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White House Witch-Hunt; President Obama Rebukes Trump; Former Trump Adviser to Be Sentenced. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 7, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: A definitive study of this controversy was undertaken in 1994 by journalists Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, "Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas." They found a preponderance of evidence supported Anita Hill's claims.

This controversy has received renewed attention with the MeToo movement, which is growing stronger and it's not going to disappear. In fact, Justice Thomas' truthfulness is an issue in this year's midterm election.

A Democratic candidate in Massachusetts has made impeachment of Thomas for his false claims during his confirmation one of the planks of her campaign.

In closing, Judge Kavanaugh's nomination has raised issues about the truthfulness of his confirmation to become a judge on the D.C. Circuit. His answers to this committee have not resolved the issue.

Frankly, I'm surprised that Judge Kavanaugh is not demanding that every document that he's ever handled be reviewed by this committee, unless, of course, there's something to hide.

Thank you.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so John Dean there testifying, again, Nixon's former White House counsel testifying in this Senate confirmation hearing regarding Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

And we have a photo I just want to throw up, because, remember, his testimony was integral in taking down President Nixon so many years ago. We have a picture, I think. Maybe not. OK. Of a younger John Dean. We will move on.

Breaking news, the sentencing for former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos will begin any moment now. He pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

CNN's political correspondent, Sara Murray, is outside that court.

And so, Sara, he asked the judge for leniency. What are you expecting?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He did ask the judge for leniency.

And he's basically -- he and his lawyers have made the case that he was in over his heard. This is of course a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.

Now, prosecutors want to see George Papadopoulos spend some time in jail. They basically say he was only cooperative once he was confronted with evidence that he was lying, that he hindered various efforts during this investigation.

And, of course, all of this plays out against a political backdrop. Ever since George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty, the White House has cast this man as a liar. They said he was little more than a low- level aide on the campaign.

President Trump has said he barely even remembers being in the same room with him. So we will see what the judge decides when these sides are in court today. As you pointed out, we're expecting this to begin any moment.

BALDWIN: All right, Sara, thank you. We will check back in.

Meantime, it is 60 days before the midterm elections and we begin with dueling speeches between two presidents, the current one and his predecessor.

Moments ago, President Trump did some commander in chief counterpunching after former President Barack Obama spent more than an hour rebuking this Trump administration after months and months of not even uttering Trump's name.

Trump went after a specific portion of Obama's remarks. So, first, you will hear Obama and then Trump's response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let's just remember when this recovery started.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I'm glad it's continued.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm sorry. I watched it, but I fell asleep.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: I found he is very good, very good for sleeping.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: I think he was trying to take some credit. He was trying to take credit for this incredible thing that is happening to our country. If the Democrats got in -- I have to say this to President Obama. And

it wasn't him, but would have been the same thing. If the Democrats got in with their agenda in November of almost two years ago, instead of having 4.2 up, I believe, honestly, you would have 4.2 down. You would be negative. You would be in negative numbers right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's start there with Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Kaitlan, staying on President Trump, what more did he have to say about Obama?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, it didn't take long for President Trump to respond to that criticism from Obama so publicly like that and at such length, going on and on, criticizing several aspects of the current administration.

And right after that, President Trump got on stage there and he was asked by a reporter, did he watch the speech? Well, you saw his response there. And he was going after Obama for taking credit for the economy, but he didn't mention that one criticism from Obama, which was that the president has pressured the Department of Justice and the attorney general specifically.

[15:05:07]

And that comes after just minutes before that speech, President Trump was speaking with reporters on Air Force One, and that is when he said that he does believe that Jeff Sessions, his hand-picked attorney general, should be investigating who it is, which administration official it is that wrote that anonymous "New York Times" op-ed criticizing the president, calling him ineffective and petty and questioning his ability to lead the country.

Trump now saying that he believes that is something the Justice Department should be looking. Brooke, that shows that still in this White House, as this search is under way to find out which staffer it is that wrote that article, and as staffers try to convince the president that it wasn't them, so it's very much that the president does want the identity of this reporter to be revealed, something that the president referred to as treasonous last night, though it certainly is not, according to most legal experts.

BALDWIN: Kaitlan, thank you.

Let's get more now on the excoriating speech from President Obama earlier this afternoon in Illinois.

In an attempt to encourage people to vote in the November midterms, he reprimanded President Trump for being divisive and peddling fear. But Obama also called out the Republican Party for not holding this president accountable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: What happened to the Republican Party? Its central organizing principle in foreign policy was the fight against communism. And now they're cozying up to the former head of the KGB.

In a healthy democracy, there's some checks and balances on this kind of behavior, this kind of inconsistency, but, right now, there's nothing.

And, by the way, the claim that everything will turn out OK because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren't following the president's orders, that is not a check.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I'm being serious here. That's not how our democracy's supposed to work.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: These people aren't elected. They're not accountable.

They're not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that's coming out of this White House, and then saying, don't worry, we're preventing the other 10 percent.

That's not how things are supposed to work. This is not normal. These are extraordinary times. And they're dangerous times.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's talk about all of that.

CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger is here. Leah Wright Rigueur, she is an assistant -- assistant professor of public policy at Harvard and the author of "The Loneliness of the Black Republican."

So, ladies, good to see both of you.

And, Gloria, let's begin with you. We know that Obama had been kind of reluctant to come out and be so eviscerating publicly. The gloves are off, right.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, former presidents don't like to do this to current presidents, particularly as directly as Barack Obama just did.

But I think at a certain point, with the midterm elections coming up, and he knows how he can galvanize the Democratic vote, he did it. I mean, he said, this is dangerous. He -- this was not no-drama Obama here. This was -- this was just the opposite. This is somebody who was talking about a president who treats the Department of Justice like it's his own general counsel at the Trump Organization, and also criticized that anonymous letter, that anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times," saying, you know what, this isn't the way things are supposed to work. Don't call this person a hero because this person is trying to protect

you from President Trump. You have to think about President Trump and what he's trying to do.

Now, a lot of people will say -- and it may be true -- that listening to Obama galvanizes the Republican base, and I think that, of course, always, always would occur. But I think if Obama continues to do this and raises the stakes of this election, particularly in those suburban moderate districts in the House, then I think he can do a lot of good for Democrats.

BALDWIN: It is interesting listening to the two reactions.

Leah, you have conservatives saying, oh, here he is lecturing us, and the liberals say, this is leadership.

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Right.

And I think this is the Obama that people have. This is the Obama that people have been craving and have been asking for. And he's out and he's in full force.

[15:10:07]

It is true that this unprecedented for a former president basically to take a sitting president to task you. But desperate times call for desperate measures. And this is what he said in the speech.

The other thing that I think he did that was incredibly important today was not simply just criticize Trump or kind of go after -- go after the politics of fear and resentment, but he also linked Donald Trump directly to the Republican Party, right, which has consequences for the midterms, but then also gave Democratic voters, including unlikely voters, reluctant voters, something aspirational, so something to think about, something to go forward, a vision for what the country could be, including something as -- that really wouldn't have been in the conversation two years ago, like Medicaid and Medicare for all.

so there's there's really -- he's really trying to do something transformative that speaks to these various coalitions of the Democratic Party, of liberals and progressives, bringing them together in a time of crisis.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Agree that it's aspirational.

I just wanted to underscore your point just for a second, Gloria, because it also -- when he mentions dangerous times, like, this isn't hopey, changey Obama.

BORGER: Right.

BALDWIN: This is, listen, this is what's up right now with this -- with this administration. And if you don't like it, young people, and then potential swing voters, go vote in November.

Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: Yes, yes.

I mean, look, I think he -- I think he set the stakes. And I also think he was, in a way, talking to Republicans.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: Because he was saying to Republicans, look, what happened to you guys? You're the guys who were the anti-communists. You're the guys who were against trade tariffs. You're the guys who were against the big deficits. And what are you doing here? What are -- what are you doing?

Look at what Donald Trump has done on those particular issues, which is, by the way, what that anonymous op-ed piece also said. I mean, he was kind of scratching his head saying, look, if you're a Republican, these -- you're not the Republicans that I know.

These -- where is your guts? Where's your conviction? Where's your courage of your conviction? Why aren't you saying to this president -- and some Republicans are, but why aren't you saying as president, you know what, we hate these trade tariffs, we don't like these deficits as far as the eye can see?

And so he was also putting Republicans on notice, saying, hey, guys wake up to the fact that he is not conservative either.

BALDWIN: So, what is it, 60 days to go. Everybody keeps using the football analogy of fourth quarter before the Super Bowl that is November 8.

And, Leah, I just think, though, you have these -- the two quarterbacks, right, Trump and Obama. And I'm just wondering, though, if you're a Democrat, do you have problems -- and we know that Obama will be out and he will be speaking and that really could be a good thing for Democrats. But isn't it a big problem from Democrats that he's really the only quarterback they have right now?

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Well, what also have going -- I mean, for one, I think Democrats everywhere are rejoicing that Barack Obama has decided to hit the road. And we also know that Joe Biden is hitting the road and a few other folks.

They -- I mean, they couldn't be happier that a former sitting and popular president has decided to come out and campaign hard and really reach out to people.

But we also know that there is -- people have been calling it a blue wave. You can call it kind of a progressive push. We do know that they're all of these candidates on the state, local and municipal level who are running and who are trying new approaches to outreach, going after unlikely voters, voters who haven't come out in election -- the last election, disaffected voters. And one of the most fascinating things about the speech that Barack

Obama gave today is that he actually spoke to those people, these kind of disaffected, unlikely voters, both in lecturing them a little bit, saying, if you want to change, you have to come out and do it, but also saying that Donald Trump is a symptom, he's not the problem, that, in fact, we spoke a lot about, hopey, changey things, but, in fact, it was a problem in the state -- in the United States, and that we should be talking about poverty efforts.

We should be talking about health care. We should be talking about, money and income and trade and tariffs and things that ordinary Americans care about.

So there really is -- I think there's -- we're really seeing this kind of coalition push, building push, that could have a really big impact on the midterm elections.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: ... see a lot more of Obama.

BORGER: I agree.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I think one of the big issues, Brooke, is going to be health care.

BALDWIN: Quickly, Gloria, yes.

BORGER: The Democrats are going to going to go after the Republicans and say, they are not fighting for your preexisting conditions in court, and they are not going to fight for it legislatively. And you want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, you're going to lose coverage for preexisting conditions and this is going to hit people where it really hurts.

(CROSSTALK)

[15:15:03]

BALDWIN: Yes. Gloria and Leah, thank you so much for that chat.

BORGER: Sure.

WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Thank you.

BALDWIN: More breaking news.

Coming up next, there's more fallout today from "The New York Times"' anonymous op-ed swirling around Washington here. Here's the deal today. President Trump now wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to get to the bottom of this.

We will talk to CNN's Michael Smerconish about that and so many things. Also, former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos being

sentenced in this hour for lying to the FBI in Robert Mueller's Russia probe. We are live outside that courthouse coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: If you are just joining us, President Trump has a new call for the Justice Department to investigate this anonymous senior administration official behind this damning op-ed in "The New York Times."

[15:20:03]

An outside adviser told "The Times" that the White House has this list of 12 people who it is believed may have penned this op-ed.

So let's go straight to CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish, host of "SMERCONISH" on CNN on Saturday mornings.

And Michael Smerconish, it's always a pleasure. Thank you so much, first and foremost.

Here's what we have got from this White House. So we know -- we have known that they floated this idea from Rand Paul, this notion of lie- detector tests. We also now know, as we mentioned, that Trump wants Sessions to investigate this to get to the bottom of this. And, according to the to "The Times" today, there was even a discussion of asking senior officials to sign these sworn affidavits that could be used in court if necessary.

So all of the above, does that not just underscore how serious this White House is in finding this person?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm sure they are. I don't think any of those will go anywhere.

I mean, it's a critique of the president of the United States. It's not the release of state secrets. This behavior is not the Snowden- like behavior that we saw. If it were, by the way, I might have a different feeling about it.

BALDWIN: Not a national security issue.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: No, not yet a national security issue and perhaps never a national security issue.

But, for me, the most significant aspect of that op-ed is the revelation, if it's true, that there has been discussion of invoking the 25th Amendment...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: ... on this president's watch. And I wish members of the media who have the access to the Cabinet members who are asking the question of, was it you, was it you, was it you, would ask a second question, which is, have you ever participated in any conversation relevant to the 25th Amendment pertaining to this president?

BALDWIN: So quick follow-up on that, because, you as a lawyer, know, right, it would pertain to specifically 25th Amendment, Section 4, which means it would have to be the vice president and the majority of the Cabinet to bring this forth and essentially say this president isn't fit.

Then two-thirds majority would have to sign off on this in Congress. Never been done before. You think that's even a probability?

SMERCONISH: Right.

And very -- and very -- no, I think and very unlikely, based on the facts as they exist now.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: You just want to know who is talking about it.

SMERCONISH: I have a recollection of you and I discussing a year ago the fact that a group of mental health professionals wrote a book, and they raised the president's fitness and the 25th Amendment.

BALDWIN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: They were on the outside looking in. They have never met, much less examined, the president of the United States. I wrote that off.

This is different. If it's true, then I think it needs to be tracked. I think it's very significant, if it's true.

BALDWIN: Speaking of op-eds, I have in my hot little hand here, fresh off the presses, this "Washington Post" op-ed from the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley.

And let me read this key graph. This is all in response to this "New York Times" piece: "I to am a senior Trump administration official. If I disagree with something and think it is important enough to raise with the president, I do it. And he listens. Sometimes, he changes course. Sometimes, he doesn't. That's the way the system should work."

"The author, "she writes, "and the frenzied media reaction to the op- ed hurts all of us who are trying to do our jobs for the country by throwing gas on a fire of endless distraction."

Does she have a point? Is this author an unsung hero or a coward?

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Well, I have two reactions.

One is to say that I'm sure Nikki Haley wants to relieve any question that might exist in supporters of the president's minds that she could be the individual responsible for this.

But, secondly, there is a question here of accountability. I mean, to whom is this person who penned those words for "The New York Times" now accountable? Is there something undemocratic about what they are doing, insofar as they won't stand up and take ownership of it, but tend to use this means to criticize the president?

What I'm really saying is that those who are cheering on this behavior in this instance perhaps need to ask themselves, what about the day when President Trump is gone and it's a progressive, it's a liberal who's there? What if someone should stand up and similarly critique the conduct of their boss? How will I feel about that?

I'm not so sure this is a healthy precedent.

BALDWIN: Sure. Sure. It's a great point if the shoe is on the other foot.

And add into this week and this whole op-ed the nuggets that have come out on this explosive book from Bob Woodward, right? And so just a short while ago, Trump mentioned that, and he said Woodward acknowledged that under Trump other nations are more accountable for their defense spending. Here's the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Then this idiot Woodward who wrote this book, which is all fiction, said -- said that I said something like that, but he put it in a very crude manner. The concept is true, but the way it was said was very -- hey, I went like to the best college. I did lots of good -- you read this thing, the quotes were wrong.

[15:25:03]

All these -- John Kelly, General Mattis, they were all writing, I never said that, I never said that. You know, well, it's fiction.

But they do put down the concept of I said that. And I said, isn't that horrible? Isn't that crude?

Crude? You know what? I want to have our nation protected and I don't want to be taken advantage of by other countries in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Michael, you have all kinds of people who call into your show. This is what I really wanted to ask you about, Trump's words about this idiot Woodward, he says, or the nuggets coming out of the book or who -- whodunit and then the mystery in Washington behind this "New York Times."

Do the people care?

SMERCONISH: So, short answer is no, not those people who need to be swayed. Let me tell you something that I did a bit deceitful on my SiriusXM program this week. I read book excerpts. Only, they weren't Woodward book excerpts. They were Michael Wolff "Fire and Fury" book excerpts.

The point that I was trying to make to the audience is, they're virtually interchangeable. I think that Woodward has a certain stature and half that Michael Wolff does not, but they're the same story. And I think that people believe the story, even those who support the president.

So I don't think that the Woodward book itself moves the needle. Now, maybe the Wolff book and the Omarosa book and the Woodward book and this revelation in "The New York Times" make an impact, but no one of them individually -- look, Brooke, when he said he could shoot somebody...

BALDWIN: On Fifth Avenue.

SMERCONISH: ... on Fifth Avenue and get away with it, there was truth in it.

BALDWIN: I think you are spot on.

Michael Smerconish, we watch you every Saturday morning 9:00 a.m. Eastern here on CNN.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much.

Coming up next: President Trump while aboard Air Force One today weighed in on whether he would sit down with the special counsel, saying he doesn't want to open himself up to a perjury trap.

Plus, as former Trump aid George Papadopoulos finds out his fate for lying to investigators, that happens this hour, as a Roger Stone associate now faces a grand jury.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)