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THE SITUATION ROOM

Source Says, CDC Reports Altered To Line Up With Trump's Messaging; Trump To Hold Rally In Nevada Despite Virus, Unhealthy Air Alert; Whistleblower Claims Top Political Appointees At DHS Told Career Officials To Downplay Threats From Russia And White Supremacists; Trump To Visit California Monday While Historic Wildfires Rage. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 12, 2020 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[21:00:00]

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.

Tonight, with the nation fast approaching 6.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 200,000 confirmed deaths, there are new questions about the battle of science versus politics in the Trump administration. A federal health official now accuses the president's political appointees of trying to change the wording of CDC medical reports, the reason, to better lineup with President Trump's narrative on the pandemic.

The so called morbidity and mortality weekly report is the CDC's main publication for public health information and recommendations to the American public. And it's been around, in some form, for well over a century.

But HHS Chief Spokesman and former Trump Campaign Staffer Michael Caputo, whose team demanded the changes, isn't denying the latest example of political interference at health agencies. He tells CNN, and I'm quoting 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, close quote.

That claim, for which there's no evidence, comes just days after the recordings from Bob Woodward's interviews with President Trump. As far back as early February, the president acknowledges downplaying the coronavirus threat. Yet he's held more than a dozen rallies since then, and he's about to do another one a little while from now out in Nevada.

Like every state in the western part of the United States, Nevada is also battling not only coronavirus, but a wildfire.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is on the scene for us at the president's rally in Minden, south of Reno. Boris, that area is dealing with air quality alerts from all of the smoke we see. A big crowd has gathered already. Update our viewers.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. There is a haze over Nevada because of these wildfires. I'm not sure how well you can see it behind me. But certainly to the northern part of the state near the mountains, as you get closer to Lake Tahoe, you can sense it. And every now and then, a gust of wind will pass by and you can taste the ash from these wildfires.

It has been a drooling day out here, very hot, a lot of older folks waiting in line for hours with not much social distancing, obviously, the Trump campaign contending with coronavirus as well. We've seen a handful of people carried out on stretchers needing medical attention because of the heat.

Of course, as far as coronavirus goes, the Trump campaign having to restructure this event. Originally, it was going to be held at the Reno Tahoe Airport, but officials there effectively canceled on the president, saying that holding a rally there would violate Nevada's mandate that no event could take place with more than 50 people.

There's obviously way more than 50 people here today, Douglas County accepting the rally here at the Minden Airport. A Douglas County commissioner telling CNN that they are not worried about coronavirus, that none of their commissioners had any apprehension about hosting this enormous crowd, that commissioner telling CNN that they believe that folks here in Nevada are responsible enough to follow these guidelines.

But I have to tell you, Wolf, that's really not happening. There are not very many people wearing masks here. They are shoulder to shoulder, standing only at this point, there was a rush of people at one point that ran in and grabbed chairs that had been spread apart ostensibly for social distancing and reconfigured them as they pleased. So, obviously, that not really front and center as a major concern here, coronavirus.

We actually heard from one state official speaker who said that this is their form of political protest. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed and very disturbing. You see people crowded together, most of them not wearing masks. That's potentially very, very dangerous. Boris Sanchez, thanks very much.

Another important story we're following, whistleblower claims that top political appointees over the Department of Homeland Security told career officials to downplay threats from Russia and white supremacists.

[21:05:03]

William Cohen served as Defense Secretary under President Bill Clinton. He's a former Republican U.S. Senator from Maine. He's joining us now live. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

As you know, the whistle-blower, whose name is Brian Murphy, claims that acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf instructed officials earlier this year to, quote, cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference and instead focus their efforts on gathering information related to activities being carried out by China and Iran. He claims that both the secretary and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, ordered officials to change the intelligence assessments political reasons, in other word, to suit the president's agenda.

If that is true, Mr. Secretary, what is your reaction?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT CLINTON: It doesn't surprise me. It's shocking, but not surprising, because this president has corrupted virtually every institution that we depend upon for getting facts and science and to defend us. And so what he has done is he has corrupted the intelligence community's ability to gather information, to provide that information to the United States so that we can -- the commander-in-chief can take measures to counter that.

And what he has done now is to -- well, we know, he's lied, he's denied and he's seeking to divide the American people, those who wear masks and those who don't. A mask is a sign of weakness and not wearing it is a sign of masculinity and power.

What he's done is to undercut the ability of the United States to depend upon the commander-in-chief and his administration to tell the truth. You put Dr. Fauci in a very impossible position recently. He said, who should the American people believe, the president of the United States or Dr. Fauci? Dr. Fauci said follow the science, follow the data.

And so we are in a position now where we are calling into question the ability or the willingness of the president of the United States to tell the American people the truth. Without truth, there can be no trust. And so it goes hand in hand.

I don't trust the administration what they're telling us now because we know from the president's own words he lies. He lies willingly. It was the equivalent of someone who suggested an oncologist knowing his patient has cancer, but he tells the patient, don't worry, it's not serious, so it will go away. And that's what he's done with the coronavirus. That's what he's done in terms of dealing with President Putin. Don't worry, Putin is not the problem, it's really China or Iran or someone else.

But we know from all the information that Putin has interfered with our election system in 2016 and he's doing it again. And this president doesn't want to have any information out to the American people so that we can be prepared and take the measures to counter it.

So I think it's a complete abdication of the president's oath of office. I think he has betrayed the American people in denying the seriousness of this cancer that is affecting us, the spread of the enemy, the invisible enemy into all states around the country. And he simply wants to throw everybody under the bus, so to speak, so he can get re-elected. So if the coronavirus doesn't exist, there's no problem, you see, I told you, it was under control.

How many times has he told us it's been under control since February when he admitted he's lying?

BLITZER: The Department of Homeland Security responded to these latest claims, by the way. And I'll put the quote up on the screen saying, quote, we flatly deny that there's any truth to the merits of Mr. Murphy's claim. Given that the president has admitted though, as you point out, downplaying the threat of something as dangerous as coronavirus since early February when he had that on the record, taped interview with Bob Woodward, is it a stretch to question the integrity of the Department of Homeland Security given this very, very serious whistleblower complaint?

COHEN: Absolutely. He has fired anyone who tells him the truth. Any cabinet official, any high level official, be it in HHS, in the FBI or any -- FDA rather, any agency in which people speak the truth to the president, they end up being fired. And it doesn't surprise me at all the DHS is doing this.

After all, DHS sent ninja clad unidentified agents into our cities and picked people off the street and threw them into unmarked cars and took them to jail. That to me ought to scare everyone about where we're heading as far as this president abusing and ignoring -- abusing the rule of law, but actually sabotaging the rule of law in order to achieve his own goals of reelection.

So I think there's been a total abdication of responsibility, to the extent that he's got followers, all he had to do was tell his followers, look, we have a serious problem here, wear a mask, it's not very dangerous (ph), it will help bring this down, bring it under control.

[21:10:01]

Instead, he said, don't worry, those masks are just for Democrats or sissies or weaklings, and follow me, follow my example, and they have been. And as a result, we have 192,000 plus people who have died.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, hold on for a minute. The president just landed in Reno, Nevada on Air Force One. It looks like he's going to answer questions from reporters.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're very booked up. The venue is packed. It's an open venue. We have a tremendous crowd. It was reported on NBC by not a very good reporter there are 1,000 people. Well, there are many times that, so you'll see that. The place is packed, it was lines up two days ago. And tomorrow, as you know, we're going to Las Vegas, we're also going to California. We're going -- we're doing a tour for three days. And then we'll go back to New York, where we have more things to do.

So we're very busy. The country is doing well, jobs are doing fantastically well. I think the virus, hopefully, is rounding the turn, rounding the corner. The vaccines are going to be out soon. The therapeutics have been fantastic, already, remdesivir and others, the plasma have had a very big impact, if you look at the results. So we've had a lot of good things happening. And it's great to be in this big state, this great state, I've been here a lot over my life, and I know it very well. I think we're going to win it. We almost won it last time. It was for a certain reason we didn't quite get there, which was perhaps a miscalculation by somebody. But it was very close.

I think we're up pretty substantially in the real polls, and we're up, I think, almost everywhere in the real polls. The real polls show us doing very well in Florida, very well in North Carolina, very well in Pennsylvania. I think we're doing well in New Hampshire, really well in New Hampshire. We're doing -- we won Ohio by a lot and we're going to win it by, I think, even more this time.

And Michigan, I guess we just got a poll, we're up by about two points, right? So I think we're doing very well. And Joe Biden is sleeping or whatever he's doing in his basement. He doesn't seem to come out a lot. And we sort of are taking the other approach. So we'll see you over at the venue. You're going to see a tremendous crowd as usual. Thank you.

REPORTER: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: All right, a short statement from the president. I don't know what he's talking about when he says we're rounding the corner when it comes to the coronavirus. More than 193,000 Americans have died, another 1,200 died just yesterday, they're dying at a rate of 1,000 a day. And this latest projection from the University of Washington's Medical School says it could double, it could even go up to 415,000 dead Americans by January 1st of this year.

He says there will be a vaccine soon. He says they're making tremendous progress on therapeutics, once again, trying to project the very positive, very positive impact of this very deadly coronavirus, but clearly misstating what is really going on. There seems to be no end, if you believe it, what Dr. Fauci said to me yesterday here in THE SITUATION ROOM, this is going on and could go on for a big chunk of next year as well.

Let me get the reaction from former Secretary William Cohen. You heard what the president had to say. What do you think?

COHEN: Wolf, the country is on fire. It's on fire with this coronavirus, and the west coast is on fire with these terrible wildfires that are spreading, the sky has now turned orange. He has not said a word about those people who are either dying or in danger of dying. And what he's talking about is this crowd out in Nevada.

That tells you something about where his priorities are. Instead of being a president for all of the country, of telling people that we'll get through this if we work together, he is simply dividing us. So he is lying again, he's denying the threat of the coronavirus, he's denying basically the impact of climate control or lack of controlling the climate. And now he's just doing what he normally does, he's a show man, he's an entertainer, but he's not the president of the United States. A president of the United States would seek to heal this country, to bring us together, to fight things that are threatening our lives and our livelihood and our existence.

So he can continue to lie to the American people. Hopefully we'll have a chance this November to say, enough, we've had enough of the lying and the denying and the diversion and dividing. We need to have a president who will bring us together. And Joe Biden is somebody who has the heart to understand what the American people are really suffering, the job loss, the deaths in their family, the impact upon their entire family household as such.

So we have what we have. He is what he is. He's not going to change. He promised at one point when he was first elected -- I can become president.

[21:15:00]

I can go through and act like the president. He's done anything but that. Everything he has done is to divide us and to sow confusion and hatred.

And with respect to our military, what he did is to undercut support for the integrity of the soldiers who serve us, the courage that they've had to fight and die for us, to say they're losers, he's really undermined the top level of our commanders over at the Pentagon by saying they're weak or they're in over their heads. He's done the same thing to General Mattis. He's done the same thing to anybody who tries to speak truth to him.

And so we're going to see more of this. Thank goodness, we've only got 54 or 55 days to go.

BLITZER: 52 days to go, but who's counting?

COHEN: Well, I need to count. But I'm counting on the American people to understand what is taking place to our country. He has taken this country down in a way in 3.5 years that no other president has ever tried to do and he's done it, to bend everybody to his will and his willfulness. And I'm just hoping there are enough American people out there who see that.

BLITZER: Former Secretary William Cohen, thanks as usual for joining us.

COHEN: Happy to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

CNN brings you, by the way, stories of Donald Trump and Joe Biden and their fight for the White House. See their triumphs, tragedies and dramatic journeys to the showdown. Don't miss the back-to-back documentary event starting next, right after THE SITUATION ROOM at the top of the hour.

Coming up, six months into the coronavirus pandemic, what Dr. Fauci says Americans may not necessarily see a return to normal until late next year. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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[21:20:00]

BLITZER: More now on the accusations that Trump-appointed officials over the Department of Health and Human Services actually to pushed to change the language of those weekly science reports from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. A federal health official claims the goal was to avoid undermining the president's political message when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic.

Joining us now, the emergency room physician, Dr. Esther Choo, and Dr. William Schaffner, a prominent infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He is also a member of the editorial board that puts out those summaries from the CDC.

And, Dr. Schaffner, a senior administration official tells CNN that Michael Caputo, the former Trump campaign official, is now the chief spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services, demanded along with this team to see reports out of the CDC before they were released to the American public to make sure they didn't undermine what the president's political message was. What's your reaction?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, PROFESSOR, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Well, Wolf, I heard about that this morning, and I'm still aghast and just terribly distressed about that. After all, the MMWR, the morbidity and mortality weekly report is the way the CDC communicates science not only to us in the United States but around the world.

It's looked to that publication is read by everyone. And it's supposed to be the communication of science. If we're to follow the science and now cannot trust the CDC's publication because it has a political taint or spin, where are we? This is extremely distressing to me. And further, I'm afraid damages this institution, the CDC, which is very close to my heart.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Dr. Choo to react to it. What do you think of this report, Dr. Choo?

DR. ESTHER CHOO, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, OREGON HEALTH AND SCIENCE UNIVERSITY: Truly one of the more disturbing things, honestly, that's happened in a sea of disturbing things, because the MMWR is -- I mean, this is our bread and butter. I'm an emergency room doctor and this is something that I read on a regular basis, every week. And the idea that there is some sort of political message embedded there is laughable.

I mean, if you read it, it's extremely -- no offense, Dr. Schaffner, but it's dry, it is completely scientifically-based, it is simply a way for our top scientific advisers to relay critical information. There isn't a lot of -- there is no overlay to that. And the only reason you would want to mess with that is to interfere with facts and also to undercut the public's trust in science.

BLITZER: What do you think, Dr. Schaffner, because you've worked with the CDC over the years closely, this explanation that we're getting from Michael Caputo that there's a so-called deep state working at the CDC over there to undermine what the president is trying to achieve, a deep state cabal, if you will?

SCHAFFNER: Wolf, I've been associated with the CDC for 40 years. The people there are dedicated to science. They are not political. The MMWR is, as Dr. Choo says, straight, it tells it straight. It tells it dry, but the science is there, and it's looked to. In fact, it is so well respected that it was the model for similar communications mechanisms for other ministries of health around the world.

And now to have its reputation undermined this way is just painful. I started reading the MMWR when I was in medical school. It's part of what motivated me to go into infectious diseases and public health. And to have it undermined this way, I'm in pain, as you can tell.

BLITZER: Yes, obviously, and it's been around in one form or another from the CDC since 1870, 1870.

Dr. Choo, thanks to Bob Woodward's new book, we now know that in the early days of the pandemic, President Trump was deliberately playing down the risk to the American people.

[21:25:03]

I want you to listen to some of his notable comments along with a running tally of the U.S. death toll. Watch this and listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And we're prepared and we're doing a great job with it. It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.

There are certain sections in the country that are in phenomenal shape already. Other sections are coming online, other sections are going down.

It will go away at some point. It will go away. It may flair up and it may not flair up, we'll have to see what happens.

And the crisis is being handled. And we are likewise getting under control.

They are dying, that's true. And it is what it is. But that doesn't mean we aren't doing everything we can. It's under control, as much as you can control it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president was a lot more candid about the dangers of coronavirus, Dr. Choo, when he spoke with Bob Woodward back on February 7th. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This is more deadly. This is five per -- this is 5 percent versus 1 percent, and less than 1 percent. You know, so this is deadly stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And just moments ago, we heard the president say, we're rounding the corner, things are moving really in a great direction right now, I'm paraphrasing him. But what's your reaction, Dr. Choo, when you hear that?

CHOO: It's hard for me to express how sickened I feel by it. I mean, we know -- when we get these predictions about how the -- how many deaths we'll have and what the case count is of coronavirus from places like the University of Washington's predictor, it is changing all the time based on human behavior. And human behavior is driven by the messages that we get about how dangerous this is, and how we should behave.

And the person with the biggest platform has consistently given overly reassuring information, and people absorb that. They believe it, and it's good news that they want to believe it. And we've seen how his messages translate directly into how people feel about wearing face masks, going out in large crowds, indoors and going into some of the highest risk activities.

The fact that it appears that he knew that those messages were wrong, it was sickening before, and now is even more so. I mean, just no words, there appears to be more empathy for human life here.

BLITZER: And more than 193,000 Americans have died over the past six months and this new forecast from the University of Washington Medical School says, if things stay the same and drastic action is not taken, that number could more than double by January 1st. It could be, in fact, as many as 415,000 Americans could be dead, more than 1,000 Americans are dying every single day.

Dr. Choo, Dr. Schaffner, we're all grateful for all the important work you're doing. Thanks so much for joining us.

CHOO: Thank you, Wolf.

SCHAFFNER: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Coming, significant damage in the nearly 100 wildfires that are now spreading and spreading and spreading across the west coast of the United States. We'll go live to one of those fires, that's next right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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[21:30:00]

BLITZER: President Trump announcing today his plans to see for himself the enormous and deadly destruction out on the west coast of the United States right now. He'll be there on Monday in California. Wildfires, about 100 of them, are raging across California, Oregon and Washington State, other states as well. And not only in forests and canyons, but in residential areas, even entire towns already have been destroyed. Thousands and thousands of people have fled their homes this weekend, not knowing if anything will still be there when they return.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is a few miles just northeast of Los Angeles right now. Paul, show our viewers the conditions where you are, what the firefighters are gaining, and we can multiply what you're seeing many, many times all over the western part of the United States.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And with every little bit of smoke that you see go up and with every little bit of flame, you are breaking more records in California with the number of acres burned now.

Often, the distance here in this canyon, we assure you, there's flames there, it's gone down into the canyon, sending up smoke and they're trying to hit these flames right now in these Foothill communities of Los Angeles with water drops, because it's almost inaccessible for firefighters. We've seen some firefighters in the area, but they can't go chasing it. It's very, very dangerous.

Now, Governor Newsom has reached a level of frustration, because we have got more than 3 million acres burned in California, shattering records, we've had 4,000 structures destroyed. And he is saying this is a climate emergency.

(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're facing, this 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's not 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)

[21:35:05]

VERCAMMEN: And 29,000 firefighters are battling blazes in California, Oregon, Washington and neighboring states, they are spread out, in some ways, very thin, Wolf.

Reporting live from Monrovia, back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Be careful out there, Paul Vercammen, just outside of Los Angeles, awful situation here in the United States.

Meanwhile, President Trump is out on the campaigning trail right now. He just landed, as we all saw live, in Nevada. He's about to hold a large rally. A lot of mask-less supporters out there, you see him moments ago walking down the stairs as Air Force One landed in Reno. All this comes after the president admitted knowing the coronavirus was deadly in early February while publicly downplaying it. And we'll have more on that when we return.

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(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[21:40:00]

BLITZER: President Trump, after deliberately downplaying the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic, desperately tried to defend his actions this week, even comparing himself to Winston Churchill and Winston Churchill's leadership during World War II.

Meanwhile, Republican senator in tough races, like Joni Ernst, Martha McSally, among others, they've largely declined to comment on the truly stunning admission by the president. Let's discuss with our Senior Political Analsyt, Ron Brownstein. He's a Senior Editor over at The Atlantic.

Ron, when the president equated lying to the American people about the danger of coronavirus, with the leadership of Winston Churchill during World War II, what was your reaction?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It was among -- in the catalog of offensive comments from Donald Trump, it was certainly at the furthest end of that. Because, of course, what he did was the opposite of Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill said, I have nothing to offer you but blood sweat and tears. He told the public that they had to gird for a tough struggle and essentially unify as a nation to deal with adversity.

Donald Trump did the opposite. He lied to the country knowing how bad this was, specifically told them the opposite, that it was no worse than the flu, on February, 26th, said we would be down to zero cases in a couple days. He, in essence, told Americans not to take it seriously, not to come together.

And from the beginning, his desire and going on to this day, pressuring the Big 10 to reopen football, his desire has been to project normalcy as quickly as possible, whatever the public health costs, because he believes that is what benefits him the most politically. So, really, it could not be less Churchillian or more in the opposite direction.

BLITZER: And it's hard to believe now that more than 193,000 Americans have died and thousands more, tens of thousands, maybe a couple hundred thousand additional Americans will die before the end of this year, he's continuing even moments ago, Ron, to continue this policy of his to mislead the American public. Listen to what he said when Air Force One landed in Reno just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The country is doing well, jobs are doing fantastically well, I think the virus, hopefully, is rounding the turn, rounding the corner, the vaccines are going to be out soon. The therapeutics have been fantastic, already, remdesivir and others, the plasma have had a very big impact if you look at the results. So we've had a lot of good things happening.

And it's great to be in this big state, this great state, I've been here a lot over my life, and I know it very well, I think we're going to win it. We almost won it last time, and it was for a certain reason --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You get the point of what he's saying, 193,000 Americans already dead. And that number, according to the University of Washington Medical School, it could be 415,000 Americans dead by January 1st. And he's insisting we're rounding the corner. What do you say to that? BROWNSTEIN: Well, as a political strategy, I have never understood his determination to ask people in effect who do you believe, me or your lying eyes, Richard Pryor once said. He's not reporting on something that's happening in Afghanistan, it's thousands of miles away from the daily experience of every American.

They are living through this. They know, in many cases, that their kids are at home trying to do schoolwork on the kitchen table. They know that restaurants and bars are closed or operating at a very limited capacity, that colleges experience enormous surges.

And for him to simply deny the reality that Americans are experiencing, I think, is sending a clear signal to the public that as long as he is in office, he is not going to take this seriously. I mean, I don't think that message could be more unequivocal from the president. There is nothing that could happen that will cause him to treat this with the gravity that it deserves. And at a point where 60 percent of the country say they do not approve of his handling of the coronavirus, it's just inexplicable, not only from public health point of view but even from a political strategy.

[21:45:06]

BLITZER: Yes, it's hard to believe the president is continuing after all these months and so many dead Americans from the coronavirus, he's continuing to suggest rounding the corner, things are moving great, vaccines almost there, therapeutics are fantastic, a lot of Americans are still, unfortunately, very sadly, about to die in the coming days, weeks and months unless major dramatic action is taken. And the president is so far not showing a desire to do so.

BROWNSTEIN: Can I say really quick --

BLITZER: Very quickly, go ahead.

BROWNSTEIN: Very quick, his whole desire is to shift the focus from coronavirus to law and order and disorder. His problem is that even if he succeeds in doing that, it's not as if Americans overwhelmingly think he has the answer to that. The new polling today in Wisconsin and Minnesota, a majority in both states, critical states for the president, said he is encouraging rather than discouraging violence.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it. We'll continue down the road.

Coming up, the push back over the Department of Justice decision to drop charges against Michael Flynn, why a court-appointed lawyer is calling the decision corrupt and politically motivated. More on that when we come back.

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[21:50:00]

BLITZER: New pushback tonight over the Justice Department's decision to drop the criminal case against former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. A former judge appointed to analyze the move now calls it, and I'm quoting now, a corrupt and politically motivated favor.

And that's not the only drama in the legal world that the administration is facing as the election gets closer and closer, 52 days from today.

Let's bring in our CNN Legal Analyst, the former federal prosecutor, Laura Coates.

Laura, does this mean the Justice Department could actually be stopped from dropping this case?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's possible, they could be. Remember, in order for you to dismiss a case, technically, you have to have what's called leave of court, meaning the court has to sign off on it. And, normally, they will go along with the prosecutor's decision but they're not going to be rubberstamped.

And so we're seeing right now the sort of amicus brief, this friend of the court writing that was done by somebody that Judge Sullivan asked to argue against what the Justice Department is doing, to give an evaluative assessment of what was going on, says, no, no, no, no, no, if this was politically motivated, we're not going to be a rubberstamp in the court.

You plead guilty more than once, and you have admitted to these crimes, now all that's left to do is sentence you. And the Justice Department did not try to say that this was prosecutorial misconduct just that they wanted it to go away. And that's not going to be good enough.

And this may be one of those novelties in the law because it has not been addressed before, but the court has every right to question a prosecutor's decision to dismiss a case.

BLITZER: Some might think, Laura, that if the prosecutor decides to drop charges of the case, that's it, but how unusual is a move like this to even have a court ask for a rebuttal?

COATES: Well, it is very unusual to do so. And as I said, a prosecutor's decision to go forward with the case, not only they make decisions to dismiss cases prior to sentencing or prior to somebody already pleading guilty.

So, the actual chronology of events is what is particularly the most odd, followed by, of course, the judge saying, hold on a second, all that's left for me to do is for me to sentence, and you plead guilty before on this and it's been supported and by your own confession.

So, now, why would I second guess not just the Justice Department, but why would I second guess your own confession when there's no indication that you were, in some way, misled. Although you're saying you are, there's no clear evidence about that.

So, it is quite odd, but the really shocking thing here is to bring in an outside former judge to say, look, is there any reason or basis I have as another judge to be able to say, no, you cannot get rid of this case? And the person he brought in is quite a heavy-hitter. I mean, Judge Gleeson is somebody who prosecuted John Gotti.

And so we're not talking about somebody who is just new to the law. He was a 20-plus-year federal judge on the bench before going back to private practice, very highly regarded and well-respected, and he is vehement that this is politically motivated. And that will carry a lot of weight with Judge Sullivan.

BLITZER: All right, Laura Coates, as always, we're grateful to you for all the legal expertise, lots going on in the legal world right now. Thanks very much for joining us.

COATES: Thank you.

BLITZER: As we have been reporting, the United States has now lost more than 190,000 people to the coronavirus. Before I say good night, I want to take a moment to remember some of those lives.

Larry John Kelly was a beloved father, husband and teacher. He taught high school students for more than three decades in South Florida and took pride in pushing them to register to vote. His family says they will remember him by his quick wit, piercing blue eyes and deep love for his country.

Larry is survived by his wife, Joan, and his daughters Kim and Christina. He was 78 years old.

In Mississippi, a middle school is mourning the loss of Coach James. Nacoma James was a teacher and football coach who led his students to several championships. Friends and family remember him as a social and happy man who loved to wear bow ties.

He is survived by his wife and five daughters. He was 42 years old.

May they rest in peace, and may their memories be a blessing.

I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Washington. I'll be back tomorrow 7:00 P.M. Eastern with another special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

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CNN special report, Fight for the White House, Donald Trump's Presidency, starts right after a quick break.

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