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White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon Is Out. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 18, 2017 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] ROBERT KUTTNER, CO-EDITOR, THE AMERICAN PROSPECT: And her job is probably the safest as anybody in America right now. And the fact he had problems with Gary Cohn. I mean, it was like he was taking on everybody all at once.

And I think the other thing that was reckless was his assumption that, because he and I happen to have a convergent critique of American China policy that I would look the other way. Being the editor of a liberal magazine, that I would somehow look the other way at all of the xenophobia, racism, he's been the architect of. And that he could somehow B.S. his way into saying, oh, those people are a bunch of clowns. The things that he said about his own allies were pretty reckless.

And I think the -- look, the assumption that he's going to build a grand left-right coalition for a different trade policy on China -- and there have been liberal critics for very good reason, I'm one of them -- of the fact we're letting China take us to the cleaners with American industry. But the assumption you would build a grand left- right alliance that would change this policy -- think about it. You could just imagine Steve Bannon going in to a meeting of U.S. trade rep or the Defense Department or National Security Council saying, all right, here's the game plan, we're going to change our whole China policies. By the way, I have Bob Kuttner on my side. That doesn't enhance his credibility in the Trump White House.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And on North Korea, the interview occurred after the president said "fire and fury," after the president said the U.S. military was "locked and loaded." And in the interview with you, he said that -- this is Steve Bannon - "There's no military solution to North Korea's nuclear threats. Forget it, until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons. I don't know what you're talking about. There's no military solution here. They got us."

That is in total contradiction to what the president was suggesting in the days leading up to that interview. That must have so startled you to hear that from Steve Bannon.

KUTTNER: Not only did it startle me, but it was also a lot saner, as policy, than the president's own view.

So one -- Wolf, one question that I have, that I think was implicit in the discussion before you brought me in, Trump is famous for having back-channel conversations with anybody and everybody in his circle. So even if Trump (sic) is forced out as the official political strategist, is Trump going to continue to have back-channel conversations with him? Because Bannon is the architect of the strategy of getting into bed with the far right. Ever since the initial events in Charlottesville, Trump has been doubling down on that. I assume with Bannon's encouragement or if not explicit encouragement. Bannon's fingerprints on that. What does he do now with Bannon out, with his strategy becoming more and more reckless himself about stoking up the Neo-Nazi right? What's that going to be like without Bannon there to hold his hand and walk him through it or is Bannon still going to be there at the end of the phone?

BLITZER: There are several people who have been fired or resigned from this president, either during the campaign or since he became president. And the president still maintains, you're absolutely right, that back-channel communication. You suspect that the communication with Steve Bannon will continue even though he is out officially from the White House?

KUTTNER: Well, I think it makes the White House itself more chaotic. But it also means that Trump is even more reliant on all of these back channels.

And I think the man of the hour is General Kelly. I mean what is he going to do? If he had not succeeded enough in forcing Trump (sic) out, it would have shown that he's impotent. We now know he has some power, but does he have enough, given all of the presentings (ph) of this president?

BLITZER: I want to just play for you, Bob, what the president of the United States, in that off-the-rails news conference he had tuesday, in the lobby of Trump Tower, he asked about Steve Bannon's future, and his words were pretty precise. Listen to this.


TRUMP: Look, 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. But he's a good person and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.


BLITZER: We'll see what happens.

And our Jim Acosta, our senior White House correspondent, Bob, is reporting that Bannon was supposed to be fired two weeks ago. That, according to a White House official, but the firing was put off.

Go ahead and react. I wonder what you thought when you heard the president say, we'll see what happens to Steve Bannon, because that's -- to me that was a sign he's gone. [13:35:17] KUTTNER: Yes. And even more vivid in hindsight. That's

what you say when you are about to give somebody a gold watch.

BLITZER: Bob Kuttner, thanks so much for joining us.

He's the co-editor of "The American Prospect." Did that very, very important interview the other day with Steve Bannon.

And that interview by all accounts, Bob, I'm sure had a role to play in the decision today that Steve Bannon is no longer the senior strategic adviser to the president of the United States.

Thanks for joining us.

KUTTNER: Wolf, thank you. Bye-bye.

BLITZER: When the president said, John King, that we'll see what happens, we knew what was going to happen.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We did. Quickly, I want to say, I've been reading Bob Kuttner, 20-plus years. One of the more thoughtful people in the progressive moment, even if a conservative, especially on economic policy. He's in the middle of this, given the liberal "American Prospect," talking to the Alt-Right Steve Bannon. The irony, Washington is a very different place in this department.

To the point that that sound you just played from the president, this is part of the issue and part of the question that goes well beyond Steve Bannon. He's asked about Steve Bannon and essentially the president says, I did this. He came on late in the campaign. It's always about the campaign. He's been president of the United States for seven months. He has zero significant legislative achievements. None of his signature campaign promises have made it to the finish line. And you ask him a question about something going on in his White House, and it's always back to the campaign. This is the fundamental problem of the Trump presidency. Not who is the chief of staff or the chief strategist. That is not to understate the drama of this moment, and the significance of someone as larger-than-life figure, Steve Bannon, being shown the door. But the new chief of staff, maybe he picks a new strategist? Maybe he works with the president on this. It's not about the personnel. It's about the president. Every answer goes back to the campaign. The campaign is over. He's president. Obamacare is still the law of the land. Tax reform is nowhere. He had an event the other day evolved into what you just played, that was supposed to be infrastructure. That plan doesn't even exist.

I wonder at some point -- I know Trump voter are incredibly loyal to this president. At some point -- they're good, common sense people. They can do the math. And they're going to ask, what happened to, I'm going to run it like a business? What happened to Washington is stupid and I know how to fix it? Where is that?

To Bob's other point about the outside circle of advisors, he raises a key question, because the president does still talk to Corey Lewandowsky from the campaign, to David Bossie from the campaign. And will Steve Bannon get added to that list? It's a fair question. BLITZER: And he's, presumably, I don't know if he will, but he -- one

of the leaders of "Breitbart," which is reacting. I want to show you, Juana, show viewers a tweet that just came out by one of the senior editors, one of the top writers at "Breitbart," Joel Pollack. You see that #war, #war. That is a -- a pretty strong statement.

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Make as point, doesn't it? One of the biggest questions I have, when I wondered when, not if, but when Steve Bannon would be out of the White House, is how the conservative media will respond, particularly "Breitbart," which is a place that's been promotional of this president. What will they do? Will they start to turn on Trump? Joel's tweet says the answer is undoubtedly yes. He is not going to have a soft landing. Steve Bannon is one of their own. He has even rejected and they now feel isolated. They feel like this is a president they boosted, they and their ilk boosted, and now they're being tossed out of the inner circle and they don't to like it.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: This is almost a danger of bringing in Bannon. Right? That it would end in this way, almost inevitably. But that the outcome there when you do that with someone with ties that he has to "Breitbart," and to the broader movement there, it's that this happens. That they turn on you.

One thing I'll say, I keep going back to it, and John's main point is, Donald Trump is the only adviser that matters in the White House. If you've learned anything -- I guess, if I've learned anything in the first seven months of this presidency it's that. That John Kelly has said privately, semipublicly, I'm focusing on the "of staff" part. We're going to try to get the staff in order. That departure, Anthony Scaramucci sort of departed himself. And Steve Bannon. It makes some sense.

But the central guy, the guy who's not going to disappear from any pictures in the Oval Office, is Donald Trump. Theoretically, could Mike Pence have some influence on him? Sure. Though Mike Pence has been his most ardent, steady defender, even as it related to Charlottesville, and his comments there, or lack thereof. So what's difficult is we debate all of this stuff. I don't think it's beneficial to Donald Trump to have "Breitbart" on the outside, to have Bannon on the outside. At the same time, you know, there's a lot of Bannon's views in Donald Trump. Whether they were there, whether he incorporated them. Regardless, there's a lot of Steve Bannon is in the one guy that we know who matters in the White House.


[13:40:21] BLITZER: And what was significant was, as we speak right now, the president is at Camp David with a couple dozen of his top advisors, cabinet officials, national security officials. And when the White House earlier today released the list of who was participating to discuss the future of Afghanistan and other critically important issues, Steve Bannon's name was not there.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: No. It's a principles meeting of the National Security Council. And you recall, this was a controversy at the very beginning of the administration. He was once on that and removed from it. Had this meeting taken place at the beginning of the administration, Steve Bannon would have been there.

The "Breitbart" reporter for the White House, Charlie Spearing, his tweet along the lines of what you showed, "And, kids, that's the day when Bannon the barbarian was born."

And whether or not that -- that power that Bannon might have on the outside is going to be aimed at Donald Trump, or to John king's point earlier, more aimed at Jared Kushner, Ivanka, Gary Cohn, Dina Powell, the globalists in -- in the mind of Bannon. You know, I don't know --


BLITZER: He said John Kelly, too.

CHALIAN: I don't know it will be directly aimed at the president. If you're around the president and considered anathema to the Bannon world view, I would watch out. You're going to have something coming.

BLITZER: John, let's not forget the week this is all taking place. What happened this week. An amazing historic week. The reaction of a president to the disaster, to the tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia. And culminating with a bunch of Republicans strongly condemning the president of the United States. Including Mitt Romney, only today, issuing a statement, "Whether he intended to or not, what he, the president, communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn."

KING: You make a key point. The president of the United States. That's the recurring theme here. You can change personnel, and maybe this is necessary. The president, this will give some moderate Republicans, especially, who viewed Steve Bannon as toxic from day one and who don't like to go out and criticize the president, are getting asked what he said Tuesday, the moral equivalency of the counter demonstrators to the KKK and the Neo-Nazis. It will get them to say, well, this is a positive change by the president. But it is the president. It's is the president.

And with this further fracturing, "Breitbart" is now at war. "Breitbart" was on his side the first seven months. Right? If you further fracture the conservative Republican, whatever, to quell the conversation, does that help you or hurt you when you're trying to get votes for Obamacare. I argue it hurts. Does it help or hurt when conservatives came back next week and say we're not voting to raise the debt ceiling unless we get authentic spending cuts, a recurring drama we heard through Republican years in Washington, but now you have a Republican president. So the administration that has zero significant in legislative achievements before you now is in a more messy environment, even on its side, the part it has been able to keep together. The Trump base has been solid. Other poll numbers are terrible. The Trump base has been relatively solid from day one. Does this impact that? It's a question mark. But if it does, if further hurts a president who is deeply and profoundly wounded right now.

CILLIZZAN: By the way, one quick thing. There's so much news every week, it hard to remember it all. John is 100 percent right. Let me just add other things. Attacking Mitch McConnell, repeatedly, the Senate majority leader last week. Tweeting out his support for Kelly Ward, a primary challenger to a sitting incumbent. Attacking Lindsey Graham, another sitting incumbent. This is not the way -- force legislative conference, force -- we don't know, ideologically, what the way forward is and we certainly don't know legislatively what the way forward is. Easy to say, we're on to tax reform. Well, what and how? Presidents who are much more legislatively versed than Donald Trump have failed at that.

You also the fact that this is someone -- I forget to mention, Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins. There are a lot of Senators who Donald Trump has insulted in literally the last three weeks, much less since he's been in office, that he's going to theoretically need if he's going to do anything. And they're not going to be for him, even -- whether Steve Bannon works there or doesn't work there.

KING: They're going to try and do it to spite him, not for him.


BLITZER: Reince Priebus gone. Anthony Scaramucci, how long did he last? Not long. Sean gone.

CILLIZZA: Ten full days.

[13:45:40] BLITZER: Sean Spicer gone. Now Steve Bannon gone from the White House. The exodus continues.

Our special coverage resumes right after a quick break.


BLITZER: Steve Bannon, chief strategist at the White House, is out. He has been fired.

I want to bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, joining us on the phone.

Gloria, you're doing some reporting on this. What are you hearing?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (via telephone): You know, Wolf, as we know and have reported, this question about Bannon's longevity has been around since Reince Priebus left. And at that time, the president was considering both getting rid of Reince Priebus as well as Steve Bannon. But at that time, he was convinced by conservatives like Congressman Mark Meadows that, in fact, it would not be well-received by conservatives if they let Bannon go. And so the president decided, well, OK, we're going to keep him. At this point, however, the insubordination, a good way to describe it, of Bannon, particularly in that interview with "The American Prospect," in which he basically said that there's no options for us in North Korea, after the president had come out with "fire and fury." Said we're going to have a trade war with China. I think that probably didn't sit well with General Kelly, the chief of staff.

[13:50:20] BLITZER: It's very significant. In that interview, by the way, "The American Prospect," he did undermine the president's strategy as far as North Korea. But he did not say that there were two arrogant fools, as I incorrectly pointed out earlier. That was Robert Kuttner's assessment. He said some other things that were not necessarily all that flattering, but that was -- "The risk of two arrogant fools blundering into a nuclear exchange," that was something that Kuttner's wrote. I just wanted to clarify and correct that.

So where do you see this going, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, look, you know, I think this clearly bears the mark of General Kelly, who wants to get this White House under control. I mean, you had Steve Bannon out there publicly saying that there are no options on North Korea. It's very difficult to work inside a White House when you've got the entire national security chain trying to figure out what the options are on North Korea. And I think what Kelly is trying to do is form a White House staff that can actually work with each other instead of against each other. And what he's trying to do is get rid of the factions inside the White House. And that's a really tough job, as everybody sitting on the panel knows, that there has been nothing but fighting inside that White House. And so now, the challenge is to make it more cohesive around the president, rather than to have people have warring factions. And I think that he still probably has a way to go with that, but I think in the end, the president was probably convinced that he had to do this.


Gloria, stand by.

I want to bring in your senior media and politics reporter, Dylan Byers, who is joining us right now.

Dylan, this is going to shake things up.

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENOR MEDIA & POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, it is going to shake things up. That's absolutely right. It's going to shake things up, not just inside the White House but outside of the White House as well. Look, Steve Bannon is somebody who has always sort of seen his life and his mission in terms of advancing his version of populism and nationalism. He's always seen that in really grandiose terms. For him, one thing that he's always said is, this is the top of the first inning, we're just getting started. For him, he's going to continue that effort. You saw an editor at "Breitbart" tweeting out, "War." The risk here for President Trump is that far-right media starts to go after the president. And of course, as we all know, this president with the approval rating he has certainly needs all the help he can get, certainly cannot afford to lose members of his base. And so it's -- look, it's a risky proposition getting rid of Bannon. But as Gloria said, it bears all the marks of General Kelly. Absolutely right that you could not have a White House in which you had Steve Bannon going out giving this on-the-record interview to "The American Prospect" in which he was insubordinate. So now we just have to see how that shakes out. The other thing I would caution, a lot of people look at Steve Bannon

going out and say, is President Trump going to tone down some of the rhetoric, will he be a little less Alt-Right, be a little less trying to appeal to the base all the time. I don't see that. As the president himself said in his recent remarks, Bannon came on late. The remarks you get from the president, those are coming from the president himself. So I wouldn't read Bannon's departure as a change in the sort of tone and rhetoric we're seeing this from this president.

BLITZER: Fair point.

I want to bring in former Republican Congressman Jack Kingston, of Georgia, joining us on the phone right now. He served as a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

How's this going to play out, do you think, Jack?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR (via telephone): I think this is part of the John Kelley footprint of getting things stable, getting things more disciplined in the White House. I have had a conversation with the White House since this was announced, and what they underscored is that this is operational and not philosophical. That is to say, that Trump and Bannon believe in the same thing. They are populists at heart. But Steve Bannon is the kind of soldier in the cause who does freelance things, and even this week had four unauthorized interviews, which were somewhat off message. And from Mr. Kelly's standpoint, that's exactly the type of thing that he came to his position to clean up and stop. And I think if he can send that kind of a signal in the White House that, yes, there is a new order of business around here, I think it's going to have a really big ripple effect in a positive way that, gosh, this is shocking. And I can tell you, and I was on the campaign with Steve Bannon, he was a heck of a field marshal, if you will. But sometimes the greatest soldiers aren't necessarily the greatest managers of the peace, or the pride that you'd want.

So the White House's view, this is part of what they believe they have to do to get the discipline that they need to move forward. And that, as you all know, has been one of the biggest criticisms of this White House.

BLITZER: Yes, and what he said about North Korea was not simply off message. It was very much against what the president was suggesting about North Korea.

Jack Kingston, I want you to stand by as well.

Let's go back to John King and the panel here.

By all accounts, Steve Bannon, very intelligent, very experienced, not shy. He's going to have a role to play now that he's on the outside, but he will still be a significant player. He's not just going to go off and retire and play golf.

King: Oh, without a doubt. As Dylan just noted, he has his own view of nationalism and populism. It has an audience in the Alt-Right. Some of his ideas are more Democratic than Republican, so they're hard to put in ideological boxes as well.

What is the next chapter for Steve Bannon? It is a very important question, and a big question. And what he chooses to do may have some impact on the president of the United States.

I want to come back to one point that Jack Kingston was just making about how the White House says this is operational, not philosophical. That's fine. Some of that is spin, no offense to Jack Kingston. But timing matters everything in life and in politics. So when is this happening? When is this happening? A lot of people wanted the chaos to be dealt with a long time ago. Let's assume General Kelly gets it straight, they have a more disciplined operation. But Congress comes back, they have to do the debt ceiling, spending, it's possible the first year of the Trump presidency will include zero major legislative accomplishments. He has poisoned the well with Republican Senators by attacking Mitch McConnell, specifically, and then these other Republican Senators. The reservoir of support and goodwill among Republican Senators is exhausted. There's a Trump exhaustion all over the town. So even if they organizationally figure everything out at the White House, have they wasted so much time that it gets late to get things done. I know it's only August so people in American start to laugh, but the midterm election year is closer and closer upon us, and this is a first-term president. You tend to get whacked in your first midterm election year, especially if you can't claim achievements.

BLITZER: Juana, you heard Jack Kingston say in his conversation with the White House, they were irritated that Steve Bannon had given four interviews without official clearance, authorization from the White House chief of staff or anybody else.

SUMMERS: It goes back to that thing of, no one should be overshadowing the president. He sees himself as the star. And in these interviews, also in "Bloomberg," "Business Week" author Josh Green's book, he comes across as the guy who is working a malleable Trump, imprinting these ideas, helping his rise come up. And that's something the president doesn't like. To me there's no surprise that this president, although on Tuesday, he said, you know, he's a friend, he's not a racist. He has a milquetoast defense of him. It doesn't surprise me that he wants to get him out there so he doesn't have to share the spotlight.

CHALIAN: Who is going to move the agenda ball down the field for the White House? It's a good question. Think about who the closest advisers are left behind now, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Dina Powell, H.R. McMaster on national security matters, and a chief of staff that is John Kelly, the retired general from Department of Homeland Security. Where is somebody who's putting the political, legislative plan together, overlaying the midterm map with understanding where the pressure points are, to actually move the president's agenda ball down the field? I think that's a big question.

BLITZER: Winners and losers? CILLIZZA: Near-term winners are Gary Cohn, Dina Powell, Ivanka,

Jared, folks like that.


CILLIZZA: General -- yes, General Kelly. But you know, again, I think -- look, I'm the biggest proponent of winners and losers ever, but the problem with doing it is there's only -- Donald Trump is a singular figure. All presidents are. Donald Trump is more so. Who his chief of staff is, who his communications director is, if you need any evidence of that. Hope Hicks is the communications director now. What does that tell you? It means that it's essentially Donald Trump is the communications director. Donald Trump believes he is his best pollster, strategist, press person. The problem -- and David hits on it -- is Donald Trump knows very little about the legislative process and shows very little interest. It's one of the reasons he struggled to sell health care reform, by the way, because when details came up with Senators, he had no clue. Who does that? Is it Pence and his team who know more? It seems unlikely to be Ivanka, Jared, or any of those folks, who are just not creatures of that world.

BLITZER: We're going to stay on top of the breaking news, major breaking news. Steve Bannon, the chief strategist at the White House, fired. Steve Bannon, no longer the chief strategist at the White House.

I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks very much for watching.

Our special coverage continues right now.

[14:00:07] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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