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Beirut Explosion; President Trump in Denial Over Coronavirus Pandemic?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 4, 2020 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you so much for being with me.

Right now, behind closed doors at the White House, Vice President Pence and other members of the Coronavirus Task Force are huddling in their latest strategy session on the pandemic.

And it comes just hours after President Trump denied and dismissed the hard facts of this crisis, the inadequate testing, the increase in deaths, the widespread infections that members of that same task force say are a growing threat, in a startling new interview with Axios' Jonathan Swan.


JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: I have gone to your rallies. I have talked to your people. They love you. They listen to you. They listen to every word you say. They hang on your every word. They don't listen to me or the media or Fauci. They think we're fake news.

They want to get their advice from you. And so, when they hear you say, everything's under control, don't worry about wearing masks, I mean, these are people, many of them are older people, Mr. President.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, what's your definition of control?

SWAN: It's giving them a false sense of security.

TRUMP: Yes. Under the circumstances right now, I think it's under control. I will tell you what.

SWAN: How? A thousand Americans are dying a day.

TRUMP: They are dying. That's true. And it is what it is. But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control, as much as you can control it.

TRUMP: Because we test so much, we show cases. So, we show many, many cases. We show tremendous number of cases. I know you're smiling when I say that, but I'm telling you.

SWAN: No, but come on. I mean, I have heard you say this.

TRUMP: No, no. Other countries don't test like we do. So, they don't show cases.

SWAN: Just a couple points on that. I wasn't going to continue on the testing, but you said it.

So, we're testing so much because it's spread so far in America. And, when you--

TRUMP: We're testing so much because we had the ability to test., because we came up with test--

SWAN: OK. But South Korea--

TRUMP: Jonathan, we weren't even -- we didn't even have a test. When I took over, we didn't even have a test. Now, in all fairness--

SWAN: Why would you have a test?

TRUMP: There was no test for this.

SWAN: The virus didn't exist. How would you have a test?

TRUMP: Excuse me. I was going to tell you.


TRUMP: There was no test for this. We didn't have a test because there was no test.

SWAN: Of course.

TRUMP: In a very short order, we got one test. We got another test.

SWAN: It was broken, the first one.

TRUMP: Many of those tests are now obsolete, because we've -- it's called science.

SWAN: Right. Right.

TRUMP: And, all of a sudden, something is better. But, because we tested so many people, 55, 60 million people, very soon, we get cases. You test. Some kid has even just a little runny nose, it's a case. And then you report many cases.

So, we look like we have more cases than massive countries like China, which, by the way, doesn't report, as you know.

SWAN: Well, I don't put any stock in China's figures.

TRUMP: No, no. The point is--

SWAN: Yes.

TRUMP: The point is, because we are so much better at testing than any other country in the world, we show more cases.


BALDWIN: We will play much more of this interview. But let's just start right here.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, this interview was extraordinary. It is wide-ranging. But the comments specifically on COVID are getting a lot of attention, and understandably so. My question is, what's the reaction within the administration to that interview?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, Brooke, these are the same comments the president is making behind closed doors to the -- own members of his task force.

And we saw that play out this week with even just Dr. Birx, where they disagreed, because she offered what she believed was this accurate assessment of what's happening in the country.

So, these are the things that the president says privately as well too. Even when he's confronted with data that disproves what he is saying and that proves that it is not an accurate description of what's going on, the president continues to make arguments like things that the reason you're seeing more cases in the U.S. is because there is increased testing.

But I think, when you see this interview as a whole, you see that the president is viewing the pandemic through the lens of himself. And how do voters respond to that, as he's trying to declare victory, to project optimism. But, also, it's just as wide-ranging aspect of the president really not seeming to grasp what is actually happening in the country and not seeing what's going on, despite the numbers.

And he's being told in real time by Jonathan Swan, there are 1, 000 people, on average, who died in the United States from COVID-19 in the last seven days. And the president just does not accept that or he dismisses it or writes it off as attributed to something like testing and how that's up in the country.

BALDWIN: You brought up Dr. Birx a second ago. I want to come back to her, because you have learned a bit about the president's public attacks on Dr. Deborah Birx and her response to that attack. What have you learned?

COLLINS: You know, we were told that she was upset by the president's tweet yesterday, that it stung to have the president attacking her for what she believed was just an accurate assessment of what's going on.

But we're told that one reason the president was so upset with Dr. Birx, and the reason he lashed out on Twitter for the first time at her, at least, we should say, is because not only that she said that it's extraordinarily widespread in the U.S., but also, when she was asked about those criticisms from the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, on her -- Pelosi has accused her of basically enabling the president to spread misinformation -- Birx, instead of taking a shot, she said she had tremendous respect for the House speaker, and then defended her record on the things that she's pushed about data.


And the president did not like that she offered that praise for Pelosi, we were told by one person. So that also factored into the president going after her publicly.

BALDWIN: I want to get back to this Jonathan Swan-President Trump interview.

Kaitlan thank you.

Let me bring in Anne Rimoin. She's an epidemiology professor and director of the UCLA Center for Global and Immigrant Health. Chris Cillizza is a CNN politics reporter and editor at large.

So, welcome to both of you.

And I got a -- I really want to walk our listeners, our viewers through so many twists and turns of this interview.

But just out of the gate, Chris, let's both agree that this is one of the best interviews we have ever seen. Jonathan came prepared. He kept his cool. He pushed back constantly with facts. How important was this interview, do you think?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I think important, Brooke, in, I think, it comes after the Chris Wallace interview, which I think is also important.

And they're important for very similar reasons, which is, this president, if not challenged at almost every turn, will say things that we know are factually inaccurate. It's not a partisan statement. This is someone who exaggerates, is probably the best way to put it, but often just outright lies about things.

You must come armed with facts to say, this simply is not accurate, or, as I think Jonathan Swan did, effectively, you don't have to say, you're wrong. You can say, what manuals are you talking about? What papers?

BALDWIN: What books? Right. Right.

CILLIZZA: What study? What specifically, Mr. President, are you talking about?

I think most people say, well, you have to shut him down immediately. I actually think what Jonathan did well in this interview is, he followed up. Oh, OK. You say that this is the case. What evidence do you have that this is the case? You can say it, but that's not the same thing as it being a fact. I think that was really important.

BALDWIN: You mentioned the myriad false claims. So, Anne, to you. President Trump, he continues to dig on the false claim that we have more cases of COVID because we do more testing and other countries are having big spikes, but not us.

But when you look at the numbers, we know that not to be true. And, Anne, the president is also just misunderstanding the death rate when you listen to that exchange.

So, can you just explain to us what President Trump is getting wrong?


So, Brianna, I think that the issue here--

BALDWIN: It's Brooke.

RIMOIN: Sorry. Brooke.

BALDWIN: But I will take it as a compliment. She's a dear friend.


RIMOIN: Brooke. Brooke. I'm sorry. Of course.

The issue here is looking at the mortality rate, which Donald Trump is confusing. He's confusing the case fatality rate with the mortality rate. The case fatality rate is, how many people who have the disease die?

And the mortality rate is a measure of the frequency of occurrence of death in this population. And the fact of the matter is, the mortality is showing here, in the United States, we're among the 20 countries most affected by COVID-19 in the world. The U.S. has the fourth highest number of deaths per 100, 000 people.

And we're only ranking behind a few countries U.K., Peru and Chile. And this is data that's according to Johns Hopkins that is accurate as of today.

But the deaths per people who have COVID, we're around 14th out of 20. So, the bottom line is, we're having a lot more deaths from COVID per population than most other countries out there. And that is just not OK.

We are in no way able to say that we are in a good situation. And this is a problem where we have a president that doesn't understand what science is.

BALDWIN: You also have Jonathan asking him about the roughly 1, 000 Americans dying a day to COVID, to which president, Chris Cillizza, responds, "It is what it is."

CILLIZZA: It is what it is.

BALDWIN: It is what it is.

CILLIZZA: My least favorite phrase in general, but especially when we're talking--


BALDWIN: But especially when you're talking about 1, 000 people dying a day.


BALDWIN: And I'm wondering, just through a political lens, for Trump supporters, folks living in these red and rural areas that are being hit hard, does hearing "It is what it is" have an impact? Like, what are the political ramifications of that?

CILLIZZA: Well, it should, in that, prior to President Trump, you could take issue with the politics of George Bush or Barack Obama or Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon. Pick your person.

But when things like this happen -- and I say like this. We haven't had anything this gargantuan, but other events that required empathy from a president, whether it was a terrorist attack or some other tragedy, a natural disaster. That person was able to unite the country or at least attempt to unite the country around our sort of common humanity, that, when we are down, we lift up the people who are down.


This president has never been able to express empathy. Whether he has it or not is a conversation I'm not equipped to know. But he has never been able to express it publicly.

And I will tell you, it is what it is, that exchange, Brooke, will be, and I would say should be, in campaign ads for Joe Biden, and in other Democratic groups, going forward, because this is the only issue of the campaign. Maybe that will change by November 3. But, right now, how this president is handling the coronavirus crisis is the only issue.

And when you have someone saying it is what it is, when it could be a loved one, or a college friend, or your grandmother or your grandfather who has passed away, the "Huh" response, it's not good enough if I said it.


CILLIZZA: It's certainly not good enough that the president of the United States says it.

BALDWIN: So, let me get to another clip, because he was asked about the fact that he held that rally in the middle of a pandemic in Tulsa.

And so he -- the fact is that he brought thousands of people together, despite warnings from health officials not to do it. So watch this.


TRUMP: First of all, we had 12, 000 people, not 6, 000, which you reported and other people report.

But you couldn't even get in. It was like an armed camp.

SWAN: Why would you want it that?

TRUMP: Because they had 120 Black Lives Matter people there. And Tulsa--

SWAN: I understand, but why would you have wanted a huge crowd?

TRUMP: Excuse me. Wait. And Tulsa -- well, because that area was a very good area at the time. It was an area that was pretty much over.

SWAN: Cases were--


TRUMP: After -- after, a month later, it started going up.

That's a month later. But Tulsa was a very good -- Oklahoma was doing very well as a state. It was almost free. It spiked a month later, a month-and-a-half, two months later. But it was a good area.

We had a tremendous crowd. We had tremendous response. You couldn't even -- it was like an armed camp. You couldn't even get through. You couldn't get anybody in.


TRUMP: But we had 12, 000 people. It was incorrectly reported. The other thing we had that nobody wants to talk about.

So, FOX broadcast it. It was the highest rating in the history of FOX television Saturday night.


BALDWIN: So, Chris, he brought thousands of people together.


BALDWIN: And listening to Jonathan last hour, it's like, doesn't matter, 6, 000, 12, 000, whatever.

Like, he brought thousands of people together in the middle of this pandemic, despite all these warnings from health officials, and yet still his defense is ratings?

CILLIZZA: Go back to the question that Jonathan Swan asked.

Was it a good idea, from a public health perspective, to gather a large number of people? Donald Trump's response, in that response, was, well, we had more people than you guys said, and there would have been even more people if they weren't Black Lives Matters people outside. There's nothing about the public health concern. And the other thing,

Brooke, too, is, this -- there's so many things wrong with what he said. Oklahoma was not over it by then. There were warnings that Tulsa was -- Tulsa and Oklahoma, more broadly, because of their lack of a mask mandate, were an emerging, small hot spot before he went.

There were doubts about whether he should go or not. He can rewrite -- he can try to rewrite history as much as he likes. But what our job to do is say, I remember when this happened, and when it happened, these were the facts.

And those facts simply do not comport with Donald Trump's version of reality. They just don't.

BALDWIN: Here's one more clip. This is when -- this is moving on to thinking ahead to the election. The president yet again claims, without evidence, that mail-in voting will lead to voter fraud. Here he was.


TRUMP: So we have a new phenomena. It's called -- it's called mail-in voting, where you send -- where a governor--

SWAN: New?

TRUMP: Well, it's new.

SWAN: It's been here since the Civil War. Americans have--


TRUMP: -- in terms of kind of -- the kind of millions and millions of ballots. They've never done anything like that.

SWAN: It'll be bigger this year because of the pandemic.

TRUMP: Bigger? Not bigger. Massively bigger.

SWAN: Yes, because of the pandemic.

TRUMP: So they're going to send tens of millions of ballots to California, all over the place, to who -- who's going to get them?

I have a friend who lives in Westchester County.

SWAN: They send applications, not ballots.

TRUMP: His son passed away. He had a beautiful, wonderful son, young man, passed away seven years ago. He called me. He said, "I just got a -- I just got a ballot for my son, Robert."

SWAN: Probably an application. Probably an application.

TRUMP: He died seven years ago. Somebody got a ballot for a dog. Somebody got a ballot for something else. You got millions of ballots going, nobody even knows where they're

going. You look at some of the corruption having to do with universal mail-in voting -- absentee voting is OK. You have to apply. You have to go through a process.

SWAN: You have to apply for mail-in. It's the same thing.

TRUMP: Absentee voting is good. Look -- look, you're sending it out.

SWAN: Let's do concrete. Let's do concrete.

TRUMP: Jonathan, they're sending out--

SWAN: Applications. You download them off..

TRUMP: -- governors, millions of ballots. There is--

SWAN: No, they're not. It's applications. You can get them off the Internet.

TRUMP: There is no way you can go through a mail-in vote without massive cheating.


BALDWIN: So -- so, Chris, despite you know what he just said, here's the caveat, right, Florida.

Let me read what the president just tweeted today.

CILLIZZA: Oh, yes. Yes.

BALDWIN: "Whether you call it vote by mail or absentee voting, in Florida, the election system is safe and secure, tried and true. Florida's voting system has been cleaned up (we defeated Democrats' attempts to change. So, in Florida, I encourage all to request a ballot and vote by mail."


So, is it OK for the president, members of his families, several White House staffers to vote by mail, which, by the way, they have done in the past, right, and then now for the state critical to his reelection, but not anyone else? What's going on?

CILLIZZA: Can I just -- well, I mean, it's hugely hypocritical. Put that away, although none of us should be surprised at this, Brooke.

A couple things one. Jonathan Swan makes this point. You made it. I want to make it again. There's no difference between mail-in balloting and absentee balloting. There just isn't. I don't know how this became a thing.

I watch Brianna tried to get Mercedes Schlapp to answer that question in the last hour. Still no difference. If you called me five hours now, still no difference. The other thing is, study after study after study have been done,

including by George W. Bush's Justice Department, about widespread voter fraud, whether it's in mail-in and absentee ballots or in- person.

You know how many pieces of evidence of widespread, not just a couple people doing something wrong, widespread voter fraud they found?



BALDWIN: Zero. Yes.

Thank you for that.

CILLIZZA: So, it's not--


BALDWIN: No, I know. I hear you loud and clear. I mean, listen--

CILLIZZA: Sorry. I'm frustrated.

BALDWIN: It is what it is. Too soon?


BALDWIN: Chris Cillizza, thank you so much for going through all of that with me.

And, Anne Rimoin, I appreciate your voice through all of it as well. We just really needed to get through. There's just so much, so much to talk about in that interview from Jonathan Swan of Axios.

Coming up: She battled the coronavirus for 117 days, spending two months of that time in a medically induced coma, suffering heart and lung failure in the process. But she survived. And she is now on the road to recovery. And she will join me live.

Plus: Body camera footage leaks to the media, giving this disturbing new view of the police killing of George Floyd -- what it could mean for his case ahead.

And a massive explosion hits Beirut, the shockwave felt 150 miles away. Now several people are dead. Thousands are injured. We have new reporting coming in.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin, welcoming our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. We are following breaking news out of Beirut, where a huge explosion

has injured thousands and killed at least 25, including a political party leader, the whole thing -- look at this -- captured on video. The blast rocked the port area of Beirut. It was felt miles and miles away, blowing out windows and buildings all across the city, even damaging the presidential palace

CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is live for us there in Beirut.

And, Ben, tell us where exactly you are and more about the blast itself.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm in the CNN bureau. We're in the studio, where the windows were shattered and the window frames were knocked off. Our front door is just a 1, 000 little pieces of glass.

Now, I was in this -- the bureau here just minutes after 6:00 p.m. local time -- that's more than four hours ago -- when I felt what I thought was an earthquake. And just moments later, the blast hit. And I heard our windows shattering and hundreds of windows in this area.

There had been a fire in the port that I had seen pictures of just a little bit beforehand. But these -- according to the national news agency, what was on fire was a warehouse that it said contained fireworks.

But the size of that explosion would indicate something far more deadly went off this evening in Beirut. In fact, the head of general security said that it would be naive to assume that this explosion was in fact caused by fireworks.

Now, the health minister has come on TV, saying that at least 25 people were killed, more than 2, 500 injured. Hospitals in the city are overwhelmed with the injured. They're treating them in the parking lot, as well as other places.

As you can probably hear behind me, there are ambulances still rushing around the city. The Lebanese Red Cross has called upon all their ambulances in the entire country to come to Beirut immediately to help in the effort to bring the wounded to hospitals.

Now, as far as the cause of the blast, we still have no idea. But what is as clear as day is that there is destruction throughout the entire city. I have spoken with people who've lived through the civil war, the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel, and all of them said they have never experienced a blast so large, so destructive as what happened in Beirut this evening -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Impossible to imagine that could have just been fireworks.

But we're not going to sit here and speculate. I will leave it for now. Ben Wedeman, I'm glad you and our crew are OK there in the CNN bureau.


Just hearing that cacophony of sirens tells the whole story, in and of itself. We will stay right up with you, as you keep digging for more. Ben Wedeman, thank you in Lebanon.

Back here at home, new information in the George Floyd case. Disturbing body-cam footage of Floyd's arrest and killing was just leaked to the media.

That's next.