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President Trump Holds Campaign Rally in Michigan; Some Trump Rally Goers Do Not Wear Masks in Large Crowd Despite Ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic; Analysts Examine CDC Guidelines Concerning Coronavirus Pandemic; Microsoft Says Foreign Hackers Are Targeting 2020 Election; At Least 15 Dead in West Coast Wildfires. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 11, 2020 - 08:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: What that means with our doctors. This morning we also pause to remember the thousands of Americans who died 19 years ago on that September 11th. We will bring you some of the ceremony in lower Manhattan that will be different than any other year later this hour.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: But joining us now, CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And Sanjay, it was something to see this event last night, 3,000 people, mostly unmasked, no social distancing. And to watch you on this town hall with Francis Collins, the director of the NIH, who was seeing this, knows what's going on and clearly, clearly thinks it's wrong. So listen.


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH: 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: Puzzled and disheartened, and I think he's pulling his punches there. I think he's being very careful with his language. Jonathan Reiner was on with us last hour, not nearly as careful, Sanjay. He called it criminal negligence. What do you think?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it is, especially given now that we know what the president knew and when he knew it in terms of the danger of events like this. It was interesting. I have known Dr. Collins for so many years. He was my genetics professor in medical school, I've known him for a long time. That was strong language for him, I can tell you. He's not very political, but he said -- he made this analogy, he said if an alien came from another planet and said there's a pathogen circulating the globe right now, some people are protecting themselves, other peoples are not, and the reason they're doing it is breaking down along political lines, it would completely make no sense to someone who visited this planet. But that's what we're seeing right now.

And clearly, Michigan, if you look at the numbers what's happening in Michigan, they had the lowest numbers middle of June. The numbers have been going up. They have a mask ordinance in place. They have a group gathering ordinance in place. This violates the ordinances that Michigan is putting in place, trying to prevent the outbreak from getting worse. And then the worst thing that happens there -- this is my home state -- the worst thing that happens there is a presidential rally comes into town and possibly leads to another super spreader event. You can't even -- you can't even believe it.

CAMEROTA: David Axelrod, as Sanjay just referred to, now that we know from the Woodward tapes that the president knew on February 7th, before the rest of us knew that it was airborne and that it was five times as deadly as the flu. And since that time, he's held all of these rallies. I think that we counted something like 16, maybe more, including up until through last night. And I don't know if you need to be a space alien to be confused by this. Even some earthlings are confused by all of this. And our Jim Acosta went to this rally and talked to some of the people about why they were willing to risk their health. So let me just play this for you.


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

TOM WOOD, TRUMP RALLY SUPPORTER: I have one with me. 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 through?

WOOD: I can hear you.

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

ROD BEEBEE, TRUMP RALLY SUPPORTER: Because there's no COVID. 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 that the CDC said only less than 10,000 people died from COVID. The other 190,000 have 2.6 or 2.8 other mortalities.

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 have to get this country moving. What are you going to do, wear masks and stay inside for another year? What will that get it?


CAMEROTA: David Axelrod, you are an expert in success political messaging. There you go, that's the by-product.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, this -- I'm almost speechless listening to those testimonials even though they're not unexpected. This is the line that has been pushed on right wing media for months and months and months, and these people have absorbed that. And the president has been a super spreader of some of these theories himself.

The thing from the beginning, and the Woodward book just underscores it, is that the president of the United States has been at once the leader of the government that's supposed to respond to the greatest pandemic in 100 years, and the leader of the resistance to the guidance that the government is putting out.


And that tension has really, really been devastating and has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of probably thousands of Americans. And the fact that he continues to this day to do it is at once bewildering and not. Sanjay mentioned the numbers in Michigan. But the president's looking at different numbers in Michigan. He's looking at the electoral numbers in Michigan, and he believes that by being there and holding his rallies he's helping his cause there. Whether he is or he's not and how people interpret that is another thing. But Dr. Fauci was quoted in the Woodward book as saying the only thing he cares about is reelection, and I think we're seeing examples of that right now.

BERMAN: It's also just clear to me the president could change minds on the pandemic in that crowd if he chose to. He could change the minds, I think, of those three people we heard from Jim Acosta there if he spoke about the need to wear masks and to change behavior. I think he's got that influence. But he chooses not to.

Sanjay, one of the things we're lucky -- one of the reasons we're so lucky to have you is you've got a line on all of the key players in this pandemic. You just talked about how you know Francis Collins personally. You had talked to Admiral Giroir yesterday, who is in charge of testing in this country, and it was really interesting to hear him discuss testing with you now. And I have to say, it sounded an awful lot different than things I've heard in the past from him.

GUPTA: Yes, no question. There was a distinct change in tone. And I have to tell you that what you've heard from him in the past was, look, we're not going to test our way out of this, and there's been this constant minimizing of testing. I really wanted to drill down on that with him. So when I asked him specifically about the numbers of tests that we need going into the fall, listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ADM. BRETT GIROIR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES ASSISTANT SECRETARY: And what I want to do is create as many tests as possible. There will be a day where there will be at-home tests that are widely available in the hundreds of millions that are cheap, that we can test as frequently as we want.


GUPTA: And we had a little bit more of a conversation about that. It would be this world where you can imagine having tests at home in the morning when you're brushing you could test yourself. If it came back positive you'd stay home that day and you'd stay home until the test came back negative. The test would be widely available. They'd be cheap, as you heard the admiral say. And again, very different than what he said before. Take a quick listen to this.


ADM. BRETT GIROIR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES ASSISTANT SECRETARY: It's great to talk about this utopian kind of idea where everybody has a test every day, and we can do that. I don't live in a utopian world. I live in the real world. Not only do we not recommend this strategy of testing everyone on a frequent basis, but I think it could instill a false sense of security. We are doing the appropriate amount of testing now to reduce the spread, flatten the curve, save lives.


GUPTA: A 180 basically on this. And I'm glad that he's saying this, because that is what most public health official, just about every public health official in the country has been saying we need some version of for many, many months now.

I've got to say as well, there's a nuance. We get the obvious things -- wear a mask at a rally, don't gather in large groups, and stuff like that. It was really interesting to hear Jim Acosta's interview with that one person who said it's a hoax, there's only 10,000 people. The CDC has done this a few times now where they put out these strange guidelines on the website. There is a nuance to it. They say people who have had COVID who have died also had these preexisting conditions. And people are thinking, well, the preexisting conditions do it, COVID is sort of a hoax.

It's bad messaging, and I'm starting to wonder a little bit more if it's deliberate. They did the same thing with asymptomatic testing. You don't necessarily to be tested if you don't have symptoms even if you have been in contact with someone with COVID. Bad guidance. That came from the CDC. It is still confusing people, even public health officials at the local level in many places around the country. It has just been a really, really muddled messaging from them.

CAMEROTA: Oh, Sanjay, I couldn't agree more. When I sat down with some Trump voters, one of them fastened on that too. That CDC guidance of only six percent of people didn't have a comorbidity, people have fastened on that. Obviously, you can look for whatever facts, whatever evidence you want, but that CDC thing has really, I think, loomed large in terms of their thinking.

So, David, we're 50-plus days away now. What did you think of President Trump last night, the things he was trying to say about all he disclosed to Bob Woodward, and that it's Bob Woodward's fault that he didn't alert the public, that if he heard something that was alarming about coronavirus, it should have been Bob Woodward to go tell people.


AXELROD: Yes, yes. Well, first of all, we should point out that earlier in the day at his press conference he said how much he respected Woodward and that's why he was willing to do 18 interviews with him. And he told the rally at night that Woodward was a whack job. So I don't know what to make of that.

Look, the reality is, the president -- Bob Woodward is not the president of the United States. The president of the United States has a sworn duty to protect the American people. He knew the truth. He made a decision to submerge the truth. He said it was not to cause a panic. He repeated that yesterday even as he made another speech in which he tried to set off a bunch of other panics among Americans to try and foster his campaign.

But I just -- if you guys would permit me, I just want to return to Sanjay's point about the CDC for a second. The most distressing part of all of this, and of course your question is part of this, is how the public health system in our country, starting with the pronouncements of the president of the United States, have been subjugated to politics and has created a lack of trust that is necessary in a crisis like this. And we're going to pay for this when this vaccine comes, and people -- we need people to take the vaccine. We want people to take the vaccine, once it's proven to be effective and safe. But there are going to be real doubts.

And one of the reasons there are going to be real doubts is because when you start using public health organs like the CDC to promote political messaging, you create a storm of mistrust. And I'm really, really worried about that. Sanjay is very discreet, and he said you begin to wonder whether this is politically oriented messaging. I don't wonder at all. I think the president and the White House have seized control of the messaging around this virus in ways that they think will advantage him, and it reflects his own reluctance to share bad news that we saw on -- that he described to Bob Woodward. It just continues to this day.

CAMEROTA: Yes. David Axelrod, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you both very much. Have a nice weekend.

GUPTA: You, too.

AXELROD: You, too.

CAMEROTA: You can join Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Erica Hill, and the "Sesame Street" crew for a brand new townhall that will answer all of your questions about returning to school and about virtual learning. The ABC's of back to school, that's tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. on CNN.

BERMAN: Elmo always makes things easier to understand, and Sanjay.


CAMEROTA: I so agree.

Hackers once again taking aim at the presidential election as a whistleblower claims that Trump administration officials are trying to downplay the intelligence, or just do away with it all together, of a threat posed by Russia. So what's going to happen to our election? A top -- former top DHS official joins us next.



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Developing this morning, Microsoft raising red flags about potential 2020 election interference from Russian, Chinese and Iranians hackers.

Joining us now to talk about this and more is Elizabeth Neumann. She resigned earlier this year as the former assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security. She is now part of Republican voters against Trump campaign.

Elizabeth, nice to see you this morning. Thanks for being here.

And so, what are we to make of Microsoft saying they have detected Russian, Chinese, and Iranian hackers all trying to target the 2020 election and what do we do about that?


You know, I actually view the news that Microsoft put out as a good sign. We knew that this was happening. We've seen intel reports, the DNI earlier this year saying that Russia was going to do this.

It's great that Microsoft is detecting it and they're sharing the information. I think that there are really great public servants at a cyber security agency at DHS, at the intelligence community level, and they're working strongly with the tech companies, and they are doing what they need to do to secure this election.

So, I feel very, very confident that the government is doing a much better job than we did in 2016. The tech companies are doing a better job.

That said, it would help if we could have clear and consistent messaging from the very top of our government that, in fact, Russia is an enemy when it comes to this matter. They are intending to sow dissent in our -- in our democracy.

They are trying to undermine us through a variety of means and mechanisms and while we also have a similar problem posed by China and Iran, it is not nearly as sophisticated, not nearly as intense as what Russia poses to the United States.

CAMEROTA: OK, I'm glad you pointed that out because I was wondering about that, because the timing of this announcement is interesting particularly given that that whistle-blower, Brian Murphy, came forward to say that there was a concerted effort inside DHS to make it -- to downplay Russia and to elevate China and Iran.

So, here's what -- just an excerpt of the whistle-blower complaint says. In mid-May 2020, Mr. Wolf, who was the acting director of DHS, instructed the whistle-blower, Mr. Murphy, to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the U.S. and instead start reporting on the interference activities by China and Iran.

So, you know, forgive alarm bells for going off when something Microsoft the next day says, oh, Chinese, Iranian and Russian hackers are all doing this. I mean, you're saying it's not a level playing field, they're not all equal.

NEUMANN: Correct, they're not all equal. I think the American public should be reassured that the professionals are doing the job correctly. It is very concerning to read what Mr. Murphy put in his inspector general's report that -- the whistle-blower report that there appears to be this political tinkering with intelligence which is a huge red line. We're not supposed to do that.

And I -- if true, huge problem. I don't have direct knowledge of it. I will say that when I read it, it struck me as consistent with changes we've seen across the government at the intelligence community, at DHS.


In the last six to eight months, we've seen a much more deliberate politicization of the institutions that have for 200 years been seen as apolitical. And as one of the previous guests noted, the problem with that is that Americans -- that the whole democracy or concept as a country is that Americans are putting their trust in the government and the way that they address any concerns with their government is they vote people out of office.

If you don't trust the institutions to do things correctly, our democracy starts to falter. And so, it's very, very concerning that we're seeing this politicization because this leads to further mistrust of the government.

CAMEROTA: Elizabeth, on this September 11th, because you were part of the very first Homeland Security Council created in the Bush administration, right in the aftermath of 9/11, I just want to hear your thoughts, 19 years later, as we approach this moment of silence for the moment that the first plane hit the first tower.

NEUMANN: Yeah. I mean, look, I'm part of a generation of people that their entire career paths changed because of that day, because the terror was so palpable and the drive -- we never ever wanted to experience that again on our soil. It's hard today to wake up and realize how unified we were and how we grieved together, how we lamented together 19 years ago, how we came together and decided we're going to fight this and we're going to fight this the right way.

And we made mistakes. I think we -- nearly 20 years, we can always acknowledge mistakes were made over the last 20 years, and hopefully, we are learning lessons from that.

But here we are in 2020. You have more people dead from a disease, from COVID, which, by the way, was predicted, and we would eventually have a pandemic. There were plans on the books for 15 years.

We have more people dead from that than we do all of the terror attacks, 9/11, to the present day, and all of the service members, the U.S. service members, men and women that went overseas to fight the war on terror. The number of those dead compared to the number of dead in just six short months from COVID, it doesn't even compare.

And yet, you don't see the same type of lament, you don't see the same type of unification around, we're going to fight this disease. We're going to care for those that are grieving. It's -- it's heartbreaking because we're better than this as a country.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. That's really important context. I mean, obviously, today, we mourn the loss of our 3,000 Americans on that day and we mourn the loss of that unity that you talk about and that we all remember in those days after.

Elizabeth Neumann, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

NEUMANN: Thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: The wildfire disasters are growing worse by the hour on the West Coast. At least 15 people have been killed. We have a firsthand look at the dire conditions facing millions of people in California.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, 100 wildfires burning across the Western United States, leaving more than 4 million acres burned and at least 15 people dead. That number is rising.

The largest and most threatening fire in northern California, also Oregon. The smoke has caused these truly apocalyptic images. And Los Angeles is experiencing its worst air quality in 25 years.

Joining us from Los Angeles is "L.A. Times" columnist Erika Smith.

Erika, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: It's been really instructive for me to read your columns because I'm not there, and so many of us are not there. And I don't think we're experiencing it quite like you are. And you write while the spirits are not broken at all, there is this sense of dread.

Why are those emotions important to convey right now?

SMITH: I mean, I think that California, as our governor has pointed out several times talking about climate change, I mean, we've have gone through several disasters over the last five or six years. Most of the most destructive wild fires have happened over the last six years, including the campfire which killed 85 people and that was a couple of years ago, and on the same footprint really that the current north complex fire is burning right now.

So you have populations of people who are just kind of again and again dealing with wildfires and mudslides and, you know, the threat of earthquakes which is always constant. And so, when you put that on top of the pandemic that's going on right now, it's just a lot of stress and people are just having a lot of anxiety, but they're also very resilient because this is California and we are used to big problems.

So, I think it's combination of two big things. That's important to know.

BERMAN: Also, you write about indignant anger. Anger about what and directed at whom?

SMITH: I think that's mostly -- you know, in Northern California, we have a lot of folks who are obviously very much tied to the land and these are people who have lived in these same places for generations and they have seen the forest change. They have seen people move in from cities. They have seen development and so there's a lot of anger just about forest management, about whether or not, we are doing enough controlled burns, whether or not we are doing enough back fires -- or back burns.

Whether or not we are taking down some of the trees that have been diseased during the drought a few years back. So, there's some concern about what the U.S. Forest Service is doing, some concerns about what the state is doing.

So there's some anger about that and people disagreeing on basically what we should be doing versus what we are doing.

BERMAN: How much do you perceive the rest of the nation to care, or to fully appreciate what's happening? You know, you look at these images, you wake up in San Francisco with an orange sky and it's got to be overwhelming. Yet, you know, you almost don't hear about it.

Portland, the suburbs are burning right now. For a while, the president couldn't say two sentences without saying the name Portland, Oregon, but when it's on fire, he hasn't said it at all.

So, how does that feel from where you are?

SMITH: Yeah, it's disappointing not to hear the president not to speak up more about that, considering that he's been so adamant about talking about Portland as you mentioned and L.A. about homelessness. But we're suffering out here and it would be good for him to actually pay some more attention to that.

But I think that, you know, if you're not here in California, and you don't wake up with.