Return to Transcripts main page
Bob Woodward to Release New Book on Trump White House; Claims in Bob Woodward's New Book Examined. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired September 5, 2018 - 8:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- recognize the risk of this president. They're trying to protect this country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This book is not so much fake news as it's old news.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bob Woodward has the juice here. He's got the facts.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got a problem with Sessions, just fire him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has an operating style that's different from the other 44 presidents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You couldn't have a portrait of someone that's more unfit for the office of president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota on John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your New Day. It is Wednesday, September 5th, 8:00 in the east. I see you looking at me with apprehension.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I was tweeting off your notes.
CAMEROTA: Very good.
President Trump and has stiff gripped with fear this morning of Bob Woodward's new book that contains explosive claims of chaos and dysfunction inside the White House. Award winning journalist Bob Woodward depicts a White House in crisis, with West Wing officials, top officials, trying to protect the country from President Trump. The book claims chief of staff John Kelly refers to the Trump White House as, quote, crazy town. Defense Secretary James Mattis says the president has the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader.
BERMAN: President Trump himself is quoted as calling Attorney General Jeff Sessions mentally retarded and a dumb southerner. There are also new revelations about what the president believes his biggest mistake was. And the White House is trying to discredit Bob Woodward, who we should note has a pretty good track record here, in fact, a history of making track record. Just moments ago Press Secretary Sarah Sanders claims the book's accusations come from disgruntled former employees. That is nothing we know is not completely true.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He may have hundreds of hours of tapes but I think most of those probably come from some disgruntled former employees. It's a lot of anonymous sources. What I can tell you is I've worked alongside the president, under the president for the last three years. I was part of his campaign, I've been part of the administration since day one, and I can tell you that the president, everything so far that I've seen out of this book doesn't depict what's going on in the building behind me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: CNN has confirmed that current White House staffers are among those who did speak with Bob Woodward for this book. Let us discuss now with a really wonderful panel. Joining us, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, former Nixon White House counsel and CNN contributor John Dean, and CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein who knows a little bit about something about working with Bob Woodward. Jamie, I do want to start with you now because we are getting a new statement from Bob Woodward on some of these White House attacks.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: In fact, we just e-mailed and Bob Woodward sent the following, quote, I stand by my reporting. He said that yesterday and he's saying it again today.
CAMEROTA: Well, he's saying that because, as you know, Jamie, there's been pushback from some of the people that are reportedly quoted in the book, namely John Kelly, James Mattis. They're saying things like the contemptuous words, this is from James Mattis, about the president attributed to me in Woodward's book were never uttered by me or in my presence.
So let's talk about Woodward's tactics. Basically he spoke to he says dozens of people. He recorded them, but it was on deep background, meaning he can't reveal who said what.
GANGEL: Correct, so Carl can explain this even better, but Bob did hundreds of hours of taped interviews with almost every person he spoke to, and there were dozens of sources, people inside the room with Donald Trump, firsthand sources. But he does do it on what we call deep background, which means he can use whatever they said he said to them. He didn't want anything that was off the record. So he can use it, but he protects their -- who exactly it is. That said, having read the book I want to tell you, throughout the book people are named and quoted extensively.
BERMAN: That's how he did it and how they're saying it. I think what they're saying has potentially even greater impact, Carl. And as we're hearing quotes from James Mattis, from Gary Cohn, from John Kelly, from Rob Porter, on and on and on, the story that is being told through those quotes is a story of officials inside the White House who feel like they need to protect the country from the president.
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, and it's not about pulling out a word, just saying idiot, moron, et cetera, which indeed is reliable, but it's about scene after scene after scene described in great detail in which the principals, not disgruntled former employees, show exactly what you're talking about, that they see their job as protecting the country from the president of the United States, protecting the country from his ignorance, from his racism, from his recklessness, and his unwillingness to put the interests of the country above his own interests.
[08:05:14] That's what this book is about, and when you read it from beginning to end and you see it all stacked up, it is a coherent narrative in which we begin to say ah-ha. And the people that know Bob Woodward's work best are the Republicans in Congress because many of them have dealt with Bob Woodward in previous books. They know the reliability of his methodology. They've been quoted. They know that it's accurate.
And I'm reminded of when we wrote John Dean, who you're going to hear from in a minute, when we wrote the final days which was about Nixon's last days in office. And there's a scene in the final days, which we use this same methodology of going to source after source after source, recording the interviews, and there's a scene where Nixon and Kissinger get down on their knees and pray on the rug in the Oval Office, and that scene was denied vehemently by those around Nixon and Kissinger, you made it up, it couldn't happen. And this went on for months and months until finally in their memoirs Nixon and Kissinger both wrote about what happened.
That's what's going to happen on this book. If you go down to the University of Texas where our papers are and you see the Watergate reporting and you see the final days, you'll see the methodology laid out and you'll see the accuracy of it. This doesn't come from one source. This is a reconstruction of meeting after meeting after meeting in which you begin to wonder why doesn't John Kelly, the chief of staff, go to the Congress of the United States in executive session, resign for the good of the country, go to Congress and say I want to answer all of your questions about this president in full about what the context is, about what's in this book, et cetera, et cetera, and then let's see how it holds up.
GANGEL: Can I just add one other thing? Let's go to Donald Trump. President Trump has said very complimentary things of Bob Woodward in the past. And that phone call that we have the transcript of on CNN.com, the audiotape, what does he say? Bob, you've always been very fair to me. Those are his own words.
BERNSTEIN: There's a reference in there to 20 years ago of an interview that Bob did with Trump and again the fairness of it. It was Bob and myself in Trump Tower. We went to see Trump there. He was just fine with the whole thing.
CAMEROTA: That audio of listening to Bob Woodward's current-day conversation with President Trump is fascinating. We will play some of that for you.
But in terms of the color of what this book reveals just to give people an illustration who haven't read the excerpts yet, Gary Cohn, one of the top financial guys in the Trump White House, he says there was a critical trade deal that the president would have withdrawn the U.S. from. And Gary Cohn understood that would affect national security. And it was waiting on the president's desk and he knew the president was going to sign it. And so he swiped it off the president's desk because he didn't think the president had the understanding of the consequences. Here's what Gary Cohn says. I stole it off his desk, I wouldn't set let him see it. He's never going to see that document, got to protect the country. Gary Cohn and Rob Porter have not refuted or denied these quotes as of this hour. Your thoughts?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: First of all, I'd say the title of the book is wonderful because ever since Trump's been elected I've had a knot in my stomach. Somebody who knows how the presidency works, there's time for fear. So I understand what these people are going through and why bob selected that title.
CAMEROTA: And you know that he says it comes from Donald Trump himself who says that in order to get people to follow you, you have to use fear.
DEAN: I know he does. The story on Porter and Cohn taking documents out of the system, that's highly unusual. By the time they've been staffed to the point where someone would put something on the president's desk, it's very unusual. It must not have gone through Cohn. I would assume that Rob Porter put it in there but hadn't cleared it with Cohn. He saw it, and he got it off the desk. But that's what the staff secretary is there for is to make sure only the documents the president should see are on his desk.
GANGEL: Can I just clarify quickly having read the book? What is also startling is neither porter nor Cohn nor Chief of Staff Reince Priebus knew where the draft letter had come from.
[08:10:04] That speaks to the level of chaos, dysfunction, different people coming in. Porter was in charge and they were trying to control what went on to his desk, but in this case they never knew where that particular letter came from.
BERMAN: If you're keeping score at home, I also don't think either Gary Cohn nor Robert Porter have refuted anything that's in this yet. John, I want to get your reaction to something that Carl asked. He posed the question why doesn't John Kelly up and quit and go to Congress? People have asked the same thing about General Mattis as well, the secretary of defense. Do you think there's an element -- and you listen to some of the quotes, the things these people are quoted as saying, that they're protecting the country from the president, do you think there's an element where some of these people feel like they need to stay?
DEAN: I do. That's exactly my reaction when they said why haven't they left? They haven't left because they feeling they're protecting either the country or the world, and that's serious. They may be denying some of the quotes they actually earlier gave Woodward just so they can do their job, which is to protect the country.
CAMEROTA: What about that, Carl? They're trying to keep him contained?
BERNSTEIN: I think that's certainly the case with Mattis. Kelly I think may be a little more complicated than that. There's a part of Kelly that's very combative, that believes in much of what the president wants to do, and at the same time General Kelly has made clear to many, many people in the White House that he sees his job as protecting the United States and the world from a rash and unpredictable and reckless president, and dishonest president of the United States.
BERMAN: All right, I want to play something. And I actually want to play this because at a certain point I don't care as much about whether or not Bob Woodward, who he asked to get the interview with the president or not, but listening to the president on the phone.
CAMEROTA: His style, his delivery. His courtship.
BERMAN: Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I certainly don't mind talking to you, and I wish I could have spoken to you. But you know, but nobody called my office. You went through different people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Graham said he talked to you about talking to me. Is that not true?
TRUMP: Senator Graham actually mentioned it quickly on one meeting. That is true, that is true. But that is true, mentioned it quickly, not like -- and I would certainly have thought maybe you would have called the office. But that's OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: No one told me about this. Nobody told me about this. Lindsey Graham told you. Oh, yes, Lindsey Graham did tell me, that's true. That's true.
BERNSTEIN: And Trump is a victim. Nobody called the office. He's always a victim. That also runs through the text of this book. The text and subtext is he is a danger to the world. Those around him must protect the United States and its national security from this president and throughout his victimhood. They're out to get me, and we hear it over and over and over and over again as well as the lies.
CAMEROTA: But Jamie, I hear it so differently. I hear that as so different than the tone we've become accustomed to with President Trump which is the more bombastic, the bullying tone from the pulpit where he's working people up in a lather at his rallies. That to me is the persuasive, old Donald Trump, the one that I encountered many times before he was president, where he's sort of charming.
BERNSTEIN: He can be really charming. And all of us who have spent time with Donald Trump know how charming he can become. If you heard the thing we did 20 years ago with Donald Trump that Bob and I did you would hear how charming. And then he goes off.
CAMEROTA: For sure, but I just think that that is a window into part of for people who are Trump critics who don't understand how select wooed Congress or wooed all of his voters, there is something disarming about how he says to Bob Woodward, oh, I trust you, I would have loved to have talked to you, I wish somebody would have called the office.
GANGEL: A couple things. Bob Woodward reached out to at least six different people to try to get this interview, including Kellyanne Conway. And one of the surreal moments of this if you go and read the transcript is that the president puts Kellyanne Conway on the phone with Bob in the middle of the interview, and Kellyanne says yes, yes, she did have it, and it went through the right channels. Kellyanne Conway has direct access to the president. She's standing in the Oval Office when he's on the phone with Woodward. The idea that the press office, that Kellyanne Conway, that Woodward's request did not get to Trump, he admits in the interview that he heard it from Lindsey Graham, it strains credulity.
CAMEROTA: Just hold on one second. Let me just push back on that Jamie.
CAMEROTA: Because isn't it also possible that the whole theme of this book are his top advisors trying to keep him from himself, and trying to protect the country? And that they made a decision. That Kellyanne Conway's and the communications directors made a - we're not going to let him sit down and talk to Bob Woodward. That would be bad for him. Even though he wants to, his impulse is he wants to. But they decided against it.
GANGEL: But he admits he knew about it.
CAMEROTA: Well from Lindsey Graham.
GANGEL: He say's on the tape that the knew. But Lindsey Graham, that wasn't an accidental thing. Woodward asked Lindsey Graham, would you also put in the request. And so Trump says its true. We also know Donald Trump in the end does what he wants to do. Take a look at that Twitter feed.
In the book Woodward writes that a Twitter committee, the staff tried to set up a Twitter committee to stop it. And quickly gave up. I think when you're talking about a Bob Woodward book and an interview, if they didn't tell the president about it they weren't doing their jobs.
BERMAN: It seemed to me like performance art. Between the president and Kellyann Conway and Bob Woodward, and they all knew what role they were playing in that conversation right there.
BERMAN: It was really strange to see it though. CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean I just think, I take the president at his word that he wanted to talk to Bob Woodward. So how did it not happen? I think he wanted to. He likes to make his case. He likes to talk to reporters, as we know. But in any note we have a lot more to dissect. So thank you all very much for all of the insight.
Another progressive scandal has pulled off a book this summer, this time in Massachusetts. Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley defeating a 10 term democratic congressman. Pressley is now poised to become the states first black woman in Congress, joining us now in CNN Political Director David Chalian.
What did you think David when you saw the results coming in?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, not just defeating Capuano but by a huge margin, 17 points, crushing him. And what I thought is we are seeing the remaking of the Democratic Party, at least what it looks like. Remember Alisyn, in this very liberal Massachusetts district this was not a battle about ideology. Mike Capuano is one of the most liberal members of Congress. He supports Medicare for all.
This was about Ayanna Pressley making the case in a minority majority district that the district should have someone that looks more like them in Congress. And so you are seeing inside these democratic primaries that younger more diverse, more female candidates are emerging victorious and changing the look of the Democratic Party and its representation and what that means substantially.
And we're seeing this across the board. Look at those candidates there you have up on the screen. So Ayanna Pressley go into Congress for Massachusetts, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and then you've got three African American gubernatorial candidates on the democratic side. Andrew Gillum in Florida, Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Ben Jealous in Maryland.
And the big question now, not in Massachusetts because Ayanna doesn't have a republican opponent. She's going to congress. But when you look at those gubernatorial contests, are a more liberal left leaning candidate. Will that make it more difficult for democrats in November in the general election?
When they're dealing with a general election elector and not a primary elector. We don't know the answer to that, but that is the question hanging over Democratic Party politics right now.
CAMEROTA: Yes, David thank you for all that insight there. And I think that there's a whole another element with her. We should not just - that voters didn't just choose somebody who physically reflected them. There's another dimension where her father was a drug addict. He was in prison for part of the time. She was a survivor of sexual assault. So they wanted somebody whose life story reflects what they think theirs does as well.
BERMAN: A very compelling candidate. All right David Chalian thanks to you. How do people know who President Trump - how do people who know President Trump well, feel about the claims in Bob Woodwards book?
We're going to speak to a close friend of the president next.
BERMAN: President Trump and his allies on the offensive after damming claims on Bob Woodwards new book "Fear". Joining me now is Chris Ruddy, CEO and President of Newmax, and a close confidant of President Trump. Chris thanks so much for joining us here in New York in person.
CHRIS RUDDY, CEO & PRESIDENT OF NEWSMAX: Glad to be here.
BERMAN: I've heard you say that the Woodward book isn't so much fake news, you say, as old news. So by that are you saying that there was a time when the White House was crazy town?
RUDDY: I would put it a different way. I would say there was some turmoil. This was a man that had never been in public office before, never really had been in politics before. He was a very successful businessman, entertainer comes in and he defers to a lot of people, picked a lot of people, thought they were good choices. Like Reince Reiebus, I think that turned out to be not a great choice, and he saw that. He made changes.
The Woodward book is about the first six to eight months of the Trump administration. We've seen this book before. It's called Michael Wolff's, Fast and Fury (ph), some different characters making the same allegations.
A lot of those people I think - you know, Gary Cohen, for instance was apparently critical of the president. He stayed on another year. If he thought like Carl Bernstein just said in your last segment that they were protecting the country from essentially World War III and the end of civilization. Why would he stay another year?
These are - there's a certain hysteria
BERMAN: Hold on one sec, Gary Cohen by the way isn't someone who stopped and refuted any of the quotes in the book. Neither has Rob Porter. And when you say six to eight months this book covers Charlottesville, which is eight months plus into the administration. This book covers --
BERMAN: - eight months, August exactly.
BERMAN: The outer edge of what you're saying.
BERMAN: But this book also covers - well the book also covers John Kelley who started in July and went on until today. So it's not just the first six, eight months. But be that as it may -
RUDDY: The book should have come out a year ago. But it's coming out today because there's an election in two months and they want to book the president the Republican Party.
BERMAN: The book's coming out now because it's finished.
RUDDY: I think - I think Bob Woodward's a good guy. But I also think he's hostage to his sources. He has a history; people that give him information get portrayed very well. The president didn't speak to him, why we're spending so much time as to why he didn't speak to him. I think he made him - of the smart choice not speaking to him.
Ronald Reagan. Look at Ronald Reagan in the early days. Put in amiable dunce in Google right now on Ronald Reagan. You will find everyone thought he was the village idiot. He turned out to be one of our greatest presidents.
BERMAN: Just to stay on this theme, though, you are conceding. Even if you buy your suggestion this is really only about the six - per six to eight months, you are saying there was turmoil. You're saying you would not use the word crazy town, but do some of the types of things -
RUDDY: You've got to be -
BERMAN: - some of the types of things described in this book ring true to you? In those first six to eight months where it was filled with turmoil as you just admitted?
RUDDY: I think there was - it was tempestuous. There was a lot of issues that went on those first six months. The president fixed a lot of those issues. General Kelly comes in in August. The president's approval numbers have been on an upward trend ever since -
BERMAN: They're at 36, the lowest they've been. The highest disapproval rating in the ABC News poll -
RUDDY: Well, come on. (inaudible) If you look at the role, the average it's about 43 percent.
BERMAN: Gallops in the 30s. IDP came out this week is also -
RUDDY: Considering the attacks he's been getting every day on shows like this, John, and other networks, I think the president's doing pretty well. What about the economy?
BERMAN: The economy's doing well.
RUDDY: Not only is it doing well. It's fantastic. It's up over 200 percent GDP growth in two quarters. We've never had this is American history.
BERMAN: We had 5 percent growth for a quarter during the Obama administration. I think the economy's doing very well. I think the economy's a good - RUDDY: One quarter in eight years? This is a guy that -
BERMAN: You've had one quarter and so far a year and half of just -
RUDDY: You don't want to talk about the greatest economic miracle of our time.
BERMAN: We talk about the booming economy all the time here. Christine Romans comes on this show every day.
RUDDY: Foreign policy, let's talk about that.
BERMAN: Let's talk about foreign policy. James Mattis quoted in this book saying that the president has a fifth or sixth grade understanding.
RUDDY: They said the same thing about Reagan. People would joke he would need to have cartoons from the Defense Department explain the budget. He would use flashcards in meetings.
BERMAN: So you're saying it's possible that Mattis said this.
RUDDY: Well, I think people say - I don't know if he said it or not. He's denied it apparently. But you know what? People say kitchen table talk. They say somebody's and idiot, somebody's a jerk doesn't mean that that's what they really mean about the person ultimately or they're making an assessment.
I was just with the president a few weeks ago. He had 12 business people, some of the leading, the head of Boeing, the former head of FedEx, Pepsi Co. We saw this man totally in control, knew about detailed issues on tariffs, on trade, on tax policy. He stood there for an hour and a half discussing these issues.
This was no third grader. This was no fifth grader or sixth grader.
RUDDY: This is - so -
BERMAN: I know.
RUDDY: I think there's a lot of spin. I think Bob Woodward, you know, he's selling books, he's playing into the hysteria, he's playing into the election -
BERMAN: Two things -
RUDDY: - he's doing a disservice -
BERMAN: You know who thinks -
RUDDY: He's doing a disservice to the country I think -
BERMAN: Do you know who thinks that Bob Woodward's a pretty good journalist? The President of the United States. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's really too bad because nobody told me about it and I would have loved to spoken to you. You know I'm very open to you. I think you've always been fair, but we'll see what happens.
BERMAN: Very open -
RUDDY: I think -
BERMAN: Well, you just said he wasn't.
RUDDY: Well, I said that he did a disservice to the country by not giving all sides and to be putting this out and just showing a hysterical. And the other thing is he's a hostage to his sources. If you give him information, you, John Berman, will come out very nice in the book. If you don't talk to him, anything's possible.
BERMAN: We're all - you know -
RUDDY: So -
BERMAN: - every reporter is dependent on their sources. Just one thing - a couple things. Number one, this book covers January of 2018 where John Dowd apparently staged a mock question and answer session, so that's well beyond the first six to eight months. That's establish that -
RUDDY: Yes, not everything is before March (ph), but most of it's from last year. Old news.
BERMAN: Well, some of it continues on to this year. You were saying you've talked to the president, and I want to get a sense of how he talks. You said sometimes people talk behind the scenes and they don't mean it. Have you every personally heard the President of the United States refer to Jeff Sessions as mentally retarded?
BERMAN: Have you ever heard the President of the United States refer to him as the dumb southerner?
RUDDY: No, but he has told me it was the biggest mistake that he made in his presidency appointing Jeff Sessions.
BERMAN: Have you heard him talk about being a southerner?
RUDDY: Never came up. You know, I never hear him really making deeply personal attacks or people say (inaudible). I've never heard him in 20 years ever use a racial appetite (ph) against somebody, never. I talked to many of his friends. Nobody can every remember this, but yet it was a topic just two weeks ago in another book filled with all sort of innuendos that he may have used this word. This is the type of thing, and I don't think it's really helpful, and it's those of us that know him or see him. Look, he has people like Larry Kudlow there, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo. These are really top notch people. He just nominated Brett Kavanaugh, one of the most respected jurors.
BERMAN: And we're going to watch that confirmation hearing all day. You talk about race. Charlottesville obviously comes up in this book.
BERMAN: The president sort of went everywhere after that story.
RUDDY: I think that -
BERMAN: Ultimately he said in this book - he said the biggest mistake he made - he's quoted this saying the biggest mistake he made