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Excerpts of Woodward's Book Released; White House Reaction To Woodward Book; Kavanaugh Senate Confirmation Hearing. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired September 4, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
We're following major breaking news unfolding this hour. We're awaiting -- waiting word to hear from President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after a rather rowdy start to his confirmation hearing up on Capitol Hill. Democrats calling for a delay as protesters repeatedly disrupted the proceeding.
Also, what's being described as a truly devastating portrait of a totally dysfunctional Trump White House. Bob Woodward's brand new book says President Trump's aides are deeply worried that he represents a danger to national security. We're going to have more of the explosive claims from the book just coming out. Major breaking news on that.
And Tropical Storm Gordon takes aim at the Gulf Coast of the United States. It's expected to make landfall later tonight as a hurricane. Hurricane warnings are now already in effect for parts of Mississippi and Alabama.
But let's start with the breaking news.
CNN is learning truly stunning new details about life inside a chaotic Trump White House from a soon-to-be officially released book by the veteran journalist Bob Woodward. Some of the details include how senior staff members took truly extraordinary measures to stop the president of the United States from making decisions they considered to be a genuine threat to U.S. national security. And that included taking official documents, papers from the president's desk so he wouldn't be able to sign them.
The book also provides specific details about the disdain some of the president's closest advisers display, including his White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who calls the president in this book at various meetings, quote, an idiot and unhinged. And the defense secretary of the United States, General James Mattis, complaining that the president of the United States had the understanding, and I'm quoting him now, of a fifth or a sixth grader. Those quotes from Bob Woodward's book. Our special correspondent Jamie Gangel has a copy of the book, has
been going through it. Our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is getting reaction over at the White House.
Jamie, let me start with you.
These revelations are truly extraordinary. Looks like Bob Woodward has done it again. You've actually read the entire book three times.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I've read the book, and I think what is striking is, we have heard publicly things about the president's temper and chaos and dysfunction, but this comes from his top officials. These are people inside. These are not outside critics.
And the level of detail is extraordinary. The president is quoted extensively. You go into meetings in the Situation Room, in the Oval Office, and time and again what you hear from his closest aides are words like "erratic," that he has dangerous impulses. And, as you just said, they've been so concerned that he would be a danger to national security, several of his senior staff literally took draft letters, documents off of his desk, so he wouldn't sign them and they hid them from him. We have never heard anything like this before.
BLITZER: And the words that some of these senior aides use to describe the president. You posted an article on cnn.com. Let me read one paragraph from the article. Chief of Staff John Kelly describes Trump as an idiot and unhinged, Woodward reports. Defense Secretary James Mattis describes Trump as having the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader. And Trump's former personal lawyer, John Dowd, describes the president as a f'ing liar, telling President Trump he would end up in a, quote, orange jump suit if he testified before the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
So in addition to staff taking extraordinary measures to really circumvent the president, there are new details about the Russia investigation. You see the president's former attorney, John Dowd, going to the White House residence and putting him through a mock interview. According to Woodward, Dowd did not believe the president could get through an interview. So he puts him through a practice session. It unfolds. You see a scene. There are quotes. And at the end of it Woodward reports that, in effect, the president fails the test.
What's even more shocking is, down the road, Dowd and the present attorney, Jay Sekulow, go to Mueller's office, Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And in an attempt to convince Mueller that the president cannot get through an interview without perjuring himself, they reenact the mock interview. John Dowd plays Robert Mueller. Jay Sekulow plays Trump. And they show him that Trump will perjure himself.
[13:05:21] BLITZER: And they are -- and they point out to Mueller that this -- if this were to come out, it would be a real threat to the U.S. national security if world leaders saw what the president could say, if there was a transcript, for example, released of an official interview between Mueller and his team and the president.
It is stunning. You hear that Defense Secretary John Mattis is, quote, exasperated and alarmed, Woodward writes, about the president.
And the other thing you see for the first time in the book is, you go behind the scenes to the Mueller investigation. No one has been more secretive or tight lipped. Woodward captures meetings in Mueller's office between Trump's attorneys and Robert Mueller. And in one of them, in trying to convince Mueller that the president doesn't have to testify, you actually -- Mueller is quoted as saying he wants to see if the president had corrupt intent about James Comey. So we're getting, for the first time, a glimpse behind the scenes there.
BLITZER: It's pretty amazing stuff. Bob Woodward, as I said, does it again.
Kaitlan, you're over at the White House. The White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, quoted in the book as saying of president, quote, he's an idiot. It's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails. We're in crazytown. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I have ever had. That quote in the Woodward book from John Kelly, the White House chief of staff.
What's the reaction you're getting over there? This book is supposed to be released on September 11th, but obviously a lot of excerpts are already out there.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we knew that in recent days our sources have been telling us that President Trump was complaining that he never had the chance to sit down with Bob Woodward for an interview for this book, even though Woodward made several attempts through senior White House officials here to sit down with the president one on one, and now we know exactly why the president has been complaining about that. These stunning allegations made in this book, not just about things that the staffers said about the president, but also things that the president said about his own employees, including the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who he said was a traitor and a dumb southerner, according to this book.
Now, of course, that raises the questions in this White House about how to react to this book because though there have been other tell- alls in the past, this one with Bob Woodward is different because not only does he have these first-hand accounts of interviews and quotes, but he also has memorandums from the White House and e-mail exchanges between White House staffers that back up what his claims are in this book.
Now, we know that after that Michael Wolff "Fire and Fury" book came out that John Kelly, the chief of staff, implemented this no interview policy for books here in the White House. They didn't want any staffers talking to people for upcoming books. But we do know that before and after John Kelly implemented that rule, at least a dozen White House officials here, current and former, spoke with Bob Woodward for this book, telling him these things that he's written about in this book and revealing all of this.
Now, Wolf, the question is going to be what is going to be the response from John Kelly, James Mattis, Jeff Sessions, all of these staffers who still work here in this White House, in this administration? What is their reaction to this book going to be?
BLITZER: It's going to be -- it's going to be tough going, I suspect, for all of them and a whole bunch of others.
And we're going to get to a lot more on this truly explosive book.
Kaitlan, I want you to stand by.
Jamie Gangel, stay with us as well.
The reaction to this book, it's pouring in. We're going to discuss that.
Plus, this is truly extraordinary as well. There's new audio of a conversation between Bob Woodward and President Trump. We're going to have excerpts of that, what the president told Bob Woodward in early August.
Stay with us.
Also, much more on the other important story we're following, moments from now the rather contentious confirmation hearing of the U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will continue. We'll also have live coverage of his opening statement.
This is CNN's special live coverage.
[13:13:44] BLITZER: Very disturbing tale of total chaos and deep concern inside the White House. We're talking about the Pulitzer award winning author Bob Woodward's brand new book on the Trump White House.
A.B. Stoddard is associate editor and columnist for Real Clear Politics. She's joining us. Also with us, CNN's senior political analyst David Gergen, and our analyst Laura Coates. Jamie Gangel is still with us as well
And, Jamie, very quickly, you know, it's amazing some of the stuff that the president is quoted by Woodward as having said in meetings about senior aides, about Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States. We know he ridicules him, berates him on Twitter all of the time. But as you report, this is what the president said of the attorney general of the United States. This guy is mentally retarded. He's this dumb southerner.
BLITZER: I mean, it's amazing.
GANGEL: It is beyond the pale. And he goes on. There are quotes about Reince Priebus. He calls him a little rat scurrying around the White House. The day after Rudy Giuliani was the only person to go on the Sunday talk shows and defend the president, he humiliates Giuliani, according to Woodward's book, to his face.
BLITZER: Let me read to you the quote. This is what the president told Rudy Giuliani the day after, as you point out, after the "Access Hollywood" came out on a Sunday talk show and he was the only one willing to go defend the president. This is the president quoted by Woodward. Rudy, you're a baby. I've never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You're like the little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?
[13:15:22] GANGEL: And this is the man who is now acting as his personal attorney.
But I think what you'll find is -- and this is the tip of the iceberg. Woodward brings credibility with him. This is not like other books. He interviewed dozens of sources, firsthand sources. He has hundreds of hours of taped interviews from these people. And he was given personal diaries.
The book begins with a stolen document. He has one of the documents that was stolen off the White House desk. There is a memo with Trump's handwriting on it.
TRUMP: A.B. Stoddard, let me get your thoughts. It's pretty stunning.
And Woodward, as we all know, he's got a pretty solid reputation going to his book and his reporting during Watergate with Carl Bernstein that eventually contributed to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: This is the problem for President Trump. This is not Omarosa. This is Bob Woodward. And there are several former aides, like Reince Priebus and Rob Porter, who are willing to go on the record in this book.
The question here -- what's made clear is that all the people around him at the very highest levels do not trust him and believe he's unfit to be president of the United States and commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces. That is made very clear.
And the next question is, does Jay Sekulow, his lawyer, and does secretary of defense, James Mattis, and his chief of staff, General John Kelly, do they deny this or do they resign? Because these -- that's going to be the question before them. Do they say out loud that Bob Woodward made all of this up, or do they walk away after enacting a practice session and playing Trump before Bob Mueller at the special counsel's office and proving to the special counsel that he's a liar, how is Jay Sekulow going to answer to this?
BLITZER: A lot of these senior people, they've been ridiculed publicly, humiliated in private meetings. They haven't resigned, David Gergen, for the simple reason they are convinced that this president represents a specific threat to the United States, and they have to protect the United States from the president. DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That is -- and we haven't
had that since Nixon. Nixon in the closing days when the people around him began to fear what he might do individually.
But this seems to be systemic. This seems to run across a whole period of his presidency. It's not just something that happened in the last few weeks.
And to go back -- Wolf, you and I go back a long way with Woodward. We both know that on many of his books there are small mistakes, but the essence of the book always turns out to be correct. And that's what is devastating about this.
I want to go back to this whole - this whole episode with Mueller. That is extraordinary to me, that they would go and make a case to him why the president of the United States is unfit to take -- to give testimony because he does not understand reality or he will lie. They're saying he's unfit more testimony. What does that say about his fitness for the presidency?
BLITZER: And in the book, Mueller reacts by saying, I understand what you're saying. What did you think of that?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I was shocked. First of all, the idea that you would have the appetite for punishment that all these men seem to have, the idea they're almost gluttonous at this point in time, to be Rudy Giuliani, to be ridiculed the way he is, and then to go back, represent him on the talk shows, as he's doing now, in the court of public opinion, let alone Jay Sekulow, who remains his attorney at this point in time, to re-enact the president committing perjury and then to have the American people believe they're actually -- they're negotiating in good faith to this day and being magnanimous about their gestures about having an actual interview with Bob Mueller.
What I respect about Bob Mueller is his statement of, I understand that. And he persisted nonetheless because it is not -- it's not fair to have somebody, who is the head of the executive branch, say, well, I may actually lie, therefore I can't be held accountable like everyone else could be. The fact that he kept going forward is a good thing. It shows his objectivity and the fact that he has perhaps the dog with the proverbial bone, but at least he has a purpose here. And I just think it's very astonishing to think that this is continuing in the Oval Office the way you're talking about.
And I don't buy the argument any longer. It seems very cowardly to me to say, well, if I'm not here, the world will end. Well, while you're there, perhaps the world is ending, you're not much of a gate keeper anymore.
BLITZER: Everybody stick around because there's a lot more on this explosive new book by Bob Woodward. We're going to get to more details, more excerpts.
There you see Judge Brett Kavanaugh. He's -- his confirmation hearing has begun. We're going to be hearing from him in his opening statements shortly. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, he's speaking right now. I want to listen in briefly.
[13:20:03] SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Be less than what it is. And -- and it seems to me that that's something that I hope somebody will take into consideration. Probably won't, but I -- at least I said my piece.
Then I also -- senator -- several senators have brought up about the 6 percent and the 99 percent and things like that that I thought I ought to clear up because I can say myself that when I first started finding out how much paper Judge Kavanaugh had on his record -- I mean, for his background, I started talking about 100 -- 1 million pages. And then when we finally get 488,000 then I can say well, I got about 48 percent of what we ought to have but there's a good explanation why we don't have it, so I want to read.
Some of my colleagues keep saying that we have only 6 percent of Judge Kavanaugh's White House records but that 99 percent of Justice Kagan's White House records were made public before the hearing. This is fuzzy math.
My colleagues calibrate their phony 6 percent figure on two inaccurate numbers. First, their 6 percent figure counts the estimated page count by career archivists at the National Archives based upon their historical practice before the on-process e-mails and attachments are actually reviewed.
When Judge Kavanaugh's White House e-mails that we've received, the actual number of pages ended up being significantly less than the number the National Archives estimated before the actual review. One reason is because we're able to use technology to call out the exact duplicate e-mails instead of having to read 13 times an e-mail that Judge Kavanaugh sent to 12 White House colleagues, we only had to read the e-mail once.
Second, the 6 percent figure counts millions and millions of pages of irrelevant staff secretary documents that we never, ever requested or needed. More importantly, we received 100 percent of the documents we requested from Judge Kavanaugh's time as an executive branch lawyer.
And while we may have received 99 percent of Justice Kagan's White House records, we received zero records from her most relevant legal service as a solicitor general, the federal government's top Supreme Court advocate. We received much less than 99 percent of her records as a lawyer. And we didn't receive 60,000 e-mails from Justice Kagan, so 99 percent is an overestimate.
GRASSLEY: And even though we never receive them, Justice Kagan's solicitor general records were much more needed at the time because Kagan was a blank slate as a judge. Instead unlike Judge Kavanaugh with his 12 years of judicial service and over 10,000 pages of judicial writings on the nation's most important federal circuit courts. Justice Kagan has zero years of judicial service and zero pages of judicial writing before appointment to the highest court.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And before I begin my opening statement, I just wanted to respond to just -- few things. One, none of that takes away from the fact that 42,000 documents were dumped on us last night and I don't think anyone would go to trial and allow a trial to go forward or allow a case to go forward if one side got 42,000 documents the night before and the other side -- and you -- you can't simply review them. As pointed out by Senator Whitehouse, you'd have to review 7,000 documents every hour. That happened last night.
GRASSLEY: Let me respond without taking time away from you.
KLOBUCHAR. Thank you.
GRASSLEY: You -- democrats got exactly the same amount of money we did to do the work -- the massive amount of work we had to do. And we got it done at 11 o'clock last night. You see (ph)...
KLOBUCHAR: The point is that no one could prepare and review 42,000 documents in one evening. We know that. No much -- no matter how much coffee you drink. And the second point is that it is true that executive privilege has never been invoked before to block the release of presidential records during this -- to the Senate during a confirmation hearing.
So I will begin my opening statement, but those are two points that I don't believe are refuted. So ...
GRASSLEY: OK. Well, I'll refute it from this standpoint -- there were 5,000 documents, 42,000 pages.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.
Welcome, Judge Kavanaugh. We welcome your family as well. On its face, this may look like a normal confirmation hearing. It has all the trappings, all of us up here, all of the cameras out there, the statements, the questions -- all of it looks normal.
But this is not a normal confirmation hearing. First, as we have debated this morning, we are being asked to give advice and consent when the administration has not consented to give us over a 100,000 documents, all of which detail a critical part of the judge's career -- the time he spent in the White House. And in addition, the majority party has not consented to make 189,000 of the documents we do have public.
As a former prosecutor, I know that no lawyer goes to court without reviewing the evidence and record. I know and I know you know, Judge Kavanaugh, that a good judge would not decide a case with only seven percent of the key documents. A good judge would not allow a case to move forward if one side dropped 42,000 pages of documents on the other side the night before the case started, and yet, that is where we are today. This isn't normal. It's an abdication of the role of the Senate and a disservice to the American people and it is our duty to speak out.
Secondly, this nomination comes before us at a time when we are witnessing seismic shifts in our democracy. Foundational elements of our government, including the rule of law, have been challenged and undermined. Today, our democracy faces threats that we never would have believed would be occurring not that long ago.
Our intelligence agencies agree that a foreign adversary attempted to interfere in our most recent election and it's happening again. In the words of the president's director of national intelligence, "the lights are blinking red."
There is an extensive ongoing investigation by a special counsel. The president's private lawyer and campaign chairman have been found guilty of multiple federal crimes. The man appointed as special counsel in this investigation, a man who has served with distinction under presidents from both parties has been under siege.
The dedicated public servants who work in our Justice Department, including the Attorney General and the FBI, have been subjected to repeated threats and have had their work politicized and their motives questioned. In fact, just this past weekend, federal law enforcement was called out -- was rebuked -- by the President of the United States for simply doing their jobs, for prosecuting two white collar defendants. One for insider trading, one for campaign theft.
Why? Because the defendants were personal friends and campaign supporters of the President of the United States. As a former prosecutor, as someone who has seen federal law enforcement do their jobs, this is abhorrent to me. So no, this is not normal.
And the last branch, the third branch government, our courts and individual judges have been under assault. Not just by a solitary disappointed litigant but by the President of the United States. Our democracy is on trial. And for the pillars of our democracy and our constitution to weather this storm, our nation's highest court must serve as a ballast in these turbulent times.
Our very institutions and those nominated to protect these institutions must be fair, impartial, and unwavering in their commitment to truth and justice. So today we will begin a hearing in which it is our duty to carry on the American constitutional tradition that John Adams stood up for many centuries ago, and that is to be, in his words, "a government of laws and not men." To me that means figuring out what your views are, Judge, on whether a president is above the law. It is a simple concept we learned in grade school that no one is above the law.