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Trump's Health Spokesperson Taking Leave of Absence after Conspiracy Rant; At Least Eight Dead, Dozens Missing Among Oregon Fires; Big Ten Reverses Course, Will Play College Football This Fall; Biden Gives Speech on His Plan for COVID-19 Vaccines. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 16, 2020 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Today yet another administration official is announcing he is leaving his position, this is time it is the President's top Health And Human Services spokesperson, Michael Caputo, he is taking a leave just days after he pushed unproven conspiracy theories about the nation's top doctors and scientists.

Caputo delivered his conspiracy rant during a Facebook live video alleging that CDC scientists want Americans to suffer from the virus and that they have a plot out against the President.

CNN's Nick Valencia is covering this one for us today. And so Nick, Caputo just released a statement about this leave of absence. What did he say?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Releasing a statement to CNN, Sara Murray saying that he's taking a temporary leave of absence through the election.

So this will take him past November for screenings for what he's calling lymphatic issues and he also seems to echo a little bit of what he said to HHS staff on Tuesday when he apologized for going on the attack against the CDC doctors, what you just mentioned there.

And in his conspiracy laden Facebook rant. He also seems to play a little bit of the victim here as well, Brooke, saying that his family has been receiving violent threats but as I mentioned it was Caputo that went on attack against the CDC over the weekend and video first posted to a Facebook live event and removed by Caputo.

Yahoo! News obtained the clip and edited it for brevity and he want to play you sound in Caputo's own words in which he goes on the attack accusing without evidence of CDC doctors plotting against the American President.


MICHAEL CAPUTO, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SPOKESPERSON: The partisan Democrats, the conjugal media and the scientists, the deep state scientists want America's 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: So, sources at the CDC have told me from the beginning they have gotten this feeling dealing with the administration, particularly officials at HHS, that they've been part of the so-called deep state, this conspiracy that President Trump traffics in that people in Washington and beyond in these agencies are plotting against him.

And then to hear Caputo in his own words verify the worst fears that they have there at the CDC, these political -- this political involvement, this interference as noted by the CDC officials I've been speaking to said happened very blatantly after Caputo was appointed by President Trump.

They listed off a series of examples, Brooke, saying that there was an introductory commentary when they released guidance about safely returning students to school. They mentioned last week or two weeks ago when we broke the news about CDC changing their testing guidance from the top down, pressure from the White House, they said that happened as a result of another example of political interference.

But really this is troubling because they said there was attempts by also advisers to Mr. Caputo, Paul Alexander specifically, to try to change scientific language in some of these sacred gold standards premiere public health reporting called MMWRs.

They were unsuccessful in that but there have been countless attempts they say since Caputo took control of the public affairs there at HHS to politically interfere with what CDC scientists are doing -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Certainly troubling and now suddenly this leave of absence, Nick Valencia, an important story to be covering. Nick, thank you.

Want to take you to the western United States now where historic wildfires have killed at least 34 people. As nearly 90 massive fires continue to scorch the region.

In California, at least 25 people have died and millions of acres have been torched as firefighters work to contain some of the state's largest fires ever to be recorded. Some much needed relief may be on the way though with rain in California's forecast this week. So let's hope for that.

In Oregon homes and neighborhoods reduced to merely embers. At least 16 people are still missing as more than two dozen fires burn in that state and leave behind paths of dangerous smokey conditions and that is where we find Martin Savidge, in Lyons, Oregon. And Martin, tell us exactly where you are and some of the

stories you're hearing.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brooke, yes, we're on the outskirts of Lyons. This is Marion county, we're about an hour and a half south of Portland, Oregon. This would have been the Beachy Creek fire about a week ago.

And it's just an example of some of what of that fire did. Incredibly ferocious.


Even the lush green, usually damp woods of Oregon were no match to the kind of fires that they have been seeing. And the devastation here I mean, the trees, the way this fire more than likely would have worked, is that it would have come in approaching this homestead on the ground. But once it got to any of the trees, well, boom, it just climbs right up to the top of them.

That spreads the fire over the house site, once that happens then it's usually an outer structure, maybe part of the roof, maybe it's the deck. Something catches fire and then the rest of the house goes off from there.

The thing about fires in neighborhoods like this is it totally changes the landscape. Even people who grew up and know this area will come back, and they can't figure out where they are. They aren't really sure where their own house is because none of the things they saw are there.

Floods are different. The water recedes, something reminds still you of your neighborhood. Fires, it is a totally different thing.

Going on around us now are fire crews that have come into this area. The weather is actually pretty good for them. They've been making progress. 29 fires are burning in the state now. That is down.

And number of dead still at eight which is remarkable given the ferocity, number of missing is listed at 16. 5600 firefighters are tackling fires all the way from Portland up in the north to the California border.

And so this cloud that we've all been talking about, the smoke and all of that, it's actually helping the firefighters, the temperature here is down about 10 degrees, about 57 degrees, maybe 60 degrees now. The cooler temperatures allow the humidity to come up. All of that helps firefighters.

And so what they've been able to do is build up containment. Containment is not extinguishing, it just means they're starting to build a cage around a very ferocious animal that could break out at any time. This fire is 20 percent contained.

Look over here, I'm going to show you this house. Right across the street, the neighbor, it looked pristine.

This is kind of like that tornado effect. Where the tornado come into a community, destroys a block and then the next block is perfectly safe. This is the house across the street. If you stood in that front yard and looked, you wouldn't know that just across the street there has been devastation.

Four people have died in this particular area. The concern is, of course, now that the fire crews have moved on, the recovery teams come in and that more people will be found and the death toll is going to go up.

But the weather is going to change. They do worry about rain coming in. That' good. But winds and lightning could come with it and that, of course, is bad.

And you just feel for what you see. Because you know this is somebody's life. And it's all gone right now -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Tell us a little bit more. Over your left shoulder is looks like perhaps that was part of a structure of a home. Is that, Marty, what you're standing in front of, I mean I don't know if that was a fireplace or perhaps it's even larger than that? Was that someone's home there?

SAVIDGE: Yes, it was. A number of these are outlying buildings, but yes, that's -- you've identified, that's the chimney you can see and the heart of the home. You can sort of see the vagaries that show you what life was like.

I mean if you look off, if you pan over here you can see the vehicles which are a clear reminder, yes, people were living here. And I'll show you, you know, these trees here.

This is one of the things that firefighters are focusing on. The fire can still remain buried inside tree stumps or trees like this. And can live there for weeks waiting for the right conditions to just explode and come out again.

So they have to build containment around these fires. Again, not extinguishing them, only rain will do that. And they have to wait until the rains begin to fall.

SAVIDGE: So they're making progress. But there are a lot of these fires. And towards the middle of the state and the southern part of the state, some of the fires are still burning ferociously.

This fire is still burning. It is still going. It is just not the same wild animal. It could get back to that given the right conditions. But right now it's just sort of creeping along. The firefighters would say the fire is lying down. But don't think that the fire is out. It's not. It is all around us here.

BALDWIN: It's incredible, incredible how you showed the home, you know, totally intact across the street like just the zigzag that you would see with a tornado. Martin Savidge, thank you to you and your crew, it looks surreal and I know it is not. Thank you.

BALDWIN: Live pictures here. Wilmington, Delaware, waiting for Joe Biden. He is set to deliver a speech about his plan for a COVID-19 vaccine. We will bring that to you live the second we see the former Vice President. We'll be right back.


[15:40:00] BALDWIN: Coming back in on live pictures in Wilmington, Delaware, we are told any minute for the former Vice President, he's going to stand behind that podium and really speak about COVID, specifically his plans for the roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine. So we'll take that momentarily.

I want to get you to this though, some news in the sports world. After weeks of pressure from players and coaches, politicians even the President himself, the Big Ten conference is now reversing course and bringing back its fall football season. The conference postponed fall sports back in August over safety concerns about players playing during the pandemic.

CNN sports Carolyn Manno is with me now. And so Carolyn, now that the season is back, what does Big Ten football even look like this year?

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Brooke. Well, no fans to start. Maybe some immediate family in the stands but that's about it for the conference. And each team is going to attempt an eight game schedule with a conference championship set for mid- December, no byes.


But as you noted, this is a really stunning reversal when you consider that the majority of the council of presidents and chancellors voted to postpone the season as recently as August 11th. They've been taking things very slowly, they've been very calculating.

I think the turning point here in this decision, the political pressure, the financial pressure, the fact that the players and coaches, athletic directors, everyone has been pushing the decision- makers to make a choice here, is that they feel like they have a nuanced set of medical protocols that they're comfortable with in order to move forward with the season in such rapid fashion.

Chief among those things are daily testing that's expected to be turned around in a very fast fashion. And also cardiac screening. Because myocarditis, hear inflammation has been mentioned as issues for the last couple of months that are associated with this virus. And that's given decision-makers a lot of pause.

So all of those things coupled together has given them enough reason to think that they can get football going again. We know that America loves football , we know that the financial stakes are high, now history is going to show us whether or not this is indeed a wise decision.

BALDWIN: Apparently, we saw the President tweeting about it and saying, you know, football is back. Do we know how much influence President Trump had on this decision?

MANNO: He's certainly claiming this as a victory for himself, Brooke. I mean there have been reports of hundreds of phone calls between the President, people in the White House, and players, athletic directors. We know that he had a direct conversation with the commissioner of the big ten, Kevin Warren.

Although we should note that again that's not ultimately his decision, that it came down to this council that's tasked with weighing all of these different options, medical, financial and otherwise.

But these are really key swing states, these are swing states and you know that better than anybody. The Midwest really matters here and it became obvious very quickly that this is very political, clearly the President has asserted as much influence as he possibly can and now, we're seeing an 11-3 vote at the beginning of August to go ahead and postpone the season.

Going all the way now to a complete vote, everybody making the decision to go ahead and pick up the season and in just a couple of weeks. So to have a unanimous decision come so quickly, after everybody was on the fence, is certainly curious.

BALDWIN: That you bring up the swing states. We're talking to a "New York Times" reporter recently, you know, who's in one of those states saying a lot of these football fans could likely blame, if there were not college football being played this fall, on Trump which could translate into votes or no votes come November. It is all intertwined.

Carolyn Manno, thank you so much for the update there with the Big Ten. And we are waiting to see the former Vice President Joe Biden speaking on his plans for the rollout of that COVID vaccine. Quick break. We're back in a moment.



BALDWIN: Let's get you a little bit more on tropical storm Sally. Just downgraded within the last hour or so. No longer a hurricane. Already though tremendous damage. Heavy rain continues to lash the Gulf Coast at this agonizing slow pace.

And right now more than 500,000 people are without power both in Florida and in Alabama. And my next guest is in Orange Beach, Alabama. They've been pounded with torrential rain, hit with dangerous storm surges.

You can see here just in this video, that the damage already done as Sally crawls through. Former NFL kicker Matt Brian is with me now on the phone. Matt, how are you doing?

MATT BRIAN, NFL KICKER (via phone): I could be better, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Could be better. Could be better. I just want to make sure we have a good connection. Can you hear me all right?

BRIAN: I can hear you.

BALDWIN: OK, OK. I know you and your wife have seven children, six of whom rode this thing out for you. How is everyone?


BALDWIN: Guys, can't hear him. Matt, apologies, not the best connection. We're going to come back to you. And here he is, Joe Biden.

JOE BIDEN, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: An hour and a half long briefing with seven of our nation's top public health experts on the state of the pandemic, the steps we need to curb the spread of the virus. And the challenges of distributing a safe and effective vaccine once one is identified.

Before I turn to those issues, let me say a few words about the President's comments last night. Even before acknowledging to Bob Woodward on tape that he was fully informed on the gravity of the danger related to COVID-19, he refused to warn the American people.

Again, last night in television town hall, the President revealed in no uncertain terms, a lack of seriousness with which he continues to take this pandemic. Nearly eight months after this crisis on the doorstep of 200,000 American deaths, President Trump has refused once again to take responsibility or to take action.

By his own admission, he continued to lie about COVID-19. He doubled down on the catastrophic mistakes that he's made. And perhaps, worst of all, he made clear that he still doesn't have a plan to bring us out of this crisis.

He even said, and I quote, a lot of people think that masks are not good, undercutting the easiest, most effective means we have for reducing the spread of this disease.

This virus is still taking nearly a thousand lives a day. The forecasts show that those numbers are likely to climb this winter.

But incredibly, Donald Trump insists that he wouldn't have done anything differently, not one thing. Last Friday we learned that another one of the thousands of Americans died due to this virus, and it continues to rise.

On the very same day that we reported a thousand deaths on Friday, and the very same day Canada reported that not one person died of COVID-19 in Canada.

Trump wouldn't have done anything differently? If you're a parent in America preparing for another day that your child can't attend school, if you are grieving the loss of a son, a daughter, a mother, a father, husband or wife, if you're a small business owner who is on the brink of total bankruptcy, you can't open or can't go back to work because the virus still is spreading in your community, how does it make you feel to hear the President say he wouldn't have done anything differently?

And if he gets four more years, why should we expect anything to change? All the President had to offer last night, President Trump, was the same weak and feckless inaction, the same lies and empty promises that we've seen from the very beginning. He still won't accept any responsibility. He still won't offer a plan.

And last night he repeated what he said so many times before, that even if he continues to offer only failing indifference, someday the virus is going to go away by a miracle. Even if he does nothing, it's going to go away by a miracle.

It won't go away like a miracle. In fact, even if we get a vaccine, it will not be available for most of the population well into 2021. So we're heading into a very dangerous autumn.

The fact that the University of Washington model, which the White House has previously touted, projects that cases and deaths are going to spike this November by an additional 215,000 Americans, they say are going to die, begin the spike in November. But by the first of the year, 215,000 will be dead additionally. That's more than have already died.

We need leadership right now to prevent that from happening. The same university the model shows, the University of Washington model, shows that if there's universal masking, these deaths could be projected -- they could be cut in half. We can save between now and the end of the year a hundred thousand lives.

Let's assume we're off by half on all of this. 50,000 lives. 150,000 dead. Donald Trump's own director of CDC told us that wearing a mask is the single most important step we can take to curb this virus. Here's what he said. He said, I might go so far as to say that this face mask, and he held up a face mask, not this one, is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine, end of quote.

Now I spoke to the experts today about additional steps we can take to prevent needless deaths and suffering between now and a universal vaccine being made available. Uniform national guidelines they said, and standards on social distancing that can be applied in particular circumstance of states and communities based on their particular circumstance.

More effective approaches on testing and tracing. If we do these things between now and January, we can save even more lives. Last night Donald Trump indicated he has no interest in doing these things. Folks, the President's first responsibility is to protect the American people, and he won't. That's utterly disqualifying.

I also spoke to the experts this morning about the paramount importance of preparing now for swift, organized and free distribution of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine when it arrives.

And I'm profoundly grateful to the scientists and the researchers working tirelessly to ensure that a safe and effective vaccine becomes reality as soon as possible. These scientists carry the hopes of our nation, our entire nation in the entire world.

And when the work comes to fruition, and it will, there will be no doubt it will save lives. But scientific breakthroughs don't care about calendars any more than the virus does. They certainly don't adhere to election cycles. And their timing, their approval and their distribution should never ever be distorted by political considerations. They should be determined by science and safety alone.