Return to Transcripts main page

CUOMO PRIME TIME

Interview wth Sen. John Kennedy; Discussion of Anonymous Op-Ed; Woodward Book Affect on Trump White House explored. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00]

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN: Well done. I loved Burt Reynolds, and he will be missed. My brother got a Trans Am because of that movie, not black and gold. We were Italian, so he went with red, of course. And I have a Pontiac Firebird to this day which was the first year, '69, of the Trans Am because of that man.

He made us laugh. He made us feel. He was great, and you did him perfectly in that piece. Anderson, thank you.

I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome, everybody, to PRIME TIME.

The president is so hell-bent on finding out who penned that op-ed in "The New York Times" that he's even asking us to help unmask anonymous. But for all the intrigue about who did it, the real question is what happens next. Is it the sign of something ending, or more likely is this just the beginning?

And we're going to decipher judge-speak. Do you know what a traveshamockery is? You know when I decode all the non-answers from Judge Kavanaugh.

And this matters. He has said and written things about issue that may well come up and he refuses to own them. Why are some senators OK with that? We have one of them here tonight, and we'll ask him.

Come on. Let's get after it.

(MUSIC)

CUOMO: The president is out to get whomever wrote that op-ed. His appointees are making these grand public proclamations of innocence, including the vice president of the United States, that Trump is reportedly reviewing them.

His new pal, Rand Paul, the senator is calling for lie detector tests to find the leaker. Rand Paul -- isn't he the self-styled libertarian who didn't want to be patted down before getting on a plane? Now he wants lie detector tests for an op-ed?

The president says this is all meant to coincide with the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, though I bet Kavanaugh welcomes the distraction to take attention away from his serial non-answers to senators. Now, we have one of the critical lawmakers who is at the hearings, has

a vote. Republican senator from Louisiana, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator John Kennedy.

Senator, good to have you on the show.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Good to be with you, Chris.

CUOMO: So this war that the president is waging to find out who did it, who penned it, all of these big shots coming forward to say, it wasn't me, boss. What do you make of it?

KENNEDY: I've never worked for a president. I have worked for a governor. It's not the same thing, but the principle is the same. If I had ever reached the point that I was so angry or disappointed or unhappy with my boss --

CUOMO: Mm-hmm.

KENNEDY: -- I would never have published something anonymously and tried to remain in my job. I would have quit.

CUOMO: What if you wanted to give a message to people that you should know this is going on, but I can't leave, I need to be here, it's that vital? What do you think of that?

KENNEDY: I don't think anybody is that vital, and I think that if you feel strongly enough about it -- and I'm not saying that this individual doesn't. But if you do, you need to stand up in front of the American people, God and country, and say, here I am. This is my name and this is what I believe.

I don't think, Chris, in my opinion, you should try to have it both ways. You should try to say, well, I'm indispensable, and therefore, I'm going to remain anonymous. But at the same time, I'm going to criticize my boss -- even if it's justified, and I don't know whether it's justified or not.

CUOMO: Fair point. I get the having it both ways point. Fair point.

How about how the president is handling this? If it is a nothing- burger, way make so much ado about something that doesn't matter? Having these people come forward, these apparent loyalty tests, you know, trying to do everything they can to unearth who is anonymous. Why if it doesn't matter? If you don't think it's real, why treat it this way?

KENNEDY: I have people in my life that I trust. I know you have people in your life that you trust. You mentioned Governor Cuomo. I bet he has people surrounding him that he trusts.

When you're in positions of authority, you have to. You've got to trust somebody.

[21:05:00] If you reach the point that you don't know who you can trust, then that impacts your ability to do the job.

CUOMO: I hear you.

KENNEDY: And if I were the president, I would -- I would want to know who did this.

CUOMO: Let me ask you something --

KENNEDY: Now, that doesn't mean --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Would you also take a look at why they said it, Senator? If this happened to you, God forbid, on your staff, somebody came up and said something like this, wouldn't part of you say, why would they say this about me? Why apparently are there so many around me who don't trust me? Isn't this a time for a need of self-reflection?

This anonymous person is not the only one. There's 450 pages about to come out on 9/11 of people who say similar things in the Woodward book.

KENNEDY: That's a fair, fair point, yes. The short answer is yes. If a member of my staff did something like this and tried to remain anonymous, I would want to know who it was, but I would call in my staff and say, you know, speak truth to power here. Tell me, is this true? Do you share in this opinion?

I've never in my life fired anybody for telling me the truth, and I never will.

CUOMO: Well, we'll see what happens on this one.

KENNEDY: That's the way I approach it. It's worked for me.

CUOMO: We'll see what happens on this one.

KENNEDY: Yes.

CUOMO: Rand Paul asking for lie detector tests. The libertarian -- the libertarian Rand Paul wants lie detector tests in the White House to find the leaker. If that is not a metaphor for crazy days, I don't know what is.

Now, the president says this is a distraction from the Kavanaugh hearing. Let me ask you something about this, I will say on the show tonight, and I've said it before, Kavanaugh didn't start the fire.

My argument is that these confirmation hearings have been a joke since I've been covering them, that the party in power is trying to push through their choice, and it is a dance, ever since Judge Bork, of saying nothing while in that chair. Deflect as much as possible. Non-answer as much as you can. Fail to recall, deflect. And that's what we're seeing with Kavanaugh. Can you in good conscience say, yeah, this is a really open and full

vetting of this man? We know exactly where we are and what we're going to get from what we've learned here?

KENNEDY: No, you're right. Judge Bork changed things. Not Judge Bork himself but the confirmation hearings.

And every member of the current United States Supreme Court, including Justice Kennedy before he retired, all took the same position in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and that is that they would not comment on current precedent and they would not comment on how they might decide one way or another a particular issue. And that's everybody from Justice Ginsburg to Justice Roberts. Every single one has done the same thing that Judge Kavanaugh's doing here.

Now, having said that, the canons of judicial ethics prohibits a judge, a sitting judge -- and Judge Kavanaugh is a sitting judge -- from saying how he/she would vote or decide in a particular case if potentially a hypothetical is given to them and it could come before the judge.

CUOMO: Yes.

KENNEDY: So they are -- they are abiding by the canons of judicial ethics.

CUOMO: It's written a little more discreetly than that, Senator. It's written a little --

KENNEDY: It is.

CUOMO: I'm with you -- I'm with you about 60 percent.

KENNEDY: That's right. I'm with you.

CUOMO: It's written more discreetly like that and it's being exercised much more expansively. This Judge Kavanaugh --

KENNEDY: And now what happens --

CUOMO: But he's written things that are of material -- this is unusual. We have two unusual factors with Kavanaugh. One, he has been a political operative in a way that we're not really as used to with these types of candidates or nominees. And he has written things that may well come before the bench about the president, about Roe v. Wade and a couple of other issues.

He refuses to own those notions now, and that is discomfiting to use a big word that you'll find in the canon of judicial ethics. He could talk about those things if he wants to. He is not constrained. He is restrained personally, and it seems pretty obvious, and I get why people will watch this and say, this is why I hate these people down in D.C. This is what they do. This is a traveshamockery, a travesty of a sham of a mockery.

Fair criticism? KENNEDY: Well, in part. I think it would be a mistake for any member

of the United States Supreme Court or a prospective member to say, here's how I will vote on a case that comes to me challenging Roe v. Wade. I think that would be a huge mistake.

CUOMO: Fine. But he could say, I said this about Roe v. Wade. And here's what I meant. Here's why I said it's not settled law. I'm not just going to say settled law because I wrote here that it's not settled for the Supreme Court.

They change precedent. That's what the Supreme Court does.

You know, you talked about having it both ways with the person -- the anonymous op-ed.

[21:10:00]

That's having it both ways too.

KENNEDY: Yes.

Well, the United States Supreme Court is not supposed to be a little congress. It's not supposed to be politics. The law is not supposed to be politics pursued differently.

CUOMO: Right.

KENNEDY: Having said that, there's nothing wrong with a nominee saying, I'm not going to tell you how I'm going to vote, but let me tell you how I analyze a substantive due process case.

CUOMO: Yes. He could have done that.

KENNEDY: Now, that's fair. And --

CUOMO: It is fair. He just hasn't done it. He won't even say if past cases were fairly decided.

KENNEDY: Well, he -- I've read all of his law review articles I think. I haven't read all 307 opinions, but as many as I could.

CUOMO: Right.

KENNEDY: And he has talked about his theory under the --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: He has, he just won't own it right now, Senator. Now, I'm asking you about that.

KENNEDY: Now, he doesn't -- you're right. He doesn't own it. He's saying this is the test of the United States Supreme Court.

CUOMO: Right.

KENNEDY: He is being very careful as was Judge Kagan. CUOMO: Yes, I didn't like that either.

KENNEDY: Justice Kagan, as was Justice Roberts. They -- you will never get them to say since the Bork hearings that this is my position, will be my position on the United States Supreme Court.

CUOMO: Right. It's like --

KENNEDY: Wasn't going to happen. Ain't going to happen.

CUOMO: I know. It's just full-on.

KENNEDY: And some say that it shouldn't happen, but it did used to happen. I think that's fair.

CUOMO: Right. You know, it's just proof that both sides have fair ownership of doing something that may not be in the best interest of the American people.

But, Senator Kennedy, you coming on the show to make the case is always in their interest, and you're always welcome here. Thank you, sir.

KENNEDY: Thanks, Chris. Thanks, man.

CUOMO: Be well.

KENNEDY: All right. Now, at the hearings, there have been a lot of protests, and you can argue about time, place, and manner of those protests. Senator Kennedy is a critic of them. I thought the Kavanaugh stuff mattered more.

But there is little question that people are right to find that hearing an exercise in frustration. Why? It's a dance of non- disclosure. And I will prove it to you next. We have deciphered the code that we are all witnessing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:16:00]

COOPER: The Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, it is a traveshamockery, a travesty that is a sham and a mockery. And no, I didn't make it up. It's a great word that comes from a beer commercial like most great things. It is all about this judge doing his damndest to avoid saying anything that might indicate something about what he thinks about what he may be judging.

Kavanaugh is not the first. Let's be fair. He's just the latest contestant in this game show.

The problem is he's also a longtime political operative and that makes him unusual. And he said lots of things that matter in his nominated position, and he won't answer anything that might cause controversy on the same. He won't own his own words. So, the result is that we are all being bathed in this non-speak that

I will decode right now. Here is the first weapon. Hypothetical, OK? The hype of the hypothetical. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I can't give you an answer on that hypothetical question. A hypothetical question that I can't begin to answer. I'm not going to answer hypothetical questions. Senator, that sounds like a hypothetical.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Hypothetical. Anything that actually matters that I can't dismiss with a general answer, until I'm on the bench, that is, when it's too late for anybody to do anything about it. In other words, it means, I don't want to answer.

So then the senators say, OK. Forget about the future. How about the past? Were major cases decided correctly?

Then there's another kind of non-speak. He says, well, those cases are precedent, and I have to respect that, or his go-to phrase is "settled law," also known as the unsettling notion of settled law. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAVANAUGH: That law is precedent of the Supreme Court. That's been around for a long time and has set the basics for the campaign finance framework. I said that it's settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: You don't need to be a lawyer to get this. Settled law means what it sounds like. The Supreme Court has decided.

Here's the thing. That answer is good if you're trying to get a seat on a lower court because those courts must follow the Supreme Court. It does not apply to the Supreme Court itself because they undo precedent and create precedent. That's what they do.

And do you know who made that point in a memo? Kavanaugh. So, for him to say now that it's settled law when he knows damn well that he can unsettle it once he's on the bench, and he won't own the truth of what he wrote back then, that's a problem.

And his reason why he won't is the next non-answer. Judicial independence. You have to check the canons, and you can too. Just Google it. This is the juiced-up nothing of judicial independence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAVANAUGH: This moment is a moment of judicial independence. One of my jobs here is not to advance my own interest. I have a responsibility to do judicial independence. It's rooted in judicial independence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: The idea that Supreme Court justices or any judges for that matter are somehow free of political leaning, come on. They're not computers. They're people. Their humanity is a virtue, but it's also something that requires curiosity.

Go Google the canons of judicial ethics. Look, under independence, you're going to see they shouldn't be giving opinions about a case before they hear it. Fine. But there's so much else that they could talk about, the issues, the analyses, what's important to them and what isn't.

And they don't. Why? Bears repeating. Kavanaugh didn't start the fire. It's been burning since Robert Bork was burning and said too much and got dinged.

Since then, from the left and the right, they protect their nominees with numbers and non-questions and non-answers, and both parties play to it when in power.

All right, now, a few takeaways for you. He had his basketball team show up today, the kids that he coaches, and they were there to show support. I hope he coaches them to be as evasive on the hoop court as he is about what he would be doing on the Supreme Court. All right?

[21:20:00]

Point two, snark aside, this man may sit in judgment of a president often on the issue of whether or not that president can be investigated and Kavanaugh has written a president should be immunized from any type of investigation. Now he won't talk about why he wrote that then and how it squares with what he feels today.

He could be deciding vote on Roe v. Wade. He wrote about Roe v. Wade not being settled law. Now he says it is. He won't discuss that apparent contradiction.

Then there is this moment that sticks with me. You remember this? The non-handshake, right? It is what it appears to you to be, all right? It's clear to the eye. No matter what the White House thought they were seeing.

He refused to apologize or give the man who reached out any respect. Instead, he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAVANAUGH: I've not lived in a bubble, and I understand how passionately people feel about particular issues, and I understand how personally people are affected by issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: But he wouldn't talk about Mr. Guttenberg personally. Now, why does this matter?

Maybe it doesn't to you. But it does to me, and here's why. As one senator said, if he won't shake the hand of a man whose kid was murdered simply because of that man's political leanings, can he be trusted to give a fair shake to cases that he's going to see?

So that's what I have on that. We'll be following it every day. When it comes to trust, we all know there's one person who can't be trusted. It's the senior aide who turned on President Trump and penned that anonymous op-ed, one of the president's biggest allies recommends the White House whip out a lie detector test to root out the mole.

What should the West Wing be doing in reaction to this? It's a great debate to have. We're going to have it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: The anonymous "New York Times" op-ed describing a Trump resistance within the administration has the president nonplussed, and he is out for vengeance.

His new pal, Senator Rand Paul, is making this suggestion for rooting out the resistor.

[21:25:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We use a lie detector test routinely for CIA agents and FBI agents. I think if you have a security clearance in the White House, I think it would be acceptable to use a lie detector test and ask people whether or not they're talking to the media against the policy of the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Cool glasses.

Libertarian versus lie detector to find out who penned an op-ed in America?

How big a deal is this op-ed?

Let's bring in Nina Turner and Jason Miller.

I could debate Rand Paul all night, but he's not really relevant enough here. This is a lot of hand-wringing or something you guys are saying doesn't really matter, Jason. Why?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, actually I think the op-ed is problematic, and I'll tell you why. Even though I think most of the people in the White House and in the administration are there for the right reasons, I think they believe in the president and his mission, what he's trying to do. I think the fact that somebody who is working at this high level --

and we don't know exactly where it is, how high, or if they're mid- level. But the fact of the matter is "The New York Times" went and ran this op-ed. The fact that they would go and do this -- and again, this wasn't some whistle-blower activity. And this was effectively a soft coup, saying that there are a number of people that are actively working against the president of the United States and against what he's trying to implement while supposedly working for him. And I think this is problematic.

So we're seeing the tip of the iceberg. What I would like to see is the administration put some kind of task force together to figure out who penned this op-ed or if it was multiple people that did it, and they need to be kicked out of there quick.

Now, I think the whole lie detector idea is silly, and I think that's a non-starter and isn't going to go anywhere. But I think we absolutely need to find this person or people if they were working together and kick them out because this is not representative of the good people in the administration.

HAYES: All right.

MILLER: And it is not fair. And, Chris, I hope you agree and, Senator, I hope you agree also that it doesn't matter what party you're from. It doesn't matter what your political allegiance are. That you should not have people in the administration actively working against you like that. If you don't like it, then get the heck out.

CUOMO: All right. Here's one of the problems for the White House, Nina -- too many choices. Too many choices of who would have said something like this. Too many leakers.

I've never seen a White House like this sieve of a White House that we have right now, the number of sources you have. Did you see the list of the people who came out to say they didn't see this -- they didn't write this? Look at all those people who felt it was necessary, Nina, to come out and say, it wasn't me, boss.

What does that tell you?

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: True dat, Chris. Those should be the first people the president should look at.

I mean, Jason brings up a fair point. I mean, I worked for a mayor. I worked for one of the mayors in the city of Cleveland, and if you ever come to a point where you don't believe in an administration that much, you should absolutely leave.

I think Senator Elizabeth Warren brought up a good point that if enough of the cabinet believes that this president is a threat to our democracy, to the United States of America, then they should come out and come together full blown. Don't do it in secret and hiding. And say that we want to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to bring that to the Congress. But, you know, there was a song I believe that came out in 1971, Chris

and Jason, that says smiling faces sometimes. The president has many smiling faces around him, and I'm sure it causes him a lot of anxiety because he does not know who he can trust. But the question is one I think you also brought up, Chris, is that he should ask himself is that why would anybody or a lot of somebodies in his administration determine that things have gotten that bad that they want to take this route? That is the main question.

CUOMO: The self-awareness -- the self-awareness question, Jason. The president is quick to point the finger, but we all know the thing we teach our kids.

[21:30:00]

You point a finger, you've got three pointing back at you and a thumb that's really doing nothing.

So, the idea of -- isn't this a time for reflection? The book comes out. The place leaks like a sieve. People are always saying that they question his judgment. Now, he's got this op-ed penned.

Isn't it time for him to say, what am I not doing the right way for my own people in the house?

MILLER: Well, I think it's definitely a time to look around and say, do I have the right people here? And if there are --

CUOMO: No. Is he doing it the right way because maybe they're right, all these people saying, you know, you got to know a little bit more, you got to yell a little bit less, you got to be a little ebit less nasty, you got to be a little bit less rambunctious.

MILLER: No, look, Chris, that's not why President Trump was elected. People voted for him because they believed he was going to be a change agent, that he was going to go and fight the swamp. But, unfortunately, what we're seeing here is the swamp fights back.

CUOMO: No. Why is this the swamp? These are his own appointees.

MILLER: But, Chris, but here's the thing. But we don't know -- here's what we don't know. Are these people that President Trump even knows what -- who their names are? Are these people -- were they picked by some other lower staff level person or some medium-level staff person who then brought them in?

We don't even know if the president even knows them or regularly has meetings with them. The fact of the matter, President Trump was brought in to go and shake up Washington. He wasn't brought in to sing kumbaya and be like a go along to get along guy. People brought him in because they were sick and tired of the financial and media elites running the country --

CUOMO: I got you, but I don't remember anybody saying, I hope he goes in there and is really abusive to his own people. And I hope he tries to make us as divided as possible and say that a free press is a bad thing.

Now, fair point about you, Jason. You come on here to speak your mind, but you did sign a non-disparagement agreement, right?

MILLER: I did sign a nondisclosure agreement with the campaign, just as everybody did on the campaign did, and as people do whether they be in law or in military or contractors or a number of different people in life. But what I did not sign is something that prohibits me from voicing my opinion.

And so, for the past year and a half, as I've had the opportunity to come on CNN, I'm always going to give it to you straight. And so, I can voice my opinion however I want, whenever I want.

And so, Chris, sometimes you might not like my opinion because I'm very much coming from the pro-Trump perspective, and that's part of the reason why I'm being brought on is I was formerly the president's spokesperson.

CUOMO: I'm well aware.

MILLER: So I'm bringing it straight and directly to you. But I can disagree with the president and as I see things pop up where I disagree, I'm going to say it. But if I see something where I feel passionately and I'm fired up about, you better believe I'll defend the president and I'm not going to apologize for it.

CUOMO: I'm waiting for that day, brother. I'll tell you right now.

Nina, last word to you.

TURNER: I mea, the president --

CUOMO: The idea of why he was put in office. Yes, he was put in there by some of the people who voted for him as a virus in a corpus (ph) and a body they didn't like and let him go in there and be disruptive. But I don't know that this was what they were bargaining for. Is it?

TURNER: I don't think so. And the president certainly is the common denominator here.

Now, all these folks can't be lying. All of these folks cannot be exaggerating. He does need to have some self-reflection. And it just happened the grandma moment right now. My grandmother used to say you can put truth in the river five days after the lie, truth going to catch up.

And so, the truth of the matter about this president, how he operates is catching up. And it really is the weight of the drama that comes from this White House that I don't believe that the American people can continue to take. We're only like a year and a half in. My god, is this the way it's going to be all the way through?

So the American people deserve a lot better than what they're getting right now. President Trump's problems become the problems of the American people, and that's not good.

CUOMO: My grandmother had her own way. When I used to lie, she used to go oooh, and hit me.

Nina, thank you very much. Jason, appreciate you being on here.

All right. Lots of Trump loyalists are furious about the op-ed. One of them is Michael Caputo, former adviser. He wants this anonymous writer fired, investigated, possibly even jailed. Now, he's got to make the case and be tested, next.

[21:34:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:37:50]

CUOMO: Here's what we know for sure. The combination of Bob Woodward's book and that anonymous op-ed ignited a flurry of Trump officials trying to outshout each other as they scramble to convince the boss, it wasn't me. For someone who claims this is all made up and meaningless, the president sure is making much ado about what he says is nothing. Why?

Let's get into what it means in Trump world with his former campaign adviser, Michael Caputo.

It's nothing. Now you're saying the guy should be drawn and quartered, or the woman, whoever said this. How do you reconcile those two?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: I prefer tarred and feathered, Chris.

CUOMO: Good choice.

CAPUTO: You know, from my perspective -- sometimes I disagree with the president, Chris. On this one, I do. I think it isn't nothing. I think this is about impeachment.

This op-ed was dropped at a very opportune time, I think, coordinated with the timing of the Woodward book, not coordinated with Woodward, just conveniently timed in order to depress the turnout of the president's voters so that we lose the House of Representatives and the Democrats can impeach the president in the first quarter of 2019.

That's what I think this is about, and I think the coward who wrote this -- and, Chris, you and I both know if you work for a president or I work for a president, we wouldn't do this. We'd quit if we didn't agree with him and we'd leave and we'd speak up. You know you'd do that. I'd do that.

But this is not just a coward, Chris. I think -- I think this is really diabolical. If you look at this op-ed, it's important to note that the writer -- I believe it's a woman. The writer actually puts in the word "lodestar," which makes you think it's Michael Pence, the vice president. And then they put in the word "first principles," which makes you think it's General Mattis, who says those words often. And then they put in the words "off the rails," which is supposedly credited to General Kelly.

This person wrote words, inserted them intentionally to throw people off the scent and make us suspect Mattis, Pence, and Kelly.

CUOMO: But you don't know that. You're a little bit of Ted Kaczynski letter analysis mode right now.

[21:40:00]

CAPUTO: But hey, we're all talking about lodestar, right?

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: But people used the word "lodestar". You know, certainly, Mike Pence has used it but other people use the word lodestar. It's not like it's old English or something like that.

CAPUTO: Chris, this is -- this is beltway, swampy stuff. It happens. I've been in Washington --

CUOMO: They're an appointee of the president. It's your alligator, Caputo. Why blame it on the swamp.

CAPUTO: Understood. I blame it on the swamp because the swamp rose up and tried very hard to get appointed to this president's administration. I think the president was --

CUOMO: That's another -- that's another tin foil hat theory. You don't know this person was some kind of inside fix for this mythical swamp. You got the Woodward book, dozens of sources.

This one is an echo if anything. This isn't a new song of this man doesn't take the job seriously enough, doesn't do it with enough seriousness, is abusive. We have to counteract him. This is not a new thought.

CAPUTO: Well, let me talk -- I understand that, Chris. Let me just be -- I want to be very clear here to my friends in the White House and elsewhere that going after Bob Woodward is a bad idea. You know, we all -- every single president for as far back as I can remember has gotten a Bob Woodward and tried to say they weren't true, and they always were.

So I think what the problem with the Bob Woodward book is that people were talking to him, and some of them I think were lying. Some of the things in that book, I don't believe, but I don't think it's Bob Woodward. Taking it out on Bob Woodward is a bad idea.

But the fact of the matter is this op-ed wasn't just written by a coward. It was written by someone who is diabolical, Chris.

CUOMO: But are they right about the situation? You know, none of you guys are examining the substance. CAPUTO: I don't think so at all.

CUOMO: You know, you're all -- look, the media is a little to blame too, right? We love a scoop. We want to know who it is. This is just like the Klein book back with Clinton, who was anonymous. And I get that. That's who we are.

CAPUTO: That was kind of a parlor game, though.

CUOMO: Look, that's who we are, and I don't like it, and I'm trying no to engage in that. I actually haven't done any speculating about who it is tonight because what really matters is what they said and whether or not it's true.

CAPUTO: No doubt.

CUOMO: And if it is, the president needs to be a little reflective because the big job is about the big surrender of the me to the we.

And if everybody keeps telling you, Caputo, you're not doing this the right way. You're abusive. We're worried about you. Stop tweeting and doing all these stupid things all the time, when do you listen?

CAPUTO: Well, I'll tell you, I don't listen to the sneering elitist who's hiding behind an op-ed that's published anonymously. I don't care who this person is.

CUOMO: Now they're an elitist. What are these labels you're throwing out there?

CAPUTO: Absolutely. Absolutely.

CUOMO: How do you know they're an elitist?

CAPUTO: The president ran against these people. The president ran against these people. I believe that he was, from the very beginning, when I was working for him on the campaign --

CUOMO: They were appointed by your guy. Doesn't that matter to you?

CAPUTO: I think that was a mistake. And, Chris, at the same time, it's a little known fact that for the last 18 months or so, the Trump loyalists, people who worked on the campaign, have been run out of the administration or can't get a job.

CUOMO: He kicked them out. He kicked them out. You guys talk about loyalty all the time. When has he shown it?

CAPUTO: I'm telling you it goes -- no, that's not what I'm talking about.

CUOMO: Michael, give me one example of him showing loyalty, sticking by any of his people? When? Once.

CAPUTO: Listen, I think that you look at Rudy Giuliani. You look at -- CUOMO: Who? Rudy Giuliani? He was supposed to be secretary of state

or A.G.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: He was out until he needed him as a lawyer to deal with all this Mueller stuff. Bad example. Bad example.

CAPUTO: Kellyanne Conway, Hope Hicks. It goes all the way down the line, Chris.

CUOMO: Kellyanne Conway saved his bacon at the end of the campaign.

CAPUTO: And he is very loyal to her.

CUOMO: And she is one of the most frustratingly effective advocates he has. Another bad example. Bad example.

I'll give you time for one more. One more person who is in the soup that he's stood by.

CAPUTO: Hope Hicks.

CUOMO: In the soup? She was one of the most glamorized press secretaries ever. She was almost given a complete pass. She left to start a new life.

CAPUTO: She was one of the first people on that campaign. She was one of the original five people on that campaign, and she stuck it out longer than anybody else has.

CUOMO: Right, but she was never in trouble. That's all I'm saying. Loyalty runs one way as far as I can see.

CAPUTO: You know how much legal fees she paid to sit in front of the Mueller investigation.

CUOMO: I understand that.

CAPUTO: I understand it's almost a half million bucks.

CUOMO: But that's about loyalty to him, not loyalty of him to her.

CAPUTO: No, Chris, I don't agree with you. I've given you my examples. I think we should move on.

The fact of the matter is this person who wrote this op-ed should stand up, be strong in their convictions, and speak up instead of hiding behind an anonymous op-ed.

But here's the thing, Chris. I really believe the president should be focused more on the midterms than on finding this person.

CUOMO: Agree.

CAPUTO: I think Jason's right. We need to find a task force. I think we need to find this person. I don't want him (ph) to be hyperfocused on it.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: I give you the last point, and I agree with you on both. This person should have come forward, --

[21:45:00]

-- and the president should be more focused on the midterms and the business of the people in general. I'm with you on that.

CAPUTO: I think he will, Chris.

CUOMO: Michael -- well, we'll see. We'll see. Not so far tonight. Thank you for being with us.

All right.

CAPUTO: Thank you, Chris. Have a good one.

CUOMO: Absolutely.

Confirmation hearings are always supposed to be a tough test for the nominee, right? And then it never is. However, there's always a little bit of a sideshow. And today, we had two senators appear to turn this confirmation hearing into a tryout for 2020, some say. We'll show it to you, and you decide, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: All right. I was going to talk to you about Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker and how they seem to be showing off today, maybe as a posture for 2020. But you know what? They wouldn't come on the show to defend themselves anywhere or at least make the case to you, so forget it. Let's wipe to the side. I have something more important.

The White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and his aides are hunting for that op-ed writer. Think about the use of your time and tax dollars to do this. And we're just learning from "The New York Times" that they have a list of about 12 or so suspects.

Let's bring in Don Lemon for this.

They are talking about polygraphs. They are talking about sworn affidavits. I don't know what the enforceability of that would be. They are really doing this, trying to find out who said this.

Why now? Why this?

[21:50:00]

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, "CNN TONIGHT": They're worried about the wrong thing. Listen, I don't know why now, why this. But aren't -- I think you posed a question. I was sitting in my office and I said, amen, that's it. Why are they so concerned about who it is rather than why there are people in this White House that don't respect what they're doing, who are willing to go on record to the failing "New York Times" according to them and talk about what's happening behind the scenes?

That is what's most important here. Why do people -- if you're the boss of your show and of my show and my staff is willing to do that, I would be wondering, like, what am I doing that I could change so that the people around me could respect me enough to come to me personally and tell me rather than going on the outside.

CUOMO: I hear you 100 percent on that. To me, this is shaping up as a real metaphor moment for everyone involved. For Trump, he clearly doesn't have the ability to be self-reflective or self-critical. He does not have the ability.

I'm not giving him an excuse. I actually believe that. I don't think it's in his persona.

Then you have the people around him, John Kelly and others. Really you're going to indulge this type of insanity of who was it, who was it? First of all, you're never going to find them.

LEMON: No.

CUOMO: There's so many leaks in that place. I've never been as well sourced by a place where I'm supposedly an enemy as I am in this White House.

LEMON: I've got my list here of people who denied it. Just because they denied it doesn't mean they didn't do it. And what they're counting -- you know what they're counting on? They're counting on the integrity of "The New York Times" not to reveal sources because they know that "The New York Times" has integrity and is not going to reveal them.

So they can deny to, you know, Trump and anybody in the administration all they want.

CUOMO: Sure.

LEMON: But here's what gets me, a polygraph. Imagine putting a polygraph on the person they won't even allow to go speak to Robert Mueller without having scripted questions. Put a polygraph on that guy and see what happens.

CUOMO: They're not going to do that because he's the president.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: But you would think that they would want to tamp this down if it's such a nothingburger to begin with. But, man, are we living through some days. These are the days that people will be writing about in the times of our lives.

LEMON: I know you got to go. Dan Rather, I'm going to pose similar questions to what you just asked me. He's coming up.

CUOMO: Perfect guest. Everything he's lived through, saw nothing like this. Thank you, Don.

LEMON: See you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. So, everyone wants to know who this anonymous person is. And, look, maybe they shouldn't have done it this way. Maybe they should have fessed up if it's that big a deal. We may never know who it is.

But here's my case to you when we come back. We're too focused on who it is and not on asking the questions that matter most. We're going to do that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:56:19]

CUOMO: The op-ed has everyone vexed. Hand wringing, who wrote it? Everyone has an opinion. However, I argue to you I think we get further toward what matters here by asking the right questions.

Is it a big shot? If not, doesn't matter who it is except as a measure of whether "The Times" did the right thing publishing it anonymously so soon before an election. If it is a big shot, that would show how far the rot has traveled in the White House.

Leads to a question: why are all these big shots racing to say not me, boss? If the op-ed is so meaningless, why so much ado about what is billed as nothing? You could argue all these people coming out and look at that list, shows how many people were suspected of this kind of perfidy. Certainly reflects the suspicion from Trump.

Reportedly he's on a witch hunt. John Kelly has a list. They're talking about affidavits and lie detector tests.

Now, what did the denials from all those people mean? You've probably seen that old "Wall Street Journal" story kicking around Twitter today, the one from June 1974, Mark Felt emphatically denies he's deep throat. More than 30 years passed before Felt felt like fessing up.

Raises another question. If one of those currently among the deniers is, in fact, the supplier, should "The Times" out them? No way. Integrity is a one-way street in journalism. Protect your source, even if they don't protect you.

And then the real question, why? Why did "The Times" agree to do it this way? They said we believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers. Was it? What did the op-ed do that wasn't done by the Woodward book?

Being anonymous carries the same suspicion in either case. Why do it now? To affirm the findings in the book? Was it done now to affect the election?

What -- why did the person do it, by the way? Are they a hero? I don't see why they would be called that. But that's not the measure here, either, is it? The measure should be

are they truthful and useful? So are they? Well, if they wanted to be truthful and useful, where were they during the acrimony of acidic policies like the travel ban and the kids in cages?

The real soul searching here, though, isn't from anonymous. It should be from the president. Why does he think the White House leaks as much as it does? Why does he think a top-notch journalist could fill 450 pages? Why does he think "The Times" was so motivated to write, publish something like this op-ed?

The final question, what happens next? Kelly is really the grand inquisitor, rooting out the resistor, as they call the writer? Good luck. The place is a sieve. The list of possibilities is a dozen long for a reason.

Why not focus on why you keep hearing the same criticisms? Focus on making it better, because here's what we know for sure right now -- all the reactions so far has only made it worse.

Thank you for watching.

"CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON" starts right now.

[22:00:00]