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STATE OF THE UNION
Interview With Trump Senior Adviser Kellyanne Conway; Interview With Virginia Senator Mark Warner; Interview With Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse; Former President Barack Obama Slams Anonymous Op-Ed; Barack Obama On The Campaign Trail; President Trump's Hunt For The Anonymous Op-Ed Author In This Week's "State of the Cartoonion". Aired 9-10a ET
Aired September 9, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Insider attack.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An anonymous editorial, meaning gutless, a gutless editorial.
TAPPER: Fear and loathing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, with President Trump on the trail of a traitor. Top aides deny and defend.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a disgrace.
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's not mine.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I did not write the op-ed.
TAPPER: How far will Trump go to root out the enemy within? Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway is here next.
Plus: warning signs? Nebraska's Ben Sasse uses the Kavanaugh hearings to slam Congress.
SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: The legislature is impotent. The legislature is weak.
But is he about to quit the Republican Party? Senator Sasse just moments away.
And gloves off.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are extraordinary times, and they're dangerous times.
TAPPER: As the stakes for the midterm elections get higher...
TRUMP: They will say, we want to impeach him! If it does happen, it's your fault, because you didn't go out to vote.
TAPPER: Is the president right to worry? The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, is here live.
TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is full of drama, drama in the White House, the president raging over that rogue anonymous senior administration official, drama on Capitol Hill, Democrats swinging for the fences in a desperate bid to knock off Trump's second Supreme Court nominee, and drama on the campaign trail, with President Obama's high-octane, unprecedented 2018 debut.
Fewer than 60 days out from the most consequential midterm elections in recent memory, the evidence of dysfunction and chaos inside the White House has never been more convincing, laid out in exhaustive detail in a new book by Bob Woodward, a meticulous and highly respected reporter, and in that anonymous op-ed describing the president as ignorant and unhinged.
But the evidence that President Trump and his party are delivering on some of their promises is just as clear. We saw that Friday in yet another strong jobs report with rising wages and low unemployment, as the president's second nominee for the Supreme Court, despite the Democrats' best efforts, appears headed for confirmation.
Joining us now is counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway.
Kellyanne, thanks so much for being here. We really appreciate it.
TAPPER: So, President Trump has been talking a lot this week about the anonymous "New York Times" op-ed.
And we have new reporting that says White House aides have narrowed the search for the writer down to just a few individuals. Who? Who's on the list?
CONWAY: I have no idea who's on the list.
What does concern me, though Jake, apart from everything the president and others have said, is that, for a media that is constantly talking about facts, accuracy, transparency, authority, the authoritativeness to this anonymous writer was imbued automatically because of the content.
As long as the message is anti-Trump, it seems, the messenger has credibility. That should concern everyone. I'm with the vice president on this. He has said that the person should resign, if the person truly is an appointee who has taken an oath to the Constitution, as we all have.
We don't take an oath to the president.
CONWAY: We take an oath to the Constitution. But that Constitution puts an awful lot of authority into the
TAPPER: Don't you think that the White House, in the way that it has reacted to this op-ed, has also imbued the op-ed with a sense of credibility?
For instance, I have no idea who wrote it. I mean, it could be an assistant director at the Mineral Mining Agency, for all I know. But, all of a sudden, you have the vice president denying it, Secretary of State Pompeo denying it.
By the end of the day, every Cabinet secretary had denied it, either on camera or in an official statement. Didn't that rise the level of the credibility, not to mention the oxygen?
CONWAY: So, I did say earlier this week I had a fairly different view than others, which is, why would we elevate somebody we don't even know?
We also don't know what this person has said to try to get that op-ed in "The New York Times" or what he or she has said to other people. So, to the president's point that there could be a national security risk at hand, he doesn't want this person in a meeting where he's discussing China, Russia, North Korea.
Any president of the United States, Jake, should have the comfort and the freedom to speak with his national security team and not...
TAPPER: But why do you think it -- why does the president think it is a member of the national security...
CONWAY: No, he's making the point that, if it is, if it is, that that raises true concerns, if it's somebody who has access to information.
And, look, you know that -- because you're in the meeting, you know that President Obama was investigating journalists. A lot of folks from "The New York Times" were criticizing him at the time.
James Rosen at FOX News felt...
TAPPER: For leaks. And I don't -- and I don't support what he was doing. But he was...
CONWAY: But we should be reminded of that.
TAPPER: But he was -- they were investigation of leaks, not of criticisms. I mean, it is different.
CONWAY: But I -- and I think this one is fairly simple.
If this person really thinks that he or she is being patriotic and not pathetic, which is the way I view it, then they should come forward, because you would have given them the seat today.
[09:05:03] If -- what -- what really was the motivation too? If the motivation is what they state it is in that ridiculous op-ed, they failed miserably. They missed the mark completely.
I think the motivation was to sow discord and create chaos. And I refuse to be a part of that.
TAPPER: It certainly did sow discord and create chaos.
But I do have to say, the central premise of the op-ed is not something we haven't heard before. We have been hearing that there are senior administration officials who feel it's their duty to protect the country from some of President Trump's worst impulses for more than a year now.
We have heard this in previous books, in previous reporting. It's a theme in the new Bob Woodward book. We heard it on the record from Senator Bob Corker last year, just this week from Senator Ben Sasse. He said that he's heard it from people close to the White House.
And I want you to listen to this from July of last year, then White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci calling in to CNN. Take a listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president. OK, that is not their job. Their job is to inject this president into America.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: How do you -- how do you explain the fact that there are senior administration officials who think it's their job to protect the country from President Trump?
CONWAY: To the extent that that's true, they shouldn't be there.
In other words, their job is to execute, not through blind loyalty, but to understand that there are issues that prevailed and others that failed in the last election.
What I appreciate about President Trump, Jake, and why I'm there, as opposed to the million other places I could be, is because he's somebody who has always welcomed, accepted, if not expected, dissenting viewpoints, disagreements.
He said it publicly several months ago actually in a press avail. He said: I like watching them duke it out.
He has people who disagree significantly on trade, on abortion, on the Second Amendment, on economic policies. And he has them there in front of him, but then, ultimately, President Trump knows he's the democratically elected decision-maker.
But doesn't it -- doesn't it bother you that there are senior administration officials...
CONWAY: Of course it does.
TAPPER: ... that think it's their job to protect the president -- the country from the president?
CONWAY: Yes, just as it bothers me -- just as it bothers me that the same handful of sources feel like they need to sit down with every author and get their side of the story out.
I guess they're too lazy to go write their own book. And who would believe them? But let me just say this to you.
TAPPER: But doesn't it say something about President Trump that there are people around him that think this way?
I think it says something about them. This is what I ultimately want to say to you, too. I was really struck this week, in denying the statements attributed to him in the Woodward book, Secretary Mattis, if you read his denial, it was remarkable what he denied.
But it was really remarkable what he affirmed. He said, not only would he never disparage the elected commander; he wouldn't tolerate it from anybody in the very big Department of Defense.
But he also affirmed what's happening for Secretary Mattis and General Kelly and the Donald Trump -- the President Trump agenda. He said, the ISIS caliphate is all but disappearing, that defense policies are welcomed on Capitol Hill amiably, that we have had the first pay raise for our military in many years, something near and dear to your heart.
And I do want to ask...
TAPPER: Well, not the first. They have been going on.
CONWAY: First in a very long time.
TAPPER: I think it's just been a bigger pay raise, but they have been going on every year.
CONWAY: As a responsible member of the media, I would like to ask you, on behalf of the White House, would you at CNN feel comfortable granting anonymity to somebody who may be a mid-level staffer?
What -- what would have been the comfortable criteria?
TAPPER: You know, it's a totally good question. I don't know who... CONWAY: Yes, because I see people in the media very upset with this.
They're -- they're saying, if it's not somebody in the Cabinet, if it's not a senior staffer...
TAPPER: I don't know who it is.
If it -- if it's somebody significant, then I think that that was -- that -- then printing it is responsible. If it's somebody completely irrelevant and powerless...
CONWAY: Then why are we giving this person authority? This person obviously is motivated by conceit and deceit.
TAPPER: I can just tell you, as an anchor, that I gave the story more attention after Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, and the entire Cabinet came out and gave the op-ed credibility.
I -- it never even crossed my mind -- I have told this to you privately. It never even crossed my mind that it was Vice President Pence...
TAPPER: ... until Vice President Pence was out there saying it wasn't him.
He and the administration gave this op-ed credibility.
CONWAY: Well, I want to -- I want to say something else.
This person obviously is motivated by conceit and deceit, and I don't think should be imbued with credibility, but also that -- the opinion being expressed is not widely held. It's widely held around tables like this. It's not widely held around kitchen tables.
I really think -- and thank you for covering the economic boom. The boom in wages and labor and growth and jobs and manufacturing construction, which the poison pens can't touch...
CONWAY: ... that's what is being discussed around kitchen tables, not cable news tables.
TAPPER: Let me ask you, though, because President Trump has said that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, should be investigating who the author of the piece is because of national security reasons.
Is that a directive to DOJ to investigate?
CONWAY: So, from what I understand, there can be an investigation if there is criminal activity perhaps.
TAPPER: And there doesn't appear to be any.
CONWAY: I don't know that. And I don't think you know that. In other words, that's...
TAPPER: What would the criminal activity be?
CONWAY: It really depends on what else has been divulged by an individual.
Anybody who would do this...
TAPPER: But we read the op-ed. There was nothing criminal -- there was nothing -- there are no national secrets divulged.
CONWAY: Anybody who would do this, you don't know what else they're saying.
But there's a difference between administrative action, as I understand it, and criminal action. But the president is also just -- the president has a...
TAPPER: Do you think the person broke the law?
CONWAY: I don't know. I have no idea...
CONWAY: I have no idea.
TAPPER: You think that, because he or she wrote the op-ed, he might -- he or she might have also broken the law? Is that the idea?
CONWAY: I have no idea what -- I have no -- I have really no idea, nor do you, what else this person has divulged.
I think somebody so cowardly and so conceited would probably go a step further.
TAPPER: But that's not how investigations are done. You don't look at somebody's behavior and say, if somebody did this, which is not illegal, maybe he or she also would have done illegal...
CONWAY: But, Jake, let's not look at the four corners or the op-ed or the four corners of someone's book to say this is everything we know. That's the entire point.
But, look, the president's...
TAPPER: It is actually everything we know.
CONWAY: I actually think the president...
TAPPER: It's everything we know. The op-ed is everything we know about it.
I mean, we don't know if this person has done anything else.
CONWAY: Right, because we're not the -- we're not the -- you're not the government sitting here.
But the president is making the point -- I -- look, I think this person is going to suss himself or herself out. I think cowards are like criminals. Eventually, they confess to the wrong person: Shh. It was -- it was me, but don't tell anyone.
And, of course, the person will tell someone. So they will probably suss themselves out.
But I really help -- I really hope whoever it is doesn't ultimately get a hero's welcome and the red carpet unfurled, kill the fatted calf, because what really was gained by being so cowardly? Come forward and say, I disagree with this president's policies.
Plenty of Republicans have done that. He has turned this city upside down.
TAPPER: Well, one of the reasons...
CONWAY: ... donor class, the lobbyists, certainly the media.
Well, one of the reasons why you and the president want to know who it is so you can undermine that person's credibility. You can't attack him or her without knowing who it is, in the same way that you have attacked other critics, James Comey, Omarosa, whomever.
So -- so, I mean, isn't that really one of the reasons that you want this person to come forward?
CONWAY: Not me.
This person has already undermined their credibility. I don't know why they were imbued with the authority, transparency, accountability, and credibility that everybody gave them, other than they were peddling an anti-Trump message.
I don't think an anonymous messenger should be imbued with that level of credibility. So, they have already undermined their credibility.
I think the whole point here is, are you somebody?
TAPPER: Mm-hmm. CONWAY: If you're somebody who would do this, are you somebody also
who has access to information about national security?
TAPPER: Right. And we don't -- and we don't know.
CONWAY: That's a relevant question.
TAPPER: I do want to ask you.
The president said this week that he wished he had been interviewed for Bob Woodward's book, which comes out this week.
You and the president had a conversation with Woodward on the phone which Woodward tape-recorded after getting permission from the president. I want you to take a listen to a quick excerpt.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You remember, two-and-a-half months ago, you came over, and I laid out, I wanted to talk to the president, and you said you would get back to me?
CONWAY: I do. And I put in the request. But, you know, they -- it was rejected.
I can only take it so far. I guess I can bring it right to the president next time.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, early in the call, President Trump was voicing concern that he had not been consulted about it.
But I have to ask. You are the senior counselor to the president. There's no one between you and President Trump, other than perhaps the chief of staff. Who did you put in the request that it was rejected?
CONWAY: So, I won't say that. I won't divulge internal conversations.
I will just tell you that I also in that tape, either before or after that, the president says: She has direct access to me. She could have brought it to me.
CONWAY: And what I said to Mr. Woodward is, did you ask anybody else? And he said seven or eight people.
CONWAY: And I said, I'm going to give the phone back to the president now, Bob. Please tell him the seven or eight people.
I don't think he did that, because it's probably sources for the negative stuff. TAPPER: Well, I think Raj Shah was one. Lindsey Graham was one. You were one.
CONWAY: But I'm the above-board person in the White House who, on my official e-mail and through the official car service, went over to find out what the book was about and how he might be able to help.
TAPPER: Right, but you didn't want him to get -- you didn't want to give a Woodward access to President Trump.
CONWAY: No, that's not true.
TAPPER: You did?
CONWAY: I don't make these decisions exclusively or ultimately.
And I just want to say one thing that the president later said to -- the president said two things to Bob Woodward that you may not have time to play, but I want to tell your -- your viewers was important. They can play the tape.
One is: Hey, Bob, it doesn't really matter what you write in the book, because the economy's doing so well. We're doing great in terms of bringing peace, not war, around the globe.
TAPPER: But if the president wanted to talk to Woodward, shouldn't he have gotten a chance to do so?
CONWAY: And that's -- and the president says, that's the real story. That's the greatest story not told.
TAPPER: But he could have told that to Woodward if he had participated.
CONWAY: But the second thing -- we don't think it would have made a difference, but -- and the president said that this week, that that probably wouldn't have made a difference.
The other thing...
TAPPER: But the president said that he wanted to talk to Woodward.
CONWAY: And then -- and then he saw the book and realized.
CONWAY: The second thing, is he did say to Bob Woodward, how could he not -- how could you not get in touch with me? Just call my secretary -- you know, call my assistant next time or call the switchboard.
But that apart, I think what really concerns all of us in the White House is that there are first-person accounts by people who, as Sarah Sanders said this week, are disgruntled ex-employees giving their side of the story.
I had a conversation with Ivanka Trump in my office on Friday, and she said and -- and allowed me to say publicly she can't believe that there are two-party conversations related in a book. She's the second party. Nobody's ever called her and said, is this true?
So that's basic fact-checking. I think everybody should be concerned. It's not about Bob Woodward, respected journalist. And I like him personally. This is about fact-checking.
TAPPER: But if the White House refuses to cooperate with a book, how is Woodward supposed to get the other side of the story, if you guys won't cooperate?
CONWAY: No, no, no. No, no, no.
There are two-party conversations where I'm involved. And I met with Bob ahead and he would say, did you say this? Did you say that?
You can't have a two -- you can't say, Jake and Kellyanne -- Jake said, Kellyanne and Jake discussed this, and not ask Kellyanne.
It doesn't have to be Bob Woodward who does the fact-check. It has to be a fact-checker.
But this is the fourth or fifth consecutive book in a row where there are two-party conversations, Jake, where only one of the parties curated it and related it to suit their own...
TAPPER: Kellyanne Conway, I know you're happy about the Eagles' victory on Thursday, as am I.
CONWAY: Yay! Keep going. We will have a repeat.
TAPPER: Thank you. Thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it.
CONWAY: Thank you. Take care, Jake.
TAPPER: You won't find a lot of people in Washington, D.C., outside of the president's inner circle disputing the substance of the anonymous op-ed or the Woodward book, least of all Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who says he's heard it all before and regularly considers resigning from the Republican Party.
Senator Sasse will join me in a matter of minutes. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:20:07]
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SASSE: The legislature is impotent. The legislature is weak. And most people here want their jobs more than they really want to do legislative work. And so they punt most of the work to the next branch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse at the Kavanaugh hearings this week ripping into his fellow members of the Senate for ducking their responsibility to make laws.
Sasse's opinion of the president is not much better. In 2016, he called Trump -- quote -- "creepy." He refused to vote for him. And since then, he's been a frequent critic of the president's, though, as one of the most conservative members of the Senate, he has also voted with the president more than 80 percent of the time.
And Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, is joining us now from his beautiful home state.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
I have to start. Yesterday, you retweeted someone who said that they switched their party registration from Democrat to no party. And you replied by saying you -- quote -- "regularly consider" switching from the Republican Party to becoming an independent as well.
Why? And what's stopping you from doing so?
SASSE: Yes, so I'm one of about eight people in the U.S. Senate who has never been a politician before.
And I think I have been saying for three years that I conceive of myself as an independent conservative who caucuses with the Republicans. But, frankly, neither of these parties have a long-term vision for the future of the country.
You know, 10 years from now, where are we going to be in the future of work, when young people are disrupted out of jobs three times a decade, future war and cyber, the collapse of community? Like, there's massive stuff happening in America. And these parties are really pretty content to do 24-hour news cycle screaming at each other.
The main thing that the Democrats are for is being anti-Republican and anti-Trump, and the main thing Republicans are for is being anti- Democrat and anti-CNN. And neither of these things are really worth getting out of bed in the morning for.
I think we should be talking about where the country is going to be in 10 years. So, I have been saying for a long time that these parties need to reform and have a future-focused vision. And we're not there yet.
TAPPER: Why stay a Republican? And when is the last time you thought about becoming an independent?
SASSE: I probably think about it every morning when I wake up and I figure out, why -- why am I flying away from Nebraska to go to D.C. this week? Are we going to get real stuff done?
So I'm committed to the party of Lincoln and Reagan, as long as there's a chance to reform it. But this party used to be for some pretty definable stuff. And, frankly, neither of these parties are for very much more than being anti.
And anti, or anti-anti, or anti-anti-anti, it's pretty boring stuff.
SASSE: We should be focused on the long term. And I would love to see the party of Lincoln and Reagan get back to its roots.
TAPPER: It also is the party of Trump, of course. Does that have anything to do with your ambivalence about the party?
SASSE: The president has done some good things.
This week, we got to do the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. I sit on the Judiciary Committee, and Brett Kavanaugh's a really strong nominee. He's the kind of person -- pardon me -- that Republican presidents would have nominated for decades. And so I applaud the president for that pick.
But I think it's pretty obvious, when you are engaging the White House, as I do many, many times a week, that there's just a lot of chaos and a lot of reality TV circus. And that's a little bit different than a long-term view.
I think, when I -- yesterday, I'm vending in the Nebraska football stadium during the game, when Nebraskans talk to me about politics, which is a distant second to talking about football, what they want is a Washington that does a small number of things with a lot of urgency and not a lot of drama.
And, right now, we do a whole bunch of things in a frenzied circus. And we should do better than that.
TAPPER: I want to get to Brett Kavanaugh in a sec.
But I do want to ask you about that anonymous "New York Times" from a -- quote -- "senior administration official."
This person, this is what they had to say about day-to-day life in the White House -- quote -- "Meetings with him," the president, "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. Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment" -- unquote.
Now, you told Hugh Hewitt just a couple days ago that you have heard similar comments from people close to the White House or in the White House.
Let's be precise. Have you heard from senior administration officials that the president makes reckless decisions and that Cabinet secretaries have talked about the 25th Amendment?
SASSE: No, I have not heard anything about the 25th Amendment.
But, obviously, it's an impulsive White House, right? I mean, there -- there are a lot of really good people around the president. He has done a good job, frankly, in a lot of the people that he's hired, but I think they'd like to be focused on a long-term agenda.
I think Donald Trump, in the campaign of 2015-2016, was obviously right that Washington, D.C., doesn't work and does need to be disrupted. But then the question is, the disruption toward what end?
I mean, truly, cyber is going to be the center of warfare for the next decade and for the next century. What are we doing about it? There's some really good people the president's put in place. General Paul Nakasone at NSA and Cyber Command, wonderful guy.
But is the White House using its power and its convening power and its focus to help the American people understand the future of warfare, or do we do the drama of Omarosa today and Cohen tomorrow and Manafort the next day?
TAPPER: Yes. Yes. I get what you're saying. And you're talking about a very serious and, if I can inject an editorial opinion here, a very appropriate concern that you have about cyber-attacks on this country.
But I guess the question that some people might have is, what are you doing about it? Other than coming on the show right now and talking about it and going to the Senate floor and talking about it, what more could or should someone like you, who is concerned that the president, that -- of all the chaos going on there, and the fact that there is this lack of focus on serious national security issues, what more could you be doing?
Well, so, first of all, I'm pretty proud that last month we got past the Cyber Solarium Commission as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act, a piece of legislation that I lead-authored.
The NDAA is the piece of legislation that every year reauthorizes what the Department of Defense priorities should be for the next year. And Eisenhower in the early 1950s recognized that we were well into the nuclear era, and yet we didn't have an offensive strategy or a defensive strategy. We didn't have a long-term human capital strategy.
We're in the same place, actually worse position in cyber now, 26 years into the cyber era, and no definable doctrine? And so I got a piece of legislation passed that's now going to set up a commission that takes the right people in the executive branch...
SASSE: ... plus some experts outside of government and reports back in a year. So that's one example.
But I want to say one more thing about the phrase "just talk."
SASSE: Frankly, in a democracy, one of the most basic, most important things we do is, we talk together about who we are as a people.
Basic civic norms, deliberation and dialogue, reflection on universal human dignity and why the First Amendment is the beating heart of American life, those are all ways of saying we talk, so that we don't have violence as the way to figure out how to use the levers of government power.
TAPPER: I guess the...
SASSE: So, if we're not talking together about who we are as a people, we're going to lose a republic.
SASSE: And, right now, a lot of our kids wonder if there's anything you can trust in the future.
TAPPER: Your fellow Republican Senator Flake said that the Republican Party made a Faustian bargain, a deal with the devil, by supporting President Trump in exchange for tax cuts, deregulation, two Supreme Court justices. Flake says it wasn't worth it.
You are arguing that it has been worth it?
SASSE: No, I'm arguing that the 2016 election was a dumpster fire, and that both of these candidates went into the election mostly being against the other one, and the American people basically said, pox on all your houses.
And then they decided who to vote for that was the less bad, in their view. And we shouldn't be having elections like that in the future. We should have two good parties that have a long-term vision for the country, competing to be better than the other one, not competing to be less bad or better at the quick putdown on Twitter.
And so I think that, again, President Trump has done a bunch of good things. The deregulation packages he's put through, the judicial nominees have been really good. But as far as focusing the country on a long-term agenda around the future of work and the future of war and helping kids understand the First Amendment again, which is something that's clearly in crisis on campus...
SASSE: ... we're not focused on any of those things. And they're more important than the day-to-day legislating we are doing.
TAPPER: Let's talk about Kavanaugh, because Senator Dianne Feinstein who isn't known to make these charges lightly, although she is involved in a reelection fight, she said that Brett Kavanaugh -- quote -- "misled the Senate" and his -- quote -- "answers were not true."
She's not the only one suggesting that Kavanaugh has committed perjury.
An example that they cite is his 2006 testimony saying he wasn't involved in policy regarding warrantless wiretapping.
But do you -- what do you make of this criticism from the Democrats that Brett Kavanaugh did not give honest answers before the committee?
SASSE: Yes, it's not true.
So, two distinctions that we need. First of all, this week was good for some things in American civics, in that Brett Kavanaugh did a good job of showing judicial temperament, judicial restraint, and he explained what the job of a judge is. He explained that a judge puts on a black robe to cloak his personal policy preferences. A judge is not a Republican or a Democrat.
He's somebody who rules based on the written law, on the facts before them in the particular case. And so I think that was useful.
What wasn't useful was the chaos of that confirmation hearing, which was mostly grandstanding for people, some of them running for reelection right now, but a whole bunch of them looking at 2020 and how they energize a primary electorate on the Democratic side.
And so there were all sorts of charges thrown around that really aren't based in reality.
So, one really important fact the American people should have in common, more paper was submitted for Brett Kavanaugh's nomination than the last five Supreme Court nominees combined. There's never been paper handed over like this.
But it is true that not every piece of paper that ever had Brett Kavanaugh CC'ed on it was handed over. That's because Brett Kavanaugh was the staff secretary to George W. Bush, and not every George W. Bush paper was handed over.
SASSE: But because Brett Kavanaugh was the president's secretary for three years doesn't mean he was a policy-maker on most of those matters.
TAPPER: Just a very quick one.
You mentioned 2020. I would be remiss if I did not ask, what are the odds that you will launch a primary challenge to President Trump or run as an independent and run for president yourself in 2020?
SASSE: I think the odds are a lot higher that I run for the Noxious Weed Control Board of Dodge County, Nebraska, than that.
I -- I lived on a campaign bus for a year, about 16 months five years ago. And, in my mind, I still have flashbacks of a lot of kid puke on the -- on the floor of a bus.
So, for me, I don't really think a lot about what job I have. I think a lot about the country's challenges and what we should be focused on. I'm pretty happy living in Nebraska and going to D.C. five days a week trying to serve the best I can.
TAPPER: The odds for me are zero percent.
SASSE: What D.C. needs to be focused on is helping the public recover some trust.
TAPPER: The odds that I'm going to run for president in 2020 are zero percent. So I can say that. That's not what you just said.
SASSE: Yes, Jake, I think we're -- right now, we spend way too much time talking about campaigning in this country and way little time -- too little time talking about governing.
So, in the next week-and-a-half, I'm going to be introducing a piece legislation for ethics reform in D.C. And I think that's a better place to spend our time and energy.
TAPPER: All right. We'd love to have you on the show this week to talk about that ethics reform bill, which I know is important to you and I know you want to do in the memory of John McCain.
Thanks so much for being with us, Senator.
SASSE: Thanks, Jake. Good to be with you.
TAPPER: He's the first Trump campaign aide sentenced to prison for lying to the feds.
My interview with George Papadopoulos next, plus reaction from the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Mark Warner is standing by.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
George Papadopoulos is now the first Trump campaign adviser to be sentenced to prison as part of the Mueller probe. He's getting 14 days in the big house for lying to the FBI.
Back in 2016, Papadopoulos was pitching candidate Trump on a meeting with Vladimir Putin, suggesting it directly to Trump and then Senator, now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions has since testified under oath that he pushed back against that idea.
But, in his first interview before being sentenced, Papadopoulos told me Sessions was actually enthusiastic about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, CONVICTED FELON: And the collective energy in the room -- of course, there were some dissenters, but the collective energy in the room seemed to be interested.
TAPPER: The collective energy. Was Donald Trump interested?
PAPADOPOULOS: The candidate, he gave me sort of a nod. He wasn't committed either way, but I took it as he was thinking.
TAPPER: Senator Jeff Sessions was there too.
TAPPER: At the table.
What was his response?
PAPADOPOULOS: My recollection was that the senator was actually enthusiastic about a meeting between the candidate and President Putin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Well, that's a strong charge.
It would contradict what Sessions said, testified before the Senate.
The attorney for Sessions released a statement saying -- quote -- "Attorney General Sessions has publicly testified under oath about his recollection of this meeting. And he stands by his testimony."
Joining us now to discuss this and more is the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator mark Warner, who joins us from Charlottesville, Virginia.
Senator, you just heard what Papadopoulos said. Do you think there's reason to believe that Jeff Sessions perjured himself? SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Well, Jake, let's take us a step back
can and look at where we're at, at this point.
With the Mueller investigation now, with the Papadopoulos jail sentence, we're now at five or six guilty pleas, over 30 indictments. The key that comes out of from -- what I read about Papadopoulos is, there was absolute evidence that the Russians had dirt and e-mails on Hillary Clinton, they offered it to Papadopoulos as a Trump campaign official.
And this guy Papadopoulos, I have never met him, but he clearly is aspiring to be a player. And my understanding is, he can't remember whether he turned that information over to other senior people in the Trump campaign. That's not very believable.
In terms of the questions about Attorney General Sessions, I'm sure the Mueller team will look into that.
But if you look at this, and this is -- I think is maybe one of the reasons why this White House is in such -- such chaos and the president's becoming more and more untethered -- is, if you -- just over the last few weeks, we have had the president's campaign manager plead guilty, the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen agree to work with Mueller and take a guilty plea as well.
We have got the president's chief financial officer now getting some level of immunity. So, I think we're going to start to get a lot of these answers coming out. And I think that's why the Mueller investigation, and, for that matter, our Senate intelligence investigation has to run its course.
TAPPER: So I asked Papadopoulos specifically about whether or not he told anyone on the campaign about the Russians claiming that they had dirt on Hillary Clinton, e-mails belonging to Hillary Clinton.
Papadopoulos told me he doesn't remember telling anyone on the campaign. But he also said this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAPADOPOULOS: I might have, but I have no recollection of doing so. I can't guarantee it.
All I can say is, my memory is telling me that I never shared it with anyone on the campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, you have said just now that you find that hard to believe.
Who do you think he told? There is an individual named John Mashburn who worked on the campaign, now works at the Department of Energy. He testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee a few months ago, according to "The New York Times," that he remembers an e-mail from Papadopoulos claiming that the Russians had Hillary's e-mails. [09:40:07]
Is John Mashburn somebody that you think he told?
WARNER: We have gotten some documents from Mr. Papadopoulos. We'd love to talk with him as well on the Senate Intelligence side.
But one thing is fairly clear. This is an ambitious guy who wants to be a player in the Trump campaign. He -- Trump had chosen him as part of his foreign policy team.
It just stretches, I think, most people's credibility that, if Papadopoulos had this knowledge and he wanted to try to further ingratiate himself with the campaign, that he wouldn't have shared that with somebody on the campaign.
TAPPER: But you don't know of any evidence proving that he did share it with anybody on campaign?
WARNER: Again, I will -- I believe -- and I will leave that to the Mueller investigation.
With all of the people who are now flipping on this president, and I think starting to come clean, my hope, again, is that Mueller will move expeditiously on these matters.
An anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times" from a senior Trump administration official this week sent the White House spinning. Kellyanne Conway just said this person upended Washington.
The official wrote that he or she and others are -- quote -- "working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda."
The president's calling for this person's name to be revealed for the sake of national security.
Do you see it as a national security threat?
WARNER: No, I don't, Jake.
But, again, I don't want to -- I think we have to be willing, again, to step back. The last three months, we have had the president with a disastrous policy in terms of separating kids from their parents at the border. We had the embarrassment of the president kowtowing to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
We had this zigging and zagging on his trade and tariff policies. We have had, as I indicated already, the guilty pleas of some of the senior campaign and personal lawyers. We have had the horrible treatment of John McCain after he passed. And now we have had the Woodward book and this op-ed come out.
Clearly, you have got a president who's lashing out. He's lashing out in terms of whoever wrote the op-ed. And I wish the person would have revealed their identity.
But you have also got the president attacking his Justice Department and also attacking the Justice Department for indicting Republican congressmen on graft. Does this president not understand that the Justice Department is not a tool of his own personal power?
WARNER: And that is one of the reasons why I think you're seeing not only Republican members, but what appears to be a lot of folks in the White House, have real concerns about this president stability.
TAPPER: Senator, let's turn to the president's nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.
This week, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy are suggesting that Brett Kavanaugh might have perjured himself, saying he -- quote -- "misled the Senate," giving -- quote -- "untruthful testimony."
Do you agree? Will you vote for Kavanaugh? And if you agree that he perjured himself, will you support impeaching Brett Kavanaugh?
WARNER: Listen, if Judge Kavanaugh perjured himself, that's clearly disqualifying.
I'm going to go over the record. I wanted to go through the hearings first, but I'm strongly inclined to vote against Judge Kavanaugh, not only because of his views on issues like women's reproductive health and workers rights and gay rights, but I am very concerned that this judge's outside-the-mainstream views on executive power, with a president that is this dangerous, in many ways disqualifies him.
But I want to go over those hearings from last week. And I will be making an announcement a few days.
TAPPER: All right, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, thank you so much, sir. We appreciate it.
And you can watch more of my interview with George Papadopoulos tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.
Former president Barack Obama hit the campaign trail. Could his support actually backfire by rallying Republicans? That is next.
But, first, she is known as the notorious RBG. A closer look at the rise of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am proud to nominate this path-breaking attorney, advocate and judge to be the 107th justice to the United States Supreme Court.
RUTH BADER GINSBURG, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: We may be in trying times, but think how it was in those days. The judges didn't think sex discrimination existed. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ruth knew what she was doing in laying the foundation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To put women on the same plane as men.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The goal was equality and civil rights.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ruth Bader Ginsburg quite literally changed the way the world is for American women.
GINSBURG: What has become of me could happen only in America.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She has become such a rock star.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is really the closest thing to a super hero I know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is known to the world over as the notorious RBG.
GINSBURG: All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the way the claim that everything will turn out OK because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren't following the president's orders -- that is not a check. I'm being serious here.
That's not how our democracy is supposed to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Former President Barack Obama at the University of Illinois, our panel is here.
And, Jen Psaki, what's interesting about that is that the speech was not very pro Trump.
TAPPER: But he almost is defending Trump from that anonymous "New York Times" author, the idea that this person is a check -- we're not supposed to have anonymous staff members serving as checks on the president. President Trump -- something of a backhanded defense of Mr. Trump.
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's true. And look, the first time I read the op-ed, I though, whoa, and then I read it the second time and I said, wait a second. This isn't a "Profile in Courage."
This person could come, they could speak out, they're so concerned, why don't you start a process to invoke the 25th Amendment? They are saying this is so bad but we had it managed and don't vote for Democrats and everything is good in the policy.
So I actually agree perhaps even with David Urban that this is not a "Profile in Courage." This is not how democracy is supposed to work and I don't think this person should really be applauded.
TAPPER: What do you think, Nina.
NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree. So you've got --
DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Wow! Look at that.
TURNER: No. Because I've worked for an administration before, if you really don't like what the executive is doing, then you leave, you don't stay in the background and undermine, you come out into the open and say what you have to say and leave that job and be bold about it.
TAPPER: Bill, I know you feel a little bit differently?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes. I think people like H.R. McMaster and they were in there, they didn't write this op-ed but (INAUDIBLE) national security adviser did a lot of good for the country. And so I think some people who are in there are doing a public service by staying and appropriately trying to check the president without going entirely -- they may be stealing a memo --
TURNER: But I think that's arrogant though --
TURNER: I think that's arrogant for them to think that you can do that without invoking the 25th amendment.
KRISTOL: They can. Well, but look the 25th amendment is not going to happen.
But if you're H.R. McMaster, if you're a serious person -- well, maybe it's arrogant but if you're a serious person in there you're -- the country's future is at stake, I don't think you just quit because you don't agree with --
KRISTOL: I wouldn't go in and a lot of my -- and I wouldn't go in just -- young people kind of --
TURNER: But I'm only saying that's the weight of what they said, if it's that dire, that there are many, not just the person who wrote the op-ed, but many folks who surround the president, who believe that the country is in that level of peril then you've got to bring --
KRISTOL: Well, that's what he did. He wrote the op-ed but he's also in there trying to prevent bad things from happening.
KRISTOL: When Urban goes in there he'll also will stop the president from doing some foolish --
URBAN: Listen, I think that if you feel that strongly, as expressed by my esteemed colleagues here, if you feel that strongly about this you need to -- you need to cowboy up, step up and say, Mr. President, this is wrong, you need to say it publicly, loudly, and be heard. So --
TAPPER: Let ask you a question about Obama being back on the campaign trail.
Do you think -- well, let me put up this Lindsey Graham tweet about Obama. "The more President Barack Obama speaks about the 'good ole years' of his presidency, the more likely President Donald Trump is to get re-elected."
TAPPER: Do you think Obama out there might actually serve to motivate the Republican base and not just the Democratic base?
TURNER: Well, in politics, we know both can happen. But he's definitely going to fire up the Democratic base and that is what is needed for Democrats to win back the House and maybe win back the Senate. So it is good for Democrats, for the president to be out there. But there is a yin to the yang, so we know that you've got to take the bitter with the sweet, there will be an opposite reaction.
TAPPER: Was that part of the countless at all? I mean, does Obama think as somebody who was his communications director does he -- when he -- when he -- like his -- his Gallup approval for his first presidency, the average, was under 50 percent. It was like 47.9 percent. So it's not as though -- I mean you know --
PSAKI: And it's going to --
TAPPER: He's FDR compared to Trump. But I'm just saying like -- I mean, there was -- there were a lot of people who did more.
KRISTOL: Forty-seven percent.
PSAKI: In the last two years it certainly went up and it has gone up since then. Look I think his whole objective here is to of course to no harm but to energize an already energized base. But if we think this was just a Trump -- an anti-Trump speech, I think people are missing the point there.
It really shows the smallness of Trump, and the smallness of people defending him, because it was a pro democracy, a pro civic engagement, pro voting speech. That's what it was about.
He said this is not about one person. This is about you voters. This is about doing what's important.
And then you compare that to what Trump did all week which was talk about himself, his quote of the week, it's sad actually.
URBAN: So historically, without precedent. A president criticizing a sitting president, right?
URBAN: And then, I would simply say to former President Obama, if you're wondering how we got here, look in the mirror, buddy, look in the mirror.
TURNER: Are you kidding me? The great --
URBAN: Look in the mirror --
TURNER: No, no -- he had --
URBAN: Nina, my point being this -- my point being --
TURNER: No, no. It's not look in the mirror.
URBAN: Yes, look in the mirror.
TURNER: The great recession that he had --
URBAN: Nina, stop. Listen -- just listen to me for a second, stop, listen, what I'm saying is, he -- people are wondering, how did you get it? Why are all these Trump voters? Where did they come from? They came from eight years of Obama presidency --
TURNER: Are you kidding me? President Obama inherited from President Bush one of the worst economies.
URBAN: You're blaming President Bush?
TURNER: No, because you're blaming President Obama. He had the great recession was real.
URBAN: I'm not talking about --
URBAN: I'm not talking about recession. I'm not talking about recession.
TURNER: No, because you're saying that --
URBAN: No. I'm saying about politics.
KRISTOL: It's a political matter right now what the Democrats should do and what they are going to do, I think, and what Michael Bloomberg's $80 million is going to do is they're going to put Republicans on TV in each district who has -- local citizens who are going to say, you know what? I voted a Republican. I voted in the past for congressman or congresswoman X. But I can't vote Republican this year. They have just --
TAPPER: Because they need (ph) (INAUDIBLE) check on President Trump?
KRISTOL: Yes. That's the message they need.
KRISTOL: So Obama doesn't hurt or help that much. I don't think it matter -- it ends up mattering as much.
The Democrats do need to remember that they need to win voters who have voted Republican.
URBAN: And what matters -- now what matters is they need good candidates, right? That's what you're saying. We do have good candidates.
TAPPER: I want to bring up --
TAPPER: The president's budget director Mick Mulvaney was talking to Republican donors in New York City about the election and about Ted Cruz in Texas who's running for reelection and others.
Here's what he said -- quote -- "There's a very real possibility that we will win a race for Senate in Florida and lose a race in Texas for Senate. OK? I don't think it's likely but it's a possibility. You may hate the president and there's a lot of people who do, but they certainly like the way the country is going. If you figure out a way to subtract from that equation how they feel about the president the numbers go up dramatically."
So that's Mick Mulvaney basically acknowledging that President Trump is a drag on some, not all, but some candidates.
URBAN: Listen, in the Philly suburbs, in suburban areas outside of large major cities where you have a lot of swing voters, that's probably true. But, I mean, it's not true in a great vast majority of these states and these districts.
Listen, what the difference is --
URBAN: -- it's all about candidates, right? If you recruit good candidates -- look, Ralph Northam, great candidate, right?
TAPPER: Mulvaney suggests --
URBAN: You know, Conor Lamb -- Conor Lamb, great candidate.
TAPPER: -- that Ted Cruz is unlikable in that quote.
URBAN: Well, yes.
KRISTOL: When Urban becomes chief of staff, Mulvaney is not going to go around -- go off message like that. I just want to say --
URBAN: Listen, recruiting good candidates matter in all these races.
PSAKI: David -- David, it always matters that you have good candidates and you want one that covered doors open, and you're looking for what's on the other side you want something in there. But ultimately this is about Trump, there is a energized Democratic Party because people of the hatred for Trump.
The good news though is when you look at "The New York Times'" story today about the West Virginia race Democrats are running on things like health care, on corruption, on the economy, they're doing it effectively. We don't always --
URBAN: The good news for your party is you're kind of figuring out a little bit for you guys, right? You're figuring -- trying to figure out a formula that may win because the Democrats clearly don't have a coherent narrative on a national strategy.
TURNER: What about coherent? I mean, Democrats especially progressive Democrats like an Andrew Gillum, like a Ben Jealous, like Ayanna Pressley who had a big upset --
TURNER: -- are really talking about the issues that matter the most to the American people.
URBAN: Progressive Democrats --
TURNER: No, no, no, no. No, no. Seventy percent of Americans believe that we should have Medicaid for all, we just had President Obama talk about Medicare for all. This is important to the American people.
So the progressives are standing up for the needs of the people and everybody across the political spectrum are --
URBAN: I'll take any progressive in 2020 (INAUDIBLE).
TURNER: Oh my, God.
URBAN: What do you think?
TAPPER: Who do you think can (INAUDIBLE) President Trump? Very quickly like 10 seconds.
KRISTOL: Mitch Landrieu.
TAPPER: Mitch Landrieu?
KRISTOL: Just destroyed his chances of being a Democratic nominee.
TAPPER: Is he progressive enough? Just say yes or no. Is he progressive enough for the Democratic base, Mitch Landrieu?
TURNER: Well, not for progressives.
TAPPER: All right.
TAPPER: Everyone thanks so much.
URBAN: President Trump.
TAPPER: Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you. That's a classic line from "Catch-22." Fitting for a week that sent the president down a rabbit hole. That's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."
TAPPER (voice-over): Bob Woodward's new book about Trump and that anonymous "New York Times" op-ed hit the world like meteors and now the presidential hunt for the sources behind them begins.
ELMER FUDD, CARTOON CHARACTER: Be very, very quiet. I'm hunting rabbits.
TAPPER: Now every White House has had leakers.
RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You mean that was leaked out of the Pentagon?
TAPPER: But this is something else entirely, after all when it comes to attacks on the president, it seems the classic thriller "When A Stranger Calls" had it right.
OFFICER BURROUGHS, "WHEN A STRANGER CALLS" CHARACTER: We've traced the call. It's coming from inside the house.
TAPPER: It will be a complicated task to figure out who has been trashing Trump. As former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus has quoted in the new Woodward book -- quote -- "When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody."
Denials have been issued, of course, but even those are telling. Chief of staff John Kelly has been quoted in the Woodward book telling staffers he's an idiot, he's gone off the rails, we're in crazy town, this is the worst job I have ever had. But Kelly's denial simply said the idea I ever called the president an idiot is not true.
Still the show continues with operatic intensity and the desire for vengeance. The president is determined to find out who betrayed him.
DON CORLEONE, "THE GODFATHER" CHARACTER: Tattaglia's a pimp. He never could've out-fought Santino. But I didn't know until this day that it was Barzini all along.
TAPPER: You broke my heart, Fredo.
Thanks for spending your Sunday with us. Former secretary of state John Kerry is just ahead on the chaos in the White House.
That's on "FAREED ZAKARIA" which starts right now. Thanks for watching.