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Trump Fires Bannon; Charlottesville Victim's Mother talks Trump Comments; Organizations Pull Events from Mar-a-Lago. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 18, 2017 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[14:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. Top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Another member of the president's inner circle is out. White House officials tell CNN President Trump has fired his embattled chief strategist Steve Bannon. A source tells CNN Bannon was given to option to resign, but, let's be real, he was forced out.

Since day one, Bannon has been a lightning rod within the Trump White House because of his alignment with the so-called alt-right movement. Bannon's firing comes just days after he gave an extraordinary, yet quite candid interview that seemed to undermine the president's authority. We'll get into that in a second.

But moments ago, the editor of Breitbart, this is Steve Bannon's former website, tweeted this in a single word, hash tag war.

Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta live in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where the president is having this working vacation.

Jim Acosta, we won't, you know, beat around the bush. The man was fired.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not much of a working vacation. Yes, not much of a working vacation for the president. And he had to deal with something that was really pressing, it seems, if you talk to multiple White House sources, and that is the firing of Steve Bannon.

My understanding from talking to White House sources is that this was going to happen a couple of weeks ago, that Bannon was going to be fired a couple of weeks ago, that it didn't happen, and then that recently he was given the option to resign, which, you know, if you want to break through the White House speak there, and you were just doing that a few moments ago, Brooke, he was fired. He was forced out. So Steve Bannon is no more.

But we should point out, I just talked to a White House source a few moments ago who spotted Steve Bannon getting lunch at the White House cafeteria. He was smiling and in good spirits according to this source. So he has not completely left the building. Bannon has not left the building as of just yet. But what this reflects, Brooke, is really a house cleaning that is

going to be underway for some time, it seems, orchestrated by this new chief of staff, John Kelly, who I'm told is insisting on a very precise power structure inside the West Wing, that people can't just walk in and out of the Oval Office, talk to the president. People can't just call the president without John Kelly being on the phone for the most part. And so he is trying to control the message that is coming into this White House and the message that is getting to this president.

The other thing -- and Gloria Borger and others were touching on this, Brooke, as we've been reporting this over the last hour or so, you know, Steve Bannon was freelancing, and that is just something that makes, you know, can create a lot of headaches for a White House. When a top White House official is out there giving interviews, giving his opinion on things, and really sort of speaking on behalf of the White House, speaking on behalf of the president and doing it in ways that create more heat, not less heat, that is also going to create trouble from him and from talking to sources. We understand that was also irritating the president as well.

And so, you know, I don't think that this should also go unnoticed, Brooke, and that is that this firing is happening -- and the White House is saying that Steve Bannon and John Kelly decided that this would be his last day earlier today, but that this White House is firing just a few days after the president's very controversial remarks on the events in Charlottesville on Tuesday. You know, I think there are going to be some people inside the White House, and I'm already starting to get an indication of this, is that the hope is, among some people inside the White House, is that Bannon's firing might, and I underline might, obviously, you know, this may not be a done deal, might be able to tamp down some of this controversy that is flaring up on all sides around this president right now.

Brooke.

BALDWIN: We'll see. We'll see. Jim, thank you so much, in New Jersey for us.

Let's just dive right into this conversation. CNN political commentator S.E.Cupp, host of HLN's "S.E. Cupp Unfiltered," which premieres on Monday. Also here, Tim Naftali, CNN presidential historian and former director of the Nixon Presidential Library. And Gianno Caldwell, a Republican strategist.

So, welcome, welcome to all of you on this breaking news Friday.

First, just, S.E., to you. I mean so Steve Bannon gets the door. What does this mean for the presidency?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, obviously, there's two scenarios here. You alluded to one. Maybe this starts some sort of a reset and maybe tamps down some of that controversy swirling around the president and what he said.

The other is that Steve Bannon is still very much in touch with Donald Trump. John Herman of "The New York Times" tweeted a great tweet. Steve Bannon relegated to merely talking on the phone with the president every day.

BALDWIN: Wow.

CUPP: We don't really know. That tweet from Breitbart, hash tag war, makes it sound like this was not, you know, this was not a friendly departure, but we'll have to see. Steve Bannon has always had Trump's ear from the start of the campaign.

And remember why he came over. He and Reince Priebus were to be this two-headed monster sort of in the Oval Office with Donald Trump. One represents that Breitbart wing of Trump's voter base, one, Reince, representing and speaking to and for the establishment Republicans. That was always going to be a very difficult power struggle to work out. I'm just surprised it took this long for them all to go.

[14:05:26] BALDWIN: Speaking of going, guys, throw the picture up on the screen where you see -- let's throw it up full screen. Here we go. This is in the Oval Office. This is some time ago. So, you know, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, saw General Kelly, there's Reince. So the last man standing, I should say, two, is the president and the vice president. So, just, Tim, putting that in perspective, they're almost all gone.

CUPP: It's ten little Indians.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes. Could you imagine George W. Bush getting rid of Karl Rove eight months into his first term?

BALDWIN: I think we left the, can you imagine train, like a while ago.

NAFTALI: Yes, I know. But here's the -- but here's the -- here's the thing. I think this was in -- there are a lot of -- a lot of trains involved. But I think this has to do with national security policy. And it is -- it's incompatible to go to China and want to ask them to help us with North Korea while you have a major strategist of the president who wants an economic war with China.

And I have a feeling that the reason why Bannon gave his letter, his resignation letter on August 6th was that that's the same time the president said McMaster's my guy. And there was an issue whether General McMaster would last. And McMaster won. And Kelly won. And the national security professionals --

CUPP: For now.

NAFTALI: For now, won.

But I suspect -- I mean I put it this way. North Korea, the North Korea crisis, it may have actually led to a little bit of regime change, but it didn't happen in Pyongyang.

BALDWIN: Totally.

NAFTALI: It happened in Washington. BALDWIN: That's a great -- that's an excellent point, the fact that

Steve Bannon had this conversation with this incredibly progressive outlet and, you know, totally contradicted the president on saying, there is no military solution, which obviously ticked off the commander in chief.

Gianno, to you.

You know, I also saw an incredibly powerful exchange with you earlier this week and that was part of the reason why I really wanted to talk to you today, where you got very emotional, you know, in the wake of what happened in Charlottesville and these conversations about monuments and that's all a part of this mega conversation --

GIANNO CALDWELL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes.

BALDWIN: Because a lot of folks I've had on my show this week have said, Brooke, you know, if only Steve Bannon goes away it will be better. Do you feel that way?

CALDWELL: Well, I'll tell you, this is the most boring White House in history. There's never anything to report. I tell you that much.

BALDWIN: Right. (INAUDIBLE).

CALDWELL: Steve Bannon -- Steve Bannon is a very big distraction. He's been a very big distraction for quite a while. I could not tell you with certainty that him going away is going to be sufficient enough for people to take their mind off the race issue for a couple of different reasons. It's going to, one, be dependent on why he was fired, what was the exact reason, which I doubt anyone in the White House will say, well, he was, you know, adding the fuel to the fire when it comes to race. I doubt that would happen.

I also think when it comes to this White House and the resets we continue to see day in and day out, every week there seems to be a new reset, I don't have as much confidence as I used to have that one particular person leaving or one scenario occurring will allow for this White House to be on track and focused.

I am very happy to see General Kelly in there making a lot of changes that are absolutely necessary. But I believe conservatives, Republicans, independents and Democrats have lost a lot of confidence in this White House being on track. And unless we see some consistency for a long time, not just two weeks or three weeks, which I think is the longest period we've seen President Trump on track in any given period, I don't think there's going to be much confidence to have in this administration right now. Rather the White House, not just the administration.

BALDWIN: Sure. And let's go ahead and throw the Breitbart's front page up. This is -- this is Steve Bannon's former workplace of which, you know, he was the head guy, and perhaps is heading back. And you can see, report, Bannon out of White House, submitted resignation August 7th. And so now he's officially out as of today, which I believe is this sort of one-year mark of being with the Trump train. And then the editor saying, hash tag war.

Do you, S.E., think, and you alluded to this a second ago, what -- how are we supposed to interpret this sense of war? I mean how much to -- to the tip -- I think it was "The New York Times" reporter tweet saying, OK, no bigs, he's just going to be on the phone with him whispering into his ear instead of face-to-face, or might he be, to borrow a phrase, you know, weaponized once he leaves Trump? I mean --

CUPP: Yes. Well, there was a report -- Reuters had a report that President Trump was a little scared to fire Steve Bannon because he is such a weapon.

BALDWIN: Powerful.

CUPP: He knows a lot. He's been around Donald Trump probably privately quite a bit. And he has an ideological agenda. It is not just -- he was not just glomming on to Donald Trump, like so many of those hangers on to be around the president. He really did have an ideological, you know, exercise in mind going into the White House. And I think he's been a little disappointed by Donald Trump at times. Donald Trump has been a little disappointed by Steve Bannon at times. And so the question is, does he go back to Breitbart, or somewhere else, and try to weaponize and bring his agenda back to the forefront. And if -- even if that conflicts with where the president goes.

[14:10:34] BALDWIN: Is this also -- let me add this other layer of possibility. And, again, one could argue that this is all strategy within the White House, or just totally not, OK, but the notion that we are in this moment, Tim, talking about Charlottesville. I mean we alluded to it a second ago. But, you know, you have all these prominent Republicans coming out. Newt Gingrich being the latest condemning the president for his response. But yet we're really now talking about -- or most people are saying, pat on the back, Bannon's gone.

NAFTALI: I suspect that, look, the president knew he was going to get rid of Bannon. This is a good day to get rid of Bannon. It --

BALDWIN: Kind of held it, waited.

NAFTALI: Waited, found the right moment, and got rid of him.

This is really -- Bannon, who's a smart guy, didn't make a mistake with Kutttner. OK, that interview, people have described --

BALDWIN: "American Prospect."

NAFTALLI: "American Prospect." They're making it sound as if he didn't know he was on the record. He's a -- Bannon is a --

BALDWIN: He totally knew he was on the record.

NAFTALLI: That was -- that was, in my estimation, an exit interview.

CUPP: Right.

NAFTALLI: That was him laying the ground --

BALDWIN: Was that him planting the seeds?

NAFTALLI: Laying the ground to come out of this a winner, because he can argue, Donald Trump didn't fire me, I fired Donald Trump.

Remember, Bannon is the revolutionary. Revolutions need disciplined leaders. Trump has not lived up, I think, to Bannon's expectations. Bannon has an agenda, which he will continue, and he laid the ground. You want to know what it is? You just read that interview.

BALDWIN: Gianno, do you agree? Do you feel like -- I don't know if it's the president or just the rest of, you know, anyone who read it, got played by Steve Bannon?

CALDWELL: Well, I mean, what's really bad about this situation is not even a Steve Bannon played anyone in particular, I don't think, in that sense. I think --

BALDWIN: He said he wanted the change the narrative this week.

CALDWELLL: He -- yes, and he absolutely -- he absolutely changed it.

No, he didn't change the narrative, he continued the narrative, which means confusion, consistency of confusion, always something being dumped on a Friday. We don't know what's going to happen in this White House from week to week. That's where it becomes problematic.

And I'll tell you that the opposition party that President Trump often talks about, whether it be in his tweets or in interviews, isn't the Democratic Party at this point. It isn't Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell. The opposition party to Trump is Donald Trump.

So, there's no discipline here. And this is where it becomes frustrating for people like me that go on national television weekly who have defended this administration where I believe appropriate because you can't -- he does something good, and then the next day he's talking about Mika on Twitter and she had a facelift or whatever else. This is where it's a very big distraction. And if there's no discipline in this White House, I'm sure that somebody in D.C. is going to have some thoughts on how to get him out. I don't know what that's going to be, but that's what it feels like.

BALDWIN: Let me hit pause on this conversation because we're also getting more breaking news here where we're learning that more organizations have pulled out, massive organizations have pulled out of these events at Mar-a-Lago, the president's Florida resort. We'll have that for you.

More of the discussion. Stay with me on this crazy, crazy Friday afternoon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:17:59] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Back with our breaking news. Steve Bannon has been fired. It has been

a chaotic four weeks, even by these White House standards. So let's just all take a moment just to remind you what has happened, incredibly significant events, one after the other.

So in no particular order, President Trump, in the last four weeks, has -- fires his chief strategist, fires his chief of staff, hires a new one, hires a new communications director, fires him, hires a new one, his fourth in seven months, publicly shames his attorney general multiple times, loses a health care bill, publicly shames the three Republicans who voted against it multiple times, bans transgender individuals from the military without telling the military, ticks off the Boy Scouts, makes up a phone call with said scouts, makes up another phone call with the president of Mexico, thanks Vladimir Putin for expelling Americans, hundreds of them, takes days to sign a bipartisan sanctions bill and then blasts Congress for making him sign it, condemns leaks but then says he likes the leaks because it shows people love him.

Hold on a second. Sorry. This is long.

Encourages people -- encourages police officers to be rough with suspects during arrests, publicly shames the republican leader he needs to get anything done, multiple time, embraces an unpassable immigration plan that sparks a debate about the Statue of Liberty and the definition of cosmopolitan. He threatens North Korea with nuclear war, tells Guam it will help tourism. Then his own chief strategist calls his bluff and says, no, there's no military option in North Korea, threatens Venezuela with a military option. After a Nazi rally in which someone was murdered, the president blames both sides. After the backlash, cleans it up, denounces those white supremacists, but then hours later erases all of it and makes everything worse by again blaming both sides, saying there were fine people there.

[14:20:07] No, they weren't. They were Nazis.

Suggests there's no difference between George Washington and Robert E. Lee, publicly shames CEOs who abandon him, then loses two of his entire jobs councils after execs jump ship, considers a pardon for, of all people, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, all the while he's facing these accusations of racism.

By the way, plugs his winery in Virginia when asked if he will, as president, visit Charlottesville. Tells the world to study a lie during a terror attack, and gets condemnations from Democrats, Republicans, former presidents, world leaders, allies, his own staff, and the pope.

And still, still has no regrets.

Someone else condemning the president? The mother of Heather Heyer, the woman killed in Charlottesville.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF CHARLOTTESVILLE VICTIM HEATHER HEYER: I have not, and now I will not. At first I just missed his calls. The call actually -- the first call, it looked like, actually came during the funeral. I didn't even see that message. There were three more frantic messages from press secretaries throughout the day, and I didn't know why. That would have been on Wednesday. And I was home recovering from the exhaustion of the funeral, and so I thought, well, I'll get to them later. And then I had more meetings to establish her foundation.

So I hadn't really watched the news until last night. And I'm not talking to the president now. I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you --

BRO: After what he said about my child and it's not that I saw somebody else's tweets about him. I saw an actual clip of him at a press conference equating the protesters like Ms. Heyer with the KKK and the white supremacists. You can't wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there something, though, that you --

BRO: I'm not forgive him for that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there something, though, that you would want to say to the president?

BRO: Think before you speak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Think before you speak.

My panel is back with me.

Gianno, to you.

Hearing those words from Heather Heyer's mother, do you think that is more damning, the way she speaks about the president of the United States, than any of these politicians?

CALDWELL: Oh, absolutely. Having someone who just lost their daughter, who -- in a rally that he said that there were some good people there, is significant. It's very damaging.

In addition to the fact that President Trump said that the press conference that he had on Tuesday was OK. He was comfortable with it.

BALDWIN: Right.

CALDWELL: And that's why you saw that very emotional interview with me the very next day because this has become way too much. I'm usually on television spinning so much different stuff and I'm out of spin. I'm completely out of spin where I think appropriate.

This is -- this president doesn't get it and that's why I think Republicans everywhere must get together and say, look, President Trump obviously doesn't see a need to change, so we all must speak up. And I'm speaking up. I have no choice. I absolutely have no choice. This is where we are right now in this country and there's no discipline right now with this president. And until that changes, I mean, there's nothing more to say.

BALDWIN: I appreciate your candor and that emotion you showed earlier this week.

Go ahead, S.E.

CUPP: It's so much more than a discipline problem. This is a president who essentially blamed Heather Heyer in saying both sides were the blame, h i's blaming her.

BALDWIN: She's lumping -- he is lumping her in.

CUPP: To be clear, an American who died on American soil at the hands of a Nazi in 2017.

This is not a discipline problem. This is a crisis of moral conscience. And as passionate and emotional as her mother was, I think voices like Bob Corker questioning his stability. I think we're at a very precarious place in our republic.

BALDWIN: This week feels different.

CUPP: It does feel different. And I understand the raw emotion. I think we've all been sort of grappling with where we are. When Mitt Romney wrote that Facebook post and he said, you know --

BALDWIN: Let me -- I've got it. Here's part of it. He, Mitt Romney, saying, he should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize, state forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100 percent to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville.

CUPP: Well, and he also said, you know, he makes racists rejoice and minorities weep. I'd go a step further. You don't have to be a minority to be offended and deeply, deeply troubled by what President Trump said. I'm a white woman. I'm not Jewish. What I saw those people chanting in Charlottesville was disgusting. It made me sad and sick to my stomach.

[14:25:04] BALDWIN: Amen.

CUPP: Only worsened by the president drawing totally indefensible moral equivalencies about those people just a few days later. We're at a turning point.

BALDWIN: On the turning point, it's also, listen, at the end of the day, it's also affecting a bottom line. David Farenthold (ph) has been writing up all these different, you know, organizations, The American Cancer Society and so many others who are pulling out. Here's the list on the screen. Cleveland Clinic, American Red Cross. Gianno, these are all major, major organizations who hold these events at Mar-a-Lago.

And so, Tim, how big of a hit is this on the president that now you have, in addition to just Heather Heyer's mother and the Bob Corkers and the Newt Gingrichs and the Mitt Romneys, Now you have Susan G. Komen coming out.

NAFTALI: Well, the very fact that you have to ask that or anyone has to ask that question shows the moral vacuum in the White House. The very fact that we would even be talking about how lucrative the presidency is for the Trump Organization is a sign of what has gone -- how we've gone off the rails.

I just want to remind everybody, and this is not partisan. Go and look at Ronald Reagan's speech after the Challenger blew up. Go and look at President Clinton's speech after Oklahoma. Go and look at what George W. Bush said after 9/11 and the fact that he went to a mosque.

Great -- the presidency requires you to be better than who you are because no one -- no one is everything above the presidency. No one's perfect.

The best -- the presidents are at their best when they make us heal and they bring us together. Everything the president has done, with the exception of the one statement he didn't apparently want to make, has been pitting one side against another. Making politics out of what is a moment of tragedy.

You know, Heather Heyer's death is horrific, but can you imagine -- can you imagine how many Americans were pained to see those kids with tiki torches and were pained to see what was yelled at the African- Americans who were standing up for equality for the Fourteenth, Fifteenth Amendments, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act? Can you imagine the psychic pain, let alone the pain that Heather Heyer's family feels? That's what presidents are supposed to respond to and help us get through and help us process. They're not supposed to use it for political gain. And that's what we saw. And that's why we're in pain.

BALDWIN: I want to end on your words and let that resonate with everyone else.

Tim, thank you, and S.E. and Gianno. Gianno, thank you so much for the conversation.

CALDWELL: Thank you for having me.

BALDWIN: You got it.

Coming up, we have more on our breaking news that Steve Bannon is out. Next, I'll talk to a journalist who interviewed him during the campaign, calling out the platform he created for the so-called alt- right.

You're watching CNN. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)