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Anonymous 'NYT' Op-Ed Increases Paranoia Inside White House. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 07:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the commander of the country.

[07:00:02] GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: It's like there's a tornado every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is somebody working for the president of the United States who is trying to destroy him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should be talking about impeachment. Republicans are putting party loyalty above patriotism.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anonymous meaning gutless. A gutless editorial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's thinking like Putin would think.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: This president, if I were you, I would I have ignored the article, ignored the book.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are all defending this president and the fights the president is in I.A. Where the hell is he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the president fit to lead the greatest country on God's earth? And I think the evidence says no.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is quite a morning here. We say that a lot, but this is an extraordinary moment in American history. An extraordinary op-ed has been published in "The New York Times." It's written by an unnamed senior official inside the Trump administration.

The person claims to be one of the unsung heroes that is protecting the country from President Trump. Mr. Trump and his aides are now scrambling to figure out who among them is behind this scathing column.

The person writes, "The root of the problem is the president's amorality."

The president did not hide his anger after the op-ed was released. He slammed the author as gutless on Twitter. He said he or she should be turned over to the government, whatever that means, as if "The New York Times" is holding this person in handcuffs.

Mr. Trump also tweeted that treason -- the word "treason" after this apparent betrayal from one of his own. The president took aim also at "The New York Times."


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So the failing "New York Times" has an anonymous editorial. Can you believe it? Anonymous. Meaning gutless. A gutless editorial.


BERMAN: The author of the op-ed says he or she is part of the resistance, not of the so-called deep state, but rather the steady state.

One excerpt reads, "The dilemma, which he does not fully grasp, is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations."

The official also mentions that at one point, early in the Trump administration, there were whispers of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would take powers away from the president, and the piece ends with this: "There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single -- of a single one: Americans."

So who wrote this op-ed?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already said it wasn't him. As for the vice president -- and there has been speculation on that -- a White House official told me it is not anyone within the vice president's office and it would be absurd to think it is the vice president.

CAMEROTA: OK. So let's bring in Maggie Haberman. She is the White House correspondent for "The New York Times" and our CNN political analyst.

Maggie, great to have you with us this morning. Before we get to all of the substance of this, and there's so much to dive into, just very quickly on process, to be clear, you didn't know that this op-ed is coming. There is a line between the editorial department and your news department that you're in, so is it fair to say you're as surprised as the rest of us when this hit?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If not more so. And to be clear, I still don't know who wrote it. There is a -- there is an actual wall between the two departments. That is how newspapers work. It is how newspapers should work, and I -- and I continue not to know.

What I do know is that this -- the sentiment expressed in this op-ed is pretty consistent with what we have heard from our own sources over, you know, the last almost two years now within the administration. And frankly, what we heard from people -- some people in the campaign before that and in the transition about what the president understood about the job and his preparedness and fitness for the job.

You are seeing, between this op-ed and the Woodward book, burst into public view in a way that we have not before. I don't know if people will figure out the identity of this person. My guess is we won't until the person wants it known, if they ever do.

I think that this is certainly a newsworthy moment that this op-ed was published by "The New York Times." But I don't believe the op-ed page would do this unless they believe that this was somebody senior enough to qualify to give them such blanket anonymity for what amounts to an ad hominem take on the president. But again, this is all a piece of an iterative portrait of this presidency.

BERMAN: We're going to talk much more about how "The Times" did make this decision. And if we can assume that it was someone so senior that they deemed it to be newsworthy and essential to publish, Maggie, as you said, you don't know who it is. But you have been reporting overnight on the impact. And this has had quite an impact. Even though this notion has been out there for a while and unnamed sources have said this type of thing in articles before, this is different in the White House reaction this morning is different.

HABERMAN: I think that there was -- there is a level of anger by the president and by some of his aides that has rarely been matched in the last 20 months. I wouldn't say it's necessarily new, but it is intense. And it is different than what we have seen.

I think it was -- it was predictable and, I think, understandable that there was going to be criticism that this was somebody who is writing under the cloak of anonymity. And I -- and I -- they clearly knew it would be a controversial decision on the op-ed page. And I, again, have nothing to do with that decision so I'm not going to speak for it.

[07:05:38] But as I think about how the White House was going to respond to this, and I've thought a lot about it since last night, the president responds to it this way, even when people are on the record. He does the exact same thing.

Look at the Bob Woodward book, which is written by one of the most esteemed journalists of our time, including, you know, explosive new accounts, again, that match sort of the tone and tenor of what we have all been reporting for two years.

And the president has the exact same statement in that case. If it's on the record, it's fake news; if it's off the record, it's fake news. If it's on background, it's fake news. It can't all be made up, and I think that decisions cannot be made based on how the White House might react.

To your question, the White House is furious; he was furious when he saw it. He wants to know who it was. There are all kinds of theories. Aides were scurrying around. They canceled all kinds of meetings.

Many people in his West Wing are speculating that it's somebody off the White House campus, but that leaves a lot of leeway. That could be a cabinet member. That could be a sub-cabinet member. Again, I just don't know, but that's where their head is.

CAMEROTA: And Maggie, I mean, to be clear, the author makes it clear that it's not just one person. It's not just he or she. This person is speaking for dozens of people, the quiet resistance. Not in the way the left has framed the resistance, but in the way of believing in the president's agenda, but not believing in the president's tactics and style and anti-democratic zeal, which is what the author says.

And so my question, because you have reported on President Trump for so long and know him so well. How does he ever get past this? How does he move on? How does he ever get back to some level of focus on the stuff of presidential duty when he thinks that there are dozens of people around him trying to subvert him on some level.

HABERMAN: I think his is going to be a significant difficulty. Look I don't think this was -- what I think was the likely -- some of the impetus for this, and again, I don't know. I'm guessing, but this is very similar to the sentiment that you saw around -- we all saw around the John McCain funeral, and certainly, in that gathering at the National Cathedral of people who believed in John McCain's life, and who from the -- from the pulpit were very critical of President Trump. I think you are going to see this over and over again.

I think it has been hard for him to get past all kinds of things, whether it is the Mueller report, whether it is leaks internally. I think he has had trouble sustaining any forward momentum. He blames other people. He does not look inward for that. I think this is going to be another example.

And I think, Alisyn, he has been under some sort of sustained mental assault for the last four weeks, and by that, I just mean the Michael Cohen guilty plea, the Paul Manafort verdict, the week of McCain tributes, which he confided to people privately he was not happy about. And then you had the Woodward book and then this. That's a lot.

BERMAN: Yes, Maggie, I think the thing is astounding here. This isn't even Russia. I mean, this piece does make mention of the Russia investigation, but this is mostly separate from that, and that has been such a shadow over he administration.

He also brought up John McCain. Obviously, we all know from your reporting and others the president really did not like living through the last week with him and having to listen so much to so much about John McCain. And that was specifically mentioned -- John McCain was specifically mentioned in this op-ed.

CAMEROTA: Yes. BERMAN: David Frum, among others, knows that if the goal here was to get the president to listen to his advisors, or what this person calls the adults in the room, that may have very well backfired.

HABERMAN: Well, I don't think it's going to happen regardless. I mean, I think that -- one of the things that comes up in the Woodward book is, you know, Gary Cohn, his former top economic advisor, plays very centrally in that role.

And there are scenes of Gary Cohn trying to explain trade deficits with him, and trying to explain the service economy to him, and saying this is actually why your theories are wrong.

And the president essentially says, "Well, these are my theories, and I've had them for a really long time. And I'm staying with them."

And this is the constant, John, is it was -- it was never going to work. I don't think that the goal here was for people to try to get the president to listen. I think this was somebody who had something they wanted to say to the American public and said it.

Again, other people are going to be able to agree or disagree with whether "The Times" made the right decision. But I don't think the goal was to try to impact the president in some way. I think we have seen, over the course of the last two years, that that is a very, very difficult thing to accomplish.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I hear you, and I agree with you, Maggie, that I think that this was a message directly to the American public when this person talks about the adults in the room. I'll just read it quickly.

[07:10:03] "It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening, and we are trying to do what's right, even when Donald Trump won't."

Yes, he won't like any of this. I mean, this is, you know, Maggie, for somebody who is naturally paranoid, for someone who naturally, whose first instinct is that people are sort of out to get him, and now what do people want. And now, feeling the wall?

I mean, I can only imagine that he feels, between Bob Woodward and this, the walls closing in.

HABERMAN: Look, this feels very similar, and both of you were around this. This feels like a very, very elongated version the last several months of October 2016. And I think that you are now -- again, the outcome of that was Donald Trump won the election. So that is just one thing to point out.

I don't know what all of this adds up to. I also think one -- one issue I do take with that op-ed is the person writes, you know, we the grown-ups in the room are saving the country. I'm not clear what -- because I don't know who this person is. It's hard to evaluate what a policy person, at least in some way. It's hard to know what they believe they're saving him from. Right?

I mean, the -- or saving the country from. The administration's critics would say, you know, there's still 500 children who have not been reunited with their parents because of that border decision.

It's not clear exactly what this refers to. And I do think that that is one of the problems with it. And I'm fortunate enough to work at a place where they, you know, welcome internal criticism. But -- so I don't know how much you can actually derive from what this person is saying. But I do think it is going to make the president feel as if everyone is out to get him, which as you say, is the sentiment he has most of the time, anyway.

BERMAN: And you brought this up, Maggie. You don't know who it is, and you also suggest ultimately it does matter who it is, because it colors perspective here. You think there are signs it could be a policy person. The words "antitrade" are in there. It mentions --

CAMEROTA: I'm more interested in "lodestar."

BERMAN: It mentions the tax cut and other things, but it does matter. I mean, it matters this is a cabinet official, as opposed to the, you know, deputy in the U.S. Trade Office thing.

HABERMAN: Yes, look, I mean, this is why one of the criticisms, less of the times and more of the person who wrote it that I saw yesterday. It was, you know, how very brave to do this under -- under the name anonymous.

You know, that that doesn't really go very far. One of my -- one of my colleagues at "The Times" wrote a very funny post on Twitter, where saying something of the effect I can't wait for the memoir. I, too, was mostly silent, but dismayed. A memoir, you know, in 20 years.

And I think that there is a point to be made about that. Look, we all rely on anonymous sources in our business. It is -- it is vital. It has certainly been vital in this administration. Because as we know, so few people want to go on the record, as you are seeing in this case. I think I have to assume the person who was doing the work believes the work they are doing is important.

And they want to be able to continue doing the work. And it is the goal of doing the work that led them to take this decision where they wouldn't be named. But at some point, this becomes harder and harder when people are unwilling to speak out. The Woodward book was different, is the Woodward book went a little bit further toward that. Right? There were people who, well, whether they knew they were going to be quoted or not, clearly spoke to him.

And these were people among the most senior officials in the West Wing, and that was a change.

BERMAN: All right. Maggie Haberman, thank you very much for helping us with this.

Joining us now, CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin; and CNN senior media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter.

One of the unique things here is that Maggie doesn't know and really hasn't done reporting from inside "The Times" about how this came to pass.


BERMAN: You have.

STELTER: I spoke with Jim Dao, who is the op-ed editor for "The Times." He's the one that received this submission from this anonymous source. Remember, Dao knows who it is. Dao's boss knows who this person is. We don't know, but "The New York Times" editorial section does know the identity of this person. They have vetted this person. They confirmed the person's identity, and as Maggie was saying, they decided this was newsworthy.

Now, there is a famous wall between the opinion folks at "The Times" and the news folks, like Maggie, at "The Times."

And that wall is very important on a day like today, because this source is only known to the opinion side. But what Dao said is that only a small, small number of people at "The Times" know. They did work to vet this and fact check the document.

And here's something interesting. They're not ruling out publishing another piece by this person in the future.

CAMEROTA: Is that right? That's interesting news.

STELTER: They're not ruling that idea out. But maybe, you know, this person will submit another piece.

CAMEROTA: Did the person say they wanted to submit another piece?

STELTER: Not exactly, but I have the sense that they are still in touch with this person. And of course, they won't say how. And one of the great guessing games here is how in the world do you submit this op-ed without getting traced?

CAMEROTA: An intermediary.

STELTER: And then you turn it in through a face-to-face meeting? But yes, that is a big part of this, that originally, Dao received the message from the source through an intermediary, someone that was a go-between in this case.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey Toobin, I don't say this lightly. Oh, my God.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Can I tell you something? See, the Trump administration, I think, started, like most administrations, in nonfiction. Then it moved to fiction, and now we've moved into science fiction in terms of how this administration is operating. We are so far beyond, you know, what's the norms of American political life that, you know, I really think we -- what -- what comes tomorrow is -- is a genuine mystery to us all. [07:15:30] BERMAN: You make a joke about this being fiction. For

instance, in "Amanda Wakes Up," now available in paperback by Alisyn Camerota --

CAMEROTA: And by the way, I have to say something about this. I know a little bit about this, because when I wrote the book "Amanda Wakes Up" about some journalism in this era of Trump and cable news, I handed it over to an intermediary in a brown paper bag, because I was so concerned about the contents of this. So I know a little bit about using an intermediary with sensitive information.

BERMAN: And your editor, had you written the story that is now being discussed right here on this broadcast, would have told you, "You can't do it."

CAMEROTA: "Too much."

BERMAN: "No one would believe it."

CAMEROTA: "Pump the brakes."

BERMAN: "It's too much."

TOOBIN: But that was so long ago.

BERMAN: I understand. Jeffrey, is this person an unsung hero? Is this writer an unsung hero?

TOOBIN: You know, I -- no, I don't think so. I mean, I think this is this sort of weird middle ground of, first of all, you say to this person, "Who did you think you were working for?" I mean, yes, all of these revelations of the Woodward book, in this -- in this op-ed shocking, but are they surprising? No. I mean, there's -- I mean, who did you think you working for?

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey -- Jeffrey, People --

TOOBIN: George Herbert Walker Bush?

STELTER: Maybe people thought he would change.


STELTER: Maybe people thought he would change.

CAMEROTA: We heard that enough.

STELTER: He would start reading. He would start thinking about things differently.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey, we talked about this before. That it's, in some ways, if you are not a Trump supporter, it is worse than you imagined.

TOOBIN: Well, it is pretty -- yes, I mean, it's pretty bad. If you, you know, look at the relationship between the two -- the last two days. But also, let's look at the Kavanaugh hearings. You know what? Conservatives, they think Donald Trump is a fool. They think Donald Trump is immoral, ignorant, uncurious, but they're getting their Supreme Court that they want. They're getting the Supreme Court that will gut pollution regulations, that will allow states to ban abortion, that will end affirmative action in the United States. They're winning in the forum that matters the most and longest to them.

So you know, if the country is at risk from a lunatic president, it's worth it, because they're getting the Supreme Court they want. I mean, I think that's the calculation.

BERMAN: One of the arguments you will hear is that the president was elected. The voters elected President Trump. No one elected this person, this senior administration official who wrote this op-ed, which to me, Brian, again, gets to why it's so important; the identity of this person absolutely does matter.

STELTER: And I do believe eventually, we will know who the person is. You were talking last hour about the speculation about Mike Pence. And of course Pence's office is going to deny it. Whoever wrote this is going to deny writing it for a while. And then eventually, we will find out. Maybe not until the end of the Trump presidency, or maybe tomorrow.

Again, to Jeffrey's point, it's such a mystery.

BERMAN: So Brian -- hang on -- hang on, Jeffrey. Because one of the points that people make, and this gets to the media aspect of this, Brian. Your expertise is that "The Times" would not have published it, had it not been someone who was deemed important, that they felt important. Can we trust that?

STELTER: Yes. "Senior." What does "senior" mean? Technically, there's a thousand people in the government that we could call senior if we were giving them anonymity.

But I think as a practical matter, knowing how big news rooms like "The Times" and CNN work, these editors wouldn't give the title "senior" to someone who was not in the room where it happens, who was not someone who deserves that title.

CAMEROTA: And just very quickly, there was -- it sounds like a mistake that the "New York Times" made, in terms of releasing the person's gender --


CAMEROTA: -- or accidentally suggesting a gender.

STELTER: Yes, some random staffer in the newsroom tweeted out the word "he," having no idea who the person was. And that contributed to the mess, I think.

CAMEROTA: They've walked that back now. They now saw neither he or she.

STELTER: They've walked it back.

CAMEROTA: They're not willing to say either he or she.

STELTER: Right. And the president seems to be determined to prove these people right. Look at his reactions to this op-ed: volcanic anger, raging against the leaker, demanding "The New York Times" turn in the source? It's as if he's trying to back up the allegations that he's unfit.

CAMEROTA: Counselor.

BERMAN: Go ahead.

CAMEROTA: I was just going to read a little portion of it, Jeffrey, to what the person's message is. OK? I mean, you say the person should have known who Donald Trump was. But here's -- I mean, to your point that for them, principle and agenda, they say was more important than person. OK.

"So to be clear, ours is not the popular resistance of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of his policies have already made America safer and more prosperous. But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic."

[07:20:08] TOOBIN: That's what they say. I mean, it would have been nice to have some specific examples of what they -- of what they object to.

But you know, it is all part of the same picture of the Trump administration, which is really not that different from the Trump campaign. I mean, this is the person who, you know, said John McCain was not a war hero, who attacked the Gold Star family, who said a Mexican-American judge couldn't judge his case. That was all before the election. And of course, it was before -- after the Access Hollywood a tape, everyone knew what they were getting.

And three million people more thought Hillary Clinton should be president, but the Electoral College elected Donald Trump. And that's how our system works. But I mean, is any of this really surprising? Not to me, and I don't think I have any great special insight there.

STELTER: I still say I'm trying to retain my capacity for surprise.

BERMAN: I think an op-ed like this published in "The New York Times" is surprising. I have to say, when I saw it and I saw the headline, I saw the language used again and again, I was surprised that someone put this down in one letter, despite what we've heard from sources over time.

TOOBIN: You know --

BERMAN: Jeffrey, hang on. TOOBIN: You know what would have been surprising?


TOOBIN: If someone wrote an op-ed piece that said, "You know, "Donald Trump at the end of the day goes up to his private residence and reads briefing books all night."

BERMAN: Hang on, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: And asked historians for questions. I mean, that would have been surprising. Is this surprising?

BERMAN: I want to ask you, Jeffrey, about the ramifications.

CAMEROTA: Jeffrey is jaded.

BERMAN: The president calls this treason, which it's not. It doesn't fit anything close to the definition of treason. But says he wants "The Times" to hand over the name of the source here. What could happen to this person really, other than losing his or her job, ultimately?

TOOBIN: Getting a big book contract. I think that's the risk that this person is running, and getting fired, of course. And look, it is legitimately a firing offense. You do owe your employer a certain level of -- of loyalty. This person, it seems certain, is some sort of political appointee. So he or she, you know, can be fired tomorrow and if -- if their name is disclosed, I'm sure they will be.

But you know, I don't -- and I'm sure many people will be angry at this person when their name is disclosed. But in terms of personal risk, in terms of, you know, the kind of risks that people run around the world for freedom of the press; in Mexico, where journalists are killed with regularity; in Syria, where people risk their lives to try to cover the story. I mean, that's real risk.

I mean, this person may get a, you know, lesser table at The Palm, but frankly, they'll probably get a better table, because they'll be so famous once they're -- once they're identified.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, Brian Stelter. Sentenced to a big book contract.

CAMEROTA: That's not the worst thing that could happen.

BERMAN: All right. How do members of Congress feel about all of this? You might be surprised at where some of the criticism is coming from. Not just Republicans in this case. We'll speak to a Democratic senator next.


[07:26:59] BERMAN: What is going on inside the White House this morning? President Trump battling two straight days of huge allegations critical of his presidency. In a scathing new op-ed from an unnamed senior official on his team, and others talking to Bob Woodward for Woodward's new book.

Joining mem now is Democratic Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut.

Senator Murphy, thanks so much. I want to read something, a statement that you put out on Twitter. You said, "The Trump administration is not Vichy, France, but history renders consistent judgment on those that collaborate with regimes they judge to be immoral in order to justify a paycheck and a fancy job title."

There's a lot I want to discuss here, but the headline seems to be you're not jumping up and down and cheering the person who wrote this unnamed op-ed.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: No, I'm not, because I'm not sure how it actually solves the problem that this person is identifying. Frankly, if you're concerned about the stability of the president and the stability of the nation, I'm not sure why you would prick him in the side, make him even more paranoid, and end up perhaps having a purge inside the White House of anyone that he suspects to be connected with mainstream Republican causes.

This seems more like someone who is trying to protect the job interests of those inside the administration who want to work in Washington after this disaster is over.

So no, I'm not celebrating this -- the authorship of this piece. Also because it's not terribly surprising. I mean, we have plenty of other reporting that tells us that this president is paranoid, that he's unstable, that he has to be managed on a daily basis by his advisors around him. And so I'm not sure that this adds a lot of new information. It probably just makes the situation inside the White House even worse.

BERMAN: The president called it gutless. Now, you're not using that word exactly, but you seem to be suggesting that writing this without naming yourself does lack courage.

MURPHY: Listen, there are plenty of other ways that this person could have done about disclosing this information. I heard someone else say last night that this would have made a pretty important resignation letter. So I'm not sure that -- I'm not sure there's a lot of heroism in writing this piece.

And I also sort of, you know, think to myself, if you, you know, care so much about this country, then why are you inside the White House trying to smooth out the edges of this president, trying to sell his reckless agenda to the public? Because all that does is make it more likely that he'll get a second term.

BERMAN: So you say in this tweet, to go back to that, you say the Trump administration is not Vichy, France. That sounds like the linguistic formulation the president often uses. "You know, I'm not saying this person is short, but they're awfully short." So you throw out Vichy, France, there and then seem to suggest that people who work in this administration are collaborators.

MURPHY: Well, what I'm saying is that, if you are knowingly operating inside this White House --

BERMAN: That is everyone that works in this administration.

MURPHY: -- understanding --

BERMAN: Everyone who works in this administration is knowingly working there.

MURPHY: Oh, no.

BERMAN: Knowingly working there. There's no one who's --