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Trump: Bannon Has "Lost His Mind", Has No Influence in White House; Book: Bannon Calls Trump Tower Meeting "Treasonous". Aired 2- 2:30p ET
Aired January 3, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:09] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Wolf, thank you so much.
Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Good to be back.
We have a lot to talk about today beginning with the stunning smackdown of top Trump campaign aides by one of their own. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, it is now prompting the president to say Bannon has -- and I'm quoting here -- lost his mind. Much more on that in just a second.
But first to the bombshell details which come from this book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the White House" penned by Michael Wolff. It releases next week.
And so, both "The Guardian" and "New York Magazine" just published excerpts. And of all the myriad shockers, shall we say, among the top here, you have the Steve Bannon describing the infamous Trump Tower meeting back in June of 2016 as, quote, treasonous.
You will recall Donald Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, all sat together in this room just to get this dirt on Hillary Clinton from this Russian lawyer.
This is what Steve Bannon says about that Trump Tower meeting, according to "The Guardian". Quote, the three senior guys in the campaign thought it was good idea to meet with foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers.
He goes on. Even if you thought that was not treasonous or unpatriotic or bad, bleep, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.
So let's start there. I have with me here in New York, CNN national politics reporter MJ Lee. Also with us, CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter on that "New York Magazine" piece.
But first, MJ, to you, where is all of this coming from, from Steve Bannon?
MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: I mean, these are such explosive comments and especially personal because they are being directed at Trump's family members, including his son and his son-in- law. You pointed out what Bannon said in this book about this now famous June 2016 meeting calling it treasonous and unpatriotic.
But the book obviously has a lot more than that. Some harsh analysis about the Mueller investigation that is obviously ongoing. A lot of colorful quotes. I want to highlight just a couple of them.
LEE: One directed at Trump's son again, Donald Trump Jr., he said, they are going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national television.
Another quote predicting how the Mueller investigation will get to Trump. He says, this is all about money laundering, Mueller chose senior prosecutor Andrew Weissmann first and he is a money laundering guy, their path to expletive Trump, goes through right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr. and Jared Kushner, it's as plain as a hair on your face.
And then a third quote, this is another slam at Jared Kushner, Bannon says it goes through Deutsch Bank and all the Kushner expletive, the Kushner expletive is breezy, they're going to go right through that, they're going to roll those two guys up and say, play me or trade me.
Now, Bannon has said some pretty exclusive things before but this is really something.
BALDWIN: You say there is the there there, it seems to me coming so close to Trump himself --
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: He's an insider saying what the outsiders have been thinking --
BALDWIN: Have been thinking all along.
STELTER: Yes, exactly.
LEE: And just keep in mind that this is exactly the red line that Donald Trump has said before that he does not want Mueller to cross.
Remember, he said anything that involves his own finances or his family's finances, he would consider that a violation for Mueller and the investigation. I mean, you can literally imagine a little Steve Bannon sitting on Donald Trump's shoulder, whispering, this is a red line you didn't want to cross.
BALDWIN: Right. So, there's that today. And then there's this. I mean, I sat and read the 25 pages, you know, it's extraordinarily this is also from Michael Wolff whose book is coming out next week and the whole beginning of it starts with, listen, paraphrasing, the whole Trump campaign, they never thought he was going to win, he never thought he was going to win, he just really wanted to be the most famous win who didn't win the presidency and look what that could get him.
BALDWIN: It talks a lot about the early days. And we knew there was reportedly a lot of dysfunction and chaos. This confirms it.
STELTER: I think the title for this book could be it was even worse than we thought. Meaning in the early days of the Trump White House, in the transition and then in early days when folks moved in January and February, the fighting, the chaos, the dysfunction, it was even more severe than we knew at the time. There were certainly leaks early and some of it was visible, I think some of it was obvious, there was a lot of turnover early on at the White House.
But Wolff has new details, damming details just how disorganized it was, how miserable Trump was at times.
BALDWIN: Give me an example.
STELTER: There is a scene several weeks into the administration where one of the deputies Katie Walsh says what are the top three priorities, what are our three top goals here in this administration.
BALDWIN: And Kushner says, that's a good idea.
STELTER: We should have a conversation about that. We should think about that. There is a lot of criticism of Trump's decision to hire Jared Kushner and other family members like Ivanka Trump.
[14:05:04] I think that's going to be a subplot in the next few days.
BALDWIN: How did he get this access?
STELTER: Well, that's going to be a key question. This book is supposed to come out next week. The White House has been bracing for it already for months.
Wolff, he and I have had our share of fights, by the way. I'm not going to vouch 100 percent for his accuracy.
STELTER: But he has a lot of on the record quotes and you can argue with on the record quotes from people like Steve Bannon using words like treasonous. He also has other material that people are going to I'm sure deny. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has already said in the last few minutes it's, quote, trashy tabloid fiction.
But we know for a fact Wolff was in the White House for months. He was sitting on the couch in the West Wing, hanging out, observing, and he has 200 interviews with staffers. So, the excerpts we are talking about, it's just the beginning.
This is going to be a tough few days for the White House as the rest of the book comes out.
BALDWIN: That explains the tweets from yesterday, perhaps, perhaps.
STELTER: It may explain the tweets.
BALDWIN: I want to move on and get more reaction though from the White House.
MJ and Brian, thank you so much here.
To the president's response who, by the way, says Steve Bannon has lost his mind. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta who is standing by.
What exactly has the president said?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty extraordinarily stuff. And as Brian Stelter just mentioned to you, Brooke, the White House has put out a statement in addition to what the president put out in the last several minutes, this is from Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, saying that this book from Michael Wolff is filled with false and misleading accounts from individuals who have no access or influence with the White House.
That is in addition to a pretty scathing statement from President Trump aimed at Steve Bannon, saying that his ex-chief strategist, you'll remember this was before President Trump took the oath of office, sworn in as 45th president of the United States, he tapped as his first two top officials at this White House, Reince Priebus as a chief of staff and Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, he is now saying that his former chief strategist Steve Bannon has lost his mind. And, you know, the White House is going after Steve Bannon and saying all sorts of things. The president is saying all sorts of things.
But keep in mind what Steve Bannon is saying here really does not being called not credible or not factually accurate at this point. What they are saying is that Steve Bannon has lost his mind. But remember, Steve Bannon is offering his opinion here.
BALDWIN: That's an important distinction.
ACOSTA: The thing that's catching everybody's attention today is that Steve Bannon is saying that this meeting back at Trump Tower in June of 2016 that involved, remember, not just Don Jr., but Paul Manafort and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was, quote, treasonous. That is not being called inaccurate at this point. It is simply the president of the United States saying, well, Steve Bannon has lost his mind. I think this is probably just the beginning of this.
And we should point out just before this briefing gets started here at 3:00 this afternoon, White House officials were making it very clear that they wanted us to get the statements out to you at this hour, Brooke, because they are very aware of the fact that this could be very damaging to this president just three days into the New Year -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Yes, welcome to 2018.
ACOSTA: Exactly. BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, thank you, sir.
ACOSTA: You bet.
BALDWIN: And, of course, just a reminder, as Jim pointed out, Steve Bannon, he was someone who joined the Trump campaign late in August of 2016. That was just a couple of months after that Trump Tower meeting but he was with him through the convention and through that win and into the White House.
Let's go to a Steve Bannon expert. CNN political analyst Joshua Green, he wrote the book, "Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency."
And so, Josh Green, I mean, I have to get your response to this whole "lost his mind", you know, referring to Bannon from the president of the United States. Have you heard anything from Steve Bannon in response to that? What the heck do you think he is thinking?
JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't have any idea. I imagine he wishes he could take some of those quotes back.
BALDWIN: Do you?
GREEN: But, look, this is something that's been building up for months, if not a year or so. When my book came out, you know, Trump tweeted angrily, didn't put out a statement, but it clearly bothers him, the idea that Steve Bannon is getting credit for his electoral victory or for being an influential strategist.
And I think the other thing in the excerpts that we see in Wolff's book, is that it apparently portrays Trump as stupid. And that is something that drives Trump absolutely crazy which I think is why you see the White House being so quick to put out these very personal critical statements about Bannon and then follow them up with other statements from White House officials criticizing the book and trying to tamp down the controversy.
BALDWIN: The president saying, just on your credit point, now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn't as easy as I make it look.
On -- I know. On "The Guardian" reporting, Josh, on the Bannon quotes, specifically about the Trump Tower meeting, treasonous, someone should have called the FBI, you know, how does that not completely undermine all the president's denials and the portrayal that this was all some sort of Democratic hoax?
[14:10:01] GREEN: Well, I think it does largely undermine them. You know, one thing to keep in mind is that, you know, Bannon is really enemies with Jared Kushner who is in that meeting, has a very dim view of Paul Manafort, and this is important. Bannon wasn't a part of the Trump campaign in June of 2016 when this meeting happened.
BALDWIN: Right. GREEN: So, all along, I think he's felt free to criticize the participants in that meeting because it wasn't something that was going to blow back on him.
Now, as far as his judgment and calling this treason and on the record interview with Michael Wolff, may be not such a good idea. But this is consistent with what people in the White House and around Bannon have been saying for months and months and months.
BALDWIN: So, all right, but you point out, I mean, he did join the campaign and he did very much appear, you know, pro-Trump, let's take this all the way through the finish line and let's win this thing. So then riddle me this, why this "New York Magazine" piece Michael Wolff quotes Bannon talking about the campaign calling it the broke, I can't say this word on CNN, broke bleep campaign.
GREEN: You know, Bannon is a very self aware guy, maybe more so during the campaign than once he got into the White House. But he recognized that, look, by no means was this a traditional political campaign. It wasn't staffed with ordinary professionals. They had trouble getting anything right.
But he also recognized that Trump was the greatest asset to that campaign because he understood the media, and could essentially set the terms of debate for the Republican primaries and the general election which he more or less did. Usually, you don't find campaign officials or White House officials willing to be quite so blunt and profane about what they really believe. But I think that's one reason why reporters, including Michael Wolff, including me, are so willing and eager to get up and talk to Bannon because he really has no compunction about saying what really happened in the kind of vivid language that we are unaccustomed to hearing from senior political officials.
BALDWIN: On the vivid language, just another point from the Michael Wolff piece where he's talking about Michael Flynn who would be, and then would be then late go, the national security adviser, Roger Ailes, had this conversation with Bannon two weeks before the inauguration and suggests that former diplomat John Bolton. And so, Bannon said, Bolton's mustache is a problem, snorted Bannon. Trump doesn't think he looks the part. You know Bolton is an acquired taste. Well, he got in trouble because he got in a fight in a hotel one night and chased some woman. If I told Trump that, Bannon said that slyly, he might have the job.
So, to your point about, you know, I mean, obviously, the man has a mouth on him, but he tells it how it is. Do you think that's part of the reason why the president appreciated him as much as he did for that period of time?
GREEN: I think that's exactly right. That's a point I make in my book. The president and Bannon, although the president would be loathed to admit this, really do have a lot in common -- very cutting, profane sense of humor. You know, they're both basically the same generation, they're both Wall Street deal makers. They have a lot in common, they had a real rapport during the campaign. Now, obviously, there's been a falling out. In Trump's statement
today, makes it unclear whether there is going to be any kind of relationship going forward. But it's that kind of analysis, that kind of cutting humor that I think initially brought Bannon into Trump's good graces. That and the fact that he had a real sense of politics and seemed to understand what it was about Trump that connected with voters.
Now, however, Trump is president, he doesn't need Steve Bannon anymore. And so, as you can see from that statement, he's more than willing to torch him.
BALDWIN: No love lost.
Joshua Green, thank you so much. We're going to stay on this breaking news here.
Once close allies, President Trump now says Steve Bannon has lost his mind. All of this with the White House briefing straight ahead. We will take that live.
And is President Trump tempting fate by taunting North Korea over the size of their nuclear button. North Korea for its part doing something it had not done in nearly two years, picking up the phone and actually talking directly with their neighbors to the south, South Korea. We have details on that exchange next.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
[14:18:06] BALDWIN: We are back with the breaking news here. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.
Continuing this conversation on these colorful quotes from Steve Bannon, let's call it that. These revelations that have triggered a forceful response from the president of the United States who now says his own former top aide has lost, quote, his mind.
With me now, CNN senior political commentator Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator and a former presidential candidate.
Good to see you, sir. Happy New Year.
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thank you.
BALDWIN: And Rick Wilson with me, a Republican strategist who worked on Rudy Giuliani's Senate campaign.
Rick, nice to have you. Welcome.
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thanks. BALDWIN: So, let's see here -- Rick Wilson, to you first. Just
getting your visceral reaction on this Trump statement on Steve Bannon, the whole, you know, quote. When Steve Bannon was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Thoughts?
WILSON: Brooke, this proves my theory of everything Trump touches will die. He eventually will betray everyone. He will turn on everything. He and Steve Bannon are sort of a perfectly matched pair, both of whom are driven by their own ambitions and both of whom are driven by their own egos.
And, you know, Bannon had a constituency of one after he left the White House. The only way his nationalist populist movement was going to take off was if he had Donald Trump as avatar as the leader of that movement. And now, Steve Bannon is going to be basically reduced to preaching to alt right Pepe the Frog meme boys in a booth at Denny's. His audience has shrunk dramatically.
BALDWIN: Oh, my gosh.
Zing, obviously, Steve Bannon would see it otherwise, but I hear you. I hear you.
Senator Santorum to you here, the president also said in the statement, now that he is on his own, Steve Bannon, Steve is learning that winning isn't as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country, yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of Senate seat in Alabama held for more than 30 years by Republicans.
[14:20:04] Steve doesn't represent my base. He's only in it for himself, all right? So that's another piece of this.
But let me juxtapose that when he made the announcement as Bannon as chief of staff in November of '16, the president said this, Steve and Reince are highly qualified leaders who worked well together on campaign and led to historic victory. Now, I will have them both with me in the White House as we work to make America great again.
I'm confused. Which one is it? Does he like the man or does he think he's lost his mind?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he liked the man and he doesn't like him anymore. The -- when you turn on the president, the president turns on you.
BALDWIN: But you get to rewrite the history like that. I mean, the same man as the same man today as he was 10 months ago?
SANTORUM: Yes. Again, I think a lot of it has to do with just the president when you punch the president, the president punch back, and he's punching back and you know, you can sort of cast aside anything he said in the past as probably appropriate for that moment and this is appropriate for when someone attacks him. And in the end, I mean, this shows me two things. Number one is that
the situation at the White House was as bad as everybody thought it was, maybe worse, when the president during the transition when he took office.
And number two that, you know, when you work for this president, loyalty is the most important thing. And if you turn on the president, he will turn back on you. So, those are just two things to keep in mind if you'll end up going to work for Donald Trump.
BALDWIN: Even though you may be right, if you go against the president, in the end maybe ultimately you are out. The fact that Steve Bannon is quoted in this "Guardian" piece calling the Trump Tower meeting, this was prior to when Bannon joined, treasonous and then patriotic. You know, Senator, just staying with you, a lot of Americans have thought bubble all along that was just a bad idea to do that.
But for a Trump loyalist, you don't get closer to Trump world for that finite period of time than Steve Bannon. Is that -- that carries weight. Do you not agree?
SANTORUM: Well, yes, first off, Steve is a national security guy. This is someone -- it's his background. His background is in this area. And so, obviously, he has a lot more sensitivity to us than sort of your normal political operative.
So, I'm not surprised that Steve reacted that way. I'm surprised that he used that quote to someone who was going to report it, to me that was -- that was not good judgment on his part. I think it's one thing to say those things and say them privately, another thing to actually have that released out in the press. But the bottom line is, I think it was disconcerting.
But again, that doesn't change any of the real dynamics of what this investigation. The investigation is going to show what it's going to show. Steve Bannon --
BALDWIN: Doesn't change the investigation but shows someone close in the Trump world should have called the FBI.
Go ahead, Rick Wilson.
WILSON: That brings up an important point. And that point is this, Steve Bannon while he was in the White House as a senior counselor to the president was part of the push back on the Russia story. Steve Bannon knows these things in great detail. I'm sure he sat in meetings where they talked about how they were going to spin Mike Flynn's departure, how they're going to spin and do their communications efforts against the Mueller investigation, and the Comey firing and other things that are all very consequential in the course of this investigation.
And now that Steve Bannon is a loose cannon rolling around the deck, you can see why the White House is absolute panic today. They were pushing this story out to so many reporters that it even got to my inbox, let's put it that way. These people are desperate to push back on this story and now blow up Bannon's credibility. I don't think it helps their case in the slightest. But Bannon is now --
BALDWIN: Do you think this explains the Twitter storm from yesterday, Rick Wilson?
WILSON: I think it may be a factor in that. I think they had advance notice on these things. I think it explains the fact that they're now starting to attack the jury, the grand jury's racial composition and all these other things. This is a White House in crisis. This did not help, Steve Bannon's lovely parting gift to them was an additional set of risk factors.
BALDWIN: Senator Santorum, also the details in "The New York Magazine" piece, Michael Wolff, ahead of his book coming out next week, the whole piece starts with how team Trump essentially figured all they were going to lose the presidential election. Folks in the campaign agreed that he shouldn't be the president and Trump reportedly told his aides, Sam Nunberg, quote, I can be the most famous man in the world and then apparently the night that he won, you had Melania Trump in tears, not of joy. And the president-elect looking as though he had seen a ghost.
I mean, people had thought it was dysfunctional early on. Does this confirm that for you? Do you believe this?
SANTORUM: Well, first, I don't know whether any of that's true or not true. But I think there was a general consensus among the campaign that they were not going to win. I think if you look at all the polling data, that they weren't -- it didn't look good.
[14:25:01] But the fact is they continue to run it as if.
SANTORUM: Right? So they followed through, they had a strategy, they followed through it and it proved to be successful.
I'm not going to -- look, I don't know if my wife would have tears of joy if I won the presidency. I think she would be happy if I won. But at the same time, it's an awesome responsibility and one that is really difficult on the family. So, I'm not -- I don't think you could take any of those things at face value. It's a very emotional difficult time and that was reflected in the story.
BALDWIN: What about Jared and Ivanka? Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, we know they accepted these roles in the West Wing, according to the reporting. This was again, you know, the advice of some of their dear friends. And apparently, according to this "New York Times" piece, Rick Wilson, they struck this deal, so if someone in the future an opportunity arose, that she would be the one to run for president, she's thinking, you know, first female president, it would be Hillary Clinton, it would be Ivanka Trump.
What does that say to you? You know, this first daughter, obviously successful businessman in her own right, would be thinking that way?
WILSON: Look, I think this is part of the sort of dynastic fantasy that the Trumps all enjoy right now. They forget we don't do titles of nobility in this country, pesky little constitutional problem for them. And the idea that you are going to have a sort of Trump empire that stretches over time like the Bushes or the Kennedys or Roosevelts I think is risible in every way.
And I think that, you know, Ivanka Trump is much more likely to be driving a Volvo out to Danbury to visit her husband in the correctional facility than she is to be president of the United States at some point.
BALDWIN: Ouch. Ouch. That's taking it a little too far?
WILSON: Too soon?
SANTORUM: Look, I think the idea there is somebody out there rumoring that she had ideas -- look, there is so much that goes on with so many staff people who say so many things during the campaign, particularly if you feel your campaign is losing, you're trying to find some justification why you did what you did. And so, again, a lot of this stuff is to me just people talking outside of real authority. And I wouldn't hold too much to it.
BALDWIN: We'll let the American public and Robert Mueller and others be the judge on all of this that's coming out.
Rick Santorum and Rick Wilson, gentlemen, thank you both so much.
WILSON: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Thank you.
WILSON: Coming up next, this is not a game. Vice President Joe Biden now weighing in, slamming President Trump for taunting North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. That's coming up next.