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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Senior Administration Official Blasts President Trump in Op-Ed; Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired September 5, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Let's talk a little bit about the First Amendment, free speech. Why...
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. I'm Jake Tapper, and you're watching THE LEAD.
We are -- you have been watching day two of the confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, the president's pick for the Supreme Court. And we're going do go back to that right now.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: ... policy issues and to speak about, for example, who you want to support for elected office is a critical part of the free speech principle. But it's broader than that.
It's the idea that there's no one truth, necessarily, that one person can dictate on high in terms of policy issues or social issues or economic issues, and that the truth or at the least best answer emerges after debate and over time, and that freedom of speech is important to help advance that cause of the debate.
And it's important, just as an individual matter, I think, to have that protection written into the Constitution because you may have an unpopular view at a particular point in time, and if that view were suppressed...
We're going to continue to monitor that hearing, but we do have some breaking news we want to bring in our politics lead. Just minutes ago, "The New York Times" published an anonymous op-ed that editors say was written by a senior official in the Trump administration.
The op-ed is titled -- quote -- "I'm part of the resistance inside the Trump administration." And it details the way in which the author and his or her colleagues are, according to the op-ed, working to thwart part of the president's agenda and his worst inclinations.
The author writing -- quote -- "To be clear, ours is not the popular resistance of the left. We want the Trump administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous, but we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president, President Trump, continues to act in a manner that's detrimental to the health of our republic.
"That's why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions, while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses, until he is out of office."
A shocking, shocking op-ed written by an anonymous senior official in the Trump administration.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us.
And, Kaitlan, this follows excerpts from the bombshell book by Bob Woodward. The book comes out next week, but it fits in with this general theme that there are senior officials in the Trump administration who are trying to protect the country from President Trump's worst impulses.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.
You can't ignore the timing, that this is coming out just one day after those excerpts from that book making stunning claims about things that Bob Woodward alleges that the defense secretary, the chief of staff, several other people close to the president who work with him on a daily basis have said.
And now we have this stunning op-ed in "The New York Times," a rare thing for them to do, to publish an anonymous senior official in the White House, senior official in the Trump administration, they said. They don't say this person works inside the West Wing or in the administration generally, but this person essentially making the same argument as a lot of those claims in Bob Woodward's book, saying that they do not agree with the president.
They are staying on in their job in the administration to help thwart what the president wants to do in order to essentially save the country here, Jake. Not only does this person go on to make these stunning claims. They cite other people that they say agree with them and feel the same way that are working inside this administration who do not agree with the president, but are here essentially, they say, to save the nation from the president.
They cite one person who says there's no telling whether President Trump is going to change his mind from one minute to the next. Now, Jake, this is stunning, but, of course, over next few hours and days, this is going to raise the question here inside the White House of who this person is that went to "New York Times," wrote this lengthy op- ed, essentially backing up every single claim that's made in the Bob Woodward book about the president and the presidency here.
TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you so much.
Let's talk about this with the panel. And, David Urban, I will start with you because you're the Trump administration supporter, the Trump campaign -- former Trump campaign official on the panel.
It's not just this one anonymous op-ed. It is of a piece of a lot of criticism we have been hearing during the Trump campaign. There was the Michael Wolff book that had the same themes, Omarosa, Bob Woodward, and now this op-ed, that there are in the Trump administration who support a lot of his agenda, but are alarmed by a lot of his behaviors.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure.
And so let's be clear on this op-ed. As we were discussing before the show started, senior administration official doesn't mean someone working in the White House. Right?
TAPPER: No. This could be anyone in the Trump administration.
URBAN: It could be a director at the EPA or the Black Lung Division at the Department of Labor, right?
TAPPER: Probably a little higher ranking than that.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That's been eliminated.
URBAN: But my point is, right, this isn't, you know, General Mattis and...
TAPPER: We don't know who it is.
URBAN: It is anonymous. Right?
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is clearly someone "The New York Times" thought was enough gravitas to publish.
URBAN: If "The New York Times" feels so strongly about it, why don't they publish it with a name at the bottom of it, right?
TRUMP: It's obviously the person's request.
(CROSSTALK) URBAN: Right. If they feel so strongly about it, why are they serving in the administration if they feel so strongly? To protect the republic?
URBAN: Oh, please. Come on.
URBAN: At the beginning of this administration -- no, I think you will agree with this.
At the beginning of this administration, part of the criticism of the early part of the administration with Reince Priebus as chief of staff was a lot of folks who were part of the Trump campaign, true Trumpians, right, were not being included in the administration. They are not being put in jobs.
The people from mainstream part of the Republican Party, which this president wasn't part of, right, so a lot of those folks are getting senior positions in lots of different parts of the administration. So perhaps this is written by one of those folks when's now rethinking their choice.
TAPPER: OK. Amanda?
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would say it's a problem that we don't know who wrote this. It really is.
And I do feel like it's part of the Trumpism, we don't know what's what, what is real or not. It's extending to all areas of the media. Even with the Bob Woodward book, everybody is talking about it. I haven't read it yet, but yet it's biggest topic of news.
I do sort of have a problem with that. But there are good points raised in this. It does echo broader concerns is we saw, in that this author singles out the root problem of the Trump administration being the president's amorality.
That's something I think we can all see for ourselves.
TAPPER: Let me read another excerpt from the op-ed and get some more reaction of this anonymous senior Trump administration official writing in "The New York Times" in an op-ed that just broke a few minutes ago.
"From the White House to executive branch, departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief's comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims. Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails. He engages in repetitive rants and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back." Symone Sanders.
SANDERS: Sounds to me as though Donald Trump is not fit to be president, which is what myself and other people argued during the 2016 election.
Look, I think this op-ed came as a result, if you will, of the Woodward book, of a lot of what was happening coming out of the White House yesterday. Top administration officials seemingly twisting their words and their arms to say, well, I wasn't saying anything negative about the president.
And this person and maybe many people in the White House feel as though it is vital for people across the country and the globe to know that we believe the house is on fire and some of us are just here to try to stoke the flames down.
TAPPER: Jeffrey Toobin.
TOOBIN: I think we are an emperor's new clothes territory here, because look at every account of the Trump administration is the same, except in some detail.
TAPPER: Not all of the accounts, certainly not the ones that are flattering from the Sean Spicers of the world. You're talking about Michael Wolff. You're talking about Omarosa. You're talking about Bob Woodward and you're talking about this op-ed.
TOOBIN: I'm talking about every journalist who covers the White House. I'm talking about everyone who talks to these ex-officials, which is that Donald Trump is uninformed, uncurious, irrational frequently, narcissistic and racist.
All of that is -- and the question is...
URBAN: Why don't you throw in homophobic and a bunch of other stuff?
TOOBIN: He's also homophobic.
So, you know, this is what the American people voted for. I don't think a lot of people who voted for him are shocked by this. I mean, you know, I mean, just...
CARPENTER: It does seem like the daily churn.
And this is where I'm annoyed with this. I'm annoyed "The New York Times" did this. If someone wants to write an op-ed like this, that has a stature, resign and put your name on it, because this is just gossip. This is gossip to me.
URBAN: Jeff, look, you come out here. You state your piece. You state your piece. You state your mind.
TOOBIN: I do.
URBAN: I respect that. Right?
Someone to write a blind op-ed throwing stones at somebody, we don't know. Listen, these meetings the person talks about, I don't know where these meetings are taking place. It's malarkey.
TOOBIN: I think journalist ethics is an interesting subject. What I think is more interesting is whether the president of the United States is fit in office.
And that's what we're really talking about. And yes, you know...
URBAN: Well, Jeff, there's a method to remove the president. It's called impeachment.
TAPPER: There's another method actually.
TAPPER: There's another method. And the author actually addresses it.
And let's read that excerpt.
"Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the Cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president, but no one wanted to precipitated a constitutional crisis, so we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until one way or another it's over."
URBAN: I mean, like come on.
SANDERS: This is real for some people, David, though. This is real.
URBAN: If it's real, quit. If you feel that -- if you feel that you're serving a president who's a joke, if your whole life is a lie, why show up at work every day?
CARPENTER: ... between him and the abyss.
SANDERS: Him and the abyss. I want to be clear. I'm not defending the notion of an anonymous op-ed.
As someone who has worked and works for principles, If I don't like what somebody's doing, if I'm not willing to toe the line, I'm going to get off the pot.
URBAN: Or walk in and say something, right?
SANDERS: But the meat and potatoes of what this op-ed is actually I think is something that we should not brush off as hyperbole.
TOOBIN: Can I just tie this to today's news?
TAPPER: Very quickly, yes.
The conservatives in the Republican Party I don't think were deceived that Donald Trump was a moral person, was an intelligent person, was a person with conscience, but he would appoint people to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v. Wade.
TAPPER: Like Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
And Brett Kavanaugh is having a good day, I would say. And the odds favor his confirmation. And so, you know, the conservatives who used to talk about...
TAPPER: Guys, go ahead. Just finish up and then we're going to a take a break.
TOOBIN: All these conservatives who talked about Bill Clinton's character, they didn't care about Bill Clinton's character. They don't care about Donald Trump's character. They care about winning. And they're winning.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.
We're going to have more on this stunning "The New York Times" op-ed. Of course, this is coming as the White House is trying to push back on the shocking Bob Woodward book.
Stay with us.
[16:16:15] TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news.
"The New York Times" this afternoon publishing an op-ed of an anonymous senior Trump administration official claiming that there are those who work from inside the administration, including from inside the White House, who are working to thwart the president's worst impulses and, quote, preserve our democratic institutions.
President Trump just spoke again moments ago. Let's listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he's a terrific person. He's doing a fantastic job as secretary of defense.
REPORTER: And he'll stay in that job?
TRUMP: Yes. He'll stay right there. We're very -- we're very happy with him. We're having a lot of victories. We're having victories that people don't know about and he's highly respected all over the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That was President Trump responding to a report in "The Washington Post" and Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us.
What exactly was President Trump reacting to there that was in "The Washington Post" and what did he say?
COLLINS: Well, Jake, to set the stage for you here, in this book from Bob Woodward, one of the most explosive claims was that he was attributing quotes to the Defense Secretary James Mattis who you just saw the president talking about there, saying that Mattis told people he believed after one conversation that he found particularly tough with the president according to this book that he said the president had the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader for this. Among other comments that Mattis made about the president.
Now, you heard from the president there. That comes as reports that there's talk inside the White House about replacing the defense secretary and this comes after there had actually been for the last few weeks and months more of a strained relationship between President Trump and the Defense Secretary James Mattis. Something we saw and then this book comes with the claims of Mattis and the president there citing Mattis' denials. He issued a very lengthy denial yesterday, saying that he did not say the things that Bob Woodward had attributed to him in the book and that he was not asked to verify the quotes either.
But there were a few things also that Mattis has attributed as saying in that book and one was that particularly telling conversation, Jake, where the president told Mattis that he wanted to assassination the Syrian leader Bashar al Assad and then afterward, Mattis called one of his deputies and said that wasn't going to happen. They were going to take a much more measured approach, essentially ignoring a command from President Trump.
Now, today, when reporters were in the Oval Office with the president, he denied that he ever made a comment like that, ever directed James Mattis to assassinate the Syrian leader and then you saw there, the president saying that he's going to keep James Mattis on as defense secretary and citing his denial.
But, Jake, this really shows how the White House responding to this book that they knew for months was coming. The president keeps citing these denials from John Kelly and from James Mattis, but, of course, as we discussed yesterday, those were only partial denials. In his statement, James Mattis didn't deny the president said anything about the Syrian leader to him and in John Kelly's statement, he only denied ever calling the president an idiot but didn't deny all the other things that were attributed to him in that book.
So, it just shows how this is really consuming the White House, this book, and consuming President Trump and the meetings having here today at the White House.
TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.
Let's go back to this "New York Times" op-ed that "The New York Times" just published from a senior Trump administration official. It's titled, "I am part of the resistance inside the Trump administration". The official in question saying that he or she believes that a lot of what President Trump is doing is good, but there are many members of the administration who feel that they have to protect the country from the president's worst impulses.
Here's another section, excerpt from the op-ed. Quote: There's literally no telling whether he, the president, might change his mind from one minute to the next, a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip- flopped on a major policy decision he'd made only a week earlier.
[16:20:08] And, Amanda Carpenter, I understand the degree to which some people think it's distasteful to publish this without a name attached to it, but if we could just get to the substance of this, this is something that we have seen play out in real time. We have seen an administration policy put out there and then completely disavowed and walked back because President Trump was just speaking off the cuff or venting or whatever. It's gotten to the point that we don't even talk about it anymore.
President Trump was talking about changing libel laws just this morning, I believe. You know, in any other administration, we would take something like that very seriously. And -- but -- I mean, so whether or not you like who this person is or whether or not you believe he's actually somebody important, I mean, we have seen evidence of this.
CARPENTER: Yes. And it is interesting that this piece zeros in on the president's Russia policy. And expresses concerns about how much of a hard time they had to get him on board with expelling Russian operatives in the United States, sticking with that, trying to get on board with sanctions.
But let's not be mistaken. There's a big element of self preservation in this piece in which the author complains about the bad name that White House aides get for sticking with President Trump and trying to help him, and I do think this does underscore the major theme of the Bob Woodward book -- fear. The people who stay in the White House stay because out of fear of what could happen if they leave. And that's what this author is saying here. We are afraid of what the president would do if there's not some of us trying to restrain him.
And maybe just -- that's just them trying to preserve their own self image for what may come later or maybe it's actually true. But we don't know. And that's the frustration here is there's so much of what we don't know and what's made up and when's not that I really wish if the author felt this strongly, he or she would put his darn name on it.
TAPPER: Well, this is something that -- let me just bring in Symone Sanders for one second -- this is a criticism I hear from the left all the time about people who theoretically are the axis of grown-ups which, you know, whether it's John Kelly or, you know, Rex Tillerson who is fired or H.R. McMaster who retired or General Mattis, people who supposedly are controlling the president's best impulses. I hear liberals say all the time that doesn't mean anything to me, if they're so courageous and patriotic, why don't they resign and put their name to it and tell everybody what's going on.
SANDERS: Again, I don't think this op-ed is enough, actually. I think whoever is the author they should go to Congress. If they really feel this strongly about what's happening in the White House, if they really feel -- I mean, whistle-blower protections are there for situations such as this. So, there are protections. You know, whistle blowers are a piece of democracy, if you will.
CARPENTER: Trump's Twitter account --
SANDERS: Well, you know what, if you put it in "The New York Times", you should go to Congress.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think that illustrates, go to Congress. Who do you go to in Congress?
SANDERS: Well --
TOOBIN: I mean, this is a Republican Congress where you have a small handful of your Ben Sasse, of your Jeff Flake who say, oh, I'm very concerned about something Donald Trump done. Has any Republican held an oversight hearing? Has any Republican stood up and said, we want to use the power of Congress to assert that there are misdeeds going on? No. The only hearings that you get out of Congress are those to investigate the Mueller investigation.
SANDERS: Jeffrey Toobin making the case for Democrats in 2018, ladies and gentlemen.
SANDERS: I mean, that is why so many people, there's a poll of "The Washington Post" came out yesterday that noted an increasing number of Americans want a check on Trump. They want Congress to do their job. (CROSSTALK)
SANDERS: What Jeffrey is describing is a lack of a check on the president.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Jake, I was going to say, one of the things to read, giving you a little insight.
URBAN: Although he's elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives.
TAPPER: Free minds, free markets, and free people.
URBAN: So, this president is breaking a lot of china when it comes to China, when it comes to free trade. The president wants fair trade. He has tariffs. He's doing a lot of things that make a lot of traditional Republicans very upset.
There are a lots of members of the Senate and the House completely upset. So, it appears that this -- you know, this is someone when's writing this from the George Will wing of the party and might not be happy with what the president was doing. He was elected not as a mainstream Republican.
TAPPER: Absolutely not. In fact, and I'm certain just based on covering President Trump that he wants to know who wrote this, right? I mean, that's fair. We have been -- that's a fair bet?
URBAN: More than a fair bet.
TAPPER: We have been reporting that Jeffrey Zeleny at the White House reporting that the White House is trying to figure out in a, quote/unquote, witch hunt who cooperated with the Bob Woodward book. And one clue in here that shows that this is probably not a member of the inner circle is that the op-ed ends with very nice words about the late Senator John McCain, calling him a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue.
[16:25:12] This is somebody who does come from --
URBAN: Not necessarily the McCain wing but more of the George Will wing of the Republican Party, right? Free trade. Euro centric. Believes in multilateralism. That's not this president.
URBAN: Clearly, it's not this president.
TAPPER: And it's not the inner circle for the president but it still might be --
CARPENTER: I'm hoping it's Nikki Haley.
(LAUGHTER) SANDERS: Maybe it's Mike Pence, y'all.
TAPPER: Oh my god. She is not going to be happy with that.
But do you have any doubts that this is somebody important? I mean --
CARPENTER: Yes. I do believe "The New York Times" got a credible person to vet this. It is backed up by fact. They know who it is. I do believe that. I just think --
CARPENTER: Everybody else guessing who it is going to be a broader part of the problem.
TAPPER: Squares with everything that we have heard and not like it's only been the Michael Wolff book and Omarosa's book and Bob Woodward's book and this op-ed. There's been reporting by CNN, "The New York Times", "Washington Post", "The Wall Street Journal", "The Weekly Standard", others throughout about people guarding against President Trump's worst impulses coming to Russia and other things.
URBAN: Yes. Look. Is there a level of chaos? Perhaps. I wouldn't doubt it. Right? Does that mean it's bad? No. Why does it mean it's bad?
SANDERS: That means it's bad.
SANDERS: I'm very concerned that we are normalizing what we see fore us. Look back 40 years from now, the first thing I think my kids will say is what the hell were people doing? This is not normal.
URBAN: I talked to -- I happen to know members of the national security team, the secretary of state, secretary of defense, national security adviser. Lots of folk who is work in the Pentagon and who defend our -- put on the uniform every day and defend our country.
SANDERS: We all know people that work in national security and Congress. But we all know people.
URBAN: No, Symone, no, no. I'm talking about the principles. The secretary of state, the national security adviser. And not one -- I know the president. And not one of them expressed concern to me, pulled aside and said, hey, do you think there's a problem. Not one.
TAPPER: Let me ask you a question, Jeff. I don't doubt that David's telling the truth but it might be somebody he talks to who know that is you're a loyal fan of the president's --
URBAN: Look, listen --
TAPPER: -- less likely to tell you than to tell a reporter or write an op-ed --
URBAN: I don't believe that for a second.
TAPPER: You don't believe so?
TOOBIN: When you have accumulated evidence like you just summarized from the books, from the journalism, I think it's true.
Now, the other thing that's true is that the president is doing a lot of things that the people who elected him wanted him to do. Brett Kavanaugh's about to get confirmed on the Supreme Court it appears. He is sticking it to our trading adversaries. These are --
URBAN: Cut regulations. Cut taxes.
CARPENTER: I would just add to that, though, yes, conservatives wanted the judges, absolutely right. But a lot of people who went along with Trump assumed he would get better, assumed that he would take advice from smart people, assumed that he would surround himself with experts. And now, we are seeing that the experts are worried. I mean, they're talking about the 25th amendment.
URBAN: No, no. No, no. Read it. Again.
TAPPER: They were not going to invoke the 25th amendment.
CARPENTER: Like please bring it up.
URBAN: Look, again. Given the instability, there were early whispers.
URBAN: I mean, so poorly sourced. No one would -- no journalist would say that.
SANDERS: You think misconduct is OK?
URBAN: I think the president -- in what regards?
SANDERS: I guess my question is this. Do you think it's a means to an end and that just because the president is carrying out the agenda, the overall conservative agenda if you will, and even the agenda that may run counter to traditional conservatives but the base and it's OK? Even if he might threaten to rip apart the fabric of the democracy in the process? Do you think it's all right?
SANDERS: I asked a very clear can question. URBAN: I think the president could do lots better. I think the
president should talk about his accomplishments more, right? I think the president has lots of things to stand on rather than attacking, you know, networks and rhetoric that's not helpful. I could read a long laundry list of things accomplished that I would like him to tweet about every day.
TAPPER: Amanda, I want to read you another excerpt from this op-ed and get your response. Quote, it may be cold comfort in this chaotic era but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening and we are trying to do what's right even when Donald Trump won't.
Is that comforting to you, Amanda?
CARPENTER: It seems like a cry for help. Please love me. Don't give the White House aides bad press because we're really trying to do our best even if we can't stop him at times.
And I do believe, yes, that's probably the truth. But the truth is also that you signed up to go help Donald Trump and I think it's, frankly, unseemly to go and do this behind his back.
TAPPER: This is something I get asked by liberal friends all the time, what -- you know, what is the basis for the axis of adults? I say their argument is we are trying to help keep the country on a good course, enact the parts of the president's agenda that we think will work, tax cuts, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, et cetera.