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White House Goes on Witch-Hunt to Find Anonymous Op-Ed Writer; Burt Reynolds Dies; Brett Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings Continue. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 15:00   ET




MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

Anyone who would write an anonymous editorial smearing this president, who has provided extraordinary leadership for this country, should not be working for this administration. They ought to do the honorable thing and they ought to resign.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's start at the White House.

Kaitlan Collins is there. Kate Bennett is also standing by on the first lady's response.

But, Kaitlan, first to you. Not only are all these people coming out with denials. They're printing out statements and hand-delivering them to the Oval Office.


You can see why these denials are rolling in as quickly as they are, because they know that these denials are being printed out, taken directly to President Trump, who is enjoying seeing these, as he did when General Kelly and his defense secretary, James Mattis, denied the claims that were attributed to them in Bob Woodward's tell-all book.

These denials are coming in. They started with the vice president this morning and the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and now we're seeing more than a dozen of the most high-ranking officials in this government denying that they were the ones who wrote that anonymous op-ed trashing the president.

That comes after Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, issued that surreal statement saying that those who wanted to know the identity of the author should call "The New York Times" and ask them, because they were the ones, according to Sarah, that were complicit in what she called a deceitful act.

So these Cabinet secretaries, these high-ranking officials, they know that the president needs to see these denials. They don't want the heat to be on them. But, Brooke, it's not even that farfetched that whoever wrote this would issue a denial denying that they wrote such words about the president, calling him ineffective and ill-informed.

But, see, as all of these denials were coming, the president is seeing them, his anger is still continuing to grow, from that outburst that you saw yesterday that you just played there, when he was in East Room with those sheriffs.

And it's likely only going to continue to grow because it's just resurrecting this idea that the president had that there are people in this administration who are actively working against him. Now, Brooke, you have to wonder what's going to come next, what is the president going to suggest happening next.

And one of his biggest allies here in Washington -- that is Kentucky senator Rand Paul -- just suggested something that the president might like. That is lie-detector tests for those people in the White House who have security clearances. Rand Paul said that in response to a question about what he thought about this op-ed.

And he said that they should give lie-detector tests to people who work in the White House to see if they're the ones talking to the media. Now, the question is, is whether the president will take the suggestion from Rand Paul seriously.

But, Brooke, it's not that hard to fathom because it was Rand Paul who suggested that President Trump should revoke John Brennan's security clearance, and we know how that ended. We will see what the president thinks of idea. He's scheduled to leave the White House now here any minute.

And we will see if he has anything more to say about the op-ed to reporters.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you. Kate, stand by.

I have got to pause. We're getting breaking news. CNN is now confirming that actor Burt Reynolds has died at the age of 82. Here's a look back at his life.


NARRATOR (voice-over): Burt Reynolds was one of the top box office draws in the '70s and '80s, but the big screen was not where he set out to be.

No, the handsome, charismatic Michigan-born actor wanted to be a football star. Reynolds attended Florida State University on a football scholarship. But an injury derailed his athletic career and put him on the path to Hollywood stardom.

At first, Reynolds landed roles on television, including shows like "Gunsmoke" and "Flipper," but it was the 1972 film "Deliverance" that was his breakthrough role.

BURT REYNOLDS, ACTOR: Who has the ability to survive?

NARRATOR: He also became a sex symbol and posed nude in "Cosmopolitan" magazine. He capitalized on his success in the 1974 sports drama "The Longest Yard."

REYNOLDS: I'm going to fix it, OK?

NARRATOR: By 1977, the actor who was known for his signature mustache was riding high with the success of "Smokey and the Bandit," alongside Sally Field. The film became a successful franchise for Reynolds. So did the movie "Cannonball Run" in 1981.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Well, can't you do something? I mean, you're professionals.

REYNOLDS: This is our day off.

NARRATOR: He kept the laughs coming as the sheriff in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," co-starring Dolly Parton.

Although his film career slowed down by the late '80s, Reynolds found success on television in the 1990s series "Evening Shade." It ran for four seasons and earned him an Emmy and a Golden Globe. While his TV career was on a high, his personal life unraveled.

He ended his five-year marriage to Loni Anderson in 1993 and was involved in a messy custody battle over their adopted son, Quinton. By 1996, Reynolds filed for bankruptcy.


REYNOLDS: Jack Horner, filmmaker.

NARRATOR: But things began to look up for the actor when he landed Paul Thomas Anderson's film "Boogie Nights." The role led to his first Oscar nomination. Though he didn't win, he received critical acclaim in the hockey film "Mystery, Alaska" in 1999.

REYNOLDS: I don't want to hear another word about a hockey game.

NARRATOR: Throughout the 2000s, he kept busy with a number of TV and film roles, like "The Dukes of Hazzard."

In a career that took him from the football field to becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the legendary actor will be remembered for decades of iconic roles in film and television.

Still, to many, Burt Reynolds will always be the Bandit.


BALDWIN: Nischelle Turner, let me turn to you, host of "Entertainment Tonight."

And you think of Burt Reynolds, the mustache, right? I remember his role in "Boogie Nights," and handsome, handsome man.

NISCHELLE TURNER, "ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT": Yes, very much so, I mean, ruggedly handsome.

I think -- when I remember back, I heard Stephanie talking about him being married to Loni Anderson in the late '80s and early '90s. They were kind of our Brad and Angelina at that time, just -- seriously, that striking couple, Hollywood's A-list, you know, the top of the heap, so beautiful.

And we all looked at them and were kind of aspirational to what we thought relationship goals were. You know, and then they broke up, and subsequently he had some failures.

But think about this, Brooke. Back in the '70s, in the late '70s, he was Hollywood's top-grossing star for four or five years running. And he actually had at one point four movies playing at the same time in theaters. That's unheard of...

BALDWIN: That's crazy.

TURNER: ... for an actor in these days. Yes, absolutely.

You know, we all remember "Deliverance." It was amazing and one of the best films ever made. He says that it was the best film he was ever in. He wasn't sure, he said, if it was his best acting, but that was the best film that he believed he had ever been in.

I was just reading a little bit more about him. And one of the things that I thought was very interesting was not the movie that he did make, but the movie that he didn't make. Apparently, he turned down the role of Han Solo that went to Harrison Ford, so I'm sure Harrison was very grateful for that.

BALDWIN: Oh, wow.

TURNER: And, also, he turned down the role in "Die Hard" that Bruce Willis played as well.

And so I'm just thinking about all of these opportunities that he had in Hollywood and all of the memories that he has made, but I think Stephanie said it best when she said, we will all remember him as the Bandit, won't we?

BALDWIN: She did say it best.


BALDWIN: And do we know -- so, he was 82. Do we know any more about just what happened?


Just the information we have is that he died in the hospital in Florida, that he went into cardiac arrest. And he was surrounded by his family, and he didn't recover. The information is just now starting to come in, so we just have that

brief information. But, of course, we're trying to get more at this moment.

BALDWIN: Gotcha.

TURNER: But, yes, we're really just compiling. And it's hard to compile when you think about all that he's done and all the movies he's done, and then transferring to television, all that he's done in the years that he's been in Hollywood.

BALDWIN: But he's one of those actors. You know, as I'm now glancing down at everything -- we go all the way back to "Deliverance," right, all the way through.


BALDWIN: And Stephanie made the point, you know, there was a quiet time for a bit, and then talk about his career resurgence with "Boogie Nights" on into, you know, the last decade or so.

He had -- he had staying power.

TURNER: Yes, absolutely. I think the first time that I really -- and I'm going to -- obviously, because I'm seeing it on the screen right now, he and Dolly Parton in "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas."

And I remember I was trying to sneak and watch it. I wasn't supposed to watch it. And when I watched it, I fell in love with him. But I think a lot of people of a generation also remember some of the things that he did off of the screen, one of -- his "Cosmopolitan" centerfold.

That, at that time, was jaw-dropping. It was, you know, a game- changer in Hollywood, sold a million-and-a-half copies. He says that it was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made, because he felt like it cost "Deliverance" the recognition that that movie deserved.

So, he looked back on that, even though we look back at that as iconic, he looked back on that as a mistake of his. Of course, he did start out as an athlete. We saw that in "The Longest Yard." But he started out as a high school football player. He was a running back. He was supposed to go play football at Alabama.


And then he moved to Hollywood. And like, when you look at him -- you talked about his good looks. I mean, he had that mustache, but he had those deep, brooding eyes. He was the quintessential leading man in Hollywood in his day.

BALDWIN: Nischelle Turner, thank you so much for calling in. We appreciate it.

And, at age 82, Burt Reynolds is gone.

We will be right back.


BALDWIN: You're back watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Look at this -- look at all these faces. The denials are pouring in from Trump administration officials over the mystery of who wrote that blistering "New York Times" op-ed.


The first lady has now even issued a statement.

Kate Bennett follows her. She's reporting on this.

Kate, what has Melania Trump now said?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting the times that Melania Trump chooses to weigh in and the times she doesn't.

This is one of those times, and we're hearing directly from her. And, Brooke, she started off her statement to CNN by saying that she appreciates a free press and understands the importance of a free press. In fact, she calls it one of the pillars of our founding fathers is the free press.

So, interesting opposition there between how her husband feels about the press sometimes. But then she goes on to say that anonymous sources are bad, basically, and that people without names are writing the history of this country, is I think the words she used.

And then at the end of her statement, which, again, was sort of rather lengthy for the first lady, she says something about the actual culprit, the person who she believes is very much at fault for writing this op-ed, and she says directly to the writer: "To the writer of the op-ed, you are not protecting this country. You are sabotaging it with your cowardly actions."

So, certainly right there, she's echoing the president, echoing the administration in lockstep with him, but she first kicks off by saying, listen, we do need a free press.

BALDWIN: Kate, thank you.

I want to discuss this with Beck Dorey-Stein. She used to serve as White House stenographer for President Trump. She says she quit because she lost her pride in her workplace. She wrote her book "From the Corner of the Oval." Also with us, Douglas Brinkley, a CNN presidential historian.

So, welcome to both of you.

And, Doug Brinkley, let me start with what we were just reporting. This has just come in from Senator Rand Paul, who is now suggesting, how do we figure out? Make everyone take a lie-detector test. And it strikes me, once again, this is where we are in America right now.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, it's very disappointing, but kind of to be expected that Donald Trump would so overreact to this op-ed piece.

You know, he's calling -- you know, the combo of the Woodward book and the anonymous op-ed has just made the president, who is often unhinged, even more unhinged.

And what a horrible idea for Rand Paul to suggest, somebody who talks about being a civil libertarian and somebody who believes in the individual rights, to now say the president is going to start hooking up lie detectors and asking who wrote an op-ed for "The New York Times."

It's just insanity. Truth of the matter is American history is replete with whistle-blowers. Every agency has them, people within government who see things that are going wrong and send up a warning flare.

I think the anonymous thing would have come and gone in a week or two if Donald Trump hasn't turned it into a kind of episode of paranoia for himself that I see no end for. It's going to be hard to find this person and ferret them out. He shouldn't be wasting presidential energy on it as this level.

BALDWIN: It's just insanity, you say.

Beck, you worked at this White House. You said even then people were tiptoeing around. Can -- try to help us understand what it must be like in the West Wing with this president, who cannot trust a soul he works with.


So, for the first two months that I was there, it was complete insanity. I was trying to leave. And I went into a room, and instead of people being at desks, they were actually sitting there and on the floor shuffling papers around as much as possible, and they slammed the door in my face.

BALDWIN: Can you -- you're losing your earpiece, your microphone. Can you hear me, Dorey?


BALDWIN: It's all right. It's live TV. But we're just going to roll with it. Can you hear me?

Let me know when you have got that earpiece in your ear.

And so, go on. So, basically, you -- it was your job to walk around in every single room and record the president. You know, you wanted to make sure if a reporter was asking a question, you wanted that word for word recorded, just in case a reporter came back with something inaccurate. You would be that record.

And you felt that in this White House, that wasn't necessary, ergo, you left. You have this unique view of this particular president. And is it -- we keep hearing about his paranoia. And can you imagine, now that someone is lurking in this White House that has written this piece, it's just making it worse for this man.


I'm actually secretly hoping it's Sarah Huckabee Sanders myself. But I will say that, when I was working in the Obama administration, I think 12 people have since written books, and each one is a glowing pride about working for President Obama.

And every former staffer of President Trump has come out annihilating his character. So I think that speaks for itself. You have to earn the president's trust, and the president has to also earn your trust. And President Trump hasn't done that, so why does he expect trust from anyone?


BALDWIN: Is there justification, Doug Brinkley, for this president to be a tad paranoid and upset, given what's happened under his nose?

BRINKLEY: You know, I edited Ronald Reagan's diaries.

And President Reagan knew how difficult the press is. Presidents don't like the press. But he used to act like a Macy's Day Parade float balloon. Just go over the press. Don't let each jab get to you.

This president makes the fatal mistake of waking up and watching cable TV from beginning to end, responding to every insult, that he's going to out-insult them more, and he bullies his own administration.

How do you get loyalty out of Jeff Sessions when you call him mentally retarded? How do you get loyalty out of senators in the end when you're Ted Cruz, deep down, no matter Cruz wants him to come to a rally in Texas, but he said his father was part of killing of JFK?

These are not the kind of endearing qualities of a president that's going to get royalty around you. And, hence, Donald Trump is historic. We never had a White House who leaked like this. Everybody is leaking. The anonymous article is really another leak. It's 800, 900 words. That could have been talked -- instead of it being called an op-ed, it could have been a reporter talking about what's going on in the White House.

It's just a lot of disgruntled people thinking that the president is the emperor that is wearing no clothes. In a time of crisis, if we have a president who is incapacitated with medical illness or psychiatric problems or alcoholism, you would hope somebody within the White House would warn the American people what's going on.

So I think anonymous did the right thing by at least telling us that people are keeping a keen eye on the abhorrent behavior of the president.

BALDWIN: Back to you.

Do you think this anonymous senior person did the right thing? Is this an unsung hero, or is this person a coward?

DOREY-STEIN: I think the American people have the right to know what's going on.

And I will say that I'm not even surprised, because when I was at the White House under President Trump, most staffers I worked with hadn't actually elected to work for him. They had been recruited from the RNC, because no one wanted to work in that White House from the get- go.

So I'm not surprised that there are unsung heroes trying to make it work.

BALDWIN: But this is a senior official, right? So that would mean that would be someone presumably that the president himself handpicked -- you know, hand-picked for this particular position. And I have to imagine, in 2018, somebody is going to figure it out.

DOREY-STEIN: Oh, sure, but so many of...

BALDWIN: Go ahead.

DOREY-STEIN: I suppose. I think that so many of the people that the president handpicked have since come out and spoken against him or he's since fired them indirectly.

So I think that if you compare the Obama White House, which people like to say is "The West Wing," this is more like "Game of Thrones." So, the loyalties do not run very deep anywhere.

BALDWIN: Winter is coming. So says one source, right?


BALDWIN: According to "The Washington Post" from a week ago.

Beck, thank you. Doug, thank you so much.

DOREY-STEIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: One of the more stunning parts of this op-ed, the claim that the 25th Amendment had been -- quote -- "whispered among officials." How would that even work?

We are going to dive into Section 4 of the 25th Amendment.

Stay with me. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[15:27:55] BALDWIN: One of the more striking revelations in this "New York Times" op-ed is that members of the president's own Cabinet discussed removing him from office.

There were whispers, was the word used, removing the president under the 25th Amendment. This anonymous senior Trump administration official writes: "Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which could start a complex process for removing the president, but no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis."

President Trump tweeted a response to the op-ed with one word, all caps: "TREASON?"

But what exactly is the 25th Amendment and specifically this Section 4?

Let's talk to Berit Berger. She's a former federal prosecutor, and the host of "Law & Crime," Bob Bianchi.

So, Berit, let me just start with you.

As I was reading about Section 1, 2, 3, it's the fourth section that's key in the process of removing a president. Can you spell that out for all of us?


So, this is kind of new territory, the 4th section of 25th Amendment, we have never actually...

BALDWIN: Never been used.

BERGER: ... been used before. Right. So this would be fully new territory.

And this is relatively recent. So this was only ratified in 1967. So this is really the section that is for if a president is incapacitated or can't carry out his or her duties, this gives us a procedure for the vice president and members of the Cabinet to really alert Congress, to say -- to give a declaration saying that the president can't fulfill his or her duties.

There's then the chance for the president, if he disagrees with this, to submit his own declaration, saying, wait, I actually can. And then this would have to go to Congress. They would have 21 days to make a determination as to whether or not the president actually could fulfill his or her duties.

BALDWIN: Stand by.

I'm being told we're going to listen in to the Judge Kavanaugh hearing that is still under way. This is day three. This is the man who this president would like to become the next Supreme Court justice getting grilled on Capitol Hill.

Let's listen.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Let me be clear about the point I'm trying to get to.


COONS: It's your views about whether or not, when President Nixon fired Archibald Cox, he obstructed justice, in violation of the Constitution, or the firing itself violated the Constitution.