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Ex-Trump Press Secretary Joins NEW DAY On Damning Claims; Russians Beat Tom Cruise To Be First To Film Move In Space. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 05, 2021 - 07:30   ET



STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY AND COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I walked by a crowd. It was mayhem. It was the president surrounded by everybody -- his kids, and his campaign people, and Kellyanne was there, and everyone's yelling and he's in the middle. Yes, it was mayhem.

But she was amazing at how she could sleep. I mean, I guess maybe being married to Donald Trump -- he's not a quiet man -- maybe she's conditioned.

But I went into her room and she was asleep. And I tiptoed over and I said ma'am and she got up. I think, again, it was a catnap, maybe. She had makeup on and stuff, still.

So, she got out of bed and still and started pointing to her dressing room. But she went to her dressing room to start getting dressed. I sat at the end of her bed and watched T.V. and was telling her what was going on and what states had been called. And she got up and we went downstairs and she took the stage.

So, I think it was a catnap. I don't know how you do that -- it's such a vital night -- but maybe the woman was just tired.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Does she believe that Trump lost?

GRISHAM: I think -- I write about this in the book a little bit. First of all, Mrs. Trump was never one for conspiracy theories. She was always kind of -- that's what I respected about her. She was --

KEILAR: She was into birtherism and stuff.

GRISHAM: Yes, and that was --

KEILAR: I mean, she's got a --

GRISHAM: Correct, and I -- that was before -- way before I joined or worked for her so I had -- I never really saw that too much. I mean, yes, I had heard about it. But while I knew her, she was always pretty pragmatic about what was going on.

After he did lose, she kind of retreated a little bit. It was more so than she already was. And the few times I would talk to her she kept saying things like something bad happened there. Something bad happened, meaning with the election. And that confused me because that didn't sound like her.

But also, I kept thinking well, she has to leave the White House and live with this man. Maybe she just doesn't want to make him mad. I don't know.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's the acquiescence. That's the acquiescence right there. That's where you've heard from people in the Republican Party that's buying into the notion that something happened that did not happen.

You write of Jared Kushner, "Rasputin in a slim-fitting suit" --


BERMAN: -- which is extraordinarily descriptive. There are a lot of writers I know who are jealous they didn't come up with that line. What was he like to work with?

GRISHAM: He, like all of us, I want to say, I believe changed as we went through the White House, and he got really heady with power. You know, Jared Kushner had his own chief of staff. He hired his own staff. He did what he wanted and nobody challenged him.

You know, Mick Mulvaney, I remember -- or not Mick Mulvaney -- I'm so sorry -- Mark Meadows. When he started, he put a freeze on anybody who could hire -- nobody could hire anybody in any department unless Mark Meadows specifically said yes. And Jared Kushner basically told him what he thought of that and got to do what he wanted.

So, that was -- you know, nobody ever challenged Jared -- you couldn't. This was the president's son-in-law.

So, he would dive into these areas where I know he had absolutely no expertise and claimed to save the day, and then he would leave. And there was a running joke in the White House that when things were getting really tough, they suddenly disappeared on vacations.

He was tough to deal with and I think he got really heady with power. I do not think he left there the best version of himself. And I believe that he and Ivanka kind of thought they were a shadow president and first lady.

KEILAR: You -- your nickname for them --


KEILAR: -- was?

GRISHAM: The interns, yes.

KEILAR: Melania Trump's nickname for Ivanka?

GRISHAM: The princess.

KEILAR: You think Ivanka's a pretty smart cookie.

GRISHAM: I think she's a very smart woman.

KEILAR: Who's the brains, Ivanka or Jared?

GRISHAM: I think that Ivanka is the brains. I do believe that Jared is an intelligent man but I think that Ivanka is very -- she's very controlling of her image. She's very controlled in what she does. She is a -- she is very calm, which is unlike her father. And I think that she's the smarter one.

BERMAN: You also said that you think that they thought they were the royal family.

GRISHAM: Yes, I do. When we went to the state dinner with the queen -- I mean, they thought that they should be involved in every single thing that the president and first lady were doing. And it was really -- it was really inappropriate.

And our last foreign trip to India -- it was the same thing. They were negotiating what stops we would make. And they were involved in, like, tours that Modi was giving the former president and first lady. And there they were, too.

You know, they were always right there and it was really inappropriate. And that would make Mrs. Trump upset because she is a big rule follower in terms of protocol and whatnot. And it was just really inappropriate.

So, we in the East Wing would do what we could to stop it or mitigate it, but at the end of the day, it's his daughter and son-in-law and nobody could work around them.


KEILAR: You physically blocked them from entering the State of the Union behind the first lady.

GRISHAM: Yes, yes. That was pretty -- it wasn't exactly a mature move to do. But she was going through the Stormy Daniels stuff at the time and --

KEILAR: Melania was.

GRISHAM: Yes, I'm sorry -- yes. And I think I and her chief of staff at the same -- at that time, we were really protective of her. And Mrs. Trump had gone to the State of the Union ahead of the president and one, was to get the guests -- her guests there early, but I think two, was that she wanted to go alone.

And so, I was -- I was feeling protective. And so, her former chief of staff and I -- yes, we raced out of the motorcade and literally physically blocked them so that Mrs. Trump could have her moment and walk in. It worked for maybe three minutes and then their Secret Service pushed us aside. But we got our job done. BERMAN: All right, we have, still, more questions for you, Stephanie,

including I think the hard questions about your role in all of this. And you write about it, but what responsibility you take for what happened over the last six years and whether you think you could or should have done more. So, stick around.



KEILAR: We're back now with the author of "I'll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House," Stephanie Grisham here. She was the White House press secretary. She was also comms director under President Trump. And she was chief of staff and communications director to first lady Melanie Trump. Some of those roles that you held at the same time, as well.

This is the portion of the interview where we're going to talk about something you do discuss in the book, which is your culpability --


KEILAR: -- in all of this.


KEILAR: You actually described yourself as a destroyer --


KEILAR: -- at one point. Now you feel that you were on the other side of that.


KEILAR: You write in the book that it is the job of the spokesperson to take the lumps in the press and do all you can to make your principal look good, even if it means that you're looking at or simply as though you're a liar.

But you didn't have -- you didn't have to lie.

GRISHAM: I didn't. I didn't have to lie and I regret any of the lies that I told. And I regret working there, right? I mean, I have so many regrets.

And I don't think -- I don't know what you guys think but the book isn't real nice to me either and I have no illusions that people are going to like me. This has not been an easy process because now, not only does the left hate me but now the right really hates me. But all I can do now is look forward. All I can do now is look forward.

And he is trying to put people into Congress in 2022 that will rubberstamp his policies -- whatever he wants. And that's a big deal because let's say he doesn't run, which I hope, he will still have those people -- those people doing his bidding. And if he does run in 2024 -- and again, I hope not -- like I said,

there will be no guardrails. And I don't know what kind of people are going to be in that administration because it won't matter. He won't have to run again.

BERMAN: This issue is, as you've told us, there were many opportunities where you could have said no or should have said no.


BERMAN: You didn't.

GRISHAM: Correct.

BERMAN: Now you are saying you regret it --


BERMAN: -- but the question is are you saying you regret it to sell books? Do you really feel bad? Do you really -- if you had to do it all over again would you do it differently or is this all --

GRISHAM: If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't have been there. But obviously, hindsight is 20/20.

Obviously, I want to sell books but I want to sell books so that people can read the entire story and see the context. And again, I was a loyalist and I was a believer, and I defended them fiercely. And if I can convince five or six other people who were like me that this is not natural and this is normal, and this is a cult-like environment, and if you can just step out and clear your head, maybe I can change things.

I made a lot of mistakes in there. I also think that we mitigated a lot of disasters -- some of us who did stay. I mean, there were a lot of political -- we had to fill 2,000 political appointee spots. And let me tell you, there were some people who really wanted in there and who the president maybe wanted us to put in there. And so, we did mitigate some things while we were in there.

But I regret it, yes. Again, this is not me trying to cleanse my reputation. I have -- that's not going to happen and this is going to follow me everywhere, period, end of story.

But, you know, I have gone back to basics in my life. I am with my family now, I am with my friends now, and my dogs, and my chickens, and I'm watching from afar. And it's OK that people are angry. I just want people to understand how toxic it is. It's really toxic.

BERMAN: Did you harm democracy? Do you feel that you played a role in hurting democracy?

GRISHAM: I do, though I absolutely and positively have not -- you know, I believe Biden is our president and I believe that the election was valid. And I think right now, that is one of our biggest threats to democracy. We can't just stomp our feet and say oh, no -- you know, I didn't win this. It's -- we have an election system. I think that there are always anomalies.

But, yes is going to be my short answer. I think I played a role in a very, very bad time.

KEILAR: You were enabling the big lie by the acquiescence. By being there for months while he told it.


KEILAR: But you were also there during COVID.


KEILAR: In this totality, do you think your enabling cost lives?


GRISHAM: I do. I think the way we handled COVID was tragic. I think that the president's vanity got in the way. I -- he was -- he was working for his base; he was not working for his -- this country. He -- you know, he didn't wear a mask quickly enough.

Now, this isn't an excuse --

KEILAR: Or hardly ever.

GRISHAM: And this isn't an excuse but I also worked for Mrs. Trump and I was so proud because she was out there doing PSAs and wearing a mask, and trying to push it. And naive as this is, I kept hoping she would convince her husband -- you know, please, get out there, Donald -- get out there.

But, yes -- again, I was part of that and I don't think I'll ever forgive myself with respect to COVID. I don't think I can ever redeem myself.

BERMAN: Again, this -- you weren't a short-timer. I mean --


BERMAN: -- you were a lifer.


BERMAN: You were a lifer.


BERMAN: So the number of choices that you made over five or six years, it's immeasurable.


BERMAN: I mean, it's hard to say oh, I just realize now after six years --


BERMAN: -- that this was all --


BERMAN: -- a really bad idea.


BERMAN: A deadly, in some cases, bad idea.

GRISHAM: Yes. I have had a lot of time to think about that.

And again, not an excuse, but I worked on the East Wing side of the House for 2 1/2 years of that. And so, again, naive as it may sound, I was really kind of blocked off from the West Wing. And in the West Wing, everybody wanted to keep the East Wing happy. And so, I didn't see a lot of the decisions being made or the toxic culture.

And I was programmed at that time that when his tweets would go out, people were too insensitive. It didn't matter. So even from the East Wing when I did see the tweets going out -- you know, even Mrs. Trump and I would roll our eyes and she would say I wish he wouldn't do that. I told him not to do it and then he just went and did it anyway.

So in this weird, weird way, I thought I was on the good side. And when I took the job as press secretary, I stupidly thought that since I was going to still be working for Mrs. Trump I would have -- like, I could pick up the phone and call her and say he wants to do something crazy. Can you help me stop it? That was dumb, too.

But I really believed in them at first and I thought I had a friendship with her, and I stayed too long. And there's just nothing else I can do or say about that.

BERMAN: Stephanie Grisham, former White House press secretary, former communications director, chief of staff to Melania Trump, we appreciate you being with us. There's a lot in this book. As I said, you spare nothing, including on yourself. So, thank you for coming in and taking our questions.

GRISHAM: Thank you, guys, for having me.

BERMAN: Up next, we're going to get reaction from two reporters who covered the Trump White House. You heard one of them mentioned in this conversation.

KEILAR: And with a Facebook whistleblower about to testify before the Senate, we're going to talk to a former mentor of Mark Zuckerberg who has been sounding the alarm for years.



KEILAR: We just heard from Stephanie Grisham, the former White House press secretary under President Trump, about her tell-all book.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst April Ryan. She is also the White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for the "The Grio." And, CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, first, just tell us what stood out to you.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think, really, the big takeaway from this is there are two things that could be true.

And I think people's initial reaction to watching someone like Stephanie Grisham come on and talk about what her experience was like is they don't trust her because she admitted in that interview that she was not truthful. She said she probably wasn't during the few interviews that she did do when she was press secretary. She talked about how she turned her head to a lot of things that were happening inside the Trump West Wing.

And I think that people will see that and they will say well, why should I believe what she's saying now?

And I think the other thing that could be true, while also that being true, is that she is talking about things that did happen inside the White House that other White House aides have not said publicly and that they will not put their name next to.

And she is saying in this book, talking about the things -- the concerns that she has about what a second Trump term could look like. And it's not just talking about Trump in the past. It's also talking about what could be a very real thing in the future, which is that Trump is the Republican frontrunner, as we are speaking right now, for a potential run in 2024.

And I think one thing that was really revealing was what she was saying about what staffing in a second Trump White House could look like.


COLLINS: Talking about the Sidney Powells, the Rudy Giulianis that she believes could go on to staff if he did win election again.

BERMAN: She said that the next administration could be staffed by the people from January sixth.

KEILAR: It would be the crazies -- the one-sixers, she said, right?

BERMAN: April, your reaction?

APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT AND WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE GRIO", AUTHOR, "AT MAMA'S KNEE": Yes. I'm right along with Kaitlan. And to understand that this president, if -- well, the former president, Donald John Trump. If he is reelected, he could actually staff that White House with people who were part of January sixth. She acknowledged that she helped play a part in harming the democracy.

She played a part in the deaths of people in this nation during COVID and other times. At issue, the recklessness that she put names and faces to.

She talked about lying on Fox News, her fights with Mark Meadows -- even talking about wanting to oust the press and specifically, going toe-to-toe with Donald Trump about Kaitlan Collins. We know that he talked to us terribly in our faces, but to find out what happened behind the scenes as we were trying to inform the public of what was happening on the inside of the White House -- to take the veil off of this mysterious place and more of the mystery of who Donald Trump really was.


You know, the question is how much can we survive this again or can we survive this again? How much can America take after this Donald Trump presidency? And she affirmed what we already knew.

BERMAN: Kaitlan, what do remember from that day -- from that episode? It was interesting when we asked Stephanie when did she say no to the president, she said yes. But then the one example she gave was she claims she said no to the president when the president was trying to get rid of you.

COLLINS: Right, but look at the context around that. It was during in -- what she writes in the book is that it was during an actual briefing that was happening where the cameras are on. We were likely taking it live and so were several other outlets. And so, it would have required her to actually enter the press briefing room and try to get me out of there as that was happening.

And, of course, I think a lot of -- like a lot of things in the Trump West Wing, they were also driven by self-interest, and that is often where people refuse to take a step there because, of course, it would have affected them.

And that is what Stephanie Grisham says -- is that, in part, she said she did not do press briefings because the president didn't want her to. But she also says in the book that she believes that eventually there would come a time where he would want her to do something in that briefing that she didn't want to do. And, of course, we saw there were a lot of people who did do that -- people like Kayleigh McEnany and whatnot.

But I also think that while we do talk about that, and while we can acknowledge the lack of credibility that she has on this and the questions of why she is speaking up now and why she didn't speak up while --


COLLINS: -- these things were going on because she did not resign until January the sixth. That was weeks after the president had been pushing this lie that he had won the election. I still think what she says is revealing in a sense that this is someone who was very close to the former first lady and the former president and knew a lot of the things that were happening inside the West Wing that were either denied by people like Grisham at the time or by other top aides.

And I do think it's revealing of the culture that was happening inside the West Wing, which she describes as a culture of abuse, describing the way that the former president conducted his staffing. And that is something that I think a lot of people who worked in that West Wing would acknowledge is true.

KEILAR: Look, I think we're all skeptical of these reputation rehab projects that we see, right? And I'll be honest -- I -- that's how I went into reading this book.

But this book -- as Berman said to her, you really don't spare anyone, including yourself. I mean, this is as much --

RYAN: Yes.

KEILAR: -- confessional. She doesn't come out smelling like roses, to be clear. There's a couple of things I definitely disagree with in the book. I think she kind of both sides -- misinformation in the two parties. I think that's more of the purview of the GOP right now.

But, April, it's -- it is telling that even as it is hard sometimes to believe what she said while she was press secretary, this seems pretty believable.

RYAN: Yes. If we stayed around long enough you knew it was going on. And, again, she affirmed that. But she is now toast, politically, on the Republican side for sure.

And I'm actually concerned for her life now. Because you have people who are diehard Trumpers who don't want any negative word against this president, and she puts it all out there -- not just about the president but about the first lady -- the then-first lady. And then, about the Kushners, themselves, who thought they were royals in their minds.

She is toast, politically. And, you know, she's living the life with her dogs, her chickens, and her family. She is now someone who needs to watch her back because she told the innermost secrets that they did not want out.

She showed a president that was unhinged, that was abusive in his words, and volatile. She showed an administration that did not have any regard for the American public, but for the perception of the President of the United States at that time.

BERMAN: April Ryan, Kaitlan Collins, our thanks to both of you. We really appreciate it.

RYAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Now, this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Engine ignition, turbopumps coming up to flight speed, and liftoff. Liftoff of Soyuz MS-19 with an actress and her producer beginning a journey to the International Space Station.


KEILAR: Well, yes, that was weird, right? OK, this is Russia, one; Hollywood, zero in the race to be the first to shoot a feature film in space. Overnight, the Russians launching a film crew, as you heard there, headed to the International Space Station, and it appears beating Tom Cruise to the punch.

CNN's Kristin Fisher is joining us now with this -- Kristin.


Well, there's been a lot of firsts in space here in the United States over the last few months. The first person to ride into space on a rocket that he helped fund and develop. There was also that first all- civilian mission to orbit. But this next first, it's going to the Russians.


FISHER (voice-over): Sixty-four years after the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into orbit, Russia is poised to claim another first -- the first full-length movie to be filmed in space.

YULIA PERESILD, ACTRESS (through translator): I am not afraid of anything.