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Trump Defends Decision to Downplay Virus as Woodward's Book Reveals; Biden Campaign Rolls Out Ads with Trump's Damning Audio. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 10, 2020 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar and I want to welcome viewers here in the United States and around the world.

191,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus and the president has lied about what he knew about the pandemic and it's on tape. So what is he doing? He is blaming the reporter that interviewed him, tweeting Bob Woodward had my quotes for many months. If he thought they were so bad or dangerous, why didn't he immediately report them in an effort to save lives? Didn't he have an obligation to do so?

Well, that is a debate that should happen but not by the guy that lied to the American people and is looking for a distraction to cover his mistakes. Bob Woodward's book is not a postmortem. We are still in the first half of this game, this battle with coronavirus and President Trump is still responsible for leading the nation and its pandemic response right now and for at least another four plus months.

Right now, he is focused instead on fudging the facts that he lied about how easily the virus was transmitted. This is what he told Woodward on February 7th.


BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST, "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 -- 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. 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 even your strenuous flu.

You know, people don't realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?


KEILAR: And this is what he was telling us publicly less than three weeks later on the 26th.


TRUMP: This is like a flu.

Of the 15 people, the original 15 as I call them, eight of them have returned to their homes.

We are going down, not up. We're going very substantially down, not up. And, again, when you have 15 and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we have done.


KEILAR: He lied about how deadly the virus is. This is what he told Woodward February 7th.


TRUMP: this is more deadly. This is five -- you know, this is 5 percent versus 1 percent and less than 1 percent. So this is deadly stuff.


KEILAR: But, publicly, Trump was saying this to our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta three weeks later.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You talked about the flu and the comparison to the coronavirus. The flu has a fatality ratio of about 0.1 percent.

TRUMP: Correct.

GUPTA: This has a fatality ratio of somewhere between 2 and 3 percent.

TRUMP: We don't know exactly. And the flu is higher than that. The flu is much higher than that.

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

TRUMP: It may. It may.

GUPTA: Does that worry you? Because that seems what worries the --

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


KEILAR: Now, the president didn't even fulfill his most important duty, as he himself described it to Woodward when he said it's, quote, but, really, the job of a president is to keep our country safe, to keep it prosperous, okay? Prosperous is a big thing. He didn't keep Americans safe, which is actually the key to prosperity. And now, 191,000 Americans are dead.

Look, no one should think that we were ever getting out of this pandemic free and clear but a lot of those people, those Americans, did not need to die. A Colombia University study says if the U.S. have issued social distancing guidelines one week earlier than it was does in mid-March when the president, by his own admission, had known for at least a month that this was being transmitted through the air, then 36,000 lives could have been saved. And if it had been two weeks earlier when the president knew for at least three weeks that this was airborne, 84 percent of deaths and 82 percent of cases could have been prevented.

In a health crisis like this one, honesty from a president is a lifesaver. Dishonesty is a death sentence. History proves this. We are not reinventing the wheel here. This was the lesson learned 100 years ago and documented by modern historians who have studied the flu epidemic of 1918. In John Berry's book, The Great Influenza, which he published in 2004, he says this on the last sentences of the last page.


Those in authority must retain the public's trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first and best, a leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.

It didn't happen have to happen like this. But when a president ignores science and history and lies to the American people, the results are inevitably deadly.

I want to turn now to CNN Chief Correspondent Dana Bash and Dr. Seema Yasmin, who is with us as well. She's a former CDC Disease Detective and a CNN Medical Analyst.

Doctor, you certainly know a lot about health policy, so knowing these details in early February that it travels through the air, that the rate of infection or deadliness is what it is, knowing that, that younger people do get it, it's not just the elderly, what should have been the federal response in relation to these details and when should that have happened?

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So, we know now, we knew then because scientists were saying it, Brianna, that the response should have been much stronger, it should have been more robust and it should have started way earlier than it did. So, to learn now that the president had this intelligence from high ranking officials about how quickly this virus could spread, about how the death rate compared to the flu and that he then lied to us, we have seen over the last few months how those lies took lives. Those lies were deadly.

And early on in this pandemic, I kept being asked about the Chinese government, people kept asking me as a public health doctor, were the Chinese government being honest, were they being transparent. And it turns out, it was the American government that was withholding the truth from its citizenry.

And as someone who studies public health communications, I can tell you that they are lying to us again saying, well, it was all in an effort to try and maintain calm, because communications 101 is that you tell people the truth.

Yes, people can get scared but you tell them a truth in the way that can help them plan, mentally and logistically. The truth does not cause have to cause panic, especially when it's backed up by a government saying, here is what could happen and here is how we are going to try and protect your life. That did not happen.

KEILAR: I mean, I think we have seen Americans in crises are -- they rise to the occasion, right, that they can handle the truth. And that's really 101 when it comes to public health.

And, Dana, I wonder as Republicans are absorbing this information about what the president said about coronavirus, what are they saying?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Not much. You know, how many times -- I mean, we can't even count how many times something that the president has done or said that has been detrimental to his party, never mind his own reputation or his own political prospects but to the people also running on the Republican ticket. And for the most part, with a few very, very few exceptions, Republicans don't say much.

This seems like a completely different question on a completely different level. And that is why, particularly the Republicans who our colleagues are talking to on Capitol Hill, where you and I used to run the halls, Brianna, most Republicans aren't saying much at all because there's not much for them to say if they -- this is a political calculation.

I'm not talking about what is morally the right thing to do, but I'm talking raw politics here, they still feel that if they're running in a purple state, for example, if they say anything that is going to infuriate the Republican base in their state, which, for the most part, is still very much supports Donald Trump, then it's game over for them, because it's very unlikely that they're going to get the majority of Democrats and maybe some independents.

So that is still the political calculation. There are some who might say, you know what, politics be damned, I'm going to do the right thing, say the right thing. We haven't seen much of that from people who are kind of very vulnerable politically at home.

KEILAR: Dr. Yasmin, I want to go back to something you said about that the president saying that -- and the White House that he wanted to maintain calm, that that just doesn't pass the smell test to you. It sounds like you're saying that isn't even how you would keep people calm.

YASMIN: Absolutely, you give people the truth. Look, I live in Northern California right now. We are dealing with wildfires everywhere. Is it frightening? Yes. But do I have a go-bag ready? Yes, because the officials have warned us about the potential. It doesn't mean we're in imminent danger, but you need to be prepared.


And the American people were denied that opportunity to get mentally ready, to get physically and logistically ready in case this panned out as bad as it has. And I especially think, Brianna, about black Americans, about indigenous Americans, about people of color because those communities have been hardest hit with death rates two, three, four times higher than white Americans. This has cost lives.

And one of the things I keep being asked is, well, would it have made difference? What difference could it have made? Look, the point is there are almost 200,000 Americans who cannot engage in this debate because they are dead and they died from a virus that their president lied about that their government failed to protect them from.

KEILAR: Dr. Yasmin, Dana, thank you so much to both of you.

The pandemic, of course, is not going away. We're not going to stop talking about it. Join Anderson Cooper and Sanjay for a new CNN global town hall, Coronavirus, Facts and Fears, live tonight at 8:00 Eastern.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden is not wasting any time jumping on Trump's comments. His words for the president in an exclusive interview with CNN.

Plus, President Trump accidentally reveals sensitive information about a new nuclear weapon system. We'll have more on the national security implications of that.

And apocalyptic-like scenes from out west where wildfires are spreading in Oregon and California taking lives and burning hundreds of homes.



KEILAR: The Biden campaign wasting no time, less than 24 hours after the news broke, they rolled out campaign ads hitting the president, using the bombshells dropped in Bob Woodward's new book, Rage.


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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While Donald Trump told America the virus was nothing to worry about, he knew it was deadly.


KEILAR: Joe Biden himself slammed the president over the comments that he made to Woodward. In an exclusive interview, CNN's Jake Tapper sat down with the Democratic nominee to get his immediate reaction to the revelations.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

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 is also more deadly than your -- you know, even your strenuous flu. 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?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It's disgusting. We learn this on a day that 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 there's nothing to worry about, and this is going to go away like a miracle.

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

TAPPER: Well, the way President Trump explains it, 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.

WOODWARD: Yes, sir.

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, look, you saw what Columbia Medical School pointed out in March. Had he acted one week earlier, over 31,000 more people alive, acted two weeks earlier, more than 50,000 some alive. This caused people to die. And what did he do the whole time? He acknowledges that if you breathe, it's in the air and you won't put on a mask.

He's talking about 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 money and that he could say that, in fact, anything that happened had nothing to do with him. 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: Well, look, I know a lot of those folks. And I have served a long time with Dan Coats. I know Mattis. I just -- I think Trump has just stunned everyone around him is just how corrupt his thinking is.

I mean, think about this. 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 an 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.

I mean, think about it. Think about how misleading it was, and all those folks, and why did he not -- let's assume that he didn't want to warn people. 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 -- I mean -- okay, 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: How do you make the connection -- let me tell you something, 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, this virus is horrible but it's not Trump's fault, it's China's fault?

BIDEN: Let's assume -- we'll take both your -- both 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 are insisting that they go in and have access to see what is really 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 a mask. 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, 190,000 dead and climbing, and what's he doing now? He still has not moved. Look at the schools that are not opening. School -- 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 -- or stay home with my kid? I can't afford anybody. I can't afford to bring anybody in. I mean, he is doing nothing to help, nothing to help.


KEILAR: Jake is joining me now. Jake, it's great to see you and talk about this interview that you did with the former vice president. Do you think that this will change the direction of his campaign?

TAPPER: Well, I think the focus has always going to be on the economy and on COVID-19. The Biden campaign feels like these are the areas where Trump is the weakest as of right now, although obviously before the pandemic, Trump thought that the economy was his trump card as they say, and that they are the ways this affect people the most.

I mean, you've heard him in that interview talk about the reality that those of us who have kids in school are a lot of us, millions of us, across the country are being forced to contend with the fact that because the government failed to get this pandemic under control, because there is not sufficient testing so that our children can be tested and teachers and faculty can be tested before they go into school. We have this failure of a system going on and that affects people where they live in a way that memes and tweets and rage from President Trump does not.

KEILAR: And Biden is really focused on this feeling that he thinks Americans have and very logically so that they no longer trust the leadership of this country. There's a difference between focusing on that and fixing it. So does he plan to fix it?

TAPPER: Well, I asked them that question because you talk about how much the public lost faith in so many institutions, the media, the government, et cetera, how does Biden, if he intends to win and restore faith, how does he intend to do that?

And the campaign has a pretty simple answer, which is tell the American people the truth, straight talk, shoot straight, that Joe Biden is somebody that -- whatever people think about gaffes he has made throughout the years and whatever problems (ph) he's made, he is known as somebody who sometimes shoots a little too straight, I think, people would say. And that that is the idea, that's the way you restore faith, is that you just shoot with the American people.

And I think it is fair to say that when you listen to the Woodward tape of February 7th and all that President Trump knew at the time, and I have to say, just as somebody who has followed the story intensely, as I know you have, Brianna, I am surprised at the degree to which he knew on February 7th that the virus was airborne and the virus was five times deadlier than the regular flu because that is not at all, in any way, what President Trump was saying in public.

And this wasn't a comment he was making in private to Dr. Fauci or to Vice President Pence.


This is a comment he was making on the record with a journalist so he knew it would see a he light of day some point.

So it is remarkable and I think it is a fair question given that he is the commander-in-chief what would have happened. He says he didn't want to panic anybody, but what would have happened if we had a better idea of how deadly this virus was on February 7th as opposed to a month later?

KEILAR: Well, certainly. And, I think, Jake, as we go through this pandemic, we learn really what the 101 is of responding to a pandemic. And for public health officials, they know this very clearly and certainly the president told this, you have to be honest, right? You spell out the situation and the key to being able to manage something, which is certainly the key to an economic response as well, is telling people the truth.

TAPPER: Yes. And, obviously, President Trump's involvement in what were daily coronavirus briefings corrupted that process of people telling the truth.

And I have to say as an American, as a news consumer and as a journalist, it is frustrating that do not have these daily coronavirus briefings anymore with just the health experts, with Birx and Fauci and Giroir and Azar.

I would love to have that just so I have a better idea as somebody trying to report on this and as somebody trying to live through this with my family where we are and what's being done. But we don't have that.

And I think that if President Trump were to bring back those coronavirus briefings, that might help restore some of the faith that Biden talks about, but I don't think he is capable of doing that without him participating in them, which, of course, was the problem to begin with.

KEILAR: Yes, I think you're right. Jake, thank you so much, Jake Tapper. And you can catch Jake's full exclusive interview with Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden, just tune in today to The Lead with Jake Tapper at 4:00 P.M.

The Senate is expected to vote on the so-called skinny GOP stimulus bill soon. But by most accounts, it is dead on arrival. So what happens next? We will be live from Capitol Hill.

Plus, another revelation out of Bob Woodward's book, love letters exchanged between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong- un, you really have to hear these.