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Trump Allies Defend His Mental Fitness; Oprah's Golden Globes Speech Sparks 2020 Rumors. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 8, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


CAMEROTA: ... to you. Thanks so much for being on the show.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

[07:00:03] CAMEROTA: Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN "NEWS ROOM" is next. For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a president who is acting like a 5-year- old child on Twitter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president this weekend defending his mental state.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: I went to the best colleges. I had a situation where I was a very excellent student.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have to stand up and say that you're stable, I guess that raises questions about your stability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The author is a garbage author of a garbage book.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steve Bannon put out this statement, seemingly an apology.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think this is going to go away any time soon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a worldwide change that we want to hand to all of our daughters.

CAMEROTA: Oprah's inspiring speech raising speculation about her political future.

OPRAH WINFREY, MEDIA MOGUL: We all have lived too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. Their time is up. The new day is on the horizon!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY, with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Your NEW DAY is actually right now, Oprah. We appreciate the branding from her last night. What a speech she gave.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: What a beautiful horizon we just showed over the nation's capital.

CAMEROTA: That's right. Perfect synchronicity of all this. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our NEW DAY.

Up first, Trump administration officials are coming to the president's defense after that bombshell book questioning his mental state. President Trump himself taking to Twitter, insisting he is, quote, "a very stable genius."

One of the president's top advisers sparring with CNN's Jake Tapper, calling the book trash and slamming the president's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

CUOMO: We do see that the president's ire is having an effect, at least on Bannon, who is now expressing regret for scathing comments about the president and the first family. He now says his treasonous comment about that meeting in Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer was meant only about former campaign chair Paul Manafort, not the president's son. So will the president forgive Bannon? Do we care? You probably shouldn't.

All right. Let's get into what we have covered, beginning with CNN's Joe Johns, live at the White House. Joe, what do you know?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.

A predictable response from Mr. Trump, also from his subordinates and the administration, as well as his political allies, to questions about his fitness to serve. Some of the very latest questions. These are questions that hung over the summit at Camp David on Saturday and spilled into the Sunday talk shows. Questions that continue unabated after the release of that blockbuster book.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: No one questions the stability of the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump is completely capable.

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO DONALD TRUMP: 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."

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I've 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.

TRUMP: I went to the best colleges, or college. I went to a -- 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, doesn't 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.

MILLER: 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."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[07:05:08] JOHNS: A source said Bannon drafted a similar statement that he had planned to release before the president attacked him as having lost his mind.

Today the president travels first to Nashville, Tennessee, to speak to the Farm Bureau. We're told he'll be accompanied by Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who's been highly critical of President Trump. After that, the president travels on to the college football national championship in Atlanta -- Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much.

Joining us now to discuss of this, we have CNN political analysts John Avlon and David Gregory. Great to see both of you.

David, I'll start with you. So it's been very interesting this weekend to watch Steve Bannon sort of twisting in damage control and how that he's trying to say he wasn't referring to Don Jr., he was referring to Paul Manafort when he said that the meeting was patriotic -- sorry, unpatriotic and treasonous. But he did also say that Don Jr. was going to be cracked like an egg, I think, by the...

CUOMO: For money laundering.

CAMEROTA: By -- yes, for money laundering. So Steve Bannon, I guess, at one time was considered a rainmaker of some kind. But then Roy Moore happened. So is Steve Bannon still relevant?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's highly relevant. There's no way the White House can get away from the fact that Steve Bannon was a critical figure in the campaign. He reportedly was going to get the chief of staff job in the White House -- that's pretty important -- until the president was talked out of it.

And he was a senior adviser who was the energy, the force behind major policies on immigration and a kind of populism that fueled the president's ultimate victory and certainly was cast on the early days of his presidency. There's no getting around all of that.

It's also true that Bannon probably still supports the president. And that he was settling scores by talking to Michael Wolff for this book. So there's -- there's a multilayered agenda.

But you can't get away from the fact that somebody that close for -- to the president questions his mental fitness for office and questions all of these other circumstances, especially regarding an investigation about influence by the Russians during the campaign. You simply can't get around that.

And let me just state the obvious. It's a bad day for any political campaign or any White House when the top advisers to the president, including the president, have to go out and insist that the president is not mentally unfit. Bad day.

CUOMO: Also, you know, look, David makes all good points. Except they don't have to do this. The president doesn't have to engage what is speculated about in this book.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No.

CUOMO: He doesn't have to take on Steve Bannon publicly. He doesn't have to have his White House people hit the media shows to talk about this message of what a real stable genius he is. That's his choice.

AVLON: Yes. No, I mean, that's -- that's the whole point. "A real stable genius," quote, unquote, as president would be ignoring this book, would be focusing on -- "I'm focused on doing my job for the American people. I want to talk about the economy. I want to talk about building on the great record we've established with tax cuts and et cetera." But instead he, moth to a flame, can't avoid ruminating on this stuff,

not only ruminating, obsessing. And so you send minions out to parrot stuff that everybody knows is B.S. on national television. And it just debases everybody, including the office. Because of course, you know, the biggest evidence that you're not a very stable genius is to feel a need to say that you're a very stable genius.

CAMEROTA: Well, the president was tweeting about it yesterday morning as the Sunday shows started. He said, "I've had to put up with the fake news from the first day I announced that I would be running for president. Now I have to put up with a fake book, written by a totally discredited author. Ronald Reagan had the same problem and handled it well. So will I."

Abd what does that mean, David Gregory?

GREGORY: Well, it means that, whether you were Ronald Reagan, whether you were Bill Clinton going through impeachment, whether you are President Trump, who I think benefitted from the media glare in the campaign and knew how to exploit it, you're also going to face it when you behave as erratically as he's behaved, to John's point, and to Chris's point, when he reacts in a way that only fuels these questions about him,

How about the Mueller investigation? The fact that it's accelerating around obstruction is all because of how the president has reacted to the investigation, firing Jim Comey and the like. His erratic behavior, how thin-skinned he is, his obsessiveness means he's his own worst enemy in office.

AVLON: Right. And actually, that tweet storm, you know, we sometimes ignore. It began with him calling the Russian investigation a hoax, a discredited hoax, which it fundamentally is not. So let's not forget that, amid all the sort of distractions and pyrotechnics.

CUOMO: "The Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public. The Democrats and their lap dogs, the fake news, media, mainstream media are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence."

There are two things there.

AVLON: Right.

[07:10:11] CUOMO: The first one is, the idea that the Russians were trying to collude and get access is now demonstrably true by everything we've seen in this.

AVLON: Correct.

CUOMO: We had Senator Lindsey Graham try to draw the distinction that the president believes that. He just doesn't believe collusion about him...

CAMEROTA: That we have heard. CUOMO: ... is real. That's your first one.

The second one, thing is should the president keep bringing up Reagan? And now with the revelations we've had that they were really concerned about him and his capacity in the White House because of his Alzheimer's, is that really who he wants to be compared to?

AVLON: Well, look, there's a reflexive Reagan comparison that all Republicans invoke.

CUOMO: Usually it's a positive one.

AVLON: In this specific case, actually, let's talk about that moment in the Reagan presidency when the 25th Amendment was invoked. Don Regan was getting kicked out as chief of staff, Howard Baker coming in. And he was basically told, "Watch the president closely. Is there a case to be made for the 25th Amendment?"

Baker came in with a new team, watched the president and so no evidence of it. And the rest of the administration sailed on. And the Alzheimer's kicked in much later. I believe it was announced in 1994 or thereabouts.

So -- so in any case, you know, that history is what he's referring to. But the president, when he reaches for history, is being told to reference that, because unfortunately, he's never someone who's really read deeply about history. He doesn't use that kind of perspective. So that's the best ammunition he's got, and it ain't great.

GREGORY: And can I just make a point about, you know, the -- the president's insistence on trying to delegitimize journalism in this country?

AVLON: Yes.

GREGORY: What he's referring to is that presidents going back to Reagan in our recent history, or Bill Clinton during impeachment, or now President Trump, everybody's in the barrel.

You may not like the coverage you get. But everybody is in the barrel regardless of party. That's No. 1.

No. 2, it's amazing how much America knows. Because people around the president talk to reporters who they apparently don't think are fake but are actual journalists and who can report the toxicity and the dysfunction around the president. That's called reporting.

And the leaking that goes on out of this White House is unbelievable. It's actually Reaganesque, because the Reagan White House did like to leak a great deal. And that's what Trump is doing, as well. So this should just put it to how ridiculous this whole notion of discrediting journalism is, when we know so much. Based on the guys like Steve Bannon, who loved the media and who talked to the media all the time, beyond the fact that he talked on the record to Michael Wolff.

CAMEROTA: So case in point, I mean, Steve Bannon, when he wanted to do damage control, sent his bullet points to Axios. They broke the story. He sent a full statement to the "New York Times," you know, the "failing 'New York Times'." That's where Steve Bannon wanted to reach their audience. I mean, you know, the hypocrisy just has to be called out.

AVLON: That's who the president keeps talking to. I mean, you know, it's this -- it's the slap and tickle routine he has that he can't break himself of because he attacks the media. But he's dependent on it. He just resents the act of being held to account. And that's the fundamental narrative.

But that's why you can't dismiss this book as pure fiction, because the administration does leak. And, David, you know, your comment about the Reagan administration leaking a lot. David Gergen is going to take you up on the...

CUOMO: Well, look, leaks are only disliked when they work against you. You know, we're seeing that lesson proved out administration after administration.

And of course, something else that's hurting the current president is that his genuineness about not liking these questions, you shouldn't talk about capacity, flies in the face of his own behavior. When was it, back in 2014?

CAMEROTA: 2014.

CUOMO: What did he tweet?

CAMEROTA: He tweeted this about President Obama's mental state: "I'm starting this think that there is something seriously wrong with President Obama's mental health. Why won't he stop the flights?" Those were the flights from Africa when the Ebola scare was happening. "Psycho!" exclamation point.

GREGORY: Yes. This will all be taken care of when it's Donald Trump against Oprah Winfrey in 2020.

CAMEROTA: Glad you brought that up. We are going to be discussing that coming up. Gentlemen, thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. So the author of this "Fire and Fury" that is causing so much of both in the White House, Michael Wolff, he's going to be on CNN tonight with Don Lemon at 10 p.m. Eastern.

CAMEROTA: OK. Oprah Winfrey sparking talk of a possible White House run in 2020 after delivering a rousing speech at the Golden Globes last night. The legendary talk show host issued a call to action to an entire nation.

And CNN's Brian Stelter joins us with more. What a night. What a speech she gave.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oprah 2020, where did this come from? You know, she's deflected questions in the past about running for president. Then again, she's also said that President Trump's election upended all the assumptions about what it would take to run for high office. So check this out. Listen to her speech about the #MeToo movement and why many people also heard a campaign rallying cry.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

[07:15:05] 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, telling "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."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CAMEROTA: OK. So, Brian, you think that Oprah Winfrey is running for president. What is your evidence?

STELTER: You just gave away my -- my gut feeling...

CAMEROTA: Did I steal your...

STELTER: ... but that's OK.

CAMEROTA: ... thunder? Sorry.

CUOMO: You -- you have no loyalty.

STELTER: To tell you the truth, here's what I thought. I thought a year ago when she signed up with CBS on "60 Minutes"...

CUOMO: yes.

STELTER: ... as a special correspondent, she's doing pieces about bridging the divide, uniting the country. I thought back then, "You know what she's doing? She's testing the waters for 2020. She's trying to get herself out there on a big national platform in front of 20 million viewers on a Sunday night, and trying to appeal to the country and test out the idea."

Look, I'm not claiming she's made up her mind. I've got no reporting about that at all. But I think it's notable what her partner, Stedman Graham, said last night when an "L.A. Times" reporter came up to him and asked about it. He said, "Hey, she would do it if the people want her to do it."

CAMEROTA: An endorsement.

STELTER: You look at social media this morning, Trump detractors, Trump critics in this country, they want to see a female president. They want to see a woman of color run for president. And we know what Oprah Winfrey brings. She brings tremendous star power. She brings deep pockets. She brings a deep well of charisma.

Then again, let's be honest here. She is an elitist, a Hollywood celebrity in a ballroom full of liberal Hollywood celebrities, being cheered on by some of the same people that are under scrutiny for ignoring sexual harassment and abuse.

There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical, I think, this morning, but there's a lot of reasons why all of social media is filled with wishful thinking.

CUOMO: It's interesting that we're talking about who could be president of the United States and we're really not even discussing what it takes to do the job anymore.

CAMEROTA: Because we've learned that billionaires with star power can win.

CUOMO: One.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And she's in the same... STELTER: Will the U.S. really elect TV stars twice in a row? I don't know.

CAMEROTA: That is the question.

CUOMO: Provocative. Provocative.

STELTER: It's still 2018. OK?

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. So coming up, President Trump continues to insist there was no collusion between Russia and his campaign. In fact, he does more than that. He says the entire investigation is a joke. Is Special Counsel Bob Mueller building an obstruction case against him because of some of his actions? We're going to talk to a former independent counsel, Ken Starr - - remember him? -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[07:23:35] TRUMP: Everything that I've done 100 percent proper. That's what I do is I do things proper. And, you know, I guess the collusion now is dead, because everyone found that after a year of study, there's been absolutely no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: President Trump emphasizing again that his campaign didn't collude with Russia. He's also criticizing a story first reported in "The Times," saying that the president asked White House counsel to convince Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. The story has some speculating that Special Counsel Bob Mueller may be building an obstruction case against the president.

Let's discuss with someone who knows how this works, former independent counsel Ken Starr.

Always good to see you, sir. The best for the new year.

KEN STARR, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Thank you.

CUOMO: First a procedural question. Senator Blumenthal this morning said, "I think Mueller is going to have a face-to-face with the president of the United States." Possible, probable? What do you think?

STARR: Probable. Yes, he needs to in order to round out, complete his investigation, to come to a decision. He needs to look the president in the eye and ask the appropriate questions.

CUOMO: Is that legal? Is it appropriate?

STARR: Yes. It's certainly legal, and it is appropriate. And it will probably be negotiated. That is the last thing that we would want, would be for the president to actually be subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. There are dignity issues, the presidency and so forth. I mean, just politics aside. So the office of the presidency demands our respect and deserves our respect. And so the right way to do it is so to, through counsel, to negotiate, "Here are the terms of the interview."

CUOMO: So Ken Starr says it would be OK for the president to be interviewed directly by Bob Mueller.

Point No. 2, the idea that Mueller is overreaching, Mueller is going too far, now, you are a man who was roundly accused of exactly that. You started off looking at land transactions. You wound up with Monica Lewinsky. Do you believe that Bob Mueller is too far afield by any indication?

STARR: Not from what I've seen. First of all, I have great confidence in Bob Mueller. I've seen no evidence of obstruction. Let me just make that very clear. But we don't know what Bob Mueller knows. So we -- the jury is out. He's finding out facts. And so my view is let him do his job, as the president has said and, certainly, his counsel has been very clear that he's going to not interfere with the orderly conduct of the investigation.

So we're behind the veil of ignorance, Chris. We just don't know right now.

CUOMO: The idea that the president directly or indirectly or through thirds tried to get Sessions not to recuse himself, what does that mean to you legally, if true?

STARR: Legally, it is not significant. That is, I've heard people say, and it's been suggested that it actually is initial evidence of obstruction of justice. I totally disagree with that.

The president has every right, through his counsel or whomever, to encourage the attorney general to say, "Hey, be on the job. You were nominated. You were confirmed to do your job."

Now, I don't think it was a wise thing to do, as a matter of prudence.

CUOMO: Because?

STARR: Because the attorney general should follow the guidance and advice, once he's evaluated it, of what the ethics requirements are at the Justice Department.

CUOMO: Does motive matter, Counselor? If he went to Jim Comey and said, "I'm going to get rid of you, because I feel you may be looking at me and my people, and I don't like it." If he had people, directly or indirectly, go to Jeff Sessions and say, "No, no, no, you have to take my back here. You have to keep them away from me and my people. And if you're not going to do that, we have a problem." Does motive matter?

STARR: In terms of obstruction for the president of the United States, my view is it just doesn't count. As long as it's not a corrupt bargain. What I mean by that, not what you're trying to do in your own self-interest. But if you're not being bribed or otherwise compromised as opposed to "I'm just following my own instincts. And I'm a survivor. I'm a New York street fighter. In New York, you've got to fight to survive. And so there are a lot of sharks in the water, so to speak, and I'm going to defend myself."

So -- and the president has been very transparent about this, right? "I'm trying to defend myself. And I have all these enemies, trying to get me."

CUOMO: Yes, Ken, help me understand something. One, as we both know, the president of the United States has breathed nothing but rarefied air. He is certainly no New York City street fighter. I get what you're saying by metaphorical extension. He's a tough guy; this is what he does.

STARR: Yes.

CUOMO: It seems to me to be a growing and growingly unsatisfying defense of his actions. The idea of, this is what he does; he defends himself. OK, but how you defend yourself matters.

And if he went and muscled up on Comey and said, "You tell people that you're not investigating me," and when it doesn't go the way he likes, he gets rid of him. That he goes to Sessions and says, "Listen, you better get my back on this." Now, I'm not saying any of this happened. But I'm saying, if this is what Mueller is figuring out, because he seems to be looking at this. If none of it matters, why would such a sophisticated gentleman and his team be looking at it?

STARR: Well, here is my basic point. I mean, this is -- I have a different perspective and that is a very robust view of presidential power. As long as the president is operating within his domain. He may be using poor judgment or great judgment. He may be doing something for very self-interested reasons. But as long as he's exercising the power of the presidency, the criminal law should not be calling him into question.

The Congress can call him into question.

CUOMO: Impeachment.

STARR: Oversight, impeachment and the like. Right.

CUOMO: One quick take on something before I lose you here. The president keeps saying, "We've had a year. There is no proof of any collusion." Can you look at what is even dribbled out and say that that's a true statement?

STARR: There have been connections. But it depends -- I'm going to be very controversial. It depends on what "collusion" means. If it means a conspiracy, I've seen no evidence. If there are have been contacts, of course there have been contacts. And I think the contacts are undisputed. And I think it's also undisputed that the Russians did try to

interfere with our election. That is what I think the American people really want to know. Exactly what did the Russians do and how did they do it?

CUOMO: And who helped them, if anyone?

STARR: Absolutely.

CUOMO: So you believe they're all legitimate questions?

STARR: They're totally legitimate.

CUOMO: Today as much as ever?

STARR: Absolutely. Because we just don't know the answers. We've got the Senate Intelligence Committee and the other committees working to find out these answers. And that's very important. I think it's one of the things we tend to overlook, the importance of Congress and Congress's oversight.

CUOMO: Ken Starr, thank you very much for your take, as always.

STARR: My pleasure, Chris.

CUOMO: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris.

Are lawmakers talking about President Trump's mental stability? Democrat senator Richard Blumenthal talks about that and more next.

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