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CNN Special Reports
The Pandemic and the President. Aired 7:30-9p ET
Aired May 24, 2020 - 19:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER (voice-over): Tonight we look to the timeline for the truth.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We think we have it very well under control.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: 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.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: 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?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: A CDC official said publicly that it was not a question that if this virus spreads but when.
TAPPER: Now delayed actions and false statements from Beijing to the White House contributed to 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 CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's frustrating. It's disheartening. We can do this. We know how to do this.
TAPPER: A CNN's Special Report. THE PANDEMIC AND THE PRESIDENT.
(On camera): The human toll so far more than 1.5 million citizens infected and we are projected to soon pass another green milestone, twice as many American lives lost to this pandemic than during the entire 10 years of the Vietnam War. Twice as many.
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 adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner recently said that the Trump administration, quote, "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 death of any country.
(Voice-over): Revelers, shoulder-to-shoulder. Celebrating a new year that would bring a new virus. A new normal. Emptying these streets.
MURRAY: 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 official in the administration.
TAPPER: The Chinese government reported dozens of cases of pneumonias in the city of Wuhan, closed down a market it suspected as the cause, and assured the World Health Organization or WHO that there was, quote, "no evidence of 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 INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was back in late December when Li first warned friends on WeChat about a SARS-like disease going around. Li sent a group message saying that a test result from a patient quarantined at the hospital where he worked showed a patient had a coronavirus. But hours after hitting send Wuhan City health officials tracked Li down.
TAPPER: Days later Dr. Li was summoned to a police station and reprimanded for circulating rumors.
MARK MAZZETTI, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Early in January, the deputy National Security adviser Matthew Pottinger has a call with a doctor in Hong Kong who really delivers for the U.S. government one of the earliest warnings about what is to come.
Pottinger who had been a "Wall Street Journal" reporter in China in the early part of the century had known this doctor and become a friend. And what this doctor tells him was chilling. He says that the Chinese are not revealing the extent of the problem. They are really covering up what is happening inside the country and perhaps the most important from Mr. Pottinger this problem is coming to you. JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: On January 6th,
Robert Redfield offered to send help including CDC scientists to China to look into the virus, to work with World Health Organization, and China does not want CDC scientists to come into 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.
ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Twenty-one people in Hong Kong returned from Wuhan with fever or respiratory symptoms.
TAPPER: Still, the Xi government insisted its investigations had, quote, "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 lead U.S. infectious disease experts somewhat in the dark.
NANCY MESSONNIER, DIRECTOR, CDC'S NATIONAL CENTER FOR IMMUNIZATION AND RESPIRATORY DISEASES: Based on the information the 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 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, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: 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.
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, the 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 sales 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): I'm ready to present the Articles of Impeachment against Donald John Trump.
MAZZETTI: The president went into this year with his view that it was time to get payback for the people who brought on the impeachment crisis for him. And in his view, it was the so-called deep state. People in government who were hellbent 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: A word about a pandemic at this point?
TRUMP: No. And not 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 talk in China that maybe the transparency isn't everything that 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 terms, it certainly has the potentially to be the biggest deal ever made and it was a very interesting period of time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Well, let's get into that.
TRUMP: But we got it done and -- no, I do. I think the relationship is very, very good.
MAZZETTI: This period of time was a period of real crosscurrents in the Trump administration's policy towards China where different factions in the government had different interests in addressing China's role in a growing pandemic.
The president first and foremost wanted to solidify a trade agreement during this period of time that he wanted to use as kind of a cornerstone of what he could run for reelection on in November. So that was one reason why President Trump very much wanted to downplay any kind of hawkish rhetoric about China and China's role in the growing pandemic.
TAPPER: We ask the White House to participate in this documentary but they declined.
On January 24th, 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 appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well."
But behind the scenes --
HABERMAN: Health officials across the government were tracking what was happening in China and getting alarmed.
TAPPER: Some were sharing their fears in an e-mail chain dubbed "Red Dawn," originated by Duane Caneva, the chief medical officer at the Department of Homeland Security. An e-mail chain leaked to "The New York Times."
MAZZETTI: E-mailing to each other that this is going to be bad. And we, the scientific community, the medical community have to develop some real advice to policymakers to try to mitigate the potential damage.
TAPPER: "The projected size of the outbreak already seemed hard to believe," wrote the Department of Veterans Affairs' senior medical adviser. "You guys made fun of me screaming to close the schools. Now I'm screaming close the colleges and universities."
DAVID E. SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Exactly what came to past six weeks later, but at the time many in the Trump administration including the medical community 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. Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, just a little stroll gone bad. Pompeii, a bit of dust storm. Hiroshima, a bad summer heat wave. And Wuhan, just a bad flu season."
(On camera): 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 cleared to then go on to California. Then, Jake, they're going to spend anywhere from three to 14 days in quarantine.
TAPPER (voice-over): The president did something that he would do over and over again throughout this crisis -- offer a ray of hope, distant hope, retweeting, "Johnson and Johnson to create coronavirus vaccine." HABERMAN: Peter Navarro, the president's trade adviser, 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, one to two million deaths, as many as 500,000. He went through the economic cause which he predicted would be staggering in the trillions of dollars for the country.
The president was told of the existence of this memo, we've been told by sources, and he was irritated that these estimates had been put down on paper.
TAPPER: That memo was dated January 29th. A day that also brought this.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY: 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. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross declared the coronavirus would be good for the U.S.
WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: So I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.
TAPPER: And Trump again told the country everything was fine.
TRUMP: We think we have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment, five, and those people will all recuperate successfully.
COLLINS: 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.
CULVER: Struggling to communicate, Li spoke with CNN briefly by phone. You can hear the hospital machines pulsing in the background.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can barely breathe.
TAPPER: China's Supreme Court commented that if Li's warning a month earlier had been heeded and action taken, quote, "it might have been a fortunate thing for containing the new coronavirus."
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.
MURRAY: Their hearts just sink when they're trying to use this test and it's malfunctioning.
TAPPER: February began with a 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 stem 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 6th is when the CDC starts sending these test kits out to public health departments and you talk to the people in these public health departments, they're thrilled to get the tests. They worked over the weekend trying to get the tests to work. They see this as an opportunity to get ahead of the virus in their communities. They can figure out who's sick. They can trace the people those people have been in contact with. They can really get ahead of this.
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 this test over the weekend and it's malfunctioning.
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 did not need to do it. 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.
BRILLIANT: 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.
EVA LEE, PROFESSOR, GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY: We viewed (INAUDIBLE) models.
TAPPER: Those models projected that between two million and 10 million people in the U.S. would become infected. On February 9th she sent an e-mail 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 them. 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 virus and what they thought was a good potential for what might happen in the country. When I left that briefing that the administration gave to the governors, 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.
ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: I think this virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and you can start to think of it in the sense, like, seasonal flu. The only difference is we don't understand this virus.
TRUMP: Very small number of people in the country right now with it. It's, like, around 12. Many of them are getting better. Some 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: Public health officials were telling me, especially on the West Coast and states like Washington and California, they knew this virus was spreading in their communities. And they knew they couldn't test for it.
TAPPER: They were right. We would later learn that there were two coronavirus deaths in California by the middle of February. And two more at the end of the month around Seattle, Washington.
MURRAY: Over at the White House, Robert Redfield, who's 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 22nd, 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 tests were 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 their 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 zero, they were talking about 15 cases going to the thousands and then the tens of thousands and then the 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" e-mail that set off warning bells in the administration.
MAZZETTI: This is really a critical moment for this group that's studying the problem. They see an e-mail 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 on our screening and quarantine effort." 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 24th, 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.
COLLINS: 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 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 had 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 expectations that this could be bad.
MAZZETTI: The president was angry about that and said, why are they overplaying 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: Had the president been less concerned with what the warning sounded like and more concerned with the content of the warning, he might have concluded the CDC was right, and moved much more quickly to try to mitigate the effects. Try to prepare the American people.
TAPPER: Instead, the day the president returned from India he blamed the media tweeting that MSNBC and CNN are, quote, "doing everything possible to make the coronavirus look as bad as possible including panicking markets if possible," unquote.
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 zero, 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 had started these physical distancing measures a week earlier. The question will be asked, how many lives would have been saved?
According to some models they say, you know, 50, 60 percent of people within that first wave may not have become infected.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Do you think lives could have been saved if social distancing, physical distancing, stay-at-home measures, had start started third week of February instead of mid- March?
DR ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE (on camera): It's very difficult to go back and say that. I mean, obviously, you could logically say that 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 (voice-over): 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 27th a breakthrough in the form of a phone call arranged by Dr. Anthony Fauci.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): 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, have Redfield on this 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 (voice-over): 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.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (on camera): Mr. Secretary.
TAPPER (voice-over): The same day America reached a grim milestone.
ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY (on camera): Let me begin expressing our sadness for the loss of this patient in the state of Washington. TAPPER (voice-over): At the time, that was the first known COVID-19 death in the United States. Coming up --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES (on camera): Anybody that wants a test can get a test.
MURRAY: And that was a surprise to people at the CDC.
TAPPER (voice-over): Two months after the Trump administration first learned of the contagion taking over the globe, there were 72 known cases in the US and one known death. But that was about to change.
GUPTA (on camera): March was an explosive month for this virus in the United States.
TAPPER (voice-over): New evidence confirmed that the virus after entering Washington State and 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), NEW YORK (on camera): We're seeing what we expected, what we anticipated, which is a continuing spread.
TAPPER (voice-over): In a few short weeks, New York State's second case of COVID multiplied into hundreds, forming the nation's newest cluster.
TRUMP (on camera): We will continue to do exactly what we're doing.
TAPPER (voice-over): But back in Washington D.C., the President had yet to publicly admit the enormity of the unfolding virus.
TRUMP (on camera): A lot of very exciting things are happening and they're happening very rapidly.
TAPPER (voice-over): 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.
MARK MAZZETTI, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" (on camera): So this is a critical period of time where the Coronavirus continues to spread and no real Federal action is taken.
TAPPER (voice-over): States began competing for critical medical supplies and equipment. Come mid-March, supplies would become so scare, the CDC would issue guidelines to health care workers to reuse masks or even use bandanas if necessary.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): That was unthinkable before that point. No one in million years would ever have thought that in the United States of America, that we would tell doctors and nurses, "reuse your mask".
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" (on camera): 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 taskforce, Gerard Kushner, the President's son-in-law and senior advisor has been running what some have described as a shadow taskforce. That has left a lot of confusion as to exactly is responsible for helping procure PPE.
TAPPER (voice-over): Confusion that would continue to plague the Administration behind closed doors and in front of the cameras.
TRUMP (on camera): We'll consider different things but we'll also - considering that the fact that the SEU had a practically 36,000 deaths due to what's called the flu.
MURRAY (on camera): So the President visits a CDC and famously says, "anybody who" --
TRUMP (on camera): "Who wants a test can get a test".
MURRAY (on camera): 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 can get a test.
TRUMP (on camera): And the tests are all perfect, like the letter is perfect. The transcription was perfect, right?
GUPTA (on camera): The tests were flawed. The test didn't work and as a result, we lost valuable time. More people became infected. There were people walking around without any symptoms, no test and they were continuing to spread the virus.
TRUMP (on camera): It will go away, just stay calm.
TAPPER (voice-over): 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 (on camera): 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 (voice-over): And the World Health Organization officially named COVID-19 a pandemic.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The President was still contradicting what was actually happening.
MURRAY (voice-over): 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 this virus because it would further hurt the economy.
TAPPER (voice-over): Pushed by Democrats to more than triple his original request for funding.
TRUMP (on camera): I asked for two and a half, and I got 8.3. And I'll take it.
TAPPER (voice-over): 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 (on camera): Very well. But it's an unforeseen problem. What a problem. Came out of nowhere.
DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: 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, it's confusing at best, and it is - it's disastrous at worst.
TRUMP (on camera): Chloroquine. Hydroxychloroquine.
TAPPER (voice-over): But perhaps the most confounding comments by the President in March surrounded his touting of an untested treatment for the virus.
TRUMP (on camera): Hydroxychloroquine. That's - a lot of good things are happening with it.
TAPPER (voice-over): Which the FDA would later warn could cause serious heart issues.
TRUMP (on camera): We're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately. That would be a big game changer.
TAPPER (voice-over): 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 (on camera): Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that's been used with great success for decades against malaria, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis. It's basically an anti inflammatory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): Is there any evidence to suggest that, as with malaria, it might be used as a prophylaxis against COVID-19?
FAUCI (on camera): No. The answer is - is no.
TAPPER (voice-over): But the President was not the only one that month 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), CALIFORNIA (on camera): It's a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant.
COLLINS (on camera): There 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 advisers were saying the exact opposite.
TAPPER (voice-over): 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.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK (on camera): Excuse our arrogance as New Yorkers. We don't even think it's going to be as bad as it was in other countries.
AINSLEY EARHARDT, FOX NEWS HOST (on camera): Why is everyone panicking?
TAPPER (voice-over): And then there was the pro Trump media, which turned the pandemic into a conspiracy.
JESSE WATTERS, FOX NEWS HOST (on camera): I'm not afraid of the coronavirus.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST (on camera): They just looking for any and every way possible to bash President Trump.
MURRAY (on camera): 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.
TOMI LAHREN, FOX NEWS HOST (on camera): I am far more concerned with stepping on a used heroin needle than I am of getting the coronavirus.
TAPPER (voice-over): This disinformation took such a hold on a segment of the public, new polling data began to worry leaders in the President's party.
JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST (on camera): What the polling showed was that Republicans were taking this virus far less seriously than Democrats were. And what Newhouse (PH) circulated to Republicans was that their tone and their message had to change on coronavirus, because denial was not going to be a tool for survival.
TAPPER (voice-over): But strict social distancing measures were. And as infections spread, some state leaders would begin to enforce them without the help of the federal government.
GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON (on camera): And that's to reduce the social interactions that are not necessary in our lives.
GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO (on camera): In a moment, Dr. Acton will be signing an order banning the gathering together of people over 100 people.
TAPPER (voice-over): On March 13th, two days after the President announced travel restrictions on Europe, the President made his strongest stance against the virus yet.
TRUMP (on camera): For today, I am officially declaring a national emergency. Two very big words.
TAPPER (voice-over): The President, however, stopped short of the social distancing plan public health officials had been hoping for.
TRUMP (on camera): When you compare what we've done to other areas of the world, it's - it's pretty incredible.
TAPPER (voice-over): 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 (on camera): And when you say me, I didn't do it.
BETH CAMERON, VICE PRESIDENT, GLOBAL BIOLOGICAL POLICY AND PROGRAMS AT THE NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE (on camera): 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 (on camera): We'd much rather be ahead of the curve than behind it.
TAPPER (voice-over): March 16th, 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 (on camera): 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 (on camera): What is still so stunning is to realize that this was on March 16th. Recall that it was the end of February that his health advisers had started talking about putting these measures in place in the first place.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on camera): This is a war zone. It's a medical war zone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on camera): There's patients building up in all the corridors on oxygen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on camera): We're running out of medication. We're running out of equipment.
COHEN (on camera): I started receiving texts from doctors and nurses who I have known for decades, brave, brave people, saying, "I'm scared." One of them said, "What I'm seeing is Armageddon."
TAPPER (voice-over): On March 26th 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 authorize the Defense Production Act, which would allow him to force the manufacturing of ventilators.
MURRAY (voice-over): 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 (voice-over): 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 mask to be able to wear to see patients.
MURRAY (on camera): It was really perplexing and it still is perplexing why the administration took until March 27th to invoke the Defense Production Act.
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, FORMER HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY (on camera): The Defense 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.
TAPPER (voice-over): Next --
DAVID E. SANGER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES (on camera): So what happened?
TRUMP (on camera): We're not an ordering clerk. We're a backup.
SANGER (on camera): It became an unholy mess.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): America now the deadliest nation in confirmed coronavirus cases.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): A record-shattering 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment last week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The "USNS Comfort," hundreds of hospital beds on that ship, they're going to provide relief to New York hospitals overwhelmed with coronavirus.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): The city's system for burials is completely overwhelmed. The remains were loaded into trailers and brought to hard island for a temporary burial.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): It's like we're going to into a war without protection.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): Bring us our PPE now, we need it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on camera): And then the doctor took the phone and he said, "I'm sorry, but there's no more pulse."
TAPPER (voice-over): 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 (on camera): 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, (on camera): I think of all the briefings he has done, that was probably the best one, it 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 (on camera): Our country is in the midst of a great national trial unlike any we have ever faced before. They're shocking numbers when you see 100 and 120,000 and 200,000 people, over potentially a very short period of time.
HABERMAN (on camera): One of the ways in which he realized it was toward the end of march, watching Elmhurst 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 (voice-over): Five. Five ventilators. Oh, my god.
TRUMP (on camera): I grew up right next to it. To see the scenes of trailers out there, they're freezers. Nobody could even believe it.
TAPPER (voice-over): Along with the images of devastation, the president heard cries for help.
DR. COLLEEN SMITH, EMERGENCY ROOM DOCTOR ELMHURST HOSPITAL (on camera): It really just feels like it's too little too late. Like, we knew - we knew it was coming.
TRUMP (on camera): It's, like, military people going into battle. I would say you people are just incredible.
TAPPER (voice-over): Yet, just two days before the president was hurling insults at the caregivers.
TRUMP (on camera): Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000?
MAZZETTI (on camera): 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 (voice-over): It was the governors who President Trump had been attacking with a vengeance.
CUOMO (on camera): You need that ventilator.
TAPPER (voice-over): The president initially pushed back against their requests for more medical gear, saying they were asking for too much, and dismissed 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 2nd, the situation grew urgent, as New York surged to 84,000 cases, of the then-216,000 cases nationwide.
CUOMO (on camera): At the current burn rate, we have about six days of ventilators in our stockpile.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): A startling sign of the economic pain.
TAPPER (voice-over): This was also the day we learned 6.6 million workers filed for unemployment in the U.S. for the first time: a historic high, and a 3,000 per cent increase since early March. The president lashed out at governors on Twitter, calling them, quote, "The complainers."
TRUMP (on camera): The states should have been building their stockpile. We have almost 10,000 in our stockpile, and we've been building it, and we've been supplying it. But the states should be building. We're a backup, we're not an ordering clerk, we're a backup.
SANGER (on camera): 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 (voice-over): That's what happened to Massachusetts Republican governor Charlie Baker. His state's shipment of respiratory masks never made it.
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (R), MASSACHUSETTS (on camera): We had our 3 million masks that we had ordered confiscated in the port of New York.
CUOMO (on camera): Look at the bizarre situation we wind up in. It's like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator.
TAPPER (voice-over): A bizarre situation complicated by the president's son-in-law, also an adviser to the president.
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT (on camera): The federal stockpile was supposed to be our stockpile, it's not supposed to be states' stockpiles that they then use. HABERMAN (on camera): 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 described 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 fight with states.
TAPPER (voice-over): On April 2nd, 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 (on camera): The president has continued to secret criticism for the fact that he has not used the DPA more aggressively, while constantly point 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 (voice-over): There were unquestionably examples of the federal government's stepping up. The U.S. army corps of engineers built 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 3rd, the CDC put out a recommendation urging the public to wear cloth face masks. President Trump, however, said he would rather not.
TRUMP (on camera): I don't know. Somehow, I don't see it for myself.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was hardly the first time he ignored public health advice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on camera): You're shaking a lot of hands today, taking a lot of posed pictures. Are you protecting yourself at all?
TRUMP (on camera): Not at all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on camera): How are you staying away from germs?
TRUMP (on camera): No, not at all.
TAPPER (voice-over): By April 10th, 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 (on camera): We're leading the world, now, in testing, by far, and we're going to keep it that way.
TAPPER (voice-over): 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 (on camera): 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 (voice-over): On April 11th "The New York Times" ran an extensive investigation detailing Trump's mistakes during the crisis. Two days later --
TRUMP (on camera): The president of the United States calls the shots.
TAPPER (voice-over): -- Trump played a video during a press briefing that seemed to be blaming the press for downplaying the crisis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): Coronavirus is not going to cause a major issue in the United States.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR(voice-over): The same press he'd been attacking for over hyping the crisis in February.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on camera): 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 in February and in the beginning of March.
TAPPER (voice-over): White House reporters did not back down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on camera): Mr. President, you've just bought some time - the agreement is that you bought yourself some time and you didn't use it to prepare hospitals, you didn't use it ramp-up testing. Right now, nearly 20 million are --
TRUMP (on camera): You're so - you're so disgraceful. We have done a great job. Now --
MARK MAZZETTI, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" (on camera): 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 (voice-over): There was also this.
TRUMP (on camera): This is - when somebody's the President of the United States, the authority is total. And that's the way it's going to be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): Total? The authority's total?
TRUMP (on camera): Total.
COLLINS (on camera): Has any governor agreed that you have the authority to decide when their state opens back up?
TRUMP (on camera): I haven't asked anybody.
COLLINS (on camera): Then no one is in - no one has - -
TRUMP (on camera): You know why? Because they don't have to. Go ahead.
COLLINS (on camera): Of course, that is not the case. No one would agree with that, including the President conservative allies.
TAPPER (voice-over): The next day, April 14th, as Coronavirus cases in the US climbed to nearly 600,000, President Trump made another controversial decision.
TRUMP (on camera): Today, I'm instructing my Administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization. Some much death has been caused by their mistakes.
MAZZETTI (on camera): The fight with the WHO is in part just another element of looking to blame someone besides himself.
TAPPER (voice-over): There are some medical experts who believe the World Health Organization could have and should have acted sooner.
DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST (on camera): I worked for WHO for ten years. I think WHO was late in calling this a pandemic. I think the 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 the WHO was generous in its acceptance of the Chinese reports about when the epidemic began.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): People do 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 funding.
TAPPER (voice-over): There was plenty of finger pointing. In late April, Governor Andrew Cuomo admitted he wished he had raised flags earlier.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK (on camera): I would feel better sitting here today saying "I blew the bugle about Wuhan province in January". I can't say that.
TAPPER (voice-over): In early May, we learned that not even the White House itself was immune from the virus. Three top health officials, all members of the Administration's Coronavirus Taskforce entered either full or partial quarantine after one of Trump's valets and the Vice-President's press secretary tested positive for COVID-19.
The following week, on May 11th, the White House directed west wing staffers to begin wearing face masks at work, which reminded everyone of that recent day when Vice-President Mike Pence had been chastised for not following hospital policy at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Pence, who leads the White House Taskforce on the virus, wore no mask during his tour, even though all the officials around him did. The Vice-President later said he regretted that. And two days later, he had one on while visiting a ventilator factory in Indiana. But the President had no regrets in May when he was mask-less, touring a plant in Arizona that manufacturers medical masks.
TRUMP (on camera): They said you didn't it so if I needed it - and by the way, if you noticed, nobody else had it on that was in the group.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): Well, we just saw - -
TRUMP (on camera): And they were the people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): - - we saw the workers wearing them.
TRUMP (on camera): The workers had them on, yeah.
TAPPER (voice-over): By the middle of May, the President still didn't have one on, as he toured a PPE plant in Pennsylvania. Perhaps sending a message to the public that he did not think masks were necessary. On May 12th, during at times a combative senate hearing, the nation's most prominent health experts testified that the pandemic was far from contained. Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking remotely, warned that states and cities faced serious consequences if they opened up too quickly.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES (on camera): There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control which in fact, paradoxically, will set you back not only leading to some suffering and death that could be avoided, but could even set you back on the road to trying to get economic recovery but - which would only turn the clock back rather than going forward.
TRUMP (on camera): I was surprised by his answer actually.
TAPPER (voice-over): President Trump, who had been rallying for a swift reopening, and had just considered phasing out the Coronavirus Task Force before reversing course, criticized Dr. Fauci the next day.
TRUMP (on camera): Look, he wants to play all sides of the equation. I think we're going to have a tremendous fourth quarter. I think we're going to have a transitional third quarter. And I think we're going to have a phenomenal next year.
TAPPER (voice over): Contradictions. Conflicting messages.
TAPPER (voice over): Coming up. Where do we go now?
TRUMP (voice over) : We can't keep our country closed for the next five years.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on camera): Open our state!
TRUMP (on camera): The people aren't going to accept it. They won't accept it. And they shouldn't accept it.
TAPPER (voice over): April 2020.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): The death toll as of this morning has doubled in just the last three days.
TAPPER (voice-over): America was hurting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): New unemployment filings.
TAPPER (voice-over): Record unemployment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): 6,648,000 people last week filed for unemployment --
TAPPER (voice-over): Ballooning debt, an economic recession.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The current reality is beyond painful.
TAPPER (voice-over): Not a good equation for a President running for re-election.
COLLINS (on camera): He's frustrated by what we've seen happen in the stock market. The numbers he knows of job losses and people who have filed for unemployment are through the roof and they are going to potentially be incredibly damaging to him in November and that's his fear.
TAPPER (voice-over): So, the President wanted to push governors to restart the economy, at least in part to resuscitate his re-election campaign. And the only way to do both? Re-open the country as soon as possible.
But that seemed unrealistic when models were predicting 100,000 or 200,000 deaths. According to the "Washington Post," an impatient President Trump sought different data, which some White House economic advisers delivered.
TAPPER (on camera): The "Washington Post" is reporting that the White House, led by economic adviser Kevin Hassett, built a different coronavirus model which aides interpreted to show deaths would have already peaked and that there would be far fewer fatalities than initially foreseen.
The "Washington Post" is reporting that this presentation affirmed skepticism within the West Wing about what people like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield and Dr. Birx were saying, health experts were saying, about the severity of the crisis. Is that true? LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC COUNCIL (on camera): You
know, as Kevin himself, Kevin Hassett himself, said in that story, that is not true, Jake, absolutely not true. What he was doing was taking the Gates model from the University of Washington and basically smoothing it out to show what is actually happening.
There's a difference between a forecast trend and what has actually happened. So, we didn't change anything based on that.
TRUMP (on camera): We want to have our country open. We want to return to normal life. Our country is going to be open.
TAPPER (voice-over): On April 16th the administration announced a plan.
TRUMP (on camera): Our team of experts now agrees that we can begin the next front in our war.
TAPPER (voice-over): With no vaccine yet on the horizon, the country had to increase testing and contact tracing capability, decreasing cases over 14 days.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Test and then isolate the person who is infected, trace all the contacts, quarantine them. But we didn't do the first part of this well enough and that's affected everything else down downstream.
MURRAY (on camera): I think one of the striking things is that there doesn't seem to be kind of an effort to get if front of that. It's always like the U.S. has been a couple of steps behind.
TAPPER (voice-over): But the country has struggled with testing since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Testing was initially limited to small groups, health care workers, people who had known contact with a sick patient, or - this is crucial - people with symptoms.
But now in order to re-open the country and prevent further outbreaks, the country needs lots of tests. Because, as scientists announced in mid-April, people might be most contagious two to three days before they develop symptoms. When they're asymptomatic.
DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR (on camera): What's really critical is this constant sentinel surveillance for asymptomatic individuals.
TAPPER (voice-over): Constant surveillance and widespread testing so those with the virus can be quickly identified and immediately isolated from the rest of us to stop the spread. And according to one study by Harvard's Center for Ethics, the United States needs at least 500,000 tests to be conducted every day in order to safely re-open. Maybe even more than that.
GUPTA (on camera): We probably, in this country, need to be testing one to two million people a day ultimately.
BRILLIANT (on camera): I think we're going to have to have 300 or 500 million tests before we get out of this, sufficient quantity of good tests with high quality, easily available to anyone who wants one.
TRUMP (on camera): We're testing more than anybody and you --
TAPPER (voice-over): And listening to President Trump speak about testing in mid-April, it sounded as though the U.S. had both quantity and quality.
TRUMP (on camera): We have a great testing system. We have the best right now, the best testing system in the world.
TAPPER (voice-over): But that claim does not square with the facts and what the experts were saying.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is raising questions about the nation's readiness, telling the Associated Press more Coronavirus testing is needed, saying, "We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on and we're not there yet."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): So, they are --
TRUMP (on camera): Excuse me. Excuse me. I know your question. The governors are supposed to do testing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): Let's get back --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): That's not the question.
TRUMP (on camera): Quiet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): The question --
TRUMP (on camera): Quiet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The question --
TAPPER (voice-over): The president also continued to clash with the governors who the president felt should be in charge of testing, but the argued as they did with ventilators and PPE, that they don't have the power of the Defense Production Act.
CUOMO (on camera): We're going to need testing, more testing, faster testing, than we now have.
TAPPER (voice-over): Only the president has that power to force companies to get testing up to speed. Only he has the power to force companies to make tests. Testing reagents and swabs. To hire lab workers, and to manufacture lab equipment.
GOV. ROY COOPER (D) NORTH CAROLINA (on camera): More help is needed from the federal government on testing.
GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R) MARYLAND (on camera): This is probably the number-one problem in America and has been from the beginning of this crisis.
MAZZETTI (on camera): This tension between state government and federal government, that has always existed since the founding of our country, but this is now life and death, and this question of who should I rely on to keep me alive?
COLLINS (on camera): We actually spoke with several of the president's political advisers who say that they believe the reason the president is pushing the responsibility for testing off on states is that then the president won't be the one to deal with the fallout if there is any.
TRUMP (on camera): Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): On testing, how --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Mr. President --
TAPPER (voice-over): This was a back and forth between the president and the governors that created gridlock and confusion.
MAZZETTI (on camera): It's hard to argue that there hasn't been lost time in this fight over who should be responsible and who's to blame.
GUPTA (on camera): It's frustrating. In some ways it's disheartening because we can do this.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Tens of thousands of protesters are promising to show up to the Capitol here to protest the stay-at-home order.
TAPPER (voice-over): What happened on April 17th certainly didn't help.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Those protests encouraged by the president, himself.
TAPPER (voice-over): When President Trump took to Twitter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Tweeting, all in caps, "liberate Minnesota, liberate Michigan, liberate Virginia."
TRUMP (on camera): These are great people. They've got cabin fever. They want to get back. They want their life back.
HABERMAN (on camera): He sees some benefit in bolstering this anti- government message. He is encouraging people to go against what their own governors have said.
TAPPER (voice-over): Even encouraging protesters to go against the White House's own guidelines.
HOGAN (on camera): To encourage people to go protest the plan that you just made recommendations on, it just doesn't make any sense. We're sending completely conflicting messages out. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): That's
been one of the issues throughout this entire outbreak is that even though we're called the United States of America, that when it comes to all of these strategies for putting a stop to this outbreak, we have not been very united.
TRUMP (on camera): Working very hard with governors now on testing. I'm going to help them out.
TAPPER (voice-over): The president and the governors seem to unite around testing a few days later.
TRUMP (on camera): Preparing to use the Defense Production Act to increase swab production.
TAPPER (voice-over): The president planned to use the DPA to force production of desperately needed swabs for testing. Federal testing labs were offered for some states to use. And the latest economic relief bill allocated $25 billion for testing.
So, by the end of April, diagnostic testing was progressing, though still nowhere near where it needed to be according to health experts.
DR. STEPHEN HAHN, FDA COMMISSIONER (on camera): We are working with more than 400 test developers, 220 labs around the country.
TRUMP (on camera): Ultimately, we're doing more testing I think, than probably any of the governors even want.
TAPPER (voice-over): Four days later the White House announced a blueprint for testing. Putting the responsibility back in the hands of the states.
TRUMP (on camera): We have enough testing to begin re-opening and the re-opening process. We want to get our country open.
TAPPER (voice-over): A plan that had the administration taking a victory lap.
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (on camera): 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 (on camera): The federal government has done a spectacular job.
TAPPER (voice-over): But the plan had medical experts reacting quite differently.
GUPTA (on camera): The White House plan calls for around 7 million a month. We're talking about a million a day. So, you can 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 (on camera): It isn't perfect, and 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 (voice-over): And they'll need to because the only true end to this pandemic, the holy grail, a vaccine, is still on the horizon.
GUPTA (on camera): 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 (voice-over): All of this is a race against time, to reopen, to get back to some semblance 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 (on camera): The virus.
TAPPER (voice over): -- such as downplaying the threat and severity of the pandemic.
TRUMP (on camera): The theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. Hope that's true.
TAPPER (voice over: 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 (on camera): What do you have to lose? Take it.
TAPPER (voice over): Then announcing mid-May that he's actually taking the drug himself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on camera): Hydroxychloroquine?
TRUMP (on camera): I'm taking it. Hydroxychloroquine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (on camera): When?
TRUMP (on camera): Right now, yeah. Couple of weeks ago I started taking it.
GUPTA (on camera): It's terribly irresponsible. It sets a bad example, and may be even dangerous.
TAPPER (voice over): And, of course, there was the disinfectant situation.
TRUMP (on camera): Then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets on the lungs, and it does a tremendous number
on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that. So that -- you're going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds -- it sounds interesting to me.
TAPPER (voice over): Another unbelievable and perplexing moment.
COHEN (on camera): Of all the questionable things that President Trump has said about coronavirus, this one takes the cake. To think that bleach could cure someone of coronavirus is ludicrous. Using a bleach product can clean things: we've used it on our kitchen floor, we use it to clean our bathtub; that doesn't mean it's going to cure coronavirus.
Not only is it ludicrous, it's actually dangerous. Sometimes there are people who take what the president says literally.
TRUMP (on camera): Injection.
TAPPER (voice over: In fact, people did call hotlines asking if they should be injecting disinfectant.
ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST (on camera): This idea 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 (voice over): Requiring doctors, public officials, and health organizations to shift their focus from fighting COVID-19 and spend time actually warning the public not to inject disinfectant.
HAHN (on camera): I certainly wouldn't recommend the internal ingestion of a disinfectant.
TAPPER (voice over): We wanted to ask the White House about all of this, but they declined to participate in this documentary.
Getting answers from the Trump administration is in many ways getting more difficult. News continues to come out that the president has apparently been weeding out and replacing truth-tellers and government watchdogs, such as the woman who had been running the office of the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): President Trump's new pick to be the next Health and Human Services inspector general is Jason Weida.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): If confirmed, he'll replace Christi Grimm, who angered President Trump last month with a report on hospitals lacking protective equipment.
TAPPER (voice over): And then the reassignment of a reported whistle- blower, former vaccine director Rick Bright.
DR. RICK BRIGHT, FORMER VACCINE DIRECTOR (on camera): Time is running out because the virus is still spreading everywhere.
TAPPER (voice over): Administration officials who claimed they were telling truths that apparently President Trump did not want told.
BRIGHT (on camera): Congressmen, I'll never forget the emails I received from Mike Bowen, indicating that our mask supply or N95 respirator supply was completely decimated. And he said, "We're in deep shit. The world is. And we need to act," and I pushed that forward to the highest levels I could in HHS, and got no response.
TRUMP (on camera): I watched him, and he looked like an angry, disgruntled, employee who, frankly, according to some people, didn't do a very good job.
TAPPER (voice over): It's a contradictory back-and-forth that has plagued the response to this pandemic since day one.
(SIRENS AND APPLAUSE)
So, for now, Americans need to keep their eyes looking straight ahead to the finish line, listening to the experts, and not getting distracted by confusing and unfounded messages.
BRILLIANT (on camera): I don't think there's only one path to defeat COVID. We need our leaders to be focused, serious, honest, to be able to deal with new, fast-moving scientific information.
That's the path to defeat COVID.
TAPPER (on camera): Why now, in the middle of this pandemic, are we taking a look and investigating the record? Well, while we were producing this documentary, the United States hit a grim milestone. More than 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with COVID-19. A startling number that reminds us every day how lives are literally at stake.
This month we have already passed a death toll - 90,000 - that not long ago it was projected the U.S. would not hit until after August. And that's the reason that we're investigating now. Not because we want to point fingers, or blame the Chinese government, or governors or President Trump.
The reason that we look back now is so the same mistakes are not repeated as these numbers, sadly, continue to rise. And just in case there is another outbreak, later in the year or next year. We want to get the facts on the record, and the time to do that 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.