White House denies claims made in bombshell book

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 4, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PETER DOOCY, FOX NEWS: There is a new call today to literally stop the presses. And they are threatening to sue the publisher, Henry Holt & Co., if the book hits the shelves next week as planned.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's completely tabloid gossip full of false and fraudulent claims.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. I don't know. He called me a great man last night. So he obviously changed his tune pretty quick.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I would say to Steve Bannon if he's listening to your show, why don't you drop the nonsense, apologize to everybody.

STEVE BANNON, BREITBART NEWS: Don't worry. There will be no daylight between the agenda, Donald Trump and the folks at Breitbart and this show and the website.


BAIER: It's been an amazing 48 hours. This one author, this one book, Michael Wolff is the author, and he had access to the Trump administration in the early days as well as many interviews which he says he taped. The book is "Fire and Fury, Inside the Trump White House." It was supposed to be coming out next week. Wolff tweeted today "Here we go. You can buy it and read it tomorrow. Thank you, Mr. President." Rush Limbaugh weighing in on the publisher moving the date up.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: That's the best promotion a book could get. You have your lawyers send the publisher a threatening letter. You better not publish that. All that does is make everybody, whoa, what is in this sucker? They want to read it before it's published, they get copies of it however they can, so that's the best promotion the book can have.


BAIER: Well, there is obviously other news but this has been the news in Washington. And that's why it's here in the panel.

Let's bring in our panel, Tom Bevan, Real Clear Politics cofounder and publisher, Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, and Charles Lane, opinion writer for the Washington Post. OK, Tom, the cease and desist and all of the coverage really that has come from the White House about this book has been quite something to watch.

TOM BEVAN, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Very much. And Rush is exactly right. This is a publisher's dream to have that kind of publicity. I'm sure that the book is going to be a bestseller instantaneously. But the president's statement against Steve Bannon last night, Rebecca Mercer's statement against Steve Bannon today has really been extraordinary.

BAIER: Let's explain that. Rebecca Mercer who is part of the Mercer family, they supported him with money, billionaire --

BEVAN: Minority owner in Breitbart News, have been a big backer of his for a long, long time. She issued a statement to The Washington Post earlier tonight saying she is cutting ties with him, not supporting -- still supporting Breitbart News, not supporting any of Steve Bannon's other political initiatives, hasn't spoken to him in months.

So pretty remarkable fall for him from where he was just a few months ago. But yes, this is a pretty amazing event. The amount of publicity and consternation, controversy that this book has generated in Washington over the last 24, 48 hours.

BAIER: And obviously the White House, Mollie, is pushing back hard, saying that there are people who say the quotes are not accurate, that the descriptions are not accurate. Wolff is saying that he had a lot of access in the early days.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: Right. There are people who have said on the record that the quotes that are attributed to them are not accurate. There's Katie Walsh, Tom Barrack. He's also said things that are demonstrably untrue, like that Donald Trump didn't know who John Boehner even though John Boehner has been talked about by Donald Trump for many years. He said policy wonk Stephen Miller who is known for just being obsessed with immigration policy doesn't know anything about immigration or doesn't know anything about policy, so things that are obviously not true.

And there is that reputation that Michael Wolff has of spinning very colorful stories but also admitting that sometime he makes them up. So everyone should take everything with a huge grain of salt. But there is some element of truth here, which is that the early days of the Trump administration were a pretty toxic environment with a lot of people fighting against each other, and I think that part does come out through the book.

BAIER: There are nuggets in here, though, that ring true from other reporting, Chuck. And there are some new things. For example, Mark Corallo, who was a press person, was instructed not to speak to the press, indeed not even answer his phone. Later that week, Corallo seeing no good outcome, privately confided that he believed a meeting on Air Force One, this is a meeting about the Trump Tower Donald Trump Jr. meeting, represented a likely obstruction of justice and he quit. The Jared and Ivanka side would put it out that Corallo was fired. We haven't reached out to Corallo about that, but obviously the investigators on Capitol Hill and Mueller are going to be look at some of these things in this that they may not have talked about.

CHARLES LANE, OPINION WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Correct. I agree to some extent with Mollie that you have got to take everything Michael Wolff says with a grain of salt because of his record. The one thing, though, that has not been denied, unless I missed it, are the things that Steve Bannon has said. And that's why he's in so much trouble. And he's got a radio show in which he could have denied them. And what Steve Bannon said was that he thought the meeting was treasonous and a big problem.

BAIER: The Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer.

LANE: The one we were talking about. And that, I think, in this whole kerfuffle is the most significant thing of all that has any real heft to it because it suggests, OK, Steve Bannon was in the middle of that forming opinions about what might be going on.

BAIER: We should point out he was hired after the Trump Tower meeting so he was not there.

LANE: True, but he knows the various people. In other words, he set himself up now to be questioned in the investigation, and he gratuitously took off after the president.

BAIER: And they have already asked for him to testify up on the hill.

HEMINGWAY: Right, which is a natural thing.

I also think it's funny that Steve Bannon likes to paint himself as this revolutionary who is taking on the media, and yet he managed to say the one thing that everybody in the media said about the meeting, and he just parroted that exact line. I think people now think that's a pretty stupid thing to say, one he'll have to talk about perhaps with investigators, but it's exactly the media line that a guy who claims he is against the media managed to parrot.

LANE: Ushering in people from the media with special access to the White House, like Michael Wolff.

BAIER: Which was the biggest real problem in the early days, for that approval to happen, for him to be around the White House just talking to people whether off the record or on the record is quite something.

BEVAN: Especially given Michael Wolff's reputation. We are not talking out a presidential scholar coming in to chronicle the administration. And in that sense the Trump administration sort of got what they deserved, to have this guy have that kind of access, whoever authorized it, thought it was a good idea, thought it would end well for them was obviously sorely mistaken.

BAIER: The one thing I just want to touch on, and this is now a narrative we have talked about before but it has picked up steam, especially with this book because there are numerous parts of the book where they describe the president rambling. The Atlantic has a piece out, is something neurologically wrong with Donald Trump? It is best not to diagnose the president from afar which is why the federal government needs a system to evaluate him up close. And you heard this over the past few days at the briefing today.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC He's ill fit to be president of the United States.

BRIAN KAREM, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Next week when he goes to his physical, are there mental acuity tests that go along with that or is it purely physical in nature?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We will have a read out of that after it's completed. If he was unfit, he probably wouldn't be sitting there.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I have seen him time and time again rely on the information that we provided him to inform his decisions.

BAIER: So when you hear these stories or see these stories that he's losing it or that he's not with it, what do you think?

POMPEO: It's absurd. I'll put it in Washington terms. It's demonstrably false.



BAIER: That was from the Reagan forum, I was asking the CIA director who obviously briefs the president almost every day.

LANE: The president is doing things that by the standards of past presidents are bizarre, like the tweet he put out about North Korea and the size of his button versus the size of Kim Jong Un's button. He is constantly embroiled in seemingly petty personal conflicts that revolve around what people said about him personally. There's no question that that kind of behavior is highly unusual for somebody in that office. So I guess it's natural that people would reflect on that and wonder about it.
Whether it could actually be medicalized, whether people from a distance who aren't medical experts should be trying to diagnose it is a very different question. But again, I think that is something that the president has brought on himself.

HEMINGWAY: I'm not sure if there's a clear case of projection in people who lose their minds every time he tweets anything speculating on whether he is stable or not, but this is a violation of ethical guidelines on what should happen in terms of speculating about someone's psychiatric health. They actually call it the Goldwater rule because at that time people speculated that Goldwater wasn't mentally stable. You heard it about Ronald Reagan. You heard it about George W. Bush. Now you hear it about Donald Trump. And so there is a limit to what can be done. You cannot speculate on someone's mental health, particularly this is a guy who has acted this way since the '80s, at least as far as I know, perhaps longer.

BAIER: My prediction is you will hear many more stories about the 25th Amendment from a number of media outlets, and that's the effort to remove a president in office.

BEVAN: That's right, but let's just remember, as Mollie said earlier, all this stuff that's coming out in this book was during the first few months of the administration. This is pre John Kelly, the pre John Kelly era.
And I think Trump did end the year on a high note with the passage of this tax reform plan, his approval ratings back up into the 40s. And so obviously I think Trump's critics and folks in the media who are against him will take this opportunity to take some of these anecdotes from the book and rehash the issue of whether he is mentally fit to be an office or not.

BAIER: All right, panel, next up, a little lightning round on legalized pot. Is it now up in smoke? We'll talk about what happened today.

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