Return to Transcripts main page


New Fallout from Bannon's Rocky Exit from White House; U.S. Navy Expected to Order One-Day Operational Pause Following Recent Crash; Trump Travels Draining Secret Service Funds; House Speaker Ryan to Face Constituents in Live Town Hall. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 15:30   ET



[15:32:50] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. This is the first week President Trump will work without his chief strategist in the West Wing, and a new reports stressed that Steve Bannon did not go quietly after being forced to leave his post on Friday.

According to the "New York Times," Steve Bannon and Chief of Staff John Kelly devised an earlier plan for Bannon to depart amicably, but then they clashed over how the president should respond to Charlottesville and then came the interview that Bannon gave to a left-leaning magazine undercutting the administration's policy toward North Korea.

Joining me now for more on this is CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel and CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian, she's a congressional reporter for "The Washington Post."

Yes, this piece -- I mean, there's so many fascinating details now coming out either from Steve Bannon or from others. There's a piece saying how frustrated Bannon was with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. An aide told the "New York Times" he resented the day that Ivanka Trump would run in and cry on his desk.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And he apparently called them Javanka in not a nice way. Look, this is Steve Bannon unleashed. If he was bad when he was in the White House and causing trouble, he's going all out here.

COOPER: And that was one of the concerns always raised about him is that what -- you know, if he's outside the White House, what's his take going to be?

GANGEL: Absolutely. And it's not going to top. If you look at the front page of Breitbart earlier today, there was a headline. "Bannon Urged Trump to Move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Blocked by Kushner." Jared Kushner, who is an Orthodox Jew. I mean, it is just -- it is going to go on and on.

COOPER: Right. And the claim was that Bannon was tougher on Palestinians than Kushner was.

Karoun, I mean, jokingly calling the president "Archie Bunker"? What does that say about their relationship?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Right. It's not exactly a -- you know, a term of endearment. A lot of people used to have warm feelings about the show.

COOPER: Yes. Edith Bunker was more the endearing one.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. It brings up this association of a clueless, out- of-touch, kind of racist at times, you know, a person who was just the butt of the jokes. Right? And that's the position that you don't really want to be -- a person you don't want to be likened to if you're president of the United States. And so it's just -- I mean, maybe he was throwing these punches at will inside the White House but clearly he's throwing them now from the outside. And they're landing on the Internet in bold headlines like the interview.

COOPER: Right. And I mean, I guess --


[15:35:07] COOPER: Is this his strategy moving forward? I mean, this is role going to -- because this is one of the concerns always about what's he going to be like outside. It seems like if he continues this there's no telling where it could end up.

GANGEL: Look, in his first interview with "The Weekly Standard" he said, I'm Bannon the Barbarian. I'm going to crush them. He said I will go after Democrats in the White House. This is not --

COOPER: Right. Globalist Democrats, keep right.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. I mean, at some point they have to decide, you know, is he more of a liability inside the White House or outside the White House. And liability I guess is the wrong word but more and more dangerous, I suppose, to the president inside or outside. And they did seem to come to the conclusion especially after that American prospect interview was published where he talked pretty freely about there not really being a military option for North Korea.

COOPER: Right. He said there is military option which undercuts U.S. policy.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. And that's when -- throwing out strategy, right? Which is a little bit different than, you know, the discussions with reporters that they believe were going on anyway. So basically to draw the line in the sand, which they -- which the president seems to have gone with Kelly's recommendation at that point, and said no more, is a decision made on that -- you know, that turning in a way.

And clearly they must have known to some extent that Bannon wasn't just going to go quietly into the good night, but he was going to speak his piece from outside.

COOPER: But also, I'm told that quickly speaking his views. I mean, he wasn't even like, you know, I'm going to take a weekend off.


COOPER: You know, he was calling in apparently to the Breitbart editorial meeting right away.

GANGEL: Within hours. And the other thing is, the same Republicans that wanted him out and had been lobbying for him to be out, I spoke to -- my phone blew up this weekend with he's going to tear apart the Republican Party. They are really concerned about what comes next. Not just about attacks on the White House but that he's going to go after Republicans, not only from Breitbart, but grassroots movement. Maybe he'll start a super-PAC, maybe there'll be micro targeting. They really see a danger down the road.

COOPER: Like when you go to Breitbart TV there's --

GANGEL: Exactly.

DEMIRJIAN: And he doesn't owe anybody anything right now is the thing because he was so pilloried by the party and pointed to when things went wrong like Charlottesville that really there's nobody -- there's very few people out there to whom he owes any allegiance so he's been calling the shots right now.

COOPER: It's going to be fascinating. Karoun, thanks so much. Jamie, as well. Appreciate it.

Ahead, 10 sailors lost at sea after their ship collides with another vessel in the Pacific. The latest in the string of incidents involving U.S. war ships. What the Navy is doing now to make sure this doesn't happen again. The latest on this incident.

Also the head of the Secret Service says his agency is broke, reportedly out of cash to pay its agents because of President Trump's frequent trips to his properties. We'll be right back.


[15:41:43] COOPER: A massive search under way right now for 10 American sailors lost at sea after a collision in the Pacific between the USS John McCain and a commercial tanker. A Defense official telling CNN the Navy is expected to order a 24-hour pause in activity as a safety precaution following a string of accidents this year.

Take a look at the whole that was punched in the side of the McCain. The Navy reports significant damage to the destroyer. The hole you can see it there, with flooding in the sleeping and communications area.

Today's collision marks the fourth accident for U.S. warship in Asian water since January. Just this past June seven sailors we are killed aboard the USS Fitzgerald after it collided with a merchant vessel off the coast of Japan. Defense Secretary Mattis spoke about the serious clashes a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We obviously have an investigation under way and that will determine what happened. The chief of naval operations broader inquiry will look at all related accidents -- incidents at sea.


COOPER: Christopher Harmer is a retired U.S. Navy commander and a senior Naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.

Commander, appreciate you joining us. Four collisions since January. Is -- this may be a dumb question, but, I mean, is something going on here? It's that a large number?

COMMANDER CHRISTOPHER HARMER, U.S. NAVY (RETIRED): It's not a dumb question, it's an accurate question. It's a question the public ought to be asking and ought to be demanding answers from the Navy.

I'm a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, a retired Naval officer, this is embarrassing to me personally, as well as professionally. Now as a taxpayer, I'm concerned the U.S. Navy has a huge budget, the U.S. Navy has massive responsibilities for our national security, and it appears right now that the U.S. Navy cannot conduct basic seamanship and navigation operations without running into large commercial tankers.

Now this is a big problem for the Navy not just in terms of appearance, not just in terms of the public relations with the broader American people, but with the substance of being able to deploy ships. I get it. I've had near misses myself during my time in the Navy. Everybody knows that there's always an accident waiting to happen, but you can't have multibillion dollar destroyers running into commercial container ships. That's not acceptable.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, how does something like that happen? Is it --


HARMER: I'll tell you exactly how it happens. It happens because of an over-reliance on technology, which leads to complacency. I'm the first person to be grateful for the fact the U.S. Navy never goes to sea, never goes into a fight without having an unfair advantage. We're the most technologically advanced Navy in the world.

Unfortunately that leads to an over-reliance on technology and an abdication of basic seamanship and navigation. What I mean by that is, these are ships that have radars that can literally see into outer space, they can track everything from a cruise missile to a ballistic missile to a satellite, shoot all those things down. The crew has a tendency occasionally to get lax and forget their basic responsibilities of using their eyes and using their short-range radars to avoid collisions at sea.

This is unacceptable when it happens. Once, twice in two months the Navy has a serious problem right now and it needs to be addressed immediately. COOPER: So something like the -- you know, a temporary stop-down for,

you know, an operational pause, as they're calling it, what's the benefit of something like that?

HARMER: Yes. That's pure window dressing. Look, this is a problem that's been occurring over decades at this point. Taking a 24-hour safety stand-down, yes, that's a very small step in the right direction.

[15:45:02] But the problem is if you're not attending to your basic seamanship and navigation, if you're not attending to your basic training and readiness, if Congress has forced the Navy to accept lower training and readiness funding in order to preserve procurement dollars, well, then there's no way for the Navy to solve that problem.

A 24-hour stand-down can begin to look at the first layer of incompetence. The real problem here is the Navy needs to rededicate itself to basic seamanship and navigation training, basic training and readiness, and if that means we can't deploy quite as often, then we need to send that message back to Congress that we don't have adequate funding for training and readiness. We need an increase in training and readiness funding and increased focus on basic seamanship and navigation.

COOPER: Wow. Christopher Harmer, I appreciate your expertise. Thank you very much.

HARMER: Thank you.

COOPER: The agency in charge of protecting the president and his family says it is running out of money. The situation is so dire the head of the Secret Service says it cannot afford to pay its agents to continue protecting the Trump family.

"USA Today" first reported this. The director of the U.S. Secret Service says more than 1,000 agents have already maxed out salary and overtime that was supposed to cover the entire year. The size the president's family, the volume of travel apparently draining the Secret Service budget.

The president obviously has multiple homes in multiple states. He's taking trips almost every weekend of this presidency so far to his golf courses. He's not alone. 18 other Trump family members get protection as well.

Just a short time ago the Secret Service issued a statement downplaying the Trump family's role in the budget problem, saying that funding being a problem for -- it's been a problem for a decade now due to an increase in operational tempo. That was their word.

Here to discuss this is CNN law enforcement analyst Jonathan Wackrow. He's a former Secret Service agent.

Jonathan, is this just something that happens every year or is it specific -- is it amplified because of the number of protectees in the Trump family and also the amount of travel? He's playing golf a lot. JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the pay cap has

always been a problem for the Secret Service.

COOPER: There's a pay cap for what?

WACKROW: For agents. They can only make a certain amount of money with their base salary, law enforcement availability pay and overtime pay. They only can max out at a certain level.


WACKROW: And that's based upon seniority and it's based upon, you know, a law.

COOPER: So the seniority -- folks who have the most seniority are the ones protecting the -- closest to the presidential family.

WACKROW: Correct. So what you have right now, Anderson, is you have the perfect storm. You have a problem that's, you know, been consistent with the Secret Service year over year which is the pay cap and you have a president that is traveling significantly, and you have a shortage of your available manpower.

The numbers of the Secret Service, the retention rate, has been going down. The available agents that can work are going down.

COOPER: So the more travel the president does, the more travel, the more members of his family there are to protect, that's more overtime for senior agents and that's capped.

WACKROW: Exactly. So, you know, the statement that came out that 1100 plus Secret Service agents, you know, will be affected, you know, from now until the end of the fiscal year which is the end of September, October 1 starts the new fiscal year, 1100 agents are going to be financially affected by, you know, this management of manpower and resources.


WACKROW: This is -- absolutely. I mean, a problem for the Secret Service. I mean, imagine morale is going to be a major issue. People are going to start working overtime hours for free. I mean, do you really want the people who are around the president of the United States to have a low morale? No. I mean, they need to be, you know, compensated for the work that they're doing.

COOPER: And also obviously more time the first family is away, the more time agents are away from their families and more likely they are to want to get out because it's untenable.

WACKROW: Exactly. What's happening is, you know, there's a stopgap that the service will -- the Secret Service management will put into place where instead of one agent working their regular eight hours plus overtime hours to alleviate that, they'll take two agents. So now you have an operational deficiency, where you're taking two agents to do what one agent should be doing in the course of a 24-hour period.

And what's missing in all of this in -- you know, in the reporting is that there's a -- there's going to be lapse in the investigative responsibility. Remember the Secret Service is a dual mission entity.

COOPER: Right.

WACKROW: Protection and investigations. Investigations will come to an absolute standstill because of this, you know --

COOPER: Right. It's not just the protection detail, it's work of the department in investigating --

WACKROW: Exactly. Remember, this affects the organization as a whole.

COOPER: Jonathan Wackrow, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

WACKROW: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: He's been criticized for not being strong enough in rebuking President Trump in issues like Charlottesville. Tonight a CNN town hall has Speaker Paul Ryan.

But coming up next, though, this hour we'll look at the important issues that he'll be asked about including what's next in the Republican agenda. Back in a moment.


[15:51:05] COOPER: Speaker Paul Ryan is set to appear in an exclusive CNN town hall. It's going to happen in his home state of Wisconsin tonight. Town hall starts at 9:30 immediately following President Trump's announcement on the administration's strategy in Afghanistan.

Suzanne Malveaux joins us right now.

How vital is this live town hall with Speaker Ryan given the criticism that he's been facing in general, but also for not being critical enough of President Trump particularly in the wake of Charlottesville.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, it's a critical time. The "Kenosha News" here, the local paper, saying at least six different protest groups are going to be showing up outside of this town hall.

It is a timely one because of the president's announcement with Afghanistan. Our own Jake Tapper will be able to get immediate reaction on that. But a lot of people really asking for Paul Ryan to take some leadership here to unite his party and also to speak out more forcefully against Trump, specifically how he dealt with the riots in Charlottesville and the issue of white supremacy.

The latest NBC-Marist poll showing, Anderson, that he has a 44 percent approval rating, that is President Trump, and more than 60 percent of the voters here feeling embarrassed by the president's actions as of late. And so this is something that Paul Ryan is going to have to address directly.

He already took some preemptive action in putting out a statement today a little bit stronger than what he has said before, condemning, of course, white supremacy and bigotry and terrorism. But he does not mention the president by name. You can bet that that is something that is going to be at the forefront of the questions that people have.

Another issue, Nancy Pelosi as well as Senator Cory Booker asking that when he returns to Washington in two weeks to consider taking down the Confederate statues inside the Capitol building. That is something that is also worrying and pressing at least to Democrats and some Republicans as well.

And then really the business of trying to unite the party to get something done. We saw the failure of repeal and replace Obamacare before the recess. They're going to be coming back, they're going to take a look at raising the debt ceiling and whether or not they can get a clean bill through or the conservatives will block that and also tax reform.

Those are the two biggies that are going to be on their plate when he returns, but it is not an understatement to say that, of course, the president has been a distraction to the party and really something that they have to figure out themselves if they're going to be able to get some real policy moving forward -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. It will be interesting to see when pressed tonight if he's willing to be critical of the president in Charlottesville or just focus on white supremacists in his prior statements.

Suzanne, thanks very much.

Let's bring in Chris Cillizza, CNN Politics reporter, editor at large.

How do you expect, Chris, the speaker respond to the criticism that he's been facing? Because as Suzanne pointed out, I mean, he made a new statement a little tougher one on Charlottesville but he still is not, you know, mentioning the president's name.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, I don't know. I would have thought, honestly, Anderson, if you're going to put out a statement in advance of the town hall tonight, as he did on Facebook, why not say Donald Trump's name? We all know who he's talking about. It's not a big mystery.

I think what Paul Ryan is trying to do is fill the moral political leadership vacuum created by what Donald Trump said and didn't say frankly at -- after Charlottesville. I think to do that you have to be a little bit more outspoken than Paul Ryan might be will to do. But I do think what he's trying to do here is important. I think it's an acknowledgment that Trump is doing damage to the Republican Party brand going forward. Well beyond probably when he's going to be president.

What Paul Ryan is trying to do is sustain some sort of Republican brand going forward that if and when he ever wants to run for president the party remains viable nationally. Trump is dangerous to that reality.

COOPER: Yes, but I mean, you have other -- you have Senator Corker who, you know, last week surprised a lot of people by comments he made on local television about the president, about the president's stability.

[15:55:03] CILLIZZA: Yes, look, I honestly think that if you're Paul Ryan, I don't see the harm in it. Unless you don't believe it. Unless you think that that's not something that you should raise. It seems to me that Donald Trump -- remember, Anderson, Donald Trump wasn't a Republican before he was running for president and I don't know if he'll be one after he's president, but this is someone who is loosely affiliated with the Republican Party.

Paul Ryan is somebody who has been -- he was a staffer on Capitol Hill before he ran for Congress, certainly before he became the speaker of the House. This is someone who's got a long time of service within the Republican Party.

Yes, there are people who had run away from Paul Ryan and urged a primary challenge to him if he came out against Donald Trump. I'm not convinced there are enough of them, but my guess is that's why you don't hear as many people going as far as Bob Corker.

I frankly think they may be overestimating the organization and size of the Trump base as compared to the Republican base.

COOPER: Interesting. The president heads to Arizona tomorrow. He's going to have a rally, which obviously he loves to do. He's flirted the possible pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Phoenix's mayor, Greg Stanton, issued this statement in reaction to the report saying, "If President Trump is coming to Phoenix to announce a pardon for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, then it will be clear that his true intent is to inflame emotions and further divide our nation."

It wouldn't be extraordinary if in the wake of Charlottesville and his comments about Charlottesville where his own judgment and -- you know, opinions about white supremacist are in question, that he would pardon Joe Arpaio who was being -- you know, was held in contempt of court.

CILLIZZA: Yes, for any normal politician, I would say oh no, that will never happen. For Donald Trump it's a 50-50 because he is someone, Anderson, who is a provocateur. He likes to stick his finger in the eye of conventional wisdom, in the eye of people like you and I who he believes are out of touch. That is who and what he is, what he was before he got into politics, what he is now and what he will be after he leaves politics.

I will also add, I think it will be striking. You will see a presidential address in Afghanistan this evening. You'll see a presidential campaign rally in Arizona tomorrow evening. Donald Trump is a lot more comfortable doing one than the other. And likes doing one than the other. I think the real test for him is tonight, not tomorrow night. COOPER: Yes.

CILLIZZA: He's shown many times over he knows how to get a crowd revved up. Can he deliver a real policy proposal, policy change as president with all of the power of the office behind him, or will he swing and miss as he did in the wake of Charlottesville?

COOPER: Yes, especially given his prior press comments as a civilian about the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

CILLIZZA: Correct.

COOPER: Which he's been very critical of.

Chris, thanks so much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, sir.

COOPER: Watch CNN's town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan hosted by Jake Tapper. That's tonight at 9:30. We have a special edition of "AC 360" obviously starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Hope you'll join me for that.

"THE LEAD" starts right after this quick break.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It lasted only a couple of minutes but it was nice to have the nation come together today if only to watch the eclipse.

"THE LEAD" starts right now.

The plan for Afghanistan. President Trump expected to announce his long overdue military strategy. As critics say the commander-in-chief has lost his moral authority in the wake of Charlottesville.

Another tragedy at sea for the U.S. Navy. Ten sailors are now missing after a Navy destroyer collides with a merchant ship. Why do these tragedies keep happening?

Going broke. Protecting the president. The Secret Service --