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Michael Bender is Interviewed about the Afghanistan Hearings; Trump's Ex-Press Secretary Makes Damning Claims; Candidates Square Off in Virginia Debate; Spears in Court over Conservatorship. Aired 6:30- 7a ET

Aired September 29, 2021 - 06:30   ET



MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": He's long thought that this has -- has lasted too long. And, I mean, I think I would expect him to lean into the power of his conviction on this decision and -- and probably leave it to others to explain. But there's a -- there's quite a bit of explanation left about what happened here.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: So Milley said that he warned both Biden and Trump that a quick withdrawal could lead to the collapse of Afghanistan. I don't think -- think, you know, we knew that. I think the question is that the collapse would be so quick. And I don't know what anyone really knew that.

What do you think?

BENDER: Oh, I think you saw the -- Milley and others acknowledge that. I mean I -- that was one of the things that struck me about this hearing yesterday was -- was the candor from -- from the military officials across that desk, whether they're -- I mean you played the clip that -- Milley referring to Afghanistan as a strategic failure is pretty striking. And I think it struck me as a level of candor that you don't normally hear at any of these hearings, let alone the very top leaders of the world's most powerful military.

KEILAR: Yes, I thought it was stunning as well. You had General McKenzie there talking about how he wasn't going to share his recommendations, and then turning around almost in the next breath and saying, I recommended, you know, and then talking about what he said.

It was interesting Milley also said, Michael, that the withdrawal had hut U.S. standing in the world. That was also a very candid admission when he's talking about a withdrawal of a standing president and the standing of the U.S. in the world right now.

BENDER: Yes, I think that's right. I mean, and I think that goes back to his -- this sort of definition here and phrase that he used a couple of times of strategic failure and goes to the question of what our role is in the Middle East and, you know, what openings we've left for our adversaries to step into that role. Milley takes this job very seriously. I think you saw that yesterday.

At the very least, he's concerned not just about his role, but the standing of the country and, you know, how the military is there to support that.

KEILAR: Your name came up.

Let's listen.


SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): Did you talk to Michael Bender for his book -- book is "Frankly we did win this election, the inside story of how Trump lost," yes or no?


BLACKBURN: And were you accurately represented in these books?

MILLEY: I haven't read any of the books.


KEILAR: I mean, there's been a lot of coverage of the books. I'm assuming that he may have -- have seen some of that, Michael. But I don't remember seeing a moment like this where you had a sitting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or a sitting official of that stature admitting that he was a source for multiple books.

BENDER: Admitting it or being asked about it. I was interested to know where they were -- where she was going with that line of questioning. You know, I am -- I'm flattered that Senator Blackburn is encouraging people to read my book. And, yes, and Milley acknowledged a couple of seconds later in that hearing that -- that he had seen plenty of headlines coming from it and was familiar with it.

I can say that, you know, President Trump attacked me over this book. And the reason he did that was because he knew that people who normally don't talk to reporters were talking to me for this book. And as for the accuracy goes, there's nothing in my book here that is -- that is -- that relies on any single source. Everything has multiple sources on these bits of information and certainly stand by all the reporting between the two covers.

KEILAR: Michael, thank you so much.

Michael Bender.

It is great to see you this morning.

BENDER: Thank you.

KEILAR: There's another new book, a tell-all book by former press secretary for former President Trump, and she's making some pretty damning claims. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, a Friday deadline for teachers to get

vaccinated in New York or find another job. Mayor Bill de Blasio joins us live ahead.



KEILAR: Donald Trump's ability to inspire books and tea spilling continues nine months after his presidency ended. In a new tell-all, one of his former press secretaries, who also was Melania Trump's closest aide, is making some damning claims. Stephanie Grisham, who we should note never once held a news briefing, so she may not be recognizable to you, as press secretary she did not, but she apparently wants to talk now. Here's a quick list of some of the revelations in her book.

The former first lady tried to embarrass Trump after the Stormy Daniels scandal broke. Whether it was walking into events with handsome military aides or it was telling Grisham to remove the word "wife" from statements. Grisham also says that Trump lost it over Melania Trump's infamous, "I really don't care do you" jacket after a trip to visit migrant children at the border during the family separation scandal.

BERMAN: She says that Vladimir Putin tried to throw Trump off during their summit in Osaka by bringing an attractive female interpreter to distract Trump. She says Putin also coughed a lot, trying to rile up Trump's germaphobia. Grisham claims that Trump told Putin he had to act tough in front of the cameras standing next to him, assuring the president, the Russian president, it was all for show.

As for the mysterious visit to Walter Reed in 2019, a colonoscopy, although Grisham doesn't use the exact word for it, for which the former president needed anesthesia. Grisham says he didn't want anyone knowing because he didn't want to give up power to Mike Pence while he was under.

KEILAR: Grisham also alleges that Trump harassed women on the staff. She claims that Trump requested a young female staffer be brought to his cabin on Air Force One so that he could look at her from behind. And she also claims that Trump once asked a staffer's boyfriend if she was good in bed.


BERMAN: And Grisham claims that Trump tried to assuring his that his equipment was normal after Stormy Daniels described it as a character in Super Mario Brothers. And she describes Trump's temper as terrifying, but that one staffer had a trick to calm him down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, ACTRESS, "CATS THE MUSICAL" (singing): Memory, all alone in the moonlight, I can smile at the old days (ph).


BERMAN: So a White House staffer nicknamed "the music man" played that song from "Cats" to soothe the president of the United States. And, to me, of all the alarming revelations in this book, to me that's the most disturbing. I feel as if the '80s will never recover from "Cats," and specifically that song. I have nothing against Andrew Lloyd Webber but "Cats" is an abomination. And that song, an afront to humanity. And if that was used, if the United States of America and safety around the world depended on that, man, we were screwed.

KEILAR: Yes, I mean, look, I find it hilarious having learned that your personal hell is "Cats" and maybe specifically that song.

But not so for the former president of the United States.

Let's bring in Kate Andersen Brower, CNN contributor and author of "Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump" to talk about this.

That is such an interesting anecdote from this book, I will say, but I -- I first want to talk to you about something incredibly serious, which is a pattern of harassment, of sexual harassment alleged that Stephanie Grisham lays out in this book.

KATE ANDERSEN BROWER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean I don't think anything is surprising in this book necessarily. And we should note that Stephanie is not a whistleblower, right? Anyone who dealt with her as a journalist knows that she was the fiercest, staunchest defender of this White House. So there is a sense that she's cashing in right now.

But, yes, she talks about the president harassing one particular young press aide and calling her up to the front of the plane to look at her from behind. I mean I don't think any of this is particularly surprising from Donald Trump, but it would be from absolutely any other president.

KEILAR: This also theater that we see when it comes to Vladimir Putin. I mean some interesting anecdotes there about the things that Putin tried with President Trump, but also that President Trump basically assured him, you know, we're chummy in person. I'm going to be a little tougher on you in front of the cameras.

BROWER: Right. And I think that is really alarming and disturbing and the fact that they brought in an attractive female interpreter to kind of distract Trump as though it shows that Putin was really the one in control of this relationship.

I was surprised that Stephanie was as brutal and blunt about Trump in this book as she was. I mean she is somebody who was talking about evicting the press from the Brady Press Briefing Room, right? I mean she was going along with the plan. And I don't know if it was January 6th, but something clearly happen that made her turn to the Trumps.

BERMAN: And, of course, Stephanie Grisham worked for Melania Trump more than she worked for President Trump. She was, you know, chief of staff for Melania Trump, spokesperson for Melania Trump and she talked a little bit about the post Stormy Daniels episode. This is what Grisham writes. After the Stormy Daniels story broke and all the allegations that followed from other women, I felt that Mrs. Trump was basically unleashed. She had always been independent from her husband, but now, as a wronged and publicly humiliated first lady, she seemed liberated to do whatever she wanted or didn't want to do.

What do you think of that?

BROWER: I actually think it makes her seem like more of a human being, right? That she was absolutely -- as first lady, she was the least transparent first lady we have ever had. So little is known about her. And the fact that she was upset with her husband for cheating on her but also publicly embarrassing her makes her seem like a living, breathing person. And so, in a way, it's actually a sympathetic portrayal of Melania Trump

BERMAN: Do you think it's deserved?

BROWER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, no, I think that she should have been humiliated, obviously. But I think there is a level of sympathy you can have for -- for what she went through. But I also think that she squandered so much opportunity in that job. She really just could have done so much more as first lady. And the whole Be Best campaign was just so amorphous. No one really knew what it was about. I'm not sure if Stephanie knew what it was about.

BERMAN: Let me quickly read a statement from the former president to CNN on this book. He said, too bad that sleazebag publishers continue to report this very boring garbage. We in the MAGA movement are totally used to it. And some day, in the not too distant future, we will have our voice back and be treated fairly by the press.

You brought up Stephanie Grisham and her issues with honesty inside the White House. You had some back and forth with her, yes?

BROWER: Yes. I wrote an op-ed for CNN about Melania Trump, and she came out and attacked me for it, which you really wouldn't see in another administration.


I think that she was their fiercest defender. So it's hard to take what she's writing now to -- to seriously. She had many opportunities in the White House to be up front with the press. She had opportunities to quit before January 6th. And so it's a little disingenuous now to see her slamming the president, I think.

BERMAN: Kate Andersen Brower, thanks so much for being with us.

BROWER: Thank you.

BERMAN: So fireworks in the final debate in the Virginia governor's race. Each candidate accusing the other of lying to voters. A live report is next.

KEILAR: Plus, new CNN reporting just in on Liz Cheney's political future.



KEILAR: It was really no holds barred during the final debate in Virginia's competitive governor's race. The two candidates, they called each other liars. They sparred on everything from election conspiracies to vaccine mandates.


GLENN YOUNGKIN (R), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I, in fact, have asked everyone in Virginia to please get the vaccine. But I don't think we should mandate it.

TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: His quote, if you don't want to get it, don't get it. You can't be governor saying things like that. That is disqualifying.


KEILAR: CNN's Eva McKend had a ringside seat for last night's debate and she is with us now.

There was a lot of high drama.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Oh, there sure was, Brianna. You know, the significance of the coronavirus response and that vaccines should just be encouraged or mandated has really become a focal point of this race. Democrat Terry McAuliffe, former governor of Virginia, seeking a second, non-consecutive term, really hitting his Republican opponent, former corporate CEO Glenn Youngkin, hard on this. McAuliffe leaning into widespread vaccine mandates. But Youngkin says it should be a personal choice.


CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR: A quick follow-up to you, Mr. Youngkin. You believe getting vaccinated for measles, mumps or rubella is a personal choice for Virginians?

GLENN YOUNGKIN (R), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE : I think -- I think that the -- the -- that the data associated with those vaccines is something that we should absolutely understand the difference between this vaccine. And we have a moment here, we have a moment here to help people understand the real information in this vaccine.

TODD: So you would keep those vaccines mandatory?

YOUNGKIN: So -- so that we could -- so that we --

TODD: Those vaccines mandatory but not COVID?

YOUNGKIN: Those vaccines -- those vaccines should -- can be mandatory.

TODD: All right.

YOUNGKIN: I do believe the COVID vaccine is one that everyone should get, but we shouldn't mandate it.


MCKEND: So you hear Youngkin kind of stumbling there, suggesting the COVID vaccines need more review before being mandated. But we know, of course, that scientists have repeatedly confirmed the vaccine is safe and effective. Youngkin also worked hard to really distance himself from former President Donald Trump and the election integrity conversation he embraced early on in the campaign.

McAuliffe wanted to make the night in some ways about Youngkin's proximity to Trump, but Youngkin rejected that.

KEILAR: Yes, we'll have to see, right, if voters agree with Youngkin that he's rejecting that.

So there was another big night -- big moment last night, I should say, Eva, when the governor seemed to make some news on President Biden's domestic policy agenda.

Can you tell us about this?

MCKEND: Yes, McAuliffe says the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill Democrats and the administration are still trying to negotiate is too costly, but he did add that he wanted to see an infrastructure bill pass.




MCAULIFFE: Sure. But here's my message to Congress. I am really sick and tired of all of them. You know what, they ought to follow the Virginia model. When I was governor, in a bipartisan way, Chuck, I got education done, I got transportation done, I got veterans and economic done (ph). We got things done.


MCKEND: Now, for his part, Youngkin said the bipartisan infrastructure bill had some good elements but wouldn't go so far as to endorse the legislation.

One moment that didn't involve either of the candidates on stage is when third party candidate, Princess Blanding, a black woman whose brother was killed by police, threw the debate off the rails, outraged that she was not allowed to be on the stage and participate in the debate and focus on policy issues important to her, like police accountability.

So it was quite the event.

KEILAR: Yes, indeed. I mean a lot of drama for a governor's race. And, look, maybe Democrats are hearing it loud and clear what he said about that budget reconciliation bill on The Hill.

Eva, thank you so much.

BERMAN: So a government shutdown looms. The specter of a U.S. default lingers. The president's economic agenda possibly languishes. With some people asking key moderates, hey, tell us what you want because no one knows. We're going to ask a key member in the middle of the negotiations.

KEILAR: Plus, new accusations against Britney Spears' dad as she is facing a pivotal day in court over her future.



BERMAN: A pivotal court hearing today could change everything for Britney Spears as she works to break free from the conservatorship she has been under since 2008. A judge set to decide whether to keep her father, Jamie Spears, on as her conservator or whether to end the conservatorship all together.

CNN's Chloe Melas live in Los Angeles.

Chloe, you've been covering this since the beginning. Today's a big day.

CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: John, here we are. I feel like you and I have been talking about this for many months. Well, today is the day. Like, not maybe the day, it's the day. And we are just a few hours away.

Take a listen to what you guys can expect.


MELAS (voice over): A court hearing that could change her life. Today, a judge is expected to rule on whether Britney Spears' 13-year conservatorship can come to an end. This comes after Spears' father, Jamie Spears, filed a petition earlier this month to terminate the court-ordered conservatorship, saying in August that he intends to step aside.

Jamie has been the conservator of his daughter's estate since 2008. But there have been a whirlwind of petitions filed since. The latest coming from the pop star's new attorney, Mathew Rosengart, filed on Monday, asking the judge to, if nothing else, remove Spears' father from any control of her affairs immediately. The singer's attorney also calling for an investigation into allegations that her father and a company he hired secretly placed a recording device in her home and monitored her cell phone as claimed by "The New York Times."