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White House Staff Unaware of Bob Woodward Calls; Trump's February Call with Woodward Intended to Discuss Impeachment; Woodward Book Reveals Kim Jong-un Letters. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 10, 2020 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And then he ticked through the details of how contagious and deadly the virus is. That is more than a month before the White House's first official call to stay at home on March 16th.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via telephone): 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 --

BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST (via telephone): Yes, exactly.

TRUMP (via telephone): -- young people too, plenty of young people.

WOODWARD (via telephone): So --

TRUMP (via telephone): We're looking at what is going on and --

WOODWARD (via telephone): -- give me a moment of talking to somebody, going through this with Fauci or somebody who kind of -- it caused a pivot in your mind. Because it's clear, just from what's on the public record, that you went through a pivot on this to, oh my God, the gravity is almost inexplicable and unexplainable.

TRUMP (via telephone): Well, I think, Bob, really, to be honest with you --

WOODWARD (via telephone): Sure, I want you to be.

TRUMP (via telephone): -- I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down --

WOODWARD (via telephone): Yes --

TRUMP (via telephone): -- because I don't want to create a panic.


KEILAR: Now just days -- a day after Woodward's recordings went public, Joe Biden has released a campaign ad blasting the president for the pandemic's death toll, which has surpassed 190,000 people.

The president is scrambling to deflect attention elsewhere, sending nearly three dozen tweets this morning and sticking with his defense that he was trying to avoid a panic. Here he was on "Fox News."


TRUMP (via telephone): I want to show a calmness, I'm the leader of the country. I can't be jumping up and down and scaring people. I don't want to scare people."


KEILAR: He didn't want to scare people or create a panic? This of course is the president who speaks of caravans of immigrants invading the border, of stock markets crashing if he is not in office, of suburbs disappearing if leftist demonstrators are allowed to run amok. Panic and fear are what President Trump routinely peddles.

And the one time he says he wanted to avoid it? It has enraged the daughter of Mark Urquiza, a Trump supporter who died from coronavirus in June. Kristin Urquiza told CNN, quote, "My father didn't panic. Instead, he died."

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. And, Kaitlan, the White House was sidelined when these audio recordings came out yesterday, they were really bowled over by this. And now that you're -- now you're hearing that aides are actually pointing fingers at each other?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They certainly did not know there were going to be recordings of what the president had told Bob Woodward, and they did not know the extent of what he had told him and how often he had been speaking to Bob Woodward. That's something even the vice president says he was unaware of, Brianna.

He says he -- Mike Pence says he only saw Bob Woodward once in the West Wing, and that he did not know about these other conversations that the president had with him, where of course he had given him his cell phone number. Bob Woodward writes that some of those calls were late at night when the president was up in the residence and none of his staff was around him when he was revealing this information to Woodward.

And it did cause a lot of blame happening back and forth, being passed around in the West Wing yesterday, basically, people asking, who let the president talk to Bob Woodward this much? Because now we've got to deal with the fallout of these damaging statements that the president has made in his own words on audio.

But of course ultimately, Brianna, that lies with the president himself who made the decision to sit down with Woodward, to talk to Woodward extensively after not doing so for his first book because he thought it would be more beneficial to him if he did it the second time around.

And now, of course, he is playing defense for his comments where he minimized coronavirus publicly while -- we can hear -- admitting to Bob Woodward that it was very dangerous, that it could kill people and that it was spreading very, very easily.

So those are things that the president is going to face questions about when he comes out at 3:00. This is not a briefing that was initially on the schedule because the president is leaving today to go to Michigan later for a rally, and now he's decided he wants to speak with reporters beforehand after staying behind closed doors for the rest of the day.

KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan. Yes, that is in an hour, and we will be watching very carefully. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

I do want to open up this conversation now. We have CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel who obtained those audio recordings of Woodward's interview -- interviews, I should say -- with the president. We have CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta and CNN political director David Chalian.

Jamie, to you first. These recordings have been out now for 24 hours. What response are you hearing from lawmakers?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, crickets. I mean, for a while they were just avoiding us. Then thanks to our colleague Manu Raju, who's been running all over the place, he's been tracking them down. The most frequent answer you hear is, I haven't read the book yet. Translation? Maybe they haven't read the book yet, it's not out, but they've heard the president's own words, they've heard these audio recordings of the interview. They don't want to comment on it.


The closest anyone got was Mitt Romney, who said, when he was asked about it, he said, I think we're always better leveling with the American public, it doesn't sound ideal to me. But for the most part, they're avoiding the subject.

KEILAR: Sanjay, to you. And look, I want to thank you, Sanjay, for a question you asked of the president that was so important because it reveals now what he was saying publicly versus what he was saying privately, what he knew even earlier, three weeks before you asked that question in February.

And I wonder now, in light of that, how you think the public might have changed their response if the president was just honest from the beginning?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, I mean, that was pretty shocking to hear yesterday, when I first heard the report from Jamie. The idea that, you know, the president knew about this on February 7th, I think that's pretty well established by these recordings.

I think what else was sort of established was that he had a significant amount of detail that he knew. He used this sort of comparison, five times as deadly as the flu. I was going back through my notes yesterday, some of the literature

was still coming out at that point in the medical journals, that's where I was getting a lot of my information out of China. And that wasn't well known, so clearly the president was hearing from people on the ground in China, perhaps the president in China, who knows.

But he clearly had a significant amount of information. He clearly had consolidated it, and he was sharing it in that interview that Jamie played with Bob Woodward.

As you mentioned, Brianna, three weeks later, you know, I asked that same question and he says, no, the flu is far worse, which is exactly the opposite, right? And it nagged at me, Brianna. Was he just not -- did he just not know, was this not -- a lack of being briefed? But now, you know, the shock is that he definitely knew and he definitely told me the opposite thing.

And if he had acted sooner, there's no question -- talk to any public health official in the country -- there's no question infections would have been prevented and lives would have been saved.

KEILAR: Yes. I mean, he lied to you, Sanjay, and he lied to us. And we needed a straight answer on that very important question.

I wonder, David, looking at now what we know and it's in tapes, if it changes anything for anybody as we're approaching this election?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLTICAL DIRECTOR: It's such a good question, Brianna. You know, we know so much of the electorate is already locked in, there's not a huge slice of movable voters. But I ask myself the question every time one of these controversies sort of erupts around Donald Trump and I think, so what new information is being given to voters now that they didn't have?

I don't know that we learn a ton new here about Donald Trump and his character that isn't already out there. But here's the difference and why I think this has such resonance.

Unlike other controversies, this one is the president clearly lying to the American people about the issue that is of most concern to them and that is in front of every hour of their daily life right now, so this is not something that just folks in Washington will talk -- right? Everybody is dealing with this in some way, whether you're concerned about an elderly neighbor or relative, or your kids are doing schooling from home or you're still working from home, every aspect of every American's life is impacted by this.

And what is so clear on the tapes is that America's president lied to the American people about the extent of what he knew to be true about this virus. And there's no way to say -- you know, we'll see of course as the election plays out, but it's hard to imagine that not having resonance in a meaningful way for people.

KEILAR: Jamie, the president tweeted this, quote, "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?"

You have read Woodward's book. What is your take on whether that is valid?

GANGEL: So I'm going to give you some context. But first, I just have to say this is classic Donald Trump. He has gotten caught on audiotape saying this. And what is his instinct? He's going to go out and blame someone else or try to deflect or project onto someone else.

Here's the context. When Bob Woodward did that interview in February -- and he lays this out in great detail in the book -- he said that he was actually surprised the president even brought up coronavirus because it was a couple of days after he had been acquitted of impeachment, and that's what Bob Woodward expected the call to be about. And all of a sudden out of left field, Trump starts talking about coronavirus.


Woodward makes it clear that back then, he was -- it just wasn't on his mind. That was a problem in China. And he wasn't even really sure whether Trump was exaggerating or riffing or making something up.

Woodward did not understand the import of what Trump said until early May, when he discovers that there was a January 28th Top Secret briefing in which National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and his deputy Matt Pottinger rang the alarm bell and told Trump that this was the greatest threat. And we have a piece of that interview, where Bob asks Trump about January 28th.


WOODWARD (via telephone): So now I understand --

TRUMP (via telephone): Because it was too early.

WOODWARD (via telephone): Your new national security advisor, O'Brien --

TRUMP (via telephone): Right, yes.

WOODWARD (via telephone): -- said to you, January 28th, Mr. President, this is going -- this virus is going to be the biggest national security threat to your presidency. Do you remember that?

TRUMP (via telephone): No, no.

WOODWARD (via telephone): You don't?

TRUMP (via telephone): No, I don't, no, I don't. I'm sure if he said it, you know, I'm sure he said it, nice guy.


GANGEL: I'm sure he said it. So there you see exactly what's happened. All of a sudden in May,

Woodward puts the pieces together, he understands, oh my gosh, Trump knew all of these details on February 7th. He goes back and looks at his transcripts, then he looks at his transcripts in March and sees him say, "playing it down." And he puts together the timeline.

It was in hindsight, in May, when, frankly, all of us then knew the dangers of coronavirus and how deadly it was, contagious and airborne, that Woodward puts the pieces together. So Donald Trump knew it at the time, Bob Woodward did not.

CHALIAN: And, Brianna, you've got to ask the question about the president of the United States and his capacity to do his job. If you're president of the United States and your national security advisor tells you this thing -- X, whatever -- in this case, the virus -- is the greatest single national security threat you're going to deal with in your presidency and you don't remember that? You say you don't remember that?

I mean, either he's lying to Bob Woodward -- which we know the president has a penchant for doing -- but -- or this is so much more grave. What exactly is the president paying attention to if not that kind of warning from your national security advisor?

KEILAR: Yes. And I would also just say, look, we're very much still in the middle of this, so the president is responsible is leading us through this pandemic for the next four-plus months, and that is where we are.

Sanjay, thank you so much. David, Jamie, thank you.

And do not forget to join Sanjay tonight, he is so-hosing a CNN global town hall on coronavirus with Anderson Cooper. You can get all of your questions answered starting at 8:00 Eastern, live on CNN.

And still ahead, President Trump suggesting that Bob Woodward is drinking the Kool-Aid for acknowledging white privilege in this country.


Plus, Woodward also giving us our first look at the love letters -- and there is really no other way to describe these -- sent between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader calling their friendship "a magical force."


KEILAR: Another revelation coming out of Bob Woodward's book? Details about those infamous love letters between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Woodward gained access to and detailed more than two dozen never-before-seen letters between the two leaders, and they are filled with flowery language and high praise, mostly from Kim Jong-un, who referred to Trump as "your excellency" and who called their special friendship "a magical force." About their 2019 meeting in Vietnam, Kim John Un wrote, "Every minute we shared 103 days ago in Hanoi was also a moment of glory that remains a precious memory. Such a precious memory that I have in my unwavering respect for you will provide impetus for me to take my steps when we walk towards each other again someday in the future."

And just this morning, Trump tweeting out about Kim Jong-un being in good health.

I want to bring in Susan Glasser, CNN global affairs analyst and staff writer at "The New Yorker," who writes about life in Trump's Washington.

Wow, Susan, these letters. What did you think when you saw them?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well you know, Trump has been bragging about these letters for the last few years. In fact, you know, I have it reliably that he would often trot the letters out to visitors in the Oval Office and show it to them and, you know, make a big deal of how unique and exceptional they were. So I'm not entirely surprised that Woodward obtained copies of these from the president as part of the cooperation with the book.

You know, it's just -- it's sort of embarrassing and cringey, isn't it? I mean, you know, the president seems to have a love affair with Kim Jong-un, and in fact there's this language -- Kim at one point talked about this as a fantasy relationship that the two have. Trump even talks and muses about them as sort of quickly -- no, in the way you know with a woman, instantly, the chemistry between them.


It's -- it's not something that you imagine a democratically elected president having with a brutal dictator who brags, according to Woodward, about how he killed his own uncle.

KEILAR: No, I feel almost embarrassed talking with you about them, that's how kind of cringeworthy they are. It's just so bizarre, the contents of these letters.

That aside, let's talk about something else that Woodward reveals, and that is that Dan Coats, the former director of National Intelligence, secretly believed -- without any proof of intel, that's important to mention -- but that Putin, Vladimir Putin might have had something on Trump because in Coats' mind there was no other way to explain the president's behavior -- as he put it -- toward Russia's leader. What did you think of that revelation?

GLASSER: Well, I think it's absolutely significant, and here's why. Coats obviously has access to, you know, all the intelligence from the varying different U.S. intelligence agencies regarding Russia and Putin. This is a subject of enormous public interest.

We might have heard people speculating publicly in print or on television ,what is is that Putin has on Trump? And to this day, four years after the 2016 election, the fact that it's not explained -- and even the head of U.S. national intelligence cannot explain the otherwise inexplicable affinity and public praise that Trump has showered on Putin?

I think we tend to overlook this in a way because it's such a big story, the fact that the president has this unexplained dealings with Putin, he wants to reorient U.S. policy toward Putin despite what both Republicans and Democrats believe is in the national interest. So I find it significant, number one.

Number two, the Woodward book clearly contains the first real account of what went wrong in the Coats-Trump relationship. Coats, clearly very uncomfortable with Trump. And you have what appears to be in the book Coats' own voice and even that of Coats' wife, expressing qualms with what was going on inside the administration.

KEILAR: Susan, thank you so much. It's always great to get your perspective -- always magical, I would say -- it's great to see you.

GLASSER: Like a fantasy, Brianna.

KEILAR: Right, definitely.

OK, next, a new poll showing a majority of Americans think political pressure will lead to a coronavirus vaccine being rushed.


Plus, celebrity fitness expert Jillian Michaels says she let her guard down for an hour and contracted coronavirus. She's going to join us live with a warning about returning to the gym right now.


KEILAR: As we learn more about President Trump's lies to downplay the pandemic, there's also new evidence that the American public is worried that the Trump administration will rush a vaccine to market. A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 62 percent of people believe political pressure will push the FDA to approve a vaccine before Election Day.

This is coming as the man in charge of COVID testing says they are ramping up the availability of tests. Here was Admiral Brett Giroir in an interview with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta this morning.


BRETT GIROIR, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Now that we have $5 easy tests to do, we're going to deliver millions every week to governors to support reopening of schools and critical infrastructure. We now have that available and we need to use it.

And if you want to call it assurance testing or screening, it's really the same thing, it's testing asymptomatic individuals to give an idea that we know that there isn't widespread circulation that we need to up the game and really test everyone at that point. We're doing it for nursing homes, we're doing it for assisted living,

home health care. We're going to start doing it for K through 12 --


KEILAR: There are now more than 6 million confirmed cases in the United States, and health and fitness expert Jillian Michaels is one of them. She spoke up this week about contracting the virus several weeks ago, and she's joining us now to talk about it.

Jillian, you look great, you look very healthy, which we are very happy to see. But you say that you let your guard down for an hour. So tell us what happened and how this all played out for you.

JILLIAN MICHAELS, HEALTH AND FITNESS EXPERT: Yes. A very, very close friend of mine, one of my best friends, who also does my hair and makeup, that I have been seen in my, quote, "small quarantine circle" consistently throughout the course of 2020, was over at my house with her two kids. I was there with my girlfriend, my two kids and a very close friend and one of her kids.

Everybody was feeling fine, looking great, in perfect health -- seemingly so -- and two days later, this very close friend contacted me and said, hey, Jill, I just tested positive for COVID. I suggest you go get tested immediately, quarantine immediately.

But the very scary part is that five days before she was at my house, she was on-set for work and had tested negative, there was a COVID compliance officer, everybody on set had tested negative. And over the course of this journey for myself and my friends, we had five false negative tests.


And that's the part that really shook me, is that not only can you feel fine, look fine, seem fine but be extremely contagious, you can also have a false negative test.