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Trump Calls For Unity After Divisive Phoenix Speech; ESPN Under Fire For Taking Robert Lee Off UVA Game; Clinton Calls Trump A "Creep" Who Made Her "Skin Crawl"; The Bizarre Story Behind "Blacks For Trump" Guy; 17 Charities Pull Events From Trump's Mar-A-Lago; Aired 3:00- 3:30p ET

Aired August 23, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


August 23, 2017

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN NEWSROOM WITH BROOKE BALDWIN HOST: -- 69 percent disapprove and when it comes specifically to the president's response to Charlottesville, 60 percent disapprove compared with 32 percent, who approve. Today, moments ago in Reno, the president called for unity. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 one people with one home and one great flag. We are not defined by the color of our skin, the figure on our paycheck, or the party of our politics. We are defined by our shared humanity, by our citizenship in this magnificent nation and by the love that fills our hearts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's go first to Jim Acosta, our senior White House correspondent. And Jim, this version of the president seemed much more like the commander-in-chief, we saw on Monday, you know, addressing military options in Afghanistan. So why did last night so totally go off the rails?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the question, Brooke, and I think what we're just going to have to come to grips with is that that we just don't know which President Trump is going to show up at any particular moment. You heard him just a few moments ago at the speech at the American Legion Arena saying we have no division that is too deep for us to heal. That is obviously very inclusive, normal-sounding president that we heard in Reno this afternoon, but if you contrast that with the verbal rampage that he delivered in Phoenix, that is a very different president that you saw in front of the American people last night. Let's just play a sample of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I love all of the people of our country. I didn't say I love you because you're black or I love you because you're white. They're trying to take away our culture. They're trying to take away our history and our weak leaders, they do it overnight. Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe? I'll make a prediction. I think he's going to be just fine, OK? Now, the obstructionist democrats would like us not to do it, but believe me, we have to close down our government, we're building that wall. One vote away. I will not mention any names.

Very presidential, isn't it? Very presidential. And nobody wants me to talk about your other senator who's weak on borders, weak on crime, so I won't talk about him. I don't think we can make a deal, because we have been so badly taken advantage of. I think we'll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point, OK? Probably. I believe he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now a couple of things, Brooke, we should mention. I talked to a Republican strategist who advises the White House who said, you know, I asked this person, what was the president doing last night? And this person said, "You guys are never the audience," meaning we in the media when we, you know, when we're analyzing these speeches, that, you know, essentially, his message is not aimed at us. It's sometimes very much directed at us, but not aimed at us. It's aimed at his base and I think we saw that on display last night.

The other thing, Brooke, just as we're trying to make sense of this. Time and again, what I hear from people who advise the president inside the White House, outside the White House, is that they do revel in this sort of art of distraction. And so while you heard the president talk about, well, I might, you know, I might pardon Joe Arpaio, I might shut down the government if I don't get funding for the wall down on the Mexican border. All of that was sort of a distraction, I think, for what was really going on last night.

If you remember the very beginning of that speech was dedicated to his fourth attempt to really explain his comments on Charlottesville and what I think the most important thing that happened last night is the president was not really dealing with the reality of his initial failure to deal with Charlottesville appropriately. You heard him last night say, you know, he read from his statements that he delivered on Charlottesville, but he left out the fact that he blamed the violence on many sides on that Saturday of the - of the Charlottesville violence and that at Trump Tower last Tuesday, when he blamed it on both sides and that there were very fine people inside those white supremacists who were demonstrating there. And so, you know, it's a couple of things going on, Brooke. And we see it time and again as we try crack the code on the president's behavior. He is playing to the base but he's also engaging in that art of distraction, Brooke.

BALDWIN: I'm going to start there with my panel. Jim, thank you so much at the White House. Let me bring in Kirsten Haglund, she's a conservative commentator, Rich Benjamin, the author of Searching for Whitopia, a liberal commentator, Zerlina Maxwell, she's a director of progressive programming for Sirius XM!, she also worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign, and Jeff Ballabon, is a former member of the Trump for President advisory board. So welcome, welcome to all of you.

KIRSTEN HAGLUND, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Thank you

BALDWIN: Jeff, just to you first. Nice to meet you.

JEFF BALLABON, CEO, B2 STRATEGIC: Nice to meet you.

BALDWIN: You know, contrasting the various speeches, right? The throwing the gasoline on multiple issues at a rally and then the unifier, you know, teleprompter Trump. With the speech last night in Phoenix, how did that do him favors?

BALLABON: You know, I know -- I watch CNN's coverage of the speech last night as well as the speech itself, and I have to say, whether intentionally or just because that's the way it's being filtered, I heard a different speech. When I hear the president's messages, they are repeatedly the same message and have been from the beginning and it's a message that refuses to segment people by race, ethnicity, color, religion. It's about unity and we're all Americans. I love that message. That's the right message and the people who are saying, oh no, no, no, be afraid of this side's hate, not this side's, that's nuts to me.

I happen to agree with him and I think that, you know, a lot of his base does and a lot of people beyond the base do. I don't see two different speeches here. I see -- i see the exact same message consistently. We have to be concerned about the hate on all sides because hate's the problem and violence is the problem. And it's not about -- listen, zero tolerance, as you can imagine for neo-Nazis and for KKK. My family was wiped out by the Nazis completely besides my mother who say it. So I have no tolerance for that. They're evil. But that doesn't mean that the people fighting them are good. Lots of times that people fight, in this case, some of the people fighting them are evil also. They traffic in the same kind of Jew hatred, the same kind racial divisiveness and his point it's the - it's the hatred and divisiveness that has to stop, I agree with that I think that's the point he constantly makes if only you'll actually let him make it and not reinterpret it.

BALDWIN: I appreciate you saying that. So you're saying, this is all essentially -- you don't see a major difference in the speeches.

BALLABON: No.

BALDWIN: Zerlina, what-how did you hear it?

ZERLINA MAXWELL, DIRECTOR OF PROGRESSIVE PROGRAMMING, SIRIUS XM: Well, I heard him misquoting himself. When he made the first comment on Saturday, he said, on many sides. Yes, that was an adlib and so when he's reading from the prepared remarks, it's going to be different than what we all heard and saw on television. And when he's equating Antifa a, who no one really ever heard of until last week, so I love that well presenting them as the new evil on the left but that's a really small group and certainly there's people among them that I don't agree with their tactics but you cannot equate that with neo-Nazis and -- BALLABON: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. In the end of 2016, I actually

wrote a study for the institute that studies global anti-semitism and policy and we talk about the rise of Antifa is much more threatening for Jews. This is - this is almost a year ago, then the small group of people that like to play dress-up Nazi and because you haven't paid attention to them, doesn't mean they're not real and they're not a threat. They're all real, they are a threat.

MAXWELL: That's not what I said. I said the mainstream media now is talking more about them. We weren't talking about them last year, we're now talking neo-Nazis, so I want to stay focused on what's actually happening in this country with the right wing hate that we saw last week in Charlottesville. Somebody died. Antifa did not kill anyone. Neo-Nazis did. That's what's happening here and the president essentially put them on the same footing and they're not. We have to be very clear about that.

BALDWIN: So, on the president though, just staying on the president's respect with your views on that. How do you see it? Because a lot of people, unlike, you know, Jeff (INAUDIBLE) but a lot of people see it as very different speeches and very different trumps.

HAGLUND: Right. And it was. And this rally was, you know, look, he came off a very, very difficult week, obviously. There were lots of reports that he was very upset coming back or the way that the coverage turned out from Charlottesville and so this was honestly a real soother for Donald Trump. He got do go out there and get all of his applause lines, rally his base and then obviously what you see when he is reading from a teleprompter, completely a hundred percent different.

And I think that he can talk about unity all he wants but it has to be backed up by action and it's like I think that so many people, you know, that's why his poll numbers are in the 30s. They watch him say things like love and affection but you don't believe those words coming out of this mouth because when he tweets, all he does is tweet insults at his own party, right? I'm - so when he was center - right person, right? I don't want to see our party interfighting. He's got to unite not only the country but the GOP, his own party to get his legislation passed that he need.

BALDWIN: He hasn't talked to the senate majority leader since this contentious phone call on August 9th. And apparently they're not going to meet until Labor Day. On the polls, specifically, yes, his approval numbers are down. But 60 percent disapprove, this is the Quinnipiac poll out just a little bit ago, when it comes to the president's response to the violence in Charlottesville. 60 percent disapprove, compared to 32 percent approve. That's not good news for the president.

BALLABON: Well listen, it's not -- there's been relentless media spinning it. You know, talk about -

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Whoa, whoa, whoa. No spinning it. (CROSSTALK)

BALLABON: It just happened here. You said that it was taken out of context because the -- he talked about all sides. But what else did he say? He said it's been going on for all sides for many, many years. He was not talking about this event. And he's right. There's been a growing hatred in this society, vulcanization, identity politics that is threatening --

(CROSSTALK)

BALLABON: -- that has been going for many, many years.

MAXWELL: Let's be clear on that. I've heard this talking point from right wing talkers all week. Identity politics, just insert civil rights because that's what we're talking about, we're talking about equality of women and people of color. Those issues are important and I don't want them to get sidetracked to say that identity politics are something that are bad. They're not bad.

BALLABON: This is not a taking point. This is - this is -

(CROSSTALK)

MAXWELL: I've heard it already this week many times.

BALLABON: OK. No one gave me any talking points. This is not a talking point. This is my reaction as someone who also grow up - grow up as a minority and someone who also has dealt with hate and throughout my life and someone who - and someone who realizes that hate is bad no matter where it comes from. It doesn't matter what color comes from, it doesn't matter (INAUDIBLE) comes from, hate and violence and vulcanization has to be rooted out. That's the root of it and the truth is, I -- every time I hear the president address that, I agree with that and I believe in that.

(CROSSTALK)

BALLABON: This is bad, this is OK. That's wrong.

RICH BENJAMIN, AUTHOR, SEARCHING FOR WHITOPIA: Another tactic is to say this is a media talking point so that doesn't excuse the more than 13 Republican senators who have came out against it, the business people, I suppose we're all in this media conspiracy to download the president.

BALLABON: It's been very successful at hurting him politically.

(CROSSTALK)

BENJAMIN: I think the difference between the speeches I heard, one was for a defined audience, the veterans, and then the other speech, I watched it and I was scratching my head and wondering, what's the purpose of this rally? What does it serve? Why are taxpayers paying for this man to go to phoenix with an ill-defined message, with an ill-defined purpose and then spew this stuff. It was a rally. And so that difference of audience, that difference of tone, that difference of message, no wonder people are wondering, is Trump throwing more red meat to his base in light of Steven Bannon's departure. There was such an ill-defined notion to the Phoenix rally versus the veterans rally.

BALDWIN: Which I think Kirsten hit the nail on the head. It is a problem for Republicans, right?

HAGLUND: Yes.

BALDWIN: Because at the end of the day, this is the commander-in- chief and he's unifier and he wants to win, right? He want to - he want wins in congress and thus far, there really aren't any. And the fact that he hasn't spoken to the senate majority leader and will not do so until Labor Day, that he's thrown multiple Republicans under the bus, you know, I was talking to Rich Galen, who's been around Washington for a long, long time and I said, Rich, you know, as Republican strategist, I said, Rich, does he understand how Washington works? And he said, no.

HAGLUND: No.

BALDWIN: Do you agree?

HAGLUND: Yes, absolutely. I mean - and let's just look at it very logically, right? He's a 70-year-old man and he's been in show business (INAUDIBLE)

BALDWIN: That's not an excuse.

HAGLUND: No. No, no, no. Absolutely not, but I'm just saying, you know, as you get older and get set in your ways, that's just a normal thing in life, right? It's harder to shift a whole life of building his business, building his brand and entertainment and show business and the real estate and licensing and franchising to then just totally shift your way of doing life. He grew up creating controversy. That was how he built his brand and now he has to stay away from controversy? It's a huge, huge shift.

And so I'm saying, that's just -- that's the reality that we're living in. And, you know, I think that a lot of us on the right thought, OK, when you first came into 2016, how can we rebrand as the party, how can we, you know, move forward with a new vision. Then Trump came along. So a lot of people tried to come around and say, how can we, you know, kind of infiltrate the administration and try lead him in a way to understand how Washington works. That's not happening.

And if he's going to try to continue to have these successful rallies, eventually he's going to have to deliver on the things that they want. Tax reform is the next big thing on the agenda and as its stand right now, there's not the unity in the party to really be able to accomplish it.

BALDWIN: Jeff, how can he deliver, you know, he's been successful so far in his private life, loves and enjoys controversy and having a villain, let's say. How can that work to help him with these republicans? Can it?

BALLABON: Look, there's no question there's a clash of cultures here but remember there were 17 people vying for this primary -- in this primary -- Republican primary and all of them had one message. It's me against Washington. I'm the outsider. Turns out the only one -- well, maybe there were others, but this one, our president, he wasn't making it up. He's an outsider. He's not Washington. And the truth of it is, I don't think that hurts him with the base. The fact that there's tension between the two branches happens all the time. It's not even a footnote. The fact that he said something that --

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Not even a footnote to have this sort of public belittling of a senate majority leader who --

BALLABON: Not even a footnote.

BALDWIN: -- he needs to be working mano o mano away.

HAGLUND: Reagan and Tip O'Neill got along in the 1980s.

BALDWIN: Right, right.

HAGLUND: That's how they got tax reform passed and so many other things. Different parties -

(CROSSTALK)

BENJAMIN: It will be more - it will be more than a footnote if your party controls all three branches of the government and you accomplish nothing. I heard the word distraction three times from Mr. Acosta. The question becomes, distraction from what?

HAGLUND: Right.

BENJAMIN: Seven months into this presidency, nothing to show for it.

BALLABON: Really? I don't know. Stock market's raging, employment's doing great.

BENJAMIN: And that's his doing?

(CROSSTALK)

MAXWELL: We're not going to give Trump credit for that.

(CROSSTALK)

BALLABON: I'm giving the right guy credit for them, sorry. The fact - the fact is $1.6 million passed through the House to help build the border wall, that's a great thing.

(CROSSTALK)

BALLABON: Listen, listen. It's still early days. I think we're going to do just fine.

MAXWELL: Seven months.

BALLABON: Yes, I think we're just going fine but the reality is yes, there's definitely -- it's a clash of cultures. (INAUDIBLE) he didn't walk into his home turf. He's walking into a different kind of place and they're going to have to get used to him. They say they're going to use to them, they're going to have to use to them. But you know what, the fact that he has been successful in all these other endeavors and it's not just one narrow endeavor. I have a lot of faith in his ability to do it. I'm not the least bit of concerned that there's a little bit of rhetoric going back and forth when a senator decides to kill health care reform that there's fingers being pointed, that's just fine

BALDWIN: Still you don't criticize a man undergoing brain cancer treatment. I will, you know, for John McCain --

BALLABON: OK. Honestly, he wasn't talking about that.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: He didn't name him last night.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I hear you. I hear you and they have a list of to-dos coming in September. We shall see. We shall all see. We all want to win. OK. Let me end on that. I want to win too. Thank you all so very much.

BENJAMIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I appreciate all your different thoughts and voices. The president is a former opponent, calling him a creep, why Hillary Clinton is now saying President Trump made her skin crawl, her own words in these revelations coming out.

Also ahead, who was the African-American man standing behind the president last night holding this, Blacks for Trump 2020 sign. His bizarre story ahead.

And have you heard about this from ESPN? They're in a bit of trouble today for pulling this Asian announcer of the University of Virginia game because his name is Robert Lee. We have the back story of that coming up. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: It is an infamous moment in one of the debates between Hillary Clinton and President Trump. And you are about to hear Hillary Clinton's retelling of that moment and why she says it made her skin crawl. Take a listen to this excerpt from her new book.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: This is not

OK, I thought. It was the second presidential debate and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before, the world heard him brag about groping women. Now we were on a small stage, and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.

It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching, well, what would you do? Do you stay calm, keep smiling, and carry on as if he weren't repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say, loudly and clearly, back up, you creep, get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women, but you can't intimidate me, so back up. I chose option A. I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of dealing with difficult men trying to throw me off. I did, however, grip the microphone extra hard.

I wonder though, whether I should have chosen option B. It certainly would have been better T.V. Maybe I have overlearned the lesson of staying calm, biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while, determined to present a composed face to the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: In her own words. Here now, let's remember back to how then-candidate Trump described what happened that night on that stage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I was standing at my lectern and all of a sudden, from nowhere, she walks right in front of me. So I never - I never walked near her. She stands right in front of me. The next day, it was -- I was in her space. I was standing at my chair at my lectern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's go to Brian Fallon, CNN Political Commentator and former press secretary for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. All right, Brian, so this is the first time we're all actually hearing it from her. But take me back. I mean, we all remember the debate. It was debate number two. How did she prepare for that? I mean, you all knew it was that sort of town hall style, so there was that potential for people crossing across one another. How did she prepare?

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, she had done a lot of simulations in terms of how to ward off a handshake, for instance from Donald Trump. There was a lot of speculation about whether she'd shake his hand and she practiced and rehearsed exactly how she would seek to avoid that and the person that helped her prepare for the debates, her long-time aide (INAUDIBLE) was actually really captured the essence of Donald Trump quite well.

But I don't think there was any way to properly prepare for that moment where he sort of was lurking menacingly over her shoulder and she could feel and sense his presence. It was something that we all backstage commented at the time. We all said to ourselves, he's pulling a Lazio which was a reference to that moment in her 2000 Senate debate during her campaign for Senate in New York where Rick Lazio famously invaded her personal space and a lot of people saw that as a turning point that cost Rick Lazio the election.

This moment in this debate never really had that impact, I think because on the list of offensive things that Donald Trump did in that debate, this didn't rank. It was probably sixth or seventh on the list because you'll remember he also brought some of those accusers from Bill Clinton's past to that debate. He also had said in the opening minutes of the debate that he was going to put her in prison if he won the election. So there were so many things to absorb from that debate, that this one, I think many of us forgot until now.

BALDWIN: Also the context-wise, it was just two days before the this debate that the whole - how do I-the Access Hollywood tape came out.

FALLON: Right.

BALDWIN: So that was on a lot of people's -- certainly on a lot of people's minds as well. So, Brian, she walks off the stage. You guys are all watching from behind. When she walks off, did she say anything about that moment, the skin-crawling moment that she writes about? What did she share with you all?

FALLON: She did - I'm not -- I don't recall her describing it in quite the same terms as she does in the book, but she definitely observed it in real time. It was startling to all of us. And I think that what's interesting in the book, in this passage that got released today, is this comes -- this relaying of this anecdote comes in a chapter where she stalks about the role of gender and the role of gender in campaigns and in her career in public life. And I think that it's important to her in the course of this book to try to ensure that people and in particular women do not learn the wrong lessons from 2016.

I think back to the concession speech she gave on the day after the election where she specifically paused and said, I want all young girls that are watching this to know that you matter, that Donald Trump winning in spite of everything that he said, all this misogyny that we heard from him, does not mean that this is a country that remains hostile to women. And so I think that it's actually quite introspective on her part to say, you know, maybe I overlearned the lessons of practicing restraint so much.

As a - as a woman in public life, I think she's somebody that realized that people can be so quick to judge you as shrill if you're a woman that speaks up for yourself and so I think it was quite honest and observant on her part that she said, you know, maybe next time, the next woman in that position should speak up and tell him to back off, you creep.

BALDWIN: Sure, sure. That would have -- who knows what kind of headlines and how he could have reacted. There's all the variables there. But you know, as we talk about all of this, I mean, Brian, just being real with you, you know, when now President Trump looks up at the T.V., we know he watches though so much, and he sees Hillary Clinton, you know, making headlines yet again, calling him a creep, going back to this debate, don't you think she's at all poking the bear here, breathing life into this villain character that Trump just seems to obsessed with?

FALLON: Well, I'm sure he will but the reality is, unfortunately, it doesn't take Hillary Clinton publishing a book for him to continue to invoke her. He does that on Twitter all the time. I think we as a party have to be capable of doing two things at once. That is to say, we have to be reflective and look back on the 2016 campaign in order to learn from the mistakes we made and we made mistakes but if we're going to grow as a party, we need to look back and realize the failures and part of that soul-searching involves Hillary Clinton doing that soul-searching and imparting to us the -- what she learned about the failures that happened in that campaign because there's so much attention on Donald Trump's rally in Arizona.

But you know what, that rally was just like was just like all the rallies of his campaign and he still won. So, we can't just run the same type of campaign we did in 2016. We have to learn from those lessons. I think that this book will be a part of that process, but the reality is, that the future of the party does rest with young up and coming groups like Indivisible and Color Of Change that just led that protest movement that caused the CEOs to abandon Donald trump's business council.

It rests with young rising stars like Kamala Harris in the Senate and Stacy Abrams who's a great Progressive candidate for governor in a - in a red state like Georgia. And Hillary Clinton recognizes that more than anybody. So I think she's going to have is a constructive voice here in helping us move forward but the work will continue unabated and in large part it's going to be a rising new generation that takes over the lead of the Democratic Party.

BALDWIN: Sure. Brian Fallon, thank you so much for your time.

FALLON: Thanks a lot.

BALDWIN: Good to see you. He has been spotted at a number of rallies over the past year. And last night was certainly no exception. So, who is this guy? Who is this man behind the Blacks for Trump sign, this bizarre story that's triggered a nationwide fascination. We have more on him.

Also, 17. That is now the latest number of charities that have now ditched events at Mar-a-Lago, the president's estate down in Florida. Details on this mass exodus following the president's response to Charlottesville.