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CNN Special Reports
Fight for the White House: Donald Trump's Presidency. Aired 1- 2a ET
Aired November 01, 2020 - 01:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): President Donald J. Trump, the unconventional, unpredictable businessman, was no different in his first term
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm proud of the extraordinary progress over the last four incredible years.
TAPPER (voice-over): Shattering norms.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is completely disruptive and different than anything you've ever seen before.
TAPPER (voice-over): Breaking boundaries.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He would turn on them in a very aggressive way, in a way that I've never seen or heard of presidents doing before.
TAPPER (voice-over): And demolishing expectations of behavior for a President of the United States.
TAPPER: Does working for President Trump ultimately mean you have to agree with him all the time if you want to keep your job?
TAPPER (voice-over): A president who seems to thrive in division.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump.
PROTESTERS: Is a racist.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump.
PROTESTERS: Is a racist.
TAPPER (voice-over): Whether those who hate him or celebrate him, a look now at the moments that defined Donald J. Trump's first term, the issues he vowed to tackle...
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Build that wall.
Repeal and replace ObamaCare.
His massive tax cuts will be rocket fuel for the American economy. Those miners get ready because you're going to be working your asses
off, all right?
TAPPER (voice-over): -- the crises he has faced...
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We will defeat the virus and emerge stronger than ever before.
TAPPER (voice-over): Hear from the people who were there.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I was in the early meetings in the Oval Office.
TAPPER (voice-over): In the rooms where it happened.
TAPPER: Why does he seem to like Putin?
This is a CNN Special Report. "Fight for the White House: Donald Trump's Presidency."
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Together we will crush the virus.
TAPPER (voice-over): Against the backdrop of the global pandemic, President Trump was making his case for a second term. And from the looks of it, no real concerns about an extremely contagious and deadly virus.
S.E. CUPP, CNN HOST: What the White House was trying to do was say, look, we believe that COVID's gone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You saw Donald Trump try to put lipstick on a pig last night.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We will defeat the virus, end the pandemic.
IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: I have witnessed him make some of the most difficult decisions of his life.
TAPPER (voice-over): But there might have been an accidental clue that this was not the whole story.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thanks to advances we have pioneered the fatality rate.
TAPPER (voice-over): "Pioneered the fatality rate"?
In fact, President Trump and his administration have been pioneers of a mishandled response and flawed leadership from the very beginning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New details on the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China and spreading across the globe.
TAPPER (voice-over): As early as January, President Trump was warned about the novel coronavirus, according to author Bob Woodward. In a January 28th briefing, national security adviser Robert O'Brien told President Trump COVID-19 would be the, quote, "biggest national security threat of his presidency."
President Trump says he does not remember that briefing. There were also briefings with other intelligence and public health officials. "The Washington Post" White House reporter and CNN contributor Josh Dawsey.
JOSH DAWSEY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: (INAUDIBLE) Alex Azar called to brief the president and they talked about it briefly and the president soon moved the conversation to vaping. And Azar later said to others that he was quite frustrated.
CONWAY: I was in the early meetings in the Oval Office.
TAPPER (voice-over): Former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, however, tells a different story.
CONWAY: He did take it serious. I mean, he banned travel from China in January.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Nobody thought we should do it. Zero cases, zero deaths.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was not a full ban on travel from China. Tens of thousands of people were allowed to travel to the U.S. even after it was ordered.
Perhaps more importantly, President Trump was publicly dismissing the threat, with CDC efforts to come up with a test botched and no comprehensive effort to identify and isolate the virus nationwide.
Still, the president would continue to point to partial travel bans to argue that he was on the case. CNN's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: If you talk to experts, by the time that the president put those in place, the virus was already circulating inside the United States.
TAPPER (voice-over): All of this was accompanied by a nearly daily barrage of presidential lies.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We have it totally under control, it's one person coming in from China.
We think we have it very well under control.
ERIC LIPTON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": The consensus among his own health experts was that we needed to shift to a strategy of trying to limit the number of illnesses and deaths instead of just trying to block it from entering the United States.
TAPPER (voice-over): "The New York Times" investigative reporter Eric Lipton.
LIPTON: Trump was unwilling to accept that advice.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.
TAPPER (voice-over): Throughout February, Trump dismissed concerns the coronavirus was worse than the flu but it turns out privately he was saying something very different.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: You just breathe the air. That's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than your, you know, even your strenuous flus.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump says he downplayed the virus so as to prevent the American people from panicking and he continued to downplay it in early March.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.
TAPPER (voice-over): A message at odds with health experts. Cases kept increasing and increasing.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The coronavirus death toll that jumped again today.
TAPPER (voice-over): Finally on March 11th, the day Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, became the first high-profile Americans to announce they had tested positive and the NBA shut down its season, Trump set out to reassure a very nervous nation.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: My fellow Americans --
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The president was uncomfortable heading into it.
TAPPER (voice-over): "The New York Times" White House correspondent and CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman.
HABERMAN: The president looked unfamiliar with the material as he was reading it. It contained at least three errors.
PHILLIP: That speech was probably the single-most important moment in the U.S. response to the coronavirus but for all the wrong reasons.
TAPPER (voice-over): CNN's Abby Phillip.
PHILLIP: It really highlighted that the administration was not prepared to deal with the crisis.
ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It was an historic day on Wall Street.
TAPPER (voice-over): The next day, the New York stock exchange halted trading for 15 minutes after the SNP 500 fell 7 percent. The White House scrambled to try to fix the errors about travel bans and insurance coverage. Then one day later -- PRESIDENT TRUMP: Today I am officially declaring a national
TAPPER (voice-over): The country had lost two months, really, to ramp up testing and production of key supplies, such as PPE or ventilators.
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: He had that at his fingertips.
TAPPER (voice-over): President Trump, says presidential historian Tim Naftali, could have nationalized the response and invoked the Defense Production Act to immediately force companies to manufacture what was needed.
NAFTALI: He had an opportunity with COVID-19 to use the enormous power of the presidency in a moment of national crisis.
TAPPER (voice-over): Governors were left to fend for their states.
GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): It was just mass pandemonium.
TAPPER (voice-over): Maryland Republican governor Larry Hogan.
HOGAN: It was a 50-state strategy. Some states doing better than others.
TAPPER (voice-over): Hogan secretly sourced half a million tests for his state from South Korea.
COLLINS: I asked the president about that at a briefing we had.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Could have saved a lot of money but that's OK.
COLLINS: Did he need to go to South Korea --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, I don't think he needed to go to South Korea. I think he needed to get a little knowledge would have been helpful.
COLLINS: He'd been assuring that testing was amazing in the United States and the question was, well, if that's true, then why is the governor of Maryland having to go to another country?
TAPPER (voice-over): Testing was lagging far behind, despite the president's spin.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Anybody that wants a test can get a test. That's what --
TAPPER (voice-over): That was a lie.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I said earlier today that I hope we can do this by Easter.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump then tried to pressure governors to open up their states and their economies.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I really do believe a lot of the governors should be opening up states.
TAPPER: What mistakes do you think have been made by the president?
CONWAY: Allowing some of the governors to make decisions and mayors to make decisions about whether and when to lockdown and how the lockdown also made this more fraught.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was not a health strategy. It was a political strategy. Allowing the White House to blame the governors no matter what and accept zero responsibility.
This while the president also sought to undermine the nation's leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, for telling the truth, including acknowledging the fact that the president's delay in action cost lives.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: 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.
TAPPER (voice-over): The president tried to control the message, minimizing the risk.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Young people are almost immune to this disease.
TAPPER (voice-over): Pushing unproven potentially dangerous drugs to treat COVID-19, such as hydroxychloroquine.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: What do you have to lose?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'll say it again, what do you have to lose?
TAPPER (voice-over): Or this jaw-dropping moment.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: 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?
TAPPER (voice-over): The president's briefings ended for a while and he let the experts take the lead. He pushed guidelines on social distancing and wearing a mask. And he finally wore a mask himself.
The Trump administration did eventually invoke the DPA for key supplies, such as testing swabs. Progress has been made when it comes to treatments and the Trump administration is optimistic about developing a vaccine.
CONWAY: Dr. Francis Collins, who spent decades at NIH alongside Dr. Anthony Fauci, Jake, has said that he's never seen vaccine therapies come together so quickly in the way that they are.
TAPPER (voice-over): The facts sadly speak for themselves. The U.S., with less than 5 percent of the world's population, has a much higher case count and death count than the rest of the Western world.
We wanted to ask President Trump about all of this and more but he turned down repeated requests for an interview.
Recently, the president seems to be back to undermining efforts to save lives, whether through holding events with seemingly no social distancing or required mask wearing or frequently mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don't wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from it and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen.
TAPPER (voice-over): Just days after that comment, President Trump himself was diagnosed with the virus.
Coming up, the quality Donald Trump values perhaps the most.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT TRUMP: You know, some of these people have like a 10 percent loyalty, meaning, if they sneeze in the wrong direction, they're gone. Loyalty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Good morning. Welcome to your "NEW DAY." It is Monday, December 19th.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Texas electors sealing the deal for Donald Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump's victory official today.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was the day Trump's win was officially certified by the Electoral College. The president elect was reportedly celebrating with top aides at his private club in Palm Beach, Florida. The conversation turned to whom he should hire.
PHILLIP: They focused on campaign advisers and supporters who had been loyal to him during the 2016 campaign at a time when most Republicans were trying to distance themselves from him.
DAWSEY: The dinner has certainly been consistent with everything we've seen from this president. He has been obsessed.
TAPPER (voice-over): Obsessed with loyalty. He always has been. Here he is in 1980.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I learned that there were some great loyal people and I've learned that there were some people that could have been more loyal. And those people I have discarded totally.
TAPPER (voice-over): And once Donald Trump became president, he didn't just look for it; he demanded it.
NAFTALI: It's a tradition that presidents bring a little clique with them, whether it's the Boston mafia of John F. Kennedy, the Georgia mafia of Jimmy Carter.
Loyalty is not new in the White House.
TAPPER (voice-over): But Trump's brand of loyalty was new.
DAWSEY: The Trump people said, essentially, if we can ever find that you publicly posted something negative about the president, you were very unlikely to get a position.
PHILLIP: I have never heard that kind of vetting of people for negative comments about the president in their past lives.
TAPPER (voice-over): His early hires were loyalists throughout the campaign and in the early months of the presidency. He did hire a few one-time opponents, who have been loyal since.
BEN CARSON, HUD SECRETARY: Thank you, Mr. President.
Including Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson.
CARSON: Our president, Donald J. Trump, he makes promises and he keeps them.
TAPPER (voice-over): And Secretary of Energy, former governor Rick Perry.
RICK PERRY, ENERGY SECRETARY: Mr. President, I know there are people that say you said you were the chosen one and you were.
TAPPER (voice-over): But it would not take long for President Trump to learn others' loyalty was fleeting.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER TRUMP COMMS DIRECTOR: It is a very, very good idea who the leakers are, who the senior leakers are in the White House.
TAPPER (voice-over): Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was hired six months into Trump's presidency to weed out disloyal leakers.
SCARAMUCCI: There were three or four people that were probably the biggest leakers and he wanted them gone. So loyalty goes one way towards him.
TAPPER (voice-over): This demand for loyalty could be a problem when it seemed to supersede ethics.
NAFTALI: Loyalty means you do what I need you to do, even if it's unethical. You work for me. That may be a good strategy if you run a small private business. But it's absolutely unacceptable for a constitutional officer in a republic.
ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: He immediately tests you to see if you are going to be on his side or if you're going to be his enemy.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was an unfamiliar situation for someone such as Andrew McCabe, then acting director of the FBI. He had served four administrations at the FBI for both Republican and Democratic presidents.
MCCABE: As career government servants dedicated first and foremost to the Constitution and to the rule of law, those folks are not going to simply accede to the president's will.
TAPPER: Does working for President Trump ultimately mean you have to agree with him all the time if you want to keep your job?
MCCABE: Yes, I think that's the case. They're going to do what they think is their job. And that is a very tough decision for people to make. And it's one that will likely bring you great personal pain and sacrifice. And so if you are committed to doing that work, you're likely going to run headlong into a conflict with President Trump.
JEFF SESSIONS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaign for President of the United States.
TAPPER: For instance, Jeff Sessions, an incredibly loyal guy but made one decision complying with ethics suggestions from DOJ. And that's it. He's dead to President Trump.
SCARAMUCCI: He could run you over with a steamroller at any time. "I need you to do things and I need you to be willing to take the blame for me when things go poorly."
TAPPER (voice-over): Perhaps contributing to unprecedented turnover; 89 percent of his senior staff, Trump's A team, have left. That's more turnover than all of the past five presidents had in their entire first terms.
And one more number: Trump has had 40 percent of his top positions replaced more than once.
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: There were a lot --
there were some people that weren't qualified but they had been loyal to the president.
TAPPER (voice-over): And when people have left, several formers found themselves eventually speaking out against President Trump.
REX TILLERSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It was challenging for me to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn't read briefing reports.
GEN. JAMES MATTIS, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The only person in the military that Mr. Trump doesn't think is overrated is Colonel Sanders.
TAPPER (voice-over): The ultimate betrayal for Trump, who resorted to name calling. Former national security adviser John Bolton, "a wacko." Former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, "the world's mostly overrated general." Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, "dumb as a rock."
PHILLIP: He would turn on them in a really aggressive way, in a way that I've never seen or heard of presidents doing before.
DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: I think, you know, turnover is natural in any White House.
TAPPER (voice-over): Former Trump adviser David Urban.
URBAN: I think this administration may be more high pressure, more issues that are pressing.
TAPPER: A demand for loyalty that Trump relied on for what he hoped to be his first big policy win, repealing and replacing ObamaCare.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We have so many unbelievable alternatives, much less expensive. Much less --
NAFTALI: I think Donald Trump believed that his iron grip on Republican voters would get him all Republican votes.
TAPPER (voice-over): Two months after the Trump inauguration, the Republicans had a bill that would begin the dismantling of ObamaCare.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bill is passed and without objection.
TAPPER (voice-over): And while the bill did make it through the House, the Senate posed some issues.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): I think the bill would have to be fundamentally changed.
TAPPER (voice-over): The Senate bill was known as "skinny repeal" going into that vote in July 2017. Trump's hopes for success rested with Arizona Republican senator John McCain, whom Trump had attacked for years.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: He's not a war hero.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a war hero --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: He's a war hero --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: -- he was a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured.
SCARAMUCCI: Senator McCain was sick and he was heading out to Arizona. I made the suggestion maybe we should go out there and see him on one of these trips that we were making. And the president did not want to do that.
TAPPER (voice-over): In the early hours of July 28th, 2017, McCain arrived to vote, a singular motion that left the Senate chamber aghast and the White House reeling.
PHILLIP: It was incredibly personal. President Trump holds on to grudges. And like he wants loyalty, he probably will never let that moment go.
TAPPER (voice-over): For the rest of McCain's life and long after his death, Trump would attack him.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.
TAPPER (voice-over): Something that Trump would do to any Republican who turned against him.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, I'm not a fan of Mitt Romney.
Well, Jeb Bush is a puppet to his donors.
TAPPER (voice-over): He has effectively chased many of his critics out of the Republican Party.
PHILLIP: The president has defied political wisdom in bringing the party along with virtually everything that he has done for over four years now, since he was a candidate. And he requires that loyalty.
TAPPER (voice-over): Loyalty that would carry Trump through many issues and crises in his first term.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We want lower taxes, bigger paychecks.
TAPPER (voice-over): From tax reform to judicial appointments to impeachment.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: The only good headline I've ever had in "The Washington Post."
TAPPER (voice-over): More on those later.
But first, when we come back, Trump's economy.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We need a leader that wrote "The Art of the Deal."
TAPPER (voice-over): Donald Trump came to Washington based on a promise.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm a great dealmaker. That's what I do. I made a lot of money. I'm going to give it my best.
We want lower taxes, bigger paychecks.
TAPPER (voice-over): And the president was determined to strike a deal on tax cuts by the end of his first year in office.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: There's never been tax cuts like what we're talking about.
SEN. JOHN TESTER (D-MT): This is a tax bill.
TAPPER (voice-over): Democrats railed against Republicans for rushing a complicated overhaul of the tax system through Congress.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): It is about 500 pages and they want us to vote on this thing in about an hour, an hour.
TAPPER (voice-over): Some Republicans, such as Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, worried that a radical tax cut might inflate the national debt.
TAPPER: At first you were a holdout, one of the two key holdouts.
What were your concerns?
JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ), FORMER SENATOR: I would have felt there was a better option simply to lower the corporate tax and leave individual rates as they were. But mine was not a popular opinion.
TAPPER (voice-over): At the 11th hour Senator Flake reversed course, siding with President Trump.
FLAKE: In the end, as a whole, I thought it was a good package.
TAPPER (voice-over): The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the first major tax overhaul in more than three decades, passed the House, then the Senate in late December 2017. The bill promised to slash individual and corporate tax rates, increase wages and boost business spending. PRESIDENT TRUMP: These massive tax cuts will be rocket fuel for the
TAPPER (voice-over): Some of that did happen.
PHILLIP: Most Americans saw a small increase in their take-home pay. Some of them ended up with big tax bills at the end of the year. And many Americans felt that they just didn't get a tax cut.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I can think of no better Christmas present for the American people.
TAPPER (voice-over): Experts say the tax bill was a much bigger present for companies. The corporate tax rate was slashed from 35 percent to 21 percent.
RANA FOROOHAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, really, what we got in 2017 was a big corporate tax boondoggle.
TAPPER (voice-over): Rana Foroohar is CNN's global economic analyst.
FOROOHAR: He sold this idea that, hey, these companies are going to save so much money, they're going to bring back investment now from overseas. We're going to see new factories, we're going to see hiring.
Well, some money did come back, about $700 billion or so but the majority of it went into share buybacks. When companies go into the market and they buy back their own shares, so it's great for the C suite. It's great for that top 10 percent. But it doesn't change the story on Main Street.
LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I would respond with a lot of disagreement.
TAPPER (voice-over): White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow.
KUDLOW: The biggest beneficiaries of that 2017 bill, whose centerpiece was the business tax cuts, were actually middle income blue-collar workers, Main Street folks. They had the largest gains in wages.
TAPPER (voice-over): Economists say the bill probably did help lift wage growth for many Americans, overall momentum that began under President Obama. But the bulk of the Trump tax bill benefit went to the rich, adding to that success, Trump supporters say, near record low unemployment.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We are in the midst of the longest positive job growth streak in history.
TAPPER (voice-over): And a booming stock market: the Dow Jones hit more than 100 new highs between the 2016 election and the end of 2019, with the Dow peaking at a record-breaking high of 29,551 points on February 12th, 2020, right before the coronavirus outbreak froze the U.S. FOROOHAR: The president lives and dies by the market. And so anytime
there's bad economic news, he does whatever he can to try and goose things. He's done that by tax cuts. He's done it by trying to encourage interest rates to be kept low, pushing the Fed around that.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We've accomplished an economic turnaround of historic proportions.
TAPPER (voice-over): In September 2018, President Trump, emboldened by America's economic growth and China's economic slowdown, ramped up his trade war with Beijing, imposing tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods entering the U.S.
SCARAMUCCI: There was a need certainly to right-size the relationship with the United States. But what the president did was he disavowed the strategies that were put forth by trade experts.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: The tariffs are not being paid for by our people. It's being paid for by China.
LIPTON: No, tariffs are being paid by American consumers who have higher prices on consumer goods that are being essentially taxed as they enter the United States.
TAPPER (voice-over): In retaliation?
NAFTALI: The Chinese put pressure on Iowa and Nebraska.
TAPPER (voice-over): By placing tariffs on hundreds of American products, such as soybeans, hurting American farmers.
NAFTALI: This great dealmaker undermines American farmers by going after the Chinese and, in the end, has to get Congress to send financial assistance to farmers.
FOROOHAR: I think that the Chinese were, at certain points, ready to come to the table and actually make some changes but oftentimes, right when a true deal might have been about to be cut, you'd see the president really ramping up that really inflammatory rhetoric.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's got all different names, Wuhan, kung flu, yes.
TAPPER (voice-over): The president escalated his tariff roulette with China.
DAWSEY: The president vacillates day to day between wanting to make a deal with President Xi, saying I like him personally, saying, need another phase.
KUDLOW: Well, it's a tricky business. We're very cross with them about denying the freedoms in Hong Kong and breaking that long- standing treaty. The president is cross with them with respect to their lack of human rights and the Uyghur problem, holding them accountable. TAPPER (voice-over): But former national security adviser John Bolton
said President Trump's recent sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the mass incarceration of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang contradicts his earlier stance.
Bolton, in his new book, alleges that, during a meeting with President Xi in Japan last year, President Trump said, quote, "Xi should go ahead with building the camps," which Bolton writes, "Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do."
President Trump denied that accusation.
RICHARD HAASS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I can't make sense of our policy. We're rhetorically tough on China, we're intermittently tough. But in many areas where we've been missing in action and we've sent inconsistent or weak signals.
More significantly, we didn't join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If we had wanted to put pressure on China, what better way than to join will all of our Asia-Pacific trading partners?
That would have been serious (ph). The president wouldn't do it.
TAPPER (voice-over): Trump's supporters say the president's foreign policies with China are working.
URBAN: There is a widespread belief in many reforms (INAUDIBLE) China in terms of technology transfer, in terms of theft of intellectual property, that this president's concessions were able to get with President Xi and the Chinese by imposing tariffs. The long-term legacy of this president, similar to Nixon, will be China.
TAPPER (voice-over): That's a harder case to make during a global health crisis.
FOROOHAR: We're already in a recession. In fact, we're already in a depression, you know, technically. And the numbers are that bad.
When you layer the problems of the pandemic on an economy that already had all these structural weaknesses, that doesn't add up to any kind of a good picture.
TAPPER (voice-over): But during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, President Trump was painting a rosy picture.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Over the past three months, we have gained over 9 million jobs and that's a record in the history of our country.
TAPPER (voice-over): What the president failed to mention, those gains followed a record 22 million job loss over the previous two months. Something the president didn't cover: the enormous economic toll caused by his bungled pandemic response.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We have seen the smallest economic contraction of any major Western nation. TAPPER (voice-over): The economy has been President Trump's calling
card his entire first term.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Goodness, look at those numbers there, down 7 percent.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The COVID crash on Wall Street is officially over.
TAPPER (voice-over): And even as coronavirus continues to grip the nation, the stock market has recovered.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The SNP 500 closed at a record high Tuesday for the first time since the pandemic began.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I do think once we get rid of the virus, I think we're going to have a boom economy.
TAPPER (voice-over): In September, a bombshell "The New York Times" report on the president's own finances surfaced. The dealmaker in chief is actually crushed by massive debt. And the self-proclaimed billionaire president, who reformed the tax code, actually paid $750 in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017, according to "The Times."
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Is it true that you paid $750 in federal income taxes each of those two years?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax. I paid $27 million --
JOE BIDEN (D-DE), FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Show us your tax returns.
TAPPER (voice-over): Something President Trump still refuses to do.
Up next, the reshaping of the federal judiciary.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I've always heard actually that, when you become president, the most -- single most important thing you can do is federal judges.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was for more than (INAUDIBLE) Supreme Court justice, has died.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: (INAUDIBLE) the first time. She led an amazing life. She was an amazing woman.
TAPPER (voice-over): That was President Trump's public reaction to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death. But privately an insider says Trump had been salivating to replace Ginsburg. And now he had an opening, an opening to rally his base and remind some Republicans, who were turning away from him because of various failures, including COVID, that the future of the courts might be more important.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Article II of our Constitution says the president shall nominate justices of the Supreme Court.
TAPPER (voice-over): All reminiscent of 2016 and another justice's passing.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, I have some very sad news. United States Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia has died.
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Antonin Scalia served on the court since 1986. And it looks like President Barack Obama is going to appoint a new member of the court.
BISKUPIC: Which would tip the liberal balance for the first time in years to the liberal side.
TAPPER (voice-over): CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic.
BISKUPIC: But what happens is that actual night sets in motion a series of dominoes that produced the court we have today.
TAPPER (voice-over): Though leading in the polls, Trump was still considered a long shot. But he knew the world would be watching later that night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump of New York.
TAPPER (voice-over): As the GOP presidential debate took center stage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A moment of silence for justice Antonin Scalia.
TAPPER (voice-over): He capitalized on the moment, suggesting a couple of respectable conservative judges to fill Scalia's vacancy, sealing the deal with many conservatives.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We could have a Diane Sykes (ph) or you could have a Bill Pryor (ph). We have some fantastic people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So just to be clear on this, Mr. Trump, you're OK with the president nominating somebody?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think he's going to do it whether I'm OK with it or not. I think it's up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it. It's called delay, delay, delay.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: This nomination should not be filled by this lame duck president.
TAPPER (voice-over): President Obama's nominee, U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland, never even got a single hearing.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Outside adviser to the president for judicial selection Leonard Leo, the "L.A. Times" says you're the man to see if you aspire to the Supreme Court.
TAPPER (voice-over): Leonard Leo, cochair of the conservative Federalist Society, joined Trump's team.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wanted to put out a list of individuals for the U.S. Supreme Court.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: One of the most important things we'll be doing, whoever the next president is, is naming judges.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wanted first someone who was, in his words, "not weak." What that did was it basically said to the American people, this is what I, Donald Trump, stand for in terms of judicial selection.
TAPPER (voice-over): Many felt that judicial selection campaign helped pave Trump's path to the White House.
With Trump now in office and a Republican-held Congress, legal adviser Don McGahn, Leo and McConnell wasted little time.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Today I am nominating judge Neil Gorsuch.
TAPPER (voice-over): The momentum did not stop there. When moderate Republican and long-time jurist Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018, Trump nominated young conservative U.S. appellate court judge Brett Kavanaugh to try to swing the court even further to the Right. But he was not expecting this.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Federal investigators will now be looking into a matter connected with federal judge Brett Kavanaugh's U.S. Supreme Court nomination.
BISKUPIC: It started off rather predictability. But then a woman by the name of Christine Blasey Ford came forward.
FLAKE: I told Leader McConnell and others that I wouldn't vote to advance his nomination unless we heard from Dr. Ford.
CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD, RESEARCH PSYCHOLOGIST: I believed he was going to rape me. I tried to yell for help.
TAPPER (voice-over): Former Arizona senator Jeff flake.
FLAKE: Brett Kavanaugh, he acted as if I think I would have acted, had I felt that I had been unjustly accused.
BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I'm here today to tell the truth. I've never sexually assaulted anyone.
TAPPER (voice-over): Down the street at the White House, Trump fired off a shot of his own. PRESIDENT TRUMP: This is a big con job and Schumer and his buddies
are all in there laughing, how they fooled you all.
TAPPER (voice-over): Following a week-long investigation that critics of Kavanaugh thought was too brief --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Charade.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sham.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bullies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll call the roll.
TAPPER (voice-over): Kavanaugh was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court by a two-vote margin.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh is confirmed.
TAPPER (voice-over): Another victory for Trump, another justice on the bench. While the Supreme Court confirmations grabbed headlines, something else was happening that largely went unnoticed by the public.
URBAN: District courts and the circuit courts, it's one of those quiet things that folks across America don't perhaps grasp the gravity of these courts all interpret the laws of our country every day in so many different ways.
LIPTON: They identified 40 something conservative judges and they jammed them through the Senate with incredible speed.
TAPPER (voice-over): Speed and strategy; because McConnell blocked so many Obama nominees, Trump inherited 103 vacancies. Astoundingly, the president has appointed almost one-third of all current appellate court judges.
BISKUPIC: Much of the law in America is set by the federal courts of appeals.
COLLINS: That is probably one of the very few things that helps Republicans justify why they support him, is that he got the judges they wanted, confirmed and put in place.
TAPPER (voice-over): That means controversial issues, such as abortion, gun control, health care, immigration and racial and same- sex discrimination.
TAPPER (voice-over): Cases that could likely be ruled on by Trump appointees, largely young, white, male conservative judges, serving lifetime appointments.
But perhaps none of those issues will have the global impact such as the rulings we will see dealing with the environment.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Miners, get ready because you're going to be working your asses off, all right?
TAPPER (voice-over): A long-held Republican belief, the message was clear: Trump was going to roll back environmental regulations that he said hurt businesses.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy and to cancel job-killing regulations.
BETSY SUTHERLAND, FORMER EPA DIRECTOR: It was considered a slap in the face.
TAPPER (voice-over): Former EPA director Betsy Sutherland remembers Trump signing an executive order to dismantle President Obama's Clean Power Plan, signed at the EPA.
SUTHERLAND: It was absolutely a display of sheer contempt for all the scientists, engineers and economists that had worked on that rule for years and years.
TAPPER (voice-over): And this would be just the beginning.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: The United States will withdraw --
CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, FORMER EPA DIRECTOR: I wasn't surprised that we stepped away from the Paris climate accord because the president had given every indication he thought it was ridiculous.
TAPPER (voice-over): Former EPA director and Republican governor, Christine Todd Whitman.
WHITMAN: It was in sync with his total denial of climate change. I mean, it's a hoax, in his mind.
TAPPER (voice-over): Warning shots to environmental agencies everywhere: deregulation had arrived.
URBAN: I think you can have clean water, clean air, safe skies but do so in a manner that doesn't strangle business. Rollbacks have not produced the gloom and doom that so many predict.
SUTHERLAND: Every single man, woman and child in this country has threatened drinking water, threatened fisheries, threatened air quality and more contaminated land because of this administration.
BISKUPIC: Donald Trump's administration really doesn't want regulators in your life, in my life, in anybody's life. So their philosophy is to diminish regulations.
TAPPER (voice-over): A philosophy and legacy that could very well be defined by the legacy of the judges he has appointed and still hopes to appoint.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Today it is my honor to nominate one of our nation's most brilliant and gifted legal minds to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett.
SPICER: I don't think there's any question his greatest success is going to be what he's done on the judiciary. That has a lasting legacy that can probably extend well beyond a generation.
BISKUPIC: They're likely to affect the law in America for our children and our grandchildren long after Donald Trump is gone from this Earth.
TAPPER (voice-over): Coming up, Trump's divisive stand on immigration.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration.
TAPPER (voice-over): Long before the rally chants during the 2016 campaign --
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Build that wall. Build that wall. Build that wall.
TAPPER (voice-over): -- Donald Trump believed immigration was the issue that would help land a Republican back in the White House.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: They lost on immigration. They're going to have to do something on immigration because you know our country is a different place than it was 50 years ago. So we'll see what happens.
TAPPER (voice-over): What happened three years later?
Donald Trump entered the presidential election in 2015 with a harsh if not blatantly racist stand on illegal immigration.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
TAPPER (voice-over): It was an unscripted moment, says Julie Hirschfeld Davis, coauthor of the book "Border Wars." It was so offensive, businesses started dumping Trump.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: You're fired.
NBC dropped him from "The Apprentice." Macy's discontinued selling his menswear collections. JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, AUTHOR: It was a real shock to a lot of other
Americans and frankly a lot of Republicans.
TAPPER (voice-over): But solidifying a base especially energized by these calls to build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants out.
Candidate Trump also proposed one of the most shockingly bigoted policies modern politics has heard from a major party candidate, stark discrimination based upon religious observance, unconstitutional and hate-filled.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
TAPPER (voice-over): And Trump was clear, once he got into the White House, he would not back down.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: We have defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own.
HABERMAN: He signed this executive order which was a travel ban on these roughly half a dozen Muslim majority countries. And the idea was basically to catch people by surprise, to basically create confusion, to create mayhem.
TAPPER: Chaos has, of course, rippled from Washington, D.C., to airports in foreign capitals around the world. Today White House press secretary Sean Spicer was complaining that members of the media are unfairly using the term "ban" to describe the president's action.
SPICER: Not everyone was on board in different aspects of the rollout. And that makes it challenging to then communicate why you're doing it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After many months of revising, they did put in effect stricter vetting procedures for a large number of countries. So I think they saw it as sort of a qualified success.
TAPPER (voice-over): What was seen as an unqualified failure: the Trump administration's family separation policy.