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Senior Administration Official Blasts President Trump in Op-Ed. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 5, 2018 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: 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, and guard against his worst impulses.

And they think that is patriotic.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And I think they do believe that.

And I think they do have -- as you just summarized it, there are things the Trump administration can be proud of. There are also things, like, you know, his endless attacks on black people, his -- you know, keeping children in cages at the border.

I mean, people are familiar with the other parts of the administration. The fact that he may be guilty of a serious of crimes in connection with the Mueller investigation, those are all, you know, figured in.

But if you are a conservative Republican and if you want to cut taxes and if you want to cut regulations and if you want to have the EPA make it easier for polluters to pollute, then...


DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Or if you're a working-class Democrat who now has a much better job or better wages or you have, you know...


SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I would like to know. Wages have not actually gone up.


URBAN: Economic optimism at an all-time high in 49 years.


SANDERS: This is really about power.


URBAN: It's not all about conservative Republicans.


SANDERS: This is what sums it up for so many people across the country.

And so many Republicans in the White House, outside the White House alike are willing to let this president run amuck, because power is what they currently have. And they're not willing to give it up.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We have got a lot more to talk about.

What did President Donald Trump say about the Bob Woodward book most recently next?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with breaking news.

"The New York Times" publishing an op-ed from an anonymous senior Trump administration official claiming there are those working from within the White House and the Trump administration to thwart President Trump's worst impulses.

This, of course, comes as President Trump is taking aim at a new bombshell book about his presidency written by the legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward that echoes many of the same themes, the idea of senior administration officials trying to protect the country from the president.

"Fear: Trump in the White House" is a book that portrays a staff worried about the president endangering national security, as well as painting a picture of chaos and dysfunction, infighting, expletive- laced insults from the president and others.

Today, President Trump is claiming that it's all fiction, and baselessly suggested that Bob Woodward is a Democratic operative.

Let's go back to CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Kaitlan, CNN has learned that President Trump is on a mission of sorts to find out who in his administration, current and previously, spoke to Bob Woodward. And there's already, I'm guessing, whispers in the West Wing about who might have written this op-ed.


When the White House woke up this morning, they were already knee-deep in this crisis, the fallout from Bob Woodward's book, and the stunning claims he made in it that are attributed to several senior officials here roaming the halls of the West Wing.

They were already struggling with how to respond to that to that book. And now, just minutes ago, this dropped into their lap, this stunning op-ed that I don't think we have ever seen anything like this before of someone who works inside this administration saying that they are actively trying to thwart what they believe are the president's worst inclinations.

So now the White House is struggling to respond to this. So far, Jake, there has been no response to this. Some reporters and I were upstairs outside Sarah Sanders' office just a few minutes ago. She said that when the White House had a response, they would let us know.

But while we were up there, another reporter handed her a printed-out copy of this op-ed that was just published in "The New York Times" a short while ago, making these stunning claims about the administration.

So, Jake, you can bet that this witch-hunt that the president is on to find out who spoke to Bob Woodward is about to ramp up when they're trying to figure out who it was that wrote this op-ed.


COLLINS (voice-over): The White House on a witch-hunt tonight, as President Trump orders staff to find out who spoke to Bob Woodward for his upcoming book portraying a West Wing engulfed in chaos.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That book means nothing. It's a work of fiction.

COLLINS: Trump going after the veteran reporter today, claiming Woodward just want to sell books.

TRUMP: If you look back at Woodward's past, he had the same problem with other presidents. He likes to get publicity, sell some books.

COLLINS: The president denying a claim in the book that he asked Defense Secretary James Mattis to assassinate the leader of Syria.

TRUMP: I heard somewhere where they said the assassination of President Assad by the United States. Never even discussed.

COLLINS: Despite knowing about the book for months, Trump claiming today it was time to disrupt the confirmation hearing for his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

TRUMP: It was put out to interfere, in my opinion, at this time with the Kavanaugh hearings.

COLLINS: But behind closed doors, Trump telling allies he suspects his former national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and his former economic adviser, Gary Cohn, talked to Woodward, as allies insist it was former employees who made the bombshell claims.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think most of those probably come from some disgruntled former employees. And you have people like General Mattis, General Kelly, two American heroes, come out and call the book pure fiction. I would certainly rather take the word of those two individuals than a couple of disgruntled former employees that are anonymously attacking this president, trying to make him look bad.

COLLINS: But at least a dozen current and former officials told CNN they spoke with Woodward.

Despite the administration's denials, Woodward telling CNN: "I stand by my reporting."


Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who once called Trump unfit for office, downplaying the revealing book.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You should believe that Bob Woodward is a good reporter. You should take some of it with caution. The whole theme of the book is that President Trump can run hot and be volatile. I agree.

COLLINS: Graham's Democratic colleague Senator Dick Durbin voicing concern for the nation.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: I'm very worried about this president's stability and his ability to make decisions.


COLLINS: Now, Jake what Dick Durbin, a Democrat, was saying right there is essentially echoed in what this senior official is saying in this anonymous op-ed here, marking this as one of the most unusual day here at the Trump White House.

And, Jake, that's saying a lot.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House again for us, thank you so much.

I want to bring in the panel.

But I do want to bring up this one issue. President Trump specifically denied a particular passage in the book. He tweeted -- quote -- "The already discredited Woodward book, so many lies and funny sources, has me calling Attorney General Jeff Sessions 'mentally retarded' and 'a dumb Southerner.' I said neither, never use those terms on anyone, including Jeff. And being a Southerner is a great thing."

Now, we should point out when he says he never used those terms on anyone, The Huffington Post dug up some radio interviews in 2004 in which President Trump, then citizen Trump, did use those terms. It's not a polite term. It's an offensive term to describe people, saying -- quote -- "I have a golf pro who's mentally retarded."

Another time he said, "I was criticized in one magazine where the writer was retarded."

So when President Trump, Amanda Carpenter says, I never used those terms to describe anyone, that's a lie. And there is evidence that he has used those terms to describe people.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, we have plenty of evidence that the president uses extremely salty language.


TAPPER: This is worse than salty.

CARPENTER: OK, I was trying to be nice.

Yes, terrible language. They all just want to chalk this up to fiction and disgruntled employees, current and former. The question is, why is there so many disgruntled employees? And I don't think that hard to figure out, because they tell us all the time, starting with Omarosa, who came out with a book a few weeks ago.

And this is just -- it's a complete circus. And I just have to wonder what foreign dignitaries who are invited into the White House to speak about foreign issues, military, et cetera, what they think when the main question is about a Bob Woodward book.

TAPPER: All right, we're going to take a very quick break.

New reporting on why "The New York Times" took this very rare and unusual step of publishing an anonymous op-ed from a senior administration official. That's next.

Stay with us.


[16:47:04] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with the "BREAKING NEWS". The New York Times publishing an op-ed from an unnamed senior Trump administration official claiming that there are those working from within the Trump administration who are part of the "resistance", not the liberal resistance but a resistance in terms of attempting to stop President Trump's worst impulses.

According to the op-ed writer, the publishing of this opinion piece by the New York Times is a rather unusual move that was acknowledged minutes ago by New York Times investigative reporter, Jodi Kantor, who tweeted, "So, basically, Times reporters now must try to unearth the identity of an author that our colleagues in the Opinion section had sworn to protect with anonymity? Or is the entire newspaper bound by the promise of anonymity? I don't think so, but this is fascinating. Not sure if there's a precedent."

Well, good luck with that, Jodi Kantor. We hope you find out who it was -- we'd love to hear. CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter joins me now. And Brian, you know, it's not uncontroversial to publish an anonymous screed like this. What's the reasoning from the New York Times and -- on why they were willing to let this person -- this unnamed Trump administration official -- senior official, write this and preserve his or her name?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the Time says, the person's job would have been jeopardized if the person who chose him to be on the record. But this is incredibly unusual, almost unprecedented.

I've checked with The New York Times, they say they've only done this a few times in the newspaper's history. Two, or three, or four op-eds in the past that have been unsigned. One case, for example, an undocumented immigrant chose to have an unsigned editorial.

I do think it's important though this is not anonymous to the New York Times. The person's anonymous to all of us, but the op-ed editors do know who this person is, who this senior official is. They are, of course, then, giving The Times backing, The Times credibility to this person.

And given the Trump -- President Trump's history with The Times calling the paper failing, but desperately seeking its attention and approval, it's going to be really curious to see how he reacts.

TAPPER: I'm not sure in your conversations with The Times if they talked about whether or not there was any connection with the Bob Woodward book that we are talking about yesterday, but doesn't come out until September 11th.


TAPPER: But obviously, it's of a piece it's of a theme senior administration officials in the book and in this op-ed saying that they are protecting the country from President Trump's worst impulses. What do you make of that and did the New York Times P.R. person say anything about that?

STELTER: Yes. So far, no indication. I'm hoping to talk with other editors there and get more information about that. It does see him like this, this op-ed, and this Woodward book is singing the exact same tune.

You look at all the anonymous sources who have told CNN reporters in the past day, that yes, I spoke to Bob Woodward. It's as if many of these officials want the public to know they're trying to blow the whistle or trying to save the country, an incredible set of circumstances.

And as you said, this is very, very rare. Only a few times in the paper's history to publish something like this.

TAPPER: All right, Brian Stelter, thank you so much. Let's bring the panel back. And let me read another quote from this op-ed, from an anonymous senior Trump administration official, "The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency, but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility. Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter, 'All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.'"

Jeffrey Toobin, I don't think this op-ed is going to make that point so much as underline the point of the Woodward book. But what do you think?

[16:50:38] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: No. I think it is -- it is cumulative with the Woodward book with the -- with the Omarosa book, with the Michael Wolf book, with the journalism that we see every day.

I mean, you know, journalists -- our CNN colleagues who cover the White House, when I cover the White House, we quote senior administration officials all the time. This is just sort of an elaborated quote of senior administration officials. Sure it's more detailed and it's more personal.

But the idea that there are sources in the administration who will talk anonymously to jerk to journalists is not new, it's not new with the Trump administration. What's new is the sort of the magnitude of the betrayal here.

TAPPER: Well --

TOOBIN: And you know, people can believe it or not, but you have to conclude that it is consistent with basically all the other evidence that's coming out of this administration.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And also interesting is, is what was highlighted there in the tweet -- you know, this is a bit of a difference between -- you know, our colleagues and friend Maggie Haberman and the hard news folks at The Times, right? The editorial department is a separate section run independently.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: Different rules apply. And so, what it -- what does that do? Why did this person go to a Maggie Haberman or someone who covers The Times on a daily basis and writes with a lot of credibility, and say, hey I've got a story for you, let me share the story with you, right?

TAPPER: Well, we don't -- the truth of the matter is that this person could be as far as we know a longtime source for the New York Times, or CNN, or The Washington Post. And just wanted to take one more step.

But let me ask you, Amanda. Do you see this drumbeat that we have heard this week, but we have been really honestly hearing since the beginning of the Trump presidency? The idea that the president is not up to this task intellectually or temperamentally. And he's surrounded by individuals who are helping the country stay on the upright.

Do you think this is long-term any more damaging to the president then it -- then it has been up until now? AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Probably not, but here's kind of where I've landed on this. This author is clearly worried about stability. This op-ed does not make anything more stable because there's no answers in it other than we're really trying to feel sorry for us.

What do you want us to do? There's no groundbreaking story that they have revealed. There's no change and saying, well, I'm going to go campaign with the Democrats. There's no -- there's no answer here. It's just more of complaining. And so, that's why I don't think it's going to change --


URBAN: Well, it's just -- it's going to be just like the Woodward book. Look, when the Woodward -- when it finally comes out in eleventh and everybody gets to read it, it's kind of a Rorschach test, right? The folks, Symone will see one thing when she reads it, and I'll show you something else.

CARPENTER: That's true.

TOOBIN: What will you see then?

URBAN: I'll take it, read it critically, right? There's probably -- you know --

TOOBIN: Do you think is there's something made up out it?

URBAN: No, I don't. No, no, no, I don't. I don't think it's all made up. I don't think it's all made up at all. Do I believe there's chaos; do I believe there's a lot of chaos at the onset? And then, it's a more limited chaos that I believe the president sometimes says things that I wish he wouldn't say? Yes, I believe all that to be true.

I believe that some of the things I've heard to be true, and these -- and these quotes, yes, I believe sometimes there's truth to it.


URBAN: But I also believe that the -- that the Republic is on the edge of falling into the abyss is completely fallacious. And that's what I think.

SANDERS: Yes. I don't think that's fallacious at all. I think my question is where is the breaking point? If this were a Democratic president, I'd be saying the same thing. Where is the breaking point? What has to happen? Does Donald Trump -- Does Donald Trump have to literally throw our Republic off his table?


CARPENTER: What has to happen is (INAUDIBLE) Republicans to go. I mean, honestly, people say why do Republicans stick with the president? There's nowhere else for them to go. SANDERS: Yes, there is somewhere -- no, no, but there is somewhere to go.

CARPENTER: No, no, not when they're convinced that this Democrat are not going to serve (INAUDIBLE).

SANDERS: No one is saying -- I just want to be very clear. No, when I asked -- when I am asking my (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: Hold on one second.

SANDERS: When I'm asking my Republican friends to stand up and get a backbone a spine --


SANDERS: A spine that we have yet to see Paul Ryan gave, he's on my phone (INAUDIBLE) he's going to get one. When I am asked him to get a spine, no one is saying to come over here and vote on the Democratic side of the aisle. I'm also not even saying, come become a Democrat, join the resistance being independent.

What I am saying particularly for members of Congress, and Republicans that say that they care about country over party is to stand in their truth. Call the President on his beach where you see it. Stop something, where's the oversight hearings?

CARPENTER: But they're not going to do something like a vote against Judge Kavanaugh because they are at Trump. I'm not going to put Batman to today, it might just like what Trump's doing, that's are going to happen.

SANDERS: Therein lies the issue here. We -- there lies the issue. Our House is proverbially on fire. That is what this op-ed is saying, that's what the Woodward book has said, that's what all these reports to come out of the White House is saying, and folks are not willing to go against the grain and do things unconventionally. And because of that, we are going to just continue to sit here and have the mealy- mouthed conversations until Bob Mueller reports come out or the Democrats take back the House, and maybe someone over there decide to get us spine, and start impeachment, you know.

[16:55:18] TAPPER: Well, I don't think -- I don't think this is mealy-mouth, I thought it's a great conversation.

SANDERS: No, no, no, not you Jake Tapper.

TAPPER: Much more of our "BREAKING NEWS" when we come back.