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Dems Fight Kavanaugh Hearing; Grassley Refuses Vote; Woodward's New Book; White House Not Responding to New Book. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 4, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Evidence I knew that I was going to be able to have a convincing argument to close that case. What were they hiding? Why won't they let you see the speed tape on that train or the documents that they just can't find? You know that presumption now is against you because of all the documents that have held back. For the sake of this nation, for the sanctity of the Constitution that we both honor, step up, ask this meeting, this gathering to suspend until all the documents of your public career are there for the American people to see.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Judge Kavanaugh. And thank you also, Ashley and Margaret and Liza for being here.

I'm going to start by saying --

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. We're going to dip out of this contentious hearing up on Capitol Hill for just a few moments. We'll keep an eye on it.

That is Brett Kavanaugh in the chair there, President Trump's second nominee to the Supreme Court. This is day one of his confirmation hearings. Contentious. They're already off schedule because of Democratic complaints, partly about the process, partly about the nominee. It's been a remarkable process so far. Democrats complaining from the get go that this hearing should be delayed, postponed because they say 42,000 pages of documents provided to them just last night.

Again, we'll keep our eye on the hearing as we get through it. Just want to get some insights now on what we've seen so far this morning.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Molly Ball with "Time," CNN's Manu Raju, Michael Shear with "The New York Times," and CNN's Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic.

Now let's -- Manu, I want to start with you in the sense that -- look, I'll play some of it in a moment, but you saw Democrats right out of the box delay the hearing, postpone the hearing, you're not being fair, it's all about politics at the start. We'll get to the policy when Judge Kavanaugh starts answering questions. He could, replacing Anthony Kennedy, change the court balance on abortion, on affirmative action, on gay rights, on health care access. But so far it has been about politics. That tells me that Democrats began this hearing knowing they don't have the math. They're trying to stop it at the beginning because they don't have the votes at the end.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, their best hope is to convince Republicans to defect. And right now there's no sign that any two Republicans will ultimately defect. Their best hope is for Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, to do that. And neither of them are on the committee.

But the strategy this morning was born out of a lot of pressure from the left. A lot of groups on the left were frustrated that Democrats were not taking a firm enough line. They demanded a full-out boycott on today's hearing because of their frustration that they have not gotten enough documents from his time as both the Bush White House staff secretary, as well as the White House Councils Office, and they were provided 42,000 pages of documents last night that no one really had a chance to go through. And those were confidential. They couldn't even release publicly.

So all these process complaints really bubbling up. And Democrats, in a nod to their base, really pushing hard at doing something that's rather extraordinary, interrupting of a committee chairman, demanding the end of the hearing. And you had protesters screaming. This usually does not happen at a Senate hearing. So it was a pretty remarkable, aggressive move. But right now it does not change the math.

KING: Right. And they're essentially more than an hour behind schedule now because Chairman Grassley let that play out. He let the Democrats complain again and again and again.

An let's play a flavor of it at the start here. Every Democrat on the committee is unhappy. But among those most vocal -- put the raw politics right out there on the table -- a number of Democrats who serve on this committee who are thinking about running for president in 2020.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Mr. Chairman, I'd like to be recognized --

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: For the Supreme Court of the United States.

HARRIS: For a question before we proceed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Regular order, Mr. Chairman.

HARRIS: Mr. Chairman, I'd like to be recognized to ask a question before we proceed.

The committee received just last night, less than 15 hours ago --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, regular order. HARRIS: 42,000 pages of documents that we have not had an opportunity to review or read or analyze.

GRASSLEY: You are out -- you're out of order. I'll proceed.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: If we cannot be recognized, I move to adjourn.

GRASSLEY: The American people --

BLUMENTHAL: Mr. Chairman, I move to adjourn.

GRASSLEY: Wish to hear directly from Judge Kavanaugh.

BLUMENTHAL: We have been denied - we have been denied real access to the documents we need to advise and consent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman, regular order is called for.

BLUMENTHAL: Which turns this hearing into a charade and a mockery of our norm.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: What is the rush? What are we trying to hide by not having the documents out front? What is with the rush? What are we hiding by not letting those documents come out?

Sir, this committee is a violation of the values that we as a committee have striven for, transparency. We are rushing through this process in a way that is unnecessary. And I -- I appeal for the motion to at least be voted on.

GRASSLEY: Mr. Senator --

BOOKER: I appeal to your sense of fairness and decency, your commitments that you've made to transparency. This violates which you have even said and called for, sir.

GRASSLEY: But you spoke about my decency and my --


GRASSLEY: You spoke about my decency and integrity. And I think you're taking -- you are taking advantage of my decency and integrity.


KING: It is, Molly Ball, just remarkable insight. Look, this is for a Supreme Court seat. It's a lifetime appointment. It's to replace Anthony Kennedy. But it also comes at a time where this is as much about President Trump as it is about Brett Kavanaugh. And is it as much about the tensions within the Democratic Party? And, in some cases, ambition within the Democratic Party?

[12:05:14] MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Perhaps in some cases, but you have Democrats trying to send a message that elevates this above a partisan battle. You heard in Senator Durbin's comments just now, trying to talk about the extraordinary times we're in, the level of concern among his constituents, trying to say this isn't only about issues that we disagree on, issues that the court could decide, but about the Trump presidency, about the potential constitutional crisis, about the special counsel. Democrats trying to focus on, you know, the process, the documents, the disclosure of the nominee's record, and the issues surrounding President Trump as a way, I think, of moving this out of the arena of just, you know, partisan issues that they disagree on. Although, of course, it is also about that.

KING: And this is your wheelhouse, Joan. Have you ever seen anything like this in the sense that, again, we knew this was the Kennedy seat, we knew it's the Trump presidency, we know we're in a midterm election year with that election just around the corner. But, remarkable.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I've been covering these since 1990 with David Souter and I've never seen as dramatic an opening. The question is going to be, though, whether Democrats can keep up the momentum to try to stop -- have a pause, maybe get more documents, or at least try to bring more public attention to the fact that this man has been nominated to such a crucial seat, and they really do not have his full record before them. They really don't even have a partial record before them.

And Senator -- Chairman Grassley keeps referring to other nominees that have been up there, maybe referring to their other records. But this really is different from the other records.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, look, I think everybody is right, that the Democrats are trying to elevate this and trying to play to their base. What I don't understand is how that puts pressure on the Republican senators that Manu mentioned. I mean the truth is, regular people in those states of moderate Republicans in Maine and Alaska are not sitting around debating questions of document production.

KING: Right.

SHEAR: And so -- and that can't possibly be the thing that's going to motivate them. When they get to the question -- the more substantive questions about abortion and gay rights and, you know, all of the other sort of panoply of issues that -- that's where at least they have an opportunity to make the case to the regular folks that you should put pressure on these -- on these senators.

KING: That --

BISKUPIC: Or maybe to -- also, I was just going to say, maybe to say, in the documents might be his true views --

KING: Right.

BISKUPIC: On those important issues. They're going to have to make that connection and make it stick.

KING: Well, to that point -- to that point, you're right about the substance in terms of, you know, Judge Kavanaugh's views. Did he say anything as Bush's staff secretary? Has he said anything in other documents that they have on any of these issues? Whether it's the interrogation tactics -- Dick Durbin was just asking about that -- whether it's about abortion or other issues.

But Democrats -- it was pretty clear the Democrats felt they had no choice. That the process was their first opportunity and that they felt they had -- they felt they had no choice, that they needed to speak out at the beginning.

Let's listen to the chairman, Chuck Grassley, essentially saying, you know me, why are you doing this to me?


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Can I ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle how long you want to go on with this, because I'm not going to entertain any of the motions you're making. We're not in executive session. And I think we ought to level with the American people. Do you want this to go on all day? Because I have been patient.

Every one of you prefaced your comments on how fair I was in running that hearing. Now, this is the same Chuck Grassley that ran the Gorsuch hearings. I'd like to run this hearing the same way, if you'll give me the courtesy of doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

GRASSLEY: How long do you want to go on?


KING: That was the question.

Now, the chairman had a choice. The Democrats wanted to vote to adjourn the hearing, then to delay the hearing, to do some other things. He could have had votes. He decided not to have votes because he didn't want to give in to the Democrats, I presume, unless he didn't think he had the votes, he was going to lose some on the Republican side.

But at this moment, he mentioned the Gorsuch hearings. That was a conservative replacing a conservative. There is the policy implication for the Democrats that this is a more conservative, they believe, we don't know until Brett Kavanaugh, if and when he is confirmed, but they believe this is a man more to the right on affirmative action, on abortion, on other big questions, executive power, than Justice Kennedy, who is leaving. The chairman was quite exasperated.

RAJU: Yes, and he was actually ambushed. He was not anticipating this level of aggression from the Democrats. He presumed there would be a lot of angry comments in their opening statements about process. He did not expect to get interrupted by Democrat after Democrat.

This Democratic strategy began over the last several days. They've had private discussions. There was a conference call organized over the weekend by Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader. He talked to members on the committee, the rank and file Democrats in particular on that committee, who wanted to take a much tougher line because of their frustration.

[12:10:00] Grassley and the Republicans were caught flat-footed on that, but Grassley did not want to give an inch on this because if he gave them an inch, they could take a mile. And then where does it go from there? He believes that if he keeps this process moving forward, ultimately he'll get confirmed.

But this is just a start. Tomorrow's questioning, the day after is going to be incredibly contentious. The question is, does Kavanaugh slip up or not?

KING: Does he slip up? He gets to speak later today. You see him watching patiently here as the senators go through -- this is part of the process. They get opening statements, which are essentially opening speeches. They just make their political views known.

In that process, though, a number of Democrats standing up. Here is the senator from California. The senior senator from California is the ranking member on the committee. The junior member from California is also on the committee. Again, the Democrat trying to raise her profile here. Getting on to the process question, saying 42,000 pages last night. We've been asking for other documents from Brett Kavanaugh's days in the Bush White House. The president and the White House won't give us those. She asked why.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: This is a hearing about who will sit on the highest court of our land. This is a hearing that is about who will sit in a house that symbolizes our system of justice in this country. And some of the most important principles behind the integrity of our system of justice is that we have due process and we have transparency.


KING: Is this -- is this part of the Democratic argument fair in the sense that the Republicans say, you've had more documents from Brett Kavanaugh than you've had from any other nominee. The Republicans say there have been past Democratic nominees, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor, who either in private practice or in working for the ACLU had private conversations and you didn't see those documents.

Do the Democrats have a point here?

BISKUPIC: Definitely, John. What Senator Grassley was doing was comparing apples to oranges for sure when he went back to the ACLU documents of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and also the solicitor general documents of John Roberts. It's White House documents versus White House documents. The White House documents of Brett Kavanaugh are being withheld and screened severely. The White House documents of John Roberts and Elena Kagan were revealed. So it's -- it really is different. The Democrats -- I know this is such a polarized, partisan situation, but they do have a point. They're saying, we can't really do our job without knowing at least some of that material.

KING: Again, we're going to keep an eye on this hearing. We're going to resume our conversation about Justice -- Judge Kavanaugh, soon to perhaps be Justice Kavanaugh, a bit later in the program.

But, just ahead, another big breaking news story today. Fear. Trump -- "Fear: Trump in the White House" is the title of Bob Woodward's new book. You'll find out why when you hear what's in it. We have some new details, fascinating details. That's up next.


[12:16:44] KING: Welcome back.

We will return momentarily to the confirmation hearing of the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

First, though, some stunning breaking news. Even in this administration, two years in, explosive new details from legendary journalist Bob Woodward's new book about President Trump sure to shake the White House and sure to anger the president of the United States.

CNN has obtained a copy of the book. Woodward reports, among other things, that the president's closest aides have taken extraordinary measures in the White House, because they don't trust him, including removing papers off the president's desk, hiding them to prevent him from signing them or seeing them, in an effort, they say, to protect national security.

This explosive revelation just one of many uncovered in this new book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," which is being released next week.

CNN's special correspondent Jamie Gangel is with us now.

Jamie, you've read through this book. Woodward makes some startling revelations here.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So the first thing is it opens with this dramatic scene where former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn sees something on the president's desk. A draft document. He thinks it's a danger to national security. And he swipes it off the president's desk and hides it. He says that when he saw it, he was, quote, appalled, according to Woodward, and he did it for patriotic reasons. The quote in the book is, got to protect the country.

And he wasn't alone. There were others. Rob Porter, the former staff secretary, worked with Cohn to do this. It was done, according to Woodward, with the acquiescence of former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. And in addition to that, even from Chief of Staff Kelly's days, more recently, what you hear is an attempt to, when they think he's doing something dangerous, to distract him, slow roll, do whatever they can to prevent him from doing things that they think are a danger.

KING: It's stunning. And I'll read a little bit from it. This is, you mentioned, the new chief of staff, John Kelly. This wasn't just under the first chief of staff, Reince Priebus. Listen to this here. This is from the book. Chief of Staff John Kelly, he's an idiot. The president's unhinged. Defense Secretary James Mattis quoted as saying, the understanding -- the president has the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a bleeping moron. That's just there.

One more here from John Kelly. This is on the president speaking at a White House staff meeting, according to this book by Bob Woodward, he's an idiot. It's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails. We're in crazytown. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had.

Michael, you cover the White House full time. I assume we do know the president is mad that he -- his aides prevented him, in addition to apparently stealing papers off his desk, they didn't trust him to sit down with Bob Woodward. This is the kind of thing that sets the president off. And it's the kind of thing that, I don't care who you voted for in the election, when you're reading about a White House staff of serious people taking papers off the president's desk because they don't trust him, wow.

SHEAR: Yes, that's just absolutely remarkable.

I think, from what we know of this book, it certainly fits in the broad pattern of things that have been written about the president before and reported by networks like CNN. I think what's different is that, A, the level of detail and the level of -- a kind of, as you said, crazytown, that -- the sense of chaos is probably even more heightened than we knew. And also, I think it's much, much harder for President Trump and his allies to push back against somebody like Bob Woodward, who has a stellar reputation in this town for doing exactly this kind of thing. And when he reports these insider accounts of any administration, they hold up. And when maybe, you know, previous accounts, books and other things that have come out where the president has been able to sort of push back and question the reporting, I don't think it's going to be very easy for the president to do that here.

[12:20:43] GANGEL: And let's not forget that Donald Trump has been very complimentary of Bob Woodward in the past.

SHEAR: Right.

KING: Right.

GANGEL: So that adds to it. Just on sources and methods, I think it's important to say that Woodward spoke to dozens of people in the room with Trump. Trump is quoted extensively in the book. And he has hundreds of hours of taped interviews. The interviews were done on deep background, but almost everybody let him tape it. So there is a record.

KING: And he --

SHEAR: And there are some quotes in -- I mean at least from the reporting we have.

GANGEL: There are a lot of quotes.

SHEAR: There are quotes from people that did go on the record, Gary Cohn and Porter and others.

KING: And, again, an Tarini Parti from "BuzzFeed," who also covers the White House, joins the conversation.

And in addition, we've talked about the first chief of staff, the current chief of staff, the defense secretary, the chief economic adviser, the former secretary of state, all saying or doing what you would find to be alarming things about the president of the United States.

This in the book from his former chief lawyer John Dowd. He just made something up. That's his nature, Dowd said to Mueller, meaning the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. I need the president's testimony, Mueller said. What was his intent on Comey? I want to see if there was corrupt intent. Despite Dowd's efforts, Trump continued to insist he could testify. I think the president of the United States cannot be seen taking the Fifth, Trump said. Dowd's argument was stark. There's no way you can get through these. Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jump suit.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BUZZFEED NEWS": That's -- I mean that's what people had been speculating for months, but now we actually see what that conversation was like. Dowd's concerns are what the president's personal lawyers still believe, that it is going to be problematic if the president chooses to testify.

And it kind of shows the back and forth that they had to deal with, with the president being sort of the stubborn person that we know. He wants his way always. And so kind of how they talked him out of potentially testifying and how they're probably still doing that behind the scenes.

RAJU: But that is just so remarkable. They conducted a mock interview with the president. The president lied and got frustrated. And the president's attorneys then go to Robert Mueller himself to tell him that he may lie under oath. That is, I mean, a stunning revelation in this book. And it shows you, you know, that they probably not going to ultimately testify, and what does Robert Mueller do? Does he issue a subpoena and do they take this fight to the courts? I mean it's pretty remarkable.

KING: And when you hear things like this, you know what's going to happen on programs like this and across cable television. We know what the president watches. We know how the president reacts when he is criticized, especially from people he views are supposed to be loyal to the death.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House now. Kaitlan, take us inside what you know about how this is being

processed inside the White House, including by the president.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we know that in recent weeks President Trump has been complaining that he didn't sit down with Bob Woodward for an interview before this book went to print. There were several efforts made on behalf of Woodward to sit down with the president one-on-one so he could interview him ahead of this book, and those requests were made to some senior officials here in the White House. An interview never panned out even though there were discussions and President Trump never sat down with him before this went to print. That is something that has irked the president in recent days ahead of this release just next week. But even know, as these excerpts are coming out with these stunning revelations about things that happen inside the walls of the West Wing.

And we also know that there is no clear defense strategy here for the White House. This is a White House that has seen tell-all books before, two in the last nine months. That one by Michael Wolff and the other by the former staffer, Omarosa Manigault Newman. But for those books, they made sensational allegations. But because there were questions about whether or not they were true, John, the White House had a little bit of cover to defend itself from those allegations.

Now, that doesn't seem to be the case here with the Woodward book because this is someone who has memos, e-mail exchanges between staffers and first-hand accounts of what was said in the room when President Trump was there and when President Trump left.

So the White House hasn't reacted yet to this book, even though they knew this book was coming. We've been speaking with several White House staffers over recent days who have raised concerns about this. And that just seems to be echoed by the president, who seemed irritated that he hadn't sat down with Bob Woodward and been -- been able to have a chance to tell his side of the story, even though Woodward did reach out to him.

But, John, we do know that, of course, as Jamie noted, Bob Woodward spoke with several people in the White House. I had at least a dozen people, former and current staffers, confirm to me that they did speak with Bob Woodward, somebody who was spotted here in the West Wing during the first year of the Trump administration. So what's unclear right now is what the White House is going to say to defend themselves against these claims that do not paint the president in a flattering light at all, John.

[12:25:17] KING: Kaitlan Collins, appreciate the reporting from the White House. Raise your hand if there is any reaction.

Let's come back into the room.

And, again, the timing of this book coming out. Bob Mueller still continuing his investigation. The president lashing out at all investigations, lashing out anew at his attorney general.

Jamie, we know, number one, it's a Bob Woodward book. We know the president's ego. The president would want to participate. Now we know his aides kept him from participating. Kaitlan Collins saying the president's not mad -- is mad about that -- is mad about that and you have additional information.

GANGEL: So, I think that may not be true. We have a transcript of a phone call. President Trump on August 14th, after we broke the story that the book was coming out, called Bob Woodward. And they spoke for 11 minutes. And at first -- we have a transcript of the beginning of the call. He says, why didn't you ask me for an interview? And Bob explains that he asked six different people not only at the White House but he asked some senators to pass along.

And at first Trump says, well, I didn't know anything about it. And then all of a sudden Bob Woodward says, did Senator Lindsey Graham tell you? Guess what, oh, yes, Trump says, that's true, that's true. So it's not true that the request didn't get to Trump by that phone call.

And I think the other thing that's fair to say that we all know is, Donald Trump does what Donald Trump wants to do. The staff doesn't keep him -- if he wanted to do this interview, he would have done the interview.

KING: That's a -- that's a great point. We also know the president has, in that conversation right there, more proof the president has a very casual relationship with the truth at times.

I want to get back into this as we wait for the president's reaction, coming soon, to one piece you can be sure.

I just want to get -- we talk about aides taking papers off the desk. Cabinet secretaries, chiefs of staff walking out of meetings saying derogatory things about the president. Some of you at home could write that off. He's a temperamental guy. This affects the business of the government.

Here's more from this book about Afghanistan, right, America's longest war. Trump went off on his generals. You should be killing guys. You don't need a strategy to kill people, Trump said of Afghanistan.

Here's another issue here, questioning the wisdom of keeping U.S. troops in South Korea. So, Mr. President, Gary Cohn said to Trump, what would you need in the region to sleep well at night? I wouldn't need a bleeping thing, the president said, and I'd sleep like a baby. After Trump left the tank, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared he's a bleeping moron.

RAJU: Stunning. I mean -- I mean, look, it also reminds me of what Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman said last year, that if you removed Kelly, you removed Mattis, and Tillerson, who's no longer there, from this administration, this country could devolve into chaos. You know, this suggests that in a lot of ways that those people and others in the administration took these steps to prevent the president from acting because they thought it would be a significant threat to this country, to the world. This is the president of the United States we're talking about and his most senior trusted aides and advisers. It's a remarkable thing that we --

KING: Right. And, again, just for context, a dangerous thing in today's world, but just for context, a lot of this reporting is about the earlier days of the administration, about, should we get out of South Korea, what about Afghanistan. Rex Tillerson has been long gone.

But we see just in the last three, four, five days the president's anger, his visceral response, his attack on institutions, his erratic behavior continues.

SHEAR: Right. And, you know, one of the things that has always been the case in White Houses -- and you've covered White Houses a long time ago -- the process and the system is set up to support what the president wants to do. And there is -- there are well-established -- for example, the national security process. Barack Obama, when he was thinking about what to do in Afghanistan, it was a month's long review that involved, you know, a whole host of people across the got government to try to help the president decide.

In this administration, what we see again and again, and this is a -- probably the most vivid portrait, is the president at war with that process, right?

KING: Right.

SHEAR: The president who wants to do whatever he wants to do and the process struggling to figure out how to keep him from doing it. And that is just not how it's ever worked before.

KING: And not rogue actors. Not the deep state. But people the president has hired for these jobs.

SHEAR: No, his own -- right.

KING: He brought in Reince Priebus. He brought in Rob Porter. He brought in John Kelly. He brought in Rex Tillerson. He talks so complimentary about the generals, James Mattis and the like.

PARTI: The president is also making these stunning claims and coming to these conclusions without a willingness to sort of learn about the world is what we're learning from Woodward's reporting as well. He showed no interest in actually reading the paperwork, learning about foreign policy, things like that. But then he comes up with his own conclusions and makes these orders when he's clearly on a different page from what his advisers are telling him. And he does this repeatedly without any sort of -- without any care or a concern about what that could lead to.

[12:30:08] GANGEL: John, it's one of the most striking things when you read the book, how the word alarmed is used.