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Author Pledges to Reveal Identity Soon; Blob Triggers Lockdown; Frank Bruni is Interviewed About his Life Adversity. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired November 27, 2019 - 06:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news for you.

These are live pictures of a chemical plant fire burning in Texas after a powerful explosion overnight. Witnesses say the blast shook homes and shattered windows more than 40 miles away. There is now a mandatory evacuation order of everyone within a half mile of the plant. Police tell a local CNN affiliate, everyone else has been ordered to shelter in place. Officials do say a hazardous chemical is currently burning. So far no injuries -- though I should correct that, three injuries have been reported.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Also breaking overnight, new insight from anonymous, the author of "A Warning," that's the scathing new book on the inner workings of the Trump White House. He or she claims to be a senior Trump administration official. And answering questions on Reddit, anonymous says he or she plans to reveal his or her identity at some point. Neither CNN nor Reddit has been able to verify that this in fact the author of the book, but the publisher says it is.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is live in West Palm Beach, Florida, with more.

Kristen, this is fascinating. I couldn't stop reading how anonymous was answering all of the burning questions last night.


Well, it certainly is eye opening here giving us a look into the White House. And a lot of this time during this ask me anything on Reddit was spent by the author kind of defending himself for deciding to remain anonymous for now. He said there was a long history of writers writing anonymously in American politics, harkening back to the founding fathers and the decision, the debate to ratify the Constitution. And essentially the message there being that they wanted people to focus on the message and not the messenger. And during this hour-long question and answer session, the message was very clear. This was a White House in chaos and this author is not done exposing it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES (voice over): There is more to come. Those words from the person identifying themselves as anonymous, who wrote the new White House insider book titled "A Warning." The book publisher confirming to CNN that the anonymous author answered questions last night on Reddit, defending their decision to remain anonymous and suggesting that President Trump will know his or her identity by the 2020 election.

I will not keep my identity shrouded in secrecy forever, anonymous writes. I'm not afraid to use my own name to express concern about the current occupant of the Oval Office. Donald Trump has not heard the last of me.

Anonymous claims to be a senior official in the Trump administration. And last September, a person identified as the same official captivated the nation's attention after writing an op-ed in "The New York Times" titled "I am Part of the Resistance," vowing, quote, to thwart parts of President Trump's agenda and his worst inclinations.

But in the Q&A, anonymous says that was, quote, dead wrong, writing, no one can thwart his attraction to wrongdoing.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (September 6, 2018): The latest active resistance is the op-ed published in the failing "New York Times" by an anonymous, really an anonymous, gutless coward. You just look. He was -- nobody knows who the hell he is.

HOLMES: The newly released book portrays a White House in crisis, with anonymous claiming that senior administration officials threatening to quit en masse to call attention to the president's alleged mismanagement and erratic behavior. And anonymous also says there are fears within Trump's inner circle that he is doing Putin's bidding.

The author teasing last night on Reddit that more bombshells could be released before next November, claiming to one questioner, quote, other people who are currently serving and who have left are also considering adding their voices before votes are cast in 2020.

REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Nobody really knows whether these quotes or these accusations are true because we don't know who it is.


There's no way to judge the veracity of what this person is saying.

HOLMES: The White House, earlier this month, calling anonymous, quote, a gutless coward who doesn't have the spine to put his or her name on their shameful lies.

On impeachment, anonymous telling Reddit users bluntly that President Trump demanded a quid pro quo from Ukraine to disrupt the 2020 election, adding, everyone in the White House knows this including the president himself.

But the author warns how impeachment could further divide the country and says he believes the country must defeat President Trump at the ballot box in 2020 by a convincing margin.


HOLMES: And just to be clear here, that convincing margin was because the author said that that would override any potential claims by President Trump of voter fraud or suppression.

But, John, I do want to note, we did reach out to the White House about this latest question and answer session with anonymous and we have yet to hear back.

BERMAN: All right, Kristen Holmes for us in Palm Beach. Keep us posted.

Meanwhile, the White House and Capitol, they were locked down. Military jets scrambled. It turns out the slow-moving blob on radar was a false alarm with --

CAMEROTA: False alarm? Shouldn't I be worried about a slow-moving blob?

BERMAN: Yes, for a ton of reasons, because what it actually was, it will surprise you. Stick around.



BERMAN: Breaking overnight, a new interview with the anonymous author of the book "A Warning," who claims to be a senior official within the Trump administration.

Here to discuss, CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip, who anchored "EARLY START" this morning, and CNN political commentator Joe Lockhart.

Now, I have to say, when we got in this morning, I'm very concerned about the weather and I think the travel warnings are a big story, but you're like, no, no, the only story that we should be covering is the anonymous story and the interview on Reddit.

So what did you find so interesting?

CAMEROTA: OK, let me tell you everything. So last night anonymous did this ask me anything, which some authors will do, as I can tell you. So ask me anything, right? And --


CAMEROTA: Anything. Anything. You could ask this anonymous author --

PHILLIP: Like, what's your name?

CAMEROTA: Yes. Yes. They did want to know this person's identity and what anonymous said was, I will reveal it in due time, but the reason I'm not revealing my identity is because President Trump so often focuses on the messenger and the person and he wants -- he or she wants the public to focus on the message and what's going on inside the Trump White House rather than, you know, all the insults that the president will lodge.

But let's do a dramatic reading of another really good question that was asked of the anonymous author. You ask the question, John, and I'll answer it. This came in last night via the Internet.

BERMAN: All right.

Does everyone who works in the White House secretly hate Trump? I can't imagine working for someone with a personality like that.

CAMEROTA: Oh, you shouldn't have read that, John.

All right, meanwhile -- I'm just kidding.

BERMAN: Was that the one you wanted?



CAMEROTA: OK, here's what anonymous said. You'd be surprised, or maybe not, how remarkably widespread the sentiments conveyed in "A Warning" are shared amongst hourly among folks in all corners of the White House and the administration. The president knows this and fears this, which is why he's ordered us to ignore this book.

I am totally falling for this stunt, Joe.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I -- one of the reasons why I think the -- whoever this is, anonymous, went on Reddit was, it hasn't gotten the buzz that the op-ed got. There's been a lot of other news. And they needed to do something to, you know, promote the book.

You know, short of that person telling us who they are, I don't think this is going to have a very big impact if that person does tell. But they do make a fair point, that Trump does attack the character of the person rather than what that person's saying. But at this point, I think, you know, if they -- if they wanted it have the impact I believe they want it to have, they've got to come -- they've got to come forward.

BERMAN: Well this person, he or she, did say that he or she will come out before the election. I can read you that.

As far as anonymity is concerned, I will not keep my identity shrouded in secrecy forever. I am not afraid to use my own name to express concern about the current occupant of the Oval Office. The evidence notwithstanding. Trump will hear from me in my own name before the 2020 election, Abby.

PHILLIP: I think that's a shift because initially he said he would vehemently deny -- he or she, I should say, would vehemently deny their identity if they were ever asked. So now it seems, in some ways, that they've changed their view of weather anonymity -- permanent anonymity is necessary. And some of that -- there was a discussion in the AMA (ph) about some of the folks who have come forward from the foreign service who have testified publicly with their names, with their faces out there. And he seem -- this person seemed to allude to the sense that this kind of changes the ballgame for him. He's now willing to come -- they are now willing to come forward.

And also, I think, this person made it very clear that his view from the op-ed when he wrote it and said, hey, you know, we're all here just trying to protect the country from Trump has changed. He -- they now think that the president needs to actually be removed from office, one way or another, because it's not possible for officials like himself to -- or themselves to stop him from doing -- from doing things that are terrible for the country in the view of this person.

CAMEROTA: Yes, absolutely. Anonymous says that he was wrong. And there is no resistant -- as you say -- resistance that's capable of being guardrails and says that those people, if they're -- if they ever existed are gone and there are no guardrails now.


CAMEROTA: I mean this is an important message. However it's delivered, in whatever stunt-like quality, this is an important message.

LOCKHART: Yes. Yes, I mean I think there's a couple of important things in there. You know, one is that the writer of the op-ed now is saying that they were wrong, that the resistance has been futile.


That the guardrails are gone, as Abby said, and he's able to do, you know, whatever he wants.

The second is the -- the hint that there's going to be a lot of people coming out before the election that will talk in detail about how chaotic and corrupt the administration was. If that happens, that'll have an impact. If it's --

PHILLIP: I'm not sure.

LOCKHART: For sure.

BERMAN: Abby, Joe, thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Thank you guys very much.

All right, we're learning new details about what triggered a lockdown at the White House and U.S. Capitol yesterday. Law enforcement sources say a mysterious, quote, slow-moving blob appeared on radar, leading to fighter jets being scrambled.

CNN's Rene Marsh is live in Washington to explain.

What is a slow-moving blob, Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Good, good, good question this morning. And you know what, we still cannot get an answer at this hour. We can also tell you that military jets were even scrambled. Secret Service was on the ground. Capitol Hill Police on the ground as well. They all jumped in and the scene was quite hectic here in Washington, D.C., yesterday, because Capitol Hill Police said they saw something flying in the restricted air space above the U.S. Capitol and the White House and they believe that it was an aircraft that set off this frenzy.

And the reason for the frenzy is because post-9/11, the air space in Washington, D.C., became the most restricted. You cannot just fly through that air space.

But hours after the lockdowns were lifted, no official could tell CNN what was it in the sky that they saw. The military, early on, said that it was an aircraft and it was not a hostile plane. A White House official told CNN that they believed that it was a drone. But, in the end, no drone was found and the military didn't find an aircraft in the air.

So, you know, at this point, this slow-moving blob is the only thing that we got from Capitol Hill Police. They said that that is what they saw on their radar.

So, in the end, they said that this was likely a flock of birds that triggered this lockdown. So the question is, how could a flock of birds be mistaken for the aircraft? You saw that radar there, an old one. It does appear as an aircraft when you're simply looking at the radar. And that just speaks to the issue about the antiquated equipment that people are using to monitor the air space at this time.


BERMAN: Wow, really, really interesting. You know, Alisyn, you make fun of me for looking at birds, but maybe I'm onto something here.

CAMEROTA: Maybe you are.

BERMAN: Maybe we should all be -- pay more attention to the birds. Thank you very much, Rene.

Students in New Hampshire claim their voting rights are being suppressed by a new Republican-backed residency law. We take a closer look, next.



BERMAN: A controversial New Hampshire law is raising concerns about voter suppression as the 2020 candidates barnstorm that state. The Republican-backed measure bars part-time residents from voting. Some fear that can make it harder for thousands of students to cast ballots. CNN's Jason Carroll talks to students at Dartmouth about all this.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you guys registered to vote?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For years, college-aged voters have been called apathetic or unreliable when it comes to turning up at the polls. But the 2018 midterm elections changed some of that perspective. Young people, including those in college, voted in historic numbers.

MAGGIE FLAHERTY, JUNIOR AT DARTMOUTH UNIVERSITY: I think we've seen young people in my generation really start to become more politically engaged in these past several years.

CARROLL: Maggie Flaherty is a junior at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire, a state with the highest per-capita rate of college students than any other state in the country. Flaherty says she and many of her friends are eager to vote in 2020, but she fears a controversial state law will discourage other students from getting to the polls.

FLAHERTY: It's not that they're taking away our right to vote, it's that they're making it more difficult and confusing for us to vote.

CARROLL: It's called HB-1264. It's a Republican-backed law that changed the definition of residency and automatically makes anyone who registers to vote a resident of New Hampshire. Critics of the law say it requires out of state students who drive to pay fees for new state driver's licenses and car registrations just so they can vote. Flaherty is one of two Dartmouth students represented by the ACLU who filed suit against state officials calling the law unconstitutional.

HENRY KLEMENTOWICZ, STAFF ATTORNEY, ACLU OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: We believe these people were targeted with this law to put these burdens and confusion on them to discourage them from voting.

CARROLL: Those who support HB-1264 say it is not an election law.

ANNE EDWARDS, NEW HAMPSHIRE ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL: The argument that this is an attempt at voter suppression by the state is an unfair argument and it's an incorrect argument.

CARROLL: Regardless, the law is already having a chilling effect. Aliza Gallant and Miles Brown run campus voter registration drives at Dartmouth.

CARROLL (on camera): What are some of the things that some of your peers are saying?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're saying like, oh, I don't think I can vote in New Hampshire.

MILES BROWN, FRESHMAN AT DARTMOUTH UNIVERSITY: I think they're definitely trying to take advantage of college aged students who probably, if they have to put in a ton of effort to figure out how to vote, will be less likely to.

CARROLL (voice over): Pollsters also getting an earful from students, not just in New Hampshire, but from across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're concerned about access to our democracy.

CARROLL: Other states, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin, with varying laws, also facing similar claims of trying to suppress the youth vote. College aged voters, 18 to 24-year-olds, historically lean Democrat. No surprise, Democratic lawmakers speaking out about what they say are efforts to suppress those votes.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I don't think that it's a secret that the Republican Party has been engaged in very questionable behavior when it comes to voter suppression.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What you see happening with the effort to suppress the student vote here in New Hampshire is really a strike against democracy.

CARROLL: Maggie Flaherty says the lawsuit is one way to strike back.

FLAHERTY: Hopefully there will be some clarity soon and hopefully there will be answers soon, but right now we're in the fight.

CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, Hanover, New Hampshire.

CAMEROTA: OK, really interesting story.

And now to a personal story from one of our own CNN family before this Thanksgiving holiday. "New York Times" columnist and CNN contributor Frank Bruni woke up last year to find the vision in his right eye was completely blurred. Doctors discovered he'd had a rare optic nerve stroke in that eye. And there was a 20 percent chance that he could lose sight in the other eye as well.

In a recent op-ed, Bruni reflects on how this experience has actually changed his life for the better. And Frank Bruni joins us now.

Frank, great to see you.


CAMEROTA: And I think that people really appreciate you sharing this personal struggle and this personal story. But you write about how you went through, I guess, the spectrum of emotions at first when you got this diagnosis.


How scary was it and how much did you wallow in self-pity? BRUNI: It was extremely scary. Actually, the very first thing, you get

an adrenaline rush because you're like, what is happening to me? And then, yes, you ask yourself, why me, how am I going to deal with this. There is that period of self-pity. But I think you quickly realize that, a, that's a trap, it's a dead end, but also, b, I found myself looking around me in a way I never had before. Like looking really carefully and clearly at the people in my life, the people just a little bit outside of my life and I realized how many of us, probably both of you in ways that, you know, we were -- we don't have to go into now, are struggling with something that you can't see. You know, maybe it is a marriage that has just fallen apart. Maybe it's the death of a loved one. Often it is some sort of medical thing that is visible or not visible. Every single person has their cross to bear, so to speak. And when you realize that, you realize that self-pity is not just a luxury, it's a folly.

BERMAN: And that's what's so beautiful about the way that you wrote about this in this column. And you talk at length about some of the trials you've gone through, stabbing yourself daily or multiple times a day as part of a trial. But you say it's changed the way you look at people and interact with people. How?

BRUNI: I mean I pick up on things people say that I never did before. So, for example, I was giving a speech about a year ago down south and one of the university officials came backstage to say hello to me. And I had heard someone say maybe she'd make it there, maybe she wouldn't because she had a back problem. That stuck with me. And I asked her about that when she did show up and come backstage. And we had a 10- minute conversation, 15-minute conversation about what it's like to live with pain, about the sort of psychological perspective she developed on it, how she copes with it. I learned an enormous amount through that conversation. I would not have had that conversation with her before what happened to me because I wouldn't have heard the cues that there was something to be talked about there. I don't think I had the same degree of empathy. I feel --

BERMAN: That's the word. Yes.

BRUNI: You know, I mean, this is going to sound corny, but I find myself thinking less about the possible blindness in my future than I do about the blindness in my past. And by that I mean not having kind of seen and heard clearly how many people are struggling.

CAMEROTA: I appreciated that one of the groups that you developed empathy with during the course of this was women going through infertility because they, too, have to give themselves injections in the abdomen, as I can attest having gone through it for many years, and that is, you know, obviously a crucible as well of emotions. And that's just -- I mean because you had to give yourself the injections --


CAMEROTA: And I just want to read a portion of this for people. You said, I even, in a strange way, came to look forward to my injections. They set me apart, giving my life its own signature rhythm, its own particular grit. They also demonstrated how a scary oddity can become a humdrum, reflexively executed bore. In that way, they gave me solace. It turns out that I'm tougher, more durable, than I knew.

It's just funny how you've come to see these things as a gift ultimately.

BRUNI: You really do. I mean, I think -- I think for everything you lose, you gain something. And that's not just something on a needle point pillow, that's the actual truth.

And when you are served a challenge like this, when, you know, I had injections in my eye for a while, then I had six months of injecting myself in other places, I wouldn't have thought I was capable of that. Now I know that I am. And that is a real gift because going forward I understand that I have a strength and resilience that I did not know I had before.

BERMAN: You know, in your columns you have a sharp tongue occasionally. Do you think --


BERMAN: Do you think you'll pull some of your punches now? Do you think you'll perhaps treat people more gently?

BRUNI: No. That's my - it's my job to have a sharp tongue, hopefully a sharp pen, in certain situations, towards certain people. But I think if you look at what I write, I also write about the need for us all to hear each other, to get along. I write a lot about civility. I've always written about that, but I think I feel a new urgency about that because I really do feel we are only as good as the way we treat each other.

CAMEROTA: Frank, we are thankful for you as we approach this Thanksgiving holiday. It's great. Thank you for sharing this story with everyone.

BERMAN: All right, a double threat wreaking havoc on this busy holiday travel week.

NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I haven't seen this much snow in years. It's shocking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Crews are out inspecting the road, making sure that it's not an issue for the public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dress warm and just plan for delays.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The efforts the White House took to try to keep Congress from finding out about this is going to be a key part of this inquiry as it goes forward. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had no idea about this whistleblower report. The

president evidently did. And that probably was a key reason that he released the aid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's now time for Jerry Nadler to make chicken salad out of the Schiff show. We'll see how that works.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's doing damage control when he's saying no quid pro quo. He believes that the scheme has been unveiled.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.

And we begin with two powerful winter storms threatening Thanksgiving travel plans for millions of Americans.


Winter advisories now stretch across 2,000 miles here in the U.S.