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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Bob Woodward Releases Bombshell Trump Tapes; New Jersey Governor Reacts to Trump Downplaying Coronavirus. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: He was not truthful to the American public.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who we mentioned is quoted in all this Woodward reporting, telling others that Trump's leadership was rudderless and that his sole purpose is to get reelected.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. "THE LEAD" starts now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I am Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin this hour with breaking news, President Trump responding for the first time to the recordings, these revelations made by journalist Bob Woodward for his book, his new book, "Rage."

President Trump in his own words privately described just how dangerous and deadly the coronavirus was in February. But, at the same time, he was publicly telling the American people the virus is just going to disappear one day.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: TRUMP: It goes -- it goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch.

The touch, you don't have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air, and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one.

It's also more deadly than your -- your -- even your strenuous flus. People don't realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I know. It's much forgotten.

TRUMP: I mean, it's pretty amazing.

And then I say, well, is that the same thing?

WOODWARD: What are you able to do for... (CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: This is more deadly. This is 5 per -- this is 5 percent vs. 1 percent and less than 1 percent. So this is deadly stuff.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BROWN: Let's go straight to CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the president just said that this is a political hit job. But he is on the record telling -- telling -- saying that this is serious, this is deadly, this coronavirus can spread through the air. And even after that, he held several rallies.

The president still taking no responsibility today.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think his quote was, "I gave him some quotes," referring to what he told Bob Woodward.

Pam, actually, it was 18 interviews that the president did with Bob Woodward on the record. Just there, as he was calling this a political hit job, he was standing by one of the most damning quotes that we heard today in the release of this audio and of the excerpts of this book, which is that he intentionally was downplaying it publicly.

He says he did not want to create a panic. That is something that he just repeated and was defending, while speaking with reporters, while not explaining why then he continued to hold packed rallies after he was talking privately about how this disease was airborne.

He held six more rallies after that. He did not explain why he took so long to ramp up supplies if he knew that it was going to be much deadlier than the flu, and that it was airborne and the way it was going to spread, something that the administration did not get on top of until March and April, at best.

And, of course, he did not explain any of the other comments that he made several months as this pandemic was breaking out, despite receiving a very jarring warning, according to this book, from his national security adviser, some he later told Bob Woodward he doesn't quite recall getting from Robert O'Brien.

So, there are many questions facing the president. He only took a few there as he was revealing his list of Supreme Court judges. But, of course, the biggest question is, what is the president's defense going to be? Because these aren't just quotes that he gave in an interview. These aren't just quotes on background that other people gave to Bob Woodward.

This is the president in his own words documenting how he saw this pandemic since the outbreak starting in January, when these interviews with Bob Woodward first began, until July of 2020.

BROWN: And he also said that millions more would have died if his administration not taken what action they took. What is he basing that on?

COLLINS: This is something we have heard from the president time and time again.

Basically, the argument that he is making is nothing that no health experts have suggested. But he is saying, if they did nothing, if nothing was shut down, if no one wore a mask, if they had not produced more ventilators, really done absolutely bare minimum, nothing in response to this pandemic, he says millions of people would have died.

That is not anything any of his health experts recommended to him. The president often cites people who said, why don't you just ride it out, though we have not been able to determine anyone who has actually given the president that advice.

And so that is his best defense. But, of course, the question is, how many more Americans did die as a result of what the president said publicly about this virus that we now know he did not even believe himself privately?

If he had been saying the things that he was telling Bob Woodward to the American people into all the microphones that are around the president and the cameras on a daily basis, how many people would have changed their behavior is a big question that people are going to be looking at for years to come, and whether or not he had been saying on February 7 publicly, this is incredibly airborne, you need to be worried about this, this is deadly stuff.

That is something he said publicly. And then, Pam, the next -- few days later, he held a packed rally, one that I attended. He held another a few days after that. And then he held for more rallies until the beginning of March, when many of these campaign events were suspended.

[16:05:04]

So, the question is not about the millions that could have died, in the president's word. It's about the over 180,000 that have died since then.

BROWN: Right.

And you mentioned the rallies. He was telling Bob Woodward that this was airborne, this is deadly. Later that month, he holds a rally, a packed rally. People weren't wearing masks. And he called the virus a hoax.

Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

There's so much more to discuss here, CNN's Dana Bash, Nia-Malika Henderson, Gloria Borger.

All right, Gloria, what's your reaction?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: My reaction is a little bit of confusion from the president, how he defines leadership, quite frankly.

This is a president who says, leadership -- you have to show leadership. Leadership is about confidence. And then he said, we just don't want people to panic. He didn't deny that he said what he said, but don't forget, this is a president who is also trying to panic people about what's going on in the streets of cities right now.

And so he's saying, I couldn't do it because people would have panicked.

Well, that isn't true. If you are a president, and you're leveling about the seriousness of a disease with the American people, you will not panic them if you trust them, if you tell them what they need to do to keep it from spreading.

So I think he is confusing these things. He abdicated his leadership responsibility, and instead lied to the American public, because he didn't really want to close down the country, perhaps, didn't want to endanger his election, perhaps.

So I think this is going to be his excuse. But I think it's no excuse at all.

BROWN: And, Nia, you can urge call without lying to the American people, because I just -- we cannot reiterate this enough.

The messaging coming from the president on this virus impacts people's behavior. People's behavior and how they deal with this virus, whether they social distance or not, whether they wear a mask or not, is a life-or-death matter.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Exactly.

And you saw this happen in real time, particularly with Republican governors who were completely taking their cues from this president about how to go about responding to this pandemic, to this virus.

So, when the president was downplaying it, when the president was saying, for instance, maybe things didn't need to be shut down, that's how they were conducting things in their individual states, like Florida, like South Carolina, like Mississippi, like states all over this country.

And you see some of that continue in states like South Dakota. They are toeing the public line of this president in downplaying it, in saying, why should you wear a mask, something that he said before that crowd in North Carolina yesterday, while, privately, the president in his own bubble has created very much a safe space for his own kind of daily activities.

People are getting tests around him. He is getting tests. But yet and still, he is going before those crowds and essentially congratulating people, encouraging people not to wear masks in those crowds, crowds that he himself would never, ever go into, because he clearly privately knows how deadly and contagious this virus is.

And it's something he kept from the American people. And he is still not quite leveling with Americans...

BROWN: No.

HENDERSON: ... as he urges people to go back to school, football players to go back playing football as well.

So the disconnect between what he was privately saying and the world he's created around himself in the White House and what he's urging others to do, it's a huge, huge gap.

BROWN: And, Dana, you have a son who is learning virtually because of the way this administration has been dealing with this virus.

And I just want to reiterate, what he is saying today, it is still not adding up. If he really didn't want to cause panic, as Gloria pointed out, he wouldn't be talking constantly about what he sees as violence from the left on the streets. He is saying that because that is politically expedient for him.

If there was a hurricane coming, as you point out, Dana, the president would probably be warning people to take precautions. That is not what we saw with this.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that would be leadership.

BORGER: Right.

BASH: That would be leadership.

I mean, you mentioned I am a parent. We're all parents here, actually. And so we, like millions of people across the country, frankly, at this point, given how deadly the virus is, in the president's own words from back then, have the luxury of having to deal with virtual learning, even though it is very hard.

And I use the word luxury because we're the ones who so far, thank goodness, haven't gotten the virus, haven't lost our lives from the virus. But so many people have loved ones who have done that, never mind lost their jobs, lost their businesses.

[16:10:05]

Everything is completely disrupted in most of society right now, no matter where you live. And if the president wanted to not create panic, he could have acted much earlier, based on what he said, which is that it goes through the air, that it's very tricky because you just breathe the air, and that's how it's passed.

The fact that he knew that and didn't warn people and, more importantly, act and get the wheels of the government working to try to warn people with his own words, that would be, in any definition of the word, leadership.

BROWN: And yet, as pointed out in Bob Woodward's book, the month of February was pretty much squandered in terms of the response. Stick around. We have a lot more to discuss on this.

But I want to bring in the dean of Brown University School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish Jha.

Wow. You heard the president. You have listened to these tapes. If the president knew how dangerous this was in February and downplayed it publicly, what is the impact of public health?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Yes. So thank you for having me on.

It's very distressing. And it's distressing because the administration really has not used science to guide its policy. In the months of January and February, we didn't build up the testing infrastructure. They downplayed the role of masks.

They have downplayed the seriousness of this virus. And what it is meant has been, there's a massive misinformation campaign out there telling people this is nothing worse than the flu that the president himself iterated.

And yet we're now learning that the president knew better. The president knew what all the public health people knew. And instead of marshaling the forces of the U.S. government to protect the American people, we have had six months of immense suffering, 190,000 Americans dead.

It's all very, very preventable and obviously distressing.

BROWN: And, look, there's -- everyone is so divisive these days politically, it just seems.

But this is public health. This is life and death. That's what this comes down to. When you look at the death toll, just under 190 1000, do you think lives could have been saved if the president of the United States had been up front sooner?

JHA: Absolutely.

If we had marshaled the forces of the U.S. government back in January, or in February, or in March, or really any time before now, we could have saved the lives of many Americans.

And, look, we have normal political disagreements about the role of government, and that's all pretty normal and reasonable, and that's fine. But in a public health crisis, we need an effective federal response driven by science. We have not had that.

And hearing the president talk about acknowledging the science, but deciding to go a different way, is very distressing.

BROWN: All right.

So we were just talking about all these rallies he held after he admitted to Bob Woodward that this was airborne and that it was deadly. He continue to hold rallies, these packed rallies. People were not wearing masks.

As a doctor, what is your reaction to that of how dangerous that was?

JHA: Yes, so we were still learning a lot about the virus. But it was clear by then that large gatherings were going to be dangerous. And, certainly, the president knew that they were going to be dangerous.

And so it's a little surprising that these are his own supporters. These are his most ardent supporters. And his lack of concern, and the lack of the concern of the people who organized those rallies, for their own supporters is baffling, surprising, upsetting.

Like, they're just -- it doesn't make sense to me why they would not have acted differently than the way they did.

BROWN: And, according to the book, the president said he views the role of the president to keep the country safe.

And we have also heard more reaction. You heard the president downplay it because he didn't want to -- quote -- "cause panic." The White House press secretary said today that he wanted people to be calm.

Does that explanation resonate or make sense at all to you?

JHA: It really doesn't.

The way you create panic is by not leveling with the American people. I think Americans, most Americans -- Americans are adults. They can handle the news. I think, in your last panel, you discussed, if a hurricane is coming, you don't say no, no, there's no hurricane. You tell people, there's a hurricane. You tell people, we're in a pandemic, we have a deadly virus, and here's the plan.

Downplaying it, dismissing it, calling it the flu is not actually helpful in creating calm. I think leveling with the American people, both about the seriousness and what the national plan is to deal with it, that's how you create calm.

And, unfortunately, we have had a campaign of lack of straightforward information that I think has sown a lot more distrust and created a lot more panic than if we had just gotten the information straight.

[16:15:05]

BROWN: I want to get a fact check from you again, because the president brings this up all the time, that because of the China travel ban that he put into place, thousands and thousands of lives were saved. Is that true?

JHA: Yeah, by most estimates, the China travel ban probably delayed how much infection we got in our country by a week or two. Remember, we're in a global economy, and so, if -- instead of people, you know, those infections coming directly from China, they came through Europe and they came through other means. We didn't shut down our country completely, nor could we have, and already there were cases in the United States. So, I have always seen that as a marginally useful policy, but what is

very clear is it certainly was not responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives. And the biggest part of this, Pam, we didn't use those weeks that we were -- that we got from that policy to build up a testing infrastructure or to build up supplies for our health care workers. We squandered that time.

BROWN: All right. Let's listen to this excerpt from the audio tapes.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now it's starting out, it's not just old people, Bob, today and yesterday, some startling facts came out, it's not just old, older young people --

BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST: Yeah, exactly.

TRUMP: -- plenty of young people.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BROWN: Well, we now know this virus can, it has killed younger people. Obviously at a lower rate than adults, but Trump continues to say that children are almost immune to this virus -- that is not true, either. How dangerous is that?

JHA: This has been, unfortunately, a really big part of the problem, is the president, his latest adviser, Dr. Atlas, they have all been sort of peddling this information, this suggestion that if you're not old, you have nothing to fear from this disease.

We all, in the medical community, know that's not true. And sounds like president Trump knew that was not true. And again, I wish he had just leveled with the American people, it would have made the job of fighting this pandemic so much easier and yet it turns out we're one of the real laggards in the world because of all -- both the misinformation and lack of federal leadership.

BROWN: He leveled with Bob Woodward in these private conversations and he did not level with the American people at the time.

Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you very much for coming on.

We have more on our breaking news. The governor of one of the states hurt by the virus responds to the report that President Trump knew in early February that the virus was deadly and highly contagious but admitted he downplayed it. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:22:00]

BROWN: And welcome back to our politics.

President Trump moments ago gave his first response to the reporting in Bob Woodward's new book, "Rage". He defended his decision to not relay more urgency to the American public and said he didn't want to incite panic.

But as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, he's heard on tape saying in March, saying quote, wanted to always play it down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A damning new book reveals that for months, President Trump privately knew, but intentionally concealed from the public, how dangerous coronavirus was.

TRUMP: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down --

WOODWARD: Yes.

TRUMP: -- because I don't want to create a panic.

COLLINS: In his new book "Rage", Bob Woodward writes that on January 28th, Trump's national security adviser told him coronavirus would be the biggest threat to his presidency. A warning that made Trump's head pop up, though he barely mentioned it days later at the State of the Union.

TRUMP: My administration will take all necessary steps to safeguard our citizens from this threat.

COLLINS: Two days after that, Trump privately told Woodward how quickly coronavirus could spread, something he was not saying publicly.

TRUMP: It goes through air, Bob, that's always tougher than the touch, you know, the touch, you don't have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one.

It's also more deadly than your, you know, your -- even your strenuous flus. This is five per, you know, this is 5 percent versus 1 percent and less than 1 percent, you know, so, this is deadly stuff.

COLLINS: But in front of the cameras, Trump was comparing it to the flu.

TRUMP: This is -- I really think, Doc, you want to treat this like you treat the flu, right?

COLLINS: Though he recently claimed children are almost immune from COVID-19, in March, he privately acknowledged that it was a threat to young people, too.

TRUMP: Now it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob, today and yesterday, some startling facts came out, it's not just old, older young people --

WOODWARD: Yeah, exactly.

TRUMP: -- plenty of young people.

COLLINS: Trump spoke to Woodward 18 times for his book, "Rage." The quotes are on tape and impossible for the White House to deny, though the press secretary attempted to do just that today.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has never lied to the American public on COVID. The president never downplayed the virus.

TRUMP: I wanted to always play it down.

COLLINS: The book also paints a damning portrait in the words of his own aides. His former defense secretary, Jim Mattis, reportedly prayed for the nation under Trump's command and is quoted as calling him dangerous, unfit and someone with no moral compass who took actions that showed American adversaries, quote, how to destroy America.

His former director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, had trouble shaking the belief that Russian President Vladimir Putin had something on Trump.

And Dr. Anthony Fauci is quoted as telling people that Trump was rudderless with an attention span like a minus number. His sole purpose is to get re-elected, Fauci is quoted as saying.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:25:05]

COLLINS: Now, Pam, this book also includes a story from a former aide to Jim Mattis, when he was defense secretary, where, in a meeting, the president said, my F-ing generals are a bunch of -- because they cared more about alliances than trade deals.

If it gives you a sense how Woodward got this information, according to Woodward, Mattis asked the aide to document the president's quote in an email to him.

BROWN: And I wouldn't be surprised if Woodward has that, as well.

All right. Thanks so much, Kaitlan Collins.

Joining me now is Democratic governor of New York, Phil Murphy.

Great to see you, Governor. New Jersey, I'm sorry.

Sixteen thousand people in New Jersey have died from coronavirus, what is your reaction to this?

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D), NEW JERSEY: Oh, to say it's discouraging and disheartening is an understatement. I mean, people -- people rely on trust, even when you're delivering news that's not popular, not something that folks want to hear, folks can take it, and, you know, we've been, from moment one, trying to channel brutal honesty with the severity of this pandemic, with a path forward through that pandemic. And to hear this and to think about the time that was wasted and the

lives that have been lost, sadly, as a result of it, is extremely disheartening.

BROWN: Let's talk about the lives lost. In New Jersey, two weeks after the president admitted to playing down the virus, New Jersey reported its highest number of cases. If the president had been more forthright, more honest about the severity of this virus, instead of, as he said in his own words, playing it down, could this virus have been more contained in your state in particular?

MURPHY: I think, Pamela, if we knew specifically that it was transmitted airborne a lot earlier than the rest of the world and we figured it out, and by the way, the country looks to the president, governors look to the president and the administration, if we had known that earlier, we would have shut the state meaningfully earlier. We would have gone to a mandatory masking policy meaningfully earlier. We would have had a stay at home mandate put in place, all of which we did and we did it about as early as any American state but we would have done it earlier and undoubtedly would have saved lives.

I can't tell you, as I sit here, how many we would have saved, but there's no question in my mind we would have saved lives and as you point out, we were clobbered. We lost over 14,000 confirmed, likely over 16,000 in total.

BROWN: Clobbered. So, you say that if the president had been more honest, did not downplay it publicly when he did, that lives would have been saved, in your state.

MURPHY: Pamela, I -- specifically, if we had known this was transmittable airborne at an earlier date and it sounds like they knew that somewhere in February, the actions that we ultimately took and as I said, we were at the front end of any American state, we would have taken that much earlier and it's inconceivable to me that we wouldn't have been able to save lives as a result of that.

BROWN: Yeah, it was early February when he said that to Bob Woodward. You met with the president in the Oval Office on April 30th and you thanked him for his help in your, quote, darkest hour of need. Do you stand by that statement now?

MURPHY: Well, I mean, that was specific and it is true. When we were running out of ventilators, when we were running out of PPE, when we had no hospital bed capacity, we had no testing capacity, we were able to consistently find common ground with the White House. And I do stand by that.

But my gosh, if they're sitting on this knowledge that they apparently, based on these recordings, were sitting on, and our ability to have known that, literally, you know, our first case was March 4th, we shut the state within a matter of days, to have known that, what they knew in early February and would have shut the state within a matter of days in February, that's probably a whole different world for us. BROWN: And it just shows how much you were relying on the federal

government, on the White House, on the administration, to dictate the decisions you were making, right?

MURPHY: Well, you have to, I mean, the federal government plays an existential role that no one else can play, but we were also talking constantly and still are, by the way, we reported a number of fatalities today, so, it's not like this game is over. We are still not out of the woods.

And, by the way, the administration could take action literally today that could still bend the curve here. You know, my example would be a national masking mandate. But we were talking to experts and we still do all the time, but there's no role that any entity can play that can replace the federal government's role.

BROWN: All right. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, thanks for coming on.

MURPHY: Thanks for having me, Pamela.

BROWN: A Republican senator responds to Bob Woodward's reporting about President Trump --

[16:30:00]