Return to Transcripts main page


"New York Times" Publishes Anonymous Op-Ed from Senior Trump Administration Official Critical of President Trump. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: "The Washington Post" reports that White House meetings were canceled because of this to figure out how to respond and to try to figure out who was behind it. So a source close to the White House tells CNN that aides are following leads based on key words that stand out.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now is former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski who does remain close to the president. Corey's book "Let Trump be Trump, The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency." Corey, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: The person who wrote this op-ed says that he or she is one of many senior officials inside the administration doing what this person depicts as, in some ways, protecting the country from the president. That's what this person writes. So my question to you is what does it tell you that there are many senior officials who feel this way and are doing this?

LEWANDOWSKI: John, first and foremost, people have an opportunity to serve this country in a number of different ways, and being a government employee is one of those. And if they don't like their job and you're a disgruntled government employee, because the economy is doing so well because of what this president has done, you can go find another job. But I think it's wrong and it's disingenuous to send something to the "New York Times" to have it published without your name attached to make accusations that are unfounded and clearly can't be responded to.

So if there is a movement which this individual claims there is, I haven't seen it, then that is exactly what the deep state is. That is the government employees, some of them, who have their own agenda, and not the agenda of the 60 million people that voted for Donald Trump to be the president of the United States, which is the agenda of putting America first. If that isn't your agenda, maybe you should find a new job.

BERMAN: Much of what you say I think you would get agreement from Democrats in the sense that there are those, and we talked to Chris Murphy of Connecticut who feels that this is person should have put their name on it. As to the motive and as the numbers here, again, this person claims he or she is one of many senior administration officials. I think you're somehow trying to diminish the position that this person has. I don't know who this person is, I don't know what job they have, so I don't know if it's just some anonymous random government official. It could be a senior administration official, and this person claims he or she is one of many. If it is one of many, Corey, what does it tell you about what's going on inside this administration?

LEWANDOWSKI: What it tells me is that these are individuals who don't support the president's agenda, the agenda of lower taxes, less regulation, less government bureaucracy, an agenda which he has put forth to the American people doing a campaign, and two years later into it he is fulfilling. So John, it's real easy --

BERMAN: I agree he made clear what his agenda was when he ran for office and he is going down the list of many of those promises. Just to be clear in this op-ed, the writer claims when you talk about taxes, when you talk about deregulation, when you talk about the military that he or she actually agrees with the president on that matter. What he or she disagrees with is the root of the problem is the president's amorality and I think the behavior inside the West Wing. That's what this person disagrees with.

My next question to you, Corey, then, is who is responsible for putting these people inside the administration? It's the president who hired them.

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, John, again, we have to go back. Look, an anonymous source is exactly that. We don't know if this is a senior administration official.

BERMAN: We do. Anonymous to you and me is an unnamed source. The "Times" who it is, and that means it's a senior administration official.

LEWANDOWSKI: But John, to be clear to the viewers, that category covers over 12,000 government employees who could potentially qualify. So is it a difference of being one of the 44 people who work in the West Wing? Is it a member of the cabinet? Or is it one of 12,000 individuals working in a mid-level bureaucratic office somewhere that has no direct access to the president. We don't know, and it's really discouraging that the paper of record for this country, the "New York Times" would publish something and not give the White House first a heads up or the opportunity to respond by putting the person's name on it.

You ask Marco Rubio, you ask any person who has commented on this issue so far. If you don't like your job, you have a right to air that grievance, but you do so in public, and if you want to quit your job, you can do that. But attacking someone anonymously is not helpful or beneficial to anybody and it sure doesn't solve problems.

BERMAN: Do you know who wrote it?

LEWANDOWSKI: I have no idea who wrote it, but I'll tell you, if I knew who wrote it, I would ask them, hey, look, there's such low unemployment in this country, why don't you get a new job if you're not happy? What don't you like about this president? The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula? The returning body parts home from Americans overseas? What is it you don't like?

BERMAN: The person made clear he or she likes the tax cut, likes the deregulation, and also likes the expansion of the military, so the person does like some aspects of the president --

LEWANDOWSKI: So what they don't like that the president is doing?

BERMAN: Apparently, they don't like the behavior of the president, they don't like the temperament of the president. They call him anti- trade, they call him anti-Republican values. They say they have to stand in the way of some of the decisions that they feel are detrimental to the country. I'm merely telling you Corey what is inside this.

[08:05:06] LEWANDOWSKI: John, I --

BERMAN: Hang on. You can choose to belief it or not. But that is what this person says.

LEWANDOWSKI: Right, and the problem, John, is anti-trade means pro- American trade. This president was very clear he was going to renegotiate the NAFTA deal. Mexico has come to the table. That is a pledge that he made and 60 million people said we want a better deal.

BERMAN: Is it treason, is this treason? The president said treason. Is it treason?

LEWANDOWSKI: It is clearly a high crime that if you have a security clearance or you are putting out information, leaking information that you shouldn't be, that is something --

BERMAN: You do not know that this person has leaked anything, do you?

LEWANDOWSKI: No, I don't know that, but clearly --

BERMAN: You just said high crime. Do you know this person has committed a high crime?

LEWANDOWSKI: John, what they're saying, what they're intimating, what is more than an intimation, what they have said is that there has been discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment. We have absolutely no proof other than an unnamed individual who said that.

BERMAN: Hang on, Corey. OK, we are taking this person's word, but there has been other reporting about those discussions early on in the administration, but that in and itself is not treasonous, correct?

LEWANDOWSKI: It's not treasonous. But clearly if those conversations have been taking place, then the person who would be privy to that would have access to very sensitive information and probably would be a trusted member of a cabinet.

BERMAN: But you don't know if this person leaked sensitive information, so the idea they could have broken any laws --

LEWANDOWSKI: I don't. BERMAN: So we don't know if they've broken any laws. What should

happen to this individual, Corey?

LEWANDOWSKI: I think for the individual's own personal edification, what they should do I they should quit their job, they should come out and publicly come on television and let the American people decide if they are a credible source of information for what their concerns are, because the American people are very smart. Come out and air your grievance in public like I do, like my name is on the chyron right now, and we can have the discussion. So if you're that concerned, come out and let the American people hear what your concerns are, and we know that the America people support this president.

BERMAN: Who is to blame for hiring people disloyal to the president? Who is to blame for hiring these people, Corey?

LEWANDOWSKI: John, the problem is, there's 4,152 presidential appointments alone. There's hundreds of thousands of government employees.

BERMAN: But is it the administration's responsibility? Who do you hold responsible for the fact that there might be many people?

LEWANDOWSKI: How many of these people are holdovers from previous administrations? We don't know.

BERMAN: It seems unlikely to me that this person is a holdover when the person is praising the tax cuts, praising the deregulation, talking about the fact that they like many things that happened. It doesn't sound like a Democrat. I don't know, Corey, I don't know, neither do you, but it doesn't seem likely.

LEWANDOWSKI: But John, the issue is there are career government officials who stay in these jobs that go from administration to administration, and if they had a left leaning bent to them and they don't like the fact that Donald Trump is fulfilling the campaign promises and beat Hillary Clinton in the campaign, then this is their opportunity to go after him.

BERMAN: I do think it's interesting that you're pinning your argument on the fact that it might be a holdover. It turned out not to be a holdover, it turned out to be a senior official appointed by the president as the "New York Times" seems to suggest. Corey Lewandowski, very important discussion this morning. Thanks so much.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in our panel. We have former Nixon White House counsel and CNN contributor John Dean, and CNN political director David Chalian. OK, so let's talk about what Corey was just saying there. I think what flies with what you're saying, what flies in the fact of his theory that it may be a holdover is the passage we want the administration to succeed and think that many of the 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. John Dean, what did you think when you read this op-ed?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I thought it was somebody who was trying to not only trying to send a warning to Donald Trump, which that is clear, send it to the American people, which is clear, that things are amiss here, and there's a serious problem in the White House. So I think this is a fair warning.

BERMAN: Do you think this person is alone? Do you think it's one person?

DEAN: I said the same thing when people asked me when I took a one shot guess is it just one person, and I said not necessarily. It could be in the process of issuing the op-ed it could have been multiple people. It looks like it was edited by the "New York Times." Most White House staff don't write in tight little journalistic paragraphs, so I think it was edited.

CAMEROTA: They said it was, I think Brian Stelter's said it was edited for stylistic conformity to the "New York Times" but not editorially, they didn't change words.

DEAN: I would agree with that. They would haven't access to the information that's in there. So yes, it could be more than one person. But I think this person is worried. I think it corresponds with what we're learning in the Woodward book. That might have been what prompted them to come out because people were trying to throw cold water on the Woodward book, and that person or this group send hey, this is true stuff and we have to give it some cooperation and help, and did so.

[08:10:08] BERMAN: David Chalian, I always think it's interesting when people like Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut, and Corey Lewandowski sort of almost agree on something, and they sort of almost agree that this person should not have come out as an unnamed author of such an article, that to do so is either counterproductive in the case of Chris Murphy or gutless is what Corey Lewandowski or Donald Trump says. Unnamed, the identity seems to me that it does matter. It really does. Corey is trying to dismiss this as some small low- level government official, maybe even a holdover from the Obama administration. That seems highly unlikely. But we don't know high up it is. We don't know if it's a cabinet official. We don't know if it's someone who works a door away from the president.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: John, there's no doubt that knowing the identity of this person would give the American people important information with which they can adjudicate and get a sense of how deeply involved this person is in the administration, how much by knowing the identity they actually see with their own eyes of what's going on.

But I also think it sort of misses the point of this the argument this person is making. To demand the identity is to ignore one of the central arguments of the op-ed, which is that they are, according to them, the writer of the op-ed, that they are staying in there to try and do the best as they see it to protect country from what they see as president Trump's bad instincts on certain policies. So obviously revealing your identity would no longer be able to support that central thesis of their argument about why they're there.

CAMEROTA: That is such a great point, David, and I'm glad you made it, because, John, when Corey Lewandowski says if you don't like your job, quit. It's not that simple.

DEAN: It is not.

CAMEROTA: And if this is a person who, again, if we take at face value of the op-ed, who believes that they are keeping the train from derailing, you don't quit as you have your hand on the steering wheel keeping the train from derailing, and that's what they make it sound as though the resistance inside the administration is attempting to do.

DEAN: I think the message in the op-ed is more important than the identity of who wrote it. You know the "Times" well enough to know that they're not going to let anybody who really didn't have the credentials do an anonymous op-ed. I think we have to trust them that it was certainly high enough level and was somebody who could speak with authority about this. I think that's the given. So I'm looking at the message, and the message is very troubling. We have an amoral president who has no guideposts in his decision-making process. This is not good. This is not good.

BERMAN: The flipside of that, though, is the Chris Murphy argument which is that you're not someone preventing bad things from happening, you're collaborating with, you're enabling.

CAMEROTA: But the person makes the case that --

BERMAN: I know the person makes the case, but I'm just saying, again, Democrats argue on the other side of that.

DEAN: Well, to come out you couldn't necessarily provide the prevention and keep the train on the rails if your identity was known in this. You'd be out of there.

CAMEROTA: David Chalian, I've had two hours on national television to blather and process what this jaw dropper means.

CHALIAN: And enjoy my company.

CAMEROTA: And very much so enjoying John's company, and I now have a fresh theory. This is fresh off my brain.


CAMEROTA: I think the author of this thought more than one step out. I think that the author of this didn't just think this was the endgame. I'm going to write this and, wow, I will have vented my soul and I'll be done with it. I think that there will be more to come. I know Brian Stelter's reporting is this wasn't coordinated with the Bob Woodward book, but it does feel as though there's a confluence of events and that whoever wrote this realized what would be happening this morning and that there will be a next action taken. CHALIAN: I look forward to seeing if your theory bears fruit, Alisyn.

I don't know that it's a calculated, extended rollout the way you're saying. We'll see.

What I do think is interesting in terms of the timing is the op-ed is the invocation of the McCain funeral. I think that that is a very interesting inclusion in the argument because, to me, that gives some indication of where this person sort of sits, I think, in the American political landscape, that the funeral, the passing of John McCain and all the tributes about country first, it seems in the way this was written really did have some kind of impact on this person.

BERMAN: And Dave, we're going to have to let you go, so I'm going to ask you one more question before we do let you go. Talk about the White House response to this and the response from White House allies like Corey Lewandowski. I understand the president calling the person who wrote this gutless. The president suggesting he wants the name turned over. I doubt that will happen, in fact, I know that won't happen. But what do you make of the response?

DAVID CHALIAN, POLITICAL EDITOR, CNN: The only thing more astonishing to me than the op-ed itself was the President's reaction yesterday. It was jaw dropping because what you saw was a President who was losing it right before the American people, obviously seething with anger, some of that is totally understandable. But I think the President showed yesterday in his response how wounding this is, really severely wounding.

We cannot overstate the significance of sort of the break that is occurring right now in the Trump presidency and I don't think you have to look anywhere beyond the President's reaction to see that.

BERMAN: All right, David Chalian, thank you very much for joining us. John Dean, we're going to force you to stick around. Why? Because I think in all of planet earth there are maybe two, three, four people who understand what it's like to sort of blow a whistle on an entire administration, you're one of them. So we want to talk about what this all means and the implications. That's next.

BERMAN: A resistance movement inside the Trump administration. That is what is alleged in this explosive new op-ed inside the "New York Times" written by an unnamed senior official who says in part, quote, "The dilemma which he, the President, 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'm one of them."


BERMAN: So you'd have to go back, really in some ways to the Nixon years to find anything that comes even close to what is unfolding this week, so back with us is someone who was very much in the middle of that, that's an understatement, former Nixon White House counsel and CNN contributor John Dean.

John, thanks so much for being with us. JOHN DEAN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: My pleasure.

BERMAN: What does it take to be a whistle-blower? To an extent that is what you were and to an extent that is what this is.

DEAN: Well, I actually tried within the White House to get them to, in my instance, end the cover up that was consuming the President and I not only got through to the President to try to persuade him but his most senior aides, Bob Haldeman, Chief of Staff; John Erlichman, his top domestic adviser and I wasn't selling it.

The one instance when I did something public was when they started plotting to make me the scapegoat of the cover up and John Mitchell, the former Attorney General, the scapegoat for the break-in I said that plan isn't going to work so I dictated a brief message and had my secretary put out, but with identification, that sort of let them know that I wasn't going to go quietly - that's the message and I wanted them to understand, probably that would revoke them - I thought we all should go to the grand jury and admit the mistakes we'd made and the President might survive if we did that.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, HOST, NEW DAY: And so do you feel a personal affinity for whoever this is? The author of this op-ed? Do you think that this person is attempting to send the same sort of message from within the administration?

DEAN: I sent this as somebody who is concerned about the public welfare and the public good because of the actions inside the Trump White House. That I think is important. That's why their identity is of less importance to me than their message and the message is scary. This is a President who I find frightening, have since he's been elected.

I know how the machine works. Fortunately, he doesn't yet fully understand that. I think he can only become more dangerous.

BERMAN: How so?

DEAN: He has to learn where the levers are, where the buttons you push, but you can do - how you can abuse your power.

CAMEROTA: And what would that look like?

BERMAN: Well, I don't want to suggest that.

CAMEROTA: I know you don't want to have to, and I don't want you to give a how-to to anybody, but just give us a sense of what that means.

DEAN: Well, he can go after his enemies, like Nixon, he perceives many of the people who were against him as enemies and he does not forgive or forget. There are places like the Internal Revenue Service, there are places like the Justice Department with its antitrust division. There are all kinds of tools there that can be abused and suddenly as well as more brutally.

BERMAN: Do you think that is what the person who wrote this op-ed can expect going forward based on your experience? What happens after you do something like this if and when you're found out?

DEAN: When you break rank openly, you become a persona non grata immediately and they will attack that person. I was attacked. Nixon gave a number of national speeches saying well everybody's testified but the only person who accused me of any wrongdoing is my former counsel, John Dean. I learned from reporters that they were spreading remarkable rumors about me. The reporters were saying you just don't know what's happening, not many of us are accepting this but a couple were but I knew it was coming from the White House.

CAMEROTA: And I mean, since you've worked for a famously paranoid president, what happens next? What happens when the President feels as though people within are turning on him?

DEAN: Well, with Nixon, he would use all the tools. He, for example, when he thought there was a leak in the Department of State or his National Security Council would demand everybody take a lie detector test and if you want to work here, strap down and get on the box and test your truthfulness and they couldn't find enough machines at one point.

CAMEROTA: I can imagine. That's a lot of people taking a lie detector test.

DEAN: It is.

BERMAN: President Trump by the way during an executive time is taking note of this saying oh, lie detectors, let's get them in the house here. But seriously, what's he supposed to do?

DEAN: I hope I haven't suggested something.

BERMAN: I mean, I know we were told that inside the West Wing yesterday, they were cancelling meetings. They were trying to figure out how to respond to this. Wouldn't you want to know who was behind this? Wouldn't you go try to figure out who is writing this op-ed?

DEAN: Yes, but it was so clear to this White House at the very day of formation that leaks were going to be a problem, that this sort of thing was always potential and that's because not all of his staff, while they're working there respect him.


DEAN: White Houses where Presidents are respected don't leak. They run smoothly. This is not a well-oiled machine. This is a cranking half knowledgeable operation that really isn't ready for most issues it confronts.

CAMEROTA: Did you think in your lifetime you would be experiencing this deja vu?

DEAN: It is phenomenal to me that I am. I never thought - I thought one of the things I thought in my own decision to come forward and be very public and open and just hold nothing back. It never happened again if I did. Well, here we are. BERMAN: So how? How has it happened again, then? Who is

responsible? Yes, the President's behavior if you believe the person whose written this op-ed is part of that. But is Congress in some way allowing this to happen?

DEAN: Congress was much more responsible during the Nixon years but of course, it was a Democratically controlled Congress, but not totally in the sense that southern Democrats were conservatives and not unsympathetic with the Nixon White House.

What happened is the President wasn't ready for the job. He is not still ready for the job. He has remarkably put together a staff that is not as strong as it should be. He's got some good people but that place isn't running the way it - it's understaffed still. It is just not running the way it can and should.

CAMEROTA: You've heard me float my half-baked idea to David Chalian in the last segment that this can't be the author of this op-ed's end game. This has to be one step of it. I would assume that the author has thought out more than just one step as a whistleblower. Do you think that the author of this op-ed just finishes with this?

DEAN: No. I think the author of this or authors knew exactly what would happen. Whether it was the Woodward book or the McCain funeral or whatever it was that provoked this, they're going to not go away and they're not going to be discovered easily.

BERMAN: Again, are you reassured that people like this are in the White House if what he or she says is true, that they are preventing certain things from happening?

DEAN: Well, we can only hope that. What we're lucky is there's been no real serious crisis. Yes, there was a hurricane that knocked out Puerto Rico that could have been handled better and we know that this President has a tendency to take credit for things that he shouldn't be taking credit for, but we've not really had a foreign or domestic crisis like a 9/11 or something like that.

BERMAN: John Dean, thank you for helping us understand this and putting it in historical perspective - unique historical perspective, I might add.

DEAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Great to talk to you. President Trump calls this person treasonous and is demanding the "New York Times" hand over this unnamed senior official, as though they're keeping him or her in a closet somewhere. We will talk to a prominent Democrat in Congress about all this.