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CNN NEWSROOM

Anonymous Op-Ed Author an "Unsung Hero" or "Gutless Coward"; David Kusnet Talks "Primary Colors" & NYT's Anonymous Op-Ed; New Denials from Trump Administration Officials over "Resistance" Op-Ed; Fireworks Erupt over Hidden Kavanaugh Documents. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: -- somebody goes and works in a specific office, whether it's the White House or more likely if it's a career politician, a career government official, rather, in one of the agencies who stays there no matter who the president is.

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: So is this person -- just going off Dana's point, is this person a weasel or is this person a patriot?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I'm a little --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: That was a sigh, a deep breath.

LIZZA: I'm a little bit -- I have gone back and forth on this in the last 24 hours.

BALDWIN: Yes, yes.

LIZZA: I'm a little bit more in this is an act of someone -- I don't want to call the person a weasel, but I don't think this is as brave an act as I originally interpreted it. What is this person getting out of this? If you're part of an internal cabal where you believe you're saving the country by thwarting the worst impulses of the president, what do you get out of anonymously writing an op-ed? It doesn't really seem to serve the person's agenda. I think the right thing to do is to come out and bear witness to what you saw in the administration and get Congress to step up and do something about this. Our system of checks and balances did not anticipate anonymous aides writing op-eds. It anticipated elected officials doing something when the presidency is allegedly out of control.

And just one more point on paranoia, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes.

LIZZA: I got a copy of the Woodward book this morning. I have been reading it. I would just say, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg about the revelations in that book. It is page after page of White House staff doing everything they can to thwart the worst instincts of this president. And so when that book comes out next week, this whole cycle will repeat.

BALDWIN: I just keep -- I have that Green Day song running in my head today, wake me up when September ends. Don't you think that's what the president is thinking?

(LAUGHTER)

Right, a little Green Day. That's where my head is.

Dana Bash and Ryan Lizza, thanks so much.

LIZZA: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Coming up, this is not the first time Washington has been consumed by an anonymous publication about a president. My next guest actually exposed the author behind a similar case involving President Clinton. How he did it back then and what he's noticing now about this latest op-ed. We'll discuss that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:36:30] BALDWIN: While we wrap our heads around why someone within the senior administration felt the need to sound the alarm on President Trump, it's also a "who done it" that will dominate the nation's capital for the foreseeable future.

I can't help but think about another anonymous publication that consumed Washington for months during the Clinton presidency. Let me take you back to 1996, it was January, "Primary Colors," a fictional political novel, was printed anonymously, but the characters were said to mirror and critique the Clinton administration. When the book was adapted into a film, John Travolta was cast as that president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN TRAVOLTA, ACTOR: So you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to do something really outrageous. I'm going to tell the truth.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

I know, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking he must really be desperate to do that, but if you had to swallow enough garbage --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You can say it. We're X-rated.

(LAUGHTER)

TRAVOLTA: Yes, me, too, if you believe what you read in the paper.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Now, before the movie, the manhunt to unmask the book's author was relentless.

And my next guest cracked the case. He is David Kusnet, one of Bill Clinton's speechwriters. Named "Newsweek" Columnist Joe Klein as its author, which eventually led to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE KLEIN, FORMER COLUMNIST, NEWSWEEK: My name is Joe Klein, and I wrote "Primary Colors." I did it by myself, with no help, no secret sources.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: David Kusnet is with me, former White House chief speechwriter.

David, welcome. Nice to have you on.

DAVID KUSNET, FORMER CLINTON SPEECHWRITER: Thank you for having me.

BALDWIN: So let's first start with, it was a source in the West Wing saying that aides are following leads based upon the writing style in this anonymous opinion piece. So I want you to go back when you first started digging on "Primary Colors." What were your clues, tell-tale signs for you to go, aha, Joe Klein?

KUSNET: The "Baltimore Sun" asked me to review the book in February of 1996, right after it came out. And as I was reading it, I was thinking to myself, this reads a whole lot like Joe Klein. And Joe Klein, as you say, had been a columnist for "Newsweek," and before that, he covered New York City politics, New York state politics for "New York" magazine. And way before that, he worked for an underground newspaper in Boston. I was thinking there was a lot of inside material there about New York City politics and about Boston politics that most of the people who were being suspected of having written the novel, people who were Washington insiders but didn't really know New York or Boston that well, wouldn't know, and that Joe Klein would know. And in addition, it just read like him, the writing style was like him. And some of the peculiar kinds of viewpoints and concerns were Joe Klein's viewpoints and concerns.

BALDWIN: I'm hearing insider material, writing techniques. So you figured it out.

When you read this opinion piece that we're currently talking about, are there phrases that jump out at you? Writing style that's peculiar? What would you be looking at?

[14:39:51] KUSNET: Well, one thing that I would look at, and it seems a lot of people are rightly looking at, is unusual words. The word "lodestar" certainly has been picked up on. At the end of the piece, the writer calls John McCain his "lodestar." I notice the word "unmoored," which is -- it's an unusual word. The only people I know who have used it are people who have worked aboard ships and served in the Navy. I have a friend who wrote a novel called "Unmoored" and he served in the Navy and it's about people aboard ship. That's a word that's noticeable.

Another thing I think I notice is that it reads like a speechwriter. There's a lot of alliteration. There's a lot of sort of parallel phrases. At one point, he says, he or she says it's not the deep state, it's the steady state.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: The alliteration says speechwriter to you?

KUSNET: That's right. We like a lot of alliterations, words starting with the same --

BALDWIN: Sure, sure.

KUSNET: -- in the same way. And what I'm thinking is that the person, either it was written for somebody by their speechwriter or written by someone who maybe didn't work full-time as a speechwriter, but someone who has --

(CROSSTALK)

KUSNET: -- written for other people before.

BALDWIN: You hit on -- noteworthy your point about "unmoored." But the "lodestar" point, yes, everyone is jumping on this word, "lodestar," a word not a lot of people were familiar with until this story was thrust in our faces. It means a guiding light, much like a north star.

There's one, David, one senior administration official who has used this obscure word quite frequently. Watch

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It really was the lodestar.

So vigilance and resolve will be our lodestar.

We will continue to act with vigilance and resolve as our lodestar.

Must again be our lodestar.

That's going to continue to be a lodestar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Now, he said it wasn't him. But your thoughts on that theory?

KUSNET: Not for literary reasons, but for political reasons, I have a hard time thinking that Vice President Pence would have written this. It's even possible -- if you want to be conspiratorial, it's even possible that someone wrote it knowing that the word "lodestar" was a favorite word of Vice President Pence and wanted to either cast suspicion on the vice president or wanted to distract attention from themselves.

BALDWIN: Isn't it also possible -- and I'm not saying this is the vice president -- but a lot of people are coming forward denying it, like Joe Klein initially denied it was he who wrote "Primary Colors." Ultimately held a news conference. It could be someone who said, nope, wasn't me?

KUSNET: It could be. It could be.

I would think that --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Go ahead.

KUSNET: There's been a lot of talk about the person who wrote it being cowardly. I think it is more honorable just to resign on principle, as any number of people have done from administrations. But I think that whoever did this is not a coward. And I think, at this point, they would come forward rather than actually deny it. I don't think that someone who wrote it, especially if it's some of the people who are being mentioned who are people who have served in government a long time, have their pensions, or nearing the end of their careers, I would think they would want to close this out honorably, not to deny authorship and have other people get blamed.

BALDWIN: Do you think -- last question, do you think the "New York Times" did the right thing by publishing?

KUSNET: I think so. I mean, the -- it's part of public debate and discussion. And newspapers, in addition to reporting the news, should be promoting public debate and discussion. So I think they certainly did the right thing. I think public debate benefits from this being out there.

BALDWIN: David Kusnet, pleasure. Thank you.

KUSNET: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Next, a dramatic day up on Capitol Hill for the hearing for Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Democrats defying Republicans, releasing confidential e-mails involving the judge. One Senator saying he's willing to risk his job over this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER, (D), NEW JERSEY: Senator Cornyn called me

(CROSSTALK)

BOOKER: -- out for this.

(CROSSTALK) [14:44:16] BOOKER: I'm saying right now that I'm releasing committee confidential documents.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Right now, President Trump's choice for the next justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, getting questioned up on Capitol Hill. Senate Democrats showing today that they will not let Kavanaugh join the highest court in the land without a fight. Democrats launching all-out war, releasing 12 pages of confidential e- mails related to Kavanaugh's work for the Bush administration. The e- mails including discussions in relation to racial profiling in the wake of 9/11.

Democratic Senator Cory Booker today leading the charge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOOKER: Now, I appreciate the comments of my colleagues. This is about the closest I'll probably ever have in my life to an "I am Spartacus" moment. My colleagues, numerous of them, said they too accept the responsibility.

I'm saying right now that I'm releasing committee confidential documents.

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, (D), HAWAII: I am releasing that document to the press.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D), MINNESOTA: I, in addition to making clear that I join my colleagues, that we support what Senator Booker is doing here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Republicans were furious, as Senator Majority Whip John Cornyn taking aim at Senator Booker's White House ambitions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[14:49:53] SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R-), SENATE MAJORITY WHIP: Running for president is no excuse for violating the rules of the Senate or of the confidentiality of the documents that we are privy to. This is no different from the Senator deciding to release classified information that is deemed classified by the executive branch because you happen to disagree with the classification decision. That is irresponsible and outrageous.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: I want to start here. Joan Biskupic is with me, CNN Supreme Court analyst, and Arianna Berg, former prosecutor with the U.S. attorney's office in the southern district of New York.

Ladies.

Joan, to you first.

And I want to say we have since learned on what Senator Booker did this morning, apparently, the documents he was referring to had already been cleared. That it looks as though his comments were a bit of a stunt.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST; I think that's it. What he's trying to do is call attention to this process and say, this matters, we need to know more about this individual who is up for a lifetime appointment on the nation's highest court, and I'm going to let these documents out.

But Brooke, in your intro, you even noted how few pages there are. I think you said 12. You know, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of potential documents out there. You know, three years of staff secretary documents where he served right at the side of George W. Bush, and we're not seeing any of those. We did get more of a glimpse of Brett Kavanaugh through what was released but it's still just a sliver of the whole person.

BALDWIN: Let's mention, you brought up his time in the Bush White House.

Arianna, this is for you.

So Judge Kavanaugh was questioned whether Roe v. Wade was settled law of the land. In 2003 when he was serving as a staff secretary under president Bush, this is what he wrote. "I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since court can always overrule its precedent, and three current justices on the court would do so."

So is Judge Kavanaugh, or then just working at the White House, is he being a legal scholar and simply pointing out the power of the U.S. Supreme Court? Or is he saying anything could happen?

ARIANNA BERG, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, that's the risk that we have here. We really don't know where he stands. During the confirmation hearings, he's been asked about it. He's referred to Roe as settled precedent, important precedent. He's even mentioned the fact it's been around for 45 years, and generally, the length of precedent means it's even stronger. So here, 45 years, long time. Should be settled. But this 2003 e-mail that the "New York Times" received which was originally marked as committee confidential, suggests at least that even 45-year- old precedent like Roe can be overturned. He's not claiming that as his position in this e-mail, but again, there are over 100,000 pages of documents that we haven't received. So we really don't know where he will rule. BALDWIN: But on his writing, Joan, how do you interpret it?

BISKUPIC: Well, you know, I think what you see in the memo, Brooke, is his acknowledgment of the truth of the situation. That he can say to Senator Susan Collins, he can say to the full committee, as we heard over the last couple days, that he regards Roe as a certain precedent. He even said important precedent. Nut what he didn't want to have to say out loud is what he said in the memo, it doesn't matter because the Supreme Court can overrule it. Those are his exact words in the memo after he said that some legal scholars don't consider it settled law. He said of course, the Supreme Court can overrule it. And at the time he wrote it, he said there were three justices sitting on the court who wanted to overrule it. And the question for Democrats is, will you, Brett Kavanaugh, who is about to be the ninth Supreme Court justice appointed, will you want to overrule it?

BALDWIN: Joan and Arianna, thank you.

Hearing day three continues on in Washington. We're keeping an eye on it.

[14:54:05] Next, "It wasn't me." The list of denials continues to grow as speculation intensifies around who wrote that anonymous opinion piece slamming President Trump in the "New York Times."

Just in, an idea from Republican Senator Rand Paul on how to figure out who it is. Three words -- lie detector test.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

The president of the United States is taking names, making a list, and checking it twice. The whole, "It wasn't me" refrain being repeated over and over and over, as each minute goes by today, from top officials inside the president's own administration, denying he or she wrote that blistering opinion piece in the "New York Times."

While everyone is out there playing the game of Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum, what's getting lost in the hunt for a messenger is the message, compiled with numerous other officials mentioned in Bob Woodward's book. They're sounding an alarm that this president is a risk.

The official writes this: "Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening and we're trying to do what's right, even when Donald Trump won't."

One thing that certainly is happening, amplified the sense of paranoia within the West Wing since the president now knows at least one of his own advisers is working against him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An anonymous editorial, can you believe it, anonymous. Meaning gutless. A gutless editorial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: The list of denials -- look at these faces. More than a dozen so far, including nearly every member of the president's cabinet. Among the first to come forward and say it wasn't me, the vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: Well, I think it's a disgrace. The anonymous editorial published in the "New York Times" represents a new low in American journalism. I think the "New York Times" should be ashamed. And I think whoever wrote this anonymous editorial should also be ashamed as well.

Anyone who would write --