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Bob Woodward's "Fear" Grips The Trump White House; Senator Angus King On Brett Kavanaugh's Confirmation Hearing; Twitter And Facebook Executives Appear Before Senate Intelligence Committee Today; CNN Reality Check: Trump Takes On Sessions For Charging GOP Congressmen. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 5, 2018 - 07:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[07:30:00] MARC SHORT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: -- do I think want to portray something that sometimes isn't reality.

I think that this president operates --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

SHORT: -- in a different. I don't think there's any doubt about that Alisyn, and he has a different operation structure.

But I think somewhere where the narrative is there's a chaos and there's dysfunction --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

SHORT: -- and it has to reconcile with the fact that you have a 4.2 percent GDP. You have the lowest unemployment rate in years.

CAMEROTA: Understood -- I understand all those accomplishments.

SHORT: You have --

CAMEROTA: But I mean, I'm just saying that --

SHORT: But, you don't. But, you don't, Alisyn because you're --

CAMEROTA: The thing -- because here -- hold on one second. I just want to focus on one thing that you just said. You're putting Bob --

SHORT: I know, you don't want to focus on accomplishments.

CAMEROTA: You're putting Bob Woodward in the same category as Omarosa.

SHORT: I'm saying there's been a series of books. I don't think there's any denial of that, right? There's been a fire --

CAMEROTA: Is Bob Woodward's book in a different category?

SHORT: I think that Bob Woodward's an acclaimed author. I don't think there's any doubt about that, Alisyn. CAMEROTA: And journalist.

SHORT: But I also think that there is a series of stories coming out that say here's a chaotic White House and there's a lot of discussion about the process.

And, in fact, when you have 99 percent of ISIS' territory that's been reclaimed --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

SHORT: -- a record number of regulations have been repealed. There's another Supreme Court justice that's about to be confirmed.

Unemployment at record lows. Taxes that have been reduced and the economy growing at a record rate.

CAMEROTA: Are you saying that all of the -- that the -- I understand.

SHORT: There has to be a reconciliation to say hey, maybe this is working OK.

CAMEROTA: OK, so the end justify the means to you.

SHORT: No, no. The end does not justify the means but perhaps there's a different process that people in this town are not used to seeing.

This is a president who is a non-traditional president. He does things a different way. That does not mean the end justifies the means --

CAMEROTA: OK.

SHORT: -- but I think there has to be reconciliation when there's all these stories about the chaos without saying hey, actually, there's significant accomplishments as well.

CAMEROTA: I hear you and you've made that point, but it's not just chaos. It sounds like there are people inside the White House very close to the president who were truly worried. Who have anxiety about the president's impulses and what it could mean for the country.

The staff secretary Rob Porter, whom you worked with, stole or hid documents, according to the quotes in this, from the president's desk on multiple occasions to protect national security.

Here's the quote from Rob Porter. "A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he had and try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren't such good ideas."

Are you saying Rob Porter is not telling the truth?

SHORT: I don't know that firsthand, Alisyn.

But here's -- last hour, you had a great segment with you and David in which you were talking about the South Korea element in this story and I think there's an important detail there.

This president does have a way of having -- putting out a position that's out here -- it's an outlier -- and having his staff argue out that position.

So he might say why are troops still in South Korea? Why, when they have a trade imbalance? Why are we protecting them when they aren't helping us out?

CAMEROTA: Yes.

SHORT: And it forces his staff to come say here's why we've been there since the Korean War. Here's the benefit to the United States.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

SHORT: And it gets us to a good position.

CAMEROTA: I think that that -- look, ideally, that makes perfect sense -- the Socratic method of asking questions --

SHORT: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- but it doesn't sound like the people closest to the president think that's what's happening.

Here's what John Kelly has said. Quote, "He's an idiot. It's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails.

We're in Crazytown. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had."

This is not what you're describing, Marc, of just a president who is knowledgeable and informed asking questions.

SHORT: No. What I'm saying is he puts out a position and has the staff argue out the position, and that's the way, often, he gets informed of a decision.

There's no doubt that John Kelly has an incredibly difficult job. I think we would all acknowledge that. And I know he's been frustrated many times.

CAMEROTA: Do you doubt that he has said these things?

SHORT: I have never heard -- I have never heard John Kelly call the president an idiot. I've certainly heard him express his frustrations in the job.

And he's a guy who has sacrificed an enormous amount for this country.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

SHORT: -- and he loved being in active service in the Marine Corps.

CAMEROTA: I have a question.

SHORT: So I know this is frustrating.

CAMEROTA: Did you know that Bob Woodward was working on a book?

SHORT: I had heard that Bob Woodward was working on a book. Bob Woodward never reached out to me. I didn't participate in the book.

CAMEROTA: Do you know if anyone mentioned this to President Trump and asked him if he wanted to participate because there's a dispute about this now?

SHORT: I don't know if anyone did. I don't think it's usually productive for the president to participate in these sorts of books because I don't think they ever turn out well for him.

But as far as information, I think he likes to be the decision maker and so there should have been a discussion to say he is writing a book. We suggest you not, but what do you want to do?

CAMEROTA: Well --

SHORT: That's usually the way I would handle it in legislative affairs. Like, here's my recommendation, Mr. President. What do you want to do?

CAMEROTA: And it sounds like that's what President Trump would have wished.

Here's a moment -- it's very fascinating to listen to this phone call between Bob Woodward and President Trump where President Trump says I wish I had known about it, I would have participated. And, Bob Woodward was making the case that he had told about a half-dozen people and asked for the president's participation.

And, President Trump saying what he thinks of Bob Woodward's reputation.

So listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's really too bad because nobody told me about it and I would have loved to have spoken to you. You know I'm very open to you. I think you've always been fair. But we'll see what happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: That's President Trump saying that he would have spoken to him and he's always been fair.

So do you believe what is in Bob Woodward's book?

SHORT: Alisyn, I've not read the book. I can't comment as to what I believe what's in there or not. CAMEROTA: But what you've heard, do you think that this is a -- that Bob Woodward is not in the same category as Omarosa and this is --

[07:35:04] SHORT: Of course not. Of course not.

Bob Woodward is an acclaimed author. I don't mean to make that accusation.

But I do think that there's been a series of books that come out that talk about the chaos and dysfunction without saying well, maybe this is, in fact, a different management style that is producing results.

CAMEROTA: OK.

Marc Short, we appreciate your insider's take on all of this. Thank you.

SHORT: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: John --

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting discussion there.

So what's the reaction of Bob Woodward's explosive new book on Capitol Hill? We're going to ask a U.S. senator about that and the Supreme Court confirmation process. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Bob Woodward's explosive new book "Fear" undeniably gripping the White House. The president and his allies trying to attack the credibility of award-winning journalist Bob Woodward.

CNN has spoken to at least a dozen former and current White House officials who tell us that they spoke to Woodward for his book.

Joining us now to discuss this and much more of what's going on on Capitol Hill, Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine. Senator King, thank you so much for being with us.

I want to talk about the Supreme Court confirmation process in just a moment, but I do want to get your reaction to what we've all seen and read over the last few days in this Bob Woodward book. It paints a picture of White House officials -- again, mostly in their words -- trying to protect the country from the president.

There's an episode where Gary Cohn, former financial adviser to the president, steals papers off his desk.

He says, "I stole it off his desk. I wouldn't let him see it. He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country."

What does it tell you that there are people close to the president that feel like they need to keep him from the country somehow?

[07:40:04] SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME), MEMBER, SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: John, I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you because I spent most of last night preparing for an important intelligence committee hearing today on Russian interference in the election and also trying to figure out what kind of judge Brett Kavanaugh is going to be.

So I haven't -- obviously, I haven't read the book. I haven't even looked at all the excerpts. I'm going to let you talk to other people, as you have been all morning, about that.

But I'm trying to keep my head down and do my job right here.

BERMAN: I appreciate that very much. Just before I go off this subject, Bob Woodward -- you know, you certainly have read his work for a long time.

KING: Sure.

BERMAN: I don't know if you know him or not, but any reason to doubt his reporting?

KING: Well, he certainly is -- as Marc Short just said, he's a distinguished reporter and a serious journalist. The only thing I can tell you for sure is I didn't get interviewed for the book.

So other than that, I think we're going to have to judge the book on its merits and see how it -- how the -- those people who are mentioned in the book respond and add it to the canon of literature about this presidency.

BERMAN: I understand you're going to sit in in the judiciary hearing today for the confirmation process of Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

You weren't there yesterday. I am sure you had a chance to see what happened, particularly at the beginning of the hearing with Democratic maneuvering to try to get the hearing stalled.

What did you make of that?

KING: Well, you know, it was unfortunate the way it unfolded yesterday but I really am sort of puzzled by the way this is -- this is being played out in terms of documents being produced.

I was in Maine over the weekend, as I always am, talking to people and people are starting to get suspicious. They're saying why aren't they releasing documents? What -- are they worried that something's in the documents? Do they know that something's in the documents?

I mean, we've got about 10 percent of all the material that this fellow had his hands on and wrote and produced, particularly during the period when he was in the Bush White House, and I don't think anybody watching us would do a job interview with somebody when you only had 10 percent of their resume and they said well, I'm not going to show you the rest of it.

It just -- there's something fishy here and it's the way the process is being rushed. I understand the frustration yesterday of a number of the senators given 42,000 pages of documents less than 24 hours from the hearing. I mean, the whole is just if you step back a minute makes no sense.

And what bothers me is this could be the precedent for future considerations of Supreme Court justices and I think that's a real mistake.

BERMAN: Let me ask --

KING: This is one of our fundamental responsibilities is advise and consent and I don't see how we're supposed to be able to do it without the records.

BERMAN: Let me break this into two parts, first of all on the issue of transparency.

So, when Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the committee -- Orrin Hatch, who is a senior member of that committee say this is the most transparent confirmation process they have ever seen, you're not buying it.

They also say that what matters here is Brett Kavanaugh's judicial record and you have a full record of the some 300 cases that he decided on in the appeals.

KING: I don't know if that's all that matters because those 300 cases were the cases that happened to come before his court. They don't necessarily reflect the breadth of his judicial thinking.

So I think you do need a broader record and you particularly need -- what was he thinking about, for example, presidential privilege, about torture, about detention of -- all of those issues that arose during the Bush administration. How did he approach those?

And that's -- this is our -- this is our fundamental job and I'm -- you know, I'm standing in the shoes of the people of Maine who want to know who is this guy.

He's -- this is a 30-year appointment. This is -- this guy's position on this court is going to be here when most of us are long gone and it's going to affect the country. This isn't a member of the cabinet.

BERMAN: Let me --

KING: This is a lifetime appointment and therefore, it's doubly important in my view.

BERMAN: Do you feel it was appropriate for the Democrats to try to slow down the hearing with as many interruptions as they had at the outset yesterday -- that chaotic hour?

KING: Well, you know, I'm a guy that believes in civility. But they weren't being given a chance to make the case and I think they had to raise this question.

In my view, the hearing should have been postponed. What's the rush? What is it that they're trying to move through to fast?

I've read, credibly, that Mitch McConnell warned the White House about Brett Kavanaugh because of the breadth of his record, because of the length of the time it was going to take to get all the materials together. And yet, they appointed him anyway.

But now they're starting to short-circuit the process by not producing all the information that I think we need in order to make a good decision.

BERMAN: So not only are you going to that hearing today but there's also a hearing in your committee, as you noted, about social media and the elections. Executives of Twitter and Facebook -- they're going to testify in relation to foreign actions and use of their platforms to influence the elections.

[07:45:02] What questions do you think are the most important to ask here?

KING: Well, I think the most important questions are how can the platforms navigate the First Amendment free society open information as opposed to the misuse of their platforms as they were, we now know, in 2016 to inform the American people about an upcoming election.

Our whole system is based upon information. The whole idea of democracy is that citizens can make decisions based upon information that they're given.

If the information is distorted, incorrect -- just outright lies -- then we end up with not being able to make the right decisions. So we need to understand and talk to these companies.

I don't want to regulate the Internet. I think that should be the last resort.

The question is what can the companies do to protect the integrity of their own platform, and I think that's what we're going to be talking about today.

BERMAN: Right.

KING: This is one of those rare congressional hearings where it's not rogue and everybody doesn't know the answers, and the members are going to just ask rogue questions. We're really looking for information here on how we can protect the American democratic system going forward.

BERMAN: All right. You have a busy day ahead of you.

Senator Angus King of Maine, thanks so much for being with us.

KING: Thank you, John.

CAMEROTA: OK, John.

President Trump ripping Attorney General Jeff Sessions for investigating two Republican congressmen who happen to be the president's first two supporters.

Has the Justice Department ever seen something like this before? We get a reality check.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:50:14] CAMEROTA: All right.

So, President Trump is blasting Attorney General Jeff Sessions for indicting two Republican congressmen with financial crimes. Those Republican congressmen happen to be two of President Trump's biggest supporters.

So what can history teach us here about this episode?

John Avlon is here with a "Reality Check" -- John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Alisyn, yes, a short spoiler alert -- none of this is normal.

But we all know that President Trump spends a lot of time attacking his own Justice Department, but this recent tweet you mentioned rips up the principle of justice in a much more fundamental way.

Here's what he wrote.

"Two long-running, Obama era investigations of two very popular Republican congressmen were brought to a well-publicized charge, just ahead of the midterms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job, Jeff."

Now, Trump is referring to the indictments of Congressman Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter on charges of insider trading and misusing campaign funds. Now, coincidentally, they are also the very first congressmen who endorsed candidate Trump.

Now, he's factually wrong here on this end, at least. Chris Collins' insider trading allegedly occurred in late June 2017, not exactly the Obama era.

But that is small ball compared to the much bigger problem. Trump seems to be again taking aim at the concept of impartial justice itself, suggesting that his Justice Department should take partisan politics into account.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse raises the same red flag, writing, quote, "The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice -- one for the majority party and one for the minority party."

But a quick look back shows that past Justice Departments were equal opportunity indicters when it came to corrupt members of Congress. It's not a complicated concept, folks. A Democratic crook should be the same as a Republican crook. For example, Democratic Representatives Jesse Jackson Jr., Chaka Fattah, Corrine Brown, and Anthony Weiner were all investigated during the Obama administration and convicted of various crimes ranging from tax fraud to sending obscene selfies to a minor -- charming stuff.

And how about the last time we had a Republican in the Oval Office? The same principle applied.

George W. Bush's administration saw arrests and convictions of Republican representatives Bob Ney, Duke Cunningham, and Bill Janklow.

And who could forget this guy?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMES TRAFICANT, JR. (D), OHIO: And what really frosts my pumpkin, experts around the country say to solve the problem, Congress should give them more money. Beam me up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: Beam me up. I mean, what's not to love about Jim Traficant -- the hair, the jean blazer, the frosting of pumpkins? The 10 conviction counts, however, of bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion ultimately beamed Democrat Jim Traficant of Youngstown up to eight years in prison.

And just around this half of the last quarter-century, Bill Clinton's administration saw the conviction of Democrats like powerful Rep. Dan Rostenkowski for his role in the congressional post office scandal.

You get the idea. There are indictments and convictions of Republican and Democratic members of Congress all the time, unfortunately.

The Justice Department operates independently from partisan politics and electoral considerations. That's what helps keep our confidence in our system.

Now, other than guilty or professing their innocence, nowhere in any of these stories did anyone of real significance suggest that the wheels of justice should simply stop turning for political purposes, until President Trump.

As our own Jeff Toobin put it --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, this tweet alone may be an impeachable offense. This is such a disgrace. This is so contrary to the traditions of the Department of Justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: And that's your "Reality Check."

BERMAN: This is new, this is different. That's a great point. John Avlon, thanks so much.

Back to the negotiating table for the United States and Canada. Can they get a NAFTA deal done?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:58:18] BERMAN: Time for "CNN Money Now."

The Trump administration set to sit down for an important round of trade talks with one of the U.S.' closest allies.

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans with that now -- Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT, ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Hey, John.

It's a critical day for the future of NAFTA. Talks resume between Canada and the U.S. The Canadian delegation heads to Washington with both sides dug in here.

President Trump has threatened to retaliate if Canada doesn't move quickly on U.S. demands. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insists he will not sign a deal that's bad for Canada.

The U.S. reached a preliminary deal with Mexico last week but talks with Canada failed.

President Trump has said there is quote, "No political necessity to keep Canada in NAFTA" and warned Congress "don't intervene."

U.S. business groups say the future of NAFTA needs to be a trilateral deal.

Among the disputes here, the U.S. demands more access to Canada's dairy market which, by the way, is a relatively small part of overall U.S.-Canadian trade.

But, Canada wants cultural exemptions for industries like dairy, and Canada wants a dispute resolution mechanism.

The U.S. has set on October first deadline to renegotiate NAFTA.

And ironically, John, a lot of trade experts point out many of these things that really bother the Trump administration or Donald Trump about the U.S.-Canada trade situation were resolved under TPP but the U.S. withdrew from that.

BERMAN: All right, Christine Romans, TPP looming large, even if in the rearview mirror. Thanks so much.

We are following a ton of news so let's get to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AYANNA PRESSLEY (D), NOMINEE, MASSACHUSETTS 7TH HOUSE DISTRICT: It seems like change is on the way.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The blue wave took out a very blue member of Congress for a bluer one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Women and minorities are coming out in huge numbers this primary season.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People in the White House recognize the risk of this president in trying to protect his country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This book is not so much fake news as it's old news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bob Woodward has the juice here. He's got the facts.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: If he's got a problem with Sessions, just fire him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has a --