Return to Transcripts main page
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump Administration Goes After Weed; Trump's Mental Health?; Trump-Bannon Feud Erupts. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired January 4, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:00:10] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Colorado Democrats today say, we will give Jeff Sessions our legal pot when he pries it from our warm, extremely interesting-to-look-at hands.
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Trump threatens to sue over a new book that claims he's uninformed, unprepared, and has a childlike inability to focus. And, today, we're getting a new peek into the absurdity that one journalist claims he witnessed inside the West Wing, while the president's lawyers tell the publisher they had better not go to print.
Fit to serve? This new book and the new tweet about his big and powerful button renewing talk about the 25th Amendment and lawmakers' fears about President Trump's mental health. Is this all below board?
Plus, high and dry. Three days after it became legal to buy weed in California, the attorney general comes after states where pot is legal and even one Republican is ready to go to war over it.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper.
Cease and desist, that is the order from President Trump's lawyers this afternoon as they try to plug the explosive and even disturbing details erupting in excerpts from a tell-all book that will now be published tomorrow morning.
Trump's lawyers have sent these warning letters to the publisher and the author, Michael Wolff, to try to halt publication, not for national security reasons, not for state secrets that put people's lives at risk, but because the reports paint such an unflattering picture, including savage quotes about the president and his family made by people that President Trump considered allies, or in the words of the president's lawyers, because the book includes untrue statements about the president that -- quote -- "give rise to claims for libel that could result in substantial monetary damages and punitive damages" -- unquote.
President Trump is demanding that the publisher cease and desist from any further publication of any excerpts or the book, and he is demanding a -- quote -- "full and congratulate retraction and apology."
Now, four facts here worth your consideration as you think about this story. First, it's easy for anyone to see why President Trump would be displeased with the content of this book. While we at CNN cannot confirm the authenticity of each line or anecdote, we can say, quite frankly, the book describes behavior that is upsetting and unbecoming of anyone, much less President Trump.
Take what he allegedly said to his 29-year-old communications director, Hope Hicks. This was excerpted in "British GQ" today. And it's about rumors of Hick's relationship with a former campaign staffer in which President Trump told her, according to Wolff -- quote -- "You're the best piece of tail he will ever have," sending Hicks running from the room.
That's a disgusting and misogynistic quote. President Trump not wanting that out there, that makes sense. But -- and this is our second fact -- this book was written with a full cooperation of the White House.
Just a few minutes ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders attacked the author Michael Wolff's reputation for accuracy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think you have to look also at this author's track record in which he's had a real problem with this in the past, and I think that that is something that has certainly laid a foundation for us to make the assumption that he is definitely, this is a practice that he is used to doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Yes, but the time to make that assumption was before you agreed to cooperate with him.
It's worth pointing out, Michael Wolff spent months listening and taking notes and recording and watching from West Wing couches, at the invitation or at the very least, as he says, the non-disapproval of President Trump himself.
White House staffers cooperated. They're quoted all over the book. It's worth noting that the president's attorney is also threatening to sue Steve Bannon, the former confidant and senior strategist of the president's, to whom Wolff attributes much of his most scathing quotes.
Now, the third fact here about this letter, based on the president's track record, this threat of a lawsuit is almost certainly nothing more than an intimidation technique.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, I always like to threaten to sue reporters, because I think they're among the most dishonest people I have ever dealt with in my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Notice the key word there, threat, threaten to sue reporters. Wolff and publisher are now in good company. President Trump has
previously threatened to sue CNN, "The Washington Post," "The New York Times," the Associated Press, comedian Tom Arnold, a 92-year-old Scottish widow, reporter David Cay Johnston, "Art of the Deal" co- author Tony Schwartz, Governor John Kasich, Senator Ted Cruz, oh, and all of the women who accused him of sexual harassment and assault.
And that's just a small sampling. And those are just lawsuits because of criticisms those people made about the president in public, to say nothing of his business deals. The president almost never actually follows through with these lawsuits. And it would be very difficult to win a libel suit, especially to block this book prior to publication, which will be tomorrow morning.
Lastly, let's all take a step back here. It's remarkable that the president of the United States is in any way trying to stop publication of a book, breaching the right of free speech and freedom of the press that we have in this country, just because said speech, to be candid, hurts his feelings, not for a national security reason.
And, in fact, from what we know about the president's furious response to this book, it seems that the quotes from Steve Bannon are what has upset him the most, the quotes, although, just a few minutes ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said this about the book:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: In terms of the merit, I think it's pretty clear. I don't think we have been tiptoeing around our feelings on this. It's completely tabloid gossip, full of false and fraudulent claims.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Tabloid gossip full of false and fraudulent claims. That's what she just said.
Let's just take one second to note something. The man who during the campaign cited a supermarket tabloid, "The National Enquirer," to ask why reporters weren't covering Ted Cruz's father's nonexistent ties to the JFK assassination, that man, the very same person, is now objecting to tabloid gossip full of false and fraudulent claims.
Now, Trump's lawyer's letter states that since -- quote -- "The book admits in the introduction that it contains untrue statements," that it will not be difficult to prove actual malice, reckless disregard for the truth.
Now, that introduction does state that -- quote -- "Many of the accounts of what has happened in the White House are in conflict with one another. Many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. Those conflicts and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book."
A very interesting observation in an introduction to a book that is a piece of nonfiction purportedly. But this is the fundamental problem here. If malice can be proven for Wolff, it can also be proven for President Trump and for all the president's men and women who cooperated with this book.
My political panel's here with me to discuss all of this and much more, but let's begin with CNN's Jeff Zeleny, who is at the White House.
Jeff, we know the cease and desist order coming from the lawyers for the president of the United States, but the White House denies that this should be interpreted as a cease and desist order coming from the U.S. government?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, they did.
And White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said it was not coming from the U.S. government, per se, but from the president's personal lawyer. They may be a distinction without much of a difference, particularly because it's the president of the United States taking this legal action.
Now, as you said, they're trying to not block the publication of the book, but the sale, which is now being rushed out tomorrow. All this is coming as the White House dismissing it once again as fantasy.
ZELENY (voice-over): As the White House tried getting back to business and focusing on its 2018 agenda, the explosive criticism from Steve Bannon still consumed the West Wing.
QUESTION: Did Steve Bannon betray you, Mr. President? Any words about Steve Bannon?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know. He called me a great man last night, so he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.
ZELENY: In the Roosevelt Room today, that was all President Trump wanted to say about Steve Bannon, his former chief strategist.
Yet behind the scenes, the extraordinary feud raged on. The president's lawyers attempted blocking publication of "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," the new book featuring Bannon's blistering criticism about the Trump family and the Russia investigation.
Today, the president insisted he's no longer in contact with Bannon, a longtime friend and adviser he fired after eight months on the job.
TRUMP: I don't talk to him. I don't talk to him. I don't talk to him. That's just a misnomer. Thank you.
ZELENY: At the White House briefing today, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders took it one step further, falsely attempting to diminish Bannon's role. HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware that they were ever particularly
close. I would certainly say that they have spoken a few times since he left the White House, but it's not like there were regularly scheduled calls or -- and certainly no meetings between the two of them.
ZELENY: That's hardly how the president described Bannon only two months after he fired him.
TRUMP: We will have a very good relationship, as you know, with Steve Bannon. Steve's been a friend far long time. I like Steve a lot.
ZELENY: The president's allies rushed to his defense today, pushing back against Bannon's suggestion that a 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer was treasonous and unpatriotic.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Donald Trump Jr. is a very patriotic guy. He's a very honest guy. And so I would bet my life saving on the fact that he's done absolutely nothing treasonous.
ZELENY: Chris Ruddy, another friend of the president's, said Bannon had an exaggerated opinion of himself.
CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: I'm disappointed that Steve said some of the things he did. You have to remember this interview for the book took probably place a month or two after Steve was fired by the president at the White House. He probably had very raw emotions.
ZELENY: All this as the White House is now banning the use of personal cell phones for staffers and visitors to the West Wing. Sanders said the new policy starting next week was not in response to the book.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Absolutely not. That's a ridiculous characterization. This is about the security and the integrity of the technology systems here at the White House.
ZELENY: Now, several aides privately tell us they're not happy about this.
One reason, they want to keep in touch with their families during the these long working hours here at the White House, but, Jake, one person that this ban does not apply to, that's the president of the United States, who, as we know, uses his cell phone to call friends.
TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thank you so much.
My panel is here with me.
First of all, let me get a quick whip-around. What do you think the odds are percentage-wise that the president actually sues?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: One percent.
TAPPER: One percent?
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, around there.
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I will go for zero percent.
TAPPER: Zero percent. You don't think it's actually going to happen.
Even though we are all wearing the same outfit, we will not agree on that one.
TAPPER: One, one, zero.
We should note that the lawyer behind this lawsuit is the same lawyer behind the Hulk Hogan lawsuit against media outlet Gawker, which bankrupted Gawker. This is not a guy who is particularly frivolous and he certainly knows his way around First Amendment law, but I don't see what the merit is. I mean, they cooperated with the book.
POWERS: Yes, they cooperated with the book.
And also I think it would maybe be different if he was still a private citizen, but he's now the president of the United States. And so this is the president of the United States trying to silence dissent, essentially, right?
I think that's the argument you would make if you were the lawyer. You would say this is actually a First Amendment violation, because he's not allowing people to criticize the president.
It would also you would have to prove that the things he said in the book were false and that they were statements made falsely with malice. And in doing so, I mean, this is going to open folks up to all kinds of discovery. All sorts of interesting things will come to light.
The only reason I don't say zero percent is because I have gotten out of the business of saying that is anything in the politics is impossible.
TAPPER: We call that the Trump rule.
STEWART: And, also, the wild card here is that, Wolff, the author, claims to have audiotapes of these interviews. And I think that will be very telling.
A lot of people have completely said I didn't say these statements and this is not a characterization of what I said, but if -- the audiotapes aren't going lie. One person who hasn't walked back his statements is Steve Bannon. And his were some of the most disparaging ones. But here's the
problem with the cease and desist. If you want to cease a very unflattering book written about you, you don't grant 200 interviews with them in the White House.
And, look, at the end of the day, Bannon makes Trump look bad. Trump is making Bannon look bad. And this book is making journalists look bad, because he had such tremendous access and really went for the jugular with a story that we're not really sure all of it is true.
TAPPER: In terms of credibility, Axios reported today, there was the question, how could Wolff possibly know for sure what Steve Bannon and the late Roger Ailes said at a private dinner? They say, well, Wolff hosted the dinner for six people at his Manhattan townhouse.
And longtime reporter Janice Min tweeted today: "So, I was so one of the six guests at the Bannon-Ailes dinner party in January 2017. And every word I have seen from the book about it is absolutely accurate. It was an astonishing night."
Now, it's possible that everybody thought it was off the record.
POWERS: It's possible, but I have to say the lack of judgment of giving Michael Wolff free range in your White House is stunning to me.
I cannot imagine doing something like that.
TAPPER: Well, any author, really.
POWERS: No, I think Michael Wolff in particular, I think he's just -- he's the kind of person who I would not expect to write a particularly flattering book about Trump.
And I think he also has a real way with words and he has a real style, and he just isn't -- he just isn't the kind of reporter that I would allow that kind of access to. I think this is completely predictable, what happened.
TAPPER: And, Alice, you're a former press secretary. And I have dealt with you as a reporter, and I find it impossible to believe that you would ever OK something like this.
STEWART: You are 100 percent correct.
There are a lot of times on the campaign trail where we have embeds and we have reporters that fly with us and eat, sleep, and drink with us 24/7, and some of them want extra access. And a lot of times what we say, this meeting or this dinner or this plane trip is off the record.
At the same time, you still tell all the staff and the candidates and their family, this may be off the record, but we still have to be careful that some of these may take this information and put it on the record. You have to be careful and assume that even if it's off the record, it still can come back to bite you in the rear.
TAPPER: Let me ask a question, Kristen, because there are parts of the book that doesn't necessarily ring true. A lot rings super true, but Sarah Sanders was asked today to give some examples of things that were not accurate. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: There was a claim that the president didn't know who John Boehner was is pretty ridiculous, considering the majority of you have seen photos and, frankly, several have even tweeted out that the president not only knows him, but has played golf with him, tweeted about him.
That's pretty simple and pretty basic. Ages of employees, which would be super easy to fact-check, are wrong. Again, there are numerous mistakes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: She has a point. I mean, I didn't find that anecdote particularly believable, but, you know, this is what people do. I remember Philippe Reines doing this with Hillary Clinton books, you find three errors, small, about ages or whatever, and you say, therefore, none of this is believable.
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, there are -- I think the thing you have to be careful about is when something rings very true, 95 percent of it rings very true is to be aware of your own sort of personal bias towards wanting to believe that something is true. If it sounds like oh, that sounds right, taking it at face value instead of digging in. And I think it is valuable for people to question the claims that are made in this book.
I mean, I believe there are some folks that have come out and said there are quotes attributed to me that I never said -- they were said by other people. And presumably as you mentioned, Alice, there'll be tapes to back up a lot of these things that are being disputed, but I do think it's worth sort of taking anything with a grain of salt, even if it's something that sounds like it does ring true and like you do want to believe it.
TAPPER: You were talk due diligence and why they let Michael Wolff in here. Gabriel Sherman, he wrote on Twitter, one of the baffling things about Trump world giving access to Michael Wolff, all they needed to do was call Rupert Murdoch and he would have said, don't cooperate with him, he's written a nasty book on me. And Jared Kushner and President Trump speak to Murdoch all the time.
That was followed by Michael Wolff quoting that tweet and saying, I kept waiting for that call to be made. It seems like there was no due diligence.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, he was kind of a nasty person. You know what I mean, and I don't mean that -- that's kind of his thing. It's his shtick, right? I don't know if people met him. I mean, that's kind of his shtick and he's not somebody who's going to play nice.
And so, I don't know -- yes, I don't know what they're thinking. May be you grant a couple of interviews, but you don't let him sit in the White House every day. I just -- it's just inexplicable to me, especially for people who claim that they hate the media and they think everyone is out to get them.
ANDERSON: Isn't there also a chance here that people just had no clue what was going on? I'm recalling a story I think I read two or three months ago of a reporter who shadowed Omarosa for a day around the White House. And the press shop had not been notified that there would be a reporter on White House grounds following this fairly senior member of the staff around. And somebody from the press shop spotted this reporter half way through and said what's going on.
It's possible, it's believable to me that folks just had no idea this was happening at the level that it was.
POWERS: Hanging out. I mean --
TAPPER: I guess the other question is, when you have a good story to tell, you want people to come in, even if you think that the president has been successful, it's hard to argue that it's been -- that you want to invite reporters into what has been a back-biting atmosphere.
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Certainly, and if you have a good story to tell, you find a trusted reporter or journalist to tell your story. You wouldn't call Wolff to tell your story. And that's unfortunately -- I hate that this happened because the problem is, if you don't want someone to see behind the curtain, you don't let a reporter behind the curtain.
And, if you do, make sure it's someone that you trust, someone like you, Jake, because you're putting yourself out there. And this story could go one of two ways, and I think if anyone had done the due diligence and checked on him and other stories he's done, they would have predicted the outcome.
TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about, including claims in the book amplifying the question that some Democrats are asking: is President Trump mentally fit to serve?
Don't go anywhere. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[16:22:08] REPORTER: What's the president east reaction to the growing number of suggestions both in this book and in the media that he's mentally unfit to serve as president?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The same way we have, when it's been asked before, that it's disgraceful and laughable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: The new explosive book "Fire and Fury" is giving lawmakers more momentum to question whether President Trump is mentally fit for office they say. In one excerpt in "The Hollywood Reporter", author Michael Wolff writes, quote: Everybody was painfully aware of the repetitions. He used to be inside of 30 minutes, he repeat word-for- word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories, now it was within ten minutes. Indeed many of his tweets for the product of his repetitions he just couldn't stop saying something, unquote.
A bill on Capitol Hill that could start a formal process to evaluate any president's mental fitness is getting more interest with 56 cosponsors, all Democrats.
The Democrat who introduced the bill joins me now, Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland.
Congressman, thanks so much for being here.
You and several of your Democratic House colleagues met with the psychiatry professor from Yale, Dr. Bandy Lee. She told CNN today, quote: As the president is unraveling he seems to be losing his grip on reality and reverting to conspiracy theories. There are signs that he is going into attack mode when he is under stress. That means he has the potential to become impulsive and very volatile, unquote.
Did she say that to the assembled Congress people?
REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Well, I think that Dr. Lee and other psychiatrist who've been up to meet with members of Congress have been predicting increasingly delusional and paranoid behavior on the part of the president. Of course, we're not mental health professionals, we're not psychiatrists, that's not our role, but we do have a very defined and important role under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution which is to set up a body that could act with the vice president in the event of an emergency when the president becomes unable for mental or physical reasons to successfully discharge the powers and duties of office.
TAPPER: Sure --
RASKIN: So, the bill just sets up the body that would be able to go to work if there were a real crisis.
TAPPER: But I guess one of the concerns would be a lot of these mental health experts and we've seen them weighing in in the "New York Times" and on cable TV and elsewhere, there was something set up in the mental health community called the Goldwater Rule, deeming it unethical for any mental health professional to give a professional opinion on a public figure who he or she did not personally evaluate.
How could she say such a thing without examining the president?
RASKIN: Well, they're not violating the Goldwater Rule which is incorporated into a lot of state bodies of law governing mental health practitioners because they're not making a specific diagnosis under the DSM of the president. As I understand what they're doing, they're acting the way that any citizen has a right to act under the First Amendment to say that they think that the president is dangerous and unable to successfully meet the powers and duties of office.
[16:25:02] And that's the constitutional standard.
The question of whether he is a malignant narcissist or paranoid tendencies or so on, all of those interesting and they might be relevant, but they're not definitive for the constitutional question of whether he's able to meet the duties of office. And, of course, we've got big public policy crisis going on now. We've got gun violence crisis, we've got the tax bill which was bought and paid for by the Koch brothers and the Mercers.
So, we got serious stuff to deal with, and instead we're caught up every day in what looks like the country debating the mental health of the president. So, it's a very dangerous and unstable situation as a number of Republican senators have been self-observed.
TAPPER: How can you be sure that your opposition to President Trump because of his politics, because of his style, because of his -- let's call them eccentricities, that that's not clouding your judgment or that of the mental health professionals you've spoken with?
RASKIN: Well, that's an excellent question. And all of us have politics and all of us see the world through our own political and moral and ethical perspectives, and that's why the framers of the 25th Amendment by Birch Bayh and Senator Robert F. Kennedy said, what we need is an independent body to be set up. And that's all the legislation HR 1987 proposes, to set up an 11-member commission, bipartisan in nature, Republicans appoint half, Democrats appoint half, the ten members appoint a chair together, and they can only act with the vice president of the United States consistent with the 25th Amendment.
I know a lot of people would like to read the 25th Amendment out of the Constitution, but every part of the Constitution is part of the Constitution. And we need every tool in the constitutional tool kit out on the table to get us through this very difficult period in American history.
TAPPER: Well, what you're proposing, the legislation, sounds bipartisan, it's 50/50 in terms of the composition. And the vice president is in charge. But you don't have any Republican cosponsors for the legislation. And though we've heard criticisms of the president from Republican senators and others, in terms of him being chaotic, I haven't heard one of them invoke the 25th Amendment or question whether he's mentally fit.
RASKIN: Well, actually a lot have confided their real doubts about it. And if you look at the statements made by Senator Corker and, you know -- others in the U.S. Senate, a lot of Republicans have asked questions about whether there's an adult day care center existing over in the White House and so on. But, you know, I'm trying to resist as much as possible just getting into the name-calling business. Obviously, there are a lot of things that are disturbing in terms of what's happened, like the president suddenly denying the veracity of the "Access Hollywood" tapes which he had readily conceded to and apologized for just months ago. There's increasingly delusional behavior it seems like and erratic behavior and he's more and more isolated even from his best friends like Steve Bannon who are beginning to call him out in terms of his behavior.
But the issue is, what is our institutional responsibility as the U.S. Congress? And we got that under the 25th Amendment. Everybody should go and read it.
Either the vice president can act with the cabinet in the event that the president becomes unable to conduct the powers of office or the vice president and body to be set up by Congress and the Congress in the last 50 years, never set the body up. So, at the very least, we have to set the body up so it's ready in the event of a crisis.
TAPPER: All right. Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, thank you and happy New Year to you, sir. Appreciate it.
RASKIN: And happy New Year to you, Jake.
TAPPER: This conversation is far from over. Next, next a Republican senator and U.S. marine, Dan Sullivan. He just left a meeting with President Trump. What does he think is the future of the Trump presidency?
Good to see you.
SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R), ALASKA: Happy New Year.