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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
New York Times Story Angered President Trump. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired January 4, 2018 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[22:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... single digits in Boston.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: Tom, appreciate that. Thanks very much for watching 360. Time to hand things over to Jake Tapper. The Lead starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN: Good evening and welcome to a special primetime edition of The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper.
Amidst to the stormy and capricious cease that President Trump is battling caused by the shocking allegations and vicious quotes in the new book "Fire and Fury," inside the Trump White House, a book that is raising serious questions about the president's capacity to lead.
A new squall of a different sort has emerged this evening, breaking news in the Russia investigation. Coming out a short time ago in the New York Times, in a part of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller's focused on whether President Trump obstructed justice.
The Times is reporting that President Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to try to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation because the president wanted Sessions to protect him.
Report at the Times quote, "Mr. McGahn was unsuccessful and the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House official saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert Kennedy as attorney general had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric Holder had done for Barack Obama."
"Mr. Trump then asked where's my Roy Cohn?" A reference to Joe McCarthy's pit bull from the red scare era of this country.
The Times also says a different White House lawyer worried that if President Trump did fire FBI Director James Comey he might imperil his presidency and therefore, this attorney misled President Trump telling him he could only fire Comey for cause.
This is characterized in the Times story as the president's lawyers essentially lying to the president to try to protect him from himself. This new report also says that special counsel Mueller has been examining a false statement that the president apparently dictated on Air Force One in July after the New York Times learned of that Trump tower meeting back in 2016.
You might recall Donald Trump, Jr. claiming that the meeting with a Russian lawyer was about the adoption of Russian orphans instead of admitting the actual reason for the meeting, to get dirt about Hillary Clinton.
Now, in his new book "Fire and Fury" that hits shelves in a few hours, Michael Wolff calls that whole incident, quote, "a real-time example of denial and coverup and says that the president's lawyers believe that the statement the president dictated was, quote, an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation's gears."
The incident led the spokesman for the president's legal team, Marl Corallo, to quit because he believed, Wolff reports, the story concoction represented a likely obstruction of justice.
New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman joins me now by phone. She contributed to the story. Maggie, does what we're learning tonight suggest that the president might be more at risk legally in the Russia probe than we knew a few hours ago?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Look, I still think that getting to obstruction of justice is a very high bar, but this is certainly, by my colleague Michael Schmidt, the most explosive and I think damning reporting that we have seen about what the president hoped to accomplish with his attorney general with regard to his own potential exposure in the Russia probe.
He believed that Sessions was supposed to be to protect him, he gave very specific instructions to that and White House aides as noted were so concerned he would not make the right decision, that they tried to lead him in a different direction by telling him something different than what the law allows to prevent him from making a potentially dangerous choice. I think this is very significant.
TAPPER: And that's really surprising. A deputy White House counsel deliberately misleading the president of whether, about whether or not he could fire the FBI director. I've never heard such a thing but I guess in this White House we have heard of aides hiding information, shading information, not providing all the information that they could to President Trump because they are trying to protect him from himself.
HABERMAN: Correct. And, look, we just hadn't heard of it being of this magnitude. It does raise the question of, you know, how many other potentially enormous pieces of information they have kept from him to try to keep him from going in the wrong direction.
But it is really -- it is really striking and it's also striking that they would be able to tell him this and he wouldn't look for some other validation of it. He accepted it and believed it.
The other really interesting piece of reporting that Mike unearthed was that an aide to Sessions went to Capitol Hill to a staffer there to ask about negative information about James Comey that could be thrust into the public eye four days before Comey was fired. [22:04:58] That is straight out of the, you know, the smear your
critic or smear your rivals playbook that Trump has deployed himself, that he learned from his lawyer Roy Cohn. And it's going to be very hard for the Department of Justice to explain.
TAPPER: And, in fact, there's another part of the Times story by Michael Schmidt that says that Sessions himself told aides that he wanted one negative story about Comey a day.
TAPPER: The Justice Department denies that, but I'm sure the Times wouldn't print that if they didn't have good sources. That would suggest that even though Sessions has recused himself from the FBI investigation and the special counsel investigation, he hasn't recused himself from the politics of this all.
HABERMAN: That's right. And look I think we have seen repeatedly with Jeff Sessions he's not directly involved in Russia as far as we know but he is certainly -- it touches on so many other things and trying to please a boss in Donald Trump who remains very upset with Jeff Sessions for that recusal, touches on all other aspects of policy, practically. So it's really hard to divorce one from the other.
TAPPER: All right. Maggie Haberman from the New York Times, thank you so much. My panel is here with me. And Jen Psaki, your reaction?
JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, I spent almost eight years in the White House, I've never heard of any behavior like this. And what is startling about this should be -- I'm not going to evaluate legally whether he obstructed justice, obviously Mueller will do that and others will do that. But certainly there is a willingness to obstruct justice, a willingness to get in the way of an investigation.
That should be shocking and alarming to anybody who read that story, to people who will wake up tomorrow morning and see it covered in their news because this is a president who not only misunderstands the division and the role of the Department of Justice versus the White House and how it should work, the fact that he thought that they should be a protector should be alarming to everybody, but somebody who is willing to use bully tactics to influence the outcome of an investigation.
So as Maggie said, I think this is pretty alarming reporting. No doubt there's more to come, there always is, but this is a big development earlier in the year, I would say.
TAPPER: You worked for George W. Bush. Obviously there are lots of different kinds of attorneys general. Some are probably closer to the president than others, Eric Holder and Robert Kennedy are good examples of people who were close to the president. Some are sources of constant consternation and frustration.
Janet Reno comes to mind. Bill Clinton would have fired her if he thought he could get away with it but he didn't think he could. What's your perspective of this idea that President Trump -- and this isn't breaking news, he has said this publicly -- that he wanted Sessions to protect him better to protect more and was upset that he recused himself. What's your reaction to the fact that he wanted him to protect him?
SCOTT JENNINGS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, my reaction to that is President Trump came into this office with very little to no experience or understanding of what the president does, of how the federal government is organized and that's reflected in a lot of I think the early statements and decisions that they made.
Obviously as time goes on you gain experience and people explain to you how it works and how it's supposed to work, and so your decision- making evolves. I think early on that may have been the impression that he had and obviously now he probably has a different impression.
It may not make him happy but clearly after a year on the job I would think he's learned a little bit more about the way this works. The reporting tonight is -- you know, to me interesting because we've gone several weeks, maybe months, without the level of leaking that we had seen early on and if you read this story tonight, the amount of leaks out of the White House, the Department of Justice across the board, we're back where we were right after the president took office which to me is an extremely troubling development. I thought General Kelly kind of put a clamp down on that. Now we're back -- we're back to where we were. That's a problem.
TAPPER: Your reaction to the story, Bill?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Which is just on that point. Even last night we knew we were more back to where we were than one might have hoped if one were pushing Trump which is calling his private lawyer to have him send that cease and desist letter, I guess both to the publishing house and maybe to Bannon and Michael Wolff.
I mean, think about that for a minute. So this book comes out, you're annoyed, you're the president of the United States, you call your lawyer and go back to some tactic you used when you were running a business and you wanted to intimidate the media and try to stop other people from leaking. It's so unbelievably inappropriate.
I can't think of a similar -- other presidents of the United States have had horrible things written about them, right?
KRISTOL: Barack Obama have lies told about him. George W. Bush was called a criminal. I mean, it didn't occur to any of them that I get to call my lawyer while I'm in office and sort of try to, you know, browbeat someone to withdraw a book and certainly. But so to my second point, why did he do that? I think he did it because he wanted to intimidate other people from coming forward and talking about the campaign.
This gets back to Russia. At the end of the day, what is -- what gets Donald Trump upset? Russia. The Russia investigation. What's the whole piece the Times about tonight, the Russia investigation.
[22:09:58] In Bannon's book, I think what most upset trump I'm guessing was when Bannon quoted saying he's very worried about the Russia investigation.
TAPPER: And also calling Don Jr. treasonous and unpatriotic for taking that meeting and not calling the FBI.
KRISTOL: And speculating about whether...
TAPPER: The finances.
KRISTOL: ... dismissing the notion that Don Jr. would haven't told his father about it.
KRISTOL: That Bannon I think hyperbolically said he would have walked right upstairs to his Trump's office whether he did that or not, Bannon who knew Trump very well after all and knew this is all the relationship between President Trump and his son just assumed that of course Don Jr. told him.
So it all for me comes back to the Russia investigation and Donald Trump behaves like someone he really, really, really didn't want that investigation to go forward.
TAPPER: Yes. There's a scene -- we already knew that Mueller was looking into the writing of that statement on Air Force One that was not true. That that meeting at Trump Tower was about Russian adoptions and not about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton.
And in "Fire and Fury" the point is made and we made this point on the show before, it's not against the law to lie to the press and it's not against the law to lie to the public. And yet, according to "Fire and Fury" the lawyers thought even -- be that as it may they thought it was an explicit attempt -- this is Wolff's writing an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation's gears. And that would seem to suggest that the lawyers are more concerned about this than maybe I thought they were.
PSAKI: Yes, I mean, what came through in the Times story, too, was just the consistent concerns of the number of the White House lawyers. Now, you can question whether they had power, they should have been more powerful, should they have been treating the president of the United States like an insolent child? Probably not.
That's not how it should work, but you know, that anecdote and that scene on the plane is a good example of an area where that's a huge problem for them. I mean, and just Trump's involvement, the lying about it, how they were trying to mislead and the fact that the lawyers are concerned about that means, you know, that's an issue that probably will come back.
TAPPER: Hold on, I'm going to come back to you guys in a second. I want to take in one second to bring in a member of the Senate judiciary committee which obviously overseas the Justice Department and Attorney General Sessions, Minnesota democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar joins us now from the Great Lakes State. Thank you for being here, senator.
AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: What's your reaction to this -- what's your reaction to this story?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, for me it reinforces two things, that first is that a lot of the testimony, that jarring testimony we heard from Jim Comey last year where he talked about the president first telling him he wanted to keep him on but then saying he wanted his loyalty and Comey saying you have my honesty and that's what you've got is my honesty.
And then you have that moment where the president kept Comey in the room, kicked out Jeff Sessions and said to let -- basically told him to let it go on Flynn. And so all of this reporting really backs up that kind of testimony. And the second thing I learned from this is how important it is to allow the investigation to continue and to allow Mueller to do his job.
TAPPER: There is a large part of this about the lead up to firing FBI Director Comey. The New York Times reporting that the president was searching for reasons to get rid of Comey. An aide to the attorney general even approached a Capitol Hill staffer and asked if that staffer had any derogatory information on the former FBI director. Had you heard about that?
KLOBUCHAR: I had not heard about that of course we've had some testimony in the judiciary committee that's public and then we have those transcripts that we'd like to release but the ones that I have seen are not related to this.
TAPPER: How might the story, how might book "Fire and Fury" and the details of the decision to fire Comey, the concoction of this fake reason why Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and the others had that meeting at Trump tower, how might that impact the Senate judiciary committee's investigation?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I just believe it's very important that we continue this. You have to let Director Mueller do his job and these attempts to undermine it have been so concerning to me as a former prosecutor, everything from people calling on Sessions to resign because of this to saying that the special counsel got his documents illegally when in fact he had to come out and say that's not true.
And it just makes me think we need to continue the judiciary and intelligence committee investigations. Whatever we can make public we should. The public has a right to know this. We have an election that is less than a year away and we have information we have to get out there about the coordination that was going on with Russia, what Russia was doing to try to attempt to influence our investigation, whether it was the hacking, whether it was the interference with election equipment or whether it was a coordination with the Trump campaign. [22:15:01] TAPPER: How bipartisan is the work being done on the
Senate judiciary committee? We've seen some committees, the House intelligence committee comes to mind, where it doesn't seem like they're speaking. We've seen the Senate intelligence committee where they seem to have a decent relationship.
It looks like Chairman Grassley is being fairly partisan but that he and the democrats are keeping at least a public peace. What is it like inside the committee?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I know Senator Feinstein would like to see more hearings and she's the ranking democrat and the rest of us would as well, and we've made that clear to Senator Grassley that we have been able to work out some hearings and then you also have the criminal justice subcommittee led by Senator Graham and Whitehouse.
And we've had some pretty remarkable hearings there with Sally Yates and Director Clapper. But the point is, is that we must continue this investigation, get to the bottom of this, the work of the government can still continue and the work that we need to do to, I believe to bring down health care costs and drug costs and everything else.
We still must get to the bottom of this, you can't undermine an investigation when someone is coming out with indictments and that's exactly what we've started to see and I think it's concerning for the rule of law in this country and the president has to understand that the attorney general's job is to enforce the laws of the land.
The president can have his own lawyers if he wants, but he has to see the attorney general for the important job it is and that is enforcing the laws of the United States of America.
TAPPER: You're an expert on this sort of thing. Do you think based on the evidence you have seen that President Trump attempted to obstruct justice?
KLOBUCHAR: I have never once when I was a prosecutor for eight years never commented on evidence before we decided to bring a charge or made a decision not to bring a charge. And I think that Director Mueller should have that right to go ahead with this.
I do continue to believe that all of this, as one of your panelists have said, it just keeps leading to Russia. Whether it is the meeting that was at the Trump tower, whether it's all these connections between the campaign official that had to resign, the national -- the national intelligence director that had to resign, national security director, all of the people that have had to either step down or receive indictments all have been related to this Russia inquiry.
And I just keep telling constituents in my state when they say what is this about. We are a government of the people. You cannot have a foreign power influencing our elections. And that is at its core what this is about and it doesn't matter what party you're in or who the president is, we must have the right to elect our own government.
TAPPER: All right. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, thank you so much. I appreciate it. My panel is back with me. Scott, I know you wanted to weigh in.
JENNINGS: Yes. A couple things that jumped out to me on the story tonight and what we heard throughout the last few days. Number one, the prospect that the president's lawyers are not telling him the absolute clear-eyed truth about what's happening with this investigation, tonight it's the concept that maybe they misled him about whether he could dismiss and how he could dismiss the FBI director.
Before that though, it was his own lawyers misleading him perhaps about when the investigation would wrap up. Whether he's going to be angry or not, it is the absolutely duty of the lawyers and the White House staff to give the president clear-eyed realistic information.
He may get mad, he may be rageful about it but you cannot have a chief executive getting information like that that's biased.
The other thing I wanted to say about this McGahn/Sessions meeting. It strikes me that what happened here was the president told McGahn this is my view, go communicate my view, he did that to Sessions who also got views from other career DOJ lawyers and then Sessions, the attorney general, made a decision, probably the right decision at the time.
So the concept of him trying to stop Sessions versus maybe framing it this way, Sessions got legal advice from different people and then made the ultimate right decision so depending on how you frame this, it could look different. I know we're talking about the concept of trying to stop Sessions but ultimately he got a bunch of advice and I think maybe made the right call.
KRISTOL: Scott was talking about lawyers. I mean, the striking thing about the July Air Force One statement of Trump is that I don't think we have any reason to think he consulted his lawyers before putting out a statement which as I recall, was in response to an article about his son having that meeting with a...
TAPPER: Right. In fact, no, in fact, the New York Times story has the president's lawyer on hold for an hour and a half not able to get through.
KRISTOL: Right. OK. So, that's interesting. So at the time, though, it was -- there was no need for the White House to respond, right. There was nothing but President Trump in the story and they could have said, you know, talk to Donald Jr.'s lawyers and get an answer from them, he'll explain what happened at that meeting.
So the president put himself into the story. As he thought he was such a brilliant, you know, spin meister that he could -- he could get it done well. There's no evidence, I don't think that McGahn or others were consulted on that and as the Times -- or is it Wolff now reports, hard to get these things straight. TAPPER: Yes.
[22:20:05] KRISTOL: The lawyers are saying you put out a statement and maybe somebody resigned them because they thought it was an obstruction of justice. And then just this week he gets his private lawyer into a kind of nutty, in my view, it looks kind of nutty, cease-and-desist letter which again, there's no evidence that the White House lawyer knew about. So Trump is doing things without consulting his own counsel.
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around, we're just getting started. Lots more on the shocking report from the New York Times, including the president's very public reaction when Sessions refused to remain in charge of the Russia investigation. Stay with us.
TAPPER: We're back and continuing the conversation with my political panel. The New York Times is reporting that the President Trump ordered a White House lawyer, the White House counsel to try to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Russia investigation because he thought Sessions should be there to protect him. There are new questions being raised tonight about obstruction of justice.
Let's dig into this part of the Times reporting. Quote, "The president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials saying he needed his attorney general to protect him."
Scott, you were talking about this earlier that you think the president, you know, being new to all this might not understand that that's not the job of the attorney general. But do you buy that? I mean, buy -- I mean, shouldn't a 70-year-old man, he's now 71, know the attorney general is there to enforce the laws, not to protect the president.
KRISTOL: Yes. You might hope privately that he'll be nice to you as he interprets but he shouldn't explode about it before a staff. But again, I come back to -- what strikes me the most is that less than what his hopes for Sessions were and how -- he has all these going on, right? Crises all over the place, staffing crises, this and that, what's he focused on, what's he obsessed with? The Russia investigation.
And again, I always think if they're really -- I mean, maybe he's thin skinned, he doesn't like it because it cast a shadow on his presidency. Maybe he thinks special counsel or FBI directors can get out of control so even if he is innocent they can find stuff on him.
But the simplest explanation for why he would be obsessed in an investigation that's going on in which you're part of it is that you're worried that you'll find out something that you don't want them to find out.
[22:25:00] I mean, I always come back that's so simple. But I think people sort of have every -- all these other psychological explanations for Trump is doing instead of the obvious one, that he really, really didn't want the whole Russia thing to be investigated?
TAPPER: Worries. Scott, I've been audited twice by the IRS. Both times I was audited I was like this is going to be a real pain. But I was never worried. I wasn't -- you know? You know what I mean? Like, I mean like...
JENNINGS: Yes. I think one of the things that we have to remember about this particular president is his experience with attorney generals -- attorneys general and FBI directors goes back really to the recent history of what was going on during his campaign.
You had an attorney general meeting with his opponent's husband on a plane. You have an FBI director making numerous interventions into the campaign. I mean, remember, if you're Donald Trump and your main experience with these FBI and DOJ people is that they keep intervening in the...
TAPPER: And they're political. They're political. Yes.
JENNINGS: They seem more political to you than perhaps they have in our nation's history. So, I can see how you might get a frame of reference here that these people are more political actors than they perhaps ought to be.
TAPPER: One revealing part of the new book "Fire and Fury" describes how the Trump administration viewed the Russia investigation and President Trump, quote, "No one expected Trump to survive Mueller." This is Michael Wolff's view, this is not a quote from anyone else. "No one expected Trump to survival Mueller. Whatever the substance of the Russian collusion, Trump in the estimation of his senior staff did not have the discipline to navigate its self-investigation nor the credibility to attract the caliber of lawyers he would need to help him."
PSAKI: Well, that's clear, the caliber of lawyer's question. Now what has been striking to me about both the coverage of the book as well as the Schmidt story is that there's real trouble for the White House staff here and it's not clear if they are actually recognizing that.
I mean, you look at the anecdote we were talking about, about the plane. Trump essentially got his staff to lie and potentially some of them may have lied during testimony. That's where Trump gets into trouble but that's where they get into trouble too.
So, the lawyers, in my experience, the lawyers' responsibility is to the president to give him recommendations but also they're there to protect many of the White House staff and to give them advice as well. And right now it's a mess if you look back to Nixon -- we always like to go back to that -- I think it was almost a dozen staff, not the president, who went to jail. And I think a lot of them hopefully are waking up with this some of this coverage and thinking OK, I shouldn't be following the track record of the guy in the Oval Office. TAPPER: I don't know how many of the excerpts you've read. In one of
them Steve Bannon in the book "Fire and Fury" is all over the book. He obviously talked quite a bit to the author Michael Wolff. Steve Bannon, I'm quoting here, "was openly handicapping a 33.3 percent chance of impeachment, a 33.3 percent chance of resignation in the shadow of the 25th Amendment and a 33.3 percent chance that Trump might limp to the finish line on the strength of liberal arrogance and weakness."
That's pretty shocking statement from the president's chief strategist.
JENNINGS: That's like going to the track though, and saying well, there's ten horses and there's a, you know, a reasonable chance any of them could win. I mean, you're all over the map with your predictions there. I mean, I think Bannon has been exposed this week as being completely amateurish.
Let's remember this guy's political history, he's been involved in two campaigns, neither of them got more votes than their opponent. He gets to the White House, according to the White House accomplishes nothing, lost the confidence of the president, declared war on the president's allies.
I'm not sure how much credibility we should put into this guy's statements. Although I admit they have caused a major headache for this White House this week, and I'm glad to see the president finally saying what is true about Bannon and that is he's never really been all that interested in making sure Trump succeeded, he's been interested in making sure that he succeeds, which is a big difference.
TAPPER: But I mean, that's an opinion you had about Bannon a year ago. I mean, that's not news.
KRISTOL: It's not an opinion Donald Trump had. Donald Trump made him his campaign chairman and then the week of the -- I think a lot of us thought that was bad. We thought (Inaudible) in any case but we thought, OK, but you know, maybe the White House will be staffed with sort of reasonable people. And remember what a shock it was first week to a lot of people, it was actually pretty big uproar when Bannon was made -- he wanted to be chief of staff but he was made sort of a co- equal to Reince Priebus, right. He was sort of, I think the announcement...
TAPPER: He actually got top billing.
KRISTOL: Senior strategist of equal rank with the chief of staff.
KRISTOL: So what's nice to Donald Trump has decided now apparently that he doesn't have a high opinion of Steven Bannon but that was not his view for a whole year. TAPPER: In fact, a lot of democrats were terrified when Steve Bannon was announced because they thought he was a white nationalist. They read Breitbart, they thought it was bigoted and they thought that it was a sign that President Trump wouldn't be the moderate with the Jewish daughter that they thought he could possibly be, a uniter that he actually was going to go in the Breitbart direction.
PSAKI: And it turns out those were valid concerns.
KRISTOL: But Bannon was a tough guy. But Bannon is also a tough guy and he was against firing Comey. I was struck by that. Jared Kushner the liberal moderate from New York, more of a favorite of the media, he was the one who wanted Comey fired apparently, prevailed upon Trump over a weekend when Bannon was not with Trump to do it. Bannon later said it was the dumbest thing ever done in modern politics or something like that.
[22:30:00] KRISTOL: Why did Kushner care so much that Comey be fired?
TAPPER: Well, in the book it says -- Bannon says that he thinks that Kushner is worried about somebody going into Kushner finances, not just Jared Kushner but his father Charles Kushner and all those deals with Russians and all sorts of unsavory characters.
And in fact, that's what Bannon says is the real concern here, this is in the book, not Russian collusion but money laundering and financial crimes by either Jared Kushner or people in the Trump organization.
JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Right and it talks about Ivanka Trump's concern along with that about the family finances. There's always been -- and this is why the Senate committee was looking into this and Mueller has expanded his authority to look into this -- we're following the money.
What's the motivation for all of this? That's always been the big question. Why is Trump worried about Russia? Because probably there's family financial dealings, there's a motivation for any of these activities that would have taken place. We don't know any of that yet but the money piece has always been a key part of this and that's why all of the investigative bodies are looking into it.
TAPPER: Don't go anywhere. The president threatening to sue the publisher of the book "Fire and Fury". But does his threat hold any way. He has a long history of making rather empty lawsuit threats. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper.
Cease and desist, that's is the order from President Trump's lawyers tonight as they try to plug the explosive and even disturbing details erupting an excerpts from a tell-all book that will now be published tomorrow morning.
Trump's lawyers have sent these warning letters to the publisher and author Michael Wolff to try to halt publication and sale of the book. Not because of any national security secrets in the book but because the reports paint such an unflattering picture including savage quotes about the president and his family made by people that the president once considered allies.
[22:35:00] Or, in the words of the president's lawyers, because the book includes untrue statements about the president that, quote, "give rise to claims for libel that could result in substantial monetary damages and punitive damages."
The president is demanding that the publisher cease-and-desist from any further publication of any excerpts and is demanding a quote, "full and complete retraction and apology."
OK. Here are four facts worth your consideration as you think about this story. First of all, it's easy for anyone to see why President Trump would be displeased with the content of the forthcoming book.
CNN has now obtained a copy of it and while we can't confirm the authenticity of each line or anecdote, we can say quite frankly that it describes behavior unbecoming of anyone, much less the president of the United States of America.
Take what he allegedly said to his 29-year-old communications director Hope Hicks speaking about rumors of her relationship with a former campaign staffer, Trump told her, according to Wolff, quote, "You're the best piece of tail he'll ever have. Sending Hicks running from the room."
That is a disgusting and misogynistic quote. The president not wanting that quote out there makes sense. But -- and this is our second fact -- this book was written with the full cooperation of the White House. During today's press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders attacked the author, Michael Wolff and his reputation for accuracy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think you have to look also at this author's track record in which he's had a real problem with this in the past and I think that that is something that has certainly laid a foundation for us to make the assumption that he is definitely this is a practice that he is used to doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Fine things to consider before you invite him into the White House. It's worth pointing out that Michael Wolff spent months listening and watching from West Wing couches at the invitation or at the very least, as he says, the non-disapproval of President Trump himself.
White House staffers cooperated and they're quoted all over this book. It's worth also noting that the president's attorney is threatening to sue Steve Bannon, the former confidante and senior strategist of the president to whom Wolff attributes much of his most skating quotations.
All right. Third fact here. Based on his track record, the president's threat of a lawsuit is almost certainly nothing more than an intimidation technique.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I always like to threaten to sue reporters because I think they're among the most dishonest people I've ever dealt with in my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Notice the key word there, threaten, threaten to sue reporters. Wolff and his publisher are now in good company. President Trump has previously threatened to sue CNN, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Associated Press, comedian Tom Arnold, the 92- year-old Scottish widow, reporter David Cay Johnston, Art of the Deal co-author Tony Schwartz, John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and all of the many, many women who have accused him of sexual harassment and assault.
That's just a small sampling and those are just lawsuits for criticism or accusations about him made in public saying nothing of his business deals but the president almost never actually follows through with the lawsuits. And it would be extremely difficult for him to win a libel suit, especially to block this book prior to publication.
And lastly, let's take a step back here. It's on its face remarkable that the president of the United States of America is in any way trying to stop publication of a book breaching the right of free speech and freedom of the press because said speech, let's be honest, hurts his feelings.
It's not for a national security reason. In fact, from what we know about the president's furious response to this book, it seems the quotes from Steve Bannon, the mean, mean things he said about him and his family, are what upset him the most, the quotes. Although White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also said this about the book today.
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SANDERS: In terms of the merits, I think it's pretty clear, I don't think we have been tiptoeing around our feelings on this. It's completely tabloid gossip full of false and fraudulent claims.
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TAPPER: Completely tabloid gossip full of false and fraudulent claims, Sanders said. I want to take one second to note something. The man who during the presidential campaign cited a supermarket tabloid, an actual tabloid, the National Enquirer to ask why the media wasn't covering Ted Cruz's father's non-existent ties to the JFK assassination, that very same man is now objecting to, quote, "tabloid gossip full of false and fraudulent claims."
Now, Trump's lawyer's letter states that since the quote, the booked admits in the introduction that it contains untrue statements that it's not going to be difficult for him to prove actual malice, which is reckless disregard for the truth.
[22:40:01] Now, that introduction by Michael Wolff does state that, quote, "Many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one other. Many in Trumpian fashion are baldly untrue. Those conflicts and that looseness with the truth if not with reality itself are an elemental threat of the book."
And this is the fundamental problem with this threat of a lawsuit. If malice can be proven for Wolff, it can also be proven for President Trump and all the president's men and women.
My panel is back with me. The White House is hammering the author Michael Wolff going after inaccuracies in the book. I want you to listen to the deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley speaking on CNN tonight.
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HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: This author is a quite frankly a crackpot fake news fantasy fiction writer and it's been proven time and time again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: OK, that's his opinion, but so, like, why did you let him into the door?
PSAKI: They're also about to make him a New York Times number one bestseller, so congratulations, Hogan Gidley and Sarah Sanders, you just made Michael Wolff a lot of money.
It's amazing how they are responding to this. They are giving him more airtime and more justification in a lot of ways, they're making people buy the book. Now what they're doing are tactics a lot of White Houses use.
Look, many White Houses in the past, the one I worked on included, have participated in books when they shouldn't have and you learn that lesson pretty quickly. It's rarely beneficial to give all access for a book written by anyone for any White House. But by saying there's a lot of falsehoods in here, that's a tactic and a statement probably every White House for decades has used about every book.
The problem they have beyond participating and letting him sit on Steve Bannon's couch for months is that a lot of the pieces of this book are consistent with the reporting that's been out there and perceptions about the White House and about President Trump. So what exactly is completely false? Major thematic pieces? The Russia investigation? Individual quotes? That's the big problem they have moving forward.
TAPPER: We'll talk more about this in a second. But speaking of questions about the president's health, we're going to talk to one of the doctors who surprised a lot of people by briefing some members of Congress, talking about their views of the president's mental fitness. We'll be right back.
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TAPPER: Welcome back to The Lead.
Exactly what were members of Congress told when to two psychiatrists warned that they believe that President Trump's mental state presents a clear and present danger to our nation?
Today one of those psychiatrist said she told -- she said this about the president, quote, "As he is unraveling he seems to be losing his grip on reality and reverting to conspiracy theories, there are signs that he is going into attack mode when he's under stress that means he has the potential to become impulsive and very volatile."
Another expert who also briefed members of Congress is with me here tonight. Dr. James Gilligan, he's a psychiatrist and adjunct professor of law at New York University. Professor, thanks for joining me. Any time a psychiatrist analyzes somebody who they've never actually examined they are going to be accused of crossing a line. How do you respond?
JAMES GILLIGAN, CLINICAL PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHIATRY, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Well, very simply, that I'm not interested in providing a diagnose for President Trump because most -- how can I put it? Mental illness doesn't equate with dangerousness. Most people who are mentally ill are not dangerous and most of the people in our society who are dangerous are not mentally ill as the law and psychiatry define it.
What I'm concerned about is our dangerousness. I think the president we have now is unprecedentedly dangerous more than any president in our history, and I mean dangerous both to our country and to the world. Whether this is because of his mental illness or not is beside the point, that's irrelevant. The question is not whether he's mentally ill, it's whether he is dangerous and we have abundant evidence of his extreme and unprecedented dangerousness.
TAPPER: His supporters would say that he is unconventional and maybe he has some eccentricities but they would take issue with you're saying his mental illness. Today the White House called it disgraceful and laughable to suggest he's mentally unfit. What's your response to that?
GILLIGAN: I'm not saying he has a mental illness. I'm not saying he does not have a mental illness. I'm simply expressing the opinion on that subject because that is irrelevant. People can be mentally ill without being dangerous and they can be dangerous without being mentally ill. But I'm saying he is dangerous. For example, he has incited his
followers to commit assault and battery to anti-Trump protesters in political rallies which they have done, some of them have been tried for assault and battery, then his only complaint was they weren't violent enough so by the time of Charlottesville one of them actually committed a murder.
That is how Trump incites his followers. He's also boasted about his own sexual violence against women, sexual assaults which he indicated he has committed repeatedly, habitually without any sense of guilt or remorse instead of feeling guilty about it, he's proud of it and bragged about it.
GILLIGAN: Another is I could go there is a list as long as my arm of evidence of his dangerousness.
TAPPER: All right. We leave it -- we have to leave it there, Dr. James Gilligan, thank you so much for your time, sir, I appreciate it.
So will President Trump start his day with a tweet storm in response to the stunning revelations in the book? Will he be advise and be able to stay mum? Stick around, I'm back with my panel.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
TAPPER: And we're back with the panel. Scott, sometimes President Trump is known to watch cable television late at night and early in the morning throughout the day. Assuming he is watching right now, what's your message to him? How does he pick himself up after this? What's been a bad couple days mostly self-inflicted wounds?
SCOTT JENNINGS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, here's something that would make you feel better, is that his Gallup weekly tracking job approval is as high this week as it's been since June. And I think it's because he had a low profile over Christmas, but also because he signed a big tax cut into law and the economy is booming.
So, if I were moving forward in the midterms here I would be thinking about linking every single presidential action to the tax cut and the economy. At the end of the day republicans who were entrusted with full control of government to get the economy moving and to make things happen, I think an argument could be made that they have succeeded on that, so lock arms with your congressional allies, do fund-raisers for your republican candidates. Focus relentlessly on the good economic message. Your numbers will go up enough to stave off a democratic wave.
TAPPER: But Bill, of course the problem with that is that President Trump doesn't take -- it's solid advice. But he probably won't take it.
KRISTOL: He'll just turn the channel, actually. But now he's not listening. Thanks, Scott. Now he's not listening to Jen and me and from whom he would get excellent advice. TAPPER: But why is he -- he's self-destructive; he makes decisions
that would hurt himself.
KRISTOL: Yes. I think Scott made the point earlier. I don't know this was (Inaudible) Take it further than you would. But I do think in a way, one of the most worrisome things, people hope he would grow in office and learn things, and how he would change things. I think one has to wonder, looking at the book, he went into reaction this week, contemporaneous accounts of how he's been behaving in the White House, you have to wonder has he changed at all.
TAPPER: I wanted to just to know that President Trump just tweeted. Quote, "I authorized zero access to White House, actually turned him down many times for author of phony book." This is about Michael Wolff. "I never spoke to him for a book full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don't exist. Look at this guy's past, and watch what happens to him, and sloppy Steve." New nickname, new nickname for Steve Bannon. Sloppy Steve.
PSAKI: There's always alliteration in the nicknames.
TAPPER: He's good at nicknames. I was obviously not taking your advice. That was good advice.
If you were at the podium tomorrow, how do you handle the book? How do you handle a tweet like that?
[22:55:01] PSAKI: I think you try to focus on the issues of the day, governing the American people. That may seem a little disingenuous, given all of the news coverage of the book and the New York Times story.
But if you're at the podium, you have a huge mega phone, and you should be trying to talk about the tax cut, which two thirds of the American public hates. You have a lot of work to do.
TAPPER: But you wouldn't say if you're at the podium.
PSAKI: You wouldn't, you wouldn't. But your point is, you have you a lot of work to do, you would be talking about what's next on the legislative agenda. You'd be talking about maybe campaign trips. You would be trying to change the subject and talk about what you can do from the White House, and what you're focused on as it relates to governing for the American people.
TAPPER: But instead what he have...
KRISTOL: He could try a deal on immigration, but he probably could have a bipartisan consensus on some sanctions against Iran in the next week. Honestly, that could happen in Congress, and he could be the guy who's calling people into the White House not just republicans but calling republicans and democrats up. Let's solve the DACA and the DREAMers problem.
KRISTOL: Let's get serious about helping the Iranian demonstrators. I wish he would do those things. But he seems more interested...
TAPPER: Sloppy Steve.
KRISTOL: ... in giving the advantage...
TAPPER: The new nickname. Everyone stick around, much more when we come back.
TAPPER: We're back with the panel, very quickly, President Trump giving new meat about this book, by attacking the author and Steve Bannon, whom he dubbed the new nickname sloppy Steve. Are we still going to be talking about this book on Monday do you think? Yes or no.
TAPPER: No, you think we're going to be talking.
PSAKI: No. I think we'll be talking more about whatever comes from the New York Times story. Probably other international issues, I don't think this book survives past the weekend.
TAPPER: very quickly, yes or no, Monday we still be...
KRISTOL: I'll be curious to hear what Bannon has to say about all these quotes that were ascribed to him.
PSAKI: Sure. That continues.
JENNINGS: Maybe Monday, yes, but we're soon to move on to President Trump and the republicans clearing the decks of all the major issues that they have on...
TAPPER: You're such an optimist. Thank you, everyone. That's it for the Lead. I'll see you again at 4 p.m. Eastern. Our coverage continues next.
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