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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Steve Bannon Out. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired August 18, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with breaking news in the politics lead, the firing of President Trump's senior strategist Steve Bannon, the architect of the Trump campaign in its last three months, as well as the architect of many of President Trump's more controversial policies and strategies.
Bannon was, in many ways, the beating heart of the populist nationalism in the White House senior ranks, for better or for worse.
The move comes within two days of Bannon's interview with the liberal "American Prospect" magazine in which opened up about talk of his internal fights with White House and administration colleagues and he flat out contradicted President Trump and his posture toward North Korea by saying there is no viable military solution to the conflict.
This also comes within a week, of course, of tremendous national controversy over the president's response to the violence surrounding that Nazi, Klan, white supremacist, alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a young woman, Heather Heyer, was killed in act of domestic terrorism allegedly by one of these racists.
The president initially blamed both sides for the violence and hatred, for which he was pilloried by his fellow Republicans, among others. Made up for that on Monday, clearly condemning the Klan and Nazis, and then seemingly took it all back on Tuesday, when he said there were some very fine people marching alongside the Nazis.
The president's seeming sympathy for those in the bigot community has prompted some Democrats to blame Bannon, who is the former chairman of Breitbart, which he had called the platform for the alt-right.
The president was asked about Bannon in that wild Tuesday press conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine, but Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors. And I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that. And I like him. He is a good man. He is not a racist. I can tell you that. He is a good person. He actually gets a very unfair press in that regard. But we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. But he's a good person, and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Well, we learned today that President Trump said that knowing that eight days beforehand, Bannon had submitted a letter of resignation, though Mr. Trump had yet to decide if he was going to accept it.
That's because long before Charlottesville, Mr. Bannon had been a figure of controversy, wrestling with other top advisers of the president over policy issues. He had also been accused of leaking information to the press.
Those who blame Bannon for the president's controversial comments on race and racists, as many Democrats have done, that is not supported by facts. Bannon came on board the Trump campaign, as the president pointed out there, very late, in August 2016, three months before the campaign's victory.
One year and two months before then, we heard from President Trump these thoughts about Mexican immigrants from June 2015.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Bannon was still running Breitbart when President Trump had difficulty finding the words to condemn the Klan and David Duke with me in February 2016.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke. OK? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: In June 2016, Bannon was still at Breitbart when the president said the Judge Gonzalo Curiel couldn't do his job fairly because of his heritage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'm building a wall, OK, and it's a wall between Mexico, not another country.
TAPPER: He's not from Mexico. He's from Indiana.
TRUMP: In my opinion -- he's Mexican heritage, and he's very proud of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, none of that is to excuse or make any judgments at all about whatever advice Bannon gave Mr. Trump once he came on board two months late later.
Bannon certainly had his hand in many controversial policies, the temporary travel from a half-dozen majority Muslim countries, for example, or the focus on undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities.
Bannon's focus also on wanting a more nationalistic and less what he would call globalist position on trade certainly ran afoul of more traditional Chamber of Commerce and foreign policy establishment types.
But the notion that those troubled by President Trump's response to Charlottesville should now breathe easier because Stephen Bannon is gone, that is not supported by the facts.
Something else that caught our eye today, barely a week into Donald Trump's presidency, this photograph was taken of the president speaking by phone with Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office.
It now shows just how much has changed in seven months. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn out by February. Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned in July. A week later, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus left the White House. And now Stephen Bannon has been fired. Look at those four specters.
The only two left in this photo who are still in the White House are the only two who were elected, the president and vice president. Of course, don't forget the guy on the other end of the line there, Vladimir Putin.
CNN's Joe Johns is here with me.
Joe, Bannon's firing has been in the works. This wasn't necessarily in direct response to the president's reaction to Charlottesville.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Jake.
It was the president's decision, CNN has been told, though. We're also told Bannon submitted his resignation back around August 7. The takeaway here is that Bannon did not jump. He was pushed. A combination of factors at play, including, but not limited to the president's well-known irritation with staffers who seem to be getting more media attention than Donald Trump.
There was also that unusually candid interview Bannon gave coming at a time the new White House chief of staff is trying to impose discipline.
JOHNS (voice-over): Yet another bombshell shakes the foundation of the Trump administration, Mr. Trump's controversial chief strategist forced out after a short and stormy tenure at the White House.
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: I can run a little hot over occasions.
JOHNS: Bannon's departure comes at the end of a brutal week for the administration.
TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides.
JOHNS: But what may have been the last straw for Bannon, a controversial interview the former Breitbart News executive gave to the liberal publication "American Prospect" undermining the president's North Korea strategy, saying there is no military option to deal with the threat.
The official White House statement cited the tough new White House chief of staff, John Kelly, who has been trying to restore order to the West Wing. "John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve's last day. We're grateful for his service and wish him the best."
Bannon the latest in a long list of top Trump advisers to head for the exit, including Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus. The president has signaled Bannon's days were numbered in his impromptu news conference this week.
TRUMP: He's a good man. He is not a racist. I can tell you that. We will see what happens with Mr. Bannon.
JOHNS: A darling of the alt-right, Bannon saw part of his role as keeping the promises the president made during the campaign.
BANNON: Hold us accountable to what we promised. Hold us accountable for delivering on what we promised.
JOHNS: The blowback coming from the left and the right. Breitbart editor Joel Pollak reacting to Bannon's ouster on Twitter with one ominous word, "War."
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi welcomed the firing, but said "It doesn't disguise where President Trump himself stands on white supremacists and the bigoted beliefs they advance."
Bannon's ouster may not quell the blowback from the president's controversial remarks earlier this week. The mother of the woman who was killed in a car attack by an alt-right sympathizer said she has no interest in meeting the president.
SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF HEATHER HEYER: I have just missed his calls. The call -- the first call, it looked like, actually came during the funeral.
JOHNS: And there was more fallout still. News today that some top- shelf charities were canceling events at Trump's flagship Mar-a-Lago resort, including the American Cancer Society, the American Red Cross, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and the Cleveland Clinic.
TAPPER: All right, Joe Johns, thank you so much.
I want to bring in Maggie Haberman on the phone. She's the White House correspondent for "The New York Times." She broke this story, among many, many others.
Maggie, thanks for joining us. What's the latest you're reporting about how this all went down?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": So, look, there's two -- and thanks for having me -- two confused versions of this out there.
I think the reality is some mixture of them. Bannon has been said to be in trouble for several weeks. He was supposed to -- and Glenn Thrush and I, my colleague, reported this two weeks ago, three weeks ago when Reince Priebus was fired.
The president had wanted to make a move then, but a number of people intervened on Steve Bannon's behalf and said he was going to -- Trump was going to lose the base if he did this. And these were real people, including Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. Several others suggested this was a mistake.
And that let some time pass. John Kelly, the new chief of staff, was evaluating Steve Bannon's role. They had, as I understand it, come to an agreement either mid or late last week about Bannon's departure.
But the events around Charlottesville put all of that off and delayed everything, and then there was some question of whether the deal to have Bannon leave would be looked at again or renegotiated.
Once he gave that interview to "The American Prospect," the wheels were set in motion. Steve Bannon is not a dumb man. He's also not a man who is dumb about the way that the media works in terms of on the record and off the record.
It would be a little surprising if he thought he was just calling a reporter he had never spoken with for a gentle chat about policy that was not going to go on the record.
Somebody close to Bannon has disputed all of this and said that he put in his resignation on August 7 to become effective August on 14, and that that was delayed because of Charlottesville.
A lot of reporting contradicts that. But, as ever, you know, Jake, it's Trump land. So, things are complicated.
TAPPER: I appreciate the allusion there.
HABERMAN: I'm doing my best here. It's 4:00 on a Friday.
TAPPER: Steve Bannon, of course, was a former executive chairman of Breitbart News.
Already, we saw a senior editor at Breitbart tweeting simply "War" as a hashtag, #War.
One of the risks obviously that has been talked about is that it's better to have Bannon inside the tent doing his thing out than outside the tent doing his thing in. Is there a risk now for President Trump for somebody who has these nationalistic media outlets out there now being on the outside?
HABERMAN: I think there's a bigger risk, frankly, for Trump's staff.
I don't think Bannon's going to target the president personally and I think that these sites are going to -- I don't think they have as much sway with a lot of the hard-core voters as they would like to say. If you read the comments section on Breitbart, which I do periodically...
TAPPER: Why would you ever do that?
HABERMAN: Because sometimes you need to stare into the abyss.
And the abyss speaks pretty clearly that voters who follow Breitbart who supported Trump still support Trump. And so a lot of this is just sort of railing on one side or another.
I do think the people around Trump have a lot to fear. I think that Bannon's not going to burn the whole house down, but I think he might burn parts of it down.
TAPPER: That's right. We know of several people that he's clashed with in the administration, including Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn.
HABERMAN: That's right.
TAPPER: Maggie Haberman, thanks so much. Congratulations again on yet another scoop.
Will Steve Bannon's firing help President Trump regain any ground that he lost with the public after his Charlottesville remarks?
That is next. Stay with us.
[16:15:44] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our politics lead. As the White House tries to make another course correction with the
firing of President Trump's senior strategist Steve Bannon, my panel is here. We got a lot to discuss.
Let me start with Andre Bauer in South Carolina, a strong supporter of President Trump.
What's your reaction? Are you worried as a supporter of the president that firing Steve Bannon might hurt him with the base?
ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't believe so. I think Steve Bannon played a great part in this election in getting Donald Trump elected. There's no question that he had a different angle into helping the president in a big primary, get out of that, and he came in to the White House, but I think the president is ever evolving, much like he would run a Fortune 500 company. And once that person got what he need handled, that was the person to help get elected, helped him get him positioned in the presidency. But now, there are different thing.
This is ever evolving. This is America's business, is what the president is tending to, and this gives him the opportunity, and I appreciate the fact that he was loyal to Steve as long as he was, but now, it's about governing and it's vastly different than getting elected.
TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, one of our White House reporters, how much interviewing, that Steve Bannon did with Robert Kuttner of the "American Prospect", in which he talked about fighting with colleagues in the White House and the administration which he basically revealed that the president was posturing on North Korea and that there was no military, viable military option, which I thought rather stunning admission. How much was that -- did that play a role in this?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it really the last straw for the president. He's been fuming observer that interview all week. Even as recently at last night and at his golf course, in Bedminster, because we've seen from time and time again, every time Steve Bannon is in the dog house, it's when he gets credits for the president's success or for winning the election for him, that happened back in April. That was circulating, Bannon was on magazine covers and the president came out and told a "New York Post" columnist that he's his own best strategist.
So, we've seen that in this time since Bannon has fallen out of the president's good graces, he's been maintaining this low profile. He did not travel with the president to New Jersey at all during this working vacation, instead staying in his temporary office in the executive office building why the White House is undergoing renovations and he didn't go to the signing of the trade memo on Monday when the president returned briefly to Washington.
TAPPER: Trade is one of his huge issues. Yes.
COLLINS: That was unusually because it's something he advocated very strongly for. So, we saw that Bannon was really aware of just how in trouble his
position in the administration was this time. But it was really that interview where he completely contradicted the president's stance on North Korea, saying there was no military solution. He essentially mocked the president who has been saying, you know, for weeks he was going to respond with fire and fury and he was also acting like he was the president, saying he could make these personnel changes at the State Department. And that's something Trump does not like.
TAPPER: Josh Green, you are the world authority on Stephen Bannon other than perhaps, perhaps Stephen Bannon. Were you surprised by the timing of this?
JOSHUA GREEN, SENIOR NATIONAL CRRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: I was a little surprised by the timing of it, because the role Trump really plays for Bannon, he isn't so much the great manipulator that he's portrayed as being on "Saturday Night Live." What he is is Bannon's ultimate soldier and his attack dog, when he winds up in these crazy crises where everybody else has abandoned him. This was true back in the campaign, during the "Access Hollywood" scandal, Bannon kind of engineered a way out of that for Trump and we seem to be engulfed in the same kind of situation now in the wake of Charlottesville, where you have every Fortune 500 CEO abandoning Trump, Republicans in Congress abandoning Trump. Steve Bannon is the one guy who stood up for him and publicly defended him.
So, I'm a little surprised that he was pushed out right now at this pivotal moment for Trump's presidency, because this really leaves Trump without anybody in the White House willing to go out there and defend him against the toughest charges.
TAPPER: And, Jen Psaki, you work for the Obama White House, and President Obama made tough personnel decisions. I don't know of anybody quite as controversial as Stephen Bannon but he fired a couple of national security advisers. I mean, there were moves like that.
[16:20:03] How much does -- how much difference does it make to fire somebody like that?
JENNIFER PSAKI, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, you can argue that Steve Bannon's role or relevance in the White House was overstated. Certainly, he was a big part of the campaign, and that I think was because he shared, he helped promotes an ideology they shared. But no one staffer typically changes ultimately the ship the president is leading himself. So, for President Obama, I remember one of our early firings was the social secretary. That seems quite quaint at this point.
TAPPER: That's right.
PSAKI: Right. That seems quite quaint at this point of time. Now, Steve Bannon's role, what's clear from this is that if you're on the wrong side of Jared and Ivanka, you're probably at risk on the chopping block. If you are promoting yourself as a number of people have said here, that's not something the president likes. That's not uncommon for a president. But typically even with this White House, it's not going to
necessarily change the entire internal dynamic. I wouldn't suspect.
TAPPER: One thing I wonder, Kaitlan, Steve Bannon was a voice for reducing the American military footprint abroad such in Afghanistan. Is there anyone else now in the administration that could hold that argument, that would make that argument? You have Mattis. You have McMaster, Jared Kushner. Is there anyone that might be saying, we actually should be sending fewer troops abroad, not more?
COLLINS: Well, that's exactly the question that's been on everyone's mind this week. You know that the president is at Camp David in a meeting with his national security team right now. We know that they're discussing Afghanistan, but that's what everyone has raised since Bannon has left. There are a lot of people who didn't think he belonged in the White House.
But that is the question. Who is left in the White House that will advocate for that position? Because as you look, the people who are in this White House aren't typically conservatives who think that should happen. We've got, you know, the Dina Powells, the Gary Cohns, the Ivanka Trump, the Jared Kushners.
So, people are wondering, how many conservatives are really left in this White House with the Republican president?
TAPPER: Yes, I don't know if conservative is the right word. Nationalists, maybe? It's different -- all the words don't mean anything anymore.
Everyone, stick around. We're going to take a very quick break. We'll be right back. We're going to take a look over perhaps the toughest week President Trump has had.
Stay with us.
[16:26:23] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Let's stick with our politics as we cover the ongoing White House staff shake-up, as the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is the latest to be shown the door.
Josh Green, let me ask you, do you think that there will likely be other individuals in the White House that General Kelly says, time to go, buddy?
GREEN: I think there's a pretty good chance people like Sebastian Gorka will get pushed out, and some other Bannon loyalists, who are not particularly well liked by the faction that remains in the White House because you really have a culture change and a vacuum now that Bannon has left, and odd as it sounds in a Republican White House, you're going to have an administration effectively controlled by Democrats. You've got Gary Cohn, a former Democrat. Stephen Mnuchin, Jared and Ivanka and other people in the White House who don't have a traditional Republican background, and who certainly don't have the nationalist, populist politics that Bannon pushed so hard, maybe too hard, from his job in the West Wing.
TAPPER: Andre Bauer, one of the things Trump supporters are worried about is that now Breitbart, the Website, the -- that Bannon said he wanted to be the platform for the alt right, now it will be weaponized even further. Obviously, it has gone after Bannon's rivals within the White House, Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn and others. Now with Bannon out of the White House, people say, who knows? Likely they will not attack President Trump but there were likely be other people in the administration.
Does that matter?
BAUER: Well, it does matter. You want every friend you can get when trying to govern and at some point in time, this president has got to try to work with the legislative branch and anytime there's chaos or someone's stirring the pot, that makes it more difficult and we've seen that by following just one vote show on health care. Every vote matters.
So, if he can just cause a little chaos, it stops not only what the president is allowed to get done but what the people of this country sent him there to do.
TAPPER: I want to talk about Charlottesville just for a second. Kaitlan, there's a remarkable moment on "Good Morning America" today with Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, who was visually killed by a domestic terrorist, likely one of those racists marching. And this is what she had to say about the phone calls and whether or not she would talk to President Trump. Let's roll that tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF HEATHER HEYER: I have not, and now I will not. At first, I just missed his calls. The call -- the first call it looked like actually came during the funeral.
I'm not talking to the president now. I'm sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did --
BRO: After what he said about my child and it's not that I saw somebody else's tweets about him. I saw an actual clip of him as a press conference equating the protestors, like Ms. Heyer, with the KKK and the white supremacists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: This is a disaster. And maybe in any other White House this would be the biggest story of the day, but it's the Trump White House, so it's not.
First of all, the sheer incompetence, calling during the funeral. But then, second of all, here you have this grieving mother, who is obviously offended by what President Trump said. It's awful. Is there any inclination that the White House is going to try to fix this in any way? COLLINS: That's a great question. We actually have not heard back
from the White House on that. We've been asking since Heather Heyer was killed on Saturday, have they reached out to her? What was the plan? And they kept saying they were recording a call, they were making a time that's convenient for the family.
And until that interview this morning, we found out that she did not want to speak to them and they called during the interview. So, it shows why they hadn't been returning requests for comment or answering when the call was going to be set up.