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Will President Trump Undergo Mental Acuity Exam?; Trump-Bannon Feud Erupts. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 4, 2018 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:01] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Mark Geragos goes on the potential defamation lawsuit filed by Steve Bannon against the president.

Thank you, sir.


BALDWIN: How about that? And we roll on. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

Moments ago, the White House defended the president as he tries to silence this tell-all book that portrays his West Wing as mired in dysfunction and infighting. His personal attorney just issued this cease-and-desist letter to the publisher and author of "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House."

The letter follows a legal threat the president's attorney made against former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon is quoted throughout the book blasting the president's family and belittling the president, suggesting that he, not President Trump, Bannon, was actually the one running the show.

Earlier, the president dropped the curtain on that contention.


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.

All right, thank you all very much. Thank you. 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.


BALDWIN: Then, just a couple minutes ago, the White House press secretary rejected the book's accuracy big time, especially condemning the assertion the president did not want to win the election and calling for Breitbart to think about firing Steve Bannon as its chief executive. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But there are numerous examples of falsehoods that take place in the book. I will 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.

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. And 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.


BALDWIN: With me now CNN political analyst Brian Karem, who is also executive editor at The Sentinel Newspapers there freezing cold at the White House this afternoon.


We appreciate you, Brian. Thank you so much.


KAREM: Thanks for having me. Good to see you.

BALDWIN: You were just in the briefing. We will get to all of the different adjectives that Sarah Sanders used to describe the -- this whole -- Michael Wolff's book. But first let's get to you and your question that you asked of Sarah Sanders in the briefing. Here you go.

KAREM: Sure. Sure.


KAREM: So next week, when he goes to his physical, are there mental acuity tests that go along with that, or is it purely physical in nature?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: We will discuss, as I said, when I announced that he was going to be doing the physical, we will have a readout of that after that is completed, and we will let you know at that time.


BALDWIN: So, if people couldn't quite hear, you were asking about mental acuity.

KAREM: Mental acuity. BALDWIN: Mental acuity.

Talk to me about the thinking into asking that question, Brian.

KAREM: Well, there's been many concerns, accusations, insinuations that the president isn't mentally fit for office.

So, when he goes through his physical next week, it's, I think, a relevant question to ask exactly what goes into that particular exam and are there mental aspects to it to see if he has the mental acuity needed.

Tried to back into that one, because I knew it would be a rather fiery question to ask. But it's a legitimate question to ask, considering everything that's gone on in this White House. I mean, you talk about intrigue, it's like "Game of Thrones." It's odd.

BALDWIN: How long have you been covering the Washington? How long have you been in Washington, Brian? A long time, right?


Off and on. The first president I covered was Reagan, and then off and on since then. So it's a little strange. I haven't seen anything like it.


You have that perspective. I just wanted to make that point. You cover. You are there. You are covering the White House every day. And to this Michael Wolff book, and the excerpts we have seen in "New York" magazine and "The Guardian" and today in "The Hollywood Reporter," a lot confirms what has been out there in the either, right, the chaos, dysfunction, choose your word, within Trump world.

But the difference here is these direct quotes in a lot of these cases actually come from within.

KAREM: The White House. You're right.


KAREM: And we see it from the outside. You talk about chaos and dysfunction, anything who is here on a daily basis sees that. And there are people who acknowledge that inside the White House and then those who do not and defend the president.


And so coming from someone on the inside like Bannon, who was close to the president, despite what the president is saying now, that person coming forward saying it has some gravitas that otherwise had not been involved in that issue before.

And that's pretty important to acknowledge. Now, there are all kinds of things going on saying that some of the quotes were not accurate. Some of them were. Whatever. But the point is no one in his inner circle until now has come forward to tell us of the depth of the dysfunction inside this White House.

Words don't even describe it. I mean, I honestly have never seen anything like it at any time.

BALDWIN: Which perhaps explains the Twitter outburst from the president maybe getting tipped off that all this would be coming out.

KAREM: Twitter litter.

BALDWIN: Twitter litter. There you go.

KAREM: That's all it is. He deflects. He defends. He wants to keep you away from the issues at hand and put issues out there. That's why he goes after us, I think, sometimes and why he creates issues to go after. He wants to avoid the real issues that are going on.

And these are rather explosive. But, I mean, any day, you know, I would say, hey, it was a full news day today, and it's not even 4:00 yet. Who knows what's going to happen two hours from now, let alone tomorrow or the next day. We are only four days into the year, Brooke.

BALDWIN: The year is young. Brian Karem, we will talk again very soon. Thank you much. Keep asking the tough questions.

KAREM: Thank you.

BALDWIN: With regard to this book here that we are just talking about, President Trump's lawyer is firing back with this well-worn tactic threatening to sue.

The president's past list of potential lawsuits and his targets include women accusing him of alleged sexual harassment and assault, Senator Ted Cruz, Ohio Governor John Kasich, the talk show host Bill Maher, "The New York Times" and so on.

You get where we are going.

So, let's talk this over with political commentator Michael Smerconish, also a lawyer, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."

Michael Smerconish, nice to see you. Happy new to you.


BALDWIN: Thank you. So, what do you make of this nasty feud between Trump and Bannon?

SMERCONISH: I think that the only thing more upsetting to the president than a salacious book about him would be a salacious book that we're all talking about that has nothing to do with him.


BALDWIN: Because we're talking about Steve Bannon.

SMERCONISH: Well, I'm not convinced that the president is as riled about this as the White House is suggesting and as we are all making it out to be.

I think he for better or worse thrives on chaos. This is straight out of "Page Six" of "The New York Post" and it probably makes him feel today like he's back in Midtown Manhattan.

BALDWIN: So, then how do you explain the 15 tweets and the whole my button is bigger than your button?

SMERCONISH: Well, it's great fodder, isn't it?

It's the ultimate reality show until we get to Monday, when he hands out his fake news awards. And it's got us all absolutely enthralled.

You mentioned ago the prospect that there would be litigation. There's a threat of litigation to stop the publication of this book. I totally buy into what Mark Geragos said just a couple of minutes ago. That would be an impossibility.

But, Brooke, I'm sitting here listening to this and I'm saying if I'm at the White House and I want to sell Michael Wolff's book, what am I going to do? Well, I'm going to trash it incessantly. I'm going to threaten litigation. I might even file a writ of some kind to try and pursue this a bit.

It just doesn't seem like the strategy to get the media to move on from all of it. Instead, it seems like a strategy that's destined to keep us talking about it.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes, which maybe is backfiring for them. Who knows.


SMERCONISH: I don't know. I'm not sure.


Talking about Brian Karem, and he was the one in the briefing a second ago who was asking Sarah Sanders about asking the president's physical and then questioning whether or not he would have some sort of mental acuity test, which is quite a question to be asking of the White House.

And so on that same vein, Michael, we now know this Yale psychiatrist actually went to Washington and briefed mostly Democratic lawmakers I think it was last month on the president's mental state.

What's your take on this sort of concern through Congress?

SMERCONISH: I don't like it. I don't like it. And I think it sets a dangerous precedent.

I don't like the idea of individuals making diagnoses about patients that they haven't met, much less examined. There was a split in the psychiatric community among professional organizations in the fall of last year, where some were saying they thought this was appropriate. And others were saying that they don't like it.

And I would just suggest to those who think it's appropriate to question the mental competence of a public servant, how will you feel in a couple of years when someone of a different party is in that? Do you really want to set that kind of a precedent?

BALDWIN: Back to Steve Bannon, how we know today he's been doing radio, he's been answering questions.


And despite all these quotes coming out of Michael Wolff and his literature, apparently, Bannon is reiterating his support for Trump and his agenda. He told one caller -- quote -- "Let's not let the left-wing media stir that up."

But how do you reconcile his response to this book here with the direct quotes attributed to him in the book?

SMERCONISH: I don't think there is much doubt that Bannon said those things that are in the book and attributed to him.

And I base that on the following reason. As far as I know, he's not disavowed any of those statements. He's not, for example, disavowed the treasonous statement. If he has, I'm unaware of it.

And, Brooke, I'll tell you, although there is a lot of back and forth about what's factually accurate and what is not in the book, I think it's pretty clear that the president believes Bannon said that, or the president would not have released the statement four or five paragraphs' long that he did yesterday.

So, on that issue, you know, we may debate whether the president recognized John Boehner's name when he heard it. I think that's kind of laughable. But on the assertion that Bannon said it was treasonous for that meeting to take place, I think President Donald Trump thinks Bannon really did say it.

And, as you know, Mike Allen is reporting at Axios that there are tapes. Are there tapes of that assertion? I don't know. But I want to hear what was said.

BALDWIN: Maybe we will. Maybe we will.

Finally, the Trump administration, she was asked in the briefing about pot, right, this whole marijuana crackdown. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinding the Obama policy of noninterference with marijuana-friendly state laws.

What is the potential political strategy behind the timing here and how will this play with Trump's loyal base? SMERCONISH: You know, I think that this is so potentially disruptive

economically, because, just Monday, California came online with fully legalized pot, which they have been implementing over time and will do so in the future.

And part and parcel of the strategy is to bring people in from the cold, bring people in and make them work within the system. If you were a grower, if you were someone somehow involved in the marijuana trade and contemplating going above-board, what are you going to do now?

I will tell you why I don't like. I think it's hypocritical. I think it's at odds with Republican mantra of state's rights. You could argue, well, Jeff Sessions is just doing his job. And to that point, here's the answer. Congress needs to get off its duff and make the federal law aligned with the state law.

BALDWIN: Off their duff.

Michael Smerconish, we will see you this weekend. Thank you so much. Thank you, as always.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, the new book here chockful of details of not only what apparently happens within the White House, but also about the president himself, how this is likely playing out behind the scenes. We will talk to someone who actually knows him quite well.

And leave them at the door, the White House banning the use of personal cell phones, much to the ire of some West Wing staffers. We have their reasoning next.




BALDWIN: After what the president said there, do you think Steve Bannon has a defamation case against President Trump?

GERAGOS: I will tell you this. I have got it on pretty good authority that he is considering that.


BALDWIN: That was Mark Geragos on with me just a little while ago and talking about Steve Bannon potentially with regard to the president's statement yesterday, saying since he was out of the White House that he has lost his mind, saying perhaps a defamation suit is headed to the way of the president.

Let me bring in one of the president's longtime confidants, CEO and president of Newsmax Media, Chris Ruddy.

Chris, welcome back. Nice to see you.

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: Great to be on, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So that was just some news potentially made by Mark Geragos on this potential lawsuit heading the president's way. Thoughts?

RUDDY: I think we need to find that Yale psychiatrist and bring her back to start checking out all these folks. I think she certified me as completely sane.

BALDWIN: OK, but seriously, can you...

RUDDY: Sorry.

BALDWIN: If a defamation is head to the way of the president because of the that he said Steve Bannon lost his mind, and maybe that even has more merit than the White House thinking they can stop this book from being published next week, what do you think about that?

RUDDY: Well, I think he was saying that to be somewhat facetious maybe or a euphemism.

I don't think he was saying that he's mentally -- Steve -- I wrote on my blog today about this whole episode that I thought Steve was delusional. I said the first evidence was when he was fired back in August by the president.

He gave an interview to "The New York Times" and he said that, basically, the Trump presidency was over. It was over because he, Steve, who was an aide at the White House, was leaving.

I think Steve has had an exaggerated opinion of himself. Most people didn't even know who Steve Bannon was. People in politics and news media like we, we certainly knew who he was. But most people in the country, until he started working for Donald Trump and his campaign.

And he's ridden those coattails very effectively, where he's a national name and obviously dominating the news. But Donald Trump made Steve Bannon. And now Steve has been very critical, harshly critical, and very mean-spirited in some of the things he said about not only the president, but his family, and I think very unfair, some of the things he said.

I hope he didn't really mean the things he said.

BALDWIN: So going back to one of the words you used there, you said delusional. Then, based on what you just told me, would you agree with the president that he's lost his mind, Steve Bannon?

RUDDY: Well, I'm not a psychiatrist. I'm not trying to give a medical analysis here of the state of Steve Bannon's mind.

BALDWIN: I'm not asking for that. I'm not asking for that.

RUDDY: I actually think Steve has been fairly strategic. I think there is more likelihood here that he would like to see the

president -- he's been telling people, and was quoted as saying the president only had a 30 percent chance of even finishing out his term. But when you make comments like that the president's son engaged in a treasonous meeting at Trump Tower, which is just patently false, or you claim that the Trump family has been engaged in money laundering, which I think is an absurd claim just on all the known facts about their business and the type of business they do for many years, you have to ask yourself, what is Steve's agenda here?


Is his agenda to maybe push out the president or make it very difficult for him to run reelection? There was also a story in "Vanity Fair" that Steve is thinking himself of running for president.

Now, again, this is part of maybe the delusional syndrome that he's living through. But he actually told "Vanity Fair" and people around him that he's thinking of this opportunity.

I don't think he can do it if Donald Trump runs in 2020. But he may think he could do it if Donald Trump is not the candidate or isn't running again.

BALDWIN: So you think this is really about Steve Bannon bigging himself up. That's interesting, just hearing the way you see it, which is exactly what I wanted to hear.

You brought up a second ago that Yale psychiatrist who apparently briefed mostly Democratic lawmakers in D.C. on the president's mental state. And regardless of what you think of this particular psychiatrist's credibility, Chris, is it fair for lawmakers who are concerned to get answers to those concerns?

RUDDY: I think there are people that are seeing the president all the time.

I just saw him about a half-dozen times over the Christmas holiday. I never noticed anything that I thought would show that he was mentally unfit for office.

Now, Donald Trump is a theatrical-type character. He had a hit TV show for almost 15 years in prime time. Nobody has that. This is unheard of. So, I think there is a theatrical flair which we all saw during this heated, controversial campaign, and the voters still elected him.

Now, his approaches on things, and he will call people names, and he will hit back, they are not my approaches. I don't necessarily agree with them. But I don't think you can also claim because he calls someone a name, therefore, he's mentally unstable.

And I think when you have Michael Pence, General Mattis, General Kelly, nobody around him is thinking that. And I don't think they would risk the country's security if they thought he was not fit or able to conduct the office of the president. So I think it's absurd. It's unfair. And I agree with Michael

Smerconish's comment, it's just really unprofessional of that psychiatrist to make an analysis without ever having diagnosing the person or meeting even the person.

BALDWIN: On this Michael Wolff book, and, by the way, what I'm about to say, we at CNN have not confirmed any of this, there are a lot of direct quotes, this was not.

But in one of the pieces in describing Trump's run for president, he paints this picture toward the end of the campaign as not many people within team Trump actually thought he would win, they were making plans to do TV, and whatever else.

In fact, candidate Trump was quoted telling his aide Sam Nunberg -- quote -- "I can be the most famous man in the world."

Yes, running for president, Chris, is going to raise anyone's profile. But how much was it about fame?

RUDDY: Well, let's remember, Sam Nunberg, good guy, he left the campaign fairly early.

He was one of the key architects of the initial campaign. I think what happened was, when the president first announced, he was expecting to give voice for a lot of the issues that he was concerned in the Republican Party and the nation.

I don't think he had an expectation he was going to win. I think that's accurate. But as time went on, as he defeated 15 well-financed Republicans, as he took on the Clinton machine, the Democratic Party and the media and he starting seeing poll numbers in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, I believe -- and I have talked to him about this,.

I don't think he initially believed he was going to win, but he saw a pathway and he worked very hard and, frankly, he won the election. So everybody underestimates this guy. He's been successful in business. Built a billion-dollar real estate business and brand company.

And then he went into politics and within two years took on the Republican and Democratic establishment, the media establishment, like CNN and other networks. And he still won.

So I think everybody underestimates. They're always trying to figure out why he's doing this or why he's not doing that.


BALDWIN: I'm not sitting here trying to underestimate, Chris.

Hang on. But I just wanted to ask whether the intention -- and I hear you that maybe he thought at first maybe that he wasn't going to win. I was just curious if any of these -- you know, what I have read is true that he was in it to be the most -- to be famous?

RUDDY: So, well, there is a lot of reasons.

Like, I remember there were stories that when Bill Clinton ran in 1992, he had no idea he was going to actually win. He thought he was preparing for a future presidential run. And not only did he win the primary. He went on to win the presidency.


So, sometimes, these things happen somewhat accidentally. Donald Trump had a long career in business and finance and in media. I think he was prepared for the job in a lot of ways. And some ways he wasn't prepared. He didn't have the political advisers that he needed.

And so he brought in a lot of people, including Steve Bannon, that had no political experience. Steve ran a Web site, a very highly charged political Web site. Had never been involved in governing. So all of this was new. I think the president has made a tremendous amount of adjustments.

But I want to mention he's had incredible accomplishments, record stock market, record job confidence, unemployment, record business and consumer confidence. Borders crossings are down by 60 percent. Deregulation on a massive scale.

I think nobody ever talks about this, and I think that is what is going to be really important for Donald Trump at the end of the day. What are the results that he's delivering to the voters that brought him in, surprisingly, into power?

BALDWIN: Sure. Sure.

But just last quick question. Do you think, though, at the end of the day, Chris Ruddy, that President Trump is an accidental president?

RUDDY: I think that's a fair word.

I think he wasn't intending it. I think he was accidentally -- it was a series of accidental circumstances that led to it. But I also think at the same time it's not a guy that was completely unprepared for the job.

I think he does have certain requisites. And he can make judgments. And we are seeing an improvement in the type of people he's brought around him. The tax bill, I think this tax bill is going to be one of the greatest boons for the American economy in history.

And so I think we are seeing those types of things. And whether it happened all because he had been planning it out for many years or it happened because of a series of circumstances, the result is, we have a president today who is doing a job that he's not getting the credit he deserves for the accomplishments he's making.

BALDWIN: Chris Ruddy, it is a pleasure. You have an insight that we need. Thank you so much.

RUDDY: Thank you, Brooke. Appreciate it. BALDWIN: Coming up next: citing security, staffers and guests now

banned from bringing personal cell phones into the West Wing. But my next guest argues this should be an unnecessary move.

Stay here.