Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Going To Arizona To Peddle False Election Fraud Claims; "Washington Post:" Trump PAC Spends Zero Of Its $75 Million Raised This Year On Arizona "Fraudit"; Eighteen States Have Enacted New Laws That Make It Harder To Vote; Voting Rights Activists Push Biden To Take More Action; NFL Players Push Back On League's New COVID-19 Policy; Book, "I Alone Can Fix It," Showcases Trump's Many Lies. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired July 24, 2021 - 15:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Oh boy, I'm in trouble. I was going to put that off, but now I better do that this weekend.

Tom Foreman, thank you.

All right, our thanks go out to all of you for joining me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The CNN NEWSROOM with Jim Acosta begins now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: You are alive in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

The big lie is about to get a whole lot bigger. Tonight, former President Donald Trump heads to Arizona, the site of a sham election audit to rally his supporters and rail against the election he lost fair and square. And while a team of volunteers has spent weeks scouring ballots for nonexistent proof, they were shipped in from overseas.

Here's a newsflash courtesy of |The Washington Post" that Trump has not spent a single dollar from the 75 million raised by his political PAC to support this audit or any other ballot review across the country. So, it seems even his team realizes nothing is going to reverse the results of this election.

And yet here we are, 263 days after the votes were cast with very few Republicans willing to publicly accept that there is no Hail Mary in Arizona. Let's check in with CNN's Kyung Lah in Phoenix.

Kyung, what's the atmosphere like there right now? I suppose things are going to live and up as we go along.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So pretty lively right now as this place is beginning to fill up. This is an indoor theater and expected in a few hours is Donald Trump to headline this entire event.

The atmosphere here when you go around and talk to people who are here to see Trump is absolute refusal to accept the election results. When you talk to them and ask them what they think happened in November 2020, they don't believe what happened. Instead they parrot the lie that the former president has said over and over again that somehow this election was rigged. It was not.

But what is happening here is that this so called audit is taking place. That is the third audit despite two previous audit showing that there was no widespread election fraud.

Out -- standing next to the president and clamoring for time next to him are 2022 candidates for Arizona governor as well as for the U.S. Senate. The reason why, Jim, is because this is the base. And they understand, those candidates understand that despite the lies that the former president is saying that he remains a potent force with the Republican base here in Arizona. Jim.

ACOSTA: And Kyung, do you get the sense from talking to any of the people there that, I mean, does anybody kind of privately or quietly acknowledged that this audit is a sham and a charade? Are they all invested in this?

LAH: Not the people here. Now, if you go into Republican areas and talk to a variety of Republicans from the further hardcore rights, more moderate Republicans, who are so registered Republicans, you'll get a variety of opinions about this so called audit that's happening. But in this crowd, no, you're not going to hear anyone saying anything other than some of the falsehoods that have already come out.

There have been lies perpetuated by the contractor or cyber ninjas that have been shot down, but they continue to repeat and echo those lies, Jim.

ACOSTA: And I see it's an indoor rally, and I see you're wearing a mask. But what about other folks there, are they wearing masks? Are there anti-vaxxers there? I mean, what's the sense you're getting there?

LAH: Well, I can tell you just by looking around, and I can count the number of mask that I've seen on one hand, maybe three, maybe four at the most. And you know, when we were walking around outside trying to get a little bit of color, we heard this.





UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take off the mask.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take off the mask.


LAH: Showing you there, Jim, the nexus between politics and public health. Jim.

ACOSTA: It goes a long way in explaining why we're in so much trouble in this country when it comes to COVID.

All right, Kyung Lah, thank you so much.

And joining me now is the former Republican Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods. He's now a Democrat. Also with us is the former Clinton White House adviser, CNN Political Commentator, our friend Paul Begala. Thanks so much to both of you.

Grant, this audit has taken on a life of its own. I hate calling it just an audit without, you know, describing it as also a sham and a charade, because that's what it is. But Republicans from all over the country, as you know, have trekked out to Arizona to show their loyalty to Trump and now you have Trump himself. Speaking in Phoenix. How worried are you that this cult like behavior is just going to continue to get worse?


GRANT WOODS, FORMER ARIZONA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, Jim, I think it probably will because that's what it is. I think we should keep some perspective on this. In Arizona we used to, for most of the time, we had two Republican senators, now we have two Democratic senators. Joe Biden, one Arizona. And so, that's kind of where the voters are, that wasn't very long ago.

And when you look at Arizona, the Republicans have a problem in Arizona. And it's only getting worse. Arizona is a state where we have about a third Republicans, about a third Democrats about a third Independents. And so, yes, the ones who are left in the Republican Party, they're kind of hardcore. And a lot of them are kind of cultish, like the people who would show up at that thing today. But the Independents who will swing the election are -- they have no interest in this audit, they know it's a sham, and the polling is pretty much off the charts there.

So, ultimately it's a losing proposition for them. But they've got the dilemma because that's where all these candidates are there. They got to win the primary to get to the general. They can't win the primary, unless they kiss the ring of their cult figure.

That's their problem. It's their dilemma. Ultimately, it's a losing strategy in Arizona and hopefully elsewhere.

ACOSTA: And Paul, "The Washington Post" reports that former President Trump's political PAC stockpiled some $75 million in the first half of the year, but he didn't use any of that money to help fund these ballot reviews he likes to talk about so much. Do you think he's going to admit that to the audience today?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I kind of doubt it. Maybe he could, quote, "scripture" where Christ taught where your heart lies there to show your treasure be. His heart is not in this thing. I mean, he's already putting money behind it. And I don't know if he realizes that it's a fruitless effort.

I think, Grant makes a really good point about the box that he has put his party in. You can't win the nomination without Trump and in a lot of places you can't win the general election with him.

It's really interesting he's going to Arizona today. He's in Ohio recently. We see him in New Jersey and in Florida. You know where you don't see him? Virginia. The one swing state that has a governor's election this year.

Yesterday, Joe Biden came to Virginia, I'm speaking to you from Virginia. Biden came to Virginia yesterday, campaign with Terry McAuliffe, the former governor, an old friend of mine, by the way, my kids are working for him. We're all in for Terry in my house. But Biden came and why will Trump?

Trump has a golf course here. They say quite beautiful. He's got a winery here. He owns lots of land in Virginia. Come on, Donald, come to Virginia.

You know why he won't, because McAuliffe is already attacking his Republican opponent for being too close to Trump and Trump lost Virginia by nine points last time. And that's the problem is party is in. I think Grant actually hit the nail right on the head.

ACOSTA: And Grant, Republicans in Arizona and 17 other states have used this election fraud conspiracy is to pass 30 laws this year alone that make it harder to vote. That's according to the Brennan Center for Justice. These voting rights bills, I guess right now, you know, that they're trying to reverse some of this and the Senate are dead for the moment.

President and others feel like perhaps they can come back from the dead. But what do you think of where things stand right now in terms of these efforts across the country that, you know, seem to have some of their Genesis in Arizona, they want to be like Arizona?

WOODS: Right. Well, I'm concerned about it. I really am. I'm generally not too alarmist about most of these things. But I am on this one. I think it's -- I do believe this is a fight for our democracy.

And I'm against the filibuster in general. To me, it's a joke that people act like this is 20 years ago or 40 years ago or 50 years ago, it's not, it's 2021. Just look at the behavior of the Republicans in the Senate, they've massed together and won't work cooperatively on virtually anything. So they got to get rid of the filibuster period.

But certainly, we've got to make an exception here for voting rights and crap something with a senator from my state, Sinema. I don't know what her problem is, frankly. A lot of us can't believe her behavior with Joe Manchin, let's figure it out. But we're going to have to fix this.

And if you can't do it for -- to preserve democracy, to make sure that we have fair elections, that people are allowed to vote, and that it's not just proportionately impacting negatively on people of color, and people that the Republicans don't want to vote, then why are you even there? Why are you in the Senate?

And I hope the President, I'm a Joe Biden fan, because Paul knows from day one, and have been there with him from day one. I was a little concerned with his comments this week on -- at the CNN town hall with Don Lemon. I hope he realizes that this isn't like it was when he was in the Senate. Things have changed. And this is of the utmost importance.


And we're going to have to solve this. We have to solve it on a federal level. That's the Republican plan to suppress the vote. And that's the only way they can win short term.

ACOSTA: And, Paul, what's your sense, just to build off of what Grant was talking about there? Do you think that Joe Biden has put himself in a tough position when it comes to the filibuster? He did not sound very receptive to the idea of changing it very much in such a way that it would allow these voting rights bills to pass in the Senate.

I mean, with that filibuster in the way, there's just almost no hope for those bills at this point.

BEGALA: That's right. And this is a guy, you know, President Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate. He's an institutionalist. And he's a creature of that institution.

But Grant's right, it is not the same Senate that Joe Biden walked out of in 2009. We have created carve outs over the decades in the filibuster. So it doesn't apply to spending bills, that's why you hear these reconciliation talks.

It doesn't apply to judges. It doesn't apply to cabinet officers. It shouldn't apply to voting rights. It shouldn't apply to voting rights.

It's just that's so foundational, in the same way that spending money is that foundational. And I think the President was wise to stay out of it, let the Senate try to fix it themselves. I thought he did in the town hall with Don Lemon. I thought he did lean in to opposing filibuster reform more than he should.

Because this is not the case where you back in the day, my old boss and mentor Bill Clinton could sit down with Grant's old boss and mentor John McCain, they could reach across the aisle and get things done. Mitch McConnell has said -- Mitch McConnell has said his goal is to make Joe Biden one term president. Of course, he had the same goal with Obama and he failed at that.

ACOSTA: Yes, two Democratic presidents in a row, he has said this.

BAGALA: Right, right. He's in -- this is the problem, the modern Republican Party didn't even produce a platform. They don't have an agenda. You know, you can cut deals with people who have an agenda, even if you don't agree with their agenda. But if their only purpose now is to worship Donald Trump, there's not a lot of places that we can work with them. ACOSTA: Yes. All right, Grant Woods, Paul Begala, great insights as always. We appreciate the time. We'll get you guys together again soon. Great conversation.

Coming up --

WOODS: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Take care guys.

CNN's Gary Tuchman heads to the least vaccinated state in the nation. That is coming up.

Why so many people in Alabama are refusing to roll up their sleeves?



ACOSTA: Just when we thought we had turned a corner of mass mandates are back on the table as the highly contagious Delta variant fuels a 65 percent jump in new coronavirus cases. In the city of St. Louis masks will be required again regardless of a person's vaccination status at all indoor public places and on public transportation.

Missouri is one of just three states with lower vaccination rates that account for 40 percent of new coronavirus cases in this country, the other two being Texas and Florida. In fact, Florida alone accounts for 20 percent of all new cases nationally with 73,000 cases reported in just the last week. With the governor and rumored 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has refused to put stricter COVID protocols in place.

The other issue here, the number of people who are still not vaccinated, less than 600,000 vaccine doses are being administered daily now. That's down from a peak of more than four and a half million a day in March.

And even though it's possible for people who are fully vaccinated test positive for COVID, White House Pandemic Response Coordinator Jeff Zeints noted that virtually all hospitalizations and deaths of all 97 percent are among unvaccinated people. Still, there are just some people who don't want to get the shot.


SCOTT ROE, COVID PATIENT WHO CONTINUES TO REFUSE VACCINATION: Here I am recovering, getting out of here finally tomorrow. Am I going to get a vaccine? No.


ROE: Because there's too many issues with these vaccines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you would have had a chance to get the vaccine and prevent this, would you have taken the vaccine for you to have gone through this?

ROE: I've gone through this. Yes, sir. Don't shove it down my throat.


ACOSTA: It is extraordinary to hear that. And also extraordinary to hear stories of patients who in their very last unassisted breaths before being put on a ventilator have begged for a dose of the vaccine. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People who are here who are unvaccinated really staring down death, are any of them asking for the vaccine or voicing regret?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's a great question. Yes. I mean, every single day, most of -- somebody was just saying, you're getting ready to intubate the patient in the ICU, which means putting them on a ventilator. And they said, if I get the vaccine now, could I not go on the ventilator?

So, I mean, they're begging for it. When you're an ICU with COVID, it's not the time to get vaccinated. You got to do it now before you get sick.


ACOSTA: With numbers like this and all of those horror stories, President Biden is imploring Americans to get vaccinated, appealing both from the White House and on the road.

CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz joins us now.

Arlette, it is heartbreaking to listen to those comments from people inside these hospitals. President Biden as you know, took note of this resistance that there has been among some conservatives

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, President Biden acknowledge that some of the conversation around vaccines has become politicized. But he is simply arguing that should not be the case.

And yesterday as he campaigned just across over in Virginia, the President talked about this shift that you've seen among some conservatives, not all, but some conservatives who are now trying to push back on some of this vaccine misinformation. In fact, the President had some praise for Alabama governor Kay Ivey, who recently said that it's time to blame the unvaccinated for this rise in cases.


And yesterday as he campaigned for Virginia, the President was really trying to argue that this should not be a matter of politics, that these vaccines will save lives. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Notice a lot of our very conservative friends and finally had an older call. They've seen the Lord. Whether it's on Fox News or whether it's the most conservative commentators or governors.

First of all, the COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations are today among the unvaccinated people. And I know, I know this gotten a bit politicized, but I hope is starting to change. It's not about red states or blue states or guys like that holler, it's about life and it's about death.


SAENZ: So that is similar to this messaging you've heard from the White House and health officials that this is really now a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

And there is growing concern within this White House about those areas of the country with low vaccination rates, especially as we've seen this Delta variant take hold across the country. The White House considering a range of measures potentially even preparing for boosters for those who have been vaccinated as they're trying to curb the spread of this virus.

ACOSTA: All right, Arlette Saenz, they've got a big task ahead of them at the White House. We appreciate that report.

And Alabama is at the very bottom of the U.S. vaccination list. Just 1/3 of its residents, 1/3 are fully vaccinated. So, it should come as no surprise that the average number of new cases of COVID-19 in Alabama are nearly double what they were a week ago and more than four times higher than they were two weeks ago.

Republican Governor Kay Ivey is extremely frustrated. She says the unvaccinated are to blame for these new spikes. CNN's Gary Tuchman has more.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's 5:00 p.m. and a pop up COVID vaccine clinic has just opened at Mobile, Alabama's annual Bay Bites food truck festival. There's the choice of all three vaccines, but there were no takers. Only the workers for the Mobile County Health Department. But 10 minutes later.



TUCHMAN (voice-over): The CEO of the Soul Heaven Cafe leaves their food truck and becomes the first visitor choosing the Pfizer vaccine.

(on camera): Lillie, you're done. That's pretty easy, right?

MCCOY: It was. Very easy. TUCHMAN (voice-over): Mobile County has more than 400,000 people and it's one of the lowest vaccination rates of any large county in America at 37 percent. In a state that's the lowest in the country at 34 percent.

The county health department is striving for more frequent outreach to get people vaccines. And that's why its employees are here. Ten minutes later, another woman gets a vaccine, Cindy Renkert, she chooses Moderna.

(on camera): You told me you have multiple sclerosis. And your doctor has given you the OK to get the vaccine. How do you feel about now getting it?

CINDY RENKERT, RECEIVED VACCINE: My husband's been asking me to do it. And I know that it need to be done. So I'm really glad that I've gotten it. And I'm glad that they're here doing this today, because otherwise, I'd still be dragging my feet.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Forty minutes passes by with no more vaccine customers. But two people then show up Don Bates (ph) on the left, Brittani Williams on the right.

DON BATES, RECEIVED VACCINE: The reason I'm doing it is because --


BATES: Yes, yes.


I can't

BRITTANI WILLIAMS, RECEIVED VACCINE: Most of my family's been by fascinated and, you know, they've been pushing me and pushing me and I've been putting it off but the Delta variant kind of scares me, so.

TUCHMAN (on camera): That's why you got it today.


TUCHMAN (on camera): It's now 6:00, we're one hour into the vaccinating. The curiosity level is high, but the vaccinating level is not. You met four people have gotten the vaccine. Those are the only four who came over the first hour.

(voice-over): The Health Department is sponsoring other vaccine events in places such as truck stops, coffee shops, and car dealerships. The department's director of disease surveillance is Dr. Rendi Murphree. She says the department must be creative.

DR. RENDI MURPHREE, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, MOBILE COUNTY HEALTH DEPT.: Since July 4, we have just had an explosion of cases, you know, a doubling or tripling of the number of cases every seven days. It's accelerating greatest and the age groups of 18 to 49.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Back at the food truck festival, Jacqueline Battaglia is 22 and says no vaccine for her.

JACQUELINE BATTAGLIA, DOESN'T WANT VACCINE: I just don't think that I need it, so I'm not going to get it.

TUCHMAN (on camera): And do you know, though, that almost everyone out who's dying or being hospitalized is somebody who hasn't been vaccinated. The people who haven't vaccinated, almost all of them are not going to the hospital and not dying. Does that concern you.

BATTAGLIA: Not really, I'm a healthy person. I don't have any underlying health issues. I'm not really concerned about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll just do the Johnson & Johnson.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): But those who are concerned continuous slow trickle to the vaccination tent. Jason Sullivan says he wasn't planning to get a vaccine until coming to this festival.

(on camera): How come you waited this long?

JASON SULLIVAN, RECEIVED VACCINE: Based off a lot of stuff that I heard, you know, the internet and what people were saying about the COVID shot.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Basically rumor?

SULLIVAN: Rumors, rumors.

TUCHMAN (on camera): It's now 8:00, the vaccinations at the food truck fair are over. The final number of people who got vaccinations, 12. That's an average of four an hour.


(voice-over): It's not a big number, but the health department workers will tell you the numbers are getting higher at their various outreach events over the last week. Good news. Amid the Delta variant, bad news.


ACOSTA: Coming up. A pandemic penalty, the NFL sends a strict message to teams with unvaccinated players. Plus, the coach out of a job because he wouldn't get the shots.



ACOSTA: Just a few weeks until the start of the NFL season and one star player said his vaccination status, quote, "isn't necessarily important."

Dallas Cowboys quarterback, Dak Prescott, not telling reporters if he got a shot, saying asking about it is a violation of his privacy.

Prescott's refusal comes as the NFL announces new COVID penalties for teams that experience outbreaks among unvaccinated players.

Coy Wire reports.


COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes, Jim, this could be a sticking point for teammates. Some see it as a mandate. Others are uncomfortable with the idea that their teammate might cost them the health or their paycheck.

But it's a sticking coach for the Minnesota Vikings holding talks and saying that Rick Dennison is seeking an exemption to the league mandate.

The statement said, "At this time, the coach doesn't have an exemption. All staff with direct contact with players must be vaccinated."

But earlier this year, the league and union agreed players would not be required. Some players say the new announcement participates them announcement paints them into a corner.

A team canceled or postponed will be considered a forfeit and count as a loss in the standings for the team. Players on both teams will not get the paycheck for that game.

Cardinals wide receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, wrote in a now deleted tweet, quote, "Never thought I would say this but being in a position to hurt my team because I don't want to partake in the vaccine is making he question the future in the NFL."

Buffalo Bills receiver, Cole Beasley, is perhaps the most outspoken player. He reaffirmed the stance saying, "Nothing has changed. I'm still living freely."

That could make for an uncomfortable meeting room.

Another player tweeting simply, "Accountable, availability."

Pro-Bowl running back, Ezekiel Elliott, got the virus last summer, go the vaccine last summer. Said after the announcement, he wanted to put himself in the best situation to be out there for the team but he feels you can't, quote, "force someone to do someone they don't want to do with their body," unquote.

With training camps under way or starting in the coming days, the NFL said 78 percent of players across the league have received at least one shot and 14 of the 32 teams have hit an 85 percent vaccination rate.

Jim, not much time for unvaccinated NFL players to decide whether they'll get the vaccine. Season opener is about six weeks away.


ACOSTA: Thank you, Coy.

Coming up, Donald Trump brags about his pre-pandemic presidency, saying not one of the founding fathers, George Washington, could have beaten him. That and other stunning whoppers from a new book, next.



ACOSTA: Donald Trump on the home turf, in his own words, back in March. A pair of reporters sat down with the former president at Mar- a-Lago and sharing the tapes.

Lordy, there are tapes and littered with lies about the election and ensuing capitol attack.


CAROL LEONNIG, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST" (voice- over): What did you hope they would do --


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): I heard that people wanted to go down to -- that wasn't my rally. There were a lot of people that spoke. Rallies the night before. Cities all over the city.

You had hundreds of thousands of people. I would venture to say, I think it was the largest crowd I have ever spoken from.

It went from that point almost at the White House to beyond the Washington Monument. It was a -- and wide. And --


LEONNIG: But if you could have --


TRUMP: A loving crowd, too. I heard that from everybody. Many, many people told me. A loving crowd. You know? It was too bad.

It was too bad that got -- that they did -


TRUMP: -- from my statement, from my statement --


LEONNIG: Mr. President, I apologize. What we are trying to understand. Not blame. I understand that.

What did you want when you said go up there? What would you have dreamed --


TRUMP: I would have said that you will show -- not to go in. Although they were ushered in by the police.

In all fairness, the Capitol Police were ushering people in. They were very friendly. They were hugging and kissing. You don't see that.

There's plenty of tape on that, too. The Capitol Police were -- that's the way it was.

But I wanted -- personally, what I wanted is what they wanted. They showed up just to show support because I happen to believe the election was rigged at a level like nothing has ever been rigged before.


ACOSTA: Very disturbing.

That interview for the explosive new book "I Alone Can Fix It: Donald trump's Catastrophic Final Year," by Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker, the wonderful Phil Rucker, and "The Washington Post" wonderful Carol Leonnig joining us now.

Great to have you with us, Carol.


What was it like to hear Trump push the delusions and lies? He's just detached from reality.

We know it was not a loving crowd. I feel like I have flash backs because it does it with a straight face.

LEONNIG: Jim, his inner narrative hardened so much since he left the White House.

Sitting him in the lobby, with the opulence, the president watching his fans trapse toward the dinner room on the patio at Mar-a-Lago, our jaws were hitting the table.

Because we are hardened faces, we were putting them back on our faces.

But the idea of it was a loving crowd, there was hugging and kissing and that the Capitol Police officers were ushering happily warmly welcoming the people in.

We know from your station and many others that people were getting bike racks thrown at the faces. Police officers begging for their lives and having heart attacks.

One saying, please don't take my gun and shoot me. I have children.

This was not what happened. It is the preferred version of reality of Donald Trump.

ACOSTA: I want to highlight a passage that distilled Trump's point of view. I'll put it up on screen.

He said, or you say in the book in a certain -- Trump said to you in the book. "In a certain way, I had two presidencies," Trump said.

In the first, when the economy was roaring, Trump argued that he had been unbeatable. "I think it would be hard if George Washington came back from the dead and chose Lincoln as a vice president, would have been hard for them to beat me," Trump said.

I almost feel like I'm reading fiction here.

And then the second presidency, the pandemic killed his chances.

Carol, this is somebody not in the same world you and I are in and makes me wonder if he thinks he'd run again in 2024.

What was your takeaway from this experience writing this book?

LEONNIG: Sitting down with him, he sounds like a guy running. Talking about how he can't commit to vice president Pence as the next vice president.

Talking about himself in the third person. You know, all the Republicans love me, 90 percent love Trump.

Another thing that's interesting about the passage you just read, which I happen to really think is the heart of the story, he views himself as a victim of COVID.

The COVID came along and it was too bad for his presidency. Right?

He could beat Washington and Lincoln. Most American historians and objective pundits rank President Trump's presidency at the bottom percentile.

But he sees himself as a victim and who soldiered on so valiantly. Whereas his -- you know, his closest advisers, who supported almost every step he took, were in near panic mode about the degree to which he was willing to put American lives in peril to get re-elected.

ACOSTA: I talked to a number of advisers who said it was his handling of COVID that torpedoed the presidency. He was telling people to inject themselves with bleach and so on. He shattered the credibility on this topic.

One point your co-author brought up, Mike Pence. Let's hear what Trump said about Mike Pence.


PHIL RUCKER, REPORTER & WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST" (voice-over): Who will your vice president be if you run again?

TRUMP (voice-over): Listen to him.


RUCKER: That's a good question.

TRUMP: I was disappointed in Mike but I'll be making a decision.

RUCKER: But not guarantee --


TRUMP: I will say this. Based on the polls, the Republican Party loves Trump. You saw that, 97 percent.

RUCKER: You are not locked in that you would run with Pence again?

TRUMP: Not locked into anything.

RUCKER: He could run against you in a primary. He wants to run for president, too.

TRUMP: Everybody -- it is a free country. Right? Free country. I always liked Mike. I was very disappointed.


ACOSTA: Very disappointed in Mike Pence. Doesn't sound like he'll be on the ticket.

He does sound like somebody thinking about this very seriously. He might do this.

LEONNIG: We all know from watching him, he is the standard bearer of the Republican Party today. And if the primary were held, he would be the Republican nominee.

He's a genius, a master of the megaphone. He found a large segment of Americans who are frightened or angry and stoked the fear and anger.

And doing it now from his castle at Palm Beach. And continuing to do it at a rally today, traveling to remind people who love him that he should be their president now.

ACOSTA: I remember, in 2016, there was this splintered field and he was able to beat that field because it was so split between all the various candidates, 16 candidates.

If it's the same kind of field again in 2024, why not?


Let's shift back to COVID. You reported a telling exchange between Trump and HHS secretary, Alex Azar, about masks. Put this on the screen.

"I can't hear you when you talk through those things," Trump said. "I hate those things." "Mr. President, they work," Azar said. "The evidence is conclusive that they work." Trump asks, "Really?," Azar said, "Yes."

Trump pondered this for a moment and said, "Well, just be sure to take it off going to the microphone. It looks silly."

Carol, I shouldn't chuckle reading the quotes but I feel like I'm in the room with him because I've heard him saying the things.

And I remember being at the White House and how they didn't take the masks seriously and it was because of him.

LEONNIG: It totally was because of him. Secret Service agents didn't wear them because they went on trips and protecting him and thrown boo the public, it was part of their jobs.

They didn't wear masks because the detail leader said the president doesn't like it.

What's amazing is certain facts could not penetrate if he didn't want them and like them. And masks he said over and over again to people made him look weak.

"Many people tell me they make me look weak." I think the "many people" was him telling himself. Right?

ACOSTA: Always that.

LEONNIG: And another thing that's sort of chilling about this, that's in the book, is CDC Director Redfield, he knew that the president wearing the president was not just important for the president's safety but the role model for the country.

One biggest disappointment in his career, which is pretty lengthy, s that he could not convince Donald Trump to wear a mask.

And it's not because he got COVID. It's because Redfield concluded and privately concluded to aides that it ended up killing thousands of people for the president not to take that step.

ACOSTA: I really feel that if he had handled it a little better, wore a mask, encouraged people to socially distance, he might have won re- election. That's one of the big takeaways.

Carol, just a remarkable book.

Want to show the cover just in case you haven't seen it 100 times on television.


ACOSTA: Carol, who also wrote a great book on the Secret Service, also wrote a great book on Donald Trump, but this one is "I Alone Can Fix It." It's at bookstores, wherever you buy books.

Carol Leonnig, thank you so much. Hats off to you and Phil. LEONNIG: It was fun to talk about it with somebody that knows it

really well.

ACOSTA: I know it too well. But thank you. I appreciate it. Great seeing you.

LEONNIG: You, too.

ACOSTA: Appreciate it.

Back in the day, theme songs helped separated the great shows from the good shows. Where have all the theme songs gone? We'll ask Don Lemon next.



ACOSTA: You know the songs, "I'll Be There for You," "Movin' On Up," "Come On and Get Happy." They were the songs to classic shows we love.

That begs the question, where have all the theme songs gone?

We sent Don Lemon to find out. One thing he found out is writing songs is hard but writing TV theme songs is even harder.

Take a look.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR & CNN HOST: Hello, everyone.

I spoke to TV theme song composers and legendary actors to try to get to the bottom of this question: What happened to TV theme songs? What happened? We all used to sing them.

But, first, I had to ask them, what was their favorite TV theme song of all time?

Mine is "Movin' On Up," "The Jeffersons" from the '70s.

Listen to theirs.

LEMON: Outside of your own amazing show, which I love -- I have to say that -- what is your favorite TV theme song?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I like when the song tells the story of the series. And I was very influenced with that growing up.




LEMON: They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spooky. And ooky.

LEMON: And all together ooky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you spell ooky?


LEMON: Here's the biggest question. Whatever happened to the theme song?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, that's a good question.

LEMON: Thank you all. And I hope you'll be watching Jim and singing, OK?


ACOSTA: I'll be singing along, Don, don't worry.

Join Don Lemon for a fun-filled hour to answer the question: "WHERE HAVE ALL THE THEME SONGS GONE"? The CNN special begins tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.

It may seem like cutting grass is a chore, where many kids would rather not do that kind of activity. But one man has convinced hundreds of young people across the U.S. to volunteer to mow lawns for people who could use the help.

"CNN Heroes" salutes Rodney Smith Jr who created the 50-Yard Challenge.


RODNEY SMITH JR, CNN HERO: My 50-Yard Challenge is a challenge we have issued to kids nationwide and worldwide to mow 50 free yards in their community.

In returning, we will send them a t-shirt along with safety glasses and ear protection.

Once they mow 50 lawns, I drive wherever they are, present them a brand-new mower, weed eater and blower.

To date, we have about 1,000 kids nationwide.

Kids are responsible for finding their own lawns. That's a way they can go out in their community and meet people they normally wouldn't have met.

[15:55:03] At a young age, I used to mow lawns as a chore and I disliked it. But now, I love to do it. And every single day I get to mow free lawns and encourage kids to get out there and make a difference, one lawn at a time.


ACOSTA: And to get the full story of Rodney's journey, go to While you're there, nominate someone you think should be a "CNN Hero."