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White House Scrambling to Discover Anonymous Author of Op-Ed; Day Four of Kavanaugh Confirmation to Begin Soon. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired September 7, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody knows who the hell he is. "The New York Times" should publish his name at once.
[05:59:04] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Other officials scrambling, tripping over each other to put out denials.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's stretching our democracy to a breaking point.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No country can survive a president who lies like this.
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: I broke the Senate rules by reading from that e-mail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be a mistake for any prospective member to say, "Here's how I will vote on a case."
JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Roe v. Wade is an important precedent in the Supreme Court.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm going to take your word on that.
CAMEROTA: It is Friday.
BERMAN: I'll wait for a second source.
CAMEROTA: September 7, and it is 6 a.m. here in New York, and it's been quite a week. From the jaw-dropping op-ed written by an unnamed senior official to Bob Woodward's bombshell book called "Fear," President Trump is in damage-control mode by trying, in part, to frighten his supporters about what would happen if Republicans do not win in the midterms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You know what? You're going to have a country that's going to turn into a third-world country. Because if the opposite party becomes president, every time before it even starts, before you've even found out whether or not he or she is going to do a great job, they'll say, "We want to impeach him," and you'll impeach him.
It's so ridiculous. But we'll worry about that if it ever happens. But if it does happen, it's your fault, because you didn't go out to vote. OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Actually, the midterms does not elect a president. His staff will let him know that.
At the rally in Montana last month, President Trump continued -- sorry, last night. Continued to claim -- it's Friday.
BERMAN: Our staff will let you know then.
CAMEROTA: Thank you. That "The New York Times" op-ed, he says, amounts to treason, which is does not meet the definition of, but it does meet the definition of free speech.
BERMAN: So "The Times" reports the White House has a list of about 12 suspects. They have a list, a list of 12. Maybe they call it a ten most wanted list, but the staff will alert them that it's actually 12.
Rand Paul says everyone should be forced to take a polygraph test and that "The Times" says that this was actually discussed by presidential advisors. Now, we've not yet heard anything about truth serum, yet. But maybe that's only a matter of time. And maybe that's why one administration official after another is standing up and saying, "It's not me. I didn't do it. Nothing to see here."
The president is said to be closely watching these denials. Let's just put this out there. Is it responsible, just maybe, that one of these people is not telling the truth?
BERMAN: Meanwhile, the president says "The Times" must reveal the name of the author for the sake of national security.
CAMEROTA: All right. Luckily, we have our experts on hand. Let's discuss all of this with CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip; CNN political analyst David Gregory; and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's national security correspondent at "The New York Times." It is wonderful to see all of you. Happy Friday. What a week.
David Gregory, you know, look, the game of "Clue" continues for who this is and why that's important, and whether or not people think that this person is a hero or a traitor. Your thoughts at the end of this week?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, what you've got within the administration is just incredibly unhealthy now. I think, you know, the president is justifiably very angry that somebody in his ranks would do this anonymously.
I think -- you know, I certainly agree with those in the administration who criticize this person. If you want to take this stand, come out and do it on the record. I mean -- or resign, and/or resign. And speak your peace and have your impact.
This way, you're fueling the darkest conspiracy theories of Trump and those around him who think that "The New York Times" and the deep state are out to get him. And, you know, you can say, you know, that he's paranoid, but there clearly are people out to get him who are within his own administration.
So I think the other piece of this that comes for mind for me today is that there is no president, no administration, who would not face withering scrutiny, given the disclosures of this week. Seeing what we see out of the Woodward book, where people who feel like he's unhinged, where there's a nervous breakdown on the West Wing, where he's not functioning well, or appropriately; and then to have this kind of dissension on his ranks. All of that would be grounds for incredible scrutiny for questions about whether the president knows what he's doing. And that's where we are. We are in, now, a kind of a downward spiral, where this president is -- is looking for heads all around him.
BERMAN: Where we are, also, is Billings, Montana, where the president isn't exactly letting this just roll off, you know, brush it off his shoulders. He seems to be relatively fixated on this, David Sanger.
Let me play you a little bit more sound from last night, where, in front of a rally of supporters for some 90 minutes, there was a significant part where he was talking about this op-ed and who may have written it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Nobody knows who the hell he is, or she. For the sake of our national security, "The New York Times" should publish his name at once.
Unelected deep-state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas, are truly a threat to democracy itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So David Sanger, you say this exercise in searching for the culprit, this obsession with it, to an extent, is an exercise in self- denial. Explain.
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it is in part, John, because the content of the op-ed, which is completely consistent with what all of us hear each day from the West Wing, and what you saw in Bob Woodward's book, and what you've seen in stories in "The Times" and "Post" and heard here on CNN, it's all a pretty consistent story.
[06:05:14] And you saw it again just last -- last night, or yesterday, because one of the central arguments of the op-ed was that the president talks about policy in one direction while the administration goes in a completely different one, something we've all discussed on this show.
So what happened yesterday? He woke up in the morning. He tweeted out some complimentary words about Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, and three hours later, the Justice Department turns around with both a criminal complaint and then new sanctions against the North Koreans for hacking into the United States. You would think that those two issues would have been somewhat coordinated. It doesn't look at all like they were. In fact, the Justice Department wouldn't even say whether they had briefed the president.
But back to the content of what the president said last night in Montana. He said this was a national security issue, the publication of the op-ed. Now I'm on the news side. I have no idea who wrote the op-ed. News and editorial, as you've heard many times here, are completely separate.
But the fact of the matter is, whoever wrote the op-ed did not reveal a national secret, did not reveal classified information. That person, he or she, basically wrote that their interactions with the president and the president's behavior posed an issue that all of his aides are seeking to contain. Now, I'm not quite sure what the treason issue is there. I'm certainly not sure what the national security revelation is.
CAMEROTA: I mean, one of the fascinating things about the op-ed is that, yes, there have -- people have suspected that the president's impulses were somehow being tamped down, or attempted to be, by the people around him. And yes, his bluster didn't always match policy, for instance, in terms of Russian sanctions. But this -- the op-ed confirmed that that's what's happening.
The op-ed confirmed that they're working -- that there's a bifurcation between the president's impulses and policy, and that they are working on a separate track from what the president wants to do. So, in that building behind you, what's happening this morning?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I think you can look at it that way, as a confirmation. I think some people also look at it as why not present new information? And I think we all feel like we knew that. And in some ways, in the building behind me, talking to people who work here, who are associates of the Trump White House, nobody is really denying the substance of the op-ed. I mean, I think people understand that this is what it is.
The issue that a lot of people are having is the way in which it was done. It seemed like a kind of backstabbing move and one that was intended to self-aggrandize the writer. And that included some pointed digs at Trump and at the White House that they knew would get attention. Like, for example, including an entire section about John McCain.
So there's a lot of irritation that you hear from people about the way that the op-ed was written, even if they don't actually have an issue with the underlying substance, the premise, which is that people are always trying to tamp down the president's kind of self-defeating behaviors or motivations.
But then, there's also a lot of suspicion, a lot of people here could never really trust each other to begin with. And now they certainly chat. And what I find really interesting is that, even while we talk about the search for who this person is, I don't get the sense that the leads are based on a whole lot that is concrete.
I think a lot of this is suspicion, based on people who some in this White House might think are disgruntled and have a motivation to do it. But it seems that that might not be enough to identify this person considering how widespread these beliefs might be in the broader Trump administration.
There are hundreds of people who could be -- who could be characterized as a senior administration official, and a lot of these suspicions are not actually based on all that much, other than, you know, maybe a one word here, one word there, and this feeling that this person might have a motivation to do that. That just seems -- we're talking about witch hunt. That seems like a recipe for a witch hunt.
BERMAN: Curiously, no one has used the word "lodestar" inside the West Wing over the last 24 hours. That word has disappeared from conversation.
David Gregory, you're laughing. I have not heard your denial about this op-ed yet. Let the record show.
One of the things I do find interesting is listening to the president overnight in Montana and listening to the reaction here, is where he has retreated to. The defensive crouch, his response to this is impeachment. That is where the White House, and to an extent, its allies, have gone in responding to this. Well, you know, if you approve this op-ed, you must want impeachment. If you're against impeachment, if you're against the media, you're on my team.
[06:10:04] GREGORY: Right. Look, I mean, I'm reading that new book by Mark Leibovich about the NFL, and he talks about how the president went after Colin Kaepernick, who was just, like, the perfect foil for the president, who wanted to exploit the national anthem issue to kind of, you know, rail against on against African-American players, against disrespecting the flag.
I mean, he uses these things in such crude ways. His attacks on the media are just such a magnification of any president's attack on the media to this kind of caricature level. And now the argument that he's making is, look, nobody's giving me a chance. They've been out to get me from day one. And now, instead of going to the ballot box, where they couldn't win, my opponents are just going to try to impeach me with it as grounds for that or not.
That's not the case. And it certainly is a very zealous opposition to him. And so he uses all of these things in the way that he does. And I think the question -- I do, though, have a question for "The New York Times." I don't think this -- this op-ed was particularly newsworthy, particularly on the heels of the revelations of the Woodward book.
We don't know what level this person is. I -- knowing James Bennett, who's the editor of the op-ed page, respecting him a great deal. I'm sure "The Times" have their reasoning for feeling like this was OK to do, given how much backlash there would be, which is to feed the -- you know, to feed these arguments about the press doing what the press has been doing, hiding behind the anonymity of this person. But this is now kind of right in Trump's wheelhouse for attacks on the press generally, "The New York Times" specifically, and on and on.
CAMEROTA: David Sanger, I don't want you to have to defend the decisions of the editorial pages, and I'm sure that you've heard that criticism. And, obviously, that will continue, I mean, over the next days, and as "The New York Times" either explains what they were thinking or there's more developments about this.
But either way, I do want to talk about this development, because it seems to us as though Senator Rand Paul must have been watching NEW DAY yesterday morning when we interviewed John Dean, OK, so famous whistle-blower of the Nixon administration.
And we asked him what happened when President Nixon started to get more paranoid? What was happening in the White House when he felt people were out to get him? And he said that Nixon's impulse was to employ polygraphs, lie detector tests to people in the State Department, the White House, wherever he could. And then, yesterday afternoon, this was Senator Paul's suggestion to President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: 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)
BERMAN: And immediately after that, he sang "Old Time Rock and Roll" in his parents' living room.
CAMEROTA: David Sanger, is that what this has come to? Is this possible?
SANGER: You know, I thought that the best line yesterday belonged to Senator Bob Corker, who of course, is retiring, which makes him, you know, freer to speak. When he said that maybe the easier thing to do would be to find the people who disagreed inside the White House with the analysis in the op-ed page.
Look, I think that David has raised a very -- and all of you have raised a very legitimate question about whether to run a column that grants anonymity to -- to the writer, because we're very careful about whether or not we'll grant anonymity to sources. Sometimes on national security issues, in particular, you have no choices. And, you know, that's a tough decision that we my colleagues on the editorial side had to go make.
I think we'd all feel better if whoever was involved in these critiques would step out and put their name to it. And I actually think it would be more powerful if they stepped out. You know, this thing that goes on in Washington where everybody says, "I would step out and say this myself, but the country would fall apart if I left my job." And of course, it probably wouldn't.
CAMEROTA: But I mean, that is the whole premise about that. If you think that you are part of a team that is keeping the train on the track, and otherwise, the train would derail, to catastrophic effect, you can't quit right at that moment.
BERMAN: And that's why, by the way, I disagree with what David Gregory said, where it's not newsworthy, because if "The Times," is a reporter, David Sanger -- if someone came to David Sanger, a senior administration official, and said that I'm part of a group of people working every day to undermine the agenda of the Trump administration, that article would be printed. That article -- there would be a news story, saying a senior administration official reports how a group of people were working to undermine this.
So I do think it's newsworthy. It's just a different form of expression.
SANGER: It is definitely newsworthy, John. It's just -- it would be more powerful to put the name to it, obviously.
[06:15:03] GREGORY: Right, but what I'm saying is that there is a collection of quotes to this -- to this point. As David said earlier, that -- that affirms a narrative that has emerged now for -- since the beginning of this White House, about how a White House acts in a bipolar fashion, how there are people trying to restrain his impulses.
And by the way, we got a much deeper and more detailed scene with all of this out of the Woodward book than we got out of this op-ed.
BERMAN: You got examples. You got examples. But it goes on at length.
CAMEROTA: And "The New York Times" says that they were in negotiations with this unnamed person before the Woodward book was excerpted and leaked.
Abby, your last thought.
PHILLIP: I think this will all depend on who this person is, ultimately. If this person is senior enough --
PHILLIP: -- that it is newsworthy, that this sentiment is coming from someone at a very high level, then yes, this is going to be the biggest story of this -- maybe this generation.
But I do think that this is a story that has been written before. We, as reporters, have been hearing from these people. They've been quoted in stories over the last 18 months about this White House. It's all on one page with this op-ed.
But the sentiments are ones that we've been talking about for months and months and months now.
BERMAN: Interesting perspective from reporters on this. Fascinating to see. Abby, David, David, thank you very much.
Quite a day in the Supreme Court confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh. We learned new things that, for a time, had been held back from the American people about things Brett -- Brett Kavanaugh has said in his past. What have we learned? How did Democrats handle it, and what will it all mean? That's next.
[06:20:31] CAMEROTA: It is day four of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. It will begin this morning. Yesterday saw a battle over so-called committee confidential documents, and that was just one of the many fiery exchanges.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live in the hearing room, as she has been all week with more.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alisyn.
Yes, and Brett Kavanaugh has spent over 32 hours in this committee room in front of this committee over the last three days. But you'll see today a different set-up. Gone is his solo desk and his chair alone, making room for this long table where we will hear from a panel of witnesses today from both sides, including Condoleezza Rice, including a Parkland school shooting survivor.
This certainly takes a lot of the pressure off the nominee himself, especially as we saw those tensions boil over yesterday.
SERFATY (voice-over): Potential Democratic presidential hopefuls taking center stage on day three of Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing. Senator Cory Booker choosing to publicly release some of Kavanaugh's e-mails marked "committee confidential."
BOOKER: I understand that the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate.
SERFATY: Democrats quickly jumping to Booker's defense.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We support what Senator Booker is doing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Count me in, too.
BOOKER: This is about the closest I'll probably ever have in my life to an "I am Spartacus" movement.
SERFATY: Republicans firing back, accusing Booker of grandstanding.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Running for president is no excuses for violating the rules of the Senate.
SERFATY: Explaining that the e-mails had already been cleared for public release hours earlier.
SEN. THOM TILLIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Certainly, in the six hours between the time that e-mail hit your e-mail box and the theatrics that happened on this -- in this chamber today, you could have actually found out that you didn't have to be Spartacus.
SERFATY: Nevertheless, the new e-mail disclosure prompting fresh scrutiny on Judge Kavanaugh's position on abortion rights. On Wednesday, Kavanaugh said this about Roe v. Wade.
KAVANAUGH: Roe v. Wade is an important precedent in the Supreme Court. It's been reaffirmed many times.
SERFATY: But in a newly-released e-mail from 2003, Kavanaugh wrote, "I am not sure 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.
Judge Kavanaugh dismissing the e-mail's significance, telling the committee he was reviewing an op-ed.
KAVANAUGH: I'm always concerned with accuracy, and I thought that was not quite accurate description of legal -- all legal scholars.
SERFATY: Senator Kamala Harris revisiting a line of questioning that seemed to throw Kavanaugh off on Wednesday, whether he'd spoken to anyone like President Trump's personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz's, law firm about the Mueller investigation. This time, Kavanaugh responding definitively.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: The subject of the question is you and whether you were part of a conversation regarding Special Counsel Mueller's investigation?
KAVANAUGH: The answer is no.
HARRIS: Much of the focus during the hearing remaining on President Trump and his potential influence over the high court.
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: We're in a moment -- at a moment when the president has shown contempt for the federal judiciary, unlike any president we can recall.
SERFATY: Kavanaugh insisting that he is committed to impartiality and refusing to answer questions about President Trump's disparaging past remarks about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
KAVANAUGH: I'm not going to get within three ZIP codes of a political controversy.
SERFATY: And Republican Senator Susan Collins, of course, someone who has been largely considered a potential swing vote. She tells CNN THAT she is not concerned at all about those newly-released e-mails from Kavanaugh over abortion.
Kavanaugh essentially is walking out of this committee room largely unscathed, John and Alisyn. And Republicans believe and are predicting that he will be confirmed and on the bench of the Supreme Court.
BERMAN: All right, Sunlen. Sunlen Serfaty for us inside the hearing room. She's been in that room so much, I'm convinced she's going to get confirmed by the end of today.
CAMEROTA: I hope so. Good choice.
BERMAN: No question about that.
Let's discuss with CNN senior political analyst John Avlon, CNN political analyst David Gregory, and joining us now is Seung Min Kim, White House reporter for "The Washington Post." She has been covering these confirmation hearings.
And Seung, I want to start with you, because look, I think there is substance, theater, and the outcome. And those are three separate things when we're talking about these hearings.
But on the substance, the fact is, we learned things over the last 24 hours about what Brett Kavanaugh has said in the past that we did not know.
SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That's exactly right, and I think that abortion related e-mail from 2003 is a great example.
Obviously, we knew that abortion rights and his views on whether he would uphold Roe v. Wade was going to be a major hot spot in these hearings.
[06:25:08] And this was an e-mail that had been confidential. Basically, senators could see them. Certain aides could see them, but we in the public could not see them.
So the fact that he appeared to raise questions about Roe v. Wade was a settled law of the land, was something important for the public to know. And that he got a chance to clarify.
But on the other hand, he dodged -- he did dodge a lot of questions during the roughly 24 hours of questioning that he went through in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. He was constantly asked about the Mueller probe, whether a president has a right to pardon himself, whether a president is subjected to a subpoena, whether a president can fire a prosecutor at will. And those are all questions that he declined to answer directly,
saying he could not comment on current political controversies. He has to stay, quote, "three ZIP codes away" from any controversy, particularly any issue that may come before in court.
But in terms of those issues, we didn't learn a -- too much more about him on that matter. And I think that's why he did largely what he was supposed to do, you know, basically do no harm. And he did exactly that.
CAMEROTA: David Gregory, one more beat on Roe v. Wade so that we can figure out, really, how he feels and what would happen here. And I know that you are married to a high-powered attorney, so your ear is attuned to these things very well.
So when he says in 2003, when he writes, "I'm 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."
Can't we conclude that everything is settled law until the day it isn't? And that he is not of the mind to keep it as settled law?
GREGORY: Well, but you -- we don't know that for sure. I mean, there's no question. I agree that it's worthwhile to have this memo out there, especially if -- if there's going to be a lot made by Susan Collins of the fat that he says that it's settled law, that doesn't mean anything.
What he's saying there is not inconsistent. He's saying there's certainly not agreement that it's settled law, and just because it's precedent -- precedent doesn't mean it can't be overruled.
What he's doing in the course of this confirmation hearing, as other people have done, is not -- you know, is not indicating what he would do, other than to say it is -- it's settled law. It's been reaffirmed many times. All of that is true, and he would add, if he weren't being very careful, doesn't mean we can't overturn it. And that's certainly possible.
I don't think there's anybody who has a question about whether he would be, perhaps, a vote, a deciding vote to end Roe v. Wade. I also don't think there was a question about whether Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be a vote to affirm Roe v. Wade, and that didn't hurt her chances.
So I think this is a little bit amplified. And I think all of the histrionics yesterday were about the left. You know, first of all, you have people running for president. There's no question about that. And Cory Booker's histrionics were about that.
And they're also about kind of striking back against the Republicans for their hideous treatment of Merrick Garland, who President Obama nominated. And this is the back and forth that you see, particularly over judicial nominations. It's ugly. BERMAN: David called is histrionics. I will say, on the back and
forth of the question and answer, Senator Harris, Kamala Harris, did get Judge Kavanaugh to admit, for all his talk about settled law, all you need is a 5-4 vote and it changes settled law. That did come out in that questioning.
GREGORY: But who didn't know that, John?
BERMAN: I understand. I understand that, but if you listen to Brett Kavanaugh. If you listen to the way that Brett Kavanaugh presents his case. And you listen to Susan Collins, how she is explaining what Brett Kavanaugh has said to here. She is making it sound as if she's getting assurances that Roe v. Wade won't be changed.
That is not what he has said to her. And that is not what he testified yesterday inside those hearings. And I do think that has been, perhaps, highlighted more through the process than was done before.
John Avlon, to the theater of it, you know, Cory Booker, I honestly don't know what the heck happened with that. I mean, he claimed, you know, "Take my life for these documents that I'm releasing" that actually were already OK to be released. I don't get it.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, look, Booker, incredibly, accused of show boating. He showed these committee confidential documents, saying, "I'm risking expulsion from the Senate." He got chastised by Senator Cornyn, saying, you know, just because you're running for president doesn't mean you can break Senate law.
But then the Bush Library lawyer said, "Actually, I think we released these already a couple hours ago. You're good." This is -- you know, which made it look more grandstanding than an "I am Spartacus" moment, however you read that film. And it is odd to have in a Supreme Court hearing.
But look, I think Kamala Harris has been distinguished herself in the cross-examination of Judge Kavanaugh. I mean, one of the questions she put to him the other day that went viral was simply, "What -- are you aware of any laws that would restrict men's ability to do what they wish with their body."
That is one of these clear questions that resonates, because it's common sense, not -- you know, wrapped up in --
BERMAN: And he squirmed. And Judge Kavanaugh squirmed. Because guess what --
CAMEROTA: That there is none.
AVLON: There is none.
But beyond that, look, I think there were -- Mitch McConnell warned that Kavanaugh could be a tough confirmation because of the documents. And we're starting to see those come out.