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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL); Interview With Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA); Trump on Tape Admitting to Downplaying Coronavirus. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

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

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): Thanks for having me, Pamela.

A Republican senator responds to Bob Woodward's reporting about President Trump admitting that he downplayed the coronavirus. That's next in our breaking news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Well, this afternoon, Joe Biden is going after President Trump after CNN obtained tapes of Trump's interview with legendary journalist Bob Woodward.

[16:35:01]

In those tapes, you hear President Trump privately admit that he knows how dangerous and deadly the coronavirus is and then say he's been downplaying the threat to the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.

He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It's beyond despicable. It's a dereliction of duty. It's a disgrace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And joining me now is Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Nice to see you, Senator.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): You too, Pam. BROWN: Senator, President Trump told Bob Woodward the first week of February that he knew the coronavirus could be spread through the air and that it was more deadly than the flu.

But, two weeks later, he said at a rally that coronavirus was the Democrats' new hoax.

Is that acceptable to you? Is that misleading the public?

KENNEDY: You're talking about the Woodward book?

BROWN: Yes, the Woodward book.

KENNEDY: Yes.

All I can do is share with you my point of view, Pamela. These gotcha books don't really interest me that much.

BROWN: He's on the record. He's on the record.

KENNEDY: These -- these gotcha books don't really interest me that much. There will be a new one out tomorrow.

BROWN: But this is different. He did 18 interviews with Bob Woodward.

KENNEDY: Right.

BROWN: So you -- he's -- he's recorded. You hear his voice. And you're seeing that, and you're contrasting that with what he says to the public.

Wouldn't that be something of interest to you, as a United States senator?

KENNEDY: Well, let me -- let me answer you again.

These gotcha books don't really interest me. There will be a new one out tomorrow.

I can only tell you about my personal experience. Louisiana got slammed early, particularly New Orleans. We were running out of hospital beds. We were running out of ICU beds. We were running out of ventilators.

The Trump administration and the doctors and the scientists associated with them got us everything we needed early. We were one of the first. They even came down and helped us build a hospital from the -- from the ground up.

When our mayor shut down the economy in New Orleans -- and I think she's got the most stringent shutdown in the country -- it just clobbered the New Orleans economy. And we worked very closely with the Trump administration on trying to help small businesses and to help people.

So, my experience has not been that the Trump administration ignored this virus. Quite the contrary.

I have listened to some of the folks testify and say, well, if we had known this, we could have saved X-number of lives. I don't put a lot of credence in that. There will come a time when we can look back and we will learn...

BROWN: OK, Senator, let me -- let me just -- I let you talk. I wanted...

KENNEDY: OK.

BROWN: I wanted to hear what you had to say.

KENNEDY: Good.

BROWN: But the bottom line is, he told Bob Woodward privately that this was a deadly virus and that it was airborne.

Didn't the public, didn't the citizens in your home state of Louisiana deserve to know that as well, so that they could change their behavior appropriately to protect themselves?

KENNEDY: Well, number one, Pamela, I'm not going to repeat what I just said, but I -- all I can tell you is what my personal experience has been.

Number two, let me say a word about -- about this infatuation in Washington with who said what to whom.

I learned pretty quickly up here...

BROWN: No, Senator, I'm sorry, I'm not going to let you do this.

OK, this is -- I understand there's so much politics right now. We're two months away from an election.

But this is life and death. You had 5,000 people that have died in Louisiana from coronavirus. Republicans are reluctant, as you are now, to ever criticize this president.

But, as a human being, how can you be OK with this?

KENNEDY: Well, if I could finish my answer, I have learned in Washington, D.C. -- I'm sort of existential or Sartrean about Washington, D.C.

To be is to act. You learn pretty quickly not to judge people up here by what they say. You have to judge them by what they do.

And all I can tell you, Pamela, is what my personal experience has been. And that is that this administration has been very responsive early on -- we were the first ones hit after New York -- both to the coronavirus and to the damage that we have done our economy -- to our economy.

Now, I understand some people disagree with that, but that's honestly my experience.

[16:40:02]

BROWN: All right, so let's just put -- OK, so you're saying, look, it's about actions. They speak louder than words.

KENNEDY: Right.

BROWN: The president knew in February -- we have it -- we have him on tape telling Bob Woodward that this was airborne.

And yet he could -- he went on to hold six rallies packed with people that were not wearing masks, and he called the coronavirus the Democrats' hoax.

KENNEDY: Right.

BROWN: Those were actions he took, and he had the knowledge. That's OK with you?

KENNEDY: Well, you're going to have to talk to the president and Mr. Woodward.

BROWN: But what do you think? What do you think?

KENNEDY: I don't -- well, I don't know if -- I haven't seen the transcript. I haven't...

BROWN: You haven't -- you haven't heard -- you haven't heard anything?

KENNEDY: Pamela, Pamela, let me finish an answer. Let me finish an answer.

BROWN: Let me -- hold on. Can I play it for you? Let me play it for you really quick, so that you can hear it and respond.

KENNEDY: OK.

BROWN: Guys, can we play it when he said that?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And we're prepared. And we're doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.

I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down...

WOODWARD: Yes, sir.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: OK. So there you heard him say, "I wanted to play it down. I didn't want to cause a panic." We didn't -- we don't have -- I don't believe we have the audio of the other things he said about it being deadly and airborne. If we do, guys, let me know in my ear.

But he knows this. He's saying he's downplaying it. And yet he's holding these rallies where he's calling it a hoax. You're OK with that, with people crowded in together?

KENNEDY: Well, once again, Pamela, I haven't read the transcript. I don't know the context. You just played an excerpt for me.

What I heard the president say was that he didn't want -- didn't want the American people to panic. I don't think -- I don't think any of us want the American people to panic.

BROWN: Well, right. There is a difference between making sure you stay calm and that you don't encourage people to panic...

KENNEDY: Right.

BROWN: ... but also being forthright, so that, during a pandemic, people have all the information, they're armed with all the necessary information, so that they can take the steps necessary to protect themselves and their families.

Would you agree with that?

KENNEDY: That's a valid point.

But, once again, I can just tell you what my experience has been. And that is that the president, by his deeds -- and he's never done it by his words with me either -- has ever downplayed the coronavirus. Quite the contrary. Now,...

BROWN: But you're focusing just on you and not all the people at these rallies and in your state who were listening to the president back in February and taking his cues.

KENNEDY: Well, if you will let me finish, you're going to be able to find experts -- I remember the experts from Imperial College and from the University of Washington who told us all -- everything that was going to happen from the coronavirus.

And it turns out that the -- those late-night psychic hot lines made those so-called experts look responsible. And you're going to be able to find experts who will say, well, if the president had done this and the president had done that, we would have saved X-number of lives.

BROWN: This isn't about even what experts are saying. It's what the president said to Bob Woodward and what he said publicly. That's all we're talking about.

Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, thanks so much for coming on. Nice talking with you.

KENNEDY: Thank you, Pamela. BROWN: Well, tune in this evening to "CNN TONIGHT," when former

attorney, friend and fixer turned Trump foe Michael Cohen joins CNN's Don Lemon to talk about his new tell-all book.

That is live on "CNN TONIGHT" at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

The president is on tape saying the coronavirus is worse than the flu, but, in public, he had a very different response when CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked him about it.

That's up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:47:08]

BROWN: In our health lead: New audio is revealing the president knew just how serious the virus outbreak was and how he actively decided to downplay how bad it was to the American people.

Joining me now is CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And, Sanjay, look, I know it's hard to quantify here. But when you listen to this audio, and you hear what the president said publicly, how many cases, how many deaths do you think could have been prevented if the president took action back when he talked to Woodward and was more forthright with the American public?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, there are all sorts of different models that have sort of looked at this.

And the thing that has struck me from almost the start, going back to sort of mid-February, is that, if you engage in these public health measures earlier, they have a much larger impact overall.

So, I can show you some of the numbers here, Pamela. You go back to May time frame, for example. And you say -- you model at that point. You say, OK, if we had started thing just one week earlier -- and this is, again, going back to May -- started just one week earlier in terms of putting a pause on things, slowing down the spread, all those things that didn't happen to the middle of March, prevented at least 36,000 deaths by that point, Pamela.

That's just a month-and-a-half later, so saving 36,000 lives within a month-and-a-half. Two weeks earlier could have prevented 84 percent of deaths overall and 82 percent of cases.

I mean, the way that they come up with this is, they basically say, hey, look, if you enact these public health measures, you can gain control of this virus. It doesn't mean you're not going to have to still create an atmosphere where people physically distance and wear masks and do all the things that we talk about.

But the viral load in this country would not have become so immense that it essentially became uncontrollable. And I think that's the thing that really sort of strikes me in terms of lives saved and infections prevented.

BROWN: And the president knew this was worse than the flu, and yet, when you had asked about that, that very issue back in February, he painted a very different picture.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, I think, even back then -- and we're talking February -- end of February now, February 27 -- I remember thinking, when I asked the president this question -- I'm going to let you listen to this.

But when I asked him this question, I wondered, did he know the right answer and wasn't saying it, or did he not know? Was he just not briefed? I mean, it was a new disease. I assumed he was being briefed by all sorts of different people. But listen to this for a second.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: You talked about the flu and then in comparison to the coronavirus. The flu has a fatality ratio of about 0.1 percent.

TRUMP: Correct.

GUPTA: This has a fatality ratio somewhere between 2 and 3 percent. Given that and the fact...

TRUMP: Well, we think. We think. We don't know exactly what it is.

GUPTA: Based on the numbers so far...

TRUMP: And the flu is higher than that. The flu is much higher than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: So, I mean, you can see, Pamela, again, this is 20 days after some of the interview that you played with Bob Woodward where he said, this is clearly worse than the flu.

[16:50:01]

In fact, he even gave a number. He said, this is five times worse than the flu. He said that to Bob Woodward nearly three weeks before that interview there, where he said flu is worse.

I mean, it's just -- it's one of those things. He clearly knew. And it's the first time I sort of realized that. I have always wondered about that, Pamela. Did he know? What did he know and when did he know it?

BROWN: And now we know, right?

But here's the deal. We're still in the middle of this pandemic. We're -- I mean, the United States is still in crisis mode.

GUPTA: Yes.

BROWN: We are now finding out that the president was withholding information from the public.

How concerning is this going forward in this pandemic?

GUPTA: Yes. Yes, I think that's a really good point, because I think we do stories like this, where the book comes out, and we think this is now a retrospective, looking back on how COVID was handled.

This is not in the rearview mirror yet, I think to your point, Pamela. This is still very much ongoing.

So I think that this idea that there has been a lack of transparency about such a critical public health issue, and, frankly, there's been people who -- health officials even within the federal government who I think have exaggerated data, have made things sort of seem in accordance with this, minimized testing.

We have to demand full transparency going forward. There's just no question. That transparency has to come to all citizens of the world, frankly. We're in a pandemic.

BROWN: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BROWN: And the Senate minority whip, Dick Durbin, joins me next on our breaking news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:56:08]

BROWN: And we were back with our breaking news.

President Trump knew how serious coronavirus was in the early days of this pandemic, and he's on tape telling Bob Woodward he wanted to minimize it.

We're learning about this just as we cross 190,000 deaths in the coronavirus pandemic.

Joining me now is Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin.

What's your reaction, Senator, to the president's comments to Bob Woodward?

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): I try to put it in context.

Presidents throughout history, when they're facing a national crisis, have a responsibility to lead. They certainly want to calm the American people. Franklin Roosevelt did it after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. George W. Bush did it after 9/11.

But it's unacceptable that a president would deliberately mislead the American people about the seriousness of this public health challenge and then, frankly, say things that were contradictory to that fact, suggesting we can reopen the economy early, ignore the need for masks, that somehow this was all going away with another one of his medical quackery views.

Clearly, what Woodward has done now is to spell out, with tape- recorded messages, what this president did and failed to do at a critical moment in American history.

BROWN: We just passed 190,000 deaths in the U.S. from coronavirus.

Are you worried about how many people may have dismissed health guidance because they were taking their cues from the president?

DURBIN: Absolutely. There's no question about it.

And the fact that he was briefed in January about the seriousness of this, and still was diminishing it and downplaying it as it was unfolding in the United States, leaving governors and mayors and others on their own to try to assemble the necessary things to protect themselves and to save American lives, this refusal to move forward in a national basis, to organize this, and be ready to fight this, unacceptable.

And the president deliberately misled the American people. That is what is scandalous.

BROWN: President Trump has already been impeached by the Democratic- led House. You are the second highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate.

How do you respond to this?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that he betrayed the American people's trust with the way he handled this coronavirus. And we're paying for it dearly.

Not only did he mislead the American people, but he refused to take sound medical advice, and still does to this day. When Dr. Fauci or others say things that make him feel uncomfortable, he does everything he can to exclude them and take them off the television.

It's just something the American people now clearly understand. When it comes to leadership, this president has not shown the responsibility we ask of a president.

BROWN: And, of course, we are now less than two months from the presidential election.

Today, Joe Biden, called Trump's comments a disgrace and a dereliction of duty. What does Biden need to do now?

DURBIN: Well, I think what he needs to do is get elected, first and foremost, on November 3. And the American people will make that decision. I certainly hope they will take this into consideration.

And, secondly, to really rally the American people to treat this in a very serious manner. The United States has 4 percent of the world's population, 4 percent. Twenty percent of the COVID-19 deaths in the world are in the United States, 4 percent of the population, 20 percent of the deaths. This has been an abject failure in dealing with this pandemic, this

public health crisis. We need a leader like Joe Biden who will stand up and say, America, let's get it together. We can do this.

BROWN: But, really quick, what do you say to the White House that says, look, he was just trying to urge calm, he didn't want people to panic, things were -- there was imperfect information back then?

DURBIN: Well, of course, the president should be urging calm, as Franklin Roosevelt did in World War II, as George W. Bush, a Republican, did after 2020 -- 9/11, 2001.

But it's not acceptable to come the nation by misleading and lying to the nation, as this president did. He knew how serious this was. And he said just the opposite when he was interviewed in front of a camera. That is on the record.

BROWN: All right, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, thank you so much.

DURBIN: Thank you.

BROWN: And, tomorrow, Jake Tapper sits down for an exclusive interview with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

That's tomorrow on THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

And our coverage on CNN continues right now.

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