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Trump Downplayed Virus; AmazonBasics Products Flagged as Dangerous; Coronavirus Victim Family Member Speaks Out. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired September 10, 2020 - 08:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, President Trump, in his own voice, with his own words, telling us he knew a lot more about the novel coronavirus back in February than he said in public. He knew exactly how deadly it was and he directly contradicted his repeated claims about who was at risk.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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: Yes, exactly.

TRUMP: Young people too, plenty of young people.


BERMAN: I want to bring in Dr. Ashish Jha, he's the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

And, Dr. Jha, "Time" magazine, or "Time," whatever it is, it's not a paper magazine any more I guess, has a cover out today all in black with the number 200,000. And behind it, in all those smaller number, are the numbers of deaths reported each day from coronavirus.

We now have the recordings of the president on these important dates in February and March telling us what he knew about the coronavirus.

Our question to you, because this is your line of work, what didn't happen then? As the president was lying to the American people, what could or should he have been doing that would have changed that number we just saw, would have presented 200,000 deaths?


DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, so good morning and thanks for having me on.

I believe -- I think most public health people believe -- that a vast majority of those deaths could have been prevented. And we knew the major public health measures even back in February. It was about testing and tracing. It was about talking to the American people about how serious this was and helping them began to do social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. There was a lot that could have been done, even back in February.

And then, by March, when we knew more about masks, adding masks to that list of things that we had in our tool box, the -- if the president had taken it seriously and if the federal government had acted seriously, I believe -- and I think most people believe -- that probably 80 percent, 90 percent of those deaths could have been prevented.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I mean that is a shocking number, Dr. Jha.

Columbia University agrees with you. I mean they have it slightly lower, but not much. They say that one week earlier, had we been alerted one week earlier, had we been starting to do some of those -- use some of those tools, it would have prevented at least 36,000 deaths, two weeks earlier would have prevented 84 percent of the deaths.

And, I don't know, it's just -- it's heartbreaking, you know, to think of all -- of the friends and neighbors that we all have that would be here if we had just moved a little bit sooner.

JHA: Yes. You know, if we -- people say, well, where do you get that 80 percent to 90 percent. and I would just point to a country like Germany. Germany's death rate per population is dramatically -- it's about 80 percent lower than ours. And Germany is a great country, but they don't have anything that we don't have. They don't have some cool technology that we're lacking.

We have all of the capacity, and arguably more, than Germany does. What we fundamentally lacked was a federal government that was willing to take this virus seriously and put the entire resources of the U.S. government and U.S. industry behind fighting the virus. We didn't do that and here's where we are.

We can still do that and prevent a lot more of the deaths that are likely in front of us. I think it's important to look in the rearview mirror, but it's also important to look ahead and think about, what do we do now to make sure that we don't have more people getting sick and dying unnecessarily.

BERMAN: It's a great point. And we're not doing the testing that I know that you think we have to do in order to save the lives going forward. We're not taking the measures at schools I know you think we have to do in order to save more lives going forward.

Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

JHA: Thank you.

BERMAN: So we do have breaking news. New jobless claims numbers released just moments ago. We'll tell you what they said, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: All right, we do have breaking news.

The Labor Department just released its weekly jobless numbers, 884,000 new claims last week. That number came in higher than expected, but on par with the prior week.

Taking a look now at U.S. stock futures, you can see numbers fairly mixed this morning.


CAMEROTA: OK, now to an exclusive CNN investigation exposing safety concerns about some Amazon Basics products.

Since 2016, at least 1,500 reviews have been written about more than 70 Amazon Basics complaining that they explode, catch on fire, melt or cause other electrical malfunctions.

CNN's Drew Griffin is here with the details.

That sounds serious, Drew.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Yes. And if it's one of the products you bought, it can be serious. And these AmazonBasics products, they're wildly popular because they're cheap. But as we found out, there could be some warning signs hidden in those customer reviews.


GRIFFIN (voice over): Burned furniture, scorched outlets, melted power strips, all reportedly involving AmazonBasics electronics. At Leona and Jimmy Smails (ph) house, it started with a distinct odor.

LEONA SMAILS (ph): It smells like just hot plastic.

GRIFFIN: Leona and Jimmy couldn't find the source of that smell. They even called 911. But it wasn't until after firefighters left that Jimmy discovered the apparent culprit inside a cardboard box.

JIMMY SMAILS (ph): The smell was overwhelming when I opened the box up.

GRIFFIN: An AmazonBasics battery charger. The local fire chief told CNN it had overheated and melted.

J. SMAILS: It was melted straight through. I'm dumbfounded. I have no idea.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Unplugged? J. SMAILS: Unplugged.

GRIFFIN: No source of power to it?

J. SMAILS: None.

GRIFFIN: No batteries in the position to be charged?

J. SMAILS: They weren't even in the box. None -- I didn't even have a battery in the box. No controller. Nothing that could produce electric.

GRIFFIN (voice over): CNN found at least 1,500 reviews written about dozens of AmazonBasics products exploding, catching on fire, smoking, melting, causing electrical malfunctions, all in the last five years. Of course, that represents a tiny fraction of the more than a million reviews posted about AmazonBasics products overall and fires caused by consumer electronics are not unique to Amazon. User error can also be a factor.

But CNN found nearly 200 reviews, which complained of damage to homes or belongings, charred walls and carpets and fried cell phones and other electronics being used with the AmazonBasics devices. And about 30 products flagged by three or more customers as a fire hazard or other danger remain for sale on, including the very battery charger that caused all that stink.

GRIFFIN (on camera): It may catch fire is one of the reviews. The charger started melting. My AmazonBasics charger burnt through the plastic while not charging or plugged in. This is exactly your same problem, right?

L. SMAILS: Yes. That's exactly our situation.

GRIFFIN (voice over): Amazon told CNN it tested the type of charger used by the Smails and that it is safe. It's one of 5,000 AmazonBasics products that the company sells under its own label, claiming they are cheaper and just as good as name brands.

This past February, CNN took two potentially defective AmazonBasics products to the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering Lab, a burnt phone charger and a damaged AmazonBasics microwave that had more than 150 reviews, flagging it as a potential hazard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, stop, stop, it's done.

There's a clear problem.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Something's wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something is definitely wrong. Smell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I mean it smells burnt.

GRIFFIN (on camera): It took just a few seconds for the engineers here to determine something wasn't right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's clear that there's damage on this.


And you can see the plate that this is attached to has -- is burned and there's clearly some kind of a fault in here. There's a risk in using this machine for sure.

GRIFFIN (voice over): Professor Michael Peck, who runs this lab, says most consumer electronic problems like these could be from poor manufacturing, cheap materials and a lack of robust quality control. Amazon told CNN the company is confident the AmazonBasics microwave is safe and responded to CNN's questions about all this saying in part, Amazon thoroughly investigates any indicators of safety or quality concerns with AmazonBasics products. If we determine that a product is unsafe, we remove it from our stores and take all necessary actions. We are also continuously refining processes and leveraging new technologies to ensure that our private brand products are safe.

Rachel Greer used to work in the product safety at Amazon and says, in her opinion, Amazon customers now do the testing. You buy it, you use it, you test it, you rate it. If reviews are good, sales are good, it stays.

RACHEL GREER, FORMER AMAZON EMPLOYEE: Amazon responds to data. And if consumers continue to buy AmazonBasics in the numbers that they expect, they won't pay attention to the details.

GRIFFIN: Leona Smails says she is at least one consumer no longer buying.

L. SMAILS: I probably would avoid electronics now with AmazonBasics.



GRIFFIN: So, Alisyn, what are consumers supposed to do? The answer lies in those reviews. Former Amazon employees say, if you just have one item that has a few reviews that mention things like fire or hazard, that's a red flag. That battery charger of the Smails has 21 of those such reviews and it is still for sale as we said.


CAMEROTA: Yes, it's a red, smoldering flag. But thank you very much, Drew, for bringing this to our attention.


CAMEROTA: We really appreciate it.

OK, meanwhile, 190,000 Americans killed by coronavirus. One of the victim's daughter says her father believed President Trump when he said it was not a big threat. She tells us how she feels after hearing these audiotapes where President Trump says something very different.



BERMAN: New audio recordings reveal that President Trump knew the true threat of coronavirus back in February, but chose to play it down in public. Since that time, more than 190,000 Americans have died. One of those victims, Mark Anthony Urquiza. He died in June. His daughter spoke at the Democratic National Convention and she joins us now.

Kristin Urquiza, thank you very much for being with us.

We know how hard this has been for you and your family. Your father died in June. We now have recordings of President Trump back in February saying he knew just how deadly this virus was.

What's it like for you to hear those recordings now?

KRISTIN URQUIZA, LOST HER FATHER TO CORONAVIRUS: It is a punch in the stomach for me and every single person who has either contracted the virus or has died from the virus. It is clear that the president lied to the American public. It's undeniable. And it's simply inexcusable.

BERMAN: The president also said on tape that he likes to play down the severity of the virus and still likes to play it down.

What impact has that had on your family?

URQUIZA: Well, the president said that so that people wouldn't panic. And my father didn't panic. Instead, he died. That is what happened to tens of thousands of people across the United States because of his decisions. And because of that, I think he needs to resign.

BERMAN: What would the truth -- what would the truth have done? What if President Trump had said in public on February 7th, not just to Bob Woodward, that this is five times deadlier than the flu, what if he had said that in public?

URQUIZA: The American public time and time again, across decades and generations, has shown that whenever crises happen, we can pull together in one direction. Had the president chosen to do his basic job of keeping people like my dad safe, we would have pulled in a direction to insure that we were minimizing risk and taking this pandemic seriously. But, instead, we chose a pathway that has led us to nearly 200,000 deaths and counting.

BERMAN: How do you think your father would have respond to the information that the coronavirus is five times deadlier than the flu, which the president told Bob Woodward but did not tell the American people that he believed it?

URQUIZA: My dad would have been shocked. On his death bed he told me that he felt betrayed by the president. And this is just the nail in his coffin. BERMAN: Look, it's one thing, I know, to read the transcripts or to

hear about them, but to actually hear the president's voice say these things, what's that been like for you over the last few hours?

URQUIZA: I wasn't able to sleep at all last night, tossing and turning, knowing that there were deliberate decisions made to lie to the American public that cost me my dad. And the messages that I've been seeing coming in on other folks just like me that I've connected with over the course of the last couple of months is heart wrenching to see their pain, knowing that they lost loved ones for no reason. That it was absolutely preventable and needless.

BERMAN: As we've said, 190,000 people have died so far to coronavirus. And your father is one of them. And along with you, we mourn his loss.

What's your message to people now going through this and suffering the same loss that you've suffered?


URQUIZA: I implore everyone who suffered a loss from the coronavirus to speak up and to make sure that not only you vote, but every single person that you know votes in this upcoming election. The president is too much of a coward to resign, so we need to make sure that that referendum is seen at the voting box this November.

BERMAN: What have you learned throughout this, from the beginning, through your father's sickness, all the way to today, to the reporting that's gone on? What have you learned?

URQUIZA: I have learned that speaking up and using my voice is one of the most powerful tools that I have to affect change and that it's my patriotic duty to do so. And it's not something that I'm going to give up any time soon.

BERMAN: Kristin Urquiza, again, we are so sorry for your loss. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

URQUIZA: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: All right, we are seeing new fallout from this remarkable, new reporting from Bob Woodward. And the tape -- the tapes that we have on CNN, the president's own voice telling us what he knew about the coronavirus and when.

Our coverage continues right after this.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


The tapes don't lie. And now we have, we have the evidence, in his own voice, his own words, that the president did not tell the truth as the nation now stands at more than 190,000 deaths from coronavirus and a key model projects hundreds of thousands more by the end of this year.

We now know that seven months ago the president knew the severity of this and lied to the American people.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, 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.