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New York Times Op-Ed Rocks The White House, Affects Donald Trump's Rally In Montana; Trump Administration In Absolutely Unchartered Territory; President Trump Discredits The New York Times Op-Ed; Donald Trump Angrily Railing Against The New York Times; A List Of A Dozen Suspects That Could Possibly Be Behind That Blistering Anonymous Op-Ed. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired September 6, 2018 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:01] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Well said, Christopher Cuomo. I appreciate that, Sir.
CHRISTOPHER CUOMO, CNN HOST: I didn't write it, either.
LEMON: You mean, you didn't write the thing in the New York Times?
CUOMO: Yeah, no, I never write that.
LEMON: You just read, because I know you didn't write that.
LEMON: You had a lot of help with that.
CUOMO: No, yeah.
LEMON: You know, again, I think you're right. I think they're focusing on the wrong thing. How do you make it better? They have no concern about that it appears on how we make this better. The concern is let's catch this person because they're giving away our dirty little secrets. It's the wrong place to be in.
CUOMO: A hundred percent. And I do think that if this is true, you know, Maggie Haberman is good.
CUOMO: New York Times' reporter saying Kelly's got his list, he's doing it, going around affidavits, lie detector tests. He's not being the adult in the room. This isn't how you deal with political scrutiny. They can make their case if this is about national security. I don't see it. I don't see the proof. What national security was betrayed?
CUOMO: I don't think that this is the right way to approach it. I think they're only making it worse.
LEMON: Have we had denial from Kelly?
CUOMO: Nope. Oh, oh, no, I mean, about being anonymous? Yes.
CUOMO: About doing this work, no.
CUOMO: You don't want to go in the general, I tell you.
LEMON: I say just because you deny stuff, it doesn't mean you didn't do it. Again, I think that they are relying on the integrity of the New York Times, we don't reveal our sources. And so whoever it could be, it could be among any of these people who have denied it.
CUOMO: Mark Felt, deep throat, 30 years.
CUOMO: He came out originally saying not me, not me.
LEMON: Dan Rather sitting right to my right. And we're going to talk to him about that in just moments. Thank you, Chris.
CUOMO: Thank you. Give him my best.
LEMON: I will. Absolutely. He's listening right now. He says thank you.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you for tuning in. Breaking news to report, President Trump in a rally in Montana tonight campaigning against his archenemy, Democratic Senator Jon Tester.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll be defending your Social Security which the Democrats will destroy. And we're going to be defending your Medicare and protecting the safety net.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And that comes as the already fiery confirmation hearings for Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh are continuing at this moment. Just think about all of the really unprecedented things that have happened just within the last couple days, just over the last couple days, OK. There's a lot that's happened in the past. But we're going to focus over the last couple days. Things that we never thought that we'd see, the most explosive was that the New York Times' op-ed by an anonymous senior official of the Trump administration, saying that he, or she, is working from within the administration to thwart parts of the president's agenda. We have more and more on that in a moment. And more and more members of Trump's inner circle parading their denials for him. And given the president's famous temper, well, they must have seen this coming.
One White House official is telling CNN, those deniers are all being printed out, delivered to the president, as soon as they come in. Give it to them, as soon as they come in. Yet the President of the United States, the leader of the Free World, a man who you think would have a lot on his to-do list, is running a mole hunt in his own White House.
We're learning tonight that Senator Rand Paul recommended that the president force members of his administration to take polygraphs. And the idea was at least briefly discussed. That is according to the New York Times, which also reports that sources say Trump asked senior officials to sign sworn affidavits. One adviser saying the White House has a list of some dozen suspects. And his people falling all over themselves saying it's not me. It's not me. It wasn't me. Remember that, Shaggy song? It wasn't me.
But that's what's remarkable about this. That it's plausible enough that it could have been so many top officials compelled to deny it publicly. Let's start with the vice president. Here's Mike Pence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a disgrace. The anonymous editorial published in the New York Times represents a new low in American journalism. And I think the New York Times should be ashamed and I think whoever wrote this anonymous editorial should also be ashamed as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: It wasn't me. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasting the op-ed and the author of the Times and adding this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Go at your question directly. She didn't answer the question. It's not mine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: It wasn't me. Ambassador Nikki Haley about as succinct as you can be.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no, did you write -- what's the answer?
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR: No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: White House Counsel Don McGahn, same thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you write that op-ed? DON MCGAHN, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:04:55] LEMON: It wasn't me. Sources are saying Defense Secretary James Mattis, it was not his op-ed. A treasury spokesperson tweeting this about Steve Mnuchin, quote, it is laughable to think this could come from the secretary. Linda McMahon tweeting her denial as did Wilbur Ross and Rick Perry as well. Jon Huntsman's spokesperson -- spokeswoman tweeting his denial, deny, deny, deny. And then rounding up the list so far, anyway, so far, Kirstjen Nielsen, Ben Carson, Jeff Sessions, Elaine Chow -- Chao, excuse me, Dan Coats, Mick Mulvaney, Sonny Perdue, Alexander Acosta, Robert Wilkey, Gina Haspel, Robert Lightsinger (ph). Betsy DeVos, Andrew Wheeler, Brian Zinke, John Bolton, Christopher Wray. It wasn't me.
Even the first lady weighing in focusing more on the author's anonymity than on the content of that op-ed, quote, if a person is bold enough to accuse people of negative actions, they have a responsibility to publicly stand by their words and people have the right to be able to defend themselves. To the writer of the op-ed, you are not protecting this country. You are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions.
And if that's not enough for you, let's not forget Bob Woodward's upcoming book, Fear, quoting many members of the president's inner circle including former White House chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who says he swiped a letter off the Oval Office desk to prevent Trump from signing it and killing a critical trade agreement with South Korea. That letter, yes, missing the president's signature, now revealed.
So, what about the Democrats, you might be saying? What are they doing in the midst of all this Trump-related turmoil? They're shaking things up. On their own with an extraordinary moment this morning from the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Cory Booker saying he is breaking senate rules and releasing 12 pages of Kavanaugh's e-mails on racial inequality. Dragging his part including minority leader Chuck Schumer and Senators Blumenthal and Durbin along with him to exactly where their fired up base is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: I understand that that penalty comes with potential ousting from the senate. And if Senator Cornyn believes that I violated senate rules, I openly invite and accept the consequences of my team releasing that e-mail right now. This is about the closest I'll probably ever have in my life to an I-am-Spartacus moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Pretty dramatic. Well, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley's office weighed in saying that senators had been notified that restrictions on the documents were already waived. Senator Booker pushing back taking credit for working with his colleagues to quote, shame the committee into agreeing to make last night's documents publicly available.
And don't forget the Kavanaugh hearings. They've been disrupted again and again by fireworks from protesters. So why is all this chaos happening now? Why is this happening now? Two words. The midterms. All of this, the infighting, the rule breaking, all of it is about what happens when voters go to the polls across America on November 6th. Will it be a tipping point or a breaking point? We shall see.
Let's get straight to CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta, live for us in Montana. Jim, good evening to you. Glad to have you on. I hear the applause behind you. Any more reaction from the president tonight about the op-ed that's rocking the White House?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don. And I have to say the president is sounding more and more paranoid the way he is talking about all of these threats that he sees against this presidency. He talked about the New York Times op-ed. It's interesting, Don, before this rally got started, he did a staged one- on-one interview with Fox & Friends where he essentially said that what the New York Times ran in the form of that op-ed was treason. He called it, quote-unquote, treason.
And then during this rally, just a few moments ago, he confessed to the crowd that he doesn't know hell it is, is the way he put it. But he seemed to position all this, described all of this as part of again this deep-state conspiracy that he believes is conspiring against this administration. And here's what he said a few moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The latest act of resistance is the op-ed published in the failing New York Times by an anonymous -- really, an anonymous, gutless, coward. You just look. He was -- nobody knows who the hell he is or she, although they put he, but probably that's a little disguise. That means it's she. For the sake of our national security, the New York Times should publish his name at once. I think their reporters should go and investigate who it is. That would actually be a good scoop.
That would be a good scoop. Unelected deep-state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy, itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:10:20] ACOSTA: And, Don, another interesting thing that popped up during this rally, the president was talking again, again, about impeachment. Impeachment seems to be on his mind. He seems to be talking about this in front of these crowds to sort of pass on what he believes to the stakes in the upcoming midterm elections, that if the Democrats were to take control of the house or if the sky really does fall on the president, if the Democrats are to somehow take control of the senate, he believes impeachment proceedings would happen shortly thereafter come January.
Don, it's interesting at one point he told the crowd that he said if that were to happen, if he were to be impeached by a Democratic congress, he said the next president, if a Democratic president comes in, would automatically be impeached by a Republican congressman. And then this pattern would go on and on. The president trying to make this case that, well, if it happens to him, it's going to happen to president after president, when obviously that's obviously not the case. That's not how impeachment works.
But, Don, I thought it was very interesting, very notable, very noteworthy, well, the president sounded a bit flat tonight, I think in front of this crowd. What he's saying, the rhetoric he is passing on to his supporters is sounding more and more paranoid. When the president time and again is telling thousands of people, there are about 10,000 people or so thin this audience, that he's a conspiracy, he offers no evidence of that, the White House offers no evidence of that. I think he's just sounding paranoid at the moment when I think he probably sees some peril to his presidency. Don.
LEMON: Jim, you mentioned he spoke with Fox News. What did he say?
ACOSTA: Well, it was fascinating. I mean, ne thing we should point out, and you don't see this very often, there was a separate stage set up to sort of the side of where we are in these press risers, and a Fox & Friends personality was set up on that riser with the president. The president came out and it was -- I think it was very noteworthy, Don, that the former Fox executive, Bill Shine, who is now the deputy chief of staff over at the White House, over Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, the press secretary, he was sort of looking on and almost giving instructions to the crew as they were setting up this interview.
But during that interview with Fox News, the president talked about the New York Times op-ed, said that he believes that that is an act of treason and then he went on to talk about the NFL, pledge of allegiance -- our national anthem controversy, excuse me, and then also talked about what he sees as his priority of his, to build the wall and the border and whether or not he thinks there should be a government shutdown. He seemed to talk up the idea of a government shutdown. While at the same time, acknowledging the Republicans up on Capitol Hill don't want to see that happening.
And it's interesting they were taping this for tomorrow morning, Don, but they were piping the audio into the room here, into this arena, so everybody in the arena could hear exactly what was going on. And so, we all sort of saw this and heard this before I guess it airs tomorrow morning on Fox. But it was interesting to see that cohesion, that synergy almost, between the White House and Fox News. Don.
LEMON: I'm sure it's very, very tough questions that was asked by -- that's sarcasm, by the way. Jim Acosta, thank you very much. I appreciate you joining us this evening. Jim Acosta joining us from Montana.
So, listen, I want to bring in now legendary journalist Dan Rather. He's the host of Access TV's The Big Interview. Good evening, Sir, how are you?
DAN RATHER, THE BIG INTERVIEW HOST: Good evening. LEMON: It's always a pleasure to have you on. And every time you come
on, I look at -- I look at some old tapes of you doing Watergate. You stood up then. I think the president even called you the B word back then.
LEMON: Bastard, right. Didn't he call you that?
RATHER: True. No thanks, Don.
LEMON: You dealt with them. I'm saying that because you dealt with all of this and you withstood that. Senior officials publicly -- in this administration publicly denying that they wrote this op-ed. There they all are right there. Are we in unchartered territory right now?
RATHER: We're in absolutely unchartered territory. Look, we're in chaos, deep and dark. This is a dangerous time. It's getting darker. Let's see clearly what's happened here. If we are to believe what was reported in the New York Times, a senior administration official has used the word, deranged, in reference to the president, amoral. And I often find that we forget a President of the United States does literally have his finger on the nuclear trigger. And if we are talking about a deranged president, that should give us deep concern. But this we know, Don, sanity is not a partisan political issue.
[22:14:50] RATHER: Protecting the constitution is not a partisan political issue. Courage is not a political -- partisan political proposition. We're going through this very difficult time. Your question was has there been anything like this? No. Look, the Harding administration back in the 1920s was a very sleazy operation. We didn't have this kind of thing developing. We all know the history of the Nixon administration. Even during the worst of the Watergate times, nothing even comparable to this. This is totally unchartered territory for us. And as a people, as a society, we better muster all of the unity we can because we're going to need it.
LEMON: It's not even so much about insanity. I think that's probably the extreme end of it, but just someone who poses a threat to our democracy, the person who's sitting in the big chair.
RATHER: Well, and respect for law. Let's go down the list.
RATHER: But, you know, I agree with you that, frankly, I've known Donald Trump for a very long time, sometime in the late 1970s. You can say he was an extreme narcissist, but pretty smart in a crafty kind of foxy way. But since he's become president, the question, it's deepened over the last few days with everything we've seen, the Woodward book, the Times' op-ed piece, is whether his deep extreme narcissism has devolved into kind of a megalomania. And if that's the case, then we better really have...
LEMON: You think that's even a question?
RATHER: I do think...
LEMON: We keep posing these questions when it's so obvious, when it's right in front of our face, we see it. You know, and it's so frustrating because you have to sit here sometimes, for me, at least, I'm speaking for myself, and sit here sometimes and -- OK, let's go to the other side and this -- when you know, if you're having this conversation in your living room, you'd be like, that man is great. What the hell is going on here? This is not right. But when you're sitting here on TV, and journalists sit there, this side of gravity, that side. There is sanity, there is normality. There's fact. And there's truth. And the other side means the exact opposite of that. Why do we have to give credence to madness?
RATHER: Well, we don't have to and we better stop doing it.
RATHER: Now, I want to stop short of saying the president is mad in his head. I don't think that he is, but if people in the inside are having these conversations...
LEMON: You mean actions of this administration? That's what I'm talking about.
RATHER: Look, you mentioned truth. You remember the movie, A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson's character says, you can't handle the truth. What we have here is the president can't handle the truth. This is what people around him in his circle helping his administration are saying. He can't face that truth. He has to face it and we have to face it because we have to go forward.
All this talk of impeachment, I know there are a lot of people pulling hard for impeachment, you can understand that. Remember this, as long as the Republicans control the senate, there isn't likely to be any impeachment. On that score, the Republicans are kind of a beacon (ph) with four aces, looking out over the colors of the straight flush. There's no way you can get around that. Now, if -- if the control of the senate is changed, then things would change, but that's not the present card.
LEMON: Quick things, OK. I want to talk to you about. You issued a series of tweets, right, you sent out a series of tweets. I want to read the last one, you said this is no longer about Trump, but about all the forces who condone and abet this madness. I can hear the rumbles of justice and accountability, whither are we bound? It means where are we going and what are we bound to, right? What are we doing here?
RATHER: Where we're going depends on whether our system of checks and balances, whether the institutions, the legislative branch, the judicial branch, the press, whether they do their jobs. Now, by any objective analysis, Republicans in the senate have not been doing their job to investigate. LEMON: Yeah. We got one more quick question for you, OK. And this is
because all the people who denied. And I just want to take a look, this is an article from 1974. It's Mark Felt denying that he was deep throat. It wasn't until 2005 that he came out publicly saying that he was deep throat.
Going back to the -- you know, all the graphics of denials of these officials here, and as I've been saying, just because you're up there and you're one of those denials, it doesn't mean you're not one. What do you think of these people in this anonymous op-ed, you think that one of them could be lying?
RATHER: Certainly, one of them could be lying. Let's end it this way, Don. The central questions about that Times op-ed piece, one, the timing. Why now, why just now? And there are going be people who say it's a diversion, it's a smokescreen to take the emphasis off of Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing in the senate.
LEMON: You think the administration could be playing this? Well, I thought about that.
RATHER: Look, I'm a reporter. I get paid to be skeptical. I think it's a possibility. And the other is, what did the writer of that op-ed page, what did he attempt to -- what was he attempting, what did he think he was attempting to accomplish? So the timing and what was a real motive.
LEMON: Thank you, Mr. Rather.
RATHER: Thank you, Don, always a pleasure.
LEMON: Thank you.
When we come back, lie detector suggests lists of op-ed suspects, a furious president collecting denials from his inner circle. Is this White House more chaotic than it has ever been before? We'll talk about that.
[22:22:58] LEMON: So here's the breaking news, President Trump trying to discredit the blistering -- the New York Times on op-ed about his presidency saying there's a lot of love in his administration. The president's comments coming from an interview with Fox News that was taped at his rally in Montana tonight. He also called the White House a well-oiled machine. That's not. That is not what we're hearing from multiple reports. So what's really going on in the Trump White House? Here to discuss, two people who are there almost every day. CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins and CNN political analyst Brian Karem. Good evening to both of you.
BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Don.
LEMON: I'm glad we have people who are there almost every single day. You're camped out there. You see what's going on. Good evening. Brian, you shouted a question at the president as he was walking over to Board Marine One on the south lawn. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREM: Who's in charge at the White House?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DON LEMON, CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON SHOW HOST: Who's in charge at the White House? He didn't answer. Talk to me about what it's like at the White House today. Does it feel different?
KAREM: Well, it's -- look, I've covered every president since Reagan. And we dealt with many scandals, the Iran Contra scandal, you know, Bill Clinton couldn't tell us what the definition of his is. But I've never seen anything approaching this. There was a holy -- you know, moment last night when I first read that op-ed, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It's a soft coup. It's an unconstitutional way of getting rid of an unfit president. And when you walk in today to that White House, everyone I saw looked like they were in headlights and there were many including Sarah Huckabee-Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, Bill Shine, all of them volunteered that they didn't write the letter.
I think it's chaos upon chaos. I think it's stretching our democracy to a breaking point. There are really only three ways to get rid of a president. You vote him out, you can impeach him, or you can, of course, use the 25th Amendment. And so, the why of this question is what's important. Why was it -- why was this letter written? I think it was trying to bolster some support for one of those.
The only who I care about is the one I asked on the White House lawn. If this is really happening, I mean, if you read that letter for a second, just stop and think about what that letter actually means. At the end of the day, who is in charge at the White House?
[22:25:15] LEMON: Yeah.
KAREM: No, I didn't.
LEMON: It came on you there. And Kaitlin, you're there. I want to know what your sense is because you're describing a manhunt at this White House.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, they're trying to figure out who it is that wrote this. Of course, a sense of paranoia already existed in the West Wing. There were -- any time something negative linked to one staffer, they suspected another staffer who disliked them. And now, with this, it really feeds that fear the president had before, was that there are people in this administration who are actively working against him. And that's essentially what this official described to a senior official in the administration, described in that op-ed that they wrote for the New York Times.
So not only has it amplified that fear of the president, now those aides cannot convince the president that's not the case because he has this New York Times op-ed. Essentially, what they're on is to figure out who it is that wrote this letter. Because there are a lot of people in this White House who do think it is really disloyal and wrong for this person to write this op-ed, even though they still work in the administration. Because it's simply what it has become. Such a distraction for them in their own words.
So there is a manhunt under way to find out who it is that wrote this. But as you heard from the president there tonight, it's really difficult for this White House to figure out who it is. But what I can say is they are trying to push this suspicion out of the West Wing. They keep pointing out the fact that there are hundreds of people who qualify as a senior official. So we are seeing a little bit of that. They're trying to soothe the president's fears a little bit by letting him know it's not someone in his inner circle in the West Wing.
LEMON: Well, I got short time here, Brian. Let me ask you this question.
LEMON: Because we heard denials pouring in from top senior administration officials, but one person who hasn't put out a denial in this, I was talking to Chris about this. I don't think John Kelly...
KAREM: I haven't seen one yet.
LEMON: OK, OK. So do you find it interesting considering he pushed back against Bob Woodward's book?
KAREM: I find it interesting that the number of people that have come out to deny that they had anything to do with it, I feel like you do, I don't know if I trust those denials. And John Kelly's non-denial is certainly interesting.
LEMON: Mark Felt denied being deep throat, just saying, go on.
KAREM: Yeah, just saying. And so, at the end of the day, something that Kaitlan was referencing, there are people who contacted me last night who were sources of mine inside the White House, who said essentially what Kaitlan just said, they don't agree. They agree in principle and have admitted that they've said some of the things that were in that letter, but they did not write the letter. And they don't think it was appropriate for the letter to be written. So at the end of the day, I think it's going to be like murder on the Orient Express. I didn't do it, we all did it. That's where it's going.
LEMON: And Kaitlan, what about these letters supposed to be printed out delivered to the president, as soon as they can get it, as fast as they can get them?
COLLINS: That's why you saw all the denials rolling in today. It's not because there were suspicions that Ben Carson, the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, was the one who wrote this op-ed. It's because they know the president is taking note of who it is that denied this. And it started with the vice president, Mike Pence, and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, both issuing a statement in the early hours of this morning, saying it wasn't them who wrote the op-ed. They actually had the most emphatic denial saying that the president had good leadership and disagree with the New York Times. But then you saw all those other officials take note and they also started scrambling, tripping over each other to put out these other denials, making it one of the most surreal days in the administration where all of these staffers are having to put out these statements. But it was simply not because they thought that they were being looked at as someone who wrote the op-ed, but because they knew the president was paying attention to who was and wasn't issuing those denials.
LEMON: I was walking today, walking my dog and someone yelled at me, Don, Ivanka wrote the letter.
KAREM: Hey, I didn't write the letter. That's all I know. I didn't write the letter.
LEMON: I got to go. Thank you. Thank you, both.
KAREM: Thank you, Don.
LEMON: I appreciate it.
When we come back, the president reportedly doesn't trust anybody, but his children. I'm going to ask David Axelrod. Can the White House function if the president doesn't even trust his own team?
[22:30:01] DON LEMON, CNN TONIGHT, ANCHOR: We have breaking news for you. President Trump railing against The New York Times' op-ed at his rally in Montana tonight, calling the author a coward, and insisting The Times should release their identity. This comes as multiple reports say President Trump is growing more and more isolated in the White House.
Let's discuss. CNN Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod is here. Let me say that properly, David Axelrod.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: They got the point.
LEMON: Is here. He's a former Senior Adviser to President Obama. Good to have you here, good evening, sir.
AXELROD: Good to see you.
LEMON: Sources are telling CNN that the President closely monitoring all the denials from staffers, claiming that they didn't write this op-ed in The Times. They're actually being printed out, handed to the President as they come in. And then tonight, The Times is reporting people who are close to the President, they have got a list of 12 potential suspects who could have written it. I mean how do you find someone who has done this from within? I don't know if you ever had to do this. What do you think? AXELROD: Look. I mean I am sure every administration has leaks and
tries to figure out where the leaks have come from. This is a unique situation. To have someone at a senior level writing an op-ed piece like the one we just saw, there's no parallel to this. And, you know, I mean in that the way the President is reacting to it, he almost confirms the fundamental thrust of the piece.
I mean he is childlike and reactive. And, you know, this notion of shoving laudatory letters in front of him speaks to that as well. The real question is how the work of the White House gets under circumstances like this. I mean I worked in the White House, you know where the President of the United States went from one significant meeting after another, which consequential decisions were discussed and made.
[22:35:15] And you know this would be such a huge distraction. But then this White House from the beginning hasn't operated like other White Houses, because apparently, the President spends a lot of time watching TV and tweeting. So they've developed a kind of workaround which the author spoke of. And maybe they're continuing to work around. But I have to think the White House is a miserable place to be right now.
LEMON: Yeah. The Post is reporting -- you know, I am sure you're right about that. Can you man the paranoia? The Post is also reporting that the people -- that Trump feels he can only trust his children. That sound about right to you?
AXELROD: I think that's been true almost from the beginning. I mean there are a few people who he apparently had some faith in. But the fact is, you know, he operated in his business that way. And he's operating in government that way. Most of the people around him were relatively new to him, people who he had met during the campaign or after the campaign.
There aren't a whole lot of longstanding relationships there. You know in the White House I was in and previous White Houses, there were people who had a longstanding association with the President there. There were bonds of trust that he simply hasn't had. Other than with his own children, his daughter, and son-in-law, perhaps that's one of the reasons why he wanted them there. But it's very hard to run the United States government like your family business. And you need to rely on others, and this is just a very toxic environment.
LEMON: You know one of my favorite shows it on the weekend now. Don't tell Fareed, OK. It's The Axe Files.
AXELROD: Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.
LEMON: Thank you. Mr. David Axelrod, enjoy I appreciate you. Enjoy LA, whatever you're doing there. Thank you.
AXELROD: I will.
LEMON: When we come back, as the President rails against the resistance op-ed writer tonight, is that writer courageous or is that writer a coward?
[22:40:00] LEMON: So here's what we're learning tonight, that the White House has a list of a dozen op-ed suspects, that, as critics on both sides of the aisle are asking is the writer courageous or a coward. Let's discuss now with CNN Global Affairs Analyst Max Booth and CNN Political Commentator Scott Jennings. Good evening. I'm looking forward to this conversation.
I find this fascinating. So many people are wondering who wrote this, who wrote it, who wrote it. So Scott, both of you wrote things tonight, right? Both of you have op-eds. In your op-ed on cnn.com, Scott, you posed a question, this question. Set aside whether you love or hate Donald Trump and his policies, is it right for unelected people to make decisions for him?
Is this a signal we want to send the rest of the world that constitutional order has fallen apart in the world's most durable democracy? So you think this writer is subverting the will of the people, right?
SCOTT JENNINGS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: I do. I mean look, 67 million voted for Donald Trump, 300 electors in the Electoral College did. And we have one person working in the federal government with a god complex, who's decided to take it upon themselves to substitute their judgment for the elected leader of the United States. Now look, the writer raises some interesting points and some troubling issues.
But that's not the way it works in America. That's the way it works in Banana Republics, when people try to essentially subvert the will of the people. So again, I think this would be true for any President of any party. This man won the election. He deserves to govern, and he deserves to have a team that wants to govern with him.
I think our democracy right now, our institutions are crumbling, when we've got people who are trying to tear them down in this surreptitious way.
LEMON: Max, what do you think, dangerous President for our democracy, and institutions crumbling.
MAX BOOT, GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, CNN: I think that the people in the administration, Don, who are trying to protect us from Donald Trump's (Inaudible), reckless, ignorant, and dangerous conduct, they are heroes. The officials in the government do not swear an oath of allegiance to protect and defend the President. They swear an oath of allegiance to protect and defend the constitution of the United States.
And that I think is what they are doing. And what we're getting from the leaks from Bob Woodward and from reporting elsewhere is that the fact that these officials have tried to ham in Donald Trump and to dissuade him from doing the most reckless things that he would like to do has been hugely beneficial. They have done things, including preventing a possible war with North Korea, preventing a possible war with Venezuela, preventing the possible destruction of NAFTA.
There are a lot of bad things that have been averted because these officials have acted. And so I think we owe them thanks for what they are doing to save us from the President.
LEMON: But you don't necessarily think that this person should remain anonymous, right? You would like to see this person be named...
BOOT: Well, no, I mean, no, you know, I don't know. I am -- I don't have a firm opinion, because I think we are in unchartered waters here. We don't know what the best way of hemming in a President like this is. Obviously, in an ideal world, you would try to invoke the 25th amendment, which I think is amply justified. You would try to begin impeachment proceedings which, again, I think is amply justified.
[22:44:54] But the problem is that Donald Trump is protected by the Republicans on Capitol Hill who do not take seriously their oaths of office. They are essentially there to protect Donald Trump because their base is still with Donald Trump. And so that limits what officials can do. So you can resign and you can call for impeachment or the 25th amendment. It's still not going to happen.
And so I have some sympathy with people who decide, OK, I am going to stay in there, and I am just going to try to avert the worst from my position within the government.
LEMON: Interesting. Scott, what do you think this anonymous Trump official should have done instead of writing this op-ed? You don't think they should have written it, right? Or maybe you think they should not be anonymous. What do you think?
JENNINGS: I think it is fine for them to write it. I think they should write the op-ed. I think they should resign from the administration. I think they should put their name on it and take any concerns they have to the Congress, to the Special Counsel, to anybody that they think they need to take it to within the regular order. Max is right.
They do take an oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States. What they are doing is extra-constitutional. The power is vested in our elected leadership. Not in these unelected anonymous people. So I agree with Max that we do need people operating to defend the constitution. But as he pointed out, there are constitutional avenues to achieve the objectives.
I cannot believe that people have given up on the durability of the constitution. We haven't had one-half of one term with this presidency. People have not yet voted in a midterm in the middle of this presidency. And we've seemingly already given up that our constitution and the way we do it in America could possibly work. I just -- I can't believe people have given up on the durability of American institutions. BOOT: Scott, I think a lot of people are frustrated because Congress
will not do its job of holding the President to account, because Republicans have been utterly supine before him. But I think if you look at the example of Watergate, and you can see there are different ways to oppose a dangerous President. There are people like John Dean who actually spoke out against him, resigned, and went public.
But there are also people like Mark Felt, who has deep throat, leaked anonymously, and helped bring Watergate into the open. So I think there are different approaches.
BOOT: -- I'm not sure which one is the right one.
LEMON: Remember Mark Felt. It took him decades. He denied it in the beginning as well. I got to go, guys. I am sorry I am out of time, Scott. Thank you, Scott, thank you, Max. We'll be right back.
[22:50:00] LEMON: Breaking news, The New York Times reporting that the White House has a list of 12 suspects they think could be behind that blistering anonymous op-ed. The question is why won't the author of the op-ed speak publicly? Why not resign in protest? So let's talk to someone now who knows what that decision is like, the former U.S. Ambassador to Panama, John Feeley.
He resigned in January because he felt he didn't have the same values as President Trump. Ambassador Feeley, so good to have you on, thank you very much, let's talk about this op-ed, you know, choosing to say this person, choosing to remain anonymous. You publicly resigned from you Ambassadorship, saying that you couldn't serve faithfully under President Trump. Tell us more about what was behind your decision to resign.
JOHN FEELEY, FORMER AMBASSADOR, PANAMA: Sure. If you remember, Don, we've talked about this before. I intended to go out anonymously, meaning that there would be no noise and no news about my departure from government. I was a career foreign service officer, as opposed to the individual who anonymously has penned the -- or we believe has penned the op-ed.
And my desire was to go out as I came in, which was quietly and with no fanfare. I've made a personal decision, and that's what I told a lot of people. It was only when the State Department leaked my resignation letter, in which I expressed my difference of opinion with the values behind the Trump administration, that I then was made public.
And since then, quite frankly, I have expressed why I left. And it's so that I control the narrative and not the Trump administration. What you see with anonymous, well, the writer of this anonymous op-ed is a real cry for help. It's very different. Mine was reactive. This is proactive. This is somebody from the inside who is signaling help. And as they said, it's going off the rails. LEMON: Yeah. It's pretty extraordinary. You know if this person who
wrote The New York Times op-ed is indeed a high-ranking official, I just wonder in the Trump administration then why stay anonymous. I mean wouldn't you serve a greater good by speaking out publicly with people knowing who you are like you did?
FEELEY: Well, look. There are two schools of thought on this to my way of thinking. If you recall, Jeremiah Denton, a famous POW in Vietnam, once was put in front cameras by his Vietnamese torturers and he ingeniously blinked the word torture in Morse code. He was signaling, at a moment of great, great tension, that he and his fellow prisoners were being tortured. I almost thought -- I did think of that, and I almost thought whoever wrote this might be trying to do the same.
Let's just assume, and everyone is loathe put names behind this and 12 officials have come out and said it wasn't me. It wasn't me. I didn't do it. But let's assume that it's a very responsibility individual with a long service, and I don't think The New York Times would call somebody a senior official who was not genuinely that. They could be blinking and signaling to the American Congress, to the American people, look, we're doing what we can in here but we need help.
This President is unfit. That's one thesis. The other thesis is this could be somebody doing something very self-serving. It could be somebody who knows that at a certain point in time, it is going to come off the rails. They will be identified, and they will want to be on the record early as having said, see, we were trying, and I was doing my patriotic best. I honestly don't know what the answer is.
LEMON: Listen. I have very short time here. But I want to get this in to you. After writing this anonymous piece, saying all these things they did about the President. What would you advice this person to do next?
[22:54:59] FEELEY: Frankly, I would never have done it. I think that this individual should identify whoever he or she is, and they should come out and stand up. The thing that worries me is that by being anonymous, they allow the President to use terms like gutless, like coward. Look, this is not how Presidents refer to American citizens, certainly not how they refer to staff.
This is how Hugo Chavez used to refer to people. This is how Putin refers to people. This is how Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua refers to critics. And by remaining anonymous, they basically give the President the space to do that.
LEMON: Thank you, Ambassador Feeley. Welcome back any time. I appreciate your input here.
FEELEY: Many thanks, Don.
LEMON: Thank you. When we come back, is this a turning point for the Trump administration or is it chaos? Is this just the new normal now?