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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Defends Downplaying Coronavirus; Interview With Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 10, 2020 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What Durham is going to release, the Durham report, we will call it, or maybe it's going to be more than a report. Maybe it's going to be much more than a report.

I don't know. Maybe it's a report, or maybe it's much more than that.

But when I look at the things that everybody in this room knows just from reading about it from yourselves back and forth, I think it's a disgrace to our country. And I think, if people don't pay a very, very substantial price, it will happen again. And this should never, ever happen to another president.

Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start with breaking news in our politics lead.

In just moments, a CNN exclusive: my interview with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, one-on-one in the crucial battleground state of Michigan.

But, first, of course, we just heard from President Trump speaking in the White House Briefing Room, praising his own handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which I believe the current status is 191,000 Americans have died from, and growing, even as CNN has obtained the tapes where President Trump admitted in February that he knew how dangerous and deadly coronavirus was early on, even though he spent the following weeks and even months publicly downplaying what he knew and the threat to the American people.

Today, President Trump said he was trying to project calm when he was downplaying the virus. And he continued to blame legendary journalist Bob Woodward, who was on the other end of those tapes, saying, if what he said was so bad, Woodward should have reported it earlier, which doesn't really make a whole lot of sense in terms of trying to shift the blame.

Let's go now to Kaitlan Collins, who is in the Briefing Room, and can talk more about what we just heard it. And, Kaitlan, the very fact that you have to wear a mask while standing in the White House Briefing Room is a testament to the fact that the federal government has failed to contain this coronavirus in a way that other Western wealthy nations have not failed, and yet President Trump still refusing to acknowledge any mistakes, any blame at all, even with these new tapes.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, also Jake, the idea that we did not start wearing masks, and were not encourage to by the CDC to start wearing masks until April, when we now know that the president was selling Bob Woodward on the phone back in February that coronavirus was airborne.

And when we attempted to ask him about that, he only took three questions from reporters in the room, two on coronavirus, I should note, before turning and leaving, though many more of us had more questions for the president.

He pointed to this statement from China that they had issued several months earlier, when we were first learning about this pandemic, talking about how coronavirus was airborne.

Jake, I remember that, and I remember that what we were hearing from the medical community is that China had not provided evidence to back up what they were saying about coronavirus being airborne.

So, the point is, it's a lot different if China is saying something and not backing it up with any evidence than if the president had come out on February 8, the day after he spoke Bob Woodward, and told people, coronavirus was airborne.

Think about how differently things could have been and how different people's behavior could have been.

But, instead, Jake -- and we did not get a chance to ask the president about this -- he continued to hold rallies indoors with thousands of people over the next four weeks. I went to several of them. He did not stop holding rallies until the beginning of March, even though he knew it was airborne.

And we now know how extensively he talked to Bob Woodward about that, though it's still not clear where the president got that information, and if he was simply basing it off that one study from China.

Of course, the overall point is not just about it being airborne. It's not just about masks. And it's all these statements that the president made to Bob Woodward, and now he's trying to blame Bob Woodward for not releasing the statements earlier, if he felt that they were so damaging, when, really, the ultimate question is not about Bob Woodward's decisions.

It's about the president's decisions and what he did and what he did not tell people and what he told people privately vs. what he said publicly.

But, of course, once again, only three questions here in the Briefing Room today, so we did not get a chance to actually get the president to go on the record and defend exactly what it was, how he handled this pandemic.

TAPPER: Three questions, but many more lies by President Trump, including when he talked about Hillary Clinton giving money to Andrew McCabe's wife. That is not an accurate description of what happened in that situation at all. And we could go on and on.

Let's bring in CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Dana Bash, Gloria Borger to discuss all of what we just heard.

Sanjay, let me start with you.

So, in February, Trump said in a conversation that was on the record, but, at that point, we did not know about it, with Bob Woodward that coronavirus could be five times deadlier than the flu. And yet, in public, days later, weeks later, I think more than a month later, he was comparing it to the flu, saying it was just like the flu, no big deal.

He says he didn't lie. It's certainly an omission of truth, I think.

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

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I mean, look, I saw these conversations happening real time. And I think the -- maybe there's a bit of a nuance here, but the nuance is critically important.

He knew on February 7. He shared data, which, when I first heard this report, I found quite stunning, because it was really interesting data that I don't think was really in the medical journals -- I have been reporting on the story for so long. You know, I was following the journals very carefully.

I don't think was in the journals until a few weeks later. So, clearly, he was getting either briefed, or he had heard this early. I don't know. But he used the number five times deadlier than the flu, which is interesting, because, if you look at now, even figuring out the fatality rate, it's probably pretty accurate.

He somehow had some guidance, and he had consolidated that information. And that was on February 7.

I was with him in the Briefing Room on the 26th, so nearly three weeks later, and he said the flu is much worse, is what he said to me.

So, it really is -- it was nagging at me, Jake. Did he not know? Had he not been briefed? Or was it what we now know, that he knew, he had consolidated, he clearly had been briefed, and he still said the opposite thing?

I mean, clearly the opposite. Clearly, it was a lie nearly three weeks later.

TAPPER: Yes.

In fact, as I recall, Sanjay -- and I went back and watched your discussion with President Trump in the Briefing Room back then towards the end of February, when the president was still reassuring people, this was no big deal, the case count in the U.S. was going to go away soon, it would be close to zero, you thought -- and that was the latest information -- that the novel coronavirus was maybe two to three times deadlier than the regular flu.

And President Trump knew that it was five times, but, even then, he was pushing back on that.

GUPTA: Yes.

I mean, it was clear. I mean, the data was still emerging. But what is interesting to me, Jake, is that, I mean, as you would expect, I guess, the president of the United States has access to information that maybe the rest of us don't have access to.

I mean, the data out of Wuhan, I call my sources there, I'm talking to my sources in China on a regular basis, but the scientific data was coming out in the medical journals, right? So we were kind of getting this information all at the same time.

And some of the -- some of the data that started to really start to nail down, how deadly was this coronavirus, some of that was still emerging after that February 7 conversation that he had with Bob Woodward.

So, he had -- he was getting access to information, as the president should. But then what to do with it? Nothing, it seemed, for the month of February.

TAPPER: Yes.

And there is, obviously, a wide array of activities one could do, between full-blown panic, which he said he didn't want to do, and, Dana Bash, the idea of not saying anything.

And, Dana, Trump is now characterizing Bob Woodward as having not said anything sooner because Woodward knew the comments were -- quote -- "good and proper."

But that's not what Woodward says. Woodward says that, as often is the case with Donald Trump, he didn't know if President Trump was lying or not.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And it turns out that he was remarkably well-versed on the topic early on, because he got that information from President Xi, the leader of China, the country that he is blaming for this virus, which is understandable. It did come from China.

The thing that really I was sitting here and I couldn't believe what I was hearing, the president of the United States not only blamed Bob Woodward, but said, if he thought it was so bad, he should have called the authorities.

You are the authorities, Mr. President. You're the president of the United States. What's he supposed to do, go home and call 911?

I mean, it's so crazy -- forgive me for using that word -- that it's almost hard to wrap your mind around. The problem is that there are people who are going to listen to what the president says and not have the full context of the facts, or maybe, depending on where they are, just kind of want to listen to echo chamber media, and they're not going to understand that.

And so that is an unfortunate thing. The other thing -- go ahead. Go ahead, Jake.

TAPPER: Well, I was just going to bring in Gloria, and say, Gloria, it seems to me that President Trump has made it pretty far in life with the ability to B.S. his way out of any problem, whether it's being caught having an affair, or sharpie-ing on a hurricane map.

Like, generally speaking, he has been able by the people around him, whether Trump Tower or the Republican Party on Capitol Hill, to just kind of like B.S. his way out of anything. You can't B.S. your way out of a pandemic.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, you can't, and you can't B.S. your way out of this story, particularly since your words are on tape.

So there was a senior adviser in the White House who said: I don't believe anything that Bob Woodward writes.

Well, actually, these are the president's words that we are hearing.

[16:10:00]

And what he is doing, Jake, is the kind of, "I did it, so what?" defense. You remember that from impeachment? We sat through all those hours talking about the president's phone call with Prime Minister Zelensky.

And he said it was a perfect call. And what he is saying now is the same thing. I did it. So what? I don't know if it's good or bad. Bob Woodward must have thought it was OK, because he didn't call 911, as Dana says, right?

So he's shifting the blame, as he always does. He doesn't take any responsibility for anything, and comes up with this ridiculous excuse that, as a leader, you have to show confidence.

Well, there have been plenty of leaders in history who have leveled with people all over the world and have inspired confidence by telling them the truth and leveling with them.

TAPPER: Right.

BASH: And most of those leaders have gone down in history... BORGER: Hello?

BASH: ... as among the greatest leaders in the world.

BORGER: Exactly.

TAPPER: Yes. I mean, like, look at Rudy Giuliani after 9/11. I know, for people young enough, they might not believe me when I'm heralding Rudy Giuliani's leadership.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: But, after 9/11, he was honest, he was forthright. He said what the truth was.

BORGER: Yes.

TAPPER: Kaitlan, President Trump also taking the time, of course, to bash the media. We expect this at this point.

Is this just a continued attempt to undermine the people bringing the facts to the American people, so that his base believes him?

COLLINS: Well, and we're the people asking the president these questions, so that doesn't surprise me at all.

But the bottom line is, blaming Bob Woodward is not going to work. Bob Woodward is not the president. China is not in charge of the U.S. Donald Trump is. President Donald Trump is in charge of the United States. He's the one that we now know not only absorbed this information, but was given this information, was fully aware of this information, and did not pass it on to the American people, and instead did the opposite.

Instead of going out and telling people in February, hey, this is airborne, the president held rallies with thousands of people, did not recommend people wear a mask for several more months, and put American lives at risk by taking those actions and not taking other actions.

So, at the end of the day, it lies at Donald Trump.And he only took three questions from reporters, if that really gives you any indication of whether or not he wanted to defend what it was he had told Bob Woodward.

TAPPER: All right.

Gloria, Dana, Kaitlan, Sanjay, thank you so much.

Coming up next: more of my exclusive interview with Joe Biden, including his take on what President Trump admitted to Woodward in those recorded conversations.

Plus: What does Biden have to say about his appeal, or lack thereof, to blue-collar workers? He addressed questions about his health and age as well.

All that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: You just heard President Trump once again giving more oxygen to a story dominating the news and one the Biden campaign is, frankly, eager to discuss.

I was in Michigan with the presidential nominee to ask him about his record on trade, China, taxes, which we will get to in a moment.

But he also had a lot to say about those tapes.

First, I asked him about President Trump's interview with Bob Woodward, and here was his reaction:

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And so what was President Xi saying yesterday?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we were talking mostly about the virus.

And I think he's going to have it in good shape. But it's a very tricky situation. It's...

WOODWARD: Indeed, it is.

TRUMP: It goes -- it goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch.

The touch, you don't have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air, and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one.

It's also more deadly than your -- your -- even your strenuous flus. People don't realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?

WOODWARD: I know. It's much forgotten.

TRUMP: I mean, it's pretty amazing.

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

WOODWARD: What are you able to do for...

(CROSSTALK)

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

(END AUDIO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.

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 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 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.

[16:20:03]

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.

TAPPER: Woodward also reports that former Defense Secretary James Mattis said that Trump -- quote -- "has no moral compass," and that -- even floated collective action with Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, because Trump is -- quote -- "unfit."

Woodward also says that Coats couldn't shake the suspicion that Putin had something on Trump.

What do you make of this from his advisers?

BIDEN: I think Trump has just stunned everyone around him at just how corrupt his thinking is.

I mean, think about this. You remember he said under oath -- not under oath. I shouldn't say that -- said to the American public that he didn't get that briefing on how dangerous coronavirus was, he didn't get that from the intelligence community, he never read the reports, he didn't have anything to do with that.

He saw the reports. He knew them in detail. At least we know he can read.

Why in God's name didn't he move quicker on the Defense Production Act to provide PPE, you know, the protective equipment for doctors and first responders? Why didn't he do that?

He -- OK, he says he didn't want to panic people. Well, at least make sure everybody has the equipment they need, just say, this is just excess of caution.

He didn't even do that.

TAPPER: I have relatives all over the country and all over the political spectrum.

How do you make the argument to a relative I have in Texas who says, yes, the virus is horrible, but it's not Trump's fault; it's China's fault?

BIDEN: Let's assume we take both your -- both of that relative's points.

It's China's fault. If it's China's fault, why did Trump praise China? Why did he say how transparent, how transparent Xi Jinping and the Chinese are going to be?

Why did he insist that the 44 people we had there and -- while I and others were insisting they go in be -- have access to see really what is happening, to know the detail, why did he not insist on that?

And the virus is not his fault, but the deaths are his fault, because he could have done something about it, Jake.

I'd say to your uncle, he could have done something about it. But he said nothing. He didn't talk -- he said, there's no need for social distancing, don't bother wearing masks.

He actually went so far as to suggest that it was a violation of American freedom to maintain you had to wear a mask.

And look what's happened, again, 200 -- 190,000 dead and climbing.

And what's he doing now? He still has not moved. Look at the schools that are not opening.

Schools -- we talked -- I mean, I know you have young children. Well, guess what? They're starting off school like the end of last year, at home.

But think of all the people who don't have the resources to do that. Think of the choice the single mom has to make: Am I going to go to my $7-an-hour job and lose my -- and/or stay home with my kid? I can't afford anybody.

TAPPER: One other revelation from the book is that Trump appears to have revealed a new classified U.S. weapons system, the existence of it, to Woodward.

He said -- quote -- "I have built a nuclear weapons system that nobody's ever had in this country before" -- unquote.

Woodward says his sources confirmed the existence of this classified weapon system.

What's your response to that?

BIDEN: I can't speak for the system, but it's not a surprise.

You wonder why people in the intelligence community wondered from the very beginning whether they could share data with him, because they don't trust him. They don't trust what he'll say or do. He seems to have no conception -- I know I sound -- he seems to have no conception on what constitutes national security, no conception of anything other than, what can he do to promote himself?

This is the guy who said maybe the way to deal with hurricanes is drop a nuclear bomb on them. I mean, seriously, he said it.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: I know.

BIDEN: I mean, God.

Or, you know, the problem with the Revolutionary War was, they didn't have enough airports. I mean, I just -- it's beyond my comprehension.

But what really bothers me, what really bothers me -- you wrote a book about front line -- you wrote a book about Afghanistan. I was in one of those FOBs, those forward operating bases.

These guys lose their lives, and they risk their lives in a way that you cannot imagine to try to keep things bad from happening. And he calls them losers? He calls them suckers?

My son volunteered to go -- as the assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, to go in to Kosovo. He was there six months. They erected a monument to him thanking him for his service, I think the only American that they did that for. And was he a sucker? And then he volunteered as a U.S. -- as attorney general of the state

of Delaware to go with his unit to Iraq for a year, and he was a sucker? He won the Bronze Star, conspicuous service.

[16:25:05]

I mean, and all the people with him, the people who died, they're suckers?

I mean, I can't fathom. I just -- you know, they're heroes. They really are heroes, duty, honor, country.

He talks about, can you repeat four words in a row or whatever, his little I.Q. test or dementia test he took. He doesn't understand duty, honor, service, country.

He doesn't get it. Or, if he gets it, he doesn't care about it. And it's debilitating.

He should not be the -- unrelated to my running, he should not be the commander in chief of the United States military. It's just -- no commander in chief has ever, ever, ever acted like this man.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Coming up next, hear Biden's response when I pressed him about President Trump's appeal to working-class blue-collar Americans and Biden's plan to try to win some of them back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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