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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Defiant Despite Backlash Over Charlottesville Comments. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 16, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TAPPER: Thank you so much for watching.
[17:00:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Breaking news. Without regret. Sources say President Trump has no regrets for his comments, equating racist hate groups with the demonstrators who turned out to oppose them. But his shocking stance has led former presidents, top lawmakers, the nation's military chiefs and even world leaders to speak out against racism and extremism.
Running for the exit. As top business executives quit his advisory councils in protest of his remarks, the president disbands those panels before any more CEOs can make a dash for the exit. What will the impact on the economy be?
"You magnified her." At an emotional memorial service, the parents of Charlottesville victim Heather Heyer plead with mourners to make a difference. Her mother saying that the attempt to silence her activist daughter only magnified her.
And what now? With the country convulsed by the president's shocking comments, and ugly words ripped open, who will provide the moral leadership to help America heal?
I am Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: There's growing fallout from President Trump's absolutely shocking remarks on the Charlottesville violence. He may have derailed his presidency when he went off the rails, blaming both sides for the violence, equating racist hate groups with those who turned out to oppose them.
Top administration officials were stunned by the president's comments, but the White House is insisting he was, quote, "entirely correct." And sources tell CNN the president is without regret.
White supremacists are cheering the president. But across the country, there's anger and dismay, and the president's own party has been thrown into turmoil. Both former presidents Bush issued a joint statement, saying America must always reject racial bigotry, anti- Semitism and hatred.
Key GOP lawmakers are calling out President Trump by name. The nation's top military commanders have condemned racism and extremism, and tonight a former CIA director is speaking out exclusively to CNN, saying President Trump is, quote, "putting our national security and our collective futures at grave risk."
After more CEOs today quit the president's business advisory councils over his Charlottesville comments, President Trump announced he's disbanding those panels. In all, nine top executives have walked out on the president.
And a memorial was held today in Charlottesville for Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car slammed into a group of counter-protesters. Her parents urged mourners to make a difference in the world around them.
A white nationalist suspect faces charges, including second-degree murder. Police are mum on any further arrests.
I'll talk with Democratic Congressman Andre Carson. And our correspondents, specialists and guests, they are standing by with full coverage of today's top stories.
Much of the country may have been rocked to its core by the president's remarks on Charlottesville, but he seems to be shrugging off the truly extraordinary wave of criticism. Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, what are you hearing?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Trump is back at his country club in Bedminster, dealing with the fallout of his latest comments on the violence in Charlottesville. So far the posture coming out of the White House tonight is defiance, no apologies. As one White House adviser told me there was nothing, quote, "disqualifying" about the president's comments.
ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump laid low, steering clear of the cameras, arriving back at his New Jersey golf club one day after his incendiary news conference on Charlottesville.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's blame on both sides.
ACOSTA: The president is said to have no regrets about his performance. Still. He's dealing with the consequences, announcing that he's shutting down two advisory boards due to defections from big business executives over his remarks, tweeting, "Rather than putting pressure on the business people of the manufacturing council and strategy and policy forum, I am ending both. Thank you all."
Top White House officials are backing the president, including Vice President Pence, who danced around a question about Trump's comments.
MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spoke at length about this heartbreaking situation on Sunday night in Columbia. And I stand with the president, and I stand by those words. ACOSTA: For now, aides to the president and key surrogates appear to
be sticking to these White House talking points that read, "The president was entirely correct. Both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately and bear some responsibility," an echo of the president's own words.
TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt about it either. And -- and if you reported it accurately, you would say.
ACOSTA (on camera): Sir, the neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest...
[17:05:05] TRUMP: Excuse me. You had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Other signs the White House is trying to ride out the storm: Chief of Staff John Kelly emerged from Trump Tower frustrated but still very much on the job. While the president promoted his longtime aide Hope Hicks to be his interim communications director. They'll be dealing with mounting outrage among Republicans in Congress, from GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, who issued a statement saying, "Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the party of Lincoln has a welcome mat for the David Dukes of the world." To Senator Cory Gardner.
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: Hatred, race, bigotry is responsible in Charlottesville, and it's unacceptable. The KKK, neo-Nazis, bigots, hatred, white supremacists, it's not acceptable. There's no moral equivalency in this. The president is wrong.
ACOSTA: But it's not clear GOP leaders are going to do much about it. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed their disappointment and not much more. Though one Republican source told CNN, "I think the president's ability to effectively govern is dwindling by the hour." Many in the party are still shell-shocked by the president's comments.
TRUMP: So this week it's Robert E. Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself where does it stop?
ACOSTA: With the president back at Bedminster, one Michigan Republican congressman offered one suggestion to Mr. Trump: Go back on vacation, tweeting, "I think America needs more unity and less divisiveness, meaning Donald Trump should focus more on golf and have less press conferences."
ACOSTA: The president won't be here in New Jersey much longer. He's still going to head to Camp David this weekend to meet with top aides on foreign policy matters, a reminder that the president, despite deep divisions he's created in the last few days still has to represent the U.S. when it comes to dealing with crises overseas.
And Wolf, getting back to some of these comments we're hearing from White House sources, earlier today I heard from one White House source who said there was nothing disqualifying about the president's comments. That's obviously an indication that they understand a lot of people in Washington would like to see the president go, but at this point that is a very low bar. He hasn't said or done anything disqualifying. That's essentially where the White House is standing tonight, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta joining us. Jim, thanks very much.
A memorial service was held today in Charlottesville, Virginia, for the woman who was killed when a car plowed through a group of counter- protesters. The suspect is being held on charges including second- degree murder.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's on the scene for us in Charlottesville right now. So Brian, what is the latest?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight top state officials from a U.S. senator to the mayor of Charlottesville are saying they need more help from the public in finding more perpetrators of the racist violence here on Saturday. They told us those comments following an emotionally wrenching memorial for the young woman killed on these streets.
SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF HEATHER HEYER: They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her.
TODD (voice-over): At the memorial service for Heather Heyer, her mother made a powerful plea for unity.
BRO: We are going to have our differences. We are going to be angry with each other, but let's channel that anger not into hate, not into violence, not into fear, but let's channel that difference, that anger into righteous action.
I'd rather have my child, but by golly, if I got to give her up, we're going to make it count.
TODD: Heather Heyer was killed on Saturday when a car mowed down a group of counter-protesters at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. President Trump did not attend the memorial service, only tweeting that Heyer was, quote, "a truly special young woman. She will be long remembered by all."
Senator Tim Kaine was in the packed auditorium and expressed his belief that he hopes the country can rise above this past weekend's chaos and violence.
SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: There's a group of people who have a bitter fantasy about the past; and they think the past is a place we should go back to. But we have news for them, and the news is we're not going back.
TODD: The scope of charges against James Fields, the man charged with Heyer's death, now the focus of the Justice Department.
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It can be 245, a civil rights violation, 1845, or 249, which is a hate crime, and there might be other charges that could be brought.
TODD: Meanwhile, there are growing questions tonight about whether police will make any further arrests beyond the five on Saturday.
(on camera): Can you update us on the investigation? How many arrests have been made since Saturday? Where are the police now in this?
MAYOR MICHAEL SIGNER (D), CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA: I'm going to have to refer you to the police for specific questions about -- about the operations and the investigation.
TODD (voice-over): Authorities have yet to make any arrests in this incident, caught on camera, where attackers armed with clubs and boards beat an African-American man on the ground. The victim was D'Andre Harris. Barely conscious, he stumbles away from the mob.
[17:10:10] D'ANDRE HARRIS, BEAT BY WHITE SUPREMACIST ATTACKERS: And I had to get eight staples in my head to seal it back up. I broke my wrist right here. I busted my lip. I chipped my tooth. I was losing so much blood, like, the people at the hospital told me I was lucky.
TODD: D'Andre Harris's friend, Vonzz Long, who was with him at the time, told us a group of white supremacists seemed to track them as they walked back to their car.
VONZZ LONG, FRIEND OF MAN ASSAULTED DURING PROTESTS: As we approached the garage out of nowhere, just chaotic. You see orange maces everywhere. It's like almost a hundred of those people, neo-Nazis, once again whatever you want to call them. They just started attacking everybody. At one point I'm crying. I mean, I see my best friend; he's nearly dying.
TODD: The police chief declined to give details when we pressed him repeatedly on the investigation. But four days after the violence, a city official has confirmed to CNN no additional arrests have been made.
TODD: Now one man who tonight says he fears arrest is a white supremacist named Christopher Cantwell. He was featured in a "VICE" documentary covering some of the violence last weekend, including that torch march on the UVA campus on Friday night.
Cantwell was also at the rally on Saturday, but tonight he seems to be in a different frame of mind. He posted a video late today in which he is seen crying and saying that he fears arrest. He fears that a warrant is out for his arrest. Take a listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL, WHITE SUPREMACIST: We have done everything in our power to keep this peaceful, you know? I know we talk a lot of (EXPLETIVE DELETED) on the Internet, right, but like literally Jason Kessler applied for a permit, like, months ago for this, OK? When they yanked our permit, we went to the ACLU; and we went to court, and we won. We've been coordinating with law enforcement the entire time. Every step of the way, we've tried to do the right thing. And they just won't stop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: We reached out to Charlottesville city officials to see if an arrest warrant is, indeed, out for Christopher Cantwell. They have not gotten back to us on that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks very much. Brian's in Charlottesville.
Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Thank you for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: The president insisted there were some very fine people among the protesters. He said many were simply there to express support for Confederate memorials, but the facts on the ground tell a very, very different story.
I want you to listen to one of the leaders of the rally, the same Christopher Caldwell [SIC] we just heard in Brian Todd's report, with a very, very different view expressed the other day to VICE News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CANTWELL: I'm trying to make myself more capable of violence. I'm here to spread ideas, talk, in the hopes that somebody more capable will come along and do that, somebody like Donald Trump, who does not give his daughter to a Jew.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So Donald Trump but, like, more racist?
CANTWELL: A lot more racist than Donald Trump. I don't think that you could feel about race the way I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Congressman. Christopher Cantwell. What's your reaction to what you just heard?
REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: It's disgusting. This kind of white supremacist ideology, mythology has been responsible for the enslavement of Africans in this country. It has been responsible for the killing of millions of Jewish brothers and sisters in Europe. It is destructive; it is toxic.
President Trump waited too long, and what he was doing in his response, delayed response, he was still dog whistling, Wolf. He was still low-key, co-signing the bigotry and the hatred that these groups promote.
And to hear what this person just said, to me solidifies and concretizes what we all know, and that is that there are still dangerous elements in our country. I've said over and over again, as someone who worked for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and counterterrorism, that white supremacist organizations specifically still pose the greatest threat to our internal security.
BLITZER: We've seen the reaction to the president's comments yesterday from various white supremacists, including the likes of David Duke and Richard Spencer. They feel emboldened by his comments. Do you believe the president of the United States is directly enabling them?
CARSON: I think he has fanned the flames. I think he has winked at them; he has blown kisses at them. He has made inflammatory remarks throughout his campaign. He has built an echo chamber in the White House of white supremacists, sympathizers and empathizers.
And I think the president has all but said explicitly, "I'm with you," but he doesn't have to say it so explicitly. He's held their hands throughout the campaign.
And I think his delayed response, again, is an indication that he fears being condemned by this group or even losing their support, but it's too little, too late, and I think he has shown who he really is.
BLITZER: Can the president say anything at this point to redeem himself?
CARSON: Well, it's almost like asking the emperor without clothes, can he put on clothes? I mean, he's shown us who he really is. I think it's unfortunate that we've gotten to this point.
But I think perhaps, Wolf, there's a silver lining here. We're seeing the activist community becoming emboldened. We're seeing Republicans who are taking a stand and saying, "Enough is enough." We're seeing white brothers and sisters stand in solidarity and condemn these actions. We want to see more. We have to see more.
But I think right now our country, in many parts, they're unifying in a very meaningful way, but more work has to be done.
BLITZER: Should the president have attended the memorial service for that young woman, the 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville? Should he have attended that memorial service today as an act of reconciliation and healing?
CARSON: Absolutely, absolutely. But I think that, of course, if he's in an environment where he's uncomfortable and not being praised, he won't attend. But I think it would have been a great demonstration of leadership for him to have attended.
BLITZER: The chiefs of the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, they've all issued their own statements condemning the hatred and the violence in Charlottesville. How surprising is it you -- is it to you, Congressman, that the top leadership of the American military, they feel compelled to speak out against racism, anti- Semitism, white supremacy in the year 2017?
CARSON: Well, I think they should speak out against white supremacy, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, anti-black sentiment, anti-Latino sentiment, anti-Arab sentiment. They should speak out against it. Because those elements are very real and still alive in our society, unfortunately.
BLITZER: But the fact that they've done it in the past few days; they've all issued these very strong statements, it underscores a serious problem that the country is going through right now. I believe you agree.
CARSON: Yes. I think that our country is going through something that is ugly; it's dark. I think the fears that a lot of Americans have had or the denial that a lot of Americans have had about notions of race, notions of religion, destructive mythologies that have been created throughout the centuries that have promoted one race over the other, I think we're finally seeing these mythologies and notions and philosophies being unearthed.
Unfortunately, we have a president who is supported by these same promoters of these destructive ideologies and philosophies. But the Founding Fathers, extremely complicated, sexist, slave holders, were very visionary, though, Wolf, in setting up three separate but equal branches of government, in anticipation of not having a tyrannical leader. So you have checks and balances. And I think what has to happen right now, the legislative branch, in a very real sense, has to become active and working in a bipartisan way to move our country forward during these very troubling times.
BLITZER: Very troubling times indeed. Congressman, I want you to stand by. You're a member of the House Intelligence Committee. We have much more to discuss, including a former CIA director now speaking out exclusively to CNN, saying President Trump is, quote, "putting our national security and our collective futures at grave risk." We'll be right back.
[17:23:34] BLITZER: Our breaking news: with the country and his own administration reeling from President Trump's shocking remarks about the Charlottesville, Virginia, violence, sources tell CNN that the president is, quote, "without regret."
We're back with Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, I want to share with you and our viewers a note I received last night from the former CIA director, John Brennan, right after our show. And let me put the words up on the screen.
"Wolf, just watched your interview with Senator Blumenthal when you mentioned that you lost all four of your grandparents to the unspeakable evil of Nazism. I just want to extend my sympathies, not only for their deaths but also to you and your family and countless others for the pain inflicted today by the despicable words of Donald Trump. Mr. Trump's words and the beliefs they reflect are a national disgrace, and all Americans of conscience need to repudiate his ugly and dangerous comments. If allowed to continue along this senseless path, Mr. Trump will do lasting harm to American society and to our standing in the world. By his words and his actions, Mr. Trump is putting our national security and our collective futures at grave risk." Signed John Brennan.
BLITZER: Very, very powerful words.
BLITZER: As a member of the Intelligence Committee, do you agree that the national security of the United States is now at risk?
CARSON: I think in many ways, yes. I mean, considering the fact that some of his strongest supporters are anti-Semitic. And you know what your family has had to endure.
[17:25:08] And I think globally speaking, I think that his -- his -- he has promoted himself to be a decisive leader. He promoted himself to be a bold leader, but it's clear that he is riddled with indecision, and his impulsivity, as I've said before, has in a way, crippled his ability to garner the kind of support, to boost morale in the administration.
I mean, I talk to folks in the State Department quite often. They talk about how the internal controls really aren't there and how morale is low; and how they're understaffed, and they're not getting the kind of support that's so necessary from the top.
And so I think as it relates to intel, he has been too cozy to Vladimir Putin. I think -- and I think that coziness has caused unease with the global community, many of our five-eye partners. And I think that his way of lashing out, of not being diplomatic, -- he thinks he's being bold. He loves being provocative. But that kind of provocation has limits, Wolf.
And I think Director Brennan, he's right. He's a veteran. He's skilled. I have great respect for him. I work with him. He sits on a panel. He has sat on a panel with me and Congressman Terri Sewell of Alabama in terms of recruiting more minorities in the IC space, and I think his instincts are right.
BLITZER: Are you surprised that a career intelligence would feel the need to weigh in on this specific issue in those very strong words at this point? CARSON: You know, Director Brennan is a man of very few words. He's
very wise, but I think for someone like him to come out and show support for you and your family and empathize, but also to make that kind of statement, it shows that he and others are concerned about the preservation of our democracy.
BLITZER: What can you and other lawmakers, Congressman, do to counteract this potential threat?
CARSON: I think that -- I think that, you know, the blessing is that you have committees like the Armed Services Committee, Transportation and Infrastructure, and of course Intelligence -- there are others -- who are probably some of the most -- they're some of the most bipartisan committees on the Hill. And the beauty lies in our ability to reach across the aisle and agree on national security issues, agree on -- agree on infrastructure issues. These are universal issues. These are issues that Democrats and Republicans generally agree on.
I think the blessing is that we have a separate but equal branch of government where we can put aside our differences, put aside this petty dialogue about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, and get to real work of job creation and protecting Americans.
BLITZER: Congressman Andre Carson, thanks so much for joining us.
CARSON: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you. And this important note to our viewers: We did reach out to Republican leaders throughout the day. They all, at least for now, they refused to join us, but the invitation is clearly still very much open.
We have much more coming up on the breaking news. Sources telling CNN President Trump is defiant and plunging ahead without regret amid the growing backlash over his response to the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. How high a political price will the president pay for saying things like this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our breaking news. Sources telling CNN President Trump remains defiant, despite the backlash over his response to the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
[17:33:27] The president's off-the-rails news conference, one person who has been to Trump Tower says the president is plunging forward, quote, "without regret."
Let's begin -- bring you our specialists to assess these developments. Chris Cillizza, you wrote an article for CNN.com which makes a very provocative assertion. Quote, "Donald Trump's insistence Tuesday that both sides were responsible for the violent protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, has turned what was a fumbling presidency into what now appears to be one on the verge of total collapse."
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. So it is provocative. But I would say that what you had from January 20 until this past weekend is a president and a White House that was committing a huge number of political errors, whether it was miscalculating the opposition to the health care repeal and replace in the Senate, whether it was some massive amounts of turnover he's had at high levels, was it the president himself, the things he says that caused self-inflicted wounds.
What I think you have now, post-Charlottesville, and what Donald Trump said about it Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, is a White House and a president who has lost the sort of -- any sense of the moral high ground that being president gives you.
Saying that this is a both sides issue forfeits your sort of moral leadership, which in moments like this, is what people look to a president -- Republican president, Democratic president -- for. Barack Obama's speech in Charleston after the shooting at the church. George W. Bush on the pile after September 11.
[17:35:08] There are moments in presidencies in which it is not Republican and Democrat. It is you are -- appeal to our better angels. You are the best of us, and you lead us and assure us things are going to be better.
When you abdicate that responsibility, and you don't only abdicate it. You essentially say, "No, this is just the same old politics," I think you are in a different place than simply saying, "Well, I'm surprised he didn't get health care repeal through."
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I also think that you're not able to get it back. So he -- let's assume, let's say Donald Trump were to come to his senses in some way and -- and address the country and address this forthrightly and correctly in a way that the country could actually rally around and find some solace in. Let -- in some alternate universe, let's say that that were to happen. I still think he would have a hard time sort of leading the country to a place of healing, because there would be so much distrust now.
So it's not just like you lose the moral authority. It is very, very difficult to get it back in any way.
And Wolf, what we hear today out of Trump Tower, that there are no regrets, that of course, is not surprising about Donald Trump. The guy doesn't regret anything, right? So that is not terribly surprising. But it now, even more so, demands that the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill and around the country, those that have not yet stepped up to actually address the president and take the president on here. The fact that he has no regrets over it, to me, makes the burden even bigger on them for them to step up and speak to this. ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, to Chris and
David's point, I talked to a Republican a couple of hours ago who's very plugged in, said he believes that Trump has done irreparable damage to the party and to his presidency just in the last four days, just in his handling of the situation. It's put the party into a sense of chaos about what the future holds for them and for their agenda.
Part of that is because Trump has already been perceived as being quite disconnected from any sort of legislative agenda. And people on the Hill are kind of thinking OK, so there can't be a day that goes by in which there isn't some sort of self-immolation happening from the White House. And it makes it seem as if it is impossible to get any big things done. People on the Hill believe that it is not possible to do really big things without the backing of a competent White House, beyond -- including the moral issues at hand here.
I think there are some basic competency issues that this entire episode really underscores that have left a lot of Republicans very, very worried.
CILLIZZA: I think it's -- just very quickly -- I think it's hard to just suddenly say, "OK. Here we go. Tax reform." You know, I mean, yes, they will try to do that, but I...
PHILLIP: But they know they cannot. For obvious reasons.
DON LEMON: For an administration and a president who...
BLITZER: Hold on. One at a time. Go ahead, Don.
LEMON: For an administration and a president who's so concerned about the credibility of his administration, the legitimacy of his president -- his presidency, no one has done more to undermine the president of the United States than the president of the United States.
Any time you have Robert E. Lee, Robert E. Lee's grandson, Robert E. Lee V, issuing a statement stronger than the president of the United States, you know something is wrong. His grandson released a statement today, Wolf, saying, "General Lee's life was about duty, honor and country. And at the end of the Civil War, he implored the nation to come together, to heal our wounds, and to move forward to become a more unified nation. He would never have tolerated the hateful words and violent actions of white supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis."
All day long on this network, I've been hearing one person after the other say this president is on an island. The question is when is his own party going to hold him to account and vote him off the island so that we can have some semblance of credibility in this country? That is a question right now. This president, as Carl Bernstein has been saying, his fitness to hold the office of presidency.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Respectfully, I think you're all wrong. I think...
LEMON: Of course you do. You're a contrarian.
TOOBIN: No, I'm not just a contrarian. Who won this election? Donald Trump won this election by being Donald Trump, who was precisely who he is as president.
LEMON: That doesn't mean, Jeffrey, his actions are right because he won the election.
TOOBIN: We're not talking about right and wrong here.
LEMON: Yes, we are. We're talking about right and wrong. We're talking about decency.
TOOBIN: We're talking about whether you can function as president of the United States, and he can certainly function, because the Republican Party is not going to abandon him.
Mitch McConnell said he was upset. You know, I'm upset when I can't find a good parking place. I mean, it is the mildest kind of rebuke.
Do you think Mitch McConnell is not going to fight for tax reform now? Do you think that the Republican Party is going to stop trying to disenfranchise African-Americans like it's doing all over the country, because Donald Trump said something bad?
[17:40:11] This is what the Republican Party stands for now, and Donald Trump won. And I don't think his support is going to change one bit because of this.
CHALIAN: His support has already changed. His support has already changed.
TOOBIN: How much?
CHALIAN: Over the course of the seven months of his presidency, his support has changed from what he arrived in office with on January 20 to the 34 percent he's at now. I think it's actually changed quite a bit.
LEMON: I think his support has changed. If you look at the CEOs today who have backed away from him. If you -- listen, the -- I think the recrimination from the Republican Party has been tepid at best. Because they have said, "OK, we must stand up against racism." Very few of them have actually used the president's name.
But I think, as you get further along in this, I think they will be emboldened. They might be emboldened to do that. Hopefully, they will be emboldened to do that, not necessarily to drive this president from office but to keep him to -- hold him to account.
TOOBIN: We would all -- we would all like to believe...
CILLIZZA: Jeff, just very quickly, I do think you have to -- you have to believe, if you look at history, you have to believe in the possible evolution of the parties. I don't think you can just assume that, because the Republican Party -- and you are right, you are absolutely right. The Republican Party, I counted nine times -- I'm sure there are more -- but nine times in the election where they insisted that they were finally done with Donald Trump, disavow, not campaigning with him. And yet, they still push his agenda.
But I do think that you have to hold the possibility, because history suggests it exists, that moments like this can have an effect, that just because the way things have been is not necessarily the way things will be. And I'm not saying it's going to change tomorrow. But I do think if you are a Republican elected official, you look at what has happened over the last four or five days with Donald Trump, and I think it gives you more than just pause. And I'm not saying it's all of them. And you're right. Politically speaking, there's still...
LEMON: I think -- I think Jeffrey is right. I think he's right. I think that -- listen, not I think, I know the Republican Party has trafficked in racism for a long time, and for keeping people -- keeping people apart.
But this, Chris, you're right, as well. Over the last five days has shown a spotlight on that. And I think if anything, in some odd way, this may bring about change or at least start to bring about change within the party.
PHILLIP: The question...
TOOBIN: I would like to live...
PHILLIP: The question is...
BLITZER: I was going to point out, 19 Republicans have specifically criticized him. We have them up on the screen right now. They've denounced the president by name.
PHILLIP: What are the options available to Republicans at this point? So you know, is the expectation that they might pressure him to resign?
Republicans are quick to remind you, this is not -- this is not a president who takes constructive criticism or any kind of criticism well. So I think most of them expect that's a dead end.
There are constitutional ways of dealing with a president that people don't like or don't want to be associated with. I think that's pretty much off the table. It would be hard to see a Republican Congress going there.
And otherwise, you know, there's the option of them just really pushing back vocally, which some of them have, and distancing themselves practically from Trump.
The problem is the Republican Party's agenda and Donald Trump's agenda are actually very, very similar. They are not that different. So what it's going to look like when they distance themselves from Trump might be exactly what it looks like now. That's what's so challenging about the situation.
CHALIAN: It has little to do with the legislative agenda. I think it has very little to do. I understand that there may be implications for that.
What we're talking about in this moment, though, to get back to where we started, we're talking about a leader who's abdicated this responsibility as leader. The one thing we all know, and I think we can all agree on, politics abhors a vacuum. And so what -- who now is going to step in? Because he said -- he's made it clear this is not a role that he is going to play. So who is going to play...
PHILLIP: Beyond the words...
BLITZER: Jeffrey. Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: You know, I would love to live in a country where being a racist was bad politics, but you know what? We may not live in that country. And that's how Donald Trump won the election. That's what he's counting on now.
And this idea that the country and the party is going to change from November seven months ago or now seven months since he's been president, nine months since the election, I think is -- I think is a fantasy.
I mean, you know, there has been no real -- look at his White House staff. Look at the number of resignations. Look at the press conference yesterday where you had an Asian-American, Elaine Chao, and two Jewish Americans...
LEMON: Standing next to him, flanking him.
TOOBIN: ... Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin, like, used as pathetic props as he -- as he embraces or justifies Nazis and the KKK. And where are their -- you know, Gary Cohn very courageously leaks out that he's distressed. Has he said a word publicly? Have any of these people said a word publicly? Has anyone quit? No. Because this is the president that they elected.
LEMON: But Jeffrey...
TOOBIN: He is not changing.
BLITZER: Hold it, Don. I want to read to you. This is a tweet Senator Chris Murphy...
[17:45:00] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: -- he's distressed. Has he said a word publicly? Have any of these people said a word publicly? Has anyone quit? No. Because this is the President that they elected --
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But, Jeffrey, I think it's --
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Hold on, Don.
TOOBIN: -- and he is not changing.
BLITZER: Don, I want to read to you --
BLITZER: This is a tweet. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut is a Democrat, reacting to some of the big CEOs that quit the councils that the President has put forward.
Senator Murphy tweeted this: White House staff have effectively been folded into the White supremacy propaganda operation. Your choice, stay or go.
LEMON: That was the point --
BLITZER: Your reaction?
LEMON: That is a point that I was going to make. I think there's a difference between the lawmakers and the people who are actually in the White House who are supporting this president. I understand that the lawmakers, if they -- you know, the people in Congress and the senators, they've got -- they got to keep their jobs, and they can only go so far.
But how -- listen, when you have something like this, what is going to be the breaking point? And as I said this morning on our air, on our "NEW DAY" show with Chris Cuomo, if you are in the White House and you are a member of this administration and you are supporting and you continue to support what this president is doing, you're also supporting racism tacitly. And so I do believe that.
I don't think that the bulk of Republicans and the Republican Party is going to change. I agree with Jeffrey Toobin. But those people who are in the White House, to back someone who came out yesterday and said what he said, I think, is just an abdication of duty and it's un- American.
BLITZER: Do you think, David Chalian, you know, anybody's going to quit, anybody in the White House is going to resign?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I don't know. We're -- we'll wait and see. And that's a fine question to ask, whether or not people who are working in the inner circle of Trump's closest advisers, if they feel they can no longer work for him. It's totally valid question to ask. Even if they quit -- this is where I think -- I don't think anybody here is predicting change. I don't think any -- I think we're trying to --
CHALIAN: -- expose what is unacceptable.
CHALIAN: And so if these advisers want to stay, they should be called out and exposed for doing so.
TOOBIN: That's right.
CHALIAN: But I don't anybody here expects dramatic change.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's more breaking news we're following. We'll have much more on President Trump's reaction to the violence in Charlottesville, the backlash over his response as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest. Because you know -- I don't know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn't have a permit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:52:02] BLITZER: In just a few minutes, we'll have the very latest from Charlottesville, Virginia and the ferocious criticism of President Trump's incendiary remarks about the racist demonstrators and the people who stood up against them. The President's reaction is even topic number one on the late night talk shows. Watch this.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Even though many criticized how long it took, the President knew the right thing was to make a statement on Monday, be clear about who was to blame, and then move on to the people's business. I'm just kidding.
JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": The President is completely unhinged. The wheels are off the wagon and hurtling towards the moon right now.
TRUMP: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other. But there is another side. I think there is blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don't have any doubt about it either.
COLBERT: The only thing I'm doubting right now is whether you're still going to be president by Friday because --
(APPLAUSE) JAMES CORDEN, HOST, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN": Trump is the guy that walks out of "Star Wars" thinking they didn't street to blow up the Death Star. There was blame on both sides.
COLBERT: It's just like D-day. Remember, D-day. Two sides, allies and the Nazis. There was a lot of violence on both sides, OK.
COLBERT: Ruined a beautiful beach.
CORDEN: Apparently, David Duke was so grateful he even sent Trump one of those hatable arrangements.
TRUMP: Was George Washington a slave owner?
TRUMP: So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down -- excuse me? Are we going to take down -- are we going to take down statues to George Washington?
COLBERT: Spoken like a guy who is suspiciously worried that racist presidents don't get statues any more.
TRUMP: I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It's in Charlottesville.
KIMMEL: He can't resist a plug. He just can't.
KIMMEL: My wine is fantastic. Especially the White.
KIMMEL: There are some very fine bottles.
TRUMP: I don't know if you know. They had a permit. The other group didn't have a permit.
COLBERT: Folks, you got to give it to the Nazis. They always do their paperwork.
TRUMP: Is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?
SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": Where does it stop? Buddy, we have been asking ourselves that question since January.
BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have more on the breaking news. Despite a chorus of outrage, sources say President Trump is without regret for comments blaming both racist hate groups and the counter protesters for the deadly violence in Charlottesville.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[17:54:37] TRUMP: You had many people in that group, other than neo- Nazis and White nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Dividing the country. As President Trump faces a growing backlash over his newest remarks about Charlottesville, we're told he is defiant and has no regrets. Has he lost touch with his party and the nation?
Everything harder now. White House officials blindsided by the President's rant now facing an even more difficult fight to move his agenda forward. We're going to tell you what we're hearing from insiders about the tensions within the Trump team.
[17:59:55] Executives revolt. A slew of business leaders stand up to the President by bowing out as members of his advisory councils. Has Mr. Trump lost the confidence of corporate America?