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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With New York Congresswoman Kathleen Rice; Interview With Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro; Trump Bluffing on North Korea?; Terror in Barcelona; Bannon: No Military Solution on North Korea, "They Got Us". Aired 6-7p ET
Aired August 17, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump tweets support for Confederate monuments, diving into racially charged controversy and demanding focus from his outrageous remarks about the violence in Charlottesville.
Tonight, another curve ball, as the president promotes a debunked legend.
And revealing strategy. The president's chief strategist declares there is no military solution to the North Korea nuclear threat. Is Steve Bannon publicly admitting that President Trump's fire and fury was just bluster?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We are following breaking news on a deadly new terror attack and a manhunt under way right now.
A van mowing down pedestrians in a popular tourist area racing down the street at nearly 50 miles an hour, screaming victims unable to get away. Officials in Barcelona, Spain, say 13 people have been killed, more than 100 injured.
ISIS is claiming the attackers are soldiers of the Islamic State.
Also tonight, the driver of the van still on the loose and police are searching for him this hour. Police also say two other suspects have been arrested, one from Morocco and the other from a Spanish enclave in Africa.
Also breaking, President Trump is condemning the Barcelona attack and attempting to sound tough on terror by citing a debunked version about General John Pershing from more than 100 years ago in a new round of tweets.
He also denounced the removal of Confederate monuments. The president inflaming a racially charged issue in an apparent effort to change the subject from his widely criticized remarks about the violence in Charlottesville.
In another attempt at deflection, sources say the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, knew that a controversial interview would divert attention from criticism of Mr. Trump. Among other things, Bannon is quoted as saying -- and I'm quoting him now -- "There is no military solution to North Korea's nuclear threat," despite the president's warning of fire and fury.
This hour, I will get reaction to the breaking stories from two members of key committees in Congress, Democrats Joaquin Castro and Kathleen Rice. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's get some more on the terror attack and the unfolding investigation.
CNN's Tom Foreman is standing by with the very latest -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this investigation is just exploding in all directions as authorities there try to make sense of how this peaceful avenue on a peaceful boulevard exploded into horror.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Police and rescue squads rushing to the scene, searching for the terrorists, dozens of people on the ground, victims of the ferocious attack and those trying to help.
This was the horrific scene just moments after witnesses say a white man turned down Las Ramblas, a popular pedestrian walkway in the Catalan capital jammed with restaurants, shops, and tourists from all over the world.
According to eyewitnesses, the van raced along at close to 50 miles an hour, clearly targeting people for a third-of-a-mile.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Children and everything. Mothers and small children dead.
SUSAN MACLEAN, EYEWITNESS: All of the sudden, there was this tidal wave of people running towards us. And they were hysterical. It wasn't just a small number. It was a large number of people. Children were screaming. There was clearly a lot of distress.
FOREMAN: The panicked rush for safety had local police at one point referring to a mass trampling. And it wasn't over yet.
When the van finally crashed, other witnesses say two armed men jumped out. U.S. officials say local authorities believe the men were trying to reach a getaway vehicle, but instead ran into a restaurant.
JOHN BOFILL, EYEWITNESS: The police were saying that, go away, there's like an armed man. Run away, because you cannot be here.
FOREMAN: Amid the confusion, blood, shock, and suffering, a few witnesses reporting hearing shots. And as police led some to safety, others were told they had to stay put and await evacuation, even as the investigation, the manhunt, and the agony roared around them.
FOREMAN: And the confusion continues.
We keep getting mixed messages from authorities about whether or not there is some possible wider cell there, about other events that have happened in and around this which might subject other people being complicit in it.
We don't know answers to those. We don't even know if anything really happened in the restaurant. We know there wasn't a standoff. We don't know if there was gunfire, even though some people said they heard it.
The simple bottom line here, Wolf, is that the questions are multiplying faster than the answers so far. The authorities are trying to play catchup.
BLITZER: Yes, clearly, this investigation is only just beginning and the van driver apparently still very much on the loose.
FOREMAN: Absolutely. No question.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Tom Foreman reporting.
Let's bring in our CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank.
Paul, first of all, what is the latest you are hearing? I know you have good sources over there in Europe. What is the latest you are hearing about the terror investigation?
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, priority number one for investigators is to find the perpetrator.
There is a big manhunt going on the Barcelona, the broader Catalonian region right now to find the perpetrator, the person responsible for the attack, for driving this van into the crowd. They are believed to still be at large.
The other facet of this is that there does now appear to be a broader conspiracy at play. There were two people, additional people, arrested by authorities, and the night before there was this explosion in a residence in the local area, a very forceful explosion that killed one person and injured another person, raising the possibility that people may have been experimenting or trying to make a bomb and maybe moved to plan B in terms of a ramming attack.
There are also reports in the Spanish media of another person they suspect could have been involved has been found dead. Talking perhaps of a terrorist cell with up to half-a-dozen people being involved here, potentially, given all the details that are coming in right now.
This is a very, very serious case, indeed, serious because of the loss of life, but serious as well because of the potential for more bloodshed in the hours ahead. They're trying to wrap up this terrorist cell before they can strike again.
Everything we have seen so far suggests this is an absolutely merciless group. Are they connected to ISIS? Well, ISIS are claiming that, but we don't know that yet at this point, because ISIS have provided no proof, but certainly the M.O. here in this attack is right out of the ISIS playbook, exactly what they call on their recruits, their sympathizers in Europe to do.
It comes at a time of significant concern in Spain about the terrorist threat and also in Barcelona. Just a few months ago, counterterrorism police swooped down and arrested nine people in Barcelona. And in April, that cell they believe was connected to the Brussels terror attack cell, the ISIS cell which carried out the Brussels attack.
For some time, they have been worried about the threat to Barcelona and worried that cells may move forward. In that past case in April, they believe they were not specifically launching any kind of plot against the city. But this is a surprise to nobody within Spanish counterterrorism that this has happened.
BLITZER: They believe, as you point out, that the explosion the night before was directly connected to those involved in the van -- in the van going into that crowd of people? They think there is a direct connection there?
CRUICKSHANK: They were crystal clear on that. They said they do believe there is a connection between this house explosion and the terrorist attack the next day, a very forceful house explosion.
They did not make clear what caused the explosion. But houses don't just sort of go up in a big explosion for no reason. One possibility is that they were trying to create some kind of explosive device, perhaps something went wrong, and they lost some of their people and moved to plan B.
But investigators are trying to figure this all out right now. But this does not seem to be a kind of one guy kind of terror attack. This seems to be a broader cell, a broader conspiracy potentially connected back to ISIS. Are they going to offer more proof, ISIS, in the hours ahead that they were responsible in some kind of way? We will have to wait and see.
BLITZER: Paul, there are reports and you are familiar with them that nine people were arrested in Spain back in April connected apparently to the Brussels terror attack.
So are there strong terror networks working right now within Spain? We know they are working in France and Belgium and the U.K. What about Spain?
CRUICKSHANK: Yes, there are.
And, in fact, that was the very same arrest that I was just referring to in Barcelona. There have been about 200 arrests over the past few years in Spain linked to counterterrorism investigations.
Many of the threats have been people working in Spain logistically to help others elsewhere in Europe to further ISIS' agenda. They have also been concerned about people traveling to Syria and Iraq. More than 100 Spaniards, Spanish residents have made the trip to join ISIS and other terror groups there.
And that's actually a much lower number, Wolf, than the number that have traveled from Britain and France and Germany, where almost 1,000 have traveled from each of those countries.
So, the threat is not as acute as in some of these other countries in Spain. Spain hasn't been so much in the ISIS crosshairs because it has not been part of this anti-ISIS coalition in the same way in terms of launching airstrikes.
But if you look at the target today, Las Ramblas, that is a very international target. There would have been Americans, Dutch, French, Brits, Germans and others who have been on that street enjoying a day in this wonderful city in Catalonia. And so this was an attack on the international community, not just against Spain, Wolf.
BLITZER: Paul Cruickshank, thanks very much.
I want to bring in Peter Bergen, our national security analyst.
Peter, as you know, ISIS has been losing a lot of ground in Iraq and Syria. The caliphate, as it's called, that seems to be crumbling right now, although they are still there. But there has always been fear that as they lose ground in Iraq and Syria, they are going to step up terror activities elsewhere.
Is this what we saw in Spain today, a reaction to that?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, we don't know because we don't know who carried out the attack. ISIS has claimed it and used the formulation of soldiers of the caliphate.
That is a formulation they have used when they haven't necessarily trained the people involved, but believe that they are inspired by ISIS. So -- and also, of course, there's no independent corroboration of their claim.
That said, there has been a lot of concern about returning so-called foreign fighters; 7,000 Europeans have gone to fight with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But of late, most of those people are getting killed in place in places like Mosul and Raqqa.
We have had 271 Frenchmen return from Iraq to Syria, according to the French government, just who made the statement in July. That is more than the total number of Spaniards who have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria, which as Paul pointed out is in the sort of 135 range.
So, relatively small number of Spaniards have gone to fight. In fact, this is somewhat surprising, in the sense that we haven't had a jihadist terror attack in Spain since 2004, which was the al Qaeda- linked, -inspired attack on the Madrid commuter trains that killed 191 people.
Spain has been somewhat immune to the kind of plague of violence that we have seen in France and in Belgium and Britain either inspired by ISIS or directed by ISIS.
Now, I will say these vehicle attacks, this is the 14th vehicle attack that we have had in the West since 2014. And terrorists, much like school shooters, learn from other incidents. And the thing about a vehicle attack, of course, it requires no special training and it's very hard to deter.
And, unfortunately, now we have seen 128 victims of these attacks just in the last three years, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, you are absolutely right. There's no special training simply to drive a vehicle into a crowd of innocent people.
There is some specialized training if you are able escape from that and do a getaway. It looks like there was some sort of escape plan in this particular terror attack.
Peter, I want you to stand by. We're going to get back to you.
But I want to bring in Congressman Joaquin Castro. He's a Democrat on the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, we know that ISIS has claimed that these terrorists were what they call soldiers of the Islamic State. You're on the Intelligence Committee. What are you hearing about who carried out this attack, to what degree ISIS was directly involved in planning and executing it?
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, obviously, since it just happened so recently, it is hard to say conclusively right now whether ISIS is responsible.
But it is consistent with their practices of trying to inspire what we call lone wolf attacks, not only in Europe, but in the United States, inspiring people mostly through the Internet and social media, to take up the cause of ISIS and other terrorist groups.
And this is a phenomenon really of the last 10 years or so, when social media has really come into full bloom and people who are not directly in the Middle East or North Africa or somewhere else where a terrorist group exists or is based can still be inspired by their ideology and their ideas and carry out attacks in their own homelands.
BLITZER: As you know, ISIS has told its supporters out there through social media on the Internet if you don't have a gun, get a bomb, you don't have a bomb, get a knife, you don't have a knife, get a car, get a vehicle and kill these civilians or infidels, as they call them.
This certainly isn't the first time they have used a vehicle to attack civilians in a European city, Congressman. How difficult is it, though, to predict and prevent this kind of terrorism?
CASTRO: This is one of the most, if not the most difficult kind of terrorist act to prevent, because it doesn't take a lot of planning. It doesn't require a lot of coordination with other people that can be picked up by human intelligence or signals intelligence.
All it requires is somebody to go on the Internet on their own time, in their own -- the privacy of their own home, and decide that they are going to carry out a terrorist act.
And we don't know exactly whether that is the case here. But it sure looks like a lot of similar attacks that have happened throughout Europe and in the United States.
BLITZER: Soon after the attack, Congressman, the president tweeted this. He said: "Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more radical Islamic terror for 35 years."
He was recycling a debunked anecdote that he used to tell out on the campaign trail a lot, describing an incident where General Pershing supposedly used bullets dipped in pig's blood to kill Muslim terrorists during the aftermath of the Philippine-American War.
What is your reaction, Congressman, to the president spreading this kind of misinformation so soon after this latest terror attack?
CASTRO: It's not helpful at all.
In fact, it's just very odd for the president of the United States to be getting on Twitter and spreading a myth about General Pershing and one that has been debunked, but especially to do it on the same day of the attack.
It is behavior, Wolf, that I can't explain and I know millions of other Americans have struggled to explain.
BLITZER: The former national security adviser to President Obama, Ben Rhodes, a man I assume you know, he tweeted this. He said: "Trump is using made-up events to support atrocities against Muslims. He is doing grave damage to U.S. standing literally and seriously."
Do you share, Congressman, that concern?
CASTRO: A big part of Donald Trump's political pitch has to do with fear-mongering and making Americans afraid of other people, whether it's immigrants or Muslims or any other group.
That is a big part of his political pitch.
BLITZER: Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, thanks for joining us.
CASTRO: Thank you. BLITZER: Coming up, I will talk more about the terror in Spain with
another key member of the House Homeland Security Committee. What is Congresswoman Kathleen Rice learning about the attack? She is standing by.
And we will also break down the latest round of jaw-dropping tweets by President Trump. How far will he go to take the focus away from his off-the-rails remarks earlier this week?
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news, a terror manhunt unfolding right now, police searching for driver in a van attack in a busy tourist in Barcelona, Spain.
At least 13 people are dead, more than 100 injured. ISIS is claiming the attackers are -- quote -- "soldiers of the Islamic State."
Joining us now, Representative Kathleen Rice. She's a Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.
Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D), NEW YORK: Thank you for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: Here is an issue.
As we saw in Charlottesville, Virginia, vehicular attacks, terror attacks are, unfortunately, extremely difficult to predict and prevent. Is there anything more that can be done to stop them here in the United States? And you are on the Homeland Security Committee.
RICE: We deal with this issue and we try to figure out ways to address this growing problem.
And it really has to do, Wolf, with the fact that people are being drawn into the terrorist fight over the Internet, in the dark Web, and they are being lured into committing crimes like this in ways that are very difficult to detect.
They are not -- they don't require a lot of people. It just takes one person with the right mind-set who is being indoctrinated by terrorists to go out and commit an act with a car. How hard is it to get your hands on a car and to inflict massive damage like we saw in Barcelona today and in Charlottesville?
It's horrible. But, look, the key to all of this is, if you see something, say something, because most times it's the people who are closest to you who know if you are being radicalized or if you are susceptible to this kind of indoctrination.
BLITZER: We don't know yet, Congresswoman, if this attack was directly orchestrated, organized by ISIS. These attackers could have simply been inspired by the ISIS message. Do you believe that so-called self-radicalized attackers pose
potentially the greatest challenge for counterterrorism authorities?
RICE: They certainly are.
And that is because they are very difficult to detect. They don't -- they are not meeting in a public place and planning these terrorist attacks. Very often, they are difficult to detect by investigative measures that other terrorists acts are susceptible to.
This is just one individual sitting home in front of a computer or communicating with someone in a far-off land or nearby about wanting to get involved and do something and take an action like this.
So, it is really difficult to detect. And, again, it goes back to what we talk a lot about in terms of certainly here in the NYPD in the aftermath of 9/11. If you see something, say something, because the people that are closest to those who are vulnerable to this kind of indoctrination are the ones that have information that could possibly allow law enforcement to stop this from happening.
BLITZER: Yes, it looks like this particular terror attack was more than just one individual. Two others already have been arrested.
They are looking for the driver. There seems to have been an explosion the night before in a house connected to this particular terror attack. So, it looks more than likely that it wasn't just this one individual.
As you know, Congresswoman, President Trump seems to be increasingly isolated within his own Republican Party right now. The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker, he told reporters today -- and I'm quoting him -- "The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the confidence that he needs to be successful" -- close quote.
Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina told VICE News that the president compromised his moral authority with the reaction to the Charlottesville attack.
Do you worry, Congresswoman, that the president is now losing that moral authority of his office?
RICE: Yes, I do.
If you look at the reaction -- his reaction to the Charlottesville incident, and if you look at just the two tweets that he did today regarding the Barcelona incident, the first one, you thought, wow, that is an appropriate response for the president of the United States.
And then, within a short period of time, he puts out another tweet that contains provably false information that is meant to do nothing but incite fear with people, and also, even more damaging, to make our allies question the resolve of this administration and our country in fighting the scourge of terrorism.
And that is where he is abdicating his moral authority. And he does it in the form of tweets. He says one thing one minute and another the next. And what we need is a consistent, clear voice to our allies and our foes alike that we are united with our allies in fighting this terrorism and we are going to do it together.
We need to build alliances and work together. And it simply makes it that much more difficult when you have the president of the United States being so inconsistent in his response to tragedies like this.
BLITZER: So, what happens -- what has to happen now, not just Democrats, but a whole bunch of Republicans now expressing their concern the president is losing moral authority, confidence right now?
So, what should be done? What can you do about this?
RICE: I think the job of -- at least for me. I'm a member of Congress, but I'm also an American.
And I think that when we are getting such divisive messages from the president of the United States, especially in his messaging and his comments regarding the tragedy in Charlottesville, what his message says is, I want this country to be divided.
He is not a uniter. He's not trying to bring people together. He's not trying to unite this country. His focus, it seems -- and we don't know what the motivation is as of this moment -- to divide people, to get people angry at each other and fearful of each other.
What we need to do in Congress on both sides of the aisle -- this is not a political issue for Democrats or Republicans. But as elected representatives in this country, we have to put all of that aside and fill that vacuum of moral authority that the president has left.
We have the ability to do it, Wolf. I know a lot of people in Washington, most people in Washington, my colleagues, are well- intentioned. They want to work together. They want to get things done.
And we will do it with or without the leadership of the president of the United States. And that's what we need to get back to doing in September, when we go back to D.C.
BLITZER: Representative Kathleen Rice of New York, thanks so much for joining us.
RICE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, stand by for more on the breaking news.
We are following the terror investigation and the search for more suspects in that deadly Barcelona attack.
Plus, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon's strikingly candid remarks, seemingly undercutting President Trump on North Korea. Were his words a blunder or were they a ploy?
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. A terrorist on the loose right now. Police say the driver in a deadly van attack escaped and a manhunt is underway at this hour. At least 13 people are dead in the attack in Barcelona, Spain. More than 100 others are injured. ISIS is claiming attackers are soldiers of the Islamic State.
[18:34:28] Let's bring in our analysts and specialists. And Peter Bergen, help us make some sense of what's going on in Spain right now. It looks like more than just one individual was involved in this attack.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It does. But I think the key thing is the claim by ISIS that these are soldiers of the caliphate. That's the same claim that they made after the Orlando attack. There, 49 people were killed by Omar Mateen in the nightclub. That doesn't mean that ISIS necessarily directed or trained or financed or really had anything operational to do with the attack. It means simply, in their verbiage, that they believe they inspired the attack. Now, there's no independent proof of that, but that is certainly a plausible scenario.
BLITZER: For their own propaganda purposes, it makes sense to claim that they were responsible for that.
BERGEN: Right, and they've done it repeatedly. And most of their claims are actually accurate. Some have been bogus. This one seems quite plausible given the scale of the attack, the nature of the attack. But we'll see. We still don't know yet.
BLITZER: Brianna, interested to get your analysis of the president's tweet. Shortly after the attack he tweeted this. He recycled a debunked legend. He said, "Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more radical Islamic terror for 35 years."
Talking about the supposed General Pershing notion of using blood, pig's blood on the bullets to kill Islamic terrorists in the Philippines. Historians say it's simply not true.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's no proof that it's true. I mean, how many ways can we say that it's not true? There's a number. It's been completely debunked. It's been debunked for some time. And it's not the first time that Donald Trump has actually used it. He used it as a candidate.
But I think it just goes to what we know about Donald Trump, which is that it's not about whether it's true. He doesn't care about that. It's about whether it's of use to him.
But what's significant here, I think, is that you saw him jumping to some sort of conclusion through this tweet and clearly what he thinks about this, which is that what happened in Spain was radical Islamic terrorism. And he jumped to that conclusion right away. Even if indications were going in that direction, he was -- he puts his foot on the gas when it comes to making conclusions about that.
At the same time, when he said in his press conference about Charlottesville, he didn't want to jump to conclusions about what had happened there. So now he's actually set himself up in this situation where he'll jump to conclusions if it's radical Islamic terrorism or seems to be going in that direction, but not if it's white supremacists. And that's really a problem that speaks volumes for the president.
BLITZER: What does it say, Mark Preston, about his credibility? The credibility. There's a credibility crisis at the White House right now when he spreads this kind of disinformation.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And one of the most famous phrases that he uses very often is "Believe me." And he'll say it multiple times. Anybody that says "Believe me" once, twice, three times, you may want to consider believing them and take a step back and try to find out the facts yourself.
I would argue that there's been a credibility crisis since day one, ever since he sent Sean Spicer out there day two, actually, to complain about the crowd size of people at his inauguration.
The problem is, is that the American people are looking for a leader. And right now he's showing very little leadership. The Republican Party is looking for a leader. He's showing his party very little leadership. And if you are a foreign leader and you are trying to do business with Donald Trump, can you trust Donald Trump?
BLITZER: This kind of, you know, pretty inflammatory language, David Swerdlick, what does it do to the cooperation the U.S. is seeking from many of these majority Muslim nations who are working with the U.S. to fight ISIS, al Qaeda and other terror organization?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, Wolf. President Trump reaches in these moments for whatever statement makes him look like the strong man, the tough guy, not necessarily the guy who's going to bring people and allies together. And that is the tendency, and that's what you see in those tweets.
What he doesn't seem to have either gotten his hands around or just has brushed aside is that both President Bush and President Obama took great pains not to ratchet their rhetoric to make this seem like a war of civilizations or a holy war but simply a problem -- either a military or an intelligence problem that we had to address and solve and attack, but not to inflame allies or enemies.
BLITZER: Bianna, I'm anxious to get your thoughts.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, he not only risks weakening his leadership here in the U.S. domestically but, obviously, internationally, as well.
Of course, this comes just a day after leaders from around the world -- the E.U., Germany, France, the Middle East -- denounced what the president said about white supremacists. And today we're hearing from these same leaders denouncing the terror that we're seeing in Spain.
It seems as though many of them are circumventing or just not listening to what the president is saying. I mean, don't get me wrong. I'm sure our countries are still sharing intelligence gathering and what have you. But when it comes to the president's words, at least publicly, it seems to be weakening its global status that traditionally has always been with the president of the United States in times like these.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around for a moment. We're getting some more about the president's latest tweets. I want to bring in our White House correspondent Sara Murray.
Sara, we haven't seen the president today; no public events, at least not yet, he's not over with. But we did hear from him a lot on Twitter.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president did have plenty to say on Twitter. And he's really found himself on a political island ever since he made those comments equating neo-Nazis with the people who showed up to protest against them.
But today President Trump is lashing out, and he's taking it out on members of his own party.
[18:40:10] MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump, already isolated after his controversial comments about Charlottesville, is driving the wedge even further.
Today Trump cheered on a challenger to Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a Trump critic, tweeting, "Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is weak on boarders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He's toxic."
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Can you see me?
MURRAY: And he took aim at South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, saying, "Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists and people like Ms. Heyer. Such a disgusting lie. He just can't forget his election trouncing. The people of South Carolina will remember."
But Trump has suggested there's little difference between white supremacists and liberal protesters.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's blame on both sides, you look at -- you look at both sides, I think there's blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it.
MURRAY: Today, hidden from view, but active on Twitter, Trump fanned the flames of debate over the civil war and white identity politics. Turning the argument away from his own comments, the president is
embracing statues commemorating the confederacy: "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can't change history. But you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson -- who's next? Washington? Jefferson? So foolish. The beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns, and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced."
The president's apparent embrace of Confederate history and culture comes less than 24 hours after his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, told a reporter for "The American Prospect," "The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got them. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats."
Bannon, the former editor of the right-wing website Breitbart, also downplayed his role in elevating the far right, saying, "Ethno- nationalism, it's losers. It's a fringe element." And adding, "These guys are a collection of clowns."
The majority of Americans, 55 percent, said they disapproved of the president's response to Charlottesville, according to a new CBS News poll. But among Republicans, the reaction was flipped. Sixty-seven percent said they approved of the president's response. Just 22 percent said they disapproved.
In one of the sharpest criticisms of Trump yet, GOP Senator Bob Corker said energizing the base isn't an excuse for fueling polarization and called for radical changes in the White House.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has not yet -- has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.
MURRAY: Now on top of questioning the president's competence, Senator Corker also suggested the president doesn't understand the character of this nation. Pretty stunning criticism coming from someone who has been an ally to Trump and who was even under consideration at one point to be his vice president -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sara. Thank you. Sara Murray reporting for us. Let's get back to our analysts.
You know, Mark Preston, it wasn't just Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who raised questions about the stability, the competence of the president to be successful, but listen to Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. Republican senator on the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am not going to defend the indefensible. I'm not here to do that. I'm here to be clear and to be concise and succinct. His comments on Monday were strong. His comments on Tuesday started erasing the comments that were strong.
What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority. That moral authority is compromised when Tuesday happens. There's no question about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How remarkable, Mark, is it for a Republican president to receive this kind of criticism from fellow Republican senators?
PRESTON: I've never seen, and I've spent a lot of times covering Capitol Hill. I've never seen anything like this in my life, quite frankly.
In many ways, maybe it's showing us that Donald Trump really is not a Republican. Maybe Donald Trump is Donald Trump, and he used the Republican Party as the vessel for him, you know, to get to the White House.
You know, the fact that Corker said he's not yet able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he really needs, that's really, really, really, really damning. And this is what's going to happen. A business lobbyist sent me a text last night, Wolf, that said, "Tax reform, no. Infrastructure, not going to happen. Government shutdown, maybe. Sell your stocks." This is a business lobbyist that needs all these things to happen. He's in a world of hurt.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The Dow Jones today dropped a significant number as well.
You know, Brianna, he started the day earlier by tweeting some attacks against Lindsey Graham, Republican senator from South Carolina (AUDIO GAP) from Arizona. Is the president growing increasingly isolated from his own party?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He is and he wasn't particularly close to them to begin, right? So, to begin with. When he came into the White House you would hear Republicans and they even knew that they had this challenge of dealing with Donald Trump as the president but they said basically, OK, we're going to put our heads down. We're going to control what we can control. We're going to find the places where we overlap with him. He is not Hillary Clinton. We have a chance to do some things here.
But now, they're moving away I think from this idea of how can we propel the agenda with Donald Trump as the president because that's pretty short sighted. At this point, they are starting to grapple with this idea that he could be doing tremendous lasting damage to the party brand. You mentioned, Mark, maybe he is not a Republican. I mean, they would argue he is not, when you look at, he's not a conservative in the way that they believe that he should be.
And now, they are trying to I think distance from him and make that apparent, because this isn't just about what is going to happen in the next couple of years.
BLITZER: David Swerdlick, take a look at the covers of three important magazines that were just released today. We put up them on the screen, "The Economist", "The New Yorker", "TIME" magazine. Look at those covers. It is "TIME" magazine, "Hate in America". You can see the other two.
This is really -- it really underscores a major uphill struggle that the president has right now.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it was striking, Wolf. And here's the thing. Any American president would have, should have done more than -- or said more than President Trump did this week and said it with more passion and with more conviction than President Trump made all of his collective remarks this week.
When you're the president who sort of rode to popularity and when you were the candidate who insulted judge, a federal judge, Gonzalo Curiel, when you are the president who said, you know, you can list off any number of his other statements I won't -- we would be here all day if we listed them off. You have to even do more to convince people that you want to be the leader of all Americans. Otherwise, there's going to be nearly impossible to get that credibility back.
BLITZER: Yes, Bianna, let me put those covers back up on the screen, those three major magazines. "The Economist", "The New Yorker", "TIME" magazine. You look at those images there and it is so, so stark.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: You look at the images and remind yourself that it's 2017. Look, Donald Trump was never Republicans or business community cup of tea going into this administration. But having said that, many of them thought that they can get a lot done legislatively. Look at where we are right now -- health care probably not going to happen, as Mark said. Tax reform also not going to happen.
That press conference on Tuesday, let's not forget, was about -- was supposed to be about infrastructure. Of course, they turned into white supremacy and neo-Nazis and things that people who signed for this administration never thought they would be having to talk about right now. You are having business leaders shunned away from this president. You're having an infrastructure council that was supposed to be formed now not going to be formed.
And don't forget, what we haven't talked about this week, the Russia investigation. Goodwill is out the window it appears on a daily basis, within this party when it comes to this president. But let's not forget that Robert Mueller is leading this investigation. And if anymore shoes are to drop, we could see more Republicans pull away from this administration and this president.
BLITZER: Having said all of that, Mark Preston, does it look like he has lost a lot of support among that base that helped get him elected?
PRESTON: Yes, let's talk -- let's have the same conversation in six or seven months when he is not able to deliver the jobs. He may put the blame on his fellow Republicans, which he looks like he will, and Democrats. But in the end, the buck stops with him.
BLITZER: You -- what do you think, Brianna?
KEILAR: Well, I do think that that's key because it's about energizing people and if they feel that they are not better off, even if they stand by Donald Trump and come out and vote for Donald Trump with the intensity that they did before.
BLITZER: Let's go back to potential terror threat. Peter Bergen is with us. You have written that I believe, and correct me if I'm wrong, you fear right wing, you know, terrorists here in the United States more than you fear jihadi terrorists here in the United States. Explain that.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: I would say the following. Since 9/11, 95 Americans have been killed by jihadi terrorists in the United States. Since 9/11, 68 Americans are being killed by far right extremists in the United States. And since 9/11, eight people have been killed by black nationalists in the United States.
So, I'm not saying there is more or less.
[18:50:01] I'm saying that we need to be cognizant to the fact that political violence comes from a lot of different places. And in the 1970s, we have a great deal of left wing violence. We're even seeing left wing extremism with the attack on the Republican congressmen at the baseball game. Luckily, no one was killed. But Representative Scalise was seriously injured.
So, I -- you know, it is simply -- and this year, by the way, under the Trump administration, we have seen one person killed by a jihadist, we've seen four people killed by right wing extremist and three people killed by black nationalists. So, those numbers speak for themselves. It's not the threat is more or less.
But there are threats coming from a variety of different places. Extreme right wing militants are a problem, just as much as jihadist terrorists are in this country right now.
BLITZER: I think he makes a good point, you know, David Swerdlick. There is plenty of threats out there.
SWERDLICK: There's plenty of threats and the role for the president and the whole government to take all of them seriously, not to decide which ones they want to pick and choose to address.
BLITZER: And, hopefully, he and the top homeland security advisors are taking it very seriously, because this is a serious threat for the whole country right now.
All right, guys. Standby.
We're going to have more on the breaking news on the van terrorist act in Barcelona, Spain. Top national security officials are speaking out, also about North Korea and the threat from there. But is the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, now undercutting everything they're saying?
[18:56:05] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on the terror attack in Barcelona today. But right now, I want to turn from the threat from North Korea and new, very mixed messages coming in from the Trump administration. The president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, undercutting the president's warning that the U.S. military options are locked and loaded.
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
Barbara, what are we hearing from the president's national security team about this?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, in the wake of these rather extraordinary remarks by Steve Bannon, cabinet officers today moved very quickly to say very bluntly the U.S. is ready to fight North Korea.
STARR (voice-over): At a State Department meeting with Japanese counterparts, Defense Secretary James Mattis reiterated President Trump's military strategy against North Korea.
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Together, we will deter and if necessary defeat any threat, any initiation of hostilities will be met with an effective and overwhelming response.
STARR: Underscoring a warning to North Korea not to conduct a ballistic missile attack.
MATTIS: In the event of a missile launch towards the territory of Japan, Guam, United States, South Korea, we would take immediate specific actions to take it done.
STARR: North Korea appears to have blanked for now. Several U.S. officials say there is no sign of a threatened attack on Guam.
But President Trump's chief strategist Steven Bannon may have undercut any success, telling "American Prospect", there's no military solution. Forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don't die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons.
The reality? U.S. military planners have warned for years of that very point, attacking North Korea means millions in Seoul will die.
It's exactly why General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters, war with North Korea would be horrific, but also making clear the U.S. military continues developing military options. MATTIS: I can just assure you that in close collaboration with our
allies, there are strong military consequences if DPRK initiates hostilities.
STARR: The administration's official strategy is that pressure from China is the key to stopping North Korea. But Bannon also questioned how serious China is about pressuring Kim Jong-un, saying on Korea, they're just tapping us along. It's just a sideshow. Something Secretary of State Rex Tillerson clearly disagrees with.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: What's different about this campaign is I think the level of international unity around this campaign, the level of cooperation we are getting from China and from others in the region.
STARR: So, here's the risk, of course. If Kim Jong-un looks at Steven Bannon's remarks and sees it as a bluff, is the U.S. not so serious? Not able to deal with the North Korean threat? That presents an entire new national security challenge -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly does. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. We're just getting in, by the way, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York. He just said, first elected Republican lawmaker to do so, that the president should fire Steve Bannon. I think it's important.
King said for the president to fire Steve Bannon. He should go. He was very upset about what Steve Bannon not only said about North Korea, undercutting the president. He said to me his time in the White House should be over. Also upset about comments he made about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia.
That it's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.