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Trump Hits McCain During Question On Charlottesville; Trump: I Need The Facts Before Making Statement; Trump Insists On Blaming Both Sides In Charlottesville. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:45] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Remember, the president's event yesterday was supposed to be about infrastructure. But he made the decision to take questions. And it's clear he wanted to revisit Charlottesville and do combat with reporters, bringing along a copy of his initial Saturday statement so that he could pull it out of his pocket and defend it. In a moment, more on team Trump and the political operation, many see is tone deaf or worse.

But first let's go back to Trump Tower. Jonathan Lamire of the Associated Press was among the reporters on hand yesterday. Jonathan, take us inside that room. The president's body language, his anger, his sort of back and forth with the reporters, but also some of the -- I would say stunned, if not nervous faces of the senior staff?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes. That's exactly right. As you just said, the plan was not for the president to take questions yesterday. He had signed off on the plan by his staff, he just come down the elevator, speak for about five minutes to the press pool in the lobby of Trump Tower, then he was supposed to return upstairs to his penthouse leaving just some advisors to talk about his infrastructure plan. But that was not the case. He called it audible. He overruled his staff when he got to the podium.

As soon as he started talking and relitigating, his statement on Saturday about Charlottesville, the reaction of his staff was obvious instantaneous. And there's borrow photo of his new Chief of Staff John Kelly with his arms folded across his chest, staring down of his shoes. But it wasn't just him.

The new Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders was looking around the room, trying to make eye contact with other aides. There was one young staff who literally her mouth just dropped as the president kept talking and talking.

The president's body language, he was agitated. He got fired up, at one point his face sort of flushed red as he went back and forth, verbal jousting with the reporters in the pool. And it was very clear he believed in his initial statements.

We have from reporting that he thought he addressed the situation. Then he fumed about it over the weekend, he had to be talked into making a second statement from the White House by his aides. And yesterday as you saw, when he pulled out of his pocket, he wanted to revisit his original message.

KING: And, Jonathan, did thy get the damage being done to the Trump brand ph in the sense we're reporting now a seventh CEO is leaving the Manufacturing Council. The president criticized this four or five that we that the word on six I guess. I guess there are five at that time that the president come and just say he criticized them.

Do they understand that these people are walking away because they don't want their brand anywhere near associated with this president's brand?

LEMIRE: I think it's also been striking how silent his usual defenders have been today. Very few people on the Hill have just stepped up and said -- and defended what the president said, despite talking points the White House circulated last night. Pretty much radio silence from the White House itself.

No one is out there suggesting that the president, you know, the statement was good for him, was good for the White House. I think that that is striking. I think that they know this is a story that's not going to go away. I suspect they will attempt to try to change the subject as best as they can the next few days, whether be a ship back to foreign policy or something else. But right now they know this is -- what happened yesterday feels bigger than the sort of one the nail Trump crisis we've gotten used to.

KING: So that's more than a fair statement, Jonathan Lemire outside the Trump Tower, appreciate your time today and your insights on what was going on in that room. The question now is no what? Does team Trump have the right instincts?

On Sunday as the nation processed the Charlottesville horror, the president's political team launched the new campaign ad. And today amid all the criticism, the president is helping to divide the country instead of unifying. Team Trump announced plans for a rally next week in Arizona, a state with two Republican senators who are frequent sparing partners of the president, this just yesterday, when a reporter of that event mentioned Senator John McCain.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John McCain has called on you to defend your national security advisor H.R. McMaster against the fact --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to do that. I did it the last time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he told that again and Lincoln was --

TRUMP: Senator McCain?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- to the alt-right and --

TRUMP: Senator McCain, you mean the one who voted against Obamacare?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he said that --

TRUMP: Who is that, do you mean Senator McCain who voted against us getting good health care?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator McCain said the alt-right is behind this attacks and he links that same groups to those who perpetrated his attacks in Charlottesville?

TRUMP: Well, I don't know. I can't tell you. I'm sure Senator McCain must know what he's talking about.


[12:35:08] KING: It's not so much about Senator McCain or just going to Arizona, but this -- he's -- I guess he loves sparring and he's good at it, and is that all he wants to do?

JULIE BYKOWICZ, ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think so. He loves his rallies, they make him feel good. And he is going right into a place where, again, he'll be surrounded by supporters who are going to be reinforcing him and reinforcing all of the little battles that he is waging. At the same time I could see this crowd being explosively positive towards him if he calls out Senator McCain --


BYKOWICZ: -- or Senator Flake from that stage, which only serves to just continue to keep the contrary divided and keep the White House in a really sort of defensive position.

KING: He didn't go to memorial service today. They say there are no plans to go to Charlottesville at all. As we sit here today, we do not believe he has yet reached out to the family of the victim. They launched campaign ads and they go have political rallies with a crowd of people they know are going to tell him how great he is. He's had 35% in the polls, can they do the math. Is there anyone around him who could do the math?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: I'm not sure necessarily at this point of the math. But there's a move he can make to correct the math in this moment. He needs a bigger thing that's not really on this topic. He has missed this note --

KING: But he has to want it. He has to want and he has mean it. We keep talking about this is some technical political decision, you know, aha, here's the file, it has to come from him.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. I think -- that's right. And sort of when we talk about the staff and the staff, you know, it kind of gives blind quotes to papers or CNN. And some of like they're sort of hostages. But in reality, I think they're really enablers, right. I mean you imagine that maybe at some point they could have cut that press conference off and can they -- KING: I'm not sure about that. I get your point. You're exactly

right that you have -- somebody should have cut the power of the building or something.

HENDERSON: Or just ask question, right. I mean that's something that the press people sometimes do in those situations. And there is John Kelly, you know, and he was supposed to be the great savior, right, and bring order and discipline and focus

This idea that they didn't know that this was a possibility, apparently the president has been fuming about this for days. The ideas that they didn't suspect that he might go out there.


HENDERSON: He was ready for it.

KING: To borrow a phrase, he was locked and loaded when he walked into that lobby. To that point, we're having this conversation with Hope Hicks who came from the Trump organization, a loyal spokeswoman for the president. Someone who set aside during the campaign who has made it clear she views her job to defend the Trump brand. She's the interim communications director.

That job at the White House is normally the president's about to give a big speech. Here's the themes we want talk about. And now I'm going use my apparatus to reach out to the Republican governors, to the interest groups involved, to people around the country. So we have an echo chamber.

Nothing against Hope Hicks who is was a loyal person to the president. You see here she's 28 years old. Comes out of the New York Trump or maybe they hired the right deputies for this. But she is not by training in experience anywhere close to a traditional White House communications director. This tells me that the president is saying the people who for me will protect me, period, that's my job not to be president.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean a couple of things. One, Hope, really has viewed her job from the beginning as a megaphone for what the president and then the candidate wanted to say.

You don't see here on camera, she's not sitting around on panels, she's not telling you what the president's policies are. She is just, again, creating this megaphone so the information gets out. But in the White House her job has really kind have been the Trump whisperer or she puts people in front of the president, she puts information in front of the president.

We know John Kelly is trying to streamline that. So in that sense giving her a more defined role with more defined responsibilities may take her a little bit further afield from the role of Trump whisperer. But you have to remember how the president is watching all of this play out.

He had really bad poll numbers during the campaign. There were -- I can't even count the moments where our jaws dropped and said --


MURRAY: -- this is going to be the end of Trump. And there was Hope Hicks by his side throughout at all. And so she is sitting around in Trump tower. Today saying, well, I won, you guys were wrong then and you're going to be wrong again now.

KING: He gets the president for now as he likes to say. I wish her the best and hope she could do her job, nothing against her. My question is when would they -- there's still nobody. There's still nobody, if you go through the top 10 or 15 people in this administration who have ever worked in the White House. Who have ever worked in the White House?

HENDERSON: And who would want to go into this White House --

KING: Well, that's one of the problem. That's one of the problem. I know I could list for next 20 minutes a number of people that reached out for the last three months. Again, they've gotten knows from but -- all right, everybody hold uptight.

Up next, the president says facts matter to him before he makes a statement. Sorry sir, but since when?


[12:42:43] KING: Welcome back. If you're watching us today, you know, the president says the harsh criticism and his initial reaction to Charlottesville and would she blame the violence on many sides. He did not single out neo-Nazis, the KKK, the white nationalist. Well, the president says that was unfair.


TRUMP: It's a statement I made on Saturday. The first statement was a fine statement. But you don't make statements that direct unless you know the fact. This event just happened. In fact a lot of the event didn't even happen yet as we were speaking. This event just happened, before I make as statement, I need the facts.


KING: Here's one question. What additional facts that he need? It was clear Friday night that the hate groups were stoking controversy, and yes, drawing large count of demonstrations. The Charlottesville mayor confirmed the death of Heather Heyer before the president spoke Saturday. And the Virginia governor says he had been in touch with the White House about key detail through out the episode.

Then there's this separate question. When did this president decide he needs the facts before speaking?


TRUMP: You are not allowed to be a president if you're not born in this country. He may not have been born in this country.

We had the biggest audience in the history of inaugural speeches.

When you take a look at the registration, you have illegal's, you have dead people, you have this -- it's a really bad situation. It's really bad.

You look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this, Sweden? They took in large numbers, they're having problems like they never thought possible.


TRUMP: I have covered the White House for nearly 10 years. I'm all for presidents who are careful about what they say. Does this president have any credibility when he stands there and says I need to be careful about what I'm saying?

MURRAY: That would be the first time that he ever actually waited for the facts before he spoke. And those are a lot of good examples of him, you know, stretching the truth. But just in terms of terror attacks, in terms of any kind of attacks, he is the first to one get ahead of local authorities and in front of federal authorities and declares something a terrorist attack usually when he believes this radical Islamic terrorism.

This summer, there was an attack in the Philippines that the president declared it terrorism. Local officials there still say that it was an armed robbery gone awry. This is when he was president. So, the notion that suddenly he needs to wait until he has every single detail before you're going to say something publicly does not match with the public persona that we've seen for years.

[12:45:06] BYKOWICS: And he also made that point several times during this press conference. It really seemed to be rehearsed to the extent that he rehearses anything, because he returned to it time and time again, which was really just takes you back to this whole concept that no one on his staff seemed to know he was going to do this, you just really wonder can that possibly be true when there was the speech in the pocket and there's couple of lines deployed a few times in the press conference.

KING: Although the contrary arguments that he does thing that his own communication's directors, his own speech writer, his own chief strategist, that's part of the problem is, you know, for all he's strange, you can't do all those jobs, especially you're to say the things he said.

HENDERSON: Right. And then I think to this point of we don't have the facts. I mean part of this is sort of --

KING: What additional facts? What additional facts did he mean?

HENDERSON: -- what did he need by that time.

KING: We know it as neo-Nazis. Yes, you didn't have all of the details.


KING: But he's the greatest consumer of television news on a planet. He has a staff that could bring him any information that needs to. You knew Friday night if you were you're paying attention to this. There were neo-Nazis, White Supremacist and others involved. The KKK involved in this March. He said he didn't know David Duke was there, maybe that, but --

HENDERSON: Yes. And as you said, I mean in some ways, it was sort of an indictment of his staff or his lack of curiosity in terms of asking the right questions and we do know that he probably was watching this on TV.

He said at one point I was watching this very closely. Apparently, Mr. David Duke, he apparently thought the people there in Charlottesville were having some sot of a candle light vigil when there was a Tiki torches shouting, you know, Nazi slogans.

So yes, I mean -- and even in that press conference, he still, right, had all the facts. He had the fact as he saw them. He had the facts to marshal a worldview that he wanted. And that David Duke want as well.

KING: Let me ask a question in a sense that you saw the president read from a teleprompter on Monday at the White House. In which he said three days late that he said the right things. He said the right things. There are some people say he could have done more, should have done more, should have said don't associate yourself with me because I am, you know, but he said the right things on -- if he said those thins on Saturday, we would be having a very different conversation.

Then we saw what happened yesterday. Where the president repeatedly it's pretty clear and that's what he really thinks. I don't think there's any dispute about that. So, how are we to ever believe the president? Should we, when on a big issue he's reading from a teleprompter or looking down and reading from prepared remarks when he get such A and Z from the same man..

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I mean, I think this -- there's that really statements may actually critically believe to somebody as first time they show you. And we see the president's genuine self when he makes statements off the cuff, when he tweets, when he tweets in the middle of night, et cetera, et cetera. So we at least have a comparison fields. And so the question on how do you believe the president is really when there's two things coming out of the president's mouth., one on Twitter and one of the teleprompter. Maybe you believable the Twitter one because that seems to be the more genuine response clearly.

HENDERSON: And he was so passionate. I mean when sort of a, you know, really engaged and angry and really wanted to be there and make those statements on Tuesday. I mean I think it was telling -- I mean, you quote Maya Angelo, Dennis Green, the late coach, you know, this whole idea of he is who we thought he was, right, on Saturday.

MURRAY: Right. And people did believe that. I mean there's a reason that Trump lost the popular vote, even though he is now president and won the Electoral College. Because a lot of people believed what he said the first time. They believe the video him talking about women, they believed the things he said about Mexicans, they believed him when he suggested the Muslim ban, and they believe to those things not, you know, that this was about a broader economic message, not the rest of the message or not with the setup teleprompter.

That's what they heard and that's what they saw is the real Trump. Now, there's a different part of America, people who voted for Trump, who see who are racist, who see a different guy who voted for him for different reasons and they sort of see a silver lining here that they still believe is worth pursuing and worth having in the White House.

I don't think that is going to change --


HENDERSON: But then in some of these Trump voters did like the Muslim ban, right? I mean did like the ideas that they're going to support and --


KING: The normal strategy for a politician who lost the popular vote would be to try to build so that you can win the next time. That includes reaching out to people who didn't vote to you. We have not seen that seven months in.

Up next, we close to look at the president's claim that both sides, all sides, many sides are to blame for this weekend's violence.


[12:52:09] KING: Welcome back. President Trump insist there's blame on both sides for the Charlottesville violence Saturday. His reasoning, not all the protesters on the right were violent.


TRUMP: But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest. Because, you know, I don't know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn't have a permit. So, I only tell you this, there are two sides to the story.

Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me, not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.


KING: And so a lot of truth to what the president said there and there's no doubt the protest did turn violent. And counter-protesters didn't instigate some of that conflict. You can see here counter- protester using fire to try to burn the confederate flag, others threw property that look like baseball bats in the crowd.

The president claims the media is not recognizing the role of the counter protesters. People, he calls the alt-left. But here's what president's wrong. He's equating the white supremacist and neo-Nazi violence with the protesters there to condemn them. And while he claims some of these protesters were not going to cause trouble, the night before white supremacist did march through Charlottesville chanting this.


CROWD (ph): You will not replace us. You will no replace us. You will not replace us.


KING: That's the circle of the president can't square, square the president can't circle in the sense that, yes, every leader has a right to tell everybody calm down, back off, violence is not the answer. But this is not apples and apples. This is evil and some people who may have gotten out of hand in being there to protest evil.

HENDERSON: And every time I see that, I'm afraid, right. I mean I grew up in the deep south, but to see that sort of level of organization and coordination and the numbers of those folks who look young, they sort of look like your next door neighbor, somebody who could work at a bank. It's frightening, it's horrifying to some people.

MURRAY: And it's something that worth watching the entire voice documentary of Nazi, you know, tout other people's reporting. But it was excellent reporting embedded wit this (INAUDIBLE). He want to know what they were thinking as they were going to that march, they say flat out. You know, we're not non-violent. And if people need to die, then --

KING: And president's job is to say going to deal with that. I'll get to the other stuff later.

MURRAY: Right.

KING: We're going to have a conversation about the other stuff. There were some imperfect people down there, but I'm going to start with that.

DEMIRJIAN: And another disturbing thing also is just that if you do watch that whole documentary of interviews with some of the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists they talk to are talking in ways that the president sounds shockingly similar to. Because they're talking about the violence coming from the left and its counter-protest were there. You as president don't want your words to sound at all reminiscent of the words that are coming out of another white supremacists. [12:55:10] And that's problematic when -- it's not just, yes, you need to take such a distance yourself and make it very clear. But also you don't want to have any sort of echoes and there are echoes if you listen to both.

KING: Right. There are echoes if you listen about it. And remember, we haven't heard the end f this. Number one, the president's critics will keep criticizing him, and number two, these protest groups, this hate group of say they're trying more. Does the president maybe calls on again and we'll see what he says. Thanks for joining us today on inside politics. See you back here this time tomorrow. Wolf Blitzer's up after a quick break.