Return to Transcripts main page


President Oprah?; President Trump Defends His Mental Fitness. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 8, 2018 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Live -- live sneak peek of where he will be. He's expected to praise his tax cut policy.

The speech comes on the heels of another self-promotion, his recent tweets declaring how smart he is. President Trump is trying to douse this fire and fury over whether he can lead the nation.

The new White House expose revealed even the president's inner circle has concerns about whether he is mentally fit, mentally competent to run the country.

The president's tweets indicate this, though -- quote -- "Throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard, and as everyone knows went down in flames. I went from very successful businessman to top TV star, to president of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius... and a very stable genius at that."

Boris Sanchez is in Nashville, where, as we said, the president is set to speak.

Boris Sanchez, are we expecting this controversy to come up at all in his address, and or this all about look at me and taxes and what we're about to accomplish in this country?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, when it comes to President Trump in front of friendly crowds, you can expect the unexpected.

You know that when he's around his supporters in an atmosphere like this one, he is prone to relish the moment, to go off-the-cuff and to attack some of his political opponents, whether it be Democrat, potentially other Republicans, or, following a trend in recent days, potentially his former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon or Michael Wolff, the author of "Fire and Fury."

We simply don't know yet. But when it comes to what is on the script for this president, he's here to deliver a message to the American Farm Bureau. It's actually the first time that a sitting president is going to address this group in more than 25 years.

And that really underscores his messaging to these folks from rural communities that he is behind them, that he will fight for them. Specifically, as you said, he's expected to tout the tax reform legislation that was passed in December and to try to sell what remains a deeply unpopular bill nationally.

Beyond what, the president is set to pledge to bring high-speed Internet access to rural communities around the country and beyond that access to health care as well. He's expected to talk about the opioid epidemic.

But, again, all of that is what is on paper. Whether or not he sticks to that or goes beyond that, Brooke, we will have to wait and see.

BALDWIN: That's the million-dollar question. Boris Sanchez, we will be listening. Thank you so much in Tennessee.

Let's get to some breaking news here.

Speaking of his former chief strategist, this is about the relationship between President Trump and Steve Bannon. CNN is now learning that Steve Bannon was actually part of an effort to discredit Trump in the early stages of the Republican primary.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, who has the scoop for us this afternoon.

What did you learn, Evan?


Obviously, the relationship is a bit on the rocks right now between Steve Bannon and the president. Back in 2015, a conservative watchdog group called the Government Accountability Institute, which was co- founded by Bannon, was behind some research that was put together by Peter Schweizer, another conservative activist, who -- and this research was put together to try to discredit Donald Trump.

At the time, obviously, Trump was battling more than two dozen Republican candidates in the Republican primary. And a lot of the research had to do with alleged mob ties and mafia ties of Donald Trump.

This is research, obviously, that we have seen in other places. Democrats have tried to air some of this research. It's opposition research that a lot of us have seen. A lot of news accounts were cited in this research, but it really goes to show you that back in 2015 before Steve Bannon became the chief strategist for the president, he was also behind efforts to try to undermine Donald Trump's presidential hopes.

The GAI, for instance, was a group that was backed by the Mercers, who are now -- the Mercer family is now the president's -- one of the president's biggest financial -- political financial benefactors. So it shows you a little bit about how all of these allies were once enemies and are now allies again.

It's a little bit of a scramble. We did get a comment from Peter Schweizer, who put together this research. He said -- quote -- "We research political figures from all political parties and our basic premise is to follow the money. That's what guides our research approach."

The essence of what that statement is saying is, is that they produced research on all of the candidates. They said they were not only researching Donald Trump, but all of the Republican candidates and the Democratic candidates, and that they were sharing it with the news media as a way to try to get that research disseminated.


At the time that this research was put together, The Mercers were supporting Ted Cruz, who was one of the rivals of Donald Trump. And you will remember, of course, Brooke, that during the time when there was a push to get Donald Trump to release his tax returns, Ted Cruz went on television, the Sunday talk show circuit, and he said that one reason why Trump should release his tax returns is because of these alleged mob ties that, again, were rumored at that time.

BALDWIN: Right. Quick follow-up. Do we know what changed Bannon's mind? Was it Trump's success in the campaign?

PEREZ: I suspect it's the success of Donald Trump in the campaign that changed everyone's mind.

BALDWIN: OK. OK. Evan Perez, thank you so much.

Let's analyze that.

CNN political Julian Zelizer, he is a historian and professor over at Princeton University, he's with us today. CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, a Republican political strategist, is here. And CNN political commentator Paris Dennard, who used to serve as the director of black outreach for President George W. Bush, is with us as well.

Welcome to all of you.

And, Paris Dennard, I want you to react to Evan's reporting that apparently Steve Bannon wanted to take Donald Trump down before helping elect him.

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, listen, this is what happens during primaries. There are a lot of people who work on other campaigns. And then they see the writing on the wall, which they had to find out that this one leading candidate -- in this instance, it was Donald J. Trump -- is going to become the nominee and eventually the president, hopefully, at that time.

And so you stop doing what you're doing for the other candidate and you put on your Trump hat in this -- or your make America great again hat, but the problem with this report coming out now is it seems to suggest that Steve Bannon's sentiments about President Trump never really changed, and that's the problem.

When you are in a political campaign, in a primary, you switch hats and you become 100 percent on board. The Trump campaign viewed people in three categories, opportunists, loyalists and patriots. And so now you're trying to figure out where Steve Bannon fits in those three categories.

It doesn't seem he was a loyalist and it seems as if he wasn't a patriot. It looked like he was more an opportunist. And that is unfortunate.

BALDWIN: And isn't Donald Trump, from everything we've learned about him, isn't loyalty so, so important to him?

Ana Navarro, I cannot imagine, given everything that has come out of this book, despite the mea culpa from Steve Bannon over the weekend, and now this news dropping, this cannot help the relationship, whatever it is now, between Steve Bannon and the president.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, we have been to this movie before. I never put anything past Donald Trump.

It seems that he's got this I can't quit you type of mentality and relationship with a lot of his advisers. He's got nasty public breakups with them and then they make up again. It's like -- really it's like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton all over again. They can't stand being together and they can't stand being apart.

So, you know, God knows what will happen with Steve Bannon. I think Steve Bannon crossed a line, which is criticizing Trump's children. Loyalty is obviously important to Donald Trump, mostly loyalty towards his own family and towards anything named Trump.

He went after Ivanka Trump, Steve Bannon did, during the Alabama race, where he said there is a special place in hell for Republicans who questioned Roy Moore, obviously making a reference, a direct reference to Ivanka Trump. And now he said, what's his name, baby Trump was going to crack like an egg on national TV.

That was an image, isn't it?

BALDWIN: Right. Right. Right.

But the bit, professor, to you, on the mobster piece of the reporting, that Bannon and this research was about Trump ties to mobsters, and it wasn't too long ago, like last week, when we were talking about the Michael Wolff book and about how Bannon was quoted as talking about money laundering connected to the Trumps.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, these are stories that if you followed Donald Trump pre-presidency and followed him in his New York days were always circulating. So it's not that much of a surprise that this is part of what Bannon picked up in his opposition research.

It's also a reminder that Bannonism was not tied only to Donald Trump. He was looking and his supporters were looking at other candidates in the GOP, like Ted Cruz, which is a reminder that this runs much deeper in the GOP, and it is part of why you see ongoing loyalty. BALDWIN: As I'm looking at you, I'm seeing pictures of -- we've got

Air Force One touching down here in Nashville. So, he's on the ground. He's about to speak just in a little while.

And perhaps a surprising joiner of the party, so to speak, on Air Force One is the Republican Senator Bob Corker, who was on board with Trump and then totally wasn't and then now appears to be. Take a look at the evolution of Bob Corker.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I don't know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country in the way that he does, but he does. He is obviously not going to rise to the occasion as president.

QUESTION: Do you think he's a role model to children in the United States?



QUESTION: You don't?

CORKER: No. Absolutely not.

QUESTION: Is the president of the United States a liar?

CORKER: The president has great difficulty with the truth on many issues.

QUESTION: Do you regret supporting him in the election?

CORKER: Let's just put it this way. I would not do that again.

QUESTION: You wouldn't support him?

CORKER: No way. No way.


BALDWIN: Ana Navarro, on Republicans, I'm calling it an evolution. I don't know what word you want to use it. Bob Corker, he called the White House an adult day care in the wake of Charlottesville, and now he's on the plane with the president and has apparently made amends.

But how much is this about calculations and politics vs. how they really feel?

NAVARRO: Well, unless you tell me in a couple of weeks that Bob Corker is reconsidering not running again and that he will run again for the Senate, which actually I think would be a good thing because I think he is a serious voice with a lot of gravitas on foreign policy, I would tell you there is not a political calculation. What does Bob Corker has to win in this? But it goes to the point that I was saying earlier. They're hot and cold and hot again and they fight and make up and they fight again and it's public. You know, look, we're seeing it with Lindsey Graham.

Lindsey Graham called Donald Trump a kook. He called him a bigot during the primary. And now he's working with Donald Trump, helping Donald Trump. Bob Corker, we have seen it go back and forth between the two of them. The insults have flown every which way. And now they are happy riding on Air Force One together and going into Tennessee together.

So I think it speaks to the reality that Donald Trump is president and that these guys want to get something done. But at some point, there's pragmatism wins and some points it's actual conviction that wins. It seems to be like a very dysfunctional family type of scenario going on. A weird Thanksgiving table kind of thing.

BALDWIN: With the president under the umbrella waving at everyone. We just wanted to show him as he's getting off of Air Force One and en route to this event there in Nashville. We will stay on the picture.

Paris Dennard, go ahead.

DENNARD: Real quick. Two things.

One, Ana was incorrect in her description of what Steve Bannon said. It was actually Ivanka Trump who said there's a special place in hell for people that -- so that was a comment that Ivanka made.

And the second point I want to make is the images you see right now are purely political for Bob Corker. He made a political calculation, because he knows there is a great deal of people that are in Tennessee right now who support the make America great again agenda, who like President Trump.

And he knows he needs to be seen with this president, and there's going to be somebody who will be running for office soon and so he needs to have credibility and be able to stand there, because I am sure the president wants to campaign for the next person that comes in. And the president probably will.

And so they make political calculations all of the time, what is the best interests of my constituents, because that is who I work for and that's who I represent. And he still represents his constituents who support and like President Donald J. Trump.


NAVARRO: Hold on, though.


NAVARRO: Ivanka Trump -- sorry, I think Paris missed a page in the history book.

Ivanka Trump early on during the Alabama race said there is a special place in hell for people who prey on children, referring to Roy Moore.

DENNARD: Correct.

NAVARRO: Then Steve Bannon went to campaign for Roy Moore in Alabama and in that rally said there is a special place in hell for Republicans who don't support other Republicans, making a clear reference to what Ivanka had said earlier.

And the point I was bringing out is that he crossed the line. He had been attacking Trump children, and I think that that for Trump is a red line.

ZELIZER: I mean, this is about partisan loyalty.

This is an era where the line between red and blue is very clear, and again and again in the Trump presidency there are these moments when a Republican says something and says no more, or it seems like the Republicans are going to break from the president, and it never happens, because ultimately the calculation isn't simply about Tennessee.

It's that's what's good for the GOP is for the party to remain together and to try to obtain as much as they can, such as the tax cut that passed at the end of the year.

BALDWIN: And for Corker and given the fact that he is chair of a very important committee on the Senate side and perhaps making changes to the Iran nuclear deal and who knows whatever else between Corker and where Lindsey Graham has gone.

I know Lindsey Graham was on with you and this morning on "The View." He has done a 180 as well. But I think you said the exact right word, which is calculation.


ZELIZER: Yes. You see it over and over again and you see these Republicans keep turning from one minute saying something about the president, but a few days later either voting with him or playing golf with him or being on a plane from him.

And this story won't end until the Republicans really, really fear that if they continue to do this, 2018, November, turns the Congress into a Democratic Congress.


BALDWIN: Listening to you, let me put a button on this conversation. I just got news in my ear that the White House is now saying there is no way back for Steve Bannon, Paris Dennard, no way back.

So you were talking about loyalists and patriots and opportunists. And you determine the category for Mr. Bannon here, but there is no way back for him, according to the White House. Does that mean that the president will never, ever pick up the phone and get his advice?

DENNARD: That, I don't know.

But I'm telling you, if the White House is saying there's no way back for him, let's just say that the door is closed because they talked about a red line. It is more than just attacking his children. What Bannon and what the people who cooperated with this book, but specifically Bannon, did and the things that they said was really to undermine the office of the presidency, to try to embarrass not only Donald J. Trump, but the entire country, before the world stage.

It crossed a line that has never been seen before. And his delay in trying to sort of walk back his comments, which he did not do, and then for him to say that he didn't say to them or to apologize for them, it was unfortunate.

The president is, I think, understanding that he has got to pick and choose quickly either you're with me or you're against me. Either you're with this agenda or you're with the American people or you're against me.

And I think all of these senators and the members of Congress understand that President Donald J. Trump is not only the leader of the free world. He is the leader of the Republican Party. He is the Republican Party.

His agenda is the GOP agenda, and so for them to be successful, they are going to have to choose. And, moreover, they're going to continue to choose to stand on the side of President Trump because he still is popular with the base of Republican voters who are going to go to the ballot box in 2018 and vote, and vote for that agenda, which we will see, I believe, will be positive for a lot of middle-class Americans, small businesses and African-Americans especially.

BALDWIN: OK, Paris and Ana, let me ask the two of you to stick around because we will in a moment talk Oprah.

And, Julian Zelizer, thank you so much for being a part of that conversation.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I want to also though quickly get to some other breaking news we have gotten just this afternoon into CNN about former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

CNN has learned the former Massachusetts governor was treated over the summer for prostate cancer. A Romney aide tells our Jake Tapper that the 70-year-old was diagnosed with slow-growing prostate cancer. The cancer was removed surgically and found not to have spread to the prostate.

Romney is being widely encouraged to run for the Utah Senate seat vacated by Orrin Hatch.

Coming up next, could the next presidential election come down to this, Trump v. Oprah? Two close friends tell CNN that Oprah is -- quote, unquote -- "actively thinking about running for president in 2020."

And moments ago, the White House responded to that potential challenge. We have that for you.

Also, the Russia investigation, could President Trump soon be face to face with the special counsel, Robert Mueller? A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee says that interview has to happen. We will discuss.




OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.

For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they have dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.

A new day is on the horizon!


WINFREY: And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say me, too, again!



BALDWIN: That rousing speech from Winfrey Winfrey at the Golden Globes last night just ignited another hashtag, #Oprah2020.

CNN has learned from not just one, but two sources close to Winfrey that she is -- quote -- "actively considering" it.

And just moments ago, the White House responded to all of this. A spokesperson aboard Air Force One says -- quote -- "We welcome the challenge, whether it be Oprah Winfrey or anybody else.

Let's go there.

Ana Navarro, Paris Dennard, they're back with me, CNN political commentator .

Ana Navarro, Oprah's speech, we all needed a little inspiration. I don't even know if inspirational covers it, but the buzz is about a potential Oprah 2020 bid. Do you think she should?

NAVARRO: You know, I think she should do whatever she wants to do. One of the most important things for running, whether you're running

for local office, state office, federal office is do you have the fire in the belly? Do you have that it that guides you and keeps you going when the going gets tough?

If Oprah has it, she definitely should do it. She's a woman that is uniquely qualified, a real rags-to-riches story. She's got this amazing relatability with most Americans. She's got the ability to articulate thoughts in the most inspiring, empowering, unifying way.

That speech last night had me saying, amen, sister. I was clapping in the morning for Jake Tapper throwing out that Trump sycophant, and I was clapping in the everything Oprah Winfrey actually making us feel good and unifying this country, something that we so badly need.

A lot of people have bet against Oprah Winfrey during her career. I will not be one of those.


BALDWIN: Paris, what do you think of Oprah challenging the president?

DENNARD: I think you raised a very good point. And the question you ask is, should she? I think, does she have the ability? Is she qualified? I think she should do whatever she feels she should do.

She's a lot like President Trump, in the sense that they're both self- made billionaires. They're number one in everything that they do. They're both highly successful. They're both inspirational. They both can connect with people. They both have the ability to use media and the platform of media and have done so for many, many years.

And so there are a lot of parallels between Oprah and Donald Trump, including the fact that at one point Oprah has voted for Republicans and supported Republicans and has also done so with Democrats like the president.

So I think it would be a question of does she have a rationale for running? Does she feel it's something that she has a calling to do because she has something to accomplish on behalf of the American people that nobody else can do?


DENNARD: I think Oprah should run in 2024 and I think she should run as a Republican, and I would vote for her in 2024 as a Republican.

BALDWIN: OK, but here was the question. I wanted to hear you out. I wanted to give you the space, but the question was, if she does this whole 2020 thing, and again, speculation, she has said no, no, no, what do you think it would look like in a situation where Oprah would challenge Trump?

DENNARD: I think it would be a great campaign, because you have two people who are essentially equals to each other. You have two people who have a massive platform who connect to people

who have oftentimes been forgotten. And it would be a very, very good race.

And I wouldn't sell Donald Trump short. Remember, nobody thought he could beat the 17 or so people who stood to be the very best in the Republican Party and nobody thought that he could beat the inevitable electability of Secretary Hillary Clinton and the Clinton machine.

I think she'd be a formidable candidate, but I think President Trump could beat her because he would have in addition to his platform an agenda and record of results.


BALDWIN: Would he attack her? Would he give her a Twitter nickname?

DENNARD: Well, I think what we have seen is the president never attacks first, so if she attacks him, I think he will rightfully attack back, but I don't think Oprah, that's not in her brand. I think she would stay true to herself and true to her message and her reason for running.

If she is going to be like Secretary Clinton and fails to do that, she will come up short, but the president never attacks first. He will be defending himself and his record and I think it would be a winning record in 2020.

BALDWIN: What I am hearing from Paris, Ana Navarro, is that he thinks that Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey are equals.

DENNARD: They are.

NAVARRO: Well, look, I think it would be King Kong vs. Godzilla, and it would be an incredibly entertaining thing to watch.

I think there are some similarities. Certainly, Oprah could self- fund. Certainly, she's got the name I.D., the branding that Trump also had.

Now, unlike Trump, Oprah's actually greatly admired and greatly liked. Unlike Trump, she didn't begin her career with a million bucks that her daddy gave her. She began her career from extreme poverty.

Unlike Trump, she's never been accused of sexual harassment or sexual abuse. She's been a victim of sexual harassment and sexual abuse her entire life. And that is something that she has shared and spoken about.

So, I think there are some similarities. They're both millionaires. They're both media-savvy. They're both TV stars. There are similarities, but there are also humongous differences. For a lot of people, Donald Trump is a misogynist. For a lot of people, Oprah Winfrey is a woman who broke glass ceilings, a pioneer who has defied the odds. So it would be a very interesting race. You know, I have learned not

to say never or never when it comes to something like this because a lot of us thought it was impossible that Donald Trump would run. And he broke the mold.

So I think he has opened up the path, frankly, for a lot of people who are not political veterans to think about it and think that they, too, can do it. And for a lot of people, it's enough that she's not Donald Trump.

I saw the Rock there yesterday in the audience when she was speaking. And I kept thinking to myself, we have also talked about the Rock running. I think there's a lot of us who would be willing to vote for the Rock and there's a lot of us who would vote for a rock on top of Donald Trump.

DENNARD: Well, don't count me as one of those people. I'm voting for Donald J. Trump for the reelection.


NAVARRO: I think that's quite obvious.


DENNARD: But I would say this, Brooke.

This also highlights the weakness in the Democrat field. If one person can give a two-minute speech at an awards show and totally dominate the headlines, and just eclipse everybody else, that shows you that the Democrats are not as strong as they think. Their field is not as strong -- if career politicians...

BALDWIN: No, it's a good point.

DENNARD: ... and people can come out.

And this woman out of nowhere seemingly can come and literally dominate the field before she's even said she's going to announce, the Democrat field is not as strong as they want they believe or they want us to believe they are.

NAVARRO: Well, I'll tell you who did that, I mean, who -- the person who came out of practically nowhere.

Oprah is not coming out of nowhere.