Return to Transcripts main page


Nation Marks 19 Years Since Terror Attacks While Battling Pandemic; Trump Claims I Didn't Lie About Deadly Pandemic Despite Tape; Trump Speaks at Flight 93 Memorial Ceremony. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 11, 2020 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Right now, the ceremony underway in Pennsylvania, also to remember those who were killed when the United Flight 93 went down.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: I'll tell you, I still remember watching the live broadcast of those towers falling. What a moment for this country.

As can you see there, the president is attending the event in Shanksville or near Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93 went down. We do expect him to speak in moments and Joe Biden after visiting ground zero will be there in Pennsylvania later today.

Listen, it's a tough day for this nation. It has been a tough week for this White House. The president having to answer for comments he made on tape in his own voice back in February that he knew how deadly this virus was but purposefully downplayed it, misled the American public.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: 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, because that's not what it's about.


SCIUTTO: Well, let's begin in Washington. CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood joins us. We know, John, that following the revelations in The Atlantic piece about the president's reported comments about the military that he was upset, concerned, tried to push back very hard. What is his level of concern now that his own words were caught on tape downplaying this?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's obviously been extremely distressed by that story, and you saw that in the vehemence of his reaction to the Bob Woodward revelations, just like the vehemence of his reaction to those comments in The Atlantic.

I will say that as divided and as polarized as the country is and as difficult political position the president is in at the moment, this is an opportunity because 9/11 is the most unifying event in our recent national history. For an earlier generation, it was World War II. For this generation it's 9/11.

And the gravity of that event, the solemnity of that event is something that the president now has an opportunity to mark as Joe Biden will mark. And it's something that is seared into the minds and hearts of nearly everyone who was conscious and alive that day.

This is the first election, by the way, in which people will be voting, 18-year-olds will be voting, who were not alive on 9/11, so some of that national memory is changing. But for those of us who were, we'll never forgot that moment and it's the opportunity for the president of the United States, as George w. Bush did, as Barrack Obama did after him to -- to express to Americans a sense of understanding and empathy and gravity of that situation.

HARLOW: That's right, as former president George Bush did on that day. John Harwood, thank you very much for that reporting.

We'd like to take you now. This is near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Let's listen to the moment of silence when United Airlines Flight 93 went down.


SCIUTTO: They are going to read the names of all 40 passengers and crew on Flight 93. If you haven't read the accounts or even seen the movie of what's believed to have happened on Flight 93, you really should or maybe just to refresh your memory, a remarkable story of heroism on that day full of so much tragedy and loss. They are going to read each of those names now where Flight 93 went down.

We will continue to bring you these moments of silence as they happen throughout this morning.

But the other story, of course, we're following is the continuing national tragedy, you might call it, certainly challenge, although there is some good news. Almost 30 states are now reporting downward trends in new COVID-19 infections. That said, vigilance is important and the nation's leading infectious disease doctor -- expert, Dr. Fauci says the pandemic will likely worsen again, sadly.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I just think we need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter because it's not going to be easy. We know every time we restrict -- we lift restrictions, we get a blip. I mean, it's getting -- it's whack-a-mole.


SCIUTTO: Yes. This when it comes as a new CDC forecast predicts 20,000 more Americans will die from this virus just in the next three weeks. That's an acceleration of the death rate. [10:05:02]

Let's discuss with CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Can you explain why that is, why we think we're going to see an uptick in the next three weeks?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think a lot of it, Jim, has to do with just the increased mobility among people, you know, as schools are reopening. And I hear so many people sort of describing this COVID pandemic in the past tense sort of feeling like it's over now that we're going into fall, which is -- you know, it's just the opposite.

And, you know, Dr. Fauci has been saying this all along even if you go back to summer, Dr. Redfield said we've got to be really, you know, prepared for the fall because we know that respiratory diseases in general tend to increase in the fall.

You know, the only precedent, Jim, that we have for something that's quite like this, you know, goes back more than 100 years, the 1918 flu pandemic. And let me just show you, it's sobering to remind you what it looked like back then.

But keep in mind if you can see on your screen, the first wave there was a small peek, but it was really that second wave, Jim, going into the fall that was so problematic. People starting to be indoors, more easily spreading the virus, person to person. We hope that doesn't happen and people will say, hey, look, there's no second wave with this because we haven't really gotten out of the first wave.

Back in 1918, at least for a period of time, we brought it down to a very low number, we still haven't done that.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, history is a guide here. You see from the history of the 1918 flu pandemic that places that opened too quickly, they were punished for it, it would be nice if we learned those lessons.

Dr. Gupta, I want to know your reaction in particular to seeing and hearing from the president himself on February 7th telling Bob Woodward in his own words that he knows how uniquely deadly the coronavirus outbreak was given that three weeks later, on February 28th, he had this exchange with you in the White House briefing room. I just -- you know it well, but I want to play it for our viewers so they remember it. Have a listen. I want to get your thoughts.


TRUMP: And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your -- you know, even your strenuous flu.

You know, people don't realize, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year here. Who would ever think that, right?

GUPTA: The flu has a fatality ratio of about 0.1 percent.

TRUMP: Correct.

GUPTA: And this has a fatality ratio of somewhere between 2 percent and 3 percent.

TRUMP: We don't know exactly.

GUPTA: Based on numbers so far.

TRUMP: And the flu is higher than that. The flue is much higher than that.

GUPTA: There're more people who get the flu, but this is spreading and is going to spread maybe within communities.

TRUMP: It may. It may.

GUPTA: That's the expectation. Yes, does that worry you because that seems what worries the American people?

TRUMP: Because we're ready for it. It is what it is. We're ready for it. We're really prepared.


SCIUTTO: I want to ask you. The president says this was just about keeping people calm. From a public health perspective, by misleading about the relative danger of coronavirus versus seasonal flu, did the president endanger American lives?

GUPTA: Yes, he did. I mean, it's -- it's sad to say. It's sobering. It's shocking. When I walked away from that press conference back in the end of February, I thought, you know, look, they are just not paying attention to this. They don't know what's happening. It's just one of those things that they are trying to ignore.

Now I realize, after listening to those tapes that you played at the beginning of February, that he actually had a remarkable understanding of this. I mean, it was pretty sophisticated. He was saying five times deadlier than the flu and that was back in the early part of February. So he was getting information, some of which going back and looking at my notes, Jim, wasn't really in the medical journals yet.

We were getting information from the medical journals. A lot of it was coming out of China at that time, obviously. That's how we were sort of consolidating. He was getting added information probably from, you know, President Xi himself or others from China, who knows. But he had the knowledge.

That's what was most striking to me about this. This wasn't just, hey, I think it's bad. Five times deadlier than the flu, he said, airborne. He was using terms that we would learn about, you know, within the next several weeks or months.

SCIUTTO: That's amazing. He knew more then than even the doctors knew. Just very quickly before you go, it's such a struggle for schools around the country, for parents as well, and you've talked publicly about your own struggles to decide what's right to do for your kid. Are schools getting the balance right in terms of how much to open, who can open, where is it safe to open?

GUPTA: This is -- it's a really tough one. I mean, I have this conversation all the time with people. I mean, there are specific criteria, you know, by which you should open schools. And, you know, I -- I know that this is difficult, but, you know, the criteria are pretty clear that you needed to have had two periods of 14-day downward trend in your area. You need to have positivity rates that are going down and certainly below 10 percent.

Jim, you know, we pulled kids out of school when there were fewer than 5,000 people infected.


We're putting kids back in school when there are more than 5 million, more than 6 million now infected in this country. I mean, you know, it doesn't make sense, right? Schools are doing this because they want to return some sense of normalcy, but we're going to look back on this time, just like I showed you that graph of 1918 and say, why did we have these sudden upticks in the number of infections? What was going on here? We decided to aggregate people together who had clustered together in the middle of a pandemic when had the numbers were getting worse.

Maybe there's a couple places in the country that meet those criteria, but sadly, Jim, most places don't, certainly not where I live, you know, here in Georgia. And most placed around the country don't meet those criteria.

SCIUTTO: Well, Sanjay, we know you'll keep us on top of it. Thanks very much, as always.

GUPA: You got it, thank you.

HARLOW: Sanjay, thank you.

And just building off that conversation, let's spent a little bit of time talking about universal sacrifice. We're going to check in with the woman who, this summer, became the first person in the country to receive a shot as phase three clinical trials for coronavirus vaccine. Let's see how she's doing, Dawn Baker of Savannah, Georgia, is with me. Good morning.


HARLOW: It's good to have you, and I do keep coming back to this thought of universal sacrifice, because that's exactly what you're doing. You are giving of yourself, your body to hope that we can achieve a vaccine in this country and protect so many people.

You were the first, as I said, in the phase three trial through Moderna. I know you just got your second shot recently. You don't know if it's the drug itself, the vaccine or the placebo. How are you feeling?

BAKER: I feel great. I had a mild headache and my vaccine arm was swollen. It felt swollen, similar to when you get a flu shot. And I had one restless night that first night. And other than that, I have felt really good, I have a lot more energy than I normally had had in the last two years because I work a midnight shift, so I go to work from 3:00 to midnight, and you know that can be exhausting.

But I am just -- honestly, just so proud to be a part of this process and hopefully this will be the answer that we need to just stop all the suffering we've endured over the last several months.

HARLOW: For people who don't know, you are a beloved anchor in Savannah, Georgia, at our affiliate, WTOC, and it's another thing that makes you such an important voice for this, right? You do interviews. You know how to talk to the public to help people understand what you're going through.

But as I understand it, this is also pretty personal for you because your friend, your colleague there, Lyndsey Gough, who is just 27 years old, she was hospitalized with COVID for 11 days.

BAKER: Yes, she was. And Lyndsey had to go on a ventilator. Lyndsey has had several medical procedures as well, and she is still recovering. And this is some 70 days past that.

But, you know, honestly it was even bigger than Lyndsey, because, to me, it was never about data. It was always about families, and it just really broke my heart. It had me, you know, depressed, overwhelmed, wondering what I can do just hearing about the large number of people who were getting sick, some mildly sick but many more severely ill.

And, of course, all the deaths, to me, just broke my heart because I know that families are being ruined and I have friends and loved ones who have lost close family members. I know people who have passed away.

And, you know, it just hurt my heart that, number one, they were sick, but also they were so extremely sick. Even Lyndsey, no one could go and visit her. Thank gosh, Lyndsey survived. But those who didn't survive, to die alone and what the families are going through, it really is just inhumane, honestly.

HARLOW: It is. The loneliness is such a painful part of it that I -- that I think we often don't address enough. And I'm glad that you brought that up.

We have to talk about -- I mean, you, not only as a public figure doing this, but as a black woman, the fact that these trials, a number of them have slowed down because there are not enough minority participants, especially black participants in them.

And when you broke the news that you were going to be part of this and the first to talk this vaccine shot, a woman wrote this on Facebook, Dawn. Quote, Dawn lost her mind. Another person wrote, I got two words, Tuskegee experiment. How do you fight that, the history in this country?

BAKER: You know, I can't fight it. I completely understand the fear. Blacks have certainly been mistreated in this country from the beginning of time. The Tuskegee experiment, in case people don't know, was a syphilis experiment where they gave syphilis to healthy people for 40 years to see how they would react and then when penicillin and the cure came about, no one would give it to them. Also the founder of modern day gynecologists did experiments on enslaved black women without their permission.


And so a lot has gone on and a lot needs to be addressed.

But, you know, my hope is, that you know, number one, I'm not crazy. I knew that this was not a live virus. I also knew that my doctor of more than 30 years was taking care of me and my family very well, is right here in savannah, Dr. Paul Bradley. He is the key investigator for Meridian Health Clinic. And over this part of the vaccine study right here in Savannah, when he asked me to do it, I asked him, is it live, am I going to get COVID from doing this. And I trust that he would not ever lead me down a road that would hurt me.

So, to me, it was a wonderful opportunity to be a part of the solution. So I just really feel that maybe what needs to happen is before we get into these vaccine studies, there needs to be some effort made to the minority community to actually explain and acknowledge that there is a problem and what's going on there.

HARLOW: Dawn Baker, thank you for being here. Thank you for doing this. Come back, if you would, after the next one.

BAKER: Well, no more shots for me, thank goodness. I'm done with that but I'll come in to chat any other time to let you know how I'm doing.

HARLOW: We look forward to that. Take good care. Thank you very much.

BAKER: Thank you.

HARLOW: Well, ahead for us, as colleges across the country struggle with these outbreaks, the University of Illinois is pushing an aggressive plan of testing, trying to prevent the spread, but it is facing some setbacks. Why? College kids like to party. The chancellor will be with us.

SCIUTTO: Plus, half a million people forced from their homes and the death toll now climbing as wildfires burn up and down the west coast. It's a horrific scene there. We're going to have a live update. Look at those pictures.



HARLOW: Welcome back.

Well, President Trump has had to play defense a number of times in the last week starting with reports that he repeatedly disparaged the U.S. military and now defending his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The president claiming he did not lie to the American people about the severity of the crisis. Trouble is he did and his voice is on tape.

Joining me now to discuss is the CNN National Security Analyst and former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Director Clapper, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thanks, Jim, for having me, good to be with you.

HARLOW: Well, we've heard the tape, and that the president knew in private the severity of this outbreak, especially in comparison to seasonal flu, and yet days later he said otherwise to the American public, and has, in fact, repeated those kinds of questions for weeks and months that followed.

Did him misleading the public, in your view, cost American lives?

CLAPPER I don't think it's any question about it, particularly during a seven-week period there where it was a constant state of denial and, you know, this is going to go away, it's under control, et cetera, et cetera. And there's a lot of things that could have been --

HARLOW: Director Clapper, hold your thought if you can for a moment because the president is about to speak at Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We'll be right back.

TRUMP: --at this very hour on this field, 40 brave men and women triumphed over terror and gave their lives in defense of our nation. Their names and their stories are forever inscribed on the eternal roll call of American heroes.

Today, we pay tribute to their sacrifice and we mourn deeply for the nearly 3,000 precious and beautiful souls who were taken from us on September 11th, 2001.

To the family members of Flight 93, today, every heartbeat in America is wedded to yours. Your pain and anguished is the shared grief of our whole nation. The memory of your treasured loved ones will inspire America for all time to come.

The heroes of Flight 93 are an everlasting reminder that no matter the danger, no matter the threat, no matter the odds, America will always rise up, stand tall and fight back.

To every 9/11 member all across this nation, the first lady and I come to this hallowed ground deeply aware that we cannot fill the void in your heart or erase the terrible sorrow of this day. The agony renewed, the nightmare relived, the wounds reopened, the last treasured words played over and over again in your minds.

But while we cannot erase your pain, we can help to shoulder your burden. We promise that unwavering love that you so want and need, support, devotion and the very special devotion of all Americans.

On that September morning when America was under attack, the battle turned in the skies above this field. Soon after taking off from Newark, New Jersey, radical Islamic terrorists seized control of United 93. Other hijacked planes struck the north tower of the World Trade Center and then the south tower and then the Pentagon.

The terrorists on Flight 93 had a fourth target in mind.


It was called our nation's capitol. They were just 20 minutes away from reaching their sinister objective. The only thing that stood between the enemy and a deadly strike at the heart of American democracy was the courage and resolve of 40 men and women, the amazing passengers and crew of Flight 93.

Donald and Jean Peterson were grandparents traveling to vacation in California. Deora Bodley Bosley was a student headed back to college. Richard Guadagno was returning from celebrating his grandmother's 100th birthday. Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas was three months pregnant with her first child. Every passenger and crew on the plane had a life filled with life and joy, friends and family, radiant hopes and limitless dreams.

When the plane was hijacked, they called their families and learned that America was also under attack. Then they faced the most fateful moment of their lives. Through the heartache and the tears, they prayed to God. They placed their last calls home. They whispered the immortal words, I love you.

Today, those words ring out across these sacred grounds and they shine down on us from heaven above. When terrorists race to destroy the seat of our democracy, the 40 Flight 93 did the most American of things. They took a vote and then they acted. Together they charged the cockpit. They confronted the pure evil. And in their last act on this earth, they saved our Capitol.

In this Pennsylvania field, the 40 intrepid souls of Flight 93 died as true heroes. Their momentous deeds will outlive us all. In the days and weeks after 9/11, citizens of all faiths, background, colors and creeds came together, prayed together, mourned together and rebuilt together. The song, God bless America, became a rallying cry for the nation.

We were united by our conviction that America was the world's most exceptional country, blessed with the most incredible heroes and that this was a land worth defending with our very last breath. It was a unity based on love for our families, care for our neighbors, loyalty to our fellow citizens, pride in our great flag, gratitude for our police and first responders, faith in God and a refusal to bend our will to the depraved forces of violence, intimidation, oppression and evil.

In New York, Arlington and Shanksville, people raced into the suffocating smoke and rubble. At ground zero, the world witnessed the miracle of American courage and sacrifice. As ash rained down, police officers, first responders and firefighters ran into the fires of hell. On that day, more than 400 first responders gave their lives, including 23 New York City police officers, 37 port authority workers and 343 New York City firefighters. Today, we honor their extraordinary sacrifice and every first responder who keeps America safe.

With us today is David DeMato, a retired Chicago police officer and a current officer of the Navy reserves. On 9/11, he drove from Chicago to ground zero. As David says, while the sights and smells of working at ground zero will forever be etched in my mind, what is more profound is the way this country came together afterwards.


The police officers and firemen were revered as the heroes they truly are. The military was appreciated.