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Warnings Fell On Deaf Ears; Inferno Ravaging U.S. West Coast; Hurricane Sally Headed To New Orleans; Trump Downplayed The Pandemic Repeatedly; At Least 35 Dead In CA, OR, WA From Historic Wildfires; Hurricane Sally Intensifies To Category 2 Storm, Additional Strengthening Expected Before Landfall; Trump Team Reportedly Appoints Climate-Science Denier To Top Position At Main U.S. Weather And Climate Agency. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes, if only, if only as good as our professional athletes. Mayor Francis Suarez, thank you. Best of luck to everybody in Miami-Dade. Best of luck to you and your family.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following breaking news on multiple crises facing the United States including the coronavirus pandemic, which has now claimed the lives of more than 194,000 Americans with more than 6.5 million confirmed cases here in the United States.

Also, tonight, we're learning that on a single day when more than 1,300 Americans died of COVID-19, President Trump told journalist Bob Woodward, and I'm quoting now, "nothing more could have been done." And he went on to stress gains in the stock market.

Also breaking this hour, the death toll from the historic wildfires ravaging the western United States is now at least 35 with millions, millions of acres burned and hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee for their lives.

And we're also following hurricane Sally right now. It's strengthening as it closes in on the U.S. Gulf Coast and now threatening to become a strong category two storms before making landfall with winds as high as 105 miles an hour.

Let's begin this hour with our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, the president is facing a lot of criticism for holding indoor events without social distancing, and he's about to hold another one in Arizona.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Here he goes again. President Trump is on his way to Phoenix for a Latinos for Trump event. That event appears to be yet another potential health risk for Trump supporters. We can show you some of the pictures on screen right now as there will not be much social distancing going on.

We've seen that at several Trump events over the last several days. It looks like it's going to happen again in Phoenix where Trump supporters will be subjected to conditions inside where they will not be social distancing. And it'll be up to those supporters as to whether or not they wear masks.

In the meantime, the president just received a briefing on the catastrophic wildfires in California where he dismissed concerns over climate change, but the president is being accused of ignoring another major natural disaster in the U.S., and that is the coronavirus pandemic as he continues to hold, as we said these big rallies with big crowds.

The president says he's not worried about catching the virus as he is positioned, quote, "very far away from his supporters."

Fifty days before the election, President Trump is sounding confident that he understands science better than the experts. But in California when the president brushed off police from state officials to try to understand the effects of climate change on the devastating wildfires out west, he got some pushback.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It'll start getting cooler. You just watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish science agreed with you.

TRUMP: Well, I don't think science knows actually.


ACOSTA: The president is also dismissing warnings from health experts about his crowded rallies. His latest in Nevada violated state restrictions luring his supporters indoors where there was no social distancing with few masks in sight. But Mr. Trump insisted his health is not in jeopardy.


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


ACOSTA: One of the nation's top cardiologists, Dr. Jonathan Reiner told CNN that's not the point, accusing Mr. Trump of jeopardizing the safety of his rallygoers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Negligent homicide. What else could you call an act that because of its negligence results in the deaths of others?


ACOSTA: And yet the president insisted to author Bob Woodward he's done everything possible to stop the virus.



TRUMP: Nothing more could've been done.


TRUMP: I acted early.



ACOSTA: Still, one top GOP official tweeted it's Joe Biden who can't run from his disastrous record responding to the coronavirus. The truth hurts, Joe. Arguing the president handled the pandemic perfectly.


RONNA MCDANIEL, CHAIR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Think of what would have happened if he'd have gone out and said this is awful, we should all be afraid, we don't have a plan. It would've been a run on the banks, it would've been a run on the hospitals. It would've been a run on the grocery stores.


ACOSTA: A senior official on COVID-19 at the Department of Health and Human Services Michael Caputo is coming under intense scrutiny after the New York Times reported he accused government scientists of, quote, "sedition" and being of a resistance unit on his Facebook page.

In a statement Caputo said since joining the administration, my family and I have been continually threatened and in and out of criminal court dealing with harassment prosecutions. This weighs heavily on us, and we deeply appreciate the friendship and support of President Trump as we address these matters and keep our children safe.


As for the fires out west, Biden said the president just doesn't get it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more America ablaze?


ACOSTA: Mr. Trump maintains good forest management would solve the problem.


TRUMP: With regard to the forest, when trees fall down after a short period of time, about 18 months they become very dry. They become really like a matchstick. And they get up, you know, there's no more water pouring through, and they become very, very -- they just explode. They can explode.


ACOSTA: As for the president's claims on the wildfires, he's again saying that the forests in California, Oregon, and Washington simply aren't maintained well enough, echoing some controversial comments he's made before when he said raking the forest can prevent forest fires.

And we -- as we mentioned earlier, the president is scheduled to speak at a Latinos for Trump event in Phoenix just a short while from now. We were showing those pictures a few moments ago, we show them again. As you can see, the auditorium where this event will be held is not set up for social distancing, Wolf.

And as we've been saying over the last several days with these other events, it'll be up to the attendees as to whether or not they want to wear masks. Obviously, a potential super spreader event any time something like this happens, Wolf.

BLITZER: It can be potentially indeed very, very dangerous. All right. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Now more on the latest pandemic development, CNN's Nick Watt is joining us from Los Angeles. Nick, there's a startling new report about the number of American kids, American children infected by the virus.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. Well, the rate of infection among children just keeps on climbing week over week. We are now nearing 550,000 total cases in the under 18s. We just heard from New Jersey officials who say that at some point they do anticipate there will be transmission tied to schools. But they're confident that they can handle it.

They're also telling everyone to get the flu vaccine so that we can avoid the twindemic later in the fall or into the winter.

For the first time in more than 70 years, this will not be live on our TV screens Thanksgiving morning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: They're reinventing the event for this moment in history.


WATT: but how long will this moment last? If we wind up with a vaccine that requires two doses, there won't be enough for everyone on earth until 2024. So, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer just told the Financial Times. But Pfizer is bullish about its phase three trials on nearly 30,000 healthy volunteers.


ALBERT BOURLA, CEO, PFIZER: Now we feel quite comfortable with the safety of the product. So, we want to expand to more vulnerable populations.


WATT: Like 16-year-olds and people with chronic conditions could have results on safety and efficacy by the end of next month.


BOURLA: Of course, it doesn't mean that it works. It means that we will know if it would.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As we're waiting for a vaccine, we know what we can do other countries have done it, we should too.


WATT: Masks, distancing, et cetera, instead, the federal health official tells CNN that Trump appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services pushed to alter CDC reports so they aligned with the president's rosier messaging on the pandemic.

Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic, claims HHS spokesman Michael Caputo, not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of the CDC. No comment from the CDC.


PETER HOTEZ, INFECTIOUS EXPERT, BAYLOR UNIVERSITY: We could have had an amazing fall with opening up schools safely, colleges safely, and instead we decided to thumb our noses at science. It just makes me sick to see, to know what we could have been as a nation and what we are today.


WATT: More than 45,000 cases on college campuses, parties like this are a problem. NYU students bouncing around in Washington Square Park. And, look, that's the average new case count across the country over time. Up and down. Still, about 35,000 a day.


MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICIES: Each time it goes up, it goes a little higher. Each time it comes down, it doesn't come down as far.


WATT: It could well go up again as temperatures drop pushing people inside and too many drop their guard, which is why even though bars across Florida can reopen today.


MAYOR CARLOS GIMENEZ (R), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: Here in Miami- Dade, I don't think bars is a good idea.


WATT: Because with Miami schools also likely to reopen soon, they say they're just not ready.


GIMENEZ: We have to make sure the contact tracing is well. I mean, it's well established. We have procedures in place that we open up the schools, we can, if anything happens, we can contain it.


WATT: Now, some good news from up in San Francisco. A couple of weeks early, they are opening indoor barbershops, tattoo parlors. You can get a massage inside again.


And also, tourists are now allowed to stay in hotels in San Francisco again. But I just spoke to the hotel council up there. And they expect that demand will return pretty slowly, given the virus and also the fires that are burning right now across their state. Wolf?

BLITZER: So many crises going on at the same time. Nick Watt reporting for us. Thanks very much.

Despite the relentless spread of the virus across the United States, President Trump insisted nothing more could've been done. Listen to what he told the journalist Bob Woodward on a day when more than 1,300 Americans died of COVID-19.


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: Listen. I mean --

TRUMP: Nothing more could've been done. Nothing more could've been done.


TRUMP: I acted early. I acted early.

WOODWARD: This will be the history that we start the first draft of. And it will continue --


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

WOODWARD: Sure. But they're related, as you know.

TRUMP: A little bit, Yes.

WOODWARD: A little bit? I mean --

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


BLITZER: Joining us now Dr. Peter Hotez. He's a professor and dean of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Hotez, thanks so much for joining us.

So, you just heard the president insist nothing more could've been done before pivoting back to talking about the economy and the stock market. What's your response to the president's assertion, given what we now know about his early knowledge of this deadly virus?

HOTEZ: Well, nothing more could be done. He got the first word right and the last word right meaning nothing done and that's what happened. Look, I'm not trying to be a wise guy here. I mean, it's absolutely catastrophic. There was nothing done. There was no national response.

The White House and the White House Coronavirus Task Force absolutely refused to launch a national response. It was left to the states with some backup FEMA support and supply chain management. But it was left to the states to figure it out. They never had the horsepower in terms of epidemiologic models. They needed the political cover of the CDC to provide directives. That's never happened. And the result was a cataclysmic failure.

This is the single largest public health catastrophe to face the nation in a hundred years. And it's directly linked to the White House refusal to launch that national response that is now leading to 200,000 deaths. By comparison, we have Canada, a country of 40 million people with a

tiny fraction, I think 9,000 deaths. That's what we could have been, and we had much more scientific horsepower to get this done than any other country in the world. It is absolutely a calamity and makes me profoundly sad as well.

BLITZER: The president keeps referring, and his supporters keep referring, in fact he did restrict travel from China into the United States. What did you think of that?

HOTEZ: Well, remember, he restricted travel from China. There were already some people coming in from Asia. But more importantly, let's remember this virus that so devastated the nation first came in from Europe into New York City in the first week or two of February. And that's what caused the world's worst epidemic in New York City. That had nothing to do with China. That came in through Europe and it was totally missed.

They did not do the surveillance. Transmission went unobserved for weeks and weeks. And this led to that catastrophic outbreak in New York City. And even then, we didn't learn from our mistakes. We allowed a massive southern resurgence. And even after that all the summer we didn't learn from our mistakes allowing schools to reopen in areas with high transmission allowing putting teachers at risk as we move towards 200,000 deaths by the end of September.

I mean, give me a break. This is a White House that cannot take ownership, cannot take personal responsibility, and this is really a humanitarian tragedy which is the product of this.

BLITZER: We're seeing, once again, maskless supporters of the president gathering right now indoors at this rally out in Phoenix. The president did tell the Las Vegas Review journal he isn't concerned about getting the virus during his indoor events because he points out he's on a stage, quote, "very far away."


How can the public be expected to wear masks to protect others when the president himself takes a rather self-centered approach to his own response?

HOTEZ: Well, even beyond that, Wolf, you mentioned earlier that this is for Latino supporters. Is he not aware of the devastation in the Hispanic and Latino community from this virus? This has caused what I've termed historic decimation of Latin X communities across the southern United States.

Every day I get a report from the Houston Health Department of the deaths. It doesn't give you a name, it gives you age, sex, and race or ethnicity, every damn day it's Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic, black, black, Hispanic, Hispanic, Hispanic. This has caused historic decimation of this Hispanic community. It's wiped out south Texas causing terrible deaths and tragedies.

And, remember, the CDC which and the MMWR, which the White House also tried to suppress, came out with that very chilling statistic. Ordinarily 20 percent of all deaths of people under the age of COVID- 19 are people under the age of 65. But for the Latin X community, it's 35 percent.

This is a virus which has robbed the entire Latin -- Latin X community, Hispanic community in the United States of their mommies, of their daddies, of their brothers and sisters. And the nerve he has to hold that kind of rally. It's beyond tone-deaf. This is -- I'm speechless. I'm sorry.

BLITZER: Dr. Hotez, as usual, thank you so much for joining us. We are always appreciative of everything you have to say. Thanks once again.

HOTEZ: Thank you so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, Trump-appointed officials interfering with critical CDC reports so they wouldn't necessarily undermine what the president is saying his political messaging. I'll talk about that with the former Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson. He's standing by live.

Plus, more breaking news. We're going to get live updates on the deadly and truly historic wildfires ravaging the western United States, and the hurricane taking direct aim at the U.S. Gulf Coast, the storm has just strengthened to a category two.



BLITZER: CNN has now obtained a recording in which President Trump discusses the coronavirus crisis with the author Bob Woodward and says, and I'm quoting now, "nothing more could've been done." This recording is from last month on a day when more than 1,300 Americans died of the virus.

We're joined now by the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Secretary, Jeh Johnson.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

The president claiming nothing more could've been done, but in another portion of that interview with Woodward obtained by CNN, the president sounded more concerned with how he'd come out, how he'd come across in the Woodward book. Listen to this.


WOODWARD: It's a tough book, sir. And 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 there. And I appreciate that.

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

WOODWARD: I mean, there are parts of the book you are not going to like.

TRUMP: What won't I like, Bob?

WOODWARD: Well, just, you know, there is -- 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 big reality in people's lives, as you know. So, I will get it to you.

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

WOODWARD: Yes, of course. And you know --

TRUMP: Did you cover that in the book?



BLITZER: So, in that exchange the president is grasping hold of the stock market. But months into this crisis, Mr. Secretary, is he failing to see the big picture, the enormity of what has happened in our country?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Wolf, to say that nothing more could have been done is absurd. Put aside what he said to Bob Woodward in February and March. By mid-April here in the northeast in the New York/New Jersey area where I live, the densest part of the country, we knew how to flatten the curve.

We knew how to slow the spread of the virus through aggressive physical distancing, through hygiene, through wearing masks, but after April even though things slowed down here in the northeast, we had the spikes in the rest of the country simply because our national leadership, our president, allowed this to become a political issue.

He set the tone for people believing that it is somehow politically incorrect to wear a mask, the rally that you showed a few moments ago that he's about to attend is shocking to see so many people so close together with no masks. Some of them are older than me. They're in vulnerable populations.

And so, this didn't have to be this way, Wolf. You have a nation on earth with the mightiest public health care apparatus. And it's had the most dismal public healthcare response. And it didn't have to be this way.

BLITZER: Last night thousands of people gathered for an indoor political campaign rally for the president out in the Henderson, Nevada, right near Las Vegas. The president says nothing more could've been done.


If that's his attitude, Mr. Secretary, with the death toll now more than 194,000 dead getting closer and closer to 200,000 Americans dead over the past six months, what do you think the next few months are going to look like? Because some projections say that number could double by January 1st.

JOHNSON: Well, the numbers are going to continue to go up. It's going to go to up until the point at which we have a vaccine, unfortunately. And there are ways to flatten this curve. There are ways to slow the growth. The weather is getting colder in much of the country. So that creates a new dynamic. And people are going back to school as you pointed out earlier. That creates a new dynamic.

And, unfortunately, we're becoming sloppy in how we go about what is required to slow the spread of this virus. And our national leadership is not helping, frankly, by putting out the message that we need to be disciplined here.

BLITZER: It's a really awful situation indeed. And it's a huge crisis. And sadly, Americans are continuing to die in very, very big numbers. Jeh Johnson, thanks so much for joining us.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

Still ahead, the latest on the catastrophic wildfires burning in all three states along the U.S. West Coast.

Plus, hurried preparations underway right now for a hurricane that's heading towards the Gulf Coast including New Orleans.



BLITZER: There's breaking news in the historic Western wildfires that have now killed at least 35 people. CNN's Martin Savidge is joining us from Oregon right now. Martin, you're at a checkpoint, so, what are you seeing, what are you hearing, what's the situation where you are?



BLITZER: I think we've --

SAVIDGE: Wolf, we're standing in the area of the Beachie Creek Fire which is located about an hour and a half south of Portland, Oregon, Marion County. They've had already four deaths in this area, including a 13-year-old boy and his grandmother.

This is one of the many checkpoints you need to get into the fire areas. They often can be emotional points because people are trying to get back in. They want to see their homes. They want to see what they have left. These two communities which were just outside of and I'll walk you down over here. Lyons is just down the road here. We know Lyons has suffered heavily.

We don't know how many structures have actually been destroyed at this point. But the town has burned severely. Beyond that is another town, Gates. I was told by a man who was there on the night of the fire, that everything in Gates was destroyed except for one single block. It was hell on earth in the minds of many who tried to ride out the fires here.

Oregon hasn't seen anything like this. In fact, the governor just a short while ago said that this state is stretched to the limit. Firefighters are overwhelmed. They're doing their absolute best, but they are stretched to the maximum. And they have helped that is coming in. We're being told that other states, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota now sending in firefighters, they'll be here later in the week.

They were hoping for rain by today. It's not going to happen. In fact, it looks like now maybe Wednesday or Thursday. The problem with that, Wolf, is, yes, you want the rain, that's also going to bring lightning.

There's concern now for winds. And for that lightning, especially in the middle part to the southern part of the state. And then you take a look at the health hazard of the smoke. It is severe and it is considered extremely dangerous. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Just be careful over there. Martin Savidge on the scene for us. We'll have much more on this crisis coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up next, the controversy over a climate science denier reportedly appointed to a top position over at the main U.S. Weather and Climate agency. We'll update you on that when we come back.



BLITZER: There's breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM on Hurricane Sally. The storm has just strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane and it's expected to get even stronger before slamming into the U.S. Gulf Coast in the coming hours. The National Hurricane Center has just put out a new forecast. Louisiana's governor has declared a state of emergency and mandatory evacuations, have been issued for part or all of several parishes. And for New Orleans residents who live outside the levee protection system. We'll have a complete update on the forecast that's coming up.

We're also following the controversy over a climate science denier who's reportedly been appointed to a top climate position in the U.S. government. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us right now. Brian, critics say this is a rather dangerous pick for such a key position.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. Critics including scientific watchdog groups are pouncing on this appointment tonight of David Legates. Those critics say disappointment is especially troubling now in the middle of the wildfires, the hurricane season and the coronavirus pandemic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): As record setting wildfires devastate western states, as America's southern coasts continue to get pounded by more frequent hurricanes, President Trump continues his assault on climate science.



TRUMP: You just watch.

TODD (voice-over): And the President's team is facing blistering criticism tonight for reportedly appointing a climate science denier to a top position at America's preeminent weather and climate agency. David Legates has been tapped to be a top deputy at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, known as NOAA. That's according to NPR and The Washington Post.

GRETCHEN GOLDMAN, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: This is a dangerous pick for NOAA because it threatens the thousands of NOAA scientists who conduct and communicate climate science every day.


Legates has a long record of accepting fossil fuel industry funds and spreading disinformation about climate science.

TODD (voice-over): According to the Post, Legates was once forced out of a job as the state of Delaware's climatologist because of his research paid for in part by the fossil fuel industry, which casts doubt on the science showing that the burning of coal and other fuels were main factors in climate change. At a House hearing last year, Legates openly disputed the belief of many climate scientists that carbon dioxide is mainly responsible for heating up the planet.

PROF. DAVID LEGATES, UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE: That has little to do with carbon dioxide, has to do with the demise of the Little Ice Age and warming conditions we've had due to an increasing sun.

TODD (voice-over): According to NPR, in 2007, Legates helped author a paper funded partially by the oil industry that questions scientific findings about the role of climate change in destroying polar bears habitats. He now heads to an agency, NOAA, which watchdog group say has a long history of nonpartisan very credible work in providing the country with weather and climate information. What kind of effect could Legates have at NOAA? One watchdog group cites the Trump administration's appointments of former fossil fuel industry lobbyists to head the EPA and the Department of the Interior.

GOLDMAN: And they have wreaked havoc there. We've seen altered communications on climate change, we've seen climate websites removed. We've seen climate scientists gagged from communicating with the media and the public.

TODD (voice-over): Critics say this is only the latest move in Trump's pattern of denying or trying to suppress science. He announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. He's dismantled regulations on greenhouse gas and auto emissions. NOAA itself has at least once shown it couldn't withstand Trump's pressure when a branch of the National Weather Service corrected Trump's erroneous predictions for Hurricane Dorian last year, which he later displayed with a sharpie threatening Alabama. NOAA disavowed that correction.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR TO NIXON, FORD, REAGAN & CLINTON: We have data wars going. Data is being politicized about one side or the other is being weaponized. And when you get into that point where people, the public can't tell who's telling the truth, it undermines your democracy, it undermines the kind of trust that you need to make a democracy work.


TODD: CNN reached out multiple times to David Legates, to NOAA, to the Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA and to the White House for response to the criticisms of Legates's appointment. We didn't hear back from any of them. But one board member of the conservative think tank the Heartland Institute, which downplays the climate change threat and which David Legates is a member of, told us that Legates will provide, quote, much needed science sanity at NOAA, which this board member claims has been taken over by, quote, climate alarmists. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting for us. Brian, thank you.

Coming up, another day, another event for the President with no social distancing and hardly anyone wearing masks. You're looking at live pictures coming out of Phoenix right now. And we'll get reaction to what President Trump told Bob Woodward from the author of another insider account of the administration. The former National Security Adviser John Bolton, he's standing by live as well. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Tonight, we have an exclusive and very disturbing look at a crisis, so much of the world is simply ignoring. We're talking about what's unfolding in the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. For years, the country has been wracked by a civil war in which Iran is backing one side called the Houthis, which is opposed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and others. The result is misery and starvation, killing children who are too young to know anything at all about the global political situation.

CNN's Nima Elbagir received exclusive access to a hospital right at the epicenter of this crisis.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this packed children's ward in the main Abs Hospital in the north of Yemen, anxious mothers vie for attention as Dr. Alial Ashwell (ph) does his rounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translation): Is she better today?

ELBAGIR (voice-over): This little girl is named Hafsa (ph). Her mother tells the doctor Hafsa (ph) has five brothers, all malnourished. But Hafsa is the only one they can afford the medicine for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translation): How is he today?

ELBAGIR (voice-over): This mother of an eight-month old tells Dr. Ashwell (ph) her little boy can no longer lift up his head. He's too weak. His little belly is painfully swollen, a telltale sign of acute malnutrition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translation): This is a tragedy. A family of 10 are all squeezed into one room. Four of her children, in three years, dead from malnutrition.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Rows and rows of hungry children. Their bodies so stripped of fat that every move is agony. Hard to believe, but these are the lucky ones. These are the children whose parents can afford the car journey to the hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translation): These are all the patients we admitted. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 14, 15, 16, 17 cases. Just on the first day of September.


ELBAGIR (voice-over): Even for Yemen, this is not the norm. Every day brings dozens more patients.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translation): And here you have death. Just one day after we admitted her.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): And more death. This patient died this week, a one-year-old called Fatma (ph). It's very hard to keep track of exact figures for child deaths because so many of the children don't even make it to the hospital. All the doctor knows is that things are getting worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translation): In August and September, our cases have spiked very clearly, most likely because of the withdrawal of support from the NGOs and other centers having to close due to lack of funding.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): Why is that? That lack of funding Dr. Ashwell (ph) was talking about. 80 percent of the 30 million population in Yemen is reliant on aid, the majority of whom live in the Ansarullah Houthi, controlled north. The Houthis, seeking to control the flow of a place restrictions on U.N. agencies in areas under their control.

In March, the U.S. suspended much of its aid to the north, citing concerns over Houthi misappropriation. Two other key donors, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have also drawn down. The U.S., UAE and Saudi Arabia have all slashed their Yemen aid spend. The U.S. spend dropping from almost $1 billion to 400 and 11 million. Saudi from over $1 billion to half that with only $22.8 million actually received. The UAE has given zero dollars to the U.N.'s 2020 Yemen appeal.

CNN was able to obtain access to a confidential internal U.N. briefing document. U.N. agencies have confirmed to us its contents. In the aftermath of the drop in foreign aid, the U.N. has shorted almost 75 percent of its programs.

In previous CNN investigations, we traced serial numbers on armaments in Yemen, back to arms deals between Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the U.S., proving that the U.S. government has profited from the chaos of the war in Yemen. And aid agencies tell us the aid drawdown threatens to wreak even more havoc.

Mushaira Farah (ph) pushes her disabled son in a wheelchair. Mushaira used to receive support through a U.N. funded program. Now, she can't even afford to get her son, Alsim (ph) to hospital. Malnutrition has left Alsim (ph) mentally disabled and she has to choose between feeding him or paying for treatment. She carries him to the little alley that leads to the half-finished building site where she and other displaced families have erected makeshift shelters.

Up until a few months ago, she tells us Alsim (ph) was like any little boy. But after the family were displaced from their home by fighting, now, they live here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via translation): I have no help, I just pray to God.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): The aid suspension has driven the people of the Houthi controlled north into deeper isolation. Yemen's North could already be in famine, and we might not even know it.


ELBAGIR: And, Wolf, we have now received responses to our reporting from the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The Saudi Foreign Minister spokesman told CNN that they fully intend to meet their commitment and disperse that pledge but they are waiting for, quote, a request from the United Nations to have the announced pledge be paid in one upfront payment to each individual agency. That is what they say is causing the delay.

The United States aid organization, USAID, pointed the finger of blame squarely at the Houthis in the north for their obstruction of aid. And they say that they continue, quote, to support countrywide U.N. operations and some of our NGO partners lifesaving activities in the north. They say they are, by far, the largest donor to the U.N.-Yemen humanitarian response this year.

The United Arab Emirates told CNN, it was the first country to respond to the coronavirus outbreak in Yemen, and that they are, quote, one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid to Yemen, with more than $6 billion provided from 2015 until the end of August 2020. All three reiterate their concerns over alleged Houthi misappropriation of aid.


But the -- one of the most senior U.N. officials Mark Lowcock told us in response to our reporting that they believe, as we showed you there, that the biggest threat, the biggest driver of Yemen closer to famine is this drop in aid. Wolf?

BLITZER: So, so heartbreaking. Nima Elbagir, thank you so much for your amazing reporting. It is so, so important. We appreciate it very much. Nima Elbagir reporting for us. Thank you.

Coming up, for the second day in a row, President Trump is about to hold an indoor event with no social distancing and very few people actually wearing masks. Look at these live pictures coming in from Phoenix, Arizona. We'll have details when we come back.