Return to Transcripts main page


Trump And Biden Face-Off In Chaotic First Presidential Debate; Trump Again Refuses To Explicitly Condemn White Supremacists, Claims To Not Know Far-Right Group, Proud Boys; Exclusive Look At Group That Must Approve Any COVID-19 Vaccine Before Going Public; Undecided Voters Weigh In On Trump Versus Biden Showdown. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 30, 2020 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: You too, sir. And thanks very much to all of you for being with us. "AC360" with Anderson begins now.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, thanks for joining us the day after the debate debacle, and the question tonight really is now what? Seventy three million people witnessed last night's so-called debate, and it's pretty clear, this is the way it's going to be from here until at least Election Day.

The nonpartisan Debate Commission, which are the people in charge of these presidential debates every four years, they made a statement today saying, "Last night's debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues."

They don't know what to do. They didn't put out any specifics. They're not sure -- can't cut off a person's mic. You could still hear the President as Chris Wallace pointed out an interview with "The New York Times" that you could still hear him off mic.

They can try to construct additional structures, as they say, but it's not going to make much of a difference. Donald Trump is what he is. He is not going to change. It's like his history of racism and his father's history of it, too.

Sure. Once or twice, he has made perfunctory statements sort of condemning something vague, but we all know what he is doing and why he is doing it. I mean, it's just very clear. It's not the first time, it's a pattern.

Here's what he said in Cleveland responding to this question from moderator, Chris Wallace.


CHRIS WALLACE, PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE MODERATOR: Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups, and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities, as we saw in Kenosha, and as we've seen in Portland, are you prepared to do that? DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am prepared to do

that, but I have to say -- I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing.

WALLACE: So what are you saying?

TRUMP: I'm willing to do anything -- I want to see peace.

WALLACE: Then do it, sir.


TRUMP: You want to call them? What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name.

WALLACE: White supremacists and --

TRUMP: Who would you like me to condemn?

BIDEN: White Proud Boys.

WALLACE: White supremacists and White Proud Boys.

TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and standby.


COOPER: Stand back and standby. Now, that's just not a condemnation. That's actually an instruction. Standby. Standby means, keep your AR- 15s. Keep those tactical vests that you just bought online. Keep the patches that you've made and the boots and all the camo you've got, so you can look as though you're in the Special Forces when in fact, you weren't.

Standby, you know, we might need you to descend on polling places on Election Day. Standby for that. I might ask you to, you know, come to D.C., surround the White House and government buildings. Take over some television stations.

You know, things they do and places that have a lot of coups. There was no condemnation of this group, the Proud Boys or any white supremacist and militias more broadly. In fact, the proud boys have taken up as a rallying cry apparently.

This is the biggest thing in their lives since Call of Duty Warzone was released and that was big. They're selling extra, extra large t- shirts with that printed on them, and what did the President say today about all this?

He did what he always does, "I don't know who that is."


TRUMP: I don't know who the Proud Boys are. I mean, you'll have to give me a definition because I really don't know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down, let law enforcement do their work. QUESTION: But I am talking about white supremacists, sir.

TRUMP: Like they have done in New York. I just told you.

QUESTION: But do you denounce them? Do you denounce white --

TRUMP: I've always denounced any form --

QUESTION: Of White Supremacy?

TRUMP: Any form of any of that. You have to denounce it, but I also had -- Joe Biden has to say something about Antifa.


COOPER: "Any form of any of that" -- he can't say, race -- talk about racism. He can't actually put four or five sentences off the top of his head together about the dangers of far right white supremacists. His Homeland Security Department can. They've said it's one of the biggest domestic -- in terms of domestic terrorists, the biggest threat there is.

In other words, the President's inability to simply just flatly condemn the kind of people who shouted "Jews will not replace us" in Charlottesville and "blood and soil" that hasn't changed even after the outcry from last night.

So now what? It appears it's just going to be more of the same, just like last night was more of the same. If he gets reelected, more of the same and maybe that's what voters want. And so be it.

Listen to what the President said back then and compare it to what he said today and last night.


TRUMP: Yes, I think there's blame on both sides. You look at you look at both sides. I think there's blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don't have any doubt about it either.

And if you reported it accurately, you would say it.

QUESTION: The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville. They showed up Charlottesville --

TRUMP: Excuse me.

QUESTION: The protesters were all over that --

TRUMP: Excuse me. They didn't put themselves -- and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.


COOPER: Not then, not last night, and not today could he simply condemn far right hate groups. He didn't even condemn the entire group there. He only said that -- and I'm repeating what he said word for word that quote, "You had some very bad people in that group." You know that the bad neo-Nazis, not the good ones.

All of that said and it's a lot. The bottom line is simple enough. The president for whatever reason cannot simply and plainly condemn anyone if he thinks there's even the slightest chance that they might vote for him, and that's what it boils down to because that's all he cares about right now.


COOPER: And there's no reason not to expect more along those lines for the rest of the campaign, it is why when he was asked about the bizarre QAnon conspiracy theory, you know, based on the anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic tropes that have been around for centuries. He said -- the first thing he said was, I hear they say nice things about me.

Nor is there any reason to think that the President will stop sowing doubt in the election process. Of course, not. Or commit to it, accepting the outcome of it not given what he said last night.


WALLACE: Will you urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period, not to engage in any civil unrest? And will you pledge tonight, that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified? President Trump, you go first.

TRUMP: I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that's what has to happen. I am urging them to do it.


COOPER: Okay, yes. So that's not even a standby. That's go into the polls and watch because things are happening. Big things are happening.

That's the kind of language that raises now questions that nobody wants to think about. Until this election, nobody has had to.

There was plenty more last night to tell us what the rest of the campaign is going to look like. If last night was a preview, there will be a flood of falsehoods on any number of key issues and on the pandemic, which has now taken nearly 207,000 lives, expect more blame shifting from the President.


TRUMP: If we would have listened to you, the country would have been left wide open. Millions of people would have died, not 200,000 and one person is too much. It's China's fault. It should have never happened. They stopped it from going in, but it was China's fault.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: So it's nothing new. None of it is. Everything Donald Trump is

and everything he says that defines him was on display last night.

So in some ways, the now-what question comes with its own answer built in. But it also invites another question, namely, how much worse.

CNN Political Analyst, Maggie Haberman supplies the hint of an answer. She is, as you know, "The New York Times" White House correspondent. She has been covering Donald Trump since long before he entered politics. She tweeted about last night, but it might as well just be about today and all the days ahead.

Quoting now from her tweet, "People close to him are blunt that the President knows he is losing and is scared of it. So he did what he does when afraid or anxious and try to impose his will on the night."

Perspective now from CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, traveling with the President just outside Pittsburgh and CNN political correspondent, Abby Phillip.

So Dana, you have some new reporting about how the President and his team are feeling about the debate.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm told from a source familiar with the President's thinking that in private conversations, he is insisting that he did well, that he had a great night.

And when it is suggested to him strongly that he did not have a great night, that he was too aggressive, that he interrupted too much, and that he is surprised to hear that pushback. What I'm told is that the sort of feeling is that once the President digests his steady diet of cable news, that he always does, that it is going to hit him likely in the next day or so that he did in fact interrupt too much, that he did in fact have a bad night like everybody around him believes that he did.

COOPER: But wait, do they really believe that because -- I'm sorry, but I am sorry to interrupt. But I mean, all the mouthpieces who have been flooding the airwaves, you know, Peter Navarro and the others, they've all been parroting both the style and substance of what the President said.

BASH: That's true. But the analogy that was given to me was remember when the -- how can you forget -- when the President suggested that injecting or digesting bleach would help with coronavirus and he couldn't believe that people actually thought that was a big deal. After a day or two he got it that was a big embarrassment.

That is the analogy. Whether or not he will get there, you're right. It's obviously a very open question. But despite what people who are paid, you know, to be around him, say on TV, I am told that there are people who are very blunt with him behind the scenes.

Never mind again what he is hearing from people who are almost always very complimentary of him from David Urban to Rick Santorum, he sees that kind of thing.

And you know, one other thing that was interesting is that they want him to kind of, I was told, take a beat to rest. They're not even going to go there on the next round of debate prep until maybe next week at some point and they hope by then, he will have absorbed it all.

But look, Anderson, I get your point. It is a big if and a big hope given the fact that they did work hard with him behind the scenes before last night's debate.


COOPER: Abby, you know, the President had a chance to try and clean up if you can, you know, his "Standby, Proud Boys" comment and take some responsibility for his behavior last night. Instead, he did what he always does, which is just trying to muddy the water, further.

I kept wondering today. I mean, is part of this just a strategy to disgust and depress everybody but his supporters and maybe get a peel off a certain percentage of voters who are just kind of so feel dirty after watching this thing last night and disgusted that they just stay home and not vote.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's an interesting question, because I do think that a lot of President Trump's political strategy, just in general, not just in this campaign, or in this political moment is about sort of beating the public down, beating down the entire system, so that everybody wants to just wash their hands of what is going on.

Whether he intends to do that or not, I think that is actually the effect. But you know, the President is not willing ever really, to just as you pointed out earlier, even say the words, "white supremacists." He doesn't want to say the words. This is not a new thing. It dates back many years, even going back to the campaign.

So you know, I think that he doesn't like being wrong, and he doesn't like admitting that he made a mistake, and so you're going to see him trying to stand his ground for as long as possible and then perhaps, we might see him change his tactic.

But I'll tell you, you know, one of the problems where the President is, is that he is trying to project, a persona of strength against Joe Biden, who he says is weak, and in his mind, strength means dominating the conversation. It means being aggressive in the way that he was last night, and I'm not sure that he understands how to modulate that in a way that doesn't continue to hurt him.

COOPER: I mean, it's not just that -- I mean, Dana, does it hurt him? I mean, again, among his supporters.

BASH: Yes.

COOPER: You think it does hurt him? BASH: Yes. Well, among his supporters, the people who are supporting

him, probably not. But those people he doesn't need to reach out to, despite evidence, to the contrary, if you look at his actions, not only over this campaign, but the past four years. He has done very little, with a few exceptions to reach out beyond his base.

It's one of the things that have a lot of people scratching their heads who really like him, but like, at a place where I am right now, I'm in Pennsylvania. The President and his campaign belief that he really needs to win this state. And he really needs to win people who are not so sure if he is the right guy right now.

And in large part because they don't like his character. They don't like his personality. They don't like his tweets. And what you saw on stage last night was his tweets come to life. And I will tell you, one person who is familiar with his debate prep, Anderson, said they prepared him to be aggressive, but not to be Jason from "Friday the 13th." And that is the perception of how his performance was. These are people who like him.

COOPER: You know, Abby, anyone who thought, you know, that moderate Republicans in tough reelection races might forcefully condemn the President's spectacle. Look no further than Senator Susan Collins of Maine who today said she thinks there was, quote, "fault on both sides." I mean, again, wow. What are -- I mean, Susan Collins yet again, you know, all of this expectation about, you know, really open minded -- fault on both sides. I mean, come on.

PHILLIP: Yes, we've got to be real about where we are as a country. We are in a hyper partisan moment and she is not an exception to that. Susan Collins is trying to fight for her survival by literally walking a tightrope in her state.

And I think that that's what you're seeing. She is just trying to sort of, kind of be sort of, quote-unquote, "even-handed" about this in a way that is not -- it does not gel with reality. You're going to see a lot of Republicans sort of saying, well, it would be nice if he had said the right thing last night, but they're not going to go out of their way to condemn -- to actually condemn what the President said and did last night.

That is what we are going to see in the coming days and perhaps for the future debates that are probably going to look not too dissimilar from what we saw last night.

COOPER: Yes, it seems like in the past there -- you know, there were politicians who thought that there was something more important than just political survival from time to time, you know, like, human decency, and, you know, actually having morals and virtues and standing up for what you believe in and saying what you believe.

But that seems increasingly rare. Dana Bash with the Vice President, and Abby Phillip, thank you very much.

Next for us tonight, the mother of Heather Heyer, she joins us with her thoughts on what the President has been saying. Heather Heyer, of course was killed in Charlottesville by white extremists. Also an expert on extremist groups and the message that the President is sending.

Later, what other countries saw when they tuned in and what that means for America's role in the world, former National Security adviser, Susan Rice joins us.



COOPER: So at the top of the program, the President once again cannot simply denounce a group that is sending armed people in to the streets. We also heard him use some familiar language to shrug it off.


TRUMP: I don't know who the Proud Boys are. I mean, you'll have to give me a definition because I really don't know who they are. I can only say they have to stand down and let law enforcement do their work.


COOPER: Does it ring a bell? His answer certainly does. Here he is four years ago when asked by CNN's Jake Tapper whether he would condemn former KKK Grand Wizard, David Duke. Just like now, listen to the waves of amnesia roll in.


TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, okay. I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don't know. I mean, I don't know -- did he endorse me or what's going on?

Because you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists.


COOPER: For a guy who watches television non-stop, I know nothing is his favorite retort. In 2000, when he declined to run for President on the Reform Party ticket, he certainly knew David Duke. He said in a statement, quote, "The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke and neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan and a communist Miss Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep."

In a moment we will speak with Susan Bro, whose daughter, Heather Heyer was murdered in Charlottesville. That terrible moment and President's reaction to it where Joe Biden says, it moved him to run this time.

But first our Sara Sidner on the movement the President cannot bring himself to condemn or even remember.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go with a [bleep] Antifa chant. Let's start it. Ready?

AUDIENCE: [Bleep] Antifa. [Bleep] Antifa. [Bleep] Antifa.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Proud Boys are known for holding rallies being armed to the teeth, decked out in tactical gear, black and yellow shirts and being ready to rumble with anti- fascists.

They say as a whole, all this is solely for self-defense. But that is not how a New York jury saw it in 2019. Two Proud Boys were convicted for attempted gang assault and riot for this beating that unfolded in Manhattan between Proud Boys wearing the red hats and Antifa members in all black.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are fiery, but we peaceful.


SIDNER (voice over): They say they believe in law and order, but apparently not in this case.


ENRIQUE TARRIO, CHAIRMAN, PROUD BOYS: We are definitely not going to apologize for fighting back when somebody throws a glass bottle of urine at you. I am sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pledge allegiance --


SIDNER: They say they are not a hate group and members have sued over being described that way. But the Anti-Defamation League says that's exactly what they are.


JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Proud Boys, unequivocally are a hate group. They style themselves as a quote, "pro-Western fraternity." But their rhetoric frequently invokes anti- Semitism, misogyny, xenophobia, particularly targeting immigrants, anti-Muslim bias, and both homophobia and transphobia.


SIDNER (voice over): So when the President was unwilling to explicitly condemn white supremacists and then said this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and standby, but I'll tell you what --

I'll tell you what, somebody has got to do something about Antifa and the left.


SIDNER (voice over): Those who track hate were beyond alarm. The Proud Boys that want to celebrate it.


SIDNER (on camera): What does "stand back and standby" mean to you as a leader of the Proud Boys?

TARRIO: The organization does not see that as an endorsement in any way.


SIDNER (voice over): He plays it down. But their chat rooms hyped up. Memes popped up minutes after the President said it. His exact words used as a rallying cry with this added, "Eff it. Let's go back to Portland." Another one reads, "Standing by, Sir."


TARRIO: I was the one that said that.

SIDNER (on camera): So the President mentions your name. Is this going to be used as a recruiting tool?

TARRIO: I mean, any media is used -- I wouldn't say that it was like a recruiting tool. Anytime that we're in the media, as a matter of fact, one of --


SIDNER (voice over): He then boasts about the Proud Boys mentions on Twitter after the debate.


TARRIO: So apparently, Americans think that Proud Boys are more important than coronavirus at this moment.


SIDNER (voice over): The ADL says there are many serious consequences to the President's inability to plainly state that he condemns white supremacists.


TRUMP: I've always denounced any form -- any form -- any form of any of that.


SIDNER (voice over): The President was asked to do it again after the debate, but again, never uttered the words "white supremacists."


GREENBLATT: We need to stop asking for explanations and simply take him at his word. He believes these people are his allies, and he has given them a call to arms.


SIDNER (voice over): Taylor Dumpson knows the terror that can bring. She was targeted in a neo-Nazi trolling campaign for simply becoming American university's first black female Student Body President.


TAYLOR DUMPSON, LAW STUDENT: To me, as a hate crime survivor and cyber harassment target, I know far too well how dangerous this rhetoric is and that it causes real harm and real damage and real violence in our communities.


SIDNER (voice over): Sara Sidner, CNN, Los Angeles.


COOPER: My next guest, Susan Bro, knows that same terror that Taylor Dumpson feels along with heartache and loss. She joins us now, so does Kathleen Belew, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Chicago and author of "Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America."

Susan, thank you so much for joining us. It's good to see you again. I'm sorry it is under these circumstances. It's been just over three years since Heather was killed by white supremacists in Charlottesville, and I wonder last night when President Trump said what he said, what did you think?

SUSAN BRO, DAUGHTER WAS KILLED AT CHARLOTTESVILLE: Well, I was taking a break from working on scholarship applications that I'm going to download when we're done here and was washing dishes and kind of gasped and thought well, okay, not surprised and went back to work.

This is not exactly new news. It's surprising how open he is being about it, but it's not news.


COOPER: Kathleen, you know, what do you make of, first of all, the Proud Boys? You know, they're saying, oh, well, we don't see this as an endorsement. They certainly online do and they're selling t-shirts, you know, with the slogan on it.


KATHLEEN BELEW, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: I think it would be a mistake to think about this as a problem that is only about the Proud Boys. Certainly, the Proud Boys are galvanizing this moment for their own purposes as we see in many different places online. But this is about a broader social movement that includes not just the proud boys, but a whole host of other groups ranging from militias, to people who are erroneously described as lone wolf attackers, to people who are involved in paramilitary underground activity.

All of those people heard a greenlight in the President's remarks. All of those people have been called to standby. That's not the same thing as stand down. And the results, I think, could be catastrophic.

COOPER: And we should point out that the President may claim not to really know anything about this, but his own Homeland Security folks have point pinpointed this far right extremism as the biggest domestic threat, isn't that right?

BELEW: That's absolutely right, and we have a whistleblower from Trump's own D.H.S., Elizabeth Neumann, who has been speaking with an enormous amount of authority about the danger that this poses to our nation.

This is the same movement that carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, which is the largest domestic casualty on American soil between Pearl Harbor and 9/11. But most people I think, don't realize that this was the work of a social movement.

We have this narrative about lone wolves and bad actors that really occludes our ability to respond to this in real time. And actions like Trump's, words like this, make it even more difficult to do that really important public work of coming to terms with this legacy of violence.

COOPER: Susan, I mean, three years ago, did you ever think that three years on, this would still be, if not -- this was somebody as big, if not even a bigger threat than it may have been prior to Charlottesville?

BRO: No, honestly, I didn't, I really thought that people would be motivated to act and I've since learned through watching a number of cycles that people get all excited for about half a minute, and then they'd lose interest. And that's why we are where we are.

People are not taking action. People are just getting emotional and then they let it go by the wayside. They don't really intend to do anything or they can't figure out what to do to make a difference.

COOPER: Kathleen, there, there does seem to be groups like this. I mean, throughout U.S. history, you know, whether it's the KKK, you know, prior to World War Two, there was an American fascist movement, and there was a Nazi Party in America. I think there was a rally in Madison Square Garden, if my memory is correct from history. What makes it different now? I mean, is it just -- I mean, obviously,

the internet and the connectedness that allows these people to kind of communicate together and spread misinformation and hate?

BELEW: Yes, this is the place where what seems new to us actually has a complex recent history. This movement came together, including some of the activists that were in those earlier waves, including Klansmen, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, and parts of the militia movement in the 1970s and has been active in our nation since then, largely un- confronted and facing only piecemeal kinds of prosecution and public opposition.

Now, those groups have waged violence on Americans countless times. The record of the casualty count is overwhelming and my heart goes out to Susan --

COOPER: I mean, what do you mean when you say it's overwhelming.

BELEW: So thinking about, say, the casualty count by domestic terror groups since 1994, including the Oklahoma City bombing, which some people -- that number, you know, is lower than, say the death toll from a pandemic, but that's 900 people. That's families that lost their loved ones. That's communities that are intimidated by these acts of violence, and it far outstrips the threat posed by the radical left.

COOPER: Susan, to voters out there who may be undecided about who to vote for November. I'm just wondering what your message is to them. Or the people who are thinking about just staying home, I mean, what -- regardless of who they're going to vote for.

BRO: Oh, my goodness. No, do not stay home. Vote. And when you vote, realize that you are voting for the policies that that person stands for, the judges that they put in place, the Executive Orders that they write. I mean, you're not just voting for one individual on one issue, you're voting for a way of life that's going to affect not only your life, but the lives of your children, your grandchildren and your great grandchildren. You have to take it all into account.

Don't wait until November the third. Go vote.

I voted Friday. My husband and I went Friday and voted in-person. You can do it. Go vote. Go vote. Go vote.

COOPER: Susan Bro. Appreciate your time tonight.


And again, I'm sorry for your loss. And I appreciate all the work you're doing. I know you have scholarship in Heather's name that you --


COOPER: -- (INAUDIBLE). UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. But please remember that most of the victims of white supremacy are not white. Most of the victims of white supremacy are people of color. And I'm actually one of the rare cases. They do exist, but most of the victims are people of color. And unfortunately, that's why people are refusing to step up and that everybody get up and get busy.

COOPER: Susan Broward, thank you, Kathleen Balu (ph). Appreciate it. Thank you very much.

If last night's debate cause heartburn here in the United States, what foreign governments think? I'll talk next with Susan Rice, President Obama's former National Security Adviser about that and her concerns about President Trump's messaging going forward.



COOPER: An audience of tens of millions watched the debate here in the United States. There was also a large international viewership. And just as in this country, the reviews were not particularly kind, especially about the state of American democracy. And with President Trump declining to reject white supremacist groups and an analyst with the German Marshall fund in Berlin, told The New York Times that quote, there's a consensus in Europe that this is getting out of hand and this debate is an indicator of the bad shape of the American democracy.

Joining me now, is Susan Rice, former U.S. ambassador to the UN and President Obama's former national security adviser. She's the author of Tough Love My Story of the Things worth Fighting for now out in Paperback.

Ambassador Rice, good to see you. Before we get to just overall impressions debate, do you ever imagine seeing a sitting President of United States not repudiating whether it's this Proud Boys group, or just white supremacy and neo-Nazis, right, you know, racism, full throatedly without making equivalency arguments without couching it without, you know, saying stand down, but stand back, but standby? Did you ever expect that in this country?

SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, good evening, Anderson. The answer to your question is absolutely not. I mean, it's an extraordinary disgrace for the President of the United States, to get on national television before a global audience and be absolutely unwilling to renounce white supremacy.

He had the opportunity. It was teed up for him, he refused to do it. And there's a reason he refused to do it, Anderson. Is not because he got confused, or he didn't know who the Proud Boys are. He did it because he doesn't want to condemn them, because he knows they support him.

COOPER: Yes. RICE: And he is aligned ideologically with their views. We have -- I hate to say this, we have a racist-in-chief in the White House. And that is basically the platform on which he's running. So, to repudiate those who share those views and white supremacist wing in this society would be politically disadvantageous to him, which is why he won't.

COOPER: You know, I kept thinking throughout today, you know, a lot of people I've talked to, I've just been on all sides of the aisle have just been kind of depressed and grossed out and just feel sickened by what they witnessed. And I kept coming back to thinking and I know, other people have thought this before me.

But if this is just a strategy, part of a strategy, I mean, it is who he is, but also that he wants to, you know, excite his base, but so beat down everybody else in America, that a percentage of people just won't even go to vote because they're just sick of the whole thing and don't want to even think about it.

RICE: Well, last night, Donald Trump's performance was absolutely sickening. That's a fact. But for many of us, we didn't see anything last night that we didn't already know that he hadn't demonstrated many, many times before. It was just so bald. And so, you know, blatant that it couldn't be denied. But this is who Donald Trump is.

It's not who all his supporters are, I want to be very clear about that. This is a segment and I hope, a very small segment, an extreme segment of those who are dedicated to him, but one that he is determined to court at all costs. And the fact that, you know, we have less than unequivocal condemnations of his performance and his refusal to condemn white supremacy for many in his party is also deeply disturbing.

COOPER: It's also for a person who's obsessed with people not laughing at him and constantly was saying, oh, the countries were laughing at us when Obama was president or when Bush was president. I mean, the idea of, you know, Vladimir Putin watching the debate last night and watching all that's been going on, or Erdogan in Turkey or whomever it is, they're laughing and if they're not laughing, they're at least ecstatic over the state of American democracy right now.

RICE: But let's be clear how the rest of the world reacted. Our friends and allies, I believe did a collective face plant of just shame and embarrassment and despair. Vladimir Putin's doing the happy dance in the Kremlin tonight because leaving aside the white supremacy, comments or lack of comments about white supremacy.

What Donald Trump did in his unhinged ranting and raving was to discredit civil discourse, disparage the American people to whom he didn't even give the dignity of serious responses. And two, get up and say before the American people yet again, that he will not respect the results of this election, unless he himself is the winner, which is the antithesis of democracy.


So Vladimir Putin is doing the happy dance. And over in Beijing, state media is crowing that the debate was chaotic disorderly and shows that democracy is a form of government that that should be discredited and discarded, and that their form of repressive authoritarian ism is, in fact, correct. So this was a disaster for U.S. global leadership and standing.

A disaster delivered by Donald Trump yet again. And, you know, when we think about the prospect of two more of these things, I pray, I hope that somehow they can be made to be different. Donald Trump is not going to change, but perhaps the format, the rules, and the moderation can change.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, there's somebody moderated debates, I don't know that that can happen. I mean, I you know, I mean, maybe they have some secret that I've never heard of, but it's not something I think our system is really built to accomplish, frankly. I mean, do you worry about --

RICE: Maybe it --

COOPER: Sorry, go ahead.

RICE: Maybe a trapdoor under his seat.

COOPER: Do you worry about, I mean, about democracy itself? I mean, about, you know, I mean, you know, until I started going to wars overseas in Sarajevo, and Rwanda and all these places, I used to think things are pretty set in stone and the foundations of democracy is are strong. And now I don't think so. I mean, I certainly felt that seeing stuff overseas, but I never really thought I would see that and feel it start to feel that here.

RICE: Well, I think we're in a fragile moment. I believe that our democracy will endure. But I think we've learned some things from the Trump era, we've learned that so much of what we have come to rely on is the guardrails of our democracy are more norms than rules and laws.

And when you have an authoritarian minded president, and his party in Congress refuses to hold him accountable, then one of the critical checks and balances is lost. And the laws that he violates are not being enforced. And many of the rules he's breaking are actually norm. So we've got to get back to a good look at how we fix those holes in our democracy.

COOPER: Ambassador Rice, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

RICE: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: As the coronavirus death toll moves past 206,000, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta has an exclusive look at a secret group of experts that first have to give their approval to any vaccine before it's allowed to proceed for public use.


[20:46:03] COOPER: Breaking news from the FDA tonight Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn says his agency will not succumb to any political pressure from the White House and instead stand by its guidelines on vaccine development before granting any coronavirus vaccine for general use. Important especially because President Trump himself notably added fuel to the fire, we could go when he said he might overrule the agency if it decided to strengthen the guidance on any coronavirus vaccine before it became approved.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, the FDA is reportedly considering stricter guidelines for the emergency authorization of a COVID vaccine. Are you OK with that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Well, anyway, we're looking at that that has to be approved by the White House, we may or may not approve it. That sounds like a political move.


COOPER: Before any COVID-19 vaccine gets approval, it has to go before a little known group of experts, a group that until now hasn't let the general public in on who they are and what exactly they do. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us with his exclusive report on the group and the work they do.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If and when a vaccine is made available, may not be up to the President alone, or even the FDA for that matter. Because there is a small secretive group that sees the vaccine data before anyone else.

FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NIH: This all gets decided by a group called a data and safety monitoring board.

GUPTA (voice-over): The DSMB as it is known as a group of experts and all sorts of areas like statistics, ethics, vaccine development. They are the only ones to get a few quote, unblinded looks at the data as it starts to come in.

COLLINS: They know who got the vaccine, who got the placebo. They're the ones who figure out whether it's time to say this is working, that's not a political decision.

GUPTA (voice-over): They are the ones that can advise the companies to apply for FDA review. Or they might bring a trial to a halt. And right now, they have one of the most monumental tasks in the world.

ERIC TOPOL, PROFESSOR, SCRIPPS RESEARCH: We want to know they're fully independent, that they have no prior, you know, relationships with their company. So they're not they're not conflicted in any way.

GUPTA (voice-over): The members of the board do go through a fairly exhaustive vetting process. But these are perhaps the biggest questions. Can the DSMB be trusted? Do they have financial or political conflicts? Can they be pressured?

SUSAN ELLENBERG, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENN: What they don't want is there members of their committee being besieged by outside people try to find out what's going on in the trials.

GUPTA (voice-over): Typically, their names remain confidential while the study is ongoing. But Susan Ellenberg, who serves on COVID-19 DSMB's agreed to talk to us.

(on-camera): How would you characterize the power of this board?

ELLENBERG: I don't think you feel powerful. You feel responsible. You know that everybody's trusting you with these data.

GUPTA (on-camera): When you're looking at data, I think there's always a perception certainly among lay people that it's totally objective. Is it really that objective?

ELLENBERG: Of course, there's some degree of subjectivity. It's a judgment call. And that's the way these committees work.

TRUMP: I don't see any reason why it should be delayed further.

GUPTA (on-camera): The FDA basically said that it's very reasonable to wait and observe for two months before authorizing anything, the President has said, you know, they may not approve those guidelines. So, what happens then what's the role of the DSMB in a situation like this.

ELLENBERG: We've certainly never been in a situation where the national leadership has seemed to be so involved, directly involved in these kinds of processes. What will happen? I don't I don't know.

GUPTA (voice-over): It was a DSMB that made the call to pause the AstraZeneca trial when a previously healthy 37-year-old woman developing neurological condition in the UK, and it was a critical decision.

ELLENBERG: Even an adverse event that happens as infrequently as one in 10,000 people or one in 20,000 people. That would be a lot of people who would have a serious adverse event.

GUPTA (voice-over): The country's top doctors assure they won't be cutting any corners on safety. But for now, it's in the hands of Ellenberg and other members of the DSMBs to make sure that's the case.


ELLENBERG: I think we're in uncharted territory here. This is who knows what the administration is going to do.


COOPER: And Sanjay joins us now. Seven former FDA commissioners condemned the White House to influence on the agency in a commentary in the Washington Post, one of those commissioners, Dr. Mark McClellan also testified on Capitol Hill today, that while politics is not disrupting the process to find a vaccine politics is undermining the public's confidence. Do you think politics can stay out of the vaccine approval process?

GUPTA: You know, after doing this piece and talking to lots of people over the last few, several months, I think so. But, you know, there's clearly a lot of pressure and you heard Susan Ellenberg, sort of characterize it saying, she's been doing this a long time. This is totally unchartered territory.

But because you do have this other organization that is removed from the FDA, removed from obviously the executive branch of government, and they're doing their own work, largely confidential, as you heard, I think it does offer a layer of protection that's important. And as you pointed out, as well, Anderson, Stephen Hahn saying, the FDA is not going to be pressured when the date is finally presented to them as well.

COOPER: We're looking at a lot pictures, or we're going to have some live pictures there in the President's rally in Minnesota. Last night, he said he holds his rallies outside, that there have been no problems. Is that accurate? I mean, he seemed to indicate no one's ever gotten sick.

He had an indoor rally in Tulsa back in June, Herman Cain ended up dying, dying from the coronavirus, the following month unclear exactly where he contracted it, but he was there. I mean, what do you make of the President saying that they've had no problems?

GUPTA: Well, you know, first of all, because we still have so many new viral infections every day in this country, contact tracing is just something, you know, you and I talk about it all the time, Anderson.


GUPTA: And it's incredibly hard to do. How do you contact trace 40,000 people every day? You know, about half the country, half the people who get infected on any given time, don't have any idea where they can track that as a result. So that that's part of the problem.

You know, there's no question that the virus is the virus, you look at those images of the rallies, it is better that it's outside, you know, the viral, the virus disperses much more easily outside. But you're closely clustered. That's a problem. Everybody knows that now. You're there for long durations, right?

So, if you just walk by somebody, that's one thing you're sitting next to people, for a long period of time longer than 15 minutes will be considered long duration. And obviously Anderson very few masks out there. So, while we may not know, because the contact tracing is so challenging, there's no question those could be super spreader events.

COOPER: Yes. Sanjay, appreciate it. As always, thank you very much.

Go ahead where someone decided voters and crucial swing states had to say, after watching last night's debate, or any of them, no longer undecided, we'll find out.



COOPER: Since we started with at the top of the broadcast after last night's debate. We're wondering now what, where do we go now? They're still the undecided voters, a crucial part of the electorate whose choices on Election Day or before could make a difference. After last night's debate our Randi Kaye spoke with a group of undecided voters.

One said they're Republican, for others consider themselves independence. We should point out one of them in fact, is a registered Republican to vote in primaries. So question is, were any of them swayed to pick a candidate after the showdown? Randi's report here.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These five undecided voters from the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida were hoping the first presidential debate would help them choose a candidate.

JACOB WALKER, UNDECIDED MICHIGAN VOTER: It was kind of disrespectful. It was hard to watch. Not informative at all.

ERICA DIANGELO, UNDECIDED FLORIDA VOTER: It was a hot mess. It felt like two children fighting.

ALEXIS ARNOLD, UNDECIDED WISCONSIN VOTER: It was just cringe worthy from the moment it started.

KAYE (voice-over): Our group found some moments worse than others, like when Trump refused to condemn a far-right white group.

(on-camera): How did you feel in that moment?

WALKER: To be honest, there's only one answer that question is and you can dim it. I mean, there's really no other answer.

KAYE (voice-over): Florida voter Erica DiAngelo who voted for Trump in 2016 had a different view.

DIANGELO: I think that he did condemn the white supremacist groups and use similar language to what the moderator used.

KAYE (voice-over): On the issue of taxes, most in our group don't care what the President paid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As long as he didn't break any laws. I'm fine with that.

KAYE (voice-over): Though not everyone was satisfied with the President's explanation.

GERRY RICCI, UNDECIDED PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: If he paid millions of dollars in taxes. Why didn't that show up?

KAYE (on-camera): So is the President's tax bill an issue for you? Is that a hang up for you and voting for him?

RICCI: That's a hang up for me. Sure.

KAYE (on-camera): Do you feel as though Donald Trump did a good job defending his handling of a pandemic?

WALKER: He's not going to talk me into believing that he did everything he could. It's already been proven he did.

KAYE (on-camera): And once again, at the debate, he said that a vaccine is just weeks away. Do you buy that?

WALKER: No, not at all.

DIANGELO: I felt like Biden had a nice theoretical response to things but he didn't give any, like tangible things that he would or could do for the pandemic.

KAYE (voice-over): Everyone in our group was turned off by Trump's behavior.

(on-camera): Well, Trump was your candidate in 2016. How do you think he did?

DIANGELO: He just like ran over Joe, and was totally rude. So disrespectful.

KAYE (voice-over): Some were disappointed with Biden telling a sitting president to quote, shut up. But this Michigan voter liked how Biden connected with people who lost someone to COVID, talking about the empty chair at the table.

WALKER: That was a good moment for him to really make it personal. He should do more that. He did a little bit that with his son. It's good to see him defend his son. I think those are the moments were Joe Biden shine.

KAYE (voice-over): Overall, the debate left this group hungry for policy.

ARNOLD: How are we helping small businesses back get back up on their feet? Nobody's talking about that.

KAYE (voice-over): In the end, these undecided voters are still undecided.

(on-camera): Are you more confused than ever?

ARNOLD: Yes. Yes, I hate to say this, but it makes me not want to vote.

DIANGELO: I've considered not voting after watching this debate. But ultimately I'm going to vote I mean, my ballot is waiting for me. WALKER: If you asked me what voting for today, I probably write in a candidate.

RICCI: I'm going to be undecided until the day before I walk into the voting poll.

KAYE (voice-over): Randi Kaye, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.


COOPER: It's we're talking about earlier, getting people not to vote. Depressing people so much they just sick of it, don't want to vote.


The news continuous, want to hand it over Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris?