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Whistleblower Alleges DHS Officials Changed Intel to Suit President Trump; Iowa School District Defies Governor And Judge. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 11, 2020 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

This morning our nation remembers one of its greatest national tragedies. And at the same time battles a deadly crisis still ravaging the country.

It's been 19 years since the world watched as terrorists attacked this country, our people and our democracy. 2,977 people lost their lives, many thousands more were injured. Right now, memorial services are under way in New York and here in Washington. The president is set to attend a ceremony this morning in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the fourth aircraft went down.

HARLOW: But honoring each of those precious lives lost does not look like it has in years past. The events today are scaled back as this pandemic hangs over the country. We mourn the deaths now of nearly 192,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19.

Our national correspondent Athena Jones starts us off this morning right here in New York City.

Athena, a moment of silence, another one, expected in just a few minutes. Before we get to that, what is it like today as we honor the dead?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Well, this is going to be a very different remembrance. We all remember where we were on September 11th, 2001, those of us of a certain age, and we've grown accustomed to seeing the traditional 9/11 ceremony with the victims' families reading out the names. Well, this year it's going to be different because of concerns about COVID.

The reading of the names has begun but it's a recording. It's being played over loud speakers. But it's still important to mark this moment even in a scaled back way. Of course that reading of the names takes a long time because we're talking about 2,753 people who perished in those towers. As I mentioned the ceremony has already begun. There will be moments of silence along the way. We've seen various dignitaries arrive. We also had a chance to speak earlier with the NYPD commissioner

Dermot Shea about the importance of marking this day. Listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DERMOT SHEA, NYPD COMMISSIONER: It is honestly hard to put into words the emotion that you feel this day. I think the whole department -- you know, we'll start today by reading the names of those that we've lost as we do every year, so it's sacrifice and just remembering our vow to the families and to the officers to never forget their sacrifice. I mean, that's what I keep coming back to. But there's so many emotions tied to that event.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: So much loss, but again as you mentioned these ceremonies are scaled down because we're in the midst of another tragedy, albeit a tragedy of a very different sort with COVID.

As I mentioned we've seen dignitaries arrive including former Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden, Vice President Mike Pence, Governor Andrew Cuomo. All of them wearing masks. The idea was to have there be less of a crowd on the site, so you do see a lot of people, but we're in New York and everyone you see is wearing a mask as they honor this day.

The Bidens will be heading to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the site of the crash of Flight 93 later today.

SCIUTTO: Let's participate now in this moment of silence. 19 years later.

That was the moment 19 years ago that United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower In New York. 9:03 a.m. Of course, it was 8:46 when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower. There'll be another moment of silence in about half an hour to mark the time American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon.

Nineteen years later, still those wounds so raw.

We will bring you these moments as they come. Thanks to Athena Jones who's there in New York for us.

We turn now to the coronavirus pandemic. Another national tragedy. A new forecast predicts 20,000 more Americans will die from this virus in the next three weeks. Just alarming to hear.

[09:05:04]

Dr. Anthony Fauci telling Americans to, quote, "hunker down" for fall and winter, warning it won't be easy. We know that. Still, the president held a rally, a big one, a public one despite worries from health experts.

HARLOW: We'll have more on that in a moment because also this morning, we have brand-new reporting this hour about just how common it is for a vaccine trial to be put on hold. Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is with us now.

Is it common?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, it's actually not common. When this happened, when AstraZeneca announced their pause earlier this week, there were various voices that were trying to give the impression, this happens a lot, this is common. Actually when I speak with people who run clinical trials for a living, have run vaccine trials for decades, they say, you know what, this isn't very common.

One doctor put it at maybe 5 percent to 10 percent, probably closer to 5 percent. Of course when you're running a clinical trial people are going to get sick. It's 30,000 human beings, someone is going to get cancer. Someone is going to have a heart attack. But usually they look at those and they're on -- they're deemed unrelated and -- to the study and they don't pause the study. The fact that they felt the need to pause the study not once, but twice, is uncommon according to the vaccine trial experts that I'm talking to.

As Anthony Fauci put it, it is unfortunate. He said we hope that the trial will be able to proceed, but you don't know. And this is one of the reasons why, and this is me talking, not Dr. Fauci, that we want to be careful as we're going through these trials about making predictions. It's very hard to predict what will happen in a vaccine clinical trial. They are notoriously difficult to predict -- Poppy, Jim.

HARLOW: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you for that important reporting, and you're right. It did seem to us at the beginning in the week that this was something that happened all the time. So thank you for that.

With us now is Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, and Monica Schoch- Spana. She's medical anthropologist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Good morning to you both. Dr. Offit, let's begin with you. Building off of Elizabeth's reporting on why the AstraZeneca trial was paused, that adds to this new ensemble forecast that 15,000 more Americans could die from COVID-19 in the next three weeks and Dr. Fauci says things will get worse. What should people all be bracing for in the next month?

DR. PAUL OFFIT, DIRECTOR, VACCINE EDUCATION CENTER AT CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: Well, you know, I think in terms of what Elizabeth Cohen said, she's exactly right. I mean, it's unusual for a trial to be stopped. Obviously, we need a vaccine, we want a vaccine. A vaccine along with hygienic measures is our way out of this pandemic, but it has to be safe. It has to be held to a high standard of safety.

Most of the people who are going to be getting this vaccine are healthy young people, people unlikely to die from this virus, so I'm glad that AstraZeneca took this safety concern seriously and are now pausing to see whether or not this was an event that was causally related to the vaccine or just coincidentally related to the vaccine.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Schoch-Spana, can you explain why this ensemble forecast, ensemble meaning coming together, so just 15,000 American deaths in the next few weeks, I mean, 5,000 a week, that's a remarkable and alarming uptick from the pace we've been at before. What explains that in your view?

MONICA SCHOCH-SPANA, MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGIST AT JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: I think we're still seeing some limitations in the realm of risk perception, in terms of perceived sense of the gravity and the need to continue to implement nonpharmaceutical interventions like mask wearing, like physical distancing, like avoiding places of congregation in large numbers.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, it's interesting and the public -- the public modelling, right, Poppy, you're seeing from the president holding these rallies doesn't fit in with that, you know, general view, you know, simple steps can make a difference.

HARLOW: Yes. And Dr. Schoch-Spana, just to follow-up with you on that because, you know, you have studied this for so long in terms of how the public often heeds advice from people like you. You say the role of public health communities and communication is often taken for granted and that you really realized that struggle in a moment like this.

SCHOCH-SPANA: Absolutely. I think we need to consider the absolutely central role of good crisis leadership and good crisis communication. And that includes three major components. It's about empathizing with people suffering during a -- an incident of mass trauma. It's about providing concrete, solid, accurate information about what people can do to protect themselves. And it's also offering hope that there is a view to the future to learn from the catastrophe, take measures to improve our systems and be ready for the next event.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

[09:10:10]

SCHOCH-SPANA: And we unfortunately haven't seen that.

SCIUTTO: No, we haven't. Dr. Offit, there's a lot of talk given the understandable wait and excitement and anticipation for a vaccine coming through, there's been talk that you can have a similar effect to vaccines by taking simple steps like mask wearing, avoiding public places, et cetera. Tell us your thinking on that from a public health perspective but also an individual health perspective.

Can people protect themselves if not to the degree of a vaccine, close to that degree by taking simple steps like this?

OFFIT: Well, I see it a little differently. I think there are two ways out of this pandemic, both of which have to be hygienic measures and a vaccine. If you ask me, which of the two is the more powerful, it's the hygienic measure. I mean, if I wear a mask and stand six feet away from you, you wear a mask and stand six feet away from me, that's extremely unlikely that I would get a virus from you or you from me. I mean, it's virtually impossible.

If you have a vaccine that works extremely well, if you ask Tony Fauci what do you think would be a level of efficacy that you would be excited about, he would say around 75 percent, which means 75 percent of people who get the vaccine would be protected but 25 percent wouldn't be protected against moderate to severe disease, and frankly a greater percent wouldn't be protected against either mild infection or asymptomatic infection, where you could still shed virus and be contagious.

I mean, the hygienic measure is the more powerful measure. You can actually get people back to work, get the economy back -- going back well again as long as you do what other countries are doing which is being much smarter about hygienic measures than we are. I think frankly people should know that if you get a vaccine, knowing that at best it's going to be, let's say, 75 effective you still need to wear a mask because you still may be one in four people who's going to get moderate to severe disease or one of the far greater number of people who may still shed the virus. So I don't think people understand that.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: If that's the case, Dr. Schoch-Spana, for how long? Like are my kids going to be wearing masks in school for years then, even post vaccine?

SCHOCH-SPANA: I'll defer to Dr. Offit on the issue of the disease becoming endemic, but we're talking about a shift in typical routine behaviors and we will need to be adopting these hygienic measures as Dr. Offit noted. As an anthropologist, we also need to look at masks in terms of not only their biomedical or clinical value, they also play a symbolic value in our culture and it's going to be necessary to better understand the world views, the social values, the personal identities that are getting tied up in mask wearing and reach out to people on a multitude of planes and themes in order to talk about their value. And not strictly in clinical terms alone.

SCIUTTO: Well, it will be interesting to see if these measures help blunt the effects of a typical flu season, too. Right?

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Hand washing, mask wearing, et cetera.

Dr. Paul Offit, Dr. Monica Schoch-Spana, thanks to both of you.

OFFIT: Thank you.

SCHOCH-SPANA: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, President Trump launches his defense after being caught on tape -- his own words -- privately admitting the coronavirus was much more deadly than he led the American public to believe.

HARLOW: Also ahead, we are at least -- 15 people now are dead as devastating wildfires continue to burn all up and down the West Coast with some of the largest fires the state of California has ever seen. We'll take you there live ahead.

And the first NFL game of the season and the first controversy as fans appear to boo players during a moment of unity.

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[09:15:00]

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. President Trump attempting to defend his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying he did not lie to the American people about the severity of the crisis.

HARLOW: But he did, and it is on tape. Let's go to our John Harwood, he joins us this morning. Not only saying he didn't lie, but I thought the comparisons that he made to Churchill in particular were pretty astonishing.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know, Poppy, that those comparisons don't make any sense. Churchill and FDR both gave their constituents a realistic picture of the struggles ahead in World War II to try to steal them for the necessary sacrifices they needed to make. That is precisely what the president tried to avoid. He says that he wanted to avoid panic, but the evidence suggests that what he wanted to avoid in particular was panic on the financial markets that could threaten the picture he was painting of economic success going into the election.

We also know that his re-election campaign is grounded in the desire to incite panic among voters especially white-working class voters in his base about lawlessness in American cities, about the prospect of suburbs being demolished. A whole other range of disasters that he is fabricating -- economic collapse. It's also worth noting that the president continued to mislead Americans by the very fact that he held that rally last night --

HARLOW: Right --

HARWOOD: Very little mask wearing, very little social distancing. Prospects are that people are going to get sick from that rally, and maybe people will die as Herman Cain did after the Tulsa rally. And one final thing to point out on the 19th anniversary of 9/11, we are right now in this pandemic losing twice as many people every week as were lost on 9/11. We can't forget that toll.

[09:20:00]

HARLOW: You're completely right, we cannot. John Harwood, thank you very much for the reporting at the White House this morning. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Joining us now to talk about this and more, CNN contributor Miles Taylor, he worked in the Trump administration, was Chief of Staff to former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Miles, good to have you on this morning, thanks very much.

MILES TAYLOR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hey, Jim, thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: OK, let's talk about the president's -- the administration's pandemic response. The president says he did not lie to the American people. The record, a tape of his own words shows otherwise. You helped lead a department charged with pandemic response. In your view, did his misleading the American public potentially cost American lives?

TAYLOR: Well, I think what's really obvious about the Woodward book is this. The White House can no longer hide behind claims that these are anonymous sources making unfounded allegations. The most damning source in Woodward's reporting is the president himself, and yes, Jim, I do think because of the delay that the president made in responding, his downplaying of the virus and the subsequent chaotic response out of the White House.

I do genuinely believe that tens of thousands of Americans are dead needlessly that would not have otherwise died if they had managed this response appropriately. Now, I've got to say, I served in the George W. Bush administration in the Department of Homeland Security, when we were crafting pandemic response plans, those response plans were ready to be used. There's a clear system for the president through the Secretary of Homeland Security to lead a nationwide pandemic response. It's been exercised throughout the government for years, the president failed to make use of it.

Instead, he wanted to create an ad hoc taskforce at the White House which is not the structure that was envisioned post 9/11, and as a result of that failure, people have died. I'll go one step further and say, I have talked to the people at the White House behind the scenes who were managing some of that response day-to-day at the taskforce, and they tell me that they agree that Americans are dead because the president delayed in responding, and he was reluctant to accept the information he was being given because of his concerns about the political fallout.

SCIUTTO: I just wonder then where are those voices now, right? Because the president continues to downplay the severity of this virus, it was only a week ago he was sharing a conspiracy theory that the death toll shown there on our screen massively exaggerates the deaths when in fact the CDC counts these numbers very closely. Why not more voices from the administration if they believe this is costing lives to raise their hand and say that publicly?

TAYLOR: Yes, so two things. One, I would say, I think it's important to note that in Woodward's book, he quotes directly and not from anonymous sources, he quotes directly from people like Dr. Anthony Fauci and including his critique of the president, his management style and his ability or inability rather to manage this crisis. So that's important that there are people on the record out there on the subject. As for those that are currently in the administration, I'm in conversations with folks that are considering leaving the administration potentially, discussing what they saw when it came to a pandemic response. But I would note most immediately, my former colleague at DHS,

Elizabeth Newman has come out and personally --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

TAYLOR: Testified to the fact that the administration was slow in responding, and that the result was that more Americans died than needed to --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

TAYLOR: When she was charged at DHS with helping lead part of this pandemic response, and I think her testimony is very compelling here.

SCIUTTO: And it's been a consistent picture. I want to talk about another threat, this is upcoming to the election. As you know, there's a whistle-blower claim from inside the DHS that acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf who the president has now nominated to be permanent, told officials to downplay intelligence surrounding Russia's interference in this election. Did you witness the same kind of pressure, and I wonder, do you see that downplaying as putting this election in further jeopardy of Russian interference?

TAYLOR: Yes, let me say this, first and foremost. This all falls at the president's feet. Donald Trump created a culture of intimidation throughout the administration when it came to the issue of election security and Russian interference. And I mean that very seriously --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

TAYLOR: Because he attempted to purge senior officials who went out and publicly expressed the truth about Russian interference. The truth that was validated by our intelligence community. I affirmed one piece of that whistle-blower report which indicated that the president of the United States tried to fire our top DHS Intelligence official for telling the truth about the threat on Capitol Hill. Now, Secretary Nielsen and I managed to prevent that firing, but it just goes to show you the lengths to which the president will go to try to purge individuals who tell the truth on this subject --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

TAYLOR: And then Jim, let me add this.

SCIUTTO: It's consistent, I just --

TAYLOR: Yes --

SCIUTTO: I would just note because I have heard officials from inside this administration say the same thing to the point where intelligence briefers briefed him less on Russia because the president blew up at it. But just very quickly before I go because you are mentioned as you know in this whistle-blower complaint, claiming you were among officials who put pressure on the whistle-blower to inflate claims of terrorists crossing the southern border. What's your response to that? [09:25:00]

TAYLOR: Yes, so look, I think we need to take whistle-blower complaint seriously, however, we need to treat this complaint with kid gloves. So that specific allegation was that the Secretary of Homeland Security lied about the number of terrorists at the border. If you look, the whistle-blowers lawyers actually walked back from that last night because there's --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

TAYLOR: Nothing in the public record that shows that the secretary ever made such a claim. So there are false and material misstatements in this complaint, that's why we have to be careful with it. But other pieces, I think we've got to call the balls and strikes, other pieces --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

TAYLOR: In the complaint are valid, and certainly, the piece about Russian interference and the president's attempt to fire officials for speaking the truth.

SCIUTTO: Miles Taylor, we appreciate having you on this morning, hope we can keep up the conversation.

TAYLOR: Right, thanks, Jim.

HARLOW: Ahead for us, Iowa's governor and a judge in Iowa both ordered schools there to make sure at least 50 percent of instruction is in person. But one big school district in the state said no, defying that. We'll have more on that showdown, next.

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[09:30:00]