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No Social Distancing, Few Masks Ahead of Trump Michigan Rally; U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Tops 191,000 As Cases Near 6.4 Million; Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) Was Interviewed on the Fallout of Bob Woodward's New Book; CDC Forecast: U.S. Death Toll Will Top 205,000 By October 3; Medical Experts Slam Trump For Downplaying Pandemic Threat; Trump's History Of Broken Promises On New Health Care Plan. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 10, 2020 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Athena Jones, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, at Jake Tapper. You can tweet the show, at The Lead CNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. I will see you tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following breaking news. President Trump is scrambling right now to defend himself from growing outrage over his recorded conversations with the journalist Bob Woodward. In a news conference that wrapped up just a little while ago, the president claimed he withheld vital information from the American public about the highly lethal nature of the coronavirus because he wanted to show, and I'm quoting him now, strength as a leader. Mr. Trump is even trying to shift the blame to Woodward claiming the journalist could have chosen to report on their conversations if he thought the threat was serious.

The coronavirus pandemic has now killed more than a hundred and 91,000 Americans with nearly 6.4 million confirmed cases. And another 1,206 Americans died from the virus just yesterday. And this just in, the CDC has just published a sobering update to its death toll forecast between 205,000 and 217,000 dead Americans by October 3rd in just a few weeks.

Let's begin our coverage this hour with CNN's Jim Acosta. Right now he's in Freeland, Michigan where the president is getting ready to hold a rally. Jim, the crowds, they're starting to gather. It's looking sadly a lot like other Trump rallies. No real social distancing and very few masks.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, President Trump is campaigning in the battleground state of Michigan in just a short while from now. And as we can already see, many of these supporters at this rally are not social distancing. And as you said, many of them are not wearing their masks. But one thing these supporters do finally have is the truth that the president knowingly misleads the public about the dangers pose by the coronavirus. At a very news conference earlier this afternoon, the president claimed he was not lying to the American people about the virus.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): One day after bombshell recordings revealed the president intentionally downplayed the COVID-19 threat, Mr. Trump is claiming it was all about keeping Americans from panicking.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't lie. What I said is we have to be calm, we can't be panicked. I don't want to jump up and down and start screaming death, death.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president is even trying to shift the blame to the journalist with the Trump tapes, Bob Woodward.

TRUMP: Certainly if he thought that was a bad statement, he would have reported it because he thinks that, you know, you don't want to have anybody that is going to suffer medically because of some fact. If Bob Woodward thought what I said was bad, then he should have immediately right after I said it gone out to the authorities so they can prepare and let them know. But he didn't think it was bad and he said he didn't think it was bad. He actually said he didn't think it was bad.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Democrats aren't buying it with Joe Biden tweeting, "Donald Trump said he didn't want to tell the truth and create a panic. So he did nothing and created a disaster."

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): He hid the facts and refused to take the threat seriously leaving the entire country exposed and unprepared. He didn't want to cause a panic. Why? Because of the stock market.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president has used the panic excuse before way back in March.

(on camera) What do you say to Americans who believed that you got this wrong?

TRUMP: And I do want them to stay calm, and we are doing a great job. If you could ask a normal question, the statements I made are, I want to keep the country calm. I don't want panic in the country. I could cause panic much better than even you.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But here's the problem. In February, the president warned Woodward the virus was deadly but not the public.

TRUMP: It goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch. 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 flus. This is more deadly. ACOSTA (voice-over): Even with Mr. Trump's admissions caught on tape.

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

BOB WOODWARD: Yes I --

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

ACOSTA (voice-over): Top administration officials are trying to tell the public, don't believe your own ears.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I actually didn't sense the president was downplaying anything. We were giving the American people the facts as we knew them, as we learned them every step of the way.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The Woodward book has GOP senators running for cover with Iowa's Joni Ernst telling CNN, "I haven't read it, I haven't seen it, so give me a chance to take a look". And John Cornyn of Texas praising Mr. Trump saying, "He's done as good a job as you can under the circumstances".

[17:05:00]

But there are other pressing questions for the president's ways in the Woodward book as to why the president thought it was a good idea to tell the author about what sounds like a top-secret nuclear weapons system.

TRUMP: But I have built a nuclear -- 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 or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There's nobody. What we have is incredible.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, all afternoon we have watched hundreds Trump supporters enter this airport hangar in Saginaw, Michigan without any mask. There are some using masks, but they are few and far between. And as this hangar gets full or crowded throughout the afternoon, people are simply unable to practice any kind of social distancing. They are now crowding up to the barricades behind us right now, Wolf. It's as if these Trump supporters have been listening to the president downplay this virus all along.

Wolf?

BLITZER: So disturbing indeed. So disturbing. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's get some more in Bob Woodward's new book from CNN's Jamie Gangel. Jamie, Woodward learned in early February that the president knew how deadly this virus was. Why did he wait so long to expose how the president was actually misleading the American people? JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, just to give you some context, when he asked that question on Feb -- when the president discussed that on February 7th, Woodward actually thought they were going to be talking about the impeachment that night. He had just been acquitted. Instead, Trump was focused on the coronavirus. But remember, that was very early on. We really had no idea of any of this.

I remember thinking that the virus was a China problem, not something we had. And the reality is that Woodward did not realize until May what Trump was talking about. Because in May he discovers that on January 28th, there was a top secret briefing with Trump's National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien in which O'Brien and his deputy Pottinger warned the president that this was the threat of his presidency. And we have some of that audio from May when Woodward confronts Trump about that January 28th meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOODWARD: So now I understand --

TRUMP: Because it was too early.

WOODWARD: Your new national security adviser O'Brien said to you on 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: No. No.

WOODWARD: You don't?

TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GANGEL: Wolf, sort of a classic Trump pushback. I also just checked with Woodward on two things that have come out of the White House today. It is clear that they are scrambling to push back on the president's own words. And we heard just earlier the president say that Woodward didn't think it was bad and he actually said that. He said that. I just checked with Woodward, he said he never said that and he has the audiotapes.

Second thing we've been hearing from the White House today that the president gave Woodward his cell phone. That is not true. Woodward was not given his cell phone. And I have here the president said that these were very short phone calls. I actually have a list of all of the phone calls, all of the dates. There were -- there's an addition to the 18th calls, there is a 19th call. It is almost 10 hours of interviews here.

Many of them over a half hour long. Some of them an hour. And frequently, it was Trump calling Woodward unexpectedly.

Wolf?

BLITZER: So, they had 19 conversations whether in person or on the phone. Is that right?

GANGEL: That's correct. There's a 19th phone call that happens after Woodward was done with the book, and the president calls him to try to find out what's in the book.

BLITZER: Very interesting. You know, Jamie, CNN has learned that everyone in the president's inner circle thought it was a very good idea for the president to speak with Woodward. Listen to what Trump just said about the interviews. Let me play this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Bob Woodward is somebody that I respect just from hearing the name for many, many years, not knowing too much about his work, not caring about his work. But I thought it would be interesting to talk to him for a period of, you know, calls, so we did that. I don't know if it's good or bad. I don't even know if the book is good or bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, what are you learning, Jamie, about why the president even agreed to have Woodward write this book and to cooperate in the book?

[17:10:07]

GANGEL: So first of all, I think the president now has a picture of what's in the book by just our reporting. I also note that on that 19th phone call, Woodward told the president that it was going to be, quote, a tough book. But to go back to why the president wanted to do these interviews, if you read the book, there are anecdotes throughout where it is clear the president wants to impress Bob Woodward. He says things like I would be honored to have a good book from you.

He also clearly thinks it's important that he's speaking to Bob Woodward. His wife, the first lady Melania, comes in during one phone call and you hear Trump say on the audio tapes, honey, I'm talking to Bob Woodward. And there you see that picture in the Oval Office., this is one of the Oval Office interviews, all of the things on the resolute desk. Bob Woodward writes in the book, he calls them props, and there are pictures of the president with the North Korean leader. There are different papers he had signed. And Woodward calls them props that were put out there to try to impress Woodward. And he was so surprised because he has interviewed so many presidents before -- I think it's nine previous presidents and not one of them ever had anything on the resolute desk.

And one of the things that you read about in the book is, Trump insists on giving Woodward a poster sized photo of Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He says, this is my only copy, but I'm going to give it to you.

BLITZER: Jamie, you're doing amazing reporting for us. You're one of the few reporters out there that's actually read the entire book and we're grateful to you for everything you're doing. Thank you very much, Jamie Gangel, reporting for us.

Let's get some analysis right now from the former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden. Dr. Frieden, thank you so much for joining us.

And as you heard the president is insisting, he has done what he calls the best job responding to this pandemic. You say the U.S. is a global laggard on this front. So, what led you to reach a very different conclusion than the president?

DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: U.S. has a history of very effective health and public health action in this country and around the world. And yet our death rate is five times the death rate of Germany and even greater proportion higher to South Korea or other countries that have really crushed the curve, Singapore, New Zealand, Iceland. But compare us with Germany, another developed country with a decentralized government that faced the virus coming in. That's really what we could have done.

We could have had one-fifth of the deaths we have had. And part of this is a failure to communicate, Wolf. It's interesting to hear the discussion of panic because this has been studied. We know how to prevent panic when it comes to health emergencies. There are the principles of public health risk communication. There are five of them. Be first, be right, be credible, be empathetic, and give people concrete practical things to do to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.

These are five essential things. If you don't give people concrete practical useful things to do, they will do other things that aren't useful and constructive. But underlying all of this, I think is the failure to recognize that we are all in this together. We can still do better. We can control the virus, we can save lives, we can get jobs back, but that means having an organized response. That means leveling with the American people, telling people what we know when we know it.

BLITZER: And the president, I don't know if you saw this, but about half an hour at that news conference claiming the U.S. is doing great right now when it comes to fighting the coronavirus. I checked with the Johns Hopkins University, just yesterday, another 1,206 Americans died from coronavirus. Another 1,200 Americans died just yesterday.

You saw our report from Jim Acosta just now. He's with the president, he's getting ready for this upcoming rally in Michigan. Attendees there, they're not social distancing, very few are actually wearing masks. How disturbing is it at this stage knowing what we know for a complete disregard of the ongoing pandemic? And it is ongoing right now, thousands of Americans are expected to die in the coming weeks and months.

FRIEDEN: Well, on the one hand, the progress really is within our grasp. And it's very unfortunate that masks have been made into anything other than what they are. They are a way of protecting other people and protecting ourselves.

[17:15:00]

They're an inexpensive effective way of getting our jobs back, getting our educational system back, of getting back to the new normal as soon as possible. At the same time, I'm afraid. I'm afraid that we're getting inured to the number of deaths. Twelve hundred deaths is a catastrophe and that's just one day. We will past 200,000 deaths in the beginning of October by all estimates. And this is a number that is just almost inconceivable.

You know, in New York City where I work and live, there were 25,000 extra or excess deaths from COVID and related causes in just a few months. In a whole year, there's usually about 50, 55,000 deaths. So this is an enormous number of people dying and it's tragic to recognize that if we just had a more organized, well-led response with clear communication, many of those deaths could have been avoided and we can still do better. We can still make sure that we tamp the virus down, we prevent it from spreading, find it quickly, stop it from spreading, protect people so that we have fewer deaths and more jobs.

BLITZER: And we can't pretend it simply going away. That is so, so dangerous. Dr. Frieden, thank you for joining us. We'll clearly stay in touch with you.

Up next, we'll have more in the fallout from Bob Woodward's new book and his stunning recorded conversations with the president, 19 conversations. I'll speak with a key member of the House Democratic leadership, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. There you see him. We have lots to discuss. We will when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:54]

BLITZER: Today's breaking news. Amid the outrage raised by the revelations in Bob Woodward's new book, President Trump today once again trying to defend playing down the coronavirus threat early this year even though he knew it was a very, very deadly threat to the American people.

Joining us now, a key member of the House Democratic leadership, the New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. Congressman, thank you for joining us.

In response to these purely damning allegations in Woodward's upcoming book, the president trying to pin the blame elsewhere, even saying that Woodward should have, in his words, gone out to the authorities if he was so concerned about what he heard in early February from the president. What do you say to that?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Well, it's completely irresponsible for President Trump to have downplayed the impact of the coronavirus at a moment when every second, every minute, every day, every week counted and tens of thousands of lives, if not more, could have been saved. President Trump lied and people died. That's the reality of what has occurred. In numbers that should shock the conscience of every single American, almost 200,000 Americans dead as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, that is more than the Korean War, the Vietnam War, 9/11, Gulf War, the war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan combined. Yet the president would have us believe that it's all puppies and rainbows.

BLITZER: Yes. Tomorrow is the 19th anniversary of 9/11. About 3,000 Americans died on that one day in those terror attacks. We're losing about a thousand Americans every single day from the coronavirus. Once again, 1,206 Americans died just yesterday from coronavirus.

The lack of honesty coming from the president isn't just problematic when we think back over the last six or seven months, it will continue to be an issue. What will this mean, for example, when a vaccine is proven safe and effective and the federal government must urge all Americans to trust it and get vaccinated?

JEFFRIES: Well, the president's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been unmitigated disaster in terms of testing, tracing, treatment, social distancing. The absence of a national mask mandate from soup to nuts, it's been a failure. And the problem is, he has no credibility at this particular point in time and the key with a vaccine is not the presence of the vaccine, it's the actuality of vaccinations that take place. In this instance, hundreds of millions of people.

And if there's no confidence that the American people will have by- and-large in the president and/or the safety and efficacy of a vaccine, then you will not see the numbers necessary to actually defeat this pandemic and that's problematic.

BLITZER: While many of your Republican colleagues in the House and in the Senate for that matter have yet to address this new reporting by Bob Woodward, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the president should be in his words applauded not criticized. What's your response to the majority leader?

JEFFRIES: Well, the majority leader is living in a fantasy land both in terms of those sycophantic remarks as it relates to Donald Trump. But more significantly, you know, House Democrats acted on May 15th with the great leadership from Speaker Pelosi and the entirety of the House Democratic caucus on a $3 trillion plus COVID-19 relief package to deal with the pain, suffering, and death being experienced by the American people.

[17:25:00]

A hundred and 17 days or so have passed, and Mitch McConnell has finally decided to act with a bill that provides no relief to state and local governments, no relief to tenants and home owners, no direct stimulus payments to every day Americans. It cuts the emergency unemployment insurance benefit in half and would do nothing to stimulate the economy in the midst of one of the most significant recessions that we've ever seen. And so it's not just his words, Wolf, that exhibit he's living in a fantasy land, it's the absence of action which is even more devastating because of the consequences of the failure to act really hurt every day Americans.

BLITZER: Yes. The Department of Labor today just announced another 884,000 Americans lost their jobs and filed for first time unemployment benefits just last week. In one week, another 184,000 Americans have now officially applied for unemployment benefits.

As our country grapples with all of these developments, there's also a lot of instances as we all know of racial injustice. So Woodward asked the president about his own white privilege. This conversation took place less than a month after George Floyd was killed by police. I want you to listen to their exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOODWARD: 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 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? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don't feel that at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, what do you think, Congressman? What's your reaction to the president's answer?

JEFFRIES: Well, listen, we've come a long way in America on the question of race. We still have a long way to go. And systemic racism has been in the soil of this country for 401 years, and it has benefited people like Donald Trump. I mean, that's just the reality. In fact, Donald Trump is exhibit a for the power of privilege and mediocrity. The notion that this individual, a failed businessman, who has driven company after company after company into bankruptcy would not just be able to emerge from that after receiving, you know, assistance and, of course, the original inheritance from his father but become the president of the United States of America suggests that there's a different playing field that exists here in this country.

I don't expect that the president would recognize it because he tends to be divorced from reality and sees everything through his own narcissistic lens but that is just the reality. And I think what has hearten me and many others is that Americans of every race have come together over the last few months to demand a better society, to demand that equal protection under the law exists for everyone, to demand liberty and justice for all. And I'm confident eventually we're going to continue this march toward a more perfect union.

BLITZER: Representative Hakeem Jeffries, thanks so much for joining us. We'll certainly continue our conversations down the road. Appreciate you joining us.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have more breaking news coming up. The U.S. Government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just updated its forecast now predicting that at least 205,000 Americans will die from coronavirus by October 3rd. And perhaps, perhaps as many as 217,000 Americans will die over the next few weeks.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:34:25]

BLITZER: More breaking news. We're following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just released an updated coronavirus death toll forecast for the United States. Between 205,000 and 217,000 Americans are not projected to die from the virus by October 3rd. CNN's Nick Watt has the latest on the pandemic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM HASELTINE, FORMER PROFESSOR, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: How many people could have been saved out of 190,000 that have died? My guess is 180,000 of those.

DR. CRAIG SPENCER, DIR. GLOBAL HEALTH IN ER MEDICINE, NY-PRESBYTERIAN UNIV. MEDICAL CENTER: I'm furious, because we want to talk about panic and wanting to reduce panic, I think of the panic of every single family. I called on FaceTime to let them know their family member was dying or had died.

[17:35:04]

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, FORMER New York City ASST. COMMISSIONER OF HEALTH: This is medical malpractice, negligent homicide on a grand scale.

DR. JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: This is stunning. He should resign. This is really stunning.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But the President still thinks or at least says he's been great.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): You look at our numbers compared to other countries, other parts of the world. It's been an amazing job that we've done.

WATT (voice-over): OK, let's look at the numbers. Compare the U.S. to some other countries. Foreign policy magazine does just that, and ranks the U.S. very near the bottom, just below Ethiopia, Russia, Hungary, and Indonesia. The magazine highlights the federal government's limited use of facts and science.

TRUMP: You know, in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that's true.

WATT (voice-over): A new poll shows 62 percent of Americans are worried the FDA will rush approval of a vaccine due to public pressure. And a new study suggests the U.S. massively undercounted COVID-19 cases in the early days, confirming just over 720,000 cases by April 18th. Researchers estimate there were really over 6.4 million by that point. Why? Because there wasn't enough testing still isn't.

And the CDC's guidance still says if you've been at an unmasked gathering of more than 10 people but don't have symptoms, you do not necessarily need a test. Unless you are from a vulnerable population, something the administration's own testings are contradicts.

DR. BRETT GIROIR, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH, HHS: We do need to test asymptomatic people. There's no doubt about that full stop.

WATT (voice-over): Still with the mixed messaging. Look at the President slides this afternoon as we pass 40,000 cases on college campuses in every single state. As always, there are state to state day differences in terms of spread attitudes and safety measures. New York City doing great, still super cautious as they prep to reopen some indoor dining with temperature checks at the door and a warning.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY), NEW YORK: If we get to 2 percent infection rate on a regular basis on that seven-day average, at that point, we need to immediately reassess indoor dining.

WATT (voice-over): In Missouri right now, more than 13 percent of tests are coming back positive. Still, the NFL season opener is tonight in Kansas City with some fans in the stands.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: Now, Dr. Deborah Birx is urging anybody who might have let their guard down a little over the holiday weekend to get a test. That just got harder here in L.A. County. See the smoke behind me that is from the more than 3 million acres that have burned in this state. And now the air quality is so bad that L.A. County just closed six COVID-19 testing sites. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Nick Watt reporting from L.A., thank you very much.

An important program, you know, to our viewers. Stay with CNN this evening for a Global Town Hall, Coronavirus Facts and Fears hosted by our own Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. That's an 8:00 p.m. Eastern. The Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins will be among the special guests.

Coming up, why did President Trump agreed to speak with Bob Woodward on tape despite the veteran journalist reputation for rather unflattering presidential profiles over the years? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:43:08]

BLITZER: We're following breaking news up on Capitol Hill. An economic stimulus package put together by Senate Republicans failed to get any Democratic votes this afternoon appears to be going nowhere, at least right now. There's also no sign of any progress on another big issue, health care reform.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is keeping track of the President's string of broken promises that his health care plan is simply just around the corner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: I want to have a great health care bill and plan and we will. It will happen.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been three years and President Donald Trump still doesn't have a comprehensive health care reform plan. He didn't when he said this in June 2019.

TRUMP: And we already have the concept of the plan. We'll be announcing that in about two months, maybe less.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): When he promised this in July.

TRUMP: We're signing a health care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health care plan.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Or most recently, when he pledged a plan by the end of August.

TRUMP: I do want to say that we're going to be introducing a tremendous health care plan sometime prior -- hopefully prior to the end of the month. It's just about completed now.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): It's now September, in the middle of a once in a century pandemic, with the death toll surpassing 190,000. And on Capitol Hill, Republicans say they've received zero indication any health care plan is coming. It's B.S., and you know that, one GOP senator told CNN, if Trump's health care plan this week. Trump's empty health care promise now spans years sparked by the GOP failure in 2017 to repeal and replace Obamacare. And exacerbated by the Trump administration's decision to sign on to a legal effort to strike the law down all together, even without a clear replacement in the waiting, despite another Trump promise.

TRUMP: If a law is overturned, that's OK because the new law is going to have it in.

[17:45:04]

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But surrounding Trump's bold if empty promises are two stark realities. First, Republicans simply haven't coalesced around a single proposal up to this point, including inside Trump's own White House where sources say advisors have battled over ideas for years and settled instead on unilateral actions. And second, the politics of healthcare move sharply against Republicans.

Democrats in ad after ad after ad hammered Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare. And with it, its coverage of pre-existing conditions in 2018. Republicans lost the House and Trump pledged to reverse the slide. Promising GOP would, quote, become the party of health care. Republican candidates have moved forcefully to rebut the attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John will always protect everyone with pre- existing conditions.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Framing the issue in the most personal of terms, but it remains a top election issue. When Democrats polls say, continue to hold an advantage on, that more than anything else, according to AIDS is why Trump promised an executive order that he said would protect pre-existing conditions.

TRUMP: Pre-existing conditions will be taken care of 100 percent by Republicans and the Republican Party.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, there was some question about what that executive order would actually entail, why you would have to sign an executive order to cover something the Affordable Care Act already covers. Fortunately, we don't have an answer for you on that, that President never actually released or signed, at least as far as we know that executive order. Not unlike the health care plan he's been promising for several years. Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly, thank you very much. Excellent reporting.

Coming up, the journalist Bob Woodward has made his career tormenting presidents with inspiring (ph) scrutiny in his best-selling book. So why did President Trump think he could avoid their fate when he agreed to so many on the record tape interview?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:53]

BLITZER: The Trump White House is reeling right now amid fall off from Bob Woodward's damning new book and recorded in interviews with the President. Our Brian Todd is working the story for us. Brian, why did the President agree to an interview in the first place?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, sources in the administration tell us the President was convinced he could talk Bob Woodward into giving a positive portrayal of him. Experts say he should have looked at Woodward's history first.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): President Trump was so confident he could get Bob Woodward to write a glowing narrative about him and went around his aides to talk to Woodward one-on-one. That's according to people familiar with the situation who spoke to CNN.

TRUMP: Bob Woodward is somebody that I respect just from hearing the name for many, many years, not knowing too much about his work, not caring about his work, but I thought it would be interesting to talk to him. TODD (voice-over): Trump spoke to Woodward 18 times after not speaking to him at all for Woodward's first book on Trump. Trump's swagger evident in one excerpt of Woodward's interviews, where Trump brags about a now not secret weapon.

TRUMP: But I have built a weapon. I have built a weapon system, weapons system that nobody's ever had in this country before.

TODD (voice-over): In the wake of explosive excerpts of Woodward's book being made public, including the revelation that Trump initially downplayed the coronavirus pandemic to the American people, observers believe the President might have miscalculated.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: His ego got the best of him. He thought he could spin and charm Bob Woodward. Anybody who knows Bob knows that's an impossible task.

TODD (voice-over): Others who have occupied the Oval Office have had similar experiences. Bob Woodward has written best-selling books on nine presidents. In addition to Trump, Woodward says Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter granted him interviews. Aides to Obama and Bush spark with Woodward after their publication, according to Politico. It's not clear if Ronald Reagan or George Bush Senior spoke to Woodward, but the elder Bush once told CNN he wouldn't read what Woodward wrote about his son if it was critical.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have some major differences with Bob Woodward. And there's no point in going into them, but I don't -- we're not on close terms at all.

TODD (voice-over): Trump himself is quoted in Woodward's book as saying, "I hope you treat me better than Bush, because you made him look like a stupid moron, which he was". Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford are not believed to have spoken to Woodward. Why do presidents agree to speak with the legendary journalist who's often unsparing to them? Observers call it the Woodward mistake.

BRINKLEY: That ability he has to get presidents to talk and does it by saying I've talked to everybody else in the administration, but you is unnerving.

TODD (voice-over): Veteran journalists say Woodward often speaks to scores of people inside administrations before asking a president for an interview. And his sources are impeccable. We asked Susan Glasser, a former editor for Woodward at the Washington Post, what makes a Washington insider decide whether to talk to Woodward or not?

SUSAN GLASSER, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORKER": Those who cooperate with Woodward generally do have a better chance to get their story out. But if someone made that argument to President Trump in getting him to cooperate with Woodward, there was a sort of fatal error, probably missing there, which is to say if you're the president, you know, you don't get to spin Woodward.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Observers say one thing President Trump could have done that Presidents Obama and George W. Bush did was to have aides present during the interview and to have them bolster his case outside the interview, but it appears Mr. Trump didn't do any of that. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you.

Coming up, we'll have more in our top story. President Trump deflecting and shifting blame his outrage grows over his recorded conversations with Bob Woodward.

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