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Source: Trump "Super Pissed" about Chief of Staff Search; Republicans, Orrin Hatch Dismiss Trump Crime Accusations: "I Don't Care." Documents Paint Disturbing Life of Adam Lanza; Google CEO in Hotseat over Alleged Bias. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 11, 2018 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:58] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump is reportedly "super pissed." I can't laugh without saying that. That's a quote about the process to find a new chief of staff. Sources say the president wants a new chief of staff to focus the West Wing on politics instead of policy. But Nick Ayers, the man who was his pick to take the job, turned it down. Another source says the president feels humiliated because he doesn't have a plan B.

CNN's White House reporter, Sarah Westwood, is tracking this version of the revolving door.

Sarah, what are you hearing about all of this right now?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Kate, after believing with certainty that Nick Ayers would be his next chief of staff, President Trump is scrambling to find a replacement for John Kelly and pick from a list of candidates, some of whom might not even want the job. And Trump this morning on Twitter was venting about the perception that no one wants to be his chief of staff, claiming at least 10 people are vying for the position.

President Trump has told confidantes, in the new year, he wants his West Wing to be more politically adept heading into a tricky period where the administration could face House Democratic probes and where the prospect of impeachment could become real with the Democratic majority in the House. That's something sources say Trump has privately acknowledged.

Top Trump aide, Kellyanne Conway, told reporters that the next chief of staff needs to be someone who can manage a sprawling staff in the West Wing and who has the president's trust. Take a listen.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think the next chief of staff obviously would be somebody who focuses on the chief part, and the staff part, as General Kelly has, and it's somebody who will have the trust and confidence of the president and understands the principle, also can interface with the cabinet and who can manage a very large and everchanging staff here. It's a personal decision for the president, and we know that whoever

it is, I will support him.


WESTWOOD: Now, the president is eyeing at least a half dozen candidates who may fit Kellyanne's description. Let's talk about a few of them. Congressman Mark Meadows is a top ally of the president's on Capitol Hill. He's someone who has congressional oversight experience, someone the president speaks frequently to.

Matt Whitaker is the acting attorney general. He's seen as ambitious. Signaled he might be interested in the job.

David Bossie, the president's former deputy campaign manager, has experience in impeachment and the president has expressed interest in that.

There are other members of the cabinet, Mulvaney, Lighthizer, who said they would not be interested in the job.

So, Kate, the president is back to the drawing board with just a few weeks to make the decision.

BOLDUAN: So true.

Great to see you, Sarah. Thank you so much.

Joining me now, Scott Jennings, CNN political commentator, former special assistant to President George W. Bush. Jess McIntosh is here, CNN political commentator, former communications outreach director for Hillary Clinton's campaign. And Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large.

Jess, do you think the president is right to want someone for his next chief of staff to be more politics than policy right now?

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that's probably what he's going to have to deal with coming in January, given the news of the last week where we learned he directed the commission of multiple felonies during the campaign. It seems unlikely that the White House isn't going to be taking up with those kinds of questions going forward. That's probably also why Nick Ayers was seemingly the guy for the job, and then very suddenly was not the guy for the job. This is the very last position that I could see somebody who wanted a political future walking into. It's going to be really, really difficult to manage, as if Donald Trump wasn't difficult enough to manage before this.

BOLDUAN: And that raises a question. Hold your thought, because I want to get Scott.

You worked for George W. Bush. You understand the role of a chief of staff. Does Donald Trump need a chief of staff? I know we have asked this about communications director.


BOLDUAN: I know I'm regurgitating old questions. Just go with it.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, you need a chief of staff. The White House staff is large. There's a lot of different things that have to be managed. You need a leader. The buck has to stop somewhere at the staff level. And the president is far too busy doing everything the president does to manage all the intricacies of the White House. So, yes, you need a chief of staff, somebody who can oversee the response to the investigations, someone who can drive functionality inside the White House and across the federal government. Someone who can make sure the president is staffed appropriately inside the various offices and agencies of the executive office of the president. Someone who does understand the pressures on a White House when the chief executive is running for re-election. And finally, someone who can serve as somewhat of a crisis manager. It's true they have investigations, politics, a divided Congress. There's a lot of crisis management here. So having someone with a little bit of experience in those areas, that's what I would be looking for. You definitely need one.

[11:35:30] BOLDUAN: So, Chris, I need you to drive functionality across the segment.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I have no problem. I'm an expert on that. It's on my business card.


Functionality driver.

BOLDUAN: Functionality driver extraordinaire. The Russia investigation, this is one job the chief of staff needs to be blocking and tackling. Democrats are saying to the Cohen news, just turns you're right, this could be an impeachable offense by the president. Republicans, I don't know if I can say by and large, but very notable Republicans, so far, seem to be just shrugging their shoulders. I played what Orrin Hatch said to Manu Raju earlier. Chuck Grassley also telling reporters, "As long as Michael Cohen is a liar, I shouldn't give much credibility to what he said." John Kennedy saying, in only the way John Kennedy can, "Jesus loves him, but everyone else thinks he's an idiot. If I were a prosecutor, I wouldn't base a prosecution on evidence given to me by Mr. Cohen."

What are Republicans trying to do? Just run away from it and not touch it or is this the actual defense they think they want to give?

CILLIZZA: They're creating a strawman, which is ridiculous. This is not only about Michael Cohen. Like, what we had prior to last Friday was Michael Cohen pleading guilty to a series of crimes that include these campaign financial violations, which he says Donald Trump directed me to make these payments. But what we have on Friday is the southern district of New York, who are federal prosecutors, saying we believe Donald -- individual one, Donald Trump, directed and coordinated these payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. So it's not Michael Cohen's word versus Donald Trump's word. If you think federal prosecutors -- you think they're unaware of the fact Michael Cohen has a casual relationship with the truth in the past? They're not going to base the entire prosecution, not put themselves out there because Michael Cohen said this to reduce his sentence. Chuck Grassley knows better. Orrin Hatch knows better. This is not about Michael Cohen. The southern district of New York sees all of the electronic records of Michael Cohen. Text messages, what's on his phone, on his computer. They quite clearly have evidence that goes beyond Michael Cohen saying, oh, yes, Donald Trump told me this. Let's not pretend that this is just about Michael Cohen. It's about a lot more than that.

BOLDUAN: Forget about what Michael Cohen said. Let's think about what Orrin Hatch said himself in the past.

Scott, back in '99, in the Clinton impeachment, he said, there it is, "This great nation can tolerate a president who makes mistakes. But he cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up."

What do you do with that now?

JENNINGS: There's no way they are going to impeach Donald Trump over $280,000. I mean, look, the prosecutor's theory here, in this indictment, this is flimflam. They're basically saying if only the American people had known Donald Trump had had sex with two women who weren't his wife, the outcome of the election could have been different. This is flimflam. The Obama campaign, in '08, made paperwork mistakes on the order of $87 million. We're talking about $280,000. This is not impeachment worthy. I'm not even sure it's indictment worthy.


JENNINGS: This is ridiculous.

BOLDUAN: On the most basic level, a paperwork mistake is different than go and use shell companies and other accounts in order to pay people off to keep them quiet. Those two things are different, right?

JENNINGS: He has a long history of paying women to be quiet to have sex with him. It's unseemly. I don't like it. It makes me uncomfortable, but I don't like weaponizing campaign finance stupidity to say the president should be impeached and Adam Schiff saying he should be put in jail. Ridiculous.

CILLIZAA: This isn't campaign finance stupidity. And I like Scott, but this isn't. This is not we didn't disclose the names of these donors, which is what the Obama campaign was fined $375,000, one of the largest fines in federal history. This is, according to federal prosecutors, the candidate for president purposely paying off two women to keep them quiet for fear that they would damage his election.

I'm with Scott. We are never going to know whether that would have or not. Not that people thought Donald Trump was a beacon of moral strength prior to the election. But this is -- it's not -- it is a crime to do that. That is a fact. [11:40:02] BOLDUAN: But it will, on the most basic form, no matter

what is said in federal court, it will be up to, in the end, the opinions of Orrin Hatch --


BOLDUAN: -- maybe not, because he'll be gone, but other Republicans, other Senators and what they would do if it comes before them.

Regardless, we'll talk about it later.

I know, I'm sorry, Jess.

We'll be right back. We'll be right back.


[11:44:58] BOLDUAN: Six years, that's how long it's been since 26 innocent lives were lost, 20 precious first graders and six educators killed in at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The tragedy of the day is no less shocking.

As we remember their lives, we're learning more about their killer. After six years of lawsuits, after years of lawsuits, the "Hartford Courant" newspaper obtained more than 1,000 pages of documents from the Connecticut State Police. Documents painting a dark and disturbing picture of Adam Lanza's life leading up to the massacre. That includes hundreds of pages of Lanza's own writing.

Joining me is Josh Kovner, one of the reporters behind the story. He's here with me.

Thanks for coming in.


BOLDUAN: One of the first things you're struck with by reading your piece is this is not someone who had fallen off the radar. People knew something was wrong. They tried to do something when it came to Adam Lanza. Is that what you saw after looking through all of these documents and writings?

KOVNER: Yes, it was a perfect storm. Mental illness probably, isolation, throw in the gun range, throw in mom's hesitancy to take meds. You had a lot converging. And there were two years of just abject isolation. Kid is hardly coming out of his house.

BOLDUAN: I'm also struck by how much of his own communication in writing or online that you were able to go through that was released. He wrote this to a fellow video game player at one point: "I incessantly have nothing other than scorn for humanity. I have been desperate to feel something positive for someone for my entire life."

In a strange way, you have probably spent more time with Adam Lanza than anyone else considering how he lived his life. Did you get a sense of what was the trigger that pushed him over the edge? KOVNER: Not exactly, you know, the A,B,C,D, of it, but you can

certainly see some As and Bs. The kid was so hard edged, everything he said was so inaccessible. He would put it out there and there was nothing you could do with it. You could try to imagine having a conversation with him. What do you say to that? You know, it was like a monologue even when he was talking to somebody.

But you were absolutely right in your intro to talk about the parents and the kids as well. And we're mindful of the core people who love those kids. This is real hard for them. But you know with the reach of CNN, and once you get beyond the emotional core, you are trying to put some stuff out there that maybe talks about signs and symptoms. Maybe gives somebody a road map for the next kid. And also my colleague, Dave Altimari, didn't go away for five years, waiting for this FOI, this Freedom of Information. And the state police thought he was going to go away. The A.G.'s office, the attorney general, thought he was going to go away. He didn't go away. We got the stuff. It turned out to be December, getting toward the anniversary, but that was more a coincidence. And we thought --


BOLDUAN: Yes. I wanted to read the editor's note. This is an important part of the piece. You write, the editor's note at the end of the piece, in part, says this: "Understanding what a mass killer was thinking not only paints a clearing picture of the individual. It helps us identify and understand red flags that could be part of a prevention formula for future mass shootings."

What was the discussions, Josh, the debates in the newsroom deciding whether or not to publish? You clearly understand the pain it can bring.

KOVNER: We said no way on the exact anniversary. There will be a lot of solace to the parents and so on. So we weren't going to do it -- this isn't going to be our anniversary story. And we have tried to be consistent about when there were information releases before, it was like, what does it tell you? You know, beyond the blacked-out room, beyond the editing Wikipedia accounts of mass murders, beyond the spreadsheets of mass killings, was there something you could work with this kid? Was he giving you a way in at any time? The kid was 112 pounds at six feet tall. It's like everything he did was pushing and pushing away.

BOLDUAN: Josh, thank you for reporting. Thank you for coming in and thank you for your consideration of the families throughout all of this. I appreciate it.

KOVNER: Sure, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

Remember, and honor those families and everyone, those beautiful faces and those beautiful lives we will remember today.

[11:49:48] We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Happening now, Google CEO in the hot seat testifying before the House Judiciary. Big questions, including from Republicans who accuse the online giant of political bias.

Brian Stelter has been watching this, joining me now.

Brian, what is going on here? What are they saying?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": We are seeing a lot of tech illiteracy from the lawmakers.


STELTER: I've got to be honest. This is kind of a repeat of the Facebook hearings with Zuckerberg. This is the first time Google is in the hot seat. Google has been handling it quite well. The questions are about conservative bias or liberal bias in search results. There's not a lot of evidence that exists. There's often concerns about it, not a lot of evidence. So Google is challenging the claims from lawmakers.

There is, however, bipartisan concern about data privacy.


[11:54:56] STELTER: That's where we do see smart questions and important conversations happening about how our phones track us every day, all the time, and how Google uses that data. The company said they are safe about that and responsible. But they need to be challenged. That's what the lawmakers need to do. We also need to question Google and others about YouTube and about conspiracy theories and hateful videos that spread on YouTube. I hope they'll have more questions about that this afternoon.

BOLDUAN: We need to watch.

Brian, thank you so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it.

Any moment now, President Trump is meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer at the White House. We could hear from them any moment. Can they strike a deal to keep the government from shutting down? That's next.