CNN anchor Chris Cuomo on Tuesday night welcomed on a pair of New Jersey gym owners who have become a cause célèbre on the right for defying their state’s coronavirus restrictions, and the interview soon devolved into profanity-laced shoutfest.
Over the past few months, Atilis Gym owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti have been engaged in a standoff with government officials over the state’s lockdown orders, appearing on Fox News several times to build up support for their cause.
Since first reopening in May in violation of New Jersey restrictions, their gym has been repeatedly shut down, and the two men were arrested last week. Undeterred, the owners broke into their closed gym this past Saturday, dramatically kicking in plywood boards and ushering dozens of clients into the building to work out.
Noting that the state’s attorney general is recommending a fine of up to $10,000 a day for the owners and possible jail time for defying the health orders, Cuomo brought on Smith and Trumbetti in order to debate them on the legal merits. And while the conversation started off fairly cordial, it flew off the rails when it shifted to the danger the coronavirus presented to the public.
“Here’s the problem. You lose here because they are the regulatory authority,” Cuomo said. “And what do you do about $10,000 a day, and what do you do if they want to lock you up because they have the law on their side of keeping people safe during a pandemic?”
Trumbetti responded that the virus was largely harmless to the vast majority of the population, arguing that senior citizens in long-term facilities account for a disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths.
Blasting New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy for the state’s handling of nursing homes, Smith followed up by blaming the governor for the majority of the state’s deaths.
“We’re being villainized as small businesses in general, that we’re responsible for the spread,” Smith said. “But over 50 percent of the deaths are coming from places that are supposed to be under a governor’s control.”
After Trumbetti claimed that they haven’t had a single coronavirus case linked back to their gym because of the measures they’ve implemented, Cuomo said he believes that the owners have a good case before criticizing their approach.
“What you’re saying about long-term care facilities, I’m not questioning it,” he said. “We did the wrong job by the most vulnerable people. The oldest and the most fragile will die the most in a situation like this, but it doesn’t mean you did it the right way.”
Trumbetti immediately shot back, slamming the CNN anchor for criticizing President Donald Trump’s coronavirus response while letting the profanity fly.
“You’re knocking Trump because of the total numbers. Fifty-three point three percent of the deaths come from 0.6 percent of the population,” he yelled. “Bottom line, that’s a fucking stat that nobody’s talking about.”
“Watch your mouth, we’re on television,” Cuomo quickly replied, prompting an apology from Trumbetti.
The temperature remained hot, however, throughout the rest of the interview as Trumbetti took issue when Cuomo didn’t agree with him that “healthy people are not dying” from the virus.
“I lost my mother from this!” Trumbetti shouted. “She got it in the hospital. You’re barking up the wrong tree!”
Cuomo, who recovered from COVID-19 this spring, said he was “very sorry” about Trumbetti’s mother while noting that “death isn’t the only way to measure risk” with the virus, prompting Trumbetti to claim that for the vast majority of the population, the virus is “a mild flu.”
“There are a lot more cases and people are getting more sick, and different people are getting sick than get sick with the flu,” Cuomo retorted. “And we’re getting a lot of weird aftereffects with this. We have to take it seriously.”
The nearly 20-minute train wreck wrapped up with Cuomo warning Trumbetti that if “you get seen as a political actor, you’re going to get treated as a political combatant,” something the gym owner shrugged off.
“That’s OK with me, because if people didn’t know me for my entire life, I never had a political bone in my body,” he declared. “I thought blue states were bordered by water and red states weren’t.”