Return to Transcripts main page


Woodward Tapes: President Downplayed Virus Risks; Trump Says He Downplayed Pandemic to Avoid Panic; Biden on Trump Downplaying Pandemic: It's Almost Criminal; Seven Dead Including Three in Oregon as Thousand Evacuate; Forest Fires Turn San Francisco Skies Deep Orange; Woodward Obtained Letters Between Trump and Kim Jong-un. Aired 4 -4:30a ET

Aired September 10, 2020 - 04:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Robyn Curnow. So, just ahead --


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic.


CURNOW: Shocking new tapes prove President Trump knew the dangers of coronavirus and downplayed the risks in public. We'll have all the details for you on that.

Plus, those same tapes from veteran journalist Bob Woodward give new insights into how Mr. Trump views issues of race. We'll take a closer look as well.

And wildfires devastating large parts of Oregon and California turn deadly.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Robyn Curnow.

CURNOW: Great to have you along this hour. Thanks for joining me.

So, the U.S. President, Donald Trump, admits knowing as early as February just how deadly the coronavirus was and health risks, the dangerous health risks it posed but he purposefully understated it publicly. Veteran journalist Bob Woodward interviewed the President extensively for his new book, which is called "Rage."


And Trump's admission about downplaying the virus was just the beginning of what he told Woodward. Here's Jim Acosta with all of that.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump's lengthy record of false statements on the coronavirus may 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 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's not responsible for the approximately 190,000 Americans who died from the virus.

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

ACOSTA: In a sign the White House was caught by surprise by the reporting, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany any 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: And 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. 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 your -- you know, your -- even your strenuous flus.

ACOSTA: And yet on March 9th 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 the miracle -- it will disappear.

It will go away. You know -- you know it is going away.

ACOSTA: But listen to what the President told Woodward on March 19th, 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 older --


TRUMP: -- people, to 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've 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 -- but they don't have a problem.

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you would question that account then?

FAUCI: Yes. Yes.

ACOSTA: Woodward writes, former Defense Secretary James Mattis believed that President Trump was dangerous and unfit. In aid to Mattis, Woodward says, overheard Mr. Trump 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?


WOODWARD: Do you --

TRUMP: You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don't feel that at all.

ACOSTA (on camera): White House officials are now pointing fingers over who's 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. But the President appears to only have himself to blame. As we are told he went around his own press office to speak with the legendary journalist.

Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


CURNOW: So, President Trump claims he only gave Woodward a few quotes for his book not 18 on the record interviews over six months. Yet during those interviews he sometimes acknowledges to Woodward that the book probably would make him look good. So, it's not surprising he's lashing out at Woodward now. In the, quote, boring book. In a tweet on Wednesday tended to brush off his own verbatim words in the book as another, political hit job.

And the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is speaking out strongly about the revelations in this book.


He said it was, quote, almost criminal that Donald Trump knew about the serious risk posed by the virus and still downplayed it its threat.

Here's CNN's Arlette Saenz and she has more on Biden's reaction.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe Biden accused President Trump of being unfit to serve as president after journalist Bob Woodward revealed in his upcoming book that the President downplayed the coronavirus despite knowing the severity of it. This comes as Joe Biden and his campaign have tried to make the President's handling of the coronavirus the central issue of this campaign. Take a listen to what Biden had to say in Warren, Michigan.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He knew how deadly it was. And it was much more deadly than the flu. He knew and purposefully played it down. Worse, he lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months. It was a life and death betrayal of the American people.

SAENZ: Now Joe Biden criticized the President for not being more frank with the American people about coronavirus. Not just because of the lives lost but also because of the economic impact. Biden saying the President sent the economy into a tailspin and that is something that Biden originally intended to have his speech in Michigan focus on. He talked about the need for American manufacturing and creating jobs here in the U.S.

He traveled to Michigan, to Macomb County, which is a critical county that helped President Trump win back in 2016. This is the county where Obama and Biden won back in 2008 and in 2012. But President Trump won by nearly 12 points that helped him carry the state over Hillary Clinton. Now Biden has kept his focus on a lot of these swing states where the

President won traveling here to Michigan. Later in the week he'll be in Pennsylvania and next week he's heading down to Florida.


CURNOW: CNN contributor Michael D'Antonio joins me now from Long Island, New York. Michael, good to see you. You're also the author of "The Truth About Trump." The President privately acknowledging how dangerous coronavirus was, that he intentionally hid that from the public. You've written a book with him -- about him, you've spoken to him. Does that surprise you?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not at all. You know, this is almost like the question you might ask of a televangelist after the big scandal when they've been caught in a sexual affair or stealing the money. Everyone says, well, did he really believe what he was preaching? And the answer was, no, in that case and it's no in the case of Donald Trump. He's never spoken the truth about his own feelings about any issue.

So, for example, on the issue of abortion he's very pro-choice but he ran on a platform of being anti-abortion. In this case with the COVID- 19 pandemic, I understood all along that he knew the science, that he was being well informed and that he found it politically advantageous to say otherwise. To promote this idea that we needn't take precautions, that this is all going to go away very quickly and that he had it under control.

The shocking thing, I think is that he did this interview with Bob Woodward, knew these many interviews, actually, were being recorded and he had the hubris to say out loud the part that he should have kept secret. And that was the truth that he knew February 7th that this was a profound looming tragedy and we can now see for certain that he did nothing, and he did nothing knowing what the consequences might be.

CURNOW: And why? I mean, national security advisor, we understand, had told him this would be the biggest threat to his presidency. And I think that was in January. It was barely mentioned in the state of the nation speech -- state of the union speech. Why would a leader play it down? Why would he lie about it more than a hundred times -- according to "The Washington Post"? Is it just about political expediency?

D'ANTONIO: Well, the key thing that you mentioned there was the word leader. So why would a leader do this? Well, the leader of a democracy who is concerned for the people he's elected to serve and protect would never do this. But a person who's got authoritarian instincts but also lacks the ability to lead would do this. And this is the thing that I think a lot of people missed about Donald Trump when he ran for president.

He announced that he was a great businessman who had run all of these successful enterprises, employed thousands and thousands of people and so of course he was a great leader. When, in fact, he was awful at running organizations that involve more than a handful of people. [04:15:00]

He ran them into the ground and wound up in bankruptcy time and again, because he's not a good leader of people. He's simply a man who promotes himself, promotes his own interests and thrives through that kind of advertising mindset, the salesmanship mind set. And that's not to denigrate honest salespeople. But, you know, he's a con man and this idea that he was a leader was false to begin with. So, the fact that he was derelict in his duty in this case is no surprise at all.

CURNOW: Michael D'Antonio, thank you very much for joining us. The author of "The Truth About Trump." Your perspective very much valued. Thank you very much for joining us there live from New York.

D'ANTONIO: Thank you.

CURNOW: Wildfires blazing on the U.S. West Coast have left seven people dead including three in the state of Oregon. Dry weather, high winds are driving the fires further through that state destroying anything in their path. Well, CNN's Lucy Kafanov is under fiery skies in Oregon -- Lucy.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The situation here in Oregon is incredibly dangerous all across the state, including Clackamas County where I'm located right now. This is Oregon's third most populated county. It is under a Level 3 mandatory evacuation order.

I'm going to step out of the shot so you can see the scene behind me. The fires out there in the distance moving forward because of these high wind conditions and incredibly dry air. Those weather conditions preventing rescue and fire teams from being able to even begin to try to contain these fire.

The focus right now is on preventing the loss of life, on evacuating people. Oregon's Governor Kate Brown describing these fires as, quote, unprecedented. She says, this could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state's history.

No part of Oregon unaffected at the moment. The problem with these weather conditions is that some of the fires are merging so things could get a lot more worse before they get better. We are expecting a potential change in the weather conditions in about a day or two with cooler western winds coming in that have more moisture in the air. But, again, the question really is how much of these properties, how much of these areas will burn before those conditions change.

Again, 0 percent containment right now. Oregon also struggling because neighboring California and Washington state struggling with their own fires. We know that some firefighters will be deploying from Utah to help the state. The National Guard has been activated as well. But this is again, a historic, unprecedented fire event across the state of Oregon. Folks are on high alert. Authorities telling people not to gamble with their lives. To get out before it's too late.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Clackamas County, Oregon.


CURNOW: Thanks, Lucy, for that.

Now conditions aren't actually better down the coast in California. We know that three people have been killed by wildfires. San Francisco residents also waking up to this deep orange skies, raining ash. Even though the closest fires to the Bay Area are some 200 kilometers away, the bizarre skies made it seem as if San Francisco was a city on Mars. Just take a look at these images. It is quite staggering.

Families have also to avoid been forced to evacuate their homes to avoid scenes such as this one. The north complex fire formed from multiple blazes. The first sparked by lightning in mid-August but has scorched more than 250,000 acres.

Well, Derek Van Dam is following all of these weather conditions and mother nature sending out some very, very serious warnings about climate change. But yet, I mean, while, look at the Bay Area. I mean, it's extraordinary. It does look like they're a city on Mars, doesn't it?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you know, and Mother Nature also creating her own Instagram filters apparently too, Robyn. Let me explain what is happening here. The science behind the orange and red haze in the San Francisco Bay region.

Ash works to block out some of the shorter wavelength colors. So, blues, the violence, even the greens, those just get blocked literally from our visible eyes. And we're talking about the oranges and the reds and yellows, the longer wave lengths that are allowed to pass through that ash and create that almost eerie apocalyptic look to the skies. And there was plenty of smoke to go around. I mean, it blanketed the entire West Coast over the past day.

And that smoke is going to be loft and high into the atmosphere. Picked up by the jet stream and it's going to travel eastward. So, you could potentially have some pretty amazing sun sets and sunrises across the Great Lakes and the East Coast. But really to put this into perspective for the state of California, we have the second, third, and fourth largest fires burning out of control right now and they have had the most acres burned in an entire year and that's not even the peak of the season just yet, Robyn. So, plenty to go. Back to you.

CURNOW: OK, don't like hearing that. But thanks so much for the update. Appreciate it. Good work. Derek Van Dam there.


So, just ahead this hour, there is much more. Yes, there is more from Bob Woodward's explosive new book on Donald Trump including so called love letters the President exchanged with Kim Jong-un.


CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow. It's 23 minutes past the hour. We're live from CNN center here in Atlanta.

So, transcripts that have never been seen before, these letters between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are highlighted in Bob Woodward's new book "Rage." Now, Mr. Trump has described the notes as love letters. And Woodward says the unusual letters certainly show diplomatic courtship. One written by Kim reads --

Even now I cannot forget that moment of history when I firmly held your Excellency's hand at the beautiful and sacred location as the whole world watched with great interest and hope to relive the honor of that day.

Paula Hancocks is joining us now live from Seoul to decode these letters and give us a sense of what's in them -- Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Robyn, we have heard all along from the U.S. President Donald Trump that he and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, have a special friendship, a unique friendship. Ad he's consistently said that he believes the U.S. President Donald Trump that he and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have a special friendship, a unique friendship. And he's consistently said that he believed that the two of them -- and most notably, himself -- is the only one that could have prevented a war between the two countries.

In what we see here with these letters that Bob Woodward was able to see is the sort of progression of their relationship, of the friendship which really did highlight in 2018 after the Singapore Summit how the relationship was good. How the U.S. and North Korea relationship was going well. But then of course when it came to Hanoi, the summit in 2019 where it was not going well, we heard from Bob Woodward that he had been told by the U.S. President that when he was negotiating with Kim Jong-un, he said to him, do you ever do anything other than send rockets up into the air? Let's go to a movie together. Let's go play a round of golf.

Saying within the book that was the U.S. President saying he was trying to find a breakthrough within Hanoi. Now clearly that didn't happen. There was then that third meeting between the two leaders at the DMZ in June of 2019. And just a month later there was another letter which shows frustration on the part of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un saying, quote --

I am clearly offended, and I do not want to hide this feeling from you. I am really very offended.

Now according to the timing, and also to Woodward himself, that was because the U.S. had not postponed South Korean/U.S. military drills as Kim Jong-un had assumed that they would have done.

So what this shows us, these letters and this insight into the relationship between the two is really how it appeared to be very close at the beginning and there was a lot put on the relationship between the two individuals, which was really creating the opportunity, as the U.S. President said, for something to happen between the two countries. But as we know, that did not happen -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Thanks so much. Paula Hancocks there live in Seoul, South Korea. Thanks, Paula.

So, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM. Still to come. President Trump dismisses the idea of white privilege as, quote, drinking the Kool- Aid. A revealing look at his attitudes on race. That is just ahead.