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Trump's Bizarre Statements About Coronavirus and Disinfectants; U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Pass 50,000. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 24, 2020 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Exactly two months ago, President Trump tweeted -- quote -- "The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA."

We can clearly now see that was not the case then, and it is not the case now, amid this horrific death toll.

President Trump, meanwhile, continues to make bizarre public statements, ones at odds with medical and scientific expertise. The president last night suggesting that -- quote -- "injecting" disinfectant could be used as a treatment for coronavirus.

In response, the official Twitter account of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now tweeted a warning that Americans should -- quote -- "follow the instructions on the product label to ensure safe and effective use."

The company that makes Lysol also felt the need to issue a public statement warning customers to not consume their products.

The White House press secretary and the president's factotums in the right-wing media claims the press was taking President Trump's comments out of context, which we were not.

And then, this afternoon, the president made their empty defenses of him even less rooted in fact, when he claimed he had been sarcastic and he was posing the questions to journalists -- quote -- "just to see what would happen" -- unquote -- which is not remotely what happened.

Simply put, it's a bald-faced lie.

The president wasn't even talking, posing the bizarre question about disinfectants to journalists. He was talking to an official of the Department of Homeland Security who had been talking about how sunlight and disinfectants help to kill the coronavirus when it was in the air and on nonporous surfaces, not when it was in the human body.

But don't take it from me. Take a look and listen for yourself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to ask Bill a question that probably some of you are thinking of, if you're totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting.

So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light. And I think you said that hasn't been checked, but you're going to test it.

And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, you -- which you can do, either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you're going test that too. Sounds interesting.


TRUMP: Right. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute.

And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or -- or almost a cleaning.


TAPPER: What's more important than Lysol-gate itself is what this all suggests about the president's ability to handle this crisis, which has now killed more than 50,000 people in the United States.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there with us now with more on the CDC warning about the health problems that can be caused by using disinfectants the wrong way in the human body.


TRUMP: I was asking the question sarcastically to reporters like you, just to see what would happen.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump now says he was just kidding when he wondered aloud if sunlight, U.V. rays or household disinfectants could possibly kill the coronavirus inside the body.

TRUMP: No, of course, No, of course. That -- interior-wise, it's said sarcastically. It was put in the form of a question to a group of extraordinarily hostile people, namely, the fake news media.

COLLINS: Trump made the initial remarks on camera yesterday after a Department of Homeland Security official said they tested how sunlight and disinfectants could kill coronavirus on surfaces and in the air. Trump then mused about whether it could work on people.

TRUMP: Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light. And I think you said that hasn't been checked, but you're going to test it.

And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, you -- which you can do, either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you're going test that too. Sounds interesting. Right. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a

minute, one minute.

And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or -- or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So, it would be interesting to check that.

So, that, you're going have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds -- it sounds interesting to me.

COLLINS: At one point Trump instructed scientists to look into the matter.

TRUMP: I would like to you speak to the medical doctors to see if there is any way that you can apply light and heat to cure.

I'm not a doctor. But I'm like a person that has a good you know what.

COLLINS: The president's remarks were immediately criticized by doctors across the country, and the company that makes Lysol issued a statement warning consumers not to try it at home.


After Trump was angered by media coverage of his remarks, the White House claimed reporters took him out of context, but didn't say he was being sarcastic.

At the briefing, the president appeared serious and even asked Dr. Deborah Birx to weigh in.

TRUMP: Deborah, have you ever heard of that, the heat and the light relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?


I mean, certainly, fever...


BIRX: ... is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond, but not as -- I have not seen heat.

TRUMP: I think it's a great thing to look at.

COLLINS: In the last 48 hours, the president has put his own doctors and scientists in uncomfortable positions.

On a CNN town hall last night, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn hedged when he was asked about the president's comments.

DR. STEPHEN HAHN, COMMISSIONER, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: And, no, I certainly wouldn't recommend the internal ingestion of a disinfectant. COLLINS: After Dr. Anthony Fauci said the U.S. needed to ramp up

testing, Trump disagreed with him openly at the briefing.

TRUMP: I don't agree with him on that, no. I think we're doing a great job with testing.

COLLINS: The day before, Trump and Fauci were also at odds over whether the coronavirus would reappear this fall.

TRUMP: Excuse me. We may not even have corona coming back.

FAUCI: We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that.

COLLINS: The same day, Trump also announced the CDC director would issue a correction for quotes he then affirmed were accurate.

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: I'm accurately quoted in "The Washington Post."


COLLINS: Now, Jake, the president is now saying he was being sarcastic when he made those remarks yesterday.

But if you look at the Twitter feeds of some of his own officials and agencies, that doesn't seem to be the case, because you saw the surgeon general tweet this morning that people should make sure they consult with their doctors before pursuing any treatment.

And then this afternoon, the CDC issued a warning saying household cleaners and disinfectants can cause problems when not used properly.

TAPPER: It's ridiculous. Obviously, he was not being sarcastic.

Thank you, Kaitlan Collins. Appreciate it.

Joining me now to discuss the medical issues behind this, Dr. Stephen Ostroff, the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He's worked under both President Obama and President Trump.

Doctor, I want to focus mainly on where we go from here in terms of the pandemic, but I do want to get reaction when you heard the president openly -- openly suggesting injecting disinfectant as a possible treatment for coronavirus for the Department of Human Services and the doctors to look into.

What was your response when you heard that?

DR. STEPHEN OSTROFF, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: Well, I think that's -- for anyone that's listening, it's very, very important to say that that is a dangerous thing to do.

And nobody should be using disinfectants with the idea that somehow they are therapeutic. And so, if you think about it, there is no basis to either inject one of these disinfectants or to inject bleach, to inhale it, to think that it may do something in your lungs, or to drink it.

All of those can be very, very dangerous. And so none of that should be attempted as a way to deal with coronavirus infections.

I think one thing that's -- what, I think, is interesting is that, just by coincidence, yesterday, the CDC, my former colleagues at CDC, issued a report looking at calls to poison control centers over the last couple of months related to bleach and disinfectants.

And one of the things that was noted is that the number of calls being received is considerably higher than it was at the same time period a year ago. And that was before these announcements yesterday, showing that there are already a lot of people that are using these types of disinfectants to try to clean their homes or maybe to add them to hand sanitizers, et cetera.

And it just shows you that there are dangers even using them in that way. And so the idea that you would inhale or ingest or inject these really makes no sense and can be definitely dangerous.

TAPPER: As a doctor watching this, as the former head of the FDA under Obama and Trump, what do you think when you see people like Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx, Dr. Redfield, people of medical expertise, having to dance around or avoid these bizarre statements from President Trump, first that the pandemic was no big deal, comparing it to the flu, then talking up medical cures that had been unproven, and now this?

Did you encounter that when you were head of the FDA under him or under President Obama?

OSTROFF: Two things to mention.

One is, not only did I work at the FDA, but I also worked at the CDC for many, many years. And one the areas that I worked in, in both locations was emerging infectious diseases.


So, we have had any number of events, maybe not of this magnitude or this consequence, but many events over the years with emerging infectious diseases. And one of the things that I can say is, regardless of which ones they were, there are always political dimensions to these types of emerging infectious disease situations.

If you think back, for instance, one of them that I was involved in quite heavily was the anthrax attacks back in the early 2000s. And some of those anthrax-laced letters actually were delivered to members of Congress.

And so there's always politics that comes into play. But one of the important things, and I think one of the things that all of the scientists and all of the doctors involved are trying to do is make sure that we stick as closely as we possibly can to the evidence, and that we try to practice evidence-based medicine when dealing with a situation like this.

TAPPER: You wrote an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" with former FDA Commissioner Gottlieb.

You said -- quote -- "The threat from COVID-19 won't end when the epidemic subsides. The recent upsurge in cases in Singapore and Japan shows how easily the virus can reemerge. It will be a constant threat until an effective vaccine is on the market."

So what do we as a society need to do, Doctor, to begin to responsibly facilitate some reopening of the country?

OSTROFF: Well, we're in the middle of a wave.

It appears in some areas that we're at the peak of the wave, and others, we may be now on the downside of that wave. Others are still going up.

It's very important, when we make decisions about what to do, that we base them on data and we base them on evidence. There are clear criteria that have been set up -- that have been established about when it's time to start easing back on the stay-at-home orders and some of the other social distancing measures.

And I think that, in order to have the best outcomes, we need to stick to those, I mean, realizing that the societal implications, the economic implications of this outbreak, the consequences are nothing like we have seen in the world for almost 100 years.

And so there's incredible pressure to try to get through this. But we are dealing with a situation where you have to balance those pressures upon trying to get out and stay ahead of what the virus is doing.

And if you start easing back on these measures too quickly, there is definitely the possibility that there will be a rebound, and it'll just take longer to start easing back on some of these measures.


Dr. Stephen Ostroff, thank you so much. We appreciate your time, sir.

OSTROFF: No problem.

TAPPER: You can now go to the gym or a bowling alley in Georgia, and it's not the only state starting to reopen.

We're going to talk to Dr. Sanjay Gupta about that and the president's recent claims next.

Plus: breaking news about the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, one top official now pushing for his reinstatement.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Breaking news. Just in, a stunning turnaround. Leaders of the U.S. Navy now recommending that Captain Brett Crozier be reinstated as commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, according to an administration official. You may recall, Crozier was removed from command after sending a letter pleading for help to combat and the fact that there was a coronavirus outbreak on his aircraft carrier.

His departure was met with hundreds of sailors yelling "Captain Crozier" and applauding his service, as you hear now.

CNN's Barbara Starr joins us.

And, Barbara, Defense Secretary Mark Esper has not made a final decision on whether to sign off on this. What are you hearing from your sources?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, remember, Jake, the man who fired Crozier himself got fired a few days later for how he handled all of it. There was a Navy investigation this morning. The chief of naval operations, Admiral Michael Gilday, met with Esper, presented his recommendation, the Navy recommendation that Crozier be reinstated to command of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt, one of the most coveted commands in the Navy.

And Esper so far at this hour has not accepted the Navy recommendation. That is a surprise. The indications are that Esper was expected to accept it, Crozier would be reinstated, and life would move on.

But that has not happened. So, we're still awaiting some kind of statement from the Pentagon, some kind of decision from the defense secretary at this hour. Jake, there are more than 850 sailors from the Roosevelt who are testing positive for the coronavirus.

STARR: And he was trying to save them.

Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

A sarcastic question? That's what President Trump is now claiming, not particularly credibly, about his bizarre riff last night when he asked his team to look into the possibility of injecting disinfectants into humans as a possible treatment or cure for coronavirus. That suggestion spawned more than 100 calls to Maryland's emergency hotline with questions about it.

Joining me now to talk about this and much more, CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


Sanjay, first, your reaction to President Trump.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I was stunned by that. I mean, I had to, you know, rewind and play it back and forth a couple of times to make sure I heard that correctly. I mean, it was pretty clear that he was -- he was riffing. There was a conversation earlier in the press briefing about environmental conditions, being out in the environment, what sunlight and humidity might do to the virus.

But then to extrapolate that and saying, well, why don't we take those same things and put it inside the body, putting disinfectant inside the body, and -- I mean, it was -- it was stunning, you know, and dangerous.

I was very anxious to see how the task force was going to respond to this, including Ambassador Birx, and Dr. Stephen Hahn and everybody else. So, you know, it was just one of those moments where I saw this collision of, you know, this politics and science really happen.

TAPPER: I wanted to ask you also, the FDA warned today of serious side effects associated with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. What does it takes for the FDA to issue a warning like that and what's your reaction to that?

GUPTA: Yes, no, it was pretty significant. And I -- the language was, specifically, you know, there's no evidence that this works, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, in the treatment of COVID, and there may be significant side effects. I mean, it's a significant warning, Jake. I guess maybe it goes without saying, maybe even more of a significant warning right now, because, obviously, there's been a lot of enthusiasm from the White House around these medications. So for the FDA to say this, in this environment, I think is very significant.

It does sort of follow a lot of what we've been hearing from other countries including Brazil, Sweden, and France. These are all small studies. I want to emphasize that. We emphasize it each time, Jake.

You know, we all want the real what we call randomized prospective studies, prospective meaning "going forward" and randomized meaning patients are put into different groups ands the investigators don't know which group that is getting the medication, which is not. But we don't have data that that's good yet.

So, based on what they've seen, so far, with the FDA has doctors need to make this decision on their own. They need to look at the availability of data and make this decision their own.

But, Jake, I'm a doctor, I talk to lots of doctors about this, and you know, just anecdotally, admittedly, poll and say, would you do this? And everyone has said, no. I mean, A, there's not the efficacy, you know, the effectiveness data, and there's legitimate concerns about side effects. I mean, maybe in higher doses more than lower doses, but still, we don't know.

So, this was a significant move. We also know that there's going to be some bigger data sets coming out at the end of this month. I heard, speaking to Governor Cuomo, that's in New York is where they've been doing a lot of these clinical trials of five different hospitals. We need that data

But so far, the drumbeat of evidence has not been there. The NIH has recommended against it, and now, the FDA has now put out this statement, Jake. TAPPER: It's too bad, because it would be great if it worked,

chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine.

Sanjay, today, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, and Alaska are easing restrictions on some businesses, and according to "The Washington Post", some governors, including Governor Kemp in Georgia, are reopening businesses without giving advanced notice to regional health departments.

If medical staff and experts were looped in, could all of this have been handled better, do you think, especially in Georgia where you are?

GUPTA: I think it could have been handled better. I think there was members even of the task force here in Georgia that didn't know about this decision until they read about it in the newspaper, heard about it on the news. But the reality is that, you know, people should have been informed, but the greater reality is that the state shouldn't open yet.

I mean, and I -- Again, I recognize, and you, Jake, recognize, you've said this many times, that there is obviously a lot of pressure on businesses to open. There's real hardship going on, and I hear about that a lot. I mean, I live in this state. And I have these conversations with folks.

But the reality is that there's -- upon no basis for the state to be opening yet from a public health standpoint, that's just plain and simple. And, again, I've said, I don't want to hedge on this point. It doesn't meet the 14-day downward trend. That exists for a reason. That gives you some comfort that at least you're on the back side of that curve.

When you look at what's happening in Georgia, even without the reopening, which by the way is now recommended by these same modelers to be June 22nd, which I hate hearing, I live here, my daughters hate hearing that, but that's what the same models recommend, June 22nd now.

But if you look at the curve, we're not on the back side that have curve. The numbers are expected to double in the next a couple of weeks, triple by the weeks, by the middle of May. So, it's a real concern still what's happening here and I worry that some of the progress that's been made will start to be erased.


The more practical point I think from the public health officials not knowing is that we need to be able to test people. We need to have people able to be tested, so they know, I don't have the virus, so I have some confidence now when I go or when I'm in a public location that I don't have the virus, I'm not spreading it to other people.

That means you have to have point of location testing in several places, where people can actually realistically get the past. Yes, capacity may be increased, but if people can't get the test, like who do I call, where do I go, how do I get my results, everyone should be able to answer that question everywhere in the country. In Georgia, they can't answer that question.

It's just too early to open. The president has said that. Dr. Fauci has said that.


GUPTA: Ambassador Birx has said that. All the public health officials in Georgia have told the governor that. This is a -- this is a -- it's a bad decision.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Have a great weekend. I will see you Monday.

You don't want to miss Dr. Gupta's very special town hall tomorrow morning. He's going to team up with CNN's Erica Hill and the cast of "Sesame Street," especially, our friend Big Bird, to answer your children's questions about coronavirus. "The ABCs of COVID-19", that airs tomorrow morning at 9:00 Eastern, here on CNN. A very special event for you and your kids.

As nearby states begin to reopen, I'm going to talk to the governor of North Carolina who is taking a different approach than some of his other governors. That's next.

Stay with us.