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Woodward Book: Trump Knew In Early February Coronavirus Was Dangerous, Highly Contagious, Airborne And Deadly; GOP Election Lawyer: No Evidence To Support Trump's Fraud Claims; Whistleblower: Attempts To Alter Intel To Match Trump Rhetoric. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 14:30   ET



JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: He can choose his own electoral best practices, minimize the risk to the country, tell the country that there was minimal risk, and maximize his chance of reelection, or he could do what Jamie Gangel just said, prepare the country early, close the country down early, insist that everyone wear a mask and save lives. He chose not to do that. This is stunning. He should resign. This is really stunning.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I wonder. You said that he was choosing between basically his political fortunes and those of the health of the United States, but shouldn't they be one in the same that a --

REINER: Right.

KEILAR: -- successful public health reaction to minimize lives. I mean, to that - the point of that number that you know we just heard Joe Biden say this cost American lives. And now, we know that the president knew. He had information. He had at least privately, he knew clearly the danger here.


KEILAR: What does that mean for American lives that could have been saved and, quite frankly, for their loved ones who are hearing these words from the president's mouth on these tapes?

REINER: First of all, it was a false choice. Because when you talk to Republican consultants, they tell you that the president's past to victory was to be the pandemic president, was to put the pandemic down, not to try and prevent the stock market from falling but to put the pandemic down. That was his true path to victory.

But look, the president knew this was a respiratory pathogen. On - on January 28th, he was briefed by his National Security adviser and the deputy National Security adviser who told him that this was a respiratory pathogen and that it was being spread in China by asymptomatic people, yet this president still did not endorse wearing a mask.

A month later his surgeon general scolded the country against wearing masks. Until this day the president still tacitly encourages his supporters not to wear a mask. But he's known - he's known since January that this is a respiratory pathogen. He's placed his interests ahead of the country's. The deaths of tens of thousands of Americans are on this man's hands.

KEILAR: He said it February 7th. You just breathe the air and that's how it's passed. And he talked about it being as he knew it then five times more deadly than the flu.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you so much. Your words are powerful. We appreciate you being here.

REINER: Thank you.

KEILAR: So, this new book also includes damning quotes from the president's former National Security advisers that he's a danger to the country. Legendary journalist Carl Bernstein who wrote the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward will join me next.



KEILAR: Back now with stunning revelations in the new book on President Trump from Bob Woodward, the award-winning journalist revealing what some of the top National Security advisers really think of the president. And here's how they described him on the record.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis saying in the book titled "Rage" that Trump is, quote, "dangerous," "unfit," and "has no moral compass."

And Trump's former director of National Intelligence Dan Coats saying the president, quote, "doesn't know the difference between the truth and a lie."

Joining me now is legendary journalist and CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein who, of course, broke the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward in a series of reports.

Carl, thank you so much for being with us today. Just tell us what your reactions are to the revelations that we're learning of.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's stunning, and I think we all need to take a deep breath and understand exactly what it is we have learned. We are listening to the president of the United States on tape deliberately undermining the security -- national security of the United States, the health and wellbeing of the people of the United States, and he's doing this knowingly, in real-time. It is the smoking gun of his negligence.

And as those quotes you were talking about from Mattis and others, demonstrating his unfitness to be a president and more than anything, instead of leveling with the country, he covers up. We listen to him cover up this grave national emergency. This is one of the great presidential felonies of all time, maybe the greatest presidential felony. And we have the smoking gun tape of the president committing the felony.

KEILAR: There are recordings like you said. There is this smoking gun tape. It will be hard for the president to deny what he said, but I think we already got a preview of what's going to happen coming from the White House press briefing today, as Kayleigh McEnany lied and also just threw out a lot of information. Some of which was inaccurate, some of which was misleading. There's going to be a full assault coming from the White House on what is in this book.

BERNSTEIN: Yes, there will be. And it's up to Republicans especially, to counter that lie. At this point if the Republican leadership, McConnell, McCarthy, and others try to contradict this obvious grave dereliction of duty by the president of the United States that is captured on tape. They, too, are responsible for what has happened here.


Look, let's talk about what this really is. This is a kind of homicidal negligence. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people have lost their lives because the president put his own reelection interest. As we hear on the tapes and see throughout Bob's book that he is putting his own narrow presidential reelection efforts in front of the safety, health, and well-being of the people of the United States.

We've never had a president who's done anything like this before. Six days, seven days after he was told about the gravity of this pandemic and its potential and the pathogens and what has been unleashed in the air, he had a State of the Union address like Roosevelt would have done, any other great American president, any other competent concerned American president would have gone before the State of the Union and the Congress and said, we have an enemy such that we have never seen and we have a national emergency and we must join together and fight.

And, instead, on tape, time after time after time and through the narrative of Bob Woodward's book, we've seen the president put his narrow own selfish interest ahead of the health of the people of this country, their safety. It is a dereliction of duty recorded as no other presidential dereliction of duty has been, even more so than the Nixon tapes in this instance.

So, it's going to be very hard to see how this cannot be addressed by Republicans in particular and their candidate for president of the United States. The last time this happened during Nixon's - the end of Nixon's presidency, the Republican leadership, including Barry Goldwater, the 1964 nominee of his party for president, went to the White House and told Nixon he had to resign. And the facts here are even graver than in Watergate.

KEILAR: You are aware, of course, this is coming on the heels just a few days after this "Atlantic" report, "The Atlantic" report that the president had called fallen American war heroes "losers" and "suckers." And a bunch of other disparaging things that he said about those who served and have served in the military. And in this book, Woodward writes that an aide to Mattis, to the Defense secretary, heard Trump say in the Oval Office, quote, "My (EXPLETIVE DELETED) generals are a bunch of (EXPLETIVE DELETED). They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals."

Which sort of plays on some of what we've heard him say coming out against his Defense officials, his military leaders as opposed to trying to you know cover his tracks with the rank and file military. But what's the effect of the revelations in this book being coupled with the revelations which are - have been confirmed by numerous outlets about what Trump has said about the military?

BERNSTEIN: Bob Woodward's book is the definitive account of Donald Trump's negligent presidency. And the negligence in terms of how he views the military leaders of this country, what we saw in "The Atlantic" and what we see in Bob's book combined is once again the big lie is Donald Trump and the con man front that he has put on all throughout his life and through his presidency. Page after page after page on tape after tape after tape. There's more than 20 hours of tape that bob has gotten here that can be listened to.

And what you hear time and time again is the president forgetting about the national interest, selling out the national interest, minimizing the national interest, and putting in his own interest, that of his family, that of his own finances. Everything but the sake of the country itself and the well-being of its people and its institutions. He has undermined our well-being. That is the text of this book, not a subtext. It's the text of those tapes, undermining our well-being deliberately for his own ends.

It is stunning and as I say, a presidential felony unlike any other that we've known of in our history. And it's up to us in the press now to start putting this into the context of history as well. And calling in the historians and calling in the Republicans and saying what about this, what happened here, what did this president do that is captured on these tapes that are even more devastating than Nixon's tapes.


KEILAR: Carl, thank you so much. Carl Bernstein, we really appreciate you joining us.

BERNSTEIN: Good to be with you.

KEILAR: And we have some more breaking news, a whistleblower coming forward, alleging the top Trump administration officials asked for Intel reports to be altered to match what the president was saying publicly.

Plus, President Trump once again asked voters to break the law and vote twice.

A famed Republican election lawyer will join me to blow a major hole in the president's claims of voter fraud.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KEILAR: One of the most preeminent Republican election lawyers in the country is dismantling President Trump's claims about widespread voter fraud with mail-in voting. Ben Ginsberg who's been an election attorney for 40 years -- nearly 40 years and who has represented four GOP presidential candidates including both of Mitt Romney's campaigns and who played a central role in Florida's 2000 presidential election recount says that Trump's allegations lack evidence and are unsustainable.

In a "Washington Post" op-ed he writes this, quote, "Legions of Republican lawyers have searched in vain over four decades for fraudulent double voting. At long last, they have a blatant example of a major politician urging his supporters to illegally vote twice. The only hitch is that the candidate is President Trump."

It was just last night at a campaign rally in North Carolina that the president most recently encouraged his supporters to vote twice.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're going to send out millions of ballots to you, people that never really thought in terms of it. Now, sometimes you'll ask for a ballot. That's a solicited ballot. That's OK. You have to go through a process, you have to sign a form, you get it. Sending out millions of unsolicited ballots, make sure you send a ballot in and then go to your polling place and make sure it counts. Make sure it counts. That's the only way they can win is by doing very bad things. That's the only way.


KEILAR: Now, this is something the president has suggested repeatedly in the last few weeks even after election officials pointed out it's illegal.


TRUMP: You can mail that back, get it and mail it back. It's a much more fair way of doing it, as you know. And then you can go to vote on Election Day and if the system is correct like they say, and it should be correct, they say it's correct, you go to vote, and if your ballots are in, if they count it, they will have counted your vote and they -- you won't be able to vote, which is good.

Let them send it in and let them go vote. And if their system is as good as they say it is, then obviously they won't be able to vote.

Sign your mail-in ballot, OK? You sign it and send it in, and then you have to follow it. And if on Election Day or early voting that is not tabulated and counted, you go vote, and then if for some reason after that -- it shouldn't take that long -- it comes in, they're not going to be able to tabulate it because you will have voted.


KEILAR: Ben Ginsberg is joining us now. And Ben, thank you so much for being with us. I think you column is probably about the most important thing that I have read and many people have read when it comes to just setting a straight on what's going on when it comes to mail-in voting and voter fraud - alleged voter fraud. I should mention, you also, co- chair the bipartisan 2013 presidential commission on election administration. And you write in this column, Ben, that these were painful conclusions for you to reach, but here you are. So, tell us how you got here.

BEN GINSBERG, FAMED REPUBLICAN ELECTION LAWYER: Well, they are painful conclusions to reach. I spent 38 years as part of Republican Election Day operations being sure that there wasn't fraud and abuse at the polls and the ballots were counted correct. We're very vigilant in looking for irregularities in the voting process.


And to be sure every election cycle, there are random cases but not many. And after all this time, the lack of proof that elections are rigged or fraudulent should be what governs the parties' policies and the president's words and for the president to cast doubt on the credibility of the election, by saying that they're fraudulent or that the results are rigged is simply not backed up by what has been found by the legions of Republican election lawyers in the polling places.

KEILAR: So why do you think he's saying these things? Why is he laying this groundwork repeatedly?

GINSBERG: I'm not sure I know the motivation behind it. I think there is some confusion on understanding the basic facts. There are nine states in the country that mail ballots to all registered voters. Live ballots. I think that is a bad policy because it can lead to doubts about the credibility of results, if there is a lot of random ballots around. People move, people die, the voter rolls are not accurate and not uniformly maintained in all states. So, he's got a case in among the target states, Nevada and Colorado, that in all --

KEILAR: Oh, no. I think - OK, let's try to reestablish Ben's signal if we can. We're going to get a quick break.

And that is life in the middle of this pandemic. But we just reestablished our connection with Ben. I was trying to kill a little time in the hopes that worked out. Thank goodness it did. OK.

So, you were saying Colorado and Nevada.

GINSBERG: So, Colorado and Nevada are two states that are target states that mail out ballots to all registered voters. It is a problem because the voter rolls are not always completely accurate. People move and die. So, there are live ballots in those states that could create problems.

In all the other states, absentee ballot or mail-in balloting, the process is the same, the names are different between states, is not subject to the same things that the president is talking about. So, the rhetoric about cheating and ballots being sent out willy-nilly is just not accurate under the facts of the laws of the different states. KEILAR: So, what happens if people take the president's advice and they vote twice? They mail in a ballot and they go and vote in person?

GINSBERG: Well, anyone who decides to do that should look to the south of North Carolina to Georgia where the attorney general and Trump ally announced today that they actually had caught people who they believe voted twice. Once by the polls and once through absentee balloting and the attorney general says he's going to prosecute them.

Now typically, these cases fall away a little bit where there are people who just get confused. But the fact that the Georgia attorney general felt the need to prosecute the exact advice that the president has been giving to people should be pause for anyone who does want to follow the president's advice.

KEILAR: So, you mentioned in your column, you're talking about just how minuscule fraud is, right? 1,296 cases according to the conservative Heritage Foundation database, and that's for all elections, not just presidential elections. This is all elections since 1982. I know you highlighted Colorado and Nevada and other places that are sending out mail-in votes. But what is your overall assessment of the risk of voter fraud here?

GINSBERG: Well, what has been proven, what is there would indicate that it is pretty darn minimal. You know you have to assess the threat based on the facts that have actually been uncovered over the last four decades. And, again, you could look at the Heritage site and it is really scant evidence upon which to base claims of wholesale voter fraud.

And remember that President Trump impaneled a presidential commission to look for this fraud and abuse. He appointed the most vociferous advocates that there is fraud there. And the commission disbanded without being able to find anything at all.

And so, the opportunity to make the case that there is widespread fraud has been there over the years and in the specific commission and the proof has not been developed.

KEILAR: Ben, you were involved in the 2000 recount where we didn't know who the president was for weeks after the election. So, given the extra time that maybe required counting the so many more mail-in ballots that we're expecting this go around, how long would you anticipate it taking for the country to know who the next president is?


GINSBERG: Well that obviously depends on the results on election night and how close things look on election night. States have varying deadlines on which absentee ballots can come in and be counted. They all have to be post marked by Election Day. But some states have three days, some states have a week. Some states have more. Just look at New York's congressional primary elections and how long they took. So that it is possible that the outcome will not be known for a long time.

Brianna, what you have to keep in mind is that once the results are known, that is where recounts --

KEILAR: How long do you think, then? Do you have any sense of that?

GINSBERG: Well, look, last election cycle, on November 26th, Hillary Clinton's campaign intervened in the Pennsylvania recount started by Jill Stein. So that four years ago Hillary Clinton's campaign thought there were still things to contest three weeks after the election. So, I'm going to guess December 1st.

KEILAR: December 1st, all right. Ben Ginsberg, thank you so much.

GINSBERG: Thank you.

KEILAR: Breaking news now. Serious allegations from a whistleblower in the Department of Homeland Security. He's accusing acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf as well as Ken Cuccinelli, the acting head of Citizenship Services of repeatedly directing officials to alter intelligence reports to line up with the president's misleading public comments.

Both Wolf and Cuccinelli tried to alter a report to downplay the threat posed by white supremacists while bolstering the threat that leftist groups pose out of concern about how the initial language on white supremacy would reflect on the president. This is according to documents that have been reviewed by CNN as well as a source familiar with the situation.

I want to go to CNN's senior justice correspondent Evan Perez. Evan, who is this whistleblower and what does he say he was instructed to do?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, his name is Brian Murphy and he ran the Homeland Security's intelligence section and what they do is they provide these intelligence reports that get sent out to state and local governments to know what is happening you know across the country with regard to intelligence, the intelligence that they're getting.

And one of the things that he says in this complaint that he's filed with the Homeland Security inspector general is that according to him Chad Wolf, Ken Cuccinelli urged him to essentially match what the president is saying outside on the campaign trail, what the president has been saying and the White House has been saying from the White House regarding the threat from Antifa and anarchist groups that the intelligence reports should be coming, that should match what the president has been saying, that there is a greater threat from these leftist groups and less of a threat from these white supremacist groups that the Homeland Security Department was trying to issue a warning out -- about.

There is a separate allegation that he has now made, by the way, Brianna. He says, that according to him, the department was also instructed to downplay the threat from Russia with regard to election interference and to emphasize the threat that was posed by China.

Now that also matches the rhetoric from the president who doesn't really want to hear. We've heard this repeatedly from officials who left the department and who left the administration. The president doesn't really want to hear about the threat from Russia. He wants to hear about the threat posed by China in part because the Russians are trying to help his reelection according to the Intelligence Community.

So these are now reports that are being filed by the Homeland Security inspector general and we expect that Democrats at the House Intelligence Committee are going to call Brian Murphy to testify to hear more about these allegations against that these top officials were getting instructions from senior officials at the White House on how to match these intelligence reports with what the president is saying. Brianna?

KEILAR: And who is he -- who is he specifically saying gave him these instructions to alter these reports?

PEREZ: He says these were instructions that were coming from the Homeland Security chief of staff, essentially, and in some of the arguments that he was having. He was having them directly, according to him, with Chad Wolf who is the acting head of the Homeland Security Department, as well as Ken Cuccinelli who is a senior official at Homeland Security. He also says that according to some of his conversations with the Homeland Security officials, that these were instructions coming directly from Robert O'Brien who is the White House chief of staff. Brianna?

KEILAR: National -- National Security adviser, am I correct?

PEREZ: I'm sorry. That is right. The National Security adviser.

KEILAR: Things change, Evan. So, you never know. But I just wanted to make sure.


PEREZ: (INAUDIBLE) - these guys.

KEILAR: All right. Evan Perez, thank you so much. I appreciate it.