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Pence Blames Media for Focus on Rioters, Who Called for His Death; Ex-Trump Press Secretary Joins New Day on Damning Claims. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired October 05, 2021 - 07:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEW DAY: And we all remember the refrain on January 6th that we heard from people in the Capitol, Hang Mike Pence, literally calling for the then-vice president's head in order to overthrow the election. But Pence, apparently, is over it.


KEILAR: It's just a small thing, I guess. He says there's been too much focus on that one day, just one little day, I guess, only one of the gravest attacks on American democracy. And straight from the Trump playbook, Pence is putting the blame just where his former boss would.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I know the media wants to distract from the Biden administration's failed agenda by focusing on one day in January. They want to use that one day to try to demean the character and intentions of 74 million Americans who believed we could be strong again and prosperous again and supported our administration in 2016 and 2020.


BERMAN: And Pence wants people to know, at least the Fox audience, that it is all good now between him and Trump, ignoring that stuff about branding Pence a coward for defying Trump's wishes to overturn the election. Pence says, basically, they're over it.


PENCE: You can't spend almost five years in a political fox hole with somebody without developing a strong relationship. And, you know, January 6th was a tragic day in the history of our Capitol building, but thanks to the efforts of Capitol Hill police, federal officials, the Capitol was secured. We finished our work, and the president and I sat down a few days later and talked through all of it. I can tell you that we parted amicably.


BERMAN: Joining us now to discuss this and her new book, I'll Take Your Questions Now, What I Saw On The Trump White House, Stephanie Grisham. She was the White House Press Secretary and Communications Director under President Trump, and Chief of Staff and Communications Director to First Lady Melania Trump. Stephanie, thank you so much for being with us. We have a lot of questions about your book because there's a lot in there now.


BERMAN: I do want to start though with Mike Pence and what he did last night, because I want your take to explain to us how someone who was there on January 6th could contort himself, could twist himself into such knots, you know, eight months later to justify what happened.

GIRSHAM: Well, not only was he there, but he was being rushed to somewhere safe with his family. I mean, his family was in danger. And I know that there were calls going to the White House saying, my family is in danger, what's going on?

So I think to contort himself is actually a big part of the book. I think right now, he is -- Trump is the leader of the Republican Party. And I think that everybody, despite January 6th, despite constantly pushing these election lies, they still are, like, fealty to Donald Trump. And as long as you stay on his good side, you know, that's all that matters. And it's scary to me.

I personally right now it's like am on this little island alone, but I think that's what it is right now. People are scared of him. He's a bully and people are afraid of him. And I'm just hoping, I'm just hoping that at some point, people will kind of break out of this spell, if it is, and see what's really going on.

Mike Pence, I really respect. And he is a good man of faith. And he is very principled, so I was saddened to see that he did that last night.

KEILAR: You don't think they really just sort of talked through this, worked it out, do you?

GRISHAM: No. I think that at some point, this is just me guessing, but knowing Donald Trump the way I do, I am imagine Pence just went and said all the right things, and now it is water under the bridge. And I guarantee you that going forward though, whenever -- if Mike Pence and the former president are together, the president will continue to jab at him about how disloyal he was. And you just have to take it until you don't.

BERMAN: What was the nature of their relationship? What was it like to be in a room with both of them?

GRISHAM: You know, well, the vice president, again, I respect. He was always very quiet, very, very quiet. He did speak up when it mattered most. But, again, when it comes to President Trump, it's not really a matter of who is telling him, it's who has got the answer he wants to hear. So, if anybody, myself included, would say, you know, yes, sir, you should probably go out there and wear a mask, and he'd go to the next person, until he found the person who said, don't wear a mask, sir. You'll look weak. So, for that day, that person was the most brilliant person on staff, based on what he wanted to hear.

KEILAR: How did he, Trump, relate to Mike Pence? What was -- you know, was he respectful? Was he denigrating? Because we've seen so much leading up to January 6th and coming out of it, what was it like before then?

GRISHAM: The answer is yes. He was respectful and he was denigrating.


And that was how he was with all his senior staff. But, definitely, there were times that he wasn't happy with what the vice president said, and so he would let that be known. And other times, they got along really, really well. They had lunch together quite often in the private dining room.

You know, Mike Pence is an easy person to get along with. He's quiet. He did always respect the fact that Donald Trump was the president.

BERMAN: You talking about what Mike Pence is now doing and how you think it is dangerous, this is the reason you wrote the book, you're saying. What is the message you want to send about where you think the country is now and the threat that you think the former president poses?

GRISHAM: Well, I think the country right now has so much hatred. And I think that the president likes that. I think that he likes to control people's thoughts that way. And he views these people as fighters and fighting for him, and then he just covers it up with words like patriots. They're not patriots. They're out there destroying our country.

The book, you know, I left D.C., and the last six months of the White House for me were difficult. But when I finally left, I resigned on January 6th, as you guys know, and I went way far away to Middle America. And it took me some time to almost decompress or, you know, be deprogrammed. And I had a lot of time to reflect.

While I was doing that, you know, I was watching from afar. I was no longer in that bubble of the White House, clearly, or Washington, D.C. And the fact that he is pushing this election lie is scary to me. And the fact he is the frontrunner right now for, if he were to run for office, is scaring me. And that's because if he gets into office, he doesn't run for re-election again. He'll be able to do whatever he wants. And we all know there is going to be retribution, there is going to be revenge. I guarantee there will be draconian policies, and they're not going to care because they don't have to run for re- election again.

And if you think or if people think that the people in that Trump White House were bad, perhaps, I have a feeling the one-sixth crowd might be working in 2024 or the Sydney Powells or the Rudy Giulianis or I think people left and right are going to get pardoned. I mean, the amount of things, knowing what I know that could happen, it scares me. KEILAR: Can you take us back to the day of the insurrection? Because one of the things that stood out to me in the book was how you were saying before there was ever violence, you felt it, that you felt that there was something different that day, and you say that you then saw it. So, before there was violence, what were you feeling? Why were you on edge?

GRISHAM: I -- well, I had been on edge because -- and I know this sounds silly, because I know what his tweets were like. I know a lot of the vitriol for all four years. But something seemed heightened and he was heightened. And he was so, you know, about this was stolen from us, this was stolen from us. And he was so hyper-focused on that. And I don't want to say to a crazy level, but I felt like we were getting there.

And I knew that the big rally was being planned, and I had a bad, bad feeling. It was going to be right outside the White House, which, look, we had that all the time with Black Lives Matter protesters. I just, in my gut, felt weird. And then when he said, let's head to the Capitol, we need to be fighters, these people, like I used to be, are true believers in him and they're true loyalists. And I believe they take stuff like that very literally. If President Trump is saying, you are my people, we're in this together, go fight, and they did.

And, you know, I was hearing from some people that he was in the dining room watching and enjoying that people were fighting for him. And I just couldn't -- I couldn't watch what was happening to our Capitol.

BERMAN: Is it still going on though? Is that environment still there?

GRISHAM: I believe so. I do believe so. And I believe that, again, there are so many people out there who believe the election was stolen, who only believe in Donald Trump, who only think he can, you know, save the party and the country. And I do think that we had some policies that we put through that were good, but I think a sane Republican man or woman could run for president.

BERMAN: Can I ask -- you write about this in your book. That day before you resigned, you tried to get your then boss, Melania Trump, the first lady, to say something. And I'm not talking about something incredibly bold, something fairly innocuous. What is it you wanted her to say?

GRISHAM: Correct. I wanted her to say, I'm paraphrasing a little, but, do you want to tweet out that, you know, to assemble is the right of every American but there is no room for violence and hatred, nothing political, nothing -- I mean, just, please, let's take the temperature down.


And I thought she should because when Charlottesville happened, she was one of the first to put something out and I was proud of her that day. And she had so many times kind of done things maybe people saw it against the president but it was her being independent. And when she wrote back no, one word, no, I just stared at the phone. I was shocked. And I was kind of waiting for a follow-up of maybe we should say this, but there was just nothing, it was just no. And I waited, you know, 15 minutes to make sure I wasn't -- and then I resigned.

KEILAR: Then you emailed her and her senior staff.

GRISHAM: Correct. I emailed her and a senior adviser because I had been trying to resign, actually, for the past six, seven months, and she'd always talked me out of it. And, you know, asked me to stay strong. I actually had a resignation letter in a folder with no date for the last four months of the administration that I just wanted to hand over if necessary. It was that bad for me.

KEILAR: You talk over and over about botched attempts to leave.

GRISHAM: Correct.

KEILAR: You talk about the abusive environment. Look, there's a lot of -- you mentioned this idea of like destroying people. And you say in your book that you were a destroyer. You were on the other side of this. But you do talk a lot about this in very clear terms, that you think this was an abusive environment. I wonder -- and you also talk about having a background in that, and so knowing that that mirrors some of your past experiences as well.

Can you tell us more about that and what it took to recover from that, if you have?

GRISHAM: I haven't yet. Yes. And I think, you know, when I talk about the abusive nature, while I believe some colleagues are probably saying, yes, this is true, I am only speaking for me here. Yes, I have a past that included childhood and afterwards some abuse. And it took me a really long time to realize it was a culture of abuse in there. You just want to keep Donald Trump happy. You just don't want him to yell at you. You just -- you know, you learn that you have to give him the answer he wants or he'll just throw you out anyway.

And so a lot of people would learn to work around that a little bit and say, like, yes, your poll numbers are huge, sir, but perhaps we just take it down, you know, a notch on this, that, or the other subject. So, we learned to worked around him, but I also don't want to use that as an excuse because I'm also a grown woman, and I knew what was happening in there. And I turned my head to a lot of things.

BERMAN: Did you ever tell him no?

GRISHAM: Yes, yes. He wanted me to kick the White House press corps off the grounds, like everybody gone, gone, gone, gone. And I don't know that I told him no, but I definitely didn't ever let it happen.

BERMAN: But that's different than saying no.

GRISHAM: Okay. Kaitlan Collins, he wanted me to go --

KEILAR: Our Kaitlan Collins.

GRISHAM: Yes, your Kaitlan Collins. He wanted me to rip her out of the press room. I said no to that.

BERMAN: Did you say no?

GRISHAM: Yes, I said no. And he told me, you know -- it's written about somewhere, but he called me a loser and weak and I was the worst press person ever.

KEILAR: He was yelling at you? What was it like?

GRISHAM: He was yelling at me to my face in that one. It's horrible when he yells at you. It is horrible. He is very New York, I guess. He's very mean when he yells at you.

BERMAN: Can you talk to me more about that. I mean, how long does it go on? And what does he call you?

GRISHAM: Weak. Weak, why are you even here, I have all these press people. Nobody gets me any good coverage. Weak was it. Ineffective was it. Why can't you do things? I don't care what you're saying right now. That doesn't make sense. That's bullshit. I'm so sorry.

KEILAR: We're cable. It's okay.


KEILAR: Let it go.

GRISHAM: I'm so sorry. And other words that I will not say. A lot of cursing would happen, that type of thing.

KEILAR: He would curse at you? And then how would it end? How would that resolve itself, if at all? Would he walk off? Would you leave?

GRISHAM: I would leave. I would leave, and then I personally would kind of stay hidden for a little while. And then you'd see him again and it was like nothing ever happened. And I think that was part of the weird thing. You'd walk into a room, if I would get summoned, and I didn't know who I was going to meet, because there is a Donald Trump that's very funny and can be very kind and, you know, you think he is listening to you, and then there's the one I was just talking about.

KEILAR: You talk a lot about harassment, not just of yourself but also behavior of an inappropriate nature when it comes to a young press aide that the president had a liking for, as you describe it.


And he would summon her, you write, into his cabin on Air Force One, and you said that you made sure to always accompany her.


KEILAR: Can you tell us more about that, and are you sure that you were able to protect her? Because we should note, and you talked about this, you didn't report this to anyone.

GRISHAM: Yes. And I've said this, I want to talk about that first. There's not -- there is just not like a human resources department at the White House where you can go and say, I'm really uncomfortable with the president of the United States and his behavior. I was not comfortable going to Mark Meadows, who was the chief of staff at that time, because I felt he would just go to the president. And the president would, in turn, think I was being disloyal and, you know, fire me or whatnot.

So when he would ask for her to come to the cabin, which she was the only one he ever did that with, I would always accompany her. I don't know if she knew what was going on. She may have just been excited that the president was talking to her. And I wouldn't leave the cabin. We would sit in there, and I just would never leave the cabin.

I tried to kind of keep her off trips, which was unfortunate because I felt I was punishing her. It wasn't her fault, but he noticed. He would say, make sure she's on this trip. Give her a promotion. Put her on T.V., all of which were things she wasn't quite qualifies for yet.

So, it was a really difficult situation. I did the best I could. I don't know what I could have done better. Maybe if I would have left, but then now who is there to watch out for her? It was just a difficult --

BERMAN: I think people would look at that and say, you tried to protect you. You tried to do certain things. But there was always another option. You always could have left. You always -- look, you were press secretary. You know how to put out a release.


BERMAN: You could always say the president is potentially harassing a junior staffer.


BERMAN: I know that's a big thing to do.


BERMAN: But it's a possibility. You could have done it.

GRISHAM: It is. I could have done that with a lot of things.


GRISHAM: Well, a lot of the things he would say. When he'd go out and do his press conferences about COVID and downplay things. I mean, I feel like I could have left when Charlottesville happened. There are so many times I think I could have done that, and I didn't, and then I'm still grappling with that. I am.

KEILAR: You say you hate Mark Meadows. You wouldn't have gone to him in this case of this press aide or anything else. GRISHAM: No.

KEILAR: Tell us why you hated Mark Meadows.

GRISHAM: When he began, I was in quarantine actually for three weeks with potentially having COVID because I had been exposed to Bolsonaro's press person at Mar-a-Lago. So when he began, he was calling me all the time and asking me about my staff. And I was explaining to him how things were working. And he kept saying, will you do a press conference, which I said, yes. If I'm ever asked, I will do a press conference.

And then he started kind of dismantling my team. He wanted me to bring people in that I didn't feel comfortable bringing in. He had this way of being very dishonest, if I'm just -- you know, he would say, oh, everything is fine. You're safe. I don't know what's going on. And then, you know, I'd hear leaks that I was going to be pushed out. I finally am the one who resigned. He didn't push me out. I resigned to go back to Mrs. Trump as chief of staff.

I will say that after I went back to the east wing, he actively worked to get the president to believe I was the person who leaked the bunker story, when they went to the bunker, which I unequivocally did not do. And I hear he recommended I'd be fire fired. He put me through a lot of just weird torture, always needing to meet with me, needing to see me. And then when I would write to him, he'd completely ignore me. It just wasn't a good relationship.

BERMAN: Did you ever tell the president you wanted to do a press conference?

GRISHAM: No. I never said. I want to go do a press conference. When we talked about me taking the job, he said to me, I don't want any more press conferences. He had stopped it six months before with Sarah. And he said, we're still not going to do press conferences. I'm talking to the press. I'll be the P.T. Barnum of everybody. He really wanted me to work on print papers and behind the scenes talking to people one-on-one.

BERMAN: Did you ever want to do a press conference?

GRISHAM: Well, selfishly, in this administration, I didn't because I knew I would possibly be put in a position to stand at that podium and not be honest.


GRISHAM: And lie. And I didn't want to do that. Working in the White House had always been my dream. It was my dream to stand behind the podium and do it the traditional way. But in our administration, I -- selfishly, I didn't want to do it.

BERMAN: You did do interviews on Fox though.


BERMAN: Were you always truthful there?

GRISHAM: I probably wasn't. I can't -- I can't think of an example right now. I probably wasn't. I mean, and I regret that so much. I think of one example when I put the statement out about General Kelly.


BERMAN: We have that. Can we put that up so people can see?

GRISHAM: Yes, absolutely.

BERMAN: I want you to diagram this, if we can. If we have that, can we put it up? This is 2019, October of 2019. I can't remember what Kelly did, but he pissed off the president in some way.

GRISHAM: He said something mildly disparaging.

BERMAN: And then what happened was the president forced you to put out a statement. And I'll paraphrase it if you don't have it. It basically says, I work with John Kelly, and he was totally unequipped to handle the genius of our great president. Trump dictated that to you.

GRISHAM: I don't speak that way. Yes, he dictated that to me word for word. And I did say, you know -- because, again, you learn to work around him. So, I did say, sir, don't you think that is just going to elevate this and give General Kelly more attention? You don't want that. Because that was something you could say to Donald Trump, if he thought other people would be getting more attention, maybe we could -- that didn't work. He wanted it out there.

And I remember I sat down. I was on my bed. It was the weekend. And I called a couple of friends and said, this sounds nuts, right? And they both said yes. But I, at the time, felt I was his spokesperson. He told me to do it. I knew he was probably sitting there watching T.V. waiting for it. And so I put it out. And it is one of my biggest regrets, and I apologize to General and Mrs. Kelly in the book about it. BERMAN: So they were not your words?

GRISHAM: No, they're not. I don't speak that way, no.

BERMAN: Not your belief?

GRISHAM: Not my belief.

BERMAN: It's a lie?

GRISHAM: So, that's a lie.

BERMAN: And you put it out?

GRISHAM: Yes. And that's an example that I had.

BERMAN: And what would have happened if you hadn't put it out? GRISHAM: I think he would have just yelled, screamed, told me I was weak. At that point, I just -- I had reached this pinnacle. I had reached my dream of being press secretary, which, sadly, I regretted the moment I kind of got there. He just would have yelled and screamed. I don't know. Maybe he would have fired me immediately. I'm not sure what he would have done.

KEILAR: What was the role of Fox News in the White House?

GRISHAM: That's a great question. That's just where we went to get what we wanted out, you know? I looked forward to going and doing Lou Dobbs, because Lou Dobbs do all the talking about how great everything was, and I would just nod and say, yes. They, you know, by and large, didn't get tough with us. They just took what we were say saying and disseminated it. And I think they're disseminating it to a lot of people who went to the Capitol for January 6th.

And, again, I've had a lot of time to grapple with this, and I feel horribly guilty about my part in it because I was on Fox a lot.

KEILAR: Was it, to you, like state-run T.V. for Donald Trump?

GRISHAM: You know, a bit. I think there are some legitimate journalists at Fox News who would ask some tough questions, so I don't want to, as a whole, paint them. But I think certainly in the evening, yes, it was. I think, more importantly now with (INAUDIBLE) them coming out, I think those, that's like state-run media. I think -- and that's is getting, it sounds like, more and more of an audience. And I think those people also are the people who can potentially cause a lot of damage.

BERMAN: Stephanie, we have a lot more to discuss here, and you are taking our questions now, so we're going to seize this opportunity. We want to talk about your time with the former first lady and also the Trump children.

Standby for news.



BERMAN: Back now with the author of I'll Take Your Questions Now, What I Saw at the Trump White House, Stephanie Grisham, she was the White House Press Secretary and Communications Director under President Trump, and Chief of Staff and Communications Director for Former First Lady Melania Trump.

We talked briefly about Melania Trump, who chose not to say anything about the insurrection at the time, but you write about this in your book. You worked with her a long time. If I asked you, who is Melania Trump? It is a hard question to answer.

GRISHAM: It is. She's a very, very private woman. She's a very private woman. She is a mother, first and foremost, to her son. And that's something I always really, really admired and respected by her, or for her. But she's just very quiet. You never know what's going on in her head.

Now, I used to learn to decipher her facial expressions after so long, but it takes a really long time to finally get to know her. And I think what I have learned is you never really do get to know her. I thought I did. I made the mistake of thinking that she was my friend and, you know, I made the mistake of kind of thinking she would confide in me certain things. But it's very calculated with her. She and her husband are a lot more alike than I think people want to believe. She can be very, very kind, and then she can also be very, very cold.

KEILAR: And very stubborn. I think that was the line you drew between her and the president.

GRISHAM: She is so stubborn, yes.

KEILAR: Tell us about election night, because she was asleep. And it is an interesting scene that you paint in the book. So, take us through this.

GRISHAM: Sure. She and I had been, that morning, in Florida at Mar-a- Lago because she went to vote. So, we had gotten up very, very early and had been working late in the evening. And we went to vote. We flew back to the White House where we stayed. It was her house. But I stayed until the night of the election party.

I think what happened is that she went upstairs to take a cat nap or something pause she was probably tired. I know I was. We had been up for, I mean, almost 24 hours. So, I knew he was about to take the stage, and I was texting her. She wasn't answering, which was really unlike her. So, I went upstairs to check on her. And when I went in her room, it was dark. She was --

KEILAR: You walked by a crowd of people?

GRISHAM: I sure did.


I walked by a crowd. It was mayhem. It was the president surrounded by everybody, his kids and, you know, his campaign people, Kellyanne was there.