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Trump Allies Defend His Mental Fitness; Oprah's Golden Globes Speech Sparks 2020 Rumors; Report: Trump Shortening Work Day. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired January 8, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president insisting that his two greatest assets in life have been his mental stability and, quote, being, like, really smart.
[05:59:32] REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I have no reason to question his mental fitness.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plainly, we have a seriously flawed human being in the Oval Office.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The allegations in this book are nothing but a pile of trash.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We also saw Steve Bannon apologize as he slammed Donald Jr. as treasonous.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think that this is going to immediately solve that feud between him and the president.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actresses wearing all black at the Golden Globes in solidarity with the #MeToo movement.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is such a bold statement to make.
OPRAH WINFREY, MEDIA MOGUL: The new day is on the horizon!
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: You know, you can forget about Oprah's magic, because she's been off the air for a while. But when I watched that again, it all comes back. She has this way of talking that grabs you and is sort of poignant and conversational. I was tearing up. So we'll play some of it for you.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The timing is everything. Oprah was in the right place at the right time last night. The Golden Globes were about way more than just the ordinary awards. We'll get you there.
But first, welcome to you, our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Monday, January 8, 6 a.m. here in New York, and here's the starting line. The Trump administration officials are coming to President Trump's defense. But judge for yourself if they are helping or encouraging more questions about the president's mental state.
Mr. Trump, once again, helping to fuel the controversy, tweeting that he is, quote, "a very stable genius." One of the president's top advisers sparring with CNN's Jake Tapper, calling this book, "Fire and Fury," trash, and slamming the president's former chief strategist as someone who has, quote, "lost his mind." The president's ire does seem to have shaken Steve Bannon, who is now expressing regret for comments he made in that scathing tell-all book. He now says his treasonous comment was only meant for former campaign chair Paul Manafort, not Don Jr.
So what does this mean for Bannon's relationship with the president?
CAMEROTA: And a new report claims the president's official schedule in the White House is getting shorter. The report says President Trump does not show up until about 11 a.m., which means more time in the residence watching TV, making phone calls and tweeting.
And Oprah Winfrey stealing the show at the Golden Globes last night. Her rousing speech focused on the "#MeToo" movement with a call to action. Oprah's speech fueling speculation that the legendary talk show host could run for president in 2020.
So we have it all covered with you. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
A somewhat predictable response from the president, his subordinates in the administration, as well as his political allies to questions raised about his fitness to serve. Questions that started on Friday, continued through the Camp David summit, and moved all the way to the Sunday shows, the fallout from that book.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: No one questions the stability of the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump is completely capable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reality is -- is the president is a political genius.
JOHNS: Members of President Trump's administration coming to his defense, insisting that Mr. Trump is fit to serve, despite questions about his mental stability raised in the new tell-all book, "Fire and Fury."
TILLERSON: I have never questioned his mental fitness. I have no reason to question his mental fitness.
JOHN: The president himself sending a flurry of extraordinary tweets, declaring, "Throughout my life my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart" before asserting that he is a very stable genius. Mr. Trump saying this when asked by CNN why he felt compelled to weigh in.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I went to the best colleges or college. I went to -- I had a situation where I was a very excellent student. Came out, made billions and billions of dollars. Ran for president one time and won. And then I hear this guy that doesn't -- not know me, did not know me at all -- by the way, did not interview me for three -- he said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House. It didn't exist. OK? It's in his imagination.
JOHNS: President Trump continuing to attack "Fire and Fury" author Michael Wolff.
TRUMP: I consider it a work of fiction, and I think it's a disgrace that somebody is able to have something, do something like that. The libel laws are very weak in this country. If they were strong, it would be very helpful. You wouldn't have things like that happen.
JOHNS: Wolff standing by his reporting, insisting that the president's mental fitness is regularly discussed by Mr. Trump's aides, along with the 25th Amendment, which spells out the removal of a president.
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY": The 25th Amendment is a concept that is alive every day in the White House.
JOHNS: Mr. Trump's senior advisor, Stephen Miller, also taking aim at the president's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who was quoted in the book, calling the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign staffers and Russians treasonous.
STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO DONALD TRUMP: It's tragic and unfortunate and tragic that Steve would make these grotesque comments, so out of touch with reality, and obviously, so vindictive. And the whole White House staff is deeply disappointed.
JOHNS: Bannon responding to the backlash, releasing a rare statement, insisting that his remarks were aimed at then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, not Don Jr., and praising the president's son as both "a patriot and a good man."
JOHNS: A source said Bannon drafted a similar statement that he had planned to release before the president attacked him saying he had lost his mind.
[06:05:06] Today the president travels first to Nashville to speak to the concerns of farmers and rural Americans. Apparently, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who's been highly critical of the president, is expected to make the trip with him. After that, the president goes on to see the college football national championship.
Chris and Alisyn, back to you.
CUOMO: Joe Johns, appreciate it.
Joining us now, CNN political analyst John Avlon; associate editor of RealClearPolitics A.B. Stoddard.
I don't know if you caught it in there, John, but another little dig at the First Amendment by the president, saying our libel laws are weak, demonstrably false. The envy of this universe is the way we treat the First Amendment. Anybody who travels the world knows that. A little bit of a nod to maybe hoping that we can get the sedition laws back that we had in the 1700s, where it's wrong to criticize the government.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
CUOMO: What do you make of his defense so far to what happened in the book?
AVLON: Look, first of all, the alien sedition laws didn't work out too well for John Adams, one-term president. Keep that in mind. Our libel laws are something he's chipped away at before. Freedom of the press is something the president is uncomfortable with. And now he's confronting it in the form of Michael Wolff, which seems to be a nightmare scenario internally.
Look, his response has been disastrous. Saturday morning that tweet storm, while he's got the Republican leadership at Camp David to talk about their 2018 agenda, he opens up the day with this tweet storm that culminates with calling himself a very stable genius. When you call yourself a very stable genius, people, it's usually evidence of either. It's evidence of insecurity, and it's the opposite of presidential.
But this is just the tone and tenor of this, that is frankly validating the tone and tenor of the book. And the fact that he says that the 25th Amendment is being discussed inside, that is not ruminated on in the life (ph) of the book. But that should not be a standard of any White House; that's a standard of incapacitation, not incompetence. So all in all, the president doing the best job he possibly can to promote Michael Wolff's book and validate the core thesis, which is disturbing.
CAMEROTA: So, A.B., Steve Bannon has gotten a lot of attention. And the book has gotten his attention, as well as all the backlash to it. So now he issued this statement to the "New York Times," interestingly, in which he says that he wasn't referring to Don Jr. as treasonous and unpatriotic. He was actually referring to Paul Manafort that way.
But he starts the statement by saying, "Donald Trump Jr. is both a patriot and a good man." I don't know if you can have it both ways. By saying that he was -- that the meeting that he held with the Russian lawyer where he said, "I love it," love the idea of dirt on Hillary, allows him to be a patriot and a good man and also go to a treasonous meeting. So what's Steve Bannon doing? Is he still relevant? If the president
has severed ties with him, do we still need to talk about Steve Bannon?
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: That's a good question. I was really stunned by this Bannon retreat. Because it was so too late and so -- it just is ineffective. He basically did it after his job at Breitbart is now in question. All this billionaire backing of his insurgent revolution to knock off all these Republican incumbents in the establishment is now withering away. The president is on the phone demanding people take a black and white side and side with him against Steve Bannon and go on TV and jump all over him.
The idea that he would wait all these days to come out and say, "It was really about Paul Manafort. Don Jr. is a patriot."
STODDARD: Of course, in the statement he tried to say, as a naval officer, you know, who spent his career trying to sort of take on, you know, as a country, the Soviets, you know, he was offended by the fact that, you know, by the terms of this meeting. It just is too late and it's really -- it's obviously desperation. But it's not going to help them.
CUOMO: Look, you're right. The statement he released to Axios shows that, like the president and a lot of the administration, he's over his head. But you're right: he is irrelevant, luckily for now. Put him to the side. The problem is, the same level of confused intensions and how to deal is coming from the White House, as well. So while we can dismiss Bannon, John, you can't dismiss what's coming out of the White House. Because under the category of distraction, sending people out yesterday under the guise of saying, you know, what really matters is the working man and woman in this America. That's great. We wish it were reflected in what they'd gotten done...
CUOMO: ... in government so far. But what a campaign of distraction yesterday. Opportunities to go out and address the American people and media fora about what's going on were all entirely dedicated to saying the president is a genius.
AVLON: Yes, the president is a genius, and he's totally stable, which is not something a cabinet should need to say.
CUOMO: That was the Stephen Miller thing. He obviously was told to say two things. No matter what Jake Tapper asked him, that's what he was going to say.
AVLON: Yes. Miller -- Miller is not the best surrogate in the administration. He is very close to what passes for a brain trust. He's a Sessions protege who now, apparently, is willing to say anything to get in the president's good graces.
Where Jake nailed him was saying, "You're speaking to an audience of one. Because you keep on reaffirming what a genius the president is. There's only one person in the world who apparently needs to hear that repeatedly., and that's, of course, the president." And I think Jake rightly said, "Look, this is a real no-spin zone, not a -- not a fake one. And we're going to take that on, and we're done here."
[06:10:20] That was a serious moment, and it really resonated. But that was a terrible degree of service, because they're not thinking, actually, about the larger communication strategy. They're thinking about appealing to one man's ego.
CAMEROTA: A.B., it's always interesting to go back in time and look at Donald Trump's tweets from before he was president and what he was focused on. So he was quite focused on President Obama's mental health: "I am" -- he, Trump -- "I am starting to think that there is something seriously wrong with President Obama's mental health. Why won't he stop the flights? Psycho!" This was talking about, I think, Ebola during the Ebola thing, flights coming in from, I guess, Africa."
You know, I mean...
AVLON: There's a tweet for everything.
CAMEROTA: There's a tweet for everything. There is an old tweet for everything. And so him saying that, you know, it's not fair game to talk about his mental health, once again, you know, it just smacks of hypocrisy.
STODDARD: Alisyn, I don't know where -- are we going to start a band calling There's a Tweet for Everything? Or are we going to make a book out of it, or is it going to be some kind of weekly show where we...?
CAMEROTA: A franchise. I like that.
STODDARD: It is amazing. But if you look back on, you know, how the Obama administration wasn't transparent, they didn't release some visitor logs, he played all this golf, Syria policy, Afghanistan, no matter what it is. And I love the kicker, "Psycho."
One of the things about that tweet is that one of the things that paralyzes Donald Trump is actually his sort of, you know, fear of germs and illness. And he's very focused on it. So I think the idea of people coming here from a foreign country with Ebola was actually probably terrifying to him.
CUOMO: A.B., I think you're seeing an extension of the same fear. You know, something else that paralyzes him now is a different type of germ called criticism. And I think what we saw all weekend long, with his tweets and everything else, is even if you want to put capacity, mental competency to the side, he is clearly distracted...
CUOMO: ... to the point of danger in doing his own job. He would rather focus on this stuff and have the people and the machinery of government, defend his personality than the agenda of the administration. Fair or no?
STODDARD: No, this is true. He places loyalty and affirmation and compliments over everything. And John is right: he is selling way may more books for Michael Wolff and making him a very wealthy man as a result.
But the problem is, it opens up this debate about whether or not people should be talking about his mental fitness. And they're trying to say that it's the media and not Michael Wolff's revelations in this book that is trying to be, you know, armchair psychiatrists about the president's mental fitness.
And that's actually -- I just feel like that's such a distortion, because we're discussing the revelations in Michael Wolff's book, which affirm many, many, many anecdotes that we've known about since June of 2015.
AVLON: Yes. Just look, the president keeps affirming and adding fuel to this fire. But the face is, he's actually on stable ground on one point. He got elected president the first time he ran. That is evidence of an extraordinary historic coup. But he should focus on governing and doing the job he was elected to do, but he can't seem to do it, because he keeps getting distracted by these faults (ph).
CUOMO: We often say on this show, imagine if he had just ignored, fill in the blank. Here's another example. Imagine if the president had heard about this book. And as people say, "Yes, Wolff can write whatever he wants. I want to focus on 'X'." Imagine where he'd be today.
CAMEROTA: He wouldn't be getting a box of chocolates from Michael Wolff, which is the plan, Michael Wolff said.
So A.B. Stoddard, Don Avlon, thank you very much.
CUOMO: All right. So the "Fire and Fury" author we were just talking about, Michael Wolff, he's going to be on CNN tonight with Don Lemon, 10 p.m. Eastern. That's a no miss.
CAMEROTA: OK, we need to talk about this. Oprah Winfrey sparking talks of a possible White House run in 2020 after delivering this empowering speech at the Golden Globes awards. The legendary talk show host brought the audience to their feet several times.
CNN'S Brian Stelter joins us with more. What a night, Brian.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A super wealthy TV star thinking about running for president? Where have we heard this before? Actually, President Trump never actually came up at the Golden Globes last night, but President Winfrey, that was the talk of the liberal- leaning ballroom. Here's why.
WINFREY: I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon!
STELTER (voice-over): Oprah Winfrey bringing the Golden Globes audience to its feet with an inspiring call to action.
WINFREY: 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.
STELTER: The television and movie icon honoring those who have spoken out about sexual harassment and discussing, in personal terms, the women whose stories will go untold.
WINFREY: I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault, because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up.
STELTER: Oprah also emphasizing the power of the free press to expose injustice.
WINFREY: We all know that the press is under siege these days. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before.
STELTER: Oprah's speech fueling speculation on social media about a potential 2020 presidential bid. Despite Oprah's past comments downplaying a foray into politics, her longtime partner, Stedman Graham, saying to "The L.A. Times" overnight, "It's up to the people. She would absolutely do it."
During his opening monologue, host Seth Meyers jokingly encouraging Oprah to run, referencing his jabs about President Trump not being qualified at the 2011 correspondents' dinner.
SETH MEYERS, HOST, GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS: Some have said that night convinced him to run. So if that's true, I just want to say, "Oprah, you will never be president! You do not have what it takes."
STELTER: Oprah's speech was the culmination of a night focused on combatting sexual harassment. Actors and actresses appearing on the red carpet wearing black in solidarity, many making a statement with pins reading, "Time's up."
CAMEROTA: OK, so Brian, other than wishful thinking on the part of Democrats, is there any indication that Oprah would run?
STELTER: You could almost hear the wishful thinking from that crowd overnight, and it continued on Twitter this morning. Trump critics and Stedman. And Gayle King was quoted as saying the speech gave her goosebumps. I IM'd her, I said, "What's going on here? What's really going on? How serious is Oprah?" There's no official word from her camp about this. But when you think about the Democratic lineup for 2020, when you go
through the list and you start naming Joe Biden and other potential candidates, you pretty quickly run out of star power. And the one thing Oprah Winfrey has more than anyone else in the world is star power. So if you want to go ahead and fight fire with fire, to use the title "Fire and Fury," President Trump is a star, a reality TV star. Oprah Winfrey has been on television, in some ways even longer than he has. There are a lot of reasons why this might make sense to Democratic insiders. And that speech, if anything, it gave people even more reason to dream it up.
CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. Brian Stelter, thank you very much for recapping all of that.
CUOMO: What a night that was. We'll be talking about it throughout the morning, because a lot happened, more at the Golden Globes than just handing out awards.
So there's also a new report this morning that claims President Trump's official schedule is getting shorter. How so and what does it mean about the prioritization of time? What is the president doing when he's not in the Oval Office? We discuss next.
[06:22:03] CAMEROTA: A new report claims that President Trump's workday has become shorter. According to internal schedules obtained by Axios, the president likely arrives in the Oval Office around 11 a.m. in the morning and leaves around 6 p.m.
Axios reports that the president requested more of what his staff calls "executive time," or time alone in the residence, which they think contains watching TV, making calls, and tweeting.
Let's bring back John Avlon and A.B. Stoddard.
So this is not the official schedule, John. This is not what is released to the public and to the press. This is what Axios got their hands on of what the staff knows to be his time. And so they slot executive time from, like, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., where he doesn't show up in the Oval Office, many days, until 11 a.m.
AVLON: I, first of all, say I love the new euphemism for TV watching as executive time. I expect this to take on like wildfire across the country, people: "I can't. I'm sorry. I've got executive time."
That said, this is serious business. Because this -- going to work at 11 a.m. when you're president of the United States, just contrast that with George W. Bush, admittedly an early riser but often showed up at the Oval at 6:45. Now, President Obama showed up a little bit later, often went to the gym, came in between 9 and 10. But he worked exceptionally late.
And 11 to 6 workday isn't even a full eight-hour workday.
CAMEROTA: I guess being president is easier than we thought. AVLON: No.
CAMEROTA: I don't know how you can be president and work that truncated...
AVLON: And fair enough. I think he works the phones a lot, and that has always been part of his executive style, and that's presumably what he's doing.
CUOMO: I think the trap is to fall into the diurnal chronology of it. I don't think the hours are an issue, A.B. Stoddard. I'm sure the guy works hard. He's always been known to work hard. It's about priorities. OK?
And you know, I did -- I picked up the phone, as I'm sure you did last night, trying to make sense of the context of this story. And it does seem clear from sources that there has been a rearrangement of priorities. He is obsessed with the criticism against him and that his people aren't protecting him, and he's getting beaten up for bad reason. And they're not saying all the great things that he's doing. And they're not defending him. And it seems like he's spending more and more of his time on that. He very well could be watching right now. And if he is, feel free to call in.
But if he is, the priority shift, what does it mean, A.B.?
STODDARD: Right. I've always had a problem with people busting on presidents when they go on lengthy vacations or they have down time, because it's a stressful job and I think it requires that.
I think the concern among the White House staff who leaked these schedules is that he has, as you said, shifted his priorities, and wants to spend more time consuming cable news. We learned from Maggie Haberman's lengthy report in December that he watches between four and eight hours a day. And that when the news goes quiet on him and is consumed by something else like a storm or something, he gets agitated and will throw out some controversy to bring the news cycle and the headlines back to focus on him.
It's the fact that they believe that it's counterproductive to his governance that is so concerning. He's working the phones. I don't think calling Rudy Giuliani or some old friend to complain about Don Lemon is actually getting the work of the people done.
And so that's the concern is not so much the quantity of the hours, but that is certainly a light day for the leader of the free world. But it's really, you know, what he's doing with that time. And I think that's the big concern, clearly of his own staff who leaked the schedule.
CAMEROTA: Yes. But I'm not kidding, John, about the clearly, being president is easier than we thought, because the place must run itself. If the president isn't showing up in the Oval until 11, and he's watching TV or making phone calls before that, who is running -- who is advancing the agenda? Who is doing all of the work of the White House? AVLON: Well, the chief of staff, who normally, obviously, runs the
West Wing. You've got H.R. McMaster, national security.
Look, one of the things -- and I suppose some of Trump's overheated -- most overheated critics might take comfort from this. Because the reality is based on a reporting that there is a certain game of "contain the president" being played, both in the executive and throughout the administration. And there are professionals and patriots in different offices, trying to keep the government on track. And the president keeps derailing it with tweets and other impulsive actions.
So there is an apparatus in government that's larger than the president's state schedule. The problem is, there should be more contact between the two.
AVLON: Because this is -- should be, unabashedly, your No. 1 priority. You ran to be president. There's a sacred responsibility. Not both showing up at work.
CUOMO: And also, look, a chief executive doesn't wake up first very often. There's certainly a much bigger apparatus around all presidents, all heads of state, where you've got plenty of people doing the job. It's what they're focusing on, A.B.
And look at what's going on with DACA and the immigration deal right now. This something that, by all rights should be driven by the White House. This was an Obama executive order, controversial legally and otherwise. He canceled it, Trump. He says he wanted something else. He said he was going to work a deal.
And by all rights, you tell me if you've got better info on this than I do. But that's it's not being run by the White House. This is a deal that they're leaving up to Congress to figure out. And as a result, it's getting mired.
STODDARD: The incredible thing that I'd like to say, after all the complaining we like to do about a grid-locked Congress, is there has been incredible heavy lifting on this issue going on since the summer, and it's been bipartisan.
They're working incredibly hard. Many very conservative Republicans talking to Democrats about a way forward. And this is something that should harden every American.
The problem is that the president is now throwing these deal breakers in the path of a deal. You're not going to get nine senators, Democratic senators to reach 60 votes on a wall. So what he's doing is he's prolonging it, and he's throwing a wrench into it. And that's very concerning to the people on the Hill who's been working so hard on this issue.
So it's, again, it's a question of whether or not he hinders them or helps them come to the finish line. CAMEROTA: It also seems connected, the DACA deal, to the border wall,
President Trump's border wall.
CAMEROTA: And of course, who's going to pay for it. And the president continues to say that Mexico is going to pay for it, despite what Mexico and its leaders have said and despite the fact that there is an $18 billion ask to Congress to pay for it.
AVLON: Yes. Who are you going to believe, your lying eyes? Or you know -- look, I think Mexico is probably the leading -- world's leading authority on whether Mexico will pay for it.
I think what the president means to say, separate from his $18 billion ask, which is obviously no chump change, is that he believes that, in the long run, there will be a trade and balance adjustment that he will say is what he always meant that Mexico will pay for the wall. But I think most folks understand that that's just spin. Mexico is not paying for this wall literally. The taxpayers are.
CUOMO: Right. But look, it's just about time and priority also. There's a good chance, A.B., John, Alisyn, the president is watching us right now. And he has a choice that he can make this morning. He can talk about why he needs the wall. He can talk about why DACA has to be changed and how. Or he can talk about the book. He can come on this show, we'll never ask him about the book. We won't talk about the 25th Amendment. We won't talk about capacity. We can only talk about the issues. It's his choice about how he wants to spend his time. What choice will he make today?
CAMEROTA: I'm just checking my texts. Nothing yet.
CUOMO: Nothing yet? Good. Whew.
So White House aides, they're wrapped in this, too, now. How are they spending their time? Are they really questioning the president's mental fitness? We have a former Trump campaign adviser. What is his take on what's going on in the White House? Let's get after it next.