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Trump White House Pushes Back on Woodward Book; Progressive Defeats 10-Term Democratic Congressman. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired September 5, 2018 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. MICHAEL CAPUANO (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Ayanna Pressley is going to be a good congresswoman.
[07:00:08] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The surge of energy in the Democratic Party is alive and well here.
AYANNA PRESSLEY (D), CONGRESSIONAL NOMINEE: It's not just good to see the Democrats back in power, but it matters who those Democrats are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president thought it was a mistake to condemn a white supremacist terrorist attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe any of this book. I believe it's a bunch of B.S.
CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST: They see their job as protecting the United States. He is a danger to the republic.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: That would never be sufficient, to tell an investigator he's just not capable of telling the truth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know how one operates in a White House like that.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. Overnight the White House has been facing its biggest fear. In that case, that "Fear" is a book. Much more on that in just a moment.
Also, Democrats facing a new future. A ten-term Democratic incumbent in Massachusetts goes down in a primary. This is showing a different kind of blue wave. A blue wave from within the Democratic Party dominated by women and minorities.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So as Democrats hope for some blue wave in November, the White House, as John said, is filled with fear. And that's the title of this bombshell book by legendary journalist Bob Woodward. It paints a picture of the White House in crisis, with West Wing officials literally trying to protect the country from President Trump.
This morning, President Trump and the White House are fighting back, trying to discredit Bob Woodward. The revelations in this book are reportedly consuming the president.
So joining us now is "Washington Post" reporter Josh Dawsey. He has new reporting on all of this.
Good morning, Josh.
JOSH DAWSEY, "WASHINGTON POST" REPORTER/CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning. How are you?
CAMEROTA: I'm riveted is how I am, because these excerpts from this Woodward book have ripped -- you know, once they started leaking out yesterday afternoon, they were consuming Washington D.C., certainly New York and beyond. So tell us what was happening inside the White House as these excerpts, these explosive excerpts from insiders were leaking out. What was happening inside?
DAWSEY: Well, we at "The Post" published the excerpts around noon, Alisyn, and at first, it didn't seem to be much of a concerted response. But as the afternoon went on, you saw the president direct his administration to mount a far more aggressive response. You saw pushback from James Mattis, the defense secretary; chief of staff John Kelly; Sarah Sanders. A number of officials had put out statements essentially denying what was said by them in the book.
What was happening in the Oval, though, was the president was very angry that so many people had participated in this book. So many of his current and former advisors had given Bob Woodward, seemingly, hours of time. And secondly, that he himself did not participate. The president believes that he is his own best messenger, he can charm anyone. And he was very frustrated that Kellyanne Conway and others around him did not bring the opportunity to him aggressively to get his cooperation in the book.
CAMEROTA: OK, so let's talk about that, because one of the most fascinating elements of all this is this audiotape that Bob Woodward recorded with President Trump. There was a phone call between the two of them. Bob Woodward recorded it --
CAMEROTA: -- and it was him saying how disappointed he was that President Trump hadn't participate and President Trump saying, "I didn't even know about it. I didn't even know. Nobody brought it to me."
Bob Woodward then says, "Well, Kellyanne Conway, I spoke to Kellyanne Conway, and I asked her to bring it to you."
And President Trump says I didn't know anything about it. And at that moment, Kellyanne Conway walks into the Oval Office and is confronted by President Trump about this. So let's listen to a snippet of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via phone): He said that he told you about speaking to me, but you never told me. Why didn't you tell me?
BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST/AUTHOR: Remember two and a half months ago you came over, and I laid out I wanted to talk to the president? And you said you would get back to me?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: I do, and I put in the request, but you know, it was rejected. I can only take it so far.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: OK. So Josh, the president now says that he would have wanted to participate. So what's your reporting on what was happening behind the scenes there?
DAWSEY: Well, there were a number of startling moments in that call, Alisyn. One, that Kellyanne Conway, who has access to the Oval Office, and is often in there, ostensibly did not tell the president, that a number of his staff did not tell him.
You hear him say in the call, "Some of them are scared of me. They don't -- they don't tell me things. They're scared of me." And that the president, a number of people speak for him, he says on the call. "I don't really talk to them."
It was -- it was one of those calls with the president for minutes and minutes and minutes goes on about how was frustrated that he wasn't interviewed, that he didn't know about it, that "you can just call my office." He seems to work under this perception that anyone can just call the president's office, and they patch him through and talk to the president. And that's not really how the White House works.
But you hear kind of the gnawing anger in his voice, and he's saying, "I've had several books written about me that I thought were very negative." Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury," the Omarosa Manigault Newman; and this is going to be another bad book.
And Bob Woodward says, you know, "I have hundreds of hours of tapes. I've talked to almost everyone around you."
And the president's first reaction is, "OK, so it's going to be another bad book."
CAMEROTA: Yes, but maybe -- it sounds to me if Kellyanne Conway is saying that she ran it by the press office, the communications office. Maybe they were all trying to keep him from sitting down with Bob Woodward. Maybe they were trying to save the president.
CAMEROTA: Maybe they were afraid of him sitting down and what he would say to Bob Woodward, even if he wanted to.
Is this an example, as you see it, of them, his top aides, trying to keep him from his impulses?
DAWSEY: Well, I think chief of staff John Kelly has made very clear inside the White House that he does not want participation in these tell-all books, and he doesn't want the president to be participating.
We know and we've reported and others have, too, that there's been extensive efforts to limit the information that comes to his desk, curb the meetings that he has. Essentially, you know, as we saw Gary Cohn, as former national economic advisor, in the book say yesterday, take certain papers off his desk so he doesn't sign them.
I think this was -- this was a case where the president's proclivities for a journalist like Bob Woodward is probably to participate. He's done several interviews with Bob Woodward over the years. He seems to like Bob Woodward. You heard some fondness in that call.
But the people around him, I think talked about Woodward, some of them had, and they kind of knew which way this book was heading. And I don't think they wanted him to participate.
There was one other moment in the call, Alisyn, that I thought was fascinating, where Bob Woodward says it will be accurate, and the president says, "Well, accurate is saying that I'm the best -- I'm doing the best job ever. I'm the best president ever," essentially. And it kind of shows you the lens through which he sees the world.
CAMEROTA: Yes, the different interpretations of accurate, because this book does not show that this is the best president ever. So we appreciate your reporting on how the president is now reacting to all of these revelations.
Josh, thank you very much.
BERMAN: You know, Josh Dawsey, master of understatement. There were a number of startling moments in that call, he says with a straight face right there. For the record, I also think that what the reporting seems to indicate is that Kellyanne Conway was suggesting it was chief of staff John Kelly who was spiking this interview.
BERMAN: She is the communications staff, you know, and she seemed to be placing the blame over there.
CAMEROTA: She's one of his top counsellors, right? But who knows -- look, I can imagine there being a meeting, where everybody said, "Should President Trump sit down with Bob Woodward?" and them all saying no. And him saying, the president wishing that he had. I think those two things could both have happened.
BERMAN: And we also know Lindsey Graham did talk to the president about it. So he knew about this.
CAMEROTA: He mentioned it, yes.
BERMAN: And so the president knew about it.
All right. Joining us to discuss much more, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel; CNN political analyst David Gregory; and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Jamie, you have raid the entire book, and what jumps out to me -- and I think what jumps out to so many people, again -- is the idea that there are people who are close to the president telling us that they are protecting the country from the president.
And we've done the Gary Cohn quote, where he steals a paper off his desk. He says, "He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country."
Rob Porter saying, "A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he had." And the theme pervades this entire work.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And another thing that Rob Porter says is the book was that they were constantly sort of teetering on the edge of something going wrong.
That is the theme throughout this book. Woodward reports this just constant fear that the president, bluntly, was a danger to national security; that he didn't understand what was going on. We hear, you know, chief of staff John Kelly has now denied saying that he called the president, quote, "an idiot." But there are other quotes that Woodward has that he has not denied, where he says that the president is unhinged, has dangerous impulses, is erratic. So this is something you see throughout the book.
CAMEROTA: Jeffrey Toobin, in your wheelhouse, of course, the legal issues that crop up in this book.
So one of the things that Bob Woodward is reporting is that, on January 27, the president's attorney, John Dowd, staged a mock sit- down between President Trump and Robert Mueller, in which it sounds like John Dowd played Robert Mueller. Dowd asked questions of President Trump, who responded with, quote, "stumbles, contradictions, and lies before eventually losing his cool." And it was then decided -- I mean, according to the book, that John Dowd told Mueller this basically cannot happen -- told President Trump this cannot happen, and Mueller.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, this is actually consistent with my own reporting on what's -- what's gone on here. But of course, Bob Woodward is Bob Woodward, and I trust him implicitly. And I think every word in this book is true.
In terms of the interview, this is what lawyers do. They look at their clients with a remorseless eye, and they say can I put this person in front of the prosecution. I don't think anything in this book -- it's all shocking, but it's not
surprising. Does anyone really think that Donald Trump just doesn't behave this way? Of course he behaves this way. This is just a richer more detailed portrait, and the lawyer said, "The hell with this. We ae not putting this guy in front of Bob -- in front of Robert Mueller's staff when a false statement could get him impeached or indicted. It's just totally believable.
GREGORY: Jeffrey started to stay that we're not putting this guy in front of Bob Woodward, which is actually, I think, what the decision was.
GREGORY: Which is because it's very similar.
You know, Bob Woodward did a book during the Bush years called "Bush at War," where Bush did do an interview, and it was taped, and that was part of a "60 Minutes" story and all the rest.
But it was largely more favorable, because the White House, I think, had a different kind of narrative that they were telling, and they were comfortable with it. In this case, I'm sure Trump wanted to cooperate with Woodward, but a decision was made that it would just be horrible.
TOOBIN: Maybe one of the reasons the portray was more favorable is that the Bush White House was not Crazytown.
GREGORY: Yes, that's part of it.
TOOBIN: I think the substance matters here. That the fact is, this is what the White House is actually like, and it's not a matter of, you know, spin or how you portray it or who gives an interview.
TOOBIN: What matters is it really is Crazytown.
BERMAN: I will note -- hang on, guys. It's not inconsistent either -- and granted I'm not comparing Bob Woodward with Michael Wolff or Omarosa. But it's not inconsistent with the themes of their books. It's not inconsistent with the themes from the beat reporters that we rely on every day to tell us what's in there. And to that extent, I agree with Jeffrey Toobin. You know, it's shocking to read, but it's not surprising.
I do think it's notable the areas where the White House has tried to push back. Because I think it tells you what they're most concerned about, or at least what he's most concerned about.
They've had Mattis and Kelly respond to, basically, the claims that the president is stupid. And they've tried to refute those directly.
They also have pushed back, the president put out a release about the comments about Jeff Sessions. Let me read you what the book says the president has said about Jeff Sessions: "'This guy is mentally retarded. He's this dumb Southerner.' Trump has come to resent Sessions for other reasons, gripping to aides and lawmakers -- griping to aides that the attorney general doesn't have the Ivy League pedigree that the president prefers. He can't stand his Southern accent. 'He talks like he has marbles in his mouth.'"
That second quote actually from "Politico." So you have two different stories saying the same thing here. Jamie, not only is this statement from the president offensive to Southerners, it's also offensive to people who really backed him with enormous numbers.
GANGEL: So let's start calling someone mentally retarded? That is beyond the pale. Calling someone a dumb Southerner? You know, I don't know how his base is going to feel about that, but I can't imagine that that's going to go over well.
We also had President Trump tweeted late last night about well, what Bob Woodward said about Jeff Sessions. And we were laughing when we saw it. We said, "It took Bob Woodward to get Donald Trump to say something, at least semi-nice about Jeff Sessions."
But the theme throughout the book that I think people will see when it comes out next week that's stunning is this national security theme. The fact that they have to go to President Trump and say, you know, "Twitter could start World War Three," or that when all else fails, they bring Defense Secretary Mattis over to the White House to,, in effect, stage an intervention to tell the president you can't do something. And when that fails, they swipe documents off his desk.
GREGORY: Well, and I think what's just as startling is the glimpse of how the White House works. First of all, to your point, John, right, this is consistent. There are a lot of current and former people around this president who can't get on a phone fast enough to do an interview with a journalist chronicling what it's like to be in the Trump White House. That's how much dysfunction and deceit there is around this president. That should be really alarming to people, because if we were not in a time of relative peace and prosperity, if we were in the middle of a real financial or national security crisis, this could be even more impactful than just the impact that it's having so far.
[07:15:00] It also tells us that this president is really isolated and how top-down policy making, decision making and agenda setting this is. This is not really a team effort. This is a president who has certain beliefs, whether they're informed or not, who is driving policy in the White House.
And so much of his advisory around him is about retraining those impulses. Some people will see that as the president isolated and trying to do the right thing and being restrained by the deep state and the establishment. I think many other people will look at it as just an alarming situation in terms of how the country's being run.
CAMEROTA: One of the really interesting parts, Jeffrey, is hearing the back story of the messaging about Charlottesville. So first the president, as you know, came out and suggested that there were good people on both sides, and that both sides were to blame, meaning the neo-Nazis and the people protesting the neo-Nazis.
And then he came out and gave a more sort of moderate response to that, and then he came out of Trump Tower and said, "No, no, no, there's good people on both sides."
So why the boomeranging messaging? Well, now we know from behind the scenes what was happening, where it was his staff, I believe Rob Porter, who tried to get him to say something more rational. And then here's what it says in the book, "That was the biggest F-ing mistake I've made. You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn't do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?"
Jamie Gangel reported last hour that that was after watching something on FOX News, where one of the correspondents said that he had course corrected. So it's just really interesting to see behind the scenes how everyone, again, was sort of trying to save him from himself.
TOOBIN: And what was the subject of Charlottesville? It was race. What are Donald Trump's instincts? Her [SIC] instincts are always to side against black people. And he -- the one time he tried to sort of modulate and say that the white supremacists, the KKK people were bad, he regretted it.
I mean, it's constant with this president. It's always the same direction with race. Why is he attacking LeBron James? Why is he attacking the NFL players? Why is he attacking Don Lemon, Maxine Waters? It's all consistent. His instincts are to exacerbate racial tensions and to side with white over black.
BERMAN: Hey, Jeffrey, while we have you, Counsellor, can I ask you something not unrelated to this book? Because we've learned a lot about the negotiations over a possible interview of President Trump by the special counsel's team, but we learned overnight from our reporting -- it's also in "The New York Times" -- that Robert Mueller responded to the president's lawyers and their latest, you know, offer of how the president would talk, and now the special counsel might be more amenable to just written questions on Russian collusion alone, with no mention of obstruction.
Where do you see this going? What signs do you see there?
TOOBIN: Well, you know, they both have -- have in some respects, similar agendas here. Both want to get this story over with. But Trump -- but Mueller really wants to talk to Trump. So he is willing to compromise in part on written answers, which is basically useless, because everyone knows they're written by lawyers, not by the -- note by the subject involved.
So he's willing to sacrifice some of the written -- the oral conversation, but he still needs to get Trump under oath. And it's related to this book, though. Any chance -- not under oath, I'm sorry. Just any sort of interview. But as this book illustrates, Trump's lawyers are terrified of putting him in a law enforcement situation. And I still think, when push comes to shove, there will be no interview here, and that will leave Mueller with the very difficult question of whether to issue a subpoena and start a multi-month legal fight that could drag on well into next year.
BERMAN: Well, Jeffrey, David, Jamie, thank you very much.
Other major news overnight, a real primary stunner in Massachusetts. Ayanna Pressley ousted a ten-term Democratic congressman, a ten-term Democratic incumbent. She becomes the latest young, perhaps more diverse candidate to advance in the November elections.
Joining us now is CNN political director David Chalian.
David, thanks so much for being with us. In this case, the left, right, middle labels, I don't think apply as much. What's so important about this race is you see where a female candidate, a minority candidate, is pushing out a long-term white incumbent here, and I think it tells us something about where the energy is in the Democratic Party.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. This is much more about style and representation than it is about a policy difference. Capuano, as you know, John, is one of the most liberal members, not just of the Massachusetts delegation but of Congress. Medicare for all. This is -- this was not an ideological battle.
This was a minority majority district, and Ayanna Pressley is making the case that this district should have someone that looks more like the district. As you noted, the Democratic Party is becoming more diverse, more female, less white male-oriented, and this is the result of that.
[07:20:14] So I do think we are seeing a sea change inside the Democratic Party, certainly to the left ideologically but also more diverse.
BERMAN: I want to know what this means not in September of 2018 but in in November of 2018 and also, David, as we look to 2020 and the primaries there.
CHALIAN: Well, there's no doubt about that. So let me just answer the last part first. I think, you know, it becomes much more likely as you look at these results -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York back in June, Ayanna Pressley here, what we saw with Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, the Democratic gubernatorial nominees in Georgia and Florida -- this is a party that seems more poised and open to nominating somebody more from the left inside the party and a more diverse non-white male person in the party.
So if you're a white male centrist running in the 2020 Democratic nomination race, you may need not apply in the current Democratic Party in the way that the electorate is responding.
But to your point about November, and I think this is a huge and important point, John, for us to think about. We don't know, of course, is the answer. But is the party moving too far left that they're making a general election trickier for them? That's not the case, obviously, in Massachusetts. There's no Republican opponent. She's going to Congress, Ayanna Pressley. But in general for the party, are they moving too far left for a
November general election? I think we have to be open to the idea that that may be an older way of thinking. And we don't know that to be true.
I remember a lot of people, John, in 2015 thought, "My God, if you have a candidate for president who's calling for a border wall and a Muslim ban, there's no way that they're -- they might get through a Republican primary, but there's no way they're going to get elected in the fall. I'm not sure that those rules still apply.
BERMAN: Yes, we just don't know. If you look at Florida right now, Andrew Gillum, the Democrat there, neck and neck, but maybe with a slight edge over Ron DeSantis in the general election there. But we'll see. We will learn a lot this November.
David Chalian, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.
CHALIAN: Thanks, John.
CAMEROTA: All right. What do White House insiders think of Bob Woodward's explosive book? The president's former director of legislative affairs, here next.
[06:26:17] CAMEROTA: Bob Woodward's explosive new book called "Fear" is gripping the Trump White House and much of the country. It's painting a picture of a presidency in crisis, with the president and his top aides insulting each other and trying -- the top aides reportedly trying to protect the country from the president.
So joining us now is Marc Short, President Trump's former White House legislative affairs director and now a CNN political commentator.
Good morning, Marc.
MARC SHORT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Alisyn, good morning. How are you doing?
CAMEROTA: I'm doing well. Did you -- look, let's just dive into the details of this book. It seems to suggest the president's top aides, of which you were one, often feel the need to protect the president from relevant information that may cause some sort of reaction from him, and to protect him -- I should say to protect the country from him. Did you ever feel the need to keep important information from him?
SHORT: No. I never felt the need to protect the country from him. He's the duly elected president of the United States by 63 million voters who knew exactly what they were doing. This president was able to, I think, mow through perhaps the most talented field of Republicans ever put forward for a presidential nomination.
CAMEROTA: Yes. SHORT: The American people wanted something different. He manages in a different style, but it's our job to give him the right information and let him make the decisions. And that's always the way I viewed my job. I could come in and give a recommendation that he may ignore, may accept. But never did I use my job to protect information or to not share information with the president that would help him make a best decision possible.
CAMEROTA: OK, so let's talk about how Gary Cohn reportedly did feel that way. Gary Cohn reportedly stole an important letter off President Trump's desk that would have withdrawn the U.S. from a critical trade deal and threatened national security. So Gary Cohn took it before the president could see it. Gary Cohn is quoted saying, "I stole it off his desk. I wouldn't let him see it. He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country."
Did you know that Gary Cohn had stolen an important document?
SHORT: No, I don't -- I don't know that he did. I know the reporting in that book, but I do think sometimes there is a tendency for former staff to want to appear more important than they were. And so there's -- there's notions of trying to exaggerate what happened and to say, "Here I was, protecting the country." But I haven't talked to Gary since the book has come out, and I don't know if that's -- if that's -- he's standing by that or --
CAMEROTA: He's not denied it. So there's been denials from the White House. Gary Cohn is not one of them. He has not denied it or refuted it.
SHORT: Either way, I'm not familiar with Gary ever taking a document off the president's desk or anybody else taking it off to shield the nation.
CAMEROTA: Are you suggesting that Gary Cohn is lying?
SHORT: No. Alisyn, I'm not throwing out accusations here. I am saying I do not know of any documents that were taken off the president's desk to shield him from information.
CAMEROTA: That's fair. I'm just saying that Gary Cohn seems to be standing by this. So are you suggesting that Gary Cohn is lying?
SHORT: I think that there's a series of books, with "Fire and Fury" to Omarosa's book to this book now, where I think there are disgruntled former staff who do have -- who do have an interest to say, "Here was the role that I played when I was there."
And as I said, I'm not familiar that anything of that ever surfaced when I was in the White House. People saying, "Hey, here is something that I did."
SHORT: So no, I'm not familiar with that account at all. CAMEROTA: But are you saying that Gary Cohn and Rob Porter, who have
also has not denied -- who also has not denied what's in the book, that they are doing this because they're disgruntled?
SHORT: I'm -- I'm simply saying that I think our job as staff is to provide the best information possible to the duly-elected president of the United States.
CAMEROTA: I understand that that's what you did. I get it, and I hear you. But are you saying that they are disgruntled and that they, in that respect, fabricating things?
SHORT: No, I'm not saying they're fabricating. I'm saying there's been a series of books out from disgruntled former employees who I think want to portray something that sometimes isn't reality.
I think that this president operates in a different way. I don't think there's any doubt about that, Alisyn. And he has a different operation structure. But I think somewhere where the narrative is that there's a chaos and there's dysfunction --