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CNN: Special Report: The Insiders, A Warning from Former Trump Officials. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired October 18, 2020 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're back tomorrow, 5:00 p.m. Eastern. "THE INSIDERS: A WARNING FROM FORMER TRUMP OFFICIALS" starts right now, right here on CNN.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to the CNN Special Report. THE INSIDERS: A WARNING FROM FORMER TRUMP OFFICIALS. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.
The world has never before witnessed so many former top U.S. government officials warning about the president for whom they once worked. It's just never happened before. Not in these numbers and not with the same stark conclusion that President Trump in their view is unfit for the office he holds. The office he's asking you to return him to for a second term.
It's a phenomenon that we cannot ignore. His former chief of staff, retired Marine general, John Kelly, has told friends about President Trump, quote, "The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me, the dishonesty. The transactional nature of every relationship, though it's more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life," unquote.
Trump's former Defense secretary, retired Marine general, James Mattis, said earlier this year, quote, "Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people, does not even pretend to try, instead he tries to divide us," unquote.
This hour, you will hear from Trump administration insiders, some of whom have banded together to form the group Republican Voters Against Trump. These are people who know how President Trump makes decisions, to whom he listens, how he governs, from those inside the most exclusive meetings to those responsible for keeping our nation safe.
Tonight, we begin with the pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans. And two officials who were part of the early response from the Trump administration. Olivia Troye, a former member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and Rick Bright who was directly involved in trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
Let's talk about the Trump administration and the pandemic.
Rick, let me start with you. President Trump frankly seems only more defiant after contracting and surviving coronavirus. He is holding rallies with no masks required, no distancing obviously. He is claiming he is immune, which is not borne out by science. Do you worry that his handling of the pandemic, which you've already criticized as reckless and careless, is only going to become more reckless and careless now that he's been infected?
RICK BRIGHT, OUSTED VACCINE DIRECTOR WHO FILED WHISTLEBLOWER COMPLAINT: I think it's beyond worry, Jake. I know that his actions, his words and the things that he's doing now are extending the duration and magnitude of this pandemic. The people attending these rallies that are not following public health guidelines, not wearing masks and social distancing, they are spreading that virus. And unfortunately, in some cases, it is the older people, the senior citizens in the community, in Florida, for example, who are going to get infected from that virus from people from that rally. And they're the ones who are going to die. So his actions today are actually leading to more deaths from the pandemic.
TAPPER: And, Olivia, you worked at the White House, on the Coronavirus Task Force. The president is directly putting the health and even lives of supporters and Americans at risk by holding these rallies all over the country. No masks, no distancing.
Do you think he realizes that? Do you think he understand that he's putting their health at risk?
OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER TO VP PENCE: I don't know how he wouldn't realize that. I mean, he has been briefed on how contagious the virus is. Repeatedly. He's been told by the experts on the task force, you know, like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx and others who are every day have said this virus is very contagious and it spreads very easily and it spreads especially in mass gatherings. So he is fully aware of this and he still continues to behave this way.
TAPPER: Fauci told me that this is asking for trouble for the president to hold these rallies. President Trump yet again trying to attack, trying to undermine Dr. Fauci. You were in the White House, on the Coronavirus Task Force, and you saw the president sideline and attempt to discredit the nation's top infectious disease doctor. What did you see happen?
TROYE: I did. You know, I saw Dr. Fauci brief repeatedly. He attended every task force meeting that I was in, the entire tenure of the pandemic while I was still there. And I saw him at times -- I saw people in the room during the meetings, people -- senior White House officials look away and roll their eyes while he was briefing sometimes or they would try to push back and say, well, can't you, you know, spin the data this way?
It seems that we're looking at -- we're not looking at increasing cases. Isn't it true that cases are decreasing? Or isn't it true that children are completely immune? These are people who do not have any medical or scientific backgrounds. And I saw this happen again when he would speak out publicly. And I saw, you know, them trying to manipulate the press briefings at the White House.
I was complicit in that, Jake. I was the person that would have to call him at times when he was already on his way and say, Dr. Fauci, you're not needed today, I'm sorry.
TAPPER: Because they didn't want him at White House delivering facts, delivering truth?
TROYE: Correct. And they did this to other doctors as well. They did it to Dr. Redfield repeatedly. At times they did it to Dr. Birx where they say, you know, we don't want you briefing today, because she had posted a slide or something that just didn't fit with the narrative that this pandemic was going away and it was not as severe as it truly was.
TAPPER: But the facts speak for themselves. The pandemic is not going away. People are still dying. Infectious are going up.
This probably doesn't surprise you as somebody who was on the medical and scientific side of things. But what's your response when you hear about how Fauci was undermined and not taken seriously by people who don't know anything about health?
BRIGHT: Jake, there's no one in our country that has more experience, has more knowledge, has more expertise about responding to an infectious disease or pandemic than Dr. Fauci. And his expertise in guiding us through that pandemic is sorely needed. The rhetoric that we're hearing from the White House, the narrative that we continually hear that overrules and undermines the scientific guidance from the best scientists in the world, actually, is actually frightening.
Dr. Fauci, the experts at the CDC, the experts at the NIH and the FDA have the experience to pull our country through this pandemic. This White House, President Trump has ignored that truth from day one. He still refuses to admit that we have a problem. And the first action to get through any challenge, any crisis, is to admit you have a problem. His rhetoric today still tells us he is in complete denial.
And he forces everyone around him, his inner circle, to believe and buy in and repeat that narrative. That narrative is what's causing more deaths today. He needs to admit the truth and he needs to be honest with Americans. He's not done that yet today.
TAPPER: And we should point out, you're a scientist. You're somebody that's been in public health for decades. You don't want to be here. You don't want to be talking about this. You would rather be in the administration trying to solve the problem of this pandemic.
BRIGHT: It is what I have studied to do, it's what I planned to do, what I prepared to do, it's what I exercised to do for many years, for decades actually. I have worked with the WHO. I've worked with the Gates Foundation, different organizations. I work in government. I have worked in industry.
We all know what needs to be done. It is so frustrating to encounter a White House that is resistant to those actions. You know, we have practiced and planned and exercised all of the things that we need to do to address a pandemic. However, the one thing that we never anticipated in decades of planning was resistance from the president of the United States, resistance from the White House, refusal to admit there's a problem.
We never anticipated that in any pandemic planning. That is why we're in the trouble we're in today because this president still refuses to acknowledge there's a problem.
TAPPER: Yes. You never war gamed for the person playing the president to say, I don't believe it. Why? Why does he do this, Oliva? You've seen him in the White House. You've helped -- you've been there when he asked Vice President Pence to take the lead of the Coronavirus Task Force. I mean, there are projections now that we're going to lose up to 400,000 Americans by February. Does he even comprehend this? Why doesn't he care?
TROYE: First, we've been talking about the fact that this virus would likely not go away. We knew, you know, he was briefed back in the spring that this virus, it would probably get worse in the fall and in the winter. And that we needed to be using all of these months to prepare for that situation. And as much as he would hear these briefings, and I know he understood it, I mean, I've heard the Woodward tapes, which were quite frankly appalling to me because it was proof that he had listened and he was repeating what he was briefed about.
But he is so focused on this political narrative of strength and the pandemic not being real because he thinks that it hurts him. And rightly so. This pandemic response has been a failure led by him. And I think he just does not allow himself to live in the reality that the rest of us are living in.
TAPPER: So in other words, he thinks that he can BS his way back into re-election even though we all see the sickness and the death around us?
TROYE: Well, see, that's the problem when he is the loudest voice in the room because he has the platform of the Oval Office. He is the president. He has the biggest microphone or platform, so to speak where what he says people are listening to. And his words matter.
TAPPER: Olivia, Rick, thank you so much for your honesty. Really appreciate it.
Up next, a former top official who says President Trump himself was the biggest obstacle to keeping the country safe. Plus, inside the Oval Office. An insider compares President Trump's attention span to that of a fruit fly. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE INSIDERS. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, D.C. This hour, we're bringing you the perspectives of former Trump
administration officials who worry that another four years of him and his presidency would be devastating for the United States.
Joining us now, Elizabeth Neumann, she's the former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Robert Cardillo, he's the former director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. And also Kyle Murphy, who is a senior analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Thanks one and all for being here.
Elizabeth, let me start with you. You call President Trump your biggest obstacle to keeping America safe when you were at the Department of Homeland Security. How so?
ELIZABETH NEUMANN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: There's so many ways, Jake. The fact is that he was not interested in doing the business of governing. So we were able to make progress if he wasn't paying attention to our issues. But let's just take the issue of the rise of domestic terrorism in our country. That's a very complex issue. It's one that requires defining the threat, articulating that threat for the American people, and then setting forth a strategy of how we're going to go after this emerging threat.
And the president was not interested in exercising that kind of leadership. So thankfully, there were professionals at the FBI, at DHS, at the National Counterterrorism Center who committed to doing what we could at our various levels. But there were important conversations that have not been had, that won't happen as long as he is president. And we're delaying getting the tools and the laws updated that would then help law enforcement be able to go after this threat more effectively.
TAPPER: Kyle, you have briefed President Trump. What were those meetings like? What impression did you get from him?
KYLE MURPHY, FORMER SENIOR ANALYST, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Right, Jake. So I was an apolitical civil servant who was detailed to the White House National Security Council staff. And in my role in the transition of the first couple of months of the Trump administration, I briefed the president ahead of several phone calls he was making to head of state counterparts overseas. And what I found was a president who was uninterested in the court challenges to U.S. national security, who was preoccupied with profit making and who was willing to betray the ideals of U.S. democracy and the rule of law in order to cozy up to dictators and sell weapons.
This was fundamentally an unserious leader who didn't understand the challenges and the opportunities that were before him. And like Elizabeth said, what I saw most often was, you needed to work around the president if you were to get things done on behalf of the American people. And that's not the way in which the U.S. government should work. TAPPER: Robert, you said that the president has, quote, "little
patience for facts or data that do not come comport with his personal world view," unquote. What affect does that have?
ROBERT CARDILLO, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL GEOSPATIAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Well, Jake, you know, when you're an intelligence community official and you're trying to impart the complexity of an issue, of a threat, it is filled with details that one needs to delve into and to wrestle with. He had no tolerance for that kind of discussion. And as a matter of fact, whenever he would bump into something that was inconvenient or went against that core vision that he had, he would deflect or deny it.
And so from a national security perspective, you can't then make good, sound decisions on behalf of the American people.
TAPPER: Can you give us an example?
CARDILLO: Well, the -- I can talk about the general topic that we had and it was around the North Korea threat. It was early in his administration. He was in learning mode, which is expected for any new president. But again, the conversation just bounced so much because, one, his attention span didn't allow to go deep or if it was heading in a direction that he either found not relevant or again too difficult, he would just move it along. And so the frustrating thing was, we couldn't get him to the hard point, which is where we need our president to be to make those tough decisions.
TAPPER: Elizabeth, when you talk about the inability to get President Trump to support the issue of domestic terrorism, I know that one of those issues has to do with the fact that President Trump has been reluctant to forcefully, clear-throatily condemn the white supremacists' domestic terror threat. Has there been an impact from that?
NEUMANN: The issue is not that once or twice in the course of a 20- year period that he has uttered the words I condemn white supremacy. The issue is all the other times where he has refused to use those words clearly and consistently. Multiple groups that have been emboldened by this, not just the Proud Boys, other white supremacist groups have been emboldened. They are chattering and talking about taking up arms in preparation for the election, on the other side of the election.
We're in a very, very dangerous space right now. And what concerns me is not so much whether the man is racist or not. I mean, that's horrible if he is. But the issue is that he is also took an oath to protect our country from all enemies foreign and domestic. And right now, his rhetoric is actually making -- it's aiding and abetting our enemies. He is absolutely in violation of his oath. And I think it walks up to the line if not crosses the line of treason in terms of making our country less safe.
TAPPER: Kyle, you've authored hundreds of intelligence assessments about the threat abroad, of autocratic leaders. But you think that President Trump is acting like one himself. [21:20:07]
MURPHY: That's right, Jake. And much like the example that Elizabeth just provided with white supremacists, I think we see this president getting closer to in both personal friendships but also in terms of style with famous autocrats around the world. Vladimir Putin in Russia, Kim Jong-un in North Korea, and others. And I think what I saw across my career in the U.S. government, in the intelligence community, looking at places where leaders would adopt the veneer of democracy and then utilize the tools of democracy to their own objectives and to increasingly seize power and control it in a smaller and smaller circle and for their own benefit. And I watched some of the same things happening in the United States.
TAPPER: And, Robert, you've called President Trump taking Putin's word when it comes to Russian interference an unprecedented betrayal of his oath to the Constitution. Explain what you mean by that and why you believe four more years of President Trump would be devastating.
CARDILLO: Well, Jake, he was presented in Finland with an opportunity to associate himself with, you know, his country's intelligence community, combined assessment of these apolitical professionals that serve above themselves for the nation. And he took what I guess he thinks is the easy way out and sided with his colleague, Vladimir Putin.
And to me at that moment, it was a devastating moment. And I don't mean for the intelligence community. We can take it. I meant for the American people. Because, you know, Kyle just mentioned some of the risks that we see overseas. I'll add to that. One of the most fundamental foundations of our democracy, which is 244 years old, and people think of it as enduring and everlasting. It's not. It's an idea.
And if the people, if the governed don't have confidence in their government and how it works to serve them, then we're moving into dangerous places. And I got to say, if there's four more years of his self-centered, it's all about me and everything else is either part of a deep state or some sort of, you know, hoax, I worry about that confidence that's necessary for our democracy to continue.
TAPPER: Robert, Kyle, Elizabeth, thank you all. Appreciate it.
Coming up, a former official shares what he was told to never bring up in front of President Trump.
This is THE INSIDERS. We'll be right back.
TAPPER: Welcome back. This is THE INSIDERS: A WARNING FROM FORMER TRUMP OFFICIALS.
It takes some courage for former Trump administration officials to speak out in such a public way, no doubt risking fury straight from President Trump's fingertips to his Twitter following of almost 90 million people. The president who previously promised to hire only the best people now calls his former employees unstable and incapable.
We asked the White House to respond to the sheer number of former employees now saying that President Trump is unfit and should not win re-election. The White House responded, quote, "These individuals are nothing more than fixtures of the swamp who never understood the importance of the president's agenda or why the American people elected him. And clearly, just want to cash in and be forgiven by their liberal D.C. friends. President Trump has an unprecedented number of accomplishments in spite of government bureaucrats who are only out for themselves, not the forgotten men and women of this country."
This hour, you hear them in their own words and you can decide for yourself.
Ahead, a former top military official and an adviser who was inside the Oval Office with President Trump nearly every day. But first, we go to two former officials from the Department of Homeland Security.
We are approaching a historic election with millions of ballots already cast in the U.S. But already President Trump is saying that if he loses, that will only be because the election is rigged. That's not true, of course. But that's what he's saying.
Joining me now are two former top Homeland Security officials, Miles Taylor, former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, and John Mitnick who was general counsel at DHS.
And, Miles, we're on the cusp of a historic election. We know that Russia is currently now trying to interfere in our election again as they did in 2016. President Trump has been reluctant to say the least to confront Putin. In fact, Rudy Giuliani is out there peddling wares that he gathered from a Ukrainian politician that the U.S. Treasury Department says is a Russian agent.
Is the U.S. ready for this election? Is it going to be fair?
MILES TAYLOR, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, I'll say two things, Jake. To encourage Americans out there, I do believe that the integrity of the vote and the voting process itself is perhaps more secure than it's ever been because of the great work done by America's civil servants at the federal, state and local level since 2016. We are vastly more secure than we were in 2016. When it comes to that actual infrastructure of voting, the machines, the tallying processes, the cybersecurity element around it, that's the good news.
The bad news, Jake, is that the president has not only disregarded this threat, he has flagrantly disregarded this threat to the point that we were told by the White House not to raise issues about Russia with the president. And we were told by the president that we should fire our top intelligence official at the Department of Homeland Security because one time he went to Congress and he told the truth about the Russia threat and said yes, they had intervened in 2016, and yes, they had shown a preference for Donald Trump.
That wasn't our intelligence official sharing his opinion. It was him sharing the collective assessment of the entire U.S. intelligence community but the president wanted him fired. That sent a chilling message to the Department of Homeland Security workforce. But we weren't going to be pressured. We weren't going to shut up about it. We continued to talk about the threat.
But the president also continued to threaten to fire people for discussing it. That was a concern. We considered the threat from Russia and their interference in our democratic affairs to be one of the top three Homeland Security challenges facing the nation. I think you would be hard pressed to say that the president considered it anywhere in the top 25.
TAPPER: And, John, I know because you were general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security, you're loath to get into the specifics of things that you saw and issues that you had with President Trump and the White House.
But from a 30,000-foot view, you were one of the top officials of the Department of Homeland Security. Is our homeland less secure with President Trump in the White House?
JOHN MITNICK, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I believe that it is less secure, Jake, for a number of reasons. First of all, the politization of the Department of Homeland Security which has only gotten worse over time. Also the chaos that exists within the department and the low morale that results are certainly a problem.
And the fact that during Donald Trump's presidency, the senior leadership of the department was pushed to spend nearly all of their time on immigration border security issues, which are very, very important issues, but there were many other things, many other very vital functions the Department of Homeland Security carries out to secure the nation. And unfortunately, those sometimes get short shrift precisely because the senior officials are constantly being pushed to spend most or all of their time, 24/7 on immigration and border security. Again, they're important, but they have to be looked at in context.
TAPPER: Miles, does that square with your experience?
TAYLOR: That's absolutely right. I mean, look, at the end of the day, the Department of Homeland Security does so much more than border and immigration. But the president was solely focused on those issues. In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of a circumstance where we actually went to brief the president on anything other than border security and immigration or if we ever did, he rapidly changed the topic back to things like the border wall.
And that wall or nothing approach to governing meant the president ignored some of the most critical homeland security threats to our country, cybersecurity challenges, counterterrorism, manmade and natural disasters, and foreign interference in our democracy. In fact, I would go as far as to say that on those other critical issues, the president was truly leading from behind. And that's I think at the end of the day led our country into danger.
TAPPER: John, what kind of pressures did the White House put on you?
MITNICK: Well, there was always pressure on me and the Office of the General Counsel -- let me say, Jake, that it was the honor of a lifetime and a privilege to lead the 2500-plus dedicated attorneys who work in the Department of Homeland Security and the hundreds of support professionals in the Office of the General Counsel. But the pressure was always there to, let's say, reach a certain conclusion. And I was not in a policy position. I was there to provide sound, unvarnished, candid legal advice.
TAPPER: Miles Taylor, John Mitnick, thank you both.
The former commandant of the Coast Guard explains what led him to believe the president is unfit for office, next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to our CNN special. This is THE INSIDERS. Top officials from all corners of the Trump administration sounding the alarm about President Trump.
With so much attention on the president's coronavirus diagnosis and his handling of the pandemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, it may be easy to forget the very real other threats from abroad.
And joining me now are two people who know those threats well. Former commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Paul Zukunft, and Chuck Park, a career foreign service officer.
Thank you so much to both of you for joining us.
And, Admiral, let me start with you. It's very rare for a former top ranking military official to speak out against a commander-in-chief, especially one for whom he served. But clearly you find it to be necessary. What specifically did you see, did you experience that brought you to the conclusion that President Trump is unfit for office?
ADM. PAUL ZUKUNFT (RET.), FORMER COAST GUARD COMMANDANT: Well, there's a number of facets to that, Jake. And the first one was really the holding of ransom if you will of the entire Coast Guard over a conflict over an appropriation for the wall. I volunteered here in Hawaii at a food bank. And so for several pay periods, every member of the Coast Guard was not paid. Our junior enlisted personnel were hurt the most.
And it's ironic that our junior enlisted, when they take an oath to not just support and defend the Constitution of the United States but to obey the orders of the president of the United States specifically, yet they were held ransom and not paid. And when I saw them show up at the food bank, they were utterly embarrassed that they had to rely upon a food bank in order to feed their family. That was the first indication of breaking faith with our service members.
TAPPER: Chuck, in the Trump presidency, chaos is a feature. Not a bug. He thrives in chaos. What does that mean for U.S. allies? What does it mean for U.S. enemies?
CHUCK PARK, FORMER FOREIGN SERVICE OFFICER: That's an amazing question. So I have to say that, you know, I resigned after only about 10 years in the foreign service as a U.S. diplomat. And it became impossible, impossible to keep up to represent, to defend this president and his policies overseas. That's not just because of the incompetence and how, you know, these clear marching orders that we received via cable one morning could be completely thrown out the window, upended, you know, an hour later by some errant tweet from the president. But also because of a real moral crisis within the State Department.
You know, as every other American heard in 2018, there were tapes of children crying in detention centers. There was an image of a man and his daughter face down in the muddy banks of the Rio Grande. So for me, the decision was, I could no longer faithfully follow orders amid the chaos and amid the true absence of any kind of moral consideration of our foreign policy. So the right thing for me to do was resign.
But when you talk about the chaos, that's absolutely right. The State Department is being assaulted from the outside. The president keeps calling it the deep state. The deep state doesn't exist. Spoiler alert, there is no deep state. I was inside. There's no conspiracy trying to undermine it. There are a lot of faithful, career diplomats trying to keep up.
TAPPER: And what is the result of all this chaos on our allies and on our enemies?
PARK: There are a lot of really difficult conversations happening in rooms where we can no longer sit. There are quiet meetings of all of our friends in Europe, in NATO, in the G7 talking about us basically behind our backs.
I had one experience in Canada where I was -- it was a think tank meeting of experts and a lot of senior Canadian diplomats were there, and maybe because of my appearance they didn't know that I was an American diplomat sitting kind of in the back seat listening and taking notes. And as a service to them, I won't quote them directly but they were incredibly concerned, incredibly concerned with just the madness coming out of the White House.
TAPPER: Admiral, we've lived through now in the Trump years a number of crises, whether it has to do with racial mistrust in this country, police brutality, whether it deals with the coronavirus. And as a leader, I'm wondering what you think of President Trump's leadership during these crises.
ZUKUNFT: Jake, I have dealt with probably one of the more complex crises, and that was the Deep Water Horizon oil spill back in 2010. It's easy to fix blame. But blame gets you no closer to a solution. Yet what we're seeing now is every crisis that hits the airwaves, it's an immediate finger pointing of who do we blame. But not just fixing blame, but it's then laced with hatred. And then that hatred devolves into a polarized nation.
I remember very well, you know, mostly conservative values, I could sit down with a liberal and we could have a conversation, and topics we could agree to disagree on. But now it's a win and lose proposition. We've become a very polarized nation and are no closer to fixing the solution to a pandemic that is killing hundreds of Americans each and every day.
TAPPER: Admiral, President Trump famously or infamously said he knows more than the generals. He's also suggested that generals, admirals like to go to war because they are able to make money when they go into the Defense contracting industry. What kind of impact do those kinds of comments have on the people who run the military?
ZUKUNFT: Well, Jake, that's -- it's a little jaw-dropping. You know, when I served over 41 years on active duty, my first mantra was always say look out for my shipmates, look out for the most junior people in our service, and do everything I can within my sphere of influence to keep them out of harm's way. So we don't just, you know, jump into a conflict with no diplomatic end in sight.
And it's a little bit ironic because coming from the smallest armed service and the most underfunded service, we are clearly -- I'm clearly not in a position to say, you know, we're trying to leverage the military industrial complex for personal gain. The only legacy any of us who have served is, did we leave the world a better place? Did we look out for our troops? And if you could answer those with great satisfaction, then you can sleep well at night. And I do.
TAPPER: Chuck, Admiral, thank you both. Appreciate your time.
Up next, I'll talk to the man who was in the room where it happened, who tells me President Trump has the attention span of a fruit fly.
THE INSIDERS continues right after this.
TAPPER: Welcome back to this CNN Special Report, "THE INSIDERS." Former top Trump officials who say President Trump is unfit for office from his handling of the pandemic to foreign affairs and the very core of American democracy. My next guest was inside, quote, "the room where it happened," as his book is aptly titled, counseling President Trump on some of the biggest decisions of his presidency.
John Bolton, the former National Security adviser under President Trump, is here with me now.
Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us. First of all, I just want to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that the reason we're doing this special is because there's never been anything like this in terms of so many top administration officials saying, after they leave the administration, this president is unfit.
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: No. I think it's an indication of what the central problem is with the Trump administration. It is in the Oval Office. It's the president himself. Dozens, scores of loyal Americans have tried to work for him and simply been unable to do it.
TAPPER: There's 215,000 deaths and counting from coronavirus in this nation. Yet, President Trump's own coronavirus infection has apparently changed nothing about his handling of the virus, including he's now back on the campaign trail holding these reckless rallies, exposing his own people potentially to the virus. Does that surprise you?
BOLTON: No. It's totally in character. He beat coronavirus. He is a winner, as he always is. And these other people, well, it's too bad. But as he said, that's the way it is.
Look, I think the coronavirus crisis is probably the best example for public consumption of why Trump is not fit to be president. For now, close to 10 months, he has never had a strategy. He has never had a clue how he expected to get through this. He proceeded on an ad hoc fashion. He's had the attention span of a fruit fly with respect to this.
The one thing that's kept his attention, where his attention span is infinite, is getting re-elected. And that hasn't changed the entire time.
TAPPER: You've been in the room with President Trump when big decisions are being made. Does anyone tell him what he does not want to hear? Is he capable of -- if somebody were in the room right now with him and said, you have to stop these rallies, you are risking your own supporters' health, you have to stop berating Dr. Anthony Fauci, who's trying to save lives, you have to come up with a plan, does he just ignore it?
BOLTON: Well, I think he ignores what he doesn't want to hear. I think again coronavirus is a good example. In January, February, NSC staff and others were saying, you've got a crisis. But he didn't want to hear bad news about Xi Jinping, didn't want to hear bad news about the Chinese economy. He particularly didn't want to hear bad news potentially for the U.S. economy, which was his ticket to re-election.
You know, you're dealing with the president and you can't treat him like you're lecturing a bunch of high school students. So you do have to be respectful. And I've never seen anybody really be disrespectful to him. But if he doesn't agree with what you're saying, he simply does not take it in.
TAPPER: What do you think a second term of a Trump presidency would look like?
BOLTON: I think he will be utterly unrestricted. I think --
TAPPER: He's been restricted?
BOLTON: Well, as I explain in my book, one of the things in the national security space that was critical to getting what I consider to be the right policy judgments was making arguments about the domestic political consequences of making the wrong judgment. Forget the merits of the particular policy. He reacted to the political environment. And once reelected, that political guardrail is substantially reduced if not eliminated.
I think the failed impeachment is another big mistake. He wasn't really restricted by what happened in impeachment. He's not deterred from engaging in that conduct again. The fact he was acquitted empowers him. I think that's a big risk in a second term.
TAPPER: We have no idea what's going to happen, although polls certainly favor Joe Biden right now but polls are not facts. They're analysis and predictions. If he loses, there is a lot of concern that he's not going to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. He's already trying to claim that the election is being stolen with no evidence of that.
Is there -- are there any guardrails in the administration? Do you have concerns about General Milley or Secretary Esper or Chief of Staff Meadows? I mean, is there anyone there to say, sir, you lost, you have to leave?
BOLTON: Well, I think the Defense Department is in good hands with Esper and Milley. I have no concerns there as long as they're still in office. But let's be clear. Trump will not leave graciously if he loses. He will not leave graciously. Whether he carries it to the extreme, I don't think we know. I think it's very troubling that he has said I can't lose unless there's fraud. Of course he can lose in an honest election.
And I think this is really on the leadership of the Republican Party. Elected officials, private citizens. That if it is clear what the outcome is, it's up to Republicans, not Democrats, to say this is on us. He's got to go.
TAPPER: Do you have faith in Republican officials that they will step forward and do that? There's not a lot of evidence. I mean, you see individuals like Mitch McConnell who are -- who disagree with the president on coronavirus or on election peaceful transfer power, but there's not a lot of profiles in courage up there.
BOLTON: I've been in touch with a lot of Republican elected officials and others over the past several months. I think they're ready for this moment. I think they can see the president trying to sow confusion and chaos, which is his natural best operating environment. I don't think they will stand up for him.
TAPPER: Do you think the Trump presidency has done irreparable harm to the United States?
BOLTON: I do not think after four years it's done irreparable harm, but one reason I'm not going to vote for him, and I'm not voting for Biden either, well, one reason I'm not going to vote for Trump is that eight years could cause irreparable injury both to the U.S. and its international relations but also to our constitutional system here in the U.S. And I think that's important for people to understand especially conservatives.
TAPPER: You vote in Maryland, which is a state -- it's a blue state, a reliably blue state. So the fact that you're not going to vote for Joe Biden even though you're decidedly not against Trump doesn't really have a long term effect potentially. Do you think you would be different if you lived in a battleground state where your vote might actually make more of a difference if you lived in Virginia or Colorado?
BOLTON: No, because I'm not going to vote against my philosophy. And I just point the example of George Meany, the president of AFL-CIO in 1972, told Richard Nixon for the first time, he wasn't going to vote for George McGovern, wasn't going to vote for Richard Nixon either. But that was what Meany considered to be the principled thing to do and that's the example I'm following.
TAPPER: Isn't -- but Trump is also against your core philosophies. It's not just the Democrats.
BOLTON: He's not a -- yes, look, let's be clear. Trump is not a conservative and he's not really a Republican. That's why conservatives and Republicans should fear his re-election. It's not going to get better in the second term.
TAPPER: Lastly, sir, your message to any voters out there who are considering voting for Donald Trump. What do you want to tell them? What should they know given the fact that you were, as your book says, in the room where it happened?
BOLTON: Well, I don't think Trump should get another term. Don't misunderstand. I do think voters in that situation should vote for a Republican senatorial candidate to help Republicans keep control of the Senate and be a check against the left-wing of the Democratic Party. That's certainly what I'm working to do.
TAPPER: Ambassador John Bolton, thank you so much for your time tonight. Appreciate it.
BOLTON: Thank you.
TAPPER: More of our CNN special, THE INSIDERS, after this quick break. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE INSIDERS.
The president's former chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly is quoted in John Bolton's book, worrying a couple of years ago about President Trump's erratic behavior, saying, quote, "What if we have a real crisis like 9/11, with the way he makes decisions," unquote. And now with the coronavirus pandemic, that crisis is here.
You have heard a lot this hour from people who have worked with President Donald Trump who believe he should not win re-election. That he is uninterested in governing. That he is motivated only by his self-interests and that the United States of America is less secure with him in the Oval Office.
Now in every presidency, there are people who disagree with various policies of a president for whom they serve. But as a historical matter, we cannot ignore the sheer number of officials who worked for this president and are now sounding a very public alarm about his fitness for the job.
Now you can listen to them or you can ignore them. That is entirely up to you. But as journalists, we cannot pretend that they are not there shouting from the rooftops.
I'm Jake Tapper in Washington. Thank you for watching.