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Trump's Lawyers to Bannon: Shut Up or We'll Sue; White House: Disgraceful & Laughable" to Stay Trump Unfit. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 4, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:33] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN. Thank you for being with me.

Any moment now, we should see Sarah Sanders step behind the podium and give that White House briefing as this whole war of words between president and former chief strategies has turned into a legal fight. The president's personal attorney has issued a cease and desist letter to the publisher and author of this book that we have been talking a whole lot about the last 24 hours, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House".

The book which is out next week depicts the White House as mired in dysfunction and infighting. The letter follows a legal threat the president's attorney made against former White House strategist Steve Bannon. He is quoted throughout this book blasting the president's family and belittling the president, suggesting that he, not President Trump, was running the show.

Moments ago, the president dropped the curtain on that contention.


REPORTER: Did the Steve Bannon portray you? Any words from him?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know. He called me a great man last night so changed his tune pretty quick.


TRUMP: Thank you. I don't talk to him. I don't talk to him. That's just a misnomer. Thank you.


BALDWIN: As we wait for Sarah Sanders to start that briefing there, let's talk. Joining me now, CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip, braving the cold outside the White House there in Washington, and nice and cozy inside, Chris Cillizza, our CNN politics --


BALDWIN: Never braving but so because of that -- CILLIZZA: With a face like this.

BALDWIN: Abby, I'm starting with you.


BALDWIN: I'm starting with you, because you are the tough one standing out there. Listen, this book, "Fire and Fury", it confirms what we have witnessed for the past year, that there is this overwhelming level of chaos and dysfunction that's been enveloping the White House, right? We've heard all of this on the periphery for the last 12 months, but the difference this time is that this picture that he paints comes from one of its chief insiders.

PHILLIP: That's right. And I think that it's also different because the White House by all accounts participated in this book. They allowed Michael Wolff to hang out in the building for nearly a year, whether that was led by chief strategist Steve Bannon or not, clearly, other White House officials participated in this account and that's what makes it so difficult for them to push back on the narrative that's in place in here.

The White House is also facing the prospect that a lot of these quotes are on the record. Now, some of these people have come back and said, oh, I didn't say that, but on the other hand, if Michael Wolff has evidence or proof of in any form that these things were genuinely said, it really undermines the over-arching argument about whether or not these things depicted in this book are true, and also whether the broader idea that Michael Wolff is portraying, which is of a president who is not fully engaged in the job, who is perhaps erratic, and other things. The White House is concerned that that kind of narrative is sinking in and that it's going to contribute to an effort to undermine the Trump presidency.

BALDWIN: It's a good point you make though and let me just underscore it for people watching, we don't know how much is true versus conjecture on behalf of Michael Wolff. But there are a lot of direct quotes from members within Trump world.

Chris, to you on this whole letter that the Trump attorney had sent to Steve Bannon, claims that he violated this NDA, this nondisclosure agreement, that they argue that Bannon had signed with the Trump Organization. First of all, what do we know about NDAs being signed, who signed them, and what does that tell you?

CILLIZZA: Well, most broadly, Brooke, we know Donald Trump throughout his life has been quite litigious. That is nothing new.

BALDWIN: It's his M.O.

CILLIZZA: Yes, I mean, it's something he does. He is someone who seeks recourse through the legal system, at times in which he has a case and at times which he doesn't. I'm not really sure where this is.

In his business world, he did require virtually everyone who worked for him to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Now I think there is a little bit of a legal disagreement potentially about what would constitute breaking that NDA and the legal standing that Donald Trump would have to have one with someone who is a government employee.

[14:05:03] Now, we'll see.

One thing I want to note to Abby's point, she makes two really important ones. One, we don't have -- we at CNN don't have everything in this book verified.


CILLIZZA: You know, we're still going up to the excerpts.

But, two, and I think this is important.


CILLIZZA: Steve Bannon is quoted on the record throughout the excerpts that we have seen from this Michael Wolff back. I have not heard or seen anything of Steve Bannon saying these quotes are wrong. You know, he could say they are out of context. But he has not said I was -- the quotes that are being reported are incorrect, I think that's important to note.

BALDWIN: Or from the White House, granted the president said he's lost his mind after leaving the White House. But they didn't say -- disputing them.

CILLIZZA: That's right. And one other thing, by the way, Brooke, that I think is fascinating, that Trump clip you played, another one, Donald Trump has so much media. He was aware of the fact that Bannon has said on a Sirius XM radio show had said he's a great man, number one. And number two, Donald Trump is very mercurial. He likes it when you say good things about him. He doesn't like it when you say bad, he perceives to be bad things about him.

So, yes, I think Steve Bannon is on the outs. Does that necessarily mean Steve Bannon will always and forever be on the outs? It past is prologue with Trump? No. In fact, he sometimes drawn to the people that he has crossed swords with, as -- because he knows that the reconciliation makes great TV.

BALDWIN: And people pay attention and they talk about it.


BALDWIN: And he reads about it.

On the whole radio point and Steve Bannon, Abby to you, Bannon's doing radio, he's been answering questions from all these different Trump supporters. Now, reiterating his support for Trump, calling him a great man, supporting his agenda. He told one caller let's not let the left wing media stir that up. But how does one reconcile his response to this book with the direct quotes attributed to him in this book? PHILLIP: Well, to Chris's point, Brooke, Bannon hasn't really talked

specifically about what he is quoted as saying in this book. He's just pivoted and praised Trump, which was typically what people do in Trump universe when they've made a mistake. And for Bannon, it's particularly important because his empire, this "Breitbart" empire is so fully framed around Donald Trump, that if you take Trump out of that, it really puts him in a very tough position.

So, yesterday, I think what we saw from Steve Bannon is someone who is in a difficult position because everything around him hinges on his relationship with Donald Trump. That is now in jeopardy. And the most important thing you can do when you're in that position with Trump is to praise him. It's a way of saying I'm sorry.

And the president is -- you know, today I think his comments really revealed not so much that he was willing to welcome Bannon back in open arms, but rather that he was aware that Bannon had come and offered a sort of mea culpa publicly and that that was evidence that Trump had, by putting out that really, really tough statement, won out in this battle. I mean, he is now the president of the United States. There was a time when Steve Bannon thought that, according to this book at least, and in other interviews, that Bannon was the brain trust of Trumpism. But Trump is president now and he made that pretty clear in that statement yesterday.

BALDWIN: He sure did, he sure did.

Go ahead, Chris, real quickly and I want to go to break.

CILLIZZA: Yes, take one big step back and think about what we have seen of Donald Trump 2018. We have seen tweets.

BALDWIN: Have we seen him?

CILLIZZA: We have not seen him but we have seen lots of tweets from him. Tweets undermining the Justice Department and seeming to say that there is a deep state. The North Korea tweet, which whether or not he was speaking metaphorically about the button is less important than the fact that we are now in a sort of gamesmanship via Twitter with an unstable dictator.

And now, this extremely vitriolic, angry statement from the president of the United States amid a book that casts this White House as chaotic to be kind. Chaos has always been his M.O. I think he thinks he revels in it.

But I think what you are seeing now is when you are taking an older car, I don't mean old age-wise, just one that you've had for a while and you drive it 110 miles an hour every single day, at some point, the wheels start --

BALDWIN: The wheels are going come off, yes.

CILLIZZA: And I think you are seeing some of that fraying.

BALDWIN: Well -- maybe because of that, maybe not, we don't know. But I want to take a quick break and talk about this other news nugget

that we found about today, which is the fact that these things -- these things will no longer be allowed in the White House. What's up with that?

Let's find out. Let's continue the conversation. Live pictures there of the briefing room, waiting for that to begin any moment now.

[14:10:01] You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: So we are back with Chris Cillizza and Abby Phillip.

And as we wait for this White House briefing to begin, let's talk cell phones. The fact that, Chris Cillizza, the White House has now banned staff, et cetera, from using cell phones, CNN is reporting that sources say it's not security, it's frustration over leaks and that they are not happy. And apparently one of the people in the West Wing floated this whole idea was chief of staff, General John Kelly.

Thoughts on that? How unprecedented is that?

CILLIZZA: Well, OK, by way of broad context, Brooke, Barack Obama was more aggressive in the cracking down against leaking from within his administration than any previous president. OK?


CILLIZZA: So that is not terribly new. We are so new in the Trump administration, I don't know that we can draw those conclusions yet.

That said, I mean, this is a significant step aimed at what has been a very real frustration for the president not to mention senior staff for a long time. Remember, Donald Trump sort of commanded Jeff Sessions to get to the bottom of these leaks, to prosecute them when they are happening, insisting that they pose a real national security threat.

[14:15:08] What I would say is that all leaks, true of Donald Trump's administration, every other ones, all leaks are not created equal. Leaks that do endanger national security, fair point. But to sort of cast a broad net on the leaking of let's say Steve Bannon being fired, you know, back a few months ago last year, I'm not sure that endangers anyone other than Steve Bannon's professional career development.

So, I think we have to be careful when we throw these -- we use a broad brush to paint as the White House is doing here. And in an even broader way, think about this, it's the constant debate between individual freedom and security. The White House wants this to be buttoned up. They want the message of the day to be the message that they choose, not the message someone else chooses.

BALDWIN: Speaking of the White House, Chris Cillizza. Here she is, Sarah Sanders. SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're pleased to

see that the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke through 25,000 for the first time ever today. The President's economic agenda of lower taxes, less regulation, and more opportunity for all is already paying off, and American families and workers are the big winners.

With that in mind, we have a message from a special guest that I'd like to share with you. With that, I'll ask you to tune into the screens, and then I'll continue from there.


TRUMP: Thank you for being with us today. The historic tax cut I signed into law just two weeks ago, before Christmas, is already delivering major economic gains. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are seeing larger paychecks, bigger bonuses, and higher pension contribution, and it's all because of the tax cuts and the tax reform.

And I want to thank all of the companies that worked so hard to do it. Workers at AT&T, Bank of America, Comcast, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and many other companies are receiving bonuses of $1,000 or more.

Aflac and others are investing more in employees' 401(k)s. CVS announced it will hire 3,000 new workers. Boeing, another great company, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in employee training and infrastructure.

More than 60 companies have announced they are raising wages, including many that have voluntarily raised their minimum wage to $15.00 per hour -- and I mean they did that voluntarily -- which many politicians said could only be achieved by government mandate.

Investing in the American worker is the most important investment a business will ever make.

I want to thank all of these companies for putting their tax savings to the best possible use by creating more jobs and higher wages for the American family. These great results are just the beginning.

When the dreams of the American people are unleashed, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, we can't achieve. We are going to make America great again, and it's happening a lot faster than anyone thought possible.

Thank you.


SANDERS: Thank you, Mr. President.

As he said, this is only the beginning, and we are excited to see the economic growth and optimism continue to soar in 2018. Earlier today, the President hosted Republican senators to talk about responsible immigration reform. He reiterated our view that any action on DACA must come with action on the president's immigration reform principles, which were released last year.

These include a physical border wall on the southern border; interior enforcement, which includes more ICE and Border Patrol agents; as well as a crackdown on sanctuary cities; and reforms to our legal immigration system, like ending chain migration and the visa lottery program in favor of a merit-based immigration system.

Next week, the president is inviting a bipartisan group of senators to the White House to discuss next steps on responsible immigration reform and to continue that discussion.

And with that, I'll take your questions.


REPORTER: Sarah, a follow-up on the Steve Bannon issue. Did White House staff, including Steve, have to sign nondisclosure agreements when they came to work at the White House?

SANDERS: There's an ethics agreement. Beyond that, I can't get into any additional details.

REPORTER: Does the president want to have Steve's support for anti- establishment political candidates going up into the midterm elections?

SANDERS: The president wants all Americans' support. He hopes that every American in this country wants to see us do bigger and better things. That's his focus.

He's not trying to single out the support from any one individual, but he wants to bring everybody together to move this country forward. That's what he campaigned on, and that's what we've done over the last year, and that's what we're going to continue to do for the next seven years.


REPORTER: The White House has said there were false statements in this book.

[14:20:02] The president's lawyer has said there are libelous statements. Could you just give a few examples of things that have been said in this book that are false, that you would like set the record straight on?

SANDERS: I'm not going to go through every single page of the book, but there are numerous examples of falsehoods that take place in the book. I'll give you one, just because it's really easy. The fact that 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, some of you have even tweeted out that the president not only knows him but has played golf with him, tweeted about him.

I mean, 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, but I'm not going to waste my time or the country's time going page by page, talking about a book that's complete fantasy and just full of tabloid gossip, because it's sad, pathetic, and our administration and our focus is going to be on moving the country forward.

John (ph)?

REPORTER: Thanks a lot, Sarah. I read the cease-and-desist letter that was sent by the President's lawyers to both Michael Wolff and Henry Holt, the publisher of his book, which seeks to stop the sale of his book. Did the president's lawyers share with the President the idea that this is a prior restraint, and that prior restraints are generally unconstitutional?

SANDERS: I'm not sure about specific details of the conversation between the president and his personal attorneys, but I would refer you to them for questions regarding that matter.


REPORTER: Does the president believe in the First Amendment? Does he believe in prior restraint such as the one that's contemplated here?

SANDERS: The president absolutely believes in the First Amendment. But as we've said before, the president also believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact when it certainly and clearly is not.


REPORTER: What's the President's reaction to the growing number of suggestions, both in this book and in the media, that he's mentally unfit to serve as President?

SANDERS: The same way we have when it's been asked before, that it's disgraceful and laughable. If we was unfit, he probably wouldn't be sitting there and wouldn't have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen.

This is an incredibly strong and good leader. That's why we've had such a successful 2017 and why we're going to continue to do great things as we move forward in this administration.


REPORTER: Yes. Thank you, Sarah.

Two questions. First, the book repeatedly says that candidate Trump, his family, and the top officials of the campaign did not believe he would be elected. It was the farthest from their mind.

You said yesterday you believed in this campaign and felt he would win. Can you name anyone else who said at the time, on the eve of the election, they felt he would win? And did the president himself believe he would not win?

SANDERS: Look, as we've stated many times before - go back and look at some of the interviews, specifically Kellyanne Conway. I know she did several leading up to the days just before the election, saying directly that the president can win and would win. I know there were a number of other campaign officials that echoed those same sentiments.

The president, the first lady, his family, they wouldn't have put themselves through that process if, one, they didn't believe they could win, and two, they didn't want to win. This was something they were very committed to and have been committed to since taking office, and will continue to do so over the next seven years.

Again, it is absolutely laughable to think that somebody like this president would run for office with the purpose of losing. If you guys know anything, you know that Donald Trump is a winner, and he's not going to do something for the purpose of not coming out on top and not coming out as a winner.

It's just -- I mean, that's one of the most ridiculous things I think -- the claims in the book.

REPORTER: My other question is: Tomorrow, can we expect a major personnel change? And I particularly ask, is Gary Cohn going to stay where he is?

SANDERS: I have no reason to know of any personnel change whatsoever. Gary has stated he's committed to being here. We just have come off of a very successful win on the tax cut and reform package, which Gary was one of the key leaders of that effort.

And we're moving full force ahead into 2018 to make sure we get a lot accomplished.


REPORTER: Thank you, Sarah.

I wanted to follow up on something you said yesterday. The last time that the president spoke to Steve Bannon was early December, at least to your knowledge, you said. So that's one thing.

But secondly, the President said today, I don't talk to Steve Bannon, I don't talk to him. So, how much were they in contact from the time that he left the White House to that early December call that you mentioned?

[14:25:00] And also, how close were they when they were in the White House? One of the claims that was made in the book was that he frequently dined with Mr. Bannon unless he was already in bed.

SANDERS: The book also says that he had been sidelined by April, which I think goes further to indicate that he had very little credibility to give much information, particularly after that point, which most of the book is based after that timeframe. Again, this book is mistake, after mistake, after mistake.

REPORTER: So is that correct? Was he sidelined? Was he sidelined by April, Sarah? Were they not close by the time that he left?

SANDERS: I'm not aware that they were ever particularly close. I would certainly say that they've spoken a few times since he left the White House, but it's not like there were regularly scheduled calls and certainly no meetings between the two of them.


REPORTER: Thanks, Sarah.

This is regarding the election commission and the president's tweets that follow that. Does the president -- on voter ID, does the president favor a national voter ID?

SANDERS: Look, we're still going to continue to review the best way forward. Just because the election commission is no longer in existence, we are going to send the preliminary findings from the commission to the Department of Homeland Security and make determinations on the best way forward from that point.

REPORTER: And on that, why the DHS instead of the DOJ, which would seem to be more of an investigative body?

SANDERS: That was the agency that was best determined by the administration. And we're moving forward and letting them take over the process.


REPORTER: Thanks, Sarah. Two questions for you. First, does President Trump see marijuana as a states issue or a federal issue?

SANDERS: The president believes in enforcing federal law. That would be his top priority, and that is regardless of what the topic is. Whether it's marijuana or whether it's immigration, the president strongly believes that we should enforce federal law.

The move that the Department of Justice has made, which, my guess is, what you're referencing, simply gives prosecutors the tools to take on large-scale distributors and enforce federal law. The president's position hasn't changed, but he does strongly believe that we have to enforce federal law.

REPORTER: Without getting ahead of the President, the meeting this afternoon with the RNC chairwoman, do you imagine they will be discussing a potential run by Mitt Romney in Utah? Is this something that the President would like to discuss with Mitt Romney's niece?

SANDERS: Like you said, I'm not going to get ahead of a meeting that hasn't taken place and try to guess what may be discussed. And, you know, maybe we can follow up with that question at a later time.


REPORTER: Sarah, it's an incredibly high bar for a public figure to win a libel case -- a public figure, especially like the president. So I was hoping you could explain why the president thinks it's an appropriate use of attention and resources to marshal both his West Wing and his legal team against the book's author, the book's publisher, and a former staffer.

SANDERS: In terms of a legal argument, I would refer you to the president's attorneys. But in terms of the merits, 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. And I would refer you to the president's attorneys on what that looks like in the court of law.

Noah? Or Brian, sorry. Brain is slow today.

REPORTER: Thank you, Sarah.

Will the President go to court to stop the publication of this book?

SANDERS: Again, that's something that I would refer you to the president's attorneys, but our position is very clear, that we think it is full of false and fake information.

REPORTER: The book is going to be published on Tuesday. I mean, how far is the president willing to go to prevent this book from being published?

SANDERS: He certainly believes that it shouldn't be, but in terms of the legal process, I would have to refer you to his legal team on that front.


REPORTER: Sarah, I know we're talking a lot about Steve Bannon, but he's not the only person quoted in this book. Katie Walsh, who worked for this White House, was quoted on the record extensively --

SANDERS: Who I believe has also put out a statement denying that those quotes are attributed to her.

REPORTER: Is there any kind of action being taken by the White House against any of these individuals? Is there outreach to these individuals who are quoted to verify whether, in fact, they made these statements or not?

You know, there are these reports that there are going to be, perhaps, implications for her, potentially being pushed out of groups that work to help support the president from the outside.

SANDERS: Look, I'm not aware of any specific action being taken. I do know that she has come out and said that the quotes were not attributed to her, as have many other people that this has been -- that they've been quoted in this book.

REPORTER: Can you take them at their word? And there won't be implications?

SANDERS: Well, absolutely, particularly people like Secretary Mnuchin, who has pushed back on this, and several others. 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.

REPORTER: And no further legal action against any of those individuals?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of at this time.


REPORTER: Sarah, thanks. Just a couple.

I just want to ask you, broadly speaking, what is your level of exhaustion when you have to have this issue out there when there are other policy issues you're trying to get to and trying to communicate to the American people?