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State of the Union
Mexico Not Paying for President Trump's Wall?; New Book Questions Trump's Mental Fitness; Interview With Senior Policy Adviser to the President Stephen Miller; Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired January 07, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): "Fire and Fury," an explosive tell-all book, questions the president's mental stability.
MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY: INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE": They say he's a moron, an idiot. I will quote Steve Bannon. He's lost it.
TAPPER: President Trump fires back.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a fraud. I consider it a work of fiction.
TAPPER: So, what really happened inside the White House? One of President Trump's closest advisers is here to tell us next.
Plus, under pressure? Sources say President Trump enlisted members of his team to pressure Attorney General Jeff Sessions to not recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Now the president responds.
TRUMP: Everything that I have done is 100 percent proper. That's what I do, is, I do things proper.
TAPPER: Does the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee agree? Congressman Adam Schiff responds in minutes.
And all about the wall. President Trump reiterates his campaign promise.
TRUMP: Mexico will pay for the wall.
TAPPER: But if Mexico is paying, why did the White House just ask Congress for $18 billion to pay for it?
TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is -- quote -- "like, really smart."
President Trump is declaring himself a -- quote -- "very stable genius" this weekend after the release of an explosive new book claiming that those around the president questioned his fitness for the job, seeing him as erratic and childlike.
Speaking to reporters at Camp David, where he was meeting with Republican congressional leaders this weekend, President Trump lashed out at critics and offered a full-scale defense of his own credentials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I went to the best colleges -- or college. I went to a -- I had a situation where I was a very excellent student, came out, made billions and billions of dollars, became one of the top businesspeople, went to television, and for 10 years was a tremendous success, as you probably have heard, ran for president one time and won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: The tell-all has also ignited a very public battle between the president and his former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
After Bannon was quoted in the book criticizing the president and his family in rather scathing terms, President Trump responded by saying, when Bannon was fired, he not only lost his job, but lost his mind.
Joining us now is the White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.
Stephen, thanks so much for joining us. And happy new year.
STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Thanks.
TAPPER: Good to see you.
MILLER: Good to be here.
TAPPER: So, President Trump and the White House have been calling the Russia investigation a witch-hunt and a nothing burger, but, obviously, in this new Michael Wolff book, "Fire and Fury," Bannon offered a different take on the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and these other officials, including a Russian lawyer.
He called it treasonous and unpatriotic and he said that -- quote -- "The chance that Don Jr. didn't walk these Jumos up to his father's office on the 26th floor is zero."
Did President Trump meet with any of the so-called "Jumos" who were in that Trump meeting?
MILLER: Steve Bannon's eloquence in that description notwithstanding, it's tragic and unfortunate that Steve would make these grotesque comments, so out of touch with reality and obviously so vindictive.
And the whole White House staff is deeply disappointed in his comments, which were grotesque.
And with respect to the Trump Tower meeting that he's talking about, he wasn't even there when any of this went down. So, he's not really a remotely credible source on any of it.
It reads like an angry, vindictive person spouting off to a highly discredible author. The book is best understood as a work of very poorly written fiction.
And I also will say that the author is a garbage author of a garbage book. And the tragic thing about this book -- and there are many things about it that are unfortunate -- but the portrayal of the president in the book is so contrary to reality, to the experience of those who work with him, to my own experience, having spent the last two years with him.
You know, on the campaign, I had the chance to travel all across the country with the president on Trump Force One. It would be the president, me, Dan Scavino, Hope Hicks, a few other people going from rally to rally to rally to rally.
And I saw a man who was a political genius, somebody who we would be going down, landing in descent, there would be a breaking news development. And in 20 minutes, he would dictate 10 paragraphs of new material to address that event...
MILLER: ... and then deliver flawlessly in front of an audience of 10,000 people.
TAPPER: So, you were at the campaign during that Trump Tower meeting, I believe, right, in the summer of 2016.
Just to answer the question, because you were there, and Steve Bannon was not, did any of those people from that meeting meet with President Trump, as -- as Bannon says the chance that he didn't, Don Jr. didn't walk these "Jumos" up to his father's office on the 26th floor is zero?
Can you just settle that for us? Did President Trump meet with any of the people?
MILLER: I have no knowledge of anything to do with that meeting.
MILLER: But what I can tell you unequivocally is that the allegations and insinuations in this book, which are -- which are a pure work of fiction, are nothing but a pile of trash through and through.
TAPPER: Well, let...
MILLER: Well, just to finish, Jake, as you know, your network's been going 24/7 with all the salacious coverage. And I know that it brings a lot of you guys a lot of joy to trying to stick the knife in.
But the reality is, is that page after page after page of the book is pure false. I -- I see sections of the book where events I participated in are described, and I have firsthand knowledge that, as they're described, they're completely and totally fraudulent. It's a work of fiction.
TAPPER: Nobody at CNN is sticking -- nobody -- nobody at CNN is sticking knives in anybody.
MILLER: But it's -- right, but it's...
TAPPER: There are a lot of people in the White House quoted in the book. I don't know why...
MILLER: It's a -- well, the -- the quote that you're referring to is a quote from Steve Bannon.
TAPPER: Right, who was the president's senior strategist.
MILLER: Right, who -- and I think that the -- that the president's statement on Steve settles once and for all the view about all of that.
But let's also take...
TAPPER: All right, but, no, let's talk about that, because -- I want to talk about that. The president...
MILLER: Let's -- let's dig into, though, your comment about, well, he was also the president's chief strategist.
So, one of the other tragedies of this grotesque work of fiction is its portrayal of the president. The reality is, is the president is a political genius who won against a field of 17 incredibly talented people...
MILLER: .. who took down the Bush dynasty, who took down the Clinton dynasty...
MILLER: ... who took down the entire media complex with its 90 percent negative coverage, took down billions of dollars in special interests donations.
And he did it all through the people and through his strategy and his vision... TAPPER: So, let's talk about this.
MILLER: ... and his insight and his experience.
TAPPER: Let's talk about it.
The president is now calling Bannon -- quote -- "Sloppy Steve." And he released a statement this week, saying in part -- quote -- "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job. He lost his mind."
You worked hand in glove with Bannon at the White House and on the campaign.
Is the president really arguing that Steve Bannon had nothing to do with him or his presidency? Because that's...
MILLER: I can only tell you -- I can only tell you my experience, which is that I joined the campaign in January of '16, where the first -- before the first ballot was cast in the Iowa caucus.
TAPPER: Right. Bannon -- Bannon -- Bannon helped you get that job.
MILLER: Corey Lewandowski is the one who offered me the job in the Trump campaign.
But just to finish...
TAPPER: Bannon wasn't trying -- Bannon wasn't helping you? Bannon didn't help you get that job on the campaign?
MILLER: I think the person who probably helped me most get the job on the campaign was probably Corey.
But the most important thing -- because I had been working with Corey before I joined to try and help out with the campaign.
But the most important thing to say about this is that the president's first speech that he gave, unfiltered, unscripted, that was Donald Trump.
MILLER: That's the same Donald Trump who, for 30 years, had talked about how America is getting ripped off on trade, on military deals and everything else.
It's the same Donald Trump who tapped into the pulse of millions and millions of Americans.
TAPPER: Right, but no -- there is no presidency that is one person.
MILLER: And -- and something that -- and something that -- and something that -- something, a -- a phenomenon was happening that you didn't see. A phenomenon was happening that the rest of the political class didn't see.
All these so-called political geniuses in Washington, whether it be at the big lobbying firms or many of the well-known...
TAPPER: The only person who has called himself a genius in the last week is the president.
MILLER: Which happens to be a true statement.
MILLER: A self-made billionaire who revolutionized reality TV and who has changed the course of our politics.
TAPPER: I'm sure he's watching, and he's happy that you said that. But my question...
MILLER: You know, Jake, you can be -- no, no, you can condescending.
TAPPER: I'm not being condescending. I'm trying to get to the point that Steve Bannon...
MILLER: No, you can -- you can condescending. That was a snide remark.
You're sure he's watching and he's happy.
Let me tell you something.
TAPPER: Why is that snide?
MILLER: Your network, you can -- look, you can be as condescending as you want. It's part of your M.O.
But, listen, the -- you can have 24/7...
TAPPER: I have no idea why you're attacking me.
MILLER: You can have -- well, I will explain to you.
TAPPER: My point is, Steve Bannon...
MILLER: Yes, I will tell you why I'm attacking you.
TAPPER: Steve Bannon... MILLER: You can have -- Jake, you can have a 24/7...
TAPPER: ... helped push the president's travel ban. He helped pull out...
MILLER: I'm -- I'm so glad you brought that up, because that's one of the fake news items in the book.
TAPPER: Let me just -- Stephen, Stephen, Stephen...
MILLER: I would happen to know better than you would, Jake, about how the travel ban was written.
TAPPER: Let me...
MILLER: Steve -- Steve Bannon didn't push the travel ban.
TAPPER: If you would let me -- if you would let me ask -- if you would let me ask this question.
MILLER: No, because you have...
TAPPER: The president...
MILLER: You get 24 hours of negative, anti-Trump, hysterical coverage on this network...
MILLER: ... that led in recent weeks to some spectacularly embarrassing false reporting from your network.
TAPPER: I think -- I think the viewers right now can ascertain who is being hysterical.
MILLER: No, the viewers are entitled...
TAPPER: My -- my...
MILLER: ... to have three months of the truth.
Why don't you just give me three minutes to tell you the truth of the Donald Trump that I know and that all of our campaign knows?
TAPPER: Because it's my show, and I don't want to do that.
So, but here is my -- here is my question...
MILLER: Well, this isn't -- this isn't -- no, but this isn't -- this isn't a courtroom. And I have a right to speak.
TAPPER: Stephen, Stephen, settle down. Settle down. Calm down.
MILLER: Jake... TAPPER: I have a question for you about issues.
Stephen Bannon, who the president says had nothing to do with this presidency, he was part of the president's travel ban. He was part of pulling out of the Paris climate deal. He was part of withdrawing from the TPP. He's part of border security. He's part of being tough on immigration.
MILLER: OK, do you want me to go through the list?
TAPPER: He's part of -- no, I don't want you to go through, but my point is...
TAPPER: ... is it really the position of the Trump White House that Steve Bannon had nothing to do with the presidency? Or can you acknowledge the reality that he was a key player?
MILLER: I think that what the point is, is that his role has been greatly exaggerated, whereas the president hasn't gotten the due that he deserves for the movement that he put together to tap into the kinds of people whose life concerns don't get a lot of attention on CNN.
Not a lot of hours of coverage on this TV talking about the working- class construction workers who have lost their jobs to foreign labor. There's not a lot of coverage on this TV about the people getting slaughtered in sanctuary cities.
You don't do a lot of human interest stories about immigrant communities under siege from MS-13.
He tapped into a reality that has happened in this country that is not covered on this network. And I know you think I'm interrupting you, but I think the American people deserve to have two or three minutes of the truth.
TAPPER: And we have let you -- we have let you talk.
MILLER: No, no, no, here's the truth.
I travel with Donald Trump all across the country and the world. I would -- I would be with the president on a campaign plane with a rally in 20 minutes, and he would be able to come up...
TAPPER: You have already made this point, Stephen.
MILLER: He would be able to come up with material in the blink of an eye.
TAPPER: You have already made this -- you have already made -- you have already said that. We let you say that at the top -- at the top. According to "The New York Times," special counsel Robert Mueller has
in his possession an early draft of a letter that you helped write in May 2017 detailing reasons to fire FBI Director James Comey.
According to the newspaper, the first line of the letter mentions the Russia investigation.
Did you write a letter outlining reasons to fire Comey and list the Russia investigation? Is that true?
MILLER: Here -- here's the problem with what you're saying. The final draft of the letter, the one that was made...
TAPPER: I'm not talking about that one. I'm talking about the one that Comey has that mentions Russia.
MILLER: If you -- if you want -- if you want to have an answer to your question, and not to get hysterical, then I will answer it.
The final draft of the letter has the same line about the fact that there is a Trump-Russia investigation that this has nothing to do with.
TAPPER: So, it was just moved from the top to the bottom?
MILLER: No, it's a -- no, look at the letter.
It's at the beginning. The -- the investigation is referenced in the beginning of the final letter that was released to point out about the fact that, notwithstanding having been informed that there is no investigation, that the -- that the move that is happening is completely unrelated to that.
TAPPER: Could I ask you...
MILLER: It was a -- it was a disclaimer. It appeared in the final version of the letter that was made public.
TAPPER: I want to ask you, because you obviously are very offended by this notion that this book, "Fire and Fury," paints a picture of President Trump -- Trump as not mentally up to the job.
On Saturday, President Trump put out a series of tweets trying to defend himself on this issue of fitness. And he said -- quote -- "Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from very successful businessman to top TV star to president of the United States on my first try. I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius, and a very stable genius at that."
Do you think tweets like that help or hurt the cause that the president is stable and up for the job? MILLER: Not only do I think they help it, but I think, in the toxic
environment that you have created here and CNN and cable news, which is a crisis of legitimacy for your network -- and we saw it, of course, with the extremely fake news you reported about the Don Jr. and WikiLeaks story that was a huge embarrassment for your network.
MILLER: Just like the huge embarrassment you had when you got the Comey testimony wrong, which was never given a proper accounting.
TAPPER: Stephen, I'm trying to get to the issue of the president's fitness, which a lot of people are questioning.
MILLER: Well, and I'm getting to the issue of your fitness.
TAPPER: No, you're...
MILLER: But the president's -- the president's tweets absolutely reaffirm the plainspoken truth.
A self-made billionaire revolutionized reality TV and tapped into something magical that is happening in the hearts of this country. The people that you don't...
TAPPER: The president has an approval rating in the 30s. I don't know what magical you're talking about.
MILLER: The people -- the people -- the people that you don't connect with and understand, the people whose manufacturing jobs have left, who have been besieged by high-crime communities, and who have been affected by a policy of uncontrolled immigration, those voices, those experiences don't get covered on this network.
MILLER: To prove the point, I was -- I was booked to talk about the very issues I'm just describing, and you're not even asking about them, because they're not interesting facts to you.
TAPPER: That's not true.
I have plenty of questions on immigration. You have attempted to filibuster by talking about your flights with the president.
MILLER: No, I'm not -- no, hold on a second.
TAPPER: I want to ask you a question, because...
MILLER: Don't -- no, don't be condescending. Jake, Jake, Jake...
TAPPER: Stephen, the president and the White House... MILLER: No, the reason why I want to talk...
TAPPER: The president and the White House -- the president and the White House...
MILLER: Jake, the reason why I want to talk about the president's experiences, what I have seen with him traveling to meet dozens of foreign leaders, with his incredible work on major...
TAPPER: OK, you're not answering the questions. I understand.
MILLER: No, you have 24 hours a day of anti-Trump material.
TAPPER: Stephen, you're being...
MILLER: And you're not going to give three minutes for the American people to hear the real experience of Donald Trump.
TAPPER: I get it. Your -- there is one viewer that you care about right now. And you're being obsequious, you're being a factotum in order to please him.
MILLER: No, no, because -- you're being -- no.
And I think I have wasted...
MILLER: You know -- you know who I care about?
TAPPER: I think I have wasted enough of my viewers' time.
MILLER: You know who -- you know who I care about?
TAPPER: Thank you, Stephen.
MILLER: Hey, Jake, you know who I care about?
TAPPER: As Republican lawmakers call for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign, in a major reversal, Democrats are now coming to his defense. What changed? We will ask the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION and to planet Earth. I'm Jake Tapper.
A new vote of confidence for Attorney General Jeff Sessions from President Trump.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday from Camp David, the president said he still stands with Sessions. This comes after a report in "The New York Times" stating President Trump ordered the White House's top lawyer to pressure Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
On Saturday, President Trump refused to say whether he did in fact try to stop Sessions, but he stressed that he has always conducted himself properly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Everything I have done is 100 proper. That's what I do, is, I do things proper. And, you know, I guess the collusion now is dead, because everyone found that, after a year of study, there has been absolutely no collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Joining me now is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California.
Congressman, I want to get your take on the president's response to Michael Wolff's new book, "Fire and Fury," the suggestion that there are many people around the president who are concerned he's mentally unfit for office.
President Trump, in response, tweeted -- quote -- "Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from very successful businessman to top TV star to president of the United States on my first try. I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius, and a very stable genius at that" -- unquote.
What is your reaction to those tweets?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, look, I don't think anyone is particularly surprised by what has been revealed in the Wolff book in terms of the questions that people working closest with the president have about his capacity to do the job.
I don't think there is anyone in Congress, frankly, of either party who does not concur at least privately with those observations and concerns. Certainly, very few are willing to express them publicly in Congress, and I think that's to the detriment of our institution.
The big question for us, though, is, you know, plainly, we have a seriously flawed human being in the Oval Office. Will those flaws be allowed to permeate the whole of government?
And I see honestly, Jake, some very disturbing signs that they are. And among the most serious, from my point of view, are these reports that the Justice Department, at the president's urging, is now investigating Hillary Clinton again.
That would be a violation of all the protections we put in place post- Watergate. And no one should imagine that, if that's the case, that the president won't similarly badger the Justice Department to investigate anyone who runs against him in 2020.
TAPPER: Well, let me ask you, Congressman, who do you -- do you have any evidence that this investigation going on into the Clinton Foundation being conducted by the Justice Department and the FBI, do you have any evidence that it's being done for political reasons?
How do you not know that it's a legitimate investigation? I mean, I thought that the whole idea was, we're supposed to believe that the FBI and the people at the Justice Department are men and women of integrity.
SCHIFF: Well, we are.
But if this is a decision -- and I can't confirm even whether the Justice Department is conducting an investigation -- I'm just going on the published reports. But if they are investigating Hillary Clinton, it doesn't take a genius, let alone a stable genius, to see why.
It's not because there is some new evidence that has come to light. It's because they're being badgered by the White House to do it. You simply cannot explain it, I think, any other way.
And that is, I think, deeply disturbing. And they're not -- that's not in isolation. If you look at the decision by the Justice Department to release these private text messages during the pendency of an internal Department of Justice inspector general investigation, that's unprecedented.
And that similarly is a nod to the White House. And I think that these cracks that we're seeing in the independence of the Justice Department ought to concern every American. We ought to be thinking in Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, beyond these three years what damage may be done to the institutions of our democracy.
And that ought to be far more important than any party concerns. But, right now, it certainly doesn't look that way.
TAPPER: Well, with all due respect, Congressman, aren't you contributing to the lack of faith in these institutions? All we know is that the investigation into the Clinton Foundation has started anew. There might be new evidence. There might be a legitimate reason.
You are just saying your suspicion that this is being done because President Trump has publicly called for his political opponents to be investigated. And, clearly, while that casts a cloud over the investigation, the president doing that, that doesn't necessarily mean there is anything illegitimate about the investigation itself.
SCHIFF: Jake, you really have to suspend disbelief to suggest that this is being done for anything but a political purpose.
Look at the reopening of the Uranium One investigation. Look at the decision to lift the gag rule on this witness. Why is this being done now? Are we really to believe this is being done for completely independent investigative reasons, that someone at the Justice Department, completely on their own, decided, hey, this is a good time to reexamine a 7-year-old uranium transaction?
No. This is a response to the president's tweets, his admonitions, his badgering. And I'm not going to ignore the plain reality of this, because it is going on. And, as I said, you don't have to be a genius to see this, and you don't have to be a cynic to see this. The Justice Department is taking actions as a direct result of this lobbying campaign by the White House.
And I think I would be derelict, as the Republicans are derelict, if I wasn't calling this out and sounding the alarm.
TAPPER: Well, I don't want to spend the whole time on this, but I will say you're asserting your suspicions as fact.
And if you get facts to back up your suspicions, I would love to hear them.
But let's move on. A new report this week...
SCHIFF: You know, Jake, let me say...
SCHIFF: ... I haven't seen -- I haven't seen any facts, Jake, I haven't seen any facts to justify the reopening of these investigations. Nothing has been brought to my attention to warrant this.
TAPPER: Well, you're the ranking Democrat -- you're the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee. Can't you ask the FBI why they reopened it? Aren't you able to do that?
SCHIFF: I'm certainly able to do it, but am I able to get answers?
And, thus far, the answer is, no, I'm not able to get answers. I'm not able to ascertain, why are they reopening a look at the uranium investigation? Why are they reopening an investigation into the Clinton Foundation?
No one has presented information to me that provides a legitimate justification for this. And that's why I'm expressing the concern.
TAPPER: All right.
A new report this week in "The New York Times" says President Trump ordered the White House counsel to pressure the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, not to recuse himself from the Russia probe, and that the initial draft of the memo firing Comey explicitly linked to the Russia investigation.
"The Times" is saying Mueller is examining this as possible obstruction of justice.
At this point, from what you know, is there a stronger case for obstruction of justice than there is for collusion between the Trump campaign or Trump team and the Russian government? [09:25:03]
SCHIFF: I don't know how to, you know, weigh the relative merits of the evidence in terms of obstruction and the evidence in terms of collusion.
But I will say this. It is certainly appropriate, and I think even necessary, that we investigate this. And I do think it's evidence that bears on the intent of president in urging the White House counsel to urge Jeff Sessions essentially to ignore the advice of the ethics lawyers at the Justice Department.
It certainly appears consistent with what the president has said about his firing of James Comey. And that is, he had Russia on his mind. He wanted loyalty from James Comey. He wanted loyalty from Jeff Sessions. And the way the president interprets loyalty is not loyalty to country, not loyalty to justice, but, rather, loyalty to him and having his back when it concerns the Russia investigation.
So, I think this could very well be evidence that goes to the president's intent. And, of course, one of the elements of obstruction is having a corrupt intent that accompanies these acts.
TAPPER: All right, Congressman Adam Schiff, always a pleasure to see you. Thanks so much for joining us today.
SCHIFF: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: After an explosive new tell-all reveals details from inside the highest levels of the Trump administration and says top Trump White House officials describe the president as childlike, does the president need to clean house?
Political gurus David Axelrod and Mark McKinnon will be here to discuss.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
President Trump spent much of the week defending himself against charges from an explosive new tell-all, calling the author, Michael Wolff, a -- quote -- "total loser who made up stories" -- unquote.
The book is "Fire and Fury": Inside the White House," suggested the people around the president do not believe he's fit to be president and that they are questioning his mental stability.
Here to discuss how the White House should be and is dealing with the fallout are two people who have firsthand experience in the West Wing, David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama and host of CNN's "THE AXE FILES," and Mark McKinnon, former strategist for President George W. Bush and host of "The Circus" on Showtime.
Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining me.
David, let me start with you.
President Trump took to Twitter this weekend to tout his mental abilities after the release of the book, tweeting he was a -- quote -- "very stable genius."
What was your reaction, David, when you saw that tweet?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, in a normal presidency, when books like this arise, what you would do is tell the president, do not engage because you will only amp up the coverage of the story.
In a normal presidency, you wouldn't send the president out to attest to his own mental stability and brilliance. But this isn't, as we know, a normal presidency or a normal White House.
And he does what he wants to do. And he only complicates his situation. He only -- he not only amplifies the coverage of this, but he also amplifies the questions that the book raises.
So, you know, I wasn't surprised, I guess, having watched Donald Trump for the last couple of years. But, by normal standards, it was a -- it was a bizarre thing to do.
TAPPER: And, Mark, I know it's not the same thing. They're not the same men. And a lot of the stuff said about President George W. Bush was completely unfair and unfounded.
But there was a lot of criticism of President George W. Bush and his intelligence, not his mental stability, but his intelligence. Did that affect President Bush? And how did he deal with it?
MARK MCKINNON, FORMER MEDIA ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, first thing I would say is that, you know, I'm not so much surprised about what's inside the book.
What I'm shocked about is the fact that they would let this author inside the White House for a year. I mean, the president referred to him as a total loser and a fraud. Stephen Miller just called him a garbage author, and yet they allowed him to wander around the White House for a year writing this book.
So, the first thing I would say is that -- to reflect on what's going on in the White House, is, you know, the notion that somebody would just be walking around the White House writing a book, and that nobody went up to the president and said, did you actually authorize this and is this OK, I mean, Karl Rove or Rahm Emanuel in the Bush or Obama White Houses would have had that guy thrown out in five minutes.
TAPPER: Yes. David, a huge impact of this book is obviously the fallout between the
president and his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the Axelrod of the Trump White House.
And Bannon has not publicly denied the incendiary comments, the quotes in the book, after which the White House released a statement saying -- quote -- "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job. Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than 30 years by Republicans. Steve doesn't represent my base. He's only in it for himself" -- unquote.
Obviously, I know the answer to this question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. Can you think of a worse communications strategy for dealing with this than how they have done it? I mean, is there -- is there any -- how would you have told them to deal with this book? Just don't even talk about it?
AXELROD: Well, I mean, I would have let I would have let the press secretary handle it. I would have been very muted about it.
Any -- when you engage like this, as I said earlier, you just amp it up.
And let me just point out one thing about Steve Miller's rather strange appearance on your show today. You can't at the same time argue that a book is pure fiction and then denounce Steve Bannon for his quotes in the book, OK? Either it's one thing or the other.
And so, obviously, it isn't pure fiction if they think that Bannon's quotes were accurate. And, obviously, Bannon himself hasn't spoken, which tells you something. The author says he has some tape, which may be why Bannon hasn't denied the quotes in the book.
But, no, I think this has been a disastrous strategy that only raises more questions. But we should point out that even the day before this book appeared, there was a fusillade of tweets from the president that had everybody -- bizarre tweets that had everyone scratching their heads.
So this book is -- however accurate some of the reporting is, it builds on a year's worth of experience with Donald Trump and a year's worth of reporting by a broad array of news organizations that make you think, yes, maybe there is something here.
TAPPER: Both of you have had to deal with books come out during the Obama and Bush presidencies, respectively, one that raised questions about internal strife, et cetera.
Mark, former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan wrote one. There was "The Price of Loyalty" about the former treasury secretary by Ron Suskind.
How did the Bush White House deal with them? And what does it do internally to a White House, Mark, when people are quoted attacking each other in books like these? [09:35:03]
MCKINNON: Well, it's difficult.
But the worst thing that you can do is flatter the book with attention and, even worse than that, threaten to sue the author. I guarantee, if you want to raise sales for a book, threaten to sue the author.
And as Michael Wolff said when he heard that, he said, "Where do I send the box of chocolates?"
So, as a strategy, what you don't want to do is reflect too much attention on to something that is trying to get a lot of attention.
But the fact is that, you know, books written in the White House, either authorized or unauthorized, are generally never helpful, right, and especially in the first year of a presidency.
MCKINNON: First years of the most successful presidents are chaotic. So, the last thing that I think, you know, a strategist or adviser to the president would recommend is, yes, let's let somebody hang around the White House for the first year of the presidency and write about it.
TAPPER: David, you faced books like this as well.
AXELROD: Hey, Jake, can I...
TAPPER: There was "Confidence Men" by Ron Suskind in 2011, "The Obamas" by Jodi Kantor in 2012.
Well, after you answer what you want to answer, tell me about, inside the White House, what a book like this does.
AXELROD: Well, I will answer that, and then say what I wanted to say.
It's not good. It's not good if you have -- first of all, for the president to know that the people closest to him were saying things, even if they deny publicly that they said them, in his mind, the question will be, did they say these things?
And so it is a poisonous thing when a book like this is published.
Now, a lot of the folks who were mentioned, or some of them, are gone now, and you have a new regime in the White House, so it's a little bit different. But, nonetheless, in the mind of a president who tends towards the paranoid, this isn't a good thing.
What I wanted to say is, is you say, how do you handle these things?
I remember being at a White House Correspondents Dinner -- and you were probably there, and Mark was as well -- when George W. Bush was delivering the comedic speech that presidents deliver. And there was one joke in there that I remember, which was, you know,
I know some people don't think I'm that smart. You know, honestly, I think some of my staff doesn't believe -- believes that as well, because every morning, they put this intelligence briefing on my schedule.
AXELROD: And so, you know, that is the way you deal with these things.
But you have to be a confident person to deliver a joke like that. It was a brilliant joke. It was well-received. And it said, look, I know what you guys think.
But it actually made him look intelligent. And so -- you know, but Donald Trump is incapable of doing that kind of thing. And, instead, he reacts the way he does, and he only makes his situation worse.
TAPPER: Mark, final thoughts?
MCKINNON: Well, I think what the White House needs to do as quickly as possible is stop talking about the book, move on, start talking about the agenda for 2018.
And that's what Trump was doing at Camp David this weekend, which I thought was a good strategy. You know, publicly let people know, let the audience know, let his supporters and let America know that he's moving on, he's looking forward to 2018, and trying to do the job of the presidency and looking ahead, instead of looking back in the mirror through this book.
TAPPER: All right.
Mark and David, our two wise men, thank you so much. Appreciate it, as always.
President Trump could soon have another Republican to worry about in the Senate. Will Mitt Romney run for the seat in Utah? Our panel is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I went to the best -- I went to the best colleges, or college.
I went to a -- I had a situation where I was a very excellent student. Came out, made billions and billions of dollars. Became one of the top business people.
Went to television and for 10 years was a tremendous success, as you probably have heard. Ran for president one time and won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: President Trump articulating his C.V., defending himself? Not exactly sure what that was but that was President Trump. Our panel is here with me now.
Michael Caputo, you worked on the Trump campaign. How would you have advised the Trump White House to have handled this last week and a book that I know you have major issues with?
MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, DONALD J. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT: I do. I would have said ignore the book, dismiss it, ignore it, move on.
There were so many great things that happened at the end of the 2017 for this presidency and so many things on the horizon -- on the immediate horizon that could be very successful for the president.
The book itself is a distraction, it's trash, just like Stephen Miller said and I think so much of it is being criticized by people who are on -- roundly (ph) from all sides. The book itself would have died a slow death but now it's going to be a bestseller.
And I think that the White House still has time to speak about something else. I hope after this Camp David press conference that they can move on.
TAPPER: One of the issues -- I agree with Michael that the White House has given this incredible amounts of oxygen, but one of the reasons why I don't think it would have been ignored is that the White House cooperated with this book. The author was there and White House personnel and staffers are quoted all over it.
You were communications director at the White House. You guys had some books you had to deal with. How would you have dealt with it and what do you think about them letting Michael Wolff in through the door?
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I agree with Michael, I agree with you, that what they've done is given this enormous oxygen this week. They've probably made him a bestseller, perhaps.
The problems they have and kind of the defense Michael just gave of the White House is, one, they gave him unfettered access, as you said. He reportedly has hours of on the record interviews on tape of some of these staff saying the same things, and the third one, which I think is going to be the most lasting beyond the Bannon/Trump rivalry is the issue of Trump's unfitness to be president.
Now this is consistent with reporting, with what some people have expressed concerns about, this is the lengthiest analysis of that with many, many quotes and insights from people who have been close to Trump. And that is not a debate that he or the White House wants to be having over the next few months.
TAPPER: Now Michael Wolff the other day said on the "Today" show that 100 percent of the people around President Trump, including family and senior staffers, 100 percent don't think he's up to the job. I find that impossible to believe.
Just Don Jr. and Eric alone, who worship their father and think he -- I mean, it's just not a true statement. It seems like the White House could have dealt with this any number of ways, in terms of pointing to things that Michael Wolff has said or written that are just demonstrably false --
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
TAPPER: -- but the subject of whether or not President Trump, whether or not there (ph) are (ph) people around President Trump that don't know about his fitness, I don't know that the president has done himself any favors in his response this week.
CARPENTER: No, but, I mean, it's no secret that President Trump has bad judgment on any number of things.
We see this play out day after day after day. And certainly people who have to counsel him, give him advice have to be banging their heads against the walls.
I think, anyone who worked in communications knows that Michael Wolff was hanging around the White House, that makes your brain melt to think that this was authorized. I think anybody that has worked a second in that.
But the thing that hurts Trump the most is what Bannon said about Russia. Listen, Bannon does have a grudge, but he's also probably right. He said the Trump Tower meeting was treasonous and he's worried about money laundering.
That validates the Russia investigations. That is what leaves a mark and that is why Bannon has gone quiet.
TAPPER: What do you think the biggest mark that this precludes? Is it about the treasonous thing? Is it about the president's fitness?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think from a big picture point of view, one person who turns out not to be a genius is Bannon.
If you are -- if you're coming around the corner at the end of last year, you're looking at a Bannon that is a major threat to both political parties. He has the Mercers, which means money. He has Breitbart, which means media.
He has a credibly strategy to attack Republican establishment and he has access to the presidency. This was the biggest threat to from my point of view to American democracy and he wiped himself out and it's not even the end of the first week.
The Mercers apparently may back away from him. Breitbart turned on him. The president just hosed him publicly. And I don't think anyone is afraid of him anymore. So, for me, the implosion of Steve Bannon and the possible removal of Steve Bannon from the board big picture is going to be more important.
TAPPER: Do you think that Stephen Miller, who gave an interesting interview, if you can call it that this morning on the show is the right person to be putting out there to beat back the allegations in this book?
CAPUTO: Well, I think -- let's take a look at the attacks that are going on on this president and have been for some while, they are very, very personal. There are people on the left that make fun of his hands.
We know what they means. Why they're thinking about that? I don't know.
But, I mean, the personal attacks on this president are profound. And I think the president himself feels compelled to defend himself. They're so personal.
And I think he sent out one of his most trusted aides today to defend him as well. It's just so personal and so visceral and so hateful that -- I don't think I've seen this kind of thing before
And forget about how trashy this book is and what Wolff had to do, all the lies he had to tell to even get into the White House and write this book. I mean, the 2018 itself is looking good for this presidency. It's going to be difficult for the 2018 midterms, but if we continue to talk about this book and defend the president so -- you know, against these visceral attacks, we're probably stuck in this rut.
CARPENTER: Well, I think what's interesting about the Miller interview, he did take special care to call Trump a political genius many times, which I think is to push back on allegations of mental unfitness in this book. He said it several times. But it should not be overlooked that Stephen Miller publicly broke with Bannon.
Stephen Miller was viewed among the conservative base as the insider in the White House who is going to guide immigration policy. Now that Stephen Miller has officially pledged allegiance to Trump, broke with Bannon who represents that branch, that connection to the base, that needs to be looked at.
PSAKI: I think there is a fundamental question here. You have Stephen Miller, whose audience as you pointed out, is an audience of one, Donald Trump. Maybe there was job security activity going on there, who knows?
JONES: That was a job interview.
PSAKI: But there is -- there is a question as to whether --
TAPPER: He got the job, though.
PSAKI: He got the job and he still have the job thanks to that interview.
But there is a question about whether sending someone out to do an interview the weekend after you're accused of being unfit and erratic who comes across as unfit and erratic is the right strategy for any White House.
You have a small percentage of people, about 30 percent supporting you. Do you want to expand that? He needs to expand that up to the midterms --
JONES: Can I say something about the unfitness question now because -- listen, it's not a hundred percent, but in any other situation if 50 percent of the people around the president were concerned that he was not fit to do the job, that would be a global emergency.
I think we have -- sometimes we just adapt to the absurdity here. That fact that anybody close to the president has those concerns.
There is now a movement amongst psychiatrists and other people to figure out how do we intervene here? What can we possibly do because we could be looking at -- we could look back a year from now and say the warning signs were there and we did not do (INAUDIBLE).
CAPUTO: This makes me want to holler.
TAPPER: Yes, I was --
CAPUTO: I mean, it really does.
Don't forget that LBJ used to do White House meetings on the toilet, all right? The idea that this president is somehow, you know, unfit for office is spin, it's designed to be the new Russia investigation for 2018.
With the Russia investigation going to be behind us soon. Now they're moving into the 25th amendment. This is craziness.
TAPPER: I want to ask you about this because there is this vocal group of House Democrats and people in the mental health community, psychiatrists and psychologists, saying this, and one of them was even suggesting that the president needs to be analyzed, even if it's against his own will --
TAPPER: This doesn't seem to be a winning argument, the idea that the president like should be, like, you know, hit with a butterfly net -- (CROSSTALK)
CARPENTER: Listen, you can say Trump has bad judgment. That doesn't mean he's mentally ill. I mean, you are -- they are overplaying their hand.
CAPUTO: As always.
CARPENTER: It's going to be a political solution to this and if Democrats want to be successful, they should focus on a political solution rather than a medical one.
JONES: From a constitutional point of view -- just to back off, from a constitutional point of view, we do seem to have some vulnerabilities here. What is the solution?
Supposed in fact he does have a problem --
CARPENTER: What is the charge?
JONES: -- or any other president going forward -- you know, Jimmy Carter raised some of these concerns back in the '80s. We don't have a way to make sure that the president is fit.
The people who have their finger -- actually their fingers on the button have to be checked every three months for their mental fitness, but the president doesn't. In other words, the people who are actually in charge of the nuclear arsenal have to be evaluated but the commander in chief does not.
This is a reasonable thing to discuss.
TAPPER: It seems like a very slippery slope to me. I mean, how stable is it for a president to have a sexual relationship with an intern in the Oval Office? I mean, all of a sudden we're looking at all sorts of presidential behaviors.
PSAKI: Look, I think the question that's serious here is about whether this is the person who should have this like hand on the button with our nuclear codes, right? And when it comes to a lot of the issues that are real, that are substantive that we're not always talking about, there are real political questions and substantive questions about this president's fitness.
Those are political issues that could come up in 2018 and 2020 and are completely valid questions for people to be asking and are questions people could be having at their kitchen table, in the grocery store.
Like, I know he means well -- even people who like him -- I know he means well but you know what? He doesn't seem quite right, he doesn't seem quite stable. He seems a little erratic. Those are questions that will happen. TAPPER: It seems like you're saying that's for the voters to decide not -- and psychiatrist with the butterfly net (INAUDIBLE).
Thanks, one and all for being here.
From lying Ted to lower energy Jeb, the president has a pension for nicknames and now he's going right for the jugular after one of his closest advisers has turned on him. And that's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion," next.
TAPPER: Welcome back.
It is one of the president's unique talents, if you want to call it that, coming up with biting nicknames for his opponents. Usually just two word monikers but they can cut deep. That's the subject of this week's "State of the Cartoonion."
TAPPER (voice-over): Almost like magic, let on Thursday, President Trump came up with a new nasty nickname for his former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
TRUMP: Sloppy Steve.
TAPPER: The nickname comes in the midst of a rather consequential fight about a book that paints a picture of the president as disconnected and not up to the job. There is one job that the president is clearly up to. Coining devastating nicknames.
TRUMP: Rocket man. Crooked Hillary Clinton. Low energy Jeb Bush. Lying Ted Cruz, lying Ted. Little Marco.
TAPPER: Cruel and juvenile and occasionally racist.
TRUMP: I call her Pocahontas and that's an insult to Pocahontas.
TAPPER: So how does President Trump come up with that perfect nickname? Does he workshop them?
Sardonic (ph) Steve. No.
Silly Steve. No.
Hobo Steve? It might anger the hobo community.
TRUMP: Sloppy Steve.
TAPPER: But Bannon is capable of coming up with biting nicknames as well. According "Politico" he privately refers to President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner as Fredo, the craven (ph) son in "The Godfather." Though we should point out that "Politico" originally misreported this saying that, Bannon called Kushner Frodo, the character from "Lord of the Rings."
So will Bannon now return fire and come up with a nickname for his former boss? One wonders where this epic battle might end up, perhaps like an old west standoff with smartphones instead of guns.
TAPPER: President Trump now says he would -- quote -- "absolutely" talk to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on the phone but after months of trading insults, will that actually happen? That's next.