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Trump Gives 3 Speeches, 3 Different Messages; Clapper Calls into Question Trump's Competency; Trump Speaking in Reno, Nevada; Majority of Americans Disapprove of Trump's Handling of Charlottesville. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired August 23, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: But again, you know, Nia- Malika Henderson, let me bring you in here on the contrast. You can go back to the response to Charlottesville last week and then the Teleprompter speech and then the Trump Tower, it's like it negated the previous day. Same, you know, in a sense with this week, you had Afghanistan Teleprompter speech, then you had, you know, off-the-cuff rally cry, Trump last night in Phoenix, and now this.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and it sort of, you know, his speech last night, hi his previous kind of off the cuff remarks that were seen by many, including Republicans, as divisive. Those set of remarks, I think, accumulate undermine what he was trying to do today and sort of summon the spirit of veterans, seeing them as united and loyal, loyal to country, loyal to each other, trying to summon that spirit and say that America should be in that same spirit. And he talked about, you know, there's no division that Americans can't heal. You know, I think a lot of Americans are wondering about what his role is in dividing the country, because of some of the remarks he's made recently. I mean, in some ways, he set himself up to have to make these remarks. I mean, if you look at his Afghanistan speech, he had to, in some ways, begin that speech talking about unity, because he had set himself up before as someone who is willing to use divisive language that really, I think, took a number of Republicans by surprise and really, I think, has frayed some of those bonds that he had with some Republicans, particularly on the Hill, particularly in leadership.

BALDWIN: I want to get to this James Clapper sound, the former National Intelligence director, James Clapper.

And to do so, Colonel Steve Warren, I would love to have your response to this, sir.

You know, he made news coming on in the wee hours of the morning, after the speech last night, calling the president in Phoenix downright scary and disturbing, and worried out loud if the president, you know, should, in fact, have his hands on the nuclear codes.

Here was James Clapper.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I toiled in one capacity or another for every president since and including John F. Kennedy through President Obama. And I don't know when I have listened and watched something like this from a president that I found more disturbing. I really question his ability to -- his fitness to be in this office. I worry about, frankly, you know, the access to the nuclear codes.


BALDWIN: Colonel Warren, what did you make of Mr. Clapper's response, and just even, you know, calling into question the, you know, competency of the commander-in-chief.

COL. STEVE WARREN, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Jim Clapper, we have great respect. I have great respect for James Clapper and all he's done for America. I don't believe comments like that are particularly helpful from him, though. He knows, as does everyone, that the, for example, nuclear codes, of course, are something that there are multiple layers of protection. Our nuclear arsenal is safe. It will remain safe. And this is not something that I believe anyone in America has to worry about whatsoever.

BALDWIN: Do you share the same concerns at all?

WARREN: Well, you know, I think it's -- you know, as we've kind of said here already today, there's certainly two sides to this president. On one day, we hear, as we just heard at the American Legion, a sober, thoughtful slice of apple pie passed out. It was a perfectly good speech and made plenty of sense. And then contrast that with what we heard yesterday, which was certainly the exact opposite of that. So it's very difficult to see where this path is going to lead us right now.

But what is important, I think, is to really look at all of these speeches and all of these actions in a much broader context. And really, that context, in this case, is the security of our nuclear arsenal, is not something that we have to worry about. And I get nervous when people start bringing those types of issues up, because I feel like it can create even more fear where we don't really need that right now.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Brooke, can I break in just for a second?


GALEN: I wonder if you understand that Colonel Warren, his retirement ceremony is next week. He will be a brand-new civilian. He's served 30 years as an infantry officer. And if anybody deserves our applause, it's people like Steve Warren.

BALDWIN: Colonel Warren, thank you so much, of course, for all your years serving this great country. And thank you for coming on the show.

And we're listening to what you say very, very carefully. When you talk about how maybe you are allayed knowing there are

multiple layers of nuclear codes and the Pentagon, et cetera, though, broader picture, just based upon this, I don't know, hot, cold, however you want to characterize these various speeches from the president, you know, do you, at the end of the day, feel like this is a man who is fit to be commander-in-chief? Because it seemed to me James Clapper questioned that.

[14:35:21] WARREN: He certainly did. What I see is a man who has been elected by the American public. And as the duly elected president of the United States with the apparatus of the federal government surrounding him. And that's not something that we can ever ignore, that there is a giant apparatus out there that runs this government. And so he is the president of the United States, and will remain so until the next election.


Amy and Michael, sitting next to me.

So, some news here on Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. We know, apparently, they have -- we know about this tense phone call, August 9th, this apparently somewhat profanity-laced phone call originating in Bedminster between the president and the Senate majority leader. And we're also learning from "The New York Times" that apparently the overarching frustration wasn't over the health care debacle. Rather it was over the president's frustration that he didn't feel like Mitch McConnell protected him enough from all these, you know, questions over this Russia investigation, which was noteworthy. The news we have on CNN's end, right now, is that there are no plans to meet with McConnell before Labor Day. Both sides are working on getting a face to face.

But, Amie, it's like the Russia swirl, that makes me think back to Comey, it doesn't go away.

AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it is going to keep looming. I think it's the biggest problem that the president faces right now, that he keeps -- it keeps appearing. It's always going to be in the backdrop. He's always going to have to address it. It's the thing that people, even Republicans are saying -- debating whether or not he should be impeached right now behind the scenes. I think this is always going to be problematic for him.

BALDWIN: What do you think?

GALEN: I think what you're describing is a situation where the president really has his interests in mind first. You know, he's talking to Majority Leader McConnell, presumably, about the health care debacle, and yet he goes immediately to, why aren't you backing me up on Russia. Well, during his campaign, the number-one issue was repeal and replace Obamacare. That's what he promised the American people. But in this unguarded moment, he's stressing his own interests, which is getting rid of the Russia investigation.

And that reminds me of something the president said 14 months ago. BALDWIN: What's that?

GALEN: He said, when you see people using a Teleprompter, that's not the real person. The real person is the unguarded one who's speaking without a Teleprompter. In fact, this was before the NRA, he made this speech. And it was to explain why he doesn't like Teleprompters, because they're false. So, now, who are we to believe? The unscripted one yesterday or the scripted Teleprompter Trump today. I think we know who we should consider more seriously.

PARNES: I think Republicans want that scripted guy to come out a little more. I mean, they want this. They want the stability. That's the whole point of this. They don't want, you know, whiplash Trump. They want this guy who is going to be presidential. And that's the whole point of the whole -- of this whole exercise.

GALEN: But the wise guy keeps coming back, and that's why people are freaked out. You take this back from the control of the nuclear codes. Well, of course, we're all reassured that he can't press a button, an actual button.

BALDWIN: Colonel Warren is very correct.

GALEN: Right. But does the world believe in his judgment? Do we feel safe with this personality sitting behind that desk? And I think that's the point that we all have to consider is, do we feel safe, can the world trust his word? And I think he casts doubt on that all the time.

BALDWIN: It's about trust. It's about leadership.

Let's take a quick look, also, just on the scene outside of this American Legion convention in Reno, Nevada. That is where Sara Sidner is.

How is the scene? Is it calm where you are? How many protesters?

SARA SIDNER, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's very calm. There are a lot of veterans who are here. They're about 100-plus people, maybe 200 people who have come to stand against what they've been hearing from Donald Trump over the few months that he has been president.

I want to talk to a gentleman who was directly affected by his policies. Ted Pratt was a Vietnam veteran. He has children that are currently serving.

Can you tell me what your biggest concern is with President Trump and some of the things that he has been saying over his first six months- plus, in office?

TED PRATT, VIETNAM VETERAN WITH CHILDREN CURRENTLY SERVING: Well, first of all, internationally, he talked about torture being OK. And then he talked about taking Iraqi oil. That endangered American lives. We have to work with those people over there. And that really endangered some American lives. Now with this hate group rise, they think they have their man in the

White House. And personally, I agree with it. He needed to come out and be a president. He's a president of all of us, not some of us. I didn't fight in Vietnam, my father didn't fight in World War II, my uncles didn't fight in Korea and World War II to have people's rights totally suppressed, and that's what these hate groups do.

[14:40:27] SIDNER: You talked about the president. What did you hear from the president that made you think, wow, he's talking directly to white supremacists, he's talking to those people who have come out and frightened a lot of people, not just of color, but a lot of people in general, including Jewish people?

PRATT: Well, the key words were, "both sides." For me, that was it. In fact, part of what he said, I started to agree with. I said, maybe the man is a human being. But then he came out with, "both sides." It wasn't both sides. Those hate groups have been around for a long time. Their histories go way back where we had 50,000 people marching in Washington, D.C. And we finally gotten those people under a rock and they need to go back under that rock and stay there.

SIDNER: Thank you so much for talking to us. And also thank you for your service and for your family's service.

PRATT: Thank you.

SIDNER: Words from a Vietnam veteran outside the convention center where Donald Trump has just finished speaking -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: What a valuable opinion.

Sara, thank you so much. And thank him for us as well.

Speaking on Charlottesville, we've got these new numbers, the Quinnipiac poll numbers. The vast majority of Americans disapproved of how the president handled Charlottesville in the wake of the crisis.

Nia, 60 percent disapproving. So that's quite a number, A, and B, why do you think, then, that the president keeps, you know, playing to his base?

HENDERSON: You know, in some ways, this is what we've seen from the president since he got elected. I mean, this is what -- this is his language. This is where he feels comfortable. He identifies with that base. He feels like he's a victim. They, in some ways, feel like they have been victims of sort of economic and cultural changes. So I think that's probably why. And I don't necessarily think, at this point, he's going to pivot, right. And I don't -- in talking to Republicans, they don't think that he's going to pivot either. There was always this sort of sense among Republicans, they wanted to see him do well, they wanted to support him as well, and I'm talking about folks on the Hill, lawmakers. But I think you have seen a real sense, lately, that we've seen something of a tipping point with this president and his relationship with Republicans. We've heard these conversations privately, them privately questioning Donald Trump's stability, privately questioning whether or not he can turn his presidency around. And I think we've seen this week, whether it's Bob Corker, a mild-mannered Senator from Tennessee, has not been kind of a rabid critic of this president, come out and use that word, stability. And then of course the story in "The New York Times" about Mitch McConnell. So I do think this -- we're in a different phase with this president. I think you had a lot of lawmakers looking at that speech yesterday, maybe thinking that there would be something different, and then not seeing something different, seeing this president go back to his instincts, go back to his base.

And I think there's a question in terms of the base. Does the base actually need to hear this? Is this what they want? Would they be perfectly satisfied if the president just gave a speech and talked about infrastructure, talked about giving another try in terms of health care? It's not clear to me that the base actually needs to have a president at this point, a Republican president who goes after Jeff Flake, who goes, in some ways, after John McCain, of course, who is suffering from cancer. So it's, in some ways, it feels like this is something that Donald Trump needs more than the base actually needs. He's the one who needs that good feeling and the cheering base and to be -- and to sort of feel the love in that room. The president, I think, more than anything, is motivated by that feeling of admiration, of approval, and wanting to be liked.

BALDWIN: At least we heard him call out Dean Heller by name, and said, you know, thank you for hopping on a flight to make sure you get here.

But, Rich, here's my overarching question on Republicans. They're all on the same team. The president's the captain of the Republican team, and yet you think of what they have to do in Congress when they all come back. You know, approve new spending measures, raise the debt ceiling, rewrite the federal tax code, infrastructure. And if you listened to the president last night, build a wall. And he threatened, you know, he'd shut the government down if that didn't happen. When we talk about the good blood, bad blood, whatever it is between him and the Senate majority leader and other Republicans, that Nia alluded to, how are they supposed to get things done? Do you think the president truly understands how washington works?

GALEN: The answer is no, he doesn't have any clue about how Washington works. But to continue the sports metaphor you started with, if he's the coach of the team, he's lost the locker room, as they say in football and baseball. So, I think it's pretty clear --


[14:45:17] BALDWIN: It's mighty early on in the game to lose the locker room.

GALEN: Well, nevertheless, that's where I think we are right now.

And remember, all this has gone on while the members are disbursed throughout the country for August recess. God only knows what will happen when they get back together again after Labor Day and they're chatting again at the official lunches, and what have you, when this stuff can begin to build. And I think it's going to be important for the White House, especially for General Kelly, to look for ways to be ready for that, to offset that, because or else, there could be an outright revolt in the Congress. And they may say, you know what, Mr. President, you go out and say and do whatever you want, we're going to do what we do. We'll send you the bills. Either sign them, veto them, you do whatever you want, but we're not waiting around for you anymore because we don't trust you.

BALDWIN: They want to score, to continue your analogy, Rich.

And then, Colonel, to you, sir, you know, we did get a little bit more of a taste into the president's view on the military. How are veterans going to react to this doctrine?

WARREN: Well, I think what is really important to remember about veterans is this, we come in all stripes and all colors, as the president mentioned. We saw two just in the last few minutes, one on stage and one that was interviewed outside. But one thing every veteran, I think, has in common, and this gets developed over time in the military, is a very well-developed, let's say, manure meter. We've got a good sense of smell.


BALDWIN: I like that, sir. OK.

WARREN: And so I think the president needs to continue to produce.

GALEN: That's going to become a hashtag.


WARREN: So, words are one thing, but actions are another. And we in the military, current and former, we respect action. And we respond best to action. And so that's what the veteran community will be looking for. And I think that's what the military will be looking for.

BALDWIN: Manure meter.

Colonel Warren, that's what you leave me with. That's what you leave me with.


Thank you so much.

WARREN: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: I really appreciate you. Thank you for, of course, your service to this country.

Thanks to all of you for weighing in here on this Wednesday.

Coming up next, the president's former opponent calling him a creep. Why Hillary Clinton is now saying President Trump made her skin crawl. Her candidate revelations, her own words, coming up.

Also, who was the African-American man right there, standing behind the president, holding a "Blacks for Trump 2020" sign, and his bizarre and controversial story. We have all of that for you coming up.


[14:52:17] BALDWIN: Perhaps the most stunning reaction to the president's speech in Phoenix came from the nation's former top intelligence chief, James Clapper, calling it disturbing, and saying the president could be a threat to national security.


CLAPPER: I found this downright scary and disturbing. I really question his ability to -- his fitness to be in this office. And I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it. Maybe he is looking for a way out. I worry about, frankly, you know, the access to the nuclear codes.


BALDWIN: And just to be clear here, this is a man -- this is someone who is known for being nonpartisan. He has worked for the four previous presidents, including both Bushs, where he first served as the head of the DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, under Bush 41 and later as the undersecretary of Defense under Bush 43.

So with me now, CNN contributor, Garrett Graff. He is the executive director of the Aspen Institute Cybersecurity and Technology Program. He is the author of "Raven Rock, The Story of the U.S. Government's Secret Plan to Save Itself While the Rest of Us Die."

Garrett, good to see you again.

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks for having me, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So you say -- you know, you know James Clapper's career better than most. You say his remarks are upsetting to those who know him. How do you mean?

GRAFF: I mean, this is someone who has spent 53 years of his life working in the U.S. military and U.S. intelligence. He has held almost every top job in U.S. intelligence, including the actual literal top job, as you said, the director of National Intelligence, and is the longest-serving director of National Intelligence that we have ever had. And so, you know, I spent three months writing a magazine story about him last year, trying to get him to say anything remotely interesting, mostly unsuccessfully. He is someone who is incredibly sober, incredibly thoughtful, and someone who really knows North Korea better than almost anyone. I mean, this was the person that he served on the Korean peninsula while working in the U.S. Air Force. Then went back later in the intelligence capacity. And was the person that, while DNI, was dispatched by President Obama to help negotiate the release of U.S. hostages in North Korea. So this is someone who knows this particular situation incredibly well. And more broadly, knows just the scope of U.S. history and U.S. diplomacy over the last 50 years, incredibly deeply.

[14:55:06] BALDWIN: So, took you a couple months to try to have James Clapper say something interesting. Took, sounds like, Donald Trump just a couple minutes to come out on our air last night and speak so candidly. And what does it tell you, Garrett, about Clapper's thinking, that he is seriously concerned about Trump and nuclear codes?

GRAFF: Well, we've seen this evolution over the last couple of weeks and months with intelligence leaders, like Jim Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin, sort of all these sober intelligence leaders, people who are apolitical, nonpartisan, have dedicated their lives to public service and to protecting the country. Speaking out in a way that is perhaps unlike anything that we have seen in modern U.S. history. You know, the closest analog I can come up with is the Admirals Revolt of Harry Truman's administration when you saw the Navy come out strongly against nuclear war. But that was -- that was really a policy debate. That was a policy showdown. And here we have a very personal questioning of the president's fitness for office.

BALDWIN: Here's a question. I'm stealing this from Chris Cillizza. I was reading his back and forth with you. For people who don't know, the question is, can the holder of the nuclear football refuse to turn it over if President Trump asks for it. What's your response?

GRAFF: So, this is going to -- this surprises a lot of people when they learn this. But the president of the United States has unquestioned, unconditional nuclear launch authority. The entire U.S. system built up during the Cold War has stripped away anything that would slow down or countermand a presidential launch order. And from the moment a president gives a nuclear launch order, the first ICBMs launch their silos in about four minutes.

BALDWIN: Four minutes.

GRAFF: There's nothing that stands in the way of a presidential launch order.

BALDWIN: Wow, Garrett Graff, always a pleasure. Come back. Thank you. Thank you so much.

GRAFF: My pleasure.

BALDWIN: Coming up here, Hillary Clinton in her own words, recalling an uncomfortable moment. Remember this debate? Debate number two, with then-Candidate Trump. And what she says he did to, quote, "make her skin crawl."

And did ESPN go too far, pulling an Asian announcer off the University of Virginia game? The reason? His name is actually Robert Lee. The back story and the reaction to that decision coming up.


BALDWIN: All right, we continue on. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN here.

Three days, three speeches, three very different messages. The president just gave a poised delivery during a speech to veterans there in Reno, Nevada. A stark contrast to his campaign rally less than 24 hours ago in Phoenix where he threw insult after insult at his critics and the media.

This, as CNN has just received some new polling from Quinnipiac University. Look at this with me. Sixty-two percent say President Trump is doing more to divide the country, compared to 31 percent who say he is doing more to unite. The poll also finds that 35 percent of voters approve of the president's job performance, while 59 percent disapprove. And when it comes specifically to the president's response to Charlottesville, 60 percent disapprove compared with 32 percent who approve.