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Book Published on Early Trump White House; Interview with Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy. Aired 8-8:15a ET
Aired January 5, 2018 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have serious stuff to deal with, and instead we're caught up debating the mental health of the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Friday, January 5th, 8:00 in the east. We have two big stories that were following. First, the man behind that explosive new tell-all book about the White House defending his work this morning, dropping even more eyebrow raising claims about President Trump. The man's name is Michael Wolff and he insists 100 percent of the people around the president questioned his fitness for office, 100 percent. He even quoted one of them, saying that the president is like a child, that he has a need for instant gratification. Wolff suggesting the president, that he was told, has lost it. The president tweeting the book is full of lies and that they author had zero access, which Wolff says is not true. CNN has the book. We've read through it, but cannot independently confirm all of Wolff's assertions.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: This as a "New York Times" report brings to light a case for potentially obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation that goes all the way up to the president. "The Times" is reporting that the president ordered a White House lawyer to stop Attorney General Sessions from recusing himself in that Justice Department Russia probe. "The Times" says special counsel Robert Mueller is aware of that unsuccessful attempt to lobby Jeff Sessions.
We'll get to all of that in a moment, but first let's listen to some of that NBC News interview with the author, Michael Wolff.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: According to your reporting everyone around the president, senior advisers, family members, every single one of them questions his intelligence and fitness for office.
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY": Let me put a marker in the sand here -- 100 percent of the people around him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, Ivanka Trump question his fitness for office? WOLFF: Every time -- and I want to be careful about who I spoke to
because the nature of this kind of book is you grant everyone a veil, and having said that, certainly Jared and Ivanka, in their current situation, which is in a deep legal quagmire, are putting everything on the president, not us, it's him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what are some of the ways the president was described to you by those closest to him?
WOLFF: I will tell you the one description that everyone gave, everyone has in common. They all say he is like a child. And what they mean by that is he has a need for immediate gratification. It's all about him. I mean, this letter for, this cease and desist letter, I still have sources in the White House and I know everybody was going, we should not be doing this, this is not smart. And he just insisted. He just has to be satisfied in the moment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said that these senior people insult his intelligence. What are the kinds of things people would say?
WOLFF: They say he's a moron, an idiot. Actually, there's a competition to sort of get to the bottom line here of who this man is. Let's remember, this man does not read, does not listen. So he's like a -- like a pinball, just shooting off the sides.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the more disturbing observations you make in the book is that the president's close advisers, people around him have noticed him repeating stories, expression for expression, you say, within a short period of time.
WOLFF: In a shortening period. So they have all tracked this. It used to be -- I know people would point out that in the beginning it was every 25 or 30 minutes you would get the same three stories repeated. Now it's the same three stories in every 10 minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what is the suggestion there? Because that goes beyond saying, OK, the president is not an intellectual. What are you arguing there? You're saying for example he was at Mar-a-Lago and did not recognize lifelong friends?
WOLFF: I will quote Steve Bannon -- he's lost it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: Harsh words from the author of the book, "Fire and Fury." Let's get reaction from someone who knows the president well, CEO and president and Newsmax Media Chris Ruddy. Good to have you with us. What is your reaction to what you just heard?
CHRIS RUDDY, CEO AND PRESIDENT, NEWSMAX MEDIA INC.: Chris, this is just like so absurd, it's so ridiculous. So 100 percent, I am around the president. I have been around him quite a bit through the past year. I met him 20 years ago. He is not psychologically unfit. He's not lost it, as he claimed.
[08:05:00] I saw the president every other day over a 10-day period during the holiday. I conversed with him numerous times. I saw him interact with people. He was remembering things, he was on point, he was following up on discussions.
I brought to the golf club a well-respected "New York Times" reporter who had a half-hour sit-down interview with him, Michael Schmidt, and I don't speak with Michael, you should interview him, but I don't believe Michael walked out and said this man is crazy, this man is unfit. So this is just an absurd allegation by someone who has talked to a lot of disgruntled people at the White House.
I was with the president in early December, I spent about an hour and a half with them in the private residence. The conversation was terrific. He was not repeating things. Present was a medical doctor who is a mutual friend of ours. He had no belief and view that the president was mentally incompetent and unfit. This is just an absurdity, and it's really trash, actually.
CUOMO: You have two possibilities. One is that everyone Wolff spoke to either told him something isn't true or Wolff is reporting it untruthfully. Do you believe that that's the case?
RUDDY: Michael did a hit book on Rupert Murdoch that got, even though Murdoch doesn't have a lot of fans in the media, it got wide criticism. A lot of people are very suspect of the sources.
CUOMO: He was welcomed into this administration, though, Chris. The president can say he didn't talk to him, but, Michael Wolff says that is demonstrably false, but he was welcomed in. So shame on them, not on Wolff.
RUDDY: You know who welcomed him in? Steve Bannon welcomed him in because Steve thought he was going to write a positive book about Steve. He didn't. He wrote a very negative book about the president. And Reince Priebus did not even know who he was. A lot of people outside the media world, we know who Michael Wolff is. Most of these political folks, and the president didn't really know who he was. And the president said he never spoke to him or had very limited contact.
CUOMO: No, the president said he didn't speak to him about the book and Michael Wolff says that's not true. This is a trap that the president falls into very often is that he wants to make a point but he makes it in a way that's deceptive. Wolff says he can show that he spoke to the president about this book.
RUDDY: You know Donald Trump for a long time and you know one of his weaknesses is he talks to everyone, he's very candid and open, he's very unsuspecting of people. He just lets it all out. And that's been one of his strengths with the public in a lot of ways, but we also see weaknesses where people take advantage of the situation.
CUOMO: Look, that's fine as a character issue, Chris, that's fine as a character issue. We all have our flaws, but when you lie about a situation it gives credence to the other side. And if he lies about talking to the guy, I will believe the other guy more because he is the one telling the truth on that issue. Let me ask you about the second possibility. RUDDY: Michael Wolff is saying something, Chris, that is patently untrue, that's a lie. He said 100 percent of the people around the people think he's crazy and a child --
CUOMO: That he spoke to.
RUDDY: Yes, what I know is Michael Wolff is a liberal elite who 100 percent of his friends voted for Hillary and are upset about the election result and they want to overturn the election result. That's what this story is really about.
CUOMO: Chris, I would get that. I am not a defender of Michael Wolff, but he has come after people in the some way of my own family, so I think he's an equal opportunity guy when he's telling a story about someone. I am not going to give you that he's just a lefty. I don't buy it. I think he does what he does and shame on the White House for making a move of letting him in if they don't like his style.
But there's a second possibility, which is, OK, the president is the way you describe him in terms of his competence, his fitness, let's say, but his temperament and his situation has him overwhelmed so he's making mistakes. He is showcasing the worst part of himself, or him at his worst. Could that be the case?
RUDDY: Every president makes mistakes in their first year office. So far, let's look at the results. What are the mistakes? The stock market record highs, consumer and business confidence record highs, massive deregulation of the kind -- the lowest unemployment in modern times. And the economy is only set to go up from here.
CUOMO: Right, but it could be apples and oranges, Chris, could be apples and oranges because first of all you have to look at what happened before him that contributes to the economic situation now, and then you have to also put on top of that that those could all be real despite how he is conducting himself, not because of how he is conducting himself.
RUDDY: Chris, I would recommend you read a book by a guy named Ron Kessler, he wrote it about the Secret Service I think about 10 years ago, and he interviewed all the Secret Service agents between John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. And what you find in there is amazing stories about what the presidents and their families do behind the scenes.
[08:10:01] Most of this never makes the light of day, gets out in public, but you will see that Donald Trump's not too different than any other president in private. The problem he's had is he's had a lot of people out there that go racing to the press to say he said this privately or he said that privately. If you and I had our kitchen table talk at night revealed publicly we probably would not be working for big media.
CUOMO: Yes, I know, Chris, but you know what the difference is, he ran for president of the United States. I hear you. He is not like the other people. I have been doing this a long time. Don't let the makeup fool you. I've talked to lots of different presidents and their teams. He's nothing like any of them, and that could contribute to why he falls into the holes that he does in terms of how he reacts.
RUDDY: The public knew that. You knew it and I knew that when he was elected.
CUOMO: Right, right, but all I am saying is you are now seeing the results of that. I am not saying he didn't win the election right. I'm not saying that he was not recognized as such by people, but I'm saying what they voted for is now being made manifest, and that doesn't make it OK. This man sent out two cease and desist requests of things as the president of the United States. You don't stop people from criticizing you. There's no sedition law in the United States anymore. You don't stop the publication of a book because you don't like it, Chris, you know that.
RUDDY: Yes, but that's Donald Trump.
CUOMO: But that's not --
RUDDY: He's punching back when you punch him.
CUOMO: That's doesn't make it right, Chris. That doesn't make it right.
RUDDY: I disagree. They shouldn't allow, stop the publication of the book. He should not be paying so much attention to Michael Wolff, frankly, or Steve Bannon for that matter.
CUOMO: True, but he does.
RUDDY: I think he's punching down. I think he needs to break from that and focus on other things.
CUOMO: And that goes to my point is can he. This is the worst of Donald Trump. I grew up around him, you know him very well. I have seen him do this time and again. He's doing it more often, he's doing it less appropriately, and it raises the question, OK, I'm sure his mind is strong, I'm sure he's one of the smartest guys in the room as he will say all the time, fine, but it's all about conditions. It's about circumstances and situations, he's not used to this. And it is bringing out in him objectively his worst side on a regular basis. Couldn't that be a fair assessment?
RUDDY: I think that's a fair assessment that he, because of all the attacks he's going down, punching down and getting into the gutter with these guys, and he's focusing too much. I think it's generally a fair assessment with what you are saying, Chris.
CUOMO: But that's the distraction. That's why I say certain things are getting done despite how he's behaving. That's why the picture of the White House is not news to me and it's not news to you, Chris. You know a lot of people running around trying to -- what's going on, trying to manage his emotions and trying to keep him on message and trying to get him to divorce the me from the we, to forget it and just take it on the chin, Mr. President. It's not about you, let's get it done, and he's not being able to do it effectively.
RUDDY: We have spent 48 hours talking about anonymous sources that that Michael Wolff, quote-unquote, has in the White House. I can't believe half the things he is saying on the president's mental condition. But if people like General Mattis, General Kelly, other people around the president with great respect, Michael Pence, are going to say the president is unfit, that's a serious charge. I don't think you're in any of that. They wouldn't even say that off the record. They might have criticisms of the president, but you are not hearing that from any cabinet level.
CUOMO: Michael Wolff says he is. Michael Wolff says he is hearing that. I am not talking about 25th amendment, I'm not talking about competence. I get what you are outlining there, that that would be the threshold for triggering a real competency issue with the president of the United States. That's not my pursuit. What I'm saying is it could very be the case and it seems to be so objectively on what I have to deal with every day, sometimes minute by minute on this show, that the president can seem overwhelmed and he can seem consumed with what things mean to him, and he focuses on that, and that is a dangerous thing to do in that position, as you know, Chris.
RUDDY: He does not take criticism easily, that's true, and he needs to improve on that. But you know Steve Bannon is the central source here. Steve left the White House. He was fired back in August and he announced to the "New York Times" that the president was delusional. He said the Trump presidency was over, and I say that that is completely delusional.
CUOMO: The president kept in touch with him, though, Chris, and that's part of the symptomology of this, right. Ordinarily you have a guy like that off, you never talk to him again. That didn't happen here.
RUDDY: The president had very little contact with him. But Steve has a major website and is an influence in the Republican Party. I don't fault -- he said the Trump presidency was over. I think it was delusional. I think the Trump story is delusional. Obviously the facts haven't shown that to be true.
CUOMO: Chris, here's what I'm saying. I get you. You don't think he has a fitness issue. I totally hear you and you have made the point and it's out there for the audience to digest. Let's end on this idea. This book is not new for a lot of people, OK? These are not new perceptions of Donald Trump as a man nor as a president.
Can you say as somebody who is close to him that you don't have any concerns about how he is conducting himself in that role?
RUDDY: While I don't have any concerns psychologically, I do think his approaches to things -- I think Twitter needs to be reviewed before it goes out, and I think he needs to take some of the personal attacks out of this, and he needs to ignore people below him --
CUOMO: What does it mean to you that he insists on not doing any of those things despite how many fair and smart and experienced people like you tell him that?
RUDDY: I know it's disturbing, but he was elected by the American people doing these types of things, disturbing to people like you.
I think that, you know, he was elected and I think at the end of the day he will prove effective using Twitter to get elected, he sees the media attacking him all the time and feels that he needs to have the venue and this outlet.
But I would encourage him to do this, and I've advised him publicly and privately to do it that way. I think eventually he will, but he decided to do it his way, and he is the president and he was duly elected?
CUOMO: Nobody says he wasn't duly elected, but it's how he does the job. And let's be very clear, Chris, Alisyn yells at me about this all the time.
RUDDY: Not everybody likes that he was duly elected.
CUOMO: I like the tweeting. I like it. It works for me. It gives me the insight into the mind of a man where usually I have to kill myself to just get a whiff of what he puts out in huge plumes of smoke and fire every day.
So I like it, and I use it, and it benefits me in my coverage of the White House. So I don't want any of it to stop, but I'm saying how he does it could very easily work against him and that's the portrait portrayed in this book and it's not new to a lot of people.
Chris Ruddy, last word?
RUDDY: Well, I think the media loves Donald Trump. I mean, ratings have soared, readership, subscriptions. One-third of the "New York Times" subscriber base has come since Trump became president. It's amazing.
So, I think the public elected him. The results are what he's doing for the economy and the country's security, he knows he'll judge by that and the public will judge him that by ultimately.
CUOMO: Chris Ruddy, always appreciate your perspective. You are always welcome here on NE DAY. Say hello to the president for us.
RUDDY: Great, Chris. I will. Thank you.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Chris, what you've just been talking about. I mean, Michael Wolff just said it again. He reiterated one of his findings, that 100 percent of the people around the president do not think he's capable of functioning in the job. Wolff says that includes Jared and Ivanka. We'll tell you what he says, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY": I know that people who point out that in the beginning, it was like every 25 or 30 minutes, he would get the same three stories repeated. Now, it's the same three stories in every 10 minutes.
INTERVIEWER: What's the suggestion there? Because that goes beyond saying, OK, the president is not an intellectual? What are you arguing there? You say, for example, that he was at Mar-a-Lago and didn't recognize life-long friends.
WOLFF: I will quote Steve Bannon. He's lost it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: All right. That's author Michael Wolff just this hour talking about his new book that paints a picture of dysfunction and chaos inside the White House. Of course, it also questions the mental fitness of President Trump.
Let's bring in CNN political analysts John Avlon and David Drucker.
So, John Avlon, that story, I read it somewhere else, it was either in excerpt of the book or in his reporters notes, that's troubling, right? So, repeating the same story over and over again, that's worrisome when your relatives do it.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
CAMEROTA: And then knowing -- so, a lot of people have said this is the same Trump we have always known, he's unfocused, he's undisciplined, he can't focus long enough to read, nothing is new. However, when the three stories go from in a half an hour time period to a ten-minute period, that is notable.
And I'm sorry, but to not to talk about this would be willful blindness, if people around the president think that he's deteriorating somehow.
AVLON: Right, and that's the clear implication, more than implication that Wolff is getting, that this isn't just someone who's incurious, and impulsive, with a short attention span, but saying that, you know, his repertoire has decreased, his capacity is perhaps decreased, quotes Steve Bannon as saying he's lost it. And this has occurred since the campaign, over the course of the presidency.
Obviously, as citizens, we have an interest in the health and the mental health allegedly or mental capacity of our president. But it's also the armchair diagnosis is a very tricky game.
CAMEROTA: Yes, I admit it, it's delicate for sure.
AVLON: What seems to be consensus, it's not that he's unfit for office literally, but questioning whether he's fit to do the job in a capacity standpoint.
CUOMO: Yes, look, I think that's fine. You can ask all the questions, we are journalist, we're not doctors.
CUOMO: We know that.
And, David, you know, Michael Wolff tees it up, because he has people with this anecdote saying that he's repeating stories more and more often. Now, look, this could be evidence of lots of different things, but as we were just parsing with Chris Ruddy, there's something that's probably closer to the truth which is, is he losing it, is his mental capacity not there, if he took a competency test, would he fail it? Probably not would be my suggestion.
But he could very easily be overwhelmed by this job, and it could be through stress and pressure putting him in a position where he's not at his best on a regular basis, and, in fact, I would suggest he's at his worse too often and people around him can't control it, and it was hard for Ruddy to disagree with that. What's your take?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, I think you got to it in your interview with Ruddy, that there is, the president has accomplished things and has carried out things via his administration and he's got a very strong competent cabinet that has received a lot of praise and we have seen results, whether it's deregulation or finally a piece of legislation with the tax overhaul.
And then there's the president and his behavior, and that's where even Chris Ruddy, who talks to the president regularly and wants the best for him and defends him, discusses the fact that the president often is counterproductive and his own worse enemy because of the way he behaves, particularly on Twitter. But also the fact that he hasn't seemed to adjust from the fact that he's no longer an entertainer and real estate developer running a closely held in a close family business, but the president of the United States, with multiple things on his plate in which he has to let certain things go, do not punch down and be very judicious of when you punch at all.
And I think if the president was ever able to transform himself to somebody who understands -- appears to understand -- that's the thing, appears to understand what the job is and was a little more careful in how he used Twitter, which was effective for him during the campaign.
[08:25:19] But now, he's governing. Then the view of revelations in books like this would be more questionable, and people might be willing to look -- might not be as willing to believe a lot of the commentary that has come out of it.
CAMEROTA: Go ahead, John.
AVLON: But you saw Chris Ruddy, he's brought out as a friend of Trump, spoke to him over the holidays, very close to, to basically attack Wolff to defend the president, calls the author a liberal elite, all the typical White House talking points you'd think, but Ruddy also has flashes of candor and he admits that, first of all, when the president threatens to ban publication of the book, an empty but dangerous threat coming from the president, that that's unwise, that he is punching down, he degrades the office, he diminishes him, he elevates the book enormously as he no doubt did, and then he's willing to criticize the president for his intemperate personal ways.
But this is all part of a piece people. That's the problem, is that we have portrait a presidency that beyond the economic accomplishments seems increasingly unmoored because the president himself seems unmoored.
CAMEROTA: So, David, just one more piece I want to play for you of what Michael Wolff said, because beyond mental capacity, OK? So, put that aside, let's just talk about the people around him, why they are there, if they actually have respect for the president. Because, you know, I think Michael Wolff sort of depicts them as -- in some passages, grotesque opportunists, frankly. But here's how he says the senior people around him sometimes talk about the president.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLFF: They say he's a moron, an idiot. Actually, there was a competition to sort of get to the bottom line here of who this man is. Let's remember, this man does not read, does not listen. So, he's like a -- he's like the pinball just shooting off the sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: David, this is madness. I mean, this is madness to hear about these things. It's so deeply troubling to hear about the chaos inside the White House.
DRUCKER: And that's been a part of the president's problem and it's what made so many people uneasy despite the fact that the economy is booming. Look, I have been in private conversations with people that worked in the White House and around the White House, and they have discussed the president and his behavior in a similar fashion. So, this is not something that does not happen and that we have not heard.
And what's very interesting about all of this, if you take a little bit of Trump out of it is that often you get to the seventh year of a two-term presidency and the president no longer has his key loyalist around him, people that believe in him and the cause and the country and you fill in some key posts with people that can do the job and you begin to see a lot of the leaks and people criticizing the president. We are in year one, and we are barely at the end of year one and we are seeing this level of chaos and talking about the president out of school.
And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact he did not enter office with a transition that was prepared. He didn't enter office with an extended group of people that believed in him and his cause, and he hasn't inspired enough people around him to put a group of people around him in the West Wing that would be more insular in a productive way, in a way that help him, and he doesn't help matters because the people he has hired to help him with message, helped him get his agenda done, he goes around them on Twitter and leaves them flabbergasted and unable to do the job he hired him to do.
CAMEROTA: Go ahead, John.
AVLON: If the people that know you best don't respect you, you have a problem in any walk of life, but especially if you're president of the United States. And that seems to be what happens. You know, Alisyn, you can describe there's some rank opportunism, and that's certainly, you know, there's elements of that. But some of them also are saying, you know what, I have a patriotic duty to try to contain the president's worse impulses.
CAMEROTA: You're right.
AVLON: That's how they justify it.
CAMEROTA: I shouldn't -- you are right. Some of them do feel that they are managing him, they're doing the best they can to manage him.
CUOMO: But some people do get in --
CAMEROTA: But then these things come out and it's like he's unmanageable and so, what do they do?
AVLON: Right, right.
CUOMO: There's a combination, right? I mean, the baseline defense is, well, the people voted him in, true, not the majority of American people overall, but he won the election fair and square, it should not be disputed.
However, you get what you paid for. And you have somebody who came in without experience, who's never been at this level of scrutiny before in his life, who does not have his own people, did not come in with a team the way these other guys too, these men and women who had people around them for decades, he didn't have that. And then you have the best and worse analogy in politics: everybody has got a plan until they get punched in the face.
And he is in the situation now David Drucker where he may -- even the best, when they get into a fight, what do we see in a boxing match? When somebody gets tagged, the hands go down, the style is gone and they revert to their basic self. That's what he's doing.
CUOMO: And nobody is going to be able to convince him not to be himself.