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Woodward Book: Trump Knew In Early February Coronavirus Was Dangerous, High Contagious, Airborne And "Deadly". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00]

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Can I bring people back to work? And if you listen to the President, let's listen to him again. It was deliberate. It was not an either or not I'm not convinced -- not I'm waiting for more information. You hear the President right here, in his own words, A, say some more things very contrary to what he was telling the public but B, say that he was concealing this information, my word here misleading the American people on purpose as part of a strategy. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

BOB WOODWARD, AMERICAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Yes, exactly.

TRUMP: -- young people too, to plenty of young people. But look at what's going on in --

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 in 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 be.

TRUMP: I wanted to -- 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I don't want to create a panic now we should understand that we should want our public officials when they have urgent, dire information, to process it carefully and communicate it carefully so as not to cause a panic. But there's a difference between not wanting the cause of panic, Dana, and not wanting to share information with the American people that might help them change their behavior, to keep themselves safe, to keep their business up and running, to convince them to start ordering PPE if you're a hospital or if you're a small business. If you were the CEO of a publicly traded corporation, and you withheld vital information from the shareholders, you would be fired.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it. And what we don't know is when he said we don't want to create a panic, what kind of panic he was talking about because we have our own reporting from the time that what the President was telling his friends is that his biggest concern was the economy, the stock market. And he didn't want the panic to be created in that realm, so that the economy tanked, the stock market tanked and it would hurt his prospects for reelection.

My sense is given that reporting that that was probably what he was referring to, regardless, you're exactly right, if he felt that, if he knew that, if that was the information he was getting, why wasn't the preparation done inside the government at a more robust pace.

KING: And look, Dan, it's just inevitable we are in a reelection year. And so, again, you could understand any politician whether it's this President, Democrat, Republican president, trying to shade things as favorably as possible, but he also has a job as President of the United States.

And when you hear, and Bob Woodward writes in the book, he was not aware of this when he was in some of those conversations with the President. He was not aware until later that the President had been told on January 28th by his national security adviser and the top NSC deputy on China, about the problems in China, about airborne transmission, about that this would be the biggest national security crisis of your presidency. The President never conveyed that to the American people that he viewed it that way, not in the State of the Union Address, not since. He never conveyed to the American people that he had been told this is way more deadly than any flu.

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: John, there's an old saying in politics that good policy is good politics, which is to say if you are confronted with something like this, the first order of business is to deal with it and deal with it as effectively as possible on the assumption that if you do that, the political benefit will flow from it.

The degree to which he was worried about a panic and I think Dana is exactly right that that concern was about the economy. But nonetheless, it's the virus that was threatening everything. And his inability to see his way through that and to understand both the policy implications, the public health implications, and therefore the politics of it is remarkable. And now, you know, this is not something based on anonymous sources. This is the President of the United States on the record, on tape with Bob, creating a record that he will have an enormously difficult time refuting. KING: And Dana, you made a key point. We've had a lot of outrage, the last three plus years of the Trump presidency and now we could go back into the 2015 and 2016 campaigns, the President in his own voice, for example, on the access Hollywood tape, that was in a campaign and he's still the President of the United States. So we don't know how this is going to play out there in America. But we do know he's the incumbent president. We do know if you look through the polling that his handling of the coronavirus is already underwater. You could just track it out, approve and disapprove on the coronavirus.

But what's also interesting in the book, when you listen to it, and again, we've heard some of this before. But to Dan's point about the meticulous quotations and the use of documents to back them up in the Woodward reporting. It's not just about the coronavirus. It's about men of good reputation who come to work for this President coming away with an incredibly bitter taste in their mouth.

[12:35:09]

The former defense secretary, a military hero, General Jim Mattis, dangerous, unfit, has no moral compass. Dan Coats, Republican senator became the director of National Intelligence, Trump doesn't know the difference between the truth and a lie. Dr. Fauci, attention span like a minus number. His sole purpose is to get reelected. And if you read the book, Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, there's also reporting in the book that he just could not shake the idea that he believed the President must somehow be under the leverage of Russia because he could find no other way to explain the President's behavior when it came to Vladimir Putin.

Now, the book also says Director Coats could never prove that. But he always suspected it because he could not explain the President's behavior. These are three men, I know we live in a polarized world. These are three men with pretty solid reputations. Dan Coats is a solid conservative Republican. Dr. Fauci has been at this for 40 years. General Mattis serve this country with distinction and came out of retirement to serve this President. It's not the first time but when you just see it stacked up next to each other, men of stature who've worked for this President who just come away, essentially needing to take a shower, it is striking.

BASH: When you put those quotes up, as you did, particularly from Dan Coats, who is a longtime senator was there twice and before he went become the President's director of National Intelligence. I mean, he is the guy with the most access to the Intelligence that the United States is getting. And the fact that he says that about the President for whom he is working, it's like a really bad movie, it really is.

Having said all that, given what we have seen from, you know, so many people writing books on the record, things on background kind of describing the President in those terms, obviously not at the stature that you just put up there for the most part. It is probably baked in when it comes to the President's political prospects. The thing that it seems to me and this is new, we're going to see how this plays out and penetrates with voters is the coronavirus part because there is nothing that people can relate to more across the country, across the board than the coronavirus.

If you are a suburban parent sitting at home watching this right now while you're giving your kids lunch, because they have to go back to virtual learning. And they have to do that because the United States government did not take this virus seriously enough, didn't prepare enough. And you're hearing from back in February, the President saying that it was deadly stuff. I can't imagine that not having an impact on how people vote.

KING: Right. And to that point, Dan, again, we live in a very polarized environment, but we also live, this one is personal to people. I think one of the reasons the President has not been able to talk his way out of the coronavirus is you can't tweet away biology, number one. And this to Dana's point, it is so personal to people. If you're a parent and your children with schools that anybody in the work environment and the like. And just the base numbers, again, I just want to put up the total confirmed cases of coronavirus here in the United States of America with some key dates.

You heard the President knighted states on February 7th, talking to Bob Woodward about how serious this is. It was not until March 16th, the White House announced 15 days to slow the spread. The White House guidelines expire there, you see after that. And then you just see the projection of cases, 1.7 million on Memorial Day, 2.8 million by July 4th, up to 6.3 million and counting now. And you can lay out the same timeline. And this is the sad and the painful graphic is the number of deaths.

February 29th is the first death. The President when he was explaining to Bob Woodward about how serious this was, we had not had a confirmed death in the United States just yet. Imagine, I'm not a scientist neither either of you. But you could just -- this is the last month, if the President on February 7th he was talking to Bob Woodward about how serious this was, but then didn't really do anything. Yes, he banned China for some travel from China. Yes, they did take some limited steps. I don't want to say the President didn't do anything.

But he did not ramp up testing in February. He did not ramp up PPE production in February. And then you look at what happened from March through this horrific summer. This President has been able to talk himself out of a lot of crises, Dan. How do you talk yourself out of that?

BALZ: I don't know how you do that, John. We'll see. I mean, we all await a presidential response to this and not simply a White House statement from the press secretary or a spokesperson. This will have to come from the President of the United States. And I -- as I'm sure you look forward to finding out how he does explain this. The idea that when he knew this and knew how serious it was, he did not put the federal government on alert and begin to put the country on alert is the question he's going to have to answer now.

KING: Right. And he says in his own voice, he did not want to cause a panic. He deliberately withheld information, concealed information from the public in his words, not to cause a panic. The numbers speak for themselves. Dan Balz, Dana Bash, appreciate the important reporting and insights as we continue to cover this breaking news.

[12:40:04]

We're going to take a very quick break. When we come back, we're waiting to see if there will be reaction from the Trump White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: More now this hours big breaking news story. The new book "Rage" by the Washington Post reporter and author Bob Woodward, a book in which he has the President of the United States in his own voice audiotapes recorded, saying in early February how serious the coronavirus was, how it was much more deadly than your average view -- average flu, excuse me, things the President was telling Bob Woodward that were directly contrary to what he was telling the American people and anyone listening around the world. We're waiting for White House reaction to this blockbuster book and the details in it.

[12:45:20]

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is for us live at the White House. Now, Kaitlan, they have a lot of explaining to do.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, not great timing on their part for a press briefing, which was supposed to start at noon, then of course, the excerpts from this book started coming out, John, and it was pushed to 12:15. Then push again to 12:30. And of course, here we are at 12:45. And we have yet to see the press secretary take to the podium so far to obviously face questions about what the President, in his own words, is saying in this new book with Bob Woodward.

And for the last several days of the White House we've been dealing with the fallout from this story in the Atlantic where the President is being accused of saying things about fallen soldiers that the White House isn't pushing back on by saying, well, it's anonymous sources, we don't believe it, look who we've got on the record denying it. And they do not have that option here, John, because this is the President, in his own words in 18 interviews, saying this on the record to Bob Woodward in audiotape that can be played for everyone to listen to. So that is going to be a challenge facing them.

And John, one big question that has come about with this latest Woodward book from my sources is why did the President sit down with him so many times? They figured he would sum because he did not sit down with him the last time. As we reported, the President was furious that he had not done an interview with Bob Woodward because he thought he could have made himself sound better by making the argument for himself.

And then this time around for the last several months, you know, I had one person at the White House who every time they saw Woodward, they would text me and let me know that Woodward was walking around the halls of the West Wing or they saw him coming on to the White House grounds again, because they were just so surprised at how many times they had seen him there on the grounds to interview the President. They didn't know it was 18 times but now of course, we do know how many times the President spoke with Woodward.

And of course the comments that are the most damning are going to be what the President was saying privately about coronavirus compared to what he was saying publicly and why he was not telling the American people what he truly thought about this pandemic and how deadly it can be.

KING: Well, to that point, Kaitlan, there are some things you can spend and a lot of people in this polarized political environment see things through their political prism, but facts are facts and words are words. This is what the President told Bob Woodward on February 7th, it is more deadly than even your strenuous flu. This is deadly stuff. Again, February 7th, 2022 to Bob Woodward the President in his own words, it's also more deadly than your even your strenuous flu. That was the President on February 7th. It's on audiotape. We have the recording. This is the President later that month to the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You treat this like the flu. We'll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner. We view this, the same as the flu. This is a flu. This is like a flu. Like if you have the flu, you recuperate. You get better. With the flu, on average, we lose from 26,000 to 78,000 people a year even more than that, in some, some cases some years. We haven't lost anybody yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You can look at the number on the right of your screen. We haven't lost anyone yet. The President said then when he was saying it's just like the flu even though he told Bob Woodward it is way worse than any flu. Look at that number. We haven't lost anyone then when the government could have done more 189,972 Americans dead as we speak today. How do they explain that one, Kaitlan?

COLLINS: It's going to be a tough one for them. And the other comment that really stuck out to me was where he said, you know, Bob, it's not just old people who are getting coronavirus, it's young people too. Something that the President was not saying publicly when it said he was saying people need to be going back to work, they need to be going back to school, talking about changing those shutdowns back in March and in April after they had toyed with the ideas of doing this 15 days to slow the spread, things like that.

And so it's going to cast a different light on basically every decision the President has made, because the way that they have defended what he said then compared to what he's saying now is by saying we learned more about this. We know more about this now. We're making better informed decisions now. And actually, we're seeing what the President did know back then. So it raises questions about the level of testing and why they were so slow to get that off the ground, why it was such a struggle at the CDC, mask wearing something that the President showed us last night in North Carolina.

He is still not fully on board with, still not fully encouraging people, and still hosting events where there are a lot of people not wearing masks, though there were some people at that rally wearing them. And it's just going to cast basically every single decision the President has made about leading the country through this pandemic or not leading the country through this pandemic into a different light. And I think that is actually going to be a worst case scenario for the campaign because what they have been trying to do on the campaign trail, John, his turn voters focus away from the pandemic because they know voters don't like the way the President had responded before they saw these quotes that he made privately.

[12:50:09]

So they were trying to change the subject essentially onto something else. Make it a referendum about something differently. And now this is going to make doing that much more difficult for them.

KING: Much more difficult, much more difficult because Kaitlan, the President, in his own words to Bob Woodward, about misleading the American people, misleading the American people about what he knew about the scope and the gravity of this virus. I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down. Those the words of the President of the United States, misleading the American people in a pandemic. Kaitlan Collins live at the White House, let us know when they do react to it.

Very quick break, when we come back, will this blockbuster book impact the campaign in its final weeks?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:55:11]

KING: The blockbuster new book by Bob Woodward "Rage" out next week. CNN with exclusive early details of that book, the President of the United States in his own words recorded by the journalists and legendary author, Bob Woodward, saying that on February 7th, how dangerous the coronavirus was, how it was way worse than any flu, deadly stuff, the President said.

At the time he was saying something very different to the American people quite different to the American people. The President actually in another recorded conversation with Woodward saying it was deliberate that he was withholding downplaying the threat on purpose to the American people. The question now is, how will this play out in a campaign that is very much about the coronavirus pandemic, the former vice president, the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, speaks next hour in Macomb County, Michigan.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is there in more in Michigan as we wait. Arlette, the vice president, former vice president wants to talk about jobs, he wants to talk about the economy. But this book also tees up a constant theme from Joe Biden that this President has not been leading during this pandemic. He has been failing.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Joe Biden over the course of the summer has really hammered away at President Trump over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Biden and his advisors view the coronavirus pandemic as well as the economy to be the central issues heading into November's election.

Now Biden arrived here in Michigan a short while ago, he has making his way over to Warren right now. He -- reporters shouted questions at him when he got off the plane about the Woodward interview, but he did not immediately respond. So while this speech was supposed to focus on American manufacturing, we're going to be keeping an eye on whether Biden responds to those explosive comments in that Woodward interview, John.

KING: And Arlette, just help us go through the idea that the vice president has to try to find the sweet spot right now. He wants to talk about the pandemic. He wants to connect all the dots. The economy is in trouble because of the pandemic. Schools are in trouble because of the pandemic. But at the same time he needs to carve out his own positive message. Is the book likely to knock them off their trail -- off their plan a little bit?

SAENZ: Well, I think that you're going to hear him continue to try to hammer away at the coronavirus pandemic and also trying to make some inroads when it comes to the economy. We've also seen Joe Biden over the course of the past few days kind of really push hard against the President after those comments in the Atlantic.

So you're seeing the Biden campaign kind of drawing on some of these comments from the President. I think it will be likely that they will really focus in on what he had to say related to the coronavirus as they have tried to show that there is this stark leadership contrast between the two of them. You know, Biden is here in Michigan, a state that has very strict rules when it comes to the coronavirus. He's going to be holding a smaller style event, not a large rally like you saw the President hold in North Carolina. So they're always eager to try to make these differences with the President when it comes to COVID-19 and how the former vice president believes he would handle it compared to the current occupant of the White House.

KING: Arlette Saenz on the ground in Warren, Michigan. I will also note we're waiting for the White House briefing to take play here to see if the press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, will deal with this book right here. And again, just want to sum for you -- sum up for you here the big highlights of the new book "Rage" by Bob Woodward, the President of the United States on audio tape, including a February 7th conversation with Bob Woodward in which the President talks about, he knows that the virus is transmitted through the air, he knows it is way more strange -- way more dangerous and deadly than even the most strenuous flu.

Then later in a March conversation with Bob Woodward, the President of the United States he says that he always wanted to play it down. I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic. Again, we're waiting for reaction from the White House to these startling words the President in his own words describing his pandemic leadership, many would say misleadership.

Brianna Keilar is going to pick up our coverage right now. Thank you. BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar. And we are beginning with Breaking News. We have stunning new details of President Trump admitting just how dangerous and deadly the coronavirus was way back in early February even as he continued to downplay the virus publicly to the American people.

CNN obtained an early copy of author and legendary journalist, Bob Woodward's new book about Trump titled "Rage", and it reveals explosive new information on the President's handling of the coronavirus. Plus CNN has obtained audio recordings of interviews that Woodward did with Trump for the book. CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel has read the book. She is here with us to talk about it. Share with us the details, Jamie?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So it is full, fasten your seat belt. It is full of stunning revelations about President Trump, very harsh, brutal words from his inner circle.

[13:00:00]

But the headline is about his handling of the coronavirus.