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Trump Insisted To Woodward He "Acted Early" To Stop Pandemic; Trump Seeks Attention On Stock Market Over Pandemic Response; Trump Repeatedly Insisted Pandemic Would Disappear; Trump To Woodward: Nothing More Could Have Been Done" On COVID-19. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing this busy news day with us. We begin this hour with dramatic, breaking news the president in his own voice trying to convince Bob Woodward and perhaps himself that he handled the Coronavirus pandemic perfectly.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Nothing more could have been done.


TRUMP: I acted early.


TRUMP: I acted early. We'll see.


KING: That is one month ago, August 4 14th. The president in a final call to the legendary Washington Post Correspondent trying one last time to shape a book that by then was already at the publisher and in production, a book that uses the president's own words to frame a damning verdict on his pandemic mismanagement and deceit.

August 14th was the 19th interview between the president and Woodward, 18 of those conversations are sprinkled throughout the book "Rage" which is due out this week. The 19th came during the summer Coronavirus surge. American COVID deaths averaging 1,000 or more a day, America's parents facing the stress and confusion of back to school questions, millions still out of work.

And yet the president wanted Woodward to see this as a smashing success. CNN's Special Correspondent Jamie Gangel is back with more exclusive details in audio. Jamie, in sports terminology we would call this trying to work the risk. One last call to Woodward to say hey Bob, it's a good thing, not a bad thing.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, and in Donald Trump's world the world of real estate it's known as selling. So he calls him one last time just for context. On August 14th more than 168,000 Americans have died. But that's not what the president is thinking about.

He knows the book is done. He knows it's coming out in September and he calls Woodward because he wants to find out how he's portrayed in the book? And during this conversation you will see he keeps talking about the stock market but Woodward begins by telling him bluntly, the book is tough.


WOODWARD: It's a tough book, sir. And you - you have your say and there's going to be a lot of controversy about it, I expect. The whole business with the COVID and dealing with that is laid out and so it's close to the bone and you helped me get from and I appreciate that.

TRUMP: All right. Well, we have done better than most countries with COVID. You're starting to see that.

WOODWARD: I mean parts of the book you're not going to like.

TRUMP: What won't I like, Bob?

WOODWARD: Well, just, you know, there's - it's tough times. The virus as you repeatedly told me and as you've said publicly, it's derailed things, and it's a - it's a big reality in people's lives as you know so I will get it to you and--

TRUMP: You know the market is coming back very strong. You do know that.

WOODWARD: Yes, of course.

TRUMP: Do you cover that in the book?

WOODWARD: Yes, sure.


GANGEL: The market is coming back. But listen to this next exchange because Trump is not giving up. He keeps talking about the stock market. We are now six, seven months into the virus but Woodward keeps pressing him that the important thing is the virus.


WOODWARD: It's going to be a contest between you and Biden. It's going to be a contest between both of you and the virus. The virus is set because it's in real people's lives. You know? All those tens of millions of people who don't have jobs, who don't have--

TRUMP: I know. WOODWARD: That income. Listen. I mean, you and I--

TRUMP: Nothing more could have been done. Nothing more could have been done. I acted early. I acted early.

WOODWARD: Well, this will be the history that we start the first draft of. It will continue and--

TRUMP: So you think the virus totally supersedes the economy?

WOODWARD: Oh sure, but it is related as you know.

TRUMP: Little bit.

WOODWARD: Oh, little bit--

TRUMP: I mean, more than a little bit but the economy is doing - look we are close to a new stock market record.



GANGEL: He still doesn't get it. Just repeat Trump's words, nothing more could have been done. I started early. We know that's not true and we know right up until last night at the rally he had an indoor rally, no social distancing, people not wearing masks.

KING: This is a theme throughout the book and it is a pattern for the president. Number one, it is striking that he listens so much. President often jumps into conversations. He's listening to Woodward because he is trying to figure out how bad for me is this?

The silence, you can hear the silence if you will but this point he focuses on the stock market, you're right 1,000 Americans were dying a day then, the case count was going up. You were into the back to school pressures. He focuses on this one thing, the stock market.

Millions of small businesses are going out of business. The PPP money is running out obsession with the stock market, obsession that I have done well.

GANGEL: Correct. As you go through the Woodward book, what you see is an ongoing pattern. So it wasn't just in February and March that he was privately saying to Woodward that it was terrible and playing it down publicly.

We went back through the book and there is a pattern that continues. The president is telling Woodward one thing and he's telling the public another. April 5th, Trump to Woodward, it's a horrible thing, it's unbelievable. Can you believe it? It moves rapidly and viciously.

If you're the wrong person and if it gets you your life is pretty much over. If you're in the wrong group it's our age group. And again, a week later, Trump to Woodward on April 13th, it's so easily transmissible you wouldn't even believe it. I was in the White House a couple of days ago, meeting of ten people in the Oval Office. And a guy sneezed innocently, not horrible just a sneeze the entire room bailed out, OK including me, by the way.

So the president - I mean, this is very human moment. How many of us over the past six months have thought about I don't want to be around someone who sneezes or coughs? The president in April is worried himself about the Coronavirus.

But publicly just to remind you I want to play three pieces of sound, I believe this is April, May, June. He's saying the opposite to the public.


TRUMP: It's going to go away. Eventually it is going to be gone. It is going to be gone. It is going away.


GANGEL: Obviously it's not gone away, John. I think it's important, August 14th, that last call, that was a month ago, look at what's happening today? Look at the fact he's still mocking masks, the indoor rally still trying to pressure to move quickly on the vaccine.

What happened last night was dangerous and reckless and as Woodward says in the book we are seeing a continued failure of leadership.

KING: Well, it is a continuation of the deceit if you will.

GANGEL: Absolutely.

KING: Telling Bob Woodward as far back as February, airborne transmission, this is dangerous, it is deadly stuff. China is not on top of it completely the opposite of what he was telling the American people at that time. And you're right, the rally last night is a continued part of the all is well, all is good, I was perfect. We see more of it.

I want to go back to some this relationship, it is fascinating, and because I want to go back we have some calendar graphs to show you here. 19 interviews, it starts in December. 74 minutes, 88 minutes and 70 minutes Woodward at this point thinks he is writing a book about Donald Trump gets out of impeachment heading into re-election year. He is mad at team Mueller and he is mad at the Democrats and he is trying to exact revenge as he goes into his reelection year.

Then we switch into the New Year 2020. January we still don't know much about the virus. Trump initiated those first three calls in January. You see 25 minutes, 36 minutes and 17 minutes and then into February. And February, February 7th is where Bob Woodward starts to hear from the president.

It is about the virus, it's bad. And then you just see they go through April 25 minutes, 35 minutes and 14 minutes. May 13 minutes, you go into June, 11 minutes, 16 minutes, 47 minutes and 17 minutes, 29 minutes, and then the last call 10 minutes the one we just heard pieces of a month ago.

7 of these 19 calls initiated by the President of the United States who was trying to make the case once he learned how bad this book was that there were short conversations and Woodward was stalking him. Quite different, 7 of the 19 of these calls instigated by the president who is trying to talk to Woodward and trying write Woodward's book for him.

GANGEL: Correct. Just to be clear, the White House has said that Woodward had his personal cell.


GANGEL: The implication that he was the one calling the president all the time. Seven calls were Trump to Woodward, especially you see a pattern at the beginning and then at the end. And these calls were unexpected. They were sometimes late at night. I am guessing they were from the residence and that the White House does not know what's in these audiotapes and what else is out there?

KING: And one of the things we were talking about this yesterday when we were discussing some of this is the sense that you have an early copy of the book. You were here last week; you caught the White House off guard. You had those audio clips, you had the - they didn't have the book yet and they didn't understand the audio.

That the White House aides don't know or didn't know about a lot of these calls and they know now. In terms of them catching up to speed, the president says, you he is attacking the book, he is saying I didn't lie. His own voice lays out that he lied. You don't need to read the book, but you should.

But the idea that where are they now at the White House? Have they caught up? Have they gotten the book? Do they understand the scope of this?

GANGEL: So this is interesting. I actually checked this Woodward this morning. As of this morning the White House had not called him to either complain about the book or as would be typical in a normal White House they hadn't called to ask for a courtesy copy of the book so as far as Woodward knows they still do not have a copy of the book.

KING: Jamie Gangel, thank you again.

GANGEL: Thank you.

KING: Breath taking reporting and very important reporting. Let's get some reactions and expertise now from two medical professionals. Dr. Megan Ranney is an Emergency Room Physician. She is affiliated with Brown University and Dr. Jonathan Reiner who is a CNN Medical Analyst, Professor of Medicine at George Washington University.

Dr. Ranney, I want to start with you because we had a conversation for months now. You are a leader of an organization get my PPE I mischaracterized the exact name there. But when you hear the president say I acted early, everything that could be done was done. You hear that in the president's own voice knowing what you lived through and others in your profession lived through, what goes through your mind?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY: It is so disappointing and heart breaking, John. There was an opportunity in February where the president and the executive branch could have provided federal leadership.

The president has a mega phone. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, he has a bully pulpit. He could have shaped public health messaging, he could have invested in personal protection equipment for healthcare workers, he could have invested in good testing to distribute across the United States.

We still continue to lack all three of those and it is just so tremendously disappointing to hear in the president's own words that he knew and didn't act and put us all at risk.

KING: And Dr. Reiner, that's the part that kicks you in the teeth. I don't know another phrase that would be a stronger phrase I guess, but to hear the president talking in February and then throughout about how devastating it is? How dangerous it is? What has been told about it? And then to go through the dozens of times he told something completely different to the American people.

In this final conversation on August 14th, one month ago that we just played some clips from, I just want to show you in the context here look at the Coronavirus deaths at that point. There were 1,300, more than that day. You lived this, sir. I know you know it better than I do. We have been through this summer surge at this point where the case count was up around 70,000 new infections a day.

More than 1,000 Americans dying a day and you hear on that day August 14th the president say I acted early, I did everything that I could. Hey, Bob, the stock market's great. Why is the book tough?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Right. So what is so infuriating is that this president knew with really an exquisite detail since the end of January how lethal this virus was and would be?

But yet, he played it down but his - the affect of playing it down told large swaths of this country that they didn't need to worry about it and when they didn't need to worry about it they didn't need to wear masks and they didn't need to social distance.

The president says they did everything but that's absolutely not the case. The first U.S. patient tested positive on January 20th it took 50 days, that's about a week short of 2 months, for the U.S. to test a total of 20,000 patients. That was our window of opportunity.

Those two months were our window of opportunity to contain this virus. We couldn't get testing together. A month after that first patient tested positive our Surgeon General scolded the country against wearing masks. That was our window of opportunity to get this under control.

And then even when it was clear what was happening throughout the spring and early summer the president refused to embrace mask wearing, encouraged the states throughout the southern tier of this country to open as quickly as possible and what then happened?


DR. REINER: When those states opened quickly it ignited the virus throughout the southern tier in the United States. And that's what the huge surge during the summer was all about Florida and Texas and Arizona. The president says nothing could be done? Its closer to nothing was done.

And during all that time, you know, about 1,000 health care workers in the United States were losing their lives to put this fire out. Anger is really what I feel.

KING: Anger, anger, understandable anger, and the sense you could argue, Dr. Ranney listen here to the president that it continues to this day. He tells Bob Woodward as Dr. Reiner noted back in February about how dangerous this is? He is saying something completely different to the American people.

Where you are now having this conversation 50 days to Election Day and the president wants you to believe number one that he was perfect and number two that this is all behind us. So far behind us that he believes even though Nevada state law says you cannot he held an indoor rally with a packed crowd in a building and listen to how he described to reporter saying I'm not worried.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: --aren't you - getting COVID in an enclosed rally?

TRUMP: No, I'm not concerned. I'm more concerned about how close you are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry about that.

TRUMP: Because you know why? I'm on a stage that's pretty far away and so I'm not at all concerned.


KING: It's not just what he says there Dr. Ranney, it's how he says it. He is making a joke about the reporter who is five or six feet away and he kind of cocks his head to the side as if it's funny. People can make their own choice as we live in the United States of America.

But he is the President of the United States of America essentially mocking the idea that why would you be worried about packing people in a room like that? Dr. Fauci says don't do it. Dr. Birx says don't do it. His own scientists say don't do it and he does it.

DR. RANNEY: Yes. It is absolutely mind boggling and the thing about that quote that most strike me is that he talks himself about himself being six feet away but what about all of the people in the audience who are squished together without masks shouting and yelling? The things that we know are most likely to lead to the spread of COVID-19. It just shows a lack of respect for his own supporters, unfortunately.

You know the other thing john that really strikes me about it is that he says he doesn't want to test; he doesn't want to talk about it because he doesn't want to cause panic. I'm an ER doctor and I deal with panic or the potential for panic on a daily basis in the Emergency Department but what do I do? I don't pretend that a situation isn't happening.

I prepare. I think about the worst case scenario. I make sure I have everything near me that's needed and I communicate with my team and when needed I call in experts like Dr. Reiner, like cardiologists or trauma surgeons to help me do the best possible job for the person in front of me.

And that's what a president should be doing. The president should be calling in and leaning on experts and should be preparing for what comes next. We continue to hear him not doing that and as Dr. Reiner said worsening the impact of the epidemic for all of us.

KING: And I guess Dr. Reiner, if this president's management was so perfect then why to this day do we hear reports that the White House is reaching out to try to influence the work of the CDC to essentially change the words, change the guidance, keep things from the American people that they could use to make their decisions about going back to work or whether to send your kids back to school?

DR. REINER: Well, we've seen this from the beginning. We saw the administration put a very heavy hand on the professionals who have done such a spectacular job throughout the history of those agencies. Early on, they pressured the FDA to issue a EUA for Hydroxychloroquine despite there being absolutely no data, right?

We saw recently this really stilted release of the EUA for convalescent plasma despite thin data and reservations from the NIH. And now we see the MMWR, the really voice of the CDC being pressured by political hacks to try and change the message.

They're trying to craft the message from our scientific organizations. This is not about the message. This is about science. But yet, the White House again tries to gag or alter the speech of our scientists.

KING: It is hard to do when every American is living through this one way or another. Dr. Reiner and Dr. Ranney, I'm grateful to both of you coming in to share your advice and expertise at this important moment.

When we come back we'll continue the conversation. Again, the president in his own words to Bob Woodward saying he did everything he could, that he acted early and that his Coronavirus management should be viewed as a success because the stock market is booming.


[12:20:00] KING: The new audio we just played you adds to a damning portrait of the president's disconnect from or denial of the America's painful Coronavirus reality. In his conversations with journalist and author Bob Woodward the president's deceit is laid bare.

He repeatedly told Woodward about the severity of the threat but his public comments over those weeks and months played down the threat, mocked Governors and scientists who pushed for masks or longer restrictions and promised the president did that it would soon all go away.

And in this new clip CNN's Jamie Gangel obtained today, the president makes one last attempt to get Woodward to see it his way. It is a telling exchange in many ways including how the makes the case if Wall Street is happy then the rest of America must be, as well.


TRUMP: What won't I like, Bob?

WOODWARD: Well, just, you know, it is tough times. The virus as you repeatedly told me and as you've said publicly, it's derailed things. And it's a big reality in people's lives as you know. So I will get it to you and--

TRUMP: You know the market's coming back very strong. You do know that.

WOODWARD: Yes, of course.


TRUMP: Did you cover that in the book?

WOODWARD: Yes, sure.


KING: Joining us now to discuss, our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and Senior Political Analyst and Former Presidential Adviser David Gergen. Dana, we know the president obsesses about the stock market but one month ago when he was having that final conversation, 1,300 Americans died that day.

We were averaging a 1,000 if we were going back a couple of weeks we had just gone through a summer surge where on some days we were reporting 68,000, 70,000 new infections and the president says this book should be great for me because the stock market is u p .

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, this is not a surprise given our own reporting on how obsessed the president has been in private conversations with friends about the stock market and was from the very beginning of the Coronavirus hitting the shores of America?

But it is completely different to hear as you said the President of the United States talking about that last month with things so dire. And then if you just kind of put that on the overlay of last night, John, where thousands of people were indoors at his invitation, at his rally, mostly not wearing masks, definitely not socially distancing.

Especially given the fact that we not just know about the fact that the president knew in early February that it's an airborne virus but even according to the new recordings he again is talking about what it is like to be in the White House when he is - he personally is afraid of the virus.

And yet he is subjecting people who don't believe that this virus is as deadly as even he says it is to, you know, very, very dire circumstances right now, last night.

KING: David, I can't find the words for it so I'm going to try to let you do that for me. You have advised four presidents. You know what it is like to be inside the White House at a time of crisis to have now laid bare, not just in the new audio we had today but in the cumulative effect of the audio last week.

What we know about this book where the president is telling Bob Woodward this is terrible, this is horrible, China is not on top of it. It is spreading and he is telling the American people something completely different, over a period of weeks and weeks.

And then to hear him at the end there saying why is this book tough on me, Bob? I acted early. Just from your experience and perspective, what do you see in this president at this moment from these recordings and the book?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: John, these are the most damning recordings to come out of the White House since at least Watergate. And I think we're in back before, we've had other presidents who have taped the calls out of the Oval Office and don't talk to tape in the inter office conversations.

But nothing has come out like this even with Nixon. Nixon was a violation of the law, massive violation of the law. This has led to thousands of deaths, unnecessary deaths. You know by not acting early, the Columbia University study finds that if he acted one week earlier back in February he could have saved 36,000 people.

If he had acted two weeks earlier he could have saved 54,000 people. He said what more? We couldn't do anything more. That's just like nonsense as Dana pointed out. Even today he can do a lot. What do the models show us about the future that the number of people who were dying in this country could well double by COVID before the end of the year.

That means taking action now, not sending signals at his rallies to social distance, you got to wear a mask. All the other things he is failing to do is a massive failure of leadership and dereliction of duty.

KING: And the deceit, my word, Dana continues in the sense you mentioned the rally last night. The president is trying to create a parallel universe. He is trying to convince enough people pay no attention to the scientists including his own. Listen here to Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I just think we need to hunker through and get through this fall and winter because it's not going to be easy. I don't talk about second surges because we are still in the first surge.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONDE COORDINATOR: A lot of the spread that's happening now is happening in the neighborhoods and family gatherings because we make a assumptions that if I know you, you couldn't have COVID but we know that people we know are asymptomatic and can pass the virus on.


KING: As in stay socially distant, wear a mask, do not have a giant indoor rally and pretend this is not happening and yet the president wants to pretend this is not happening.

BASH: Yes. I mean, you love the Wizard of Oz, this is the ultimate pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. And at this moment in time the men and women behind the curtain are the scientists, the real people who are kind of getting the information, trying to get it out there. You saw Deborah Birx in a mask.