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New Book Casts Doubt on President's Fitness for Office; Tillerson Says My Relationship with Trump Is Developing. Aired 3:30- 4p ET

Aired January 5, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Is it fair to quote Trump aides some of who have known him for a hot minute, you know, months, years, and making these serious judgments about the president's competency, versus people who can speak to his character who have known him for a lot longer?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Brooke, as far as I know, none of those who are around the president have an M.D. behind their name, but what qualifies them to speak is the fact that they are with him daily. I'm not with this president every moment of the days, but what I see, and what I hear -- I'm not a doctor, but I can tell you what I see and hear. And there is a manic pace that is dizzying. And some would question, you know, when you are president you set the tone. And if you are manic and things are just so bombastic and just all over the place, that's something right there to be said.

But, two, Mark is absolutely right. This president has an issue about himself. And we do know this, that there is a loyalty component there. We have seen it through Scaramucci who continues to talk about it. We have seen it through other people who have been fired. We have seen it through Sean Spicer. We have seen it through the current press secretary. Seen it through the people who are in that inner circle. I mean, I remember talking to a very close aide of the president when he was at the beginning of the administration when he was going on Twitter rants and this person said -- I'm not going to use the name, but if they're watching they know who they are.

They said, you know, I went to the president and I did not say, you know, you did this, you did this. It was the president asked me how did it play out. The person said, you know, I just asked the president, look, how can I help you? Because it seems that he does not have the grasp or understanding politics or just sometimes social interaction. And some people like to call him Al Bundy. Some people like to call him Archie Bunker. But you have a man who has a social issue. He doesn't relate socially well with people. And it's all about him. So those are things.

BALDWIN: I've got you. But let's take the president out of it for a second. And Shannon, to you, because you are also there covering the White House. What's the impact of this kind of book on some of his aides like the Gary Cohens of the world.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, one of my colleagues grabbed Gary Cohen today and did a quick interview with him and he denied saying the things that were attributed to him in this book. He said he never sent an email that was more than five words. He gave no indication that he was planning to leave even though wildly expected that he would be leaving. I think we are going to be seeing a lot of people -- we have already been seeing people leave though at this one-year mark.

I think we'll start seeing more. This is obviously a very big distraction in the West Wing. They knew this book was coming. I don't know to what extent they knew the details. But it has certainly been a distraction this week. I would not be surprised if it continues to be distraction into next week. But in the way these news cycles go the aides in the White House have gotten use to one distraction after another. And if it's not this book, it will be another book. Because how many Trump books are planned for 2018. These sort of tell all books. So, I don't know, it's just sort of becoming the way of life in the West Wing these days.

BALDWIN: My goodness, I mean, it's been just five days. Just five days so far in this new year. Let me read one more thing. This is excerpt from this Michael Wolff book --

RYAN: It's a lot.

BALDWIN: -- on this Michael Wolff book on the president's response to the white supremacy violence in Charlottesville. He writes, quote, privately, Trump Trying to rationalize why someone would be a member of the KKK -- that is, they may not actually believe what the KKK believed, and that the KKK probably does not believe what it used to believe. And, anyway, who really knows what the KKK believes now?

April Ryan, how concerning is that?

RYAN: I knew you were going to pick on me, Brooke. You know, I'm going to say this, that was a moment in time, and you put it so succinctly. In that month of August, I'll never forget, the top of the month we had this hate, we had this upset over Charlottesville. Over taking down a confederate statute. And the president, back and forth. The moment that he went on the Teleprompter, the nation was sighing with relief. But when he spoke on his own, we were like, oh my God. We were thinking there were going to be race riots. And then at the end of the month we saw love because of the hurricanes and people reaching out to help one another.

[15:35:00] This president does not understand the ills of communities. For him to go out and say all sides were at fault, this nation was built on people who fought against what was wrong. And corrected the ship. Not only if we want to talk about a ship, you cannot say the KKK is OK when they are going against a community that he says that Bibi Netanyahu said this president will be the greatest friend of Israel and these people who were in Charlottesville who were screaming about Jewish brothers and sisters. And then you're going to talk about black people who were slaves --

BALDWIN: You can't pick and choose.

RYAN: -- who built that White House. Yes, you can't pick and choose. And you've got to stand -- if we are one America, not just Trumpland, if we are one America, you are for everyone. And he vacillated too much. And what he said in this book, if it's not true, it harkens to some of the understanding why the president could not get it together. Because he spoke like seven times because there was so much upset after each time he spoke in August about Charlottesville. Charlottesville was the albatross around this president's neck.

BALDWIN: Mark, close us out. Final thought.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Very quickly, all the problems president Trump has faced over the past year has been self- inflicted by himself. And he doesn't understand, as April Hussein right there, low hanging fruit, all he has to do is come out and show some empathy and he would be embraced by a lot more people.

BALDWIN: All right. Thank you all so much.

RYAN: Empathy.

BALDWIN: Yes, empathy. It's much, much appreciated trait in anyone. Thank you all so much.

Coming up next here Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, speaking out today in a rare CNN interview. What he is revealing about his plans for 2018. And why he says he's never questioned the president's mental fitness. Stay tuned.


BALDWIN: CNN is getting a rare interview with Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and he spoke about everything from North Korea to president's fitness for office. Here is one clip of secretary Tillerson with our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I'm sure you heard about this new book out there about the White House. It's the talk of the town. It describes, you know, a president whose foreign policy is uninformed. That he's not engaged. That he's not interested. That he gets up and leaves meetings with world leaders because he's bored. You are at the White House several times a week. Is that your experience?

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think among all the cabinet secretaries I probably have spent more time with the president than perhaps Secretary of Defense Mattis who spends a lot of time with him as well. I've never seen the president leaving a meeting with foreign leader. He is very engaged in these meetings.

And in our policy deliberations and the meetings of the National Security Council with him, as I said a big challenge was pivoting policies in a different direction than they were placed when the president took office, from North Korea, to the Afghanistan, South Asia policy, Pakistan, to the defeat ISIS campaign. The president prioritizes the threats early on. And that's the sequence within which we have addressed those. And in

all those deliberations, and these have not been easy deliberations, these are not easy decisions for a president to make. He has been very deliberative. He has listened to the arguments. He argues back, as he should. He pushes back and in the end, he makes the decision which we then implement.

I'll tell you on all the major policy areas, the president has made the right decision on every one of those. How we got there involves a lot of debate. And it should involve a lot of debate. It's a very healthy exchange with the president. And one which I think is important that we continue to have.

LABOTT: Everybody in this book questions his mental fitness. Have you ever questioned his mental fitness? And describe your relationship with him. Because some people would think through his tweets and stuff it's not a very good relationship.

TILLERSON: I've never questioned his mental fitness. I have no reason to question his mental fitness. My relationship with him, and it is a developing one, and I remind people, and I think it's well- known, that he and I did not know one another before he asked me to serve as Secretary of State. So, we don't have a lot of history in the past. So, part of this is us coming to learn and understand one another.

LABOTT: You are also two different people.

TILLERSON: We have different styles. How I make decisions, how I process information, I have to learn how he takes information in and processes it and makes decisions. And that's my responsibility. I'm here to serve his presidency. So, I've had to spend a lot of time understanding how to best communicate with him, so I can serve his needs, with information. I do think one of my roles is to always give him all side of the issues, even when I know it's not the side that he really wants to consider. I think it's part of making good decisions is that I know he at least has had visibility to all aspects of the decision he's about to make.

And these my role of Secretary of State. Is to provide him that full 360 visibility of what these decisions mean for our foreign affairs with allies, with partners and with adversaries. And I think what comes out sometimes, what people see is they think that is conflict when it's not. It's a normal process of having the president look at all sides and then saying I don't like that.

And that's healthy. That's good. I mean, people should feel good about the way decisions are made because it's not just one of giving in to what you think the president wants, rather helping him see the full array of all the options and what the implications of those are. And then he decides, he's the commander in chief, he's the president, he decides, and then we'll implement against his decisions.

LABOTT: Reflecting back, what have you learned about yourself and what might you do differently next year? TILLERSON: You never stop growing as an individual. So, in terms of

what I would do different, I'm going to build on my ability to communicate with the president better. My ability to communicate can others better. And as I said, it's something I had to learn is what is what is effective with this president. He is not typical of presidents of the past. I think that's well recognized. That's also why the American people chose him. They were tired of what was being done in the past. They wanted something to change.

So, I learned over the past year better how to deal with the president to serve what he I think needs to know so he can make good decisions. And I've learned a lot about the inner agency process, which was new to me and that will get better all the time as well. But that is it our role here at the State Departments.


[15:45:36] BALDWIN: And Elise Labott is with me now. Elise, first of all, just congratulations on a huge, huge interview, my friend.

LABOTT: Thank you.

BALDWIN: And what was your main takeaway?

LABOTT: Look, Brooke, I mean, I think everyone can see that the secretary has had a rough year, kind of finding his footing here in Washington. He's not a creature of Washington. He's not a power player. And I think he was very reflective in this interview about how he's finding his footing here in Washington. But he said the reports of his demise, that he's leaving any time soon, are greatly exaggerated and we spoke about his future in the coming year. Take a listen.


TILLERSON: We had a very successful, in my view, year in 2017 pivoting our policies and helping our partners understand those policies. We are now into the implementation and execution against those policies. I think we are going to have a very productive 2018. Again, the state department gets stronger every day understanding what we are trying to do. And I look forward to having a very, very successful 2018.

LABOTT: For the whole year?

TILLERSON: I intend to be here for the whole year.

LABOTT: Has the president given you indication that you won't be around for a while?


LABOTT: None whatsoever?

TILLERSON: None whatsoever.


LABOTT: So, there you have it. The secretary says that he's not going anywhere. He's already planning trips into the coming year, Brooke. I think look, he was very reflective about this was a learning process year this year. But he says he has a lot to get done and looking ahead to many so of these policy areas he wants to advance. And his redesign of the state department.

BALDWIN: Elise, thank you, we'll make sure we watch the whole interview and go to for that there in Washington. Thank you. New details today on a possible obstruction of justice case against President Trump. The new evidence being revealed in this Russia investigation. A look at how we got here, next.


BALDWIN: New allegations now surfacing that could provide the most compelling clue, yet that Robert Mueller may be investigating President Trump for obstruction of justice. This was first reported today by "The New York Times" now confirmed by CNN that the president actually told the top lawyer in the White House, a man by the name of Don McGahn to try to talk Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of recusing himself from the Russia investigation and instead protect the president.

And Robert Mueller knows all about it. This is just the latest block buster in an investigation that grows more and more by the day. Tonight, CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown is hosting a special looking at the Russia story from the very beginning until now. Here is a preview.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Ten days before the inauguration of Donald Trump --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are live in Chicago tonight.

BROWN: On the same night President Barack Obama was giving his farewell address to the nation --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have breaking news in the nation's capital tonight. That we need to tell you about. I want to go straight to Jake Tapper.

BROWN: A team of CNN reporters broke a stunning story --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Jim Sciutto, Evan Perez and Carl Bernstein and I have all been working on this story.

BROWN: About America's new president.

TAPPER: Claims of Russian efforts to compromise the president-elect, Donald Trump.

BROWN: The president-elect and the outgoing president had both been briefed on the most sensational charges in the dossier.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Allegations that Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.

BROWN: U.S. officials with direct knowledge told CNN that Trump had been warned Russia could have kompromat on him. That's the damaging information often gathered through surveillance that Vladimir Putin is believed to collect on powerful people.

Was your concern that the Russians could have leverage over the president of the United States?


BROWN: Former intelligence chief James Clapper.

CLAPPER: Gaining leverage. That's their objective. If they can compromise somebody, they have a term for it, an acronym, kompromat.


BALDWIN: Pamela Brown, how do you even keep track of it all?

BROWN: Well, that's a good question and that's why we did this documentary, Brooke, to put it all together because it's easy to lose track of it. It seems like nearly every day there is a new development. Even just with the dossier there in the clip you just showed, it is still the center of controversy. Just today Senator Chuck Grassley sent a criminal referral to DOJ asking for potential prosecution of the dossier's author Chris Steele over his interaction with reporters.

As you know, President Trump continues to tweet about the dossier. So basically, we did chapter by chapter the big themes of the Russia investigation. Our reporting that our team has done over this last year and put it all together, so you can see how all the different pieces fit together. We just focus on the facts, Brooke. There has been so much speculation about the Russia investigation, so we just focus on what we know, what the facts are. We look at as you saw the dossier, the Trump Tower meeting, the firing of James Comey.

We follow the money looking at the president's past business dealings with Russians. And, look, at the end of the day, we don't know what all of this means and where it will lead, but what we do know is that there is a special counsel investigation with Robert Mueller. He continues to look into potential obstruction of justice, potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russians. So, it seems, Brooke, that this is far from over.

BALDWIN: So, here's the million-dollar question, because we hear from the administration and they had said, oh, this will wrap up in the fall and now by the end of the year, and now it will wrap up by spring time. Does anyone have any idea truly when Mueller will be finished gathering what he needs? BROWN: No. That's the bottom line. That's why a lot of us were

surprised when the president's lawyers were coming out and saying it will be wrapped up by the end of the year or next fall or next year.

[15:55:00] Look, it's like a dark hole. We don't know the conversations they're having with Robert Mueller are, but the bottom line is that it's clear that Mueller is keeping everything close to the vest and he's not going to say, look, it's going to wrap up by this date because you never know where evidence will lead. The bottom line is we don't know. Yes, three people have been charged in the investigation -- should I say, yes, four people, right? Four people have been charged in the investigation. And it's not over yet. So, we just don't know.

BALDWIN: Pamela Brown, we look forward to watching your piece tonight. The who's who, the what's what. The CNN special report Trump Russia investigation by Pamela Brown airs tonight at 10:00 on CNN.

Meantime, coming up next, it has been quite a first few days here of 2018, including a new milestone for Wall Street. All the green on the screen is a good sign. How the stock market is reacting to today's job report.


BALDWIN: The U.S. job market may be the only thing hotter than the stock market right now. New government figures released today show the economy added 148,000 jobs in December. That is up to 2 million jobs for the year 2017. The unemployment rate remained the same at 4.1 percent. That is the lowest in 17 years. The December jobs report marks 87 straight months of positive jobs growth for this country. Wages also grew from this time last year, increasing by 2.5 points. The job report follows a run of record setting highs for the stock markets. In fact, just yesterday, the Dow pushed past the 25,000 mark for the first time ever. And as the market prepares to close, the Dow appears poised for another record high.

Thank you so much for being biggest me here on this Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Have a wonderful weekend but keep it right here. Jake Tapper is up next. "THE LEAD" starts right now.