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CNN TONIGHT

Trump Admits He Deliberately Downplayed Deadly Threat Of Coronavirus; Trump Knew In Early February That Coronavirus Was Deadly; New Secret Nuclear Weapons System Built By Trump Administration?; Woodward's Book Reveals Trump Mocking Concerns About Black Americans; Former Top Officials Who Worked Under President Trump Are Painting A Picture Of What It Was Like Working For The President; Biden Calls Trump's Inaction On COVID Almost Criminal. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 23:00   ET

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


[23:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon, 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast. Following some breaking news for you. Damage control at the White House tonight after a new book by Bob Woodward reveals that President Trump knew early on just how deadly and dangerous the coronavirus was. Concealed that information.

Downplayed the impact of the virus on Americans. Woodward recorded 18 interviews with Trump including this one, it was on February 7th where the president called the virus deadly stuff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: And so what was President Xi saying yesterday?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we were talking mostly about the virus, and I think he's going to have it in good shape, but, you know, it's a very tricky situation. It's --

WOODWARD: Indeed, it is.

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 its pass. 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. You know, people don't realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?

WOODWARD: I know.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: And then I say, well, is that the same thing. This is more deadly. 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Well, the Democratic nominee Joe Biden reacting to the revelations of the president's actions, calling them almost criminal. More from that interview with Biden. A CNN exclusive. That's coming up in the hour ahead. We have a whole lot to get to tonight.

So let's discuss now, CNN Special Correspondent, Jamie Gangel is here. Our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins us as well and the former senior adviser to President Barack Obama David Axelrod is here as well.

Thank you so much. I appreciate you all joining us this evening. Jamie, I'm going to start with you. So the president had lifesaving information about this pandemic and lied about it, meaning many -- the 190,000 Americans who died, they didn't have to.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: It is beyond belief. The Woodward book paints a portrait of failure of leadership, betrayal of trust. How is it that on February 7th Donald Trump knew that it was airborne and that today he is still mocking people who wear masks? It is just -- it's unbelievable.

You know, for those of us old enough to remember Watergate and the famous question from then Senator Howard Baker, what did the president know and when did he know it? It turns out Donald Trump knew this very early on and could have saved thousands of lives.

LEMON: David Axelrod, you know, the president admitted in private that this virus was deadly, but in public he was calling -- he was calling it a Democratic hoax. A dereliction of duty seems like an understatement about this.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, clearly he's subjugated the public interest to his what he considered his political interests he was worried about, what the economy would do if he had to take the kind of measures that were necessary to deal with this. His, you know, his explanation today -- because you can't call it fake news when you're on tape.

That's the big problem they have right now. And whoever committed him to 18 interviews with Bob Woodward really ought to be given a one-way ticket out of the White House tomorrow. But he's on tape. He said it and his explanation was I don't want to panic people. That is a new policy on the part of this president because he's very busy trying to panic people all the time, about various things. About rioters and immigrants and others.

[23:05:20]

So the real answer is he subjugated the public interest to his personal political interests, which is a common story for Donald Trump, but on this one, this is a -- this is a hit to the main engine because the virus is what's controlling this election right now. It's what's controlling the lives of the American people in many ways. And now his misbehavior is costing them in a big way. And I think this brings this all back to the forefront. It's a really serious problem for him.

LEMON: Kaitlan, you know, David brings up a good question. Who -- do we know who green lit this? Because now he's, you know, his defense is, oh, this is a political hit job. But he sat down for 18 interviews on tape. All in his own words.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is so much blame going around the White House right now that it's kind of hard to even fathom. It is people like the former press secretary blaming certain people. People are -- people are blaming Stephanie Grisham as well. Hope Hicks. Jared Kushner. Lindsey Graham. Mick Mulvaney. Everyone's name basically that was around and in any way involved in this is being blamed right now for letting the president sit down this extensively with Bob Woodward.

But with regards to what David said, whoever, you know, allowed the president to sit down with Woodward 18 times should be given a one-way ticket out of the White House, it was the president who ultimately made this decision to sit down with Woodward this much.

GANGEL: Right.

COLLINS: Based on what our sources are telling us. You know, he was the one, who he was so scorned that he did not sit down with him last time that he thought truly that he could make himself look good in this interview if he sat down with Woodward in this book to really make his case essentially and that is what aides see as so damaging now. That if he had not sat down with him or talked to him these 18 times that this interview and this book would not be nearly as damaging as it now is proving to be.

LEMON: Jamie, I understand that you're learning that the president bragged about something that he shouldn't have in his first interview with Woodward. What do you know?

GANGEL: Well, the president was not willing to share critical details about COVID, but in his very first interview with Bob Woodward, he decided to tell him about a new secret nuclear weapons program. And we -- I think we have part of that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: But I have built a -- I have built a weapon system -- weapons system that nobody's ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven't even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There's nobody -- what we have is incredible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GANGEL: Don, they know about it now. So does everybody else. Woodward went out and confirmed that such a system does exist. But the thing -- just to go back to what Kaitlan said about why he did this -- these interviews. He did these interviews because he wanted to do these interviews. And there's a critical fact here. Two interviews were done in the Oval Office. One at Mar-a-Lago. Those were likely taped by the White House staff.

The other 15 interviews were phone calls, many of them late at night from the residence, that were probably not recorded. The White House probably doesn't even know what else President Trump said to Woodward on those tapes.

LEMON: And remember her emails, David.

AXELROD: You know, Don.

LEMON: I mean, that's interesting.

AXELROD: No, I know. I know. But, you know, just relative to what Kaitlan said. He may be the one who gets a one-way ticket out of the White House as a result of these interviews. I mean, I think it's that big a mistake. On this issue, this is the issue that is plaguing him right now. This is the issue he cannot escape.

And he just made it immeasurably worse for himself by revealing what he knew and when he knew it, as Jamie said. So, you know, this -- this -- the president is a master of -- he's his own communications director, he's his own chief of staff and he may have made a politically fatal decision on this.

LEMON: David, let me play this, because I want to get your response to this as well. This is from a June 19th interview with Woodward two weeks after Trump had the protesters cleared from Washington's Lafayette Square for a photo op. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOODWARD: But let me ask you this. I mean, we share one thing in common.

[23:10:00]

We're white, privileged, who my father was a lawyer and a judge in Illinois, and we know what your dad did. And do you have any sense that that privilege has isolated and put you in a cave to a certain extent, as it put me and I think lots of white privileged people in a cave and that we have to work our way out of it to understand the anger and the pain, particularly black people feel in this country. Do you --

TRUMP: No. You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? Listen to you, wow. No, I don't feel that at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So the country was grappling, David, with racial unrest and that's what the president says?

AXELROD: Yes, but, Don, I would say you and probably most of the rest of America wouldn't be surprised by that quote because that's the -- he's not shown real sensitivity on these issues from the beginning. He's made it clear that he doesn't believe that there is any kind of systemic racism. He doesn't believe that there is any sort of white privilege in this country, so this just confirms what -- what people know.

I'm not saying that it isn't abhorrent and it is a -- it's a terrible shortcoming in a president of a big, diverse nation like this, but, you know, the other piece when we're in the middle of that pandemic, I think is even more damning. But there's no doubt that this really underscores his views on the issue of race, but he almost wears that as a badge of pride.

LEMON: Yes. You really drank the Kool-Aid on this one. Kaitlan, the president is making Black Lives Matter a big part of his campaign message. He's, you know, as you know, talking a lot about confederate monuments. Race is a central issue in this presidency. It is the central issue, this and the coronavirus, but in this presidency and his campaign. I think even more so than the coronavirus, before this Woodward thing, it was race and scary black people and protesters and on and on and on.

COLLINS: Yes, that's why it's so notable when the president is saying things like, well, I don't want the American people to panic. That is actually a tool that he has tried to use time and time again, whether it's over what he said about suburbs recently, what he said about a caravan in 2018, but this was a moment in these wide-ranging interviews that Bob Woodward did where he was trying to have the president be self-reflective just for a moment and to see what the president would say.

You saw the way Woodward approached that question, and the president let him answer. If you have done the kind of reporting that I've done on Trump and his phone calls, he doesn't normally let people speak. He normally is the one who does most of the talking in these phone calls and in conversations he has, and you see how he does respect Woodward, he does understand what kind of weight Woodward holds in the journalism world, so he lets him ask this question where he is trying to get a reflective answer from the president, and then to see how he answers it there.

It really is incredibly revealing of his world view and how, you know, there are things when it comes to coronavirus where what he says privately differs to what he says publicly, and you can see here how with an answer like that, what the president is saying privately compared to what he is saying publicly to voters when it comes to a matter that is very important, according to our polls and many others, to voters, which is race. That is something that people are concerned about.

LEMON: Yes.

COLLINS: And you see how the president answers that when he knows he's doing an interview with someone who is writing a book about him.

LEMON: Well, it sounds like, Jamie, he may have been -- I don't know what you think -- trying to impress Woodward a bit. But there's clearly more to come. This is just the beginning with this book. There's going to be more fallout. There's more to come. GANGEL: No question. And to Kaitlan's point, when you read the book,

you will see in the interviews Trump says it would really be an honor to get a good book from you. And then the next minute he's saying, but it probably won't be. I mean, he was worried about it. You see the theme through -- throughout the book. But just remember, 18 interviews. That is hours and hours and hours of tape, and I think there is much more to come, Don.

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate it.

The president admitting he didn't tell us the truth about what he knew about the coronavirus. The virus that's killed more than 190,000 Americans. So what do the people who risked their lives to battle this virus think about that? Next.

Plus, a CNN exclusive. Joe Biden blasts the president's coronavirus response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We waved a white flag. He walked away. He didn't do a damn thing. Think about it. Think about what he did not do. And it's almost criminal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:15:00]

LEMON: President Trump admitting on tape that he withheld critical information about the coronavirus pandemic from the American people. This is what he told Bob Woodward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOODWARD: So give me a moment of talking to somebody going through this with Fauci or somebody who kind of -- it caused a pivot in your mind because it's clear just from what's on the public record that you went through a pivot on this to, oh, my god, the gravity is almost inexplicable and unexplainable.

TRUMP: Well, I think, Bob, really, to be honest with you --

WOODWARD: Sure, I want you to be.

TRUMP: I wanted to -- 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)

LEMON: Dr. Cornelia Griggs is here. She is a pediatric surgeon. And Andy Slavitt, he is the former acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the author of the upcoming book Preventable. Good to see you both of you, thank you so much.

[23:20:06]

Andy, why don't we begin with you. The president's claim that he was downplaying this pandemic because he didn't want to create a panic. Isn't that the absolute worst thing that you can do during, you know, when you're dealing with, a novel virus?

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER ADMINISTRATOR AT THE CENTERS FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES: You're absolutely right. When you have a novel virus, the only medicine you have until there's a vaccine is public reaction. And if he knew, as we now know he did, that this virus spreads when we share the air with one another, think about all the things you did -- think about all the things we all did. Baby showers, parties, church choirs, games that we went to with crowds, people. During that time period when he knew we were putting ourselves in danger.

Until there's a vaccine, the number one thing he could have done was warned us and the course of history would have been very, very different in the U.S., there's no doubt about it.

LEMON: Dr. Griggs, it's good to see you again. How are you, by the way?

CORNELIA GRIGGS, PEDIATRIC SURGEON: I'm doing well. Thanks for asking, Don.

LEMON: Great. I ask because you were on the front line -- you were on this program before. On the front lines of this pandemic in New York City squeezing critically ill patients into crammed spaces, risking your life without basic PPE. What goes through your mind when you hear the president of the United States acknowledge that the virus was deadly and airborne as early as February?

GRIGGS: Don, the president's comments are like a slap in the face. And demonstrate a lack of regard for my life, for my family's life, and for all medical professionals like me. And really beyond medical professionals, for all Americans this should be like an Erin Brockovich moment where we realize we were breathing contaminated air, and our president knew it, we were walking into patient's rooms and exposing ourselves, risking our lives, and he decided to downplay it.

LEMON: Well, you know, there is a study, Andy -- we just have one of your tweets up that you were -- doctor, you were talking about your babies are too young, you know, we talked to you about that a while ago. It was just really heartbreaking what you had to say about, what you had to deal with, and the interview that you gave us earlier.

But, Andy, I want to ask you about this study from Columbia University. It shows if social distancing measures started two weeks earlier, it would have prevented 84 percent of deaths, 82 percent of cases. You say if this was a corporation instead of a White House -- of the White House, it could be considered negligent homicide. Why do you say that?

SLAVITT: Well, it's exactly what the doctor said. You know, this is an Erin Brockovich moment. You know, we all saw the movie on I believe it was DuPont who had knowingly poisoned water and put Teflon on people's pans for years.

When you're aware of something like that, when Boeing is aware that they've got a problem with a plane, when Nissan is aware that they've got a problem with a car, these are scandals that get the CEO fired. These are scandals that often become criminal. And this is no different from -- except that it exposed more of us and someone we elected to run our country.

LEMON: Interesting. So, Dr. Griggs, the bottom line, the president lied to the American people about this virus. How dangerous is that going forward? Because people need to trust the administration, what they say when it comes to vaccine or masks. There is a huge credibility problem with this White House. So now what?

GRIGGS: Don, this demonstrates massive incompetence, and the president's incompetence has cost hundreds of thousands of lives. And we've become numb to the numbers, but I've seen these deaths up close. These are real people with families. These are children who have lost parents. Parents who have lost children. And the devastation, the grief and the loss is enormous. And for Americans, our civil action in response to this crime has to be voting him out.

LEMON: Thank you both. Be well. Again, doctor, it's so good to see you again. I appreciate it. It's good to see you, Andy, but, you know, she was on the front line and I haven't seen her in quite a while. I see you all the time, Andy. Take care of yourself, doctor. OK?

GRIGGS: Thanks so much.

LEMON: Thank you. Sources telling CNN the president's son-in-law spoke to Bob Woodward to infuse some honesty into the book, but the president spoke with Woodward 18 times. What does that say about the president's relationship with the truth?

Plus, Joe Biden speaking exclusively with CNN.

[23:25:02]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: It's disgusting. We learned this on the day that -- we turned 190,000 Americans dead and he knew this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Former top officials who worked in President Trump's inner circle painting an absolutely skating picture of what it was like working for him. It's all laid out in Bob Woodward's new book. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis going as far as to say that the president has no moral compass.

Let's discuss now. CNN political commentator and former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent joins us. As well as CNN Political Commentator, Amanda Carpenter, the author of gaslighting America. Good to see both of you. Good evening. Charlie, so according to this book, you've got Mattis, Tillerson, Coats, the president's former Secretaries of Defense State, and the Director of National Intelligence, unloading on the president.

[23:30:00]

LEMON: You were a Republican in Congress at the same time these men were serving in the administration. Did you know they felt this way?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I had sensed, Don, that all three of them had serious misgivings about the president. By the way, I should say that secretaries Mattis and Tillerson and DNI Director Coats were three of Donald Trump's best appointments. And, yeah, I knew that these men had misgivings. You could just tell. They were certainly stressed.

I am not shocked. In fact, you know, this is another the emperor has no clothes moment and it's always worse than we think. And for these guys to say that -- I think it was Coats who said the president can't tell the difference between a lie and the truth, no moral compass, dangerous and unfit.

I appeal to these men who are very fine men, their sense of patriotism, their duty, to discuss these concerns that they have publicly prior to the election. I think the American public needs to hear this. These horror stories have been expressed for some time. We've known it.

You heard -- Don, you talked probably to the chief of staff, to former homeland security Secretary Nielsen, and his comments have been just as just as alarming as those that we've heard from these gentlemen.

So, I think it's time that we shouldn't be surprised by what we're seeing, but we have it in print. It's on -- it's in, you know, direct quotes and -- I don't know. It may not affect any votes, but I think we need to hear from them directly before the election.

LEMON: Amanda, Woodward says that Coats believed that Putin had something on President Trump because there was no other explanation for his behavior. I mean, we're talking about the director of national intelligence essentially believing there had to be kompromat. I mean --

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: -- that there had to be kompromat. I mean, for Coats to say that, really?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISOR AND SPEECHWRITER FOR SENATOR TED CRUZ: Yeah, it's a pretty scary thing to contemplate. I think the -- and I agree he should come out and talk about that a little bit more. But there is a pattern here from a lot of these high-level officials.

When they decide to speak out, and they do in various degrees talk about how much they're going to break with Trump, but they all paint a picture of chaos and they all eventually come to the conclusion that they cannot help Trump. He does what he wants to do. They give him advice. He may agree to it and then they get undermined, blocked out, and they can't be successful. And so eventually they throw up their hands and leave.

And so, you know, that's a pretty tragic assessment to take from all of these high-level, experienced people who wanted to help them and found out that they can't.

LEMON: Mm-hmm. I want to play, Charlie, another exchange between Mattis and Coats from the book. I should say I want to read it now. This is from Mattis and Coats, another exchange between them. This is -- it's -- yeah, that's what I said. It's a quote.

This is not good. I have people talking to me. Sometimes, you know, it is real people, whatever. He says, "'This is not good,' Mattis said. Maybe at some point we're going to have to stand up and speak out. There may be a time when we have to take collective action.' 'Well, possibly,' Coats said. 'Yeah, there may.' 'He's dangerous,' Mattis said. 'He's unfit.'"

I mean, could now still be that time, you think?

DENT: Absolutely, Don. I do believe. And, again, I have the highest respect for Secretary Mattis and Dan Coats. They're wonderful public servants and great people. And I think this is the time they need to share with the public their experiences with this president.

You know, and this -- by the way, this is in the aftermath of the Jeffrey Goldberg "Atlantic" story where the president was making disparaging comments about service members, calling them, you know, terrible -- terrible names, losers. I think it's imperative that they stand up and say this.

In fact, Secretary Mattis, I believe Trump, you know, made the reference to these generals as being a bunch of f-ing "P" words. He made that comment. It is just simply staggering.

This is how he views the military, so should anybody be shocked that he said terrible things about our service members and that he couldn't comprehend the notion of service, that people think of things larger than themselves and that's why they serve, whether it's in the military or the peace corps or the hospital?

I mean, he doesn't seem to get it. So I think bottom line, these guys should speak up, they should speak up now. You know, we've known this for some time. I'm not -- I'm not completely shocked by any of this, but I think more people need to hear it and they can inform their voting decision based upon these men's comments.

LEMON: Amanda, we talked a lot about your book here. It's about gaslighting. This is something I find fascinating. Jared Kushner says one of the best ways to understand the president is to look at "Alice in Wonderland."

[23:35:00]

LEMON: What the hell does that mean? What does that mean to you?

CARPENTER: You know, I take this pretty seriously actually, because when you think about "Alice in Wonderland," it is a story about people trying to navigate a world of complete chaos and absurdity.

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

CARPENTER: OK. What is strange is that he talks about Donald Trump being Cheshire cat, which in that story is kind of a mysterious guiding figure for Alice, which is a strange way to think about your father-in-law.

Because I think when anyone looks at the story, they would think of Donald Trump as the queen of hearts who goes mad, calling for the head of anyone who commits the slightest offense. And Jared Kushner is assisting the queen of hearts here.

And so I think this is interesting because it gets to the idea that all of Trump's enablers have to tell themselves stories, right, so that they can stay in this absurd world and try to make sense of it.

And Jared Kushner is telling us that he kind of looks at his father- in-law as this mysterious figure that's guiding him somehow to a better place.

You know, I think it is complete fiction because it is, but this is how he reassures himself and tries to find calm in this world. I actually think it's fascinating.

(LAUGHTER)

DENT: Up is down, down is up. That's "Alice in Wonderland."

LEMON: The knowledge you have -- I was trying to remember "Alice in Wonderland." It's been a long time. Thank you for reminding me.

CARPENTER: He's got his characters mixed up. We need to be Alice. We're the ones trying to get out.

LEMON: Yeah. Listen, we laugh but it's serious. You're right, these folks need to come out and they need to talk about this. Thank you both. I really appreciate it. We'll be right back.

DENT: Thanks, Don.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:40:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Joe Biden reacting tonight to explosive revelations from journalist Bob Woodward's interview with the president in a CNN exclusive with Jake Tapper.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: In his upcoming book, Bob Woodward reports that President Trump understood the serious risk posed by the novel coronavirus in early February. Take a listen to what the president told Woodward on February 7th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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 deadly stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: As you know, the president spent much of February and even March downplaying the risks of the novel coronavirus, saying it would disappear, saying the heat would make it go away. What's your response to this news about what he was telling Bob Woodward on February 7th?

BIDEN: It's disgusting. We learn this on the day that -- we turned 190,000 Americans dead and he knew this? My understanding, he had just gotten off the phone when he did the first interview with Woodward, he had just gotten off the phone with Xi Jinping where he's praising Xi Jinping about transparency, this is nothing to worry about, and this is going to go away like a miracle.

What in god's name would a man like -- I mean, I don't get it. I truly don't get it. It's like the way he talks about our veterans. It's astounding to me.

TAPPER: Well, the way that President Trump explains it, and he said this to Woodward on March 19th, if you take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP (voice-over): I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.

BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST (voice-over): Yes, I --

TRUMP (voice-over): Because I don't want to create a panic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He said something similar this afternoon. He said he didn't want to create a panic, that's why he downplayed it. He said leadership is about confidence.

BIDEN: Yeah, and that's why we have no confidence in his leadership. I mean, look, you saw what Columbia Medical School pointed out in March. Had he acted one week earlier, there'd be over 31,000 more people alive, two weeks earlier, would have been 50,000-some still alive. This caused people to die. What did he do the whole time? He acknowledged that you breathe it, it's in the air, and he won't put on a mask. He's talking about it's ridiculous to put on a mask. What do you need social distancing for? Why have any of these rules?

It was all about making sure the stock market didn't come down, that his wealthy friends didn't lose any money, and that he could say that, in fact, anything that happened had nothing to do with him. He waved a white flag. He walked away. He didn't do a damn thing. Think about it. Think about what he did not do. And it's almost criminal.

TAPPER: Woodward also reports that former Defense Secretary James Mattis said that Trump -- quote -- "has no moral compass" and that even floated collective action with Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, because Trump is -- quote -- "unfit." Woodward also says that Coats couldn't shake the suspicion that Putin had something on Trump. What do you make of this from his advisers?

BIDEN: Well, look, I know a lot of those folks, and I've served a long time with Dan Coats. I know Mattis. He's a fine guy. I just -- I think Trump had just stunned everyone around him at just how corrupt his thinking is. I mean, think about this.

Remember he said under oath -- not under oath. I shouldn't say that. Said to the American public that he didn't get that briefing on how dangerous coronavirus was.

[23:45:00]

BIDEN: He didn't get that from the intelligence committee. He never read the reports. He doesn't have anything to do with that. He saw the reports. He knew them in detail. At least we know he can read.

I mean, think about it. Think about how misleading it was. And all those folks -- and why did he not -- let's assume that he didn't want to worry people. Why in god's name didn't he move quicker on the Defense Production Act to provide PPP, you know, the protective equipment for doctors and first responders? Why didn't he do that?

He -- I mean, OK, he says he didn't want to panic people. Well, at least make sure everybody has the equipment they need. Just say that's just an excess of caution. He didn't even do that.

TAPPER: How do you make the connection -- let me tell you something, I have relatives all over the country and all over the political spectrum. How do you make the argument to a relative I have in Texas who says, yeah, this virus is horrible, but it's not Trump's fault, it's China's fault.

BIDEN: Let's assume -- we'll take both your -- both that relative's point. It's China's fault. If it's China's fault, why did Trump praise China? Why did he say how transparent, how transparent Xi Jinping and the Chinese are going to be? Why did he insist that the 44 people we had there, and while I and others insisting that they go in and be have access to see really what is happening, to know the detail? Why did he not insist on that? And the virus is not his fault, but the deaths are his fault because he could have done something about it, Jake. I'd say to your uncle, he could have done something about it. But he said nothing. He didn't talk -- he said there's no need for social distancing, don't bother wearing masks.

He actually went so far as to suggest that it was a violation of American freedom to maintain you had to wear a mask. And look what's happened. Again, 190,000 dead and climbing, and what's he doing now? He still has not moved.

Look at the schools that are not opening. School -- we talked -- I know you have young children. Well, guess what, they're starting off school like the end of last year, at home. But think of all the people who don't have the resources to do that.

Think of the choice the single mom has to make, am I going to go to my $7 an hour job and lose -- or stay home with my kid? I can't afford anybody. I can't afford to bring anybody in. I mean, he's doing nothing to help, nothing to help.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: So make sure you tune in for the full exclusive interview with Joe Biden tomorrow afternoon, 4:00, "The Lead" with my colleague Jake Tapper.

Next, experts are warning about a surge in coronavirus cases because of Labor Day weekend and schools reopening.

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[23:50:00]

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LEMON: There are more than 190,000 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. amid concerns that Labor Day weekend and campus re-openings could spark a new rise in cases. CNN's Nick Watt has the story now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: This ought to be reassuring to everybody listening when we say we are going to focus first on safety and make no compromises here is exhibit A.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A serious spinal cord problem in one volunteer in Britain has halted crucial, phase three worldwide trials of one of the most promising potential COVID-19 vaccines.

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Which means you put the rest of the enrolment of individual volunteers on hold until you can work out precisely what went on. It's unfortunate that it happened. Hopefully, they'll work it out and be able to proceed along with the remainder of the trial. But you don't know.

WATT (voice-over): The White House says AstraZeneca (INAUDIBLE) is proof this process is ethical.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are still American vaccines in phase three clinical trial showing great promise. But, you know, AstraZeneca, what is happening there, showing that the science is guiding the way on a vaccine.

WATT (voice-over): Meanwhile, there still isn't even enough testing available, according to a new study led by a former FDA commissioner, which concludes, a basic screening strategy will require approximately 200 million tests each month. And that's just for schools and nursing homes. Right now, we're averaging just a little over 20 million tests a month total.

And hospitals in 12 states have reported shortages of the therapeutic drug, remdesivir, since July, according to the advocacy group Public Citizen. They want the president to allow generic producers to make the drug.

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D-TX) (voice-over): We could quickly expand the supply if Trump would belatedly exert some leadership.

WATT (voice-over): Nationwide, most key metrics heading in the right direction right now, but there can be a long lag in reporting after a long weekend, and we still don't know if those Labor Day crowds spawned any outbreaks.

And these 15 states are seeing more than 10 percent of tests coming back positive. Five percent or lower is where you want to be. We're also now nearing 40,000 confirmed cases on college campuses. In Illinois, the Bradley University is now quarantining the entire student body for two weeks.

RENEE CHARLES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC RELATIONS, BRADLEY UNIVERSITY: We're still seeing some large and small gatherings, and that is putting a strain on the institution.

WATT (voice-over): And more than 600 confirmed cases at the University of Tennessee.

[23:54:56]

DONDE PLOWMAN, CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE: And we have disturbing information stemming, frankly, from the fraternities in particular, fraternity leaders communicating to houses how to have parties and avoid being caught, avoid the police.

WATT (voice-over): Nice Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: All right, Nick, thank you very much. And you guys need to pay attention to this. This is some breaking news I want to tell you. It's from the West Coast. At least six people have been killed in historic wildfires, fires turning the sky red in Oregon. Hundreds of homes and over 470,000 acres destroyed.

An apocalyptic scene above San Francisco as smoke mixes with the marine layer, blanketing the city skyline with a dark, orange glow. California. In California, firefighters are now battling blazes from the northern border all the way down to Mexico.

And tonight, the former president, Barack Obama, tweeting this. "The fires across the West Coast are just the latest examples of the very real ways our changing climate is changing our communities. Protecting our planet is on the ballot. Vote like your life depends on it, because it does."

Thanks for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.

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