. is working on that. We'll see if we can get some comments on that.


SMITH: I'm not sure of that information right now. That's information we're not releasing at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did he take his own life or did one of the deputies --

SMITH: It's undetermined at this point



SMITH: Again, I don't want to take any more questions.

I have one real quick question here.

DAVIS: Really quick, I will confirm that is a VTA employee. The suspect a VTA employee. That's all the information I can give you.

It's still developing. We're still trying to do the ongoing investigation. We're trying to figure out what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So that explains how he was able to get in because he was already --


DAVIS: Potentially, in that case.

And also to confirm with you, it is a light rail yard. That's the VTA building as well.

And in regard to the bomb information, the suspicious devices, we're using all the resources we can, from using our robots, x-ray devises and whatnot. With conjunction with federal agencies, we have resources out there to figure it out what's going on.



DAVIS: We don't have -- I don't know. Again, this is all preliminary. We're trying to get the information.

Next, we're going I'm going to introduce you to Glenn Hendricks. He is the Valley Transportation Authority's president for the board.

GLENN HENDRICKS, PRESIDENT, SANTA CLARA VALLEY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY BOARD: Hello. As we have all seen, there's a horrible event, a terrible tragedy

that's happened, significant loss of life, which is horrible for our VTA family.

Our thoughts and love goes out to the VTA family, to the employees who were at the yard, and everyone else who is a VTA employee and their family members.

I do have a number to give out. This is for VTA employee and family members only, 408-321-7550. Again, this is for VTA employees and VTA family members to be able to call, 408-321-7550.

I want to say how proud I am of our VTA family, the stress that they're going through, the friends and family that they know. This has been a terrible event for them.

I also want to say our light rail service will be stopping at noon today. We'll be putting in place a bus bridge to continue to provide service to our county residents.

As has been mentioned, the reunification center is inside. I've been in there talking with different employees. It's just very difficult for everyone to try to wrap their heads around and understand what has happened.


I just want to say, again, I'm so sorry for what's occurred, but I'm very proud of our VTA employees.

Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How many were hospitalized?

HENDRICKS: I don't have that information.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you know how the suspect has been working for TVA?

HENDRICKS: I don't have any of that information right now.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Was there an event going on?


DAVIS: Next, we're going to introduce President Mike Wasserman. He is from the County Board of Supervisors.


I'm here on behalf of the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. Along with me is Supervisor Cindy Chavez. I'm just so in shock that something like this happened in Santa Clara

County. My heart and prayers go out to all the family and friends of the eight members, eight VTA employees that passed away this morning.

I have ordered the flags to be lowered to half-mast in order to honor the people that have passed today.

I hope each and every person listening to this broadcast includes these eight people in their prayers tonight.

Thank you very much.

Supervisor Chavez?

CINDY CHAVEZ, MEMBER, SANTA CLARA BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: First, I wanted to say also my heart is just really broken for these families.

I want to remind everybody that these folks were heroes during COVID- 19. The buses never stopped running. VTA didn't stop running. They just kept at work.

And now we're calling on them to be heroes a second time, to survive such a terrible, terrible tragedy.

At the county, we are providing counseling services for all of them through our Behavioral Health Services Department.

In addition to that, the district attorney's Victim Witness folks are helping support the families through this tragic time, and the individuals who are part of the chaos and who witnessed this horrific crime.

I wanted to say a very special thank you to San Jose P.D. and our sheriff's department for being on site right away and supporting the members of our VTA family.

I just also want to acknowledge that the union leadership, ATU and SEIU, who are here supporting their members. And we have national offers for help and support at this time.

Thank you.

DAVIS: I mentioned earlier that we have federal agencies assisting with this investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, is out here.

I'm going to introduce special agent in charge, Craig Fair, from the San Francisco office of the FBI.


My name is Craig Fair. I'm the special agent in charge of the San Francisco Division of the FBI.

I'd like to, first off, offer my condolences to the family, to the victims, to the VTA family, and the city of San Jose in the wake of this very tragic event.

The FBI's role in this investigation is to provide assistance to the Santa Clara Sheriff's Office, to provide evidence response resources.

It is a fairly sizable crime scene. It is going to take a while to process. So I would ask everybody's patience while we do that.

We are also providing victim services, which will also assist with not just the families, but also the reunification process going forward.

We will remain here as long as we can provide assistance, and as is needed.

I would also like to commend the first responders and officers who played a key role early in this in responding to the victims that were located inside the crime scene.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you spell your name, please?

FAIR: Craig Fair, C-R-A-I-G, F-A-I-R.

DAVIS: Next, I'm going to have Raul Peralez, a San Jose City Council member, is going to speak.


This is just extremely tragic, hearing about this in the morning, at 7:00 a.m., waking up, was devastating. And I think fearing the worst.

That's what we're hearing now that this is coming true, a number of individuals who have been killed.

It personally hits close to home for me. I have a friend who I'm still waiting on his status. We've been close friends since middle school.

I know his wife. I've been in communication with here. She's on her way down right now. And trying to find out more information.


And so just, not even knowing that info is devastating. I can understand how so many families are feeling right now.