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Interview With Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego; Steve Bannon Out; Police Bracing for New Racist Rallies, Possible Violence. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 18, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: draining the swamp. President Trump finally fires his lightning rod chief strategist Steve Bannon revered by the alt-right and reviled by others. How will Bannon's ouster affect the future of a White House in chaos and a president in crisis?
Loose Bannon. A self-promoting interview helped seal his fate. Now is Bannon planning to return to his roots at Breitbart News and turn on the president? New hints tonight of what's ahead.
Backing out quickly. Some of the biggest charities in the United States are canceling events at Mr. Trump's Florida resort. His outrageous response to the violence in Charlottesville infuriating more and more Americans, including Republicans. We will tell you who is speaking out tonight.
And fearing violence. The rally and attacks by white supremacists in Virginia may be just the beginning. Right now, police are on alert for new protests by the KKK and other extremists that could boil over in the hours ahead.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, the president fires his controversial chief strategist and most prominent link to the extreme right. After many weeks of being on the ropes, Steve Bannon is out of the White House.
In what may have been the last straw, sources say the president was fuming that Bannon gave a brazenly self-serving interview in which he undermined the president on multiple fronts, even suggesting his boss perhaps was a fool.
Tonight, one source tells CNN that Bannon is not likely to stay quiet on the side lines. There is speculation he may return to his former role leading the right-wing Web site Breitbart. In a possible sign of things to come, an Breitbart editor responded to Bannon's firing by tweeting "#War." This is all playing out in the midst of a rapidly expanding backlash
against the president and his response to the violence in Charlottesville.
Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is blasting Mr. Trump in a new statement, saying he's made racists rejoice and minorities weep.
The mother of the Charlottesville victim, Heather Heyer, says she hasn't spoken with the president and doesn't want to. Some of the biggest charities, meantime, in the country are now canceling events at Trump's Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, and House Democrats are introducing a resolution to officially censure the president.
This hour, I will get reaction from Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, you have been making the point, whatever words the White House may use, Steve Bannon was fired.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like a contestant on President Trump's White House reality show, the West Wing strategist Steve Bannon is 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 sometime. Sources tell CNN Bannon was supposed to be fired two weeks ago because he didn't meet Kelly's new disciplined 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 is a good man. He is not a racist. I can tell you that. He is 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. Asked about the president's fire and fury warning to North Korea, Bannon told the progressive "American Prospect, "There is no military solution."
Bannon reveled in needling the press, as he did at a conservative conference earlier this year.
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Just like they were dead wrong on cast on the campaign, and just like they were dead wrong in the cast of the transition, they are absolutely dead wrong about what is going on today, because we have a team that is just grinding it through on what President 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 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 Web site 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 this week. The mother of the woman who was killed in the violence there says she doesn't want to talk to the president.
QUESTION: 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. 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.
QUESTION: 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 that declaration of war coming from Breitbart, a White House ally has told CNN that the outgoing chief strategist does not want to go to war with President Trump. As the source explains it, Bannon wants the president to succeed and perhaps become his top outside surrogate -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting for us, Jim, thanks very much.
I want to bring in Kaitlan Collins, our White House reporter, and Mark Preston, our CNN senior political analyst.
What are you hearing now, Mark? You have been doing a lot of reporting on what's going on, on the future of potentially other White House officials being told to leave and the future of Steve Bannon.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, a couple things.
One is, I spoke to a senior Republican official who told me that Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, and Steve Bannon had actually discussed creating a political and media firm, a national political and media firm when they first entered the White House and even during the campaign.
There was a little bit of friction between the two, but they really seemed to coexist very well together. In many ways, they needed each other to deal with President Trump. What I'm hearing inside the White House right now, though, Wolf, is there is a lot of concern.
What someone said to me, a senior administration official described it as the concern is not so much about Steve Bannon leaving, but the overall stability, because so many people have left such high-profile jobs. This official went on to say that Deputy assistant Seb Gorka might be the next person to go down.
This person doesn't have any inside knowledge on that, but that could potentially happen. At the same time, though, is that we're hearing on Capitol Hill that conservatives are wondering who do they actually go to in the White House now to have a discussion about policy.
With Steve Bannon gone right now, there's nobody there necessarily. This person also went on to say that the likes of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and Gary Cohn and Dina Powell are centrist Republicans at the very best. There aren't necessarily conservatives in there, except for the vice president.
And the vice president, of course, has a lot on his plate anyway to deal with.
BLITZER: Let me get to Kaitlan.
Kaitlan, you have been doing some additional reporting on what the next steps are. What are you learning?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're actually just hearing something now. We have gotten some news from a White House reporter for Breitbart News.
He tweeted today and said, "Siren: Steve Bannon has returned to executive chairman of Breitbart News and even chaired our evening editorial meeting." There is very clear. There had been some speculation that Steve Bannon was going to return to Breitbart News, but that shows us just what his influence is going to be outside of the White House. We have heard rumors that Steve Bannon could choose to go after those people in the White House who we saw him bad-mouthing in that "American Prospect" interview.
He was saying people like Gary Cohn, Gary Cohn, these people who don't share the same vision that he does for the Trump presidency. And it's very clear he's going to go back to where he started at Breitbart News before he joined the administration.
BLITZER: Yes, he's going to have an influential role over there for sure from the outside.
Stand by, both of you.
I want to bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, who is joining us on the phone right now.
Gloria, you're doing a lot of reporting as well. What are you learning?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I'm learning from a source close to the president that General Kelly really is not the only person who is involved in making these personnel decisions, but they have sort of the fine hand of Jared Kushner, the president's son- in-law, on them.
This source says that Jared advises the president politically, even though he has no political experience of his own. And he says that Jared is someone who plays bumper pool, as he puts it, and he believes that Jared thought that Bannon was having too much influence, did not like some of his political views, and as a result worked behind the scenes to get him out.
And he makes the case that, you know, at the outset of this administration, there were three power centers in the White House. One was run by Reince Priebus. He's gone. One was run by Steve Bannon. He's gone. And now Jared Kushner is the only one remaining, and his favorites, you know, Gary Cohn, Dina Powell, General McMaster, are there, and that he continues to pull the strings.
And this source believes, in fact, that Jared Kushner is a more powerful person in the White House right now than General Kelly.
BLITZER: General Kelly himself, who is the White House chief of staff. You want to elaborate on that, Gloria?
Gorsuch Well, he believes that Jared is working with Kelly, but that Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, have much more access to the president, can have the president's ear, whether it's at Bedminster, whether it's upstairs in the residence, in ways that nobody else can at that White House. And, you know, that remains -- that will remain, Wolf, because the
president is loyal, most of all, to his family.
BLITZER: Yes, very, very interesting, Gloria.
Kaitlan, you have got more information coming in as well.
We're learning more, as we said a second ago, the chief strategist of the White House who is gone today, Steve Bannon, has returned to his position as the executive chair of Breitbart News. Breitbart has announced this in an article today saying Steve Bannon returned to chair the editorial meeting.
And in a quote, the Breitbart editor in chief said: "The populist national movement got a lot stronger today. Breitbart gained an executive chairman with his finger on the pulse of the Trump agenda."
As we reported this week, Wolf, Bannon had met with the Mercer family. This is a father-daughter duo with deep ties to the Republican politics, and they're wealthy investors into Breitbart News. We know they met with Steve Bannon this week and that they also were in touch with the president. So, we kind of see they have formulated this exit strategy for Steve Bannon ahead of his firing earlier today.
BLITZER: Let me read, Mark, a little bit from this Breitbart article that just moved because there are some significant details that Breitbart is now reporting about the future of Steve Bannon. Let me just read it.
"Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon returned as executive chairman of Breitbart News Friday afternoon, chaired the company's evening editorial meeting." Kaitlan just reported that.
Ranked the number 63 Web site in America by Amazon-owned Alexa.com and with the number three Facebook page in the world, Breitbart News is considered the most influential populist Web site in the world.
Quote: "The populist nationalist movement got a lot stronger today," said Breitbart News editor in chief Alex Marlow. "Breitbart gained an executive chairman with his finger on the pulse of the Trump agenda" -- close quote.
Breitbart CEO Larry Solov agreed -- quote -- "Breitbart's pace of global expansion will only accelerate with Steve back. The sky's the limit." That's Solov saying that. And then they go on and give some more of the background. So, it's now a done deal. We know where Steve Bannon is going to be spreading his influence and it could be very, very significant.
PRESTON: Oh, it's going to be hugely significant. And the idea that Breitbart, by the way, to the masses a lot of people didn't realize how influential it was during the campaign, and it really exploded because of Steve Bannon. Now, Steve Bannon might actually have more influence on the outside
than he has on the inside. A lobbyist had just sent me a text a short time ago and said, listen, bottom line is Bannon is really going to be more volatile on the outside and could push Trump in ways that he was unable to do so in the inside.
He is no longer encumbered by the West Wing and the Jared Kushner...
COLLINS: Exactly. He is someone who was in the White House and saw how the sausage is made. And now he is on the outside and has access to the media site that really is a center point for Trump's base that voted for him in the election.
BLITZER: Yes. It is going to be interesting to see what he does. He's a very, very intelligent, smart guy, and very powerful and that power will now continue, albeit from outside the White House. We will see how he does over there.
Everybody, stand by. There's more we're getting in.
And I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona. He's member of the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, let me get your reaction, first of all. Steve Bannon now will once again take charge over at Breitbart.
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: Well, I mean, I think it's not necessarily good for anybody that Steve Bannon is involved in any type of policy, whether it's inside the White House or outside the White House.
Doesn't really change much. You still have a lot of avowed white nationalists, alt-left -- I'm sorry -- alt-right members in the White House, like Miller and Gorka, including the president himself, who espouses a lot of these views with or without Bannon.
It's changing the deck chairs on the Titanic right now. I don't think necessarily it's going to benefit anybody right now, but it is what it is.
BLITZER: All right. You tweeted this today. Let me put it up on the screen. "Bannon's out. Now it's time for Miller, Stephen Miller, a White House aide, and Sebastian Gorka, another White House aide, to go."
Do you think that would make any significant difference?
GALLEGO: I think it actually would give a significant boost in terms of confidence in the White House, definitely among Congress and probably -- I can say among certain populations of the United States, especially minority, African-American. You know, we know that Sebastian Gorka and Miller have had views that
are very tinged with racism and sometimes are openly racist, in addition, of course, to the president himself. But it would be a good opening salvo to show this ship is trying to turn around if both of them also went.
BLITZER: But you think if they were to leave -- and there is no indication either Stephen Miller or Sebastian Gorka at least right now is about to be removed from the White House, but if they were to be removed, who should take their place? I know you don't want to mention names, but what type of individuals?
GALLEGO: Well, yes.
If I mention anybody, I'm basically going to taint them with the label of Democrat. But we have a lot of lifelong, career-minded people that have worked for both administrations that would love to work, I think, for the White House, that would love to bring stability to the executive, people that actually know how to work with Congress, understand the rule of law, understand how government works.
Right now, you have too many yahoos that are running around thinking that they can just make laws and override Congress. And it's not ending up well. This is why you have a Trump administration that cannot get their policies through, and, in some instances, that's really good. But on other instances, it's actually causing a lot of chaos.
We don't see any unified position when it comes to foreign policy. We don't see a unified position when it comes to, for example, the debt limit. These kinds of, you know, vacillations in terms of leadership can be very detrimental to the U.S. economy and our national interests.
BLITZER: Democrats certainly criticized Steve Bannon for his perceived alliance with what's called the alt-right, but the president himself recently aligned himself with that group during his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
And here is how Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, responded today -- quote -- "Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn. His apologists strained 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 an unraveling of our national fabric" -- close quote.
Many in the white supremacist movement, they certainly feel emboldened right now by the president's response. Do you believe that President Trump is directly enabling these groups?
Look, the talking points that he used specifically both right after the Charlottesville incident, as well as a couple days later when he essentially retracted, were the talking points that are being spread by the alt-right and by neo-Nazis.
It is not a coincidence that he is basically talking along those same lines. He -- I just don't think it's a coincidence, by the way, he's coming to Phoenix, Arizona, and threatening to pardon someone like Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He's basically trying again to feed more meat to the alt-right that right now is a little dissuaded because in their minds he may have backed up.
But at the same time, we should find it very worrisome that some of the neo-Nazi Web sites and newspapers have praised the president for, in their words, "backing them up."
Any president, whether it's Democrat or Republican, should not be in a position where they are being misinterpreted as backing up neo-Nazis or white supremacists. And the fact is the president has done this. He uses coded words, coded language, and even has ran a whole campaign against this.
Let's just begin from the beginning where this man started in politics. His first step was accusing five black men of rape in Central Park that were not guilty. Next, he accused the first black president of being born in a foreign country and then using some kind of weird communist conspiracy to get smuggled into this country.
Then we know he actually accused a judge, Mexican-American judge, of not having enough impartiality because he was Mexican-American. There is a history here. The president, unfortunately, is racist and he has surrounded himself with racists. Until
He starts getting rid of them, I think a lot of us have to question where his motivation are in terms of how he's going to serve his country and the people in this country.
BLITZER: Congressman, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, endorsed an effort by some of your colleagues to censure President Trump for his response to the Charlottesville attack. Do you support that effort as well?
GALLEGO: I think it's a good first step.
You know, I think there's been a lot of problems before Charlottesville that should have had a stronger response by everybody. But I think anything to start putting the president in line, and actually teaching him to have the dignity of the presidency -- I think this is the biggest problem with this president, besides the fact that he's collaborating with openly racists, is the fact that he is destroying the dignity of the presidency, something that will last beyond him and beyond the Republican Party, whoever takes over after this.
And if we can censure him or make any efforts to basically start pinning him in and actually bring dignity back to the executive branch, I think that is important long term for the stability of our democracy in this country. BLITZER: Congressman Gallego, I want you to stand by. There is more
we need to discuss.
I have got to take a quick break. We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego and the breaking news we're following, Steve Bannon fired as the president's chief strategist. Tonight, he's already back in his former job leading the right-wing Web site Breitbart.
Congressman, President Trump is headed to your district out in Arizona for a campaign rally in Phoenix next Tuesday, I believe. Soon after the rally was announced, the Phoenix mayor, Greg Stanton, released a statement asking the president to delay his visit.
Do you, first of all, agree with Mayor Stanton? And, second of all, do you fully expect the president to show up?
GALLEGO: I totally agree with Mayor Stanton.
It's not that I don't want to see the president in my district. There's people that voted for him. They have a right to hear from him, as much as I disagree with their vote.
The problem is that this is way too close to what just happened in Charlottesville. I think it is not appropriate to have a rally right now. I worry for the safety of those that are going to be in the rally and outside the rally. There is nothing to be gained from this. The only thing that is gained from this is more of a political rally for the president. This doesn't have to happen right now.
We can wait maybe a week or more. There is no reason for us to do this. This is really unfortunate. And it's unpresidential for him to be doing this.
BLITZER: Well, when you say you're worried about the safety of those who show up, I want you to elaborate. What is the concern? If there is a big rally and a big event, a lot of his supporters show up, why would there be any violence?
GALLEGO: Well, usually it's not the supporters that are showing up. It's the -- these big groups of essentially neo-Nazis that fund-raise money that come to these events essentially to start problems.
These men are the losers of society. This is the only job they have. They have these Web sites and profiles where they basically, you know, raise money and they brag about the fights they're going to get into at these rallies. And once you start throwing that in a very volatile mix with a lot of people, you know, it's my job to worry about everybody, whether they are rally-goers or they're not rally-goers.
It's just unnecessary. Ideally, I would like this to be postponed. Secondly, if we can't postpone it, I just want people to come, exercise their First Amendment rights and please do it safely and peacefully.
BLITZER: Mayor Stanton, the mayor of Phoenix, said he is specifically deeply worried the president might pardon the former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted last month of criminal contempt for "willfully violating" an order of the court to end his crackdown on immigrants.
How would you react and how would the folks there, where you are, your district in Phoenix, react if President Trump were to pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio next week?
GALLEGO: They wouldn't react well.
Well, we had to deal with a sheriff who broke the law openly, was essentially convicted of racial profiling, signed an agreement to no longer do it, and then ignored it. And some men and women have died in his prisons because of his negligence.
And this is why he got voted out by overwhelming numbers, even though Trump won our county by overwhelming, by both Democrats and Republicans. And the fact that the president is going to step in, into the middle of a judicial proceeding, mind you, he's already been convicted, now they're going to the sentencing process, to pardon him would not go over very well.
And the reason it would not about over well is because everyone understands why the president is doing this. This is his way to throw a little gift and bone to the white supremacists that feel very crushed that their man in the White House has not been supportive of them or has talked bad about them.
And people are not going to react very well here. Obviously, the best way to exercise that is through free speech and through voting. But there is no reason to throw tinder on a fire. And I hope the president understands that.
BLITZER: Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona, thanks for joining us.
GALLEGO: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, more on the breaking news. Steve Bannon has been fired. Will he try to help the president or will he lead a war to try to bring him down? Our specialists are standing by. What are they hearing?
And law enforcement officials on alert right now and Americans on edge as white extremists plan new rallies across the country -- tonight, fears of another Charlottesville in the hours ahead.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, Steve Bannon fired as the president's chief strategist. Now back at his old job at Breitbart just hours later. [18:34:24] The embattled Trump administration undergoing an
unprecedented housecleaning at the highest levels after only seven months. Tonight we're told the new White House chief of staff, John Kelly, isn't done yet, and more ousters may be in the works.
Let's bring in our correspondents, analysts and specialists.
And Kaitlan, very interesting interview that Stephen Bannon just gave to "The Weekly Standard," the reporter Peter Boyer. Let me read a couple sentences from Steve Bannon, Steve Bannon, what he's now saying following his removal from the White House.
Quote, "The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over. We still have a huge movement, and we will be making something of this Trump presidency, but that presidency is over. It will be something else, and there will be all kinds of fights, and there will be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over."
He's not mincing any words, Steve Bannon.
COLLINS: No, he's not. This is a kind of ominous warning to those people who are still in the White House. We know that Steve Bannon has been very displeased with them. Because of his comments in that interview with "The American Prospect" this week, where he bad-mouthed several of his colleagues, including Gary Cohn, saying these things about them, and it really shows.
As you know, we've learned that he's also returned to Breitbart News, which is where he was before he joined the administration. And so we're really seeing a preview of what life, post-White House, without Steve Bannon is going to look like, with him at the helm of this media company that really taps into the president's base. And clearly, he's going to voice some of his displeasure on that website.
BLITZER: You know, Ryan Lizza, when Steve Bannon says in one of his first interviews since his removal from the White House, "The Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over." That is incredibly, incredibly blunt.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Look, I think Bannon -- you know, I spent a lot of time talking to Bannon. I visited him in his office in the White House both in March and then again last month.
And, you know, what I can -- what I can tell you is he believed that he was beset by enemies that started in the West Wing, right, people who were ideologically opposed to him. He believed there were concentric circles of people opposing him and this populist, nationalist agenda. The media, and then the Republican leaders on the Hill.
He barely had any time or criticism of Democrats, because he believed there were so many people within the Trump administration and within the Republican Party that were fighting what he believed was the soul of the Trump agenda on immigration, on trade, on some of the executive orders. And I think he believes -- this quote to Peter Boyer in "The Weekly
Standard" suggests that he -- he's lost not just the recent skirmishes, but the wider war. And he's going to go set up shop at Breitbart and do what he was doing before he ever joined the Trump campaign. And that is go on the attack against the folks in the Trump -- in the White House and the Republican Party who don't believe in the agenda that he helped foist on Donald Trump.
BLITZER: Let me read to Mike Rogers and to our viewers out there another quote from this interview with Peter Boyer in "The Weekly Standard": "Now I'm free. I've got my hands back on my weapons. Someone said, 'It's Bannon the Barbarian.' I am definitely going to -- I'm definitely going to crush the opposition. There's no doubt I built an expletive machine at Breitbart, and now I'm about to go back knowing what I know. And we're about to rev that machine up, and rev it up we will do."
What do you think?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN ANALYST: Well, if that meanness in the presidency is over, if the chaos is over, if the mismanagement is over, if the pettiness is over, this is a good day for the United States.
It's just shocking to me that somebody who believes in the Oval Office, the presidency of the United States, going through all of that campaign; and then an event like this, where it's supposed to be bigger than the person, really the biggest thing you can do as president is to try to bring different groups of people together. And if this is his response, I say, "Don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out."
That's just shockingly bad to me. And it's exactly why this presidency has had such a difficult time building relationships in Congress, building relationships with America, and they've practiced under that attitude, politics of subtraction. They keep subtracting people who may want to be supporters of what they're trying to accomplish. Tax reform, you know, all of the big things that they talked about. Health care reform that works for everybody. That used to be a Republican standard. All of those things are muddled, and they're doing huge damage to the brand of the Republican Party.
So, I have to tell you, I'm -- given that interview, it concerns me that he's now going to go out and take that tack. But it's probably the right thing for the White House, and it's good for America that they can reorganize themselves and do some positive things.
BLITZER: But he says, Jim Sciutto, he says -- and these words are amazing. He says, "Now I am free. I've got my hands back on my weapons." And then he says, "Knowing what I know, we're going to rev that machine up, and rev it up we will do."
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You know, the "knowing what I know" line is interesting. So, here's a senior strategist to the most powerful man in the world with, until a couple of hours ago, a top-level security clearance, access to private conversations of the president, his most senior advisors, who within hours of walking out of the White House is running a news organization and a website.
Typically, and Congressman Rogers knows this better than me, when you leave the government with a security clearance, there are documents you have to sign, agreements you have to make not to reveal classified information. Will he be checked in that? I mean, he certainly now has an incentive, running a news site, a profit-driven news site, to put some of that information out there. And he said it. It's a shot, in effect, across his enemy's bow, to say, "Knowing what I know, and here I am. I've got Breitbart, my weapon," as he described it. He's going to use it.
[18:40:29] COLLINS: Yes, and that's a great point, because now he's kind of off of his leash. When he was in the White House, these people he disagreed with, Reince Priebus is probably the best example, they really disagreed. They had to come together and try to figure out a way to work with him, and make them his allies, because they were all working in the same West Wing for the same president.
But now that he's outside of the White House and he's trying to fulfill this populist agenda that he has, and he really has no oversight of it, now that he's at his own website and he's not under the control of the West Wing or the White House.
BLITZER: It's an amazing development. And there's -- you know, there's more in this interview. And I think we can put up -- we can put another bit of it up on the screen. Let me read it to our viewers.
"It's the Republican establishment. The Republican establishment has no interest in Trump's success on this. They're not populists. They're not nationalists. They had no interest in his program, zero. It was a half-hearted attempt at Obamacare reform. It was no interest, really, on the infrastructure. They'll do a very standard Republican version of taxes."
Ryan Lizza, your reaction.
LIZZA: Yes, I think that is fascinating, because he -- look, Bannon has always seen the Republican establishment as enemy No. 1. Remember, he tried to get Jeff Sessions, who was a very anti- establishment senator, Republican, to run for president. Then he hopped -- Sessions didn't want to run, so he hopped over to Trump.
And look, Congress has not been interested in the sort of Bannon-esque version of the Trump agenda. Right? Obamacare repeal was something that existed before Trump ever came along.
On tax reform, Bannon had a very specific view that was completely at odds with decades of Republican orthodoxy. Bannon wants the Republican Party to raise taxes on the super wealthy, and he wanted Trump to fight for it by arguing that it would be a tax on rich Democrats in Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Wall Street. That is an idea that -- that sent shock waves in the West Wing recently when he proposed it. So that's what he's talking about there when he says in "The Weekly Standard," "Well, there's no interest in doing anything different on taxes." So, you have the congressional GOP that never fully bought into what
Bannon wanted Trumpism to be about, and that's what it sounds like he's going to go to war here while he's at Breitbart.
I would say one word of caution. Breitbart has been a sort of declining force since Trump has been president. Its traffic is not what it once was. You know, you can exercise a lot more power when you're inside the White House than when you're at a news site. So, I think we have to take some of the bravado here that Bannon is talking about with a grain of salt. He's obviously a little bit disappointed that his tenure at the White House is over.
BLITZER: Let me read, Mike Rogers, another quote. This is Steve Bannon in this new interview with "The Weekly Standard," Peter Boyer. Quote, "I think they're going to -- I think they're going to try to moderate him. I think he'll sign a clean debt ceiling. I think you'll see all this stuff. His natural tendency -- and I think you saw it this week in Charlottesville -- his actual default position is the position of his base, the position that got him elected. I think you're going to see a lot of constraints on that. I think it will be much more conventional."
He clearly doesn't like a lot of the folks in the White House who are much more moderate centrist Republicans, I guess folks like you.
ROGERS: Well, it's clear to me by that interview he was fired. I think that comes to a pretty clear conclusion. There wasn't a mutual understanding. He was asked to leave. And you can tell by the bitterness in his statement.
If he really wanted the president to be successful, I just don't think this is the way to do it. Adding more divisiveness, adding more cynicism into the political game. And this whole idea of division to me is so wrong, and it's wrong for the country. And you can see what it has sowed. It is division amongst Republicans, amongst Democrats, amongst the White House, and our -- to me it's very, very troubling what they've done.
The reason Trump won -- I used to represent these people back in Michigan. These are union workers who are afraid for their future and have seen, the last 10 to 15 years, their wages fall flat; and they're worried about their children. That doesn't make them racist. It doesn't make them want to divide America. It doesn't make them -- make them mean or hate their neighbor. They wanted something more hopeful. They thought that this president would come in and break some of the traditional thinking in Washington to give them that.
That -- he swung and missed on that.
I don't know where he's trying to take the party or the country, but I don't think most Americans want to go there.
SCIUTTO: It was interesting. In his interview, Steve Bannon is claiming the Trump base as his own really and claiming the victory as his own. He's saying that the way we won, right, putting him in there and saying that Trump, in effect, in the interview here is going to abandon the base that brought him into office by going back to establishment, more traditional Republican positions.
COLLINS: I mean, I think that quote right there about Charlottesville had an audience of one for Steve Bannon. As you know, after that Tuesday press conference where the president said there were good people on both sides of that Charlottesville protest, the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists and the KKK and the counter protesters. A lot of White House staffers and advisors and senior officials were very upset with the way the president handled it. Even John Kelly, the new chief of staff, was very frustrated.
Sources told us. But the one person who wasn't frustrated with the way that Trump handled that was Steve Bannon. He thought it was a defining moment for the Trump presidency, and that's what he's saying basically in that quote right there, to the president -- hey, stick with your base, stick with what you did on Tuesday and not with everyone --
BLITZER: What does it say to you, Kaitlan, as somebody who reports on the White House, that after Reince Priebus, chief of staff, was let go, Trump tweeted, said nice things about Reince Priebus, usually does that after people leave. So far today, since Steve Bannon, the official announcement that he's gone, I haven't heard or seen any tweets from the president.
COLLINS: Not even a peep from the president, because we know he was fuming this week at Steve Bannon after he gave that interview to the "American Prospect", because Bannon basically made it sound like he was president, he could make these personnel changes over at the State Department.
But you're right, he did tweet these nice things. Reince Priebus came here on CNN and did an interview with you and only said nice things about the president. But I don't think we're going to see that with Steve Bannon. When he was asked about Steve Bannon at that Tuesday press conference, the most glowing thing he said about him was he's not a racist. If your boss has to go on the record and say you're not a racist, it's not a good sign.
BLITZER: Yes, we knew Tuesday at the news conference when he didn't give him a vote of confidence, it was over.
You know, Ryan, let me read another quote. This is Steve Bannon in the interview he granted to "The Weekly Standard".
Quote: What Trump ran on, border wall, where is the funding for the border wall, one of the central tenets? Where have they been? On what element of Trump's program besides tax cuts which is going to be the standard marginal tax cut, where have they rallied to Trump's cause? They haven't.
Clearly, he's very angry, very frustrated, very bitter and very disappointed. LIZZA: Absolutely fascinating that that's the tack he's taken,
because -- I mean, one of the position that Trump has been promoting to journalists for months is that his faction in the White House is winning, that nationalism is winning. And what he's saying here in this interview with Peter Boyer of "The Weekly Standard" is that he lost, is that there was this titanic struggle within the Republican Party, within the White House between the nationalist populist view of where the Republican Party should go and the traditional Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell view of conservatism, and that Bannon's faction has been defeated.
That there won't be funding for the wall, that this idea of raising taxes on the wealthy that Bannon wanted to do is dead, that Trump's populist protectionist trade agenda has really never gotten off the ground. He didn't withdraw from NAFTA as Bannon wanted him to. His travel ban is tied up in the courts.
And, so, I'm actually a little surprised at how defeatist Bannon is in this interview and how he is admitting that all that he claimed to stand for has basically been defeated by, you know, pick your boogie man here, you know, the Kushner faction, the Gary Cohn faction, Trump's top economic advisor. He's basically saying that the Breitbart wing of the party has been defeated and he's going to go out into the media now and try and hold up that position from a new perch.
SCIUTTO: Interesting, we've been asking the question for weeks and months, would Trump's base abandon him, right? Is there any evidence of that? When you look at the polls, frankly not. I mean, there's been a little dipping of Republican support for him, but not great.
You're hearing here from Steve Bannon almost an appeal to the base to abandon him, right? Or just saying he's abandoned you, which is a remarkable -- yes, and I'm really, Steve Bannon, I am the one who is now picked up the mantle.
BLITZER: Speaking of that --
LIZZA: He's saying the Republican establishment has sold out Trumpism is what he's saying, and that what the base should be -- the people in the base should be mad at is the Republican establishment. And I presume he will start naming names, both in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
BLITZER: Well, he was naming names in that interview with the "American Prospect" the other day as well.
But let me read one more quote, Mike Rogers, to underscore the point these guys have just been making. Quote: Now, it's going to be Trump. The path forward on things like economic nationalism and immigration and his ability to kind of move freely, I just think his ability to get anything done, particularly the Mike Rogers, to underscore the point these guys have just been making.
Quote, now it's going to be Trump. The path forward on things like economic nationalism and immigration and his ability to kind of move freely. [18:50:05] I just think his ability to get anything done, particularly
the bigger things like the wall, the bigger, broader things that we fought for. It's just going to be that much harder.
ROGER: You know, I think he's proving by this kind of bitterness that he's walking out the door where he thinks that he was the only one that could do it, which probably tells you exactly why they had so many problems inside the White House. If you honestly believe that as a staff to support the president and his agenda, you are probably causing some dysfunction. Proves it.
Second part, it proves, if you are a leader with no one following you, you are probably just a guy out for a walk. And it shows me that Bannon didn't have and couldn't bring together the disparate factions inside the White House to kind of get his agenda going.
And the other part of this is, the reason the president hasn't been successful, it's not because he doesn't believe in an infrastructure bill or fundamental tax reform, is that he is his own worst enemy when it comes to try to messaging and pulling people to his own position. You don't where he's going to be on any given day on any given issue. I mean, sometimes the only time he's not shooting himself in the foot is when he's reloading the gun. He's got to bring that discipline that Kelly is doing to the staff. He's got to bring it to the president.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, how is the White House going to respond to this? The president presumably -- he likes to tweet. He's going to have to do something.
COLLINS: He's not going to enjoy this at all because in this interview, like you said, Steve Bannon is kind of crediting himself with being the one person in the West Wing who could help achieve the true Trump agenda and not just -- you know, the Republican agenda and whatnot. And the president has often been very irked by that. Ever since April, any time that Steve Bannon has fallen out of good graces with the president is because he's taking credit for his success.
And that's kind of what he's doing here. He's saying that the president is going back to the promises he made to the base. We know that Trump doesn't like when anyone says that, when they bring up the wall and whatnot. And he's basically saying that right here and I don't think the White House is going to respond well, and I'm sure we'll hear from Trump on Twitter very soon.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, standby.
We're following the breaking news on the firing of the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon. What could happen next? We'll have details.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on the firing of the president's chief strategist Steve Bannon. Also breaking, across the nation, police are bracing for new
demonstrations of hate by white supremacists and the possibility of violence.
I want to bring back our national security commentator Mike Rogers.
Mike, you have a new episode of your excellent documentary series "DECLASSIFIED" that airs tomorrow night right here on CNN, and you profile a terrorist organization of white supremacists in the Pacific Northwest. I want to run a little clip. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this country, we have fanatical, violent hate groups based on right wing white supremacy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll kill! We'll stand in our streets. We'll march. We'll do what we have to, to stop (EXPLETIVE DELETED) communists, won't we?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These people want a pure Aryan nation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're willing to do anything to punish and kill people who are not part of the white race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Wow, that's very, very disturbing. Explain a little bit more of what you guys saw.
ROGERS: Yes. This was something called the Order and it was back in the '80s based on something called the Turner Diaries. And you still see that philosophy today. So, even though this episode was being put together, we had no idea how relevant it would be now. It is exactly an inside look at the thinking of the people that you saw in Charlottesville who are committed to neo-Nazism and the KKK and white supremacy and white nationalists.
This same philosophy led this group to one of the largest armed robbery sprees from the country. The FBI was able to infiltrate this group and bring it to a close. Pretty dramatic, but it will give viewers for the first time what it's like on the inside of these groups and why we should be so concerned about their existence.
And here's the thing about it, Wolf. They actually stole the money, millions and millions of dollars. They didn't give it to themselves. They used it to promote their ideology. That makes them pretty dangerous.
BLITZER: How does law enforcement monitor these hate groups that potentially can be criminal and violent?
ROGERS: Yes. Well, as an FBI agent, the FBI is very, very careful about protecting people's First Amendment. Even though we disagree passionately with it, people are allowed to say it. They're allowed to have their own views, but what they can't do is tip over to try to inciting violence, to try to overthrow (AUDIO GAP) inspired by the turner diaries, which you still see today talked about by these neo- Nazis groups and KKK groups of overthrowing the U.S. government.
And what they want to try to accomplish is an all white society and they are willing to use robbery, mayhem and murder so they could have it.
BLITZER: What a timely, timely documentary that we all look forward to watching tomorrow night. Mike Rogers, thanks very much.
BLITZER: "DECLASSIFIED" airs 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.