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Trump Says He Lied to Keep Americans from Panicking; White House Urges Students to Stay on Campus Amid College Outbreaks; Wildfires Rage on West Coast, Killing at Least 15. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 11, 2020 - 06:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't lie. What I said is, we have to be calm.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: One day after bombshell recordings revealed the president intentionally downplayed the COVID-19 threat, Trump is claiming it was all about keeping Americans from panicking.

TRUMP: Bob Woodward, he didn't think it was bad, and he said he didn't think it was bad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're the president. You don't get to spin Woodward.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The new poll shows the majority of Americans believe political pressure will impact the approval of a vaccine.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a race against this virus, and it's a race to save lives.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday. It is September 11th, obviously a day that means so much to so many. It is 6 a.m. here in New York.

This morning, one of the Trump administration's own leading scientists is expressing public concern over the president's political decisions on coronavirus.

This was a packed rally that the president held overnight in Michigan. No social distancing. Few masks, and frankly, proudly so. The director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins,

right here on CNN, said he was puzzled by images like this. He called it disheartening. Three thousand people -- with the president presiding, frankly -- all over each other.

This is the 16th rally the president has had -- held since telling Bob Woodward that the coronavirus is airborne and deadlier than the flu, then lying about it to the American people.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Michigan is one of the 16 states where deaths are rising this morning. The CDC warns that more than 20,000 people could die in the next three weeks.

Dr. Anthony Fauci warning Americans the fall and winter will not be easy. He says Americans need to hunker down.

Colleges and schools across the country struggling to deal with outbreaks, many linked to parties and to Greek life. At least three teachers in three states have died in recent weeks, including this 28- year-old third grade teacher, Demi Bannister. We'll speak to her friend in the 7 a.m. hour.

Also, today is 9/11. It's been 19 years since the terror attacks. This morning, we will remember the lives lost.

We begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He is at the White House with our top story -- Joe.


Nearly 192,000 Americans have died, but the president is defending his decision to downplay the virus. And he is making the case that he did not lie to the American public about the seriousness of the situation in the early days of the pandemic.

But in making that case, he is attempting to explain away what was the fact when he talked to Bob Woodward. Listen.


JOHNS (voice-over): A defiant President Trump launched his defensive strategy, responding to recordings showing he intentionally downplayed the coronavirus to the public.

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, because that's not what it's about.

JOHNS: But just listen to the tape to hear Trump privately admit to Bob Woodward he knew how dangerous the disease could be.

TRUMP (via phone): And that's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your, you know, even your strenuous flus. You know, so, this is deadly stuff.

JOHNS: And weeks later, he told Woodward this -- TRUMP: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.


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

JOHNS: Still, the president insisting his strategy was correct and even attempted to pass responsibility on to Woodward.

TRUMP: 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.

JOHNS: Trump's White House defense coming before he traveled to a Michigan rally to a crowd of several thousand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no COVID. It's a -- it's a fake pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not afraid. The good Lord takes care of me. If I die, I die! We've got to get this country moving!

JOHNS: The director of the National Institutes of Health says he's concerned by the lack of masks and social distancing at the event.

COLLINS: 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.

JOHNS: Still, the president again told supporters the days of the coronavirus are coming to an end.

TRUMP: Our country is doing great. We had to take a pause to get rid of the China virus. And we got rid of -- we're getting rid of -- we're coming around. We're coming around that turn. I'm telling you, you watch.

JOHNS: But health experts warn the pandemic will most likely get worse in the fall and winter months.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR 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.

JOHNS: On the campaign trail in Florida, Kamala Harris slammed Trump for holding back information and continuing to hold large rallies during the pandemic.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He knew the facts of it! Five percent potential lethality. He narrated all that in that conversation. In February and January, he had all this information. Yet, he held rallies. He suggested that to wear a mask is a sign of weakness, as opposed to a sign of strength. This is the president of the United States.



JOHNS: The coordinator of the White House task force, Dr. Deborah Birx, denies that the White House is sending mixed messages on safety measures.

But take a look at the images from that rally last night in Michigan. It shows an enormous disconnect between what the task force is giving on guidance on masks and social distancing and what the Trump campaign is allowing to happen on the ground.

The president later this morning is expected to fly out to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to observe the 19th anniversary of 9/11. Joe Biden and Jill Biden start their day in New York and end up also in Shanksville in the afternoon.

Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much.

So this morning, the White House coronavirus task force zeroing in on college and university towns, pushing them to take measures to prevent further outbreaks. Health officials urging students who test positive to stay on campus rather than return home.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live with the latest.

Hi, Nick.


It has been exactly six months since the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic and just about a month since some universities and colleges began allowing students back on campus.

In that time, it has been a daily struggle to control some of these outbreaks. And now, with grade schools and high schools in full swing, health experts warn that any progress made in some states could be ruined.


VALENCIA (voice-over): Colleges across the country struggling to contain coronavirus outbreaks. Just weeks after reopening, Arizona State University reporting nearly 1,400 students have tested positive since August 1. And the University of Texas at Austin confirming three virus clusters on its campus. The University of Wisconsin and Madison pausing in-person classes for two weeks and the high number of positive tests forcing two residence halls to quarantine.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE COORDINATOR: Most importantly, to every student out there, please get tested. It is really critically important.

VALENCIA: Even more concerning, at the University of Tennessee, some fraternities have allegedly been undermining the rules meant to keep them safe. DONDE PLOWMAN, CHANCELLOR, UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE: Fraternity leaders

communicating to houses how to have parties and avoid being caught, avoid the police.

VALENCIA: And at the K through 12 level, at least three teachers have died this school year from COVID-19 complications, including 28-year- old Demetria Bannister. She was a third-grade teacher at Windsor Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina.

TERRANCE BANNISTER, COUSIN OF DEMETRIA BANNISTER: She enjoyed her job. She enjoyed teaching and educating people. Demetria was a soldier for us. She always -- she was free-spirited. She always kept the family together.

VALENCIA: This as public confidence dwindles on the vaccine front. A new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation says 62 percent of Americans feel political pressure will rush the FDA to approve a vaccine before it's safe.

But National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins assures the current COVID-19 vaccine trials are more rigorous than previous vaccine trials.

COLLINS: 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.

VALENCIA: Despite President Donald Trump's repeated claims, Collins is doubtful there will be a vaccine by election day.

COLLINS: But that's really very unlikely. But much more likely, we'll have a readout on one or more of these, maybe in December, possibly in November. But late October seems beyond the likelihood that most of us can predict when you look at what has to happen between now and then.


VALENCIA: And the WHO is trying desperately to instill public confidence in the vaccine process, saying that a pause like the one that we saw in the AstraZeneca trial is normal, adding that despite that recent poll suggesting that a majority of Americans believe that the FDA will push a vaccine through before it's safe and effective, the World Health Organization saying that that won't happen, assuring the public that it will be safe and effective when we finally have a vaccine -- John.

BERMAN: Nick Valencia, thanks so much for your reporting. You have great sources in the medical community around Atlanta. We really appreciate you being with us.

All right, breaking overnight, the death toll has climbed to 15 as these wildfires burn in California, Oregon, and Washington. In Oregon, at least half a million people have now been forced from their homes. Overnight in northern California, firefighters discovered seven bodies

during wellness checks. At least 16 people at this point unaccounted for.

CNN's Dan Simon joins us live near the Creek Fire, which is now about 6 percent contained after burning for days.

Dan, why don't you give us the latest update?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, John. So many of these small mountain communities impacted. Names like Big Creek and Shaver Lake and the town of Auberry, where I am. You drive around, you see destroyed neighborhoods like this.


This fire growing only modestly the past couple of days, 175,000 acres charred, but it's only 6 percent contained. The more serious fire, John, right now appears to be in Butte County, where a wall of flame went there and basically destroyed the town of Berry Creek. Hundreds of homes destroyed. You have tens of thousands of people who are evacuated.

And then you go up to Oregon and Washington. A dire situation in Oregon, where you have 500,000 people who are evacuated, 10 percent of the state's population. The governor there saying she's never seen so many uncontained fires at once. Nearly a million acres charred.

And remember, it's not just all of the fires. It's the air quality impacting so many communities. Los Angeles experiencing its worst air quality in 25 years -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Dan Simon for us at the fires in California. Obviously, these are such a problem out there and deserve the attention of the entire country. Thanks so much, Dan.

So Dr. Anthony Fauci tells us we need to hunker down in the fall. The CDC just revised its death projections upwards for the first week of October. What are they seeing that they're so concerned about? That's next.



COLLINS: 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.


BERMAN: "Rather disheartened." That's the director of the National Institutes of Health, one of the government's top scientists expressing concern. He says he's puzzled and disheartened by the picture of the president's rally overnight: people not wearing masks, packed in, not social distanced. Joining us now, Frank Bruni, CNN contributor and "New York Times" op-

ed columnist; and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, CNN political commentator and epidemiologist.

Look, what we just heard from Francis Collins is really a microcosm of the entire issue surrounding the Bob Woodward book. The president knew on February 7 just how contagious the coronavirus was and lied to the American people about it.

The president knows that holding a packed rally is dangerous. How does he know? Because the leading scientists in the government keep on telling him it's dangerous. Yet, Dr. El-Sayed, he continues to do it. What does that tell you?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, John, it tells me he doesn't care. Right?

I live in Michigan, and I know that our state is that much less safe because of all of the potential case transmission that happened in a packed airport hangar that did not have to happen, because this individual cares more about his presidential campaign and his presidential aspirations than our public health.

And for someone running for an office that is about serving the American people, it is deeply frustrated to watch him consistently disregard the information he now knows and understands.

And so this is part of a broader pattern of lying about this pandemic and politicizing this pandemic in ways that have made it harder for public health professionals all over this country to take this on. It is deeply frustrating and extremely cynical.

CAMEROTA: I don't know, Frank. Looking at these -- these videos from the rally, ever since hearing the president's words yesterday, whereas John said, on February 7, he knew it was airborne, he knew it was more deadly, five times, he said, he told Bob Woodward, than the seasonal flu.

Now when I look at those videos, they kind of take on -- you know, the revelry looks a little bit more cast in a morbid light, actually. The idea that everybody is just packed in here.

And so, Joe Acosta went through the crowd yesterday and tried to ask them what they're thinking, you know, being shoulder to shoulder, mask-free. So here's some examples of their thought process.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why are you guys not wearing masks?

TOM WOOD, TRUMP RALLY SUPPORTER: I have one with me. And it's my prerogative.

ACOSTA: But why not wear one to stay safe?

WOOD: I have a hard time understanding people when they talk, so that's why I don't wear it.

ACOSTA: But you can hear me right now?

WOOD: I can hear you.

ACOSTA: Sir, why are you not wearing your mask?

ROD BEEBEE, TRUMP RALLY SUPPORTER: Because there's no COVID. It's a -- it's a fake pandemic, created to destroy the United States of America.

ACOSTA: But the president said to Bob Woodward that there is a virus, the coronavirus, and that it is deadly.

BEEBEE: That's his opinion. The truth is, is that the CDC said that only less than 10,000 people died from COVID. The other 190,000 have 2.6 or 2.8 other mordalities [SIC].

ACOSTA: Does it worry you guys at all to be in this crowded space with all these people?

DANIEL GUILDER, TRUMP RALLY SUPPORTER: I'm not afraid. The good Lord takes care of me. If I die, I die. We've got to get this country moving. Can't -- What are you going to do? Wear masks and stay inside for another year? Huh? Where will that get us?


CAMEROTA: Frank, your thoughts?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, what you hear there are echoes of what the president said publicly while he was privately saying something different to Bob Woodward.

It should not shock us that many Americans feel the way the way the people at that rally feel, because the president encouraged them, for many, many months, at the beginning of this pandemic, to feel that way.

He used the words "fake," and then he talked about this as a media exaggeration, a media invention. He mocked people who wore masks. He told governors who were doing things with lockdowns to stop doing that and to, you know, set the people free.

And so when you now hear all of that echoed in a rally crowd, why should we be remotely surprised? I mean, we have a president who gave his convention speech to hundreds of people gathered cheek by jowl without masks. That speaks volumes, and that explains the behavior you see at that rally.

BERMAN: And again, Dr. El-Sayed, I was struck by the director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, in real time here on CNN, saying he was disheartened by this. Again, this is the government's own scientist saying this is a problem.

And we're also getting new warnings from Dr. Anthony Fauci. Let's play that. He's talking about the fact that people are going to need to hunker down in the fall, because it's going to be tough, he says.



FAUCI: 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.


BERMAN: Every time we lift the restrictions, we get a blip. You know how Dr. Anthony Fauci feels about rallies like that.

And I do get the sense, Dr. El-Sayed, that there's a feeling that we could be getting complacent, right? The case level has plateaued but at a very high level. We're up near 40,000. Dr. Fauci wants to see us down around 10,000. What do you think of that?

EL-SAYED: That's right, John. It's not just that we've relaxed restrictions. There are a lot of structural things that happen with our own behavior in the fall.

Kids go back to school. Students go back to colleges and universities, and a lot of us go inside, because in the upper Midwest and northeast and other parts of the country, it gets kind of cold. And so all of those things are going to increase transmission.

Meanwhile, a lot of folks have become, as Dr. Fauci put it, a bit lax with their own personal practice of these -- of these recommendations.

And what we need to do as a society is hunker down, as he said. Because I worry a lot about how these structural behaviors, piled on top of one another, are going to increase the transmission of this disease.

And then, of course, we're adding into the mix another very serious infectious disease in the flu, one we take more for granted because we're more used to it. But when you're talking about, potentially, co- infection with the flu and COVID-19, you're potentially going to see a lot more death associated with it.

And so these are scientists. And I just want to make it clear that each one of these scientists, public servants, have served under both Democratic and Republican administrations and have done so with -- with a level of rigor and focus on the science that's admirable.

And so, this isn't just, you know, a partisan talking point. These are the science -- the scientific experts of the United States government who have served both Democrats and Republicans. And what they're trying to do is save our lives.

BERMAN: All right, guys. Stand by, if you will. Because another major issue facing the country right now is what's happening on college campuses. Frank, I know you've got some new reporting on what you're hearing from educational leaders around the country about the outbreaks, which just seem to be raging uncontained at this moment. That's next.



CAMEROTA: This morning, the White House coronavirus task force zeroing in on college towns, the new hot spots for outbreaks. All 50 states reporting cases linked to colleges.

This week, headline after headline illustrating the difficulty schools are having containing these outbreaks.

We are back with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed and Frank Bruni. Frank is also the author of the book, "Where You Go is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to The College Admissions Mania."

You know your way around a college campus, Frank, and so I want to start with you. And let me just give you a personal anecdote, because I'm just reading my text right now from one of my closest friends. She sent her two sons back to college last week, one to University of Arizona, one to University of Wisconsin.

The University of Arizona son was there for a week, just tested positive. The University of Wisconsin son just got a notice last night from his dorm that they are going into quarantine from 10 p.m. last night until 8 a.m. September 23.

He said, it was chaos, because nobody wants to be in quarantine in their dorm, locked down for two weeks. So there was a mad scramble to pack up their stuff and get out of their dorms before 10 p.m. So now they're just loose in the community.

I mean, this is just two examples of what's happening to one family.

BRUNI: Yes, no, I mean, sadly, Alisyn, this was inevitable. I had a college president say something really, really chilling to me, which is that if you were trying to design a theater of contagion for spreading the coronavirus, a college campus would be close behind a cruise ship and an assisted living facility. And that's true, because of its enclosed nature, because of its social nature.

And right now, I mean, I think the greatest danger is that some of these colleges do let students leave, go home, take it beyond that theater of contagion, make that theater of contagion a catalyst for contagion elsewhere.

And so colleges are in this real -- they have this real challenge and this real bind, because they have to -- they have to do a much better job than they've been doing controlling what's happening on campus, but they cannot dump their problem on the rest of society. They can't let these students go home, because that's a recipe for the biggest disaster of all. BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, the University of Illinois,

Champaign-Urbana, has this incredible testing regimen regimen. They're testing everyone twice a week. They thought they were going to be able to stay ahead of it.

And there was an amazing article yesterday, which said the one thing they didn't account for is how much kids would party and how much people who tested positive would still go to these parties, Frank.

I mean, I struggle with this. How much of is this is on the kids? These people are 18 and 19 years old. Don't they have some responsibility here? I know the colleges need to do more, but isn't some of this on these adults?

BRUNI: Yes, it's on these adults, and it's on the -- it's on the people who raise them.

Where the colleges, though, I think, are complicit is we're now, you know, decades into this marketing, this image of college as this -- as this party, as this nonstop party. College administrators have created this image, this notion of college as this nonstop social experience, as an experience that is every bit as social as it is educational, if not more.

And I think right now, the chickens are coming home to roost in that. Kids go to college, they expect a certain kind of revelry. They expect a certain kind of social experience. That's completely out of whack. And now we're telling them, no, that's not what it's about, but that's not the message we've been giving them for decades.

CAMEROTA: Well, Dr. El-Sayed, John and I have this debate all the time, because I give the kids more of a pass.