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WOLF

Denials over Op-ed; Trump Sees Treason; Booker Defies Rules. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today through all the breaking news. See you back here this time tomorrow.

Don't go anywhere. The hearing continues. "WOLF" starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Up first, White House whodunit. President Trump goes on the warpath, searching for the source behind that scathing anonymous op-ed in the article published in "The New York Times." An unnamed senior Trump administration official describes working behind the scenes to protect the country from the president's recklessness.

One by one, administration officials are lining up today to deny they were behind the anonymous op-ed and to condemn it. Among the denials, look at this, aides for Vice President Pence called the article false, illogical, and gutless. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed "The New York Times" for taking a, quote, disgruntled, deceptive, bad actor's word. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats says, and I'm quoting, speculation that "The New York Times" op-ed was written by me or my principal deputy is patently false. And the list goes on and on and it's growing right now.

Let's bring in our CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, give us a sense of how all of this is playing out inside the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know that the president likes a strongly worded denial. I'm also told he is watching and reading all of these denials as they are coming in. I'm told that aides are printing them out for him and bringing them to him and he is reading them and watching them, who is issuing them and perhaps who is not issuing them.

But, Wolf, this does not necessarily answering the question of who wrote this editorial. Certainly it does not go without belief that the person who wanted to remain anonymous could also be issuing a statement here saying they didn't do it. We do not know, frankly, who the senior administration official is. Depending on the description of that term, it could be dozens of people, it could be hundreds of people. The fact is here inside the West Wing, the White House, the president is trying to find out who it is. But, Wolf, I am told the president paying deep attention, close attention to who is issuing these.

He's also paying attention to what his vice president said. He talked about it in Florida earlier this morning. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anyone who would write an anonymous editorial smearing this president, who's provided extraordinary leadership to this country, should not be working for this administration. They ought to do the honorable thing and they ought to resign. But, look, the bottom line is, the American people see through all of this. The American people voted for this team, voted for this president because they wanted to see results.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So there has been a flurry of statements all week long, of course beginning the week with the response to the Woodward book. The president watching those statements as well. He called it a beautiful statement when his own defense secretary denied what had been reported that he said.

So, Wolf, all of this is certainly weighing on the president. We'll see him later this afternoon as he flies to Montana for a campaign rally this afternoon. Until then, I think these statements of denials will continue coming in, Wolf.

BLITZER: And he's looking, as you point out, very closely at who has not yet issued a flat denial to be the author of this article.

ZELENY: Indeed.

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny at the White House, we'll get back to you.

The op-ed article says members of the cabinet whispered about the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Here's what the Constitution says about that. Whenever the vice president and the majority of either the principal officers of the executive department transmit to the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House their written declaration that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the vice president shall assume the powers and duties as acting president.

Here's what that means. If the vice president and majority of the cabinet think the president can't do the job, then Congress can vote to remove the president. This is different than an impeachment process. The 25th Amendment would be a last resort, only used in the event of a true constitutional crisis. Something former senator and Secretary of State John Kerry believes is the case right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is unbelievable. This is a presidency that -- this is a genuine constitutional crisis. And the crisis is heightened by the fact that my former colleagues in the United States Senate on the Republican side, who have taken an oath of office to defend the Constitution and the institutions of our country as a whole, which are embraced in that oath, are defending instead not the Constitution, not the institution of the Senate, they're defending party and the president, who simply doesn't know what he's doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Congressman Tom Reed. He's a Republican from New York.

Thanks so much for joining us.

REP. TOM REED (R), NEW YORK: It's great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So with the administration saying they are basically trying to save the country, this administration official, from the president of the United States, you've read the article in "The New York Times," this senior Trump administration official, do you believe all of this is leading up to a constitutional crisis?

[13:05:05] REED: I do not because all you have to do is look at the record. If you look at what the president is delivering upon. And when you have an anonymous source as somehow the thing that's going to start a constitutional crisis, that just to me is partisan politics. That's politics out of Washington, D.C.

BLITZER: But what about all the others in the Bob Woodward book who seem to be backing up that same position? They're so worried about U.S. national security. They're so worried about this president. They're staying on -- in their jobs to try to protect the country from the commander in chief.

REED: Wolf, we're almost two years into this administration, and by this time all the naysayers, the never Trumpers, everybody that was opposed to this administration said we were going to be in a nuclear war, that there would be chaos throughout the world. And look what we're getting, economic prosperity and opportunity here at home. We're seeing peace and stability across the world. And it's not going according to their plan. And this is why this is only going to get louder and louder, this rhetoric coming out of Washington, D.C.

BLITZER: The op -- is the op-ed article in "The New York Times" an act of treason, as the president seems to think? You saw that tweet where he just wrote in all caps, treason, with a question mark.

REED: I think it's an act of cowardice. I think if you're just going to stand by an unsigned statement and then also a news media that is going to print that as actual news, that is not how the freedom of the press is supposed to work, nor is that how a person who is so committed as (INAUDIBLE) part of this resistance that they can't even put their name on the piece of paper. That speaks volumes to me as to who these individuals are.

BLITZER: Are you concerned about the president's fitness right now? Yes, the markets are up, the job numbers are good, the economy is moving along, but are you concerned at all, congressman, about the president's fitness, some of the things he's done, some of the way he's behaved?

REED: Well, you know, I -- he's a disrupter. That's what he campaigned on. And I know that causes a lot of anxiety and fear. And we'll weigh in with our relationship with the White House to express our concerns, but right now I see him delivering on what he was going to bring to Washington, D.C., that disruption this city needed.

BLITZER: Well, are you OK with the way, for example, he's treated the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, humiliating him, berating him, going after him almost on a daily basis?

REED: Wolf, I have publicly disagreed with the president. I have also talked with the White House where I've disagreed and expressed my concern. And I think that's the more appropriate way to -- when you're talking about style and the way words come out of the White House, to express your disagreement with him.

But, at the end of the day, I look at the policies. I look at the opportunity that he's delivering for the American people and what this administration is doing. And I think on the net overall picture, it's a positive picture that's being put forward across the world and here in America.

BLITZER: Are you OK with the way, for example, he praises Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, the way he praises Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, at the same time he's really going after some of America's closest allies, NATO allies, including Canada?

REED: I appreciate how the administration is bringing Kim Jong-un to the table so that denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is what we achieve. I appreciate holding Russia accountable. And, you know, I've expressed my disagreement with embracing the Russian leader and expressed how I think he's an adversary to America, not a friend. And so we'll continue to express our disagreement. But, overall, look at the policy, look at the results for the American people, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is the -- is the Robert Mueller, the special counsel probe, is it, from your perspective, a witch hunt, a ruse?

REED: No, I don't believe that to be a case. I believe, though, the investigation needs to come to a closure. The charge was to determine whether there was collusion with Russia. And it's been a year and a half, millions of dollars of taxpayers dollars being spent. Let's get to those answers. Let's get to the answer of that charge and let the other systems, the other portions of the Justice Department deal with the other issues that the investigation seems to be evolving into.

BLITZER: Well, we don't know what Mueller has come up with. He hasn't released his report. So you want him to finish it, get the job done, and then you'll study the report?

REED: Absolutely.

BLITZER: We don't know how much evidence he has of a conspiracy between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government.

REED: And that's why we have to get to a conclusion. If that collusion is there, I haven't seen any evidence of that. I don't see any evidence coming out of the Mueller investigation. And this town is known to leak. And we're not seeing that type of information.

Bottom line is, let's get this investigation closed and move on to the next chapter, delivering for the people back home.

BLITZER: I will say this as somebody who's been a journalist here in Washington for a long time, the Mueller team, they have avoided leaks. It's hard to get any information at all from those investigators and those prosecutors.

Let me play something that we heard from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan today. He said he sees no role for the House of Representatives in investigating who wrote the op-ed. And he said this also. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I know the president is very unconventional. And I know his tweeting and unconventional tactics bother people. But the results of government are good results. And what are we -- we're in a different branch of government. And our branch of government is in charge of making sure that we pass good laws that improve people's lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[13:10:18] BLITZER: But doesn't the House of Representatives also have a critically important oversight role?

REED: I would agree. Obviously we have an oversight role in the House to make sure that if there's any laws being broken, that they're pursued and that we hold people accountable in the administration, this administration and others.

But, at the end of the day, our mission needs to be focused on the evidence, needs to be focused on delivering for the American people. So I agree with the speaker's sentiment, that our number one mission should be adopting policies and repealing laws that are hurting people and adopt politics to help people.

BLITZER: Because the Republican leadership in the House has basically walked away, as far as any serious oversight of the -- of the executive branch of the U.S. government is concerned, at least for now.

The Senate, they're still doing it. But in the House, it's been silent.

REED: Well, you know, I'll let the investigative committees and the folks that are leading those charges speak for the results of them, but I believe, you know, that oversight role is in the House of Representatives. I do support that and will pursue that where necessary, in my opinion. BLITZER: We'll see what happens.

All right, Congressman Reed, always good of you to join us. Thanks very much.

REED: Great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to have much more on all of this, including the trail of possible clues in this op-ed that may expose the author.

Plus, fireworks erupting in the confirmation hearings of the president's Supreme Court nominee. Democrats defying Republicans by releasing confidential documents involving Judge Brett Kavanaugh. You're going to see what's in them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: And Senator Cornyn called me out for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many times are you going to -- how many times are you going to tell us that.

BOOKER: I say -- sir, I've say -- I'm saying right now that I'm releasing -- I'm releasing committee confidential documents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:16:11] BLITZER: Just the title alone is so ominous, and I'm quoting now, I am part of the resistance inside the Trump administration. The anonymous op-ed published by "The New York Times" has set off a frenzied search for the person behind it, and it's adding to the paranoia within the Trump White House.

Let's bring in our CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, CNN political analyst Eliana Johnson, and our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, let's talk a little bit about this, all of this, but the reaction. It sounds like there, you know, almost like a volcano erupting inside the White House.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And that would be the president, I think, would be the volcano.

You know, the reporting from people like Jeff Zeleny covering the White House is that it seems to me that the president is getting these incoming denials that people are putting in front of him so he can do his own internal leak investigation about who might have betrayed him. I mean he sees this, obviously, as an ultimate -- as an ultimate betrayal, an act of extreme disloyalty. And while he may be blaming "The New York Times" for printing it, and he's free to do that, he clearly wants to get to the bottom of this because as we -- we know, even paranoids have enemies and this president clearly has one who believes that he is a national security risk to his own administration.

BLITZER: Yes, and on that point, I want you to listen, Eliana, this is Congressman Adam Schiff, he's a Democrat, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, and he's deeply concerned about how the president will react to all of this, the Woodward book and now this article.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes, I think this anonymous op-ed underscores the fundamental conundrum of everyone working in this administration, and that is, how do you ethically serve a deeply unethical president? Some are doing it by resigning. Some are doing it by staying and thinking they can curb his worst impulses. Some are doing it by writing anonymous op-eds. I worry that it just aggravates his paranoia, the deep-state conspiracy theorists among his allies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think, Eliana, because there -- that is a deep concern?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, it's an interesting way to make the case that we're trying to curb the president's worst instincts because I do share Congressman Schiff's concerns that by blaring that fact that there are people around the president who he specifically tapped, political appointees who don't trust him, think he is a menace to the country, on the op-ed page of "The New York Times," which we know the president cares tremendously about and pays attention to, that that will only serve to exacerbate some of his worst instincts.

BLITZER: Jamie, you've been going through -- and I know you've read the Bob Woodward book. You've gone through all of that and he's sticking by his reporting, Bob Woodward. He's a great journalist, as we all know. But the White House keeps denying several of those major allegations in the book. And you're getting some new information.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Correct.

So, first of all, I went back to Bob Woodward today to ask him if there was any update. And, once again, he confirms he stands by his reporting.

The other thing we have is something brand new. And that is, yesterday you may remember President Trump said no documents could have been stolen off his desk, this didn't happen. We have --

BLITZER: Right. And he's referring to a sentence -- the book opens with this -- with Gary Cohn, the president's top economic adviser --

GANGEL: Right. BLITZER: So concerned that the president was about to sign some document that would end U.S./North Korean -- U.S./South Korean free trade agreement and could jeopardize national security by making it more difficult for the U.S. to determine if the North Koreans were to launch, for example, a nuclear missile. And so he removed it before the president could see it.

[13:20:11] GANGEL: Right. This is the very dramatic opening scene of the book where he sees this document and he says, according to Woodward, that he was appalled and got to save the country and he swipes it. Not the only time.

Yesterday the president said no documents were stolen off of his desk. We have the document. This is a copy of the document that is in Bob Woodward's book. It is a draft letter that, according to Woodward's reporting, that Gary Cohn and Staff Secretary Rob Porter, former staff secretary, didn't know how it got there. It had not gotten through the proper channels. And it is from President Trump and his U.S. trade representative, and it is addressed to the president of South Korea. It is dated September 5, 2017. So --

BLITZER: Read it to us. What does it say?

GANGEL: You want me to read the whole thing?

BLITZER: No.

GANGEL: OK.

BLITZER: Give us a sense.

GANGEL: Dear sirs, the United States/Korea free trade agreement, in its current form, is not in the overall best interests of the United States' economy, thus in accordance with Article 24.5 of the agreement, the United States hereby provides notice that it wishes to terminate the agreement. And it goes on.

But that was what they were so concerned about. What Gary Cohn, what Reince Priebus, what Rob Porter were so concerned about, that the president did not understand that by terminating the agreement, it was a danger to economic security, it was a danger to national security, it was a danger to global security.

BORGER: But how did it get on his desk is the other question. Who wrote it for the president? I mean, it's clear the president didn't write it. So who was it who actually slipped it in there and put it on the president's desk? Clearly without the --

GANGEL: So -- so what is the --

BORGER: Staff secretary knowing about it or Gary Cohn knowing about it or --

GANGEL: The two words we have said over and over since day one, chaos and dysfunction.

BORGER: Right.

GANGEL: And we know that President Trump, especially before Chief of Staff John Kelly got there, people were in and out of the Oval Office at all times of the day, night, putting things in front of him, lobbying for different policy and alternative. That's the best guess of how this got there.

BLITZER: And the national security team was deeply, deeply concerned that if the president were to terminate this free trade agreement with South Korea, the South Koreans would retaliate by punishing the U.S. in terms of national security interests and preventing the U.S. from learning about a potential North Korean nuclear missile launching within seven seconds. If they didn't have that cooperation from South Korea, they'd have to determine it from Hawaii or Alaska or someplace else. It could take 13, 14, 15 minutes, which in terms of a nuclear missile is a huge, huge deal. That was what was at stake if the president would have terminated that trade agreement with South Korea. That was the concern that Gary Cohn clearly had.

All right, everybody stick around.

There's more news we're following.

The president's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court returns for a final round of questioning today. A very nasty fight breaks out over releasing confidential documents about him. We're going to show you how it's playing out right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:28:37] BLITZER: A very contentious start to day three of judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court hearing. Democratic Senator Cory Booker set off fireworks over the handling of documents, even before the nominee was asked a question today.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: So I am, right now, before your -- before your process is finished, I'm going to release the e-mail about racial profiling, and I understand that that -- the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate. And if Senator Cornyn believes that I have violated Senate rules, I openly invite and accept the consequences of my team releasing that e-mail right now.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Running for president is no excuse for violating the rules of the Senate or of the confidentiality of the documents that we -- that we are privy to. This is no different from the senator deciding to release classified information that is deemed classified by the executive branch because you happen to disagree with the classification decision. That is irresponsible and outrageous, and I hope that the senator will reconsider his decision because no senator deserves to sit on this committee or serve in the Senate, in my view, if they decide to be a law unto themselves and willingly flout the rules of the Senate and the determination of confidentiality and classification. That is irresponsible and conduct unbecoming a senator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: An hour after the hearing began, the chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley, made his opening remarks.

[13:30:00] So let's discuss all of this critically important information.

Gloria Borger and Eliana Johnson are still with us. Page Pate is joining us now as well, our legal analyst.