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Trump Compares Himself to Roosevelt, Churchill; Trump's Admissions Spart Outrage, So He Blames Woodward; Bolton: Trump Only Views Virus as Political Threat; NIH Director: Vaccine Trials Will Not Compromise Safety; Medical Experts Slam Trump for Downplaying Virus; France Confirms Record 9,843 New Cases in 24-Hours; Fire Erupts in Beirut Port Weeks After Deadly Explosion. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 11, 2020 - 04:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump defends his handling of the coronavirus at a crowded rally with limited social distancing or masks.

Half a million people in Oregon are forced to evacuate as dozens of fires on the West Coast rage out of control.

And a different fire with devastating consequences. We go live to Lesbos, Greece after flames ravage a huge refugee camp. Now the people have nowhere to live.

We're live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world, I'm Natalie Allen and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

We begin with the deepening fallout to President Trump's stunning admission that he misled the American people about the coronavirus pandemic, but don't imagine for a moment that he is sorry. Donald Trump is proud of what he did even comparing himself to Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Listen to what he told a crowd of supporters on Thursday in Michigan.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America will prevail over the China virus as Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. That's it. We're doing very well.

As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, keep calm and carry on. That's what I did when Hitler was bombing London. Churchill, a great leader would oftentimes go to a roof in London and speak and he always spoke with calmness. He said, we have to show calmness. No, we did it the right way and we've done a job like nobody.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ALLEN: Few people wore masks at the rally, and social distancing, well, it was nonexistent. It came one day after on the record interviews by the President revealed he knew back in February the coronavirus was both highly contagious and deadlier than the flu. Yet he admits in those same interviews with journalist Bob Woodward, to intentionally downplaying the health threat because he said he didn't want to cause a panic.

Some of Woodward's taped interviews with the President were released ahead of his new book on the Trump presidency. Unlike anonymous sources that some could more easily label as fake, it is the President himself admitting he misled the country about the pandemic.


As the White House grapples with the repercussions, the President is now blaming the journalist, Mr. Woodward. We get more about all of this from CNN's Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One day after bombshell recordings reveal the President intentionally downplayed the COVID-19 threat, Mr. Trump is claiming it was all about keeping Americans from panicking.

TRUMP: 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: 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.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bob Woodward is not the president.

TRUMP: The only that --

ACOSTA: 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) U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER: 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: The President has used the panic excuse before, way back in March.

ACOSTA (on camera): What do you say to Americans who believe 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 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: Even with the Trumps admissions caught on tape --

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


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

ACOSTA: 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: 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 job as you can under the circumstances.

But there are other pressing questions for the President raised in the Woodward book, as to why Mr. Trump thought it was a good idea to tell the author about what sounds like a top-secret nuclear weapon system.

TRUMP: But I have built a nuclear -- a weapon, I have built a weapon system, weapon system that nobody has ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven't even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There is nobody -- what we have this incredible.

ACOSTA (on camera): And during this rally in Michigan the President and his campaign team were violating his administration's own coronavirus guidelines as they packed in thousands of supporters who weren't practicing social distancing, and many were not wearing masks.

Jim Acosta, CNN, at the Saginaw Airport in Michigan.


ALLEN: John Bolton has been critical of President Trump's leadership after he was ousted as National Security Advisor one year ago. Bolton spoke earlier with our Chris Cuomo and said Mr. Trump only views the pandemic as it might impact his chances for reelection.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Look, this is a very serious political problem for the President. Of which is what he understands it to be. It's not a matter of truth or falsity here for him. This is an existential threat to his reelection, which I think explains the vehemence of his response to it.

And I think it's just absolutely striking how clear he is on these tapes to Woodward of his appreciation for how dangerous the coronavirus was compared to what he was saying publicly at the time, what his senior advisers and cabinet officials were saying at the time. There's no way you can reconcile those things. And that coming out of his own mouth, I think this could be nearly the point where the campaign ends.


ALLEN: Bolton also said it was President Trump's nature to resist listening to negative information that he doesn't want to hear, especially if it might have an adverse effect on the economy and jeopardize his reelection.


A key U.S. health official says he's puzzled by the lack of masks at Mr. Trump's rallies. Dr. Francis Collins is the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. During a CNN global town hall Thursday, he expressed concern that politics now has an impact on safety.


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: How did we get here? Imagine you were an alien who landed on planet earth and you saw that our planet was inflicted by an infectious disease and masks were an effective way to prevent the spread and yet when you went around you saw some people not wearing them and some people wearing them. And you tried to figure out why. And it turned out it was their political party. And you would scratch your head and think, this is just not a planet that has much promise for the future if something that is so straightforward can somehow get twisted into decision making that really makes no sense. So, I'm as a scientist, I'm pretty puzzled and rather disheartened.


ALLEN: Dr. Collins also addressed vaccine safety at the CNN global town hall. He said people shouldn't worry about the safety of any vaccine once it is approved.


COLLINS: We have now six vaccines that are either already in Phase 3 trials or will be quite soon. Each of those requiring 30,000 participants to be sure we have enough evidence to decide about safety and efficacy. And it is moving forward at a pace that the world has never seen, but I will say not in a fashion that allows cutting corners with safety. I want to make that really clear. We sped up this process in a variety of ways, but not to compromise safety. In fact, I would say these trials are more rigorous than almost any that have been done for vaccines.


ALLEN: But there is growing anger at the U.S. President among some U.S. health professionals in the wake of Mr. Trump's admission that he downplayed the coronavirus throughout. Many medical workers are furious. CNN's Nick Watt has more about it.


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, NEW YORK-PRESBYTERIAN/COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: I'm furious, because you 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?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: 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: But the President still thinks or at least says he's been great.

TRUMP: If 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: OK, let's look at the numbers. Compare the U.S. to some other countries. Foreign Policy magazine just does 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: A new poll shows 62 percent of Americans are worried the FDA will rush approval of a vaccine due to political 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 have 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 testing czar contradicts.

ADMIRAL BRETT GIROIR, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: We do need to test asymptomatic people. There is -- there is no doubt about that, full stop.

WATT: Still, with the mixed messaging. Look at the President's slides this afternoon as we pass 40,000 cases on college campuses in every single state. As always, there are state to state 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.

BILL DE BLASIO (D) NEW YORK MAYOR: 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: 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 stand.

(on camera): So, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force is now telling anybody who might have let their guard down a little over the long Labor Day holiday weekend to get a test. That is now just a little bit harder here in Los Angeles County.


You can see this is smoke from wildfires that have burned, three million acres in the state, as a result of the air quality L.A. County has now closed six COVID-19 testing sites.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


ALLEN: "Time Magazine's" latest cover packs a powerful message about this pandemic. 200,000, that is the grim death toll the U.S. is quickly approaching in the pandemic. And look closely and you can see how an artist hand drew the date and death count for every day between February 29th when the U.S. registered its first COVID related death until September 8th, the magazine's printed deadline. And for only the second time in its history "Time" changed the cover's red border to black. The first time was after 9/11. Coincidentally, today is the 19th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

The French endured one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in Europe at the outset of the pandemic, and now the government is looking at reimposing some of the restrictions to curb the country's now sharp rise in new infections. We'll have a live report from France about that ahead.

And a little latter on -- the Western U.S. is facing unprecedented fires burning across 12 states. We'll take you to the fire lines to see how dangerous these fires have become.



ALLEN: The coronavirus pandemic has now infected well over 28 million people worldwide and killed more than 900,000. That according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. India has the dubious distinction of hitting the highest number of new coronavirus cases in a single day ever recorded in the world. More than 96,000 people. The United States continues leading with more total cases and deaths than any other country. It now has close to 6.4 million cases and more than 191,000 deaths.

Brazil has the second highest death total in the world. On Thursday authorities reported almost 1,000 more fatalities and more than 40,000 new infections.

And Israel has set a record for new cases for two days in a row. Now that nation may be returning to a countrywide general lockdown like the one it put in place in the early days of the pandemic.

Europe as well struggling with the resurgence of new infections. France just set a record of more than 9,800 confirmed cases in 24 hours and the government meets later today to discuss whether it should impose new restrictions.

Let's bring in Jim Bittermann in southern France. Such an unfortunate turnaround for France and what might these new restrictions look like if they decide that?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is unfortunate, Natalie. And in fact, I think the French thought that they were doing pretty well up until a few weeks ago and then the numbers started to climb up. And like you said, more than 9,000 cases reported just in the 24 hours that ended yesterday. And 50,000 new cases over the last week. So, that's got officials worried.

There's a scientific council that's meeting at this hour in Paris and in fact, they're going to come up with some recommendations for the government. Now President Macron emphasize yesterday that the government is still going to make the decisions, it's not going to be the scientists alone. But the scientists said that they're going to be some difficult choices to make in the days ahead. And it could be that there'll be some continuation of the lockdowns that we saw in the early spring and late spring. And in fact, Macron kind of hinted at that yesterday. Because he said

that any decisions will be taken on a geographic basis, territorial basis so that they'll go after these hotspots. And we now have several hot spots that have a high number of cases in different parts of the country, Bordeaux, down in Marseilles and in Paris. So, they're going to be looking at those areas particularly and try to figure out what they can do without some kind of a generalized and Macron said this -- not some kind of a generalized lockdown like we saw last spring -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, we'll wait and see what the decision is. Jim Bittermann for us in southern France. Jim, thanks.

If and when vaccines become available, many people may not trust them to take them. That is what a new study published Thursday in the medical journal "The Lancet" suggests. Researchers surveyed nearly 300,000 people around the world between 2015 and 2019 and asked them if they felt comfortable taking any vaccines. This is where things stood in 2015. Dark blue means that most of the country thought that vaccines were safe. Deep orange indicates that less than a third of the country's residents thought so. You can see hot spots of doubt in Russia and parts of Europe here.

And now let's see what 2018 looked like. Vaccine confidence across Europe was still pretty low. Nigeria, Pakistan, and Indonesia are among countries that saw a big increase in the number of people that said they did not trust vaccines. Researchers call the results worrying and say that the spread of misinformation is partly to blame.

A huge fire broke out in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday in the same port where an explosion last month killed nearly 200 people. The smoke and flames panicked city residents and renewed simmering anger at public officials. For more about it, here's Arwa Damon.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No one knew what was happening, as the smoke darkened the skies. And the fire burned through what was left of Beirut's port. Just a few days ago, four tons of ammonium nitrate were found in the port. All they could think was, another blast is coming. Flee.

I live some 500 meters from this fire Maja Hasnain (ph) says. I have to take my wife and children out of Beirut because of this. Since they are still living in fear after what happened before.


It's been barely a month since the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut's port. Ripping through swaths of the city, taking lives, and shredding homes.

We saw the same thing happening again, Andre Mugabe (ph) says. We are definitely scared, and people are freaking out.

The trauma from that is still all too fresh. The anger at the government's incompetence too raw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a disaster. It is our (BEEP) politicians, they are doing. No, no, let me show -- let me show the truth because this is the truth. We are working here in Beirut every day, to help people. Where is the government?

DAMON: This area, just a short distance from the site of the deadly explosion in August, should have been secured. This should not be happening. How did cooking oil and tires go up in flames? We don't know what caused this fire. Just like we don't know what caused the initial fire that led to the ammonium nitrate's detonation back in August. And this, this just adds to the deep despair among the population here. A choking reminder of all they have suffered. Still, so incomprehensible.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Istanbul.


ALLEN: Deadly fires continue to rage out of control in the Western U.S. Next here I'll have the latest updates on the infernos that have now claimed at least 15 lives.


ALLEN: And welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world, I'm Natalie Allen. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta.

A firestorm of flames continues to sweep across millions of acres on America's west coast in an unprecedented outbreak of wildfires. At least 28 fires are burning across the state of California, including the largest one in its history.