Kellyanne Conway vs. Jake Tapper on Anonymous NYT Op-Ed: "An Investigation If There Is Criminal Activity"

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Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway discusses the anonymous New York Times op-ed which criticizes President Trump, as well as Bob Woodward's new book 'Fear.' Conway sparred with State of the Union Jake Tapper on the legality of what the op-ed author did and state "there can be an investigation if there is criminal activity." Tapper rebutted Conway and demanded she state what law was broken.

From CNN's State of the Union:

JAKE TAPPER, CNN 'STATE OF THE UNION' HOST: Joining us now is counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway.



Kellyanne, thanks so much for being here. We really appreciate it.

CONWAY: Absolutely.

TAPPER: So, President Trump has been talking a lot this week about the anonymous "New York Times" op-ed.

And we have new reporting that says White House aides have narrowed the search for the writer down to just a few individuals. Who? Who's on the list?

CONWAY: I have no idea who's on the list.

What does concern me, though Jake, apart from everything the president and others have said, is that, for a media that is constantly talking about facts, accuracy, transparency, authority, the authoritativeness to this anonymous writer was imbued automatically because of the content.

As long as the message is anti-Trump, it seems, the messenger has credibility. That should concern everyone. I'm with the vice president on this. He has said that the person should resign, if the person truly is an appointee who has taken an oath to the Constitution, as we all have.

We don't take an oath to the president.

TAPPER: Right.

CONWAY: We take an oath to the Constitution. But that Constitution puts an awful lot of authority into the

executive branch.

TAPPER: Don't you think that the White House, in the way that it has reacted to this op-ed, has also imbued the op-ed with a sense of credibility?

For instance, I have no idea who wrote it. I mean, it could be an assistant director at the Mineral Mining Agency, for all I know. But, all of a sudden, you have the vice president denying it, Secretary of State Pompeo denying it.

By the end of the day, every Cabinet secretary had denied it, either on camera or in an official statement. Didn't that rise the level of the credibility, not to mention the oxygen?

CONWAY: So, I did say earlier this week I had a fairly different view than others, which is, why would we elevate somebody we don't even know?

We also don't know what this person has said to try to get that op-ed in "The New York Times" or what he or she has said to other people. So, to the president's point that there could be a national security risk at hand, he doesn't want this person in a meeting where he's discussing China, Russia, North Korea.

Any president of the United States, Jake, should have the comfort and the freedom to speak with his national security team and not...

TAPPER: But why do you think it -- why does the president think it is a member of the national security...

CONWAY: No, he's making the point that, if it is, if it is, that that raises true concerns, if it's somebody who has access to information.

And, look, you know that -- because you're in the meeting, you know that President Obama was investigating journalists. A lot of folks from "The New York Times" were criticizing him at the time.

James Rosen at FOX News felt...

TAPPER: For leaks. And I don't -- and I don't support what he was doing. But he was...

CONWAY: But we should be reminded of that.

TAPPER: But he was -- they were investigation of leaks, not of criticisms. I mean, it is different.

CONWAY: But I -- and I think this one is fairly simple.

If this person really thinks that he or she is being patriotic and not pathetic, which is the way I view it, then they should come forward, because you would have given them the seat today.

If -- what -- what really was the motivation too? If the motivation is what they state it is in that ridiculous op-ed, they failed miserably. They missed the mark completely.

I think the motivation was to sow discord and create chaos. And I refuse to be a part of that.

TAPPER: It certainly did sow discord and create chaos.

But I do have to say, the central premise of the op-ed is not something we haven't heard before. We have been hearing that there are senior administration officials who feel it's their duty to protect the country from some of President Trump's worst impulses for more than a year now.

We have heard this in previous books, in previous reporting. It's a theme in the new Bob Woodward book. We heard it on the record from Senator Bob Corker last year, just this week from Senator Ben Sasse. He said that he's heard it from people close to the White House.

And I want you to listen to this from July of last year, then White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci calling in to CNN. Take a listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president. OK, that is not their job. Their job is to inject this president into America.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: How do you -- how do you explain the fact that there are senior administration officials who think it's their job to protect the country from President Trump?

CONWAY: To the extent that that's true, they shouldn't be there.

In other words, their job is to execute, not through blind loyalty, but to understand that there are issues that prevailed and others that failed in the last election.

What I appreciate about President Trump, Jake, and why I'm there, as opposed to the million other places I could be, is because he's somebody who has always welcomed, accepted, if not expected, dissenting viewpoints, disagreements.

He said it publicly several months ago actually in a press avail. He said: I like watching them duke it out.

He has people who disagree significantly on trade, on abortion, on the Second Amendment, on economic policies. And he has them there in front of him, but then, ultimately, President Trump knows he's the democratically elected decision-maker.

TAPPER: Right.

But doesn't it -- doesn't it bother you that there are senior administration officials...

CONWAY: Of course it does.

TAPPER: ... that think it's their job to protect the president -- the country from the president?

CONWAY: Yes, just as it bothers me -- just as it bothers me that the same handful of sources feel like they need to sit down with every author and get their side of the story out.

I guess they're too lazy to go write their own book. And who would believe them? But let me just say this to you.

TAPPER: But doesn't it say something about President Trump that there are people around him that think this way?

CONWAY: No.

I think it says something about them. This is what I ultimately want to say to you, too. I was really struck this week, in denying the statements attributed to him in the Woodward book, Secretary Mattis, if you read his denial, it was remarkable what he denied.

But it was really remarkable what he affirmed. He said, not only would he never disparage the elected commander; he wouldn't tolerate it from anybody in the very big Department of Defense.

But he also affirmed what's happening for Secretary Mattis and General Kelly and the Donald Trump -- the President Trump agenda. He said, the ISIS caliphate is all but disappearing, that defense policies are welcomed on Capitol Hill amiably, that we have had the first pay raise for our military in many years, something near and dear to your heart.

And I do want to ask...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Well, not the first. They have been going on.

CONWAY: First in a very long time.

TAPPER: I think it's just been a bigger pay raise, but they have been going on every year.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: As a responsible member of the media, I would like to ask you, on behalf of the White House, would you at CNN feel comfortable granting anonymity to somebody who may be a mid-level staffer?

What -- what would have been the comfortable criteria?

TAPPER: You know, it's a totally good question. I don't know who... CONWAY: Yes, because I see people in the media very upset with this.

They're -- they're saying, if it's not somebody in the Cabinet, if it's not a senior staffer...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I don't know who it is.

If it -- if it's somebody significant, then I think that that was -- that -- then printing it is responsible. If it's somebody completely irrelevant and powerless...

CONWAY: Then why are we giving this person authority? This person obviously is motivated by conceit and deceit.

TAPPER: I can just tell you, as an anchor, that I gave the story more attention after Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, and the entire Cabinet came out and gave the op-ed credibility.

I -- it never even crossed my mind -- I have told this to you privately. It never even crossed my mind that it was Vice President Pence...

CONWAY: Right.

TAPPER: ... until Vice President Pence was out there saying it wasn't him.

He and the administration gave this op-ed credibility.

CONWAY: Well, I want to -- I want to say something else.

This person obviously is motivated by conceit and deceit, and I don't think should be imbued with credibility, but also that -- the opinion being expressed is not widely held. It's widely held around tables like this. It's not widely held around kitchen tables.

I really think -- and thank you for covering the economic boom. The boom in wages and labor and growth and jobs and manufacturing construction, which the poison pens can't touch...

TAPPER: Yes.

CONWAY: ... that's what is being discussed around kitchen tables, not cable news tables.

TAPPER: Let me ask you, though, because President Trump has said that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, should be investigating who the author of the piece is because of national security reasons.

Is that a directive to DOJ to investigate?

CONWAY: So, from what I understand, there can be an investigation if there is criminal activity perhaps.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And there doesn't appear to be any.

CONWAY: I don't know that. And I don't think you know that. In other words, that's...

TAPPER: What would the criminal activity be?

CONWAY: It really depends on what else has been divulged by an individual.

Anybody who would do this...

TAPPER: But we read the op-ed. There was nothing criminal -- there was nothing -- there are no national secrets divulged.

CONWAY: Anybody who would do this, you don't know what else they're saying.

But there's a difference between administrative action, as I understand it, and criminal action. But the president is also just -- the president has a...

TAPPER: Do you think the person broke the law?

CONWAY: I don't know. I have no idea...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: I have no idea.

TAPPER: You think that, because he or she wrote the op-ed, he might -- he or she might have also broken the law? Is that the idea?

CONWAY: I have no idea what -- I have no -- I have really no idea, nor do you, what else this person has divulged.

I think somebody so cowardly and so conceited would probably go a step further.

TAPPER: But that's not how investigations are done. You don't look at somebody's behavior and say, if somebody did this, which is not illegal, maybe he or she also would have done illegal...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: But, Jake, let's not look at the four corners or the op-ed or the four corners of someone's book to say this is everything we know. That's the entire point.

But, look, the president's...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: It is actually everything we know.

CONWAY: I actually think the president...

TAPPER: It's everything we know. The op-ed is everything we know about it.

I mean, we don't know if this person has done anything else.

CONWAY: Right, because we're not the -- we're not the -- you're not the government sitting here.

But the president is making the point -- I -- look, I think this person is going to suss himself or herself out. I think cowards are like criminals. Eventually, they confess to the wrong person: Shh. It was -- it was me, but don't tell anyone.

And, of course, the person will tell someone. So they will probably suss themselves out.

But I really help -- I really hope whoever it is doesn't ultimately get a hero's welcome and the red carpet unfurled, kill the fatted calf, because what really was gained by being so cowardly? Come forward and say, I disagree with this president's policies.

Plenty of Republicans have done that. He has turned this city upside down.

TAPPER: Well, one of the reasons...

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: ... donor class, the lobbyists, certainly the media.

TAPPER: Right.

Well, one of the reasons why you and the president want to know who it is so you can undermine that person's credibility. You can't attack him or her without knowing who it is, in the same way that you have attacked other critics, James Comey, Omarosa, whomever.

So -- so, I mean, isn't that really one of the reasons that you want this person to come forward?

CONWAY: Not me.

This person has already undermined their credibility. I don't know why they were imbued with the authority, transparency, accountability, and credibility that everybody gave them, other than they were peddling an anti-Trump message.

I don't think an anonymous messenger should be imbued with that level of credibility. So, they have already undermined their credibility.

I think the whole point here is, are you somebody?

TAPPER: Mm-hmm. CONWAY: If you're somebody who would do this, are you somebody also

who has access to information about national security?

TAPPER: Right. And we don't -- and we don't know.

CONWAY: That's a relevant question.

TAPPER: I do want to ask you.

The president said this week that he wished he had been interviewed for Bob Woodward's book, which comes out this week.

You and the president had a conversation with Woodward on the phone which Woodward tape-recorded after getting permission from the president. I want you to take a listen to a quick excerpt.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You remember, two-and-a-half months ago, you came over, and I laid out, I wanted to talk to the president, and you said you would get back to me?

CONWAY: I do. And I put in the request. But, you know, they -- it was rejected.

I can only take it so far. I guess I can bring it right to the president next time.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, early in the call, President Trump was voicing concern that he had not been consulted about it.

But I have to ask. You are the senior counselor to the president. There's no one between you and President Trump, other than perhaps the chief of staff. Who did you put in the request that it was rejected?

CONWAY: So, I won't say that. I won't divulge internal conversations.

I will just tell you that I also in that tape, either before or after that, the president says: She has direct access to me. She could have brought it to me.

TAPPER: Right.

CONWAY: And what I said to Mr. Woodward is, did you ask anybody else? And he said seven or eight people.

TAPPER: Yes.

CONWAY: And I said, I'm going to give the phone back to the president now, Bob. Please tell him the seven or eight people.

I don't think he did that, because it's probably sources for the negative stuff. TAPPER: Well, I think Raj Shah was one. Lindsey Graham was one. You were one.

CONWAY: But I'm the above-board person in the White House who, on my official e-mail and through the official car service, went over to find out what the book was about and how he might be able to help.

TAPPER: Right, but you didn't want him to get -- you didn't want to give a Woodward access to President Trump.

CONWAY: No, that's not true.

TAPPER: You did?

CONWAY: I don't make these decisions exclusively or ultimately.

And I just want to say one thing that the president later said to -- the president said two things to Bob Woodward that you may not have time to play, but I want to tell your -- your viewers was important. They can play the tape.

One is: Hey, Bob, it doesn't really matter what you write in the book, because the economy's doing so well. We're doing great in terms of bringing peace, not war, around the globe.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But if the president wanted to talk to Woodward, shouldn't he have gotten a chance to do so?

CONWAY: And that's -- and the president says, that's the real story. That's the greatest story not told.

TAPPER: But he could have told that to Woodward if he had participated.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: But the second thing -- we don't think it would have made a difference, but -- and the president said that this week, that that probably wouldn't have made a difference.

The other thing...

TAPPER: But the president said that he wanted to talk to Woodward.

CONWAY: And then -- and then he saw the book and realized.

(CROSSTALK)

CONWAY: The second thing, is he did say to Bob Woodward, how could he not -- how could you not get in touch with me? Just call my secretary -- you know, call my assistant next time or call the switchboard.

But that apart, I think what really concerns all of us in the White House is that there are first-person accounts by people who, as Sarah Sanders said this week, are disgruntled ex-employees giving their side of the story.

I had a conversation with Ivanka Trump in my office on Friday, and she said and -- and allowed me to say publicly she can't believe that there are two-party conversations related in a book. She's the second party. Nobody's ever called her and said, is this true?

So that's basic fact-checking. I think everybody should be concerned. It's not about Bob Woodward, respected journalist. And I like him personally. This is about fact-checking.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But if the White House refuses to cooperate with a book, how is Woodward supposed to get the other side of the story, if you guys won't cooperate?

CONWAY: No, no, no. No, no, no.

There are two-party conversations where I'm involved. And I met with Bob ahead and he would say, did you say this? Did you say that?

You can't have a two -- you can't say, Jake and Kellyanne -- Jake said, Kellyanne and Jake discussed this, and not ask Kellyanne.

It doesn't have to be Bob Woodward who does the fact-check. It has to be a fact-checker.

But this is the fourth or fifth consecutive book in a row where there are two-party conversations, Jake, where only one of the parties curated it and related it to suit their own...

TAPPER: Kellyanne Conway, I know you're happy about the Eagles' victory on Thursday, as am I.

CONWAY: Yay! Keep going. We will have a repeat.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Thank you. Thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it.

CONWAY: Thank you. Take care, Jake.

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