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Senior Trump Admin Official: There is a Quiet Resistance Within the Administration; Interview with Sec. John Kerry. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired September 5, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening from Washington, D.C., a city that has seen almost everything but nothing in recent history at least like what we saw today.

A current senior administration official admitting to being part of the resistance inside the Trump administration. Just think about that for a moment. A current senior official working in this White House writing in secret to alert the American people what he or she is witnessing and attempting to prevent the president of the United States from doing. A current senior official working with others inside the administration to frustrate actions by the president that they believe would actually harm the country.

The headline by this anonymous person reads "I am part of the resistance inside the Trump administration." But the headline is not even the most stunning part of what this person has to say. The official writing in the "New York Times," quote: We believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. President Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office.

This is not some Democratic operative writing this. This is somebody working in the Trump administration. This comes, of course, just one day after details emerge from Bob Woodward's book, details that sound very similar to what the senior official is saying.

Listen to what else the official says about the president. Quote: The root of the problem is the president's amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

The writer does point to administration's successes, but says they've come, quote, despite not because of the president's leadership style which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.

The official went to say meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails. He engages in repetitive rants and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back. This is where an already remarkable document sails into even deeper water.

Quoting again: Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment which would start a complex process for removing the president, but no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis, so we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until one way or another it's over. That line: until one way or another it's over.

Let's just pause here. According to this official, people inside the administration, people in the cabinet were whispering about invoking the 25th Amendment. It's staggering. This is not by any means normal.

Twenty-fifth Amendment, of course, provides for the removal of a president who is no longer fit to serve. Now after the story broke, "The Washington Post" data reporter noticed that for a brief time today, Google searches on the 25th Amendment topped searches for Kim Kardashian who was at the White House today.

Late today, the president reacted, responding to a reporter's questions during a gathering of local sheriffs at the White House. It goes on at some length, we've cut out a long digression on the economy, but it's important to hear the fullness of the president's reaction to get a better sense of the tone and perhaps his frame of mind.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is what we have to deal with, and, you know, the dishonest media, because you people deal with it as well as I do. But it's really a disgrace. I will say this. Nobody has done what this administration's done in terms of getting things passed, in getting things through.

Nobody has ever done in less than a two-year period what we've done. So when you tell me about some anonymous source within the administration, probably whose failing and probably here for all the wrong reasons, now, and "The New York Times" is failing. If I weren't here, I believe "The New York Times" probably wouldn't even exist. And someday --


And someday when I'm not president, which hopefully will be in about six and a half years from now, "The New York Times" and CNN and all of these phony media outlets will be out of business, folks. They'll be out of business because there will be nothing to write and there will be nothing of interest.

So, nobody has done what this administration has done. And I agree. It's different from an agenda which is much different than ours, and it's certainly not your agenda. That I can tell you.


TRUMP: It's about open borders. It's about letting people flee into our country. It's about a disaster in crime for our country.

So, they don't like Donald Trump and I don't like them because they're very dishonest people. Remember this also about "The New York Times." When I've won, they were forced to apologize to their subscribers.

[20:05:00] They wrote a letter of apology.

It was the first time anybody's ever done it, because they covered the election incorrectly. So, if the failing "New York Times" has an anonymous editorial, can you believe it, anonymous, meaning gutless, a gutless editorial, we're doing a great job.

The poll numbers are through the roof. Our poll numbers are great. And guess what? Nobody is going to come close to beating me in 2020 because of what we've done. We've done more than anybody ever thought possible in it's not even two years.

So thank you very much. Appreciate it.



COOPER: Those are current law enforcement personnel by the way. The president earlier this evening.

And after that, a one-word tweet, all caps, treason. That wasn't all. Just a few minutes ago, he tweeted again, quoting, quoting now, does is the so-called senior administration official really exist or it is just the failing "New York Times" with another phony source?

If the gutless anonymous person does indeed exist, "The Times", must, for national security purposes must turn him/her over to government at once.

Perspective now on what we're seeing tonight, for someone who spent time inside the proceeding administration. John Kerry is former secretary of state, senator, presidential candidate and obviously a highly decorated Vietnam vet, he writes about all of it in his new memoir, "Every Day is Extra." I spoke to him just before air.


COOPER: Secretary Kerry, I want to get your reaction to this anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times" from a senior White House official who has vowed to support our democratic institutions while thwarting Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office.

Is there anything you can compare this to?

JOHN KERRY, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: No, no. It's absolutely extraordinary, and obviously it's going to create an enormous fight over the credibility and the propriety, et cetera. But when you separate it, when you really look at this memo, when you recognize what "The New York Times" does know who it, and they have very carefully approached this, and you add this to what is in Bob Woodward's book, and -- which everybody knows he tapes people that he talks to, he's probably the single most credible investigative reporter in the country, if not the world, and he knows his methodology, and his publisher knows the methodology. And lawyers who support both of those, him and the publisher, know the methodology.

So the credibility level against a president who is now been found clearly to lie on a daily basis and has a serious problem with the truth, that's the balance here. And so, we have a presidency which is off the rails. We have a presidency in which the president is clearly now, according to this op-ed, which "The New York Times" knows who the author is, we have a president who is not capable of doing the job, who clearly has these temper tantrums, doesn't know enough to be making many of the decisions he makes, and we see the evidence of people stealing a presidential document off his desk.

We see a general, the secretary of defense, ordered to kill another leader of another country who turns to everybody after the phone is hung up and says, I'm not going to do that. We're not going to do that.

This is unbelievable. This is a presidency. This is a genuine constitutional crisis.

And the crisis is heightened by the fact that my former colleagues in the United States Senate on the Republican side who have taken an oath of office to defend the Constitution and the institutions of our country as a whole, which are embraced in that oath are defending instead not the Constitution, not the institution in the Senate. They're defending party and the president who simply doesn't know what he is doing.

COOPER: This unnamed senior official talked about whispers among the senior cabinet members and the 25th Amendment, invoking that. Is that something you think should be discussed openly?

KERRY: Well, it's not up to me to decide, and I dent even have enough of the inside knowledge to be able to measure that against its standards. They do. That's the point I'm making.

There are people walking around Washington in the cabinet, in offices all across this administration, and particularly in the Senate and the House. I mean this is exactly what Paul Ryan has talked about in certain ways and hinted at very directly. But when you add this up with the president's performance in Helsinki, where he stood with Putin toe to toe but melted, never went toe to toe, never defended the interests of our country, never held President Putin accountable for what he has been doing, but melted away, saying it was a wonderful idea to have an American ambassador actually traded off to go to Russia and be subjected to interrogation there.

[20:10:09] who then after people got to him and said that's a terrible idea backed off.

But his initial instincts again and again and again in a tweet yesterday, he steps over a line where he publicly chastises the attorney general of the United States for doing his job, for upholding rule of law and suggests that he should have, in fact, been political and not upheld the law for political purposes. This is a serious moment for our country, and I hope that people in the United States Senate and the house will recognize. Leaders all across the world are making judgments about our president and our country, and all kinds of risks as a result of what they're reading about this presidency and the United States. This is dangerous.

COOPER: I have spoken to general Michael Hayden on this program, what he calls the thin veneer of civilization. He talked about Sarajevo being a multicultural society that fell apart very quickly. He is concerned that this is a thin veneer that we have here, that we think the institutions are strong and on bedrock, but things can fall apart very quickly.

Are you scared about the possibility of that, of the future of democracy in America?

KERRY: I believe that our institutions are strong, and I believe very deeply that is required now are not the institutions. We have the institutional structure.

I mean, remember, Anderson, many of us are veterans of the 1968 to 1973 period. I mean, we suffered the assassinations of --


COOPER: You write about this in the book a lot.

KERRY: -- Robert Kennedy, correct. And I talk about this in the book. It's an amazing journey that our country has taken over the last 70-plus years with the end of World War II, and the world we have built around a set of values since that period of time.

But, all of the sudden, that is all being thrown into a mixer. And the test now is for our institutions to stand up. And how do they do that? They do that through the leadership of individual men and women, the people that have been elected to uphold our Constitution and to stand up to defend the United States of America and our institutions.

So, this is a moment where it's a crisis of conscience for people in the United States Senate on the other side of the aisle where they have been willing to be more protective of their chairmanships, of their paper, of their president than they have of the constitution and the institutions themselves.

COOPER: In reading your book, you do. You talk about the lies that were told to the American people throughout the war in Vietnam by politicians, by the military in many cases, you know, the bombings, the assassinations, all the things, the enemies list that we as a country went through. Is the time we're in now more dangerous than that time? Because that --

KERRY: It is more dangerous.

COOPER: That seemed like the country was being torn apart.

KERRY: Yes, it is more dangerous. And the reason is -- there are several reasons there are a number of reasons it is more dangerous. For one thing, today we have a president who clearly is not equipped to do the job. I mean, I'm not going to go into all the details. But everybody in Washington knows this.

COOPER: He is not fit for the job?

KERRY: I don't believe he is, given what we have seen, given the proclivity to tell lies, given the fact that he has still not accepted the truth of what the intelligence community has said about Russia's hacking and involvement. I mean, he mouths the words sometimes but then goes out and reverses it. Given the quixotic, impulsive behavior he engages in, and given the lack of willingness to even make decisions for our people that are based on scientific fact or other facts.

I believe is a momentum of enormous consequence to our country, and my hope and prayer is that people will stop hiding, that leaders who have been elected to lead will actually lead, and that they will step up to this moment which is serious because there are threats in the world, the lost opportunity to our country and the context of trade agreements and the context of nuclear agreements, of a world which is more dangerous today because of cyber and a president who isn't even tackling cyber with the levels of respect necessary.

Now, I talk about a lot of these things in my book, even though my book is not a policy book. But it shows the journey we've taken over our history and how and why we are able as individual citizens to make a difference and pull ourselves back from this brink. And that I think makes the book timely.

COOPER: Senator Kerry, the book is "Every Day is Extra" -- I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

KERRY: Thank you very much, Anderson. Appreciate it.


COOPER: There's a lot more ahead tonight.

[20:15:00] Things are moving fast tonight. We're going to go to the White House for the president's late reaction to the resistance he is facing inside his own White House. It's stunning to say the words. "360" live from Washington continues.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: President Trump reacted angrily late today to word that one of his senior officials is working against him, along with others and admitting it on "The New York Times" opinion pages. He said that hopefully by the time he is out of office in 6 1/2 years, he said "The Times," CNN and other phony media outlets would be out of business. He tweeted the word treason with a question mark, just that one word treason.

And this comes on top of the news earlier today that the White House has launched a witch-hunt to find the source or sources who spoke to Bob Woodward for his book on the Trump administration. Quite a day. CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us now from the White House.

[20:20:01] So, Jeff, we heard what the president had to say a little earlier, what more do we know about the White House's reaction first of all to the op-ed?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we're seeing in real time the president really taking the reins of the strategy for how to respond to this extraordinary op-ed in "The New York Times." Earlier this evening, he was talking to a group of sheriffs, and he was, you know, essentially going after the substance of the editorial, calling it gutless. But then just a few moments ago, as you were saying, he is now sort of pivoting somewhat and going after a favorite target of his, "The New York Times." He is talking about the so-called source, talking about, you know, did they sort of make this up.

But that is not at all what White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was saying in an earlier official statement from the White House when she was going directly after this individual who wrote the op-ed. Take a look at what she said a short time ago this evening. She said this -- the individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive rather than support the duly elected president of the United States. He is not putting country first but putting himself and his ego of the will of the American people. This coward should do the right thing and resign.

So that clearly aims squarely at this individual. And frankly, we don't know the gender of the individual, if it's a man or a woman. "The New York Times" does know this. But the president making the pivot to blame all of this, Anderson, on the "New York Times."

COOPER: And as much as the president is trying to dismiss Bob Woodward's book, he does want to though who talked to Woodward, right? I used the term "witch-hunt" earlier obviously kind of ironically.

But understandably, he wants to know, and it's from his perspective it's absolutely fair that he would want to know exactly who talked to Woodward and what they said.

ZELENY: No question. We've heard the president throw out the term "witch-hunt" so much this year, talking about the Russia investigation. But the reality is I was talking to administration officials here earlier today long before "The New York Times" report came out. And they said in fact the president did want to know who talked to Woodward and who didn't talk to Woodward. He was keeping a list and keeping a careful eye on who was issuing denials, who was not.

And, you know, several people were not issuing denials who were mentioned in this book. But there is no question, Anderson, tonight this witch-hunt, an actual witch-hunt, you know, despite the one he talks about all the time now extends to the person who wrote this "New York Times" op-ed. There's a variety of -- you know, It's game who have done it here in the West Wing, no doubt about it. But also there is a full-on look by researchers and others, trying to

look into language and other things if anything looks familiar. But, Anderson, I cannot imagine the president will let this lie. So, this is something that will continue as he watches media coverage of this.

Of course, he is scheduled to be campaigning tomorrow in Montana, holding a big rally. He'll certainly have something to say about it there -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

Perspective now from Gloria Borger, Michael Caputo, Paul Begala, and Max Boot and David Axelrod.

Gloria, you can't blame the president from wanting to know who would have said these things. i mean --


COOPER: -- whether you agree with what they said or not, if you were the president, you would want to know what the people around you are thinking.

BORGER: Right, and --

COOPER: If people were taking stuff off your desk, you would want to know who was doing it.

BORGER: Right, and -- I mean, and he does. And we also know he is a micromanager. But we also know what is going on here is nothing less than what Woodward calls in his book an administrative coup d'etat.

Taking papers off the president's desk so he doesn't see them, what is -- what is that all about? I mean, why didn't the president know things were missing from his desk is another question.

But also in this op-ed that we're talking about, this notion that this author wrote that early on in the administration, there were whispers among cabinet officials about invoking the 25th Amendment which would effectively, it's difficult to do, but which would effectively remove the president. So, even paranoids have enemies.

And so, this president knows he's got a lot of enemies all around him. And I fully expect that probably after the midterm election, a lot of the people who are now working for the president will be gone either of their own accord or because they get fired.

COOPER: Also, Michael, it's one thing to have Bob Woodward doing introduce on deep background. To have what "The New York Times" says is a senior administration official writing this. I mean, have you ever heard of anything like this?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: No, I've got to tell you, this scares the living daylights of me. This is "The New York Times" who -- we spoke earlier about this -- who really talked a lot about and discussed and then published the Pentagon papers. There is somebody working for the president of the United States at a very senior level who is trying to destroy him.

Of course, you might call it a witch-hunt. I would call it something similar that rhymes with that. But this is really disturbing.

You don't -- you don't take the coin of the realm and then betray the trust of the president of the United States.

[20:25:00] And in addition, the workingmen and women of America, we know that the bravest and the brightest of this nation, they don't, you know, stab their boss in the back and complain about them anonymously.

I'm furious about this. And I think that this anonymous op-ed writer must be found, must be fired, must be investigated. And if they've leaked classified information or something in the past, they must be prosecuted and jailed.

COOPER: Paul, what's so stunning about it, first of all I'm not even sure it's a stab in the back. It seems like a stab right directly in the front.

CAPUTO: Not when it's anonymous.

COOPER: Well, yes. But the idea that this -- if you think, OK, the president called Bob Woodward, a Democratic operative yesterday, this is according to "The New York Times," a senior administration official saying these things.


COOPER: And somebody who claims to want the president's agenda to move forward and to work. But is saying the best parts of what the president has done have happened in spite of the president.

BEGALA: It's stunning. We have never seen anything like this. And of course I don't support Trump, so I loved every word of it except one, anonymous.

CAPUTO: Right.

BEGALA: Michael is exactly right about that. Sarah Sanders is right.

This person should have the guts to stand up. If he or she believes the president is a threat to the nation, he or she should stand up and say so-so we can act on it. The 25th Amendment is there.

It's shocking to me that -- I have never called for invoking that it's shocking to me that people very close to him who see him every day think that in fact he may be unable to serve. But that's I think the disservice.

We should be talking about whether our president is fit to serve. You now have official former secretary of state, the current secretary of defense, a former national security adviser, the former head of the National Economic Council, the secretary of the treasury, all calling our president horrible things, idiot, dumb, his lawyer called him dumbbell, allegedly, according to -- right?

That's what we should be talking about, not the anonymity. So, it's not Deep Throat. It's deep state, I don't know. But I think that's a huge --


COOPER: Max, I think it was Jamie Gangel last night saying deep throat was one person. She was making the point that there are multiple deep throats in this administration.

MAX BOOT, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Clearly, the anonymous op- ed writer is speaking for an awful lot of people who see President Trump up close. Some of whom are also quoted in the Bob Woodward book.

I mean, in some ways, I think even before the Mueller report, Anderson, we're in a worse position than we were in Nixon's final days, because with Nixon, you could certainly doubt his moral capacity to do the job, but nobody could doubt Nixon's intellectual capacity. On the other hand, with Trump, the people who work for him are saying, not only is he amoral as this op-ed writer says, he is also too stupid. He doesn't understand the basics of the job so he can't carry out his duties.

And I agree with what Paul Begala is saying. We should be talking about invoking the 25th Amendment. We should be talking about impeachment. If people in Congress took their oaths of office seriously, that's what they would be doing.

But unfortunately, Republicans are putting party loyalty above patriotism. They are acting as protectors for Donald Trump because he still has the support of their base. And so they are allowing this travesty to continue.

COOPER: And, I mean, David Axelrod, the idea that this is somebody who is still working in the White House, still in the inner circle, I mean, is the president, in your opinion, right to be talking about treason, right to be outraged by this?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think he's right to be talking about treason. He has a right to be outraged that people aren't showing loyalty to him. But I don't think he understands loyalty to the people around him.

And more than that, what was striking about that "New York Times" piece was the person who wrote it said that they felt first loyalty to the country. And that's the oath, of course, that everyone takes. And so this needs to be viewed in that regard.

I just want to pile on to a couple of other points here. You know, Jeff said there is a whodunit going on in the White House. The thing is this is like murder on the Orient Express. There are so many hands on this bloody knife that there is no one person the president can turn to. He is surrounded, apparently, by people who believe that he is incompetent, who believes he is intemperate, who believes there are real questions about his ability to govern.

On this issue, however, of the 25th Amendment, you know, I sense the angst of the person who wrote that piece and perhaps others around the president because he's the duly elected president. Can you imagine what the reaction in this country would be, at least among the people who supported Donald Trump if he were removed by a vote of the cabinet? That's a very, very serious step for our democracy and never been taken, really.


AXELROD: And so I can understand why they're -- why they're hesitant and why they've adopted this strategy of trying to surround the president and protect the country from him rather than fomenting a crisis in our democracy.

COOPER: We're going to continue the conversation after a quick break. It's an important one.

And as we mentioned, President Trump responded to the op-ed on Twitter. One tweet was a single word, punctuation mark, "treason?". We'll talk about that and more, next and more.


COOOPER: The breaking news tonight a person described as a senior Trump administration official dissecting the President's work habits, and policies in an op-ed with the headline "I am part of the resistance inside the Trump administration." President Trump tweeting the word treason with a question mark suggesting the op-ed author is a traitor. Just reference here is the legal definition. Whoever owing legion to the United States levees war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere is guilty of treason and shall suffer death or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title, but not less than $10,000 and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States. Nothing there about a newspaper op-ed.

Back now with our Gloria Borger, Michael Caputo, Paul Begala, Max Boot and David Axlerod.

It's interesting tough, because according to Woodward, treason is also the word that the President had brought up when Gary Cohn came in talking about resigning in the wake of Charlottesville.


COOPER: Whether he actually means it as being treasonous or just incredibly disloyal.

BORGER: And remember, John Brennan, former CIA director called the President treasonous.

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: So it's a word people are throwing around a lot. MCHAEL CAPUTO, FMR TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: The words have lost their meaning.

BORGER: Yes, they have lost their meaning. But if you're Donald Trump right now and you're paranoid to begin with, and you say you value loyalty, although I would argue he never returns loyalty. He demands it from people but doesn't give it back. If you're the President right now, I think you're going a little berserk.

[20:35:03] COOPER: But, you know, what's interesting is when -- remember when Joe Klein wrote that book and people didn't know it was Joe Klein, people search and finally they did some sort of algorithmic search of the writing of it and were able to figure out in correspondent to Joe Klein and he admitted.

CAPUTO: But that was a parlor game.

COOPER: Right. But what's interesting is people will probably try to do that with this, but there are phrases that are probably intentionally used to throw people off. Because they use the phrase "off the rails" which is a phrase according to Woodward that General Kelly had used. If General Kelly had actually used that word, it's very unlikely he would use that phrase in this letter if he was writing this letter.



BEGALA: There is -- I've seen this before too where people would sit in a meeting, listen to someone, write down words that she or he used frequently and then leak with those words so that the President thought that person was a leaker.


BEGALA: Pretty scummy.

BORGER: That's a pleasant atmosphere.

BEGALA: Yes, well, believe me, welcome to Washington.

COOPER: You seen that happens.


CAPUTO: From my perspective, this is one of the most tightly written op-eds I've seen. This -- every word is used intentionally. That's why I think there are words that are put in there in reference to John McCain, tries to throw people off. I think there's a real good place to start to try and find this person. I mean its a little known fact that in a Trump's Washington, there has been a steady purge of Trump campaign supporters from the Trump administration. There are departments, cabinet departments that are completely devoid of anyone who supports Donald Trump. And from my perspective, the President should find out what departments have completely purged Trump supporters and start there.

COOPER: Why would there be a purge of Trump supporters from cabinets?

CAPUTO: Because the plotters behind this op-ed, the plotters behind destroying Donald Trump who are working for Donald Trump, every single one of them a coward, are purging these people because they want to surround themselves -- right now if you want to get into the Trump administration, you can't have worked for the Trump campaign. You must have worked for Bush.

BORGER: But Michael, they would argue what they're trying do is save the country and not destroy Donald Trump.

CAPUTO: So quit stand up and be -- don't be a coward.

BORGER: Well, I agree with you.

COOPER: David, what do crew make of that argument which is made in this op-ed that they -- their loyalty is to the country and frankly that they're trying to protect the President from his own worst impulses and continue his agenda without him messing it up?

AXELROD: Yes, well, look, I -- as I said earlier, you do take an oath, and the oath is not to the President. The oath is to the country. The President expects your loyalty. You of course expect his. That hasn't been the case in the Trump White House. But I think we can get wrapped around the axle about who the author of this particular piece was when the real question is what about the substance of the piece. What about the substance of the Woodward book?

The fact is these are very, very serious charges about the President of the United States, and they are legion, they are serial, they have -- we have been -- we've seen them in reporting from the beginning of this administration. The sources are widespread, and many of these quotes are laid to people who are close to him. I don't think the issue is who wrote this. It's interesting. I'd love to know. I'm sure we may find out some day. The real issue is what about the President himself and what does this say about the country and about his particular future and how we're going to move going forward?

COOPER: Well Max, do you -- go ahead.

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I was just going the say picking up on David Axelrod's point, you know, although it's kind of bizarre that you have a senior administration official who is criticizing the President behind the cloak of anonymity, I think you have to understand this is an incredibly unusual, indeed unique situation, something we've never faced, a President who is so completely unfitted for office that those around him believe that their duty to the United States is not to serve the President's agenda, but to protect the United States from the President.

And I think they are actually being patriots in doing that. And you can argue about what is the best method of doing that. Should they resign en masse, should they call for impeachment, should they advocate a Democratic vote in November? I think there are good arguments for all that, but there's also a good argument for doing with people like Mattis are doing, which is quietly working behind scenes to prevent the President from carrying out his worst impulses.

And, you know, the writer of the op-ed is somewhere in the middle between that. I mean he is -- he or she sounds like they're working behind the scenes, but they also are coming out for the first time. So that's kind of a bizarre combination. But, you know, I think we should applaud these people who are in fact performing an important function in trying to rein in the President. They're usually not successful, but imagine how much worse it would be if they were not there.

COOPER: But, you know, it's interesting, Gloria, the President today was saying they've had very strong statements about -- from Mattis. They've had strong statements from Kelly, you know, refuting the Woodward stuff.


COOPER: I mean frankly, the statements haven't been that strong. I mean Kelly said he didn't use the word idiot.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: He didn't talk about off the rails, worst job he's ever had.

[20:40:01] BORGER: A lot of them -- a lot of them were vague. There were people we didn't hear from, Rob Porter, for example. Did we hear from --


BORGER: -- Rob Porter. Right. And so there were people we didn't hear from. The President wants everyone to say that the book is false, fake news, never happened. Woodward is a bad reporter. That's absolutely ridiculous, and we know that. And I think the person who wrote this was trying to do a patriotic thing here and -- look, and I agree with you, should not have been anonymous. Should not have been anonymous. But this person is effectively saying that the President of the United States is a national security risk. Period.

CAPUTO: But this is a plot against the President. I believe this op- ed is coordinated with the book, and I believe this is about the mid terms. I believe this is about setting the President up for impeachment. And by trying to keep his base home we lose more Republican seats. The Republicans lose the house, and the President gets impeached. That's what this is about.

BEGALA: It's getting a little far ahead.

CAPUTO: No, I mean not far ahead for me.

BEGALA: What we really ought to be talking about, the President ought to be talking about, and his senior aides in the cabinet are is he in fact unfit? Is he a narcissist? Is he amoral? Is he in the words of the secretary of the treasury an idiot? The secretary of state call him f-ing moron, his national security adviser --

CAPUTO: Allegedly.

BEGALA: -- a dope, reportedly and in published accounts. That General Kelly apparently denies it, but he apparently called him an idiot. His lawyer Jay Sekulow is quoted in the Woodward book calling him a pathological liar. These are big things. And that's we ought to be talking about the anonymity of this person I think gives Trump a huge cudgel to --


BEGALA: -- stir up all this deep state nonsense. So there is a coup going on.

CAPUTO: There is a coup going on.

BEGALA: The bigger question, is the President fit to lead the greatest country on God's earth? And I think the evidence is no

CAPUTO: I believe -- I agree with "Esquire" and "The Atlantic" that this is a coup. I never thought I'd say I agree with "The Atlantic" or "Esquire", but this is a coup. That's what this is. It's an administrative coup. It's a soft coup. It's a kooky coup, whatever you want to think it is. Coup coup kachoo. But here's the thing, this is about -- this about impeachment, this is about getting rid of president and these betrayers should stand up and be counted and get lost.

BORGER: But don't you think this could Donald Trump could go out there now and say my enemies want to get me.

BEGALA: Right.

BORGER: Get out there and vote for me in the midterm elections.

BEGALA: Right.

BORGER: And this could help him if he turns it around. So that I don't believe that's the motive. I believe the motive is more pure than you believe.

CAPUTO: That's not the kind of help we need.

COOPER: Let's thank everybody.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is working into the evening tonight as it hears from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh a day two of hearings. Coming up, how the day went, and will comes next.


[20:45:37] COOPER: As you know, the Senate Judiciary Committee is still at work tonight. Senators questioning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Each senator has been given half an hour for questions. The day's been long. It's not quite over yet. At one point South Carolina's Lindsey Graham asked Kavanaugh about Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to an abortion.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Can you sit down with five -- you and four other judges and overrule Roe v. Wade just because you want to?

BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Senator, Roe v. Wade is an important precedent in the Supreme Court that we affirmed.

GRAHAM: Don't you have to have a case?


GRAHAM: What are you doing for lunch? Let's overrule Roe v. Wade. It doesn't work that way, right?

KAVANAUGH: I see what you're asking, Senator. Right. There's -- there's -- the way cases come up to us in that context or another context would be the laws. This is a precedent that has been reaffirmed many times over 45 years, including in Planned Parenthood versus Casey where they specifically considered whether to overrule and reaffirm and apply to all the stare decisis factors that importantly became precedent unprecedented in this context. But you look at -- there are factors you look at whether you're considering any precedent.

GRAHAM: So there is a process in place that the court has followed for a very long time? Is that correct?

KAVANAUGH: That is correct, Senator.


COOPER: Joining me now is CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, former federal prosecutor Anne Milgram, Carrie Severino, chief counsel for Judicial Crisis Network and former Congressman Charlie Dent.

Jeff, you said abortion would be legal in many states if Kavanaugh is confirmed. I'm wondering what you make of that response?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think I'm right. I think -- you know, that statement is true that Roe v. Wade has been reaffirmed for many years, but Donald Trump promised during the campaign that if the he has the chance to appoint two justices to the Supreme Court, there are already four votes to overturn it. Anthony Kennedy was a vote to uphold Roe v. Wade. I think this is a done deal. There will be states very soon in the next couple of months that will pass laws not limiting abortion, outlawing abortion, South Dakota, Mississippi, Alabama. Those cases will go up and they will be upheld.

COOPER: I mean --

TOOBIN: You know, elections have consequences. Donald Trump promised this. He will deliver it COOPER: It was interesting because Anne, Lindsey Graham was saying,

well, it's not just like you do this over lunch. You have to have a case. To Jeff's point, that will be cases.

ANNE MILGRAM, FRM FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Jeff's right. I mean this is probably already in the works, and even if they don't already overrule the exact precedent of Roe v. Wade, they I believe will allow a huge number of restrictions and regulations on it. So, I agree with Jeff. I think it's likely that they will overrule Roe, but even if they don't they will be able to significantly I think cut back on the protections that it's offered. And state after state I think will come forward that are interested in doing that.

COOPER: Carrie, though Kavanaugh assert that he understood the significance obviously of the issue and he said he would respect the Supreme Court's precedent on precedent saying, I don't live in a bubble. I understand. I live in the real world. What does that mean to you?

CARRIE SEVERINO, CHIEF COUNSEL, JUDICIAL CRISIS NETWORK: Well he understands that there are -- every justice of the Supreme Court knows that some precedents get overruled, and there is principles you follow to determine when to do that, and he understands what those are. But, you know, at the end of the day, what we saw here is a judge who takes the cases as they come to him and tries to analyze the fact and the law in each particular case.

So he is not prejudging the case, is that he should to protect the independents to court, I think he is going to take the case and decide, you know, the cases that come. I think it's very premature to predict that I think Chief Justice Roberts is really the swing vote here on that issue. And, you know, we've been -- people have been speculating since Kennedy and O'Conner and Souter were confirmed that they would be the next vote. So, you know, that's all speculation. What we see is 12 years in the courts applying the law faithfully. And I think that's what we continue to see from Kavanaugh today.

TOOBIN: The only people who don't think Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned are people like Carrie who have been fighting for years to get Roe v. Wade overturned. I mean look, you know, that -- this is the great cause of the conservative movement. They got their justices. This is what they're going to deliver. I mean, all of the sudden --

SEVERINO: They said that in the '80s. They said that about Justice O'Connor, they said that about Justice Kennedy and Souter. They're the ones who wrote the case upholding it. You know, I'm just saying you're making a speculation.

COOPER: Congressman Dent, how do you see it?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well look, I actually voted to support abortion rights as a member of Congress. And I'm not so convinced that this justice or that the court will overturn Roe v. Wade. As you said, we heard about O'Conner, we heard about Kennedy and we're hearing it again. [20:50:06] I think it should be lawful and legal. Legislatures and Congress are always attempting to pass laws are attempting to pass laws that restrict -- further restrict the woman's right to choose. The 20-week abortion bill, for example. That ban and others. So my own view, I think it's just too hard to predict what they're going to do. Who thought that John Roberts was going to be the vote to uphold Obamacare? I didn't -- we all got it wrong.

MILGRAM: One of the things that came out today, though, and I thought Senator Whitehouse actually did a very good job of showing how often Judge Kavanaugh has voted with conservative amicus that have been provided to the D.C. circuit, and it's 90%. And so I don't think anyone should -- we knew this before. We didn't really learn anything new today. But there's no question that he is going to be a far right conservative and that his opinions and his votes are going to be consistent with that. And I don't think that that's a surprise, but I thought it was effective that Senator Whitehouse went through it today.

SEVERINO: Yes, I would say if you look at his record on the court, though, the numbers were presented in a way that -- you know, there's all sorts of ways to lie with statistics. If you look at his track record on the D.C. circuit, it's almost identical the number of times he was in agreement with Republican-appointed colleagues versus Democrat-appointed colleagues. But you know, it's not --

MILGRAM: And there's certainly not amicus in every case as well. So I understand that.

SEVERINO: There's amicus on both sides in all these cases. And so the idea of presenting this as a conspiracy theory, that's tin foil --


COOPER: Let's hold this. We're going to continue this conversation in a moment. I just want to quickly check in with Chris, see what he's working on for "CUOMO PRIME TIME" at the top of the hour. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It was just getting good.

COOPER: Well, I know. But I've got to do the promo. You don't want to do the promo I'm happy to back the conversation.

CUOMO: Well, I'll weigh in and you can go back, you know.


CUOMO: A general point that I find as a statement of frustration and disgust is I don't see anywhere in the canon of judicial independence where the judge can't tell you anything about how they feel about any of the questions that you ask them in specific. You know, everybody relies on that as a prophylactic, we allow all the judges to do it and you wind up not knowing, and they all get on the bench forever and they all of a sudden have a bent.

So -- also, I didn't like that we didn't hear from Kavanaugh about Mr. Guttenberg specifically. He talked about people with that kind of loss generally. He kind of fumbled with an answer about understanding those problems because he grew up in one of the murder capitals of America, which he didn't. He didn't grow up in Washington, D.C. he grew up in Bethesda. And I thought he should have handled that better. Those were my two takeaways.

COOPER: All right, Chris, we'll see you in a few minutes. Eight minutes from now on your show.

Just ahead more on the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. What he said about prosecuting a sitting President. More with the panel.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the first question --



[20:56:25] COOPER: The Senate Judiciary Committee's working into the night on day two of the hearings into Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. Earlier Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal asked the nominee whether he'd recuse himself from cases involving the President who picked him.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I would like your commitment that you will recuse yourself if there is an issue involving his criminal or civil liability coming before the United States Supreme Court.

KAVANAUGH: To be consistent with the principle of independence of the judiciary, I should not and may not make a commitment about how I would handle a particular case.


COOPER: Back now with our folks. Congressman, should he recuse himself?

DENT: No. Unless -- he's been a judge for the past 12 years. Unless he's perhaps deciding on a case that he ruled on previously. Then maybe he should recuse himself. Or had he worked in the administration or worked for this President directly, then I could understand there would be reason for recusal. But I can't imagine why he should recuse himself in this manner. I'm surprised Senator Blumenthal would ask that as a former --

COOPER: OK, Jeff --

TOOBIN: I think that's right. I mean, every judge --

COOPER: Gets appointed --


TOOBIN: -- is nominated by some President. And, you know, that is just the nature of the system. And that alone is not -- you know, Elena Kagan recused herself because she was solicitor general. She prepared some of the case that's were going when she worked for Obama and then Obama nominated her. With Kavanaugh I mean he's just a judge, he's appointed, nominated. If he's confirmed I don't see any reason for him to recuse himself.

COOPER: Carrie, earlier today the President -- I mean Kavanaugh said nobody as above the law. He wouldn't say, though, that if President Trump pardoned himself whether that would be --

SEVERINO: Well, I think that clearly falls into this whole range which every President, whatever Chris Cuomo would think, every president or every sitting justice knows that you can't rule on a case or you can't say how you'd rule on a case that's likely to come before the court. The good news is we have Kavanaugh's record and that's really the best way to judge him. After being appointed by President Bush he was on the bench for two and half more years the Bush administration. In that short period of time he ruled against the Bush administration eight times, against their -- his Bush's agencies 15 times, including really important major issues like the Hondan case which had to do for the tribunals for enemy combatants.

So he's not afraid to stand up to the President who appointed him. We've seen that already. And that should give everything, I think. I think a lot of reassurance that he's someone who's independent.

COOPER: But Carrie, should he be able to answer a hypothetical question about whether the President can pardon himself?

MILGRAM: I mean look, I find it stunning that we listened to hours and hours of testimony today and learned virtually nothing. I mean, it is really -- it's almost to the point of if I asked Jeff would you like a cup of coffee he would say to me that's a hypothetical question, I'll -- you know, figure it out in 10 minutes. Its like every single thing was -- this is a hypothetical. And so I find it incredibly frustrating. I think the American public deserves to know more from both sides of the aisle when they go before --

COOPER: So what's the point of these hearings?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean there -- you know, Chuck Schumer wrote an article several years ago saying that they don't have a purpose, that that, you know, nominees have learned how to stonewall. And, you know, I think he learn a little bit. You get a sense of, you know, how they approach cases. But it's their prior record and who chose them and why is really the key here.

The testimony is not terribly illuminating.

COOPER: I want to thank everyone.

TOOBIN: But very long. COOPER: A quick reminder, don't miss "Full Circle" our daily interactive newscast on Facebook. You pick some of the stories we cover. Join us each weekday night 6:25 p.m. eastern at, all one word.

News continues right now. I want to hand it over to Chris. "CUOMO PRIME TIME" starts now. Chris?