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Trump Tries To Defend Comments Revealed In Woodward Book; Pence Expected To Attend Fundraiser Hosted By QAnon Supporters; NFL Season Kicks Off Tonight Under The Cloud Of Coronavirus. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 10, 2020 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: This is wow, the President doesn't understand the science. Wow, the President isn't listening to the scientists. But now if you listen to Woodward tapes, actually, he was listening. He was just wasn't telling us listen to this exchange.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It goes, 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 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, you know, your, even your strenuous flus. You know, people don't realize we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right? This is more deadly. This is five per, you know, this is 5 percent versus 1 percent and less than 1 percent, you know? So this is deadly stuff.


KING: That's the President in his own words, Douglas Brinkley. It's not that he didn't know how bad it was and didn't do anything about it. He did know how bad it was. And not only did they not ramp up early on in last February, as we will call it, but he kept telling the American people for weeks after he just said that to Bob Woodward. It's more deadly than any strenuous flu. It's deadly stuff. For weeks after that, he kept saying it's just like the flu. Don't worry about it.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, this may be the greatest some presidential crime of all time. Crime in the sense that he had knowledge that lives could be saved of our fellow citizens, that we were going to have to act as a country in a proactive way to fight COVID-19 and instead, he put his own political puppeteering ahead of the country.

This demanded a old fashion addressed to the nation in February about a looming threat that was coming. This demanded a channel of clear communication to the American people. Instead, Donald Trump went into spin mode. He had just barely got out of that whole impeachment problem. He left being an impeached president. And he knew 2020 was an election year. And his gold jewel was the stock market and at all costs the selling that he was the great economic recovery President.

And this looked like it could cause problems for him. So he underplayed a genuine gigantic human health crisis to serve his own political ambitions. This is going to be the -- I think the worst mark on the first term or the only term of Trump's presidency is the way that he misled the American people through COVID. And imagine you lost somebody, or you've been sick from COVID, the anger and the sadness and the sickness you feel that our country had this kind of leadership void in early 2020.

KING: Here's the part, Governor Whitman on this and many other issues that I don't get because people close to the President described him as a narcissist, is self-interested, it's all about him. Even if you accept that your National Security advisor comes to you on January 28th, and says this is going to be the biggest national security crisis of your presidency.

A week later you give the State of the Union address the American people and you barely mentioned the coronavirus. He's a politician. He's in an election year. Would you not think that he would want to get out in front of this? What in his mind could have made him possibly think if I don't tell the truth about this, people won't notice and I'll get reelected?

FMR. GOV. CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (R-NJ): Well, that's the way he's approached everything. It's all about him. If he keeps blustering through and as he did in this press conference, I guess yesterday and again today saying, you know, I answered perfectly, there going to be those who absolutely believe it. But I hope that people understand he is not a leader. This is where you define yourself and leadership when you face a crisis.

You're absolutely right. He should have gotten out ahead of it. He could have been ramping up the PPEs, getting more of the ventilators, we still don't have enough out there. If we hit another wave and another month or so with the flu is hitting as well. I know. I've talked to some doctors. They don't have everything they need to deal with that in their offices, much less our hospitals.

This is criminal. I mean, it is a major, major thing. It should be a big thing for his administration. And when you think of all the other ways that he has misled the public, it's hard to pick out one. I mean, you go back a week and what he was saying about our military and he's commander in chief. They just keep piling on one another. But I agree, for those who have lost a loved one, those who have gotten sick from this, they ought to be outraged. And frankly, we all ought to be.

KING: Governor Whitman, Douglas Brinkley, appreciate your insights on this very important subject. We will continue the conversation.

Back to the campaign now and the vice president making what you might call an interesting choice today to attend a fundraiser hosted by QAnon supporters next week, the couple hosting the event shared several posts on social media related to that conspiracy theory. The movement has violent underpinnings. And their followers believe in a deep state inside the government get this if you haven't heard it before, that is controlled by Satan worshipping pedophiles.

CNN reporter Donie O'Sullivan joins me now. Donie, this is a I'm going to call it an interesting choice by the vice president. It's quite more than that. It's contrary to attend a fundraiser posted by people who just have crackpot views.


DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Yes, controversial indeed, John. And you know for a while, this conspiracy theory QAnon which has been labeled by the way a domestic -- a potential domestic terroristic threat by the FBI was confined to the dark corners of the internet. But now it is increasingly becoming a part of mainstream Republican politics with Republicans running for Congress who have shown support for QAnon. And I want to show you what Vice President Mike Pence told our John Berman a few weeks ago when he was asked about QAnon, have a look.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Do you believe they love America?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know anything about that conspiracy theory, John.

BERMAN: How can you not know about it, given how much it's been in the news?

PENCE: Or people that are involved in it.

BERMAN: How can you not know about it at this point?

PENCE: Well, I honestly, John, I just -- I don't know anything about that. I've heard about it. We dismiss conspiracy theories around here --

BERMAN: Will you dismiss it?

PENCE: -- out of hand.

BERMAN: Will you dismiss it? Will you dismiss it?

PENCE: I just did, John.

BERMAN: No. You didn't.

PENCE: We dismiss conspiracy theorist out of hand.


O'SULLIVAN: But now CNN is learning that Pence is due to attend a fundraiser next week, which is hosted by a couple who have shown support for QAnon in social media. In fact, one of their social media profiles has a profile picture of a giant Q. This was first reported by the Associated Press. But, you know, John, this doesn't go unnoticed by people who follow QAnon. You know, despite Pence there claiming that he disavows this movement. He's obviously saying that he's going to go to this fundraiser.

We saw Trump a few weeks ago refusing to sort of disavow them saying that, you know, the people who follow this and believe this conspiracy theory are good Americans. And, you know, I think it just really all sort of sums up where we are just a few weeks out from the election. There is a toxic online ecosystem of misinformation and disinformation, which social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have behind the curve on.

I mean, both companies only in the past few weeks started taking action against QAnon. This is a conspiracy theory that has been going around for three years. And as you can see it's seeping into the mainstream and it's going all the way right to the White House, John.

KING: Yes, the matchup the Vice President's words with his actions and you see something quite different. Donie O'Sullivan as always, grateful for the reporting there.

Still ahead for us, a President caught on tape startling comments just weeks before the election. What matter this time?



KING: "Rage" is the title of Bob Woodward's new book and the central character gave him 18 interviews but he doubts he will read it.


TRUMP: I don't know if the book is good or bad, I have no idea, probably, almost definitely I won't read it because I don't have time to read it.


KING: The President's words in that book, many of them recorded now stirring giant controversy in these final weeks of the presidential campaign. Of course, we have heard stunning tape of the President's voice in the final days of a campaign before.

Joining me now to discuss the national political correspondent of Time Magazine, Molly Ball, Molly access Hollywood tape then, the Woodward interviews now, one was about personal conduct. In the access Hollywood tape the President saying things that if true, would be felony sexual assault. He was elected, which I think is part of this President's mindset that he can say and do anything and keep his pace. But these tapes are about the President knowing early on how bad the coronavirus was and you can match that up against a record of not doing much or enough early on, is there a difference?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as you said, you can match it up against a record. And that is the salient point here is that he is the President of the United States as he was not then. So, you know, as many have said, this book is essentially a sequel, not only to the previous Woodward book, but to the giant pile of other books about Trump that have virtually all pointed to the same conclusion in terms of the way this President operates and what he cares about and how he functions.

This is on tape that gives it even more obvious credibility. But most Americans and this is why we've seen such an incredibly stable presidential race, most Americans have had plenty of information to make up their minds about Donald Trump one way or another for quite some time now. Now does this shift the narrative back to COVID? We have seen the small fluctuations in Trump's approval rating, the dip that occurred over the summer because people were focusing mainly on COVID. And then he seems to rebound a little when people focus on other subjects such as urban unrest.

But we see a pretty stable race here because majority of Americans turn their backs on Donald Trump relatively early on and have not seen reason to reconsider.

KING: Right. And we see a relatively stable race. And we see stunningly numbing numbers on the right side of our television screen a lot of the days. And they're on the cover of your magazine this week. I'm going to hold it up here, but I think we can show a full screen graphic that makes it even more. It's sad. It is sad. I sit here every day and I go through with 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, now 200,000, that is a number. You could take Donald Trump's name out of it, no matter who was the President of United States at this moment, that would be a troubling number, then you can analyze the record and people come to their own conclusions about whether it should be that high. Most public health experts say it should not and it's going to continue to grow.

BALL: That's right. And it is sad, but it's also numbing. And I think that that is something that we've seen as part of Trump's MO from the beginning is just the incredible onslaught of news of noise and now, tragically of death makes it harder and harder for people to comprehend harder and harder to be shocked.


But look, one thing that we've seen from a lot of the more detailed polling that I've been following about how the public has reacted to COVID is that people don't blame Trump for the virus itself. They don't blame him for the pandemic existing or even getting out of hand as a phenomenon in the United States, but they do blame him for the early downplaying, the early attempts to minimize. And so that's what's potentially significant here is it reminds people that that and that most people do believe that the early stages of this response were botched that the President downplaying the virus was a major mistake in the U.S. handling of this pandemic that led to it to be so disproportional terrible in this century.

KING: That's an excellent point, as always, Molly Ball, grateful for your reporting and insights, thank you so much.

Let's move on to another important story because the President of course, not the only Republican on the ballot, not their only Republican on a tough race this year, 23 Republican Senate seats up for grabs compared to just 12 now held by Democrats. That puts the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell oh, on more than defensive as he tries to hold on to that majority. CNN's Manu Raju has more. The biggest issue for the Majority Leader, Manu, I know you're talking about this is the Trump factor.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that's a significant one. And what McConnell has done is tried to use Trump to his advantage even though the President has put Republican senators in a jam time. And again, McConnell has worked behind the scenes to try to get Trump to work with them and help these senators in the most vulnerable positions, including senators Cory Gardner and Steve Daines.

Earlier this year, Mitch McConnell took them up to the White House, and he urged the President to get behind a major public lands bill that eventually became law. They pushed it through the Senate even during the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. He set aside time for that. And also he urged the President to convince an outside group the Club for Growth from draw to suspend an ad campaign attacking Mitch McConnell's preferred candidate in the Kansas Senate race, that candidate, Roger Marshall, who was in the middle of a difficult primary race.

Then Trump, listen to him put the head of the Club for Growth on a speakerphone in the Oval Office, told them to stop carving up Roger Marshall. And what did the President do? He stopped carving. What did the group do? Stop carving up Roger Marshall. But it's also an ultimate question about what kind of impact the President will have down ticket.

I tried to ask Mitch McConnell that question directly. I said, will the President have a net positive impact on your candidates? And he said, we'll find out. That's something that we'll only know the day after the election. So not necessarily saying whether the President will help because in some of those states, like in Maine, where the President is not popular. Mr. McConnell is up for reelection. The impact could be pretty negative, including places like Colorado.

But in a state like North Carolina, John, the President, if he wins has -- have a good positive impact on the down ticket Republican candidate there Senator Thom Tillis. So it remains to be seen what the Trump factor is. But McConnell working behind the scenes doing everything he can to hold on to his very narrow majority. John?

KING: It's diplomatic as ever in that answer there. And he's right, we'll know a lot more in the Wednesday after the election than we do in these days and weeks before. Manu Raju, appreciate the great reporting there. Thanks so much.


Coming up for us, kick off night tonight for the NFL in the middle of a pandemic.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: The NFL season kicks off tonight with the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs taking on the Houston Texans and we know this will be a season like no other not because Tom Brady is no longer doing the Patriot or that Washington's team is without a name. COVID-19 has changed the game, change the season even before this first kickoff. CNN sports Andy Scholes live in Kansas City where the big game is at Arrowhead tonight, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes, John, no question. It's going to be a season unlike any other. You know, we've already seen offseason training activities canceled. There was no preseason games but here we are, the Chiefs and Texans set to kick off this NFL season tonight here at Arrowhead Stadium. And it's not just for all the fans singing at home watching on T.V., there will be fans tonight inside the stadium.

The Chiefs one of two, only two NFL teams that are in this opening week along with the Jacksonville Jaguars that are allowing fans inside their stadium about 17,000 will be allowed in tonight. The stadium normally has a capacity of 76,000 fans. Now those fans who do enter will be required to wear a mask unless they are eating or drinking. And in order to social distance of the fans are going to be sitting mostly in groups of four to six. So the stadium certainly will look different tonight. But the Chiefs and Texas players say they're just so excited to get this season started.


DENSHAUN WATSON, HOUSTON TEXANS QUARTERBACK: It's definitely weird that we didn't know a month ago what the season was going to look like and we're kicking it off. So we're the head honchos for the NFL, as the Chiefs to be able to show and see what the, you know, 2020 season is going to be like.

PATRICK MAHOMES, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS QUARTERBACK: So go out there and embrace the moment. I mean, that we're in it, we have this opportunity to play, that we're going to go out there with our brothers and play the sport that we love, because you didn't know if it was going to happen. And so I'm excited for the opportunity to get out there, to be on the field and I get to play the game that I love.



SCHOLES: Now the NFL is planning many social justice initiatives for this season. Like the NBA where the players wearing messages on their jerseys, NFL players will have a decals on their helmets where they'll have names for victims from police brutality, John. They're also have messages and racism and it takes all of us on helmets and that's going to be painted on the field as well. Big Question, what are the Chiefs and Texans is going to do before this game during the national anthem and before? They have not given us an answer on that just yet, but they say it's going to be a show of unity.

KING: Suspense is good. Andy Scholes, shows appreciate it. Well watch tonight. I might even crack a cold beer. Thanks for joining us. See you back here this time tomorrow we hope. Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage after a quick break. Have a good day.