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Trump Speaks at National Guard Ceremony; Oregon Fire Chief Loses Her Own Home While Battling Fires; NYC Teachers Fear Schools Are Not Ready to Be Safely Reopened. New Book: Trump Wanted to Speak with Mueller, Lawyers Stopped Him. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 15:30   ET



UNIDENTIFIED NATIONAL GUARD ANNOUNCER: Attention to orders. The President of the United States hereby awards the Distinguished Flying Cross to, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Joseph Rosamond, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Kipp Goding, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brady Hlebain, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Irvin Hernandez, Warrant Officer 1 Ge Xiong, Sergeant George Esquivel Jr. and Sergeant Cameron Powell of the California Army National Guard for distinguished acts of heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight on September 5th, 2020.

The brave actions and superior airmanship of these soldiers resulted in the successful rescue of 242 adults and children from the rapidly developing Creek Fire in central California. Their actions are in keeping with the highest military traditions of selfless service, honor and personal courage and reflects great credit upon themselves, the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, the California Army National Guard, And the United States Army.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I Want to take you to Oregon here. I know a lot of focus, the President is there in Sacramento County. But Oregon, they have really been hurting. They have been fighting the Holiday Farm fire since it broke out one week ago. Working around the clock, protecting homes and businesses and saving lives, these firefighters.


But while this one chief battled to save her own community, her own home burned. And so did her fire station. Joining me now is Upper McKenzie Rural Fire Chief Christiana Rainbow Plews. Chief Rainbow, how are you holding up?


BALDWIN: I can't even begin to imagine. Can you just take me back? How did you learn that your fire station and your own home had been destroyed? PLEWS: I didn't find out for quite some time. We were very actively

engaged with the (INAUDIBLE). We knew that the fire was spreading rapidly, it was bigger than anything that we had imagined.

But I was holding out hope that my home, which is about 20 miles from the origin, was really hopeful that it wouldn't have burned. But it was a couple of days into the fight before I did find out. (INAUDIBLE) made it.

A little earlier on in the four volunteers that were on the line with me who did lose everything as well, they were pretty (INAUDIBLE) the fire crews that were down (INAUDIBLE) --

BALDWIN: Chief Rainbow, we don't have the best connection with you but let me just reiterate what you just said. You know, that it's not only you, it's not just your fire station, but ,you know, every firefighter who works with you is a volunteer and you were just saying that several of them also lost their homes.

I hear you, you're exhausted. I'm sure physically and emotionally I imagine your volunteer firefighters are as well. How do you carry on?

PLEWS: There are a lot of things that still need to be done. Right now we have a lot of support and we are able to disengage and take care of personal issues that need to be taken care of immediately.

But for that first week, it was really just our volunteers and the volunteers that came to help us initially. So not that there is more help and outside resources, we've been able to pull our people back to a more local focus and get them with family, put them in (INAUDIBLE) the evacuation (INAUDIBLE).

BALDWIN: I read about you and forgive me for jumping in, it's just not the best connection, unfortunately. We should try again another day and I would tell you to get some get some sleep but I have a feeling you've been doing this for years and that is not in your future so much as you want to help so many people in your community and your own volunteers.

We're thinking about you. Be well, be healthy. Chief Rainbow, thank you. Our best to you, truly.

PLEWS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I want to move on. A pair of New York City school teachers are sounding the alarm saying the nation's largest school system is not prepared to safely reopen and they will join me live, next.



BALDWIN: In exactly one week students in New York City are slated to return to in-classroom learning but some teachers fear the city is not ready to safely reopen its doors. And their worries come as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed that 55 school-based staff have now tested positive for COVID.

But teachers from the city's schools allege that both the mayor and the Department of Education are not telling the whole story here when it comes to the state of their schools.

They fear that the current plans leave more questions unanswered just days before students are supposed to head back. And with me now two New York City teachers, Rosy Clark and Annie Tan, they teach in the same school district just different schools. So, Rosie and Annie, welcome to both of you. Thank you for being teachers.



BALDWIN: Listen, I don't even know if your positions are at risk by the two of you coming on national TV and sounding the alarm here but your message must be that Important.

Rosy, I'm going to start with you and then Annie chime in. What are your top three concerns for when students come back to actual class, just even including the conditions where you'll be teaching in?

CLARK: So, I would you say the top three concerns in New York City are building concerns, obviously the Mayor continues to overestimate the quality of the school buildings. We have not gotten accurate ventilation reports. We have not gotten accurate -- being able to check the actual buildings and make sure that the ventilation is actually adequate.

Right now they're saying if you have one window that opens two inches, you have an adequately ventilated room which is obviously absurd. And I personally work in a building that does not have any windows that open. And so we are really trusting that there our ventilation system that is keeping us safe and it's hard to know if that's accurate or not because no one's giving us any information.

BALDWIN: So windows, ventilation. Annie, what about you, what's your biggest concern?

TAN: That this will spread. We know that contact tracing is inadequate in New York City. I have a number of friends across the district who already have positive COVID-19 test rates and those schools haven't even had students in them yet. Some teachers are saying that they have gotten calls from contact testing and tracing four days after getting exposed.


So the city has so many holes in the system where people are going to be quarantined or not, and possibly spreading the virus without even knowing it. We also don't have mandatory testing right now in New York City.

So, 55 staff members across the city have had COVID-19 on a week where we were all made to go into school buildings so who knows how many people were exposed to coronavirus just within this past week that we were in school.

BALDWIN: So let me follow up with you on that. So the 55 who tested positive, were you all being tested before you -- you're in these teachers only workdays. Were you tested before you went into school or are you saying some of, if not all of the 55 were, you know, in the schools with you all?

CLARK: It was totally optional to get tested. So the 55 tests are from people who have chosen to get tested. And so that means that I think only a fraction of our school workforce has gotten tested at this point. I think the last count I heard was 15,000. It might be up from that by now.

BALDWIN: 17,000, it was 17,000. But I hear you on the testing optional point. Let me take sure I do my due diligence.

And so, Department of Education, the mayor -- I know you're saying they're not being totally honest about just all of this. So the threshold for opening a school, the percent of positive tests in New York City must be less than 3 percent using a seven-day rolling average and then as for the 55 school based staff who've been testing positive, Mayor de Blasio points out that is now out of 17,000 who've been tested and this is what he said earlier today.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D) NEW YORK CITY: Some people will test positive. And those folks will immediately get support. And after two weeks those professionals will come back to work and they'll complete the entire school year.

The same will happen with some students. We have to remember that for the very small percentage of people who test positive for the coronavirus, it is a very temporary reality.


BALDWIN: Rosy, the mayor says it's temporary. Your response?

CLARK: I would like him to talk to the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people who experienced coronavirus and were sick for months, not weeks. Months.

So this is not the same virus for everyone. Different people have different experiences. And I love that he thinks that after two weeks everyone is going to be able to come back and I also love that he thinks he's actually going to take people out for two weeks and what happens to the students of the teachers who are going out for two weeks and what happens to the class while they're not there? So I just -- I feel like there are too many holes in his plan. There aren't answers to any of --

BALDWIN: I hear you. just so I'm looking at the two of you. Because I'm out of time but I want to make sure I hear this answer. Just nod or shake your head. Do you feel like your school should open in a week? Are you ready?

TAN: No.


BALDWIN: OK. OK. Let's stay in contact and in communication and we'll see what happens come next week and if things get better for you or not. And we'll talk again. You have my guarantee. Rosie and Annie, thank you both so much for coming on. I really appreciate both of you.

TAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: You got it.

Still ahead here on CNN, several Trump appointees face accusations that they tried to alter CDC reports on COVID. Details on the allegations of political interference, next.



BALDWIN: New evidence today that the Trump administration is playing politics with the pandemic response. A federal health official tells CNN that Trump-appointed communications officials at the Department of Health and Human Services pushed to change language to weekly scientific reports released by the CDC.

And that same source tells CNN that HHS political appointee Paul Alexander not only reviewed the CDC's weekly scientific reviewing reports on the pandemic response, but regularly added his own input.

The source says that some CDC officials believe the intent was to change communications by the CDC so as not to contradict President Trump. And it is yet another example of conflict within the Trump administration between the President and his allies breaking down the limits on presidential power and those within the administration trying to push back.

That is the subject of this brand new book "Donald Trump V. The United States -- Inside the Struggle to Stop a President."

And with me now the author and "New York Times" Washington correspondent Michael Schmidt. So Michael, good to have you on.


BALDWIN: So, let's talk about this new report first. You know, these aren't press releases. These are weekly reports intended to provide the cold-hard facts directly from CDC scientists. So with all that you've learned about this presidency, does this surprise you?

SCHMIDT: No, it doesn't. Throughout the presidency, as I write about in the book, there's been a sort of mimicking of the President by the people that work for him. The people that are there have to decide are they going to do what the President wants? Are they going to bend to his will and go along with a narrative that he believes in and the facts that he wants to disregard?

And, as I say in the book, the President essentially serves as a human MRI machine to see into who the people are around him and what they are willing or not willing to do and what motivates them. We've seen examples of these dating back to the first days in the administration and it's not surprising that it continues to happen today.

BALDWIN: Well, here's another one from today the Trump administration pushing a political agenda ahead of science. "The Washington Post" is reporting that a longtime climate crisis sceptic has been appointed the top post over at NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. What does that signal to you?

SCHMIDT: Well, in many ways, as I sort of chart, the President has been in search of these type of people from the beginning. And what he's done is he's sort of gotten rid of folks along the way that were impediments to him.

So he's at a point now where the John Kellys of the world and the Don McGahns and the Jim Comeys of the world are long gone. And he's finally gotten people around him who are willing to go along with these things.

Now the early years of the Trump administration should not be absolved. There's a lot of things that went on then that were different and abnormal. But it seems as though the President in search of the ultimate loyalists, loyalists like, you know, people like in the book I lay out and say that John Kelly would not be one of those loyalists. The President now has those people, at least more of those people around him.

BALDWIN: What was it that came out with everything with Bob Woodward that John Kelly would sit in the National Cathedral, right, praying about just the state of the nation and the world because of this President?

We've obtained here at CNN even more tapes from the final conversation between Woodward and the President. And, again, back to your book, you know, you write that Trump wanted to sit down with Mueller but that his lawyers stopped him. What does that tell you about how and why he would give Woodward these 18 interviews?

SCHMIDT: I think that, in this you can sort of see in the broader aspects and what I write is that the President has never adjusted to or learned from Washington in wanting to be different. He has wanted to bend it to his will. He has wanted to make it what he wants it to be. And he never has wanted to adjust to it.


As I lay out, he wanted to use the Justice Department to prosecute his rivals. He wanted to do things that normally in Washington would be looked at as like far, far beyond the pale. But that doesn't seem to bother him. He has a willingness to push the limits in ways, whether it's giving security clearances to his son-in-law and his daughter, despite the concerns of folks like John Kelly.

He has never given in to Washington. And here we are two months from, you know, his reelection, potential reelection, and he has shown no interest in changing.

BALDWIN: Your new book, "Donald Trump V. The United States." Michael Schmidt, thank you. Good to see you.

SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Coming up, why the world's largest vaccine manufacturer says it now could take until the year 2024 for everyone to get it.