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Trump Wants to Reopen Economy, But Governors Will Decide; At Least 13 Dead After Tornadoes Rip Through Southeast U.S.; NYT: Experts, Aides Tried to Warn Trump of Coronavirus Threat. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired April 13, 2020 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE: It is not going to be a light switch. I think it's going to have to be something that is not one-size-fits-all.

[05:59:11]

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There are discussions inside the White House underway about when they can begin to reopen the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we don't keep our mitigation and restrictions in place, we could have a spike that could be more severe than the peak was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reporting that we document in the piece, the warnings were there, if the president had wanted to listen to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were quite concerned from January that this was a contagious disease that was going to make its way to the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think February 2020 is really going to be seared in Americans' memory as a month where we really dropped the ball.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Monday, April 13, 6 a.m. now in New York.

Twenty-two thousand Americans are dead and counting. A growing debate about whether it's too soon to ease restrictions on social distancing. And just as that's happening, breaking overnight, President Trump publicly signaling his frustration with the man seen by some as the public health conscience of the country. The president highlighted a message on social media that called for

the firing of Dr. Anthony Fauci. It is likely no coincidence that this comes after Dr. Fauci told CNN that, if the Trump administration had acted earlier to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, it would have saved lives.

A revealing "New York Times" investigation outlined how President Trump spent weeks ignoring warnings about coronavirus. This number -- this morning, the number of confirmed cases has grown to more than 557,000 and, again, more than 22,000 Americans have lost their lives.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And John, the debate this morning, of course, is when to reopen the country and how. Dr. Fauci suggests it could happen as early as next month on a rolling basis, guided by testing and risk assessments made by governors and mayors.

The governors of New York, New Jersey and Maryland all stressed that their priority is public health.

So we're also following this morning breaking news, because there's been a deadly outbreak of tornadoes that has torn through the southeast U.S. overnight. At least 13 people have been killed. Hundreds of thousands of people are without power this morning. So we'll have more on this in a moment.

But let's begin our coverage with the latest on the coronavirus.

CNN's Athena Jones is live in New York for us. Hi, Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

It's been a month since President Trump declared a national emergency over the -- over the coronavirus pandemic. Now, he's eager to reopen the economy, despite public health officials urging against relaxing mitigation efforts too early, because the virus might surge once again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): The clock is ticking toward President Trump's possible May 1 target to end the virtual national shutdown. And Trump is seemingly growing anxious to declare the country open again amid the coronavirus pandemic. But some state leaders worry a push to ease social distancing could cause even more harm.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): I fear if we open up too early, and we have not sufficiently made that health recovery and cracked the back of this virus, that we could be pouring gasoline on the fire, even inadvertently.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): There's still a long way to go. We're not getting out of this in a couple weeks or probably even in a couple months. We've got to keep this momentum going.

JONES: In New York state, which has the highest number of cases anywhere in the world and the most deaths in the country, Governor Andrew Cuomo says the human cost of the crisis can't be compared to any amount of money lost in the economy.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We need a public health strategy that is safe, that is consistent with an economic strategy. The last thing we want to see is an uptick in that infection rate and an uptick in those numbers that we worked so hard to bring down

JONES: Dr. Anthony Fauci suggesting that easing up some restrictions could happen as soon as next month.

FAUCI: It is not going to be a light switch that we say, OK, it is now June, July or whatever, click, the light switch goes back on. It's going to be depending where you are in the country.

JONES: But the director of the institute that created models cited by the White House cautions that lifting social distancing protocols too soon could be detrimental.

DR. CHRISTOPHER MURRAY, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH METRICS AND EVALUATION: We don't think the capability in the states exists yet to deal with that volume of cases. And so by July or August, we could be back in the same situation we are now.

JONES: A "New York Times" report this weekend outlined cases of the president downplaying warnings from top health officials on the dangers of a possible pandemic, saying it took Trump three weeks after the first recommendation to implement national social distancing strategies. Fauci admitting beginning mitigation efforts earlier earlier could have saved additional American lives.

FAUCI: But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated. Obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now, President Trump retweeted a post with a call to fire Dr. Fauci last night amid mounting criticism of the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic. The call was from a former Republican congressional candidate using the #FireFauci, and it came after Fauci's interview on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" -- John, Alisyn.

BERMAN: All right. Athena Jones for us. Athena, thank you very much.

We want to bring in Dr. Joshua Sharfstein. He's the vice dean at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a formal principal deputy commissioner at the FDA. Also with us, in CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem.

And we're going to talk about the president's flirtation with firing Dr. Anthony Fauci in a moment. We'll also talk about the warning signals ignored in February, and March and January in a moment.

They inform where we are this morning, Juliette, which is in the middle of a discussion about how and whether to relax some of the mitigation -- mitigation directions that have been governing this country for the last month.

And you look at this and say normally, after a national -- natural disaster disaster, you know, like a hurricane, we wait until the hurricane is past before the cleanup begins. How is this different?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This is going to be very different. So even if you choose a date or look at metrics that would sort of justify opening up. And remember, as Fauci said, we're not talking about a light switch. Certain things will open up. Others may wait. And we will be sort of -- it's like a dimmer. You know, some things, you know, will adapt and will -- and will pivot.

And so I've been calling it sort of adaptive recovery. We've never been in a situation like this where you are living with the threat, right? For the next year, year and a half, until we get a vaccine manufactured and distributed, we will be living with the virus. Now, we'll have more tools to live with it, right? We'll have treatments that are testing, ways to mitigate its spread. But nonetheless, we will be pivoting around, managing with, trying to avoid the virus.

And so we have to think about the next 12 to 18 months not as, you know, we went from the bad phase to the good phase. But really, that we are going to be adapting to living with this virus -- and call it adaptive recovery or whatever you want -- for a very long time. And -- and President Trump is not talking about it that way.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Sharfstein, I think it's important to look at where we are right now in the country, in terms of where it's peaked, where it's headed, just to get a status report on this Monday morning.

So it sounds like -- you know, we use the University of Washington model. They are the ones that have not always been right, but as they get more data, they -- according to the experts, seem to be more accurate.

They believe that it has already peaked in New York, just this weekend, as a matter of fact. So New York, Louisiana, Washington state, Washington, D.C.

They believe it is headed for a peak in California in a couple of days, and Florida not until the end of this month on April 27. So obviously, in those places, you can't talk about yet relaxing it. They haven't even had their peak deaths and hospital surge yet.

DR. JOSHUA SHARFSTEIN, VICE DEAN, JOHNS HOPKINS BLOOMBERG SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: I think it's a little too early to think about really relaxing, even in places where there's a model that says it may have peaked. Because there's still a tremendous amount of illness in those different locations. And before you would think about reopening, you really want to see it come down from those peaks.

There's a good chance it could stay there for a while. So we really have to focus on getting the job done of social distancing and reducing those numbers before you would start thinking about reopening. And when you think about reopening, as Juliette said, it's going to be

initially pretty slow. Maybe some major manufacturing businesses with a lot of monitoring and testing along the way.

So I think it's a little bit too easy to say, Well, we're past the peak. Let's just, you know, plan to get back to business in May.

BERMAN: And Dr. Sharfstein, you talk about the need for testing. Serious scaled-up testing that also deals with contact tracing, the ability to chase down all the contacts from people who have had it before. Explain this.

SHARFSTEIN: Well, it's really important to understand with this -- this disease is that it's kind of -- it's hidden. So it takes a couple weeks for people to get sick.

So what you're seeing at any moment of time, in terms of people in the hospital, is just the beginning of a wave that's about to hit. And we don't want to be surprised. If we start to reopen, we don't want to wait to see whether the emergency room's filled up. Because by then, we're going to have a month of many, many patients coming in that could swamp, again, the ability of the healthcare system to care for patients.

So what that means is we have to be able to spot very early any new outbreaks, any new surges so that we can, you know, turn things down before it gets so bad. And testing is the key to that. We have to be able to see whether the disease is spreading.

And then, if possible, we have to isolate every single person who is positive, find their contacts, help them quarantine. And what that does is it prevents it from spreading further. So if we can spot it early, we can intervene before it starts to spread and we need to tell everyone to go back home again.

CAMEROTA: Juliette, can you just play this out for me? What happens if on May 1 -- that's the date that the president has used for when he'd like to see things try to begin to open, if on May 1, President Trump announces that he's relaxing the federal guidelines, but governors like those in New York or Michigan or California, and mayors say, no? And they say, we say that we are not going to reopen businesses, and we still are issuing a stay-at-home order? Who wins?

KAYYEM: The governors and mayors will win, absence of extraordinary measure by the president to maybe, you know, do it under some sort of war effort or national -- national security emergency effort.

[06:10:00]

I think the president wants to be able to say that he's opening things up and wants to be -- and wants to defer to the governors, who know better.

And so the governors, because the Constitution has a governance system that has public safety, public health, and quarantine powers residing mostly in -- in gubernatorial powers, so a state like Massachusetts or California decides these things, that -- that the president could say whatever he wants. If the governor of Massachusetts or California doesn't want to do it, they don't have to.

The interesting point is the mayors. What you are seeing is mayors leaning in, as we've seen in San Francisco, where that mayor leaned in early and saved a lot of lives.

Some mayors are in conflict with their governors. We're seeing that in Florida and other states. That's going to be a real tension if a governor wants to open up and a mayor says, You know what? I'm in Miami. I'm not opening up these beaches. And we'll have to see how that resolves itself.

But the president seems to believe that he has this authority, and he doesn't. And I think he's just trying to cater to a crowd.

CAMEROTA: OK. That's really interesting information. Thank you very much. Juliette Kayyem, Dr. Sharfstein, we appreciate the information.

Also, we have other breaking news we need to get to right now, because at least 13 people are dead as tornadoes tear through several states in the southeast U.S. Hundreds of thousands of people are waking up this morning without power.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers is tracking all of this for us.

Gosh, this looks bad, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Alisyn, it was an ugly day yesterday. One storm after another. Some of them spinning up within five minutes of being nothing. So very little warning on some.

But the very, very big ones. The likely, the EF-4 or maybe bigger. They had lots of lead time. People had got out of the way. But some houses are almost gone. Where do you get out of the way here?

Here are the numbers here: 39 tornadoes on the ground. Now, that number may go up or down depending when the survey crews go out. It's going to be a long survey here. Almost 250 severe wind reports with this.

And it's not over. We still have tornado watches all the way from Hampton Roads right on down to Tallahassee. And we still have severe thunderstorm warnings going on at this hour moving through Atlanta, but moving toward Charleston, toward Savannah. Out of High Point and Greensboro and moving off to the east into Raleigh and eventually even into even Richmond, Virginia.

Here are the warnings. Everywhere that you see an orange box, that's a severe thunderstorm warning with a wind over 60 to 70 miles per hour. And then those purple boxes, not that far west of Charleston, that's the tornado warnings. They are still going on at this hour.

Typically, we see the storms die off around sunset. These did not. And they will not. They will continue to move to the east into Charleston by late morning, even into the New York City area. Think about this. Anywhere from D.C. to New York to Boston, all the islands will have wind gusts to 70 miles per hour. Those trees are saturated with rain, and we will see power lines down for sure across the northeast.

Certainly not over. The threat of tornadoes all the way up and down the East Coast. We will keep watching it for you here. We do know that there are storms spinning at this hour.

Guys, back to you.

CAMEROTA: Chad, thank you very much for the warning and what to expect today.

So "The New York Times" published this weekend a huge comprehensive investigation into when the warning signs first emerged of what was going to happen with coronavirus. They looked at dozens of pages of emails. They conducted dozens of interviews with people involved. So we talk with two of the reporters who broke the story, next.

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[06:17:42]

CAMEROTA: So, John, this weekend "The New York Times" published a sweeping investigation, trying to retrace the steps of how we got here and when the warning bells had first started going off in and around President Trump and the White House and all of the different people who were trying to get his attention on how bad the coronavirus could be.

So according to "The Times," here's the timeline. On January 18, Health Secretary Alex Azar briefed President Trump on the virus. On January 29, so ten days later, economic adviser Peter Navarro warned the coronavirus, the models he was looking at, could cost more than half a million American lives.

The following day, January 30, Azar again warned the president that the virus could become a pandemic. President Trump reportedly dismissed that as, quote, "alarmist."

On February 21, the White House coronavirus task force conducted this mock simulation of how to handle a pandemic and concluded that aggressive social distancing measures would have to be implemented.

On February 23, Navarro doubled down on his warnings with another memo.

On February 25, the CDC issued a public warning about the threat that reportedly angered the president. And it wasn't until more than two weeks later that the president finally declared a national emergency.

Joining us now, two of "The New York Times" reporters who contributed to this reporting, to this investigation. We have CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger and CNN national security analyst Mark Mazzetti. Great to see both of you.

So David, hats off to "The New York Times" for trying to retrace all of these steps. Obviously, in January, there was lots of conflicting information. People were slow and reluctant to really get their arms around it.

But by February and March, it sounds like the alarm bells were ringing pretty loudly. And I know you've done reporting on one of the things that was in President Trump's way of not wanting it to be as bad as it was, was the relationship with China, not wanting to criticize China.

So tell us about why he was so unresponsive at first.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's -- it's a fascinating, tale, Alisyn. And if you take just the China part of it, you'll remember that in January, three big things were happening. Impeachment. They had just done the targeted killing of General Soleimani of Iran and were worried about an Iranian response. And a Chinese trade deal. And the president initially didn't want to do anything that would threaten the trade deal.

[06:20:21]

But as time went on, what we found were a series of emails within the medical community, but including the government's top medical officials, that were beginning to look at the numbers coming out of China. And that's, of course, what led the president to do his ban on people who had been in China in the previous 14 days. But it was a very leaky bag. And that was supposed to create him some time.

The problem, Alisyn, was he didn't use the time. He didn't order the ventilators, prepare for the beds, the protective equipment. All of that could have started on the day that ban began.

BERMAN: And just the other big picture of this, is the president continues to say no one could have predicted this. No one could have seen this coming.

Well, the National Security Council predicted it and saw it coming. His chief trade negotiator predicted it and saw it coming. HHS predicted it and saw it coming. And all kinds of doctors in the public health community predicted it and saw it coming, too. And you guys have the receipts, these emails, which are fascinating.

I want you to pull up P-1 -- P-13 for me now. This is an email from Robert Kadlec, who's the assistant HHS secretary, writing to Professor Eva Lee at Georgia Tech. And he writes -- and he's talking about a study which shows asymptomatic transmission of coronavirus in China. And he writes, "Eva, is this true? If so, we have a huge hole in our screening and quarantine effort."

And the date there, Mark, is February 23. That is a sign that Kadlec knew what was going on.

MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. That is a key moment where the doctors are realizing that one of the aspects of this disease is asymptomatic spread, where people can be spreading it without ever knowing they had it. And once they realize that, that is an alarm -- a five-alarm fire for

the medical community, and it really pushes them to lead to drafting recommendations for the president to have aggressive social distancing, based on where we are right now. And this is the end of February.

But it takes three weeks before those are put into place. At first because another warning by another doctor leads the stock market to tank. President Trump gets angry, and the meeting where the doctors are going to recommend this to the president gets canceled. And in its place is a press conference where Mike Pence is announced as the head of the task force.

So David talked about that critical three-week period. That moment is the beginning of that period. And that's what leads Dr. Fauci yesterday to say what was potentially lost during that period.

CAMEROTA: One of the things, David, and you alluded to this, one of the things the president hangs his hat on, he repeats at every possible opportunity, at every press briefing, is that he took the decisive action to impose travel restrictions on Chinese travelers, people coming from China. And he keeps talking about how he got criticism for that.

Some of the criticism was that people didn't think travel restrictions were going far enough, was that that would really be able to quell all of this.

But what's interesting is that that's one thing. That is one thing. And when you look at your investigation, there's a litany of other things that health experts and national security experts were begging for beyond that one thing. The president seems to think that that -- that one thing sort of solved everything. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

SANGER: You know, when we look back at this, Alisyn, that one thing was a build-a-wall kind of instinct. Right? We're going to cut off people from China and isolate ourselves from this.

Now, Dr. Fauci's view was go ahead and do this. You might buy some time, but it's not going to solve the problem.

And of course, we now know that people went from China to Europe, infected people in Europe, and people came from Europe to New York, which seems to have been the source of a lot of the New York infections.

So on the one hand, doing this alone was insufficient. But it also tells you the president was aware of the problem. And that takes you to the next question, which is why wasn't he listening to the growing litany of experts who were saying banning people coming from China is not enough? You have to prepare for that moment when containment fails and mitigation is important.

And that's what they didn't do. They didn't have a Plan B if containment failed, which of course it quickly did. [06:25:02]

BERMAN: Let me just read one more of the emails here, because they jumped off the page here.

This is from James Lawler, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Nebraska. And he writes an email on January 28, mind you, and the subject is "Great Understatements in History." "Napoleon's retreat from Moscow -- 'just a little stroll gone bad.' Pompeii -- 'a bit of a dust storm.' Hiroshima -- 'a bad summer heat wave.' AND Wuhan -- 'just a bad flu season.'"

So you get a sense, Mark, again, that there were doctors in the public health community that knew what was going on.

And to David's question then, given all these recommendations that were coming from the National Security Council, from HHS, including Azar, though the president denies it, and also from the public health community, why didn't the president want to listen to these?

MAZZETTI: Well, what our story lays out is that, for all these warnings that were coming from these different channels, the president and his team had different reasons to discount them.

So Mr. Azar, in their view, was very being alarmist. Peter Navarro, who is the trade adviser and a real China hawk, was discounted, in part because he had cried wolf so many times about China. And his views on China are so well-known that, you know, they were dismissed as just being overly hawkish. And he's always looking to the worst of what China might be up to.

And then you have, you know, the national security team. Pottinger and Robert O'Brien, the national security adviser, who they were warning early on, based on intelligence, based on their own conversations. And yet, their views were kind of -- seemed secondary to the views of the economic team. Steve Mnuchin, who were in President -- in President Trump's ear, basically warning that, if you do these things, the economy could tank. And that meant a lot for the president, especially in an election year.

So the story lays out all these different warnings for different reasons. Didn't bubble up -- they bubbled up to the top. But they were not heeded until -- really, until the middle of March.

BERMAN: Again, this led to questions that Dr. Fauci, who told CNN that had the United States taken measures earlier, more lives would have been saved, which led to overnight, the president at least musing or retweeting on social media the idea of firing Dr. Anthony Fauci.

David Sanger, Mark Mazzetti, terrific reporting. Thanks for helping us understanding at least some of it this morning.

SANGER: Thank you.

MAZZETTI: Thank you. BERMAN: In the meantime, dozens of tornadoes tearing up the Southeast U.S. overnight. At least 13 people are dead. We're going to have an update from where -- on where the violent storm is heading next.

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