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Top Trump Aide in Op-Ed: Resistance Movement at Work Within Trump's Team. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 5, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Anonymous hit. In a stunning new op-ed in "The New York Times," an unnamed top Trump administration official excoriates the president and reveals a resistance bloc within the Trump team, trying to protect the country from the commander in chief.

[17:00:22] Invoking the 25th Amendment. The same unnamed official goes on to say there was discussion early on within the Trump team of starting the process to actually remove President Trump from office, but fear of a constitutional crisis prevented any action.

White House witch hunt. President Trump orders a hunt to find out which aides talked to journalist Bob Woodward for his explosive new book about the president, which Mr. Trump is dismissing as fiction.

And pardoning himself. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faces questions in his confirmation hearing about the president's legal problems and the Mueller investigation, but he won't say if Mr. Trump has the ability to pardon himself.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including a truly extraordinary attack on President Trump by one of his own senior administration officials.

That person, writing anonymously in a "The New York Times" op-ed, says the president is acting in a manner detrimental to the country and that many administration officials are working from within to, quote, "frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations," unquote.

And that seems to corroborate some of the truly explosive reporting about the president in the new book by the journalist Bob Woodward. CNN has learned that the president has ordered aides to find the people inside his own administration who talked to Woodward.

We're covering the breaking news this hour with our correspondents, specialists and analysts. They're all standing by.

But first, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, this is truly a remarkable inside attack on the president. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's no

question. We've not seen anything like this so far from this administration. It is, indeed, a sign of a war within this administration, perhaps within the walls of the West Wing here.

Now, this op-ed in "The New York Times," written anonymously, is coming out at the same time that this explosive Bob Woodward book is also coming out and, we know, frustrating the president deeply. And we've not gotten a reaction from the president yet about this op-ed he is aware of it. We are told and he surely will be reading it.

Wolf, let's take a look at some of the claims that this senior administration official, writing in "The New York Times" anonymously, is saying tonight. They say this.

"Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know. I am one of them."

This person goes on to say this: "But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our Democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office."

This official goes on to say this: "Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of evoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis, so we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until one way or another it is over."

And, Wolf, that is just a part of this essay. It goes on and on, simply making the point that there are people inside the government, inside this administration, perhaps across Washington, trying to stop the president and protect the country from the president. Wolf, we know the president was already outraged by that book. This certainly adds more salt to those wounds.

BLITZER: Yes. It certainly underscores this fear that there are numerous officials within his own administration who consider the commander in chief, the president of the United States, a threat to the United States. And all this comes, Jeff, as you know, as the White House is actually scrambling to push back on that new book from Bob Woodward that hits on very similar themes.

ZELENY: It certainly does, Wolf. And I was told earlier today by two top officials inside this government that the president is trying to find out who did talk to Bob Woodward and who did not talk to Bob Woodward, launching a witch hunt of his own, if you will, inside the West Wing and beyond, trying to get a sense of, reading the book, who may have spoken with him, who was left out.

And the president also is keenly focusing on the denials, particularly from his White House chief of staff, John Kelly, as well as Defense Secretary James Mattis. He said he was heartened by their denials.

[17:05:08] The president went after Bob Woodward earlier today in the Oval Office like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The book is a work of fiction. It's a -- really if you look at it, it was put out to interfere, in my opinion, at this time, with the Kavanaugh hearings, which I don't think it's done, because so many people have come out against it. So many people who have written about it said, "I never said that."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So the president saying fiction again and again. At least a half dozen or more times there, Wolf.

But the reality here, this is a work of nonfiction. Bob Woodward, of course, highly credible, has written books like this that are critical of many administrations. But this takes it to a different level and certainly is amplified by that op-ed in "The New York Times," which as you said, Wolf, makes many of the same themes.

Now, as for Defense Secretary James Mattis, the president said just a short time ago in the Roosevelt Room when he was meeting with Republican leaders, he said the defense secretary's job is safe. He said he was heartened to see his denial of a suggestion that he has the sort of grasp of a fifth or sixth grader on some foreign policy matters. And he seems to say that he will stay on.

But Wolf, again, the witch hunt is on for people who did or didn't talk to Bob Woodward, and I assume, Wolf, it's also going to be on for the person who wrote this "New York Times" op-ed.

BLITZER: Yes. They're looking for that person specifically, but a whole bunch of others, as well. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

I want more on the breaking news right now. Our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is working her sources for us. Kaitlan, what are you hearing?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, people are stunned by this op-ed that just came out.

When the White House woke up this morning, they were already knee deep in a crisis, trying to manage the fallout from that Bob Woodward book and the claims that were made in that. And then this fell into their lap this afternoon, and they don't know what to react. There is no reaction yet. They're saying that this is a bombshell.

I'm not sure if I'm texting more people in the White House, asking them who they think wrote this anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times" or if more people in the White House are texting me, asking me who I thought wrote this op-ed in "The New York Times." Wolf, the reaction here is really something. Aides are scrambling to

try to figure out who it is that works in this administration that went and wrote an op-ed of this nature.

So far, there's been no official response from the White House, but a few reporters were sitting outside Sarah Sanders' office earlier right behind this door including myself, and she said that the White House had no reaction yet, that they would let us know when they did.

But it wasn't even clear if they'd had a chance to read this op-ed yet at that point, because one reporter even printed out the op-ed, Wolf, and handed it to some of the officials standing upstairs.

Now, the president has an event with sheriffs in here in the East Room at the White House. He just showed up 30 minutes late to that meeting. It's unclear if that was so he could read this op-ed or if the White House is trying to form some kind of a response to this, Wolf.

But clearly, it's certainly going to be another problem for them to deal with when they already had all these other issues, including with the Woodward book on their plate.

BLITZER: And it was truly extraordinary that "The New York Times" decided to publish an op-ed by an anonymous person. They say they know who this individual is. They can speak of this individual's credentials, but they agreed to publish this article without any name attached.

It sounds like, in that anonymous op-ed, there are other officials, if you -- who actually feel the same way. They're staying put where they are, because they feel they can protect the country from the president.

Reporter: that's right. That seems to be a key point of this. Not just one stand-alone person who doesn't agree with President Trump, doesn't like President Trump, and is pinning this op-ed writing why they're staying on in the administration, even though they hold him, clearly, in such low regard.

This person writes at length that there are other people who agree with him in this administration. One of the quotes this person says: "From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief's comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims."

Now Wolf, this person goes on to say that meetings with President Trump veer off topic and off-the-rails, that President Trump engages in repetitive rants; and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill- informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

Now, Wolf, that is something stunning for a White House official, though anonymous to us and the readers of "The New York Times," but

known to the editors there, who allowed this person to publish this op-ed, to go and say this thing about the president, this administration, that they are working for.

And it is stunning to the people inside this White House, people who may say this to reporters on background or off the record at times. But this person publishing this something and making their feelings known.

And as you heard Jeff Zeleny there talking about this witch hunt that President Trump is on to find who it was that spoke with Bob Woodward about that book, once he reads this op-ed, Wolf, he is surely going to be on a witch hunt to find out who it is in his administration it is that feels this way about him.

BLITZER: I'm sure he's -- if he hasn't yet, he's going to order a complete search to find this individual and deal with it. I'm sure that's going to happen.

[17:10:06] Kaitlan, stand by. I know you're working your sources. We'll get back to you.

I want to dig deeper into all of this with our panel that's here, and you know, Jamie, you've been -- you were the first after "The Washington Post" to report on the details of this book. You've actually read the book. But stand by for a moment, because the president is speaking on this issue in the East Room.

TRUMP: He's part of the resistance within the Trump administration. This is what we have to deal with. And, you know, the dishonest media, because you people deal with it as well as I do. But it's really a disgrace.

I will say this. Nobody has done what this administration has done in terms of getting things passed and getting things through. An article was just printed, just came out, a few minutes ago. "Trump breaks the record for budget gridlock wins. Scores big win." So, for 20 years it's a 20-year record. A 20-year record. They call it the fouled-up budget gridlock. And scores big win.

Here's it. So this just came out. So in 20 years it hasn't been like it is now. It's we broke, we broke it. That's just really positive stuff.

And then in addition to that, point after point after point, if you look almost 4 million jobs created since the election. Of which -- more Americans now employed than ever recorded in our history. So we have more people working today than at any point ever in our history.

We've created 400,000 manufacturing jobs. Manufacturing jobs are growing at the fastest pace in more than 30 years. Economic growth last quarter was 4.2 percent, and as you people know, it was headed down. Big. And it was a low number. Very low number. It would have been -- in my opinion, it would have been less than zero. It was heading to negative numbers.

New employment claims recently hit a -- think of that. The unemployment picture in the country is the best it's been in 49 years. African-American unemployment lowest in the history of our country. Asian-American unemployment lowest in the history of our country. Hispanic-American unemployment lowest in the history of our country. I mean, I'm just looking at these. Just point after point.

Under my administration, veterans' unemployment reached its lowest in many, many years. The -- let's see. Almost 3.9 million Americans have been lifted off Food Stamps just since my election.

Then you go into all of the benefits that we got from the tax cuts. All of you people benefited tremendously from the tax cut.

You go into regulation. You go into right to try. Right to try is where you have the right, if a person's terminally ill, you have a right to go and try and see whether or not a drug that's not approved yet can be used and utilized. They didn't allow that.

Point after point. Getting rid of the individual mandate. The most unpopular thing there is in Obamacare. Coming up with new healthcare plans.

We've never had a period, even if you look at the Olympics, got the Olympics. The World Cup. Just got -- you just saw them. They were in my office. Got the World Cup.

Nobody has -- and we have started the wall. Nobody has ever done, in less than a two-year period, what we've done. So when you tell me about some anonymous source within the administration, probably who's failing and probably here for all the wrong reasons, now -- and "The New York Times" is failing. If I weren't here, I believe "The New York Times" probably wouldn't even exist.

And some day -- let me just tell you -- some day when I'm not president and, hopefully, in about six and a half years from now -- "The New York Times" and CNN and all of these phony media outlets will be out of business, folks. They'll be out of business, because there'll be nothing to write and there'll nothing of interest.

So nobody has done what this administration has done. And I agree. It's different from an agenda which is much different than ours, and it's certainly not your agenda. That I can tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

TRUMP: It's about open borders. It's about letting people flee into our country. It's about a disaster and crime for our country.

So they don't like Donald Trump, and I don't like them, because they're very dishonest people. Remember this also about "The New York Times." When I won they were

forced to apologize to their subscribers. They wrote a letter of apology. It was the first time anybody's ever done it, because they covered the election incorrectly.

[17:15:16] So if the failing "The New York Times" has an anonymous editorial -- can you believe it? Anonymous. Meaning gutless. A gutless editorial. We're doing a great job. The poll numbers are through the roof. Our poll numbers are great. And guess what? Nobody is going to come close to beating me in 2020 because of what we've done. We've done more than anybody ever thought possible in -- it's not even two years. So thank you very much. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: All right. The president had a meeting with sheriffs from around the country in the East Room of the White House. He made a statement to them and then, of course, he was reacting to this extraordinary op-ed in "The New York Times," blasting him, an op-ed entitled, quote, "I Am Part of The Resistance Inside The Trump Administration." An anonymous person wrote this article. The president really, really exploding in anger as a result of this article.

I quickly want to go back to Kaitlan Collins over at the White House. Kaitlan, so we got some reaction from the White House in the person of the president himself to this extraordinary article.

COLLINS: That's right, Wolf. We had not heard from administration officials, but there, the president himself came out to this event. And as we were just talking about, the president 30 minutes late to this event, leading to some speculation that he had had time to read this op-ed. And why he was so late to that event with those sheriffs.

But you saw the president walk in there, and he had a piece of paper in his hand that he pulled out. And he went over, after this announcement denouncing "The New York Times" for publishing this op- ed, which is written by an anonymous top official in the Trump administration. Anonymous to you and I, Wolf. Not anonymous to those "The New York Times" editors who said that they knew who it is, the identity of the person who wrote this op-ed.

But the clearly president touched a nerve with this. He was calling it gutless, going after "The New York Times" for publishing something with an anonymous source. And then listing off, in a bizarre sense, his list of accomplishments here so far that he -- in the time that he's been in office. And then going on to say that he's going to win re-election in 2020, to the laughter of some of those people who were in the room.

But, Wolf, what this was, was a raw sense of emotion from this president, who is clearly irritated that someone who he said was gutless but someone that had the guts to go and write this op-ed, saying that they are working in this administration only because they want to thwart what they say are the president's worst inclinations.

Clearly, this is something that frustrated the president, a president who often rails against people who tell outlets information but don't use their name, even though that's something the president did before he came to the White House.

But he was, you know, a rant is essentially probably the best way to put it there, Wolf. In front of this room, in front of these sheriffs, at a presidential event, going off just about an hour and a half after "The New York Times" published this op-ed, saying it was gutless and listing his accomplishments, essentially saying to ignore this and that there is someone who he says a member of the resistance in his administration, working against him, that wrote this op-ed, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he was certainly ranting. He was clearly angry at this 800- or 900-word article, this op-ed in "The New York Times," even seemingly more angry about this than the Bob Woodward nearly 400- of 500-page book that officially hasn't even been released yet. Supposed to be released next Tuesday, but whole chunks of it, of course, we know about.

COLLINS: Right, Wolf.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, we're going to get back to you. Stand by for a moment.

You know, Jamie Gangel, you've actually read -- read the book. The president was ranting. It sort of underscored -- and he was saying all sorts of wild things, several -- several of those things clearly not true.

But in the op-ed, this senior official writes this. And I'm going to read it once again about off-the-rails: "Meetings with him," according to this official, "veer off-topic and off-the-rails. He engages in repetitive rants. And his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill- informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back." It sounds like what he was doing right there.

GANGEL: And it also sounds like what I've been reading in Bob Woodward's book for the last couple of days. In fact, some of the words sound like the way Woodward quotes chief of staff John Kelly. Off-the-rails. Other ones talking about rants and impulsiveness.

One difference. This is anonymous. When Bob Woodward's book comes out, the names are there of the people who are saying it.

[17:20:00] But I think that what we just saw was an extraordinary sense of the president trying to take control of the moment, a rebuttal and going after what is an extraordinary, even though it's anonymous, it is an extraordinary piece in "The New York Times" that really backs up Bob Woodward's book.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And he is somebody who, probably rightly so, believes that he is his best spokesperson. And you can just see a scenario where, as Kaitlan was saying, he was a little bit late reading this and saying, "I'm doing this myself. Find me an article with all of our accomplishments." Went out there and just ticked them. It was word salad of all of the things he wanted everybody to know that he claims that the administration has done. Obviously, mostly on the economic side. Because he is so clearly enraged, understandably, about the fact that somebody wrote this and, more importantly, the content of it.

And the other thing is I've been, as Kaitlan has and I'm sure we all have, been texting back and forth with current and former Trump officials, about who could this possibly be.

If you read deep into it, the focus is on conservative principles and on things like, you know, free minds, free markets, free people. That those are things that the president ran on but isn't actually -- it isn't -- doesn't run through his veins like a true conservative. And deep in it talks about the lessons of John McCain and also a lot about Russia and national security, which leads me and others I'm talking to, to believe that it is probably somebody who is focused on national security in some realm in the administration, because that seems to be the focus here. And does seem to be more of a traditional, forgive me, establishment Republican who joined the administration.

BLITZER: Yes. And one line he says over here, "In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators" --

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: "-- such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allies, like-minded nations."

BASH: And also, if I may, the other thing in here that really strikes me is it says that this person is part of the resistance but also, is trying to reach out to the American people to say, "If you're worried, there are adults in the room." And that is exactly the word. "Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize who's happening. We're trying to do what's right even when Donald Trump won't." Extraordinary.

BLITZER: And what's also extraordinary in this article, this op-ed in "The New York Times," Mark Preston, is that these officials inside the Trump administration actually considered going to the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to find a way to get rid of this commander in chief through the constitutional process.

I'll read to you from the article: "Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process of removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis, so we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until, one way or another, it's over."

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm not surprised to hear that, actually. And I'm not surprised to hear that it probably happened a time ago. I mean, it happened a time ago where we've actually seen people now have left the administration.

I mean, look at Secretary Tillerson is no longer around. We heard what he had said.

You know, when I read this and I saw that "The Times" had decided to move forward and grant anonymity -- and this is not analogous, but all I can think about is, is this the Mark Feldt of the Trump era? Is this -- it seemed very similar to the idea of what Mark Feldt did, Deep Throat, of course, during the Nixon era. Maybe it's because the Woodward book came out. But it just seemed to have, you know, that type of connection.

But what's interesting about Donald Trump, I mean, everything he says seems to be contradictory. He says that the news media, the failing news media is going to go out of business when he leaves office. Well, that assumes, then, that we're doing so well because he's in office, which means people either want to watch us on television or they want to read the failing "The New York Times." It makes absolutely no sense.

BLITZER: He said if -- if he's impeached that the stock market will crumble, and all of us will be poor, if he were -- that's what he said the other day.

You know, Phil Mudd, he says this isn't the work -- this is the writer of "The New York Times" piece. "This isn't the work of the so-called deep state. It's the work of the steady state."

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Be careful here. This is a 2x4 to the head. This game is changing substantially. Let me tell you why, with the Woodward book and this editorial today.

When you see people talk about the deep state, this's people like me who used to serve in government. I was there for Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama.

The new guys, that is presidential appointees, come in with an agenda and they look at bureaucrats and say, "It's us versus them. We've got to get these bureaucrats to do what we want them to do."

Understand when's happened in the past 48 hours and what's happened previously with comments like -- and we underplayed it -- the VMI speech by Secretary of State Tillerson. He was subtle, but he said this president has got a problem.

[17:25:05] My point is now you have insiders, that is presidential appointees, saying, "We are part of the resistance, as well. It's not just the bureaucrats like the CIA or the State Department, Defense Department." I have never seen anything like this, ever.

BLITZER: Let's get Joey Jackson in on this. What are your takeaways?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, the United States of America is an example to the world. Right? We lead by example. We set example, and we're looked at as an institution and a democracy upon which everyone else should follow.

Think about how sad of a day it is when you have the leader of that country that does not have the trust and respect of the people around them who are of a similar party.

Now, forgetting about policy; we can have policy differences every day and twice on Sunday. This goes beyond that. This goes to the core of a fitness to serve in office, who you are, wat you think, how you think, your level of just intelligence, your ability to grasp. And when you have people who don't -- are not confident about you and who you are, what does that say about us and what does it say about our standing in the world?

Moreover, if you look at the essence of what is talked about here, they're talking about how the country is succeeding, not because of Donald Trump, but in spite of Donald Trump. Now, that in and of itself, actually makes me feel like there are adults in the room, and there are people who know that the reality is, is that the country comes first. And they're going to say, and they're going to do something about it to make us stand tall.

Again, look at what it says about McCain and about his ability to unify and the fact that, you know, he's the example to be set. But when I look at this and then you look at Trump, he pulls out a paper from his pocket, not knowing -- I don't know what source it's from. 0 But isn't it interesting that press is the enemy of the people. Can't trust anything anyone says, anything writes unless it supports you, unless it talks about your agenda and how wonderful of a job you're doing.

It's an outrageous time. It's a critical time. And I think the midterm elections will say a lot in terms of his leadership. And the issue about 2020, well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see in terms of who comes close to beating Donald Trump. But this is horrific news to be sitting through watching and to be living through.

BLITZER: You know, Jamie, the writer of this article in "The New York Times" says the president's style is impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective and then adds this: "The root of the problem is the president's amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making."

GANGEL: This op-ed is devastating from top to bottom. And I think one question, whoever the person is -- I think we've been told it's a man, not a woman -- but put the name aside.

For "The New York Times" to grant an anonymous op-ed means that this is someone that they take very seriously. This is someone who is a very senior person for them to do it.

The other point to make, to go back to Mark's point about, as it says whisperings about the 25th Amendment, I remember at the beginning of this administration, I was in the room with two senior Republican officials who were looking it up, who were talking about it. What would it take to go there? And then that notion faded away. Now you're seeing mention of it in black and white.

I feel as if we are at a tipping point. I know we've said many times is this it with Donald Trump? But there is a cumulative build-up of a case here that feels different now.

BLITZER: We just got a statement, by the way, Dana. I'll read part of it. This is from the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, regarding the article in "The New York Times." And it ends with this, the statement. "The individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive rather than support the duly-elected president of the United States. He is not putting country first but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people. This coward should do the right thing and resign."

BASH: Well, listen. I mean, how would you expect the White House to react? Especially a press secretary who is -- probably has her hair on fire from the wrath of the president. Again, understandably so.

I agree that this could be a tipping point, but the question is, that we've all been asking, to what end?

GANGEL: Right.

BASH: Could it be, if there is a change in power in the House in November that Democrats who don't even want to say the "I" word right now could start to look at it? Maybe.

But everything in here talks about a lot of different aspects of the president's personality and his leadership style but it -- there's a big -- there's a long road between that and articles of impeachment.

GANGEL: Right.

BASH: A long road.

PRESTON: You know, a couple of things. I think we talk about this idea of a tipping point and, look. I've been at the ledge many times. OK? And I have fallen off the ledge many times, thinking that we've reached the tipping point. Let's acknowledge that.

But I do think when we look back at -

HERE

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A long road.

[17:30:02] MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, a couple of things. I think we talk about this idea of a tipping point and, look. I've been at the ledge many times. OK? And I have fallen off the ledge many times, thinking that we've reached the tipping point. Let's acknowledge that.

But I do think when we look back at the totality of what has happened and you look at the history of events, then you realize that the tipping point is not something that happens immediately. It's something that's a slow roll that eventually gets faster and faster and faster. And Joey probably understands this better than anybody, because he's in the courtroom when things like this happen.

But in addition to that, this is what scares me. And I say this with all sincerity. It scares me now that the president is so outraged by the Woodward book right now that he is furious, and he is going into a greater bunker mentality than he has been in the past. And now we've seen this op-ed come out right now, so he's looking around saying, "Who can I trust?"

And for somebody that we think has bouts of paranoia at times and bouts of anger and is not able to keep it in check, that's scary.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Bob Woodward writes in his book and describes that his aides think the president is lonely. They think he's paranoid. There is a quote where he says, "I think people are out to get me." I think in that case he's talking about Robert Mueller. That he is watching six to eight hours of television.

When you have this and you have the op-ed, and next Tuesday you're going to see names attached in great detail in the Woodward book, I think it's going to add to the --

BASH: Can I add one other thing to just to -- sort of atmospheric observation, that people who I talk to in and around Trump world, who are hopelessly optimistic no matter what happens, no matter how many cliffs they come to the edge of and what you've come to the edge of, Mark, are feeling and sounding really beaten down today. There's just a different vibe. Even coming through the phone and texts from these people that don't normally get beaten down. It's different.

BLITZER: Yes, and it's like a one-two punch. The book yesterday and then all of a sudden, this op-ed today.

And Phil, let me read another line from this op-ed: "It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what's right even when Donald Trump won't. The result is a two-track presidency."

MUDD: I mean, let me restrain myself. Adults in the room? Can you tell me where the speaker of the House is and where the lead senator is on the Republican side?

PRESTON: Exactly.

MUDD: We've got Charlottesville. We've got North Korea, where we go from "Rocket Man" to "my best friend" for a man that starves his own people. We've got "my best friend Vladimir Putin, who murders civilians, not in Russia but in the United Kingdom and is about ready to participate in further murder in the final fight in Syria.

And now we have to say -- somebody writes an op-ed and we say it's maybe the tipping point. And Paul Ryan says, "I'll pick up the phone do this in private"? This is a tipping point? What do you need? What do you need? Another Charlottesville? "I like the white supremacists. They're the same as the black activists." That's what we need? I've seen enough already. I don't know what Paul Ryan needs. I guess he'll speak when he gets out, because it's too late now. He's done.

BLITZER: Joey, you want to weigh in.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, to Phil's point, which I think is such a critical one, you've seen someone now in the administration who has reared their head. We don't know who they are, anonymously.

But where is the elected leadership? We have, you know, look. Why we always talk about the midterm elections and wait until what happens in 2018. What about people who are in power now? Who are fearful to say anything? Notwithstanding whatever the president does, whatever the president says. It's just complete silence, and it just is -- the silence is deafening.

When is someone in Congress going to write an editorial where they attach their name to it to say enough is enough? If there's a tipping point, we're at it. What are you going to do here and now?

GANGEL: Wolf, another point. In Washington, nothing stays a secret. Eventually, I think we're going to know who wrote this. And that is going to have another impact within the administration.

BASH: It's interesting that you say that, because I just got a text from somebody, again, in and around Trump world who suspects that it is somebody who wants to eventually be known.

GANGEL: Right.

BASH: And be known as a hero.

PRESTON: Oh, to come out and be on the right side.

BASH: A hero to the --

PRESTON: Come out on the right side.

BASH: To the traditional resistance movement. And maybe to be on the right side of history.

PRESTON: What they perceive would be the right side of history.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: It took a long time to find out who Mark Feldt, who Deep Throat was.

PRESTON: Look, I'm sorry to bring that up. Everybody up there -- two-decade moment.

BLITZER: Maybe this time it won't be that long. You wanted to add a point?

GANGEL: I just wanted to say to Phil's point and outrage, which I appreciate, I just want to say, in talking to Republican elected officials, who behind the scenes don't say what Phil would like them to say, when you ask them, "Why aren't you going public?" they say, "We can't get past him. He will kill us. We will get primaried. We understand what the problems are. But we have to live to fight another day."

[17:35:18] And what one said to me was, "When we can figure out how to bring him down, we're going to do that." It may not sound very courageous, but they do have a point that, if they're not in the game, they can't do anything at all.

BASH: Yes.

JACKSON: They're elected every six years. I mean -- what kind of an excuse is that?

GANGEL: But impeachment starts in the House, as you well know, Joey. And that's every two years. And these guys are up in just a couple of months.

BLITZER: You know, and we're talking here about what's going on, Joey, inside the Trump administration. The Congress is a different body, obviously. And Democrats are outraged. Republicans are holding back.

But there's another strong line in this op-ed. I'll get -- I'll get Phil to weigh in on this one: "There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first."

MUDD: I think, and Dana just hit something that might not be visible outside Washington, D.C. There is a direct linkage between the Woodward book and this editorial today.

I think what you're seeing is people who would typically saying, "I'm part of the Reagan revolution" or the Trump revolution saying, "I know where the tides are going, and I know what history is going to judge, and whether I'm anonymous or named in the book that came out, that will come out next week, I want the record to show I was part of the resistance." I think you're starting to see people on the inside, not bureaucrats but appointees, say, "I want to get my name on the record," and that's where the book and this editorial, I think, are linked. People want to be on the record.

BLITZER: So you're pretty convinced that this article appeared today because the Woodward -- excerpts of the Woodward book came out yesterday?

GANGEL: Yes. That's my personal opinion. I don't have any evidence it, but you saw the book come out. Those people are named in the book. They're all named in the book.

You saw people from the administration who are still in the administration and want to stay in the administration. Chief of staff Kelly, Defense Secretary Mattis; the two lawyers, Rudy Giuliani and John Dowd. They issued denials. In some cases not very strong denials.

But the other people who are named in the book have not spoken out yet. And it's just too much of a coincidence that this comes out now, and there are so many words in it that mirror what people say in Bob Woodward's book.

BLITZER: You know, there's another line that jumped out at me. And Dana, I want you to react to this one. "The erratic behavior of the president would be more concerning if it weren't for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media, but in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained in the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful."

BASH: Right. Trying to give a window into what's really going on along the lines of the adults in the room.

I want to go back to something that Phil said which is important, because Phil says that he's a proud member of the deep state. Some meaning which obviously, is pejorative, but in reality, it means people who are career government officials, very important, very important job in this country.

This person says very clearly that he or she -- I guess he -- is an appointee, which means they were chosen by the president and his top aides to work in the administration. Is a Republican. Just comes in for the administration. And that's -- that's a difference. It's not somebody who has toiled away in various administrations but is highly political. And that's another reason why -- why this is so significant.

BLITZER: Clearly not a career official, a career bureaucrat. This is someone, correctly, who was named to come in at a very high-level, according to "The New York Times," and serve the president of the United States and is clearly outraged by what he sees.

Everybody, stand by. There's much more we're getting in on the breaking news. How big is the resistance inside the Trump team, just revealed by this senior administration official? Plus, more on the president's search for aides who cooperated with Bob Woodward's explosive new book.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:43:49] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now. And just moments ago over at the White House, the president denounced as gutless an anonymous op-ed by a senior official of his administration.

The official wrote the president acts, quote "in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic," end quote.

Let's bring back our experts and discuss more on this extraordinary -- this extraordinary development. And Mark Preston, in her statement, Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, calls this -- this person who wrote this article gutless and says, "We are disappointed but not surprised that the paper chose to publish this pathetic, reckless and selfish op-ed."

PRESTON: Let me add a word in there that she didn't say, "disloyal." Right? She never said "fake." Right? She just said that the person, basically, was disloyal to President Trump. I think that is telling. I think it's very important.

I think it would be very interesting to see Sarah Huckabee Sanders standing at the podium and being asked directly, "Is anything correct in that? Is anything correct, you know, in the Woodward book?" Or just go piece by piece, because if she denies it and there are tapes, there are tapes, right, of these interviews, then we know that she was not being truthful.

GANGEL: And what is the president demand? Loyalty.

PRESTON: Absolutely.

GANGEL: He hates leaks. He hates betrayal. He wants loyalty.

To one other point in this, Wolf. This line where, in the op-ed, "There is a quiet resistance within the administration --"

HERE

[17:45:00] JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: What's the President demand? Loyalty.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely.

GANGEL: He hates leaks. He hates betrayal. He wants loyalty.

To one other point in this, Wolf, this line where, in the op-ed, there is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. This is a theme in Bob Woodward's book that he reports.

These national security advisers, these generals, according to Woodward, they are staying for one reason, and that is they are the thin blue line.

The title of Bob Woodward's book is "Fear." They fear that if they are there -- they are not there, if they leave, if they get fired, there's no one standing between Donald Trump and endangering national security.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Can we just also put a reality check in here that one of the reasons why Donald Trump did what he did, as we mentioned, is because he rightly so thinks that he is own -- he is his own best spokesman.

But as you said, it was his rebuttal. And there still is that 30 and change percent of people who believe, who will choose to believe what he says about the "New York Times," about the fact that this is not true, that this is not real.

And the idea that he wanted to get out there to kind of bring all of those very, very loyal supporters into the fold immediately and catch them is really telling, is very, very telling. It's his anger, it's his rage, but it's also strategic.

PRESTON: Yes. If you think --

GANGEL: I also think he wanted to be on T.V. saying his piece.

BASH: Yes, that's what I mean.

GANGEL: Instead that was not a plan for the White House --

BLITZER: But this line that the President had -- or that Sarah Sanders had, going after the news media in her statement, this is just another example of the liberal media's concerted effort to discredit the President, and the President, in his remarks, we heard him go after the news media. And that resonates with his base.

PRESTON: It absolutely does. And I just want to add on to what Dana said. There's an incredible amount of anger right now in this country, OK? We understand that. There is an incredible amount of anger. And of that 30-plus change percent of folks, they know Donald Trump is lying.

And I've had conversations with folks who say, I don't care. I don't care. He is shaking up Washington.

My concern about that, though, is that they're putting the boot on somebody's neck. And eventually, what's going to happen is that that person is going to get back up again, and the person who's putting the boot on the neck is going to be the one on the ground. That's how politics work in this country.

And I don't -- what I'm fearful for is that we're going to be in this constant going back and forth of the political parties not only paralyzing this nation but really destroying one another.

BLITZER: Phil, you served as a senior official in both the CIA and the FBI. If you were still there, a senior official, a career official, a professional, serving in the CIA or the FBI right now, what do you do?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You know, the point about thin blue line is critical. If you look at the players around the President, he has some impressive people.

Kelly, Pompeo, Mattis, Sessions, these are people, whether you like them or not, with a lot of experience. I've got a wager they're sitting there -- and junior people will be saying the same things -- saying a couple of things.

One, boy, I'd like to -- Jeff Sessions can't be sitting there saying, I love this job. I'd like to leave, but I have a bigger, a higher responsibility to the Office of the President, if not the President himself.

I'm going to say something else that's going to sound a little bit odd to a lot of people in this country who don't have passports. I spent my career traveling around the world to democracies and emerging democracies.

People in this country are too confident about the endurance of democratic values in a country that's been around for 250 years. If the President wants to say the press is the enemy of the people, which typically has been one of the checks on government, people are going to start to say in a democratic society, I can't trust the press.

If you're in government and you're sitting there saying, you know, democracy is fragile, we've got to sit here and protect it. And if the President challenges it, we've got to challenge him.

BLITZER: That's a good point, Joey, because there is a lot of concern every time the President speaks about the press, and he points to the reporters in the room, points to the cameras in the room, and mentions the fact that he believes they are the enemy of the people. There's a whole group of folks out there who believe him.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So here is the point, Wolf. It's one thing to question the press. It's one thing to question anybody. We all should do that. We should all question information. We should inquire. We should be skeptical.

It's quite another to demonize, right? And that's what you see out of this White House.

There's a gross distinction between the two. We can have debates every day. In a democracy, we're full of the First Amendment, right? We have discourse, an exchange of ideas, we agree, we agree to disagree.

But when you demonize, call them the enemy of the people, talk about how we have to change the libel laws in this country and how they are just absurd and we have to be able to sue them at every turn and slander and everything else, that's where it becomes problematic.

[17:50:00] But having said that, you know, look, there are a group of people, right, to Dana's point, whether it's 35 percent or some other percentage, and I don't even though that they care what he says but are just going to be with him no matter what.

And what you saw with him coming out and performing, rattling off a list of what he perceives to be things that are good about the country and everybody else is wrong, he is playing to that base of people who are going to be in his corner. And as long as he does that and holds the Congress, he can do whatever he wants, he can say whatever he wants.

BLITZER: And he says his poll numbers are off the charts. I don't know what polls he's looking at right now, but his poll numbers, clearly, are not off the charts.

It follows -- this article follows the Bob Woodward book. And I want to play a clip, the President reacting today, Dana, to the Bob Woodward book which is truly a bombshell. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The book means nothing. It's a work of fiction.

Already, General Mattis has come out very, very strongly. And I think you know General Mattis. He does what he wants to do. He's a very independent guy.

He was insulted by the remarks that were attributed to him, and he came out with a very strong statement. I assume you read it. I hope you read it last night.

General John Kelly, the same exact thing. He saw it. He was insulted by what they said. He's right here. He's insulted by -- he couldn't believe what they said, and he put out a very, very strong statement.

And many others. And other statements are coming out. The book is a work of fiction. If you look back at Woodward's past, he had the same problem with other presidents. He likes to get publicity, sell some books.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's pretty much in contrast to what he, himself, told Woodward --

BASH: A tweet for everything.

BLITZER: -- a few weeks ago when he called Woodward. He was complaining, how come you didn't interview me? I didn't know you were doing the book. I wish I would've known. I would've done an interview.

Bob Woodward recorded the conversation. It was a phone conversation, and he told the President he was recording the conversation. Listen to what the President said then about Bob Woodward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's really too bad because nobody told me about it, and I would've 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)

BLITZER: You've always been fair, he says.

BASH: Right, I thought you were going to -- there's that. Plus, his own tweet -- and that's why I said there's a tweet for everything -- back in 2013, praising Bob Woodward and criticizing --

GANGEL: President Obama.

PRESTON: Right.

BASH: -- President Obama for --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Yes, here it is right there, only the Obama White House can get away with attacking Bob Woodward.

That's when Bob Woodward wrote a book about the Obama White House, and Obama administration officials were complaining about the book. I remember Bob Woodward came on our show, and he said he was getting a lot of threats.

BASH: He was.

BLITZER: He was getting a lot of angry phone calls from Obama administration officials because of that book. And at the time, the President -- now the President, then Donald Trump the businessman -- says only the Obama White House can get away with attacking Bob Woodward.

BASH: Yes. And they weren't happy about any of the books about that -- about the administration, nor the one beforehand.

But we were talking about this earlier today, particularly with some former members of the Obama administration, that some of the biggest bombshells in there were differences over whether to invade Syria. I mean, real policy issues.

This is a completely different ball game. A totally different ball game. And I should say that President Obama did actually sit down with Bob Woodward for those books.

BLITZER: Yes.

PRESTON: And, you know, honestly, to President Trump's defense, Bob Woodward really does have a sketchy background. Like, he doesn't have had a great career. He hasn't taken down a President of the United States and saved democracy as a young man.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, it's ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous that we're even allowing the President of the United States -- I don't care if it's Jesus Christ -- to be able to go out and just blatantly lie, and for people to say, well, it's the President of the United States. You know, he has his opinion.

That's not an opinion! An opinion is not a lie. A lie is a lie.

GANGEL: As Mark pointed out, Bob Woodward has won two Pulitzer Prizes. He has extraordinary credibility. But just to go back, I think it's important to say, how did he write this book? The sources and methods.

He interviewed dozens of inner circle administration officials, firsthand sources in the room, and almost all of them agreed to be recorded.

He has hundreds of hours of tape-recorded interviews. He did agree to do it on deep background, which means he can use whatever they say but he won't identify them publicly. But there are names throughout the book.

So it's very easy for people to deny, now, oh, I didn't say idiot, although -- that was the Chief of Staff -- he didn't say, I didn't say unhinged or erratic.

BLITZER: Yes. Many years ago, I was writing some articles for "The Washington Post" and I can personally testify that he was on this committee vetting my articles, reviewing my articles, editing my articles with other senior editors at "The Washington Post." He was really, really tough.

GANGEL: And he's a meticulous --

[17:55:01] BLITZER: But in the end, he made the article a whole lot better.

GANGEL: Right.

JACKSON: Wolf, the truth hurts.

BLITZER: Yes.

JACKSON: I'll state the obvious.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Everybody, standby. There's more breaking news we're following. A senior administration official unleashes a remarkable anonymous attack on President Trump portraying him as unfit for office and a potential danger to the country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)