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US COVID-19 cases surge as Trump continues unmasked campaign rallies

There are now over 40 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world. The U.S. has topped 8.1 million cases, remaining by far the most infected country, with around 20% of known cases globally. The U.S. death toll is nearing 220,000. On Friday, the U.S. reported around 70,000 new cases, the highest daily total since July. At least 12 states set single-day case records since Friday. Only two states — Vermont and Missouri — reported significant decreases in reported cases over the past week.

In an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," top White House Coronavirus Task Force scientist Anthony Fauci shared his reaction when he saw the Rose Garden ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on TV last month.

Dr. Jonathan LaPook: "Were you surprised that President Trump got sick?"
Dr. Anthony Fauci: "Absolutely not. I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask. When I saw that on TV, I said, 'Oh my goodness. Nothing good can come out of that. That's got to be a problem.' And then, sure enough, it turned out to be a superspreader event."

At around the same time as Fauci's interview aired Sunday, Trump spoke at a campaign rally in Carson City, Nevada, where he mocked Joe Biden, warning there would be more lockdowns if Biden is elected.

President Donald Trump: "If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression, instead of we're like a rocketship."

In response, the Biden campaign said in a statement, "Donald Trump tanked the strong economy he inherited … by continually discounting and attacking warnings from the scientific and medical experts working around the clock to save lives. Now new coronavirus cases are surging and layoffs are rising." Joe Biden campaigned in the key battleground state of North Carolina this weekend, as running mate Senator Kamala Harris is back on the campaign trail and will appear today in Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida.

Trump also held rallies in two other coronavirus hot spots over the weekend — Michigan and Wisconsin — just as state officials reported record-high COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, Trump's top coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas — known for pushing a "herd immunity" strategy — tweeted this weekend, "Masks work? NO." Twitter blocked the post for violating a policy on misleading information about COVID-19.

A federal judge struck down a Trump rule that would have thrown 700,000 people off food stamps, known as SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, amid the pandemic and record unemployment.

Meet the college senior who built a White House COVID tracker after CDC blocked from tracing Trump’s contacts

As the number of people in President Trump's orbit who test positive for COVID-19 continues to grow, we meet a student journalist who is doing what the White House doesn't want the CDC to do: tracing the contacts of people who may have infected or been infected by President Trump. Benjy Renton, a Middlebury College senior, helped develop a real-time tracking tool to monitor the growing number of people in President Trump's circle who were exposed or infected with COVID-19. The site is called COVID-19 at the White House and lists over 270 contacts and 25 positive cases, so far. It uses "publicly available information to ensure the American public have access and have the transparency that they deserve," says Renton.

Meet the College Senior Who Built a COVID Tracker After CDC Blocked from Tracing Trump’s Contacts



As the number of people in President Trump’s orbit who test positive for COVID-19 continues to grow, we meet a student journalist who is doing what the White House doesn’t want the CDC to do: tracing the contacts of people who may have infected or been infected by President Trump. Benjy Renton, a Middlebury College senior, helped develop a real-time tracking tool to monitor the growing number of people in President Trump’s circle who were exposed or infected with COVID-19. The site is called COVID-19 at the White House and lists over 270 contacts and 25 positive cases, so far. It uses “publicly available information to ensure the American public have access and have the transparency that they deserve,” says Renton.

As the number of people in President Trump’s orbit who test positive for COVID-19 continues to grow, we meet a student journalist who is doing what the White House doesn’t want the CDC to do: tracing the contacts of people who may have infected or been infected by President Trump. Benjy Renton, a Middlebury College senior, helped develop a real-time tracking tool to monitor the growing number of people in President Trump’s circle who were exposed or infected with COVID-19. The site is called COVID-19 at the White House and lists over 270 contacts and 25 positive cases, so far. It uses “publicly available information to ensure the American public have access and have the transparency that they deserve,” says Renton.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

As the number of people in President Trump's orbit who test positive for COVID-19 continues to grow, we're joined now by a student journalist who's doing what the White House does not want the Centers for Disease Control to do: tracing the contacts of people who may have infected or been infected by President Trump. Benjy Renton is a Middlebury College senior who helped develop a real-time tracking tool called COVID-19 at the White House. Benjy is also the digital director for Middlebury College's school newspaper.

Benjy, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Your website now shows 277 contacts, with 25 positive cases and a list of people you know to have come in contact with Donald Trump and others through him. Can you explain who's on the list, how you were able to come up with this, with a group of people?

BENJY RENTON: Yeah. Amy, thank you so much for having me.

So, we've been able to essentially track the contacts of anyone who's come in contact with the president or Hope Hicks or any of the individuals who have tested positive. As you said, we've had 277 contacts that we've been able to track so far, 25 of those who are positive, including Trump's campaign manager Bill Stepien, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, two of her assistant press secretaries, first lady Melania Trump, Notre Dame president John Jenkins.

So, we're still trying to understand the scope of the spread of this outbreak and sort of what events really led to the viral transmission. But we've determined that the spread is particularly alarming in and around the White House.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you've included in your contact tracking map a variety of events: the Rose Garden event, where Trump's Supreme Court nominee was officially announced, on Saturday, September 26th; the presidential debate last Tuesday; the president's rally in Duluth, Minnesota, on Wednesday; and his fundraiser at his golf club in Bedminster on Thursday evening. Talk about the map, how you put it together, and how you're getting this information.

BENJY RENTON: Sure. So, we were able to essentially use public reports, pictures, flight manifests, as well as we have our own tip line where individuals can fill out any sort of tips or results that they want us to investigate.

And so, we've looked essentially at any events or any settings that the president may have come in contact with. And that goes, as you said, to the Supreme Court nominee event in the Rose Garden, which also there was also an indoor event that was just before the ceremony, which potentially contributed to viral spread, and that was a smaller-scale event but indoors with a larger risk of transmission; the debate on that Tuesday, the debate prep beforehand; the Minnesota fundraiser. We just received an article this morning that we are adding a couple of individuals who were at the restaurant that was helping prepare the food for the fundraiser, who are now quarantined.

So, there's truly a national scope of this outbreak, and we're really trying to cast as wide of a net as possible, using publicly available information, to ensure that the American public have access and have the transparency that they deserve.

AMY GOODMAN: Which also really shows us how important public information is. I mean, you have Michael Shear of The New York Times, who's COVID-positive, one of three reporters, White House reporters, who have tested positive since last weekend. He has not been contacted by the White House, he says. And so, the real question, if any contact tracing is being done. And why, Benjy, is this contact tracing so important, when people find out if they have been near any of the people? I mean, Chris Christie now, the former governor of New Jersey, who did debate prep and was at the Supreme Court ceremony, he is hospitalized with COVID.

BENJY RENTON: Yeah. And so, as you said, Michael Shear and a couple of individuals, including Chris Christie himself, really only found out that they were in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 via the media or any sort of news reports that they consumed, because there was no official contact tracing effort, that we know of, at the White House. And we received notification yesterday in a New York Times report that the event at the Supreme — the Supreme Court nomination event Saturday will not be contact traced.

And so, while this is a not an official contact tracing investigation — we're not conducting a medical investigation — we really believe and we hope that this tracker can enact change and essentially help people understand the scope, as well as, hopefully, if those who are contacts of the president or those who are contacts of those who tested positive, really urging them to quarantine and prevent further spread of this virus, as we've seen second-order contacts, which are essentially people who were not at the events that the president attended or not at the White House events, but were contacts with somebody else, and they tested positive. So, this is truly kind of a ripple effect when we talk about spread here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Can you talk about some of the people you've identified as possible second-level contacts?

BENJY RENTON: Yeah. So, Claudia Conway, who is the daughter of former counsel to the president Kellyanne Conway, had posted on TikTok that she had tested positive for COVID-19. And she was not at any of the initial events or anything. She had contact, obviously, with her mother, Kellyanne. And so, we know that COVID-19 spreads oftentimes in home settings or in family settings, because those are areas where individuals are in close contact with each other without masks. So, that's one of them.

We've also started to really kind of draw back the scope of this, and maybe even go earlier than that Saturday Supreme Court event. We learned yesterday, according to The New York Times's Maggie Haberman, that two White House resident staff have tested positive. We read a CNN report a couple days ago that showed, even as far back as two or so weeks ago, there was a White House staffer that tested positive.

And we want to reiterate that we really do protect individuals' privacy, and so this is all publicly available information. And that often means that we may need to name someone as "White House staffer" or "journalist one" or "journalist two," "journalist three." But we really want to get as accurate and as timely of a data set as possible, without sacrificing privacy or accuracy.

AMY GOODMAN: And if people want to get this information, where can they go? We have five seconds.

BENJY RENTON: Yeah, so they can go to WHCOVIDTracker.com, and there's a tip line there that we encourage anybody to submit tips or even results, if they are contacts.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, with all the controversies going around college education right now, Benjy, I can see that your time is well spent. Benjy Renton, senior at Middlebury College in Vermont, one of the creators of the White House COVID-19 outbreak tracker website. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

What did he know and when did he know it? Lies abound as Trump is treated for COVID

As the White House and President Trump's medical team issue conflicting statements on Trump's condition after he was hospitalized for COVID-19, and when he was infected, we speak with Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason. The administration's lack of transparency "certainly raises questions about the decisions that were made to allow him to travel, for him to decide to travel, and to expose what seems like a lot of people," Mason says.This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.




AMY GOODMAN: President Trump has entered his fourth day hospitalized at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Trump tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and was flown to the hospital on Friday after suffering a high fever and a drop in oxygen. Trump has received supplemental oxygen at least twice after his blood oxygen level fell. Doctors say Trump could be released back to the White House to continue his treatment as early as today.

Over the weekend, his medical team repeatedly gave limited and conflicting information about his health and refused to answer key questions, lied about other issues. On Saturday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said, quote, "We are still not on a clear path to a full recovery." On Sunday, doctors revealed Trump had been given dexamethasone, a common steroid that's recommended only for patients critically ill with COVID-19. His treatment has also included the experimental monoclonal antibody made by Regeneron and the antiviral drug remdesivir. CNN reports Trump may be the only COVID-19 patient to ever receive this combination of drugs.

On Sunday, Trump broke his quarantine by leaving the hospital to take a short drive to wave at his supporters outside. Trump appeared to be wearing just a cloth mask inside the sealed vehicle, possibly infecting the Secret Service agents who accompanied him.

Meanwhile, the number of prominent Republicans to get infected keeps growing. The list now includes first lady Melania Trump, Senators Mike Lee, Thom Tillis and Ron Johnson, Trump adviser Hope Hicks, Trump's campaign manager Bill Stepien, former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who's been hospitalized. Trump's personal assistant, Nicholas Luna, has also tested positive.

Many of those infected attended a ceremony at the White House for Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Notre Dame University president John Jenkins, who attended the event, has also tested positive.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who debated Trump on Tuesday, tested negative on Friday, as well as on Sunday.

We begin today's show with Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. He was previously the director of Harvard University's Global Health Institute. We're also joined by Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason, the former president of the White House Correspondents' Association.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jeff Mason, let's begin with you. Now, you're in Wilmington now. You're covering Joe Biden. You were the White House Correspondent president in the beginning of Trump's term. Can you talk about, number one, would we know almost any of this on Thursday if it hadn't been a reporter at Bloomberg News who reported that Hope Hicks had tested positive for COVID-19?

JEFF MASON: Well, that's a great question. We wouldn't have known it when we did. That's for sure. I mean, when that news broke by Bloomberg and then ended up being confirmed, of course, by other news organizations, including my own, that led to a trickle of news about — essentially, about President Trump. I mean, he came on Fox News later that evening and also confirmed that Hope had gotten sick, and at that time said that he had been tested and also sort of gave an indication that he wasn't sure if he had it and whether he would need to go into quarantine. So, you know, it's hard, in retrospect, to know what would have — you know, if he still would have gone on Fox in that case. Clearly, eventually, they would have had to say that he had the disease, but, for sure, it started off because of good reporting from one of my colleagues.

AMY GOODMAN: And this issue is so critical because it is clear that President Trump knew at least before he left the tarmac for that New Jersey fundraiser, where he was inside with at least 18 of his donors and there was an inside/outside event of like 250 people — he knew that Hope Hicks had tested positive. The significance of this at this point? It is not clear whether he had been tested at that point, and it's not clear, certainly, that Hope Hicks gave it to him. For all we know, he gave it to her. So many people around him, at least 10, have now tested positive for COVID-19. But the significance of him going then in a plane to New Jersey for this fundraiser?

JEFF MASON: Yeah, I mean, you laid it out very well. It's exactly the opposite of what public health professionals have been encouraging Americans and others around the world not to do. If you have been exposed, certainly if you feel any symptoms, people are encouraged to stay home and not to travel, to wear a mask. President Trump, of course, has not been a regular mask wearer.

And the White House isn't giving a lot of details about what we would call a tick tock, which are the exact sort of details about a timeline of when he first found out. But the timeline that you have laid out is also what is generally known at this point, and it certainly raises questions about the decisions that were made to allow him to travel, for him to decide to travel, and to expose what seems like a lot of people.

AMY GOODMAN: And the critical question: When was Trump last tested, before Thursday? When did he last do a COVID test? I mean, the significance of this question is clear, because the White House is refusing to answer it, the doctor — his doctor is refusing to answer it. Before Thursday, when was he last tested? Any reporting on that?

JEFF MASON: Yeah, I mean, you're asking the question that I think a lot of people would like to know. He would have been tested — he would have been tested before the debate, I believe. I know that the Biden campaign —

AMY GOODMAN: No, actually, Chris Matthews — sorry, Chris Wallace said —

JEFF MASON: Yeah, feel free to correct me on that.

AMY GOODMAN: — that Trump arrived too late to actually have a test, and they worked on the, quote, "honor system."

JEFF MASON: OK, all right. That's right, and I'm glad you corrected me on that. I know that the Biden campaign said that he was tested before going to Cleveland. And that is obviously a big breach, if that's what happened with the White House and with President Trump.

The one thing they have been saying repeatedly throughout the last several weeks and months of this pandemic is that he is tested very regularly. I think many people assume that that would mean that he is tested on a daily basis, which would have included that Tuesday of that debate. I can tell you that reporters and others who are around the president regularly at the White House, obviously before this diagnosis, are tested on a daily basis. And so I think there is certainly an assumption that that was happening with him, too.

AMY GOODMAN: And that is another critical question. Your colleagues in the White House press corps who were there that weekend covering the events around Amy Coney Barrett, three have now tested positive, as far as we know, one of them Michael Shear of The New York Times. Now, you are a strong advocate of reporters at the White House. You were the head of the press association there. The significance of this? And how hard is it to work safely at the White House, when you have a president who the people around him are discouraged from wearing masks and you have a White House press secretary who does not wear a mask when she comes to brief the press?

JEFF MASON: Yeah, it's very tricky. It is a tricky time, because journalists, obviously, myself included, and all of my colleagues, feel a responsibility to cover this, which is the biggest story in the world, and to get information out to the American people, as well as the rest of the world, not only about now the president's health, but the policy response to the pandemic and everything else. So, it is definitely a challenge. And it's unusual, I would say, that reporters have to put themselves at risk just by going to do their jobs at the White House. But that has been the case.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Mason, I wanted to go back to you questioning President Trump. I believe it was on September 7th.

JEFF MASON: Thanks, Mr. President. The issue of what happened when you were in France continues to be a story.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You're going have to take that off, please. Just you can take it off. Your health — how many feet are you away?
JEFF MASON: I'll speak a lot louder.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, if you don't take it off — you're very muffled, so if you would take it off, it would be a lot easier.
JEFF MASON: I'll just speak a lot louder. Is that better?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's better, yeah. It's better.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Jeff Mason, you clearly stood your ground. You were wearing that mask, and you refused to take it off. Talk about the significance of that and him telling other reporters, as well, at different times? That was a month ago today, telling them to take off their masks?

JEFF MASON: I think it's just representative of the ethos around mask wearing that President Trump has employed and used. He, as you were referring to earlier, doesn't like wearing a mask, doesn't like it when people around him are wearing a mask. In that particular case with me, he is right that I was far enough away from him that we had enough distance, in which I wouldn't have needed to wear a mask, but I was standing next to my colleagues. And that's why I left mine on.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, what happened yesterday, this moment when President Trump does a drive-by surprise wave to his supporters outside the hospital, it was an astounding moment to see him in this hermetically sealed, you know, presidential — I don't know if it's an SUV — with two —

JEFF MASON: I think it was an SUV, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Right — two Secret Service driving him. He is a sick COVID patient forcing his Secret Service to be in a car with closed windows. And the press, the White House press corps, told to go leave the premises at that point, because there would be no more news from President Trump.

JEFF MASON: Right. And to give a specific timeline on that, so, the small pool of reporters that covers the president's movements, that travels with him, that's called the pool. And we're given instructions in the morning as to what time to show up at the White House. And in yesterday's case, they showed up at the White House and then went to Walter Reed and then were given instructions to leave because there would be no more movements. There were other reporters out there, and I think that's, thankfully, why we were able to get some video. But the pool itself had been dismissed.

And I should also clarify something I said earlier. It's just the pool of reporters, that 13-member group, that gets tested every day when they go to the White House. There are lots of other reporters, including on that day of the nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who do not get tested. So, the precautions there are limited to a small group of people.

But to get back to your specific question, yes, he certainly breached protocols with regard to the press, and certainly also breached protocols with regard to health, by leaving the hospital and by going out and doing that. It's the opposite — the opposite — of what COVID patients are encouraged to do all around this country, certainly if they're in a hospital, but also simply if you're at home. If you are diagnosed with a disease — which, let's be clear, he has the disease and is being treated for it — you are to stay quarantined and to stay, in this case, in the hospital, or otherwise at home.

AMY GOODMAN: The sad joke online about yesterday's drive-by: Secret Service members are there to take a bullet for the president, not from him.

Naomi Klein fears Trump will exploit his COVID infection to further destabilize the election

How will President Trump's revelation that he tested positive for COVID-19 affect the presidential race? Acclaimed journalist, author and activist Naomi Klein warns that the Trump campaign is likely to exploit the news. "We need to be prepared for the president using the fact that he's having to cancel campaign events for two weeks to try to further delegitimize elections," she says.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue to look at this breaking news, President Trump and the first lady testing positive for COVID-19, announcing they'll be quarantined for the next 14 days, canceling his campaign events. We end today's show looking at how the development will impact the presidential race.

We're going to start with Naomi Klein, senior correspondent at The Intercept, a professor at Rutgers University, executive producer of new short video titled A Message from the Future II: The Years of Repair. Her latest book, out now in paperback, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.

Naomi, I assume you went to sleep not knowing this news, and you wake up, looking down from British Columbia, and you see what has taken place. You cover leaders around the world. We know that President Bolsonaro tested positive for COVID-19 — at least he announced something like three times. And then you have Boris Johnson, the prime minister of Britain, who said — both of them, like Trump, who have so seriously downplayed the pandemic, risking not clear how many lives. Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said he was going to work through this. He ended up in the intensive care unit. Naomi, if you can talk about this link of the denial of the pandemic to authoritarian leaders?

NAOMI KLEIN: Sure. Well, Amy, it's good to be with you. Absolutely. And when you look at these figures — Trump, Bolsonaro, Johnson — these are the figures who believe that they can bully this virus, and they believe they can bully science in all kinds of ways. But, of course, the pandemic doesn't bend to their will. And so they've all been under this sort of reality avalanche. I mean, Trump is a reality television star. He's used to being able to cut and paste reality to his liking. And ever since this pandemic began and his denials made it so much worse and his bullying of scientists made it so much worse, he has finally confronted some physical reality that he can't bully in the same way that he, frankly, bullies the stock market — and has a lot of success bullying reality, but there's some reality that doesn't confirm — doesn't conform.

You know, as you know, Amy, I also have spent a lot of my writing career researching moments of shock and how they are exploited by the powerful. That's the thesis behind The Shock Doctrine. And so I find myself thinking a lot about that this morning, because, as we speak, there is no doubt that Trump is meeting with his advisers, and has been since they knew about this, since they knew about Hope Hicks, trying to figure out how to exploit this, including, I'm afraid, using it as an excuse to do what they have been trying to do relentlessly, which is discredit elections that Trump is terrified he is going to lose. So, as we think about what this means, we need to be prepared for the president using the fact that he's having to cancel campaign events for two weeks to try to further delegitimize elections that he very likely will lose.

I think we need to remember that this president has been campaigning for reelection since the day after he was inaugurated and since he started circulating false photographs of the rallies that supposedly greeted him. He has had plenty of time to campaign. He has done nothing but campaign for reelection since he became president.

So, I think that, you know, we're seeing a lot of Democrats sending thoughts and prayers this morning. You know, I really think we should see Trump getting COVID as the epidemiological equivalent of a mass shooting, where the shooter opens fire on the crowd and then turns the gun on himself. This is not a tragic accident. It is a crime scene and should be treated as such.

Coming back to those leaders you mentioned, you know, I think that Trump — the reckless endangering of the country, but also himself — right? — is a result of the fact that he truly believes — you know, I think he believes in white supremacy, to be honest with you. Ilhan Omar tweeted yesterday that the president is a white supremacist. I think she's right. He talks about his good genes all the time, in this kind of coded language. I believe he actually has such faith in his own genetic supremacy that he has engaged in this reckless behavior despite all of the health risks that we have heard from your medical experts earlier in the show, because he believes himself to be supreme. And, you know, he is not. He is fallible. He is mortal.

Naomi Klein: I fear Trump will exploit his COVID infection to further destabilize the election

How will President Trump's revelation that he tested positive for COVID-19 affect the presidential race? Acclaimed journalist, author and activist Naomi Klein warns that the Trump campaign is likely to exploit the news. "We need to be prepared for the president using the fact that he's having to cancel campaign events for two weeks to try to further delegitimize elections," she says.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we continue to look at this breaking news, President Trump and the first lady testing positive for COVID-19, announcing they'll be quarantined for the next 14 days, canceling his campaign events. We end today's show looking at how the development will impact the presidential race.

We're going to start with Naomi Klein, senior correspondent at The Intercept, a professor at Rutgers University, executive producer of new short video titled A Message from the Future II: The Years of Repair. Her latest book, out now in paperback, On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.

Naomi, I assume you went to sleep not knowing this news, and you wake up, looking down from British Columbia, and you see what has taken place. You cover leaders around the world. We know that President Bolsonaro tested positive for COVID-19 — at least he announced something like three times. And then you have Boris Johnson, the prime minister of Britain, who said — both of them, like Trump, who have so seriously downplayed the pandemic, risking not clear how many lives. Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said he was going to work through this. He ended up in the intensive care unit. Naomi, if you can talk about this link of the denial of the pandemic to authoritarian leaders?

NAOMI KLEIN: Sure. Well, Amy, it's good to be with you. Absolutely. And when you look at these figures — Trump, Bolsonaro, Johnson — these are the figures who believe that they can bully this virus, and they believe they can bully science in all kinds of ways. But, of course, the pandemic doesn't bend to their will. And so they've all been under this sort of reality avalanche. I mean, Trump is a reality television star. He's used to being able to cut and paste reality to his liking. And ever since this pandemic began and his denials made it so much worse and his bullying of scientists made it so much worse, he has finally confronted some physical reality that he can't bully in the same way that he, frankly, bullies the stock market — and has a lot of success bullying reality, but there's some reality that doesn't confirm — doesn't conform.

You know, as you know, Amy, I also have spent a lot of my writing career researching moments of shock and how they are exploited by the powerful. That's the thesis behind The Shock Doctrine. And so I find myself thinking a lot about that this morning, because, as we speak, there is no doubt that Trump is meeting with his advisers, and has been since they knew about this, since they knew about Hope Hicks, trying to figure out how to exploit this, including, I'm afraid, using it as an excuse to do what they have been trying to do relentlessly, which is discredit elections that Trump is terrified he is going to lose. So, as we think about what this means, we need to be prepared for the president using the fact that he's having to cancel campaign events for two weeks to try to further delegitimize elections that he very likely will lose.

I think we need to remember that this president has been campaigning for reelection since the day after he was inaugurated and since he started circulating false photographs of the rallies that supposedly greeted him. He has had plenty of time to campaign. He has done nothing but campaign for reelection since he became president.

So, I think that, you know, we're seeing a lot of Democrats sending thoughts and prayers this morning. You know, I really think we should see Trump getting COVID as the epidemiological equivalent of a mass shooting, where the shooter opens fire on the crowd and then turns the gun on himself. This is not a tragic accident. It is a crime scene and should be treated as such.

Coming back to those leaders you mentioned, you know, I think that Trump — the reckless endangering of the country, but also himself — right? — is a result of the fact that he truly believes — you know, I think he believes in white supremacy, to be honest with you. Ilhan Omar tweeted yesterday that the president is a white supremacist. I think she's right. He talks about his good genes all the time, in this kind of coded language. I believe he actually has such faith in his own genetic supremacy that he has engaged in this reckless behavior despite all of the health risks that we have heard from your medical experts earlier in the show, because he believes himself to be supreme. And, you know, he is not. He is fallible. He is mortal.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Kingdom of Silence: 2 years after Khashoggi murder, new film explores deadly US-Saudi Alliance

Two years ago, in a story that shocked the world, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul for marriage documents and was never seen again. It was later revealed that Khashoggi — a Saudi insider turned critic and Washington Post columnist — was murdered and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents at the direct order of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. We speak with a friend of Khashoggi and with the director of a new documentary, "Kingdom of Silence," that tracks not only Khashoggi's brutal murder and the rise of MBS, but also the decades-long alliance between the United States and Saudi Arabia. "What drew me into this story is Jamal was one of our own," says director Rick Rowley. "When one of our colleagues is killed, it falls on all of us as journalists to try to do what we can to rescue their story from the forces that would impose silence on it."


Trump biographer explains the president's link to Russia 'buried' in the NYT tax story

Ahead of the first of three presidential debates between President Trump and Joe Biden, we speak with David Cay Johnston, founder and editor-in-chief of DCReport.org, who says the bombshell New York Times report on Trump's taxes highlights the existence of "two income tax systems, separate and unequal." The Times reports that Trump paid no federal income tax in 10 of the past 15 years and just $750 in 2016 and 2017. In a follow-up report, the Times reveals Trump made $427 million in connection to the hit reality TV show "The Apprentice," providing him a financial lifeline as other investments lost money. "People who own their own businesses, like Donald Trump, are under a different system," says Johnston.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

When President Trump and Joe Biden meet tonight for their first of three presidential debates — and you can watch it here at democracynow.org at 9 Eastern [Daylight] — Trump is expected to face questions about the bombshell report in The New York Times that revealed he paid no federal income tax in 10 of the past 15 years and just $750 in 2016 and '17. In a follow-up report, the Times reveals Trump made $427 million off the hit reality TV show The Apprentice, providing him a financial lifeline as other investments lost money. The Times reports, quote, "Mr. Trump's genius, it turned out, wasn't running a company. It was making himself famous — Trump-scale famous — and monetizing that fame," unquote.

Well, the Biden campaign responded quickly on Sunday to The New York Times exposé with a video ad showing the typical income taxes paid by workers compared to Trump. Teachers paid $7,239. Firefighters paid $5,283. Nurses paid, oh, $10,216. Donald Trump paid $750, while boasting he's a billionaire.

The Times reports also detail Trump's questionable write-offs in tax filings from major business losses and massive debts, including more than $300 million in loans that will come due in the next four years. The revelations have raised national security concerns, with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren saying, quote, "He may be vulnerable to financial blackmail from a hostile foreign power and God knows what else." He paid more in taxes to the Philippines and India than he did to the United States.

For more, we're joined by David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter who has reported extensively on Donald Trump and his taxes for more than 30 years. Previously, he worked with The New York Times, now co-founder and editor of DCReport.org. His most recent book, It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

So, you have written, David Cay Johnston, "I think there's lots of evidence that Donald Trump is a criminal-level tax cheat." Is this true you think if he were not reelected, he could go to jail on these charges?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, whether he goes to jail is ultimately the decision of a judge after a trial and conviction. Does he deserve to go to jail? Oh, absolutely. But on the federal level in this country, where we have about 155 million tax returns filed each year, we only prosecute about 1,200 people, and most of those are drug dealers or politicians who took bribes. There is no serious effort in the United States to prosecute tax criminals. In fact, the IRS is aware of more than a half-million people who made a high income, did not even file a tax return in 2014, '15 or '16, and they're not even trying to pursue them, because they have no money. The Congress has cut and cut the IRS. In just the last 10 years, they've gotten rid of one-third of the auditors. If you make a million dollars or more — we have people in America, Amy, who make several billion dollars a year — your odds of being audited are less than three in a hundred.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, David, I wanted to ask you about the Times piece not only yesterday, but today, as well, because there's a lot of new information in there. Especially, there was this mention of this $72 million tax refund that Trump claimed, in the few years that he actually did pay taxes. He then apparently got a refund, because he was claiming, I guess, carryovers of previous losses to get that money back. Could you explain this whole issue of capital gains and how ultra-wealthy people use losses in future years to not pay taxes?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, corporations, but not individuals, are allowed to smooth out their income for tax purposes. So, a business makes a profit, say, in seven years and loses money in three, they get to use the three losing years to offset their profits from the others.

Trump did something different. When I got Donald's 2005 income tax return, he only paid $3 million of regular income tax on an income of over $150 million. He paid a lower rate than the poorest half of American taxpayers, who that year made, on average, $16,000. But he did pay another $35 million of what's called alternative minimum tax. And for real estate developers, that's not really a tax.

What happens is, the accounting rules cause you to pay the tax one year, and then the government gives it back to you in future years if you stay in the real estate business. Essentially, the government takes from you a zero-interest loan for a year.

Now, Trump's refund of $72 million-plus is supposed to be held back until it is reviewed by the staff of the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. Any refund of more than $2 million is supposed to be reviewed first by the joint committee. Trump got the refund. He got the check. It's not clear if there was a mistake made here or the joint committee passed on it. If they did, it's probably because it was seen as an alternative minimum tax refund.

But Donald's claim, you know, that he pays a lot of taxes is based on not really paying taxes. It's based on this system in which real estate developers may end up loaning the government money for a year or two at zero interest. That's not a tax.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you about the, in today's article in the Times, section that's kind of buried deep in the story, but it does begin to point at what could be a possible Russia connection, in addition to the Miss Universe contest that they talked about yesterday, this Bayrock Group, that actually rented offices right below the Trump offices in the Trump Tower and that financed a huge amount of the foreign ventures of the Trump Organization. Could you talk about them? Because they were basically being run by Russian oligarchs.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Right. I've written a lot about this. And interestingly, Dutch television — I think it's pronounced Zembla — has done really excellent work about this.

Donald Trump has long been connected with mobsters of all kinds, not just New York City mafioso, but all sorts, particularly of Russian-speaking mobsters. And he had in his office a convicted violent felon who worked for him named Felix Sater. Trump has said, "I wouldn't recognize him if I was in the room." I've got photo and video of them traveling all over the country and doing deals — none of which worked out — together, and some of which appear to be scams. Trump has very deep financial connections to the Russian oligarchs, who are essentially a criminal gang. And this is the area of national security that should most worry Americans about Donald Trump.

The pageant, the only beauty pageant — remember, Donald has boasted about how he had the right to walk in on half-naked teenage girls at his beauty pageants because he owned them. That's the kind of creep he is. The only one of his beauty pageants that made money was the 2013 pageant in Moscow. Well, was it really a profit they made, or was it Vladimir Putin or one of his agents putting money in Donald's pocket in order to curry favor with him? And remember, Donald has never said a single negative word about Vladimir Putin. In fact, he has said, "I trust Vladimir Putin, but I don't trust the American intelligence agencies."

AMY GOODMAN: You know, the Times

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: There's a lot more [inaudible]. There's a lot more. I'm sorry, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: The Times did find — they made the point that the tax documents do not reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia. However, they talk about the amount of money he paid to the Philippines, the amount of money he paid to India. And then, a larger point, that a number of people have raised, is: Does this make him a national security risk? If these loans are going to come due, these debts of over $400 million, what's he going to do to deal with this? And did he sign off on laws as president that benefit him personally?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, let's deal with the forthcoming loans. It's very clear from the Times reporting that Donald does not have the resources to pay back more than $300 million of loans he personally guaranteed. Now, if you are an actual billionaire, which Donald has never been, and you own valuable assets, you don't have to personally guarantee a loan. You just pledge the assets as collateral. So, that's the first thing that tells you that Donald is not and, as I've reported as far back as 1990, never has been a billionaire. It's just a fraud, a hoax by him.

These loans would come due during a second Trump term. Well, the resolution of that's, I think, pretty obvious. Donald Trump appoints the banking regulators in the United States. He controls the banking regulation system. Do you think any bank, licensed by the government, is going to foreclose on the president of the United States? No. They're going to give him what's called a forbearance. "Well, we'll extend the terms of your loan, sir. Perhaps you would like a holiday on your payments. Could we lower the interest rate for you, sir? Please, what could we do as bankers?"

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you've said that one of the crucial but unstated messages from this report on Trump's taxes is that Americans are, quote, "chumps" when it comes to our own income taxes. Could you expand on that?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, I've been trying to get Americans to understand that what happened, starting with the Reagan administration and the end of the New Deal, is that America devised two income tax systems, separate and unequal. Those of us who are workers or pensioners, as I am, our taxes are withheld before we get our money. The government knows how much money we got. The Trump tax law eliminated itemizing of deductions. Only one in 20 taxpayers now is going to do that, and they're almost all going to be very rich. You can't get a deduction for a charitable gift or a home mortgage or state and local taxes anymore in 95 out of 100 households.

But people who own their own business, like Donald Trump, they are under a different system. Congress doesn't trust us. That's why it takes the taxes out first. But Congress trusts Donald Trump and everyone like him, that they will fully and faithfully report the actual income they had, and then they will pay all the taxes that they owe. And the only check on that are audits.

So, what has Congress been doing, in particularly the George W. Bush administration, the Reagan administration — well, a little bit in the Reagan administration, and under Donald Trump? Well, they've been getting rid of auditors, so that your odds, if you're a million-dollar-plus income person, of being audited, as I said, are less than 3% a year.

And even then, the IRS is so badly underfunded and understaffed, that at DCReport we did a five-part story last year about the third Koch brother, Bill Koch, who is getting $100 million a year and paying no income taxes, through a device that I think is clearly improper, arguably criminal. We proved with documents — he was under criminal investigation He's the only Koch brother who supports Donald Trump. And a couple of weeks after Donald Trump became president, his next-door neighbor at Mar-a-Lago, Bill Koch's criminal investigation suddenly stopped.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, David Cay Johnston, the first presidential debate is tonight. What question do you want to see raised about Donald Trump's taxes?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Oh, I think the biggest mistake Joe Biden could make would be to somehow attack wealth. That just doesn't sell in America. I think that what he should do is press him on, "All right, the cat's out of the bag. You say it's fake news. Just show us your Form 1040s back to the year 2000. Why don't you just put out your Form 1040s? One of them is out. David Cay Johnston published it three years ago. Just show those. And we'll see whether it's fake news or not." And Donald will dodge and parry that.

The emails I'm getting from people on the right are all designed to tell you that Joe Biden is a secret crook with a billion-dollar fortune, all of which is utter nonsense, by the way. This is a man who is —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: He hasn't paid off his mortgage.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, David Cay Johnston, I want to thank you for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, editor of DCReport.org, and his most recent book, It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

Tonight, we will be streaming the first presidential debate live, 9 Eastern [Daylight] Time, at democracynow.org. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us. Stay safe. Wear a mask.

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