Tapes of Trump's conversations released

By Mike Hayes, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:05 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020
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7:56 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Trump administration "failed" in its response to the pandemic, former CDC director says

From CNN's Shelby Lin Erdman

Dr. Thomas Frieden
Dr. Thomas Frieden CNN

The former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, said the Trump administration has “failed” in its response, or lack of one, to the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

“This has been a failed federal response,” Frieden told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “The US is a global laggard in our response.”

Frieden said there is a clear and proven means of communication in a health emergency.

“The first be right, be credible, be empathetic, give people practical, useful things to do,” Frieden said.

“If you think about those five things, none of them have been done, not first, not right, not credible, not empathetic and not giving people things to do,” he said. 

“What that means is we didn't start wearing masks when we should have. We didn't take it seriously, we didn’t shut down soon enough in some places and other places we shut down too soon, too long.” 

Frieden’s comments follow revelations in a new book by investigative journalist Bob Woodward and recordings from his interviews with Trump that show the President intentionally downplayed the deadly threat from coronavirus early in the pandemic.

Frieden said the revelations could hurt the country’s effort in getting people immunized when a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available.

“What are people going to think when people talk about the vaccine?” he asked. “We have to be able to trust or we can't control the pandemic,” he added.

“And for epidemics, those key principles of being honest and telling people what you know when you know it, that's essential, not just for talking points — that's essential for what people do to stop the spread of a deadly virus.” 

7:00 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen: Trump is "unfit to serve as commander-in-chief"

From CNN's Leinz Vales

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen said Wednesday that President Trump was "unfit to serve as commander-in-chief," following new revelations of disparaging comments Trump said about US generals in Bob Woodward's new book "Rage."

"He is seeking to divide our soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guardsmen from the commanding officers, and to say that they are only kind of middle men or war merchants, I think is an absolute criminal activity to indict our highest most effective leaders in the world, our military," Cohen told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. 

In Woodward's book, there is an anecdote where an aide to former Defense Secretary James Mattis heard Trump say in a meeting, "my f---ing generals are a bunch of p---ies" because they cared more about alliances than trade deals.

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark joined Cohen in discussing Trump's disparaging comments, saying Trump "clearly doesn't understand the value of the alliances."

"President Trump is a transactional person," Clark added. "He values everything on the basis of money. ... He doesn't understand national security. He doesn't understand what's made America great. And he certainly doesn't understand the ethics and the qualities of our senior leaders in uniform."

Watch the interview:

6:13 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Fauci says he doesn't think Trump was distorting coronavirus information

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens to President Donald Trump speak during a coronavirus task briefing on April 7 in Washington, DC.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens to President Donald Trump speak during a coronavirus task briefing on April 7 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke with Fox News on Wednesday about Bob Woodward’s book, which claims that President Trump knew how serious Covid-19 was but wanted to downplay it because he didn’t want to create a panic. 

“I didn’t get any sense that he was distorting anything,” Fauci said.

“I don’t recall anything different than in our discussions that we had with the President, that he said things quite similar, publicly,” Fauci said, adding that he hasn’t read the book. 

“In my discussions, and the discussions of other (White House coronavirus) task force members with the President, we’re talking about the reality of what was going on. And then when we would get up in front of the press conferences – which were very, very common after our discussions with the President – he really didn’t say anything different than what we discussed when we were with him,” he said. 

Fauci said he “didn’t really see any discrepancies between what he told us, and what we told him, and what he ultimately came out publicly and said.” 

“In my discussions with him, they were always straightforward about the concerns that we had, we related that to him, and when he would go out I’d hear him discussing the same sort of things. He would often say ‘we just got through with a briefing with the group from the task force’ and would talk about it," Fauci said.

One question raised in the recordings was how much the President knew about the threat of the virus in February.

“Obviously, when we would be speaking to the President, we’d talk about the cold facts,” Fauci said. “Often he would want to make sure that the country doesn’t get down and out about things, but I don’t recall anything that was any gross distortion in things that I spoke to him about.” 

Fauci said that he was comfortable with the way information from the task force meetings was delivered to the public, but to “remember I’m a small frame in the big picture of what goes on.” 

6:20 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

GOP senator dismisses Woodward's revelations as a "gotcha book"

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Sen. John Kennedy speaks with CNN on Wednesday, September 9.
Sen. John Kennedy speaks with CNN on Wednesday, September 9. CNN

Republican Sen. John Kennedy rejected the bombshell revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book on Wednesday, repeatedly saying these "gotcha books don't interest me that much."

When pressed by CNN's Pamela Brown about the books revelations that President Trump actively downplayed how deadly Covid-19 was despite knowing how dangerous the virus was early on, Kennedy said the President's on-the-record comments, which are backed up by audio recordings, do not comport with his personal experience with Trump's handling of the pandemic.

"These gotcha books don't interest me that much," he told Brown again, speaking on "The Lead." "...My experience has not been that the Trump administration ignored this virus. Quite the contrary."

Kennedy went on to say that even if Trump made the comments, which he did, his actions speak louder than words.

"To be is to act — you learn pretty quickly not to judge people up here by what they say, you have to judge them by what they do," he continued. "All I can tell you, Pamela, is what my experience has been and that this administration has been very responsive early on."

Kennedy also defended Trump's March 19, comments in which he told Woodward that he had played down the virus because he didn't want Americans to panic.

"I don't think any of us want the American people to panic," Kennedy told Brown.

"I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward at the time, even as he had declared a national emergency over the virus days earlier. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."

Watch the interview:

6:20 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Early knowledge about airborne transmission would have saved lives, New Jersey governor says

From CNN’s Evan Simko-Bednarski

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks with CNN on Wednesday, September 9.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks with CNN on Wednesday, September 9. CNN

Early knowledge that the novel coronavirus "goes through the air" – as said on tape by President Trump in February – would have meant "a whole different world for us," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told CNN on Wednesday.

Murphy was reacting to audio tape of Trump discussing coronavirus with veteran journalist Bob Woodward.

"If we had known this was transmittable, airborne, at an earlier date – and it sounds like they knew that somewhere in February – the actions that we ultimately took... and as I say, we were at the front end of any American state, we would have taken that much earlier," Murphy said. "And it's inconceivable to me that we wouldn't have been able to save lives as a result of that."

Murphy said the state would have required masks, instituted a stay-at-home-order, and otherwise shut the state down earlier, had it been known that the virus spread by air.

"To say it's discouraging and disheartening is an understatement," Murphy said. "To hear this and to think about the time that was wasted and the lives that have been lost, sadly, as a result of it, is extremely disheartening."

Watch the interview:

4:48 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Trump told Woodward he knew virus was airborne, yet held packed rallies anyway

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins 

People cheer as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum on February 19 in Phoenix.
People cheer as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum on February 19 in Phoenix. Caitlin O'Hara/Getty Images

According to audio recordings from some of veteran journalist Bob Woodward's interviews with President Trump for his new book "Rage," Trump went into detail on Feb. 7 with Woodward about how airborne coronavirus was.

He told Woodward, "It goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don't have to touch things. Right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed. And so, that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one."

Despite that, he continued to hold six more rallies with thousands of people in indoor venues with no masks or warnings. 

He held one Feb. 10 in Manchester. Another Feb. 19 in Arizona. Colorado Springs on Feb. 20. Feb. 21 in Las Vegas. Feb. 28 in Charleston. And March 2 in Charlotte. 

6:59 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Trump reacts to downplaying Covid-19, says he didn't want to create panic

President Trump responded to recordings that show he downplayed the coronavirus pandemic, saying he wanted to show strength and didn't want to "create panic."

"I don't want to create panic, as you say, and certainly I'm not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We can to show strength," the President said.

According to an audio recording from veteran journalist Bob Woodward, Trump said he "wanted to always play it down" and that he knew the virus was airborne and deadly since February.

"The job we've done has been incredible. But we don't want to instill panic. We don't want to jump up and down and start shouting that we have a problem that is a tremendous problem, scare everybody," he added.

When asked if lives would have been saved if he had been more upfront about the dangers of the virus, the President touted the administration's efforts, saying "I think we've done from every standpoint an incredible job."

"If we didn't close the country, we would have been talking about millions of people instead of the numbers that we have right now," Trump said.

Watch Trump's response:

3:52 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

White House didn't know Woodward excerpts were dropping today

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

White House officials were unaware that excerpts of Bob Woodward's book would be published as soon as today.

They thought they could come out closer to Tuesday, when "Rage" will officially be released. White House officials also do not have a copy, so they do not know what else is in it, according to a source. 

3:26 p.m. ET, September 9, 2020

Journalist who broke Watergate scandal: This is "maybe the greatest presidential felony" of all time

Carl Bernstein, the journalist who broke the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward, said new reporting that shows President Trump saying that he knew the coronavirus was deadly and that he "always wanted to play it down" is "one of the great presidential felonies of all time."

"We listen to him cover up this grave national emergency. This is one of the great presidential felonies of all time – maybe the greatest presidential felony, and we have the smoking gun tape of the President committing the felony," Bernstein told CNN on Wednesday.

Bernstein said through his handling of the pandemic, the President minimized the interest of the county, adding the President should have addressed the country with the information about the severity of the virus when he found out about it in February.

"What you hear time and time again is the President forgetting about the national interest, selling out the national interest, minimizing the national interest, and putting in his own interest, that of his family, that of his own finances," he said.

"That is the text of this book, not a subtext. It's the text of those tapes – undermining our well-being deliberately for his own ends. It is stunning and as I say, a presidential felony unlike any we've known of in our history," Bernstein added.

Bernstein said that if Republican leaders try to contradict the tapes, "they too are responsible for what has happened here."

"This is a kind of homicidal negligence. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people have lost their lives because the President put his own re-election interest," he said.

Watch the interview: