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Top Officials Deny Writing 'NYT' Op-ed; Woodward Book Reveals Letter Stolen from Trump's Desk; Dems, GOP Battle Over Document Reveal in Kavanaugh Hearing. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 17:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we go, guys?

[17:00:05] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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. Will their public declarations dampen the president's fury?

Lie detector. Senator Rand Paul normally rails against government intrusion, but he says anyone with a security clearance working at the White House should undergo a lie detector test to figure out who wrote the inflammatory op-ed.

Document dump. Partisan wrangling intensifies at the hearing for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee. Democrats make a show of releasing documents they say were kept from the public while grilling Brett Kavanaugh about his views on presidential power and the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion ruling.

And back to being bros. There's been no progress on denuclearization since their summit, but President Trump and Kim Jong-un exchange fresh compliments. Has the North Korean dictator figured out how to get what he wants from the president?

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: One after another, top administration officials, cabinet secretaries, agency heads, even Vice President Pence are denying responsibility for that truly shocking essay in "The New York Times" in which an anonymous insider writes of a resistance within the Trump administration working to block President Trump's worst impulses.

A White House official says the denials are being printed, and they're being shown directly to the president, who has angrily suggested the writer is guilty of treason.

I'll speak with Senator Patrick Leahy of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and specialists are standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's in Billings, Montana, right now where the president is due to speak at a rally later this evening.

Jim, the White House and the Trump administration as a whole, they are shell-shocked over that anonymous bombshell in "The New York Times."

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They really are, Wolf. And we'll see if the president weighs in on all of this at a rally here in Montana later on this evening. He did not talk about it on his way out of the White House on his way to this rally here in Montana, but the White House has been struggling to contain the fallout from this anonymous "New York Times" op-ed all day long from a person claiming to be a top administration official slamming the president.

Cabinet secretaries from across the government have been coming out with statements all day long, saying, "Don't look at me." Trump world has gone from QAnon to NYT-Anon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you found out who wrote the op-ed?

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's become a Washington whodunnit, as in the mystery of the senior administration official who anonymously wrote a scathing op-ed in the "New York Times," claiming to be part of an internal Trump White House resistance, out to stop the president from damaging the nation. So far more than a dozen top officials, a who's who, from the vice president to cabinet secretaries, all released statements personally or through their offices to say "not it."

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a disgrace. The anonymous editorial published in "The New York Times" represents a new low in American journalism. And I think the "New York Times" should be ashamed. And I think whoever wrote this anonymous editorial should also be ashamed, as well.

ACOSTA: Even the daughter of U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said it wasn't her father.

ABBY HUNTSMAN, AMBASSADOR JON HUNTSMAN'S DAUGHTER: Full disclosure, my dad works for the administration.


HUNTSMAN: I did not write it. And my dad did not write it, as far -- as far as I know.

ACOSTA: A frustrated press secretary, Sarah Sanders, tweeted out a statement calling for speculation over Anonymous to quote, "stop," as she lashed out at "The New York Times," posting the paper's phone number.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she thought it was Vice President Pence and joked it could be a character from the board game "Clue."

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The vice president, that was my first thought. I guess by process of elimination, we'll come down to the butler. ACOSTA: Officials inside the administration have been carefully

reading the op-ed for clues. The author suggests there may be more than one resister in the ranks, writing, "The president's appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he's out of office."

And it hasn't gone unnoticed that Pence, who has denied he wrote the op-ed, frequently uses the road "lodestar" which appears in the piece.

PENCE: Vigilance and resolve will be our lodestar.

Again be our lodestar.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anonymous, meaning gutless. A gutless editorial.

ACOSTA: The president is clearly furious over Anonymous, once again using the episode to bash the media.

TRUMP: So when you tell me about some anonymous source within the administration, probably who's failing and probably here for all the wrong reasons. Now -- and the "New York Times" is failing. If I weren't here, I believe the "New York Times" probably wouldn't even exist.

[17:05:03] ACOSTA: As for solving the mystery of Anonymous, the White House has one big problem. There is a lengthy list of potential suspects.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: They're saying senior administration official. That can be many people. There are, I think, thousands of political appointees, hundreds of folks who would qualify under the title alone.


ACOSTA: Now, one administration official told me the White House wanted a coordinated response to all of this today but did not get one, as cabinet secretaries were releasing their statements throughout the day. It didn't seem very organized, is how that one administration official described it.

And that disarray comes after the White House was also flatfooted earlier this week when they were trying to respond to the Bob Woodward book. Wolf, I should point out, we're standing outside this venue where the president will be speaking later on tonight. You can see the neon sign behind me. But it probably does not rival the sign that is metaphorically flashing the words "Who is Anonymous?" over the White House this evening -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

The White House clearly is reeling from the revelations in the book by the journalist Bob Woodward, including his account of top aides swiping documents from the president's desk in the Oval Office, documents that they believe could pose a danger to U.S. national security.

Our special correspondent, Jamie Gangel, is with us. Jamie, you actually have a copy of that letter that Woodward describes, a letter that was taken off the desk in order to make sure the president wouldn't sign it.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. This is a copy of the letter. It is in the book.

We should say that one of the reasons we're talking about it today is because yesterday President Trump said that it is a phony, that it didn't exist. It does exist. It is in the book.

Here is why it's important. Former chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, the book starts with a very dramatic scene where he goes into the Oval Office and he sees this draft letter that's not supposed to be there. And Woodward reports that he is, quote, "appalled." And he takes it because, he says, quote, "Got to protect the country."

Why? Because the letter, if signed, would terminate the U.S. trade deal with South Korea; and the fallout could endanger national security.

I'm going to read you just a part of the letter. It's all on The people can go see. But this gives you a sense of the problem. It's from President Trump to the president of South Korea.

It says, "Dear Sirs, the United States-Korea free trade agreement in its current form is not in the overall best interests of the United States economy. Thus, in accordance with Article 24.5 of the agreement, the United States hereby provides notice that it wishes to terminate the agreement." And it goes on from there.

But the concern was that, if that agreement was terminated, critical national security things -- for example, we have an installation that would revert back that lets us detect a launch of missiles from North Korea in seven seconds, because it's there. If this went away, that could go away.

BLITZER: Yes, could take 14, 15 minutes --

GANGEL: Right.

BLITZER: -- if the U.S. had to be based in Hawaii or Alaska in order to determine the launch of a nuclear missile in North Korea.

GANGEL: Correct.

BLITZER: That's why it's so significant. Presumably, that's why Gary Cohn decided to remove that letter.

The president is trying to discredit this whole book, saying it's just a bunch of lies by disgruntled people that Woodward clearly interviewed. Woodward's reaction has been solid.

GANGEL: Right. He -- once again today, we reached out to him, and he reiterated what he has been saying, which is he stands by all the reporting in the book.

Also, I think, Wolf, it's important to note his track record. This is someone with extraordinary credibility. And the people who have been making denials are all people who either work for the president now and, therefore, they have skin in the game. They want to keep their jobs. Or they're lawyers who have lawyer/client confidentiality.

But he recorded hundreds of hours of interviews, and his method of doing these kinds of things when he has sensitive quotes, he is known to get multiple sources on them.

BLITZER: The book officially comes out on Tuesday.

GANGEL: Tuesday.

BLITZER: And people read those 400-plus pages, page after page with incredible details --

GANGEL: Correct.

BLITZER: -- on all sorts of intrigue going on inside the White House. Good reporting.

GANGEL: Thanks.

BLITZER: Jamie, thank you very much.

The confirmation hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, has been breaking down into a partisan slugfest, with Democrats making a show of releasing documents that they claim had been kept from the public.

At the heart of today's debate, Judge Kavanaugh's stance on the court's Roe v. Wade abortion ruling and his position on presidential power.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly. Phil, a lot of fireworks today.

[17:10:04] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. Look, Wolf, Democrats have fumed for weeks about a process that they said is opaque, that doesn't allow the American people to see the full extent of Brett Kavanaugh's record.

Well, that anger today, it spilled into public view. And along with it, several of those documents that previously had been confidential. But how and when those documents came out, that appears to be open to interpretation.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, a dramatic moment of Democratic revolt that may not have been that dramatic at all.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: This is about the closest I'll probably ever have in my life to an "I am Spartacus" moment. MATTINGLY: Outraged over the lack of public access to thousands of

documents related to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: By what authority could he possibly be denying to the American people information about a man who's seeking a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land?

MATTINGLY: Democrats making a very public show, saying they would break Senate rules and release the documents on their own.

BOOKER: I understand that the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate. And if Senator Cornyn believes that I violated Senate rules, I openly invite and accept the consequences of my team releasing that e-mail right now.

MATTINGLY: The Republicans calling the move a political stunt to interfere with Kavanaugh's nomination and making clear the documents in question had actually already been cleared for release and calling out those across the aisle.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: Running for president is no excuse for violating the rules of the Senate.

MATTINGLY: The newly-released documents, once deemed confidential, include this March 2003 e-mail in which Kavanaugh discusses abortion, writing, quote, "I'm not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level, since the court can always overrule its precedent."

Democrats seizing on the e-mail, saying it called into question Kavanaugh's view of whether the abortion law could be overturned, an issue that could turn key votes against him. Kavanaugh on Thursday denied that was the case.

JUDGE BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: In that draft letter it was referring to the views of legal scholars.

MATTINGLY: And returned to a familiar refrain: Roe v. Wade was precedent and would go no further.

Late Wednesday night, Senator Kamala Harris pressed Kavanaugh about whether he had discussed Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Have you ever discussed Special Counsel Mueller or his investigation with anyone?

KAVANAUGH: Well, it's in the news every day.

HARRIS: Have you discussed it with anyone?

KAVANAUGH: With other judges I know.

HARRIS: 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? Be sure about your answer, sir. MATTINGLY: Asked today, Kavanaugh clearly denied the allegation.

KAVANAUGH: I am -- don't recall any conversations of that kind. I haven't had any inappropriate conversations about that investigation with anyone.

MATTINGLY: Today Harris, who hasn't produced evidence of any such interaction, explained her questioning.

HARRIS: I have good reason to believe there was a conversation. I asked him a clear question, and he couldn't give a clear answer.


MATTINGLY: And Wolf, a key issue that has been returned to repeatedly is also executive power. Democrats say Brett Kavanaugh has an expansive view of the issue, and his answers to their questions on the issue certainly haven't made them happy or comfortable throughout. Largely dodging.

But on one area, he did start to weigh in a little bit, saying when asked, if the court prohibits something from the president or orders the president to do something, Wolf, that is the final word in the system, Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill for us. Thank you very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. He's a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us. I want to take a quick -- quick break. We have lots to discuss. Stand by. We'll start our interview right after this.


[17:18:27] BLITZER: Our top stories, cabinet secretaries are denying authorship of a stinging "New York times" op-ed in which an anonymous insider writes of resistance to the president within his administration.

And Democrats give the president's U.S. Supreme Court nominee the third degree while clashing with Republicans over rules and the release of documents.

We're back with Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy. He's a key member of the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, I wanted to get your thoughts, and I know you have some serious thoughts on the Kavanaugh hearings, in just a moment. But first, let's get to this anonymous op-ed from a senior Trump administration official.

Based on your reading of this op-ed, as well as details emerging from this new Bob Woodward book, do you believe the president of the United States is unfit for office?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Wolf, I believe that this is a flashing red light. I've been here with eight administrations, Republicans and Democrats. We have never seen anything like this. We have never seen this kind of concern.

You know and I know that many in his administration will tell you how concerned they are. And they should be. I mean, the president will change positions on everything from nuclear disarmament to NATO to the economy and take a position on early morning tweet, have it change by -- by mid-morning.

But it also points out something else: that Congress is not doing its job of oversight. With the other seven presidents, no matter what party they were from, no matter who was in charge of the Congress, we did oversight.

[17:20:07] The Republicans will tell you privately they know that there are serious problems in the White House. But they won't call a hearing. They won't do oversight. They won't investigate what's going on. And as a result, somebody -- apparently somebody highly placed in the administration felt so they had to write that op-ed.

BLITZER: Well, let me just press you. Is he unfit for office?

LEAHY: If you went by that, you have serious questions of fitness. But I would like to see us ask the questions. We -- the American public deserves to have the Congress start asking questions, and the Republican-controlled Congress has been afraid to.

BLITZER: We saw an unusual spectacle today. I'm going to put up on the screen all of the individuals, senior officials, cabinet members, the vice president, in the Trump administration who thought it was necessary to issue, either directly or through a spokesperson, a denial that they wrote that article in "The New York Times." And you can see all those faces up there.

Do you believe -- do you believe, Senator, that this anonymous official should come forward publicly?

LEAHY: I'll leave that up to them. But you might ask some of the officials, if they would tell you privately, do they agree with what was written. I think you'd find a lot who would agree.

BLITZER: Do you believe members of the cabinet should consider using the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to try to oust the president?

LEAHY: That is an extreme measure. What I would like to see them do, start speaking up, state what is happening, and then for the Republican-controlled Congress to finally do what it's supposed to do and what all other Congresses have done: have real hearings, find out exactly what's going on.

I'm not going to speculate based on what somebody has written anonymously. What I'd like to do is hear sworn testimony before the Congress and ask people. If these things are accurate, if these things are happening, this country has some very, very serious concerns.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the hearings on President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Democrats this morning made a big show releasing documents that they claim the Republican majority was hiding from the American public.

But Chairman Chuck Grassley clarified that later in the day, saying those documents had already been released overnight, and the Democratic senators, including Cory Booker, knew about that. So was all of this, this morning, by Cory Booker and others, simply a stunt?

LEAHY: Listen, so much of Judge Kavanaugh's documents have been held back. No nominee in history has had so much stuff kept secret, all of it being done by an operative at the White House who has represented everybody from Steve Bannon and on. So there's no credibility. What is secret and what's not? I don't know.

I asked questions this morning on a number of things involving the Republican, Manny Miranda, who stole, actively stole things from Democrats' files. Now, that had been kept confidential. We got it marked unconfidential at 3 a.m. this morning, so I could ask questions a few hours earlier. That is no way to do this.

Everything we're seeing here, the tens of thousands of files that are being kept hiding, this is an example of trying to cover something up. If there's nothing there, why try to cover it up?

I was a prosecutor. If somebody tried to keep so much stuff secret, I'd be nothing but suspicious.

BLITZER: Well, very quickly, because we're almost out of time, do you believe that the judge was lying to you?

LEAHY: Yes. He didn't tell the truth back years ago when he said he had no connection with Manny Miranda. The e-mails we've uncovered showed he actually did.

And remember, he was asked that question by both Republicans and Democrats years ago, and he said he had nothing to do with it. Now it turns out yes, he did.

BLITZER: Senator Leahy, thanks so much for joining us.

LEAHY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, one by one, top administration officials deny responsibility for "The New York Times" op-ed slamming the president. Will their public statements do anything to reduce the president's fury?

And Senator Rand Paul often rails against government intrusion. So why does he want White House staffers to take lie detector tests?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:29:18] BLITZER: At this hour President Trump is heading to a political rally in Montana, leaving behind a White House staff truly struggling to contain the fallout from Bob Woodward's upcoming book and the scathing op-ed by an anonymous Trump administration official.

Let's talk about all of this with our correspondents and analysts. And Dana Bash, the White House clearly is struggling right now. How damaging is this?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a hard question to answer, because the reality is that, unless there is something that is monumental, that gives an anecdote that is really game-changing, that really could lead to the 25th Amendment impeachment, things that are kind of even hard for people to wrap their minds around in general, this is likely going to fall. It's a psyche test. That people who want to listen to the President, hear the buzz words that they're hearing from him and from the Vice President and his top aides, the New York Times, the media, that this is not treasonous, that they're not loyal, and everybody else who is already predisposed to, you know, understanding that this is the chaotic nature of the White House will be as worried, if not more worried than before. The question is, will we find out who this person is? And will this person be forced in any way shape or form to come forward? And not so much about -- it's not so much about the identity, but it's actually to find out -- to put more meat on the bone that they put in the New York Times.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: I'm with Dana 100 percent on the -- that if you're for Donald Trump, you're going to dismiss all of this and say that Bob Woodward writes fiction despite a long track record of that not being true. That said, I do think you start to -- not for that population but for the broader population, you do start to see kind of the accumulation of this repeated presentation that this is a person who is not only out of his depth, but who the staff around him believe is out of depth. In the Woodward book and in the New York Times op-ed, there's a lot in both, but the driving sentiment is the senior staff believe that the President of the United States is not up to the job. And in not being up to the job that makes him dangerous. Now, does that change the amount of people that go to this Montana rally? No, it doesn't. But I have to believe it has some effect on him, the people who work for him, and even the people who are not ardently either opposed or for him.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, there's no doubt there was shock from this letter, right? But I don't think there was as much shock from what was said in the letter as opposed to the letter being written by an anonymous source inside the White House who's very close to the President. Had this been a year ago, I think you would have seen shock from the content of the letter and shock from the person who wrote it. I think at this point, we have become so numb to a lot of the descriptions about the President's mental wellbeing and the decision making and how others in the White House are sort of behind his back, changing a lot of the policies or trying to avoid things that could be even worse.

What this does, though, on a global scale and what this does for our standing internationally and how other countries and other leaders view trust and confidence in this President and in his inner circle and who other leaders speak with and who other heads of state and other -- you know, people who speak for the President -- are they speaking for the President? Are they speaking about him behind his back?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: And then, it also caused this bizarre dance today where we all had to run around and get statements from every single cabinet official as if that was dispositive of whether it actually happened or not.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Let me put up on the screen, pictures of all of the senior officials, members of the cabinet, senior officials who issued statements saying, you know what, it wasn't me, it wasn't me. But in 1974, Mark Felt, a senior official at the FBI issued a statement saying he was in deep throat. Only decades later did we all learn that Mark Felt was in fact --

JARRETT: But if they hadn't come out today, and haven't said anything, then you wonder, well, is the President going to be looking at me, like why didn't I come out? And according to Jeff Zeleny's reporting, he's printing out the statement so he can read them, so he can bask in the glow. And so, it causes this bizarre dance, even though it may be that the person who actually didn't says they didn't do it.

GOLODRYGA: And a reminder, none of this is normal. None of this happened in previous administrations. I mean, minus one, obviously. But even in that case, you didn't have 30 people, the top officials in an administration coming forward pledging loyalty to the President saying it wasn't me. So, yes, we can have people come forward now and say it wasn't them. The question is do we trust them? And what happens to trust within the White House itself?

BASH: Yes, exactly.

BLITZER: And the President specifically looking to see who hasn't yet issued a statement of denial. That's a very sensitive issue.

BASH: Of course, it is. But beyond that and you asked me rightly what this means for the President and the White House, but in the short term, the question that people around this town and around the country who are running house races and senate races, particularly house races are asking is what does it mean for those? Because we're just a little over 60 days away from the midterm elections. The President as we've reported is apoplectic about losing the House, and all that that means in terms of the ability to investigate when the Democrats -- if the Democrats have the majority and what it means for his agenda more broadly.

[17:35:04] And I talked to so many Republicans as I'm sure all of you have, as well, who are focussed on some of those swing districts, particularly in the suburbs where this kind of reminder of the chaos is exactly the worst thing for these candidates.

BLITZER: We're going to take a break, but very quickly on that image of all of those senior officials who issued public denials, either directly or through a spokesperson, I didn't see the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

CILLIZZA: Yes. Look, to Laura's point, some of this is box checking which is sort of, no, I didn't do it even if you did, but it's kind of weird given that it is boxed.

BASH: But the President -- given the President's tweet that John Kelly told him that it wasn't him.


CILLIZZA: I don't know that. I know that John -- we know about John Kelly saying the stuff about him in the Woodward book is not -- is not accurate. We have not heard --

BASH: And getting my --


CILLIZZA: Right, exactly. It all happened in 24 hours. You can be forgiven. But -- so I do think that's of note, given that everyone else -- and Don McGahn, by the way, the White House Counsel walked by the cameras and didn't say anything, which is not necessarily an admission of guilt, but when he walked back by the cameras, made sure he did say it wasn't me, so you can dismiss this as that was just Don box checking. But we know this is a President who cares about this.

JARRETT: A high-level official regardless because the New York Times wouldn't have gone through these lengths.

BLITZER: Right. The New York Times would not have gone through all these angst if it would have just been an unknown official.

CILLIZZA: And that's important, this is not a -- this is not an undersecretary of the undersecretary. Anyone who understands how these processes works, the New York Times is not OK-ing something like this anonymously that alleges not a coup certainly, but an organized campaign to keep Donald Trump from himself from someone who may think in their own mind they're a senior official or not.

BLITZER: John Kelly issued a statement denying that he called the President an idiot in the Bob Woodward book. But as far as we know, he hasn't issued any statement in the aftermath of this op-ed in the New York Times. Let's see what happens, if they're watching right now. Everybody, stand by, we're going to keep our eyes on President Trump's Montana trip as well as the White House hunt for the writer of that anonymous Op-Ed in the New York Times. Much more right after this.


[17:41:47] BLITZER: We're back with our experts and our analysts. And Bianna, you think we're going to find out sooner rather than later who wrote this article in the New York Times?

GOLODRYGA: I think in this day and age, it's hard for anything to remain secret for longer than 24, 48 hours, which goes back to our conversation about the New York Times really having to focus on this person being high up enough to know that if they do -- if they are outed either voluntarily or by somebody else, that they can say this is why we protected their name, their anonymity. So, I think this would have to be high profile --


BLITZER: I wouldn't be surprised, Dana, if the individual decided to publicly go out and say, you know what, I did it, I believe it, I'm going to resign, and let's move on.

BASH: Wolf, the suspicion -- and we talked about this when this first came out yesterday by some Trump -- former Trump officials or people in Trump world was that that's ultimately what this person wants to do and wants be, consider themselves and be seen as a hero to the anti- Trump world and to people who are worried about, you know, what he is doing to the institutions of government, never mind the White House and international relations, et cetera. So, if that theory holds, then you would think that, of course, we're going to learn that person's identity because you can't be a hero without knowing who you are.

BLITZER: Yes. Or, what do you think of Senator Rand Paul's suggestion to the White House, anybody who has security clearances inside the White House should submit to a lie detector test.

JARRETT: OK. So, first of all, lie detectors are not even genuinely admissible in court, in most federal and state courts, so I don't know what he's talking about there. But even more importantly, I mean, how demoralizing, right, for the people who work there day in and day out or others to have to be submitted to that kind of test. And then, just to me, it suggests, look, how far have things fallen to the extent of --


GOLODRYGA: (INAUDIBLE) it's unbelievable.


JARRETT: It doesn't show anything.

CILLIZZA: And we talk a ton about what will this mean, we started this up by talking about, what does this -- what will this mean to people out in the country. And I -- again, I think Dana is right, and it's kind of largely confirm what you already think. I do think it's important though to note what does it mean both to the President, how he reacts? We know he doesn't tend to react well when he feels as though he's being hammed in, he's in a corner, he can't trust anyone. And then, to Laura's point, what does it mean if you're a staffer? It already can't have been a fun place to be a staffer. You would see the President of the United States running down the Attorney General, clashing with the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen dressing her down in a cabinet meeting, over and over again.

So, I think it's -- it was already difficult. And so now I think you have a person in the President who is naturally distrustful and a little bit paranoid paired with a hugely distrustful environment. And who knows how that mix turns out? That has nothing to do with how people receive it, but he does tend to be impulsive and mercurial. We all struggle at times to react well under pressure. He's quite clearly under pressure -- by the way, we haven't talked at all about the fact that Bob Mueller's investigation is ongoing.

[17:44:53] GOLODRYGA: But going back to the argument that the bar for shock is so high. You have a number of Republicans who've been outspoken, let's be fair, about this President, Ben Sass and Bob Corker, saying this is what we knew this President and this White House to be. None of this is really that shocking. I think maybe if we had read this a year ago, we'd be talking more about the content because everything we've seen so far we've seen analyzed and play out. We haven't seen somebody who's close to the President say this publicly, on the record. That's different.

CILLIZZA: And Bob's book is at least of what I've seen of it is a confirmation of what we know from someone who is a very trusted chronicler of White Houses. It is not, holy cow, we thought he was running a tight ship and he's not. We knew what's in there. Bob, I think, is just codifying the other accounts that have come before him.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break but anybody who reads this article in the New York Times has to conclude the author is a Republican, probably religious, probably someone who loved John McCain. So, we're getting some clues. Much more right after this.


[17:50:36] BLITZER: Today, the United States identified a North Korean computer programmer who's facing charges in connection with several devastating cyberattacks including the hack of Sony Pictures. The announcement comes at the same time President Trump and Kim Jong- un are saying very nice things about each other. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us. So, Brian, what sparked this latest exchange of compliments?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Kim Jong-un seemingly sparked it when he told a South Korean official that he has, quote, unwavering trust in President Trump. That predictively brought a glowing response from the President. But tonight, many here in Washington are concerned that Mr. Trump is disconnected from what's really going on with North Korea and they're concerned that Kim could be exploiting him.


TODD: Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un tonight showing a swaggering confidence in their partnership. South Korean officials reporting that Kim has, quote, unwavering trust in President Trump, that he wants to denuclearize before Trump's first term ends, to which Trump responds in a tweet, "Thank you to Chairman Kim, we will get it done together!" A disconnect, critics say, from reality.

KELLY MAGSAMEN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The reality there has been no progress. North Korea still has upwards of potentially 60 nuclear weapons. So, Donald Trump's policy right now is not paying dividends on a denuclearization front.

TODD: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recently scheduled trip to North Korea was abruptly canceled by the President after a North Korean official told them denuclearization talks may fall apart. And recent satellite pictures show Kim's regime has done no significant dismantling of a key satellite launch facility.

MAGSAMEN: This is the danger, I think, of the President having a disconnected foreign policy from the rest of his national security cabinet.

TODD: The President's recently been accused of being somewhat delusional about North Korea. Bob Woodward writes in his new book, "Fear" that Trump has seen the nuclear standoff with North Korea as being, "all about leader versus leader, man versus man. Me versus Kim."

According to Woodward, Trump has repeatedly asked why the U.S. has to pay for a large American troop presence in South Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis once responding, we're doing this in order to prevent World War III." Then, said later, Trump had the understanding of "a fifth or sixth grader." Mattis denies ever saying that, but there are other signs of a possible Trump disconnect with North Korea. His Twitter compliment of Kim Jong-un comes the same day as the Justice Department indicted a hacker, allegedly working for Kim's spy agencies for the devastating cyberattack on Sony Pictures.

JOSH CAMPBELL, FORMER SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT, FBI: If you're sitting in Pyongyang right now wondering if costs will actually be imposed upon you, you have prosecutors and FBI agents say, we're coming after you, you're not going to take that seriously. Because at the same time, you look and see the President of the United States who's welcoming you, who's opening up to you, who's cozying up to you.

TODD: Could this be what that anonymous top Trump administration official wrote about in the New York Times. The official says, "On one hand, President Trump shows an affinity for dictators like Kim Jong-un. While at the same time, other administration officials work to hold those dictators accountable. A two-track presidency," the author writes, which analysts say is dangerous.

MAGSAMEN: Adversaries of the United States are already exploiting it. I think today's tweets by Donald Trump shows that it's working. And if you're Kim Jong-un, you're just going to keep on going.


TODD: How specifically could America's adversaries or even allies exploit that so-called "two-track presidency?" Well, analysts say, a dictator like Kim Jong-un could compliment President Trump as he's just done today to get what they want or they could get inside his head in other ways like how Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi once did according to Bob Woodward's new book. When Trump was trying to get el-Sisi to do something, Woodward wrote, "The Egyptian President told Trump he was worried about the Russia investigation and asked Trump, are you going to be around?" which according to Woodward, really rattled the President. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, regarding the indictment today of that North Korean hacker for the Sony attack, why indict that man if he's in North Korea and they may actually never be able to apprehend him?

TODD: It's a good question, Wolf. And the odds are, of course, stacked against them ever being able to get that guy. Still, our analyst Josh Campbell who assisted in the Sony hack investigation for the FBI, he says the U.S. can still limit the ability of that hacker to travel, to communicate, to move his money around, so it is still worth bringing that indictment, just placing a little bit more pressure on the Kim regime.

BLITZER: Very interesting, Brian. Thank you very much. Brian Todd reporting.

[17:54:58] Coming up, top administration officials, cabinet secretaries, even the Vice President Mike Pence all denying authorship of the anonymous New York Times op-ed slamming President Trump. Will their public declarations do anything to calm the President's fury?


BLITZER: Happening now, delivering denials, Vice President Pence and other top administration officials scramble to give the President what he wants, a public reassurance that they did not write an anonymous and very damning op-ed in the New York Times.

West-wing turmoil, it's even more chaotic in the West -- in the White House tonight as Mr. Trump demands to know the identity of the administration's insider who's portraying him as amoral, reckless, and dangerous. Tonight, the President is on the road and raging.