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Recordings Released of President Trump Acknowledging the Lethality of Coronavirus before Large Spread in U.S. President Trump's Subsequent Comments on Coronavirus Compared with Earlier Recordings; Trump Dismisses White Privilege in Woodward Interview: "You Really Drank the Kool-Aid, Didn't You?" Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 10, 2020 - 08:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We have some stunning new audio of President Trump attempting to downplay the coronavirus and say what he really knew about it. NEW DAY continues now.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump tells Woodward just how dangerous, highly contagious, and airborne the coronavirus is.

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's disgusting. He acknowledged it's in the air and won't put on a mask.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This president was consistent in saying that we needed to do everything we could. He shut down literally the economy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of the great presidential felonies of all time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that the panic of every single family I called on Facetime to let them know their family member was dying. As a frontline provider, I'm furious.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. And this morning we are hearing these stunning new audio clips that President Trump knew exactly how deadly the coronavirus was. This was back in February, when he still could have come up with a national plan, when thousands of lives could still have been saved. So we hear him explaining all of this now with our own ears. This is the headline in "The Washington Post" this morning, quote,

from the president, "I wanted to always play it down." I wanted to always play it down. The president said that more than 190,000 deaths ago. More than 1,000 deaths happened just yesterday. Legendary journalist Bob Woodward conducted and recorded 18 different interviews with President Trump for his new book "Rage."

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have excerpts from many of these. These tapes include the president dismissing white privilege, bragging about a secret weapon system that no one knew about it until he told Bob Woodward. The White House this morning is scrambling and finger- pointing to try to contain the fallout while Joe Biden is already talk about it on the campaign trail.

Joining us now to share more of her reporting on this, CNN's special correspondent Jamie Gangel. And Jamie, it was you who got these audio recordings. We now hear the president in his own voice talking to Bob Woodward, and the most I think revealing parts of it do have to do with the pandemic and the coronavirus and the very early days and exactly what the president knew and understood at the time.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And as you will remember from Watergate, Howard Baker's famous question, what did the president know and when did he know it? We now know that Donald Trump knew in extraordinary, striking detail in early February just how deadly and dangerous the coronavirus was. We're going to play the interview, a portion of the interview from February 7th. And just when you listen to it, just concentrate on the fact he knows it's airborne. This is very early on.


BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST: UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so what was President Xi saying yesterday?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We were talking mostly about the virus. And I think he's going to have it in good shape, but you know, it's a very tricky situation.

WOODWARD: Indeed, it is.

TRUMP: It goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch. The touch, you don't have to touch things. 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 -- even your strenuous flus. 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: It's pretty amazing.

WOODWARD: What are you able to do for --

TRUMP: And then I said, well, is that the same thing? This is more deadly. This is five percent versus one percent and less than one percent. So this is deadly stuff.


GANGEL: Just for context, a lot of people have asked me why didn't Bob Woodward report this at the time? In the book, he actually explains this. When he did this interview, it was so early, the first week in February. We didn't know any of this. He didn't understand what Trump was telling him until May, when he finds out about a January 28th briefing that Trump had. So at the time, he actually says he thought Trump might have been exaggerating. He just didn't know whether any of this was true until in hindsight we learned about the virus and he found out about the January 28th briefing.

CAMEROTA: OK, that was February 7th, when the president knew that it was airborne and more deadly than the seasonal flu but the rest of us didn't, OK.


So fast forward to March 19th. And again, the president is misleading the American public. He is saying one thing, was now know in private to Bob Woodward, and he's knows a lot, and he's giving facts about what he knows, and he's digested that information in private. And in public he is saying things like it's just going to go away, it's no big deal, no need to panic. So here's that next part.


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 --

WOODWARD: Yes, exactly.

TRUMP: -- older people, but plenty of young people. We're looking at what's going on --

WOODWARD: So give me a moment of talking to somebody, going through this with Fauci or somebody who 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: Because I don't want to create a panic.


GANGEL: This was not just about panic. First of all, Donald Trump's political playbook is fear. That's why Bob Woodward called his first book "Fear." And we've seen in 2016 and we are seeing it now. But the other thing that I think you have to have context here is in the book, Woodward says to Trump, what is your more important job as president? And at first Trump doesn't know how to answer it. And then eventually he says, well, it's to keep the country safe and prosperous. He certainly, by playing it down, withholding critical details, has not kept the country safe.

When I first heard this tape, and I heard the word "prosperous," I thought what he's worried about? He's worried about the economy, and he's worried about getting reelected. And I think actually you have to wonder if that's what the panic was.

BERMAN: It absolutely seems like that's what it was, based on what we now know that the president understood and when he understood it.

So, Jamie, the president makes people sign nondisclosure agreements when they go to work for him so they don't reveal secrets. I'm not particularly sure why given how much and how serious the types of things that the president is perfectly willing to tell people on his own.

GANGEL: So the third part of the interview we're going to play for you is I think striking because while the president was not going to share critical, lifesaving details with the American public, this is from the first interview Woodward did with Trump, and it's quite clear that he's trying to impress Bob Woodward. He tells him about a new secret nuclear weapon system.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I have built a weapon -- I have built a weapon system, weapon system that nobody's ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven't seen even have or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There's nobody -- what we have is incredible.


GANGEL: They all now know about the system. Woodward, just so we know, went to national security sources and was able to confirm that this program in fact exists. I don't think they were very happy that Donald Trump had disclosed it.

BERMAN: Yes, I imagine not. There's a reason top secret things are secret.

GANGEL: Correct.

BERMAN: Jamie Gangel, just so fascinating and important to hear the president's own words here. Thank you so much for bringing these tapes to us. I appreciate it.

GANGEL: My pleasure.

BERMAN: We're joined now by CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, the February 7th recording where the president tells Bob Woodward he knows that the coronavirus is airborne and says it's five times more deadly than the flu, I am sure that when you in particular heard this that that might have struck a nerve.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I was shocked. First of all, the numbers, really as Maggie Haberman was telling you earlier, really show a pretty detailed level of consolidation, because even at that time, it was not clear looking at some of the early data just how lethal this was. We knew it was far more lethal than the flu. Even now we say it's around 0.5, 0.6 percent lethal as flu is 0.1 percent, so it's exactly around five or six times, which the president seemed to know back in early February.


He was talking to people in China, probably getting some of that early data. And then I asked him specifically about this, because we were starting to gather data mid-February, really trying to put it together ourselves, and I asked him about this at this press briefing. And I'm going to play this for you, just briefly. But keep in mind, what he knew nearly three weeks earlier versus what he said in the press briefing. Let's take a quick listen.


GUPTA: Mr. President, talking about the flu and in comparison to the coronavirus flu, flu has a fatality ratio of about 0.1 percent.


GUPTA: This has a fatality ratio somewhere between two percent and three percent.

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

GUPTA: There's more people who get the flu, but this is spreading and it's going to spread maybe within communities. That's the expectation. Does that worry you? Because that seems to be what worries the American people.

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


GUPTA: I hadn't really heard he said "it is what it is" there before. I was paying attention to these, looking at these again. But he knew back nearly three weeks earlier that it was far more lethal than the flu. He knew before a lot of the scientific journals were still catching up with this, but he had already been told this. So that was shocking because that was critical information that we should have acted on.

CAMEROTA: And he says the opposite to you, Sanjay. He says the opposite. No, no, it's not. The flu is worse. And now we know that -- as you point out, we hear in his own words, he actually has -- I was struck by he has a handle on this information. He has a handle on it. The doctor is not next to him at night when he's talking to Bob Woodward on the phone. He's processed it. He's repeating it, facts, as he calls them, startling facts, to Bob Woodward. And so that was -- he was lying there to you.

GUPTA: Yes, it's shocking to hear it. I think when I interviewed him, it had always nagged at me, after that briefing I should say, because I thought, is he not being told -- this seems so important, is he not being told, is he not being briefed, does he not care? What is it exactly? Or was it this? Was he lying, because he does know and he's flat out lying? I think the tapes are pretty clear on this point now. He gave a very specific picture on February 7th of just how severe this was, how it traveled through the air. On February 26th during that briefing he said the exact opposite thing.

There were these clues all along. We have been reporting on this for so long. We got a sense that he knew this was serious. He was having people around him tested constantly, right, even though most of the country could not get tested. He started taking -- he said he started taking hydroxychloroquine, an unproven medication, that could potentially have side effects. He was told, look, this could have side effects, but he was worried enough about the ramifications of getting this infection that he said I'm going to do it anyway.

So there was clearly these little signals that he was worried, that he knew the severity of this, but continued to say it's not that big a deal, even now. We look at this -- we're looking at this in the rearview mirror now, the retrospective. We're not through this yet, right? So many decisions still need to get made, and now we get an idea of just how transparent, or opaque, things have been coming from him.

BERMAN: Look, he knew, he understood, and he lied. That's what we know this morning that we did not know definitively yesterday. Why? Because he told us, frankly. He told us that he played it down, and still likes to play it down is what he said on that tape. And Sanjay, all of this happened 190,000 deaths ago. This was all happening when decisions were being made that could have saved lives. So had the president acted on what he understood on February 7th, even in late February or early March, what could he have done and what difference would it have made?

GUPTA: Yes, that part just makes your blood boil for sure. Having known people who have died of this disease and speaking to their families just even over the past day, it's really infuriating. But it's hard to know for certain how many lives could have been saved, but I do want to show you some of this data that came out of Columbia. And this was in May. So they started modeling this in May, because at that point it became clear even that had we acted even a week earlier, keep in mind it was mid-March we sort of went into this slow the spread mode, we'll call it. Had we acted one week earlier, at that point at least 36,000 lives could have been saved. Two weeks earlier, 84 percent of deaths and 82 percent of infections according to this model could have been saved.


It will be hard to know, it will be hard to pinpoint, and this is the kind of thing that I'm sure that families who have lost people or still struggling with this frankly, just, you know, cannot fathom this, this morning. They don't want to hear it, but I think it's safe to say that the majority of infections, the majority of deaths could have been prevented, had we acted just a little bit earlier.

Look, I'm saying if we had acted at the beginning of March. If we had gone back to February and acted, we could have been in a position like South Korea, like Taiwan. South Korea's had fewer than 350 people who have died and we always bring up South Korea as an example because the first patient was confirmed in South Korea on the same day the first patient was confirmed in this country. We could have started acting around that same time. That was the end of January perhaps.

And so, we didn't. And here we are with these numbers but we're not through this. So there are still decisions that can be made, that can be beneficial.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: South Korea has hundreds of deaths. We are approaching hundreds of thousands.

Sanjay, thank you very much. I know you have much more to say about this, so join Sanjay and Anderson Cooper for a new coronavirus town hall tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Man, this is one going to be interesting.

We are at the White House this morning, fearing new reaction and witnessing the fallout for ourselves. What is going on now in the hours after this bombshell report from Bob Woodward? That's next.



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. New audiotapes from this moment of President Trump talking to Bob Woodward give us a window into his thoughts on racism in America and the concept of white privilege.

Here's another piece of this conversation.


BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST: But let me ask you this. I mean, we share one thing in common. We're white, privileged, who -- my father was a lawyer and a judge in Illinois and we know what your dad did. And do you have any sense that that privilege has isolated and put you in the cave to a certain extent? Has it put me and 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 --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. You really drank the Kool-Aid, did you, listen to you, wow. No, I don't feel that at all.


CAMEROTA: All right. Joining us now, we have CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, and CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

This might be a blind spot for President Trump in terms of not understanding white privilege. Does he actually think -- I know he does because we know what he touts as his life story, that he's self- made somehow, despite the fact his father handed over all of this money and sort of this empire. And so, you just hear him dismiss it out of hand.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's that and even if we weren't a self-described billionaire, even if he were, you know, someone who was very comfortable as a white man, what Bob Woodward was trying to do was give him cover and lead him to the place where he would feel comfortable acknowledging the reckoning that is going on throughout this country and the president didn't go there, wouldn't go there, dismissed it, which is very telling. I guess not surprising, but very telling.

Particularly since when you look at the raw politics never mind the sort of morality or awareness of what he said or didn't say, but he just said the raw politics, the Trump campaign is aggressively going after African-American men or men of color in general to vote for the president this fall. They don't think that they're going to get black women, but they think they're going to get their black men and that's pretty clear if you look at the representation of the president's convention a couple of weeks ago.

I'm not so sure those comments or the fact that he didn't comment will really help them in their pursuit of getting black men to vote for him.

BERMAN: He laughed at Bob Woodward. He like was literally scoffing at the notion that Woodward was raising there.

Kaitlan, you were at the White House this morning and the White House had a few hours to let the impact of this settle. So what's going on there this morning?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was a bit of a scramble to say the least yesterday because they knew that the president had done this book. They had known he had sat down with Woodward and spoken with a dozen times but they didn't know what he had said to Bob Woodward. And even the president had been asking aides what the book was going to look like and whether or not it was going to reflect positively on him.

And I think we got a sense that he didn't think it would about a month ago when he started to distance himself from Woodward, despite the fact he talked to him 18 times for this book. And so, it was a scramble yesterday. They did not have a copy of the book, they did not know what it was going to say, they have learned a lot of it from what CNN and "The Washington Post" initially reported.

And then the president talking in his own words, where you're just not reading it in a book, you're actually listening to the president say these things about -- about white privilege, about coronavirus. So I think that also changed it.

So what's resulted is really a lot of blame internally over who it was that decided it was a good idea to let the president talk to Bob Woodward this extensively and while there's blame going around about who it was that encouraged the president.

Ultimately, it was the president who made the this decision because he thought he could outmaneuver Bob Woodward, he thought that he could get a positive book out of Bob Woodward, which even, you know, Karl Rove said that every president who sat down with Bob Woodward has come to regret it in the end.

BASH: Can I just --

CAMEROTA: Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead, Dana.

BASH: Can I just quickly add to that? You know, yes, they were scrambling inside the White House and inside the campaign. I mean, I had somebody reach out to me to see if I could say whether or not they were quoted in the book. I mean, that kind of gives you the sense of the darkness they were operating in.

But more than that, it's the substance that people who should have known basics didn't know. I reported yesterday from a source close to the campaign that top campaign officials at the time were unaware. The president didn't tell them as they were planning a half a dozen rallies that they went ahead with, and Kaitlan was actually at a couple of those.

So he left people who should have known in the dark, not just the American people, but the people who were close to him and trying to help him.

CAMEROTA: And, Kaitlan, I know you have some new reporting on how he plans to clean it up today by going on Fox. Last night I was watching Fox, and they were -- there's a lot of pearl clutching going on about why would he sit down with Bob Woodward? Why would he give these 18 hours to Bob Woodward? They were also calling it a political hit job.

I mean, basically, what Woodward did was provide a transcription service. I mean, I don't know how you can call it a political hit job, it's like an audio recording session basically from Bob Woodward, but what can he say on Fox today or what's the plan?

COLLINS: Well, I think the president is coming out, you know he's say -- last night he said I gave him some quotes. That's not what he gave Bob Woodward. He gave him 18 interviews, extensive quotes, where he's on the record, you know, calling him with his thoughts late at night.

These are not interviews -- typically if you're a president and sitting down for an interview for -- for a book about you, it would be highly coordinated. You'd probably be in the oval office. You'd have half a dozen staff, minimum, in the room. You talk about what you're going to say before hand, they probably go off the record at some point, to be very carefully scripted.

That is not what happened here. The president did have some of those moments where there were other staffers in the room, they were in the Oval Office to sit down with Woodward who was at the White House a few times and at Mar-a-Lago, but a lot of this, this audio that you're hearing is where the president called Bob Woodward late at night, like he went to the friend or an ally or a staffer and would talk honestly and candidly about how he felt.

And so, you saw Mark Meadows said yesterday, if he had been in the picture earlier on, he said he would not have let Woodward have the level of access to the president that he did. I'm not sure that you can really control that if the president is giving Bob Woodward his cellphone number.

BASH: Exactly.

COLLINS: But today, do expect more of a cleanup. We saw the president on Fox News last night. The vice president is going to be on this morning.

There could be more interviews with the president himself ahead of his rally tonight, as he really tries to, you know, mitigate the damage here and try to say, well, I wasn't trying to instill panic in people. Though it's hard to square that with not wanting people to panic, but also telling people the truth so they can make well-informed decisions.

BASH: And, you know, this is the president we know, we have seen throughout his life way before politics he wants to be liked. He doesn't always go about it the way that the people who want to be liked do, but he wants to be liked and he wants to be praised, and there is nobody in journalism from his perspective understandably that he wants praise for more -- from more than Bob Woodward.

And so that is why if you see some more of Jamie's reporting from within the book she's read it, he -- Woodward talks about how the president over and over tries to show off for him in the face-to-face interviews but also in the phone calls. He thought he could charm Bob Woodward like he feels he can charm everybody, and that's how he got into this situation he's in. It's very clear.

BERMAN: Turns out lying about a pandemic is not a great way to make friends.

Dana Bash and Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much for being with us this morning. Also very telling, by the way, that the president and the vice president going on Fox. That's about the base. They're concerned now about losing the base. This is not about outreach. This is what, we've got to cover our butts here this morning.

CAMEROTA: But also telling that after everything they said publicly about "The Washington Post," that really what President Trump likes is the connection, the association between Bob Woodward and "The Washington Post" and the cachet that that brings.

BERMAN: He may care about a little bit, I care about 190,000 dead people a lot and the fact that he was lying about it, 190,000 deaths ago, that to me is so much more significant than the fact that the president wanted a friend.

CAMEROTA: That -- that is the story. I agree with you.

But today, we'll hear more I'm sure trying to disparage --


CAMEROTA: -- the press and Bob Woodward and you have to remember, it was by choice.

BERMAN: Transcription service as you said.

CAMEROTA: All right. So we now know, the president knew the dangers of the coronavirus back in early February. So, why wasn't there a national plan? What could he have done differently?

That's next.