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Source: CDC Reports Altered To Line Up With Trump's Messaging; Trump To Hold Nevada Rally As Virus Death Toll Climbs; Report: Homeland Security Official Ordered To Stop Producing Intelligence Reports About Russian Meddling; Woodward Book: Former DNI Thinks Putin "Has Something" On Trump; Trump Admits He Knew Coronavirus Was Very Deadly In February; Key Model Predicts 415,000 COVID Deaths By January 1st; Nearly 100 Wildfires Burning Across West Coast; Trump to Visit California Monday While Historic Wildfires Rage. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired September 12, 2020 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS!
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.
Now, we begin tonight with President Trump's political appointees being accused by a federal health official of trying to change the wording of medical reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to better line up with President Trump's messaging on the pandemic.
The reporting question is what's called "The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report." The CDC is primary publication for public health information and recommendations for the American public. It's been around in some form since the 1870s. Check out the response from the Trump appointee who allegedly pushed to alter these reports.
There's no formal denial. Just so called Deep State accusations from the Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo, a former member of the Trump campaign. Caputo says and I'm quoting him now, "Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic, not ulterior Deep State motives in the bowels of CDC."
This is all happening after revelations that the President downplayed the severity of the virus in recorded conversations he had with a journalist Bob Woodward, back in early February. And the President's discounting safety warnings continues tonight. He's holding up his 17th campaign rally since he told Woodward that the virus was "Deadly stuff" back on February 7th.
A reported 5,000 people, by the way, are expected at the event in Minden, Nevada, which is now also under an air quality alert due to the wildfires out west. And speaking of wildfires, the President will now head to California on Monday as deadly fire spread across the West Coast of the United States.
Right now, let's go to see it as Boris Sanchez. He's is in Minden for us. Boris, the President will be landing up in Reno, Nevada, but the airport there, where he's touching down actually, I understand, blocked him from the campaign event there. Tell us what's going on.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Officials at the Reno Tahoe Airport effectively saying that this is not about politics, but this is about obeying a state mandate banning gatherings of over 50 people.
Here in Douglas County at the Minden Airport, no such concern, no enforcement of that 50 person maximum mandate for a gathering. We spoke with a county commissioner who told CNN that they're not really concerned about coronavirus. They have only had eight cases in the last few weeks and they feel that holding this event is safe for their residents. In fact, that county commissioner saying that, no one on the Board of Commissioners in this county raised any objections about hosting this event.
As far as the campaign is concerned, Tim Murtaugh, one of the spokespeople for the campaign telling CNN, that the President was going to campaign in Nevada, one way or another. They provided us with a statement, effectively saying that they are testing folk's temperature at the door before they come in, providing them with mask, encouraging them to wear it.
But I can tell you, Wolf, they're standing outside of a line for hours to get inside this event, there were very few masks, there was little to no social distancing, folks standing arm and arm for hours.
So why is the president so determined to host this rally in Nevada? Part of it has to do with his polling with Joe Biden. The to neck and neck. I want to show you this recent New York Times Siena College poll, Joe Biden 46 percent to President Trump's 42 percent. They are both well within the margin of error there. President, obviously, concerned about his prospects in this state when it comes to November.
One last note, Wolf, I spoke to one Trump supporter who was in line, a woman named Maria, who was not wearing a mask, and she told me that she was not worried about catching coronavirus. She told me that if she caught it, she would go to the hospital, get out in a few days. She says she wants people to be more exposed to it, because she says that's the only way that will develop immunity. Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Boris, be careful out there. We'll stay in very close touch. Boris Sanchez on the scene for us in Nevada.
James Clapper is joining us now. He's the former director of national intelligence. He's a retired US Air Force three star General. Director Clapper, thank you so much for joining us. Several critical issues I want to go over with you.
Russian hackers are reportedly at it once again, along with other countries, according to the U.S. intelligence community, including China and Iran trying to affect the results of the U.S. presidential election.
"The New York Times" reporting this week that a senior homeland security official was actually ordered, ultimately by the White House, to stop producing reports about Russian interference because, it would, and I'm quoting now, "It would make the president look bad." What's your response to this in your long career in intelligence when an agency ever squash reports critically important - intelligence reports like this, because they potentially could put a president in bad light?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, this is very serious, obviously, Wolf. And it is of all critical times, both the Congress and the American electorate needs to be fully informed as much as protection of sources, methods would allow, of what foreign countries are up to in their efforts to influence the outcome of the election.
Most notably, what I consider the biggest threat here is Russia, who will - or they're at it again, just as they were in 2016 and they'll continue to do that. I think the other countries, China and Iran, specifically or lesser threats.
And importantly, Russia will have gone to school and has gone to school on lessons learned from 2016. So one of the things that really concerns me here is, our ability to detect them and what they're doing. And above all, as I said before, the American electorate should be informed and there shouldn't be watering down by any part of the government. And this is not inconsistent with what we - you just reported about CDC reporting. It's the same kind of thing.
BLITZER: So you'd clearly disagree with Bill Barr, the Attorney General of the United States, who says based on the intelligence he's seen, it's China, which represents a bigger threat than Russia or Iran, for that matter, as far as election interference looking ahead to November 3rd here in the United States. You disagree with Bill Barr?
CLAPPER: I do. I think China is clearly overall strategically speaking, our greatest long term threat, there's no question about it. On a long term Russia is in decline. But with specific respect to interfering, meddling in our election, trying to influence the outcome of the election and favoring a specific content, I think what others are doing, pales in comparison to the Russians.
BLITZER: And you agree that the Russians want to see President Trump reelected. And the Chinese want to see Biden elected?
CLAPPER: Well, apparently so. I'm sure that - I don't - I see no indication whatsoever, that the Russians have changed their preference since 2016. And why should they? And probably as has been publicly stated, The Chinese are more overt about it. They seem to prefer Vice President Biden just because they see him as less erratic.
BLITZER: Yes, the intelligence community says the Iranians, like the Chinese, and the Russians, they just want to sow dissent here in the United States, create as much political chaos as possible. That's what they're trying to do through their various means.
Let's talk a little bit about the new Bob Woodward book about the president. General, one of the more startling revelations is that Dan Coats, who succeeded you as the Director of National Intelligence during the Trump administration, believes it's possible that Russian officials have something on President Trump.
And that's the only way he can explain that the Coats can explain the President's behavioral policies towards Russia. What are the chances? That's true? What kind of evidence would a Director of National Intelligence have to see in order to support that kind of belief?
CLAPPER: Well, first, if in fact, what Bob Woodward reported is true about Dan's commentary, that in itself, is extremely significant. Because, to my knowledge, Dan has not spoken out very much at all or at least that what should be in the public domain, about his experience with President Trump.
And, of course, there's has been speculation about this all - ever since he was elected - President Trump was elected, as - why the different - the strange and explicable deference to Russia and to Putin specifically, whom he is yet to dime him out. So that certainly is a plausible theory. Whether the Russians have something on him, so to speak, I don't know. But it certainly is a plausible explanation. And if what has been reported is true, Dan apparently has come to the conclusion that that's the case.
BLITZER: What would you have done, General if - and I'll give the example. I was at Helsinki when President Trump met with President Putin and at that news conference that we were all watching in amazement, the President of United States says he agrees with Russia's denial - with Putin's denial about any interference in the election and rejected what Dan Coates and the U.S. intelligence community was saying about Russian involvement.
He said, "Why would I put and do that?" It was a public humiliation of the Director of National Intelligence. If that had happened to you by President Obama - he was the President Obama, he was the president, when you were DNI, what would you have done, if you would have been humiliated like that in front of the Russian leader?
CLAPPER: Well, it's hard to say. It's a hypothetical situation. But I think, I probably would have tried to make a statement - public statement about - to reiterate what the intelligence community position was, the intelligence community assessment, and then had my resignation letter already.
BLITZER: Yes, it was a pretty, pretty embarrassing moment. I must say, we were all watching that news conference in Helsinki, couldn't believe what was going on. It also emerged, General, this week, through the President's own words actually recorded on tape in the Woodward book, that he was aware that the coronavirus was a very severe threat, was very contagious, very deadly, was airborne, but he chose to downplay it.
Didn't take the certain measures that experts now say would have saved thousands, if not 10s of thousands of American lives. He made those comments on February 7th, very early in this pandemic. Tell our viewers the national security impact of that.
CLAPPER: Well, apart from the immediate impact of that, and seven weeks or so that were lost, while we're in the denial phase, it really calls the question when can you ever believe what the president says?
And suppose we had another extremist situation, say the threat of a nuclear attack, for example, in which you would hope that the President would be truthful to the American people well, from our part, at least, you wonder about that.
So I think that the immediate impact in the lives lost needlessly and people got sick needlessly and all the and the tendered effects on the economy, and the lives that could have been saved, had action been taken earlier, that in itself is egregious. But another issue here is, just the credibility of what the president says.
BLITZER: Yes. In the book, the President's national security adviser Robert O'Brien is quoted as saying at the end of January telling the president in a briefing, "This will be the greatest national security threat that your administration will face." That was at the end of January.
James Clapper thanks so much as usual for joining us.
CLAPPER: Thanks wolf.
BLITZER: Stay safe out there. Meanwhile, a sobering update on the key model projecting American deaths by coronavirus. 415,000 Americans could die by the end of this year, by January 1st, if the status quo remains. We'll have more on that and the race for a vaccine. Stay with us. Lots of news today, right here in the Situation Room.
BLITZER: A very worrisome start. New prediction that says the United States could more than double its COVID related deaths by January 1st. Consider that right now here in the United States, we're roughly a little bit more than 193,000 deaths as of today.
A new model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington Medical School shows that we could reach, get this, 415,000 American deaths by the first of the year. Yesterday alone, we lost 1,213 Americans.
Joining us now to discuss the emergency physician, Dr. Megan Ranney, and CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen. Dr. Ranney things keep on getting worse. Do you foresee us being able to turn things around or at least slow them down before we get a vaccine that is safe and effective? Remember, just this past week AstraZeneca - Oxford University had to stop trials of its vaccine after a scare. But as of today, they have resumed those trials. What do you think?
DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: So I would love to say yes, Wolf. And we certainly see some promising spots in the United States. New York City has kept its infection rate down. Here in Rhode Island, we're successfully keeping ourselves from having spikes.
But if you look at the trends across the country, we still lack national leadership on testing, on universal masking, on increased production of PPE. We still see increasing hotspots in many areas across the country.
And, of course, we're having events like those Trump rallies tonight, where doubtless, countless people are going to be exposed. They're going to go back to their homes and spread COVID. So I'd love to say yes, it's possible, but I am not hopeful, given what we're seeing right now with national leadership.
BLITZER: Dr. Wen, listen to some of the comments that Trump supporters made at Thursday's rally in Freeland, Michigan. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Why are you not wearing your mask?
ROB BEEBEE, TRUMP RALLY SUPPORTER: Because there's no COVID. It's a fake pandemic created to destroy the United States of America. Because it doesn't do any good. I wore a mask. I wore a mask for three months, and to no avail. So, I don't have any problem with you wearing a mask. I have a problem with you're telling me to wear a mask.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why? Because it doesn't do anything really. These little things, this is the worst pandemic in the world. A little mask, a little mask. This protects you from the world's deadliest, scariest virus that ruined our economy. And we have to wear this.
ACOSTA: Well the health experts say it will help protect you if you were a mask.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And W.H.O. also said it doesn't spread from person to person. It doesn't spread to animals. But hey, we got to pander to China, because you know that have all of our jobs.
ACOSTA: You're young, you can spread the virus to one of these elderly people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I completely agree with that. And one of the main reasons was I am young and a lot of people who are here are not younger, much older, but everyone who is here signed up for that. They understand they're taking a risk.
ACOSTA: Why are you not wearing a mask?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not wearing a mask, because I had my temperature taken already, and I'm not sick. [19:20:00]
ACOSTA: You're not worried about all these people in here not wearing masks?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm more worried about it. I'm more worried about like the state of our country, more than anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So Dr. Wen, you treat COVID patients. When you hear those kinds of comments, people ignoring all the warnings from the medical experts, what do you think?
DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I am extremely worried well, because these individuals are not following the medical guidance that we're giving. We know that this is an extremely contagious disease that spreads easily from person to person.
We also know by now that masks save lives. We've learned over time about this that if we were masks between now and the end of the year, we could be saving more than 100,000 lives. That wearing a mask protects us from transmitting and acquiring COVID by more than five times.
We know that misinformation and mixed messaging has really hampered our response. And I just wonder about what a big difference it would have made at the very beginning of this pandemic, if all of our leaders talked about the importance of basic public health measures, and listened to the science.
BLITZER: Yes, from the president. And, Dr. Ranney, you treat patients, you've treated patients with COVID. Have some of them told you they didn't wear a mask, they didn't take any of these warnings seriously?
RANNEY: You know, by the time that patients get to me, they are so sick that they take the disease very seriously. But there are certainly patients in my emergency department who don't regularly wear masks and who didn't believe in COVID until they got it.
I cannot impress on the public strongly enough, just to echo what Dr. Wen said, this is a very real disease and it causes very real consequences, including in young people. And worse yet, of course, is that we can be asymptomatic or pre symptomatic and still spreading it.
And any of my patients who have taken care of, who have been sick or admitted to the ICU, who have come into my emergency department afraid because they can't breathe because of COVID, they will tell you that this is real and that they wish that everyone else would follow the basic public health precautions to have protected them and to have kept them from getting infected.
BLITZER: Yesterday, Dr. Wen, I interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci, and he told me that trying to debunk nonsense is a waste of time. We just heard some voters who say this isn't real at all. So how do you change that perception? What do you - what do we need to do? Because if 95 percent of the American public started wearing masks when they went outside, and they couldn't social distance, thousands and thousands of American lives would be saved over the next few months,
WEN: Part of it is the framing. Quarantine fatigue is really real. And we have to acknowledge that it's - we can't just keep people locked up at home and ask them not to do anything. And so we have to talk about harm reduction. And to think about if people are going to be doing certain things, how do we make it safer.
So think about masks, maybe we can frame mask wearing as it's something that allows us to get back to normal. It's something that allows us to go back to school, get back to work as much as we can.
And to think about cumulative risk, just because we now can do something, doesn't mean that we need to do it all. So go to a restaurant, but don't also go to a bar, don't also go to a gym. If your child is backward in-school instruction, don't also have birthday parties and don't also have playdates.
I think that type of messaging about how to help people live their lives is going to be important, as we also enlist the most credible messengers. Sometimes the messenger isn't us as doctors and scientists, but also political leaders can be helpful. And that's another reason why we need the president and everyone else to be helping us to spread these types of public health messages too.
BLITZER: Yes, it's certainly not too late. They need to do that and they need to do that now. Dr. Wen, Dr. Ranney, thanks to both of you. Thanks for everything you're doing. We are so grateful. Appreciate it very much.
Coming up, we're going to have much more on the coronavirus pandemic. But look at this. California's governor says the climate change debate is - climate change debate continues and it's having an impact. Look at this, extreme temperatures, the site of some of the largest wildfires ever reported out West. We'll go live to California. Stay with us. Very disturbing developments out there. Historic fires, when we come back
BLITZER: Here in the United States, there's destruction going on a truly massive scale and heartbreaking loss of life this weekend, all along the West Coast of the U.S. Nearly 100 separate wildfires - huge wildfires, they are burning at the same time from Southern California all the way into Washington State.
Get this, nearly 5 million acres of forest land and residential areas are now destroyed. And fire officials report some of the largest fires are nowhere near contained. At least 28 people are known to have died so far in the fires. Among them, this 13 year old boy, Wyatt Tofte Tufty died with his dog in his lap in his car as a wildfire slept over his home. Wyatt's great-aunt told CNN his mother sent the boy to find somewhere safe. [19:30:01]
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN VASLEV, GREAT AUNT OF 13-YEAR-OLD FIRE VICTIM: She told Wyatt and the dog to run and we don't know exactly what happened. But Wyatt ended up going back to the car and tried to drive his grandmother out, and so he attempted to drive that car and the -- the roads were so hot that it burnt up the tires, and so he wasn't able to drive it to safety, did not make it out to fire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So sad that boy just 13 years old, heartbreaking, indeed.
CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Southern California for us right now. Not too far outside of Los Angeles, I understand, Paul, President Trump as you know now planning to visit the disaster zone on Monday, but the speed and the size of these wildfires, who knows how much worse it could get over the next 24 to 48 hours. Update our viewers, Paul, on the very latest.
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf. And as we speak, we're on the Bobcat Fire. This is the foothills of Los Angeles. I'm in Monrovia, Sierra Madre, also by watching these fires carefully, Duarte. They're all under an evacuation advisory.
You can see in the hills behind me, flame length now starting to come down here. They've been attacking this with water from above and what you're going to hear when Trump comes and visits, President Trump is that of these 100 wildfires that are burning in the West, as you pointed out, we have something like 4.7 million acres burned and Governor Gavin Newsom coming out today, and he says it's about time everyone recognizes that this is not climate change, but a climate emergency, as this helicopter, it looks like it's going to make a pass and drop in these hills.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Mother Nature is Physics, Biology, and Chemistry. She bats last and she bats a thousand. That's the reality we are facing. The smash mouth reality.
This perfect storm. The debate is over around climate change. Just come to the State of California. Observe it with your own eyes. It's not an intellectual debate. It is not even debatable any longer.
What we are experiencing, the extreme droughts, the extreme atmospheric rivers, the extreme heat. Just think in the last few weeks alone, we've experienced the hottest August in California history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VERCAMMEN: And we have on imaginable awful air quality, unhealthy. We also have seen firefighters setting backfires to contain this, the Bobcat Fire. It is only six percent contained right now. It is a fight up and down the West Coast of the United States. Back you now, Wolf.
BLITZER: Paul, you live in LA. I'm told by friends out there, it's hard to even leave their homes and go outside. It's tough to breathe. Is that what you're finding out?
VERCAMMEN: Oh absolutely, Wolf. And in fact, as you look up here, I'm just going to give you a glimpse of why it's so tough to breathe. You see this flame length pop up all that smoke. This is going to go into the air in these huge billows of smoke is all of this particulate, Wolf, so you get ash with this.
It comes to sending down on these neighborhoods, and as we've talked about over the last week, the air quality in California, Washington and Oregon is worse than the most polluted cities in all of Asia, that's including Beijing.
So it is so, so tough on the very young and the very old and anybody with any sort of breathing capacity condition. Everybody associated with this: reporters, firefighters, anybody who gets out, it is not uncommon for us to get what we would call a fire headache.
It's not uncommon to hear people get a raspiness in their voice. You could hear it in Newsom's voice. It is tough to deal with this on a daily basis, and we'll hear from somebody next hour, he lives in this neighborhood and he said, hey, I gave up smoking 30 years ago. Now I feel like I restarted this week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Awful situation indeed. Paul Vercammen in Monrovia just outside of Los Angeles. Be careful over there. We'll stay in close touch. Thank you.
We're also tracking -- get this -- if that were not enough, the formation of yet another tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Sally is now the 18th named storm of this 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
Sally is expected to strengthen steadily in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico throughout the weekend, and is now forecast to become a hurricane by Monday night prior to making landfall around the Louisiana-Mississippi border sometime Tuesday morning.
Louisiana's governor has just declared a state of emergency just ahead of the storm's potential arrival. We'll have more on this development coming up as well.
Also coming up, less than two months remain until Election Day here in the United States and the fight for swing states like Michigan heating up dramatically. But even as polls show Biden slightly ahead in that state, one Democratic Congresswoman has warned her party in 2016 that Trump could win. She has a similar warning this time around. We'll discuss when we come back.
[19:34:20] BLITZER: With only 52 days until Election Day on November 3rd here in
the United States, all eyes right now on those so-called battleground states. This week both President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, they turn their attention to Michigan, a state that Trump won four years ago by only 10,704 votes.
This, as the voting process has already begun for millions of Michigan residents with more than two million absentee ballots already requested. Here to discuss this and more, Democratic Congresswoman from Michigan, Debbie Dingell. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.
And as all of us remember, four years ago, you warned the Clinton campaign not to take Michigan for granted. You were skeptical of the polls that showed Trump behind. You urged Hillary Clinton to come visit Michigan. She barely came and campaigned there.
This time the polls in Michigan once again show Trump behind. Have you been in touch with the Biden campaign, Congresswoman, and have urged them to take Michigan a lot more seriously.
REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): So Wolf, I would tell you yes. I talk to the campaign frequently. The Vice President was here this week. I saw him myself, I talked to him. He himself told me, I will be back. You need to tell me where I need to go. And I said, don't worry. I tell the state director all the time what I think. And he goes, "Debbie, I'm serious."
So I can tell you talking to the Vice President himself, he knows that he is competitive in the Midwest and that he does need to connect and he is going to be taking these states seriously.
BLITZER: I know you've spent a lot of time in recent days traveling around Michigan. How does it look right now from the Trump-Biden perspective, what do you anticipate happening?
DINGELL: So I think it's competitive. I don't believe the polls are probably -- is again, like they were four years ago, I think the number is higher than probably is on the ground.
I think the Vice President is probably ahead if the election were held today, but I do think it's going to be competitive, and when you look at how many people attended the President's rally this past week, I sincerely pray that we don't have community spread from that rally, but there were 5,500 people crammed in, no physical distance or masks, and that scares me to death.
And if we suddenly have a significant spike in COVID, which we did yesterday, I think that's going to have a lot of people thinking about things as well.
BLITZER: A lot of the issues and by the way, you're looking at live -- you're looking at some pictures from Freeland, Michigan. This was Thursday night. I don't know if we have a wide shot, but there were people jam in there. You get a sense that there are huge numbers of Trump supporters in some of these Midwestern key battleground states right now, Congresswoman, do you get a sense also, as some of the polling experts suggested four years ago that some of these ardent Trump supporters are simply reluctant to acknowledge to a pollster that they're going to vote for Trump?
DINGELL: Well, there's no question about that. I've had people who've told me that. And look, I was all around my district. I was at a Back the Blue event today and a Black Lives Matter event. But that's by the way what we need in a new leader who is going to be President of the United States, someone that doesn't put kerosene on an uncomfortable conversation but has both.
And there are a lot of people in especially some of the smaller communities in what I call my down rivers, which is like MaComb County, who the law enforcement report members of their community. Today, the father of a 26-year-old from my hometown spoke, whose son was killed on the Fourth of July, but Joe Biden is not afraid to have both conversations.
The President puts kerosene on very raw emotional feelings. I think what's going to be important for these next two months is that the Biden campaign succeed in connecting with people and talk about how he is going to do both.
BLITZER: Yes, irrespective of what the polls show. It's clearly looking like it is going to be battleground, battleground, battleground in Michigan, in Wisconsin and Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Several of these key battleground states. Congresswoman Dingell as usual, thanks so much for joining us.
DINGELL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, a Federal health official now says, political appointees tried to change the wording of key health reports to the American public in order to line up with the President's messaging on the pandemic.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, she is standing by live. She will react when we come back.
BLITZER: Returning to one of our major stories this Saturday night, new accusations that Trump appointed officials over at the Department of Health and Human Services actually pushed to change the language of weekly science reports from the C.D.C.
The Federal health official claims the goal was to avoid undermining President Trump's political message and late today, the H.H.S. Secretary Alex Azar responded we're going to show you his response in just a moment.
Joining us now Kathleen Sebelius. She was the Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Obama. She's a former Governor of Kansas. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. Let's get right to this issue because a senior administration official tells CNN that Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official, who is now the chief spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services demand that along with his team to see reports out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before they were released to the American public. What's your reaction to that?
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, FORMER SECRETARY OF HEALTH UNDER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Well, I find it shocking, Wolf. The MMRWs that are published weekly by C.D.C. have been around for decades, and they are really critical public health reports that not only go to public health departments all over this country, but they actually go all over the world as well as coming to Washington and informing H.H.S. and the President about what is going on.
The notion that somebody sitting in that H.H.S. Office, a campaign flunky would suggest that he should be able without any scientific background, without any scientific information to edit reports so that they fall in line with Trump's talking points is really shocking and it's incredibly dangerous.
We've already had the President say he lied to the American public, intentionally lied. He knew how dangerous this virus was. He downplayed the dangerousness and he refused to mobilize a national plan, and now what we find is that his minions in H.H.S., his political appointees are suggesting that the scientific reports that come out weekly following diseases of all kinds, but in this era are looking very carefully at data around COVID, sharing the best information, getting it out to public health departments that they would edit those or refuse to let them out the door before some political spin could be put on them.
Nothing could be more dangerous to the American public.
BLITZER: The Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs over at the Department of Health and Human Services, Michael Caputo put out a statement, I'll put it up on the screen, Madam Secretary, "Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic, not ulterior Deep State motives in the bowels of C.D.C." What's your reaction to that?
SEBELIUS: Well, I would just say, that's a horrifying statement trying to instill doubt in the scientific capacity of C.D.C., which has always been the gold standard for public health, not just in this country, but as I say around the world.
C.D.C. has employees in 50 different countries, trains medical providers all over the world, and exactly the opposite should be happening. The scientists should be giving clear evidence directly to the American public, the politicals should be following that science. We'd be a lot safer and more secure if the science had been followed from the very beginning.
But instead of that, they are flipping it on its head and for Michael Caputo to suggest that somehow C.D.C. is full of Deep State activists and they're doing these reports to hurt Donald Trump. These are long time scientists. They're people who have been there in the Obama administration, in the Clinton administration, in the Bush administration, and now in the Trump administration.
They're not there as political appointees, they're there as scientists and they should not be muzzled or edited or shunted aside. Their reports should not get a political stand. They should be evidence given to the American public and, as I say, given to public health departments all over this country.
BLITZER: As I mentioned, the Secretary, Alex Azar gave us a statement today. Let me be read it to you. He says in part, "I have briefed President Trump alongside the nation's top doctors and I have insisted that we have direct access to these doctors throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. He has always been receptive to the data and science presented by me and other members of the task force."
Madam Secretary, do you have any reason to doubt that?
SEBELIUS: Well, I think that the statement made seems to cast a lot of doubt on that if what is coming out of the C.D.C. as evidentiary reports are being edited before they are sent to the President, before they are released to the public, that's very dangerous.
We have seen evidence that President Trump now has a new favorite medical adviser who has a medical degree and knows nothing about Epidemiology or Infectious Disease and is giving very dangerous information, masks really don't matter, social distancing doesn't matter, and kids don't get the disease, which are rapidly being repeated by the President.
So this seems to be a little forum shopping where the President wants to hear information that comports with the message that he wants to give, and other information is either cast aside or people are muzzled.
There's a lot of conversation about Tony Fauci not being allowed to give certain reports or be on certain programs. And Dr. Anne Schuchat who gave an unfavorable report according to the Trump administration, what she did is tell the truth in May has sort of vanished from the scene. She is an incredibly skilled C.D.C. epidemiologist.
So I'm very worried about when people tell the truth, suddenly, they are not heard from again and that the American public is getting a spin.
BLITZER: Secretary Sebelius, thanks so much for joining us.
SEBELIUS: Sure. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Thank you. President Trump is back on the campaign trail after a rough week here in Washington. He is heading to the battleground state of Nevada right now where his supporters are standing by, we'll go there live. That's coming up next.
BLITZER: But first, all next week, CNN will be highlighting people who are making a difference in the world. These champions for change came up with solutions to big problems.
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VOICE OVER: All next week on CNN, every step moves us forward bringing us together.
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ANNOUNCER: Follow along with those walking the walk. Changemakers, leading the charge.
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VOICE OVER: "Champions for Change," all next week on CNN.
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