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New Tell-All Threatens To Overshadow Key GOP Meetings; Other White House Officials Sought To Pressure Justice Department About Sessions Recusal; U.S. Official: FBI Investigating The Clinton Foundation. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired January 6, 2018 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[06:00:34]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The bomb shell book that's raising a question loud and clear, is Donald Trump fit to be president of the United States?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, have you read the book "Fire and Fury?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is extraordinary that a president of the United States would try to stop the publication of a book.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is not psychologically fit. He's not lost it as he claimed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a guy in the White House that is unstable and not fit for office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not suggesting that he's not capable of doing the job. I just hope that he'll do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have recused myself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A source close to Attorney General Jeff Sessions says President Trump tried to stop Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that we are in a neighborhood where I hope Mueller is looking at this very seriously for obstruction of justice. I believe it may be time for him to step aside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The attorney general is going to continue showing up to work this week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: After months of the president clamoring for an investigation into Hillary Clinton, CNN has now learned that one does exist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's very suspicious that the closer and closer we get to President Trump or his inner circle we see all of these distractions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: So glad to have you with us this morning. A scathing new tell all has threatened to overshadow a crucial weekend for President Trump. Good morning to you. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Top Republican leaders head to Camp David to plan their 2018 agenda. The president has focused instead on continued attacks against this new book and its author. The president goes after "Fire and Fury" as made up, really boring and untruthful and his White House is dismissing the concerns about the president's fitness for office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a guy in the White House that is unstable and not fit for office.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I've never questioned his mental fitness, I have no reason to question his mental fitness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Let's go now to CNN's Abby Phillip live in Washington. Abby, good morning to you and Republicans have a lot to get done this week. Plotting out the next year legislatively, but it seems like the president as late as I guess 12:15 this morning was stuck on the book.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Victor and Christi. The president waking up in Camp David where he's spending more of his time having meetings with Republican Congressional leaders and also members of his cabinet about the big year ahead in 2018.

But last night, the president really had on his mind this book that has roiled his presidency, roiled his administration. He has not let this issue go. After the book was published a few days early despite his legal threats trying to shut it down.

The president wrote in a tweet, let me read that to you, what you had just a moment ago, "Michael Wolff, the author of the book, is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book.

He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog like almost everyone. Too bad." Sloppy Steve is that now moniker that the president has given his former chief strategist, someone who was incredibly close to the campaign and his administration.

Steve Bannon was recorded in this bookmaking derogatory comments about the president and after wards the president really slammed him in a harsh statement and that anger clearly has not gone away.

BLACKWELL: Abby, let me also ask you about the Russia investigation and what we're learning that multiple White House officials were involved in this effort to try to pressure Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the investigation.

PHILLIP: That's right. This was first reported by the "New York Times." This effort on behalf of the White House to pressure Sessions to not recuse himself and CNN learned overnight according to a senior administration official that in addition to the White House Counsel Don McGahn, who reached out to Sessions on this issue.

He also received pressure from two other officials from the White House -- then White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and then White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Now, this makes it three White House officials who apparently tried to talk Sessions out of the decision that he did ultimately make to recuse himself.

And I just want to read the response from Sean Spicer very quickly here because I think it's important. He said, "For eight months the narrative was that I was out of the loop and now I am part of it? I don't think so."

[06:05:06] So Sean Spicer here denying that he did anything other than call Sessions about a conference call. He did not say that he was part of an effort to pressure Sessions not to recuse himself in this case.

BLACKWELL: All right. Abby Phillip for us in Washington. Abby, thank you.

PAUL: So, CNN political commentators, Errol Louis and Paris Dennard with us now as well as "Washington Examiner" reporter, Melissa Quinn, and former U.S. Attorney Michael Moore. Thank you all for being here. We appreciate it.

Michael, I want to start with you on that note about what's going on with Sessions. If it's true, did President Trump cross any legal line here?

MICHAEL MOORE, PARTNER, POPE MCGLAMRY: You know, I think we get a lot closer to an obstruction case when we hear that the president tried to convince him not to remove himself through the normal recusal process. Things that happened before the president was in office, we can talk about those and whether or not that would amount to obstruction.

But certainly, once he was sworn in, once we've had his inauguration day, we're talking about a position where he's the president of the United States and he's pressuring his subordinates to take action and to move or to not move in a certain direction in a criminal investigation. I think we're looking at a clear case at this point of obstruction.

PAUL: Errol, do you agree?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not necessarily. There's sort of an unwritten kind of a code that is varied from administration to administration. And to be fair about it, you know, in the post- Watergate era, it has not been clear how much political pressure can be applied to the Justice Department. So, we've had some White Houses where only four officials were even authorized to even contact the Justice Department at any senior level. That has ranged up to the hundreds in the case of the George W. Bush administration.

There are guidelines that have been set down by one attorney general after another including in the Obama administration and so, it wasn't clear and is not clear what somebody should or could have said to the attorney general to try and pressure him or convince him to take one course of action or another.

He of course took the right action in my opinion because he wanted to take himself out of even a question of impropriety. The fact that there are others who didn't want him to do that, shame on them.

PAUL: So, you bring up something interesting, you know, "The New York Times" was reporting White House Counsel Don McGahn on orders of President Trump went to Sessions and urged him not to recuse himself. To Sessions' credit a lot of people are saying he did just what he was going to do.

But on the other hand, there's this mixed message of sessions and these reports that he asked -- he was trying to dig up some sort of dirt on Comey to give an excuse or a valid excuse to fire the former FBI director. Melissa, do we know what -- what the relationship is right now between Jeff Sessions and President Trump?

MELISSA QUINN, REPORTER, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, it seems at this point the White House has come to the defense of the attorney general although President Trump has been vocal both publicly and in private venting his frustrations with Jeff Sessions over his recusal from the Russia investigation.

But obviously, a lot of reporters picked up on the fact that the attorney general is one of just a few cabinet officials, who is absent from this weekend's retreat with congressional leaders at Camp David.

The White House, of course, has sort of brushed off any speculation as to what this might mean, saying, you know, he just is not -- please don't read into this. But of course, President Trump has really not made shy the fact that he is really unhappy, frustrated, and disappointed with Sessions' recusal.

But of course, we haven't seen any Twitter storms criticizing the attorney general recently as we have in the past.

PAUL: So, Paris, I want to ask you, Representative Jerrold Nadler said this. He's on the House Judiciary Committee about Mr. McGahn. He said, "His reported conduct is completely unacceptable. The role of the attorney general is to uphold the law including the rules prohibiting the Department of Justice officials from participating in cases in which they have a conflict of interest.

Either Mr. McGahn know this is and decided to interfere with the Russia investigation anyway or he doesn't. Neither case is acceptable, and he should be removed from his post immediately." Senator Ed Markey saying essentially the same thing. Don McGahn has to go. He has to testify. How plausible that's going to happen?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know if that's going to happen and I think we also have to go back to the fact that we are living in a culture right now under the Trump administration where innuendo and unsubstantiated quotes and unnamed sources can say things and we just accept them as fact.

You know, I think we have to remember, these are attorneys, and they're White House attorneys. They're very capable individuals and the political wheel of Democrat members of the House and the Senate does not trump, pardon the pun, the actual rule of law and what they know to be truthful inside of the White House.

[06:10:10] So I don't know if McGhan is going to testify, but at the end of the day, we need to be focused on trying to have an investigation that is fair, try to have an investigation that is impartial and try to have an investigation that looks at all avenues of Russia meddling and if that includes the Clintons, then so be it.

If that includes the Obama administration, so be it, but we need to be sure the investigation is fair and not just focused on all these other rabbit holes which special counsels can do because of the wide net they can cast.

And this is exactly why the president and others especially members of Congress have said recently, and in the past, there should have never been a special counsel to begin with because now it is outside of the original narrow scope that it was supposed to be about.

PAUL: All right. You lead me right into what we were -- what a lot of people have been talking about the last 24, 48 hours and this is the book by Michael Wolff. I want to listen here to Michael Wolff. He gave an interview recently here just in the last few hours with BBC.

And I want to listen to what he says about the president's fitness for office. I believe it's the president's fitness for office, talking about the period that he witnessed when he was there. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY": Over this period that I witnessed the seven or eight months, they all came to the conclusion gradually at first and then faster and faster that something was unbelievably amiss here, that this was more peculiar than they ever imagined they could be.

And that in the end, they had to look at Donald Trump and say no, this man can't function in this job as president. He may have been elected president, but that does not turn him into president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: OK. So, Errol Louis, in the last 24 hours, we have had Secretary Tillerson saying I don't question his mental fitness. Senator Jeff flake saying the same thing from Arizona. Is this really about a mental fitness or is there a sense that it's about a mental mind set? This is a businessman who went into politics and just does not work the same way prior or previous politicians have worked.

LOUIS: Well, no, that last part I think is the one thing we have to avoid, which is to try and change the standard and so to say, well, anybody else would never get away with this, but let's make an exception for Donald Trump.

The reality is this is a matter of opinion and conjecture. There are a lot of people who have seen a lot of strange behavior from this president and Michael Wolff, who sat there for weeks and weeks on end, remember, none of us have, he says he talked to a couple of hundred people, repeatedly, and that they all reached this conclusion.

Now, you know, what does that mean? That's for the rest of us to decide, but you know, if a reporter sat there and watched week after week, month after month, a lot of people sort of form a consensus and he has reported it accurately.

Well, then, you know, it's up to the rest of us to decide whether it means anything or not, but no, I don't -- I don't think it's out of bounds for people to say, I think there's something wrong here. It's a wakeup call to the rest of us.

PAUL: Paris, you chuckle. Why?

DENNARD: He said if he reported it accurately. It is bipartisan agreement that this Michael Wolff, who is a psychiatrist or a doctor, I missed him going to medical school about his diagnosis of the president or his opinion of other people. But he has not reported this accurately. There are many, many discrepancies --

LOUIS: Have you read the book?

DENNARD: I have not read all the book.

LOUIS: So, you don't know whether or not it's accurate. How ridiculous.

PAUL: There are a lot of questions right now about the accuracy of this book.

DENNARD: People who have read it, including Maggie Haberman, who appears on this network, who is from "New York Times" and from the pieces that I have read of the book to point it out to you, they are inaccurate and people who are quoted in the book have said these are inaccurate including Tony Blair.

I believe Tony Blair before I believe this author. But back to the point of the president's mental fitness, listen, when you go back to President George W. Bush, who was a businessman, who wasn't your run of the mill politician like Bill Clinton, who was a former governor, businessmen come to this at a different angle and the president is doing the same.

We can go back and look at the things that JFK did and LBJ did and question how fit they were, but were they still capable of being president because they did things differently, they had a lot of medicine shot into them, but they have had meetings in the bathtub or on the toilet, these are the idiosyncrasies of people, but they are capable, and the president is capable.

[06:15:03] PAUL: I want to give Michael a chance to respond. Michael, how much credence do you give to this author?

MOORE: I think probably the most damning affirmation of the things in the book came from Sarah Sanders the other day when she said that the president insists that basically vets things whether or not they are true and then he pushes no facts that aren't true. She's too smart for that.

I think she's basically telling us in that statement that something is amiss in this White House and the standard for competency and capability didn't depend on what you did in your previous life before being elected president. We expect a businessman to be competent and capable just like we would have a politician that they've been elected --

PAUL: Melissa, you have the last word.

QUINN: Yes, I just think that as we're reading this book and we're reading the headlines that have derived from it, it's important that we do take things with a grain of salt. There have been some excerpts that have in fact provided -- that have verified some of the stories that have been reported from the "Washington Post" and the "New York Times."

For instance, that President Trump considered rescinding Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination, but at the same time, there have been serious questions raised about the accuracy of this book from a number of reporters including Maggie Haberman as mentioned earlier.

So, as we're reading these headlines and certainly going through this book over the weekend we just need to take what is -- what has been reported I think with a grain of salt and remember that there is some nuance to it as well.

PAUL: Errol Louis, Melissa Quinn, Michael Moore, Paris Dennard, thank you all so much. We appreciate it.

BLACKWELL: Well, President Trump has a long promised big beautiful wall coming, he says, between the U.S. and Mexico and now we're finally getting idea of just how much the government thinks that's going to cost.

PAUL: Yes, the administration is asking Congress for $33 billion for border security, 18 billion of that would be specifically for the wall. Now, according to a document obtained by CNN, the money would be used to cover that 700 miles of the border. This is over a ten- year period to both new fencing and to add reinforcements as well.

Now the president is throwing this curveball at lawmakers. He's not going to sign a deal granting amnesty to so called dreamers unless he gets this funding for the wall. Democrats don't seem to be backing down though. Nancy Pelosi tweeting this message to the president "That border wall funding you are asking for again could do so much more good in other places," she tweets.

BLACKWELL: Well, the president has been calling on the Justice Department to do it and now the FBI is investigating allegations of corruption related to the Clinton Foundation.

PAUL: Also much of the northeast, look at that blanket of snow. It is expansive. We'll take a look at whether anything is going to thaw any time soon.

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[06:20:52]

PAUL: It's 20 minutes past the hour right now and federal authorities are investigating the Clinton Foundation looking into whether donors were promised special access to Hillary Clinton as she was secretary of state. Now, a U.S. official confirmed the investigation to CNN and CNN's Laura Jarrett has the latest.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, after months of the president clamoring for an investigation into Hillary Clinton, CNN has now learned that one does exist, but it's actually about the Clinton's family charitable foundation.

A U.S. official tells me that the FBI and federal prosecutors in Little Rock, Arkansas, are looking into whether donations to the Clinton Foundation were made in exchange for political favors while Clinton was secretary of state and whether any tax-exempt funds were misused.

But this inquiry isn't entirely new. CNN reported in 2016 that FBI agents in different field offices had opened preliminary inquiries into whether there had been any improper dealings with donors, but they didn't get very far, and inquiries fizzled out before election day.

And the Justice Department did agree that FBI agents could move forward if and when more evidence emerged. Well, something changed and now there's an active probe. One the Clinton camp pretty swiftly dismissed calling this is a politically motivated sham.

And a spokesperson for the foundation telling us that time to time the Clinton Foundation has been subjected to politically motivated allegations and time after time the allegations have been proven false.

But the tricky part is how the Justice Department navigates the situation as it tries to maintain independence from the president on the one hand while investigating his political rival on the other.

BLACKWELL: All right. Laura Jarrett, thank you so much. Let's bring back CNN political commentator, Paris Dennard, and bring in Democratic strategist, Robert Zimmerman. Gentlemen, good morning to you. So, Paris, let me start with you. You heard there from Laura, a politically motivated sham. I want you to listen to what Candidate Trump said during a debate over Secretary Clinton back in the fall of 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception, there has never been anything like it and we're going to have a special prosecutor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: So, Paris, is this the president making good on a promise to go after political rival?

DENNARD: Well, what we found is that, you know, it could be the president has instructed this or asked for this to happen. He said he wanted this to happen, but at the end of the day, whether or not the president decided to make this happen, you can go back and look, but there's a long history of impropriety or alleged impropriety with the Clinton Foundation and this instances of pay for play.

And it predates President Trump saying that and people have known about it, networks have reported about it for many years and so one of the key things that Laura talked about in her report was the fact that the Justice Department can reopen the investigation once new developments occur.

We know that Russia meddling, for instance, occurred before the election of Donald Trump, but his investigation has now started up here and so in this investigation, it can go back to the Clinton years or the Obama years.

And so, when you look at this issue of pay for play with the Clintons, it may have started years ago, but as they get more information, it could come available now and it could be possibly prosecuted now. That's the normal span of an actual research and investigation.

BLACKWELL: You're complaining a lot of these here. Preliminary look versus an investigation and kind of overlapping some of the facts of the preliminary look into some concerns about the Clinton Foundation with how the process worked for the Russia investigation.

But Robert, let me get you into this and I want to play something before I let you respond to what we heard from Paris there that now Attorney General Jeff Sessions told our Alisyn Camerota about this back in I think it was in October of 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[06:25:07] JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The fundamental thing is, you cannot be secretary of state of the United States of America and use that position to extort or to seek contributions to your private foundation. Wait a minute. I mean, that is a fundamental violation of law and that does appear to have happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: So, the date there, August 23rd, 2016. Robert, should -- considering those comments and now he's the attorney general, should he be involved? Should he recuse himself from this? And your response to what you heard from Paris.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Of course, he should recuse himself from this, but the bigger point is Attorney General Jeff Sessions' comments and President Trump's comments that he said last week that he's the absolute right to do what he wants with the Department of Justice.

His comments, President Trump's comments, General Session's comments all reflect what a political sham this is and it's not just a Democrat -- it's bigger than a Democrat/Republican debate.

It's not about partisan debates. This should concern every American, because when we see our Department of Justice used as a way of targeting political enemies, engaging in partisan investigations it undermines the entire credit and the entire fabric of our judicial system, the entire independence of our judicial process.

So, it is really a very -- it's a very sad day in our country when we see President Trump extol the virtues of Roy Cullen, for example, as someone he feels should be at his side, a man who was mobbed up, discredited individual, who was ultimately disbarred.

It shows that the president has no respect for the independence of the Department of Justice. This investigation only is taking place now because all the issues Paris raised were already investigated and Attorney Jeff Sessions said before Congress there was no need -- he was under oath, there was no need for a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton.

Trey Gowdy who was at the Benghazi investigations said the same thing, there was no need for a special counsel. Now they're creating an investigation in a very partisan witch hunt to create a distraction.

BLACKWELL: You mentioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions' testimony before Congress. I want to play just a snippet of his confirmation hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: I believe this proper thing for me to do is to recuse myself from any questions involving those kinds of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign or could be otherwise connected to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: To that standard, Paris, you should expect, correct, that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from that. He should make that clear, should he not? DENNARD: You know what, many people, myself included thinks that the attorney general stop recusing himself from everything and actually start to do his job. If he wants to recuse himself he can, but to my colleague's point, when you --

BLACKWELL: You don't think he should considering what he just said there?

DENNARD: No, just because he said that's his opinion doesn't mean that he actually needs to do it.

BLACKWELL: You don't think it's appropriate that -- go ahead.

ZIMMERMAN: I mean, Paris, do you believe --

BLACKWELL: Let him finish and I'll let you respond. Go ahead, Paris.

DENNARD: No, I don't believe that the -- that Attorney General Sessions needs to recuse himself because if we hold him to that standard, then Bob Mueller should recuse himself because he in fact has hired people who have donated to the Clinton campaign, he has hired people who are investigating the Trump campaign, and who have tweeted negatively about the president, and has done some things that people have questioned in terms of obtaining e-mails and so should he recuse himself? I don't believe that the attorney general needs to recuse himself even though that is his opinion.

BLACKWELL: All right. Finish it up, Robert.

ZIMMERMAN: The character assassination has got to stop.

DENNARD: Of who? Of President Trump? I agree.

ZIMMERMAN: Excuse me. Don't interrupt me. I didn't interrupt you.

DENNARD: Actually you did, but continue.

ZIMMERMAN: (Inaudible) appointed by President Trump's own deputy general for the position. The one particular agent working for him was in fact removed from the investigation that you're referring to. This is nothing more than an attempt to undermine the investigation and President Trump put it very well when he said he has an absolute right to do what he wants with the Department of Justice.

That is his philosophy. That mentality, that attitude undermines the entire institution of an independent Department of Justice. It should concern Democrats and Republicans and every American because ultimately it compromises the integrity of our entire system.

BLACKWELL: Robert Zimmerman, Paris Dennard, thank you both. Always good to have you.

PAUL: Well, Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings has been hospitalized. His office says he has a bacterial infection in his knee and he's being treated at John Hopkins Hospital there in Baltimore. No word on what caused the infection, but this news comes as Congressman Cummings' wife announced she's suspending her campaign for governor of Maryland, quote, "due to personal considerations." She was one of several candidates trying to unseat Republican Governor Larry Hogan.

BLACKWELL: Well, President Trump hits back at Michael Wolff's credibility tweeting, "Look at this guy's past," after explosive revelations from Wolff's tell-all book. We'll tell you what we know about Wolff's back story.

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PAUL: Thirty-four minutes past the hour right now. So good to have you now here.

Fire and fury from the White House. It seems President Trump lashing out at Michael Wolff and Steve Bannon on Twitter calling Wolff a, quote, "total loser" and claiming, quote, "Sloppy Steve Bannon cried" when he got fired and begged for his job.

BLACKWELL: This we're learning after Wolff's explosive tell-all book claimed that people around President Trump questioned his fitness for office. Plus, the president is huddling with top GOP leaders at Camp David this weekend but its guest list does not include Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It's a glaring omission given that the calls for Sessions to step down.

[06:35:11] PAUL: So President Trump as we said really digging into Michael Wolff's book. He says that the book is phony, that it's full of lies, and there are a lot of people questioning the credibility of this book.

BLACKWELL: Yes. CNN's Randi Kaye has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY": This is the most extraordinary story of our time.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once a copy boy for "The New York Times," Michael Wolff is now media's favorite bad by. At 64 Wolff is immersed in a world of media and money, power and politics.

MICHELLE COFFLE, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: He's been always -- been very upfront about the fact that that's who he wanted to be. He doesn't have an interest in being kind of a shoe leather reporter. He uses media reporting or in this case political reporting as a way to hang out with the elite that he really is fascinated by.

KAYE: Michelle Cottle, a contributing editor for "The Atlantic" who interviewed Wolff years ago, described him as part gossip columnist and part psychotherapist whose writing is so distinctive it's more like art.

COTTLE: It is his very peculiar writing style where he'll set the scene so he doesn't say someone said, and then a quote. He will say, this is what they would have said or should have said in these circumstances. So it's -- it's a little bit of art that he's sticking in there that makes it not quite a hard quote.

KAYE (on camera): In fact, Wolff has been accused of inaccuracies in his reporting over the years and his style is anything but conventional. Cottle says that Wolff doesn't work the phones like most reporters. He doesn't go on the record and off the record either. In fact she says he frowns on conventional reporting, instead choosing simply to observe and take in the atmosphere.

(Voice-over): Wolff has had a long and polarizing career. In the 1990s he started an Internet company. Since then he's written for "Vanity Fair," "New York" magazine and "The Guardian." Most recently he worked as a columnist and media critic for the "Hollywood Reporter" and "USA Today."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a Michael Wolff here to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Read Michael Wolff and thank your lucky stars he's not writing about you. "USA Today."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is off the record.

KAYE: Wolff once wrote a scathing book about billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch calling him the whore monster of the tabloid business. Niceties are not his specialty.

COTTLE: He will go where other reporters generally won't and that earned him quite a reputation.

KAYE: And it's that buzzy, caddy way of reporting and writing that readers gobble up.

COTTLE: He would make really cutting personal observations about the rich and famous and their wives and their children. He once sent his child as a spy to Steve Rattner's house when he was writing about Rattner and people were appalled that he knows that readers love that stuff and controversy is his friend.

KAYE: And that means he's in friendly confines now.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL: Oliver Darcy is with us now, CNN's senior media reporter.

BLACKWELL: Oliver, thanks for being with us this morning. You know, Steve Bannon's relevancy heading into the midterms with this, he is backing this slate of candidates to go against traditional establishment Republicans, one of those he's backing was congressman or at least was, maybe still is, Congressman Michael Grimm in New York who has a position, served some time in prison, and then is now -- or jail and now is running again. Grimm actually tweeted out this photo of himself with Steve Bannon

after making the announcement. We have that photo. We can show it a little later, I guess. And I also want you -- there's the photo. I want you to listen to what he told Jake Tapper yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)