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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Hurricane Florence Targets East Coast; Trump Approval Number Dropping; New CNN Poll: 32 Percent of Americans Say Trump Isn't Honest. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 10, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Looks like President Trump has an approval problem inside and outside his White House.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Plunging approval. Haunted by a book and an op-ed that say the president is a danger to the country, brand-new CNN polls releasing right now on THE LEAD show more potential trouble for President Trump heading into the midterms.

Ford telling President Trump to hit the brakes, firing back in a war over making cars here in the U.S. What's the strategy behind clobbering big, storied American companies?

Plus: breaking news, Hurricane Florence now a major Category 4 storm, on track for a direct hit to the East Coast with millions in the danger zone.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: To our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world, welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with breaking news in our politics lead.

Brand-new CNN polls revealing how Americans feel about President Donald Trump's time in office, this in the wake of the one-two punch to his presidency, the Bob Woodward book "Fear" and the "New York Times" op-ed penned by an unnamed senior member of his own administration.

President Trump's approval rating has now fallen six points in just the last month to just 36 percent approving the way President Trump is handling his job.

The president's favorability rating, measured whether people like him or not, has also taken a hit; 61 percent now say they have an unfavorable view of the president. That is the worst level since Trump was elected.

And when it comes to that bombshell "New York Times" op-ed, a majority, that is,58 percent, say the author should publicly identify themselves, and 55 percent think it is appropriate -- or, rather, inappropriate for an administration official to work against the agenda of the president.

This afternoon, White House staffers cleaned off the press secretary's forum before Sarah Sanders held the first briefing in nearly three weeks, 19 days. Sanders this afternoon doubling down on the president's request that the Department of Justice investigate who wrote the anonymous op-ed, and wouldn't rule out the possibility of the president potentially suing Bob Woodward over his new book.

Let's go right now to the panel.

Let's start with these numbers here.

Dave Urban, you look at these figures, they're not good for the president. I mean, look at independents there, too. So, just among independents down 16 points since August, 31 percent. We're heading into an important midterm election.

How should the president be viewing these numbers?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good thing the president is not on the ballot, right?

SCIUTTO: But is he not?

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: No, he's really not on the ballot. Historically...

SCIUTTO: Historically, the president's approval...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: The trend is not good, right?

George Bush in his midterm election, not the first go-round, right, the second go-round, his numbers were terrible and he ended up losing both the House and Senate. So there is reason to be worried, rightfully so.

But, look, these elections are all about who is on the ticket, actually, right? You have good candidates in Florida. You have a tough race at the top of the ticket and a different race for Senate. So every race has to be viewed independently of one another and the president is going to have some impact on some races negatively and some positively.

Look, Senator Cruz, Ted Cruz is begging President Trump to come to Texas for him. And so in Texas, he's going to get a good balance. In West Virginia, I know the attorney general, Morrisey, would love the president to come in much as he can to West Virginia.

SCIUTTO: Angela, Kristen, you might call that a little spin.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, but I think what's interesting is, you're absolutely right. The president will have some positive impact on some of the races and on so many others, not so much, especially when they're not even Trump-like. They're just baby Trump, which is the case in the -- the situation you brought up in Florida.

That is actually not a good example, because Ron DeSantis, just like the president, started his campaign trafficking in racism. And we saw how that continues to play out just, exhibit A, those poll numbers.

So I think he has to be very careful about the negative impacts he may have for candidates you all would support. For us, I hope they continue down this same trend, because for us, Symone, it means there are people who get a historic opportunity. And this election is one of them, with three black gubernatorial candidates.

SCIUTTO: Well, Kristen and Symone, I want to hear from you on this.

If you look at the generic ballot in the race, that not trending well for Republicans either. I mean, it's safe to say the president's disapproval -- and this is despite the fact you have very good economic numbers, but that this makes, I assume, Republican candidates nervous.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That's right.

That's right. So if you went back to last winter in November, December, you saw numbers like this. It was scary for Republicans. And then the tax reform bill passed, which people will debate whether it's popular or not. But what is a fact is that the president's numbers and the generic ballot started to get better in the early part of this year.

[16:05:03]

They had been in a much better place for the last seven months, but since August, the numbers have been trending the wrong direction for the president. I think it's because he's not on that message of the economy.

In this poll, his economic job approval is about 13 points higher than his overall job approval numbers. Two-thirds think the economy is in a good place. But that's not what the president seems to be talking about. So if I was one of his advisers, I would suggest to him, get back to that if you want those numbers to...

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: They tried today from the White House podium, Symone.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I know. The president was talking about the economy today, actually, on Twitter. But he was lying about the numbers.

RYE: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: You sound like President Obama, criticizing the president.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Thank you so much.

I also think it's important to note that those numbers are going down. I think it's also because the tax cuts were tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, not everyday, regular people, if you will.

So and while, yes, GDP is up, wages are still flat and declining in some places. And folks are feeling that going to the polls. For Democrats, I think that's why it's important to continue to hammer this economic message and health care going into the midterm elections. That's what they have been doing. And these numbers don't look like a red wave, David.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Hold that thought, because we will have more time to talk about it.

I do want to bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's at the White House.

Kaitlan, today was the first White House press briefing since the op- ed, since the Woodward book excerpts have been released. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders continuing to push the idea that the Department of Justice should investigate the unnamed author of that op-ed.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim.

It was the first White House press briefing since a lot of things have happened here back at the White House. But, yes, the White House repeating today that they believe the Justice Department should look into the identity of that author who wrote that scathing anonymous op- ed.

But pressed multiple times by reporters about what crime it is the White House believes that this person who wrote this op-ed has committed, and why what they did is not protected by the First Amendment, they were unable to state any crime or any reason why they believe this should happen, only saying they believe it should.

Of course, Jim, one thing is clear. The White House still doesn't know who it is that wrote this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump downplaying the chaos tonight, claiming the White House is a smooth-running machine as crisis unfolds in the West Wing.

The White House taking questions from reporters today for the first time in nearly three weeks. Sarah Sanders taking aim at Bob Woodward over his tell-all book on the Trump White House.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: To not even take the time to get a $10 fact-checker to call around and verify that some of these quotes were happened, when no effort was made, it seems like a very careless and reckless way to write a book.

COLLINS: With no public events on his schedule today, Trump waging a war against Bob Woodward from behind closed doors, calling his book "a joke, just another assault against me," and hitting him for not naming his sources.

Trump highlighting denials from Defense Secretary James Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly, though Woodward says they're just trying to protect themselves.

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": They are not telling the truth. These people -- these are political statements to protect their jobs, totally understandable.

COLLINS: Woodward defending his decision to not name his sources.

WOODWARD: But these are not unnamed incidents. Specific people on specific dates.

COLLINS: Standing by his reporting.

WOODWARD: I have never seen an instance when the president is so detached from the reality of what's going on.

COLLINS: As Trump continues to fume over the publication of an anonymous op-ed, claiming there is a resistance inside his administration, the search for the author continues. Though Sanders said today lie-detector tests aren't on the table, sources say Trump hasn't ruled them out and his own vice president volunteered to take one.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would agree to take it in a heartbeat.

COLLINS: Pence getting a do-over after he was first asked if anyone on his staff wrote the op-ed.

PENCE: I just -- I wouldn't know. And I would I really would hope not.

COLLINS: Telling CBS he misunderstood the question.

PENCE: Oh, well, I thought you were speaking about the administration staff. Let me be very clear. I'm 100 percent confident that no one on the vice president's staff was involved in this anonymous editorial. COLLINS: Amid the paranoia, a new change in West Wing phone policy.

Sources tell CNN staff can no longer leave their government-issued devices outside the Situation Room, like they did for the last 19 months.

Sources say this is a direct response to Omarosa Manigault-Newman after she revealed she taped John Kelly firing her last year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, in public, the White House is complaining about these quotes in the Woodward book, saying they're made up, that they're fiction, but in private President Trump is complaining about aides he believes cooperated with the veteran reporter for his book.

[16:10:01]

Now, one thing, one big headline out of that briefing today, Jim, Sarah Sanders didn't rule out President Trump bringing a lawsuit against Bob Woodward.

SCIUTTO: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks very much.

Back to the panel now.

David Urban, if I could ask you, to Kaitlan's point right there, is the president really trying to chase this person down, really trying to charge this person in "The New York Times" op-ed? Or is the president actually concerned that someone inside his administration thinks this way?

URBAN: Look, I think the president is calling them out, I would say. You know, you should show yourself, if you feel this strongly about it. I don't think there's a serious effort under way to charge anybody. I think there's a probably serious effort, just like there is around this table and others, to try to figure out and determine who would write that.

You know, it's like we have heard so many times before, that the horror movie, you have the phone call comes from inside the house and everyone looks around to try to figure out who it is and who is missing. I think that's what's going on right now, because, obviously, you don't want to continue down the path of serious discussion inside a White House with someone in there who may not be on the same team.

And so I think they're trying to find out who that person is, and if that person feels so strongly about their positions, they should probably resign.

SCIUTTO: Symone, in our poll, only 36 percent think it's appropriate for administration officials to work against their own administration. And also 55 percent say it's inappropriate to -- sorry -- 36 say appropriate, 55 percent inappropriate.

In your view, should this person have gone out with their name on it from the get-go?

SANDERS: Again, as a communications professional, I have no tolerance for anonymous op-eds attacking a principal.

But I do believe that, one, this person should have put their name on it, but, two, the op-ed doesn't go far enough. I think they need to go to Congress, even though I have said this before, Congress has demonstrated they're not willing to do anything, this Republican Congress, to hold the president accountable. Perhaps that's why we haven't seen them go to Congress, and maybe they did, we don't know.

I will say that the White House isn't doing -- I don't understand why they continue to talk about this and the Woodward book. Right? I do not get it. And so if the White House and the president alike and all of their allies want to continue to tout this line and why the vice president is volunteering why he's not taking lie-detector tests, I'm not really sure.

But, again, this does not serve them well for their agenda or...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: By the way, interestingly, Bob Woodward kind of giving a full- throated rebuke of this anonymous person as well, saying, look, it's very nebulous. There are no specifics.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Is there, to some degree, a sideshow to this as to who wrote it?

Because at the end of the day from this person inside the administration and from -- listen, Bob Woodward is not a lazy journalist, as we know through many decades. You have a number of folks, seemingly inside this administration, who tell a similar story. Isn't that the bigger concern?

RYE: Absolutely.

And here's what's amazing to me. They are demanding loyalty that they have never seen, to use Symone's word choice, from their principal, right? So this is not new behavior. Michael Cohen was recording Donald Trump. Omarosa was recording Donald Trump.

Loyalty is not something that this president breeds. And I think that is the real question. Why not? Right? There is something very dangerous about his behavior for people to feel like they have to continue to expose it. That should be the real question. So even for the folks who were polled who said it's inappropriate to go against the administration or against the president, at what cost, though?

If we are endangering the country, isn't that when it's time to speak up?

SCIUTTO: Kristen, why not then? Why is the president, as everybody seems to advise him not to, why is he focusing on the book and the op- ed and not just sit there and be like -- just repeat economic figures?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think the reason why is because at a personal level, I think he can't help himself.

I think he feels personally attacked by this. He thinks, hey, I won the presidency. And people still don't treat me like the president. People still don't treat me -- so I think there is a personal level. I also think, politically, the idea is let's go for my base, let's remind them we're under attack.

Let's remind them of what is at stake, that if you talk about these economic numbers, maybe that's a play to the middle. But at this point, kind of discounting, maybe they won't turn out. Let me just get my base energized. I have got to assume that's the strategic thinking.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Remember when everyone said women were too emotional to be president? And now look at Donald Trump. I'm just saying.

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: Point taken. We're going to have more to talk about.

There's more breaking news in our CNN polls. President Trump getting the lowest mark he has ever gotten in another area. How worried should he be about that number?

Plus, Hurricane Florence barreling towards the East Coast now as a Category 4 storm. We are just minutes away from the next update on the storm's strength and on its path, as more states declare a state of emergency.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:56] SCIUTTO: We're back now with a deeper look at CNN's new polling and the crisis of trust in this president. Just 32 percent of Americans saying they view Trump as honest and trustworthy, 65 percent say he is not. That is a six-point increase from our poll in March. It is also the worst rating he has ever gotten in a CNN poll for trustworthiness.

Let's talk about this now with the panel.

David, I hate to beat you up on this.

DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Sure, David again! Why not, right?

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: The president had a rough summer, obviously. He had -- you had a lot -- you know, incidents on the border, which were very, very --

SCIUTTO: Family separation.

URBAN: Family separation, right. And then you had --

SCIUTTO: Still not resolved.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: No, I'm saying -- incidents on the border. Different things taking place there, a nonstop onslaught on the administration, as well as the Putin summit, which did not fair well -- the president did not come out unscathed.

So, those are -- that's a pretty damning summer. And a lot of that I think you're seeing here. You're seeing that as a result, those numbers.

ANGELA RYE, FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: It's not just a damning summer. It's actually a damning presidency. And it's interesting to hear you say the president did not come out unscathed.

[16:20:06] I think neither did the families, right?

URBAN: Well, of course. We're talking about polling numbers.

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: And you keep going right now. Just a minute. I think the important thing to recognize is that the president has to take ownership for his actions, especially when you're talking about policy implementations that are dividing families. We've seen video after video of how that has transpired, and how he describes these incidents, as we call them now are also very damaging.

They're not honest. "Washington Post" has said he's lied how many times now? Well over 5,000, I believe. So the reason why he's not trustworthy is because he regularly not just stretches the truth, or misrepresents facts, he just blatantly lies.

SCIUTTO: Another number that stands out here on the rule of law, just 37 percent say the president respects the rule of law, 60 percent says he does not. This, Kristen and Symone, follows many months of the president attacking the Justice Department, the FBI and so on. It's a law and order candidate, though, right?

ANDERSON: It is. And I think his case is consistently trying to say, look, other people get, you know -- have leaked classified information, have never been pursued. That's why he keeps going back to Hillary Clinton over and over, even though the election is long since in the rear-view mirror.

SCIUTTO: There was an incident in the Oval Office with classified information, yes.

ANDERSON: Right. So his strategy is to consistently try to muddy the waters on this front, to try to make it seem like, look, only he can be the one to make law and order work better again. That's why he's always going after Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, trying to make the case, look, even this person who is supposed to be in my own party is still trying to protect people inside the bubble instead of me.

Now, clearly, the message is not working. It's only working with about a third of the American people. But, again, almost everything we've talked about on this panel today comes down to the president going for that one-third, it's with him, ride or die, and trying to get them to turn out to vote, everything else be damned.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Even with the one-third, the one-third of people does not equate to a red wave, nor does it equate to holding the House and the Senate. And firm, I think the reach the reason he has been attacking the attorney general is because of the Russia investigation, not because he wants to protect people in the Department of Justice, which as the attorney general, I do believe it is his job, you know, to speak up on behalf of his employees.

SCIUTTO: Do Democrats -- other than the president -- has lousy approval ratings. Do Democrats have a message for these midterm elections? Other than --

SANDERS: Yes, the consistent message is, look --

URBAN: Donald Trump is a bad president?

SANDERS: No, no one is running on that in the midterm elections. I know that's what pundits who sit around fabulous tables such as these say.

SCIUTOT: It's one of the most fabulous.

SANDERS: The most fabulous, if you ask me. I'm just saying.

If you're out there on the campaign trail, I know Angela was out with Mayor Gillum in Florida recently, we've all been down in support of ACA, so on and so forth, folks are talking about the economy, health care. And if you're talking about folks running to try to take back the House candidates, on the Democratic side of the aisle, they're talking about holding the president accountable and being a check on the president.

URBAN: So what have they said about the economy? It's great?

SANDERS: No, they're saying things are stagnant. And while, yes, GDP --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Black unemployment is the lowest --

SANDERS: Oh, OK. You're not --

(CROSSTALK) SANDERS: Angela, I think it's crazy people still talk about black unemployment is low --

URBAN: Economic optimism at an all-time high? The only bright part about this poll, as Jim said, is the view of the president economically, right? That's the number. What are the numbers on that part?

RYE: So the question was, was there a consistent message from Democrats? And I think the most important thing that Democrats, progressives generally can do during this election is to make sure they understand what messages resonate in their respective areas. Thankfully, folks have not been beholden to an overall Democratic message. It hasn't been strong.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: True.

SCIUTTO: Listen, more to discuss. Stay with us.

President Trump promises to put America first. So why is he going after an American company?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:54] SCIUTTO: President Trump faces a new threat of perjury charges, though not with Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation, but in a defamation lawsuit brought on by Summer Zervos. She's the former "Apprentice" contestant who says the president sexually assaulted her in 2007. The president called her claims a lie.

After fighting her case, President Trump must now give written responses to her questions. Those responses under oath.

CNN's Athena Jones has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump agreeing for the first time to answer written questions under oath. In the defamation suit brought by former "Apprentice" contestant, Summer Zervos, a significant development says former prosecutor Paul Callan.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You're going to have the president of the United States forced to answer questions under oath. Now, if you remember back to the Clinton impeachment, that's what got Bill Clinton into big trouble and, of course, it led to impeachment charges against President Clinton.

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-REALITY TV STAR: You know what, Summer, you're fired.

JONES: Zervos is suing the president in New York for saying she lied when she accused him in October of 2016 of sexually assaulting her in 2007.

SUMMER ZERVOS, ACCUSED PRESIDENT TRUMP OF SEXUAL ASSAULT: He then grabbed my shoulder and began kissing me again very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast.

JONES: Then candidate Trump pushed back on Twitter and on the campaign trail.