Return to Transcripts main page


Ayanna Pressley Defeats 10-Term Dem Congressman in Primary; Trump, White House Try to Discredit Explosive New Woodward Book. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 5, 2018 - 06:00   ET



AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: It seems like change is on the wave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The blue wave took out a very blue member of Congress for a bluer one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Women and minorities are coming out in huge numbers this primary season.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People in the White House recognize the risk of this president, and they're trying to protect this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he's got a president with Sessions, just fire him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This book is not so much fake news as it's old news.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You couldn't have a portrait of someone that's more unfit for the office of president.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, September 5, 6 a.m. here in New York. Six o'clock comes fast when we have breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, especially when your book club assignments get longer and longer overnight.

CAMEROTA: That's what's happening. And we do have breaking news overnight. Another progressive candidate pulls off a political stunner. This time in Massachusetts. Boston City Counselor Ayanna Pressley defeating a ten-term Democratic congressman. Pressley is now poised to become the state's first black woman in Congress.

She is the latest in a liberal insurgency that has Democratic voters opting for younger more diverse candidates. Is this a different kind of a blue wave?

BERMAN: So how big is the news from Boston? Wicked big.

Also wicked big, "Fear" and loathing inside the White House. Actually, loathing over "Fear." Maybe also fear over "Fear."

CAMEROTA: Oh, my God.

BERMAN: "Fear" is the title of the explosive new book by one of the world's leading journalists, Bob Woodward. The book paints a picture of a White House in crisis, with West Wing officials literally trying to protect the nation from President Trump.

Some of the highlights, or low lights, in the book: chief of staff John Kelly quoted as referring to the White House as "Crazytown"; Defense Secretary James Mattis quoted as saying the president has the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader; the president quoted as calling Attorney General Jeff Sessions "mentally retarded" and "a dumb Southerner."

This morning there are denials about all of this, but remember, Woodward has a pretty stellar track record.

Also, new revelations about what the president calls his biggest mistake.

We have it all covered. We're going to start in the commonwealth, the hub, the center of the universe. CNN's Miguel Marquez live in Massachusetts -- Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wow, what an absolute stunner last night. And this is a race that shocked everybody, including the candidate herself. This race has been tested two times, once in February and in August by pollsters. Michael Capuano, 20 years in Congress, had been up by 12 points and then 13 points just a few weeks ago.

She pulled off almost a 20-point victory over him, getting people out that just don't vote in areas of her district in Boston and in the surrounding areas that just responded to her story. The raised by a single mother, the victim of sexual assault and a survivor of sexual assault.

A friend was with her at the moment that she got the word that Michael Capuano, very early in the night, was conceding.


PRESSLEY: We won? We won? We won? We won! Oh my God!


MARQUEZ: Now, this race had been compared to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, that defeated a longtime incumbent, a very powerful member of Congress. It wasn't. Ayanna Pressley was -- she was sort of a centrist Democrat or progressive, but she was running against a progressive who took the race very seriously. She was also involved in politics for a long time. She was a council person on the city council here in Boston. She'd worked in Democratic politics for a long time. So this was somebody known to Democratic establishment. She ran as an outsider and just an impressive, impressive victory last night -- John, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. Thank you, Miguel. Thank you very much for all of that. We have a lot of names we're juggling this morning.

Let's bring in CNN senior political analyst John Avlon; CNN senior writer and analyst, who predicted the win, Harry Enten; and CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip. Great to have all of you.

Harry, did you predict this win?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: Well, I will say I went to Don Lemon's executive producer as soon as the polls closed, and I realized what was going on and went and said, "You better keep an eye out on this race." We didn't want to have a situation like last week, where we were so taken aback by Gillum.

CAMEROTA: But how did you know when the polls closed that she was going to win?

ENTEN: The first votes that came in were from outside of Boston, and she was running very neck and neck. And we knew that Pressley was going to do particularly well inside of Boston, because she has been a longtime city councilwoman there. And so when she was close outside of Boston, it's pretty clear she's --

CAMEROTA: The bigger picture is that she ran -- she's a progressive, and she ran against a ten-time -- ten-term incumbent progressive in. So what is the message here, that even if you're a progressive but an incumbent, you're not safe?

ENTEN: Well, I think that's part of it. And yes, Capuano is one of the most liberal members of the House Democratic Caucus. But it's more than that. This is a majority minority district.

She is a minority. She's an African-American woman. Michael Capuano is a white man, and to be a white man in Democratic primaries this year has simply not been a recipe for success. The Democratic base, which is women, and it's increasingly minority women, want people in Congress to represent them who look like them.

BERMAN: We thank you for all of that. And as much as I would like to make this about the commonwealth of Massachusetts and, really, everything about the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

I think this is something much bigger. And Abby, as I look at this and I look what the Democratic Party is doing, and increasingly, female candidates, minority candidates are winning in these contested elections. It makes me wonder where things will go in 2020. [06:05:04] We have a field of Democratic contenders vying for the

primary. What does this tell you about what Democratic primary voters might want going forward?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems pretty clear that Democrats are trying to elect people who look more like their constituents, who look more like the districts that they're trying to serve.

The commonality between Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is that they are people who were able to topple longtime incumbents, who may have voted in a way that their district liked over the years but had come to not look like their district in some key ways, not have the sort of background that their voters identify with.

And this has been a tension for Democrats for quite some time, but it really became -- it really became a huge issue even at the national stage in 2016 when, you know, I was on the campaign trail as a reporter hearing from a lot of minority Democrats, many of whom may not have voted in that race, to Hillary Clinton's detriment, that they wanted their party to be more responsive to them.

So I think in some ways, the Democratic Party is heeding that message, but they're doing it in the districts where they can afford to and the districts that are not likely to flip for Republican s. And you're not necessarily seeing -- with the exception of Andrew Gillum in Florida, which is a huge, huge race, but you're seeing these things happening in places where Democrats are having this conversation amongst themselves, not necessarily in the places where they are then going up against Republicans in the fall in districts that might be more purple or might be more on the margin.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But let's just take a look at the last two big races. Andrew Gillum in Florida, the polling had him at 16 percent in the most recent poll before, and he won in a crowded field with almost twice that. The WBUR poll in Boston had her -- had Pressley trailing Capuano by around 12 or 13 points in early August, basically the same as it was in February.

So there's no question the energy's on the progressive populist left, but it's also not being fully picked up in polls. And that is -- not only is it just a coming attraction of where the Democratic Party is headed, but for the remaining primaries that are there. Whether that will translate to general election wins, in Pressley's case, there is no general election. Literally.

CAMEROTA: Harry, I see that as your fault.

ENTEN: Keep blaming me. My mother blames me.

CAMEROTA: I blame you, because you crunched the numbers. You look at the polls, and look, you and I have talked about this before. American -- many voters do not trust the polls right now. And when you have a, you know, that he -- that she's 12 points behind the incumbent but then she wins, explain. ENTEN: Sure. I mean, look, Steve Casella, who ran that poll out of

Boston is a pollster, and that poll was taken a month ago. That said, I do think there was probably some uncaptured momentum that she had in the final days, even if there was a poll that was taken.

Look, polls are imperfect. Polls are especially imperfect in primary seasons, and that's why we have to be careful when we're talking about the fall campaign. We have to speak about a margin of error.

You know, if a Democrat's ahead by four, a Republican's ahead by four, that's far from a guaranteed victory, especially in a midterm election with turnout, turnout, turnout.

BERMAN: I really don't think this is a polling story. I think this is a momentum story where the energy is in the party story. And if the poll had been taken three days ago, I think you would have seen a different story in Massachusetts.

I am fascinated about what this means in a general election. Abby did touch on this before. Really, the one race where this matters -- every race matters -- but in Florida, Andrew Gillum, you have someone that won this type of primary and is now facing a contested general election.

I just want to tell people that we have some visibility on where this race stands right now. This from Quinnipiac. He's actually leading the Republican Ron DeSantis, the Trump-like congressman there. But really close. I mean, it's within the margin of error.

But the question, Abby, and we don't know the answer yet, is how will these more progressive candidates do in the fall. Do you have a sense of how the White House and Republicans feel about facing more progressive candidates?

PHILLIP: Well, I think Harry's or your point earlier is correct. It's about energy. This is about how much are these candidates, someone like Andrew Gillum, going to motivate people who might not normally vote in a gubernatorial race to come out and do that?

But he also has to do that in addition to motivating more generic gubernatorial voters. So he's going to have to do both things simultaneously. And I think that's why there's some uncertainty here on the part of Republicans about what's going to happen in races like this, because they're not seeing the same kind of energy on their end of the ledger.

And one of the things that they know really well is that, you know, Donald Trump surprised them, because a lot of people who they didn't expect to come out and vote did come out and vote, especially in places like Florida, where in some cases, Donald Trump's margin was so narrow. Because you had a lot of white rural voters coming out to the ballots.

And I think if Democrats see that on the other side, that is not going to be a good sign for Republicans. But that being said, I think the party is really clear-eyed about this problem. The only person who may be not is President Trump himself.

[06:10:13] CAMEROTA: All right. Thank you, Abby, Harry, John, very much. Obviously, we'll be covering all the developments still to come.

BERMAN: No one happier that we're talking about a primary race in Massachusetts, no one happier than President Donald Trump this morning.

The president and his inner circle trying desperately to discredit Bob Woodward over his damning new book portraying a chaotic presidency on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Those are the words inside the book.

CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, she's read the book. She joins us now live from Washington with much more, and there is much more -- Jamie.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So one of the things we have talked about, the papers being stolen. We've talked about the Russia investigation. But we also, for the first time, get a glimpse behind the scenes of what was going on about Charlottesville. How the White House staff got President Trump to come out, clean up his remarks.

You see former staff secretary Rob Porter in the White House residence on his laptop, convincing the president to change his remarks. The president is reluctant. He says, "I don't know. This doesn't feel right to me." He gives that speech. We've sort of described it. He looks grim, hostage-y.

He comes off the air, and what we now know, according to Woodward's book, is what does he do? He goes up to the residence. He turns on the television, and FOX News, Kevin Corke, the correspondent, says the president just made a course correction.

What happens? President Trump goes ballistic. He explodes and says, "That was the biggest f-ing mistake I've ever made. You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn't do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?"

And so we now know that was what was behind the thoughts he was having, according to Woodward's book, when he goes to Trump Tower and doubles down.

And the other thing that Woodward reports is the fallout from the Trump Tower speech, which is that the staff was so upset that chief of staff John Kelly is reported in the book to have been saying that he was afraid he might lose a third of the cabinet, John.

CAMEROTA: It is fascinating, Jamie, to hear the back story behind these moments --

GANGEL: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- that we've all watched play out on TV and in public and to hear the back story. So how does Bob Woodward describe the relationship between the president and some of those top aides. GANGEL: so I think that we have seen the president, obviously, attack

people on Twitter when he gets angry. We've seen him go after Jeff Sessions. We've seen him go after John Kelly, but the level of his attacks is different.

So for example, we know that, according to the book, that he's called Jeff Sessions mentally retarded, a dumb Southerner. This is beyond the pale, I mean, even by Trump standards.

And the other thing that I think is even more shocking is what his closest advisors -- Woodward is reporting on his inner circle, and just to go through a couple of those, Woodward reports chief of staff John Kelly says he's an idiot and says the president is unhinged. Defense Secretary James Mattis says, according to Woodward, that the president has the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader.

Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, according to Woodward, confirms the report that we heard earlier that he says after meeting at the Defense Department that the president is, quote, an "F-ing moron."

And there's more. Former economic advisor Gary Cohn, according to Woodward, is quoted as calling the president a professional liar. And last but not least, John Dowd, the president's former personal attorney, according to Woodward, said that the president is an "F-ing liar."

I think that we have seen a lot of reporting from day one about chaos and dysfunction. What's different about Woodward's book is these are not the president's critics. These are not Democrats. These are not "never Trumpers." This is his inner circle.

CAMEROTA: All right. Jamie, stay with us, if you would, because we're going to have much more on Bob Woodward's book and the claims in it, about the White House and many of the alarm bells that it raises, including a report that senior aides actually stole documents off the president's desk to basically protect him from himself.

[06:15:00] BERMAN: Or protect the country --

CAMEROTA: And protect them.

BERMAN: -- from the president. I mean, that's really the main claim in this book, which is astounding.


BERMAN: President Trump and the White House pushing back on explosive claims about the chaos and dysfunction inside the White House from a new book from one of the country's most respected journalists, Bob Woodward.

Let's bring back Jamie Gangel. Also joining us, David Gregory; and here with us in New York, Joe Lockhart, former White House press secretary for Bill Clinton. I think one of the themes -- not the only one to take. There's a lot

of people reading these excerpts and thinking this. One of the themes in this book are these West Wing staffers, key presidential advisors, saying out loud that they feel as if they are protecting the country from the president of the United States.

CAMEROTA: And by the way, that's what was long suspected, or people, you know, who were not President Trump supporters were saying, "Well, let's hope there's adults around him who can box him in and are keeping the country safe." And now that's what this book seems to illustrate.

BERMAN: With quotes. With quotes, including from Gary Cohn, who was the president's chief financial advisor. Gary Cohn is quoted as saying -- he's talking about a document he didn't want signed.

So he says, "I stole it off of his desk. I wouldn't let him see it. He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country." Don't get much more explicit than that.

Then Rob Porter, who was the staff secretary, said, "A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he had and try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren't such good ideas."

[06:20:07] David Gregory, interesting that that's how these people who work inside the White House see their roles.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I just think we have to underline something, because we've reported so much on chaos and deceit and unprecedented events in this West Wing, we do have to take a minute and just talk about how completely novel, and unprecedented, and disturbing this is. I mean, there's palace intrigue in White House staffs. There's competing power centers. There's dysfunction. But this is of a different order and magnitude.

And you know, we've had past presidents -- I mean, Joe worked for President Clinton, who lacked foreign policy experience. Certainly, George W. Bush lacked foreign policy experience, which is why Dick Cheney was selected and was seen as such an important influencer in that role. Joe Biden was shoring up Barack Obama, who lacked foreign policy experience.

But in this case, you have two things. You have advisors who are fearful for -- about the consequences of a presidential directive, and you have an extraordinarily top-down White House where you have a president who has an agenda and things he wants to do, and he's really kind of impervious to outside counsel. It's not really a team effort here. It is a kind of cult of personality, him kind of wanting to run roughshod around the world, and advisors trying to hem him in. And that's what's extraordinary about Woodward's reporting.

CAMEROTA: Joe, let's stick with the foreign policy revelations in this.

So there was a moment where President Trump was talking to his policy advisors, and he wanted to know why the U.S. has a presence on the Korean Peninsula. He thought that that was a waste of resources. You know, what this book also highlights, I think, is how often President Trump is focused on money; how often he's focused on how much it will cost the United States, rather than talking about sort of the larger consequences and implications.

So in this case, he didn't understand why troops should be on the Korean Peninsula. And James Mattis is quoted as saying, "We're doing this in order to prevent World War III."

About Syria, and what the struggles are with Syria and Bashar Assad, President Trump is quoted saying to Mattis about Assad, "Well, let's blanking kill him. Let's go in. Let's blanking -- let's kill the blanking lot of them." OK?

So these are his impulses. And in terms of them having to walk him off the ledge, here is what James Mattis now says about this book. He says, "The contemptuous words about the president attributed to me in Woodward's books were never uttered by me or in my presence. While I generally enjoy reading fiction, this is a uniquely Washington brand of literature, and his anonymous sources do not lend credibility."

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, two things. One is all of the denials go to "I didn't use this word or I didn't use that word." No one's denying the underlying story, that it's chaotic, that it's Crazytown, that the president doesn't know what he is doing.

I think David Gregory made a good point, which is no president comes in prepared to run the foreign policy of the lone remaining super power. This president is profoundly ignorant and profoundly set in this idea that only he knows everything. And that he didn't know why we were in Korea -- why would he know that? He was a New York developer. The fact that he's not moving our foreign policy based on his ignorance, as opposed to using the people around him, using the experts, that's dangerous.

BERMAN: Jamie, in other areas, this provides some color. I think some of shading around the margins here of what's going on with the Russia investigation and how the president and his lawyers view this.

You know, John Dowd, the president's former personal attorney, is quoted extensively here. He denies the substance of these quotes, but some of the things he is said to have said to the president: "Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jumpsuit."

There's a whole exchange with the president he apparently had where he tried to have the president sit down for a mock interview to prove that he was incapable of telling the truth.

CAMEROTA: He did have him sit down for a mock interview.

BERMAN: And he was incapable of telling the truth, so Dowd says to -- the president says, "I'll be a real good witness." Trump told Dowd, according to Woodward.

"You're not a good witness," Dowd replied, "Mr. President. I'm afraid I just can't help you." The next morning, Dowd resigned.

Now it's worth noting the news overnight is that maybe the president is less likely than ever to testify before Mueller's special counsel. Apparently, the special counsel might be willing to get it all in written form, or most of it in written form.

But it is interesting that the president's own team thought he was incapable of telling the truth from as far back as last January.

GANGEL: Absolutely. Let's just talk about the denials for a minute from Dowd.

I think it's important to say that Bob Woodward interviewed dozens of people in Trump's inner circle. You know, Watergate, we talked about one Deep Throat. We have dozens of Deep Throats here.

[06:25:04] And even more important, he did hundreds of hours of interviews with almost every one of the people that he interviewed, and he was given documents, personal diaries, meeting notes. And many other of these meetings, there are note takers. And when you read the book and you see the level of detail, you can guess that some of -- that he had some of those notes.

As far as Dowd's denial, I will tell you, having read the book, I don't know. But the level of detail about Dowd interviewing the president, it extensively quotes President Trump. It extensively quotes Robert Mueller. If I was guessing, I would say that was an interview that -- that was recorded, because the details are just so extensive.

GREGORY: It's also, and Jamie knows this so well, what's important to point out is, again, most people outside of Washington may not care, but the way that Bob Woodward does these things is he interviews people. He tapes people. He's very organized. And he comes to the White House and says, "This is basically what I've got."

And most White House staffs ultimately cooperate, because they want to have some impact on the book. Now, there's this controversy about getting to Trump in this case. But they want to have some impact. And so he has them kind of cornered, because he's got so much information.

He also is quoting people on deep background, which in his case means you can tell me whatever you want. I'm not going to use your name. I'm going to assert it as true when I reconstruct these scenes, which makes it easy for sources then to back off and say, "I never used such language. It's all fiction," because there's an extra layer of protection.

I think what this exposes, in part, and we have to remember that this president who goes after the news media as being fake news is himself and surrounded by people who cannot pick up a phone fast enough to talk to the news media. So all the media haters just need to take a moment to absorb that fact, that nobody loves the media more than President Trump and those around him who want to have some impact on the narrative of this administration. CAMEROTA: And it sounds like -- I mean, why they're doing this is

because they've never seen anything like it, David. I mean --

GREGORY: Well, I think that's right. They haven't seen anything like it, and they're legitimately worried. And so, you know, you can take issue, as Joe said, with you know, various words that were used, although I find it strange that General Kelly, who has now been quoted numerous times dismissive of the president, wants to go after the smear-mongers, you know, in the press. I mean, I think he's got to stop and think about, you know, the way he's conducting himself.

The one point I would make that I think maybe is counterintuitive to this, there is -- because -- because this president isn't easily shamed, I think his supporters would argue this would be another action of an area where the president is truly an outsider and is fighting against establishment thinking.

To the point about South Korea. You know, a lot of people would see that and say you're so ignorant. You don't know the basis of foreign policy. Other people might say this is a fresh take on this: why do we have so many troops? Is it a waste of resources? Should we rethink our position in the world?

And there are supporters of the president who would say that's indicative of a mindset that is -- that is refreshing.

CAMEROTA: Definitely, and I think that that's a really valuable point, that he does see it through a different lens. The problem is it's not based on anything. It's just either whatever FOX has just reported, or whatever his sort of gut impulse is. It's not based on history, or it's not based on information.

But I just, to your point, I just want to quickly read the John Kelly quote, OK. Because I think it encapsulates everything that we're talking about.

So John Kelly is quoted in this book as saying, quote, "He's an idiot," referring to the president. 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've ever had."

LOCKHART: I've probably said a few things like that at various times. And that's what happens.

I'll tell -- wait. One other point, which is I don't think Trump is going to lose a single vote from his reporters from this. Where I think this might have an impact, though, is on the midterms. You couple Brett Kavanaugh moving to the Supreme Court where now Trump has five Supreme Court justices on his side, with this book and the Crazytown in the White House, I think the Democratic message that we need a check on Trump is going to be even more powerful. So I think it will have an impact, but I don't expect Trump's numbers to move.

GREGORY: I also don't think -- I think it's bigger than politics. We are living in a time, thank God, of peace and prosperity. Where you worry about this level of deceit and dysfunction is after an attack, after a financial collapse, during a true national security emergency, where presidential decisions matter and are really, really impactful.

BERMAN: All right. David, Jamie, Joe, thank you very, very much. Joe just brought up the Supreme Court confirmation process. A contentious and chaotic start to Brett Kavanaugh's process through the Senate Judiciary Committee. What can we expect on day two? A live report ahead.