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White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon Fired; Source: "Kelly's Not Done"; Billionaire Carl Icahn Steps Down As Trump Adviser; Five More Felony Charges Against Charlottesville Suspect. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 18, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Bannon fired. President Trump dismisses his divisive chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as the West Wing is buffeted by a storm of racially-charged controversy over the president's response to the violence in Charlottesville. Will forcing out Bannon, with his ties to the alt-right do anything to calm the uproar?
Heading for the Breit. Bannon is expected to return to Breitbart, the far-right web site he once called a platform for the alt-right. The top editor there tweeted that Bannon's firing means a war. Will Bannon's next role be antagonizing the president he worked for?
No thank you. The mother of the woman killed in the white supremacist attack in Charlottesville says she won't talk to President Trump after she says he equated her daughter with the neo-Nazis she was protesting. What is her message to the president about his inflammatory words?
And violent weekend worries. Growing concern that upcoming rallies and protests by emboldened white supremacists could lead to dangerous confrontations with counter-protestors. Can law enforcement prevent a repeat of the deadly events in Virginia?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. A new bombshell rocking the White House. Rocking the White House. President Trump fired his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the controversial former head of the far-right website Breitbart, who joined the Trump campaign last year.
Bannon's once very influential role in the West Wing has dramatically diminished amid the in-fighting over the last eight months, and sources now tell CNN his ouster was in the works for weeks. Another source says Bannon was given the option to resign but ultimately was forced out. Bannon is expected to return to Breitbart, which he once called the platform of the alt-right and strongly supported Mr. Trump as a candidate and as president.
But the site has been critical of members of the Trump team it perceived to be fighting against Bannon and, more recently, even critical of the president himself. A top Breitbart editor responded to news of Bannon's firing with a single word, tweeting this word: #war. And a White House source just told CNN that's not what Bannon wants.
All of this comes at the end of a very tumultuous week for President Trump, facing bipartisan blowback for his reaction to the violence that erupted at a neo-Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, including the death of Heather Heyer, who is among a group of counter- protestors run down by a white supremacist. Heyer's mother now says the White House has reached out to her, but she won't talk to President Trump, because he compared those protesting the neo-Nazis to the hate groups themselves. And she has a message for President Trump right now: think -- think -- before you speak.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Brian Schatz. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, in New Jersey, where the president continues his working vacation at his golf club.
Jim, another major White House shake-up.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And on a Friday, as well, Wolf. President Trump has unloaded perhaps his most controversial staffer in the West Wing, firing Steve Bannon. The question now for the president is whether forcing Bannon out will unleash the fury of the far right on the White House.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Like a contestant on President Trump's White House reality show, the West Wing's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was fired. The White House released a statement saying, "Chief of staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve's last day. We are grateful for his service and wish him the best."
But the wheels have been in motion for some time. Sources tell CNN Bannon was supposed to be fired two weeks ago, because he didn't meet Kelly's new discipline power structure for the White House. The president hinted Bannon's days were numbered earlier this week.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that, and I like him. He's a good man. He is not a racist. I can tell you that. He's a good person. He actually gets a very unfair press in that regard. But we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.
ACOSTA: Add to that, sources say Bannon irked the president by granting interviews this week that seemed to undercut Mr. Trump's message.
TRUMP: They will be met--
ACOSTA: Asked about the president's "fire and fury" warning to North Korea, Bannon told the progressive "American Prospect," there's no military solution.
Bannon reveled in needling the press, as he did at a conservative political conference earlier this year.
[17:05:03] STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Just like they were dead wrong on the chaos of the campaign, and just like they were dead wrong on the chaos of the transition, they are absolutely dead wrong about what's going on today, because we have a team that's just grinding it through on what President Donald Trump promised the American people. And the mainstream media better understand something. All of those promises are going to be implemented.
ACOSTA: He also told the "New York Times": "The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and just keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while. The media here is the opposition party."
Bannon is expected to return to the far-right Breitbart website he once led, an outlet that often espouses white nationalist views and attacks the president for not being conservative enough. The reaction to Bannon's firing from one Breitbart editor: war.
The president still has plenty of problems after his wild news conference on Charlottesville earlier in the week. The mother of the woman who was killed in the violence there says she doesn't want to talk to the president.
ROBIN ROBERTS, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS'S "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": Have you talked to him directly yet?
SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF HEATHER HEYER: I have not, and now I will not. I'm not talking to the president now. I'm sorry.
ROBERTS: What did you--
BRO: Not 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 protestors like Ms. Heyer with the KKK and the white supremacists.
ROBERTS: Is there something, though, that you would want to say to the president?
BRO: Think before you speak.
ACOSTA: The White House response: "Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with her and her family."
But top Republicans are still blasting the president's handling of Charlottesville.
TRUMP: But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.
ACOSTA: Mitt Romney posted on Facebook, "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."
ACOSTA: Now, as for Steve Bannon, a White House ally who has spoken to Bannon tells CNN that the outgoing chief strategist does not want to go to war with President Trump. As this source explains it, Bannon wants the president to succeed and become his top outside surrogate. We'll have to wait and see, Wolf, just how long that ceasefire can actually last -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting point. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta. Thanks for that.
Let's dig deeper into the breaking news right now. Joining us, our White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins, and our senior political analyst, Mark Preston.
Kaitlan, his job seemed to have been on the line for weeks, but that interview -- he granted a very controversial interview in recent days -- seems to have been, what? The final straw?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I would definitely say it was the last straw for the president. It infuriated him, and he was fuming over it this week, because in that interview not only did Steve Bannon contradict the president completely on North Korea, saying there was no military solution after the president had been tweeting that he was going to respond with fire and fury to North Korea, he was acting like he was the president.
Steve Bannon told this reporter at "The American Prospect" that he could make personnel changes at the State Department, and that really infuriated the president. He's been stewing over that in recent weeks.
But like you said, this isn't the first time that Steve Bannon has been in this doghouse. This has happened time and time again, because the president constantly gets irked whenever Steve Bannon was getting credit for his success.
BLITZER: You told me earlier, he had granted, what, four interviews, but none had been approved, authorized, by the senior White House staff, including the chief of staff. Is that right?
COLLINS: Exactly. And this interview with "The American Prospect" that was so controversial, Steve Bannon didn't even know he was on the record for the interview, he says. That's what the story was this week. He did -- he called up this columnist, who he didn't even know, told him all this stuff, and then it was printed. So he didn't even know. The White House certainly did not know about it.
BLITZER: Clearly, the president of the United States, deeply irritated by that.
What are you hearing, Mark, from your sources?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple things. One, I've heard from a senior Republican official that, in fact, what's going to happen to Steve Bannon next, is he going to go back to Breitbart?
But there have been discussions between Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, and Steve Bannon, about potentially creating a national media and political firm. Now, these discussions, you know, haven't gone very far as of yet. There's nothing concrete. But the fact that you could see Reince Priebus, this establishment figure, you know, the RNC chairman for many, many years and then the head of the alt-right in some ways or the Breitbart side was able to come together to create a firm would be kind of interesting and could be formidable.
Now, what I am hearing inside the White House right now is that there's a lot of nervousness right now. Not so much that Steve Bannon was fired, but the overall stability right now of the White House, seeing so many people have been let go.
And this one senior administration official told me that, you know, without any knowledge, but speculated, that Seb Gorka, the deputy assistant, could be the next person to go. In addition to that, there's some concern amongst conservatives on Capitol Hill right now about who do they work with? Who do they talk to -- and Kaitlan, you've been talking about this today -- in the White House on the staff level?
Right now if you look at who the top advisers are, they are centrist Republicans at best, Wolf. So there is concern amongst conservatives at this point. A lot of this is going to fall on the shoulders, I think, in the short term on -- of Mike Pence, who really has strong, strong ties to the conservative movement.
[17:10:14] BLITZER: But Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, they have a good, strong, personal relationship? I thought there was some tension, at least early on?
PRESTON: There was a lot of tension if you want to go back into June and July. However, they realized that they needed each other. Specifically when you went to the White House, and they actually got along in a friendly way, but they needed each other. They counterbalanced one another, and they actually worked pretty well together in the White House.
Now, were they successful? No. But, you know, that's in large part due, I think, because of Donald Trump.
BLITZER: And I want both of you to stand by. I want to get some more on all of this. Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii is joining us.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. BRIAN SCHATZ (D), HAWAII: Happy to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. So you responded to Steve Bannon's firing on Twitter. I'll put it up on the screen. Quote, "It's the president that matters. Personnel changes are fascinating and dramatic, but let's just remember how little -- how little of a difference it makes with this president." I want you to explain, Senator, what you mean.
SCHATZ: Well, I'm as fascinated as the next person at the latest personnel change, and this is significant. There's no doubt that Steve Bannon has played an integral role in the president's cabinet. And probably an oversized role.
But the truth is that, if you think about the moral failure that was the president's statement in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy, that was on the president.
By all accounts, they had him ready to read the statement that you would expect any president would read, and to take the moral stand that you would expect any president of any party to take, but it was the president himself that failed America.
And so I think the departure of Steve Bannon is no doubt a good news story for people who care about the rule of law and care about American values, but I have no particular hope that that will change what happens in terms of the president himself. He's failed the United States in terms of moral leadership, and that won't change with the departure of Steve Bannon.
BLITZER: I just want to be precise, Senator. I know you and other Democrats, you've been calling for Steve Bannon's ouster for some time now. In your view, isn't this, from your perspective, Senator, a positive step in the right direction?
SCHATZ: Sure, it is. But you still have Sebastian Gorka. You still have Stephen Miller and, most importantly, even if these individuals aren't in the West Wing, you have a president who has declared where his sympathies lie. You have a president who equivocated -- you know, there are only so many bright lines in American political morality.
Forget the question of the size and the scope of the government. Forget social issues, forget some of the things that I care about: climate change, and women's rights, and gay rights. Set all of that aside. One bright red line is that Nazis are bad guys. And he couldn't even meet that basic test.
So it is good that Steven Bannon is gone. But until the president understands that he failed all of us, I don't anticipate that there will be any significant changes in terms of the president leading us in the right direction.
BLITZER: Following the president's response to the attack in Charlottesville, you tweeted this -- and I'll put this up on the screen, as well. "As a Jew, as an American, as a human, words cannot express my disgust and disappointment. This is not my president."
Like it or not, Senator, he is the legitimately-elected president of the United States. I know you received a lot of criticism for saying, "This is not my president." I want you to explain why you said that.
SCHATZ: Well, I think it's important to say, Wolf, and I appreciate what you're saying. He is the legitimately-elected president. Legally, he's the president of the United States. I recognize that. We all have to recognize that And contend with that reality.
But this is a president who has failed to do what we expect every president to do, which is to provide moral clarity and moral leadership. So in that moment, I was frankly mad, and hurt as an American, as a person, As a person of the Jewish faith, that my president hadn't met even the most basic moral test.
I'm not asking him to agree with me on all of the issues. I'm not asking him to be someone I admire. I'm just asking that he understands the difference between right and wrong; The difference between Nazis and the people who protest against Nazis.
So in that moment, I said what I think was on a lot of people's minds, which is, he's not acting like a president.
BLITZER: So you would, if you had it to do over again, how would you rephrase it?
SCHATZ: I wouldn't rephrase it. I think, given that it's 140 characters, I'm happy to elucidate exactly what I meant. He's certainly the president of the United States, but in that moment, he was not just my president; but I think for a lot of people across the country, he didn't act like the president of the United States.
[17:15:05] And part of the challenge of being a president isn't just executing the duties according to the Constitution and laws of the United States, but being the leader of the United States. The leader of the free world. And the failed that test.
BLITZER: As you know, I assume you know the House minority, Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, they want to formally censure President Trump for Charlottesville response. Would you support a formal congressional censuring of the president?
SCHATZ: I don't know yet. One of the things happening that is really encouraging, we've seen a coalition of the sane emerging. We saw all of the service branch chiefs, and Marie Corps commandant, and all of his counterparts, come out in favor of diversity and tolerance and social cohesion.
We had both presidents Bush. We had Mitt Romney, and we had Bob Corker and other members of the United States Senate on the Republican side basically repudiate the president over the last several days.
So part of what I'm exploring and, of course, every member of the Senate is sort of all across the world and all across the country. So we're mostly in contact by text, but we are trying to find where that common ground is, where we don't draw a bright line, where we can't get Republican support.
Because we really do need, at least for a moment, to set aside our differences when it comes to partisan politics, when it comes to our philosophy of government, and say, we stand for the rule of law. We stand for American values. We stand for each other, and let's re- stabilize our country.
And then we can get back to fighting over the size and scope of the government, social issues, climate change. All the things that I thought that I was going to be fighting about in the United States Senate. I want to get back to those fights, but I think we can't get back to those fights until we re-establish that the rule of law has to operate and American values have to be adhered to.
BLITZER: I just want to press you on this, Senator. On this issue of censure. You're the one who tweeted, "This is not my president." You take a look, formal censures from Congress. Former Congressman Charlie Rangel was censured. Former Senator Bob Packwood was censured. You said "This is not my president," but you're not sure if you would support a formal censure in the Senate of this president?
SCHATZ: That's right, Wolf. And it's just as simple as I would like to talk to my colleagues. I would like to see what the legislative vehicle is. And I'd like to be planful and thoughtful about how we move forward together.
Because if this becomes a dividing line between "R's" and "D's," I don't think that moves us forward together.
And I was so encouraged over the last several days to see Republicans finally stand up and do something and call out the president by name. And do the right thing that I think we have to build on that momentum. If a censure vehicle gives us that opportunity, then I'm certainly open to exploring it, but I don't want to jump the gun and force Republicans back into their corner.
BLITZER: All right, Senator, there's more we need to discuss. I have to take a quick break. We're going to resume our coverage on all of this breaking news right after this.
[17:22:34] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour. The ouster of the divisive White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, fired by President Trump in this latest West Wing shake-up. Steve Bannon expected -- expected -- to return to the far-right Breitbart website he ran before joining the Trump campaign. And a White House source now says Bannon will continue to work from the outside to advance the president's agenda. We shall see.
In the meantime, we're back with Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii.
Senator, the Senate has some very, very serious battles coming up. In the coming months, Congress will need to raise the nation's debt ceiling, and try to pass a budget. There's tax reform. There's an infrastructure bill. There are a lot of substantive issues that will be coming up your consideration.
Here's the question: have the events of the last week alone damaged the prospects of getting anything serious done?
SCHATZ: Well, I think there's two ways to look at this. I think, in terms of the president's sort of big-ticket items, there's no doubt that he's lost a lot of credibility and a lot of traction and a lot of sort of oomph in the legislative context.
On the other hand it has sort of pushed Democrats and Republicans into each other's arms, despite our instincts towards fighting.
What happened during the ACA fight was that we were all revulsed for our various reasons at the president and the White House's behavior, and we found a bipartisan majority to reject what was happening.
And so when it comes to the debt ceiling, and when it comes to keeping the government open, I'm actually more hopeful than I was that we're going to do the adult thing, that we're going to go ahead and raise the debt ceiling to maintain the full faith and credit of the United States and we're also going to do, hopefully, regular appropriations bills.
Likewise on ACA, Lamar Alexander, who was the author, along with Patty Murray, of the repeal and replacement of No Child Left Behind. I think 78 votes in the United States Senate. So he's a person, with Patty, who can actually do bipartisan legislation. He went ahead and is scheduling hearings so that we can make sure that premiums don't skyrocket because of the uncertainty that the president has caused.
So on one level I think that there's an opportunity for us to sort of hit singles and do the basic stuff. But when it comes to tax reform and infrastructure, I think that the president and the White House and the cabinet is going to be at least delayed, if not delayed indefinitely when it comes to their big-ticket items.
BLITZER: Yes. Hitting a single is definitely better than striking out.
[17:25:04] Take a look at this picture, Senator. There are now, by our count, at least 23 Republicans who have publicly denounced President Trump by name as a result of his reaction to Charlottesville. The president clearly increasingly isolated from many members of his own party facing some pretty severe criticism from these lawmakers. Many of them question his competence, his ability to govern.
Do you get the sense that the Republican leadership and Congress, the House and the Senate, is going to pursue its own agenda regardless what the White House wants?
SCHATZ: I think they are, and I think part of it is just personal frustration at having been attacked.
The other aspect of it is just the sort of basic knowledge of three coequal branches of government, respect for the legislative branch. You know, I served in the executive branch in the state of Hawaii, and you have to be, you know, almost reverential to your chairs and your leadership, because they're the ones that make laws in that context. The president and his team, not all of them. Some of the cabinet
members are really good about working with committee members on both sides of the aisle, but for the most part, they just don't get how the government operates, and over time that has become increasingly frustrating.
I also think there's a moral aspect to this. You know, a lot of these Republicans are very conservative. I disagree with them about most policy issues, but they're good people, and they are simply sick of staying silent, because I think what they're thinking to themselves, is since when it is a conservative or Republican position to equivocate on the question of whether neo-Nazis are the same as the people who protest against them?
And I think that, you know, as much as we fight between the parties, it's important to recognize that we have patriotic Republicans serving in the Congress, and they are torn up about this. And you know, I have been critical of them for being too quiet for too long, but many of them are stepping up and saying, you know, there are more important things than cutting the corporate tax rate down from 35 percent, or repealing the Affordable Care Act and being, basically, a moral person. And being basically a lawful person is more important than any public policy, position that you may take.
And that's what I'm seeing in a lot of my Republican colleagues. Not that they're making a specific calculation about the president's popularity in their own state, but that they're just sick of this, and they don't want to countenance it anymore.
BLITZER: You guys are going to have a lot to do after Labor Day, when you all come back here to Washington.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SCHATZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii.
Coming up, much more on the breaking news. Even though Steve Bannon is now gone, more departures may be ahead. A person close to the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, tells CNN, quote, "Kelly's not done."
And later, the mother of the woman killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, says no to an offer to meet with President Trump.
[17:32:37] BLITZER: Our breaking news in the wake of today's firing of the White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. We're now getting hints that more of President Trump's top aides may be leaving the White House as well. A person close to the new White House Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, tells CNN, and I'm quoting him now. "Kelly is not done." Let's bring in our specialists. And Chris Cillizza, let me start with you. There's been a lot of speculation about the future of Steve Bannon over these past several weeks. What was the final straw, the final trigger, if you will, that resulted in his dismissal today?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: OK. So, knowing Donald Trump, I think almost certainly, it was the American Prospect article. Number one, why is Steve Bannon given an extended interview to a liberal magazine? Number two, why is Steve Bannon essentially saying, yes, I'm moving this guy around, I'm doing this, I'm doing that. Oh, North Korea, no military solution, they're directly contradicting the President of the United States.
The truth that we know of Donald Trump is, you don't get to be a star that shines brighter than Donald Trump. You don't even get to be a star that shines close to as bright as Donald Trump. It's why Bannon almost was fired months ago when he was being painted as sort of the shadow President of the United States. I think that's probably what caught up with him. And one other quick thing, Wolf, not a lot of allies left for Steve Bannon in that White House. Reince Priebus was a powerful ally, he's obviously gone. Some of the folks who were never on his side, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, you got their way.
BLITZER: As you know, Kaitlan, some in the White House were worried that Steve Bannon could do more damage to the President from the outside than from inside. What are you hearing about what he might be doing, next?
COLLINS: Well, it's certainly clear that Steve Bannon is not going to go quietly and be on the sidelines for all of this. We have writers at the -- he used to run Breitbart News, saying that they're nicknaming him "Bannon the Barbarian". But I don't think we're going to see Steve Bannon train his sights on the President just yet. He'll probably -- if he goes after anyone in the administration, it will be those people he bad-mouthed in that "American Prospect" interview, Gary Cohn, the likes, these people who he doesn't think are pursuing the Trump agenda or the right thing agenda he tried to pursue when he was in the White House, but I don't think we'll see him go after the President, specifically.
BLITZER: Yes. And, you know, I'm curious, Phil Mudd. You served in the CIA, the FBI for a long time, how do civil servants, people elsewhere in the government, when they see the turmoil going on in the White House right now, how do they deal with that?
[17:35:00] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: There's a mixed message here. On the one hand, I hate to tell you, when you're working in the real government that is outside the White House, the White House is seen as sort of like a chaperone on a date. They're a pain in the butt. I mean, they look over your work and tell you how to do your work. And so, in a sense, this gives people, especially in places like the Department of Defense, CIA, where you have very capable cabinet officers, this gives the agencies room to maneuver. There's a huge asterisk.
You look at situations like North Korea and Iran, the concern is as the President vacillates, if you want to have negotiations about what to do with allies in Europe and Iran, if you want to talk to the South Koreans about North Korea, what the heck are you going to say? What -- they're going to come back and say, what's the President going to do next week? You want to talk about Iran? He says tear up the deal. Difficult to set up policy in that environment.
BLITZER: You know, Ron Brownstein, I want to put up on the screen a photo of the President with his top aides back at the end of January. Take a look at this picture right now. You see the President, he's sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, he's on the phone, by the way, with Russian President Putin on that call. You see the Vice President sitting there. But take a look behind him, his White House Chief of Staff, you see Reince Priebus, July 28th, gone. You see Steve Bannon today, August 18th, gone. Reince Priebus. You see Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary, July 21st, gone. And you see General Michael Flynn, the former National Security Adviser, only lasting until February 13th, gone. When you see that kind of departure so quickly in a new administration, what does that say to you?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I mean, it is reflective of the President's management style. Not only that he had not run a large institution, a public company, but also that he basically believes, and I think it's very clear from his career, that he believes chaos benefits him, that he is strengthened when there is unease around him. And when lines are uncertain and when positions are uncertain.
But there's something also larger there, Wolf, which is that Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, you know, were supposed to represent the bookends of traditional Republicanism marrying with this populist nationalism that Bannon embodied, and the administration really has struggled, I think, to make that balance. I mean, you see the tension on all sorts of issues like foreign policy, like trade. But above all, I think, what you have seen over the first six months is the President abandoned his core -- one of his core promises to his blue- collar and older, lower-income White base that he would defend the entitlement programs on which many of them rely. He saw his numbers decline among older and blue-collar whites after this health care fight, which went exactly in the opposite direction for six months.
And I think it is no coincidence that it's only been after that that we have seen the sharp turn to the right on all of these cultural and racial issues starting with banning transgendered soldiers, cutting legal immigration in half, turning up the rhetoric on sanctuary cities, and of course, Charlottesville, and defending Confederate, you know, monuments. So what -- with Steve Bannon there or not, I think the big question is whether whatever comes next still believes that it has to kind of elevate this culture conflict as a way of pulling back voters who have drifted away from the President on economic grounds and the cross-pressure that creates for all of the economic conservatives like the business leaders who are uneasy with the racial tone the President is setting.
BLITZER: We're just getting, you know, Chris, a statement in from Carl Icahn saying he's resigning. He's resigning right now. He said, this will confirm our conversation today in which we agreed that I would seize to act as special adviser to the President, issues relating to regulatory reforms. A letter he wrote to the President. We just got it. Do you remember during the campaign --
CILLIZZA: I do. BLITZER: -- on almost every appearance the then-candidate was making,
he would quote Carl Icahn, he would about talk about Carl Icahn. I'm going to bring people in like Carl Icahn. They're going to change regulations, the economy, jobs. And now, all of a sudden, and to follow several other resignations over the past several days.
CILLIZZA: Yes. Golly, I remember that, I mean, I always would ask, did -- are there -- is there any other name other than Carl Icahn? Because he literally would be like, I know every business leader in the world, Carl Icahn. OK. I think this is certainly being portrayed, though, we can do more reporting (INAUDIBLE) portrayed as what Carl Icahn mutual. This isn't about Charlottesville. So, let's for the moment, put it in a separate basket, but I do think more broadly speaking, Wolf, the fact that you saw the Intel CEO, the Under Armour CEO, Campbell Soup, all of these big, high-profile figures stepping away, and then Trump basically saying, oh, you can't quit because this council doesn't exist anymore.
It speaks to Ron was talking about, not making good on campaign promises, it speaks to another problem with his campaign promise, which is, remember, when he was mentioning Carl Icahn, it was always in the service of I know all the business people in the world, the best. They're not being utilized that they should be, I will do that. Well, now, that promise took a hit. Now, it's not the biggest thing that happened this week, obviously, but it is impactful based on how Trump handled Charlottesville, and that matters.
BLITZER: Well -- yes, go ahead, Ron.
[17:40:00] BROWNSTEIN: Just (INAUDIBLE) I think it's -- I think it's more structural than that. Because I do think that these business leaders have been essentially in the same position as many of the Republican leaders in Congress, where they agree with the President on much of his economic agenda, maybe not the trade side, but certainly cutting regulation and cutting taxes, and they have wanted to focus on that and look away from, overt their gaze as much as they could from the racial division that has been part of his message literally since he came down the escalator in 2015.
And what they concluded over the last several days, many of them, and a kind of a, you know, a stampede of them, was that association with those racial and cultural views were too toxic to justify the hope of a payoff on some of the economic side given all of the constituents they had to appeal to. The question is, whether more Republican elected officials' ultimate reach that same conclusion? Because I do think the internal logic of where the Trump administration has been is that they have to elevate, escalate the kind of cultural and racial dialogue as a way of pulling back some of these voters they alienated on health care, and with or without Steve Bannon there.
I mean, so the question is, do they make a course correction? Do people like Paul Ryan more forceful? He's going to be on CNN, Monday night. Is he more willing to demand it? My guess is Steve Bannon, firing gives him some time. You'll have people like Paul Ryan saying, we'll have to wait and see what comes next. But there's no doubt that the abandonment of Trump by the business groups, business leaders, give Democrats something of a trail of breadcrumbs to where to go in 2018 and 2020. The kind of voters who Trump is alienating, by the way, he's talking about race and broader cultural issues.
BLITZER: And, you know, Kaitlan, it's not just the business leaders who are resigning from these councils. The President disbands the councils, who are Republicans who are criticizing the President by name for the way he reacted to Charlottesville or the Joint Chiefs of Staff who all issued very strong statements. Listen to the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson making a special statement today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE UNITED STATES: We do honor, protect, and defend freedom of speech, first amendments rights. It's what sets us apart from every other government regime in the world. And allowing people the right of expression, these are good things. But we do not honor, nor do we promote, or accept hate speech in any form. And those who embrace it, poison our public discourse and they damage the very country that they claim to love. So, we condemn racism, bigotry, and all of its forms. Racism is evil, it is antithetical to America's values, it's antithetical to the American idea.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And you remember what the President said there was some quotes from very fine people among those protesters, the White Supremacists, the White Nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan supporters, the neo-Nazis. He said, among them, there were some very fine people. Rex Tillerson doesn't seem to believe there were some very fine people. At least, that's the way his remarks are being interpreted.
COLLINS: No, no one else from the administration or any of the Republicans or anyone in general who has issued a statement about Charlottesville has it all mirrored what the President said at that press conference on Tuesday when he really distanced himself from the statement he offered from the White House on Monday where he said he condemned it and that he condemned neo-Nazis and whatnot. And he really distanced himself from that on Tuesday when he said there's fine people on all sides.
And we even saw that from Heather Heyer's mother this morning. She said, she was not going to speak to the President, would not take his call, because she said it wasn't a tweet she saw. It wasn't a commentary on a political show that she saw. She saw the President's press conference where he equated her daughter essentially with those neo-Nazis and those White Supremacists who were marching in Charlottesville. But, yes, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, we're seeing him, kind of, trying to reinforce the President's comments by saying the administration does not stand by that; they don't think that there were good people on both sides. And I think they're trying to remedy that situation that Trump created for himself.
BLITZER: Pretty extraordinary, Phil, to hear members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, Republican leaders in the House and the Senate go out. But I want to read to you a statement, at least part of a statement that Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican Presidential nominee issued today out on Facebook. He said, "Whether he intended to or not, what he -- referring to the President -- what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn. His apologists strain to explain that he didn't mean what we heard. But what we heard is now the reality, and unless it is addressed by the President as such, with unprecedented candor and strength, there may commence -- repeat -- there may commence an unraveling of our national fabric." That's the former Republican Presidential nominee.
MUDD: Well, if you look at what we've talked about on this show in the last five to 10 minutes, business leaders, gone. Presumably, should be the core of the President's support. Republicans and Democrats, gone. 60-plus percent of the American population, gone. And what you saw with Rex Tillerson, I think, is a piece that Americans don't understand. Who's he speaking to? Partly overseas and the American public, partly like the joint chiefs members, members of the services who made statements that were similar, he's speaking to the workforce. It's looking up saying, do you believe what the President believes? He's telling them, no.
[17:45:10] My point is I think what you'll see in this unraveling is the agencies and government like Republicans in Congress saying, we're going to do what we want. We're going to freelance, and we will speak publicly when we don't like what the President says. Unprecedented.
BLITZER: Do you think this is a tipping point?
CILLIZZA: I -- gosh, I hesitate to ever predict that, you know, Donald Trump has gone too far this time because he's -- he obliterated every line we knew. I will say this from Saturday until today, Wolf, you saw a moral abdication of leadership as opposed to just a political mistake. He made a number of political mistakes, some hurt him, some didn't, so -- but this was a vacuum of leadership. I think that's what Mitt Romney is getting at. This is not about politics. This is about who we are as a country, who do we want to be as a country, and what the President's job in moments of national tragedy, national strife is. Trump seems to not care or not understand that that's the role, and that frankly is different than the 43 people who preceded him in the job. And, you know, he says he's modern-day presidential, his words.
BLITZER: All right.
CILLIZZA: That's what we're going to see. But I think most people want regular old Presidential.
BLITZER: And Mitt Romney, by the way, also said the President should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize.
CILLIZZA: -- he's not going to do that.
BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people don't think the President will apologize. We have more breaking news coming out of Charlottesville right now. New charges against the suspect in the death of the counter protestors in Charlottesville. We have details right after a quick break.
BLITZER: Stand by for much more on the firing of the White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. We're also following breaking news in Charlottesville, new charges against the suspect in the death of the counter protester last Saturday. Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we just got this a short time ago from Charlottesville Police. They've just announced they have charged James Alex Fields with five new felony counts stemming from the car strike on Saturday which killed Heather Heyer. Fields now faces two additional counts of malicious wounding and three counts of aggravated malicious wounding. That's in addition to a second-degree murder charge, three other counts of malicious wounding, and a hit and run charge. So, a total of eight charges now for James Fields.
Meanwhile tonight, Heather Heyer's mother, Susan Bro is expressing her outrage, her revulsion with President Trump for his remarks about protesters this week.
TODD: Amid her grief, the mother of Charlottesville victim, Heather Heyer, expresses her disgust.
SUSAN BRO, HEATHER HEYER'S MOTHER: I'm not talking to the President now. I'm sorry. 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.
TODD: Susan Bro told "Good Morning America", the White House attempted to reach her repeatedly during her daughter's funeral. If she was ever considering meeting with the President, she says, this turned her off.
TRUMP: You look at both sides, I think there's blame on both sides.
BRO: You can't wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying I'm sorry.
TODD: The White House responded by saying only that their thoughts and prayers are with Bro and her family. Meanwhile, conservative talk show hosts are circulating a conspiracy theory about the counter protesters in Charlottesville. Fox News Host Sean Hannity on his radio show brought up a rumor which had spread like wildfire on social media about so-called Antifa or anti-fascist protesters.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS CHANNEL HOST: There's a story out today that raises a question whether or not Antifa agitators that showed up in Charlottesville on Saturday were bought and paid for. Anyway, apparently, it was uncovered and some of the media reported it that some suspicious activity by an L.A.-based company that calls itself Crowds on Demand.
TODD: That company, Crowds on Demand, did post an ad on craigslist on August 7th, a few days before the Charlottesville protests, saying it was looking for, "enthusiastic actors and photographers" to participate in rallies and protests. It offered people $25 an hour. But the ad also specified that it was in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, not Charlottesville, Virginia. Hannity acknowledged that.
HANNITY: So, maybe just a coincidence, I don't know for sure, but we're going to keep an eye on that.
TODD: Crowds on Demand told Media Watch Dogs it was not involved in any capacity with the events in Charlottesville. And a city official in Charlottesville told CNN, they've seen no evidence that counter protesters were for hire. Still, analysts say even debunked conspiracy theories can be dangerous in this political climate.
OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Trump does seem to get a lot of his information from the Sean Hannitys of the world. This is not the first time that he's kind of given credence to a conspiracy theory. This is incredibly dangerous as far as misinformation making their way up to not only millions of people but also perhaps the most powerful person in the free world, President Trump.
TODD: Which the President then could, of course, tweet out. Now, we reached out to Sean Hannity's representatives through a spokeswoman. Hannity just got back to us saying that he was very clear saying he had no idea if the Crowds on Demand solicitation was true. He said he informs his audience all the time about what others are reporting and saying and tells them when he cannot corroborate a story, like he did in this case. And then, he insulted CNN -- Wolf.
[17:55:12] BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting. Breaking news coming up next, new details of the latest White House shake up. President Trump fires his controversial Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Will he continue to be a Trump ally from the outside?