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'Resistance' Op-Ed Amplifies Paranoia Inside Trump White House. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired September 6, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KERRY (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a genuine constitutional crisis.
[05:59:37] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The failing "New York Times" has an anonymous editorial. Can you believe it? Anonymous.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: There was whispers among cabinet officials about invoking the 25th Amendment.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is not a treasonous act. A disloyal and cowardly act against the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a cry for help to Republicans on the Hill to stand up to this president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democracy is fragile. If the president challenges it, we've got to challenge him.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Thursday, September 6, 6 a.m. here in New York. You have never seen anything like this before. I have never seen anything like this before. We have never seen anything like this before, simply because nothing like this has ever happened before.
The call is coming from inside the building. This morning, an unnamed senior official in the Trump administration is claiming to be one of what this person calls "unsung heroes," protecting the country from the president. The root of the problem is the president's amorality, this person writes in "The New York Times." "The root of the problem is the president's amorality." And this is coming from someone who works for him.
The big question, as the sun rises, who wrote this? Why? And what impact will it have?
To that last point, we are starting to get some answers, and they're unsettling. The president attacked the author as "gutless" and is demanding that "The New York Times" turn over the unnamed critic to the government. He posted the word "Treason" and also attacked directly "The New York Times."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: So the failing "New York Times" has an anonymous editorial. Can you believe it? Anonymous. Meaning gutless, a gutless editorial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the author of the op-ed says he or she is part of a, quote, "resistance" working to thwart parts of the president's policies. Here is an excerpt.
"The dilemma, which he" -- President Trump -- "does not fully grasp is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations," end quote.
The senior official also mentioned that at one point within the Trump administration there were whispers of removing the president from office by invoking the 25th Amendment.
Then the piece ends with this, quote, "There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans."
BERMAN: So our White House reporters this morning now describe a heightened sense of paranoia inside the West Wing. "The Washington Post" reports the president's reaction was volcanic.
Remember, this comes hours after all those leaks from the Bob Woodward book essentially saying the same things as this op-ed. "The Post" says White House meetings were canceled to figure out how to respond to this and to try to figure out who was behind it. A source close to the White House tells CNN that aides are following leads based on keywords that stand out in the op-ed.
Why is everyone obsessed with the word "lodestar"?
CAMEROTA: Why not be obsessed with that word?
BERMAN: That is a great point. We should always be obsessed by --
CAMEROTA: The minute I saw I was like, what is this?
BERMAN: We will dig into the lodestar conspiracy in just a bit. In the meantime, let's discuss much more with CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip, CNN senior political analyst John Avlon; and "New York Times" White House correspondent and CNN political analyst Michael Shear.
Abby, I want to start with you. What's going on behind you this morning? It seems to me that the White House is in a state of rather disarray.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. I mean, this -- going into this even before this op-ed dropped, there was always a sense of paranoia in this building about -- about leaks, about people who can trust each other, about the idea that the president couldn't trust the people who work for him.
And now that sense is heightened even further. You know, we're told that the president has basically ordered a witch hunt looking for people -- this was before the op-ed -- looking for people who had cooperated with Bob Woodward's book.
Now this op-ed drops, heightening his own sense that he is being sabotaged from within. And his aides here at the White House are now dealing with a president who, as we can tell, based on his social media, his tweeting, is increasingly paranoid and irritated and upset about this situation, is now going to be looking for the people responsible for it.
The president tweeted last night that -- that he is going after the deep state. Well, the problem now for President Trump is that it is very likely, and we've know this for some time -- it's very likely that the deep state might include people that he put into the jobs that they currently hold. Which is a new layer of paranoia in this White House. And I think it's one that we can't predict what the outcome is going to be of it.
CAMEROTA: Well, there you have it. I mean, Michael, so many of us are still processing this. What does this mean? I mean, what does it mean for the president, for his agenda, for how he gets anything done? What does it mean for the White House? What does it mean for the country?
I mean, it's knowing that there is more than one person, if you believe the op-ed author. And they've been there for a long time. And this one-two punch between the Bob Woodward book and now this, for an already paranoid person and president. What -- where do we go from there?
MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: All good questions. First of all, I just want to get out there. I have no idea who this person is. This was a decision made by the editorial department of "The New York Times," not the news department. I first learned about it when my mother texted me while I was in a cab on the way to an interview, so --
[06:05:09] BERMAN: It's not her?
CAMEROTA: Or is it?
SHEAR: It's not -- I don't believe it's my mother, no. But I think that -- I think the bigger question is, look, I think the point that Abby made about the fact that, you know, President Trump has spent much of the last couple of years trying to define the deep state and the resistance as Barack Obama holdovers, liberal Democrats, people who are sort of in the government but that are not the people that he placed, right? That's been the sort of definition of the resistance that he's tried to -- tried to put out there.
And I'm certain there are people who fit that definition who are still in the government, but what this op-ed and what the Bob Woodward book makes clear is that there is an entire cadre of people who are -- who are both committed to his sort of broad ideology and are actually people who he put in the government who he would expect are loyal to him who, in fact, are not. Who see maybe less his agenda, and more his behavior, right?
And that's the thing they're concerned about. And I mean, it's a very remarkable mosaic when you think about where we've been in just these last -- it has been like 48 hours since the Bob Woodward book and now the op-ed that -- that has to, and I think we have to wonder how does he respond. We've seen the tweets now, but how does he respond long- term in terms of, you know, does he bring people into his office and not trust who they are.
BERMAN: I don't know how he could. I don't know how he could, and there has been some suggestion by aides that, "Oh, maybe this is a career government official, a holdover here." There are signals within this op-ed that this is a person who believes in the agenda. I doubt it's a Democrat. Like effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military. More -- you know, and it goes on and on, John, there.
You've written an op-ed about this yourself, an op-ed about an op-ed.
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, but not anonymously. No, look, we have been talking for months, on this show and others, about the ornate game of contain the president that seems to have been going on with senior members, including cabinet officials --
CAMEROTA: But we never had it confirmed.
AVLON: No, we never -- we've had reporting. The Woodward book in this op-ed make it unavoidable. They bring it together in a very clear way that there are members of his senior staff, including named in the Woodward book, Gary Cohn and Rob Porter, who have actively tried to contain the president's worst instincts and impulses. They have felt that they were doing, therefore, a higher duty in terms of protecting the nation, whether it be national security or transcendent national interests.
This one-two punch, as you say, really codifies that this is a problem that the people closest to the president see and are confronting on a day-to-day basis.
And so we can talk about the impact of the president. Is it going to make him paranoid even more? Yes. Are we going to see the mother of all leak and hunts? Yes, we absolutely will.
But I think the clear thing we need to confront is that this president's actions behind the scenes, his impulses, do not line up with some of his closest aides' ideas of what the -- a president of the United States should act like. You know, he is called anti- democratic in this op-ed. That is a big word, and that's lower-case "D."
BERMAN: There is irony in that, too. Because he is the one that was elected, not the person that wrote this op-ed.
AVLON: That's a fair point. People will say, "Look, this person is cowardly." The president said that. "This is treasonous behavior." The president said that. But it's also saying there's a different definition of the patriotic resistance, people who are trying to create continuity in government when the chief -- the duly-elected chief executive may seem unmoored from American values.
CAMEROTA: Right. And I also hear somebody saying there's a way to keep the agenda without --
AVLON: That's right.
CAMEROTA: -- this person who is so irrational and anti-democratic and, you know, given to darker impulses and all of that.
And so, look, it's impossible -- as a journalist, I am very conflicted about attempting to unearth a confidential source. This is a confidential source that -- that "The New York Times" agreed to keep confidential.
But it's also hard just not to follow the bread-crumb trail, and to try to figure out who it is in our White House who feels that this message is so important to get out, Abby. So you can call it a parlor game, or you can just say is this the beginning? OK, so is this the trial balloon where somebody inside is floating it, and then there will be more people coming -- going public?
PHILLIP: Well, Alisyn, there are so many layers of questions that have been brought up by this op-ed, including whether or not the person is even in the White House. The idea that a senior administration official wrote this means it literally could be anyone in government. It could be someone at one of the agencies. It could be someone even in the military apparatus.
That's what makes this so difficult for this White House to deal with, is that term, "senior administration official," could mean a lot of things. It does not necessarily mean someone who works in this building, and it doesn't necessary mean someone who deals with the president on a regular basis.
[06:10:08] There are dozens and dozens of senior officials in this government who were appointed by this president who -- who would have visibility into the ways in which the administrative state is trying to contain President Trump.
And it's also worth noting that this is not a new phenomenon. It's that has been been repeatedly voiced in a lot of different ways. I remember last summer, Anthony Scaramucci once publicly said he believed there were people in the White House who believed it was their job to protect the country from President Trump. That's the sentiment that we're seeing in this op-ed now. It's just being voiced by someone who -- we don't know, but it could
literally be anyone. And that's increasing the sense of paranoia, not just from the president but from the people around him, who honestly, probably feel like they need to find this person before -- before things get too out of hand that they can't control it anymore.
BERMAN: Abby, I think you're absolutely right on several fronts. No. 1, the sentiment is not new. What is new is that this person wrote this op-ed for the world to see. And that is new, and that does feel unprecedented.
To another point that Abby made for this White House, we could be thousands of people but that cuts both ways for the White House. The fact that it could be so many people shows this White House knows that there are so many people who might -- might -- harbor this sentiment.
And so last point, and Michael Shear, I'll put this to you. And I know you don't know, and I know it's not your mom. But I know the separation between -- you know, the journalistic side, the reporting side and the editorial side.
The identity of this person ultimately does matter. It really does matter. And I suspect we'll find out at some point, but if this is a cabinet official, man, does that matter. If this is someone who works close to the president in the West Wing and has known the president for a long time, man, does it matter.
If this is some deputy at an agency that we don't often think about, I do think it's in a different light. It doesn't make it unsignificant or insignificant, but I do think it paints the whole thing in a different light. SHEAR: Yes, I absolutely think that that's right. You know,
Washington has a way of trying to keep secrets, they eventually come out. You remember the anonymous book that was written years ago and ultimately was turned out to be Joe Klein, a journalist. And that was done, I think, by handwriting recognition at some point.
So these things do have a way of coming out. And so, you know, I'm not surprised that everybody is guessing, and I think that guessing game will go on, both inside the White House and outside, as well.
BERMAN: Yes, I don't think -- to Alisyn's point, I don't think this is a parlor game here.
BERMAN: I don't think --
CAMEROTA: I don't either. But I am also uncomfortable going too far trying to out this person. They argue they're doing important work inside the White House, inside the administration, and they don't want to be outed right now.
BERMAN: Here's a question, and we'll bring this up in the next segment. Is this an effective way to get whatever this person wants? Could this backfire on the person that wrote the op-ed? That is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[06:16:52] CAMEROTA: OK. We do have some breaking news, because we are discussing that extraordinary op-ed about a resistance inside the Trump administration that was written by an unnamed senior administration official.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo just addressed this all moments ago in India.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It is sad that you have someone who would make that choice. I come from a place where, if you're not in a position to execute the commander's intent, you have a singular option, and it is to leave. And this person said, according to "The New York Times," chose not only to stay, but to undermine what President Trump and this administration are trying to do. I find the efforts incredibly disturbing. And I'll answer your other question directly, because I know they'll say, "You didn't answer the question." It's not mine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. The media didn't write this op-ed. Let's be clear about one thing. The secretary of state said one thing before he attacked the media there. This is not a media story. The media did not write that up.
CAMEROTA: We can only take responsibility for so much.
Meanwhile, let's bring back our panel. We have Abby Phillip, Michael Shear and John Avlon.
Look, it's up to everybody, John, to decide whether they think the writer of this op-ed is a traitor or a hero, OK, but either way, what Mike Pompeo is saying is they don't have a single choice to leave, no. What the whole op-ed is about is that they have chosen to stay, because they believe that it's for the good of the country, and they are trying to frustrate the president's impulsive nature.
AVLON: And I think that's -- that's the key. You know, typically in an administration, someone would resign over a big policy they disagreed with. Here, they're saying they agree with the agenda, but they're deeply concerned about the president, his impulses and his impulsivity.
And when Mike Pompeo there says they're trying to undermine the administration, that's not the way I read this op-ed at all. I think what they're trying to do is save the presidency from the president's worst impulses. That's a different -- different dynamic entirely than one we've seen at any time, except arguably late Nixon, when certain members of the cabinet were on watch to avoid the president's worst instincts and impulses in that particularly dark time.
BERMAN: Let me tell you, though, that all may be true, but if you read this carefully, it does seem like there are very intentional things written to poke the bear, here, right? I mean, he brings up -- he or she who writes this brings up John McCain at the end in a week where you know the president is raw about John McCain. Probably shouldn't be. I mean, definitely shouldn't be, but he's raw about John McCain.
And also, this individual brings up the 25th Amendment. Right, the 25th Amendment for the Constitution, which provides an avenue to remove the president from office or to suspend his powers, essentially.
CAMEROTA: If there's mental instability.
BERMAN: If there's mental instability.
And again, I believe that was, perhaps, intentional. This is not going on now but notes it was discussed earlier in the administration.
And in David Frum, I want to note, a former Bush administration official who does not like the president one bit --
BERMAN: -- I don't think likes that this was written, thinks that this may have a counterproductive effect here. Let me read what Frum writes. "What happens the next time a staffer seeks to dissuade the president from, say, purging the Justice Department to shut down Robert Mueller's investigation? The author of 'The Times' op-ed has explicitly told the president that those who offer such advice do not have the president's best interests at heart and are, in fact, actively subverting his best interests as he understands them on behalf of ideas of their own. He'll grow more defiant, more reckless, more anti-constitutional, and more dangerous" -- Michael.
SHEAR: Yes. I really think David has a point here. I mean, think about, for example, we could take a million examples. But think about, for example, the policy of zero tolerance at the border that led to all of those separations of the immigrant families coming over from the border.
Eventually, enough people inside the administration went to President Trump and convinced him to sign an executive order that essentially reversed that.
But you can imagine that, as defiant as the president was then, in kind of responding and resistant he was in responding to that kind of pressure in his government, if that was now, you can imagine that he now has a bigger excuse to push back against those moderating forces, to push back against the advice from people who say, you know, "Mr. President, this isn't the right thing to do."
And the level of paranoia, the level of, you know, kind of isolation from his own government, from the -- from the people who he picked to surround him, it just intensifies. And so I think, you know, you have to wonder if this -- whether this person really thought through the implications of going public.
That's not to say that they couldn't continue to do whatever they're doing privately, you know, if that's what they choses to do. The fact that they went public in a sense, not being named, does that really help their cause?
CAMEROTA: I don't know, Abby. It sounds like, when you read this letter, the person thought it through. I mean, this does not seem like a letter that was dashed off. In fact, we know from Brian Stelter's reporting that this was days in the negotiating with "The New York Times."
Desperate times call for desperate measures. And it sounds like this person had, for whatever reason, reached a breaking point.
PHILLIP: It does seem like the author would have had to thought it through in order to do this. I mean, I think there is, in some ways, we know, that inevitably, these things always come out. There is a good chance that we will find out who this person is, I feel. And that person is obviously prepared to deal with those consequences.
But I do think that there are -- there is, especially with this president, a great possibility of unintended consequences of the president swinging in the opposite direction from whatever this person intended this op-ed to do, whatever message this person intended this op-ed to send to him.
That's the big risk, I think, that we all face. And I think the word that Michael used a moment ago that's really critical is isolation. This president can become increasingly isolated from his own government, and that is not how the government is intended to work. It could really produce something that is counterproductive to the entire exercise.
Right now, I don't see any evidence that this has changed any minds on Capitol Hill, which is really, frankly, the only place where that -- this message needs to resonate. And as a result, we could just end up with a president who just simply doesn't trust his aides and doesn't listen to them. And that's not the way that the White House is supposed to work.
BERMAN: In fact, you say this doesn't change any minds on Capitol Hill. Bob Corker, the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, went out of his way yesterday to say, "This is what I've been saying all along." It's strange. It's strange that there are Republicans, senators who have felt this way for more than a year and continue to allow it to happen.
I don't want to let the segment go, though, without naming names, without talking about the possibilities here. I think it's important.
Chris Cillizza wrote a whole column on this yesterday, CNN editor at large. Let's through up on the careen the people that Chris was speculating could be the person behind this. And as we find that, let me -- Dan Coats. It goes on and on here, one at a time. There's been a lot of talk: Could it be the vice president --
AVLON: Y es.
BERMAN: -- of the United States?
CAMEROTA: The reason that people think that is because "lodestar" is a tell. So there's a word in there -- I'll read it to everybody -- "We may no longer have Senator McCain, but we will always have his example, a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them."
The minute I saw -- OK, "lodestar," I've never used that word. Never in my life have I used it. I've said, "North star," if I meant a guiding light. I've never said, "Lodestar." But there is someone who uses "lodestar" regularly, and that is Vice President Mike Pence. And so there's that entire --
BERMAN: We have that. Let's listen to Mike Pence saying, "Lodestar."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It really was the lodestar.
And so vigilance and resolve will be our lodestar.
We will continue to act with vigilance and resolve as our lodestar.
This again be our lodestar.
That's going to continue to be a lodestar.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: You know, the Mike Pence "lodestar" mash-up that no one was expecting would dominate the national debate. Look, writing patterns matter in unmasking who this is. And there's software that can do it, and will be almost employed. There is a pattern. It's not a normal word.
[06:25:10] I would point out that Mike Pence probably has the least reason to send an op-ed like this at this time.
CAMEROTA: Why? Why? He could continue the presidency agenda if the president's gone.
AVLON: Well, that may be the long game, to think of -- looking at yourself in the mirror and think of yourself as 46, but this is not -- this is senior advisor to the president. There's a lot of things that could be covered by this, but it would not seem in Mike Pence's interest to author this op-ed at this time.
I will also say that Henry Kissinger used the term "lodestar" in his eulogy at McCain's funeral. And it's in the context of McCain. So that may be more meaningful. Look, there is a game of White House "Clue" that's going to go on, looking for clues about who might have written this. It's top -- you know --
BERMAN: It's not Colonel Mustard.
AVLON: Maybe Colonel Mustard with the candlestick. My point is, is that, you know, as we discussed earlier, it may be somebody who's a bold-faced name, quote unquote. And that may impact how it's seen in the eyes of history.
CAMEROTA: And maybe they planted the word "lodestar" to --
CAMEROTA: -- get us on the wrong trail.
BERMAN: Can I -- I asked directly before the show, and I got a response from a White House official on this, on the V.P. "It's not anyone. It's absurd to think it's anyone from the V.P.'s office. It's absurd to think he would write this. It could literally be one of a thousand employees across agencies." That's from a White House official when we were coming to air.
BERMAN: That's what they said.
BERMAN: It's absurd, they say.
CAMEROTA: OK. But I just think that somebody implanted the word "lodestar' there.
AVLON: It's possible. And we will find out who this person is. My guess sooner, rather than later. But you know, I think going for the bright, shiny object probably won't lead us to the truth.
I will say that, you know, members of Congress are a co-equal branch of government. Corker's been consistent. Other people say this stuff in private. This can't be kept in private anymore.
CAMEROTA: OK. Panel, thank you very much.
There's other news. It is day three of Supreme Court confirmation hearings. They're going to get underway shortly. How did Kavanaugh do on day two, responding to the questions? We'll get into that.