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Trump Admits He Deliberately Downplayed "Deadly" Threat Of Pandemic In Recorded Interviews With Bob Woodward; Woodward Book Exposes Kim Jong-un's Fawning Letters To "Your Excellency" Trump; Woodward Book: Former DNI Coats Believed That Putin Had Something On Trump; Woodward Book: Fauci Told Associate Trump's "Attention Span Is Like A Minus Number"; In Recorded Interview, Trump Dismisses White Privilege, Accuses Woodward Of Drinking The "Kool-Aid" On Race. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:08]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following breaking news. Explosive, new details from veteran journalist Bob Woodward's brand new book, including an admission by President Trump on tape that he fully understood the severity of the coronavirus crisis in early February and that he then deliberately downplayed the pandemic to the American public.

The bombshell revelations come as the United States now surpasses yet another terrible milestone. More than 190,000 Americans have died from coronavirus and it raises the sobering question how many of those lives could have been saved if the President of the United States had confronted this crisis, honestly with the American public and aggressively from the very, very beginning.

Bob Woodward's book also reveals a new account of the President's disparaging language toward the United States military leadership. And in just a moment will also bring you additional details from the book about the very bizarre and affectionate letters between North Korea's Kim Jong-un and President Trump.

But let's begin with CNN's Jamie Gangel. She's been doing amazing reporting on all of this.

You got a lot of digging that you've done on the Woodward book, Jamie? So what did the President precisely know about the severity of the virus? And when did he know it?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: It turns out, Wolf, that he knew critical details very early on. In addition to obtaining a copy of Woodward's new book, we have at CNN obtained audio tapes of these interviews. Woodward did 18 wide ranging interviews with the President.

And what we're going to start with is some audio from their interview on February 7, in which the President reveals that he knew just how dangerous deadly airborne and that this was much worse than a normal flue. Here's the audio.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, AMERICAN JOURNALIST: And so what was President Xi saying yesterday?

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

WOODWARD: Indeed it is.

TRUMP: It goes through air Bob, that's always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don't have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breath the air and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one.

It's also more deadly than your, you know, your even your strenuous lose. 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. 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 five per, you know, this is five percent versus one percent and less than one percent. You know, so, this is deadly stuff.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GANGEL: It's just striking off because if you go back and think about early February, we were not aware of any of this. We were just thinking about all the people in China. We just didn't have any idea.

And if, you know, Woodward writes that this was a betrayal of trust, and a failure of leadership as you said, you have to wonder how many lives could have been saved, if instead of just telling Woodward he had been forthcoming with the American public.

BLITZER: Yes. He would have been blunt and tell the American public --

GANGEL: Correct.

BLITZER: -- the severity of what was going on presumably thousands of lives, potentially could have been saved.

The President's acknowledgment, Jamie, of the seriousness of the virus in that conversation in early February with Woodward stands in totally stark contrast with what he was repeatedly telling the American people -- GANGEL: Right.

BLITZER: -- around that time. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're in great shape, though, where we have 12 cases, 11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.

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've done.

It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle it will disappear. And from our shores, we've, you know, it could get worse before it gets better, could maybe go away. 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)

BLITZER: So, Jamie, how did the President explain this?

[17:05:00]

GANGEL: So the President said -- he said this was he's just trying to keep people calm. But let's remember that he has not been consistent on this message. This is something he has continued to say. He still mocks people wearing masks. So it's, it's hard to imagine.

But just to put in perspective, we have one more piece of sound from a Woodward interview with Trump. This is on March 19 when the President reveals two things. First of all, he's been saying publicly that young people don't get it. That they're going to be OK. And he addresses that.

And the second thing is, he admits that he is purposefully not telling the American public what he knows. Let's listen to that interview.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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'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 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 AUDIO CLIP)

GANGEL: You know, Wolf, but this isn't just about creating a panic. Let's just put this in some perspective. After 911 the American public rallied. After Pearl Harbor, the American public rallied.

President Trump told Bob Woodward that he thought being president meant two things to keep the country safe and prosperous. And you just -- he failed on keeping it safe. You have to wonder whether the panic was more about the economy and getting reelected. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, you have to wonder indeed. You know, Jamie, the President has frequently been at odds with the top medical experts advising him on the virus. What is Woodward report in his brand new book about his relationship? The President's relationship with Dr. Anthony Fauci.

GANGEL: So the American public has gotten to know Dr. Anthony Fauci and Woodward quotes Fauci and what is typical in a Woodward book is that he records all of his interviews with the permission of the subject.

And Anthony Fauci says the following about the president. He said his leadership is "rudderless." He says the President's "attention span is like a minus number." And he says "his sole purpose is to get reelected."

We should say that Dr. Fauci did an interview today, where he was backtracking saying he didn't remember this. But my understanding is that these were all direct quotes from Dr. Fauci.

BLITZER: Very significant indeed.

You know, Jamie, the revelations from Bob Woodward's book also include eye opening major national security issues, I've gone through some of them. He reports for example, the top level officials were deeply concerned about how close the US came to nuclear war with North Korea back in 2017. James Mattis was then the Defense Secretary. How seriously did he take the threat of a nuclear war with North Korea?

GANGEL: You know, it's interesting. There's a quote from Secretary of State Pompeo saying they never knew whether it was a bluff or not. But then Secretary of Defense Mattis took it so seriously and was so worried about getting into a hot war with North Korea.

That the book describes these extraordinary scenes where Mattis is going to the National Cathedral repeatedly to pray because he is worried and it's on his conscience. What if they get into a hot war? What if a million people get killed?

The other detail is that that secretary -- then Secretary Mattis was actually sleeping in his clothes or shorts something appropriate because he was ready to get up in the middle of the night and monitor any kind of strike.

[17:10:02]

So there's -- apart from COVID there is a striking story within the book about our relations with North Korea.

BLITZER: Yes. And Woodward also reviewed, some 27 letters exchanged between President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. CNN, I understand has now obtained copies of two of those letters. What can you tell us?

GANGEL: So the -- get ready, Wolf, these are very unusual letters. President Trump has referred to them as, "love letters," but I'm going to just to give you a sense, this is not the kind of language you normally hear between two -- leaders of two countries.

So we have from one letter, this is a letter from Kim Jong-un to President Trump on December 25, 2018. "Even now I cannot forget that moment of history when I firmly held Your Excellency's hand." He calls Trump "Your Excellency" a lot. "At the beautiful and sacred location as the whole world watch with great interest and hope to relive the honor of that day."

Letter number two, this is further down in that same letter. "As we entered the new year, the whole world will certainly once again come to see, not so far in the future another historic meeting between myself and Your Excellency," again to Trump, "reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film." I don't know exactly what that is, but you don't normally hear that.

We also have obtained a letter from June 10, 2019, "I also believe that the deep and special friendship between us will work as a magical force that leads the progress of DPRK-U.S. relations."

One footnote to all of this, you don't really know reading the book how would word obtained the letters, but there is what I would say is a hint about them because President Trump says to Woodward about his having the letters. On January 20 in an interview Trump says, "Those are so top secret. You can't mock Kim. I don't want to get into an a fing nuclear war, because you mocked him." Woodward, "I'm not going to mock him."

But if I had to guess those letters had to get to Woodward via the White House. And we posted two of them on cnn.com, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Woodward also reveals that the then Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a man I know man, you know, believe that Putin, that the Russian President Putin had actually had compromising information on President Trump tell us about that. GANGEL: This, I think is one of the most shocking stories in the book because then DNI top intelligence official Dan Coats, tells Woodward that he has harbored this secret concern that Trump had -- that Russia had something on Trump.

And I just want to read you a little bit of what Woodward writes. Woodward says, that Coats suspected the worst, but found nothing that would show Trump was indeed in Putin's pocket. He and staff members examine the intelligence as carefully as possible.

So there's so concerned, Wolf, that they're actually going and looking. There was no proof, period, Woodward writes, but Coats doubts continued, never fully dissipating.

So, this notion that Coats even as he left could not shake the suspicions that Russia had something on Trump. That is -- it is startling. And Woodward writes, that Coats understood how stunning that was, that the top intelligence official would have those doubts.

BLITZER: Yes. I was in Helsinki when President Trump met with Putin.

GANGEL: Correct.

BLITZER: And he sided with Putin and basically discarded what the U.S. intelligence community was saying. And that was a real slap in the face of the Director of National Intelligence Dan coats.

On another very sensitive subject, the topic of race, Jamie, what did the President have to say in this book?

GANGEL: So it's interesting. Bob Woodward tried to talk to him about race and racism. This interview happens shortly after the President goes across the street, that famous scene where he cleared the protesters out and holds up the Bible.

[17:15:00]

And he says to the -- to President Trump, I don't know if we have the audio of this.

BLITZER: Yes, we have it.

GANGEL: Do we have the audio?

BLITZER: We'll play it right now.

GANGEL: So he said -- he asked Trump about white privilege. And I think the rest you can just hear on the audio tape.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

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

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

(END AUDIO CLIP)

GANGEL: Despite everything we've been through, Wolf, in the last couple of months with protests, just very dismissive of the whole thing. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. There's a lot more in this book, including some very, very disparaging remarks that the President makes about the U.S. military leadership. We're going to get to that later.

Jamie, you've done some really amazing, excellent reporting for us. Thank you. Thank you so, so much.

GANGEL: Thank you.

BLITZER: I want right now I want to bring in our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, he's been gathering details about the fallout and it has been so dramatic from this new Bob Woodward book. The fallout specifically inside the Trump administration.

So, first of all, Jim, how is the President responded?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you well, in addition to the President responding, there is some finger pointing, major league finger pointing going on inside the White House right now, aides pointing the finger at one another over how this was allowed to happen.

I talked to a source familiar with the discussions surrounding the Woodward book earlier. This afternoon to source who is familiar with direct knowledge, who has direct knowledge of the situation involving setting up the interviews with Bob Woodward's says that both President and Bob Woodward essentially went around the White House Press Office in setting up these interviews, these hours and hours of interviews that Bob Woodward had with the President.

And that aides to the president told Mr. Trump that this was a bad idea to sit down with Bob Woodward and have these sorts of freewheeling discussions with the legendary reporter. But I did talk to a separate source familiar with situation who said that hold on a second, that, you know, the President, Jared Kushner, they may have been OK with this idea of the President sitting down with Bob Woodward. But that according to this other source I spoke with Jared Kushner was against the idea of the President doing these interviews with Bob Woodward.

So some finger pointing going on inside the White House over whether or not the President should have been sitting down with Bob Woodward.

But in the meantime, we should point out just earlier this afternoon, the President was asked about these revelations coming out of the Woodward book. That President was intentionally downplaying the severity of the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year. The President said he was simply trying to make sure the American people did not panic over what was happening and here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We don't want to instill panic. We don't want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem. That is a tremendous problem scare everybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, earlier this afternoon, Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, he seized on this during a campaign event in Michigan. Biden was accusing the President of lying about the severity of the outbreak, severity of the coronavirus outbreak to the American people. Here's what Joe Biden had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He knew about COVID-19 that had passed through the air. He knew how deadly it was. It was much more deadly than the flu. He knew and purposely played it down.

Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat posed to the country for months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And getting back to that finger pointing going on inside the White House, you have one source telling us right now, Wolf, that both the President and Jared Kushner, the President's son in law thought it was a good idea for the President to sit down with Bob Woodward and do this interview. Have a separate source familiar with some of these discussions going on saying that no, Jared Kushner did not think this was a good idea for the President to do these interviews with Bob Woodward.

[17:20:00]

Interestingly, though, Wolf, both of those sources are telling me and I have another source telling me this at this hour that Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, who is a close confidant of the President, he was urging the President to do these interviews with Bob Woodward. So lots of finger pointing going on inside Trump world over whether or not the President should have done this.

That is a very strong indication. There are a lot of people inside the White House, inside Trump world who think that this could be very damaging for the President, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's really amazing reporting by Bob Woodward, again, and he's been doing this for years and years for decades. Our hats off to him. ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: A great, great journalist. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

We have a lot to go over with our experts and our analysts. They're standing by. Let me bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta, first.

Sanjay, you just heard the President of the United States on tape admitting back in early February that the Coronavirus was more deadly than even your strenuous flu. But when you push them on that specific subject some three weeks later, you were in the White House briefing room asking a very important question. He said something very different publicly. I want to play that exchange. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Flue has a fatality ratio of about 0.1 percent.

TRUMP: Correct.

GUPTA: This has a fatality ratio somewhere between two percent to three percent. Given that --

TRUMP: We don't know exactly the numbers.

GUPTA: Based on the so far.

TRUMP: And the flu was higher than that. The flu is much higher than that.

GUPTA: There's more people who get the flu, but this is spreading, and it's going to spread maybe even communities, that's the expectation.

TRUMP: It may. It may.

GUPTA: Does that worry you? Because that's seems to be what worries the Americans.

TRUMP: No, because we're ready for. It is what it is. We're ready for it.

We're really prepared. We have, as I said, we have the greatest people in the world. We're very ready for it.

We hope it doesn't spread. There's a chance that it won't spread too. And there's a chance that it will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He knew Sanjay that the virus was airborne, that it was deadly. And that's what he said to Bob Woodward in early February. When you exchange -- had that exchange with him, he was saying something totally different to the American public. And it's really inexplicable given how serious and how many thousands of Americans might have been saved if he simply would have been honest. GUPTA: Yes. Wolf, you know, I mean, I think since that exchange, which was on February 27, so about three weeks after you heard him tell Bob Woodward that it was definitely more lethal than the flu five times. He said, more lethal than the flu.

So, you know, I've always wondered after I had that exchange, did he know that it was more deadly and just wasn't saying it or did he not yet know? You know, that I -- until now, until today, Wolf, I just wasn't sure the answer that question. But clearly now the President knew ahead of time that this is more lethal than the flu.

And he even said five times more lethal than the flu which is really striking because that is pretty close to the right number. I mean, flu they say has a 0.1 percent mortality where this, you know, the numbers probably around point six or so percent mortality. So he knew at that point and that's I think the thing that has really concern me.

How much of a difference would it have made if we started to act early in this country? I'll just show you quickly, Wolf, Columbia University did this modeling and this goes back to May. So at that point, they were saying in May, if we had acted earlier, remember, we went into sort of pause mode middle of March, we acted one week earlier. OK, so first week of March, instead of second week of March, at that time in May, 36,000 deaths could have been prevented.

Two weeks earlier, 84 percent of the deaths could have been prevented and 82 percent of infections could have been prevented. That's extraordinary, Wolf. I mean, you know, the thing about public health measures is that when you do them early, when you implement them early, they have an outsized impact, you could have controlled the virus, prevented it from spreading as much as it has and obviously causing so many people to die.

BLITZER: And the decision by the President to publicly downplay this coronavirus, it turned out to be a truly life and death decision because other countries, let's take South Korea, for example, they were warning everyone in the country how deadly it was. And other countries were doing the same thing. The President of the United States was not.

GUPTA: Yes. Wolf, I think this is -- that's absolutely right. And it's a fundamental point. OK.

So, people often say, well, this is five times deadlier than the flu. So by definition, five times as many people will die of this as die of the flu. That's not the way to think about it. The way to think about it is how you just presented it.

If you go to South Korea, and we mentioned South Korea because their first patient was diagnosed on the same day, the first patient was diagnosed in the United States. So it's a fair comparison in this regard, a smaller country. But even if you keep up with the math, so far, they've had under 350 people die total in the country, 350 throughout this entire pandemic. And obviously, you know, the numbers here, you know, closer to 190,000.

[17:25:00]

So, yes, this was far more lethal than the flu. But it does not mean, did not mean it needed to kill more people than the flu because we could have identified the problem and we could have acted.

This is a fundamental point because people keep saying, hey, look, you say that the flu was deadlier? Well, the flu from a lethality standpoint is 0.1 percent versus this closer to 0.5, 0.6 percent. But not that many people needed to die of this disease because we could have acted in a way to prevent those deaths. And I think that's going to be one of the great lessons, I think of this entire pandemic.

BLITZER: Yes. Standby Sanjay. I want to bring Dr. Leana Wen into this conversation.

Dr. Wen given what we now know about the President's knowledge of this virus back in early February, what he said on tape to Bob Woodward, for example, shouldn't the President have been addressing this pandemic both in public very, very boldly, and tell the American people how dangerous it was, wear mask immediately, engaged in social distancing, be careful out there. Instead of saying in the days and weeks that followed, it's a hoax, don't worry about it, it's going to go away. We got 15 cases, it'll go eventually down to zero.

If he had been as honest with the American public, Dr. Wen, as he was with Bob Woodward, in early February tens of thousands of Americans who have died, might have been alive right now.

DR. LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Absolutely, Wolf. And our response now would be so different. Because I think and I think so many of us have said this many times, Sanjay has said as many times too, that our entire response has been hampered by the mixed messaging that President Trump has had. And now we know that this mixed messaging is not just wrong, it's deliberately misleading and that's extremely distressing.

I think about all the patients I've treated who have lost their lives or who have recovered, but have long term effects because of COVID-19. I think about the individuals who now don't have their jobs, because we had all these shutdowns that had to occur, but actually could have been prevented if we just acted sooner.

And I know the President has said, well, I didn't want to cause panic and cause fear. But the best antidote to fear is the truth. And that's exactly what President Trump should have done all along, which is to explain everything that he knew. Because this is about reassuring the American people, it's about taking action, taking action that the federal government needs to do when it comes to setting up testing, when it comes to setting up this national strategy, but also advising the American people about the things that we can do in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

And to know that that information was on hand that the President knew about it, but decided not to share it with the American people, it's really truly devastating. BLITZER: Yes, that whole month of February turned out to be a waste. If the President would have done in early February, what he eventually wound up doing in mid-March, and even later, thousands of Americans would be alive right now.

Let me go back to Sanjay for a moment. Sanjay, Dr. Anthony Fauci is quoted in Bob Woodward's book is telling others that the President's leadership was in his word, rudderless. Was that evident in this federal response?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's -- the strategy was to just not talk about it. So I guess to that extent, it was rudderless. Rudderless to me means, you know, you do one thing one day you do something else the other day, there's no sort of logic to it.

This was a clear minimizing of this problem. Even as we saw what was happening in other countries around the world, you remember, Wolf, if we talk so much about what was happening in Italy, or in those early days and sort of saying, well, that's Italy, you know, I mean, that could happen here. And still, what actions were we taking, we weren't testing we didn't have these sort of plans in place to prevent that from happening. So we kept watching. We kept having these warning signs, and we didn't act.

So if that's rudderless then perhaps. But, you know, there was no action. As you as you mentioned, it was a lost month.

And it is -- it's really devastating to hear as Leana was just saying, February 7, he knows it's five times deadlier than the flu. He knows that if we take action, it could probably save a lot of lives, he's told that. And there's even a plan, I think that was presented to the President in terms of what to do.

Some of those small public health measures taken at that time could have had a significant benefit for sure.

BLITZER: For sure.

William Haseltine is with us as well.

Professor Haseltine, as you know, Dr. Fauci was critical of the President's attention span in this new Bob Woodward book. How important is it to have a leader who pays a lot of attention to detail during a public health crisis like this one?

WILLIAM HASELTINE, CHAIR & PRESIDENT ACCESS HEALTH INTERNATIONAL: Well, it's obvious very important. And I would say there's a couple of major points that we've learned now.

[17:30:00]

It's one thing to say not, don't panic. It's another thing not to plan. I think all of us in the public health area are absolutely appalled at the fact there's been no consistent plan and there is still no consistent plan to control this. You have somebody in the White House now, Dr. Atlas, who says, herd immunity, just let it go. That is not a plan. That's a plan for death in the millions, not the hundreds of thousands.

You asked us the question, how many people could have been saved out of 190,000 that have died? My guess is 180,000 of those. We have killed 180,000 of our fellow Americans, because we have not been honest with the truth. We have not planned and even today, we're ignoring the threat that lies ahead. If you look toward Christmas, that number 190 thousand might be 400,000 as you and I have discussed before.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Who do you blame for that, Professor Haseltine?

HASELTINE: I think the only way you can blame -- put blame. The other thing was really interesting. Who told Trump about this problem? It was President Xi, the very source that he is excoriated for causing this pandemic. It was the Chinese that gave, and the leader of the Chinese people, that gave Trump the information that he related to Bob Woodward. And to attack the source and then not do anything with that information? I think there's only one place you can lay these wreaths, is that the feet of somebody who knew and ignored the problem.

BLITZER: Yes. The Bob Woodward book also says at the end of January, the President's National Security Adviser O'Brien specifically also warned the President this was airborne, it was very deadly. You got to deal with this. And he's quoted as saying, this could be and probably will be the most significant national security threat to the United States since what the great flow back in 1918. And it's turned out to be such an enormous threat to U.S. National Security.

The President was warned repeatedly, Professor Haseltine, yet he waited. And as you pointed out, he waited way too long.

HASELTINE: Well, he waited and is still waiting. We still don't have a plan to control this epidemic. You know, if you look at what people did, with 911, what they did with Pearl Harbor, they did calm the American people as best they could. But they planned, they executed, and eventually we were victorious. We are not victorious now.

Victory means what happens in other countries where nobody is dying. That's a victory. That's not 40,000 people getting infected a day and over 1,000, sometimes almost 2,000 people a day dying. That's not victory. That's defeat.

BLITZER: And, you know, Dr. Wen, if the President were to make a decision tonight or tomorrow to do what he should do, go and deliver an Oval Office address to the American public, and specifically state, here's what everyone needs to do right now in order to save thousands of American lives. Some of these projections, as Professor Haseltine points out, there could be 400,000 dead Americans by January 1st. What would you like to hear the President say, Dr. Wen, in such an Oval Office address, knowing what we all know right now?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Acknowledge the seriousness of this pandemic, which is something that he has repeatedly not done over the course of these many months, except apparently in these tapes that we have now to recognize how it is so tragic and so devastating that nearly 200,000 people Americans now have lost their lives and we have many more on their way.

That I want to hear the President say, here is what the federal government is going to do now. I would love to hear a national strategy of some kind being announced a national strategy that absolutely includes widespread accessible testing, that includes getting treatment to individuals, that also includes the importance of letting science and public health lead this response.

And then I want the President to tell the American people and then model the kind of behavior that he expects the American people to have as well. And by now, we have more information that we did last month, certainly than we did back in February and March, we know what are the specific interventions that will make a big difference.

Universal mask wearing is something that will make a big difference to the last IHME models. We know that universal mask wearing will save 100,000 lives between now and the end of the year. That's twice as many people as died from breast cancer last year. That's something that we can all do right now in order to save lives.

And we should be practicing social distancing. We should be limiting indoor gatherings, going outdoors as much as possible. We should not have large gatherings. And I would love to hear the President say, from now on, I will be donning a mask wherever it is that I go.

[17:35:03]

From now on, I recognize that because I have testing and all the individuals around me have testing that should also be made available to all the American people. From now on, I will not be holding large rallies and gatherings that are bringing a lot of people together that could be potential super spider events. This is all based on science. And I would love to hear the President kick the actions now that we have been wanting for many months.

BLITZER: You know, Sanjay, it was so upsetting the other day, when the President was actually making fun of his Democratic rival, the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for wearing a mask and he was making fun of him.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, you know, there's still this feeling. I think there's two things. One is that, you know, a book like this comes out in there's this idea that we're looking at this now in the rearview mirror that this is sort of the retrospective. It's not. We're still very much in this as I think you're saying, Wolf, and the idea that some basic public health measures can still make a significant difference going forward, I think is really important.

Look, I think it's very hard to sugarcoat what has happened here, Wolf. I mean, I want to be optimistic and say, you know, there's still things that we need to do and there are. But as Dr. Haseltine was saying, you know, as Leana was saying, so many people have died, you know.

If this were a patient, it would be kind of like saying, hey, look, at the time that the patient had localized disease, very small treatment would be necessary to treat it, and the patient did not undergo that treatment, and now the disease is spread. And we'd like to say, we'd like to just turn back the clock and say, let's go back to doing the simple treatments that we could have done with significant impact at the beginning.

Well, we don't have that option anymore. It doesn't mean we shouldn't act. But there's been a lot of damage done now, Wolf, and now it's a question about mitigating the damage. You've seen the models.

They say if everyone, you know, you went to 95 percent of the country wearing masks, you know, you could potentially save 120,000 lives by the end of the year. But you know what, Wolf? That also means that probably another 100,000 people will die regardless at this point which is just -- that did not need to happen, Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's not forget, six -- more than 6 million Americans, I'm looking 6.3 million Americans have actually come down with coronavirus. Many of them they may have survived but they could potentially have some long-term ramifications from this illness and they've gone through a very, very rough period. 6.3 million Americans have tested positive for coronavirus over these past few months.

Dana Bash, we just got an exchange that our Jake Tapper had with Joe Biden in Michigan just a few moments ago, he went up there to interview the Democratic presidential nominee. I want to play this exchange that Jake had with Joe Biden, and then we'll discuss. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Vice President, thanks so much for doing this. Appreciate it.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Happy to do it.

TAPPER: So, some big breaking news. In his upcoming book, Bob Woodward reports that President Trump understood the serious risk posed by the novel coronavirus in early February. Take a listen to what the President told Woodward February 7th.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You just breathed the air, and that's how it's passed. And so, that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your, you know, your -- even your strenuous flus. This is deadly stuff.

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

BIDEN: It's disgusting. We learned this on the day that 100 -- we turned 190,000 Americans dead and he knew this? I understand he had just gotten off the phone when he did the first interview with Woodward. He just gotten off the phone with Xi Jinping where he's praising Xi Jinping about transparency. And this is nothing to worry about. And this is going to go away like a miracle. What in God's name on a man like -- I mean, I don't get it. I truly don't get it. It's like what he's -- the way he talks about our veterans is -- I mean, it just, it's astounding to me.

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

TRUMP: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.

BOB WOODWARD, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Yes.

TRUMP: Because I don't want to create a panic.

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

BIDEN: Yes, and that's why we have no confidence in his leadership. I mean, if -- look, you saw what Columbia medical school pointed out in March. Had he acted one week earlier, there'd be over 31,000 more people alive. If they added two weeks earlier, it would have been 50,000 some still alive.

[17:40:00]

This caused people to die. And what he doing the whole time? He acknowledges you breathe it, it's in the air and he won't put on a mask. He's talking about, it's ridiculous to put on mask. What do you need social distancing for? Why have any of these rules?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Almost criminal. Dana, a very, very strong words. A very tough response from the Democratic presidential nominee.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: OK, he's trying to channel the anger that so many people in this country have, the frustration, the anxiety already, even before we heard from the President in these tapes from earlier this year. The fact that the President kind of fed right into Joe Biden's campaign message, it would be surprising if Joe Biden didn't jump on that.

And when I say fed into his campaign message from the beginning, even before Joe Biden won the primaries, he said his whole reason for running even though he never thought he would run for president again, was the void in leadership, was the fact that this President needs to be replaced by somebody who understands how to -- has the experience. And the fact that he -- and all of us have no heard the President say that his form of leadership is to downplay a virus and not deal with it. Of course, Joe Biden is going to react like that. But I think that the fact that he is being so intense and so strong, that -- I have no doubt that that is authentic on Joe Biden's part but it also that his campaign believes helps him connect to people who are feeling the same way right now.

BLITZER: Yes. And it's not just Joe Biden, a millions of Americans --

BASH: Right.

BLITZER:-- presumably once they get the full scope of what the President knew in early February and didn't do to protect the American public, there's going to be a lot of outrage and not just from Joe Biden but from a lot of other people as well.

Dana, everybody standby we're going to have much more on the explosive details revealed in the brand new Bob Woodward book right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:46:43]

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories as a result of Bob Woodward's soon to be released brand new, a book a copy obtained by CNN includes very damning comments from the President's former national security advisors.

Joining us now, the former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Retired General Wesley Clark. General Clark, in addition to making very disparaging remarks about fallen U.S. troops, Woodward gives yet another account of the President denigrating the U.S. military leadership. He says this, and I'll put the quote up on the screen, few words I don't want to say. "My f-ing generals are a bunch of p-ies. They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals."

Let's talk a little bit about that. When you hear that kind of denigration of the top U.S. military brass, the generals, the admirals, what do you say?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, first of all, it's very consistent with other things that President Trump has said and done. He clearly doesn't understand the value of the Alliances. President Trump is a transactional person. He values everything in the basis of money. He wants it now.

And so, it's, I'll give you this, you give me that. And what's made the United States so powerful, what has made America great is our consistency, our reliability, our ability to hold together long-term alliances based on common interest, common values and working together. When there are differences that would drive us apart, President Trump has apparently sought to accentuate these differences.

For him, I guess, it's all about money. He doesn't understand national security. He doesn't understand what's made America great. And he certainly doesn't understand the ethics and the qualities of our senior leaders in uniform.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, General Clark, is in the Bob Woodward book. He quotes the former Trump Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired general himself, saying that -- sources quoting, General Mattis is saying that President Trump was dangerous, unfit and lacked a moral compass. How concerning is that to you to hear that kind of talk from the former defense secretary?

CLARK: Well, it should be a real concern for every American. I mean, those of us who followed it closely have -- we basically came to this judgment some time ago. And Jim, obviously, came to this judgment, and that's why he left the position of defense secretary. But, Wolf, this is the kind of information that needs to sink in to the American people.

The President -- when he's seen up close and judged by Mad Dog Mattis, and they've looked at his policies, his decision making, his character, his personality, his ethics, they say he's dangerous and unfit, that's a very, very powerful indictment of a sitting President.

BLITZER: Standby, General, I want to bring in Secretary Cohen into this conversation. Secretary, so when you heard all the revelations about the U.S. military leadership, that are now reported in this brand new Bob Woodward book, what went through your mind?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: What went through my mind was his violation of his duty to the United States. He is pledged to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic.

[17:50:08]

He has failed to protect us against Vladimir Putin who entered into our 2016 election. He's doing the same now. He's failed to protect us against him. He's failed to defend us against the virus.

Now, he has pledged to be a wartime commander. And look what's happened. You have an invisible enemy that attacked the state of New York, the state of California, the state of Washington, and what the Commander-in-Chief has said, you're on your own. We're not getting involved because it's a state issue.

I don't know of any commander in chief who would allow an enemy to attack one state say, well, you defend it, you're on your own. So I think he's violated every oath. What he has done, he has lied, he's denied, and now he's seeking to divide and he's seeking to divide our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guard from the commanding officers and to say that they are only kind of middlemen for war merchants, I think is an absolute criminal activity to indict our highest most effective leaders in the world, in terms our military.

So, I think it only confirms what we've known. He is unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief. And we'll have a chance to pass that judgment on him in November but it can't come fast enough.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Secretary Cohen, because in the book, and we reported this earlier, the Bob Woodward Reveals that the then-Trump Director of National Intelligence a man, you know, former Senator Dan Coats, he actually believed that Russia had something on President Trump. And as a result, that's why the President repeatedly was dismissing concerns about his ties to Russia. What do you think, Secretary Cohen?

COHEN: Well, let's go back to the fact that he's never released his tax returns. He's refusing and said they're under audit. They've been under audit for 20, 25 years. And so, there's obviously something he doesn't want to be made public. So I think that there is something there that does have something on him. And I think that's one of the reasons why he has never offered a word of criticism against Putin himself.

As a matter of fact, he's corrupting the intelligence that we're receiving, because he's let it be known, don't bring me any news that involves a name Vladimir Putin. And so what you're doing now is you're really toning down and corrupting the intelligence process, which really contribute -- really is fundamental to the defense of this country.

What our intelligence community says really matters to the Commander- in-Chief and know what the threats are, who the threats are, and how do we defend against them to deter them, to defeat them, and really to overwhelm the enemy in terms of what they're trying to do to us.

So, I think intelligence is critical. The people he has is critical. And for him to degrade in any way the people over at the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff to say they're sissies, that he wouldn't fight with them, he wouldn't wage a war with them, what does that do to the soldiers who are out there putting their lives on the line every day to say that the Commander-in-Chief doesn't trust their commanders?

BLITZER: Yes.

COHEN: That goes all the way down the chain of command as General Clark can certainly attest to.

BLITZER: All right, Secretary Cohen, General Clark, to both of you, thank you so much, and thanks to both of you for your service, as well.

We're going to have more details coming up from the book, including a very, very revealing exchange the Bob Woodward had with the President about race in America. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now. So Brian, tell us what you're learning.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Bob Woodward tried to pry open the President's soul when it comes to race. Their exchanges reflect the President who still very firmly believes in his stand on the issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Bob Woodward put the question bluntly to President Trump. In one of the interviews he did with the President for his new book rage, the investigative journalist asked Trump whether the white privilege he experienced in his youth put him in a cave, isolated him.

WOODWARD: It put me, and I think lots of white privileged people in a cave, and that we have to work our way out of it to understand the anger and the pain, particularly black people feel in this country. Do you --

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

TODD (voice-over): In one conversation with Woodward, Trump escalated his contempt for former President Barack Obama saying, "I don't think Obama's smart. I think he's highly overrated. And I don't think he's a great speaker". Trump told Woodward, he often wanted to refer to Obama by his first and middle name, Barack Hussein. But that he wouldn't do that in his presence so that he could be, quote, very nice.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He started his politics on I'm trying to delegitimize the first black president of the United States.

[17:55:04]

But at the end of the day, it's more than just that. There is a personal angst against President Obama.

TODD (voice-over): Many of the President's divisive comments have been directed toward black women in leadership. He tweeted that the four Congress women of color, who formed the so-called squad on Capitol Hill, should quote, go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. He's referred to Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters as having a, quote, low IQ.

One of his new favorite targets, Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.

TRUMP: She could never be the first woman president. She could never be. That would be an insult to our country.

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: Certainly in his presidency, he has used race as a divisive issue. He has played to white voters and not to the entire country.

TODD (voice-over): The President apparently doesn't see it that way, telling Bob Woodward, "I've done a tremendous amount for the black community and honestly, I'm not feeling any love". Some who've known Donald Trump for decades believe racially polarizing comments are more than a political tool for the President.

Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, also out with a new book told NBC News of a conversation he had with Trump after Nelson Mandela died.

MICHAEL COHEN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER ATTORNEY: He asked me If I had known of any country that's run by a black that's not an S-hole. And I said, well, how about America, which he gave me the proverbial few (ph).

TODD (voice-over): A former COO of one of Trumps hotels believes it goes even deeper.

JACK O'DONNELL, FORMER PRES. & COO, TRUMP PLAZA HOTEL AND CASINO: Cohen's description is characterization that Trump believes blacks have a lower intelligence, it's absolutely true. He said these things 30 years ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And the White House has just responded to our request for response to our story. The individuals -- this is from a Spokesman Judd Deere, "The individuals you cite have slandered the President, verbally attacked his supporters and covered his administration with animosity, bias and lies, and he will not sit by and allow this hateful rhetoric to go unresponded to.

Donald Trump's record as a private citizen and as President has been one of fighting for inclusion and advocating for the equal treatment of all. Anyone who suggests otherwise is only seeking to sow division and ignore the President's work for underserved communities".

And Judd Deere also cited the President's work to fund historically black colleges and universities and create opportunity zones. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thanks very much.

Coming up, we're going to have more on our top story. Truly stunning revelations from Bob Woodward's brand new book on the Trump White House, including an admission from the President on tape that he deliberately misled the American people about the severity of the coronavirus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following major breaking news on President Trump's efforts to mislead Americans about the danger of coronavirus.