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Bannon Calls Meeting Treasonous; Longtime Confidant on Trump Versus Bannon; Massive Winter Storm in Northeast; Base Stick With Trump or Bannon. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired January 4, 2018 - 08:30   ET


[08:32:10] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump launching into attack mode after excerpts of this scathing new book had been released. The book quotes his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who calls the meeting between that Russian lawyer and top Trump officials, including Don Junior, treasonous and unpatriotic.

We're also getting new details about dysfunction inside the White House from the book's author.

So, joining us now is CEO and president of Newsmax Media and longtime confidant to the president, Chris Ruddy.

Good morning, Chris.


CAMEROTA: When's the last time you talked to the president?

RUDDY: Just last Saturday. He was down here for the holidays. I spoke to him about a half dozen times over the Christmas holidays.

CAMEROTA: Oh, that's right, I remember, you were there for "The New York Times," the free-willing "New York Times" meeting. I believe, in fact, you helped score that and I understand that there were other advisers of his that were annoyed that he had had such a free-willing interview.

RUDDY: So this is a lesson to you, Alisyn, don't turn me down on any more lunch dates.

CAMEROTA: Or else I'll show up in "The New York Times."

Listen, Chris, how do you think that --

RUDDY: But I --

CAMEROTA: How do you think the president is feeling today with all of this Bannon stuff coming to light?

RUDDY: He's probably a little aggravated and probably feels quite unfairly treated by Steve. I'm disappointed that Steve said some of the things he did. You have to remember, this interview for the book probably took place a month or two after Steve was fired by the president at the White House. He probably had very raw emotions.

Steve was a guy that when he was fired from the White House announced to "The New York Times" that the Trump presidency was over because Steve was leaving. I like Steve. I've also known him for a long time. But I think sometimes when you're in the media long enough, you get an exaggerated opinion of yourself.


RUDDY: Look, the president just signed the most sweeping tax cut in history. He has record unemployment.


RUDDY: He's done incredible things. And this -- the Trump presidency is far from over.

CAMEROTA: Yes, listen, I mean what's interesting about this book is that Michael Wolff was in the White House. He spent time, as he says, he got fly on the wall access because he says it was so chaotic in the first months nobody thought to tell him to leave. Nobody knew whose jurisdiction that was.

But, listen, you've been pushing for Steve Bannon to sort of be sidelined. You weren't a fan of what he did with the president. And I'm just curious, why do you think the president relied on him so much and was so close to Steve Bannon?

RUDDY: Well, look, Donald Trump was the first non-politician to ever be elected. And Steve came into his orbit in the campaign very late, the last two months. For most of the primary season, Steve had opposed Donald Trump, had supported Ted Cruz. Very strongly opposed Donald Trump. So the idea that --

CAMEROTA: Right, but then he was all in. I mean --

RUDDY: Right, because the president really didn't -- even Reince Priebus had not been that supportive of the president. He was named chief of staff.

[08:35:05] Donald Trump had a problem. He was elected president, but he didn't really have the political cadre, the advisers that you typically have. So he started grabbing onto people that he thought he could trust and also people that had -- you know, Steve had a very successful career in entertainment and investment banking. He was no dummy. And Reince had very good experience. So I think the president, you know, he made decisions early on and he fixes them. He adjusted. I think we have a much stronger team in the White House. The press operation would never allow Michael Wolff to go running around sitting on White House couches all day. So I think things have improved there.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but, listen, I mean I just want to bounce this off of you. This is what the president has put out in response to this book, OK.

RUDDY: Sure. CAMEROTA: Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating 17 candidates often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican Party. Now that he's on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn't as easy as I make it look.

Steve Bannon was more than a staffer. He did have something to do with the president's presidency. So why do you think -- I mean, obviously, this is the president's ire talking.

RUDDY: Well, I would -- look, Steve Bannon was the chief strategist. And when he left the White House, the president was at a record Gallup low of 34 percent approval. No president had that. He didn't really leave the president in great political shape, so --

CAMEROTA: So when the president listened to Steve Bannon you're saying he did poorly?

RUDDY: Yes, I think that he -- when Steve Bannon's agenda on so many issues, those first four or five months and the health care thing turned out to be a disaster, I think you're seeing a much better team now around --

CAMEROTA: The travel ban didn't go. Let me just run these by you. The travel ban didn't go as planned. That was a Steve Bannon-ism. TPP, his -- the base likes that, that he pulled out. The Paris Climate Accord, the base likes that. Do you worry that the president will lose his dedicated base without being friends with and having the input from Steve Bannon?

RUDDY: Well, Steve Bannon's not the base. "Breitbart's" not the base. I have a blog up on "Newsmax," by the way, describing some of this. Donald Trump is the base of his -- he leads his base. They're supporting him because of their belief that he can change America and reform the country.

Steve is incidental to this and I think even Steve's comments today, where he's trying to walk back some of the comments and saying there's no separation between him and the president on policy, you know, is a real clear indication that he realizes he went maybe a bridge too far in these comments that he made to Michael Wolff several months ago.

CAMEROTA: Let me read you --

RUDDY: I think, at the end of the day, you know --

CAMEROTA: Yes, go ahead.

RUDDY: Sure. No, read, I want to hear. All right, here's another excerpt. This is from a column that Michael Wolff, the author of this book, has given to "The Hollywood Reporter." Here's what he says.

Donald Trump's small staff of factotums, advisers and family began on January 20, 2017, an experience that none of them by any right or logic thought they would, or in many cases should have being part of a Trump presidency. Hoping for the best with their personal futures, as well as the country's future depending on it, my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency is that they all, 100 percent, came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.

The president incapable of functioning from his closest -- his closest advisers.

RUDDY: Well, I've -- I've tried -- I haven't been in the White House, but I've --

CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

RUDDY: I've probably spoken to the presidents dozens and dozens of times, met him. I've been in the White House with him. I think he's quite capable of doing the job. I think it was a real adjustment for him being a guy that's a free-willing guy, was in the entertainment business, had no political advisers, and we saw that the results of that, with things like Steve coming out and saying all sorts of wild things that are -- I think are simply delusional.

Look, this is a president -- and right now has record unemployment, record stock market, record consumer confidence, record business confidence, is soaring after these tax cuts. So how can we say that the president's unfit for the job when he's overseeing.

CAMEROTA: Well, I understand what you're saying, but like don't -- you seem to be glossing over the sort of impulsive tweets. Lots of people are worried about what he's doing with Kim Jong-un and North Korea. He's shaking up foreign policy in a way that makes people very nervous.

So does it make you nervous that the people in his inner sanctum are telling Michael Wolff that they think he's incapable of functioning at his job?

RUDDY: Well, I like, you know, a lot of these people that are quoted in that book are no longer in the White House. They're not in the inner sanctum.

When I -- when you talk about North Korea, I take a lot of confidence we have people like General Mattis, General McMaster, General Kelly. I think these are very good men that have a very long, broad breath of experience. The president's put them in very key positions. So I don't think the country -- I am concerned about Twitter. I've always said that the president should have a review process, that he should not just send out tweets.


RUDDY: That's his approach. He won. He feels he has to reach out because he feels the media, the liberal media, including yourself, Alisyn, are not fair to him all the time.

[08:40:05] CAMEROTA: That -- Chris, I see you laughing. We have -- I mean you should watch our show more often. RUDDY: I don't want to accuse you this early in the morning.

CAMEROTA: I appreciate that. You should watch our show more often --

RUDDY: Right.

CAMEROTA: In terms of all the perspectives we have on.

But I want to ask you about this excerpt.

RUDDY: Well, actually, I think you guys are very fair and that's why I come on your show.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

RUDDY: I do think you're fair.

CAMEROTA: I appreciate that.

Here is the excerpt that I want to ask if this is you. This is about the president's dining habits and his phone calls.

If he was not having his 8:30 dinner with Steve Bannon, then more to his liking he was in bed by that time with a cheeseburger watching his three screens and making phone calls. The phone was his true contact point with the world to a small group of friends.

Do you get those 6:30 cheeseburger phone calls?

RUDDY: I haven't talked to him at 6:30 in the morning, but I have talked to him at 7:30 in the morning and he's not usually actually --

CAMEROTA: No, at night. These are his -- this -- he's not eating a cheeseburger for breakfast.

RUDDY: Oh, at night. Well, I've gotten calls at all sorts of odd times. But, you know, this is a guy that's a workaholic. He likes working. He's always engaged. He's always on the job. He's always asking people for feedback on how he's doing.

So the idea that -- and this is not -- you know, a lot of presidents have these type of personal habits. Reagan did. LBJ did. All sorts of things that they do that never get publicized. It's unfortunate that people start trying to insinuate that something's wrong here because he's having a cheeseburger in his bed. I don't think he's sitting in bed at 6:30 at night, by the way. I think he's out and about.

CAMEROTA: You don't? You think this is erroneous?

RUDDY: No, because he's -- well, he's been having -- he's having lots and lots of business meetings in the White House, which no president had. I know that he's -- he's engaged. I don't get the sense -- like he's not a multitasker. He doesn't sit there and watch TV as he talks to you. He's very connected in these phone calls. He doesn't sit on the Internet. He doesn't use the Internet. Other than tweeting, he'll go on, on his smartphone and do. So I think that some of this is like a little bit of hype and we're

missing the big story, which is all of the major accomplishments he's made on the economy. And this tax bill, I think, is going to make the economy boom like it's never boomed in 30 or 40 years.

CAMEROTA: Listen, Chris, we've done the economy. We've talked about the jobs numbers. We've talked about all of the tax reform. All of that stuff. But today the big story is this window into what's going on inside the White House. And it sounds, in a word, dysfunctional.

RUDDY: Well, I would say that it's transitional. That they're working out -- and, you know, Steve, for him to have said these things indicates maybe why he shouldn't have been there in the first place. He was not really suited for a political advisory job. Steve is great at what he does at "Breitbart," and I think he has very strong positions. I don't agree with most of them. And I think some of them are very dangerous for the economy, like a protectionist tariff. I think the immigration thing is bad. I'm very strongly pro-immigration. I think the country needs a strong immigration policy and one that's relatively open. We want more people coming into the country that are best and brightest and qualified that can help make America stronger and better.


OK, Chris Ruddy, thank you very much for sharing some bits of your personal relationship with the president. Nice to talk to you.

RUDDY: Glad talking to you, Alisyn.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: An interesting conversation. And in one part, when you were asking about North Korea and the tweets and the stability there, Ruddy, who certainly knows the president and understands a lot of these issues well, he's been in the game a long time, mentions the people that he has confidence in right in context of his conversation with the president. Doesn't mention the secretary of state. Mentioned the generals, not Rex Tillerson. Interesting.

CAMEROTA: Telling.

CUOMO: Interesting.

All right, look, all of this fire and fury stuff and the new Michael Wolff stuff is -- Wolff book is interesting because it sheds light on what these real concerns are going on in our White House. But it's not the only storm going on this morning. Politics is the least of what people have to worry about in the Northeast.

Look at your screen. Intensifying nor'easter. We have a live report, next.


[08:46:58] CUOMO: Massive winter storm bearing down on the Northeast right now. Parts of the region could see up to a foot of snow. We've got CNN's Athena Jones live on the road for us on New York's Long Island tracking the conditions.

How is it? You were in Melville, Long Island, about mid island, last time. Where are you now?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Well, now we are near -- we're further into the city, coming back on the Long Island Expressway. We can see the conditions worsening just by the minute. We've been warned -- forecasters have warned that we could see visibility of a quarter of a mile or less at times. We're seeing visibility already of about say a couple of hundred meters at most. We saw some cars spinning out. We saw two accidents that already happened. So the conditions are definitely worsening.

When all is said and done, Chris, New York is expected to get some six to 10 inches of snow. We could see a foot or more in Boston. And that's all because of this bombogenesis. This word we've been hearing so much about is bringing near hurricane-force winds and blinding conditions. And so folks are warning people to stay off the roads if you can. Use mass transit where possible. And just be weary of this wind, the snow and the cold weather it's bringing.


CAMEROTA: Athena, thank goodness you're giving us this live shot. We can see how desolate and dangerous it is. Thank you very much.

So, President Trump blasting his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, for turning on him in this new book. What effect with the Bannon/Trump feud have on conservatives and have on the base and have on the Republican Party as a whole? That's next.


[08:51:13] CAMEROTA: A war of words between President Trump and Steve Bannon have insiders wondering where his base will go. This as some Bannon-backed Senate hopefuls are already distancing themselves from the "Breitbart" boss.

Here to discuss is Matt Schlapp, the former political director for George W. Bush, and Bill Kristol, editor of "The Weekly Standard."

Gentlemen, great to see you.

Bill Kristol, what of the base? Who will they side with?

BILL CRYSTAL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, we'll see what comes out. I mean I don't think this is a personal squabble between Trump and Bannon. It's like saying that when John Dean testified against Richard Nixon, gee, John Dean and Nixon are having kind of a fight.

Bannon spent a year at Trump's side and thinks the Russia investigation is a huge, existential threat to the Trump presidency. Why does he think that? He's not a stupid man. And why did Donald Trump order his lawyer last night to send a cease and desist letter to Bannon? Not to shut Bannon up. He's already spoken. But to shut others up who might speak, especially younger staffers who might have seen things that would be intimidated by the thought of a lawyer's letter.

So I think this is a huge crisis for the Trump presidency. It's not just a fight between two individuals.

CAMEROTA: Matt, is it a huge crisis for the Trump presidency?

MATT SCHLAPP, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Look, it's a lot of drama. It's a lot of unnecessary and unneeded gossipy coverage over people settling scores using this journalist to do it. And I think -- I hope people at the White House who were there previously and who are there now have learned a lesson, which is, you know, anything that distracts from what is a conservative agenda is a mistake.

Look, we could have another Supreme Court pick. We have what's going on in Iran. We have -- the greater questions that are involved in the Middle East. We have all these questions about our economy and the fact that it's on the right track. They passed this tax bill. Why do anything to divert from an agenda that is a conservative agenda.

So, Alisyn, I'll answer your question. The conservative base is sticking with Donald Trump because Donald Trump listened to them about what they wanted to see implemented from the White House and he is doing it and they appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: So, Bill, when you say that you see this differently and that you think that this has larger implications, what do you think it means that Steve Bannon is calling that meeting with the Russian lawyer and Don Junior, et cetera, treasonous and unpatriotic? Why is he saying that?

KRISTOL: Well, he's got his opinion about the meeting. He doesn't like Don Junior. And that's one thing. But, more broadly, I mean obviously Bannon's going to testify before Robert Mueller. Mueller will say do you know -- what do you know about that meeting? Who told you about it? Did other people know about it? Are there contemporaneous e-mails that you've seen?

I mean I just think, obviously Mueller would have thought to do that anyway. But it reminds one of how -- I think of how damaging the Mueller investigation could be to the Trump presidency. And, again, I'm very struck by Trump's reaction. Just think of it, Alisyn, as sort of a -- there he is. Trump's in the White House today. As Matt says, a huge Iran crisis, which I hope the administration deals with well and rallies people in Congress to put sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and so forth. And a lot of other issues going on.

Trump spends time last night, yesterday afternoon, calling his personal lawyer to say, I want a cease and desist letter going out here. He knows that it can't affect Bannon at this point, but he wants to -- he wants to deter other people from coming forth to say what they -- to talk about what they saw on the campaign. That, for me, is very revealing. SCHLAPP: I don't think that's right. Alisyn, look, I think the question here is, Steve Bannon has had lots of comments about Bob Mueller and about this investigation. He's called it something of a canard. He said we're wasting money. He's said over and over again there was no collusion.

Yes, he's characterizing this meeting in a way that I think is way over the line. I think he should pull it back because it disagrees with every other statement he's made about Bob Mueller and about this charge of collusion with the Russians. And I think it's way over the line. And I think there's a lot of conservatives around this country that are disappointed in Steve. That believe that you can't make two -- you can't make all these public statements that are contradictory on Bob Mueller and the investigation.

And I think that's the problem that he faces. This looks personal. It looks petty. It looks like he's trying to get back at people because he was let go from the White House staff. And I think Steve is better than this. And I think he should pull it back.

[08:55:05] But if he doesn't pull it back --


SCHLAPP: It's really -- it doesn't matter because, at the end of the day, conservatives are sticking with Donald Trump, going back to your original question --


SCHLAPP: Because they like the agenda, Alisyn. This is not a question about whose allegiance they will have. They are going to have the president's back as long as he keeps doing these conservative things.

CAMEROTA: OK. I hear you. But, Matt, one follow-up question. Does it concern you that it's not just Steve Bannon talking to Michael Wolff in this book. It's all of these advisers.

SCHLAPP: Stupid.

CAMEROTA: It's all of the inner sanctum.

SCHLAPP: Stupid.

CAMEROTA: And what they keep saying is that they didn't believe that he was going to win, didn't think that he was fit to win, that he agreed with that, and that they think that he is not up to the job.

SCHLAPP: Alisyn, I think the problem with talking to this reporter -- I've never met him. I don't know him. But the problem with giving him this kind of access is that it fuels all the drama for television shows and cable news that wants to portray --

CAMEROTA: Right, but what about the substance of what they're saying?

SCHLAPP: Let me finish, that wants to portray Donald Trump in a certain light.

All I can tell you is the Donald Trump that I have experienced is much different from what -- I have not been given this book.


SCHLAPP: I haven't read it. I need to read it when it comes out.


SCHLAPP: Although it will disgust me. This is not the Donald Trump that I know and who I have interacted with. He seems --

CAMEROTA: OK. Ten seconds.

SCHLAPP: He seems very curious. He's on top of his game.


SCHLAPP: And he listens to what conservatives want to get done and he implements.

CAMEROTA: Quickly, Bill Kristol, a final word.

KRISTOL: I think we're seeing the real Donald Trumps and I think the real Donald Trump is in a lot of trouble.

CAMEROTA: Bill Kristol, Matt Schlapp --

SCHLAPP: Come on.

CAMEROTA: Thank you both very much. To be continued.

CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman starts after this very quick break. We'll see you tomorrow.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.


[08:59:50] A lot of breaking news this morning.

I would say, you can't make this blank up. Those words from former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, but he didn't say blank. Part of new revelations released this morning about author Michael Wolff and -- about the White House in this piece penned by author Michael Wolff, who spent a year inside the West Wing. There is news on the Russia investigation.