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Memo Shows Trump Lawyer's Plan for Pence to Overturn Election; Book Tells Biden Pressured Sen. Joe Manching (D-WV) on $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Package. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired September 22, 2021 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: Natalie, your reaction to that?
NATALIE WESTER, KICKED OUT OF RESTAURANT FOR WEARING A MASK: Yes. Well, that's definitely the feeling we got that night, for sure. I think that he's made a very scientific situation political, unfortunately. And I do wish that he were to be more hospitable and understanding towards his customers that might need extra protection. Some people have disabilities and whatnot. It is just very surprising and shocking that he --
JOSE LOPEZ, KICKED OUT OF RESTAURANT FOR WEARING A MASK: Seems to not care or have remorse. And it's frustrating trying to get through this pandemic and people just jumping backwards, you know?
WESTER: Yes. Yes, it's a very frustrating situation.
KEILAR: Well, look, I'm so sorry that your night out was ruined. Anyone with kids knows that is a very special night indeed and we wish you all the best with your little one there. You are a beautiful family. So, please stay safe and healthy for us.
WESTER: Thank you very much.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: I have to say really it is being interested who is being castigated and marginalized there. How does their mask hurt anyone else?
KEILAR: It certainly doesn't. And also I just -- I mean, it hurts my heart because they explained, they explained this is about the health of their child, and they were still essentially kicked out of that restaurant.
BERMAN: New Day continues right now.
KEILAR: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, September 22nd. I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman on this New Day. We have some stunning new details about former President Trump's attempted coup and the threat that he still poses to democracy. Ahead of January 6th, a Trump lawyer tried to convince then-Vice President Mike Pence that he could overturn the election results by throwing out electors from seven states. Trump also had blueprints that Republicans tried to use to prevent Congress from certifying President Biden's victory. And we also know that Trump's own campaign staff knew that his claims of election fraud were bogus but they did nothing to stop him.
BERMAN: The new book, Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, reveals the six-point plan drawn up by Trump Lawyer John Eastman to overturn the 2020 election loss. The plan was shared with Mike Lee of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Both men dismissed it.
I will say, though, that both men did due diligence. They both looked into this, which, to me, it is telling and something we're going to discuss here. The memo detailed the six-point plan. It was obtained by the authors of Peril and CNN.
And joining us now, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, their new book, Peril, is out now. Gentlemen, we want to talk about a lot of this, including this six-point plan. But I actually want to talk about the overall theme and the why of this first. And for that, I'm turning to the very end of the book. And I love every word of it.
BOB WOODWARD, CO-AUTHOR, PERIL: Don't give it away, John.
BERMAN: I'm going to give away the ending here.
KEILAR: Just a little bit of it.
BERMAN: Your last two words circled right here, peril remains. So, Bob, why is that so important?
WOODWARD: Well, because Trump is out there. Bob Costa and I think that he's going to run again. He clearly he has support. Some of the polling shows he would beat Biden.
Now, Trump out there, we have the democracy. Anyone can run for president but we know what he did for four years. And what he did is not worry enough about the people in the country, worried about his own political standing, his impulses. And I think the basic theme of our book is, his actions were not just a problem in the United States, it was a national security emergency that we did.
Now, we were quite surprised to discover this.
ROBERT COSTA, CO-AUTHOR, PERIL: We started off thinking it was a crisis. And we concluded based on our reporting it's an emergency. That's why the peril remains. This was a situation during the transition where the CIA director, Gina Haspel, after the secretary of defense, Esper, was fired worried of a right-wing coup happening behind the scenes privately. Then you had the erosion of all the people around President Trump not corralling him in the presidency. That's why we believe, based on our reporting, that the Peril does remain. The system barely held together. Will it hold together again if presented with similar circumstances?
KEILAR: I wonder what you found as you talked to people. Because you tell this compelling story of what is essentially a stress test of American democracy. So what you learned --
WOODWARD: Good way to put it.
KEILAR: What you learned -- and so, ideally, the lesson, the postmortem of that would be, okay, look, there're things that need to be fixed.
Do you have a sense where the vulnerability lies and if they have been fixed or if they have been exacerbated?
WOODWARD: Well, the concentration of power in the presidency, I've done books and reporting for The Washington Post on ten presidents going back to Nixon. And there is so much power a president has and in the case, as the book shows, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, two days after the insurrection at the Capitol, the January 6th event, which is really a pivot point in history, two days later, she calls General Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs and says, how can we prevent Trump from launching nuclear weapons? We need some reassurance.
And we have a transcript of the call, one of the most extraordinary moments in Washington politics and national security policy. And here's the speaker of the House, second in line, saying to the top military man, we need assurances. He's crazy. Trump is crazy. Chairman Milley then says, yes, I agree completely with you, but we have procedures. And then after he realizes the procedures are not sufficient.
COSTA: And to your point, it's an important one. You look out in the states now, all the state legislatures run by Republicans trying to get Trump supporters to be election officials. You have a culture inside of the Republican Party, where even though Senator Lee and Senator Graham, based on our reporting, were trying to fact-check what was going on with the Trump legal team's claims, that is not a pervasive effort inside the GOP. In fact, so many Republican officials and leaders are standing with President Trump despite what happened.
BERMAN: And, again, talking about this in the past tense, I think we should never even used past tense verbs here. Donald Trump wrote a letter last week to the secretary of state of Georgia, who we had on the show, trying to decertify the Georgia election results now, now.
WOODWARDS: Nine months after -- I'm sorry, almost a year after the election. And so he won't give up. Okay, that's fine. But what we found with that memo, which you really, in an important way, highlight, two of the most conservative senators, Republican senators in the Senate, Trump supporters, Mike Lee of Utah, Senator Lindsey Graham, get this information, these allegations that the election was stolen, here's why. And it's not just that they fact-check, they conducted investigations to is this true? If it was true, it would be significant. And these two Trump supporters come up with the conclusion, it's bogus. There is nothing there.
Here's Senator Lee on the phone calling the states. And what's interesting, a senator can get anyone on the phone. And he calls around to the head of the House, head of the Senate in these states and says what's this about, an alternative slate of electors? And they said, not true. It's not there.
And when Lee goes home to Utah, people -- Trump supporters are coming to him and saying, hey, the election was stolen. And he said, no, no. There's no evidence.
BERMAN: Look, that memo, again, is the blueprint to overthrow an election. I mean, that's what it is. It's a blueprint to overthrow the results of an election handed to the vice president of the United States more or less in the Oval Office. Trump tells Mike Pence, hey, listen to John Eastman, this lawyer. You lay it out in the book.
And to get to the Lindsey Graham and the Mike Lee point though, and it's, I guess, a little bit of a Rorschach test, you don't have to fact-check this. This letter is so on its face outrageous and bogus. It is such an outrageous claim, it is surprising they even bothered to do due diligence and not just say, you're crazy, Mr. President. You are crazy, John Eastman.
And once they did do their due diligence, Robert, why wasn't Lindsey Graham shouting from the mountain tops January 4th, 5th, and 6th, to America, this is bonkers, don't pay attention to what's going on here, don't pay attention to the coup that is being planned and written down in the oval office?
COSTA: Well, this book is called Peril. We've debated this behind the scenes when we reported it out. It couldn't even be called power. Because who has power inside the Republican Party? Who has the political capital?
And people like Senator Graham and Senator Lee, when you talk to those familiar of their political standing and others in that same position recognize that President Trump was making claims that were not true about the election, they don't feel compelled to speak out because they actually are not in positions of power.
And that's really an issue for the Republican Party moving forward. Even though Leader McCarthy and Leader McConnell are the formal leaders of the Republican Party, it's the conservative movement, the podcast, the people out in the states, President Trump in political winter, these are the people who seem to wield the power right now in the Republican Party.
KEILAR: Berman talks about people who are insurrection curious. When you look at obviously Lee and Graham, we're trying to see what the parameters of this plan actually were. And there was no wiggle room, right? There is no wiggle room. But so too was the vice president. He was speaking with former Vice President Dan Quayle trying to see is there some kind of work-around, can I do something here?
WOODWARD: So, Vice President Pence at the time -- I mean, look at it, and we were able to report this from his point of view. Trump is still president at this point. And he, Pence, is very politically ambitious. He knows the power of Trump in the party. Trump has controlled Pence for four years. And so he wants to find a way to accommodate Trump.
But Quayle, all kinds of lawyers and political advisers to Pence say you can't. The Constitution is very clear. You have no power other than the power to count the votes. You don't make judgments here. And you see Pence on one side, on the other, and eventually, to his credit --
COSTA: He does eventually certify the election on January 6th. But this scene we recount, January 5th, the eve of the insurrection, you wonder where could this country have gone if Pence had gone in a different direction? President Trump one-on-one with Vice President Pence in the Oval Office says, wouldn't it be cool if these people outside cheering in the streets on the eve of the insurrection, wouldn't it be cool if they said you had the power to decertify the election? Wouldn't it be great, Mike? Can't you do it for me, Mike?
And it's what you were saying, this collection, this whole system came this close to maybe being thrown to the House of Representatives, where Republicans could have maybe pushed it towards Trump because they had the control of the number of delegations in the House. This was a human story, as much as it was, just a political crisis. And people making decisions in the moment, sometimes based on a variety of motivations.
BERMAN: It is still a human story, right? It's still a human story. Mike Pence, ultimately, after being insurrection curious, as it were, saying he wanted to give Trump something there, found out he couldn't. Again, I find that interesting in itself. But Mike Pence didn't do it. And as a result, the election held there.
What's going on now in Lindsey Graham, man, is he an interesting character in this --
WOODWARD: You could write a whole book about Graham. I mean, he is really a Shakespearean character because he is ambivalent about Trump. At one point, as the book reports, in a call to Trump, he says, Mr. President, you f-ed up your presidency. Trump is so mad he hangs up. And then a day or two later calls Graham back. And Graham said I would have hung up too because I am saying you f-ed it up. And then Graham is on the other side realizing how powerful, how persuasive to his supporters that Donald Trump is.
BERMAN: I mean, Lindsey Graham, you quote him in the book saying -- Lindsey says to Trump, we can't do it without you, Mr. President. You have to help us. But you're going to have to focus on the future, not the past, to maximize our chance of success. Thanks, Senator Graham, for standing up to Donald Trump like that, and then going back to golf with him every other day.
Lindsey Graham says this or says that he is saying this to Donald Trump yet continues to enable and empower him.
KEILAR: Count me out but count him in, right? That's -- he said, count me out. But now --
COSTA: You've covered Capitol Hill. You know these characters as well as anyone. Someone like Senator Graham, he likes playing golf with President Trump. But even deeper than that, he likes President Trump. And that's what we were trying to show in our reporting. We spent nine months just digging into this. So many Republicans really like Trump. They want to not only enable Trump, we use that word a lot, they want to see him come back. They want to see him there. He is sustenance for them politically and even sometimes personally.
KEILAR: He's kind of -- sorry, go on.
WOODWARD: No, no, no, just go -- and the core at this, who is Trump? I spent last year when working on the book, Rage, interviewing Trump 18 times for almost ten hours. And there is this side to him, cruel, abusive, but also he knows how to be charming.
Bob Costa --
COSTA: He's a professional host. He's a hotel owner.
WOODWARD: Yes, he is. And so with lots of Republicans, there is this charm offensive and there is -- and if you -- I mean, Bob Costa, to his credit, listens to --
COSTA: Well, you have to watch these rallies.
WOODWARD: Yes. I mean, tell him about that.
COSTA: So, sometimes -- well, he is still holding rallies. They don't get a lot of attention. If you listen to these rallies, he is sometimes taking the language of Winston Churchill, we will never surrender, we will never give up, we will never give in. He is out there right now to thousands of people often every few weeks having these rallies. He hasn't disappeared.
KEILAR: You say these Republicans like him. They also at times have really struggled to understand him. And we're searching for ways to do it. You talked about this in your book, how Paul Ryan, then the speaker, was incredibly puzzled. How do I handle this guy? And that one of the keys for him was actually when someone -- a donor, who is a doctor, suggested that he look at this through the prism of narcissistic personality disorder.
So, you talk about that. But I also wonder what you think about looking at him through the prism of narcissistic personality disorder. Is it helpful? WOODWARD: Well, I mean, Ryan thought it was. I mean, he made it very clear to Paul Ryan. Remember, he's speaker of the House. Trump is coming into the presidency, both Republicans. They have a good deal of power. And Ryan realizes there's something and actually is reading the psychiatric manuals to try to understand the personality of Trump.
And 100 years from now, historians are going to be writing about who was Donald Trump, what did he care about, what -- how did he win the presidency and how did he, you know -- in 2000, you know, that election last year, remember that? That was a year ago.
COSTA: 2020, sure.
WOODWARD: He could have won. 45,000 votes shift in three states, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Georgia, and he would be president right now.
BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE) Paul Ryan, one other episode which I hadn't heard before, is that on the day of the insurrection, at the end of it, just cried, was crying?
COSTA: We reported in our book that he was watching the insurrection happen and he did begin to cry. He canceled all his meetings that day. And that's such a scene that reveals a lot about people who read the book. I've already gotten texts. Some hate that scene. Some people really are moved by the scene. Because someone like Speaker Ryan is as much a divisive figure inside American politics at times as President Trump and others. Because people say why is he crying if he was in many ways working so closely with President Trump during his time in the speakership? He shouldn't be crying. Now, there's a thought it was a human moment. That's where we are. People see these moments in different ways. We're just here to report the story.
BERMAN: All right. Gentlemen, don't go anywhere because we have more we want to talk about. You know, who would be upset about everything we just talked about right now, according to your book? President Biden, who hates, I think, that fixation on Donald Trump.
COSTA: They don't even like to use the word Trump in the White House.
BERMAN: But your book also has a lot of new revelations about President Biden and what's going on inside the White House, and the pressure that Joe Manchin felt and what it means for the Biden agenda going forward.
BERMAN: And we're back now with the authors of Peril, Washington Post Journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
And we are shifting our focus here to revelations inside of their book about President Biden. And I think one of the really interesting things about the dynamics you described about the relief bill that happened over the spring, this is something that really matters right now for President Biden's infrastructure and other legacy items that he is hoping to pass. You talk about him really kind of turning the screws on Joe Manchin, right? If you don't come along, Biden says to Manchin, you're really f-ing me.
WOODWARD: Yes. This was real politics. Now, this was the rescue plan. That was $1.9 trillion. Now, of course, Biden is asking for $3.5 trillion, almost twice as much. And Manchin was the key. And we are able to describe this process -- I mean, this is what goes on in Washington. People scream and yell and leverage and somebody like Joe Manchin, he kind of goes both ways on this. And he is saying, oh, no, we are not going to spend all that money. And then Biden gets him on the phone and says, you know, look, you're f-ing me. You can't do that. You're a Democrat. And, eventually, Manchin comes along and supports this.
COSTA: And part of it though is that he's not just using the stick the whole time. Because our reporting showed he's really -- Joe Biden, President Biden is always the senator. As much as he's been vice president and president, he's the senator. And we have the scene in a book where he's wooing Manchin privately in the Oval Office. I'm going to work with you and Senator Manchin says the same thing. He had met with a bit of Republicans for a big showy meeting on February 1st. And we reported for the first time, he actually had a kind of private meeting with Manchin that same night. That was --
WOODWARD: And Manchin is in the basement of the White House essentially waiting.
The Republicans don't know. And then Manchin comes up and this --
COSTA: Republicans didn't love it when they heard about this.
WOODWARD: Yes, exactly.
COSTA: That's Biden working behind the scenes. Old Joe, they call him.
WOODWARD: Yes. And it's the Joe way from 36 years in the Senate.
Now, the problem, and we will see, and this is why this reporting informs what's going on this minute, how is Biden going to deal with Manchin? And Manchin is, again, out. I'm not going to go along and then somebody --
COSTA: They're going big, right? The most important relationship with President Biden in our book and the right now with infrastructure is Senator Sanders. And this is a president who came in and said, I'm going to work with the left with Senator Sanders, my primary foe.
BERMAN: I mean, all of our reporting, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden actually have a much better relationship than anyone ever imagined. And Sanders has given Biden a ton of leeway.
One more quote from Manchin, again, this informs exactly where we are right now. Manchin says, they act like they're going to shove it down my throat, Senator Manchin told Biden in a phone call on March 5th, they can kiss my ass. Manchin finally voted for it after hours of education. You are going to come out of this looking like you're the dealmaker, Biden told him.
The question I have though is, did Biden use up the political capital he may have had with Manchin then? I mean, he needs MANCHIN now too? And is Manchin approaching this like, I was there for you once, that was it?
WOODWARD: Great question. I would say a president always has political capital. Even amid -- Biden is going through a really rough period now. He is still president of the United States. And what presidents can do, we found it -- it's extraordinary. Not just the bully pulpit. Not just being commander in chief. And, again, this whole side of this being commander in chief was the real national security hero in this.
Biden is skillful, he's informed. He knows the importance of personal relations. When somebody puts the book together about what's going on now, it's -- you probably have to take a number to get in to see him. But he will see people. He calls. So --
COSTA: He's low key. I mean, the one thing people -- you really get a portrait of Biden in this book. We learned he's always working the phone. But unlike President Trump, who kind of showed us everything he was doing, President Biden really is the person who is just making call after call after call, and not necessarily talking about it publicly. So, he can seem almost quiet at times in the presidency but the feet are kicking behind the scenes politically.
KEILAR: It's sort of a good expectations management game we have seen him play. Sometimes we some of his legislative items, they appear to be on the ropes. And then next thing you know, it feels like life has kind of been breathed into them.
So, on the right, there's this narrative that they want to paint a picture of a bumbling Joe Biden. But then you paint this narrative of what he is doing behind the scenes where, yes, he has political capital but he also is using his personal capital in his relationships.
WOODWARD: Yes, and also internally with the White House staff. I mean, he is the question man. He gets it. What's happening, what are the deals, who's talking to people, what are the arguments on the other side? He is a tough task master as president. And people who work for him, I think, are a little -- some of them, wow, I thought Joe Biden was this good guy.
KEILAR: He's not always nice, right?
WOODWARD: Yes, he's not always nice. But he's got problems now. And if you look at Afghanistan, where we have new information back in March of this year, his top national security team, Lloyd Austin, secretary of defense, Tony Blinken, secretary of state, after going and meeting with the Europeans, came back and said, you know, pulling out of Afghanistan just summarily all at once may not work. And they formally recommended slow it down. Lloyd Austin saying, gait the process so you let some troops out, then some more and then some more. As you look back on it, that may have been a much sounder policy than the one of what he has done.
COSTA: And he stuck with his own position forged over decades. And real quick, you look at our recent presidents, President George W. Bush, President Obama, President Trump, all outsiders from Washington.
In our book, you see Biden coming through as someone who has the relationships with Speaker Pelosi, with Leader Schumer.