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California Wildfires Kill at Least 25 People, Burns 3.2+ Million Acres, But Rain Expected; New Video of Top HHS Spokesman's Conspiracy-Laden Rant on Facebook Live; Collision Between 2 Construction Cranes in Austin Injures at Least 21; Trump Falsely Claims "Stocks Are Owned by Everybody"; Laura Helmuth, Editor-in- Chief, "Scientific American," Discusses Magazine's 1st Presidential Endorsement. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired September 16, 2020 - 11:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Much needed rain could bring some relief to firefighters out west. Those firefighters working tirelessly to contain what you see right there, deadly wildfires, fueled by weeks of dry, hot weather.

In California, at least 25 people have been killed since last month. Homes reduced to embers as millions of acres burn.

CNN's Stephanie Elam joins us now from Monrovia where the Bobcat Fire, which has burned over 41,000 acres -- Stephanie?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we just got an update on the Bobcat Fire. It is over 44,300 and some acres. The containment remains at 3 percent for this fire.

The firefighters have been out here all night, bulldozing lines to make sure there's space between brush, trying to protect homes and doing protective burns back here.

If you look behind me, you may see the sun in this weird, eerie, neon orange glow. And this is what happens when there's so much smoke in the air like there is here.

Ash is flying down on us. It is just really bad breathing conditions here. But without any rain on the horizon in California, it's looking like

it's going to continue to be very dry and a very dangerous situation here.

Overall, there's more than 16,600 firefighters that are battling blazes here in California. And since August 15th, when we saw this California fire activity really elevate, that's when we've seen the 25 deaths and the loss of those 4,200 structures. And they're very much concerned about the red flag warnings still in

place, especially with the northeastern part of California. Obviously, that is a big concern as well.

And the firefighters were very defensive about Mt. Wilson, which is very important around here because there's an observatory and there's a lot of broadcasting equipment out there for a lot of the local stations here.

They were defending that over the last couple of days. And the firefighters have been successful with that, which obviously is big news here and just protecting these homes.

But the fight is not over. And we look at the blazes and the fact that it will be hot today and tomorrow, it means it will be a long, long fire season, which seems to get longer and longer.

And the fires seem to get bigger and more dangerous each year as we're dealing with this climate change here -- John?

KING: Stephanie Elam, grateful for the live reporting and your stamina and grateful for the work of those fire fighters and first responders in the fight out there and we'll keep in touch.

Stephanie, thank you very much.

Now to another important story. New video of a story we told you about yesterday. Top Health and Human Services spokesman, Michael Caputo, claiming that scientists at the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, are in his words, "working against President Trump."

CNN's Nick Valencia has this important new reporting.

Nick, explain the context here, why Michael Caputo made these comments and how we obtained this video.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is troubling to hear this kind of conspiracy theory posted to social media.

But it's even more upsetting to the public health community when you consider that Michael Caputo, who posted this in a Facebook Live event over the weekend, went on a conspiracy-laden rant, without evidence, saying that CDC scientists are trying to undermine President Trump.

This video, as I mentioned, was first posted to Facebook Live and it was later obtained by "Yahoo News" and edited for brevity.

It is so shocking that we want you to hear it in Caputo's own words.


MICHAEL CAPUTO, SPOKESMAN, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: They -- these people cannot -- cannot allow America to get better, nor can they allow America to hear good news. It must be all bad news from now until the election.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, that's sedition. They are sacrificing lives in order to beat Donald Trump.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's sedition. It's also -- call it what you will, but when they let somebody get sick and die, there's one word for that.


VALENCIA: Throughout the pandemic, I've been speaking to multiple sources at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And they've been telling me that sometimes they've been led to believe or feel as though that they're part of this, quote, unquote, "Deep State" or this conspiracy that Donald Trump traffics in, that people are against him, that there's this Deep State working against him.

And I want you to hear Caputo in this Facebook Live rant say exactly that.

The fears that these CDC scientists and public health professionals and career professionals that are working on important science behind the scenes and feeling like they're a part of the Deep State, only for it to be verified by the person working at an agency that oversees them.

Take a listen.



CAPUTO: The partisan Democrats, the conjugal media, and the scientists, the Deep State scientists, want America sick through November. They cannot afford for us to have any good news before November because they're already losing.

Donald Trump right now, if the election were held today, would win.


VALENCIA: Michael Caputo is a political appointee by President Trump. And he was sent to HHS, Health and Human Services, to help clean up the message and control the message about what's happening with this pandemic.

Very shortly after he was appointed in April and around May, that's when his political interference -- according to multiple sources at the CDC, that's when the meddling began.

And they said, over the course of the last several months, there's been multiple instances where there's been attempts of political interference into the science reports or reviews.

Specifically, they point to happened what, a story that we broke on CNN, where testing recommendations for the CDC were changed without taking into consideration doctors' recommendations. Top-down orders. And we want to be very clear. The bottom line is it's coming from President Trump to be delivered by HHS and relayed on to CDC.

They say other instances include when they posted safely returning to schools, those guidelines, there was an introductory commentary posted on to the Web site.

And we want to be clear to those watching, John, the CDC has effectively lost control of its Web site.

And when I ask the sources and senior officials at the CDC if they have any belief or confidence that this type of political meddling will stop, they say they have no confidence it will stop in the run-up to the election.

What they do want to make clear here, very quickly, is there's been accusations of reporting that their sacred morbidity and mortality weekly reports have been altered.

They say they want to be clear there have been attempts to alter the science and the language in these sacred reports, which are considered the gold standard and premiere public research for this agency.

They say, while there have been attempts by HHS, they've been unsuccessful so far. There are a lot of career professionals at the CDC trying to fight right now to bubble wrap this agency from the Trump administration -- John?

KING: It's remarkable that, in the middle of a pandemic, that you have this political interference that makes people doubt what they're hearing from their government. Doubt the good information. Doubt the bad information.

Nick Valencia, keep up the good reporting. Thank you so much.

Up next for us, President Trump claims everybody has stocks. The fact is, though, the vast majority are owned by the rich.



KING: Breaking news now out of Austin, Texas. A collision between two construction cranes have injured at least 21 people.

CNN's Alexandra Field is tracking this for us.

Alexandra, what do we know?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, John. Details are forthcoming as this all develops. And we are learning from the Austin- Travis County EMS that they're trying to make access to one of the crane operators involved in this collision.

This was reported at 10:00 a.m. in Austin. The report came in as a structural collapse. We know at least eight ambulances were sent to the scene.

And they're now saying more than 20 people injured. And a number of those people being prepped and treated and transported to hospitals. And no word on the extent of the injuries and what type of injuries we're talking about or who the people involved may have been.

We do know there were delays in that area, traffic around that area. But crews trying to do that rescue work right now.

Certainly trying to address all of the victims who are in need before the bigger questions can be asked, John, like how did this happen? How did these two cranes come to collide this morning?

We'll stay on it for you.

KING: Come back to us when we learn more about it.

Alexandra Field, appreciate it on that breaking news story out of Austin, Texas. We'll stay on top of it.

Coming up for us, a new report blasting Boeing and the FAA for those 737 MAX crashes that killed hundreds.



KING: A new congressional report says Boeing intentionally downplayed the significance of issues it was having with the 737 MAX flight control system.

A House Transportation Committee investigation concludes that Boeing's actions contributed to the unnecessary deaths of 346 people in two major crashes.

The report says Boeing had several opportunities to take steps that would have prevented those crashes.

It also criticized the FAA for what it called lax oversight of Boeing.

In its response to this report, Boeing said it, quote, "learned many hard lessons as a company from the accidents."

A new poll finds the coronavirus pandemic is taking a harsher economic toll on minority communities. Here's the data published by NPR.

Nearly three-quarters of Latino households are experiencing financial problems. And 60 percent of black households. And 55 percent of Native American households say they are experiencing tough financial difficulties.

Those issues include trouble paying the mortgage, trouble paying utilities, trouble making car payments, putting food on the table and affording medical care.

Ask the president though, and the economy is roaring back. Just check in on how your stocks are doing, the president says. And he says everyone can do that. Well, that is simply not true.

Our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, is here to help us set the record straight.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John, President Trump cheerleading what he calls a super "V" recovery during last night's ABC town hall.

The president disputed the growing concern that recovery from the recession is no "V." It is "K" shaped, meaning it widens the gap between winners and losers.

Millions of Americans are out of work, temporary job losses have turned permanent for many, coronavirus is still not under control.

But the president says, don't worry, your stocks are doing great.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Stocks are owned by everybody. You know? They talk about the stock market is so good. That's 401Ks.

I'm meeting people with -- as long as they didn't sell when the market went down, before we realized the extent of this horrible thing from China. I mean, these people are doing -- some of them are doing better than they were doing before the pandemic came.


ROMANS: The fact is, about half of Americans families have no stock investments. According to the Pew Research Center, 52 percent own stocks, mostly through retirement accounts. Only 14 percent of that group invest in individual stocks.

And the richest households have the vast majority of stock market wealth. The top 10 percent of Americans by wealth own 87 percent of stock market holdings. That's according to a crunch of the Federal Reserve's numbers by the "Wall Street Journal."

Now, the stock market is not the economy. There's a health and job crisis on Main Street, emergency stimulus has run out, and a new stimulus deal is most likely on hold until after the election -- John?

KING: Christine Romans, appreciate that.

For the latest market news, check out "MARKETS NOW," streaming live, 12:45 p.m. Eastern, only at CNN Business.

Up next for us, breaking tradition. The magazine "Scientific American" just endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in its 175- year history.


[11:55:58] KING: Another first in this year of new challenges and new normals. The magazine "Scientific American" is endorsing a candidate for president for the first time in its 175-year history. Democrat Joe Biden gets that honor.

"Scientific American" explaining its decision this way on Twitter: "The 2020 election is literally a matter of life and death. We urge you to vote for health, science, and Joe Biden for president.

Laura Helmuth is the editor-in-chief of "Scientific American."

Laura, thank you for joining us.

I want to get into some of the reasons why in a minute.

But first, I want to get into the idea, so you're breaking a 175-year tradition.

When you went around the room with your team, or maybe done virtually in the new normal we live in, was there anything resistance in getting a magazine that's rooted in science involved in politics?

LAURA HELMUTH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN" MAGAZINE: Yes, we took the decision seriously. You don't break a 175-year tradition without a really good cause.

But when we went around to the editorial staff, it was unanimous. And it wasn't that long a discussion.

We all agreed that all the evidence shows that Trump has been catastrophic for science and public health and environment. And Joe Biden has really, smart policies that should make the world better.

So we felt it was our duty to speak up.

KING: And people should read the editorial. Whether they agree or disagree, they should read it.

Because you talk about COVID, you talk about climate change. You also talk about the EPA and a whole number of issues there, and what the president has done versus what Joe Biden says he would do.

Here's a piece of the editorial endorsing Joe Biden. "The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the United States and its people because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the coronavirus pandemic."

A bit later, you say, "Joe Biden, in contrast, comes prepared with plans to control COVID-19, improve health care, reduce carbon emissions and restore the role of legitimate science and policy making.

It's interesting that we have to have a conversation in the middle of a pandemic, with Sally making landfall, with wildfires out west, we should have a conversation about whether climate change is real and we should follow science in a pandemic. That's kind of nuts.

HELMUTH: It's ridiculous. Science has never been more important. And it has never been more clear that science is important. And it shouldn't be a political issue, and yet it is. This time, it really is.

KING: So let's listen, just this week, the climate issue, the president went out to the west coast after not saying much about the wildfires for weeks. The president went out to the west coast. Joe Biden gave a climate change speech.

If voter's need a choice on any one issue, here's a choice.


TRUMP: It will start getting cooler. You just watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish science agreed with you.

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

JOE BIDEN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We have to act as a nation. It shouldn't be so bad that millions of Americans live in the shadow of an orange sky and they're left asking, is doomsday here.


KING: Well, I know this from my 9-year-old. But what is it like to be a journalist who specializes in science to constantly hear the president of the United States confuse climate with weather?

HELMUTH: Oh, yes. Just shocking. Actually, science does know. There's overwhelming evidence that human activity is changing the climate in ways that exacerbate wildfires and the five hurricanes we have in the gulf now.

This is not a controversial thing for science. The data is in. We know this is happening.

So to see him rejecting, not only rejecting science, but then amplifying conspiracy theories and misinformation.

So we talk about the signals and noise ratio. He keeps adding noise at a time when we need there be to clear information for people.

KING: The signal-to-noise ratio, I like that.

And I want to show -- we have the pictures of the hurricane, pictures of the wildfires.

You say in your editorial, "It's an ongoing denial of reality. Trump has hollowed U.S. preparations for climate change, falsely claiming it does not exist, pulling out of international agreements.

It's a fascinating editorial. It's a bit of a risk.

Laura, thanks so much for time today. We'll check back to see how your subscribers feel about this. Appreciate it.



HELMUTH: Yes. Thanks very much.

KING: Thank you.

Hello to viewers in the United States and around the world. Top of the hour. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you so much for sharing this busy news day with us.