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Woodward Book Says, Trump Knew Virus was Deadly and Downplayed It; Source Says, White House Officials Warned Trump Against Speaking to Woodward. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 10, 2020 - 07:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is a special New Day.

And this morning, the president's own words, his own voice, his own lies, lies he told the American people 190,000 deaths ago. This morning, we're hearing stunning new audio from President Trump from February and March, the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when thousands of lives might have been saved, tens of thousands. He knew exactly how deadly it was from the beginning and we hear him on tape saying it.

We also hear him on tape admitting to misleading the public. This is the headline in The Washington Post this morning. I wanted to always play it down. That was 190,000 deaths ago. More than a thousand deaths reported just yesterday.

Legendary Journalist Bob Woodward conducted and recorded 18 interviews with the president for his new book, Rage.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: CNN has obtained clips from those 18 hours worth of recordings and we will play them for you at length throughout this broadcast.

This morning, we have new reporting also on what's going on behind the scenes at the White House after the fallout from these tapes, and new reaction from medical experts and victims' families on the devastating impact of the president misleading the public.

We also have a brand-new interview with Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. Jake Tapper's exclusive is coming up.

But we begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He is live at the White House with top headlines from this remarkable moment and the aftermath in the west wing. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. That's a lot of interviews. The president spoke with Bob Woodward 18 times over ten months on a wide range of issues, including what he knew and when he knew it in the early days of the pandemic. Now, the president is calling the Woodward book a political hit job, but it's very hard to argue with the president's own words, on the record, in recordings made with the president's consent.


President Trump, in his own words, admitting on tape that he understood just how dangerous the coronavirus could be, the revelations from a series of recorded interviews from Bob Woodward's new book, Rage.

In early February, Trump privately told Woodward the disease was deadlier than the flu, weeks before the first confirmed coronavirus- related death in the United States.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: 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, even your strenuous flu.

JOHNS: But even 19 days later, here is what the president said to the public.

TRUMP: That's a little bit like the flu. It's a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for. And we'll essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.

JOHNS: By mid-March, Trump admitted privately that he was downplaying the coronavirus.

TRUMP: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down because I don't want to create a panic.

JOHNS: And despite the president's repeated claims, like this one last month about the effects of the disease on children --

TRUMP: If you look at children, they're able to throw it off very easily.

[07:05:00] Their immune systems are very, very strong. They're very powerful.

JOHNS: Trump told Woodward months earlier the coronavirus wasn't only harmful to the elderly.

TRUMP: Now it's turning out, it's not just old people, Bob, between today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It's not just old -- older, young people too, plenty of young people.

JOHNS: The White House denied the allegations from the book, even after the recordings were released.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has never lied to the American public on COVID. The president has been very -- the president was expressing calm and his actions reflect that.

The president never downplayed the virus.

JOHNS: Hours later, the president responded to Woodward's book himself and defended his handling of the pandemic.

TRUMP: Well, the fact is 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, as you say. And, certainly, I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want show confidence. We want to show strength.

JOHNS: Trump's defense the same day the United States confirmed COVID-19 death toll topped 190,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, a grim milestone the president says he prevented from being even worse.

TRUMP: So I think if we didn't do what we did, we would have had millions of people die.

JOHNS: In an interview with CNN, Joe Biden slammed Trump's leadership during the pandemic.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It's disgusting. We learned this on a day that we turned 190,000 Americans dead and knew this?

He waved a white flag. He walked away. He didn't do a damned thing. Think about it. Think about what he did not do. And it's almost criminal.

JOHNS: The book reports some of Trump's top officials also questioned his abilities. Woodward writing, former Defense Secretary James Mattis called the president dangerous and unfit for office. And Dr. Anthony Fauci said Trump's attention span is like a minus number and his sole purpose is to get reelected.

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.

JOHNS: And as racial injustice has fueled protest and unrest across the country and is taking center stage as an election issue, Trump dismissed concerns about black American's frustration.

BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: 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? Do you --

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

(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: So the biggest takeaway is that the president revealed he knew how contagious and deadly this virus was, going all the way back to February 7th. So why is that important? It's about the timing. A study by Columbia University indicates that if social distancing guidelines had been put in place just one week earlier than in mid-March when we did so, 36,000 lives could have been saved. And if put in place two weeks earlier, 84 percent of deaths and 82 percent of cases could have been prevented.

John, back to you.

BERMAN: Joe Johns at the White House, Joe, keep us posted what you are hearing from there this morning.

Joining us now, Dr. Carlos del Rio, he's Executive Associate Dean at Emory University School of Medicine at Grady Health System, and he's contributing to the Moderna vaccine trial. Also with us, CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman. She's a White House Correspondent for The New York Times.

Dr. del Rio, I want to start with you. February 7th, the president says on tape, he knows, he understands coronavirus five times more deadly than even the most strenuous flu. Yet for weeks and weeks, he compared it to the flu, suggesting it was no worse than the common flu. What does that level of dishonesty, what did it do? What impact did it have on America's battle against this pandemic?

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY HEALTH SYSTEM: Well, John, good morning. I think that, you know, this is a good example that during a crises like the one we're facing during a pandemic, leadership matters. And, unfortunately, we have not had the necessary leadership in this country. Because leadership needs to speak directly, needs to speak with the truth and needs to speak with hope.

The president says, I don't want to scare people, I want to provide a sense of confidence. But there's a fine line between confidence and a responsibility. And the reality is, we've never had a national plan. We haven't implemented the kind of things that would have made a big change. And as a result of that, we have the number of infections, we've had -- and more importantly, we've had close to 200,000 Americans dead today.

So the reality is we're where we are right now as a result of what the policies were and what was done by the president.


CAMEROTA: Maggie, I just want to play for you and what was done for all of our viewers the president, in his own words, talking to Bob Woodward, where he discloses, this was February 7th before anybody knew this stuff, that he knows that it is airborne, there were still debates about that, and as John said, that it's five times more strenuous or deadlier than the flu. So here is that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WOODWARD: And so what was President Xi saying yesterday?

TRUMP: 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?

WOODWARD: I know it's much forgotten.

TRUMP: I mean, it's pretty amazing. And I say, well, is that the same thing?

WOODWARD: What would you do for --

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.


CAMEROTA: Maggie, I'm so struck by how much he has digested at that point. I mean, I know you've reported that he was told these things, but this is the first time that we hear, he has these facts. They're rolling off his tongue. He's explaining -- I mean, he used the word, these are really startling facts. He's talking about it being airborne. He's talking and another about how -- this is not just the elderly, this affects young people. He -- it's just remarkable. What do you hear when you hear his own words there?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Alisyn, I completely agree. And for those of us like you and me who have known him for a while, the thing that people tend not to understand is how much he takes information that he hears, synthesizes it to then present whatever public face he wants, such as the things he was saying in February, like it's going to be just like the flu or it will go away when the weather turns warm, because he's taking a scrap of information he heard.

This tape was the connective tissue between what we have all reported he was being told in many cases, officials all but grabbing him by the lapels to yell in his face and say, this is serious, and what he was digesting. This is the answer. He knew it was airborne. He knew that it was much more serious than he was telling the public.

In terms of what their overall government strategy at that point was, they were still in a containment mode. They had not proved to try to mitigate it, which was also a source of contention. But in terms of what the president understood, he knew how contagious this was. And he then spent the remaining month trying to keep new cases from popping up around the country, not really acknowledging them at all, not preparing the public by telling them what measures they might take on the chance it was here.

And if you know it's airborne and you know there are already these cases here, look, I can't speak to what the doctors were telling him privately on this, I think that's a question, but that said, he knew what he knew, and he chose to keep playing it down for a month.

BERMAN: I think that's such a good word here. It's a choice. He made a choice. And that's what we know this morning that we didn't necessarily know yesterday. He had been told, he understood, he got it, on February 7th, he even believed it. And then for weeks and weeks and weeks, to the American people, he lied about it.

And we have this additional piece of audio, Dr. del Rio, where the president admits, admits to misleading the American public. Listen.


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 old -- older. Young people too, plenty of young people. We're looking at what's going on in --

WOODWARD: 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: Well, I think, Bob, really, to be honest with you --

WOODWARD: Sure, I want you to be.

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

TRUMP: Yes, sir.

TRUMP: Because I don't want to create a panic.


BERMAN: To be honest with you, I always wanted to play it down. Had he not played it down mid-February, beginning of March, even mid- March, Dr. del Rio, what difference might it have made?


DEL RIO: I think we would be in a very different place where we are today, John. I really think that if we would have had back then a national mask mandate, if we would have really had a national strategy, if we really would have done, you know, what we did -- we were late on testing, we were late on many things. And we are where we are because we really have not had all hands on and a, really, response to this epidemic.

You cannot play down the seriousness of the situation. It shows by itself, the virus is not listening to him. And the reality is that we have the number of infected people in this country, we have the epidemic, we have the number of dead people we have because we played it down, because we didn't do the right things.

CAMEROTA: Maggie is going to join us again for the next block and, boy, do I have some questions for her about the panic.

BERMAN: Dr. del Rio, thank you very much being with us. Maggie, don't go anywhere because we have a lot more questions for you, including your reporting on what is going on behind the scenes at the White House, the blame game for why the president spoke to Bob Woodward.



CAMEROTA: This morning, we have audio clips of behind the scenes conversations between President Trump and journalist Bob Woodward. Here is another one.


TRUMP: You doing okay?

WOODWARD: I am. I was watching the Democratic debate. I thought you would be watching --

TRUMP: I am. I just turned it on. I have Tivo, world's greatest invention. So it does give you a little leeway, right, to put it mildly. But, no, I just watched the very beginning of it. It's boring as hell but I've got to. It's almost like an obligation to watch. It's called debate prep.

WOODWARD: Well, what I'm trying to do, and I'm turning my recorder on here, as I always do, just so I have a good -- I make sure I get everything right.

TRUMP: Okay.


CAMEROTA: All right, Maggie Haberman is back with us. Of all of the inventions in the world, from NASA and beyond, Tivo is the greatest, Maggie, just so we're on the same page.

What's the behind the scenes reaction in the White House to the fallout from this? Because, I mean, let's just start with the fact that he granted 18 hours of interview time to Bob Woodward. And it sounds like a lot of people in the White House around him didn't know he was doing that.

HABERMAN: That actually isn't true. I think that they certainly knew that Woodward was talking. They didn't know how often he was talking to Woodward. There were a number of late-night phone calls that Woodward documents in the book that clearly aides were not present for. I think that's the kind of thing that break down aides. But to be clear, the president told people to cooperate with Woodward. The president wanted to do this. The president urged a number of aides to talk to him. There is this desire after things like this, Alisyn, and you know this very well, to treat him like he's a child. Aides started looking at, essentially, who let him do this? He is a grown man and he is the president of the United States, and he wanted to do it. His top adviser, senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is on the record, extensively, in it.

And so yesterday, you saw some of the finger-pointing that was public, you had the chief of staff, Mark Meadows, say, essentially, he wouldn't have allowed this to happen. A number of these interviews happened while Meadows was chief of staff. It's not as if he was bringing down the gate. And then there were all sorts of other corners of the White House in which people were suggesting this person was to blame or that person was to blame.

There's one decider and it's the president and he wanted to do this because Woodward is a well-known household name. And particularly for somebody whose mind and media references are sort of preserved in amber of the '80s and '90s, this is how the president thought he was going to get a seal of approval on his presidency.

He didn't speak for the first book, Fear. He was told about it, even though he repeatedly claims he wasn't. But he didn't talk. He agreed with the decision not to do it. He felt like he could make a better outcome. He always believes he can sell people. And he tried selling Woodward, you hear it on the tapes, and obviously, it did not work.

BERMAN: Well, look, the tapes are what's important here. I mean, we hear his own voice. So the argument over who let it happen only goes to show how much they know that it's a problem that the president admitted to these things out loud and on tape. It says much more about them than it does, frankly, about what we know now is actually the truth.

Maggie, Alisyn and I have been talking. One of the things that the president has tried to do or the White House spin after all of this is to say, look, the president just didn't want people to panic. He was trying to be calm. He doesn't like panic. Well, there's some irony there, isn't there? Because panic is not something the president runs from. Panic is his M.O. It's his campaign platform to a certain extent.

Alisyn called him President Panic. I wanted to go with Captain Panic. But this is just a collection of some of the ways that he tries to incite fear and panic in people.


TRUMP: Your home will go down in value and crime rates will rapidly rise.

The end result is you will totally destroy the beautiful suburbs. Suburbia will be no longer.

We must never allow mob rule.

Rioting, looting, arson and violence.

There is violence and danger in the streets of many Democrat-run cities throughout America.


BERMAN: So it's an awfully tough sell when he tries to present himself as this bastion of calm.

HABERMAN: Look, his whole philosophy, such as there is one, is always about, you know, and we've heard this over and over for many years, is that he thinks in the most positive light, again, as part of selling. I think if you took out who was president, that under any president, you would not want to throw accelerant on a health problem. You would not want to throw accelerant on something that was still unknown. But there is some medium between, I don't want to create a panic, and let's just pretend it's fine.

And once we're well past the point where, again, through the month of February, you can point to things that Dr. Fauci, with all respect to him, was saying that also did not sound a huge alarm publicly.


By the time we got to the end of February and early March, it was President Trump who was pushing for rallies again despite knowing that this was airborne, who was pushing states toward the end of March and the beginning of April against the guidance of his own government to reopen.

And that's where it really gets into, as we were discussing before, the knowing piece of this, where it's hard to just take this as, I don't want to create a panic, this was, I don't want to talk about this problem at all.

CAMEROTA: Right. I mean, he was actively withholding life-saving information. That's more than just trying to preserve some sort of calm.

But also, Maggie, I just want to get your take on this. He now says -- President Trump now says, though he agreed to this, as you point out and everybody knew about it, it's a political hit job. It's a transcription service. I mean, Bob Woodward, what we have played so far, this isn't even Bob Woodward's take on it. There's no editorializing. He's not even giving us his judgment. It's a transcription service and a reporting service. How is that a political hit job?

HABERMAN: Woodward is really, really good at getting people to say things that they later regret, as Karl Rove, George W. Bush's chief strategist, noted yesterday, that every president does an interview with Woodward for a book and every president ends up regretting it. So I think that's the perspective where he's coming from. But to your point, this is -- you know, this is all just him. This is just him talking. There's extremely little narrative description in the book. It is really just these conversations. And it's funny, Alisyn, a lot of the book -- I wouldn't say half, but solid chunks of the book are just these interviews, these back and forths, where Woodward is really just running tape on Trump and letting him talk. And it does fill up pages, but it also fills up pages with lots of things that the president now has to account for.

CAMEROTA: Maggie Haberman, great to talk to you, thank you very much for the behind the scenes reporting on what's going on this morning in the White House.

Okay, Joe Biden wasting no time blasting President Trump's admission of downplaying coronavirus.


BIDEN: 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.


CAMEROTA: Our friend, Jake Tapper, is going to bring us more of his exclusive interview with the Democratic nominee, next.