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Trump Retweets Conspiracy Theorist; Three CEOs Quit Trump Council After Charlottesville; Futures Up Ahead Of Market Open. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired August 15, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:16] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.
For the first time since taking office, President Trump woke up in New York this morning, the city that never sleeps. And he used the extra wake time for tacit outreach to a group he might feel like he has neglected the last 24 hours: conspiracy theorists.
Under pressure after the deaths in Charlottesville, the President did say flat out that racism is evil, and he finally condemned White supremacists by name. But overnight, he retweeted a message from someone who has trafficked in pure conspiracy theories and is well known in alt-right circles.
And this morning, he mused about pardoning a sheriff convicted of a crime, a man who just happened to share in the President's one-time promotion of the myth that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
There are new signs this morning of a reaction to the President's behavior of late. The CEOs of Intel and Under Armour have now joined the chief executive of Merck in quitting the President's manufacturing council. So a lot going on.
Joining me outside of Trump Tower, for the first time in this presidency, Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, like we said, the President is sending some pretty clear messages this morning.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is indeed, John. Good morning. It is the first time that he has spent the night, as you said, in Trump Tower as president.
You'll remember, he left New York City two days before the inauguration. He's only visited one time briefly a couple months ago but has never spent the night here. This is part of his working vacation that's taken him from New Jersey, to Washington yesterday, here to New York today.
I can tell you that controversy has followed him at every point along the way, particularly the three CEOs who have stepped down from the President's manufacturing advisory board. The White House is keeping a close watch today, I'm told, even reaching out to some other members, trying to keep others on board from dropping out.
This is considered a full working day at the White House. I just ran into a couple advisers who are making their way here to Trump Tower to meet with the President. He'll be doing a meeting on infrastructure later today. He'll be making a statement later this afternoon in the lobby of Trump Tower where we saw him so many times during that presidential campaign.
But, John, the sense here is that they're -- the White House has still not moved beyond the controversy from that Charlottesville attack. The President only adding to that by sort of amplifying the message of a conspiracy theorist like you said, someone who's been involved in spreading a lot of conspiracy theories. The President, last night, retweeted a message that he send out.
So that is something that a lot of the President's supporters would prefer that he would drop and simply get back to work. We'll see what he tweets and says as the day goes on here, John.
But there is still a sense -- as we saw the President yesterday, he said he has condemned the statements and the rally from last weekend, talking about it in past tense. It's clear this is very much still a challenge ongoing here, so we'll see how the President contends with that, if he does react to that again today.
All the while, still talk and curiosity, indeed, speculation, about the future of Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist on thin ice. We know in the President's -- among his inner circle, some advisors are urging him to throw him out, essentially.
We are told that Steve Bannon is still remaining for now. We have our eye on that and so many other things here today as he starts a working Tuesday here at the northern White House. I guess it is today, John. Back to you.
BERMAN: Yes, Steve Bannon still works for the White House as of 9:03 this morning. Will that be the case at 9:03 tonight?
Jeff Zeleny, stay tuned. Thank you very, very much.
In the meantime, we're learning new details this morning about Heather Heyer, the woman killed in Charlottesville on Saturday. Her father calls her a strong opinionated woman who was willing to stand up for what she believed in. The father also had this to say about the man who took his daughter's life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK HEYER, FATHER OF WOMAN KILLED IN CHARLOTTESVILLE ATTACK: I don't hold any ill will toward this young fellow that did this. He's stupid, OK? He's only 20 years old. He don't have sense enough to make a life-long decision about nothing. You know, I forgive him. Flat-out. Just -- I forgive him.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: Those comments come as new information is emerging about the suspect's past. CNN's Kaylee Hartung tracking all the developments for us in Charlottesville this morning.
Good morning, Kaylee.
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, it peers that James Alex Fields, Jr. was so violent towards his own mother that she called the police on him several times for her safety.
Police dispatch logs obtained by our affiliate, WLWT, tell us that nine times, from 2010 to 2013, when Fields would have been a young teenager, police were called to their house twice. They were responding to alleged violent activity. And one report tells us, in 2011, a 14-year-old boy was arrested, though that name redacted from the logs.
[09:05:03] Now, at 20 years old, Fields is charged with murder. And as state and federal investigators continue to search for a motive in that deadly attack on Saturday, one victim has an opinion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARCUS MARTIN, STRUCK BY CAR WHILE SAVING FIANCEE IN CHARLOTTESVILLE ATTACK: I feel multiple times that people saying he's 20 years old, it was an accident, he knew exactly what he was doing.
His intentions was clear. He wanted pain. He wanted hurt. He wanted blood. That's what was after.
You come down to Charlottesville. Yes, everybody that was out there, we were out there at our own risk. At their own risk. But we was out there for standing up for things that we believed in.
And we wasn't out there to protest hate or anything. The only thing we was doing was standing up for things we believed in. That's all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARTUNG: Marcus Martin was counter protesting alongside Heather Heyer when she was killed. The site of that crash is still closed as mourners continue to bring flowers and votive candles to that site.
A memorial service for Heyer is planned on Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. at the Paramount Theater, downtown Charlottesville, John. Another step as this city continues to try to heal in the wake of this sadness and violence.
BERMAN: A city that will come together to remember what she stood for and hold that true, going forward. Kaylee Hartung for us in Charlottesville. Thanks so much.
Joining me now, Matt Lewis, a CNN political commentator. Also with the CNN political analysts, Michael Bender and Abby Phillip.
Guys, you know, the President did come out and directly condemn White supremacists and neo-Nazis and the groups who were involved in much of the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend. But it's what has happened since that I'm particularly interested in this morning, Abby, particularly what the President has been doing on social media.
And the message that he's been sending by retweeting this man, Jack Posobiec, who you know traffics in really the most dangerous types of conspiracy theories. And then again, this morning, the President musing he might pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona as well.
What message, do you think, the President is sending, Abby?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It seems almost as if he's working overdrive to really undo whatever he said in the West Wing yesterday reading from a teleprompter. The reality is that all of these moves are sending pretty strong signals. They're being received pretty clearly.
In the moments after Trump retweeted Jack Posobiec on Twitter yesterday, he -- that same person was live streaming an image of him and another person dancing, celebrating Trump's retweet that essentially legitimized an entire section of the fringe out there on the Internet.
I mean, you know, John, this has been going on for a very long time, the sort of-- the connections between some of these groups and the White House, and the President just put it front and center. But it's really troubling because this is someone who's behind a lot of false theories that I probably don't even have time to explain right now.
PHILLIP: But a number of conspiracy theories that are based in complete falsehoods. And he is also -- self-identifies as part of the alt-right. So that's a problem.
BERMAN: You know, Matt Lewis, is the President saying, I can't quit you?
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Maybe. I mean, look, I don't know whether this is ignorance, a guy who just retweets somebody not knowing who they are, communication shop that's in disarray that is horrible in optics --
BERMAN: I think we have to assume not, at this point, actually.
LEWIS: No, I think you're right.
BERMAN: He's been President for a long time right now.
LEWIS: Yes. I think the --
BERMAN: And he's been dealing with this people a long time.
LEWIS: No. I think the question actually is, if you're going to sort of divide it up, I think you're right. I think the question now is, is this somebody who is just insensitive to these issues, which I think is problematic, clearly, if you're the President of the United States? Or is this something who is actively courting White supremacists and neo-Nazis and the alt-right?
BERMAN: Do you think that --
LEWIS: That's the question. .
BERMAN: Do you think that's possible?
LEWIS: I think it's possible. It's possible because you've got Steve Bannon in there reportedly telling them, don't go too hard on these folks. This is part of your base.
Reportedly, you've got Sebastian Gorka. You've got Stephen Miller. You've got folks in there who are part of this populist, nationalist cause with Breitbart -- some of them have been Breitbart writers and allies -- who at least play footsy with these people.
BERMAN: You know, Michael, it's interesting. I want to ask you because you work for the "Wall Street Journal," the paper of record for the financial world right now.
We're seeing some backlash from, I think, the people the President cares about a whole heck of a lot, which is the business community, right now. We've had three CEOs quit --
MICHAEL BENDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
BERMAN: -- quit some of his councils in the last day right now. And Jeff Zeleny reported something fascinating to me, which I didn't know, which is that the White House is actively courting other CEOs today, right now, saying don't go. We're nervous that you might split right now.
[09:10:00] BENDER: Yes.
BERMAN: What's the message, do you think, the business community is sending?
BENDER: Well, the business community is not going to stand for this sort of outreach, right, this sort of winks and nods that we're all seeing the President give the alt-right, White nationalist crowd.
We also reported today that the -- some of the self-proclaimed leaders of that alt-right movement parsed Trump's statement yesterday, even the one -- you know, the one where he sort of cleared all this out and seemed to get praise for in the mainstream media. The White nationalist leaders saw winks and nods even in that moment.
And I don't know if Trump is actively courting that group. I think his base is a lot larger and a lot broader than that. But Trump's main sort of political ideology is that he's an outsider here, and he's not -- he doesn't -- he's not going to play by the rules, sort of, of normal politics and sort of any aspect of the White House.
This is getting him into trouble, right? This is -- we saw the Gallup poll yesterday. He's already at lows among the nation as a whole, in Republicans. This gives Republicans in Washington an opening to attack him.
And to bring it back to the executives, three executives have quit this council. Two of them after his statement yesterday.
BERMAN: And it's interesting you had those numbers up. You know, 34 percent approval, 61 percent disapproval. Those aren't bad. Those are epically abysmal poll numbers for a president at this stage of his administration, 61 percent disapproval, Abby Phillip, you know.
And I can't tell if it's something that the White House is directly concerned about. He's dealt with bad poll numbers before. But to bring up another subject that came up, Matt Lewis was talking about Steve Bannon a moment ago, the President's chief strategist. And now there are people close to the President openly call for Bannon to go.
Anthony Scaramucci was on "Late Night" last night, and he said with Stephen Colbert. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Is he going to be gone in a week?
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: That's up to the President. But let me --
COLBERT: What do you think? What do you think?
SCARAMUCCI: Let me --
COLBERT: What does the Mooch think?
SCARAMUCCI: Well, if it was up to me, he would be gone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: You know, pretty interesting. First of all, Anthony Scaramucci no longer works for the White House as we all saw. We don't need to relive those magical 10 days. But, Abby, you know, handicap for me what you think the likelihood of Steve Bannon surviving this is.
PHILLIP: Well, I think he is definitely in a tough spot, but it's worth noting he's been in tough spots before in this administration. I think there are probably two things to remember here.
One is that Steve Bannon is still seen, despite the fact that he's on thin ice, as someone who has Trump's base front of mind. And at a moment right now where Trump is at 34 percent, this White House is even more focused on that base. They're even more, you know, laser focused on keeping them happy and keeping them in his camp.
That being said, you know, I think the President has been concerned about a number of things related to Bannon. He doesn't like it when people's stars start to eclipse him.
There's been a lot of reporting recently describing Bannon as kind of like the chief strategist of Trump's political ideology, which is something that the President doesn't like. The attacks on H.R. McMaster have not gone over well with the President. He's been accused of being a leaker, as you heard from Anthony Scaramucci over the weekend.
So all of that is culminating to make Bannon's position really tenuous. That being said, it's important to note that a lot of this has nothing to do with the problems with the President over the weekend condemning White supremacists.
We should not make the mistake of assuming that if Steve Bannon is on thin ice, it's because, somehow, the White House is concerned that -- of the optics of Steve Bannon being close to the President at a time like this. Those things are, as far as I understand it, based on my reporting, not particularly related at the moment.
BERMAN: No. And, in fact, you know, reverse psychology here. It may benefit Steve Bannon because the President may not want to be seen as firing someone who is close to the alt-right right now when he's having issues with them, communicating with them one way or the other.
You know, Matt Lewis, I want to put up a picture of something that happened last night, if we can talk about some of the social significance of what we're seeing right now. In Durham, North Carolina, there was one of these Confederate statues that was brought down in the streets.
I think we have the video of that. Oh, well, if we don't, we all saw it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: There it is right there. What do you make of the moment we are in? Obviously, the protest in Charlottesville, Virginia began with the decision of that city to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee. And now, we're seeing citizens take matters into their own hands.
LEWIS: Vigilantes, essentially. Look, in Charlottesville, the city council or whatever voted and decided to move that statue of Robert E. Lee to a different park.
That is local government. That is their decision. This is citizens being iconoclastic.
When do they go after -- when is Robert E. Lee not enough? When do they go after Thomas Jefferson? That's the question that I have. Where we at in this country when things like this happened? I think we're at a very scary spot.
When I was a kid, I believed, I think naively. I didn't think that we were at the end of history but I felt race relations why going to get progressively better the farther away we got from slavery and Jim Crow that people would become more tolerant.
It's sad to report I think in my lifetime race relations were probably worse today than they've ever been.
BERMAN: All right. Matt, Michael, Abby, thanks for being with us this morning. I do appreciate it.
CEO, no, three of the nation's top business leaders quit the presidential council, will it stop at three? We have new reporting that the White House is working to make sure it does.
Plus, North Korea, backs off threats to launch missiles at Guam but firing off new warnings at the U.S.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON": The fact that it took the president two days to come out and clearly denounce racist and white supremacists is shameful. It's important for everyone especially white people in this country to speak out against this.
Ignoring it is just as bad as supporting it. Heather Heyer died standing up for what's right at the age of 32. I can't look at my beautiful growing curious daughters and say nothing when this kind of thing is happening.
We all need to stand against what is wrong, acknowledge that racism exists and stand up for what is right and civil and kind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Late night comics with strong, strong statements after the deadly events in Charlottesville over the weekend. The president's initial failure to quickly condemn white supremacists is having new consequences this morning.
Two more CEOs have quit the Presidential Advisory Council, the head of Intel and Under Armour, they stepped down following the lead of the head of Merck, Kenneth Frazier.
With me now to discuss, CNN Money's national reporter for race and inequality, Tanzina Vega, and Christine Romans here as well. Tanzina, what do you think is pushing these decisions?
TANZINA VEGA, CNN MONEY NATIONAL REPORTER FOR RACE AND INEQUALITY: I think this weekend was a wakeup call for White Americans. I think Jimmy Fallon was absolutely on point when he said everyone has to be involved and white Americans have to be involved.
This has been something that's been festering for a very long time. I think what we've seen is the band-aid has been ripped off this pestering wound of racism that we have in America.
But only somewhat half of us have been feeling this, right, the people of color, black Americans and brown Americans. And so, this, I think is forcing us collectively to say what do we all do, particularly how can white people be involved in the conversation?
BERMAN: Corporate leaders tend to make decisions based on many things, but the bottom line is often one of them and I think never absent from these decisions here. So, what do they see -- and by the way, Ken Frazier, you say waking up white America. He's African- American. What's the bottom line decision (inaudible)?
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's brand. It's their brand. Do they want their brand associated with the brand of President Trump? Look, at the very beginning they were all on this council.
They sat there for the cameras and talked about creating American jobs, but they differ with the president on immigration, climate change, already saw Disney step out well before this.
Elon Musk did and the Uber founder after the travel ban. So, there have already been rifts between these corporate titans and this president. I think there is a lot of pressure on these companies right now.
I think Campbell's soup is under a lot of pressure today. Their corporate image advising the president. What you hear from some of these companies staying on the manufacturing council, they say they want a seat at the table.
They want to talk about manufacturing in this country and create American jobs. So, they're staying on the manufacturing council, but Larry Summers used to advise a Democratic president on money issues, he was tweeting this morning, "Any CEO who thinks by attending monthly advisory meetings is moving the nation is in engage in egotistical self-delusion of a high order." Ouch.
BERMAN: That's pretty bold right there. Tanzina, what are the repercussions are for some of these businesses right now? Are they afraid of the Twitter account of the president of the United States? Ken Frazier, we saw Ken Frazier get attacked yesterday. By the way, notable --
VEGA: And we saw the stock go up right after that.
BERMAN: I will note that he's the only one of the three CEO who the president has chosen to go after and take it for what it is, but the only one of those three CEOs who is African-American.
VEGA: Correct. And I think what we're seeing here is that racism is bad for business. I think we've seen that with the controversial legislation in the past, transgender bathroom bills, for example.
You saw companies really moving back and I think companies are being really forced to address things that they perhaps might have stayed out of. Part of that is because there are also these little movements on social media.
People are saying grab your wallet. Don't support companies that actually, you know, support these types of ideologies that you may not agree with. There was a movement to increasingly buy black products and buy from black vendors and buy at black banks.
And so, you know, there's really -- you're starting to see some sort of economic justice, if you will, coming out of more progressive --
BERMAN: At the same time, Christine, that a lot of business leaders think this president has been good.
ROMANS: Look, the pro-business winds are blowing and they know it and they like it. It's almost post-Trumpian now. They say that the switch has shifted from anti-business to pro-business.
They think they're going to get a tax cut. It's going to be good for them, but they think, overall, it's a pro-business environment. They just don't like this president's policy.
BERMAN: All right, talk to me about the markets today. What are we expecting today?
ROMANS: I think you're going to see another little pop here. You saw the markets up yesterday. The rhetoric has toned down in North Korea. That's the most important thing. You're seeing the risk on instead risk off. So, buying stocks out of bonds, gold, and all that.
So, I think you'll see a little bit of a pop here for these companies. It's interesting to me that the president in the last two remarks that he made about Charlottesville, he started by talking about how great his economy is.
[09:25:07] He still frames it in the economy first and then addresses the big issue.
BERMAN: Well, he insisted on doing that yesterday for many reasons, some of them political, but it's the one thing I think he likes to hang his hat on more than anything else. Christine Romans, Tanzina, great to have you all with us. We really appreciate it.
All right. Those CEOs sending that message to the president. Also sending a message, new poll numbers showing his approval rating at a new historic low. If you're a Republican in Congress, how do you explain this one? We will speak to a member next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, can you explain why you did not condemn those hate groups by name over the weekend?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They have been condemned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: They have been condemned.