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Bob Woodward Book Reveals 'Crazytown' Inside White House. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 4, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Everyone, thanks so much. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @Jake Tapper. Tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage now continues with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. "We're in Crazytown." The White House chief-of-staff is quoted as saying President Trump is an idiot and unhinged, according to a new book from the famed journalist Bob Woodward. John Kelly is also quoted as saying, "He's gone off the rails. We're in Crazytown." The book paints a devastating picture of chaos and drama inside the West Wing.

Don't testify. The president's lawyer worried the president would commit perjury if he talked to Robert Mueller, according to Woodward. After a practice interview with the president, John Dowd is quoted as saying, "Don't testify. Its either that or an orange jumpsuit."

Stealing papers. Woodward reports that the president's senior staff would steal documents from his desk to protect the country from possible disaster. Woodward describes it as no less than an administrative coup d'etat. A

And "mob rule." As hearings begin for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the Judiciary Committee divides along partisan lines, with Democrats moving to adjourn in a fight over documents. Republicans dig in, calling the Democrats' move "mob rule."

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, it's beyond stunning. In his latest book, journalist Bob Woodward presents a devastating look behind the scenes of the Trump White House. Top members of the president's inner circle speak very bluntly about the dysfunction, the chaos stemming from what they portray as the president's ignorance and erratic behavior. And they say they've taken extraordinary steps to prevent the president from harming U.S. national security.

The Woodward book is managing to overshadow the confirmation hearing for the president's Supreme Court nominee, which quickly broke down into a free-for-all as Democrats angrily protested the conservative pick, Brett Kavanaugh, and the GOP juggernaut aiming to sweep him onto the court. I'll speak with Democratic Senator Ben Cardin. And our correspondents

and specialists are all standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with the breaking news. The truly shocking and disturbing revelations in Bob Woodward's new book, "Fear: Trump in the White House." First up, CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, this book must be rocking the White House right now.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There is certainly fear inside the White House over this book, Wolf. The White House released a statement this afternoon slamming the Woodward book. Press secretary Sarah Sanders saying, quote, "This book is nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad."

But the Woodward book is the latest deep dive into the Trump White House, full of bombshells that reveal top administration officials are worried, deeply worried about the president's behavior.



BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR (via phone): President Trump, how are you?

ACOSTA (voice-over): Before the release of his new book on the Trump White House, entitled, "Fear," legendary reporter Bob Woodward managed to finally get the president on the phone. Mr. Trump's assessment of the Woodward book: "not good."

TRUMP: It sounds like this is going to be a bad one.

ACOSTA: There are devastating episodes throughout the book. Woodward explains how the president's former lawyer, John Dowd, attempted to do a mock interview with Mr. Trump to demonstrate how he could perjure himself if he sits down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. According to Woodward, Dowd explains the stakes to the president in stark turns: "Don't testify. It's either that or an orange jump suit."

Woodward says Dowd, who would later resign, called Mr. Trump a liar.

The author also describes how former economic adviser Gary Cohn once removed a document from the president's desk to prevent Mr. Trump from executing a trade agreement with South Korea. Cohn said, "I stole it off his desk. I wouldn't let him see it. He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country."

One of a number of actions Woodward describes as no less than an administrative coup d'etat.

Woodward says other top officials were equally harsh. Chief of Staff John Kelly, who said, "He's an idiot. It's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails. We're in Crazytown. This is the worst job I've ever had."

The White House released a statement from Kelly saying he never called the president an idiot.

Then according to Woodward, there's Defense Secretary James Mattis, who said the president has the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader. To former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, who said the presidential bedroom was "the devil's workshop."

Woodward also offers nasty comments from the president, who says Priebus is "like a little rat. He just scurries around" and refers to Attorney General Jeff Sessions as "mentally retarded" and "a dumb Southerner."

According to Woodward, the president once told Giuliani, "Rudy, you're a baby. I've never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You're like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?"

[17:05:00] Woodward also revisits the president's handling of the deadly riots in Charlottesville, saying Mr. Trump regretted a speech he gave at the White House. That was when the president actually condemned the white supremacists in Charlottesville. But Mr. Trump said, "That speech was the biggest mistake I've made." The next day the president went back to blaming both sides for the violence.

TRUMP (on camera): Excuse me. Excuse me. You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.

ACOSTA: Woodward says the president complained that he wasn't asked for an interview. But in audio released by "The Washington Post," Woodward reminds the president he made multiple requests.

TRUMP (via phone): Nobody told me about it, and I would've loved to have spoken to you.

WOODWARD: Senator Graham said he had talked to you about talking to me. Now is that not true?

TRUMP: Senator Graham actually mentioned it quickly on one meeting and, you know, that is true.


ACOSTA: President Trump sat down with the conservative "Daily Caller" website to call the Woodward book a bad book and to accuse the author, Bob Woodward, of having credibility problems.

The president's former outside lawyer, John Dowd, pushed back on parts of the book saying, quote, that there was no called -- no so-called practice session of a mock interview at the special counsel's office, adding he did not refer to the president as a liar and did not say that he would end up in an orange jumpsuit.

Throughout this book, Wolf, there are accounts of factional infighting that we've learned about over the last several months of covering this administration, but Wolf, it's former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus who sums up that dynamic best in the Woodward book saying, quote, "When you put a snake, and a rat, and a falcon, and a rabbit, and a shark, and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody," Wolf. That does seem to sum things up over here quite often -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of chaos. That's the picture we get. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our CNN special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, and CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jamie, you were the first to get a copy of the book. You've gone through the book. You've read it not once, not twice, maybe three times. You know all about the way this great American journalist, Bob Woodward, put it all together.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think this is a very important point. We've seen other books. This is different.

Bob Woodward has credibility. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes, including for the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon. He has hundreds of hours of taped recordings, and he did dozens of interviews for this book.

You know, Watergate, we talked about Deep Throat. In this case he had dozens of Deep Throats.

And I think the other thing that's important to know is about President Trump and Bob Woodward. President Trump in the past has been very complimentary of Bob Woodward, and I'd like to play a little bit more of that phone call, which was recorded with the president's permission.


WOODWARD (via phone): And I would've liked to have done that, and I maximized my effort. And somehow it didn't get to you or --

TRUMP (via phone): 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.


GANGEL: "You've always been fair." I think it's important to know that Bob Woodward reached out to six different people to ask the president for an interview, as we heard in the earlier tape in Jim Acosta's piece. The president admitted -- he did what I now call a Trump 180. He said, "Oh, it's true, it's true." So I think what we're seeing here is the reality of what he's hearing about the book.

BLITZER: And Woodward, in that recorded phone conversation -- and Bob Woodward recorded it, and at the top of the conversation you hear him saying, "Mr. President, I'm recording this conversation." The president says OK. Then they go on.

He says that weeks earlier, he had lunch with Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, the senior adviser to the president, all about the book, to tell Kellyanne Conway, "I'm doing this book. What would really be excellent, if I could sit down with the president and have an interview." And we're led to believe that Kellyanne Conway, knowing the history of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, for that matter, going back to Watergate, wouldn't tell the president, "By the way, Mr. President, Bob Woodward is doing a book about you. He wants to sit down for an interview. Do you want to do it?"

Are we supposed to believe that she wouldn't do that?

GANGEL: It gets better than that. If you go on, we have the whole transcript of the 11 minutes, and guess who's in the Oval Office during this conversation? Kellyanne Conway. The president puts Kellyanne on the phone with Bob. She admits that he put the request in. And then there's this surreal moment where she says, "Well, you know, I put in the request, but it was rejected."

BLITZER: She said she put it through protocol.

GANGEL: Through protocol. The reality is, Kellyanne Conway at that moment is standing in the Oval Office with President Trump. She has access to him. There's just -- it strains the imagination that he did not know about this and that she hadn't spoken to him about it.

[17:10:14] BLITZER: Yes, and there's really incredible details of a conversation that the president's lawyers had with Robert Mueller about the possibility of the president sitting down for an interview with the special counsel.

GANGEL: So this is stunning. What we hear first is that former personal attorney John Dowd goes to the White House residence. He doesn't think the president is capable of getting through an interview without perjuring himself.

So he puts the president through a test. He says, "I'll be Mueller. You answer the questions." And Bob Woodward's book, he details how this plays out; and within a few minutes, Woodward reports that Dowd says -- President Trump perjures himself; he can't tell the truth. He can't do it. He fails the test.

Then, what's even more stunning is a couple of weeks after that, Dowd and still the president's present attorney, Jay Sekulow, go to meet with Robert Mueller, the special counsel, in his office; and to try to convince Mueller that he really can't do this interview with President Trump, they re-enact what happened at the White House residence. One of them plays President Trump. One of them plays Mueller, and they do this dramatization of it. It's stunning.

BLITZER: It certainly is stunning, and it's amazing; but there's so much more, just based on your excellent reporting, Jamie. The attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, the president has been rebuking him and criticizing him and humiliating him publicly for a long, long time, because he didn't recuse himself from the Russia -- because he did recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

And at one point -- and this is from the book, according to Bob Woodward, this is how he describes the attorney general of the United States: "This guy is mentally retarded. He's this dumb Southerner."

GANGEL: This is beyond the pale. You know, in some ways, we're used to Donald Trump attacking Jeff Sessions, because if you look at his Twitter feed every day, there seems to be something. But this goes to lengths that I don't -- I certainly never imagined. I have to also wonder how much of the president's base is going to feel about his calling the attorney general "a dumb Southerner.

BLITZER: You know, and when he said, "He's this dumb Southerner," according to Woodward, he mocks Sessions by feigning a Southern accent. I wonder how that's going to play in the South.

You know, Jim, there's also incredible details about how the president's top national security advisers felt they had to protect the country on sensitive national security issues from the president of the United States.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, you said it right there. I mean, multiple -- multiple situations like that. And the president showing apparently no interest in or knowledge of the details of those key national security issues. And we're talking about the most essential ones today.

Start with the nuclear threat from North Korea. There was a discussion, apparently, among his senior advisers here, where Gary Cohn asked him the question, in effect, as the president was raising doubts about U.S. forces deployed to South Korea, which are there for a reason, to protect against North Korea and be a deterrent, asked him, "What would you need to feel secure for America?" And the president's answer was -- and apologies for the expletive in this, but "I wouldn't need a" -- curse word -- "thing, and I would sleep like a baby." That's how the president responded to a question about U.S. forces deployed to South Korea.

And a key detail in here, because not just talking about the troops there but talking about U.S. intelligence capabilities that are there expressly to detect the launch of a North Korean missile. And having those forces there decreased the warning time from 12 minutes, if it was based in Alaska to seven seconds. Big deal if you're talking about a missile threatening the U.S. And the president showing that complete lack of interest: "I'd sleep like a baby."

This is apparently the exchange that led then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to call the president -- you may remember this report more about a year ago -- to call him a curse word "moron." That was the secretary of state's reaction to the president's reaction there.

The defense secretary, James Mattis, trying to explain to the president why this is important, said, according to Woodward's book, "We're doing this in order to prevent World War III."

Afterwards according to Woodward, Mattis came out of that meeting and said, listen, this is a president who, in Mattis's -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- in Mattis's words, according to Woodward, "a president who understands these issues like a fifth or sixth grader."

[17:15:08] So these are current sitting advisers to the president. Mattis, who is seen by many as, really, the most respected adviser, senior adviser to the president. That's the way they described him.

BLITZER: And there's a fascinating little nugget there on national security when, apparently, the president was talking about maybe the U.S. should just go ahead and assassinate the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.


BLITZER: And General Mattis said, you know, "I've got to ignore that kind of order."

SCIUTTO: A remarkably glib and irresponsible way for a president to discuss the application of military force abroad, this following Syria's use of chemical weapons, which eventually, the president ordered that surgical strike, you'll remember: cruise missiles attacking installations there in Syria.

But apparently, the president's first reaction, again according to Bob Woodward's book, is "Let's f'ing kill him. Let's go in. Let's f'ing kill the lot of them." In other words, not only the language he used there but suggesting an operation to go in and assassinate a foreign leader. By Woodward's description, Mattis's response was, in effect, to slow roll this, saying, "This is not going to happen. Let's back him away from this." And over time apparently got him to move in the direction of a more surgical cruise missile strike, not launching what would be a remarkable military operation.

But again, a key national security interest here where the president's reaction appears to be emotional, guttural but not intellectual, and according to his own senior advisers, showing no interest in both the consequences of the actions but also the details necessary to make those decisions.

GANGEL: Wolf, this is a key theme throughout Woodward's book, that the president has either a lack of understanding or a lack of knowledge and that, no matter how many times his top aides go to him, he doesn't seem to get it.

At one point, there's a scene in the book where they're so concerned about South Korea the White House has Defense Secretary Mattis come to the White House, sort of as the last line of defense, and say to the president, you know, "We have to do this. This will cause World War III."

So there's this repeated theme that -- in the book that Woodward is, in effect, saying that these national security advisers, these top administration officials sort of see themselves as the thin blue line protecting the country. When Gary Cohn swipes a document off the desk, the quote is, "Got to protect the country."

BLITZER: The president's former top economic adviser --

GANGEL: Right.

BLITZER: -- Gary Cohn, who later either was fired or whatever happened. But he was really angry at the president for -- "There are very fine people on both sides" quotes regarding what happened in Charlottesville.

You and I -- we've all known Bob Woodward for a long time. He's a world-class journalist with a lot of history. This book is going to cause a lot of angst over at the White House and among the president's supporters.

Guys, we're going to have you back. Stand by. There's a lot more we're following. There's more breaking news.

Woodward's new look inside the Trump White House reports top aides to the president would swipe documents from his desk to prevent it from hurting U.S. national security. Now the president is responding to that.

And Woodward reports the president's former lawyer warned him not to talk under oath with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, saying he'd end up in, quote, "an orange jump suit."


BLITZER: Our breaking news. We're following very disturbing revelations about a chaotic Trump White House and a president painted as impulsive and dangerously ignorant. They're coming from senior members of his own inner circle, quoted in journalist Bob Woodward's brand-new book.

Joining us now to discuss, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us. Do these excerpts that we've all seen today give you concern about President Trump's fitness for office?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Wolf, it's good to be with you. Bob Woodward is a well-respected national journalist. The fact that he has reported in such detail, through this book, events in the White House that should shock everyone in this country, I think some of us are not surprised to hear some of this, because we expected this is what was happening. But to see Bob Woodward be able to give us the specifics is really a major, major problem.

It shows a person unfit to carry out the responsibilities of the presidency and his senior advisers keeping information away from him, because they were worried as to what he would do with that information.

BLITZER: I know. There's so much shocking material in this new book and, according to the book, the president had trouble grasping basic national security concepts. His own secretary of defense, James Mattis, a retired four-star general, said the president had the understanding of, quote -- this according to Woodward -- "a fifth or sixth grader."

How can the president conduct foreign policy, national security, if he doesn't even have the confidence of his most trusted cabinet secretaries?

CARDIN: And we're hearing this confirmed by other chief advisers to the president. The fact that they had to try to orchestrate different events and tell the president he shouldn't speak to different people, that the president was unable to deal with North Korea in a way that would protect our national security, all of that is a major concern to the national security of the United States and the United States leadership globally on these important issues.

[17:25:13] So General Mattis is well-respected by Democrats, Republicans, the American people. His assessment of President Trump is quite shocking.

BLITZER: Woodward's book also contains stories of senior White House staffers actually stealing documents off the president's Resolute Desk in the Oval Office to prevent him from making decisions they believed would hurt national security. What does that tell you about the way this White House is managed?

CARDIN: Well, it's clear to me that there are people in the White House who recognize the risk of this president and are trying to do what they can to protect our national security and protect this country.

But normally, you have to be very open to the president of the United States, and to keep information from him, because you're afraid that it will be used contrary to the best interests of our country, is something that tells you about how those that are the closest to him feel about his competency to handle the presidency.

BLITZER: You believe, Senator, that the people still has some people around him who are able to rein in some of those impulsive decisions?

CARDIN: I think there are some good people around the president. They're doing the best that they can. General Mattis is a person who enjoys strong support here on Capitol Hill.

There are others, I think, that are people that are really committed to our country.

But it's Donald Trump, and Donald Trump is not a person who's easy to work with. He's unpredictable. He can tell you one thing one day and tell you just the opposite the next day. He can send you on a diplomatic assignment and then pull the rug out from under you in the next moment.

That's a very difficult environment for people of talent and commitment to this country to be able to work under.

BLITZER: According to Woodward, in a truly extraordinary move, the president's legal team directly appealed to Robert Mueller, the special counsel, by re-enacting the mock interview they'd conducted with the president, in order to argue that he was simply incapable of telling the truth.

We should point out that the president's former attorney, John Dowd, denies that claim.

But do you think the president's ability or inability to tell the truth should factor into Mueller's decision whether or not to pursue an actual sit-down interview with the president?

CARDIN: I think that Mr. Mueller needs to talk directly with the president. I think that is a normal practice.

Obviously, the veracity of the president is challenged. There are reporters who have reported on a daily basis the president's lies, so there's no question that he has misstated the facts over and over and over again.

So I think Mr. Mueller will have a sound foundation for an interview. He'll know when the president's not telling the truth, and I think the president's lawyers are very concerned about that because they certainly don't want to see the president perjure himself.

BLITZER: It doesn't look like that interview is going to happen any time soon, if it every happens at all.

Senator Cardin, thanks so much for joining us.

CARDIN: Wolf, good to be with you.

BLITZER: Coming up, more breaking news. The White House chief-of- staff is quoted as saying President Trump -- of President Trump, quote, "He's gone off the rails. We're in Crazytown." And the president's closest advisers are quoted as calling him a liar, an idiot and a moron. A truly stunning picture of a chaotic White House in the new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following multiple breaking stories on a truly remarkable day here in Washington. A day when the bitterly partisan confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was upstaged even before he delivered his opening statement.

[17:33:18] That happened as "The Washington Post" released excerpts from Bob Woodward's new book about the Trump White House. And our own Jamie Gangel had access to the actual book and reported incredible details. We have a lot to discuss with our experts.

Ron Brownstein, first of all, let me read an excerpt from the book. This is attributed to the White House chief-of-staff John Kelly speaking of the president, quote, "He's an idiot. It's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails. We're in Crazytown. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had."

And there's more. The secretary of defense, James Mattis, also a retired four-star general, says, "The president has the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader."

How alarming is this picture painted by Bob Woodward in this new book?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, first of all, today we're going through the usual -- I've been, you know, watching these books for decades, the usual Washington ritual of all the people who are quoted scrambling around saying, "No, no, no. I didn't say any of that," as we have seen in presidential administrations going back.

Look, this is obviously extremely alarming. I mean, it basically says that inside the White House, the picture looks even more ominous than it does for many of those on the outside. And it comes out -- what I was thinking about when I read it today was "The Washington Post"/ABC poll over the weekend that found roughly 60 percent of independent voters, 60 percent of college-educated white voters, 60 percent of suburban voters all wanted a Congress that would be more of a check on President Trump.

And these are the kinds of revelations that really, I think, fuel that sentiment, the idea that this is beyond the normal kind of boundaries of political debate, that there are kind of -- there's a volatility involved in this and that this Republican majority Congress simply is not imposing any checks or balances.

BLITZER: There's a truly remarkable anecdote told in the book, you know, Phil. Phil Mudd is with us.

The former chief economic adviser to the president, Gary Cohn, the story is told by Woodward, actually had to go into the Oval Office and steal a document the president was apparently anxious to sign that would ended a U.S.-South Korea trade agreement which would have then resulted in some major national security ramifications for the United States, including narrowing -- expanding the time the U.S. would be able to determine if North Korea launched some sort of nuclear missile.

The expert -- the excerpt claims Cohn told an associate, quote, "I stole it off his desk. I wouldn't let him see it. He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country."

In the book, you see those kinds of anecdotes over and over again.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I mean, if you'd been around the president for the past year and a half, what decision would you trust? North Korea, he's "Little Rocket Man." He's our best friend and now we can't cut a deal with him.

Would you trust him on Russia? There's another one of our best friends, and now, underreported, we're seeing this week that the White House, among others, has to warn the Russians about a civilian massacre in Syria. You look at what the president has said about China. "Let me invite

him to Mar-a-Lago. They're critical to North Korea." He did nothing on North Korea, and now we've got a trade war with him.

What we see in this government is something I've never seen. Typically, if you're President Obama, you say, "We're getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan." If you're President Bush, you say, "We're getting into Iraq and Afghanistan." If you're President Trump, you go talk to the TV, and your cabinet does whatever the heck they want to do. That's what I see here. It's weird.

BLITZER: It's very strange, indeed. Sabrina Siddiqui, the president, however, insists, including today, the White House is a fine-tuned machine. That's certainly not the sense we get from reading Bob Woodward's book.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: "THE GUARDIAN": This book offers a remarkable look at the chaos and the disfunction that has characterized the Trump White House since day one. It's now the second book where you have aides to this president liken his understanding of events to that of a child.

We've already seen just over the last year and a half that the president doesn't really have a grasp on policy, but we now know about some of the fires that those around him have put out.

You mentioned the potentially abrupt withdrawal from the South Korea free trade agreement. There's also the president questioning why the U.S. has a military presence over the Korean Peninsula; suggesting that the United States should go into Syria and take out Bashar al- Assad.

So there's very serious allegations that have been made in this book, and it really lays bare the ways in which the president is seen by his own advisers as a threat to national security. The question now, of course, is going to be whether they're going to be any departures or ramifications in the wake of this book.

Michael Wolff's book earlier this year, "Fire and Fury," of course, caused a dramatic rift between the president and his former co-chief strategist, Steve Bannon. We'll see if there are any implications for James Mattis or John Kelly.

BLITZER: I suspect there probably will be.

You know, Susan Hennessey, according to Woodward in this new book, the president's former attorney, John Dowd, called the president a liar. Also told him not to do an interview with the special counsel, Robert Mueller. He said this according to Woodward: quote, "Don't testify. Its either that or an orange jumpsuit."

Dowd issued a statement later in the day denying that claim, but what do you think?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't know if Dowd actually said that, but I think we could be absolutely confident that he thinks that.

This has been -- Trump's legal team has been terrified, openly terrified from the beginning, the notion of the president sitting down with investigators. And it's because they're afraid he's going to lie under oath. And when the president commits perjury, that is incredibly serious, whether or not it leads to an orange jumpsuit because you actually think he can be indicted, or because it is the beginning of the end of his presidency. You know, it is obvious that one of their core motivations here is trying to prevent President Trump from that moment.

BLITZER: But wait, there's more, Susan. I want to get your sense of this. According to Woodward, Dowd later, the lawyer and other Trump lawyers, they went to meet with Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and they argued directly to him that their client, the president of the United States, was incapable of telling the truth and, therefore, wouldn't be able to do an honest interview if he were to sit down with Mueller.

First of all, is that a good defense?

HENNESSEY: It's not. Look, the entire justice system is predicated on a notion that individuals tell the truth under oath. So the idea that investigators would say, "Well, you know, he's not going to tell the truth, so we're just going to -- we're going to leave this be," you know, that's not how it works.

President Trump can assert his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself and suffer the political consequences of that, but there's information that Robert Mueller needs about Donald Trump's mental state whenever he undertook certain actions that he can only get from that interview.

I do think there's an even larger question here, which is what does it mean that the president of the United States is incapable of telling the truth? What does that mean for our allies?

You know, the whole idea, the whole idea of this democracy is that the people get information, and then we make choices about our government based on that information. If we have a president that can't tell the truth on even the most basic and serious matters, I really do think this raises pretty profound questions about how exactly the democratic process is supposed to function.

[17:40:13] BLITZER: You know, and there's another excerpt in the book. Ron, I want you to weigh in. The president berated his current attorney, Rudy Giuliani, after Giuliani, during the campaign, went on a Sunday talk show to defend the president in the aftermath of the "Access Hollywood" videotape that was released.

The president, according to Woodward, said this to Rudy Giuliani: "Rudy, you're a baby. I've never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You're like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?"

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, we've seen before that loyalty to the president is entirely a one-way street. And the -- in his willingness to go after -- to see fault in his stars, not in himself, in his defenders rather than in his own behavior, is kind of bottomless.

I think it's important to kind of differentiate between what is new and what is different. What is new and what we've seen before here. I mean, you and I have seen a lot of Bob Woodward books over, you know, every president, really, since Nixon, I believe. There has been -- maybe not Carter. There's been a Woodward book. And it's not unusual to get a sense of chaos in an administration or that they're stabbing each other behind closed doors more than you realize.

What's different here, I think, is the extent to which people in the administration are questioning the basic capacity of the president, whether it's talking about him with an understanding of a fifth grader or saying that he simply cannot tell the truth. That is, I think qualitatively different than what we have seen in these books before that have kind of edged in that direction. But this portrait if, in fact, borne out by the full book, is something different and I do think is one that will give further -- will accentuate the concerns of voters who believe that there needs to be more of a check on Trump.

BLITZER: I want to put a graphic on the screen. Phil, take a look at this. You see some of the things in this book that the president of the United States says about some of the top officials, current and former.

Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States, according to the book, is "mentally retarded; he's a dumb Southerner." Reince Priebus, the former White House chief of staff, is "a little rat." Rudy Giuliani, the current lawyer, as we said, "a little baby that needs to be changed." H.R. McMaster, the former national security adviser, "wears suits like a beer salesman." And the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, he tells him, "It's past your time to come up with any ideas."

MUDD: So let me get this straight. The news in this book is that the president has the temperament of a fourth grader, the judgment of a third grader, and the intellect of second grader. And that's news?

I would tell you the thing I think is significant out of this book. The president's got another couple years before he runs again. No. 1, there's a lot of formers on this. In other words, people who aren't in office any more. Every time they go out in public, they're going to be asked, "Was it true or not?"

And the second most significant thing, Bob Woodward's not -- Woodward's not stupid. When they go out and speak in public, I guarantee he's got some transcripts. If they lie, he's going to say over the next couple of years, "Actually, on whatever it is, March 23rd of 2017, that's exactly what you said."

I think some of these people are going to be trapped if they try to get out of it. The president, I think is --

BLITZER: In that conversation that the president had with Bob Woodward after Bob Woodward basically finished the book in early August, the president, "Oh, I would have loved to have done an interview, but nobody told me. Why didn't you call my secretary? Why didn't you call me? Blah, blah, blah."

And he said, "I called everybody. I called Kellyanne Conway. I called Raj Shah, the principal deputy White House press secretary."

The president said, "Raj Shah, I barely know the guy. Who is Raj Shah? I don't talk to Raj." You know, this is unbelievable.

SIDDIQUI: It's absolutely unbelievable. and one of the challenges the White House is going to have in pushing back against this book is the president himself is on tape telling Bob Woodward, "Look, I think you're fair," and Bob Woodward's someone who is a widely respected journalist. He says he reached out to at least six people to try and arrange an interview with the president.

And frankly, that call had contradictions from the president himself, who said, "You never reached out to me." And then, in the next breath, said actually Senator Lindsey Graham did tell me you were seeking an interview with me."

I think that, unlike Michael Wolff's book, where they were able to try and discredit some portions of it, over here you have Woodward saying that he has actual recordings. He has receipts. And so I think they're really going to be telling.

But I also think it's worth noting, it also underscores that, ultimately, a lot of these people are just at the whims of an impulsive president. It doesn't really matter who comes and goes. The problem is the president of the United States himself.

HENNESSEY: I think the big question here is, if the situation is actually as dire as described in these books, why aren't these officials not out in public, saying this to the American people?

BROWNSTEIN: And the answer is today. I mean, the answer is today. And yet -- and yet, for all this erratic behavior for all this volatile behavior, the president and this administration with a Republican Congress has been systematically moving policy to the right across an entire range of issues, symbolized today by the potential appointment of a fifth conservative Supreme Court justice, which could cement a majority for the next 15 years or so.

And that ultimately, this is -- this is the bargain that so many in the Republican Party are making. They have these concerns privately about what the president is doing, but he won. And it's giving them the power to do what they want, and they are biting their lip even if, in many cases, they know better.

BLITZER: We need to take a break, but the president says, "Nobody told me. I didn't know about the interview request." But Woodward tells the President, I had lunch with Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the President, and we discussed the book. And we talked -- discussed the need for an interview.

Is anyone really going to believe that Kellyanne Conway never went to the President and said Woodward's doing a book and wants to do an interview with you? That's what the President, basically, is saying.

Stick around. There's more news. We're following what Bob Woodward's new book reveals about what may be the most frustrating job in Washington, managing the President of the United States.


[17:50:09] BLITZER: Breaking news. Excerpts from "Fear," Bob Woodward's new book on the Trump White House paint a devastating picture of a president who can't be controlled or managed.

CNN's Brian Todd is here. Brian, tell us more about some of the most glaring examples.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the most glaring and disturbing examples, according to the Woodward book, are the President's lawyer trying to get Mr. Trump to practice testifying before Robert Mueller, then the lawyer throwing up his hands and telling the President, don't testify.

They include key advisers, in desperation, reportedly stealing papers off the President's desk just so he wouldn't risk U.S. national security.

But through all of this, according to Woodward, and according to people we've spoken to, there is really no one who has been able to truly manage Donald trump.


TODD (voice-over): In one of his many moments of frustration with his boss, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly simply could not contain his anger any longer. At a staff meeting in his office, Kelly said of President Trump, quote, he's an idiot. It's pointless to try to convince him of anything. He's gone off the rails. We are in crazy town.

One of several explosive excerpts from Bob Woodward's new book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," which contains one account after another illustrating a president who seemingly cannot be managed.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": We're all finding out that our worst fears are true. That the President is more like a king baby, this guy who is having tantrums and refusing to learn anything and just not growing up. And we all hoped that he would grow into the job. And clearly, he's not.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, John Kelly denies calling the President an idiot and calls the Woodward book B.S. But reports of Trump's lack of manageability stretch well back to his years as a business mogul, according to at least one former top exec in the Trump Organization.

BARBARA RES, FORMER EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: He lives in his own world where he -- you know, he knows everything, nobody else knows anything. He really doesn't seek counsel.

TODD (voice-over): Even when he has some of the best counsel. Woodward's book describes one scene in the White House residence.

Trump's personal lawyer, John Dowd, concerned that the President would perjure himself while being questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, put Trump through a practice interview.

Trump repeatedly stumbled, according to Woodward, but was surprised at Dowd's reaction. Quote, you think I was struggling? Then Trump erupted. Quote, this thing's a goddamn hoax. I don't really want to testify, according to an excerpt pulled by "The Washington Post."

D'ANTONIO: Even as the President is being prepared by his lawyers and people who are around him and devoted to caring for his interests, as well as the national interests, he fights it. It's almost as if he's -- he can't be saved from himself.

TODD (voice-over): According to Woodward, Dowd eventually told the President, don't testify. It's either that or an orange jumpsuit.

Woodward writes that Dowd believed something about Trump that he couldn't say to the President's face. Quote, you're an effing liar.

Other attempts to manage Trump, according to Woodward, were even more drastic. He describes a scene where Trump's former chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, saw a letter on Trump's desk that Cohn thought was dangerous to national security, a letter which would have pulled the U.S. out of a critical trade agreement with South Korea.

Woodward says Cohn told an associate, quote, I stole it off his desk. I wouldn't let him see it. He is never going to see that document. Got to protect the country.

D'ANTONIO: It seems to me like the White House staff is treating Donald Trump as an out of control head of the family.

TODD (voice-over): But not even Trump's family, according to biographer Michael D'Antonio, can manage him.

D'ANTONIO: His daughter, Ivanka, doesn't have the influence that people wish that she had. I don't think his wife, Melania, does. And certainly, Jared Kushner does not. So there is no one in Donald Trump's orbit who can actually exert any gravity on him.


TODD: Tonight, former Trump lawyer, John Dowd, denies referring to the President as a liar, and Dowd says that he never said that the President was likely to end up in an orange jumpsuit.

President Trump himself is denying that Gary Cohn ever stole papers from his desk and says that Woodward has produced, quote, just another bad book.

Trump's Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, says the Woodward book is, quote, nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees told to make the President look bad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, how have the President's aides been at managing his tweets?

TODD: Well, Wolf, according to Woodward's accounts and previous CNN reporting, not very good at all. Woodward says that Trump's national security leaders warned him that Twitter could, quote, get us into a war. They even tried to form a Twitter committee to vet his tweets but none of that has worked.

Trump, according to Woodward, considered himself the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters back when Twitter had that character limit.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you.

[17:54:54] Coming up, breaking news. A devastating picture of chaos and dysfunction inside the Trump White House. Bob Woodward's new book quotes members of the President's inner circle as calling him an idiot and a liar and describes steps they allegedly took to keep him from harming national security. Now, the White House is hitting back.


[17:59:55] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Off the rails. A new book by journalist Bob Woodward reveals how worried White House staffers are about President Trump's erratic behavior and pattern of lying.