Tuesday’s The Lead ended with a discussion about a new book called Kushner, Inc. by Vicky Ward, which alleges that President Trump wanted his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner fired from their positions as senior advisors in his administration.
Not surprisingly, CNN host Jake Tapper and his panel were interested in this work of palace intrigue. The segment took an unexpected turn when CNN political commentator Paul Begala called Mr. and Mrs. Kushner “cockroaches” and backhandedly referred to President Trump as a “criminal.”
When asked by Tapper if the book was a sign that “loyalty is preeminent with the Trumps,” Begala responded: “I don’t think so. I think mediocrity is. And of course they survived. I mean, cockroaches are going to survive a nuclear war.” And after being pressed whether he was calling the Kushners cockroaches, Begala asserted that he was “talking about a separate class of species.”
Considering the wide debate about anti-Semitism on the left and in America more broadly, Begala’s comments could be taken by some as anti-Semitic since Kushner is Jewish and Ivanka converted to Judaism. Begala’s comparison of the Jewish Kushners to insects closely mirrors the rhetoric of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who denied that he was anti-Semitic; instead arguing that he was “anti-termite.”
Begala went even further off the rails when attempting to psychoanalyze the Kushners: “I know they both had difficult fathers, right, that’s part of the book…one, a criminal, the other, Charlie Kushner, the New Jersey real estate developer.”
Begala did not face any pushback for calling the President of the United States a criminal, although CNN political commentator and Trump supporter David Urban shook his head at the remark in similar fashion to how he reacted to Begals's “cockroaches” comment.
Fellow panelist Tiffany Cross of The Beat DC argued that, in a reference to HBO's Game of Thrones, “this is what happens when the Lannisters occupy the White House.”
This was hardly the first time cable TV personalities have compared the Trumps to fictional or real aristocracies: MSNBC’s Chris Matthews has repeatedly compared the Trump family to the Romanovs, the ill-fated Russian dynasty that ruled Russia for centuries. After Cross made the comparison, Tapper attempted to point out a distinction between the Lannisters and the Trumps: “Just a fact check. The Lannisters always repay their debts.”
Begala’s comments come as CNN scourged Fox News’s Tucker Carlson for comments he made more than a decade ago. It will be interesting to see if they hold Begala to the same standard. Don’t bet on it.
A transcript of the relevant portion of Tuesday’s edition of The Lead is below. Click “expand” to read more.
CNN's The Lead With Jake Tapper
04:53 p.m. Eastern
JAKE TAPPER: We’re back with our “Politics Lead.” Explosive new claims about Trump family drama inside the West Wing from a forthcoming book, Kushner, Inc. by Vicky Ward. According to an excerpt reported by the New York Times, President Trump’s daughter Ivanka told then White House adviser Gary Cohn “my dad’s not a racist” after the President said both sides were to blame after white supremacists spewing hatred clashed with protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. The book also claims the President wanted to send his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his daughter packing and back to New York. But as CNN’s Kate Bennett reports, representatives for the couple dismissed the claims in this new book as completely false.
KATE BENNETT: Washington buzzing today about a new book that takes a hard look at Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. In Kushner, Inc., writer Vicky Ward focuses on the inner workings of the White House power couple. Part family, part presidential confidant, Ivanka has defended her father after Trump made these infamous remarks following the deadly Charlottesville protests.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think there’s blame on both sides.
BENNETT: Ward says Ivanka was adamant. “My dad’s not a racist…He didn’t mean any of it,” telling then-White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who was rocked by Trump’s remarks and surprised by Ivanka’s response. The New York Times in a story about the book also saying Trump at one point wanted his daughter and son-in-law out of Washington; demanding then Chief of Staff John Kelly “get rid of my kids…get them back to New York,” Ward writes. The White House today pushing back. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement saying “it’s sad, but not surprising the media would spend time promoting a book based on shady anonymous sources and false information instead of all the incredible work Jared and Ivanka are doing for the country.” Incredible work the President recently touted falsely claiming…
PRESIDENT TRUMP: My daughter’s created millions of jobs. I don’t know if anyone knows that but she’s created millions of jobs.
BENNETT: The new book also claims Ivanka has taken advantage of her position. The New York Times writing “Ms. Trump also often requested to travel on Air Force planes when it was not appropriate. When Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State would deny the requests, the couple would invite along a cabinet secretary, often Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, to get access to a plane.” A spokesperson for Kushner’s attorney released this statement to CNN “every point that Ms. Ward mentioned in what she called her ‘fact checking’ stage was entirely false. It seems she has written a book of fiction rather than any serious attempt to get the facts. Correcting everything wrong would take too long and be pointless.” A sentiment echoed last year by the first daughter herself when asked about life in Washington.
IVANKA TRUMP: There’s a level of viciousness that I was not expecting. I was not inspect… expecting the intensity of this experience but this isn’t supposed to be easy.
BENNETT: Sarah Sanders also claims the author originally listed this book as fiction and the White House says her initial representation was accurate. So far, no word from Jared or Ivanka officially. Back to you, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Kate Bennett, thanks so much. David Urban, let me start with you. The President, according to this book, was frustrated with Ivanka and Jared because they generated bad press. He devised a plan with his then-Chief of Staff John Kelly to make life tough for them so that they would go back to New York City. Regardless, Jared and Ivanka, just on the facts, forgot the book for a second. They’ve outlasted everybody. There’s clearly been fights that they’ve had with other people within the West Wing. They have outlasted everybody.
DAVID URBAN: Yeah. I mean, look, number one, I find this…I do find this fictional. There’s a lot of books that are written that you see and there’s…I know grains of truth in some of them. I think this, imagining the President telling John Kelly like let’s get rid of my kids, send them back to New York. I mean, I’ve been around the President, and Jared, and Ivanka, and I can tell you that that’s pure fiction and not believable whatsoever.
TAPPER: What, what do you take from, from this book? Is it a sign that loyalty is, is preeminent with the Trumps?
PAUL BEGALA: I don’t think so. No, I think mediocrity is. And when you’re too mediocre even for Donald Trump, you really got a problem. And of course they survived. I mean, cockroaches are going to survive a nuclear war. When they, when they took this job…
TAPPER: You’re not calling Ivanka and Jared cockroaches.
BEGALA: Family is…no, no, no, I’m talking about a separate class of species.
BEGALA: But when they took this job, I thought it was an enormous mistake. I don’t believe in criticizing politicians’ families. They’re no longer family. They’re government officials.
BEGALA: They work for me.
BEGALA: And so we should hold them to a high standard. And some of the stuff in here is shocking. Abusing military aircraft, I mean, you know, it’s just…profiting, profiting…I know they both had difficult fathers, right, that’s part of the book apparently. Ms. Ward reports one a criminal, the other Charlie Kushner, the New Jersey real estate developer. And so you can’t excuse that in the government official though. I don’t really care if you had a bad daddy, you work for me now.
TAPPER: I do find…I do find credible though the part where Gary Cohn expresses frustration to Ivanka Trump. We know that he was very upset about that.
TIFFANY CROSS: Right.
TAPPER: And she says my dad is not a racist. You know, you’re getting it wrong or whatever. That, that does sound like what happened.
TIFFANY CROSS: Yeah. Well, it sounds like asinine response to ridiculous comments that come from this President that have been consistent with his candidacy, consistent with his presidency. Look, I think this is what happens when the Lannisters occupy the White House. You know, this is something that is very consistent with what we’ve seen throughout the family.
TAPPER: Just a fact check. The Lannisters always repay their debts.
CROSS: Fair enough. Fair enough, Jake, fair enough.
TAPPER: Just one thing.
CROSS: Fair enough. Yeah. I think this is kind of ridiculous. Look, these are not public servants, Okay. Like this is not somebody who wants to fly…you know, she wants to fly private.