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Poll: 60 Percent Disapprove of Trump's Charlottesville Response; Sources: Trump, McConnell Not Speaking Over Russia. Aired 4- 5p ET

Aired August 23, 2017 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:00] BALDWIN: Thank you so much. And thank you for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Brooke. And which President Trump attempts to rewrite history, omitting all pertinent facts?

THE LEAD starts right now.

An alarming warning from the former boss of U.S. intelligence after a wild and angry and sometimes unhinged campaign rally. Why the former intel head says he's worried about Donald Trump having the nuclear codes.

Bitter feud. The Senate majority leader now reportedly questioning whether the Trump presidency can be saved. So about health care and tax reform?

Plus, so many immigrants now fleeing the U.S. and heading north. Canada is actually opening refugee camps. We will take you to one.

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. It is a maxim of this show that we want ideas and policies to be debated full throatedly while we also try to stand up for facts as well as basic human decency. And keeping with all that, let's take a look at President Trump's rally last night.

First, let's discuss the policy news perhaps of most consequence. The president signaled that if he does not get funding for the border wall he wants constructed at the U.S.-Mexican border, he is willing to force a government shutdown.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we have to close down our government, we're building that wall.


TAPPER: The president also updated his supporters on the status of his trade negotiators' attempts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with Canada and Mexico. He did not sound particularly optimistic.


TRUMP: I don't think we can make a deal, so I think we'll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point. OK. Probably.


TAPPER: Arizona is also home to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio with whom then Citizen Trump once found common cause in their joint unfounded and not a little bit racist campaign to smear the first African- American president as having been born in Africa, charge for which of course there is no credible evidence.

Arpaio was found guilty last month of criminal contempt for disregarding a court order in a racial profiling case, but last night the president suggested he would pardon the former sheriff.


TRUMP: I'll make a prediction. I think he's going to be just fine, OK?


TAPPER: The president also attempted historical revisionism, insisting that he had never done anything but condemn the racists in Charlottesville. In this retelling, the president omitted the controversial parts of his post-Charlottesville remarks.

Here's what President Trump says he said that horrible Saturday during those protests.


TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. That's me speaking on Saturday.


TAPPER: Hmm. It feels like he left something out there. Let's check the tape.


TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.


TAPPER: "On many sides." Of course that was the part that was controversial, and the refusal that day to single out the Klan and Nazis and white supremacists and the alt-right for criticism. It's an omission that misrepresents what happens and is, thus, a lie.

The president also neglected to mention that he had later praised very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville. That includes this side.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us.


TAPPER: Attacking the media by lying about the media was a common theme last night.


TRUMP: I hope they're showing how many people are in this room. But they won't. They don't even do that. The only time they show the crowds is when there is a disruptor or an anarchist in the room.


TAPPER: That's not true and those who watched last night know that we show these images several times.

Just minutes ago President Trump reading from a teleprompter called for unity.


TRUMP: It is time to heal the wounds that divide us and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us.


TAPPER: And yet last night the president sought nothing but division. He attacked journalists as unpatriotic.


TRUMP: These are really, really dishonest people and they're bad people. And I really think they don't like our country, I really believe that.


TAPPER: And this was how the president framed the debate over Confederate monuments.


TRUMP: They're trying to take away our culture. They're trying to take away our history.


TAPPER: "They are trying to take away our culture. They are trying to take away our history."

[16:05:03] Who is "they"? And how do such divisions square with any call for the U.S. to be at peace with each other?

They don't. And hence this afternoon, Republican Governor John Kasich tweeted, quote, "I've repeatedly encouraged POTUS to unite our country. It was disappointing last night in Phoenix. He once again refused."

In fact the president's remarks last night were so over the top they prompted this from a generally sober analyst, General James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence for President Obama.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I found this downright scary and disturbing. I really question his ability to -- his fitness to be in this office, and I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it.


TAPPER: This, of course, is not the first time that we have heard serious people questioning the president's fitness. Here's Republican Senator Bob Corker.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS CHAIRMAN: The president has not yet -- has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.


TAPPER: Here's former New Hampshire Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey.


GORDON HUMPHREY (R), FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATOR: He believes in his own lies, he cannot be persuaded otherwise, and he has no shame or guilt or regret or remorse. I mean, the man is delusional.


TAPPER: This is a subject that I hear more and more on Capitol Hill from Republicans as well as Democrats in off-the-record whispers. They ask, does President Trump have the wherewithal to be president? Not just, is he able to channel the aspirations of uniting us? But as Republican Senator Corker asked, does he have the stability to be president? Does he have the competence to be president?

And it's a question the public is asking as well according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released this afternoon. Voters overwhelmingly saying President Trump is not level-headed, 68 percent to 29 percent. Voters saying President Trump does not provide the U.S. with moral leadership, 62 percent to 35 percent. That he's not honest, 61 percent to 36 percent. Voters believe by 2 to 1 margin that President Trump is doing more to

divide the country than to unite it, 62 percent to 31 percent. Nearly 6 in 10 voters say President Trump's decisions and behavior have encouraged white supremacist groups.

Now President Trump is a man who looks to numbers and to ratings. These numbers, sir, these numbers are disastrous. You are no doubt pleasing your base, but your behavior is causing great concern among the majority of the American people.

Just a short time ago in Nevada, the president returned to scripted remarks addressing the National Convention of the American Legion.

And I want to bring in CNN's Jason Carroll who's in Reno for us. And here with me in studio, CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins.

Jason, let's start with you. The president today referencing the need to heal divisions, referencing unity at least five different times in today's speech?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. What we saw today was a complete 360 in terms of what we saw yesterday with President Trump there in Phoenix. Part of the theme, obviously, today here at the American Legion in Reno was to thank veterans for their service and their sacrifice, but also much talk about unifying the country.

The president this time stuck to his prepared remarks aided by a prompter, and a number of veterans that we spoke to felt as though the president delivered a good speech today. They thought he was more focused, more measured. One veteran, Edward Padilla, from Florida told me, it was a, quote, "welcome departure from the speech that he gave yesterday in Phoenix."

Again, this speech today, I want you to take a listen to just part of it, was all about unifying and bringing the country together.


TRUMP: It is time to heal the wounds that divide us and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us. We are defined by our shared humanity. Those who wear the nation's uniform come from all different backgrounds and from every single walk of life. But they are all united by shared values and a shared sense of duty. We have no division too deep for us to heal. Together we cannot fail, we will not fail.


CARROLL: And Jake, the president went on to say that we are not defined by the color of our skin. So the real question is, which is the real Donald Trump, the one that we heard yesterday or the one that we heard today?

You know, critics keep saying that what we keep seeing with this president is one step forward, two steps back. One step forward when the president reads from prepared remarks, two steps back when he goes off the cuff and just speaks his mind, if you will.

One other veteran here who we spoke to today, Ann Sobato, she's a supporter of Donald Trump. She said, Jake, that today was the day she finally thought the president gave a good speech -- Jake.

[16:10:07] TAPPER: All right. Jason Carroll, thank you so much.

Kaitlan, the Sheriff Arpaio pardon that he alluded to in that speech last night, he didn't say he was going to do it but he alluded to that he probably would. You have new reporting on that?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So Trump essentially said last night that he was going to pardon this guy. He said he wasn't going to do it at the rally last night because we know Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton asked Trump not to do it because it was going to inflame passions in a highly divided country after the violence in Charlottesville.

And we've learned from the White House today that they've essentially prepared the paperwork and are ready for the president to make the final decision to pardon this guy. And they've even got so far, this is how close it is, that they've prepared talking points for their surrogates. And these talking points would be used for when the president does decide to pardon Arpaio and then he could come one -- they can come on channels like CNN and defend why he did that.

Because this is a guy who was found guilty of criminal contempt after a judge ordered his officers to quit stopping people based on them being Latino or the presumption that they were in the country illegally.

And so we saw last night the president said that he was a good guy and that he worked hard, and essentially one of the talking points was that he served the country for 50 years as a sheriff, working in the DEA and serving in the military. And that the White House thinks it would be inappropriate to send someone like that to prison.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

More fallout from the Charlottesville violence. Apparently now just having the name of Robert Lee posing a problem for at least one cable network. We'll talk about that next. Stay with us.


[16:15:50] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We have a lot to talk about today with our political panel.

Folks, this new Quinnipiac Poll that I just quoted shows 60 percent of the American people disapprove of the president's response to Charlottesville, and by a two to one margin, they say President Trump is doing more to divide the country than to unite the country. And it seems like last night, in keeping with this theme, he probably made matters worse.

Can he turn this around, or is it just not in him?

J.D. VANCE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think he can definitely turn it around because it's still pretty early in his administration. But the thing that always occurs to me when I see approval ratings like this is that they're not that different from the approval rating he had when he won the election in November. And so, politics is fundamentally a relative sport, and even though the president's absolute numbers may not be that fantastic, if folks don't like the Democrats, he may still be able to survive and even thrive politically for the foreseeable future.

TAPPER: Do you agree?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think what we learned under different circumstances is it's much harder to run for reelection than it is for office the first time because people devalue you for the work you have or haven't done.

TAPPER: It's harder to run for reelection?

PSAKI: It can be, because people are looking at you not as the aspirational force of I'm going to change all these things in the country. They're looking at you, did you get heath care done? Or did you repeal it? Did you bring all the jobs back or didn't you? You have more of a record to run on.

What was striking to me about his appearance last night, many thing, but the most striking was his biggest problem is probably not -- I don't think it is -- his problem in his base. His base has stuck with him, for the most part. It's not that soft. His problem is that the country feels -- a big part of the country feels alienated. His problem is he doesn't have a big legislative record. So, it's interesting to me, aside from the off the rails in his speech that he spent his time there and he spent his time going there.

TAPPER: So, there was a very strong response last night from former director of national intelligence, James Clapper. Let's run that.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I really question his ability to -- his fitness to be in this office. I worry about, frankly, the access to the nuclear codes.


TAPPER: Now, Clapper worked for Obama but he also worked for George W. Bush. He's generally not a partisan guy and fairly sober. That was a fairly staggering thing to say.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and I think it's a recognition of the fact that this guy is outside the norm in a major way we have not seen before. The problem for folks, and I think Clapper dubbed it a nightmare. The nightmare that he calls it is that America duly elected President Trump, right? We had an entire year and a half discussion of whether he was fit to be president, and the American people decided that he was.

In fact, Hillary Clinton mounted this exact argument that Clapper is saying now against him, and it was ineffective I think partly for the reason -- I think one of the numbers is about him being level-headed. People didn't want somebody who was level-headed. The loss of faith in institutions led them to a point where they said, no, let's just get this guy. Let's get the bully in there and see what happens.

Now, you have seen some regret in different sectors, but you've also seen repeatedly polling that shows he would still beat Hillary Clinton. So, I think there is difference in how he's perceived here versus how he's perceived by regular voters out in the country. That does not mean, however, that his behavior is good.

TAPPER: I want to bring up this fascinating and stunning story from ESPN. They were pulling an announcer from Virginia's first home football game because his name is Robert Lee. That's him on the right. I don't think anybody would confuse him necessarily with the Confederate General Robert E. Lee on the left.

Now, it sounds like an "Onion" headline but it's not. This actually happened. Now, Yashar Ali of "New York Magazine" posted a response from an ESPN executive, trying to explain that it wasn't because they were worried that having an announcer named Robert E. Lee would offend anybody, they were worried if they did that and he came to Charlottesville, that this young play-by-play guy would all of a sudden become object to horrific memes, and he would become an object of ridicule and that's not what they wanted -- although ultimately, that's what they ended up getting, Jen.

[16:20:03] PSAKI: And then some. So, look, I think as I was watching this story, I felt for probably a mid-level PR person who was possibly a little overzealous in making this decision. Clearly they got the opposite of what they wanted.

Somebody noted today there are over 11,000 Robert E. Lees in this country. They can rest assured they're probably safe, especially now.

So, this was absurd by ESPN. Obviously, they should change it. I'm not sure if they have. It's given us all kind of a moment of lightness in an otherwise challenging time.

TAPPER: People did unify against this ESPN decision.


HAM: Well, I think it also -- I mean, it taps into this thing where Trump has the ability to say, look -- he does one crazy thing and he says he counts on the other side going equally crazy, if not more so, to send the signal to both his voters and some over the road voters saying, wow, he really is kind of off the rails, in removing an Asian commentator named Robert Lee for fear of, frankly, let's be serious, of offending people.

TAPPER: I'm just saying what they said.

HAM: Their first statement did not say that.

TAPPER: Yes, you're right. You're right.

HAM: This is a new statement.

I think it was because -- and this is the scary part -- people would have tweeted about him and say, I can't believe they didn't remove this guy. I'm offended watching this game. It's just silliness all the way around and I think Trump benefits from it when people go off the rails like that.

VANCE: Yes, I think it shows you can be so risk adverse about some of these cultural issues that you actually cause the very backlash that you're hoping to prevent in the first place. And the good thing about it is I actually -- when ESPN first announced this decision, I worried that I was going to be one of the only people who thought this was outrageous. It's good there is this broad bipartisan --


VANCE: Yes, this is ESPN has brought the country together in a way that our politics can't.

TAPPER: You know, I mean, one of the other things that's interesting about it is just the fact, obviously, he's an Asian American.

VANCE: Right.

TAPPER: This is now a decision that is discriminating against a minority, and it's not as if Asian-Americans are overrepresented in sportscasting.

VANCE: Absolutely.

TAPPER: So, I mean, it's --

HAM: Oops.



PSAKI: Maybe it will help his career.

HAM: Who knows?

TAPPER: Well, let's hope so. Let's hope he doesn't suffer from this, honestly, because he's a good play by play guy.

Jen Psaki, Mary Katharine Ham, and J.D. Vance, thanks so much.

A private chatting match between President Trump and the Senate majority leader becoming very public. Leader McConnell just responded. What did he say? That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:26:34] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Continuing politics, that '70s funk band War asked it best, why can't we be friends? In 2017, we're asking that about President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. We can think of a few reasons why they can't.

But things have gotten really bad. Today, a senior White House official told CNN an in-person meeting between the two men is being scheduled as soon as Congress comes back after Labor Day.

According to "The New York Times", the two men are not even on speaking terms presently after a phone call two weeks ago in which President Trump gave McConnell a profanity-laced earful. And the next day, he followed that with an attack tweet.

One of them read: Can you believe that Mitch McConnell who has screamed repeal and replace for seven years couldn't get it done? Must repeal and replace Obamacare!

Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju, who's right here with me in studio.

And, Manu, the White House is arranging this meeting. It's telling about the fact that they need to work on this relationship.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. And right now, Mitch McConnell is trying to tamp things down. He realizes this is getting out of hand, things have gotten incredibly testy and these reports are just not helpful as they head into a very busy September session.

McConnell just moments ago, Jake, putting out this statement saying, we have a lot of work ahead of us, and we are committed to advancing our shared agenda together. Anyone who suggests otherwise is clearly not part of the conversation.

Now, I have had a chance to talk to a number of Republicans today who are perplexed that the president continues to go after McConnell, continues to go after Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican senator, whose seat they need to keep in next year's elections and is doing things to distract from their agenda. Now, one Republican senator who did not want to be named and talking very candidly about Trump said that these are distractions, that these are potential distractions that require more work to get members where we need to be to pass health care or tax reform. He said it's not helpful to keeping our members focused on these key promises that we have to fulfill.

Republicans want, finally, Trump to get back on message.

TAPPER: And, Manu, the president has been very outspoken, saying that he's upset about McConnell's failure, the Senate Republican's failure to repeal and replace Obamacare. But as your reporting indicates, there is another big issue bubbling under the surface and it's Russia.

RAJU: It's a bigger issue for Trump according to my sources that I have spoken with, said that the thing that really set off Trump in that August 9th phone call with McConnell were these Russia probes that were going on and Trump saying the majority leader needs to do more to protect him from those probes.

In addition to that, the Russian sanctions built up in Congress and that the president reluctantly signed into law. He was furious at that, that piece of legislation because it tied his hands. He did not like the way it went about in Congress, blamed McConnell for that and swear words were dropped as well from Trump towards McConnell. It shows how much work they have to do to move forward.

TAPPER: Of course, it is not the majority leader's job to protect Trump on the Russia investigation.

Manu Raju, thanks so much.

And that, of course, brings us to Russia in the world lead as congressional committees are investigating Russia's involvement in the U.S. elections, interference thereof. CNN tracked down former Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, in Russia. He was just replaced by a new diplomat this week.

CNN's Matthew Chance specifically asked Kislyak about his contacts with members of the Trump team and Matthew joins me now live from Saransk, Russia.

And, Matthew, did you get the sense from your conversation with Kislyak that he was trying to protect his conversations with the president or with any Trump associates?