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CNN Special Reports

The Pandemic and The President. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired September 05, 2020 - 22:00   ET


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And then he just squandered it.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What did the president say.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: It's one day it disappear. One day, it's like a miracle and will disappear.

TAPPER: And did it match reality?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: A CDC official said publicly that it was not a question of if this virus spreads but when.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're running out of medication. 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 special report, The Pandemic and The President.

In April, a team of us at CNN decided to take a look at the COVID-19 outbreak and how the United States was fighting this deadly virus. Incredibly, we're back here months later with a new investigation and, sorry to say, in many ways, things are much worse for much of the country and all of us are at risk because of that.

How did this possibly happen? Well, one possible reason, White House lies and White House denials. As in June, when Vice President Mike Pence declared, quote, we slowed the spread, we flattened the curve, we saved lives, unquote, and in April, when President Trump's top adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said the Trump administration had, quote, rose to the challenge and this is a great success story, unquote.

Well, the truth, according to official records, the United States has ended up with the biggest number of cases in the world.

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 officials in the administration.

TAPPER: The Chinese government reported dozens of cases of pneumonia in the city of Wuhan, closed down a market is 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.

TAPPER: As CNN International Correspondent, David Culver, found out.

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was back in late December when Li first warned friend 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 up 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, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: 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 most importantly for Mr. Pottinger, this problem is coming to you.

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: On January 6th, Robert Redfield offers to send help, including CDC scientists to China, to look into the virus, to work with the World Health Organization. China does not want a CDC scientist 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, 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 leave U.S. infectious disease experts somewhat in the dark.

DR. NANCY MESSONNIER, DIRECTOR OF CDC'S NATIONAL CENTER FOR IMMUNIZATION AND RESPIRATORY DISEASES: 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, 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, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: They were calling attention to the threat of the coronavirus in a way that amounts to a fairly steady drum beat 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.

MAZZETTI: The president went into this year with this 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 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: But 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: Okay. 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 that we need to know with China?

TRUMP: I do, I do. I have a great relationship with President Xi. We just signed probably the biggest deal ever made, in terms of -- it 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: But we got it done and -- no, I do. I think the relationship is very good.

MAZZETTI: This period of time was a period of real cross-currents 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 re-election 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 asked the White House to participate in this documentary, but they declined.

On January 24th, Chinese authorities initiated a lockdown of 30 million people in ten 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 professionals across the government were tracking what was happening in China and getting alarmed.

TAPPER: Some were sharing their fears in an email chain dubbed Red Dawn, originated by Duane Kaneva, 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, 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 seems hard to believe, wrote a 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 SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: 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. Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, just a little stroll gone bad, Pompeii, a bit of a dust storm, Hiroshima, a bad summer heat wave, and Wuhan, just a bad flu season.

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 3 to 14 days in quarantine.

TAPPER: The president did something that he would do over and over again throughout this crisis, offer a ray of hope, distant hope, re- tweeting, Johnson & 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, 1 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 had been put down on paper.

TAPPER: That memo was dated January 29th, a day that also brought this. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: 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 restriction. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross declared the coronavirus would be good for the U.S.

WILBUR ROSS, U.S. SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: 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 are all recuperating successfully.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: 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, Li spoke with CNN briefly by phone. You can hear the hospital machines pulsing in the background.

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.

Next --

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 bang.

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

TAPPER: The restriction stopped most Chinese residence 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 viruses 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 do 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.


TAPPER: Those models projected that between 2 and 10 million people in the U.S. would become infected. On February 9th, 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 them. Every action counts.

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

TRUMP: Thank you. 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-MD): 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: It 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, CDC DIRECTOR: 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 and you can start to think of it in a 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, in 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 month around Seattle, Washington.

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 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 email 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 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 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 that 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 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 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 expectation 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.

TAPPER: 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 that the CDC was right and moved much more quickly to trying to mitigate the effects, trying to prepare to 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.

TAPPER: Do you think lives could have been saved if social distancing, physical distancing, stay-at-home measures had started third week February instead of mid-March.

FAUCI: 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: 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.

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 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 need 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.


TAPPER: The same day America reached a grim milestone.

ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Let me begin expressing our sadness for the loss of this patient in the state of Washington.

TAPPER: At the time, that was the first known COVID-19 death in the United States. Coming up --


TRUMP: Anyone who wants a test can get a test.

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



DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody that wants a test can get a test. SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that was a surprise to

people at the CDC.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Two months after the Trump administration first learned that 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.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: 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.


MARK MAZZETTI, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: So this is a critical period of time where the coronavirus continues to spread and no real federal actions is taken.

TAPPER: States begin 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 MEDICAL 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 masks.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: 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 giving the instruction. We're also considering the fact that let's say, you have practically 36,0000 deaths due to what's called the flu.

MURRAY: So the President visits the CDC and famously says, anybody who wants a test can get 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 can get a test.

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

GUPTA: The tests were flawed. The tests 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 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: They asked me 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: Very well that it's an unforeseen problem. What a problem. Came out of nowhere.

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Every epidemiologists 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's just disastrous at worse.

TRUMP: Chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine.

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

TRUMP: Chloroquine, 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.

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 no.


TAPPER: 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-CA): It's a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 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.

JESSE WATTERS, FOX NEWS HOST: 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 needles than I am getting the coronavirus.

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

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: What the polling showed was that Republicans were taking this virus far less seriously than Democrats were and when nuance 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: 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): That's to reduce the social interactions that are not necessary in our lives.

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

TAPPER: On March 13, President Trump made his strongest stance against the virus yet.

TRUMP: For today, I am officially declaring a National Emergency. Two very big words.

TAPPER: That same day the European travel ban he had announced two days earlier went into effect.

TRUMP: We will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. TAPPER: In only the second Oval office address of his administration,

the President had misstated his own plan to the nation, leaving out the key fact that the restrictions did not apply to cargo or to U.S. citizens traveling home.

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

TAPPER: Still some called the ban, draconian but what the administration had failed to realize or simply ignored according to an investigation by The Washington Post, was that it was already too late.

The virus had been spreading wildly throughout Europe for months and the travel ban immediately triggered an uptick of travel into the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it's very crowded which is not ideal considering what this contagion is.

TAPPER: Chaos erupted at overcrowded and unprepared airports filled with American passengers desperately fleeing for home, many of them bringing the virus with them. This critical misstep among others might have been avoided had the Trump administration kept the White House pandemic office which it reorganized in 2018, fully intact. Those seasoned pandemic experts according to its 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, 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 ten 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's 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'm 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 authorize the Defense Production Act which would allow him to force the manufacturing of ventilators.

MURRAY: 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 N95 mass to be able to wear to see patients.

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

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY, 2009-2014: 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.



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's system for burials is completely overwhelmed. The remains were loaded into trailers and brought to Heart Island for a temporary burial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like we're going into a 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 of all 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. This is shocking numbers when you see a 100,000 - 120,000 and 200,000 people over potentially a very short period of time.

HABERMAN: One of the ways in which he realized it was toward the end of March watching this 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: Five. 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.

DR. COLLEEN SMITH, EMERGENCY DOCTOR, ELMHURST HOSPITAL: That really just feels like it's too little too late like we knew, we knew what 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? They're 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 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 of the then 216,000 cases nationwide.

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

TAPPER: The President lashed out at governors on Twitter calling them "the complainers."

TRUMP: The states should have been building their stockpile. We have almost 10,000 in our stockpile and we've been building 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: 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: Well, the federal stockpile was supposed to be our stockpile, it's not supposed to be state stockpiles that they 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 stockpiles, 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 use 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 U.S. 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. But the White House also had to contend with another crisis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Startling sign of the economic pain.

TAPPER: 6.6 million workers filed for unemployment in the U.S. for the first time, a historic high and a 3000 percent increase since early March, ballooning debt, an economic recession.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hard reality is beyond painful.

TAPPER: Not a good equation for a President running for re-election.

COLLINS: 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're going to potentially be incredibly damaging to him in November and that's his fear.

TAPPER: 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, reopen 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's sought different data which some White House economic advisers delivered.

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 the 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 are saying about the severity of the crisis, is that true?

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC COUNCIL: You know 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 is actually happened.

So we didn't change anything based on that.

TRUMP: We want to have our country open. We want to return to normal life. Our country is going to be open.

TAPPER: 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.

REPRTER: You were 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: With no vaccine yes it's on the horizon, the country had increased testing in contact tracing capability, decreasing cases over 14 days.

GUPTA: 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 downstream.

MURRAY: I think one of the striking thing is that there doesn't seem to be kind of an effort to get in front of that, it's always like the U.S. is that a couple of steps behind.

TAPPER: The country had 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 for this is crucial people with symptoms.

But in order to reopen the country and prevent further outbreaks the United States needed lots of tests. Because the scientists announced in mid-April people might be most contagious two to three days before they develop symptoms.