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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Atlanta, Georgia, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D); Interview With Former CDC Director Thomas Frieden; Bob Woodward Releases Bombshell Trump Tapes; Woodward Book: Trump Slammed Generals, Accused Them Of Being Weak; AstraZeneca Confirms Vaccine Trial Pause Is The Second Suspension Since July; DHS Whistleblower Says He Was Told To Stop Providing Intel On Russian Interference Because It Made Trump "Look Bad". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 9, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following major breaking news on President Trump's efforts to mislead Americans about the danger of coronavirus, the president admitting to journalist Bob Woodward that he knew back in early February that the virus was extremely deadly, but he decided to deliberately downplay, downplay it to the public to avoid what he called panic.

[18:00:17]

Stand by to hear from the president as he spelled all of that out in his own words in recorded interviews with Bob Woodward for his brand- new book.

Also tonight, as the U.S. death toll from the pandemic now climbs above 190,000 Americans, Joe Biden just told CNN's Jake Tapper that President Trump's downplaying of the pandemic is -- quote -- "disgusting."

We're also getting new reaction this hour to other bombshells from Woodward's book involving the president's insults of generals and admirals and his distrust in the pain and anger felt by so many after African-Americans.

First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president is now trying to downplay the revelations in Bob Woodward's book, but Americans can hear what he said for themselves.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right, Wolf.

President Trump is facing new allegations he lied about the severity of the coronavirus. In a new book, legendary journalist Bob Woodward lays out how the president privately acknowledged that COVID-19 was more deadly than the flu, even as he was saying otherwise to the public.

This time, the president is on tape, saying -- quote -- "I wanted to always play it down."

Sources tell us White House aides were worried that it was a bad idea for Mr. Trump to do these interviews with Woodward, fearing that the book would be damaging to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump's lengthy record of false statements on the coronavirus may well be catching up with him.

In writing his new book about the Trump presidency, "Rage," journalist Bob Woodward recorded the president admitting on tape that he intentionally downplayed the severity of the virus.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down...

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, sir.

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

ACOSTA: Responding to the book, the president insisted he only wanted to keep people from panicking.

TRUMP: I'm a cheerleader for this country. I love our country. And I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic. We want to show confidence. We want to show strength.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump then argued he is not responsible for the approximately 190,000 Americans who died from the virus.

TRUMP: I think, if we didn't do what we did, we would have had millions of people die.

ACOSTA: In a sign the White House was initially caught by surprise by the recordings, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany tried to deny what is clearly caught on tape and lied to reporters.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president never downplayed the virus. Once again, the president expressed calm.

ACOSTA: In perhaps the most stunning revelation from Woodward's conversations with the president, Mr. Trump acknowledges in early February that COVID-19 is more deadly than the seasonal flu.

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 -- -- even your strenuous flus.

ACOSTA: And yet, on March 9, the president tweeted: "COVID-19 is not as dangerous as the flu."

As he held packed rallies during the early months of the pandemic, the president told the public that the coronavirus would disappear.

TRUMP: It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle. It will disappear. It will go away. You know it is going away.

ACOSTA: But listen to what the president told Woodward on March 19, that the virus poses a danger to Americans young and old.

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.

ACOSTA: In the months that followed the president argued it was safe for children to go back to school.

TRUMP: If you look at children, children are almost, and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few.

They have got stronger -- hard to believe. I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this. And they do it. They don't have a problem.

ACOSTA: Woodward reports, top officials around Mr. President Trump raised questions about his leadership. Dr. Anthony Fauci is said to have described the president's "attention span is like a minus number. His sole purpose is to get reelected."

Fauci responded to that on FOX.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I don't really want to get involved in the kind of stuff that is very distracting to the kind of things I'm trying to do and that we're all trying to do with this outbreak.

QUESTION: So, you would question that account, then?

FAUCI: Yes. Yes.

ACOSTA: Woodward writes, former Defense Secretary James Mattis believed that Mr. Trump was dangerous and unfit.

An aide to Mattis, Woodward says, overheard Mr. Mattis say, "My F-ing generals are a bunch of 'expletive.'"

On the Black Lives Matter movement, the president blows off Woodward's question about whether Mr. Trump is blinded by white privilege.

WOODWARD: 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 it to understand the anger and the pain particularly black people feel in this country?

[18:05:29]

Do you...

TRUMP: No. You -- you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? Listen to you. Wow.

No, I don't feel that at all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: White House officials are now pointing fingers over who is to blame for allowing the president to talk to Bob Woodward.

Multiple sources tell us, the president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, signed off on the interviews. Kushner, we would note, also spoke to Woodward for the book.

The president appears to only have himself to blame, as we're told he went around his own press office to speak to the legendary journalist. Aides to the president -- quote -- "had concerns and quote voiced them repeatedly that Mr. Trump should not speak to Mr. Woodward for this book," we are told.

Earlier this afternoon, the president tried to change the subject as he held what was a thinly disguised campaign event here at the White House, where he talked about his picks for the Supreme Court if he wins a second term in office.

The president tried to coax reporters into avoiding the Woodward book, but the reporters asked about the revelations anyway, forcing the president to acknowledge that, yes, he did intentionally downplay the virus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it was very, very dangerous indeed. Could have cost potentially thousands, maybe tens of thousands of lives in the process.

Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Joining us now, our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sanjay, you heard the president on tape admitting back in early February that the coronavirus was more deadly than even your strenuous flus, as he called them.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BLITZER: But, just three weeks later, you came here to Washington. You attended a White House press briefing. And you pushed the president on this very subject. Let me play the exchange you had with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GUPTA: You talked about the flu and then in comparison to the coronavirus. The flu has a fatality ratio of about 0.1 percent.

TRUMP: Correct.

GUPTA: This has a fatality ratio somewhere between 2 and 3 percent. Given that and the fact...

TRUMP: Well, we think. We think. We don't know exactly what it is.

GUPTA: Based on the numbers so far...

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

GUPTA: There's more people who get the flu, but this is spreading -- or is going to spread, maybe, within communities. That's the expectation.

TRUMP: It may. It may.

GUPTA: Does that -- does that worry you? Because...

TRUMP: No.

GUPTA: ... that seems to be what worries the American people.

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

We're really prepared. We have -- as I said, we've had -- 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: Sanjay, the president knew, on February 7, according to this tape that we now have of his conversation with Bob Woodward, that the virus was airborne and deadly.

Yet that is how he answered your question. What is your reaction now, knowing what we all know?

GUPTA: You know, I think, since that time, Wolf, going back to February 27, I had always wondered, did the president know and just wasn't telling us?

Because the data was coming out at that point. The numbers that I was citing to him were numbers that were in the medical journals. And I thought that his health team, his public health team, would probably brief him on that and he would know this.

So, I didn't know whether he didn't know or he knew and he just -- he was lying and not telling -- not acknowledging what he knew at the time. Now I think it is pretty clear. Twenty days earlier, he says that the coronavirus is deadlier than the flu and even says five times deadlier than the flu, which is very interesting.

The data that was coming out around that time suggested it was around that number. So, clearly, you know, he had been briefed, I think, before he gave that interview to Bob Woodward, or he had had a conversation with the president of China. I don't know how he got that.

But, clearly, he knew three weeks earlier. And then, when I asked him, he said, no, the flu is clearly much worse.

So, that is a huge problem. And I think we talk about this lost month of February, Wolf. That is the time frame here we're talking about, February 7, when he gave that interview to Woodward, February 27, when you just heard that exchange with me.

BLITZER: Yes, could have saved a lot, a lot of lives if he would have taken direct action in early February.

And, Sanjay, the decision to publicly downplay the coronavirus, delay implementation of measures, social distancing, wearing masks, stuff like that, ultimately cost a lot of American lives. We have no idea how many, but, presumably, some suggest tens of thousands.

More than 190,000 Americans have now died, 6.3 Americans have come down with coronavirus. Those numbers could have been way lower, right?

GUPTA: I think without a doubt, Wolf.

You're right. It is hard to know exactly how much lower. We do know, as you and I have talked about for so many months now, Wolf, there's other countries, such as South Korea, where the first patient was diagnosed on the same day the first person was diagnosed in the United States.

[18:10:08]

They have had fewer than 350 people total die during this pandemic. And we have had over 190,000. So, you know, we could have implemented some of the same types of measures perhaps that other countries did and had a significantly lower death toll.

Columbia University, I will just show you this, this modeling quickly. In May, they sort of said, OK, now, if we look back and say, had we gone into this sort of pause mode earlier, even a week earlier, by that point -- and I'm talking about, again, in May -- they think they could have -- it would have prevented at least 36,000 deaths.

Two weeks earlier, 84 percent of deaths, they say, could have been prevented. Again, these are models. But I think, to your question, Wolf, there is no question that a lot of lives could have been saved. The majority, I would say, of lives could have been saved.

BLITZER: Dr. Frieden, you are the former head of the CDC.

Given what we now know about the president's knowledge of this virus back in early February, what should the federal response to this virus have looked like starting in February?

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Wolf, there is a proven way of communicating about health emergencies, be first, be right, be credible, be empathetic, give people practical, useful things to do. If you think about those five things, none of them have been done, not

first, not right, not credible, not empathetic, and not giving people things to do.

What that means is, we didn't start wearing masks when we should have. We didn't take it seriously. We didn't shut down soon enough in some places. And other places, we shut down too soon, too long. This has been a failed federal response.

The U.S. is a global laggard in our response. And we're coming up to a new, really important decision, a vaccine. What are people going to think when people talk about the vaccine?

We have to be able to trust, or we can't control the pandemic. And for epidemics, those key principles of being honest and telling people what you know when you know it, that's essential, not just for the talking point. That is essential for what people do to stop the spread of a deadly virus.

BLITZER: Dr. Frieden, Dr. Fauci, a man you know, a man Sanjay knows well, I know him, he is quoted in Bob Woodward's book as telling others that President Trump's leadership, in his word, was rudderless.

And he reiterated yesterday that public trust is absolutely essential to combating this health crisis. If you are going to convince people to wear a mask, stay home, socially distance, get a vaccine, all of those things, Dr. Frieden, require public trust and cooperation.

Yet we now know the president has been actually misleading the American public since the very beginning of this outbreak. How damaging is that?

FRIEDEN: Well, for many months, many of us in public health have just been totally surprised to see the lack of concerted, focused federal leadership in communication, in planning, in guiding the response.

This is the biggest public health emergency in 100 years. The federal government drilled for this, was ready for this. And, in fact, if you look at the things that the CDC was saying at that time, they were accurate and honest. They were saying, disruption to everyday life may be severe. We have to behave as if this is a pandemic. We have to be humble, because there is a lot we don't know about this virus.

That was accurate. If they had been allowed to continue to lead the public communication, we would have understood why it is important to wear masks, we would have understood why it is important to shut down and been able to open up earlier. It would have saved both lives and money.

BLITZER: Sanjay, Dr. Fauci is quoted in the book by Bob Woodward of being very critical of the president's attention span.

How important is it to have a leader who actually pays attention to all the very important details during a public health crisis like this?

GUPTA: Well, I think it goes without saying.

It is incredibly important to really look at all these details and be able to consolidate them into some sort of plan.

I will say -- and Tom Frieden is here. During the Ebola outbreak, you know, he was front and center every single day, or just seemed like just about every day, talking about the things he just mentioned, really instilling that sense of trust.

So it is clearly important for the president to have significant command over these details and make decisions, but I think also, I mean, to allow the public health experts to be out front on this stuff and actually be talking about it on a daily basis.

No one likes bad news. But the idea that you present the bad news with a plan, here is the bad news, but here's what we're going to do about it, it is what we doctors do all the time. And, in some ways, it's the same thing that should have been done here.

[18:15:05]

So, I think, you know -- we saw the same thing with Richard Besser, who you know well, during H1N1. So, that is probably what needed to have been done. But we still haven't seen that.

BLITZER: And there is still stuff that needs to be done now that potentially could save thousands and thousands of American lives.

Dr. Gupta, Dr. Frieden, to both of you, thanks very, very much.

Just ahead, Joe Biden responds to the revelation about President Trump's downplaying of the coronavirus in an exclusive interview with CNN's Jake Tapper.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news, President Trump now admitting that he downplayed the risk of coronavirus, despite knowing back in early February how deadly it could be.

[18:20:05]

We're getting reaction from Joe Biden to the stunning revelation in Bob Woodward's brand-new book, Biden sitting down just a little while ago for an exclusive interview with CNN's Jake Tapper.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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 7.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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. This is deadly stuff.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

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 is your response to this news about what he was telling Bob Woodward on February 7?

BIDEN: It's disgusting.

We learn this on a 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 had just gotten off the phone with Xi Jinping, where he is praising him about transparency, and this is nothing to worry about, and this is going to go away, like a miracle.

What in God's name would a man like -- I don't get it. I truly don't get it. It's like what he -- the way he talks about our veterans. I mean, it's just -- it's astounding to me.

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

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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)

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, look, you saw what Columbia Medical School pointed out in March. Had he acted one week earlier, there would be over 31,000 more people alive. Acted two weeks earlier, it would have been 50-some- thousand still alive.

This caused people to die. And what did he do in the whole time? He acknowledged that if you breathed it, it's in the air, and he won't put on a mask.

He's talking about, it's ridiculous to put on masks. 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 -- he waved a 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: You can hear all of Jake's exclusive interview with Joe Biden on CNN's "THE LEAD."

That will be tomorrow, tomorrow, 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

Right now, let's turn to another bombshell in Bob Woodward's brand-new book, President Trump's admitted lack of interest in understanding the pain and anger felt by many African-Americans.

Listen to the president in his own words in a recorded interview with Bob Woodward.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

WOODWARD: But let me ask you this.

I mean, we share one thing in common. We're white, privileged, who -- and my father was a lawyer and a 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 it to understand the anger and the pain particularly black people feel in this country?

Do you...

TRUMP: No. You -- you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? Listen to you. Wow.

No, I don't feel that at all. (END AUDIO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, let's discuss what we just heard with the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Mayor Bottoms, thank you so much for joining us.

So, you just heard the president in his own words say he doesn't feel any pressure to examine his own white privilege. So, what is your response when you hear that from the president of the United States?

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Therein lies the issue that we have in this country right now.

There is no moral leadership from the White House. This is a man who has an inability to empathize. This is a man who doesn't understand where we are in 2020, and doesn't even have the self-awareness to take a step back and understand why people across this country are frustrated.

[18:25:03]

My blood is boiling, Wolf. And to hear it in his own words, it is despicable.

My husband began today getting an MRI because he still awakes with debilitating headaches almost two months after having COVID; 190,000 people in this country have died. People are still suffering. People are out of work.

And this man downplayed a pandemic. And we are suffering the consequences. And if the American people don't understand that elections have consequences, and our response to this pandemic and this racial reckoning and crisis that we are having in this country in large part is due to the leadership of the man who sits in the White House, then God help us all.

BLITZER: Your husband is still suffering, sadly, from coronavirus. You had coronavirus. Your son had coronavirus.

The president has now -- we have learned, in early February, February 7, he knew how dangerous and potentially deadly it was, but he said that he didn't want to panic the American people by telling us how bad it really could be.

When you heard that audiotape of his interview with Bob Woodward today, give us a little bit more on your reaction, because, for you and your family, it is very personal.

BOTTOMS: Well, he downplayed it.

And not only that. He influenced leaders across this country to also downplay it, because I immediately thought back to one of the first conversations that I had with our governor on coronavirus, and his comparison with it with the flu. So, while the president may have known that his -- he was misleading

others, I don't know that the leaders that he was misleading knew that they were being misled.

So, at this point, we have heard it. He misled the American people. He misled governors across this country. People have died. We now have all of the information that we need. So, maybe this is an opportunity for us as a country to press reset for those who are not listening to the scientists and to the health experts, and now take this opportunity to listen to the experts on this, because you cannot listen to the president of the United States.

BLITZER: Because, if everybody started wearing, if 95 percent of the American public wore a mask, thousands, tens of thousands of Americans will be alive at the end of this year, as opposed to being dead from coronavirus.

Let's get back to the issue of race. You have seen unrest in your city, Mayor, as our nation has experienced a moment of reckoning around racial injustice in our country.

Bob Woodward reports the president says he has done a tremendous amount for the black community, but he's not feeling any love. It sounds like he views this as a transaction, as a business deal, doesn't it?

BOTTOMS: And we know what type of businessman he's always been. He's been a failure as a businessman.

If you don't have the ability, in 2020, with what we have seen play out, the way we have seen injustices play out before our eyes, the way that we have seen people pour out into our streets to cry out for something different in this country, if you don't feel moved by that, I think it confirms the worst of all that we think of this president.

He is incapable of showing empathy. He is incapable of leading us as a country. But, again, Wolf -- and I have said this to you before -- what we know, the beauty of our democracy is that we get an opportunity to correct.

There is an opportunity in November for the American people to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to lead this country. We cannot look to this president for leadership, because he is incapable of offering leadership to us.

And until we have moral leadership in the White House, we will not get to the other side of these social justice issues that we are confronting in our cities, because it takes coordination, and it takes belief that we can do better.

And this is a man who doesn't wish anything better for us as a country.

BLITZER: And speaking of the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris, last night, the president said that, if she were ever to become president of the United States, it would be, in his words, an insult to our country, an insult to our country.

This is certainly not the first time he has attacked women of color, but what is your response when you heard him say that about Kamala Harris?

BOTTOMS: I think it's despicable.

This is a woman who is a sitting senator in this country, who certainly is qualified to be the vice president of the United States.

[18:30:04]

And for him to make these personal attacks just really speaks to the small-mindedness that he displays to us each and every day. But it's very personal for him because he has articulated that he wishes that his daughter would be the first president, female president of the United States. So it's no surprise that he is going to try and discount her leadership and her standing.

But, again, we have an opportunity to counter that by voting in November. And it is my hope that for each person who is not registered to vote that they will do that today and that they will vote and they will also fill out their census form, because our census is important. And what we know is that the president is attempting to disrupt the census in the same way that he is attempting to disrupt the election in November.

BLITZER: Please wish your husband our very, very best. Hopefully, he's going to have eventually a speedy recovery. I know you and your family have gone through a lot as a result to this coronavirus. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, thank you so much for joining us.

BOTTOMS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Bob Woodward's new book also recounts how President Trump slammed his military generals and admirals using vulgar language to accuse them of being weak.

Joining us, Senator and U.S. Military Veteran Tammy Duckworth. She just delivered a scathing set of remarks on the U.S. Senate floor about the president's disrespect for wounded warriors. Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

So what is your response to the president in the wake of these repeated and very offensive comments he makes about U.S. service members like you who have made great sacrifices for our country?

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): Well, you know, whether or not he said what he said in The Atlantic article, we know that it is very much in keeping with the things he has said in the past. After all, you know, he said terrible things about Senator McCain, about how he was not a hero for having been captured in Vietnam.

And now, the things that he has actually said over the weekend about generals, about leaders in the Pentagon, you know, whose real duty is to lead our troops into battle and to watch out for their training and to safeguard their well-being. He accuses them of loving war and profiteering.

This president is not fit to be commander-in-chief. He, time and again, has disrespected our troops, our military families, and he continues to not provide our veterans with the support that they need to recover from the wounds and the injuries they have from their military service.

BLITZER: And you speak as an Iraq War veteran, a Purple Heart recipient at the same time.

Bob Woodward, Senator, also gives yet another account of the president's comments about military leaders in his new book writing, and let me quote from what the president said, he said this. My F-ing generals are a bunch of Ps. They care more about their alliances than they do about trade deals.

The president likes to say he has great respect for the U.S. military but does this sound to you like a commander-in-chief who respects the Armed Forces?

DUCKWORTH: Not at all. It sounds to me like a failed commander-in- chief. I call him the coward-in-chief. He is a man who does not value courage because he himself is a coward. He is a man who does not value loyalty because he himself shows no loyalty to others. He is a man who continues to call our troops terrible things. He called our war dead losers and suckers for having laid down their lives in defense of our nation. This man is not fit to be commander-in-chief for another four minutes, let alone, another four years.

BLITZER: Bob Woodward also in his new book reports that former U.S. defense secretary, retired General Jim Mattis said President Trump was, in his words, dangerous, unfit and lacked a moral compass. He also writes that the former director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, believed Russia actually had something on the president.

How concerning are these revelations in this book, revelations from top Trump administration officials?

DUCKWORTH: Deeply concerning. But I've often wondered myself, Wolf, what Vladimir Putin has on Donald Trump. Why is it that he would take Putin's word? Why is it that he would believe Putin over that of our own intelligence community? Why has he not confronted Putin for the alleged bounties that he has placed on our troops' heads in Afghanistan?

You know, I've asked the Department of Defense. I've asked this president. Why have you not conducted an investigation to see if any of the deaths of our troops in Afghanistan has been as a result of bounties placed on their heads by Russia? And they've refused to even conduct this investigation.

I have to answer to gold star families. And, again, President Trump doesn't care about gold star families. He's denigrated them.

I wonder what exactly does Putin have on Donald Trump?

BLITZER: So, what is the answer they give you when you tried to get answer?

[18:35:00]

DUCKWORTH: There are no answers from this president. And, in fact, he continues to try to confuse the American people and try to basically gaslight us. But you know what? Those of us here in the Senate, we Democrats will stand up to him. We will hold him accountable and we will call him out when he does not support our troops.

He is supposed to be the commander-in-chief. He is supposed to be safeguarding our troops. He is supposed to be looking out for our military families. He is supposed to be caring for those who have borne the battle and he has done none of those. And instead he continues to take the word of a foreign adversary, Russia, and its autocratic leader, Putin, over that of Americans, and that is shameful.

BLITZER: Yes. And I remember when I was in Helsinki at the summit between President Trump and Putin, at that news conference that they had, the president, he said he agrees, he sides with Putin over the objections of the U.S. intelligence community, including the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, at that time. It was a pretty, pretty amazing moment. You remember that moment, don't you?

DUCKWORTH: I very much remember that moment. And, remember, this man is in charge of our military. And if he is not willing to ask Putin why, whether or not he has actually put bounties on American troops' heads, he does not deserve to be commander-in-chief of our military.

Our military families deserve better than a commander-in-chief who is subservient to some other nation's leader and, frankly, our troops deserve far better than this president who himself dodged the draft five different times in Vietnam and compared his own bouts of trying to avoid venereal disease to his own personal Vietnam. This man is shameful and he is a disgrace.

BLITZER: Senator Tammy Duckworth, thanks so much for joining us.

DUCKWORTH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to break down a whistleblower's disturbing claim that he was told to stop providing intelligence reports on Russian interference because it would make the president look bad. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories here in The Situation Room, including some bombshell excerpts and audiotapes from Bob Woodward's new book, and we're learning more about why a major drug maker halted trials of its coronavirus vaccine.

Let's bring in Dr. Peter Hotez, Professor and Dean of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Hotez, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

Let's talk a little bit about this drug maker, AstraZeneca, Oxford University now confirming that there has been what they call a second pause in their vaccine trial. Dr. Fauci says that while this pause is unfortunate, it shows actually that the system is working. Is that how we should view this setback?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, I think so. This is a large 30,000-person phase three trial. And you might say, well, why do you need to do such a large trial. Well, the point is it can capture rare events.

And what we've seen now with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is that one individual woman experienced a condition known as transverse myelitis, which is inflammation of the spinal cord. It happens after an infection. It can happen in association with multiple sclerosis. We don't know a lot about the true causes of it but it seems to trigger an autoimmune response and the question is whether that is related to the vaccine. And there was actually a second episode of multiple sclerosis, according to a report from Stat with the vaccine.

So we're still learning more about this. We have to remember that when you see rare events in 30,000 people, think of it this way. Think of it like a city of 30,000 people and things are happening all the time in a city of that size. So the question is, is this related to the vaccine or not. And the better part of caution is to interrupt the trial and try to really parse out what exactly happened and see if there is any relationship.

BLITZER: I am told, Dr. Hotez, that this inflammation of the spinal cord potentially is a very, very serious issue right now, that it potentially could even lead to death. What can you tell us about that?

HOTEZ: Well, transverse myelitis can cause limb weakness or arm weakness, it can cause bladder and bowel dysfunction, it can sensory problems. Most of the time it does resolve but sometimes people can have permanent or long lasting injury. So, I understand this woman has already been discharged from the hospital. And so we wish her well. And now, what we've got to really look at is to see whether there is an actually link between the vaccine and try to sort that out.

But it is a reminder, I think, of why we don't want to rush clinical trials. It's a reminder of why we don't want to do small clinical trials, where we really need big ones to get a full understanding of the safety profile of the vaccine. And so Americans should feel reassured that that is, in fact, what's happening. We're not trying to rush this under the gun.

BLITZER: Well, how do they determine, Dr. Hotez, if the inflammation of the spinal cord was the result of the vaccine or some other cause?

HOTEZ: Well, one of the ways to do it is to look at the timing and see if the timing makes sense, whether that is a possibility. And sometimes we never really sort it out because people are getting vaccinated all the time and people do get transverse myelitis.

[18:45:01]

So, I think the real answer is going to be is if this is a one-off event, then I think the American public can feel reassured. If there's multiple events, then that's a very different story.

There are other things we can do. We can look at the type of antibodies that are occurring in association with transverse myelitis. We have ways of doing that. We have ways of looking at the type of inflammation.

So, the neurologists have a number of different protocols that they can follow. Sometimes you never fully resolve it. And you hope that this is just a one-off entity or two-off entity and after this we're not going to see additional cases.

BLITZER: Well, we clearly did the right thing by taking a pause right now to determine what happened.

HOTEZ: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right. Dr. Hotez, as usual we are grateful for your expertise. Thank you so much for joining us.

HOTEZ: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, a new whistle-blower complaint alleges top Trump administration officials directed intelligence reports to be altered to please the president.

We'll be right back.

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[18:50:37]

BLITZER: We have more breaking news this hour involving a whistleblower complaint by a former Homeland Security official. He says he was actually told to stop providing intelligence reports on Russian interference in the United States because it would make President Trump, quote, look bad.

We're joined by our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, tell us more about this whistleblower complaint. What is he alleging?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, his name is Brian Murphy, and he served in a top position in the intelligence section of the Homeland Security Department. And one of the things they do is they produce these intelligence assessments that they send out to state and local governments with information, for instance, on the Russia threat.

And I'll read you just a part of what he says. That he says back in mid May, the acting secretary of DHS, Chad Wolf, instructed him to, quote, cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States and instead start reporting on the interference activities by China and Iran.

This is something that we know that the president is very sensitive about. He doesn't want to hear about the threat from Russia, Wolf. We've seen this from the White House and other officials in the government. They've been emphasizing instead the threat from Iran, from China, which is obviously a threat. But the Russia threat is one they don't want to hear about.

BLITZER: There's also an allegation, Evan, about playing up the threat from Antifa. What about that?

PEREZ: That's right. Part of what, Wolf -- what Brian Murphy is saying in his complaint to the homeland security inspector general, Wolf, is that one of the instructions he had from top officials at the Homeland Security Department was to minimize the threat from white supremacists and people who might be supporters of the president.

Instead, what they wanted to see emphasized was the threat from leftist groups like Antifa and anarchists. This is something we've seen in other parts of the government from other officials in the administration, including from the White House. The president has made a point of making a big deal about the threat from Antifa and anarchists who are doing some of the protests and some of the destruction surrounding the protest in the wake of the George Floyd murder.

BLITZER: The attorney general, Bill Barr, Evan, he told me last week, he emphasized the threat from Antifa. He emphasized the threat from China over Russia when it comes to interference in the U.S. presidential election.

So, this is not just over at the Department of Homeland Security, right?

PEREZ: That's right, Wolf. You know, one of the things we see is that the -- throughout the administration, we see an effort by officials, including by the attorney general to make sure that their statements are aligned with what the president says and not necessarily reflecting what the intelligence and what the information they're getting from the professionals in their agencies.

So, we've seen this repeatedly, especially with regard to Antifa, with the Antifa protesters and their role in the protest in the wake of George Floyd's killing that, you know, they wanted to talk about the role of Antifa, even though we've seen a lot more cases, Wolf, brought against white wing extremist groups like the Boogaloo movement folks and instead focusing more on the threat from anarchists and from Antifa.

We've seen this repeatedly from him and from others in the administration.

BLITZER: And there's an assessment that white supremacists potentially represent a greater threat. Is that right?

PEREZ: That's right. That's one of the assessment that Brian Murphy's organization, part of the Homeland Security Department, they produced an assessment that said there was a greater threat from white supremacists. That report, by the way, has been stifled according to Murphy because it did not fit with what the administration has been saying.

BLITZER: It's all serious stuff, indeed.

Evan Perez, thank you very much for that.

We're going to have much more news right after this.

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[18:59:10]

BLITZER: Finally, tonight, as we try to do every night, we honor some of the truly wonderful people who lost their lives in the coronavirus pandemic.

David Lopez Alvarado, Jr., of Texas was 53 years old, a married father of two children and three stepchildren. He was a great lover of music and a talented musician, playing in bands for over 40 years. David was said to complete a university degree next year with plans to become a special education teacher.

Lucia Margot Cedeno of New York was 77. She worked as a nurse's aide for 40 years bringing love and joy to her patients. Lucia loved knitting and gardening and was an active member of her church. She leaves behind three children and her husband of 48 years.

May they rest in peace, and may their memories be a blessing.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.