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CNN Special Reports

Special Report: The Pandemic and The President. Aired 10-11:16p ET

Aired May 04, 2020 - 22:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN Special Report.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Tonight, we look to the timeline for the truth.


DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We think we have it very well under control.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The very next day his administration declared a public health emergency.

TAPPER: What did the President do about the coronavirus?

TRUMP: I issued a travel restriction from China.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Public health experts, they say he bought himself a little bit of time and then he just squandered it.

TAPPER: What did the President say?

TRUMP: It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle. It will disappear.

TAPPER: And did it match reality?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A CDC official said publicly that it was not a question of if this virus spreads but when.

TAPPER: How delayed actions and false statements from Beijing to the White House contributed to the missing supplies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're running out of medications. We're running out of equipment.

TAPPER: Slow testing and confusion about the best way forward.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's frustrating. It's disheartening. We can do this. We know how to do this. TAPPER: A CNN special report. The Pandemic and the President. The

human toll so far more than 1 million U.S. citizens infected and we just passed another grand milestone. More American lives lost in three months than during the entire Vietnam War in more than 10 years.

The economic toll is also staggering with tens of millions unemployed and the federal government handing out billions of dollars in stimulus checks and business loans. The President's top advisor and son in law Jared Kushner recently said that the Trump administration "rose to the challenge and this is a great success story." Did it? Is it?

As President Trump tries to steer the U.S. back to some semblance of normal, it's worth taking a look at how we got here. What the President did? What he did not do? And how the United States ended up with at least according to official records, the most cases and the most deaths of any country.

Revelers shoulder to shoulder celebrating a new year that would bring a new virus, a new normal. Emptying the streets.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: In early January, this is when the Trump administration really gets the first word out of China and it goes to the head of the CDC that there is this series of respiratory illnesses going around.

They haven't identified it and this is already a concern to the top health officials in the administration.

TAPPER: The Chinese government reported dozens of cases of pneumonia in the city of Wuhan. Closed down a market as expected as the cause and assured the World Health Organization or WHO that there was "no evidence that significant human to human transmission."

But as Chinese President Xi Jinping's government was trying to contain the spread of the virus, it also was trying to contain the spread of the truth. As CNN international correspondent David Culver found out.

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was back in late December when Lee sent a group message saying that the test results from a patient quarantined at the hospital where he worked showed a patient had a coronavirus.

TAPPER: Days later Dr. Lee was summoned to a police station and reprimanded for circulating rumors.

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: On January 6 (inaudible) first to send help including CDC scientists to China to look into the virus, to work with the World Health Organization and China does not want CDC scientists to come in the country at that point.

TAPPER: But the Chinese government's great wall of deception could not stop the deadly virus from migrating beyond its borders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 21 people in Hong Kong returned from Wuhan with fever or respiratory symptoms.

TAPPER: Still the Xi government insisted its investigations had "found no clear evidence of human to human transmission."

GUPTA: In the early days, I don't think anybody knew for sure what to believe so the concern was are we getting the full story. How likely is this to be contagious? How likely is this to kill people?

TAPPER: It all seemed to leave U.S. infectious disease experts somewhat in the dark.

DR. NANCY MESSONNIER, DIRECTOR, NCIRD, CDC: Based on the information that CDC has today, we believe the current risk from this virus to the general public is low.


For a family sitting around the dinner table tonight, this is not something that they generally need to worry about.

TAPPER: But during that same teleconference the CDC announced a handful of U.S. airports would start screening passengers arriving from Wuhan.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NIAID: The new coronavirus is causing infections, fever and pulmonary infections.

TAPPER: U.S. intelligence agencies were warning the President about the novel coronavirus according to The Washington Post, in more than a dozen daily classified briefings. T

GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: They were calling attention to the threat of the coronavirus in a way that amounts to a fairly steady drumbeat throughout January and February.

MURRAY: So eventually Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services goes to the President to talk about this coronavirus issue that is emerging from China. The President is completely preoccupied with other issues. He wants to talk about vaping and the sale of flavored vaping products.

And it just shows you kind of how the President's focus was not on this coronavirus issue.

TRUMP: Which is worse? The impeachment hoax or the witch-hunts from Russia?

TAPPER: His focus, much of it was on the U.S. Senate.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): And ready to present the articles of impeachment against Donald John Trump.

MARK MAZZETTI, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: In his view, it was the so called deep state. People in government who were hell bent to bring him down so by the time the coronavirus pandemic really started to worsen in the United States and scientists and experts were telling him about the problem, he saw some of these people as just an extension of the deep state and so that led to I think, some of the skepticism that he had towards the advice he was being given.

TAPPER: And China's government in late January still downplaying.

CULVER: Health officials in Wuhan held a press conference yesterday. They say this is preventable. They say this is controllable.

TAPPER: The next day the U.S. had its first confirmed case of the coronavirus. The President's response was to claim it was under control. He said he trusted the Chinese government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the words about a pandemic at this point?

TRUMP: No, we're not at all and we're - we have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK and President Xi, there's just some - some talk in China that maybe the transparency isn't everything that it's - it's going to be. Do you trust that we're going to know everything we need to know from China?

TRUMP: I do. I do. I have a great relationship with President Xi. We just signed probably the biggest deal ever made that certainly has the potential to be the biggest deal ever made and it was a very interesting period of time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get into that.

TRUMP: If done. No, I do. I think the relationship is very, very good.

TAPPER: We asked the White House to participate in this documentary but they declined. On January 24 Chinese authorities initiated a lockdown of 30 million people in 10 cities including the presumed ground zero Wuhan.

Trump praised China tweeting, "China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciate their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well.

But behind the scenes.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Health professionals across the government were tracking what was happening in China and getting alarmed.

TAPPER: Some more sharing their fears in an email chain dubbed Red Dawn originated by Duane Caneva, the Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Homeland Security. An email chain leaked to The New York Times.

MAZZETTI: Emailing to each other that this is going to be bad and we, the scientific community and the medical community have to develop some real advice to policy makers to try to mitigate the potential damage.

TAPPER: You guys made fun of me screaming to close the schools, wrote a Department of Veterans Affairs Senior Medical Adviser. Now I'm screaming close the colleges and universities.

DAVID E. SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Exactly what came to pass six weeks later but at the time many in the Trump administration including some of the medical community, including Dr. Fauci were not ready yet to declare that those kinds of steps would be required.

TAPPER: An Infectious Disease doctor at the University of Nebraska shared this bit of dark humor. Great understatements in history. Pompeii: A bit of a dust storm. Hiroshima: A bad summer heat wave. And Wuhan: Just a bad flu season.


TAPPER: David, hundreds of Americans were just evacuated today from Wuhan by the state department. What precautions are being taken to make sure they are not carrying the virus back with them to the U.S.?

CULVER: They went through not one but two health screenings here in China, one done by Chinese officials. The other done by U.S. officials and then they'll go through a third screening once they land in anchorage and be clear to then go on to California. Then Jake, they're going to spend anywhere from 3 to 14 days in quarantine.

HABERMAN: Peter Navarro, the President's traded visor circulated a memo through the National Security Council but then it went out broadly to dozens of administration officials in which he was very clear. He detailed the potential for millions of deaths. 1 million to 2 million deaths as many as 500,000.

He went through the economic costs which he predicted would be staggering in the trillions of dollars for the country. The President was told about the existence of this memo, we've been told by sources and he was irritated that these estimates have been put down on paper.

TAPPER: That memo was dated January 29, a day that also brought this.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: The White House announced the creation of a Coronavirus Task Force to deal with the threat here in the United States.

TAPPER: In the final days of January, a World Health Organization emergency committee praised the Chinese government's leadership, commitment to transparency and saw no need for any travel or trade restrictions.

And Trump again told the country, everything was fine.

TRUMP: We think we have it very well under control.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So the very next day after the President made those comments in Michigan was when his administration declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency.

TAPPER: In China, the doctor reprimanded for sounding the alarm was dying after being infected by a patient.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Struggling to communicate Lee spoke with CNN briefly by phone. You can hear the hospital machines pulsing in the background.

DR. LEE (on phone): I can barely breathe.

TAPPER: China's Supreme Court commented that if Lee's warning a month earlier had been heeded and action taken "it might have been a fortunate thing for containing the new coronavirus."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once we saw that this outbreak grew exponential rates, we knew this wasn't going to be a rapidly disseminating virus.

MURRAY: Their hearts just sink when they're trying to use this test and it's not functioning.




TAPPER: February began with the ban.

TRUMP: Not one person has died and I issued a travel restriction from China.

TAPPER: The restrictions stopped most Chinese residents and foreign nationals who had recently been in China from traveling to the U.S. The restrictions also started a clock.

MURRAY: When you talk to public health experts, they really look with despair at those couple of weeks because they say, whatever your feelings were on the travel ban at the time, it was a perfectly fine and reasonable step to take and he bought himself a little bit of time and then he just squandered it.

TAPPER: There were only nine known cases of the novel coronavirus inside the U.S. The first step to keeping that number low according to the experts, was a working test for the virus.

GUPTA: Testing was, is and always will be the cornerstone of trying to stand a pandemic. You've got to identify the people who are infected. You've got to be able to isolate those folks and you've got to be able to treat them. It all begins with testing.

MURRAY: February 6 is when the CDC start sending these test kits out to public health departments.

TAPPER: But the tests, the only tests approved for use in the United States were not working.

MURRAY: Their hearts just sink when they're trying to use it and it's not functioning.

TAPPER: There was a test available from the World Health Organization but the CDC did not choose to get it and nobody inside the government asked outside labs to help.

DAWSEY: Officials were told not to do it, that they do not need to do it, that it was too alarmist.

TAPPER: The delay in testing concerned the experts who now saw the virus spreading from human to human. And quickly.

GUPTA: I think it was pretty clear in early February that there was human to human contact.

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Once we saw that this outbreak grew exponential rates, we knew this was going to be a rapidly disseminating virus.

TAPPER: Researcher Eva Lee was working to figure out how many Americans might catch the virus.


TAPPER: Those models projected that between 2 million and 10 million people in the U.S. would become infected. On February 9, she sent an email to that Red Dawn chain of public health experts, calling for social distancing.

LEE: We need the citizens to know and practice social distancing in a way that best protects the,. Every action counts.

TAPPER: It was a full five weeks later before President Trump would take that step.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: That same day some of the nation's governors met with Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC director Robert Redfield. They got some disturbing news.

GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R) MARYLAND: They gave us a pretty detailed outline of what they felt was happening with this - this virus. We knew that this was going to be a serious crisis.

TAPPER: It was exactly the opposite of what President Trump was saying publicly.

TRUMP: Looks like by April you know in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.

TAPPER: The President's CDC director contradicted him later that week in an interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CDC: I think this virus is probably

with us beyond this season or beyond this year and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold.

TRUMP: Very small number of people in the country right now with it. It's like around 12. Many of them are getting better. Summer are fully recovered already so we're in very good shape.


SANGER: He was still of the view that you could stop flights, build walls and keep coronavirus from coming to the United States.

TAPPER: The chances of that were near zero, partly because it was now more than two weeks since the CDC test had been approved and it still was not working properly.

MURRAY: Over at the White House Robert Redfield, who is the Director of the CDC and Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services are assuring other administration officials we're going to get it fixed quickly.

TAPPER: Not quickly enough. February 22, the Food and Drug Administration or FDA sent an expert to the CDC headquarters to help figure out the problem.

MURRAY: This expert realized that there was contamination in the manufacturing process and that the CDC had actually violated its own manufacturing protocols in trying to produce this test and that that is why the test was malfunctioning.

SANGER: You have to wonder if President Trump had been directly involved or his staff had and if they had understood that you only contain the virus if you understand its spread, they might have pressed for more widespread testing earlier.

DAWSEY: A little bit to the defense here, there were certainly indications that it was going to be bad, that it was going to spread but there was no clear data even in mid-February on exactly how it was spreading through the United States.

TAPPER: But during the third week of February, public health officials were preparing for the worst just in case.

SANGER: They gathered in the Situation Room to run a tabletop exercise of what it would look like if the pandemic fully hit the United States and so while the President was talking about 15 cases going to 0 they were talking about 15 cases going to the thousands and then the tens of thousands and then hundreds of thousands.

TAPPER: Two days later Dr. Robert Kadlec, an Assistant Secretary for preparedness at the department of health and Human Services spotted a Red Dawn email that set off warning bells in the administration.

MAZZETI: This is really a critical moment for this group that's studying the problem. They see an email about a patient in China who had shown no symptoms of coronavirus and yet had spread the virus to family and friends.

TAPPER: That means people who did not know they were sick were unknowingly spreading the virus. Eva, is this true? Dr. Kadlec wrote to Eva Lee. If so we have a huge hole in our screening and quarantine efforts. She responded with a link confirming the story and added.

LEE: Simply people are carrying the virus everywhere.

MAZZETTI: That then sets in motion a greater urgency from the group that they've got to get to the President a plan, to mitigate the problem inside the United States before it spreads further.

TAPPER: It was now February 24 and it was time Dr. Kadlec and his colleagues decided to tell President Trump, he needed to recommend social distancing measures including shutting down big public events and schools.

But President Trump was in India.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They planned basically the moment he got back to the United States, they were going to sit down with him, advocate for these measures and hopefully try to convince the President to move forward with it.

But one thing happened, a doctor from the CDC, Dr. Messonnier got ahead of the messaging that they've been working on internally and warned publicly that there was going to be a severe disruption to American life.

MESSONNIER: We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad.

MAZZETTI: The President was angry about that and said, why are they over playing the problem, it's leading to the stock market crashing.

TAPPER: The Dow is taking a dramatic hit down almost 900 points. President Trump actually considered firing Dr. Messonnier according to the Wall Street journal though he ultimately did not.

SANGER: The President's been less concerned with what the warning sound is like and more concerned with the content of the warning. He might have concluded the CDC was right and moved much more quickly to trying to mitigate the effects, trying to prepare the American people.

TAPPER: Instead the day the President returned from India, he blamed the media, tweeting that MSNBC and CNN are "Doing everything possible to make the coronavirus look as bad as possible including panicking markets if possible."

Before railing at the media, the President was angry with Dr. Messonnier. The President, it seemed, viewed anyone delivering ugly facts about the virus as the enemy. That evening he held a presser and said something completely opposite from what his experts were saying.


TRUMP: When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to 0, that's a pretty good job we've done.

TAPPER: The President also announced a new leader of the coronavirus task force.

TRUMP: I'm going to be putting our Vice President Mike Pence in charge.

TAPPER: On that day the President returned from India, Dr. Kadlec and his colleagues did not tell the President it was time to start social distancing. It would be nearly three more weeks before the President took any of the steps they had planned to recommend.

GUPTA: I think one of the big questions we're always going to have is what would have happened if we had acted sooner, if we have started these physical distancing measures a week earlier, the question will be asked how many lives would've been saved. According to some models, they say you know 50 percent - 60 percent of people within that first wave may not have become infected.

FAUCI: If you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously no one is going to deny that but what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated.

TAPPER: So in late February, the President was still holding crowded rallies. His administration had not yet recommended social distancing and they had not solved the problem with the testing kits.

Then on February 27 a breakthrough in the form of a phone call arranged by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

MURRAY: He wants the other health experts on the line and the message when they all get on the line is we are not getting off this phone call until we figure out how to fix the testing issue and you know you have the head of the FDA on this call, you have Redfield on the call and it's really striking that this isn't happening until the end of February.

But one of the solutions that comes out of it is the FDA needs to loosen its regulations.

TAPPER: That was a big deal. Those regulations made it difficult for commercial labs to come into the process and scale up testing. The regulations were officially lifted on the last day of February.

Coming up.

TRUMP: Anybody who wants to test can get a test.

MURRAY: And that was a surprise to people at the CDC.



TAPPER: Two months after the Trump administration first learned of the contagion taking over the globe, there were 72 known cases in the U.S. and one known death but that was about to change.

GUPTA: March was an explosive month for this virus in the United States.

TAPPER: New evidence confirmed that the virus after entering Washington State in California was now spreading on the east coast with the first reported infection in New York and two days later, a second.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We're seeing what we expected, what we anticipated, which is a continuing spread.

TAPPER: In a few short weeks New York state's second case of Covid multiplied into hundreds, forming the nation's newest cluster.

TRUMP: We will continue to do exactly what we're doing.

TAPPER: But back in Washington DC, the President had yet to publicly admit the enormity of the unfolding crisis.

TRUMP: A lot of very exciting things are happening and they're happening very rapidly.

TAPPER: The month before in February, a team inside Trump's own administration had developed an aggressive plan to try to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing, a plan that would effectively shut down a big chunk of the nation's economy.

But President Trump was still resisting.

MAZZETTI: So this is a critical period of time where the coronavirus continues to spread and no real federal action's taken.

TAPPER: States began competing for critical medical supplies and equipment. Come mid-March supplies would become so scarce, the CDC would issue guidelines to health care workers to reuse masks or even use bandanas if necessary.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That was unthinkable before that point. No one in a million years would ever have thought that in the United States of America, that we would tell doctors and nurses reuse your mask.

HABERMAN: Part of the problem in terms of the PPE is that there has been a total lack of clarity about process here. Mike Pence took over the task force. Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law and senior adviser has been running with what some have described as a shadow task force.

That has left a lot of confusion as to who exactly is responsible for helping procure PPE.

TAPPER: Confusion that would continue to plague the administration behind closed doors and in front of the cameras. TRUMP: We're considering different things but we're also considering

the fact that we're seeing practically 36,000 deaths due to what's called the flu.

MURRAY: So the President visits the CDC and famously says anybody who wants a test -

TRUMP: Can get a test.

MURRAY: And that was a surprise to people at the CDC, who were working on this issue. They didn't know the President was going to say that. Testing was certainly not at a point where anybody who wants a test -

TRUMP: And the tests are all perfect like the letter is perfect. The transcription was perfect.

GUPTA: The tests were flawed. The test didn't work and as a result we lost valuable time. More people became infected. There are people walking around without any symptoms, no test and they were continuing to spread the virus.

TRUMP: It will go away, just stay calm.

TAPPER: But the day after President Trump said the virus would "go away" the country was wrestling with a new reality. Hollywood legend Tom Hanks and his wife tested positive for Covid. The NBA announced it was suspending its season.

GUPTA: And all of a sudden everybody was saying, what's - what's going on here? What's - what's the deal with this virus?

TAPPER: And the World Health Organization officially named Covid-19, a pandemic.

COLLINS: The President was still contradicting what was actually happening.

MURRAY: And some of the experts I talked to said that was because the stock market was really driving the President's decision-making and he didn't want to do the kinds of things that you needed to do to mitigate the spread of the virus because it would further hurt the economy.

TAPPER: Pushed by Democrats to more than triple his original request for funding.

TRUMP: I asked for 2.5 and I got 8.3 and I'll take it.

TAPPER: Trump signed $8.3 billion in emergency spending for the virus yet even then he continued to insist falsely, no one saw this virus coming.


TRUMP: It went very well but it's a foreseen problem, not a problem, came out of nowhere. BRILLIANT: Every epidemiologist has been predicting, cajoling, warning

government officials for the last 20 years that a pandemic of this size and magnitude was inevitable but when our leader denies or refuses to admit the problem is confusing at best and it is disastrous at worst.

TRUMP: Chloroquine - hydroxychloroquine.

TAPPER: But perhaps the most confounding comments by the President in March surrounded his touting of an untested treatment for the virus.

TRUMP: Hydroxychloroquine. That's a lot of good things are happening with it.

TAPPER: Which the FDA would later warn could cause serious heart issues.

TRUMP: We're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately, that would be a big game changer.

TAPPER: The Washington post reported that President Trump was so enamored with the drug, he asked an acquaintance from Mar-a-Lago to call the California governor Gavin Newsom on his cell phone to try to broker a deal for the state to buy millions of tablets of hydroxychloroquine from India.

A source tells CNN that after Newsom got the call, he told staffers that he thought he might have been punked by a shock jock. Such a deal never happened.

COHEN: Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that has been used with great success for decades against malaria, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis. It's basically an anti-inflammatory.

REPORTER: Is there any evidence to suggest that as with malaria, it might be used as a prophylaxis against Covid-19?

FAUCI: No. The answer is - is no.

TAPPER: But the President was not the only one that months contradicting the experts. Some of his political allies joined in too such as congressman Matt Gaetz from Florida who seemed to mock those taking the virus seriously when he wore a gas mask before a vote on the House floor.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA): It's a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant.

COLLINS: It was also Devin Nunes, one of his closest allies who was going on Fox news and telling people that they should still feel comfortable going out to eat at restaurants when health advisors were saying the exact opposite.

TAPPER: On the other side of the political aisle, Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio did not initially grasp the full gravity of the crisis either. CUOMO: Excuse our arrogance as New Yorkers. We don't even think it's

going to be as bad as it was in other countries.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is everyone panicking?

TAPPER: And then there was the pro-Trump media which turned the pandemic into a conspiracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not afraid of the coronavirus.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: They're just looking for any or every way possible to bash President Trump.

MURRAY: They're basically accusing the rest of the mainstream media of fear mongering. They're saying that you know, Democrats and the media are just blowing this up because they want to create more chaos for the President.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am far more concerned with stepping on a used heroin needle than I am getting the coronavirus.

TAPPER: This disinformation took such a hold on this segment of the public, new polling data began to worry leaders in the President's party.

DAWSEY: What the polling showed was that Republicans were taking this virus far less seriously than Democrats were and when news houses circulated to Republicans was that the tone and the message had to change on coronavirus because denial was not going to be a tool for survival.

TAPPER: But strict social distancing measures were and as infection spread, some state leaders would begin to enforce them without the help of the federal government.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): And that's to reduce the social interactions that are not necessary in our lives.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): In a moment Dr Acton would be signing in order banning the gathering together of people over 100 people.

TAPPER: On March 13, two days after the President announced travel restrictions on Europe, the President made his strongest stance against the virus yet.

TRUMP: For today I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words.

TAPPER: The President however stopped short of the social distancing plan, public health officials had been hoping for.

TRUMP: When you compare what we've done to other areas of the world it's a - it's pretty incredible.

TAPPER: But back in 2018 the Trump administration had folded its pandemic office into a different office of the National Security Council. Those had been a group of public health experts who according to their former senior director could have made a difference.

TRUMP: And when you say me, I didn't do it.

DR. BETH CAMERON, VP, GLOBAL BIOLOGICAL POLICY AND PROGRAMS AT THE NTI: I think that a practiced senior level White House pandemics office would have been able to understand exactly what needed to happen more quickly.


TRUMP: We'd much rather be ahead of the curve than behind it.

TAPPER: March 16, more than 70 days after the Trump administration first learned of the virus the President implemented what had become the nation's best tool to slow its spread.

TRUMP: My administration is recommending that all Americans including the young and healthy work to engage in schooling from home when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people.

COLLINS: What is still so stunning is to have realized that this was on March 16. Recall that it was the end of February that his health advisors had started talking about putting these measures in place in the first place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a war zone, it's a medical war zone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There patients building up in all the corridors on oxygen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're running out of medications. We're running out of equipment.

COHEN: I started receiving texts from doctors and nurses who I have known for decades. Brave, brave people saying I am scared. One of them said what I'm seeing is Armageddon.

TAPPER: On March 26, the U.S. reached a somber milestone, becoming the new global leader in confirmed infections. The following day President Trump approved a historic $2 trillion stimulus bill and he finally pledged to authorized the Defense Production Act which would allow him to force the manufacturing of ventilators.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For weeks, we've already had doctors, we've already had nurses publicly and on television pleading saying we don't - we don't have what we need to protect ourselves from the virus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been asked by the Tennessee Department of Health to velcro a diaper around my face because I don't have an N. 95 mass to be able to wear to see patients.

MURRAY: It was really perplexing and it still is perplexing why the ministration took until March 27 to invoke the Defense Production Act.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY, 2009-2014: The Defence Production Act invoked at a very early stage could have been very helpful in making sure that people did not run out of supplies. It is a failure of the Trump administration and is one of the most colossal mistakes I have ever witnessed and unfortunately, it will cause thousands and thousands of lives to be lost.


SANGER: So what happened?

TRUMP: We're not an ordering clerk. We're back up.

SANGER: It became an unholy mess.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America now the deadliest nation in confirmed coronavirus cases.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A record shattering 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S.N.S. Comfort, hundreds of hospital beds on that ship, they're going to provide relief to New York hospitals overwhelmed with coronavirus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The city system for burials is completely overwhelmed. The remains were loaded into trailers and brought to Hart island for a temporary burial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like we're going into war with no protection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring us our PPE now. We need it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then the doctor took the phone and he said I'm sorry but there's no more pulse.

TAPPER: On the last day of March, President Trump was more serious than he had ever seemed to be discussing the pandemic as he addressed the nation.

TRUMP: I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We're going to go through a very tough two weeks.

HABERMAN: I think all of the briefings he has done, that was probably the best one. It was that he was telling the truth to the public. He was doing what elected officials are supposed to do which is prepare their citizens and the general public for what's to come.

TRUMP: Our country is in the midst of a great national trial unlike any we have ever faced before. There's shocking numbers when you see 100,000 and 120,000 and 200,000 people over potentially a very short period of time. One of the ways in which he realized it was toward the end of March

watching his Amherst hospital where 13 people died in a 24 hour period from Covid-19, I think brought home the reality of this for him in a way that few other things did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Five ventilators, oh my God.

TRUMP: I grew up right next to it. To see the scenes of trailers out there. They're freezers. Nobody can even believe it.

TAPPER: Along with the images of devastation the President heard cries for help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That really just feels like it's too little too late like we knew. We knew it was coming.

TRUMP: It's like military people going into battle. I would say you people are just incredible.

TAPPER: Yet just two days before, the President was hurling insults at the caregivers.

TRUMP: Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000?

MAZZETTI: It comes in this period of time when the President seems to want to lash out to a new enemy every day. One day he's blaming the "invisible enemy" the coronavirus. Another day he's blaming the Chinese.

And then he finds this bizarre line of attack against health care workers then becomes this attack on individual governors.

TAPPER: It was the governors who President Trump had been attacking with a vengeance.

CUOMO: We need that ventilator.

TAPPER: The President initially pushed back against their requests for more medical gear saying they were asking for too much and dismissed the Democratic governors in particular such as New York governor Andrew Cuomo who had been steadfast in his appeals to the federal government to provide more ventilators and supplies to the hardest hit state.

On April 2, the situation grew urgent, as New York surged to 84,000 cases. By then 216,000 cases nationwide.

CUOMO: At the current burn rate, we have about six days of ventilators in our stockpile.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A startling sign of the economic pain.


TAPPER: This was also the day we learned 6.6 million workers file for unemployment in the U.S. for the first time. A historic high and a 3000 percent increase since early March. The President lashed out at governors on Twitter calling them "the complainers."

TRUMP: The states should have been building their stockpile. We're a backup. We're not an ordering clerk. We are backup.

SANGER: The President had a phone call with governors and he said it was up to them to go, look for their own supplies so what happened? One state began bidding against another and in some cases there were reports of states bringing in supplies, arranging to buy them only to have the federal government seize them for their own stockpile so it became an unholy mess.

TAPPER: That's what happened to Massachusetts Republican governor Charlie Baker. His state's shipment of respiratory masks never made it.

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (R-MA): We had our 3 million masks that we had ordered confiscated in the port of New York.

CUOMO: Look at the bizarre situation we wind up in. It's like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator.

TAPPER: A bizarre situation complicated by the President's son-in-law, also an adviser to the President.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: The federal stockpile was supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be state's stockpiles that then use.

HABERMAN: When Jared Kushner made his first and so far only appearance in the briefing room, it did his father-in-law some damage when he describes the stockpile as our stockpile because the federal government is supposed to be there to help the rest of the country, not to be in a - in a fight with states.

TAPPER: On April 2 after weeks of fighting with governors, the President expanded the Defense Production Act to force six medical device companies to produce protective masks and ventilators.

The administration was finally taking steps to help states yet it continued to be criticized for not fully unleashing the might of the act.

HABERMAN: The President has continued to see criticism for the fact that he has not used the DPA more aggressively while constantly pointing to it as a bat in his toolbox to try to hit people with.

The latest issue with that is swabs and the fact that he's not really trying to force companies to ramp up production.

TAPPER: There were unquestionably examples of the federal government stepping up. The U.S. army corps of engineers build field hospitals including this one at the Javits Center in New York City. The U.S. navy deployed ships to New York and California.

On April 3 the CDC put out a recommendation, urging the public to wear cloth facemasks. President Trump however said he would rather not.

TRUMP: I don't know. Somehow I don't see it for myself.

TAPPER: It was hardly the first time he ignored public health advice.

REPORTER: You're shaking a lot of hands today, taking a lot of close pictures. Are you protecting yourself at all? How are you staying away from germs?

TRUMP: Not at all. Not at all.

TAPPER: By April 10, there were now more than half a million confirmed Covid-19 cases in the U.S. and the death toll had catapulted to nearly 19,000 yet widespread testing remained elusive.

TRUMP: We're leading the world now in testing by far and we're going to keep it that way.

TAPPER: The country had ramped up testing but according to health experts the U.S. was still testing far fewer people per capita than countries such as South Korea or Italy.

But by this time governors with the help of the Trump administration and sometimes on their own had received the much needed ventilators and many had received enough medical supplies.

CUOMO: Compared to how we have been operating on this new dire circumstances, we are relatively comfortable with ventilators and PPE if the hospitalization rate stays down.

TAPPER: On April 11, the New York Times ran an extensive investigation detailing Trump's mistakes during the crisis. Two days later.

TRUMP: The President of the United States calls the shots.

TAPPER: Trump played a video during a press briefing that seemed to be blaming the press for downplaying the crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coronavirus is not going to cause a major issue to United States.

TAPPER: The same Press he had been attacking for over hyping the crisis in February.

COLLINS: But something that was noticeably missing from that video that the White House put out was the President's own comments where he also downplayed and dismissed the outbreak in the month of February and the beginning of March.

TAPPER: White House reporters did not back down.

REPORTER: You bought yourself some time and you didn't use it to prepare hospitals, you didn't use it to ramp up testing.

TRUMP: You're so - you're so disgraceful. We have done a great job. MAZZETTI: What we've seen in these daily briefings, that one in particular is a President trying to rewrite history, trying to say he was the one who was warning all along about the coronavirus.

TAPPER: There was also this.


TRUMP: When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total and that's the way it's got to be.

REPORTER: Total? Your authority is total?

TRUMP: Total.

COLLINS: Has any governor agreed that you have the authority to decide when they're state -

TRUMP: I didn't ask anybody. You know why because I don't have to.

COLLINS: Of course that is not the case no one would agree with that including the President's conservative allies.

TAPPER: The next day April 14 as coronavirus cases in the U.S. climb to nearly 600,000 President Trump made another controversial decision.

TRUMP: Today I'm instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization. So much death has been caused by their mistakes.

MAZZETTI: The fight with the WHO is in part just another element of looking to blame someone besides himself.

TAPPER: There are some medical experts who believe the World Health Organization could have and should have acted sooner.

BRILLIANT: I worked for WHO for 10 years. I think WHO was late in calling this a pandemic. I think that WHO having lost a lot of its general financial support over the years and got a lot of support financially from China, I do think that WHO was generous in its acceptance of the Chinese reports about when the epidemic began.

MURRAY: People do you have very real concerns with the way the WHO is dealing with China early on in this outbreak but I haven't talked to any public health expert who thinks that the right way to remedy that is to try to strip WHO of funding.

TAPPER: There was plenty of finger pointing. In late April Governor Andrew Cuomo admitted he wished you had raised flags earlier.

CUOMO: I would feel better sitting here today saying I blew the bugle about Wuhan province in January. I can't say that.

TAPPER: Mistakes and missed opportunities.

CROWD (chanting): USA USA. TAPPER: Coming up. Where do we go now?

TRUMP: Our country has to get open.



TAPPER: So, by the end of April, diagnostic testing was progressing. Though still no where near where it needed to be according to health experts.

HAHN: We are working with more than 400 test developers, 220 labs around the country.

TRUMP: Ultimately we're doing more testing I think than probably any of the governors even want.

TAPPER: Four days later the White House announced a blueprint for testing putting the responsibility back in the hands of the states.

TRUMP: We have enough testing to begin reopening and the reopening process. We want to get our country open.

TAPPER: A plan that had the administration taking a victory lap.

KUSHNER: I think that we've achieved all the different milestones that are needed. So, the government -- federal government rose to the challenge and this is a great success story.

TRUMP: The federal government has done a spectacular job.

TAPPER: But the plan had medical experts reacting quite differently.

GUPTA: The White House plan calls for around $7 million a month. We're talking about $1 million a day. So you could see the delta here. It's like four times off in terms of the amount of testing that we need to be doing here.

FAUCI: It isn't perfect then we're not there yet. And we're not. But we're going to get there. We're going to get there soon I hope.

TAPPER: And they'll need to because the only true end to this pandemic, the holy grail, a vaccine is still on the horizon.

GUPTA: I think there's no question that the speed at which these vaccine trials have been going is unprecedented. Vaccines can take decades to make. HIV, AIDS 40 years and we still don't have a vaccine. That gives you an idea of how challenging this can be.

TAPPER: All of this is a race against time to reopen, to get back to some resemblance of normal. And most importantly to save lives. It will be a marathon the experts say not a sprint. And with every step serious communication failures that took and continue to take the country off track.

TRUMP: The virus--

TAPPER: Such as downplaying the threat and severity of the pandemic.

TRUMP: -- theory when it gets a little warmer it miraculously goes away. Oh, that's true. Hydroxychloroquine--

TAPPER: Or pushing a drug hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19, a drug the FDA just warned against using outside of a clinical trial or a hospital.

TRUMP: What do you have to lose? Take it. Suppose that we hit the body--

TAPPER: And then of course the recent disinfectant situation.

TRUMP: That I see the disinfectant we're (inaudible) in a minute, one minute and is there a way we can do something again by injection inside or most the cleaning--

TAPPER: And unbelievable and perplexing moment that had people calling hotlines asking if they should be using disinfectant on themselves to combat the virus.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: This idea of prompted statements from the CDC, the EPA, numerous state health officials and even the makers of Lysol and Clorox to warn do not try this. It could kill.

TAPPER: Requiring doctors, public officials and organizations to shift their focus from fighting COVID-19 to actually warn the public not to ingest disinfectant.

HAHN: I certainly wouldn't recommend the internal ingestion of a disinfectant.

TAPPER: We wanted to ask the White House about all of this but they declined to participate in this documentary. For now, Americans need to keep their eyes looking straight ahead to the finish line. Listening to the experts and not get distracted by confusing and unfounded messages.

UNKNOWN MALE: I don't think there's only one path to defeat COVID. We need our leaders to be focused, serious, honest and be able to deal with new fast moving scientific information. That's the path to defeat COVID.

TAPPER: Why is it the time now in the middle of this pandemic to start investigating the record? Well, while we were producing this documentary the United States hit a grim milestone. One million Americans diagnosed with COVID-19, a startling number that reminds everyday how lives are literally at stake.

This month we passed a death toll 65,000 and not long ago it was projected the U.S. would not hit until August and that's' the reason that we do this now not because we want to point fingers or blame the Chinese government or governors or President Trump. The reason that we look back is so that the same mistakes are not repeated as these numbers continue to rise. And just in case there's another outbreak later in the year or next year.

We want to get the facts on the record, especially when the president is apparently weeding out and replacing truth tellers, government watch dogs such as the former Inspector General acting of the Department of Health and Human Services who was telling a truth that apparently President Trump did not want told.

The time to get the facts on the record is when memories are fresh and when people can remember what was done and what could have been done faster or better or at all.