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Coronavirus Vaccine Trial Halted; Bob Woodward Releases Bombshell Trump Tapes. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 15:00   ET



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


KEILAR: And a reminder: The president's former attorney Michael Cohen, who wrote his own book filled with allegations about Donald Trump, will be interviewed by Don Lemon tonight. That will be at 10:00 Eastern, only on CNN.

And our special coverage continues now with Brooke Baldwin.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Brianna, thank you so much.

Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin, and you are watching CNN. We got a lot to talk about today.

We're going to begin with stunning new revelations about President Trump and his handling of the coronavirus. More than seven months after the first confirmed case, with six million Americans now infected and nearly 200,000 dead, and after the president publicly downplayed the threat of COVID as recently as this summer, we are now learning that he was telling veteran journalist Bob Woodward the exact opposite.

Back in February, shortly after that first case was identified, the president told Woodward that the virus was deadlier than the flu and that he was intentionally hiding the truth from you, the American public.

Here now is President Trump, in his own words, in a series of taped interviews by Woodward, with the president's permission, and for his new book on the Trump administration. Listen for yourself.


BOB WOODWARD, "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 it's a very tricky situation. It's--

WOODWARD: Indeed, it is.

TRUMP: It goes -- 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, 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 -- your -- even your strenuous flus. People don't realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?

WOODWARD: I know. It's much forgotten.

TRUMP: I mean, it's pretty amazing.

And then I say, well, is that the same thing?

WOODWARD: What are you able to do for--


TRUMP: This is more deadly. This is 5 per -- this is 5 percent vs. 1 percent and less than 1 percent. So this is deadly stuff.

Now it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob, but just 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 at what is 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 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 AUDIO CLIP) BALDWIN: Again, this was early February. This was when the president told Woodward that COVID-19 was, his words, deadly stuff, but that he wanted to play it down to avoid a panic.

And just a reminder to all of us what the president was saying publicly about coronavirus at that same time.


TRUMP: You treat this like a flu. We will essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.

I view this the same as the flu. It's 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 cases, some years. We haven't lost anybody yet.


BALDWIN: Now, we should also note, President Trump is expected to announce his list of potential Supreme Court justices any moment now.

We do not know if he will speak at all about these damning revelations from these Bob Woodward tapes, but we're standing by for that.

Kaitlan Collins, you see her there. She's now popped up this afternoon for us. She's our White House correspondent.

And, I mean, Kaitlan, everything coming from the tapes, hearing the president's own voice, how is the White House responding to this?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's a difficult thing to respond to, Brooke.

And we saw earlier today there was supposed to be a briefing scheduled right when these excerpts were coming out. They delayed it by an hour. And then you saw the press secretary come out and defend the president's response on coronavirus and say that he had not lied to the American public about the threat that was facing them when it came to coronavirus, even though the president is on audio saying that he was intentionally misleading the public and playing it down because he says he did not want to cause a panic.

And, of course, it raises so many questions about, if the president had been saying publicly what he was saying privately to Bob Woodward, how different would things be today, and how you different would people's attitude have been to coronavirus and to the pandemic and to shutdowns and wearing masks and things of that nature?


So, you saw the White House say, the press secretary say things as simple as, the president never downplayed the virus. And he is on tape saying: I downplayed the virus, and I still want to downplay the virus.

So that really sums up what the White House response to this has been.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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.


COLLINS: So, she says the president was expressing calm.

Brooke, that's not what the president was expressing. He was saying that we have a limited number of cases. Soon, they will go down to zero, things of that nature, also telling people that this was just like the flu, saying people should treat this like it was the flu.

He's been saying things that he was just saying earlier, last month, I believe it was, when the president last said it, that children are almost immune from this.

We know that, on these tapes, these are all things the president was expressing the opposite sentiment of. He was saying it was deadlier than the flu. He was saying that it's not just older people who get coronavirus. It's younger people too.

All of these things, he was saying privately, things that were the basically the opposite sentiment of what he had been saying publicly to the American people.

BALDWIN: And it's not just this back-and-forth Bob Woodward has with President Trump. He also talked to several top officials, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, current White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, all of whom minced no words in their criticisms of this president.

Kaitlan, what did they say?

COLLINS: Fauci is the only one we have heard from so far. He did an interview on FOX News earlier, where he said he didn't recall saying that about the president, because, if you read it in the book in the excerpt that we have, it says the quote that he says where the president had an attention span that was minus-zero and that he only was interested in getting reelected, it says that Fauci told that to an associate.

That's how Woodward he reports it in his book. And he says he doesn't recall it.

But other than that, we have not heard from Mattis or from Dan Coats. But these are two people who held some of the most important jobs in the administration.

And the things that they are saying are a pretty damning indictment of the president, with Mattis saying that, when he was defense secretary, he would go to the National Cathedral and pray for the state of the nation under the command of Donald Trump, saying things like he was unfit and dangerous to be president and that there were conversations he had with Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, about whether or not they should speak out in a collective fashion against the things that the president was saying.

There are so many moments in the Donald Trump presidency, Brooke, that are stunning and surprising and remarkable and unlike any other White House that we have covered. But to have the former defense secretary and the former director of national intelligence, two people the president picked to put in that job, saying something like that, asking if they should come out and tell the American public what they really think of the president, is incredibly notable.

And, of course, the big thing is, you have got to remember the president spoke to Woodward 18 times on his own, phone calls and in- person for this book, and many, many current and former White House aides also spoke to Woodward.

BALDWIN: Right. This isn't anonymous sources. This is Bob Woodward to the president, and you hear his voice on tape.

Kaitlan, thank you so much for running through what is just the beginning of the fallout from some of this reporting out of this book.

Moments ago, Joe Biden spoke out about all of this, saying that the president not only cost thousands of American lives, but millions of livelihoods.


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose.

It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people. Experts say that, if he had acted just one week sooner, 36,000 people would have been saved. If he acted two weeks sooner, back in March, 54,000 lives would have been spared in March and April alone.

His failure has not only cost lives. It sent our economy in a tailspin. It costs millions more in American livelihoods.


BALDWIN: Let's talk about all of this.

With me now, CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip, CNN contributor and Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio, and former acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services Andy Slavitt.

So, welcome to all of you.

And, Andy, out of the gate first to you.

I just want to start. If President Trump had been truthful with the American public, the way he was with Bob Woodward, how many thousands of lives would have been saved?

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, CENTERS FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES: If the U.S. would have had even the approach of Germany here, about three-quarters of the lives that we lost would have been saved.

And that just would have meant being forthright. This was a lie with consequences. This was a lie that mattered. And the reason it matters so much is, because when you have a novel virus, before there's a vaccine, public reaction is your only medicine.


So, not telling the public the truth, saying you don't want to panic the public, when you know something is contagious through the air, as the president said, is -- it's basically equivalent to saying, we're going to leave the public defenseless.

So, the public would have behaved very differently if they knew that there was a high death rate of something that's spread through the air as early as February. The course of history would have been, I think, probably quite different.

BALDWIN: Abby, yes, this is the president lying yet again, but it is on tape it. This is not anonymous sources. This was Trump. And this isn't about Ukraine. This is about something that is impacting all of us, millions of Americans.

Do you think this is the thing that finally sticks?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't know. And I don't know that any person really knows what will stick and what won't stick.

But I think, Brooke, your point is exactly right. This is the most important thing that is going on in the lives of most Americans right now; 190,000 people in this country have died from this virus. There are millions of Americans who are without jobs.

And the reason that President Trump right now is going into the last eight weeks of this campaign at a significant deficit in national polls against Joe Biden is because, largely, of his handling of this virus.

And if there were Americans coming into this who had doubts about whether the president took this as seriously as he should have, whether he acted as quickly as he should have, these tapes really provide evidence that, in February, he knew that this was more serious and more deadly than he told the public. That is pretty damning evidence. And I think that, for the most

important issue in the lives of Americans, it's going to have an impact, because everything else stems from this. People want to go back to their normal lives. And they're going to look to how President Trump led in this moment.

BALDWIN: Michael, you wrote the book on Trump. You have talked a lot with me on TV just about how -- the size of his ego.

He probably thought speaking to Bob Woodward was a feather in his cap, because this is the guy who broke Watergate. Anyone on his team who had any common sense, and especially after that first Woodward book a couple years ago, would have said, avoid Bob Woodward.


BALDWIN: Why would anyone in the White House let the president ever sit down with Woodward, let alone talk to him 18 times?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, quite a few of these calls happened after-hours, when nobody was minding the president. So there were no adults in the room. There was only Donald Trump.

And you got to remember that I think his reality was formed back in the '70s, when Richard Nixon was president and Bob Woodward was the most famous reporter in the world. And so he thinks that this is a wonderful thing that Woodward wants to speak to him.

But he's also a con man. He believes that he can con almost anyone. He believed he could con Woodward. But the strange, bizarre element in all of this is that, as he's speaking to Woodward, he's revealing that he doesn't believe his own con.

So, he knew he was lying. He knew these were lethal lies that were tantamount to homicide for tens of thousands of Americans. And he told Woodward the whole story.

I mean, this is so self-destructive, so bizarre, so depraved, that you really have to wonder how many screws loose this man has.

BALDWIN: He also in these conversations with Bob Woodward -- this was the -- Andy, this is for. This was on March 19.

Trump said: "It's not just old people, Bob. Just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out, young people too, plenty of young people."

I mean, this is -- again, this is the president who's been insisting that schools should open, that college football should be played. He has said that children are -- quote, unquote -- "virtually immune."

How do you square that with what the president said to Bob Woodward?

SLAVITT: It's really hard to explain.

And I think you have got other people who are on this panel who study how the president thinks and why he says what he says.

But the thing that is should be really striking to the American public is, he not only told this lie. He then spent a long time covering it up by effectively shutting down his agencies from reacting, criticizing the CDC when they said publicly that this was serious, criticizing Anthony Fauci and people in his government who say that this is more serious.

So, he continues on this path to keep his own truth, the truth that is out there, because he believes he has success in marketing that to a certain part of the population. I don't think he feels like he needs to convince anybody other than his base and that -- so, he keeps creating that reality for himself.


But I think it's making people feel less and less secure about his leadership in this very trying time.

BALDWIN: No, I hear you on a lie and the cover-up. And it is lives. It is livelihoods.

Abby, let me just close with you, because you have heard several high- level officials on the record, including Dr. Fauci, saying that Trump's attention span is -- quote -- "like a minus number" and -- quote -- "his sole purpose is to get reelected."

Bottom line, we are all trying to survive through this pandemic. The president is the president. We need a vaccine. I mean, but given this bombshell, how is anyone going to trust anything the president says to the American public between now and November 3?

PHILLIP: Well, we already know, Brooke, that most Americans don't trust what the president says.

The polls show that some two-thirds of Americans distrust anything that he has to say, particularly about this virus, and many don't trust anything that he has to say in general, including some of his own supporters, people who are planning to vote for him.

So this is a problem that has already been deep-seated for this president. It's going to get worse. And this book is one of several books just in the last couple of weeks coming out, painting the same picture.

This idea that the president wants to be reelected more than anything else is something that many people around him have said on the record. And I think we can also probably expect to hear more. There are going to be more and more accounts coming out from people who used to work in this administration, from whistle-blowers.

We had just one just today talking about the president's character behind the scenes. It will, I think, have some kind of impact. The question is always, how much?

His die-hard supporters are probably not going anywhere, but he doesn't he -- it's not enough. He's got to get those folks in the middle. And I think many of those people are getting a lot of evidence right now of who exactly the president is. And that's a really tough picture for him, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Right. The moderates, the independents, will they be swayed at all because of all of this Bob Woodward reporting?

And it's not just on COVID. That's just all what we have time for. But there's so much more coming out of these taped interviews.

I want to thank every single one of you, Michael and Andy and Abby, for all of that.

Coming up here, a new hurdle in the race for a coronavirus vaccine -- why a major clinical trial was just put on hold.

And the mayor of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the home of the University of Alabama, is reopening bars in town, despite hundreds of cases of COVID on campus. We will talk to the mayor live and ask him why he's doing that.

And no tricks or treats for Los Angeles County, after it bans the door-to-door Halloween tradition.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We are learning more this afternoon about exactly what led a major drugmaker to halt global trials of its coronavirus vaccine. AstraZeneca paused its trial yesterday after a volunteer became ill.

During a Senate hearing on vaccines this morning, the head of the National Institutes of Health described the illness as a -- quote -- "spinal cord problem" and said the pause shouldn't be alarming.


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: And with an abundance of caution at a time like this, you put a clinical hold, you investigate carefully to see if anybody else who received that vaccine or any of the other vaccines might have had a similar finding of a spinal cord problem.

So 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.


BALDWIN: The setback comes less than a day after AstraZeneca joined eight other companies in signing that pledge that they would not seek government approval for any vaccine until it's proven to be safe and effective.

Meantime, a CNN investigation finds that remdesivir, the only drug approved to treat COVID in this country, is being rationed in the U.S., while it is plentiful in developing countries, this despite the fact that the drug is made by an American pharmaceutical company and was developed with the help of U.S. taxpayer money.

With me now, CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen. She is also the former Baltimore City health commissioner.

So, Dr. Wen, thank you for coming on with me.

And let's start with the pause in the AstraZeneca vaccine trial. Does this typically happen in large-scale trials? And during the pause, will they determine whether this spinal cord problem was a direct result of the vaccine or potentially something else?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's exactly right, Brooke.

So this type of pause is not unusual. It is actually part of the due diligence that has to occur. This is the reason why we do phase three trials, to understand if there are rare, but serious side effects that occur.

It's much better that we find out during the trials than after this vaccine is released, and, potentially, it's not just one person who could have this serious reaction. We could be looking at thousands or hundreds of thousands of people who could have it.

And so it actually illustrates the integrity of the scientific process that a pause is being put on. But I think this should be a cautionary tale for anyone who's trying to predict exactly when a vaccine is going to be approved.

It should be humbling, because developing a vaccine is time-intensive. It's difficult. Having everything match up so that we can launch this in record speed is extremely challenging, and we should be placing safety and, of course, efficacy also as our top priorities.

BALDWIN: But you could imagine people listening, people who are like, yes, I don't really want to be the guinea pig to that first round of the vaccine, or hearing about even just the vaccine trial and somebody's having an issue with their spinal cord, and people are thinking, no thank you.


WEN: That's right.

And this is why it is so important for us to follow the scientific process and also to reassure the American people. Look, I want to be able to tell my patients when this vaccine comes out that everything was done to ensure safety.

I want to tell them that safety was the top concern, because we are giving this vaccine to otherwise previously healthy people. And so having one adverse reaction in otherwise healthy people is really serious and needs to be understood and investigated.


WEN: And I want to reassure my patients that this is something that's actually effective, because, otherwise, you're giving false hope.

BALDWIN: Yes, yes, we want the truth on all of this.

I want to ask you now about just the shortages involving remdesivir, the COVID treatment. Multiple doctors have told CNN that they don't have sufficient supply for their patients. And then a recent survey of more than 100 hospitals found that nearly one-third hadn't received enough remdesivir to treat all the people who meet the guidelines to be able to take the drug.

Why is this such a problem? I mean, it's my understanding folks are calling for Trump to let generic drugmakers make the drug. Shouldn't that be a simple fix?

WEN: Well, right now, in this country, there is only one manufacturer, Gilead, that is allowed to make remdesivir.

In other countries, there are other pharmaceutical companies that are able to make generic versions of this. And so other countries are not facing the shortage in remdesivir the way that we do here.

And so it's a major problem that we are rationing this medication, because, as you know, there are only two medications that have been proven so far to be effective in the treatment of COVID-19 for patients who are severely ill.

You have corticosteroids, which are very cheap and readily available.


BALDWIN: Sorry for jumping in. Why can't we make the generic drug too?

WEN: We can. That's exactly right. We absolutely can.

It just takes the Trump administration to allow other companies to do so. And, in this case, Gilead is still able to recoup their -- they're still able to make a profit from this medication too.

But, at the same time, if we allow other manufacturers to make generic versions, we can have enough. And that's what I think a lot of people are saying. We should not be rationing this medication that really should be standard of care.

BALDWIN: So, that green light should happen from the administration to make sure people who are sick can get better.

Dr. Leana Wen, thank you so much for all of that. Coming up, the mayor of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, will join me live to talk

about his decision to reopen bars, despite hundreds of cases of COVID at the University of Alabama.

That's next.