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President Trump Touts Vaccine; Hurricane Sally Targets Gulf Coast; Interview With New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D); News Forecast: Hurricane Conditions Just Hours Away On Mississippi, Alabama Coasts; Israel, UAE, Bahrain Sign Historic Diplomatic Pacts At White House. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 15, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're monitoring Hurricane Sally as it begins to lash the Gulf Coast. It's on a slow and potentially disastrous path that could bring historic downpours and life-threatening flooding to the region very soon.

[18:00:06]

This as more American lives are being lost to the coronavirus, the U.S. death toll now rising above 195,000, with new confirmed cases slowing, but still well above the early peak back in April.

Also tonight, President Trump says a vaccine may be ready in four to eight weeks. He's again, though, contradicting health experts, who say next year is more likely, with widespread vaccinations probably not available at least until next summer, widespread vaccinations.

As the president continues to downplay COVID concerns, he's touting historic diplomatic agreements signed today at the White House by Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

All that coming up.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, a very significant diplomatic development over at the White House today, in the shadow of the coronavirus.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

President Trump spent the day celebrating some big diplomatic agreements reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, but the coronavirus pandemic was stealing part of the spotlight from this deal. Like the president's rallies, the event at the White House featured attendees sitting side by side, once again many without wearing any masks.

The president and top officials continue to brush off concerns that they are actively encouraging Americans to crowd into places where the virus can pick and choose its next victim.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): Bringing together the leaders of Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to establish diplomatic relations, President Trump heralded the agreement as a breakthrough that will spread peace across the Middle East.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're here this afternoon to change the course of history.

ACOSTA: The president pointed to the moment as a sign of his deal- making skills bearing fruit in a troubled region.

TRUMP: Together, these agreements will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region, something which nobody thought was possible, certainly not in this day and age, maybe in many decades from now.

ACOSTA: But the event may have been spreading the coronavirus, too.

Top administration officials, members of the president's family and GOP lawmakers took their seats side by side for the ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, with no social distancing and mostly unmasked.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I did wear it earlier.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We saw you not wearing it earlier.

ACOSTA: A replay of how the president is tempting fate at his rallies. His latest campaign events in Nevada and Arizona were indoors and filled with supporters, all at a time when the use death toll from COVID-19 is approaching 200,000, approximately 20 percent of the deaths from the virus worldwide.

TRUMP: Jared Kushner.

Jared, thank you very much.

ACOSTA: The president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who got a pat on the back for the Mideast, said it's said it's up to Trump supporters to take precautions.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Look, President Trump believes that people can make their own decisions. We put out guidance for how people should follow. Most of the president's events have been outdoors.

ACOSTA: Democrat Joe Biden's approach is dramatically different, wearing a mask in public and holding smaller events, as he responds to the president's attacks.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just tell the truth. Everybody knows who Trump is. People are going to show up and vote. Thank you.

ACOSTA: The president continues to tease that a vaccine could be released before Election Day, even though his own health experts say that's unlikely.

TRUMP: It's going to be soon. Now, will it be before the election? It could be in terms of we have something and we will start delivering it immediately upon getting it.

ACOSTA: And he is still responding to Bob Woodward's book that revealed the president intentionally downplayed COVID-19, a book Mr. Trump now says is -- quote -- "fine."

TRUMP: I actually got to read it last night. I read it very quickly, and it was very boring. But there was not much in that book.

QUESTION: Is it accurate, Mr. President?

TRUMP: That's a boring book. It's OK. I mean, it's fine.

ACOSTA: Another author that's gotten under the president's skin, Former National Security Adviser John Bolton, is now facing a Justice Department investigation into whether he revealed classified information, a move seen by critics as a warning shot to others in the administration.

Bolton has blasted the president's handling of the virus.

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president simply didn't want to hear about it. He didn't want anything in the way of the trade deal with China that he signed in January.

ACOSTA: As for the president's attempt at Middle East peace, he still faces two big obstacles, just how he will bring the Palestinians to the bargaining table with Israel and what to do about Iran.

TRUMP: I think, right after our election, the American election, if we win, we will have a deal with Iran.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, back on the pandemic, CNN has confirmed that Health and Human Services spokesman Michael Caputo has apologized to staffers at the department for comments he made on Facebook accusing government scientists of sedition and being part of a -- quote -- "resistance unit."

Our sources tell us Caputo's status at the department is uncertain tonight. I am told Caputo was already treading on thin ice even before these revelations about his comments on Facebook, Wolf.

[18:05:03]

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Let's get some more on this and the state of the pandemic, as the U.S. death toll gets closer and closer to 200,000.

CNN's Nick Watt is in Los Angeles for us.

And, Nick, tonight, a global health official says countries need to make a critical choice, and they need to do so right now.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

This was the executive director of the World Health Organization. He said that, basically, as we move into winter, either we can have kids in schools, or we can have bars and nightclubs open, but we can't have both if we want to keep the vulnerable, the elderly safe. We have got to make a choice. Something has got to give.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WATT (voice-over): The national daily gaze count is falling. All rosy, right? Wrong.

DR. WILLIAM HASELTINE, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT: You can't relax with this thing. It's relentless.

WATT: More new daily cases now than when we start started going into lockdowns, on average, more new cases now even then during those dark days of April.

DR. ARABIA MOLLETTE, BROOKDALE HOSPITAL: This is a war zone. It's a medical war zone.

WATT: New York crushed its curve, but 55 school staffers have now tested positive. The teachers union says they're not ready to reopen.

Remember, kids can get sick. Nine-year-old Eli Lipman and his dad Jonathan both got sick in March, still suffering, so-called long haulers.

ELI LIPMAN, CORONAVIRUS VICTIM: It felt like getting -- the day after you got smashed into a wall. Like, you're achy, you're sore, you're tired, but not that tired where you go to sleep. I can't go to sleep.

WATT: Many Michigan State sororities and fraternities now ordered to quarantine after cases in the county are up over 50 percent in a month. All students at the University of Arizona are urged to shelter place through the end of this month.

And Pastor Joel Osteen planning to hold services at his Houston mega- church again next month, 25 percent capacity, but that's still more than 4,000 people.

And a vaccine might not be a quick fix.

HASELTINE: Even if it's effective, which is -- and very effective, it's going to take a year or two before everybody is protected.

WATT: And the FDA has to green-light any vaccine. Will the public take their word?

BILL GATES, CO-CHAIR, BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION: We saw, with the completely bungled plasma statements, that when you start pressuring people to say optimistic things, they go completely off the rails. And so the FDA lost a lot of credibility there. WATT: Gates just told STAT: "This has been a mismanaged situation

every step of the way. It's shocking. It's unbelievable."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: And, Wolf, as you mentioned earlier, the president again today saying that we might get a vaccine within weeks, four to eight weeks. Most experts strongly disagree with that.

And you know what? Even if we had a vaccine, right now, we do not have a federal plan in place to distribute it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Distribution is so critical.

Nick Watt in L.A., thank you.

Let's discuss with CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Leana Wen. She's an emergency room physician, a former Baltimore City health commissioner.

Dr. Wen, what goes through your mind when you see the president hold yet another event today with little regard to face -- to wearing face masks, little regard to social distancing?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Wolf, if I were to custom-design a super-spreader event, that's what it would look like.

It would look like many people, thousands of people gathering together, not wearing masks and, in fact, flaunting in many cases these public health guidance.

That makes me wonder not only about what they're doing at the city, but what these individuals are going to do once they return home. They're likely also not going to abide by the guidelines when it comes to self-quarantine and testing.

And we really could be looking at many more infections resulting in the middle of a pandemic.

BLITZER: The president continues to suggest the vaccine could be, in his words, just four to six weeks, four to eight weeks away.

Does it concern you hear the president tout a vaccine timeline like that that doesn't appear to be in -- doesn't appear to be what his own top science and medical advisers are telling him? Maybe more likely by the end of the year, early next year, something might emerge.

WEN: Right now, trust is in such short supply. And there is already so much doubt about political interference with a scientific process.

Many Americans, a growing number of Americans who are not by any means anti-vaxxers are now not trusting that the vaccine that's approved is going to be safe and effective because of that kind of political interference.

[18:10:03] And so I actually think, the less the president can say about a date certain, the better that would be. We really need to let the science lead, and not aim for speed, but, rather, aim for safety and efficacy.

BLITZER: The former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said -- he said today, it's easier to figure out if a vaccine actually works than to determine whether it is actually safe.

So, what exactly is he concerned about?

WEN: So, it may be that we find out about efficacy very quickly, if it turns out that we have a really good vaccine, which I really hope that we do. So you give this vaccine to people -- or you give this the placebo to people, you give the vaccine to people, you compare, and if there's a lot of virus in the community, and if it's a very effective vaccine, you can actually theoretically tell pretty quickly if individuals are relatively protected against coronavirus if they get the vaccine.

But you still have to look for safety as well. And it may be that there are very rare side effects, one in 10,000, let's say, which, if you give it to hundreds of millions of people, that makes a big difference. But that one in 10,000 or one in 50,000 case, you may not see until you give it to a lot of individuals.

And this is the reason why completing those phase three trials is so important. You need to test it a lot of people. You're giving this vaccine to otherwise previously healthy individuals, and determining that safety is going to be so important.

That's another reason why we cannot rush this process. Vaccine development is highly complex. And it's not the end point. We also have to talk about distribution, manufacturing, how we're going to coordinate hundreds of millions of people getting not one, but potentially two doses of this vaccine.

So there is a long road ahead of us, and we need to talk about pandemic management and living with this virus in the meantime.

BLITZER: Yes, that's absolutely true.

Dr. Leana Wen, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.

WEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: And just ahead: Are New York City schools ready to reopen next week? I will ask the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, about his concerns -- about a lot of concerns, I should say, that are currently being raised also.

We're about to go live to the National Hurricane Center for the latest on Hurricane Sally and the danger to the Gulf Coast right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:15:37] BLITZER: Tonight, nearly half of New York City's public school students are planning to attend online when classes resume on Monday.

Some teachers are questioning whether city schools are ready for in- person learning.

Let's discuss this and more with the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio.

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.

As you know, the New York City Department of Education says, what, about 58 percent of the more than one million students in your school district, the largest in the United States, are planning to return to classrooms for hybrid learning next week.

That's far below the 74 percent of students you had anticipated welcoming back in-person this fall. So what does that tell you, Mayor, about confidence in the city's ability to keep the students, the teachers, the staff safe?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: Well, it tells me, Wolf, that the families of well over half-a-million kids want their kids in school, that they see that we have gone to the most extensive precautions to keep the schools safe.

And we really tried to create a global gold standard here. We looked at the best practices from around the globe. And we went farther. Testing is being provided for free to anyone who wants and needs it. We will be testing regularly. We have masks on all adults and children. Actually, very few countries in the world have required that.

We are requiring that, constant cleaning, a lot of social distancing. A typical New York City public school classroom will have about 10 or 12 students. Unheard of to have so few kids in a room.

But I will tell you something, Wolf. There are so many families begging us to get school back, because their kids lost a lot of last year. They need the support of educators. They need the mental health and physical health services available to schools, especially for less advantaged kids.

Being back in school is going to allow them to get their education back on track. And parents need us to be there for them.

BLITZER: I certainly appreciate what you're saying. But we have heard from teachers out there, as you know, Mayor, who are very concerned about their health and that of their students.

They have concerns about actual access to testing and the inability to properly ventilate classrooms, especially in a lot of those older school buildings.

So, what do you say to those teachers who are so worried right now about what next week will bring? DE BLASIO: So, we did a thorough ventilation check of all our

classrooms; 96 percent came back ready to go.

The additional classrooms that needed more work are getting more work. We were very thorough. We brought in outside engineers to check every classroom, make sure they were ready.

We're making sure testing is there. Just last week, 17,000 school personnel got tested. The number positive out of 17,000 was 55; 0.32 percent tested positive.

Thank God the vast, vast majority of the people that are going to be in our schools going to come in healthy, and we're going to be able to keep people safe by all of these precautions.

So, I listened to all of the concerns. But the answer is to, again, have a gold standard, use every health and safety precaution, one layered on top of the other, to create a very safe environment, and to make sure that people are constantly reminded that health and safety comes first.

A lot of school systems didn't do that. That's the honest truth, Wolf, and they experienced problems. We're not taking any chances here in New York City. You name the safety precaution, we're doing it.

[18:20:03]

BLITZER: What about, Mayor, the more than 40 percent of the city students who have opted for entirely remote learning this fall?

How are you meeting the needs of those students who will not be returning to classrooms?

DE BLASIO: So, Wolf, that's how the school year begins.

They will have an opportunity in November. If they want to come back into the blended learning and be part of the time in school, they will have a chance to do that as early as November.

But we want to do the very best we can for kids who are all remote. It's hard. And our educators are doing a really great job creating every possible way to make it work.

But the truth is, remote teaching just isn't in any way as good for kids as in-person teaching.

BLITZER: Of course.

DE BLASIO: And so you can make it better, but you can't make it as good as in-person.

BLITZER: Your city, as we all know, was hit incredibly hard by this virus.

And, understandably, some residents in New York, they have actually been very hesitant to return. You received a letter from 150 business leaders the other day warning of what they call deteriorating conditions in your city.

Among other things, they write this. And let me read it to you: "People will be slow to return to New York unless their concerns about security and the livability of our communities are addressed quickly, and with respect and fairness for our city's diverse populations."

So, what steps, Mayor, are you taking to address those widely publicized concerns, people reluctant to come back to New York City?

DE BLASIO: Well, Wolf, you know New York City.

Working-class New Yorkers, middle-class New Yorkers, they're here fighting the fight every day to bring the city back. And what are we seeing? We are now one of the safest places in America. We have fought back this disease.

Typically, around here, we have had less than a 1 percent infection rate in recent days. People have seen New York City's heart and soul on that. Now we're fighting some other challenges.

We have budget challenges, for sure. We have got to deal with issues in our neighborhoods and keep bringing up the quality of life. But we're coming out of being the epicenter of the crisis in this whole country. And we have gone from there to now, you can see, the economy is coming back. You can see more and more people coming in. You can see what's happening with outdoor dining.

There's a lot happening. And now the biggest school system in the country reopening. The more you look at the progress that New York City's making, the more confidence people are going to have that New York City's coming back strong.

BLITZER: Well, good luck, Mayor. I know there's a lot, a lot of pressure on you and everyone else to make sure that everyone is safe, secure in New York City. Appreciate it very much.

Good luck.

DE BLASIO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: As Hurricane Sally's winds begin to hit the Gulf Coast, we're going to get an update on where and when the storm may unleash truly historic flooding.

You're looking at live pictures from New Orleans right there.

And "The New York Times" columnist and bestselling author Thomas Friedman, he's standing by live. He will share his take on the president's Middle East diplomacy, as the president tries to ignore this pandemic.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:27:38]

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. You're looking at live pictures coming in from Pensacola, Florida, right now. Tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Sally are now beginning to dramatically impact the Gulf Coast, with hurricane conditions just hours away.

Experts are warning that Sally could bring life-threatening storm surge and flooding.

For more, let's bring in the director of the National Hurricane Center, Ken Graham, who's watching all of this for us.

Ken, people all along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, they're beginning to feel the effects of Hurricane Sally. What's the latest you can tell us about the storm's trajectory and when it will actually make landfall?

KEN GRAHAM, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes, Wolf, I'm right here in the operations area at the Hurricane Center, and we were just having those discussions, getting the latest information from the aircraft.

And, still, we have winds at 80 miles an hour, just a large expanse. I mean, you can see the eye right here, but it's only moving north at two miles an hour. And that is the problem. The slow-moving hurricanes like this, it's just longer to put all that rainfall on the ground, and it's longer to push that storm surge in.

That's a problem. In the next 24 hours, movement will still be right along the coast. That's all it's going to move over the next 24 hours.

BLITZER: So, where do you expect it to actually hit? Where are the most serious danger spots?

GRAHAM: Yes, the danger spot -- it's really important not to just focus just on that center, because look at this rain, Wolf, just a dangerous amount of rainfall here.

So the slow movement can cause anywhere from 15 to 20 inches of rain from the Alabama coast over to the Florida Panhandle. Some places could get 25 inches of rain. The problem is, it's not just along the coast. With time, that slow movement could produce anywhere from six to 10 inches, maybe even 10 to 15 in some areas of Alabama into Georgia, and eventually into Western portions of South Carolina.

BLITZER: This is really going to be an awful situation.

So, what's your advice, Ken, to everyone in the path of this hurricane?

GRAHAM: I think it's to really have that plan. Listen for those warnings, the weather forecast offices watching those radars, and they're going to issue those flash flood warnings. And that's really important.

Just have a safe place to be. And the other thing is, stay off the roads. I mean, if you think about all this rain, you can't be on the roads. Turn around, don't drown. It's so dangerous.

Water is the leading cause of fatalities in these tropical systems.

BLITZER: As a lot of us remember who've covered hurricanes over the years.

Ken Graham, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone over there. And thanks. We're totally grateful to you and your team for what you're doing.

[18:30:00]

I appreciate it very much.

Thank you.

All right, so let's get some more on this dangerous, life-threatening storm right now.

Our National Correspondent, Gary Tuchman, is in Pensacola, Florida, for us.

Gary, it looks really bad where you are. I just want you to be careful. First of all, tell us about the winds that you're experiencing right now and how much worse you expect it to get.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's going to get a lot worse, Wolf, because, as we just heard, this is a slow-moving hurricane and the worst is yet to come. I'm on Santa Rosa Island. It's a barrier just south of Pensacola. This is Pensacola Beach. The signs tell us, please practice social distancing. It's not an issue right now. There's nobody on the beach.

Aside from the temperature, I feel right now almost like I'm skiing on the top of a mountain and there's a snow squall and there's huge winds and whiteout conditions. That's kind of what it feels like right now aside from the temperature.

But this is the beach. The waves are getting bigger and bigger as we're standing here, and here is the big problem. It's already flooded quite a bit. Like I said, we're hours away from the eye of the storm getting close to here.

These are the lifeguard stations. They were all abandoned earlier in the day, the beach is officially closed. Some people are coming by to look at it.

Very important thing, Hurricane Laura, two-and-a-half weeks ago, hit in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I was in Lake Charles, the winds were scary and dangerous, 140 miles per hour. But one of the great things was there was not a serious flooding problem. And there was immense damage in Lake Charles, no question about it. But there wasn't immense flooding. There was a fear of that.

This, we already know there's already flooding here, and there will probably be a lot more. And as you just heard, there could be two feet of rain, not inches, we're talking two feet. That's 24 inches. So it's very concerning here as the roads start to flood, unfortunately, this wind, the southeast cooling wind (INAUDIBLE) on this barrier island. And people are hoping for the best and (INAUDIBLE) the worst.

BLITZER: Have most of the people, Gary, escaped? Have they left or are they hunkering down where they are?

TUCHMAN: So this barrier island has about 5,000 residents year round. We've seen very few people. There are very few shelters. A lot of people don't want to leave because of COVID and being around with other people. So if there is a voluntary evacuation, people are being advised, stay in your house, stay in a safe place, people are taking it seriously. We see no one, just a few people, but basically no one wandering around.

BLITZER: And, as you say, this could last because it's so slow-moving and it's building up speed, it could last in that area for quite a while, right?

TUCHMAN: Well, the rain is forecast to continue until Thursday. This is Tuesday. So, obviously, it's a great concern. Like I said, the barrier island, there are bridges that go to the city of Pensacola. This is a relatively big city, a population of 50,000 here in Escambia County. And we're cleaning the lens because it's so wet. This is a population of 350,000 people. So it's a good-sized metropolitan area. And they're going to have a lot of problems with not just (INAUDIBLE) here on this barrier island but flooding inland to the north.

BLITZER: Gary Tuchman, please be careful, you and your photo journalist, your entire team over there. We'll stay in close touch. Thanks so much for that report.

Just ahead, The New York Times Columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman is standing by live. There you see him. I'll get his reaction to what happened here in Washington today and also his reaction to my interview with Jared Kushner, a truly historic diplomatic agreement signed today at the White House.

Plus, CNN has learned that a top HHS spokesman is apologizing after he falsely accused government scientists of sedition and working to undermine President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:35:00]

BLITZER: A truly historic day over at the White House, President Trump presiding over formal ceremonies as Israel signed diplomatic pacts, full normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, completely normalizing relations between those countries.

Listen to what White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner told me last hour about these agreements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JARED KUSHNER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: Today, what we did was we shattered an amazing barrier, bringing the Arab countries together with Israel hopefully marks the beginning of the end of the Arab- Israeli conflict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with The New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman. He is also the author of the best-seller on the Middle East, From Beirut to Jerusalem. There you see the book cover. It's a classic. I read it years ago. It's still worth reading right now.

No one better to discuss the Middle East than you, Tom, what do you think of what you just heard from Jared Kushner about these deals that were signed today?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, Wolf, I think this was a good day, because anything that, in my view, makes the Middle East look and feel more like, say, the European Union, where neighboring countries trade with one another, you know, do tourism with one another, invest with one another, sends students to one another, that's going to make for a more stable region. And so I think this was a good day.

There were many reasons behind this deal. One of the things I have learned over the years is that in the Middle East, Wolf, you get big change when the big players do the right things for the wrong reasons, okay? So if you want to do the right thing for the right reasons, you tend to wait forever.

So, obviously, the UAE wanted F-35s from the United States, it wanted to be in the good graces with the Democratic Party should Biden win, Bahrain wanted Israel's support and intelligence vis-a-vis Iran, as I'm sure the UAE did. There are many deep, hardcore strategic interests at play here.

[18:40:00]

But at the end of the day, Wolf, you're going to see a lot of real human-to-human contact, I believe, between Israel, both Israeli Jews and Arabs, and these gulf countries. And I think it's something it can begin to break down barriers between Jews and Arabs and Jews and Muslims that were born with this Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We'll still have to settle a bit the Palestinian issue. But, in general, I think it's a good thing.

BLITZER: Let me get to the Palestinian issue in second. But you heard the president also say today, in the morning, he said, maybe four, five six additional Arab countries would make similar deals with Israel later in the day. He said seven, eight or nine. Do you see additional Arab countries making similar deals with Israel, especially, let's say, Saudi Arabia?

FRIEDMAN: I think you won't see Saudi Arabia move, Wolf, until after the U.S. election. Because the Saudi decision to normalize with Israel would be a huge development. I think it would require much more advance on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in particular. And that's a card that the Saudis wouldn't want to play except with the next president, whether it's Joe Biden or Donald Trump. It's not something they're going to want to play now. That's too big a move.

But the Saudis blessed this deal because they're letting El Al, Israel's airline, now fly over Saudi territory on its way to Bahrain and the UAE and back.

BLITZER: And, presumably, they gave an okay to Bahrain to go ahead and sign this deal as well.

FRIEDMAN: No question. Yes, no question about that.

BLITZER: It's almost certain Bahrain wouldn't have done it unless they got an okay from Saudi Arabia.

But what about Oman? What about other countries, Morocco, for example, Kuwait? Do you see them jumping aboard?

FRIEDMAN: I think the next likely ones, Wolf, would be Oman, which Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel already visited Oman. They clearly already have an open relationship, Morocco, where you've got a lot of Moroccan Jews in Israel, a lot connections there.

Sudan, I think, could be very near the next country. And Sudan wants to get off the terrorism list. I believe there are issues there with the United States.

So I could see other states definitely jump in. A dam has been broken here. And, as I said, I think the more there's trade and tourism between these countries, it makes for a better, more prosperous, more healthy region.

BLITZER: So where does this leave the Palestinians?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, I think one of the things is -- this plan both forged a deal but also exposed some things. Because it only came about really because the core endeavor that Jared Kushner and President Trump were on, which was to forge an Israeli-Palestinian deal, actually, that was getting nowhere. And it was getting nowhere in a way that's very important for us to understand.

That deal basically said Israel can annex 37 percent of the West Bank and the Palestinians would get the other 70 percent and something on the outskirts of Jerusalem for their capital. But at the end of the day, Netanyahu could not get his right wing cabinet to agree to a Palestinian state, a really disconnected, loosely connected parts, surrounded by an Israeli army, he could not get his cabinet, his right wing coalition, to approve that.

And so I think we need to remember that. This plan not only is important for what it forged between Israel and the Arab states but for what it revealed, and what it revealed. Because, remember, Wolf, Bibi had a huge input into this plan, he and his ambassador to Washington. They helped write this plan. And at the end of the day, Bibi Netanyahu could not accept Bibi Netanyahu's own plan for a two- state deal with the Palestinians. And that will have long-term implications.

It's not like it's out there ripe, and you will see the implications of that in the coming months.

BLITZER: But at least for the time being, he suspended any notion of annexing, and we're talking about the prime minister of Israel, annexing part of the West Bank, which at least leaves open the possibility, and all of us hope it will happen, for this two-state solution, Israel living alongside Palestine.

FRIEDMAN: Well, let's remember, Wolf, Netanyahu tried to annex his 30 percent without recognizing that there would have to be a Palestinian state on the other 70 percent. He tried to do that and Trump and Kushner, to their credit, actually stopped him from doing it, and that created then the raw material for this deal because then the UAE stepped in and said, hey, we'll normalize relations with you if you'll freeze annexation.

But we should -- people need to be aware, this deal actually showed how unprepared the Israeli government is for even the most pro-Israeli peace two-state deal on the West Bank with the Palestinians. The Palestinians didn't sign up either, so this showed us how hard it is, Wolf, not that it's like right around the corner.

BLITZER: Very quickly before I let you go, Tom. The historic event at the White House today, large crowd there on the south lawn, people close together, very few wearing masks, the Israeli prime minister, he is under pressure at home over his handling of the pandemic, what did you make of this even, how it was handled?

[18:45:00]

FRIEDMAN: I actually could have gone to it and decided not to go because I was afraid people wouldn't be wearing face masks.

And, you know, my view, Wolf, is very simple. We talked about this before. History I don't think will damn Trump for what he didn't do early on in this crisis, for when things were hard and unknown. But it will damn him on the coronavirus for what he hasn't done right now when the solutions are clear and they're easy -- wear a mask, social distance. And it's really a travesty that they won't do what is easy and known right now.

BLITZER: Tom Friedman, thanks very much for joining us.

And, once again, let me remind our viewers, his classic book "From Beirut to Jerusalem," something, something everyone should read. There is the cover right there from Beirut to Jerusalem.

A quick programming note for our viewers, later tonight, the journalist Bob Woodward will sit down with our own Anderson Cooper for the hour to talk about his new book "Rage." Be the first to hear unreleased audio from Woodward's interviews with President Trump, coming up, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. And just ahead, we'll hear more on the breaking news involving a top

Trump spokesman and his false claim the government scientists are plotting against the government.

And we're also watching the ominous conditions along the Gulf Coast as Hurricane Sally approaches.

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[18:51:01]

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on the bizarre conspiracy- filled rant by the top spokesman over the Department of Health and Human Services.

Sources telling CNN that Michael Caputo has now apologized to staffers.

Let's get some more from CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, among other things, Caputo accused career government scientists of traitorous acts. What happened?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did do that, Wolf, and in addition to that apology, a source tells our Jim Acosta that Michael Caputo's status with the Department of Health and Human Services is uncertain and that this latest controversy is not going to help his standing there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): His string of outbursts was full of conspiracy theories, ominous predictions of violence and outlandish allegations. That it came from the communications director for the government's top health agency, a man tasked with shaping the Trump administration's message on the coronavirus pandemic made it even more jarring.

Michael Caputo, assistant secretary and top spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services in a rant on his personal Facebook page watched by more than 800 people made the unfounded accusation that career scientists at the CDC were committing, quote, sedition, and harboring a, quote, resistance unit to undermine President Trump.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Not a response we'd expect of something who's an assistant secretary in a cabinet department. He controls this flow of information and ultimately, everybody works for the president.

TODD: Caputo's rant followed reporting that his communications arm at HHS had pushed to change language in weekly CDC reports about the pandemic.

But Caputo wasn't done there, in remarks first reported by "The New York Times" and confirmed by CNN's Devan Cole and Jim Acosta, Caputo predicted in his Facebook message that president Trump will win re- election, that Joe Biden won't concede, and that street violence will ensue. Quote: If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it's going to be hard to get.

GARRETT GRAFF, AUTHOR, "THE THREAT MATRIX": This is someone who in a normal administration would never be let anywhere near a top administration job, let alone one of the most important roles in the most important cabinet department combating a global pandemic.

TODD: Before being appointed to his post this past April, Michael Caputo had no background in health care. He's been primarily a political strategist, working for Russian politicians like the late President Boris Yeltsin, before hooking on with the Trump campaign in 2016, which he called one of his toughest gigs.

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: Politics ain't bean bag. It's a very, very difficult career. I've been in it for 30 years. I've been on dozens and dozens of campaigns all over the world, in places that didn't even have electricity. And this was the hardest campaign to work on in my entire career. There's nothing even close.

TODD: Caputo was caught up in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation when Mueller investigated a meeting Caputo may have been involved in between shadowy GOP operative Roger Stone and a Russian who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. Caputo was never accused of wrongdoing, but investigators noted he and the Russian gave them contradictory information.

GRAFF: The Mueller investigators basically said they didn't feel they had gotten full cooperation from the parties involved.

TODD: Observers say Caputo has a reputation for trafficking in conspiracy theories and making incendiary remarks on social media. CNN's KFILE reported this year he made racist and derogatory comments about Chinese people, had accused Democrats of wanting the coronavirus to kill millions and accused the media of intentionally creating panic to hurt Trump in a series of now-deleted tweets.

SWERDLICK: It reflects the fact that all throughout the Trump administration, you have had various individuals, including Caputo, who have been placed in these high-profile positions where they're not particularly trained for it and their main provocation is a fierce loyalty to Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[18:55:04]

TODD: CNN reached out today but could not get Michael Caputo to comment for our story and respond to the observation that he has trafficked in conspiracy theories.

But he had told CNN's Jim Acosta and Devan Cole earlier that he made those Facebook comments as he was dealing with pressure from harassment to his family and to himself, including one he deemed a death threat. One source also telling Jim Acosta that Michael Caputo is facing potential health conditions which could prompt him to step aside -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

More news right after this.

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BLITZER: Be sure to tune in to CNN Thursday night for a live presidential town hall, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden joins Anderson Cooper in Scranton, Pennsylvania, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Thursday, only on CNN.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.