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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Anonymous Trump Official: I Am Part Of The Resistance; Trump Calls Anonymous Official Who Wrote NYT Op-Ed Gutless; WH: Admin Official Who Wrote Op-Ed Is A Coward, Should Resign. Aired at 7-8p ET
Aired September 5, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And it's clear to me this writer is.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to continue our special coverage. Right now, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, breaking news. The Trump resistance. An unnamed senior administration official revealing that people close to the president are actively working to undermine him.
Plus, a real witch hunt in the White House. How the president is on a mission to track down aides who spoke to Bob Woodward.
And another major upset in the Democratic Party. Long time congressman unseated, the woman who started the trend. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joins me tonight. Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, we have breaking news. The resistance. Not the resistance from the left but the resistance from within. In a stunning and unprecedented move, "The New York Times" is publishing a shocking anonymous op-ed from a senior Trump administration official.
It is so unusual, it is so biting, it's such an indictment of the president, the only way to lay out the case this person makes is to read the entire thing to you. So, here it is in full, the opinion piece in "The New York Times." "President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader. It's not just the special counsel that looms large or that the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump's leadership or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hell bent on his downfall. 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. I would know, I am one of them," he writes.
It goes on to say, "To be clear, ours is not the popular resistance of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its 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. That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office. The root of the problem is the president's a morality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making. Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideas long espoused by conservatives, free minds, free markets and free people. At best he has invoked these ideals in scripted setting. At worst, he has attacked them outright."
"In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the enemy of the people, President Trump's impulses are generally antitrade and anti-democratic. Don't get me wrong," he writes, "there are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture, effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more. But these successes have come despite, not because of, the president's leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective."
"From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief's comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims. Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails. He engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, I'll-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back."
"There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next, a top official complained to me," the writer, of course "recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he'd made only a week earlier."
"The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren't for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.
"It may be cold comfort to this chaotic -- 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."
He goes on, "The result is a two-track presidency. Take foreign policy, in public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations."
[19:05:00] "Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals." On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin's spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better, such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable."
"This isn't the work of the so-called deep state," he writes. "It's the work of the steady state."
"Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until, one way or another, it's over."
"The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility."
"Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation. We may no longer have Senator McCain," he writes. "But we will always have his example, a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them."
And finally, he puts it this way. "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 one, Americans." Again, a current senior Trump administration official in his own words in "The New York Times" tonight.
Kaitlan Collins is OUTFRONT for us now live at the White House.
Kaitlan, the president responding to these words to this opinion piece, what's he saying?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In his own words, Kate, the president, it didn't take him long to respond to this. In an event with sheriff's here at the White House, he was about half an hour late to that event and presumably that's because this op-ed, this stunning op-ed written by someone who works here in his own administration.
The president came out. He denounced not only the author of this op- ed but also "The New York Times" for publishing it. And he was armed with a diatribe and a list of his accomplishments. Here's what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So if the failing "New York Times" has an anonymous editorial, can you believe it, anonymous, meaning gutless. A gutless editorial, we're doing a great job. The poll numbers are through the roof. Our poll numbers are great. And guess what, nobody is going to come close to beating me in 2020 because of what we've done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So you hear from the president there, Kate, and then he's tweeted just a single word. The word treason in all caps with a question mark and his press secretary, Sarah Sanders put out a statement calling on the coward, in her words, who wrote this op-ed to resign.
BOLDUAN: This is a rough it up, day, Kaitlan. And this is also just as the president is wagging a witch hunt in his own administration.
COLLINS: That's right. The White House has already knee deep in a crisis when it woke up this morning trying to deal with the fallout from that book with Bob Woodward. And the president directing who he believes are loyal aides in this White House to find out who it was that spoke with the veteran reporter for his book, a book that also made stunning allegations, a lot of which seemed to be backed up by this op-ed.
And now they're scrambling to not only mount the defense to that book but also to figure out who it was that wrote this op-ed. Kate, there was already this growing sense of paranoia here in the West Wing. Staffers often suspected that any time anything negative was published about them, it was someone in the White House who didn't like them. And now, they're predicting that since the paranoia is only going to get worse with this op-ed, they're trying to figure out who it is that wrote this as the president's anger about this only continues to grow here tonight, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Yes. It's not to a boiling point already or even know where it is right now. Kaitlan, thanks so much.
OUTFRONT now, David Gergen, former presidential adviser to four presidents, Dana Bash is here, CNN's chief political correspondent, and Patrick Healy, he's a politics editor for "The New York Times."
Thank you all so much for being here. Patrick, you had read it and you just heard me reread the whole thing for our viewers. I'm not going to ask you the name of who wrote this. You wouldn't tell me even if you knew. But what do you make of "The New York Times" publishing this?
[19:10:04] PATRICK HEALY, POLITICS EDITOR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, I don't know the name and the op-ed pages are managed separately than the news department, so it was handled separately. But, look, it is unprecedented. I mean the editorial board of "The New York Times" and the op-ed editors at the "Times" look over submissions very carefully, very deliberately and deliberatively and, you know, you can be sure they know exactly who this person is. It was probably vetted very closely.
There was a lot of care and just knowing the people up there, probably a lot of discussion went in, not only to the content, but also to the appropriateness of publishing an anonymous editorial. Like you said, it is unprecedented. The "Times" takes very seriously whether or not to use anonymous information.
And I think in the "Times," they sort of said this, that they believe and we believe, the editorial page believes that the importance of the subject matter, the details, the specificity of the discussions that were going on inside those rooms warranted publication, met a standard of newsworthiness and criticalness to understand what is going on inside of the Trump White House.
And the degree says it resonates with what Bob Woodward has been reporting. What other books, what the "Times," what the CNN, what others are reporting for a year and a half about this president and this presidency, you know, it's probably why people are talking so much about it. It feels like someone from the inside is just really validating, again, what's been reported.
BOLDUAN: And, David, put this in perspective from your perch. Would you imagine this happening in any of the administrations that you've worked for?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Yes, the Nixon administration, but no other administration in the past. And I can guarantee you from my work with the "Times," I think it's virtually certain that whoever the person is who came to them, the "Times" didn't seek out this piece, the person came to them, had to be a member of the cabinet or in the top inner circle of the White House. I just don't think "The New York Times" would print something from somebody who's in a secondary agency far removed from the action.
And the conversation itself has -- it seemed very centralized and people who actually work in the White House, it could be one of the intelligence agencies. It sounds like it could be national security. But I can guarantee you, it come from someone with a lot of authority and the "Times" would have had a conversation with that person to check out everything and to try to talk -- understand the larger scope and they published this because they understood it would be a bombshell because they're deeply concerned about what is going on. And I think that's the larger question here.
We now have a fresh portrait. They reinforced each other as we just heard. But we have fresh portraits of the chaos and the dysfunctionality and the governing process has gone off the tracks by a person who is considered immoral or amoral by the writer, chaotic, impulsive, off the tracks, need to be guarded like a, you know, like child in some fashion.
I join in the question of where are the Republicans? It does seem to me, I can understand why they would not want to consider this and bring it out and hash it over in public before now and the midterms, but after the midterms, there has to be a serious effort by the Republican Party, by the leadership of the party to come to grips with this. Somebody -- this is not good for the country. We've never been through anything like this. Even in Watergate the country was insteadier hands than what we have right now.
BOLDUAN: Wow. Dana, you know, another former White House official is weighing in on this, on this person, on who it could be. Omarosa, who is tweeting about it, who's tweeting that she gives clues to who from inside the White House wrote the "Times" op-ed, she says on page 330 of her book and she attached a graph for everyone to see. She's writes, "Rest assured there is an army of people who oppose him and his policies. They are working silently, tirelessly to make sure he does not cause problem to the republic. Many are in silent army are in his party, his administration and even in his own family."
I mean his own family sounds certainly hard to believe as the author of this opinion piece but do you think -- do you think this person's identity will be revealed?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's hard to imagine it won't at some point if for no other reason than perhaps this person is going to at some point, depending on how things shake out, come forward and say who he or she is.
I completely agree with David that -- or Patrick, I'm not -- I don't remember who said it, that this is -- that the focus of this, so much is on national security, on what really happens in conversations with allies and what really happens in really holding Russia's feet to the fire despite what the president says in private and public.
[19:15:10] It seems as though the senior official is from the national security realm. Now, that could be, you know, just a way to kind of get us off track, that it's really somebody else, but it really seems to be a focus there. And regardless of who it is, we have to take -- and the fact that you read the whole thing, Kate, speaks to the extraordinary nature of what this is.
BASH: It really, really is. First, for somebody of this senior level to write it and, second, as Patrick said, for the "New York Times" to actually publish it. Jim Dao who's the editor of "The New York Times" op-ed page, I actually covered the Bradley campaign with him, I'm aging myself here back in 2000. I knew him then as an excellent, excellent journalist.
And obviously he's risen in the ranks for that reason, that he has very good judgment and clearly standards and I'm sure he took a lot of steps in order to make sure that this was done correctly because it is so unusual for the "New York Times" to publish something never mind for a senior administration official to present something like this in publication.
BOLDUAN: I'm sorry, Dana. Yes, absolutely. Patrick, the president -- Kaitlan got to this, the president was already fuming over the Woodward book and putting in place a witch hunt within the White House. I mean then this. What does this piece do?
HEALY: Right. I mean it goes so intensely to his own fears about enemies within, about sort of the deep state around him. You know, so many senior administration officials have resigned. There are others who he doesn't see as part of his team or loyal to him, particularly Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department. And the people who were with him early on. I mean, people like Hope Hicks or Cory Lewandowski, I mean people who he felt like sort of had his back.
I mean, Michael Cohen, he did try once to take a bullet for him. For instance, he doesn't have as many of those people anymore. He has sort of the families still with him, but, no, it goes very much to -- and I think Kaitlan used the word paranoia, but the sense of like, you know, who is out to get me?
BOLDUAN: You both in speaking to that, I mean, the writer, Dana, writes that this isn't the so-called deep state. The writer says it's the steady state. I'm kind of wondering what that means. I mean do you -- well, and also, do you think the president sees a difference there?
BASH: No, I don't think he sees a difference, but I think it's good that you pointed that out because it's important to note when people talk about the deep state what they're referring to and what they're referring to are career government officials, people who work for the government across the board and they serve, for the most part, regardless of who is the president.
This person made very clear that he or she is a political appointee, which means he was appointed or she was appointed by the president of the United States and there is a big difference there.
BOLDUAN: A big difference. We'll definitely almost guarantee to be lost by the president, but there is a difference. Thank you so much, guys. Really appreciate it.
OUTFRONT for us next, our breaking news continues on this scathing "New York Times" opinion piece. We're learning new details about what was happening behind the scenes before the "Times" decision to publish the piece and the impact now.
Plus, the confirmation hearing for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee still underway this evening. What Brett Kavanaugh says about recusing himself in the cases involving the president.
And another major upset in the Democratic Party, a younger woman beating an older male member of Congress. Is the face of the Democratic Party changing and changing fast? Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, who pulled up her own upset, is my guest.
[19:22:27] BOLDUAN: Breaking news. The White House calling on the senior Trump official behind that stunning "New York Times" op-ed, calling on that person to resign. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying this in a statement, "The individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive, rather than support, the duly elected president of the United States. He is not putting country first but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people. This coward should do the right thing and resign."
OUTFRONT now, Dan Pfeifer, former senior adviser to President Obama and Amy Kremer, co-founder and co-chair of Women for Trump.
Thanks guys for coming and I really appreciate it. Amy, what does this op-ed tell you about what's happened inside the White House? What's your reaction tonight?
AMY KREMER, CO-FOUNDER AND CO-CHAIR, WOMEN FOR TRUMP: Well, Kate, I mean I would like to say I'm surprised, but I'm not surprised. I mean I think the biggest news from this is that the deep state is blatant in our face trying to subvert the will of the people and trying to take down a president from the inside. And you can't say it's just Democrats that are part of the resistance. There are Republicans in there, too.
And like I said, I'm not surprised. But, look, at the end of the day, this person is complaining about his style. They list the things he's accomplished and they're complaining about his style. They're complaining he's not ideologue that he can't be swayed one way or another.
Well, guess what? When we elected him we knew that he was not an ideologue. We knew that he was a businessman and he would do things in an unconventional way. That's why 63 million people voted for him. And this is not just an attack on our president, it's an attack on all of us that voted for him and I find it outrageous.
BOLDUAN: The writer, and obviously I've read it a bunch of times now, the writer -- it goes into more than style though, Amy. I mean he's talking about two tracks of a government right now. The president doing -- saying and wanting to do one thing and the government getting and boxing him in to do the thing that they think is the right way to go to protect the republic.
I mean, Dan, from your perspective, what does this op-ed say?
DAN PFEIFER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it reaffirms what we have seen for a year and a half in reporting from CNN, "The New York Times," elsewhere, from the Woodward book out this week is that Donald Trump is dangerously unfit to be president. That's not the opinion of Democrats. That's the opinion of the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who called him a moron. That's the opinion of the Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, who said he was like a fifth or a sixth grader.
PFEIFER: We have seen this all across the board.
KREMER: He's denied all of that, Dan.
[19:25:00] PFEIFER: They -- we have seen this again and again and again. Gary Cohn has said he was a professional liar. This is not surprising.
What I think this person should do is I agree with Sarah Sanders, a sentence I have never said before, is they should resign, put their name to this, and come out to the country because it makes it easy for people to yell -- say this is the deep state or for Donald Trump to dismiss this when it's a anonymous. Put your -- have courage to put your name to it if you truly believe the president is unfit for the job.
BOLDUAN: That's interesting because I feel like this is actually an area where you and Amy are going to agree, Amy.
KREMER: Absolutely. I mean they should put their name to it. Anybody that does not believe in this administration and is part of the administration needs to resign immediately. Kate, this is the thing. You know, so you want to impeach Donald Trump, then what? I mean, it's not like Hillary Clinton's going to become president if Donald Trump is impeached and that's what these people want. We're not going back there.
BOLDUAN: Sounds like the person in this opinion piece does not want Hillary Clinton to be the president.
KREMER: Well, this is the thing is I believe this is a coordinated attack right when Bob Woodward's book is coming out, then all the sudden this piece comes out. Why if Bob Woodward and this person is so concerned about all of this stuff, why -- I mean why didn't it come out two months ago? Why doesn't it come out at Thanksgiving? Why right now, right when we kick off the midterm madness when we're about to work on the midterms? This is political. They are trying to take down a president and subvert the will of the people from within.
BOLDUAN: Woodward's piece was always going to come out around now. I mean that's like -- that has been predicted ever since his book was planned. I mean the fact that the White House even acted surprised that it's coming out now is -- that in and of itself is ridiculous because it was coming. It had a release date of September 11th. But we don't know why this editorial came out today. We don't know. We don't know the discussions that went on there.
But, I mean, Dan, we -- if -- if you -- here's the thing that I hear from Republicans though on should this person resign or should they stay in place. This is the conversation Republicans have all the time, right? Stay in place because they care about the republic. That's what this entire piece is about. There are people within that are keeping the ship afloat. But you think resign and let the ship sink?
PFEIFER: Yes. I think like we have seen -- all these people who claim they are doing such good work to save America, whether it was Gary Cohn when he was in the White House or this anonymous person or Dina Powell. They keep telling everyone, all their friends who don't like Trump or in Washington and New York that they're doing so much to save America. We're not actually seeing the effects of that, right? Donald Trump is still going out and announcing his support for -- his support for neo-Nazis. He's still going out and buddying up to Putin in Helsinki.
KREMER: No, he's not.
PFEIFER: He's still -- they're doing all of those things. They're not really doing anything other than helping themselves sleep at night.
PFEIFER: Let me finish. If you truly believe the president of the United States is dangerously unfit for the job which almost every person who works for him seems to believe, every Republican in Washington believes, anyone who has watched this White House who has access to Twitter believes then you should put your name to it and say it. And there's no courage in doing it through an anonymous "New York Times" op-ed. You should walk out of the White House, hold a press conference and tell people what you see on a daily basis.
KREMER: No, I agree with him. This is coming from somebody that is so concerned about America but they can't even stop the president from tweeting but they have all the answers? Give me a break. I mean, that's absurd. And the next question --
BOLDUAN: No one can stop the president from tweeting.
KREMER: The next thing I would say is where the hell is the vice president? We elected him and the vice president as a team. Where is he? We are all his soldiers out here defending this president, supporting him because he has done what we've wanted him to do on the economy and making America safer, and the vice president is M-I-A. Where the hell is he?
PFEIFER: He may be busy writing a "New York Times" op-ed. Who knows?
KREMER: You know what? He's very well may be. And you know what, Dan, if he is, he needs to resign.
BOLDUAN: That would be something if we broke that news here tonight. But we'll leave it there. Amy, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Dan, thanks so much. Thanks again.
KREMER: Thank you.
PFEIFER: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT next, breaking news. The confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh Still underway this evening and Kavanaugh now responding to President Trump's tweet that slammed the Justice Department for prosecuting two Republican lawmakers.
Also, new details just breaking about "The New York Times" decision to post this scathing anonymous opinion piece and who it could be.
[19:32:55] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Breaking news. You're taking a live look at Capitol Hill. Yes, still this evening Republican Senator Mike Crapo is questioning President Trump's Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh in a marathon hearing now approaching the 11th hour.
Kavanaugh moments ago refusing to commit to Senator Richard Blumenthal that he would recuse himself from cases involving criminal liability for Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: One key facet as I've studied the history of nominees is not to make commitments on particular cases.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I'm not asking for a particular commitment and I'm going to take your answer as a no. It's really a yes or no question. You will not commit to recuse yourself?
KAVANAUGH: Senator, I think to be consistent with the principle of independence of the judiciary, I should not and will not make a commitment about how I would handle a particular case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And this was far from the only heated exchange that happened throughout today.
Phil Mattingly is OUTFRONT.
KAVANAUGH: No one is above the law in our constitutional system.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On day two of President Trump's Supreme Court nominee's confirmation hearings, the president himself taking center stage, Brett Kavanaugh citing precedent from past nominees declining to weigh in, first on whether presidents must comply with subpoenas.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Can a sitting president be required to respond to a subpoena?
KAVANAUGH: So that's a hypothetical question about what would be an elaboration or a difference for U.S. v. Nixon's precise holding.
FEINSTEIN: That's right.
MATTINGLY: And again on presidential pardons.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: President Trump claims he has an absolute right to pardon himself. Does he?
KAVANAUGH: That's a hypothetical question that I can't begin to answer in this context as a sitting judge and as a nominee.
MATTINGLY: Some Democrats attacking Kavanaugh's credibility, questioning whether he knew if he had received strategy information stolen from Senate Democrats in 2003.
[19:35:06] LEAHY: I am concerned because there is evidence that Mr. Miranda provided you with materials that were stolen from me and that would contradict your prior testimony.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Did you ever knowingly participate in stealing anything from Senator Leahy or any other senator?
GRAHAM: Did you ever know that you were dealing with anything that was stolen property?
MATTINGLY: And if he was truthful when he testified in 2006 about his role in the Bush administration's detention policies.
KAVANAUGH: I was not read into that program. I told the truth about that.
MATTINGLY: Kavanaugh also facing questions on his views of settled law on abortion rights, both Roe versus Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey.
KAVANAUGH: As a general proposition, I understand the importance of the precedent set forth in Roe v. Wade.
MATTINGLY: An issue Democrats drilled down on repeatedly.
FEINSTEIN: I don't want to go back to those death tolls in this country, and I truly believe that women should be able to control their own reproductive systems within obviously some concern for a viable fetus.
KAVANAUGH: I don't live in a bubble. I understand. I live in the real world. I understand the importance of the issue.
MATTINGLY: And, Kate, no shortage of frustration from Democrats on Judge Kavanaugh's refusal to address those hypotheticals, citing nominee precedent. Frustration exacerbated by the reality on the ground here which is right now, Kavanaugh's nomination is on solid ground. But one of the interesting exchanges came from a Republican, Jeff Flake, a noted critic of the president, asking if Judge Kavanaugh would weigh in on the president's tweets related to the Justice Department's prosecutorial discretion. He said he wasn't going to weigh in on political events of the moment.
Then asking, what about just broadly, the president using power to direct agencies to do something? He said no.
But then one interesting element happened. He was asked about what about restraint of firing a special counsel? Kavanaugh responded, well, hypothetically that case has actually been tested 1973. And Kavanaugh said the system held, Kate.
BOLDUAN: But again, I don't answer hypotheticals.
Great to see you, Phil. Thank you so much.
OUTFRONT with me now, CNN Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic.
Joan, thanks for coming in.
So, Joan, you've seen these hearings before. You've watched these nominees in the hot seat. How is Kavanaugh doing?
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: No slipups. That's the goal, Kate. He doesn't want to backtrack from anything as of July 9th when he was nominated, and he hasn't. He's remained steady. He's kept to his talking points that he unveiled yesterday when he introduced himself to the audience and to America, and he's reinforced the idea that he's trying to send a message that he's a moderate, he's not extreme, he's trying to be a team player.
He kept referring that -- he has the slogan, I'm joining a team of nine. And he -- I think the other thing, Kate, is he's trying to portray himself as independent, independent of the president especially.
BOLDUAN: Yes. You saw Phil's piece, Joan, some of Kavanaugh's answers on Roe v. Wade.
BOLDUAN: This is an issue that Democrats and some Republicans -- they remain extremely concerned about if he's seated on the court, on the bench. What do Kavanaugh's answers tell us? It's settled law before he was going into this hearing and now it's what?
BISKUPIC: That's a great question because I actually think he revealed a couple things. First of all, at the outset, he would not commit to vote against reversing Roe. A couple of Democratic senators tried to get him to vow to do that and he said, you know, no nominee should ever vow to vote in any way on any particular case, which is exactly right, frankly.
BISKUPIC: And then he also did repeat that it's an important precedent, Roe v. Wade, but he robustly defended a dissenting opinion of his from last year when he split from the majority on the D.C. circuit which had allowed a teenage migrant to obtain an abortion over objections from the Trump administration. He talked about the importance of the government's interests there and in doing so I think he signaled that he would be open to restrictions on abortion in a way that, you know, frankly isn't new given that he's an a nominee of President Donald Trump. But I think we saw enough of his view there.
BOLDUAN: And more to come.
BISKUPIC: That's right.
BOLDUAN: Joan, thank you.
OUTFRONT next, Democratic candidates winning some as they push for impeachment, but will it be their top priority if elected and if they take over majority in the House?
[19:40:01] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who pulled off her own upset is my guest.
Plus, breaking news tonight. We're learning the story behind "the New York Times" decision to publish that scathing unanimous anti-Trump op- ed. Details on what went on behind closed doors.
BOLDUAN: New tonight; another major upset in the Democratic Party. Another long term male member of Congress being unseated by a woman of color. Boston City Counselor Ayanna Presley crushing 10-term Congressman Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary there. Many drawing comparisons to another insurgent victory, Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, in New York.
OUTFRONT now, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joining me now.
Thanks so much for coming in.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), U.S. CONGRESSIONAL NOMINEE FROM NEW YORK: Of course. Thank you for having me.
BOLDUAN: So, there's a lot of talk today, tonight about parallels between your win and Ayanna Pressley's win. Do you think there are?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yes. You know, especially because I have a personal connection to Ayanna. Even the weekend before my own primary, Ayanna Pressley herself sent her own team of organizers down in the Bronx in Queens to support me ahead of my primary win. And I know that right after my election, one of the first things we did was help support her campaign as well.
[19:45:01] There's a lot of parallels. Ayanna and I were out-spent, about three to one in her case, almost ten to one at some points in my race. We were both really championing an intersectional message of economic and social dignity, which at its core I think is very powerful. And we also rejected corporate funds which I think was extremely important with building the trust with voters.
BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about this extraordinary anonymously written opinion piece in "The New York Times" tonight. A senior administration official, a senior Trump administration official saying so clearly and in print that they are part of the resistance from within. There is a group of them that is part of the resistance and also writing that they are working diligently within to frustrate parts of his, Trump's, agenda and his worst inclinations.
Do you see this as a good thing? OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think what we are experiencing right now in
many ways with this administration is a bipartisan danger. We are experiencing threats to our very basic democratic institutions, and that goes beyond Republican or Democrat. We are talking about the increased concentration of power, abuse of power and additionally the subversion of some of the most basic rules and laws that we have in our basic decorum. So, I think that really where we see injustice, we must resist it.
BOLDUAN: But -- go along with me on this. What would you do if someone in your staff was working against you from within?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, you know, I would hope that I would never be in a position where I am an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal crime. You know, I think it's one difference between having a difference of opinion -- a difference of policy and subverting a policy agenda or a disagreement of opinion.
But there are very serious questions with this current administration. We have everything, questions from the basic violations of the emoluments clause, all the way up to the real motivations behind why Trump would even nominate Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
BOLDUAN: But I'm sure you think if someone didn't like what you were doing, then they should resign from your staff, right? If there was a disagreement. And that's what the White House is saying about this writer, that if they don't -- essentially if they don't like it, they should resign. Do you agree?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think this is beyond disagreements. It's -- we're in the territory where people are seriously talking about a criminal investigation and there's a difference between a crime and a difference of opinion.
And I think that we are in a very dangerous time in our democracy right now. I think that really what we need to be looking towards -- I would certainly say that if someone did not support health care for all people as I do, if someone did not support criminal justice reform as I do, then they could certainly, you know, not probably have a place on our team, but that is very, very different than saying jailing children at our borders and committing international human rights violations. That is very different from what we see maybe, you know, very concerning indictments going all the way up to the campaign manager at least of the president.
BOLDUAN: You've already said that you support impeachment of the president. I mean, I can only imagine this coming out and even the Woodward book adds fuel to your fire. Is impeachment your top priority if you get -- if you get elected?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think what we need to do is really take a look at what happens in November. Really that is, I think, going to determine a lot about our priorities.
We have a really big, bold progressive agenda that we need to push. We also need to protect our census. We have a great deal of things that are going to be on the table, and really November is going to be able to inform what is viable and what is most doable and how we are going to deliver results for working class Americans the fastest.
BOLDUAN: But is it your priority?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think it's -- I think it's certainly something that needs to be on the agenda. I absolutely do. But it depends. You know, do -- we are working to win back the House.
OCASIO-CORTEZ: We're working to gain a few seats in the Senate and really 1,000 -- 100 percent of our efforts need to be focused on that. We can see what the field looks like and we can move forward from there.
BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about getting to November. President Obama, he is back on the campaign trail really for the first time on Friday, stumping for candidates in California and Ohio.
BOLDUAN: This being such a, you know, just look at -- look at your primary. Look at Ayanna Pressley's primary. This is such a change moment in the Democratic Party.
Do you welcome his voice?
[19:50:01] Is Obama the voice of the Democratic Party right now?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think that really what we -- I think he is certainly a powerful, powerful voice in the party. I'm a belief -- I am of the belief that there is no one voice of the Democratic Party, that we are a broad-based, big tent coalition of Americans that want to champion the needs of the working class, of women, of people of color, championing -- welcoming immigration system, health care, education for all. And I think there are so many different ways to do that.
I think that former President Obama's voice is profoundly important in winning back the House, and I think that hopefully, you know, wins -- primary wins like mine and Ayanna Pressley's add to that tapestry of voices that I think together make a very strong, layered argument for change.
BOLDUAN: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, thank you so much for coming in.
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you so much.
BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT next, the breaking news, President Trump just moments ago responding to that extraordinary anonymous "New York Times" op-ed. This as we're learning new details about who may have been behind the opinion piece.
[19:55:01] BOLDUAN: Breaking news. President Trump questioning now if the senior Trump administration official behind that stunning opinion piece in "The New York Times," wondering aloud if that person even exists. Yes, of course in a tweet.
And here it is: does a so-called senior administration official really exist or is it just the failing "New York Times" with another phony source? If the gutless anonymous person does indeed exist, "The Times" must for national security purposes turn him/her over to the government at once.
Anyway, OUTFRONT, senior media correspondent for CNN, of course, Brian Stelter, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES". And he just wrapped up an interview with Jim Dao, the op-ed editor for the "New York Times". And CNN senior political analyst, John Avlon. He has a opinion piece that published on CNN.com, he is not anonymous and it's called "Operation Contain the President."
I'm the only person that didn't talk to or write something about opinions tonight.
Brian, OK, so just spoke with Jim Dao about this. Give me the back story.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: They say this Trump official came through the door a few days ago through an intermediary. That means a go-between.
BOLDUAN: Just a few days ago?
STELTER: Just several days ago. They say they don't believe it was linked to the Woodward book, even though, of course, the Woodward book has us all talking about the president's fitness and what is going on inside the White House.
BOLDUAN: Because Trump supporters are already raising that. Amy Kremer is on the show and she thinks it's all coordinated.
STELTER: "The Times" does not think it was coordinated. Now, only a very small number of people inside the paper know who this person was. This person submitted the op-ed. We don't know if it was a man or a woman. "The Times" will not talk about any of that.
But it is preposterous for the president to be out there saying that "The Times" has to hand over the source. That's just -- that's loony tunes. There is no reason "The Times" would ever do that.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Legal terms.
BOLDUAN: What about the decision -- what about the decision to allow them to be anonymous?
STELTER: You know, I asked, did you all push him on the record, him or her? Sorry.
BOLDUAN: Him or her. STELTER: Did you push the person to be on the record? "The Times"
wouldn't get on that. I think it would be clear this person would lose their job if they would be on the record. But it does go to the issue if there are people inside the government trying to blow the whistle, why can't they do it with their names attached? This has been a frustration I think for outsiders for some time.
BOLDUAN: Also just happening, John, our White House correspondent reporting that aides are following leads, aides in the White House following leads within the White House based on the way the piece is actually written, the words of the piece.
BOLDUAN: The words of the piece, and they're looking at key words used in the editorial that stand out. I mean, I read the whole thing. I read the whole thing a bunch of times now. Lodestar is an unusual word for many folks. I don't know what to make of that.
But what do you make of this -- I mean, another witch-hunt is on. What do you make of this?
AVLON: This is going to be the mother of all leak investigations, a witch-hunt and a mole hunt all wrapped in one because the calls coming from inside the house, and nothing freaks people out more than that.
What I'd say is, look, if they're looking at the text, that's a smart way to do that. There is a computer software that can help identify the individuals if they have bodies of published work. Writing is distinctive. As Brian's interview suggested, they didn't edit for language to try to obfuscate it.
STELTER: Right, they weren't trying to fake the person or hide the person.
BOLDUAN: How much editing was done?
STELTER: Just the usual, fixing commas, making points clearer. But this the person's own words.
AVLON: Yes, typical editing. That's right. And the person can write.
I think the thing that the president's tweet, he said for national security purposes. We've seen versions of this fight before. Nothing quite like an anonymous source from inside the White House saying it is our constitutional obligation to contain the president's worst impulses. But what typically the administration would do from the Pentagon papers on down is cite the Espionage Act. That's probably what the president is referring to.
It would not seem to remotely apply to what with the contents of this op-ed. There were no state secrets divulged as it were with the Pentagon papers publication, or other mole hunts in the past.
BOLDUAN: Your piece that you're writing, you say this is a turning point. Why is it a turning point?
AVLON: I think it solidifies something that we've been talking about for a while, which is there an effort to contain the president. Usually we talk about containment with hostile foreign powers. In this case, there are people who see themselves as an axis of adults who realize that this is a duly elected president and they're trying to contain and restrain his worst impulses. It's a theme we've seen throughout the excerpts of the Woodward book, from Gary Cohn pulling documents and staff secretary doing the same, to Jim Mattis disregarding certain orders and giving him alternatives instead.
I think it speaks to we need to confront clearly that the president has irrational irresponsible impulses. That is not a reason to invoke the 25th Amendment, folks. That is not cases for impeachment in upon itself. But it does say that to deny that is to deny what at this point is the preponderance of evidence that is the reality.
BOLDUAN: Can I ask you -- I'm sorry to interrupt. Did this person give Jim Dao indication they were nervous this was going to come out or they were -- do they know it was going to be so big?
STELTER: Or are they planning to come out and identify themselves in the future?
STELTER: That's what I'm wondering.
STELTER: Now, "The Times" has no indication of that. But they won't rule out rung future pieces from this person.
BOLDUAN: Oh really?
STELTER: Maybe this whistleblower, if that's what they're trying to do, will keep talking. And all of it comes back to that same thing we've been talking about for a year and a half. Is he fit for office? That's the question.
BOLDUAN: Same thing in the Woodward book. Same thing in this opinion piece tonight. Let's see if there is more to come.
Gentlemen, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.
And thank you all for joining us tonight.
"AC360" starts now.