Return to Transcripts main page
First Details On New Woodward Book About Trump; White House Responds To Damning Revelations In Woodward Book. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired September 9, 2020 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: But the headline is about his handling of the coronavirus.
And Woodward addresses a question, you may remember, going back to Watergate, what did the president know and when did he know it. According to Woodward's reporting, Trump withheld critical details about coronavirus from the American public. And as you mentioned in addition to the book, we have obtained some of the audiotapes from the Woodward/Trump interviews. Just to give it some context. Bob Woodward did 18 wide-ranging interviews with the president. They were all recorded with his permission.
So what I want to do is start with a piece of audio we have so you can hear the president in his own words. And this goes back to February -- early in February, the first week. And you hear that while the president was playing it down publicly, he is telling Woodward in striking detail how dangerous, deadly and airborne the virus is. Here is the tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB WOODWARD, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, 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. The touch, you don't have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air. 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, even your strenuous flu. 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. Too much for --
TRUMP: That's pretty amazing. And then I say, well is that the same thing? This is more deadly. This is -- five -- you know, this is 5 percent versus 1 percent and less than 1 percent, you know? So this is deadly stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GANGEL: It is striking to hear him say those details. That is just to underscore from February 7th, that back then, if you think about it, we just all thought, you know, where were we the first week in February, that this was a problem in China.
And then the second piece of audio from their interviews that I think is critical, Brianna, is from March 19th. And there are two revelations here. The first is, as you know, the president has been playing down the danger to young people. So he addresses that with Woodward and you hear a very different take on that. And then he admits to Woodward that he wants to play down the virus. Here is the interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Now, it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob, which is today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It's not just old, older --
WOODWARD: Yes, exactly.
TRUMP: Young people too, plenty of young people. We're looking 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 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)
GANGEL: But, you know, this wasn't just about panic. We know that the White House was very concerned about the economic fallout of closing down the country. And we know how the president has been so concerned about getting re-elected.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Jamie, I'm so sorry to interrupt you.
GANGEL: Go ahead.
KEILAR: We are going to move to the White House briefing and be right back with you, Jamie. Here is the White House briefing.
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's important to express confidence. It's important to express calm.
REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) always play it down, it's playing it down. Is that expressing calm? It seems dishonest.
MCENANY: Can you read the rest of the quote?
REPORTER: That's how much they put in there.
MCENANY: You excluded the last part.
REPORTER: Go play the full thing on 60 Minutes on Sunday.
MCENANY: Please do. Please do explain. Please -- of course I deny that. And he makes clear that he doesn't want to see chaos, by the way, is the second part of the quote which you failed to read.
The president, just days after having this discussion with Bob Woodward, said this from this podium on March 30th. He said, I do want them to stay calm. We are doing a great job, if you look at the individual statements, they are all true, stay calm. It will go away but it's important to stay calm.
So, this president does what leaders do, good leaders. It's stay calm and resolute at a time when you face an insurmountable challenge. That's what this president --
REPORTER: So we hear these tapes (INAUDIBLE) it appears that the president lied to the American public about the threat posed by COVID?
MCENANY: The president has never lied to the American public on COVID. The president was expressing calm in his actions reflect that. January 6th, the CDC issued a Wuhan travel notice before any confirmed U.S. cases. Among a number of other actions, and I do refer you to Dr. Fauci who said that this president has an impressive response. I can't imagine under any circumstance that anyone could be do anything more. That is the record of this president.
REPORTER: Kayleigh, how do you square the president's words to Woodward when he said, this is a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than even your strenuous flu. This is deadly stuff. And then just two weeks after he told Woodward that, he said, this is a flu. This is like a flu. And, of course, also said it was going to quickly go to zero. But that seems to be in direct contradiction of what he told Woodward?
MCENANY: Well, the president was listening to his medical experts because you also have at the same time period Dr. Fauci who said this, asked if the seasonal flu was a bigger concern, he said this February 17th. So right now at the same time, people are worrying about going to a Chinese restaurant, the threat is that we have in this country, we're having a pretty bad influenza season particularly dangerous for our children. So he was reflecting that point.
And, again, days later in a briefing, he said, the statements I made are this, I want to keep the country calm. That is what leaders do and that's what President Trump does.
REPORTER: But statement, Fauci is not comparing the two. He's not saying coronavirus is like a the flu?
MCENANY: He was at a COVID interview, and he was asked about seasonal flu, vis-a-vis, COVID, saying exactly what the president said. And, in fact, the president is taking it more seriously because, on the tape, he noted that flu could be worse and he was taking action to address it.
Once again, context matters, that zero reported COVID cases, the CDC was implementing public health screenings, House Dems were preparing to file their first briefs in impeachment. One reported case, CDC -- when there was one reported case, the CDC was activating an emergency operation center while Pelosi was releasing a statement criticizing McConnell over impeachment.
On January 31st, the president issued a travel ban on China, one that the former vice president called xenophobic. That's what Democrats were doing while this president was acting and his actions reflect the seriousness with which he took COVID-19. Yes?
REPORTER: Kayleigh, quoted Dr. Fauci. Dr. Fauci is also apparently on the record, saying that President Trump and his attention span is like a minus number and his sole purpose is to get re-elected. That's according to veteran journalist Bob Woodward. I think the bottom line here is that the president, by his own admission, in private, on the record, acknowledged the depth of this crisis and yet told the American people something very different. How is that it at its core not an abject betrayal of public trust?
MCENANY: The president has always been clear-eyed with the American people. He was always clear-eyed about the lives we could lose. Again, from this podium, he acknowledged that this was serious back in March, that 100,000, 200,000 lives could be lost.
And with regard to Dr. Fauci, you're referring to a quote he allegedly told Bob Woodward. And I can give you quotes that we can all play on loop and video of him saying that his response was impressive and he can't imagine anyone under any circumstance doing anything better. Dr. Fauci saying this, I can just tell you the president, first and only time I went and said, you need to do mitigation strongly, their response was, yes, we will do it.
The second time I went with Dr. Birx to the president and said, 15 days to slow the spread are not enough, we need to go to 30 days. Obviously, there were a lot of people who had problems with that because of potential secondary effects. Nonetheless, the president went with the health recommendations. There's a long litany of praise from Dr. Fauci and you're referencing something he allegedly told Bob Woodward.
REPORTER: It's on tape. It's on tape, Kayleigh.
MCENANY: Well, I'm reading to you what Dr. Fauci has said very publicly for all to see. We can all those play those video clips. I can get them in your inbox.
REPORTER: The President Trump on February 7th said, it's deadly stuff about coronavirus, in private, on the record. In public though, February 28th, he says, one day, it's like a miracle. It will disappear. It's one thing as a public figure not to try to incite panic. It's a very different thing, respectfully, to lie and mislead the American people about a crisis that has claimed nearly 200,000 American lives.
MCENANY: No one is lying to the American people. One day, COVID will go away. I think we can all hope for that day. We will have a vaccine because of this president tearing through bureaucracy to get a safe and effective vaccine. One day, it will go away. That is a fact. It is not inciting fear.
This president has expressed calmness from this podium, mobilized the greatest mobilization of the private sector since World War II, got more tests than any country in the world on COVID, a vaccine which, by the way, it will be a record for a novel pathogen, the timing of this vaccine, should we get it by the end of the year, or should we get it even three years, which was the timing of Ebola.
This president has done an unprecedented job dealing with COVID, one that Dr. Fauci even acknowledged.
And like I said, I will get you that clip to your inbox.
REPORTER: Kayleigh, just -- you mentioned the tendency (ph) of it that this insurmountable problem. I think that's a point of dispute. If you look around the world, the United States leads the world in cases, in deaths from COVID-19. Doesn't the president have bear responsibility for that record as well as the testing and the vaccine development that you're talking about?
MCENANY: No. When you look at the rest of the world, and particularly the case fatality rate in the United States is about 3 percent, the world is 3.3 percent. The U.K. 11.9 percent, France 8.8 percent, Belgium 11.2. And you can go through the various western world countries that have dealt with COVID. And we have done a very good job. The case fatality rate notes that and that's a testament to our therapeutics that the president has navigated.
REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) that the U.S. is still --
MCENANY: Case fatality rate is the metric that shows how well our response has done with therapeutics, and we are leading the world and having lowest case fatality rate. It's a very important metric and, one, that's a testament, once again, to a president who ripped through barriers getting us remdesivir, convalescent plasma and other very good, working therapeutics.
REPORTER: And, Kayleigh, you mentioned the president is very focused on a response, then why does the president have thousands of people many not wearing masks at a rally last night, in a state that has limited outdoor gatherings to 50 people. Why if you don't issue Nevada this weekend to hold similar outdoor rallies and the gathering numbers of people in violation of his administration's own guidance and of the best advice and guidance of local officials who you've said should have the last say in these matters?
MCENANY: People have a first amendment right, if they so choose, to show up and express their political opinion in the form of a peaceful protest, which is what the president held. And there is a real double standard here. CNN had on a guest, apparently a doctor, Rob Davidson, who said, there are social distancing issues with regard to the protests we've seen around country.
However, this is a public health crisis. They are marching against systemic racism. So if you're allowed to march in aggregate in those protests, you are also allowed to show up at a political rally. You have a first amendment right in this country.
REPORTER: How can a president bear no responsibility for the 200 -- almost 200,000 lives lost when he downplayed the virus initially and he knew how contagious and deadly it was? I don't understand how that can --
MCENANY: The president never downplayed the virus. Once again, the president expressed calm. The president was serious about this when Democrats were pursuing their sham impeachment. He was expressing calm and he was taking early action and his actions are reflective of how seriously --
REPORTER: The tact that he took, the language that he used? You said he used hopeful language. Does he regret that given the way we are now?
MCENANY: No. This president embodied the American spirit, that when we face a challenge, a crisis, a pandemic, we come together, we can be optimistic. We can be serious about it. We can take it seriously with our actions, which is exactly what this president does. It's why we lead the world in testing, doing far more than the number two, which is India. He took this seriously, but he still expressed calm.
Our food supply chains were at risk, that we could not have masked runs on grocery stores. The markets also, the economy was in play here. We didn't want there to be a huge crash and panic. He expressed calmness from this podium but he has always taken it seriously. And the response and unprecedented response really reflects that.
REPORTER: Okay. Kayleigh, I wanted to ask about the AstraZeneca trial. So does that throw a spanner in the works that they have halted this trial in terms of getting a vaccine --
KEILAR: All right. That was the press secretary at the White House lying. She said the president never downplayed the coronavirus. This is what the president said at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And, again, when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we have done.
It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle. It will -- it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away, and we'll see what happens.
Stay calm. It will go away. You know it is going away and it will go away, and we're going to have a great victory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Kayleigh McEnany lying about how the president described the coronavirus in early days, proving just how concerned the White House, how concerned the president is about these revelations from this upcoming book by Bob Woodward.
I want to bring Jamie Gangel back in with me, also our CNN Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger, and CNN Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter.
Jamie, to you, you have obtained this book and recordings, very importantly, the receipts, right, of these interviews that Bob Woodward did. What did you think, especially listening to what Kayleigh McEnany said right there?
GANGEL: Look, every leader wants to be calm going through a crisis, but what Woodward paints in this book, and I want to tell you, these interviews are all (INAUDIBLE) sources. You have Dr. Anthony Fauci quoting, saying that President Trump's leadership is rudderless, that his sole purpose in doing things was to get re-elected, that his attention span was minus.
It is (INAUDIBLE), it's another thing to American people, let them know what is going on to protect themselves. This is early in February, and he knows it's airborne, he knows it's highly contagious. You -- the portrait that Bob Woodward lays out is a betrayal of trust and a failure of leadership.
I would just add that, you know, the American people are pretty good at rising to the occasion. Look at after 9/11, go back to Pearl Harbor, and FDR. Trump failed to level with the American people, and you have to wonder looking at this how many tens of thousands of lives might have been saved if, on February he said, shut it down. Wear masks, socially distance, wash your hands.
KEILAR: Yes, and not squandered the time when they did roll things back a little bit as they needed to for tracing and testing.
Brian Stelter, you heard that part of the press briefing. What did you think?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Kayleigh McEnany has no credibility on this subject. She said on Fox Business channel on February 25th, we will protect the American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. When she said that, Americans had already died of the coronavirus. But we didn't know it because there were not tests.
The testing failures, those other failures in the month of February, Bob Woodward's book brings all those failures back. When Kayleigh McEnany at the podium talks about the China travel ban, which was not a ban, Trump often times acts like that's all he had to do.
He had to just close one window of the house. He didn't close -- he propped it half way closed. He closed one window of the house, left the front door wide open. And now we know, thanks to these tapes from Woodward, that he was aware of how dangerous that action was or that inaction was.
There's a reason, Brianna, why the publisher, Simon & Schuster, and CEO Jonathan Karp, said that this book rage is the most important that Simon & Schuster releasing this year. He said, he hopes every American reads it before this November 3rd. And I think these tapes and this reporting from Jamie shows exactly why Karp said that.
KEILAR: And, Gloria, I want to talk with you about this, fact-checking Kayleigh on this travel ban. First, the president didn't ban all of people coming from China. There were thousands and thousands of folks who still came to the U.S. after this so-called ban was in place. Officials lost track in many of them when they were supposed to be monitored.
And also this, quote, ban came too late, according to the CDC, the president's CDC. The virus was already in Europe. European strain is linked to the first New York cases, and he called it the Kung Flu repeatedly, even Kellyanne Conway calling it highly offensive. What do you think, Gloria?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think if the American public looks at what Jamie has reported this morning, what is in Bob Woodward's book, we all take a step back and say, these are not anonymous sources. This is the president speaking on tape. It's the president's words and it's people's lives.
And what the book shows is that February was a lost month, completely lost month. And you had a president of the United States who was insistent on saying to the American public, don't worry, we got it under control, it's going to be gone in a couple weeks.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Bob Woodward, he is saying, by the way, this affects younger people. We know that. We know how difficult this is. This is airborne. So he is talking out of both sides of his mouth. And it makes you sort of scratch your head and say, why is he doing this? Why is he lying to the American public like this?
And I remember a time, I think it was the end of the March, beginning of April, when the president actually said at one of his briefings, I'm a cheerleader. I'm a cheerleader for country. And what that means is, well, I'm going to cheerlead, but we didn't know the other half of the sentence, which is, I'm not going to tell you the truth. I'm not going to tell you how difficult this problem is, because I don't want to shut down the country, because I want to win re-election and I don't want to hurt the economy. So as a result, I'm going to keep this from you.
And I think it's just stunning even for Donald Trump, and what's even more stunning and maybe Mary Trump can answer this question is, why was he telling this to Bob Woodward?
KEILAR: Yes. And, Jamie?
GANGEL: Can I get just add, there is an exchange in the book where Bob Woodward asked President Trump what he thinks his most important job is, as president. And Trump says, it's to keep America safe, and then he says, and prosperous.
And you just have to wonder listening to the president in his own words and we now know he was not keeping America safe. Was he more concerned about the prosperous part of that? Was he more concerned about the economy, and was that because he was afraid he wouldn't get re-elected?
KEILAR: It's going to be hard, Brian, for the president to claim fake news here. We heard -- look, in fairness, Kayleigh McEnany was already kind of trying to do it, allegedly told Bob Woodward, this is on tape. This is on tape.
STELTER: But I think what it set is this fog machine that will ramp up, this fog machine that will create an alternative reality. They will say, president did the best job of anybody. He did a better than Joe Biden would have done. Those will be talking points on Fox. But, you know, I think most Americans see through that fog machine, and books like Woodward's are helping do that.
The president said February 10th, in April, supposedly, it dies with the hotter weather. Can you imagine? I don't know if there's a more sad sentence I've ever said aloud. What if that had been true, right? What if he had told the country what he was hearing from his aides and not trying to make us all feel better?
He was always two or three step behind. I think the Woodward book shows he was actually four or five steps behind what was actually happening with this virus and that he knew more about it than he was telling us.
GANGEL: And to Brian's point about the fog machine, I just want to say that there were 18 interviews. And two were done in the Oval Office. One was done at Mar-a-Lago. I am assuming it is common practice at any White House to record interviews with journalists. I'm assuming those three were recorded.
The other 15 were phone calls, and the president was sometimes calling Woodward unexpectedly, late at night, from the residence. I wonder if the White House knows what's coming. I wonder if anyone recorded those. And, you know, there is more to come from these tapes.
STELTER: And he is trying to impress Woodward, right?
KEILAR: And then, Jamie, tell us because -- tell us also in this book, tell us what former officials said about the president.
GANGEL: So these are brutal, scathing assessments by his top national security from former Defense Secretary James Mattis. He is quoted as saying, the president is dangerous, unfit and has no moral compass. He also says in another part of the book that the president took foreign policy actions that showed adversaries how to destroy America.
Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is quoted saying, the president doesn't know the difference between the truth and a lie. And as I mentioned earlier, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, quote, Trump's attention span is like a minus number, and his sole purpose is to get reelected.
BORGER: Can I just respond?
KEILAR: Of course.
BORGER: I think these are startling statements. They are on the record. The White House can respond to it disparaging everybody who is quoted on the record in the book, as I assume the White House will do. And we have heard this over and over and over again. So I'm not sure exactly what the impact of this will be, of those people, because, of course, we've heard it before.
The COVID stuff, to me, which is, affects our lives, our children's lives, our parents' lives, that is something that I think will take root with the American public because they have been home for the last six months. They have lost their jobs. They have lost their security.
And to learn that the president was lying to them about the seriousness of the situation, in an effort to tamp it down, is what I really think will matter to people. And today, Kayleigh McEnany said the president has never lied to the American public on COVID.
KEILAR: I mean, we know that's not true. And, Brian, you know, you know covering the media, people are absorbing more of it. They've actually had more time to do it, because they have been home. And, you know, I just wonder, coming on the heels of this Atlantic story, where the president disparaged service members and fallen heroes, this is a huge one-two punch especially considering there are tapes. These are on the record interviews.
STELTER: And it's important for history. Even if millions of voters' minds aren't going to change and we know that this country is stuck in cement, it is important for history. In 20 years, when my children read about the Trump years, they need to know what James Mattis was really thinking. They need to know, as Woodward says, Mattis went to the National Cathedral and prayed for the state of the nation under a Trump presidency.
So I think it's important what Woodward and others are doing here recording up our history. And why did Trump call Woodward? This came up earlier. He wanted to impress Woodward. He wanted to impress Woodward and the opposites happened, obviously.
GANGEL: Can I just, to the point of speaking out, in another part of the book, then secretary -- Defense Secretary Mattis and Coats talked about all of this together. And they say, there may come a time when we have to collectively stand up and speak out.
And after this COVID reporting with everything else they know, you again have to wonder whether that time may be finally now.
BORGER: And my question would be, if they all come out now together, publicly, on television and do it, it would probably have a lot of impact, because the White House has been screaming about anonymous sources so much in The Atlantic reporting. But that, with the COVID, which is, I think, what's front and center on people's minds, is devastating. And what Mattis is saying in a way is not surprising. But the fact it's on the record is important.
And I think people have processed a lot of this, but on the COVID stuff, it's learning that the president knew and understood so much more than he was telling the American public when people were trying to protect themselves and their families. That is what is so striking here.
KEILAR: Yes. He knew and he was clearly lying. I'm going to have you, guys, standby. Thank you so much for this conversation. We may be having more ahead on this.
As I mentioned, the president, this is coming as he's already under fire for those denigrating remarks that he reportedly made about American service members killed in war. And while Republican lawmakers have not jumped to the defense of the president following these remarks, they haven't reprimanded him either.
The silence is prompting one man to speak out. James Walter Kiser is a Republican who voted for President Trump. He lost his Uncle Walter, for whom he is named in World War II at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. James is with us now. And I want thank you, sir, for being with us.
JAMES WALTER KISER, WROTE SCATHING LETTER TO GOP SENATORS ABOUT TRUMP'S MILITARY REMARKS: No problem, glad to be here. I have one correction.
KEILAR: Okay, please.
KISER: I am a registered Republican, but I did not vote for President Trump.
KEILAR: That is an important detail. Okay, you did not vote for President Trump. So you, obviously, are not a fan. You live in Idaho, and you wrote a letter to your Republican senators, Jim Risch and Mike Crapo. And this letter, I think this is something that's important to hear. Would you mind reading that for us?
KISER: I wouldn't mind at all. This is my letter. Dear Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, I am a registered Republican. I have been a resident of Idaho for nearly 70 years. My middle name is Walter. That name came from my father's brother who served in the Navy and was killed in the battle for Leyte Gulf in World War II.
I now possess his purple heart, his navy jacket, the telegram from the Navy informing my grandparents of his death and the letter from Idaho's then senator who is, was Glen Taylor at the time, giving my grandparents condolences for their loss.
Do you consider my uncle who died in combat to be a loser? You support a president who believes my dead uncle was a loser because he died in combat. Your support of this president is immoral, disrespectful and despicable. Since you have no shame, I am ashamed for you.
KEILAR: And, James, did you receive any response from Senators Risch or Crapo?
KISER: I just sent the letter September 4th.