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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Maryland Senator Ben Cardin; Trump vs. Bannon. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 3, 2018 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:04]

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: During the health care debate, when Mark Meadows came in and had a problem with the essential benefits portion of the bill--

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Right.

MADDEN: -- and he -- which is a huge part of health care--

TAPPER: Right.

MADDEN: -- he said, don't worry about the small stuff. He just -- he doesn't have a command about the specifics of policy and, quite frankly, I don't think he cares about it.

What he cares about what his strengths are, and his strengths are connecting with people and selling. He's a salesman at the end of the day.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: OK.

I would just say an important part of being president -- I have worked for two presidents -- an important part of being president is reading briefing materials on policy decisions.

So I don't think it's good -- I don't think it's legitimate to say, a president, like it's OK if he has other talents.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: I don't think it's OK either. But, I mean, I believe the excerpts from the book.

TAPPER: Yes.

One other thing that is going on right now is the big effort by the Trump team to go after Steve Bannon, to discredit Steve Bannon, to undermine Steve Bannon. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted today: "Wow, just looked at the comments section on Breitbart. Wow. When Bannon has lost Breitbart, he's left with, um, nothing."

And former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci also tweeted: "I said what I said in the summer. Take out the expletives and pay closer attention. By the way, @realDonaldTrump is doing a great job."

There you have two supporters of the president. Just to remind people in the profanity-laced interview that Scaramucci did with Ryan Lizza, then of "The New Yorker," he said some rather distasteful things about Steve Bannon and atomically impossible feats that he would have performed upon himself, were he able.

TANDEN: Well-done.

TAPPER: Were he able. But this is the point.

And then also, I think Donald Trump Jr. saying, wow, just read the comments section on Breitbart, which, by the way, I never recommend--

TANDEN: That itself is weird.

TAPPER: But he's saying even Bannon's own house organ, the "O" magazine of Steve Bannon, is going after him.

TANDEN: Yes. To you, it seems to me like he's pretty ensconced at Breitbart and has a lot of influence on the Republican Party still.

JOSH GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I don't think Breitbart is going to turn on Bannon.

What's interesting to me is after Trump's statement essentially curb- stomping ban, will Breitbart turn on the president, especially given the issues coming down the pike, DACA, the need to build the wall? If he's not able to do that -- and right now it seems difficult to envision how he would -- and if he's forced to cut some kind of a deal with Democrats, does Trump really have control of his base, as his statement asserted?

Or will that base stick with the likes of Bannon and Breitbart and turn on the president?

TANDEN: I think another question also is how does Steve Bannon go forward now that he's been completely repudiated by the president? How does he go forward and interact with a special counsel or congressional investigators who he has clearly given a lot of crumbs to?

TAPPER: One other interesting excerpt from the book, the president was going to pick Jared Kushner to be his chief of staff. And the book claims that none other than Ann Coulter was the voice of reason and said you just can't hire your own children.

GREEN: Yes. He seemed to imagine that the position was sort of analogous to being like the White House bellhop or something like that.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Or his body guy, yes.

GREEN: Or his body guy, yes, which I think Kushner essentially was during the campaign.

But, yes, the fact that Ann Coulter is the one standing up and speaking truth to power I think gives an indication of the level of dysfunction in the White House, especially in the early days.

TAPPER: One of the other things that you see in the excerpts, especially the one in "New York" magazine, is how little they knew about governing, basic governing.

And in the rollout of the travel ban, the initial one, in which it's done on a Friday, the government agencies that have to enforce it are not brought in the loop at all. There is complete chaos. But Steve Bannon is quoted as saying that that was on purpose. They wanted all the liberals to go to the airports and protest and push the Democratic Party to the left.

Do you buy it?

GREEN: He was telling me -- I did a Bloomberg story at the time and he was saying the same thing.

Now, whether that's true and he was kind of rubbing his hands together and hoping that, you know, this would galvanize Trump's base, seeing all these liberals protesting in airports, or whether he was trying to put a good spin on a terrible political situation for the president and the White House, I'm not really sure, but this has been his line consistently throughout.

TAPPER: Kevin, you have worked to elect Republican presidents for a long time. I want to ask you about something in a book about a potential future Republican presidential candidate.

The book says that Jared Kushner and Ivanka had made a deal if the opportunity presented itself, Ivanka would be the one to run for president. She thought that she would become the first woman president, not Hillary Clinton. When Steve Bannon was told about this he was like, you have got to be kidding me.

But that's where -- according to this book, that's where the mind-set is of Jared and Ivanka, that she's on the road to the White House perhaps herself.

[16:35:03]

MADDEN: Yes, well, people are very quick to dismiss that. She has no history of involvement on politics. I think most people would say that while she works for her father, who is a Republican, that previously she had very left-leaning or Democratic views. So we don't really even know where she is on the political spectrum.

But you can't dismiss it for the simple fact in American history we have seen the sort of heirs of political leaders, whether it was the Kennedys or the Bushes or the -- you name it, they have sort of passed down that mantle.

So it is not a -- it is not sort of something to as quickly dismiss, as many might.

TAPPER: And if Donald Trump can be president, why can't Ivanka Trump be president?

I mean, you know, you don't -- you're not going to--

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. Everyone, stick around.

What are Democrats saying about Trump v. Bannon? We're going to talk to a top Democratic senator next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead and the explosive comments by former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon.

The chairman of Breitbart News says that the now infamous June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer was -- quote -- "treasonous and unpatriotic."

Joining me now to talk about this and much more, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

Do you agree with Bannon that the meeting was unpatriotic and treasonous?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, Jake, first, it's good to be with you.

[16:50:00]

And it's interesting to see this play out as far as what's in the book, as far as what Steve Bannon has said and what the president is saying.

Mr. Mueller is going to have to sort all of this out. I'm sure he is sorting all of this out. Exactly why that meeting took place, what took place in that meeting, was there cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russians, all of that is part of the investigation being done by Mr. Mueller.

And despite the president's comments about that investigation, I have confidence that Mr. Mueller will get to the bottom of what happened there.

TAPPER: The general argument that Bannon was making I think in this excerpt was that having this meeting, being promised dirt, and then not going to the FBI, which are established facts -- we don't need to wait for Mueller on that -- that that in itself was unpatriotic and treasonous. Do you agree with that?

CARDIN: It's clearly wrong to have contacts with foreign agents in order to get information for a domestic campaign in the United States.

And that's what we have been told to date. The circumstances surrounding it and how much cooperation there was between the Russians and the Trump campaign is something that we really do need the independent investigation.

TAPPER: Bannon was also asked about the president and Vladimir Putin. He said, "He went to Russia and he thought he was going to meet Putin, but Putin couldn't give a 'bleep' about him, so he's kept trying."

The basic idea is that he -- there is no collusion there, according to Bannon. It's just President Trump has tried to get in Putin's good graces.

CARDIN: There's been so many contacts made between representatives of the Trump campaign and representatives of Russia before the campaign and even after the campaign.

And one has to wonder why all those attempts were made and whether there was some coordination here. And, again, I don't want to draw the conclusion. I can tell you each one of these contacts are very, very difficult to understand.

Why would you even go down that road, as an American, to contact Russians for information for our campaign? That's hard to understand why that would even be contemplated in any type of campaign, but particularly a campaign for the presidency of the United States.

TAPPER: Well, we're in a historic time I guess, Senator. We're in a time of many firsts.

And another one is just what's playing out today in front of the cameras and online, Bannon saying what he did about Donald Trump Jr. in that meeting, President Trump saying that Bannon lost his job and then lost his mind. What do you make of this all?

CARDIN: Well, you know, President Trump was building up Mr. Bannon before he tries to tear him down. He was President Trump's number one political adviser.

So it's hard to understand how the president could change his views on an individual so quickly. I think we understand why, but it lacks a lot of credibility, the president's comments.

TAPPER: I must ask you, sir. The president tweeted last night that his nuclear button, as opposed to Kim Jong-un's, is bigger and more powerful and his works.

I want you to take a listen to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responding today to questions about that provocative tweet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think that it's taunting to stand up for the people of this country. I think what's dangerous is to ignore the continued threats.

If the previous administration had done anything and dealt with North Korea, dealt with Iran, instead of sitting by and doing nothing, we wouldn't have to clean up their mess now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What's your response to what she said? And what's your response to the tweet last night?

CARDIN: Well, first of all, for the president of the United States to use that type of language in a tweet is unacceptable. It's not the first time. I'm sure it's not going to be the last time, but we should always challenge that type of conduct from the president of the United States.

What we need is serious diplomacy. And serious diplomacy means the United States leads by working with not just our allies in the region, the Republic of Korea and Japan, but also with China, in developing an off-ramp to end this crisis in negotiating with North Korea.

President Trump has made that all much more difficult. This is not a mess created by one administration. This is a mess that North Korea has created, but President Trump has made it more difficult to deal with.

TAPPER: Senator Ben Cardin, it's always good to see you. Happy new year, sir. Thank you for your time.

CARDIN: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: So much to discuss in the Michael Wolff book, including the report that there was a warning about Michael Flynn accepting a check for a speech he made in Russia, and he dismissed it.

More on that after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We have some breaking news in the Russia investigation this afternoon. Paul Manafort, the former Trump Campaign Chairman indicted on money laundering and other charges, today filed a lawsuit challenging the broad authority of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Manafort alleges that the Justice Department violated the law in appointing Mueller and says his alleged crimes have nothing to do with the 2016 campaign. A Justice Department spokesperson called the lawsuit frivolous.

Some breaking news, the Russia investigation is, of course, relevant to the book Fire And Fury: Inside The Trump White House by Michael Wolff because there is this really very stark excerpt in which Steve Bannon calls this meeting unpatriotic, the meeting at Trump Tower, unpatriotic and treasonous. And also goes on later in the book saying, he was convinced that Donald Trump Jr. did tell his father about the meeting, even though Trump has said that he didn't. Now, we don't know if this is because Bannon knows something or just suspected, as you note, speculated. But if that were true, that would mean that President Trump had not told the truth about it.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: And that's exactly why I think he should be called to testify. I think he should --

TAPPER: Steve Bannon?

TANDEN: Steve Bannon, because he's saying this if it's just based on some theory or doesn't know it to be true, but if he knows it to be true, if Donald Trump Jr. told him it was true, Trump himself told him or somebody -- or Mike Flynn told him, then you know, I think that's really important information because then we would know that the President himself was part of an effort to collude with the Russians.

TAPPER: Speaking of Michael Flynn, the book describes friends of Michael Flynn warning him that the $45,000 he made off a speech in Russia might be a problem. This is before the election. And Flynn responds, it would only be a problem if we won. Therefore, according to this excerpt, Flynn not thinking that they're going to win either, and that's one of the reasons why he was involved in so many of these business dealings that have since come out and really damaged his standing.

[16:50:11] JOSH GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. I mean, and those lack of scruples and that willingness to take money from Russians I think, is one of the reason why he's wound up pleading guilty now to charges from the Special Counsel. But I also think it goes to a kind of a general mindset in the Trump campaign during those final months. These were not seasoned political professionals, these were by and large not people who expected that they were going to win and essentially saw this as a launching off point for future business opportunities, whether it was a Trump television that I believe Jared Kushner was getting ready to launch or Steve Bannon might have been willing to launch. Whether it was some new season of a Trump reality show, not a lot of people in that campaign were giving serious thought to how are we going to govern. And the one person who was, Chris Christie who was dubbed to be transition director, was fired pretty early on.

TAPPER: You know, as you talk about these people not being the most seasoned political operatives, I thought to myself, and you could tell because they cooperated with Michael Wolff with this book. And there is a difference between cooperating with a reporter who is definitely going to be favorable and shares your point of view and has 15 books behind him or a reporter like Bob Woodward who is definitely looking for juicy bits but also a very respected, you know, centerpiece of American journalism at The Washington Post and Michael Wolff who has a reputation for writing buzzy books. And I don't truly understand why they would cooperate.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, and think the best approach is to always ask yourself when you're considering whether or not to cooperate with a documentary or a book, is this going to fit into the larger blueprint that we have for the campaign or this White House? And does it serve the president and his agenda? Or if I think what happened here was this was a consideration about whether or not it was a vanity play for a bunch of staffers. They were going to, you know, puff themselves up and that's where it went terribly wrong.

TANDEN: I mean, but let's just -- let's just look at the first year. I mean, it's not that they just, you know, went after each other in this book, they went after each other in The Washington Post, they went after each other in The New York Times.

TAPPER: And Breitbart.

TANDEN: There was a lot of leaking of different factions against each other. There was leaking of meetings where they were trying to resolve the different factions. I mean, so basically, I just look at this book as an extension of the war between different factions of the White House who obviously didn't see the interests of the President ahead of their own personal interests because you have them getting it out.

TAPPER: If you have a dysfunctional family, don't invite a social worker in to write a report. Everyone stick around. Don't go anywhere. More to talk about including one report on why President Trump has an affinity for McDonald's. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: And back with my political panel. And we're discussing this new book that claims to reveal the inner workings of the Trump campaign and Trump administration, endless anecdotes in just the excerpts that have been released so far. Let me share one, a very interesting one. President Trump getting used to his new home at the White House and the housekeeping staff, "He imposed a set of rules, nobody touch anything, especially not his toothbrush." And then it says in parenthetical, "he had a longtime fear of being poisoned. One reason why he liked to eat at McDonald's, nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade." I don't know if that's true, but that's very -- .

MADDEN: That sounds like a convenient excuse to say you like McDonald's.

GREEN: I think it's a kind of 3D chess that gets you into the White House.

TAPPER: You can't -- although I mean, McDonald's food does poison you, it just takes -- it takes decades to do it, to kill you. But odd -- and he did -- and again, we're talking about the reason why the White House would give Michael Wolff such access, knowing that this is a President who has some eccentricities, is it fair to say in a White House that is fairly chaotic and tumultuous? Why would you invite a report to have a berth for six months? I don't fault the reporter at all. I'm questioning the decision to let him in.

TANDEN: This is what's so interesting about this, right? He -- Donald Trump actually publicly humiliates his staff, right?

TAPPER: All the time.

TANDEN: He publicly humiliated Sean Spicer. He publicly humiliated Reince Priebus.

TAPPER: We don't have all day. Don't do -- don't do everybody.

TANDEN: I'm not going to go through everybody.

TAPPER: No, no, no, we can't do them all.

TANDEN: But I'm just saying, and then they leave the White House and they can all be sources for a book. It's like obviously one of the downsides of attacking your staff is that they're probably less loyal to you and keep fewer of your secrets. Now sounds like some of the people who actually stayed were also attacking him as well.

GREEN: These sources -- these were sources in the White House. I mean, Bannon was in the White House.

TAPPER: While this was going on.

GREEN: And I wonder if a lot of this isn't kind of like an abused child thing where they get criticize by the boss, want a little credit of what they've done and essentially think, oh, I'll cozy up to this nice-seeming writing here, sit on the couch and imbursing myself of all him all my secrets. I don't know. I wouldn't have done it.

MADDEN: I mean, it's -- I do really -- I'm really at a loss for words on why they would allow this type of unfettered access.

TAPPER: But there's something -- let me ask you a question. Mitt Romney allowed in a documentary crew and it ended up being a lovely documentary about him that showed a real human side of him. He already lost the presidential election when he came out on Netflix, that decision must have been difficult as well.

MADDEN: But you remember, we had in total control of that documentary. That was less of a documentary. I mean, real documentaries would show the raw, you know, untouched footage. This was a documentary that was much more like a home movie. Which is like --

TAPPER: You controlled it more.

MADDEN: Yes, look at the beautiful sunsets on the beach. Look at the -- all the wonderful staff meetings. They don't see all the fighting and everything going on behind the scene.

TAPPER: I see. Very interesting. That's the way to do it. Everyone, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm going to be back for a special prime time edition of THE LEAD tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. My guest will be Ohio Governor John Kasich. Please tune in. I turn you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.