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White House Officials Defend President Trump's Fitness for Office; Oprah Winfrey Gives Well-Received Speech at Golden Globes. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 8, 2018 - 08:00   ET

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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota. [08:00:00]

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Now that Oprah has been inserted into the 2020 things, does that mean we can't use her with that great sell line for our show.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: No, I think we can use her. That needs to be part of our branding until she formally announces.

CUOMO: Then it's got to go, but it's too bad because it's a big reason we named the show "New Say" because the hope of tomorrow.

CAMEROTA: Yes, it's on the horizon.

CUOMO: Good to hear it echo. Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Monday January 8th, 8:00 in the east now.

And up first, administration officials are coming to President Trump's defense because the fallout is growing from this explosive book "Fire and Fury" that among other disses, raises the question of President Trump's mental fitness. The president doing his best to keep the controversy going, tweeting he is, quote, "a very stable genius." One of the president's senior advisers sparring with CNN's Jake Tapper, calling Michael Wolff's book trash, slamming the president's former chief strategist as someone who has, quote, "lost his mind."

CAMEROTA: So the president's anger about all this seems to have shaken Steve Bannon, who is now expressing regret for the comments he made in the scathing tell-all. He now says that he treasonous comment was meant for former campaign chair Paul Manafort, not Donald Trump Junior.

So we have all of this covered and more. Let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. A very predictable response from President Trump also from his allies in politics as well as his subordinates in the administration to these latest questions about his fitness to serve. These questions started over the weekend, continued at Camp David, the summit there, even to the Sunday talk shows as the questions regarding the president it continue unabated after the release and launch of that book. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: President Trump is completely capable.

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The reality is that 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, SECRETARY OF STATE: I have never questioned his mental fitness. I have no reason to it question his mental fitness.

JOHNS: 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 when he felt compelled to weigh in.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I went to the best colleges, or college. I had a situation where I was a very excellent student, came out and made billions and billions of dollars, ran for president one time and won. And then I hear this guy that does 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 him 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 helpful. You wouldn't have things like that happen.

Wolff standing by his reporting, insisting that his 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 adviser Stephen Miller also taking aim at the president's former chief strategist Steve Bannon who was quoted in the book, calling the to 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign staffers and Russians treasonous.

MILLER: It's tragic and unfortunate 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 Junior, and praising the president's son as both a patriot and good man.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: A source said Bannon had drafted a similar statement which he had planned to release before the president questioned whether he had lost his mind. The president today travels first to Nashville, Tennessee, where he is going to speak to the Farm Bureau. We're told he'll be traveling with Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who has been highly critical of the president and even questioned his stability at one time. After going to Nashville, the president will travel on to Atlanta, Georgia, to attend the college football national championship. Chris and Alisyn?

[08:05:07] CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much for all that background.

Let's discuss it. We want to bring in CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and CNN political analyst David Gregory. So let's talk about mental capacity and what that means. So obviously there are questions about mental health, and that's one bucket that we can talk about. And then there's also brainpower. And so David Gregory, you covered presidents. These questions came up, in terms of brainpower with George W. Bush. And how did he deal with it? What did the White House say when people were questioning that?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So it was a much different reaction and it was a different context. Yes, it's about brainpower, how smart you are, how curious you are, how prepared you are, how much you read. A big issue in the campaign in 200 was does Governor George W. Bush read a lot? You would have advisers saying, yes, he reads this, he reads that, he's read this number of books. He had a running competition in the White House with Karl Rove. That was a canard, this whole issue with President Bush. He was incredibly bright. There were questions about how curious he was, did he become more curious about issues of the world as he was president, but like most presidents he also dug in a lot about presidential biography in the course of his office.

But the point of all of this is a lot of presidents go through this. They get scrutinized for their preparation, for their curiosity, for their intellectual rigor. You can be too smart, right? So that's been an issue, too, in terms of how the process works. He dealt with it by liking the fact that people underestimated him, right? That was one thing, and kind of wearing that as a badge. But he would also make fun of himself from White House correspondents dinners to graduation speeches where he would brag about being a C student in college and things turned out pretty well for him. That's what's different, the level of insecurity and thin-skinness that the obsessiveness that this president has is different if you compare it to certainly President Bush.

CAMEROTA: He also famously silenced some of the questions about what he read when I remember during a debate when said what is your favorite book? And he said the bible.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It was asked who was your favorite philosopher, and he said Jesus Christ. So a slight variation.

Look, I think this is not really about intellectual capacity. It's about emotional stability is the issue. If you look at polling, clearly from the beginning a majority of Americans say they believe Donald Trump is an intelligent person. The questions that have arisen have been about his volatility, his temperament, his judgment, his values.

And I think it's really important to note that it wasn't like it took this book to raise those questions. They have been there from day one and they are based on his behavior much more than any of the third party assessments of it. In addition to this book, last week there was an equally devastating account by Susan Glasser in "Politico" talking to foreign diplomats who have directly interacted with him who raised -- who paint almost exactly the same portrait as Michael Wolff does among White House staffers in the book.

From the beginning, there have been roughly one quarter to one fifth of the people who voted for said they did not think he had the temperament to succeed as president. That number has been over 60 percent in office. And I think his reaction is book is more reflective of why he has this problem than the book itself because it is his own actions, his intemperance, his endless neediness, that kind of thing that is raising these doubts in the public I think much more than any of these third-party assessments.

GREGORY: I think that's really right, and the appropriate point to make. Another Bush era example of the kinds of debates we're having now, although it seems like apples and oranges. Remember after 9/11 Bush got in a lot of hot water saying there was an old poster with him growing up, wanted dead or alive, and that's how he talked about going after bin Laden. And people thought that was so inappropriate and intemperate a comment from a president of the United States.

Well, we have crossed that Rubicon many times over with President Trump, but it goes to the same point, which is, is that the kind of thing that a president should be saying? What does it say about his mindset or his decision-making? We've had this conversation before. This becomes a very lonely process. Presidential decision-making goes from committee of advisers to one, whether it's deciding to pull the trigger on an operation to get Usama bin Laden which President Obama did at great risk, or decisions about war or using weaponry, or making a decision to invade. That's why questions of emotional fitness and erraticness and so forth become so important.

CUOMO: The risk is, forget about the fact that we're not clinicians are you're not going to have a clinical take on this in any real way because the presidents' privacy concerns outweigh disclosure concerns with his health. So he's going to have his tests. He doesn't have to disclose anything he doesn't want to.

[08:10:00] But I think it's also, Ron, correct me if I'm wrong, you're doing the president a little bit of a favor as a basis of criticism making this about mental illness and capacity. You're creating a standard you probably are not going to meet. You're almost definitely not going to trigger the 25th Amendment, and you wind up overshadowing what is so apparent, which is this failure to surrender the me to the we, this obsessiveness of taking care of himself. His tweet thread is the path, the only thing you need to follow. Out of the last 10 or 11 tweets only two deal with things that are relevant to the American people he swore to help. Isn't that just a good enough basis for criticism?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, absolutely. I think everything that's important for people make their assessments is happening in front of the curtain, not behind the curtain. And the implications of the way he approaches the job and his emotional fitness and even I think his intellectual curiosity as well, as opposed to his I.Q., is the central issue here.

His agenda as president has turned out to be more conventionally conservative, top-down, trickle-down economics than he promised during the campaign. In many ways on economic issues, he is governing as any other Republican would.

I think what concerns people is both his kind of stability to handle foreign crises and the way in which he approaches though, and also the level of divisiveness that he brings to American life by the way he responds to any criticism, and his willingness to undermine any institution, from the media to the FBI to the courts, that he thinks can threaten him. Those are characteristics imbued in his personality. And I do believe, and I've said before the biggest threat to Republicans in the 2018 election is that voters who are ambivalent at best to uneasy about the president do not see them providing any kind of check on him.

And the paradox of 2017 is that as these doubts have gotten more overt and more visible, they have lashed themselves more closely. You mentioned Bob Corker. He is more and more an island. Republicans are much more reflexively defending President Trump than they were in the first months of his administration as they have seen some of these policy rewards. And that is the defining gamble, I think, for 2018.

GREGORY: Let's also remember when it comes to journalism in this era, and it's true in all eras, which is any administration, any big body of government doesn't want you to know everything they think at the time. And so it's the job of the journalists to try to get to what we don't know. And that's why talking to people, as Michael Wolff has done, even if people think it's not 100 percent accurate, and others have done is to get a picture of what people about the president think about the president's decision-making, think about his stability, his fitness, his temperament. All of those things are relevant. These will be borne out over time as historians look back and others who are present now reflect on it. But finding as much as we can as decisions are being made or when he stands for election again become very important. And we have a lot of information beyond how transparent the president is with his own reactions and what's going on in his mind.

CUOMO: What we see with his schedule getting contracted, the "Axios" report that's out this morning, he's spending more time focused on himself and his defense. If you were to take the example David laid out of what Bush 43 did, what Clinton did, what Obama did, what we saw with even Bush Senior, there was a lot of criticism of him as well -- if you ignore things, they tend to go away. Maybe a good early indication if the president is watching this morning. No tweets yet today on this topic. That's a good start for him. And when he does tweet, the more it's about the American people and his agenda, how can that be the wrong decision?

CAMEROTA: Ron Brownstein, David Gregory, thank you very much.

So this "Fire and Fury" author Michael Wolff, he will be on CNN tonight with Don Lemon at 10:00 p.m. eastern. That should be very interesting. Tune in.

CUOMO: Driving up in a new Bentley with a license plate that says "Thanks, Don."

Oprah Winfrey sparking rumors of a possible White House run in 2020. She gave this rousing speech at the Golden Globe awards that had the crowd on its feet more than once. The legendary talk show host capturing the nation's attention with her powerful message. What was it, what does it mean? CNN's Brian Stelter joins us now with more. You must be gob-smacked that someone like Oprah could consider running.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN MEDICA CORRESPONDENT: I don't know, president Winfrey, we have to get used to hearing that idea. At the Golden Globes, "The Handmaid's Tale," "Ladybird" were big winners, but arguably Oprah was the biggest winner. This morning the buzz is all about whether Winfrey is interested in running for president. Listen to her speech from last night, tell me if you hear a campaign rallying cry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY: I want all the girls watching here and now to know that a new day is on the horizon.

(APPLAUSE)

STELTER: Oprah Winfrey bringing the Golden Globes audience to its feet with an inspiring call to action.

WINFREY: When that new day finally dawns, it would 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, 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 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 "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. If that's true, I 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)

STELTER: So, Winfrey clearly has the support of Hollywood. You could hear the cheers in that room. The question is whether she would have the support of the rest of the country. I think one thing that's for sure we can make one prediction right now. We're going to start to see Winfrey's name polled right alongside Joe Biden and other potential 2020 candidates.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: What a crazy time where one tv billionaire could run against a different tv billionaire.

STELTER: Sounds like something straight out of a tv show, but here we are, the biggest knock against Oprah Winfrey would be she doesn't have any political experience, but I think we said that two years ago about President Trump.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, but then that becomes the question, right? Is what we're living through right now what is the standard or that do you want the standard to change?

CAMEROTA: Brian, thank you.

STELTER: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: All right. President Trump boasting on Twitter that he is a very stable genius, but do his Republican colleagues feel the same way? One of them tells us, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:22:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: I've never seen or heard the type of toxic language that they're talking about. No one questions the stability of the president.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: He deals with the most complex issues and has handled them in a way that I have great admiration and respect for. We're keeping America safe and President Trump is completely capable of working alongside of us and leading us in that effort.

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The allegations and insinuation in this book, which are a pure work of fiction, are nothing but a pile of trash through and through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: The president sent his people out to defend against this notion of the president's mental fitness being in question. This is all growing out of this explosive book raising questions about his stability.

In truth it's not all growing out of that. These questions existed before the book, but they are now drawn into focus.

Let's discuss with Republican Congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia. Congressman, first time I've seen you since the new year. The best to you and your family and thank you for your service. So, do you have any questions about the president's competence?

REPRESENTATIVE SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: I have no reason to question the president's competence or fitness. Look, I've been around -- that's never been an issue for me personally. I haven't seen anything that would indicate that he's not mentally fit to be the president. I mean, I think you've seen these attacks, and George Bush had attacks on him as well too. But I haven't seen anything personally, absolutely not.

CUOMO: Do you see him as a real stable genius?

TAYLOR: Well, I wouldn't have chosen those words, but I think there is instability in the news, social media, stuff like that, but there are a lot of stable things that are happening. I know it's a different approach, of course. There's definitely room for argument whether things are good or bad.

But I mean, clearly there's stability in the economy. Clearly, there's stability over in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are on positive trajectory. I just came back from there on the holiday to see the troops. With ISIS, of course, has been utterly destroyed, really, about 98 percent of their territory or more. So, there's some instability in the politics and the news and the social media, but there's also some great things happening out of this administration.

CUOMO: So, you get a cause-and-effect effect issue that sets up, right? Is it because of how the president behaves that we have improved situations on the ground in the Middle East where you just were or is it despite the way he behaves?

TAYLOR: I don't think they're directly connected. One of the reasons why things are a lot more -- or happening in a much better positive outcome in the Middle East, of course, is the president's change of strategy, instead of time based, conditions based, pushing down authorities to abled commanders on the ground.

Loosening up authorities as well too to be able to win over there. So, you know, I'm not sure it's the same thing, but it's interesting, with the president, I mean, obviously things are new, but he's done a lot of things that everybody, including many experts and certainly in the media thought was impossible that he's made possible.

So, it's interesting. We live in interesting times as you said earlier in your segment.

CUOMO: What did he make possible that we previously thought was impossible?

TAYLOR: Well, first and foremost, his win, right? You know, there were many folks on the other side, the Democrats side saying that he was going to blow up the economy. We have not seen that obviously.

[08:25:09] We have seen historic tax reform, Apple talking about bringing billions of dollars back from overseas. People getting bonuses all over the country with big companies, and people are going to pay less in their taxes.

So, I mean, he's done into Jerusalem when him actually saying this is the policy of the United States, and this is what we're going to do. Experts predicted it would be something crazy, and it's turned out to be pretty minor. So, you know, I think --

CUOMO: Isn't it too soon to tell on both of those, Congressman? I mean, couldn't you argue that it's too soon to tell what the move to Jerusalem will mean? It hasn't really happened yet?

TAYLOR: I don't disagree with that, Chris.

CUOMO: Isn't it too soon to tell the impact of the tax plan will be because other than positive feelings that drives Wall Street, without question, and corporations can do whatever they want. They're holding more cash on hand than we have ever seen. The tax plan is not even in effect yet.

TAYLOR: Right out the gate, though, when the tax plan passed, you saw these companies making moves, making actual moves -- CUOMO: It's good for them. They're going to keep more of their

money. It's about the little guy that he swore to protect. Do you think they are going to do as well?

TAYLOR: Yes, I do. I do. I can tell you 65 percent of the people in my district don't itemize right out of the gate. They're going to be saving money and having more money in their pockets. So, look, I think it's not about positive feelings, which is important. No question about it.

But there are tangible moves that are happening from companies and people as well too. So, yes, I think he has done some things that people thought were impossible. So, you have to give credit where credit is due.

You know, we've been on the show, we've discussed things that I don't agree with, for sure, and I'm happy to do that, but I think there are a lot of good things that are happening out of this administration that don't get a lot of attention.

CUOMO: Well, that's the point. I mean, I don't know if we could debate the how much attention it gets. We have three hours every morning, I feel like we cover everything, but of course, there's going to be an apportionment.

You know, a simple test would be when you look at his Twitter feed, how much of that would you do on your own Twitter feed? You answer would be very little. Now, that is something that bears some scrutiny because not just the personality difference. It's not just that Taylor is different than Trump.

He's making decisions about how he should prioritize his time, and what he should give attention to that makes a difference on how much you can get done. Is that a fair basis for criticism?

TAYLOR: It is a fair basis of criticism. It's not something that we should obsess about I believe, but -- and I do think that happens too. That's fair criticism as well too in terms of the apportionment of time that's given to that, but yes --

CUOMO: Look at this situation, though, help me understand this for the audience. The most powerful man in the world decides to let everyone know what's on his mind almost minute by minute sometimes. How could it be the job of the media to edit him, or to decide what to report and not to report, when he is the president of the United States? Isn't it on him? Doesn't it start at the top in this kind of situation? What he puts out, we respond to?

TAYLOR: You've certainly heard me give criticism for certain tweets and stuff like that and things that are happening to the president, for sure, and I have no problem saying where I disagree and what I think we can be critical of, of course.

But I do think it's fair to say, yes, when leadership starts at the top, there's also a lot of press out there that obsess about things, and not about what every day people say. You mention that people dislike a lot of things that the president, you know, basically lays what he's thinking out on Twitter.

But there are also millions of people who like that and I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but I'm just saying that's a fact. There are people who like him using his Twitter and there are people who don't.

CUOMO: But if he's going to respond to the polls, obviously something isn't working despite the responsibility he's had and the different things that we've seen happen over time in his first year. In terms up popularity, something needs to change, but that's not your problem, Congressman Taylor. Thank you very much for the work you're doing down there, and for coming on NEW DAY to make the case as always.

TAYLOR: Anytime, thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris, can President Trump and Democrats strike any deal for DREAMers and meet the president's demand to fund that border wall. We'll speak with new Democratic Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota in her first national tv interview, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)