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Trump's Arizona Speech Scary And Disturbing; Two Different Trumps in Two Days; Trump Tosses Red Meat to Rev up Crowd; Sheriff Arpaio Pardon; Trump and McConnell Not Speaking. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 23, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The president will speak to an American Legion convention in Nevada this afternoon. We will bring that to you live when it happens. The question, of course, are we going to get an encore performance, more of what we saw last night in Phoenix. Seventy-seven minutes of unrestrained, unadulterated, occasionally unhinged Donald Trump, untethered to the truth and unshaken by the decent driving a wedge in the nation and in his own party. The president defaulted to his obsession for quite some time during this speech attacking the media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Really doing this more than anything else, because you know where my heart is, OK? I'm really doing this to show you how damned dishonest these people are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The president's ride or die defenders gave his rally rave reviews, but one former intelligence chief says the nation needs to be concerned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Plus, do you feel that? That's Washington, D.C., bracing over the president's latest demand, money, for his big, beautiful wall on the southern border. Money that he says he needs now or else he will bring the government to a standstill.

And, why? Seriously, why? The president's re-litigating the Charlottesville response. That response that pushed many Republicans to question his competence. And in doing so he completely glossed over the part where he gave hope to the alt-right, white supremacists, looking for an ally in the White House. He didn't mention how he said, quote, very fine people marched alongside the Klan in Charlottesville, omitting how he blamed many sides for the violence and hatred that exploded as those hatemongers marched on a progressive college town making anti-Semitic and racist chants. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESET: I hit them with neo-Nazi. I hit them with everything. I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi. I got them all in there. Let's see, the KKK. We have KKK. I got them all. So they're having a hard time. So what did they say, right? It should have been sooner. He's a racist. It should have been sooner. OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: With us to share their reporting and their insights we have with us Julie Davis of "The New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal's" Michael Bender, "Bloomberg's" Sahil Kapur, and Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist."

For a night, 2017 felt very much like 2016. All that was missing were the chants of "lock her up." President Trump bookending his Phoenix speech with calls for unity. Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another, he said. A sentiment we should all take to heart.

But in the intervening minutes, he focused very little on repairing the divisions laid bare in the past few weeks within the country and even within the president's own political party. Instead, like a band without a set list, Trump rocked wildly, rift after rift, all of it intended for one audience, his base.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It says 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, or I love you because you're Japan.

All week they're talking about the massive crowds that are going to be outside. Where are they? They show up in the helmets and the black masks and they've got clubs and they've got everything. Antifa.

It's time to expose the crooked media's deceptions and to challenge the media for their role in fomenting divisions.

Those cameras are going off. Oh, wow. Why don't you just fold them up and take them home. Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?

One vote away. I will not mention any names. Very presidential, isn't it? Very presidential.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The performance left some rattled.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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. How much longer does the country have to, to borrow a phrase, endure this nightmare?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That is some pretty stark language. James Clapper, a retired general, who served as the Director of National Intelligence for President Obama, not really given to partisan politics per say and fairly sober. That's pretty stark. And it also comes after Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioning President Trump's competency and ability to do this job.

[12:05:09] JULIE DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it's true. It's very stark language. And I do think that, you know, the more President Trump allows himself these sort of rifts and to go out and vent all these grievances he has. I mean this is really a very personal thing if you listen to what he said last night, you know, that they targeted me, all of these things I said. You heard what I said and they're targeting me. It was all about him. It wasn't about the country. It wasn't about radical divisions or any of that. It was --

TAPPER: The 10 missing sailors.

DAVIS: It wasn't about them. He barely mentioned the woman who died in Charlottesville.

I think the more people see this, and this includes Republicans and Democrats and people in the national security realm, I think on all sides, the more people are worried that this president is not going to be able to salvage any part of a functional presidency. And we know Mitch McConnell has privately talked about that. And I think the more people are willing to say that publicly, the more we're going to hear it.

TAPPER: Yes. And we're at a point now, I think, Michael, where it feels like we've hit something of a tipping point where Republicans are really starting to give voice to this slowly but surely.

MICHAEL BENDER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, I think the -- some of the Republicans have been giving voice to this for quite a while. I mean they've not always stuck by this, but Trump won the nomination with one endorsement from his own party inside the Senate. He got to where he is right now without help from basically any Republican senators. And I would also say, I think the end of that -- Julie's point there was really important.

This speech last night was not for the James Clappers of the world. He's lost Democrats. He's all but lost Republicans. And he's on -- and inside the White House, there's a real fear that he's on the verge of losing his own base. So he's got to -- if he's ever going to get back to the Republican Senate or even some votes from other Democrats, he's got to keep his base or then it's just going to be a free for all.

TAPPER: And, Sahil, take a look at this, the editor of "National Review Online" joked on Twitter today, maybe this wasn't such a bad idea. It's a picture of President Obama speaking at a classroom with two teleprompters there. Kind of funny about how controlled President Obama was with the joke being, maybe sticking to a Teleprompters is not such a horrible idea for presidents.

SAHIL KAPUR, "BLOOMBERG": Really extraordinary to see conservatives saying that, especially after all the criticism that President Obama got for sticking to prompter. President Trump is getting praise when he does stick to prompter. It's just a -- I think it's an astonishing shift I think in how people treat the previous president versus the current president.

Yesterday's rally, I think, as Michael pointed out, it was all about his base. The eight out of ten Republican voters who continue to support him. And I think there's an important lesson here to be drawn from this evolution that we've had. The Republican voter right now, who is out in the streets, who is energized, is not driven by convictions about the size of government and the proper level of taxation. This is nativism that is driving this movement now.

It's anger about immigration. It's anger about trade. It is anger at the so-called globalists who they believe are supporting the diversification of America, which they think is harming their economic prospects. That is the fuel that is driving this party right now. And I think the Republican leaders in Congress came of age, mostly under Ronald Reagan. The party's changing before their very eyes and that's why the voters support Trump much more than they support (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: Do you agree with that. Is the -- and is hatred of the media and hatred of elites more motivating to the Republican base, to the -- or should I say the Trump base than is trade, for example?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": Well, I think you can see it in the breakdown of that speech. That actually little of it was about immigration, or as you put it, nativism issues and trade and a lot of it was about the media. Because there will always be a receptive audience, partly because many of these people feel they don't get a fair shake because they don't get a fair shake and because most people in this town don't have a real relationship with folks who believe differently from them and have trouble reporting on it.

That being said, the president's job is not to be a media critic. And his can make these points and he can give a speech to his base, which might sometimes be useful, if, for instance, he touched on exactly how he planned to pass an agenda. He talked about health care. He talked about why that might matter for people in the audience. He did not talk about what was the actual plan for winning those few more votes that he needs, aside from throwing a few jabs at John McCain unnamed.

TAPPER: The president seemed to throw a 2,000-mile long wrench into the legislative agenda last night, threatening to shut down the government if Congress does not fund the border wall. Senator McConnell, obviously, and Speaker Ryan want to move on to tax reform. Others say, stop, pay attention to the base.

Laura Ingraham, for example, wrote last night on Twitter, listen to the reaction. Build the wall. Are you listening Speaker Ryan, Senate majority leader? At realdonaldtrump.

Is there a lesson here for Republican leaders to listen to the base and to fund the border wall, or is the fact that the rules in the Senate preclude, perhaps, any -- getting any -- you know, you need to get Democrats in order to pass that resolution. Is it kind of just a wasted effort?

DAVIS: Well, I think Republican leaders in Congress understand that this is not going to be a winning issue for them and that, in fact, a shutdown is never a winner for anyone, but particularly not for the party in power. The notion that there would be a government shutdown with Republicans in control of the White House and the entire Congress is alarming to them because they know that they're judged on their ability to do business and if they can't even keep the government running, whatever the issue, whether it's the wall or anything else, that's not going to be good for them.

[12:10:14] Now, the question of whether it's good for Donald Trump and him sort of warming up his base where they may be feeling less activated now is a separate one. But it's not just them who want to move on to tax reform. Donald Trump needs a legislative win. He needs tax reform to be able to happen. And if they're locked in a fight over keeping the government open and the wall, that's going to be very difficult to do. It's going to be difficult to do anyway. But it's going to be even -- almost impossible if they're grappling over these other issues. And let's not also forget, they have to raise the debt limit, which is also not going to be popular with some elements of that same base.

TAPPER: President Trump also talking about last night, how he might pardon Sheriff Arpaio. A winning issue for him?

BENDER: Well, it's a winning issue within the base. And I think like at the White House --

HAM: I sense a pattern.

BENDER: Yes. The -- and the White House should be glad that, you know, that Trump couldn't pull out of his pocket, you know, former law men convicted of criminal contempt, right? That was debated. He wanted -- he definitely wanted to do that on stage. It would have been great television.

You know, it's hard to understand why -- what the line here is. I mean as raw of a performance that was last night directed really at his own base, to me a live pardoning of Arpaio would have fit right in that.

KAPUR: And the wall is a fantastic base issue. This is starting to feel a lot like 2013 before the fight over Obamacare led to a government shutdown. You have the president digging in on a central campaign promise, which he caved on in April on the guarantee that he would fight for it. Now -- if he caves on it now, how is he going to go back to his base.

Meanwhile, you need eight Democratic senators to get anything through. There's a filibuster there and they don't have those votes. Democrats -- you know, less than 10 percent of them support President Trump. And even though the red state Democrats don't want to fund this wall. So one side is going to have to cave or there is going to be a shutdown. TAPPER: All right, everyone, stay right here.

Up next, President Trump quoting himself last night, trying to set the record straight, so to speak, on how we, the media reported his Charlottesville response. The big problem, of course, is the parts he left out. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:33] TAPPER: Defiant and in denial. President Trump used his big rally in Phoenix last night to read verbatim, almost, his responses to the clashes in Charlottesville. And I say almost because there were a few key words that were missing, and they happened to be the ones that caused all the outrage in the first place.

The American people last night did not hear him blame, quote, many sides, for the hatred and violence or that he thought some, quote, very fine people, were standing amidst the Nazis and white supremacists marching with torches and chanting anti-Semitic and racist things.

No. Instead what they heard was a president trying to rewrite history.

For context, here's what the president had to say last night and what he said 10 days earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's what I said on Saturday, we're closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. This is me speaking. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. That's me speaking on Saturday.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Kind of an important omission. This morning the president tweeting, last night in Phoenix I read the things from my statements on Charlottesville that the fake news media didn't cover fairly. People got it.

I want to bring back the panel.

Mary Katharine, here's the thing. If he believes what he said on many sides, on many sides and there were very fine people marching alongside the Klan and the Nazis, then why is he trying to rewrite history? Why not just stand by what he said? And you're not a spokesperson for Mr. Trump, but I'm just wondering --

HAM: Thank you for clarifying.

TAPPER: Why the -- why the attempt to rewrite history? HAM: Because he's ticked off at the way it was covered and he's trying

to say, well, look, I did say all these things. Well, here's the problem. He said many things on many sides. And this is -- this is a characteristic --

TAPPER: On many sides. On many sides.

HAM: Right, this is a characteristic of Trump, which is -- the question is whether what he says that is on the good side of the ledger, totally eclipses, oops, everything that he said on the bad side, right? So he gives the first statement and then he gives a different, and I think more thorough statement later. Then that is eclipsed by the later press conference in which he says fine people were at a Nazi rally and should be commended for protesting quietly.

TAPPER: And the media has been unfair to them.

HAM: That wipes out --

TAPPER: Right.

HAM: All of the things you have said about racism being evil. And you have to understand that dynamic. Then we have the pretty good Afghanistan speech. Which, by the way, I think proves that he can get about 10 seconds of approval from the press. So he has a point on whether he's being treated fairly all the time, but he can, when he performs well, get some credit. And then the rally, which in many ways eclipses what happened with the Afghanistan speech. And this is going to be a pattern over and over and over again, as it has been up until now.

KAPUR: I think it's simpler than that. I think he just knows that attacking the media is going to get a lot of applause. He knows it's going to rile up the base. I think the media -- attacks on the media and the talk about the wall and immigration were the biggest applause lines of the speech. This is something that the media has covered pretty extensively for good reason and he used it.

DAVIS: I also think that this is, you know, it's sort of like his Twitter feed. If you're a Twitter follower of Donald Trump and a big supporter of his, you're going to look at his Twitter feed and pay a lot more attention to that than anything that any of us write or say on TV, here at CNN or anywhere else. And I think he was speaking to his people saying, this is what I said that you should care about. And low and behold, that's probably what that group of people and what his core supporters really do care about. And he doesn't see anything wrong with any of the subsequent statements that he made, which as Mary Katharine pointed out, really eclipsed even the heart of the initial sort of rehearsed words.

[12:20:21] And even though it's true that he can get, you know, decent press, like you said, if he sticks to the prompter, he doesn't like that Donald Trump. He likes him being himself. And he knows that his supporters like it when he is himself. And controversial or not, I think that that's basically the point here. TAPPER: Here's the problem, Michael, is that some of his supporters, and I'm not referring to most, and I'm certainly not referring to all, but some of his supporters are horrific, horrific people. Richard Spencer, for example, the white supremacist leader, tweeted last night as the president was speaking, quote, Trump has never denounced the alt-right, nor will he, hash tag arizonatrumprally.

That says quite a bit.

BENDER: Yes, I think a lot of times one of Trump's kind of gifts as a communicator here is that you can sort of see what you want to see in Donald Trump. And particularly with -- I mean, you know, it's going -- it does make it hard for Trump to say that this is all on the media for mischaracterizing an event, his version of events, or mischaracterizing his comments when that seems to be how, you know, the alt-right, the white nationalists are exactly interpreting it.

But, you know, this is also politics, right? I mean this is not new. You know, fact checking didn't get its start under the Trump presidency. It may have gotten, you know, a lot wider and --

TAPPER: An infusion (INAUDBILE).

BENDER: Yes, yes, yes. But, you know, politicians on both sides of the aisle, sitting members of Congress, these are -- you pick your facts that make your best argument. You know, the difference a lot of times is how much credibility you have in order to sort of pick and choose what facts you want to use.

HAM: Well, and I think he also has a talent for ending up actually where on some of these issues the American people end up. Which is to say when it comes to who to blame for political violence, the recent polling shows that like it's split, like 40 percent sort of agree with him. And even among Democrats that is the case, they don't believe it is just one group of people. And it is delusional nonsense that there was not some kind of political violence other than what was happening in this incident.

TAPPER: Of course. Of course.

HAM: But I do think commentators, and media coverage, and folks on the left can go too far in claiming that that is the case and it creates a situation where a lot of America goes, I don't know, that's not what I've seen in real life.

TAPPER: OK. Yes, and --

HAM: And that -- but that -- that is to -- that's where he ends up getting credit from folks.

KAPUR: That tweet you read, Jake, I think is precisely the problem, that Richard Spencer tweet, because it's the signals he's sending while he's technically checking the box on condemning that, right? He -- that signal was the first thing he said, the many sides thing, and then clearly he got a lot of criticism for that. Then he ended up saying, yes, I condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists. But those people read that as a dog whistle that he doesn't mean it.

TAPPER: The alt-right. The white supremacists, yes.

KAPUR: And that's exactly, I think, where the president is missing this part of the point. It's that, do people believe that ultimately that he means this, that he strongly does condemn it, or do they just think he's checking a box which does empower these forces.

HAM: Well, and with all the making fun and the cheap shots and the personal attacks on everyone, but frankly mostly within his party sometimes, throw some cheap shots at the Nazis.

TAPPER: Coming up next, if the president hopes to push his agenda through Congress, he needs a whole lot of help from the Senate majority leader. So why are they not even speaking with one another right now? Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:27:47] TAPPER: There is a new cold war between President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. They have not spoken in two weeks since a phone call ended in a screaming match with the president yelling obscenities. "The New York Times" reports that McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty over whether it may be too late to salvage the Trump presidency at all.

CNN"s senior congressional reporter Manu Raju joins us now with more.

And, Manu, what can you tell us about the current relationship between the president and the man he needs so much to get his legislation and his agenda through, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, this has always been a very uneasy alliance, Jake. These two men could not be more different stylistically.

But I -- what I'm told is that one issue in particular has irked the president. That is Russia. He went after Mitch McConnell in an August 9th phone call, I'm told by sources who were briefed on that call, about the Russia probe, saying that he wanted the majority leader to do more to protect him from these investigations that are happening on Capitol Hill, but also the Russia sanctions bill that Congress overwhelmingly passed and that the president reluctantly signed into law. I'm told that the president erupted about that issue, even dropped obscenities while speaking to Mitch McConnell.

They have not spoken since. But, Jake, as you know, he needs Mitch McConnell, particularly in this pivotal September session, when they're going to try to keep the government open, even though the president is threatening a shutdown right now, trying to raise the debt ceiling, and as well as those big ticket items, like tax reform and infrastructure.

They are going to have to get back on speaking terms. They have not spoken in two weeks, largely because of this tension over the Russia issue, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thanks so much.

Mike, I'm kind of surprised, I have to say, Leader McConnell, during the campaign, was far less out there than, say, Speaker Ryan was. Speaker Ryan withholding his endorsement for a month, expressing more serious reservations. McConnell much more quiet on the subject. And yet this relationship is really is worse one between the two.

BENDER: Yes, it kind of goes to show that the -- kind of the past is always the present for Trump. I mean that worked both ways. McConnell was critical of Trump during the campaign, and even at the start of the administration, but in his own very dry, subtle way that the White House picked up on, Trump picked up on, but Trump had a certain president for McConnell.

[12:30:01] He's an age peer, right? I mean he's roughly the same age. You know, he's had a long record of accomplishments. Trump admired his sort of -- his political acumen. He punched through Gorsuch.