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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Search to Find Op-Ed Writer Fuels New "Witch Hunt"; Hollywood Legend Burt Reynolds Dies at 82; Trump's Supreme Court Pick Grilled In Day 3 Of Hearings. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: But, publicly, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted, quote: The media's wild obsession with the identity of the anonymous coward is recklessly tarnishing the reputation of thousands of great Americans who proudly serve our country and work for President Trump.

[16:30:03] Stop.

Let's bring in CNN's Alex Marquardt.

And, Alex, "The Times" says this was written by a senior administration official. That literally could describe hundreds if not thousands of people.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could. There are hundreds of them. But for something like this, this earth- shattering, Jake, you would imagine that it is someone who is a pretty significant player. And so, since this op-ed was released, Washington has really turned into a game of clue. Was it Kellyanne Conway in the East Room with a laptop or John Kelly in the Situation Room on a BlackBerry? Everyone has got their guess, everyone has their theories.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Twenty-four hours after the bombshell anonymous op-ed, we are hardly closer to discovering the identity of its author. Everyone is getting in on the speculation game.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: I'm surprised by how good of a writer Ivanka is. I mean --

MARQUARDT: A, quote, senior official in the Trump administration could include hundreds of people. But for the "New York Times" to publish it, it's almost certainly one of the administration's top tier officials. The editor of "The Times" op-ed page offering few clues but says the anonymous official initially made contact through an intermediary.

JIM DAO, NEW YORK TIMES: I did then have direct communication with the write and did a certain amount of background checking and based on those conversations came away feeling totally confident that this was truly the official in the Trump administration that they claimed they were. MARQUARDT: "The Times" at first saying in a tweet the author is a

man, but later clarified that they aren't specifying.

The article talked a lot about national security and the military. So, could it be Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats or Defense Secretary James Mattis? One by one, they and other of the administration's most senior officials have issued denials.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's not mine.

MARQUARDT: But that hasn't stopped the arm chair analysts, many zeroing in on a rare word used talking about late Senator John McCain, calling him a lodestar. A one top White House official has used it repeatedly.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And so, vigilance and resolve will be our lodestar.

Be our lodestar.

With vigilance and resolve as our lodestar.

MARQUARDT: The vice president's office has denied Mike Pence was the author. He has called the editorial disgraceful, saying the author should resign.

But could the writer have planted key words to make it sound like someone else? It's not unheard of.

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER ADVISER TO BILL CLINTON: I have seen this before, too, where people would sit in a meeting, listen to someone, write down words that she or he used frequently and then leak with those words so that the president thought that person was the leaker. Pretty scummy.

MARQUARDT: Scummy, maybe, but a hint for sure. So, what else can we glean by dissecting the phrasing? Experts say it's less about the words and more about how they are arranged.

CAROLE CHASKI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR LINGUISTIC EVIDENCE: When most people try to write like another person, they try to imitate their words or they try to imitate their punctuation. The best way to do authorship ID is to actually analyze the syntax. That's what we can't manipulate consciously.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: So, Jake, was someone trying to sound like Vice President Mike Pence? He has certainly been very aggressive in his denial today. At this point, we should note, every cabinet secretary has denied writing it. But other top officials haven't. We haven't seen anything from chief of staff John Kelly yet, for example.

Of course, if you are writing anonymously it's pretty easy to deny something. So, the analysis continues and the mystery deepens -- Jake. TAPPER: All right. Thanks so much, Alex Marquardt.

There is a technique that was floated to find the op-ed writer by Senator Rand Paul. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think if you have a security clearance in the White House I think it would be acceptable to use a lie detector test and ask people whether or not they are talking to the media against the policy of the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That is not so libertarian.

(LAUGHTER)

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I was going to say, that's not libertarian.

TAPPER: So --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: There's also, I mean, there's also the rat.

BROWNSTEIN: Can I go back to Lindsey?

TAPPER: Yes, make your point. Lindsey Graham's point was people in South Carolina don't care about this anonymous "New York Times" op-ed.

BROWNSTEIN: And empirically, it is not true because unemployment is four percent. The president's approval rating is around 40 percent. Those two things should not be possible at the same time. The president's approval rating, with an economy this good, it should be somewhere around 53 percent, 55 percent.

And that difference is I think almost entirely made up by the people who have doubts about Trump personally, about his judgment, about his temperament, about his values. And yes, maybe this individual op-ed, sure, how much does that matter? The overall portrait, the people who are concerned about whether he is fit to be president is the difference between where he is and what you would expect him to be given the economy. And there is also the reason why Republicans in the House are on the brink of possibly losing house majority despite a four percent unemployment rate.

TAPPER: The point that Mary Katharine made earlier about how President Trump is making the argument that, you know, I'm taking on the swamp, I'm trying to drain the swamp, and the swamp is fighting back is one that we heard from Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager.

[16:35:05] Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: If there is a movement which this individual claims there is and I haven't seen it, then that exactly what the deep state is. That's the government employees, some of them, who have their own agenda and not the agenda of the 60 million people who voted for Donald Trump to be the president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, one of the problems is we don't know what the "New York Times" categorizes as a senior administration official. So, if we are thinking that they're, you know, saying cabinet level or higher or something like that, then these would people would be appointed by him. But we don't know that. That's the thing.

So, we don't know if it is correct or not. We are assuming it's a political appointee which would undermine his argument. So, you know, but I do think that I'm more in the camp of I think this is just going to help Donald Trump among his base because when I read it, I just thought this is just his argument right here. This is an argument that people are trying to undermine him. And the people who support him and I think you were just talking about the national numbers, right?

I mean, I assume his approval rating is higher in South Carolina. I think people who are predisposed to support him are going to see this as the media out to get him, the deep state out to get him. I'm not saying that is what's happening. I'm just saying -- and even the idea when we do the what if this happened with Obama?

OK, Obama and Trump are completely different. I get that. You have to put yourself in a position of somebody who doesn't think that.

TAPPER: Right.

POWERS: Somebody who think s that Donald Trump is great.

TAPPER: Yes.

The person -- a lot of these people, senior administration officials, people I have talked to, people in Woodward's book, people -- the person who wrote this op-ed, I know from the ones I have spoken to and I assume from others are people that actually support a lot of the Trump agenda. And these are political appointees. These are people who want him to succeed. But they do have an issue with his temperament and intellect. That's not something you think will break for her.

HAM: As I have made clear I think ironically an anonymous, sort of extraordinary step, an anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times" is the way to take a lot of people who have concerns about that and make them go -- maybe it ain't paranoia if they are out to get you.

TAPPER: Right. HAM: This is -- I mean, that is almost exactly calculated to make people wonder that.

BROWNSTEIN: Two things can be true, though. Two things can be true, which is one, I agree with you, that this is great ammunition for Donald Trump to say that his base, that they are out to get me, they are out to silence you by getting me, which is the argument that he will make tonight. But the other thing can be true, too, which is that this large segment of the electorate, mostly white collar who ordinarily vote Republican but who have doubts about Donald Trump, this I think does reinforce their doubts and does reinforce their sense that there needs to be some kind of check and balance on him, and it is one many of those ordinarily Republican leaning voters in part are open to voting for Democrats this year and why Democrats are in such a strong position in so many suburban houses.

I mean, both of those things can be true. This may be good for Republicans in West Virginia and Montana and bad for Republicans in the suburbs of Philadelphia and Minneapolis, Denver and Orange County and that is the way this is playing out.

TAPPER: And, of course, the challenge is going to be for Democrats in 2020 to nominate somebody that is stronger and more appealing to those voters, those suburban voters, the people, whatever is between the 10 or 12 percent of the electorate who support President Trump theoretically when it comes to the economy. He has strong approval ratings when it comes to how he is handling the economy.

BROWNSTEIN: Stronger than his overall job.

TAPPER: Yes, stronger than his job approval. But can the democracies nominate someone like that?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, at the moment, it seems difficult to find an arena big enough just for the candidates in 2020 for Democratic nomination.

HAM: It looked great for us.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: You know, the questions -- who know? I'm sorry. Who the hell knows? There are so many possibilities. You know, the economy we have taken for granted is always going to be at four percent. Imagine if it goes up to 6 percent unemployment, which is not historically all that terrible.

BROWNSTEIN: Forty percent approval rating with 4 percent unemployment could look a lot different at 6 percent unemployment.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, thank you so much.

The bandit taking a bow. The legendary actor and director Burt Reynolds passed away today. One of his most famous co stars joins me next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:52] TAPPER: We have some breaking and sad news now in the pop culture lead. He had the stagger and the stash that defined the '70s in a lot of ways and was once the biggest movie star on the planet.

This afternoon, Burt Reynolds' longtime agent announced that the award-winning actor had died at the age of 82. From the bandit in "Smokey and the Bandit" to the tough guy in "Deliverance", "The Longest Yard" and, of course, "Boogie Nights", there wasn't much that Burt Reynolds didn't see or do in Hollywood.

And today, when I say it feels like the country has lost its cool, for once I'm not talking about Washington, D.C.

CNN's Stephanie Elam brings us this story on the charismatic star's iconic life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Burt Reynolds was one of the top box office draws in the '70s and '80s. But the big screen is not where he set out to be. Nope. The handsome, charismatic Michigan born actor wanted to be a football star.

Reynolds attended Florida State University on a football scholarship. But an injury derailed his athletic career and put him on the path to Hollywood stardom. At first, Reynolds landed roles on television, including shows like "Gun Smoke" and "Flipper". But it was the 1972 film "Deliverance" that was his breakthrough role.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has the ability to survive.

ELAM: He also became a sex symbol and posed nude in "Cosmopolitan" magazine.

He capitalized on his success in the 1974 sports drama "The Longest Yard".

[16:45:00]

ELAM: He also became a sex symbol and posed nude in Cosmopolitan Magazine. He capitalized on his success in the 1974 sports drama The Longest Yard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to fix it, OK.

ELAM: By 1977, the actor who was known for his signature mustache was riding high with the success of Smokey and the Bandit alongside Sally Field. The film became a successful franchise for Reynolds, so did the movie Cannonball Run in 1981.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, can't you do something? I mean you're professionals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is our day off. ELAM: He kept the laughs coming as the sheriff in the best little

whorehouse in Texas co-starring Dolly Parton. Although his film career slowed down by the late 80s, Reynolds found success on television in the 1990 series Evening Shade. It ran for four seasons and earned him an Emmy and a Golden Globe. While his TV career was on a high, his personal life unraveled. He ended his five-year marriage to actress Loni Anderson in 1993 and was involved in a messy custody battle over their adopted son Quinton. By 1996, Reynolds filed for bankruptcy.

But things began to look up for the actor when he landed Paul Thomas Anderson's film Boogie Nights. The role led to his first Oscar nomination. Though he didn't win he received critical acclaim in the hockey film Mystery Alaska in 1999.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to hear another word about a hockey game.

ELAM: Throughout the 2000s, he kept busy with a number of T.V. and film roles like the Dukes of Hazzard. In a career that took him from the football field to becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the legendary actor will be remembered for decades of iconic roles in film and television. Still too many, Burt Reynolds will always be the Bandit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And joining me now is actress Marilu Henner who's a longtime friend of Burt Reynolds. She starred in five projects with him, the fifth was the hit T.V. show Evening Shade. Marilu, thank you so much for joining us. You saw Burt Reynolds not too long ago. What was it like being within the last time?

MARILU HENNER, ACTRESS: Oh my gosh, well, it was for his you know, his movie black movie star and (INAUDIBLE) that premiere in Los Angeles on March the 22nd and it was just like Old Home Week for us because the two of us, we met and from the moment we met we had chemistry, we laugh together all the time. We were always having such a blast together because he was just one of those people. We never stopped laughing Burt and I.

And the first day that we work together in the Man Who Loves Women, the first day I met him, he asked me to come down to this dinner theater which was just a magical place in Jupiter, Florida and he also offered me Cannonball Run 2 because we just -- we wanted to hang out and be together and we probably worked together like as we never you know, we never had a romance. We were always in (INAUDIBLE) people but oh my gosh, he was like my favorite person. I just love him so much and it's just -- I can't grasp that he's gone. I just can't believe he's gone. Just so --- it's like the world loved him and he loved the world and he -- and you know, one of my favorite Burt stories is he was the kind of guy who's like he's always -- he's a great listener, a great listener.

So one day we were all sitting around talking before we're about to go into rehearsal for Evening Shade and one of the kids have gotten a bike and I mentioned that I had a new -- that I learned how to ride a bike late in life and you know like 10 years old which is very late so learning how to ride a bike and the first time I got it it's Christmas, the first time I got to ride in Chicago was the spring, and the first time I rode it, it was stolen. And so you know, we just talked about that story and then we went to rehearsal. When I came back after lunch there was my bike. It's not my bike but it's the same bike sitting in my dressing room.

TAPPER: Well, so I mean, so was he -- was he -- was he a generous person? Obviously, his on-screen persona as was tough and wisecracking but was he like that in real life or was he --

HENNER: Oh no. Are you kidding? I'm fighting -- the crew it all get (INAUDIBLE) they get jackets or he was -- he was the kind of that. And you know, a lot of people aren't like this. A lot of big stars are not like this. I always felt so comfortable introducing him to anybody, a friend would be visiting me on the set or my family or whatever. You know, it was my sister's birthday when she came and he had gotten her a belt buckle. I mean it's like so -- he was -- he listened, he paid attention, he was loving, he was so generous, and everyone who worked with him loved him, and we had such a great time.

He hand-picked that task and it was just you know Charlie Durning, Hal Holbrook, and really Elizabeth Ashley --

TAPPER: The Evening Shade.

HENNER: Michael Jeter -- on Evening Shade -- and every day was like a master class. And he loved directing and he loved adding those little goodies to things. I mean, he was just really something. He was really, really special. I don't think we'll ever see another person like that.

[16:50:00] TAPPER: You famously you famously have a photographic memory when it comes to experiential -- you can tell us -- I could name a date and you could tell me the weather, what you were wearing, whether you saw a movie that day, etcetera.

HENNER: Sure.

TAPPER: Is there is there a particular experience you have with him that stands out amongst this incredibly crowded reservoir of memories you have?

HENNER: Well the first day I met him, March 7th, there was a Monday, March 7th, 1983 we just could not stop talking. And it was supposed to be just a little nothing scene. And when Blake saw the two of us together and most of it was at -- we just started that living and he let us do that. And you know, would let me add things in the Evening Shade. I mean he called me in to -- I didn't even have to audition for him. I had to -- I write a scene with him just so when the blood work to see our chemistry together like it was just -- he was he was remarkable. So yes, I have like millions of him.

TAPPER: I can't even imagine. Thank you so much, Marilu.

HENNER: He was actually --

TAPPER: Go ahead. No, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

HENNER: I was just going to say he's the first person I told -- the second person I told -- well, the third person because I hadn't tell my husband at the time that I was pregnant with my son. And so -- we were doing Evening Shade at the time and he's -- I couldn't wait to tell them because I knew he'd be so happy for me. He loved children and used such a great man. I'm so sad.

TAPPER: We're so sorry for your loss of your friend. Marilu Henner, thank you so much for joining us.

HENNER: Thank you.

TAPPER: We'll be right back

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Today's "MONEY LEAD," a major warning for Ford drivers. The company recalling some two million F-150 pickup trucks because a seat belt mechanism on them can catch fire. This affects regular cab and super crew cab models made between 2015 and 2018. You may not realize that during a crash, a small device inside the seat belt actually emits gas. Ford says that gas can ignite if there are excessive sparks, igniting insulation or carpets. Drivers can take their F-150s to Ford dealers for free repairs.

A partisan shouting match kicked off the second day of questioning for President Trump Supreme Court picked Brett Kavanaugh. Two top Democrats on the Judiciary Committee released documents marked committee confidential documents that supposedly could not be raised during the hearing. CNN's Jessica Schneider has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: -- and apply the rules and bring the charges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chairman --

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Democratic anger boiling over at Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearing. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a possible presidential contender in 2020 claiming he was going to expose documents marked committee confidential.

BOOKER: I'm going to release the e-mail about racial profiling and I understand that that -- the penalty comes with potential outing from the Senate. This is about the closest I'll probably ever have in my life to an I am Spartacus moment.

SCHNEIDER: But Republicans called the move a political stunt saying the documents in question had been cleared for release hours before the hearing calling out those across the aisle. SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Running for president is no excuse for

violating the rules of the Senate or of the confidentiality of the documents that we -- that we are privy to.

SCHNEIDER: One of the newly r0eleased confidential documents disclosed by Democrats, this 2003 e-mail from Brett Kavanaugh when he was working in the George W. Bush White House. I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since court can always overrule its precedent. Kavanaugh downplayed the email exchange and tried to clarify.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, NOMINEE, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: I think it was overstating something about legal scholars and I'm always concerned with accuracy and I thought that was not quite accurate description of legal -- all legal scholars because it referred all. To your point your point, your broader point, Roe v Wade is an important precedent of the Supreme Court. It's been reaffirmed many times.

SCHNEIDER: Kavanaugh also faced further questions from an exchange with Senator Kamala Harris, also a possible 2020 candidate late Wednesday night.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Have you discussed Mueller or his investigation with anyone at Kasowitz Benson and Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump's personal lawyer?

KAVANAUGH: I need to know the -- I'm not sure I know everyone who works at that law firm.

HARRIS: I don't think you need to. I think you need to know who you talked with. Who'd you talk to?

KAVANAUGH: I would like to know the person you're thinking of because what if there's --

HARRIS: I think you're thinking of someone and you don't want to tell us.

SCHNEIDER: Seemingly blindsided Wednesday, Thursday morning Kavanaugh was resolute.

KAVANAUGH: I haven't had any inappropriate conversations about that investigation with anyone. I had never given anyone, any hints, forecasts, previews, winks, nothing about my view as a judge or how I would rule as a judge on that or anything related to that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And the law firm founded by the President's personal attorney Marc Kasowitz, they issued a similar statement today saying that no one at the law firm has ever had any discussion with Judge Kavanaugh about the special council's probe. But when Senator Harris, Jake, was confronted with this statement today, she seemed to be skeptical. She said that the law firm wasn't under oath when they issued that statement but of course Senator Harris didn't offer any other proof or information about why she might be skeptical. Jake? TAPPER: Jessica Schneider, thank you so much. I appreciate it. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER, you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage now continues with Wolf Blitzer. He's in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, state of denials. Top officials in the Trump administration deny having anything to do with the anonymous New York Times op-ed highly critical of President Trump.