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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
White House Won't Rule Out Government Shutdown Over Border Wall; "Duck Dynasty" Star Voted Trump, Says He Needs to Change. Aired on 7-8p ET
Aired August 24, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: OutFront next, President Trump lashing out at critics questioning his fitness for office, including the country's former top spy. I talked to General James Clapper about Trump's angry response. I'll give you his revealing side of the story.
Plus, is the president trying to pressure Republicans to shield him from the Russia investigation? New details about a phone call he had with a leading senator.
And more fall out from Trump's Charlottesville comments. A top rabbi now will not even get on the phone with the president.
Let's get OutFront.
And good evening, I'm Jim Sciutto in again tonight for Erin Burnett. And OutFront tonight, smack down. The White House shutting down any questions about the president's fitness for office. Doubts that now have been raised not only by Democrats but a senior Republican and the nation's former top spy.
A visibly angry White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders today dismissed Republican Senator Bob Corker who questioned Trump's stability and competence to be president. Listen to her answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's a ridiculous and outrageous claim and doesn't dignify a response from this podium.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Now, to remind everyone, this is what Senator Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said that the White House considers is ridiculous and outrageous.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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. He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Understands the character of this nation. Outside of those comments, to be clear, Corker has been generally supportive of President Trump, voting along with the president nearly 90% of the time. This, according to a statistical analysis website.
He was even a candidate for secretary of state in Trump's administration. Corker however, is not alone in publically questioning the president's stability. The former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who has served under 10 presidents, both Democrats and Republicans, expressed blunt doubts about the president's fitness for office right here on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: 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.
He'll make a scripted teleprompter speech which is good and then turn around and negate it by sort of the, you know, unbridled, unleashed, unchaperoned Trump. And that to me is -- that pattern is very disturbing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Clapper served under every U.S. president going back to and including JFK. Today, Trump went after Clapper, tweeting, quote, James Clapper who famously got caught lying to Congress is now an authority on Donald Trump. Will he show you his beautiful letter to me?
Well, I reached out to General Clapper today about that, quote, beautiful letter, and it turns out that Clapper composed notes the night before the election to both candidates, Trump and Clinton, to be included along with the winner's first intelligence briefing.
In the notes, he congratulated the president-elect and vowed that the Intelligence Community would serve the administration with the best intelligence it could deliver. He went on, and I'm quoting here. I hand-wrote almost identical short notes to each of the two candidates to accompany the first brief as president-elect, only one actually got deployed, the one to him.
I went on to say that I hoped he would abide by the long-standing principal of the Intelligence Community always telling truth to power. Clapper noted to us that only a few weeks later, President-elect Trump went on to compare the United States Intelligence Community to Nazi Germany.
Sara Murray is OutFront at the White House tonight. Sara, the White House and Trump clearly -- and I'm supposed you can understand this, very sensitive when it comes to questions about Mr. Trump's fitness for office.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Jim. And look, this is a president who already was facing a barrage of criticism. And that was before you had people out there questioning whether he is fit to hold the office of the presidency.
You saw Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary call any notion of this ridiculous and outrageous. I can tell you that privately, White House staffers are apoplectic about the notion that people are questioning the president's fitness for office. A number of people have said they sort of feel like members of the media are playing psychiatrist, even though you have prominent officials like senators, like James Clapper out there questioning whether the president can really serve in this role.
Now, from the president's point of view, he likes to be seen as unpredictable. And he also tweeted today that he has the capability to change his tone really on the drop of a dime. So, in many ways, the people that are looking at this, like James Clapper and saying this is an indication this is someone who's unfit for office from the president's view, he sees that as a strength.
[19:05:03] SCIUTTO: Well, it's coming from more than one party as well. Sara Murray, thanks very much.
OutFront tonight, John Avalon, he's editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast, Shannon Pettypiece, she's the White House reporter for Bloomberg News, and Shawn Turner, he's a long time intelligence officer who served as Jim Clapper's spokesperson when he was the director of National Intelligence.
Shannon, if I could begin with you. Senator Corker, of course, is a respected Republican, President Trump even considered him as vice president and then secretary of state. General Clapper, a respected intelligence official, as I noted, served 10 presidents going back to JFK. He's been around a long time.
Maybe easy for the White House to dismiss criticism or questions like this when they come from Democrats as they have. But when it comes from a Corker or a Clapper, does it not deserve a response from the White House?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, the White House is clearly out war with their own party, with their own intelligence community, even with their own attorney general at one point. It's not just about fighting with Democrats. They're fighting with the own Republican establishment.
And I'll tell you the way the Trump base hears these comments about questions about the fitness, they just see this as another attack by the establishment. First they went after Russia, they tried to attack us on Russia, now they're trying to attack his fitness and stability in office. All sort of an effort to try and impeach the president or get the president out of office.
That's how the Trump base hears these things and that's what these outside advisors are telling the president about this. So, while there's some people telling them to take this seriously, to work with Congress, there is another side of this Trump ecosystem around the president telling him fight back. This is deep state, this is the establishment, and don't listen to it.
SCIUTTO: Well, actually, (INAUDIBLE) the base of the presidency seem to be very much together on that thought, that it's just attacks to take him out.
John, I want to play more of what Senator Corker said in his comments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORKER: 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.
I think our president needs to take stock of the role that he plays in our nation and move beyond himself. Move way beyond himself and move to a place where daily he's waking up thinking about what is best for our nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Again, as you hear it, Remarkable. I mean, accusing the president in effect there of being self-absorbed, right, in the office. I mean, can you or the president possibly take this as advice rather than a brutal criticism?
JOHN AVLON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Look, in a perfect world, presidents would take a note. You know, Bill Clinton had a rough start to his administration and he took a note, he reshuffled his senior team. Brought in David Gergen of CNN of course, ultimately brought in Leon Panetta and steadied that ship.
This president doesn't take a note. I don't know if constructive criticism is in his vocabulary. And what's tough about that criticism of Senator Corker is that he is so broadly respected. And that he was speaking with a broader perspective about American history, as well as fitness for office.
And the Trump crew might only hear it as a sort of dog whistle about the 25th Amendment. No, I think Corker was trying to be more constructive than that. He was trying to say that you got to step up and think about something beyond yourself.
That's something that Donald Trump is notoriously bad at. That doesn't seem to be in his DNA. But he would be wise to take the advice of Republicans like Corker.
SCIUTTO: Shawn Turner, I want to talk to you. You of course long experience not just in the Intelligence Community but working very closely with Director Clapper. Can you explain better to our viewers what the intention was of the letter that Director Clapper sent to Trump with that first intelligence briefing? And of course that he composed to Hillary Clinton as well to whoever would win. What message was he trying to send?
SHAWN TURNER, FORMER SPOKESMAN, OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Yes, sure, Jim. You know, first of all, I should point out that this is the kind of thing that Jim Clapper is someone known for. You know, as you point out, I worked for him for many years and it was not unusual for him to sit down and write a letter to an employee or to someone in a position of leadership when he thought as though he needed to say something that needed to come from him personally.
So, first of all, you know, the insinuation and the president's tweet that Director Clapper had sent some praising and admiring letter is not exactly true. You know, prior to the election night, we had seen a lot of attacks on the Intelligence Community, and we were dealing with this environment in which people were really questioning the motives of senior intelligence officials.
And I think that part of Director Clapper was doing with that letter was he was trying to send a clear and unambiguous message to whoever became the president of the United States that the Intelligence Community existed to serve the president, and to make sure that the president could succeed in accomplishing their most important mission. And that's to protect this country against foreign enemies.
[19:10:01] So, I think that he just wanted to state that very clearly. He had stated publically, but he wanted to say it directly to the president-elect.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this because you said it during the campaign before the election, there were charges, criticisms labeled at the Intelligence Community. As you -- we know that those were coming from one place. They were coming from the Donald Trump, not from Hillary Clinton. Are you saying that in effect this note was indicated that Director Clapper saw some early warning signs here that concerned him?
TURNER: Yes -- you know, look, I think that he clearly saw that there was an environment in which the motives of the hard working men and women in the Intelligence Community were being questioned. And while I think that he would tell you that because he worked with former Secretary Clinton, he would probably tell you that while he didn't think that she was involved in questioning Intelligence Community, clearly there were others who were.
So, I think that by crafting these letters he was first of all being fair and impartial and defending the Intelligence Community and stating very clearly that, you know, that the I.C. exists to serve the president. I also think that, you know, if you look at what Director Clapper said, the note about speaking truth to power. You know, he implored whoever the new president it was going to be to accept and support the notion that the Intelligence Community has a long standing tradition of telling truth to power.
And that means that when we walk in that office whether the news is good or bad, we're going to lay it on the table, and he wanted to tell the new president that it's important that they accept that and that they support that as opposed to questioning that and perhaps suggesting that there is some ulterior motive of intelligence officials.
SCIUTTO: John and Shannon, that is of course the White House is striking back personally at Clapper as well. We heard that from Kellyanne Conway today. But, when you hear Shawn Turner described the motivation there and the level of concern, that is a remarkable thing to hear from the nation's former top intelligence official, as well as Republicans.
Is this a sign that more people, Shannon, are thinking this, including among Republicans that are willing to say it publically?
PETTYPIECE: Oh, I mean, there is -- because people say it to me not publicly there's a lot of concern out there that it is being expressed now --
SCIUTTO: From both parties?
PETTYPIECE: Oh, from parties, yes, absolutely. From Republicans, from, you know, people within the administration. There's a sense that there is great concern.
It's sort of when does it reach the breaking point. And it was interesting after Charlottesville, you saw a lot of people who have been expressing concern privately, CEOs, business -- you know, in the business community. All of a sudden, that was their breaking point. For whatever reason, that was when they started coming out.
SCIUTTO: When people shoot at different points, and we have a rabbi on later tonight. A group of rabbis who turned down a traditional phone call with the president. John, significance?
AVLON: Listen, it's enormously significant. I mean, when you got a career intelligence official like James Clapper, who rose to the top of the ranks and served presidents of both parties, saying that it needs to be taken as more than just a personal criticism because it has the weight of experience behind it.
And of course, people in Washington, people in the Senate, people in Congress are deeply concerned about this president, his erratic behavior, his lack of attention to detail, his lack of historic perspective.
And you're going to start saying that more and more. If he plays chicken with -- for example, a government shut down. It's going to be a real interesting test of wheels and he may believe that his base will turn on McConnell and Ryan, and they'll ride into town and run rough shot over everything.
But you got to ask yourself, who's got more credibility with senators. Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump? And that's one of the showdowns I think to look towards as we look to the fall because these institutionalist who are deeply patriotic, even beyond party, they're deeply concerned about this president. That's just the reality.
SCIUTTO: One person's deep state is another person's civil servants -- service rather. Shannon and John, Shawn Turner, thanks very much.
And OutFront next, a long-time Trump associate warning anyone who votes to impeach Trump, quote, would be endangering their own life.
Plus, the White House won't rule out shutting down the government if Congress does not fund the border wall. What happened to Mexico paying for it?
And President Trump endorses this as the best eclipse ever. He even retweeted it. Jeanne Moos shed some light on the situation.
[19:17:51] SCIUTTO: New tonight, President Trump leaning on his fellow Republicans when it comes to the Russia investigation. CNN learning that the president called North Carolina's Republican Senator Thom Tillis, questioning him about his bill to prevent independent counsel, Robert Mueller from being fired by the president.
That follows news that the president went after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for failing to protect him from the Russia investigation. And Politico reporting that he expressed frustration when talking to Congressman Bob Corker -- rather Senator Bob Corker over a bill sanctioning Russia.
OutFront, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, he's also a member of both the House intelligence and judiciary committees at the center of the Russia investigations. Congressman, thanks for taking time from your brief holiday to join us tonight.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Of course, Jim. Thanks for having me back.
SCIUTTO: Congressman, when you look at these really repeated attempts to pressure, not only GOP lawmakers, but the now fired FBI Director James Comey, his attorney general, all it seems seeking some protection from the Russia probe. In your view, does that amount to obstruction of justice?
SWALWELL: Well, innocent people, Jim, cooperate with investigations. They try and work with the prosecutors and the FBI agents. They don't obstruct, they don't bully, they don't constantly check in with witnesses and try and make investigations go away.
We saw this with the way he treated former Director Comey. We've heard about it with Director Mike Rogers and Dan Coats and now we're hearing about it with the Senate investigations.
It's clear that these investigations are getting too close to the president and his family, and he's trying to do everything he can to try and influence their direction. That is not how an innocent person usually conducts himself.
SCIUTTO: You're a lawyer, former prosecutor, does it untoward, perhaps unethical? Does it break the law to influence in that way? SWALWELL: Well, he is -- he's certainly making potential witnesses out of these different senators because if he is trying to obstruct or if he is trying to impede the investigations, he is creeping into an area that could be unlawful.
I'll leave that Bob Mueller. I miss the courtroom a lot, Jim, but, you know, we just want Bob Mueller and his team to have all the latitude possible.
[19:20:03] Thankfully, a bipartisan effort in the Senate is underway to make sure that if the president were to get rid of Bob Mueller, he would still be on the job in one way or another. So, that was encouraging to see.
SCIUTTO: You of course return from recess in a little more than a week, lots of work to do, Intelligence Committee, Judiciary Committee. As these investigations pick up again, in effect, what will be your first order of business when you're back from recess? In particular, which witnesses are you looking to question the priorities?
SWALWELL: It's going to be -- yes, it'll be a busy September with a lot of relevant and percipient witnesses. We interviewed a number of them right before the break. Witnesses are being interviewed right now through the recess.
And we also want to hear from every person implicated on the June 9th Clinton-Russia private and confidential e-mail. We're seeking to bring them in as well. They would be very important.
And, Jim, look, this investigation will go as far and as deep as the Republicans are willing to find courage and patriotism to join us. So far, I've been encouraged that we made progress like we have in the last couple of months. But, you know, their job is not to protect the president or to look the other way. We want them to be partners in this because that's the only way we're going to find out what happened.
SCIUTTO: You mentioned the June 9th meeting in Trump Tower. Last year, during the campaign, Donald Trump Jr. and Russians promising that damaging information on Hillary Clinton. We are also reporting as you know the congressional investigators are looking at an e-mail from a top Trump aide during the campaign that passed on information about a person trying to arrange a meeting between campaign officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And crucially, sources say the e-mails sent by Rick Dearborn, now the president's deputy chief of staff, but timing-wise sent around the same time as that Trump Tower meeting. How significant is this in your view at this point?
SWALWELL: Well, Jim, when we take a step back, what is baffling about all of these efforts by the Russians and the Trump campaign to either meet or connect with each other is that, they took place during the course of a presidential campaign. And every presidential campaign on recent history, the people who ran those campaigns will tell you, you live day-to-day. You're just trying to make it to the next day and you're just trying to help your candidate win. You only win votes in the United States.
So it's really baffling as to why you would be working and trying to talk to a foreign adversary of all countries, especially one like Russia. So, you know, it does, you know, come into, I guess, context when you look at all the other number of attempts that were being made.
And, if you weren't, you know, trying to get your candidate elected, you have to be wondering, why so many contacts with the Russians, unless you were trying to set up a working relationship as that June 9th e-mail suggested.
SCIUTTO: Long time Donald Trump associate, Roger Stone, he had really, quite an alarming morning today for politicians that called for impeachment. He told TMZ and I'm quoting here, any politicians who votes for it would be endangering their own life.
Now, this of course is a person who spoken to the president and that your committee wants to question. How concerning are these comments in your view?
SWALWELL: It's just more of the intimidation of witnesses that we've seen from the Trump campaign. And this central witness, somebody who had tweeted out that John Podesta is going to spend his time in the barrel. He never talked about John Podesta before in his tweets or in his public commentary, but sends these ominous tweets, months before John Podesta's e-mails are hacked. And then we later learned that he was indeed, Roger Stone in contact with the Russian hackers.
And so we certainly want to hear from him. But, you know, I don't think people are going to be intimidated by that. We have a job to do and a country to protect and we're going to do it.
SCIUTTO: Congressman Swalwell, thanks very much.
SWALWELL: My pleasure, Jim.
SCIUTTO: And OutFront next, the White House ducking questions about the border wall and the president's threat of a government shut down if Congress doesn't fund it.
And, yet another group distancing itself from Trump tonight. Prominent rabbi ditching a long tradition with the president.
[19:27:35] SCIUTTO: Tonight, the White House will not rule out a government shut down if Congress will not pay for the border wall. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also dodging questions about Trump's famous campaign promise making Mexico pay for the wall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Who's going to pay for the wall?
TRUMP: Hundred percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: But now, that's a promise even Trump doesn't talk about that much anymore. Listen to Sanders today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: He campaigned on the wall. He won on talking about building the wall, and he's going to make sure that that gets done. And he'll continue to fight for that funding and ensure that it takes place.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's not saying that Mexico is going to pay for it now.
SANDERS: He hasn't said they're not either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: OutFront now, Jen Psaki, former White House communications director for President Obama, and former State Department's spokesman for Secretary Kerry. Also, Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate and former senator from great state Pennsylvania.
Senator Santorum, if I could begin with you, President Trump of course promised over and over again that Mexico would pay for this wall. Now, though, he's willing to shutdown the U.S. government if the U.S. Congress doesn't pay for it. How do you explain that?
RICK SANTORUM (R), 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, I mean, I think what Donald Trump said during the campaign was they're going to build a wall and of course, you know, the rhetoric of, you know, Mexico is going to pay for it was certainly a great tag line. But, I think most folks who voted for Donald Trump want the wall built.
I think, you know, the fact is that I don't think many people believe that Mexico was going to pay for that wall, but they do believe that the wall is going to be built. And this is something that Donald Trump going to stick with.
I understand, you know, people is saying, oh well, you know, hell back down on this. I don't think he can and frankly, I don't think he should. You know, the president hasn't asked for very much specifically from the Congress. He's really delegated a lot of the legislating to the Congress and there's not a whole lot to show for it as a result.
So, I think this is one the president has to really draw the line in the sand and stick by his gun.
SCIUTTO: Jen, the latest CBS poll found that only 36% of Americans are actually in favor of building a wall, 61% as you see there opposed. But when you look at Republicans, 72% of Republicans support building a wall, of course, only 26% of Democrats. As far as his base is concerned, Trump's base, is this smart politics?
JEN PSAKI, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it's a home run for his base. He did run on building a wall, so it is something that people who were strong, avid supporters of him, probably from the beginning of the primary process want him to see through.
Now, seeing this through is not without consequence because there are still moderate Republicans who are holding on by a thread. There are conservative fiscal Republicans who I'm certain don't want to pay for the wall.
So, moving forward with this had some risks, I would say even within the Republican Party. But certainly, it's about politics. He ran on this. He's nervous about his base of support and this is consistent with his crazy speech he gave in Arizona the other night.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Senator, I want to play what Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger told my colleague Jake Tapper today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Any time you threaten a government shut down is dumb. This is a terrible way to do government and we should never threaten anything like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Do you agree with that? I mean, the president you say has a promise to keep, but he's talking about shutting down the U.S. government with great economic consequences for not just, you know, for his supporters and really all Americans, if that were to happen.
RICK SANTORUM (R), 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is doing something unconventional, how about that?
SCIUTTO: Unconventional and damaging to his own voters, perhaps, if it were to happen.
SANTORUM: Well, look, I don't know about damaging to his own voters if it were to happen. I think, you know, this is all about how you get the art of the deal. This -- you know, he's speaking to members of Congress. He's not really talking to the American public.
He's trying to lay this line in the sand with a group of people that he hasn't been able to effectively work so far, and this I think he feels like that threat will get people to take him seriously. Because I think the word I have been hearing up on the Hill is, oh, you know, he'll back down and he really isn't going to get this and no one is really taking this seriously, and I think he's trying to tell him, hey, look, I'm serious about this and, you know, really no more than that.
SCIUTTO: The government shuts down, fair to say, it's Congress that American people tend to blame. But is that different when Congress and the president belong to the same party? This is -- GOP controls Senate, House and the White House.
PSAKI: That's true. But, you know, Donald Trump will blame it on Congress and he'll certainly lead up to any shut down by blaming it on Congress and Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell coming out opposed to this sends a clear message they know this is bad politics for them because it would ultimately be blamed on Congress. So, I think that's probably where it's headed, which is why I think there's not going to be a ton of support for a shutdown over a wall.
SCIUTTO: Senator, "Washington Post" reported that in a call with the Mexican president when Donald Trump first took office, that President Trump, perhaps aware of the sensitivity here, tried to strong-arm the Mexican president saying, quote, I have to have Mexico pay for the wall. I have to. I have been talking about it for a two-year period.
Then, when the Mexican president resisted, "The Post" reports that Trump begged him not to tell the press. But it appears in that conversation that the president knows what this really is about is undermining his own credibility here.
SANTORUM: Well, again, I think if you look at what the president has done with respect to Mexico, look, I mean, he's been I think pretty tough with trade. He's -- obviously, they're going through negotiations right now, renegotiating NAFTA. I mean, he is trying to follow through with what he said he would do, and strengthen our border. You've seen border crossings are down.
I mean, there is a lot of what Trump said he was going to do that's actually happening without the wall being built I might add and a lot of things he said about getting tough with Mexico and getting tough on trade, all the things that his base, and when I say his base, I don't mean the Republican base because a lot of those folks were not Republicans who voted for Donald Trump. I think they're very happy with what he's doing and the fact he's continuing to fight for this I think is all -- is all to his credit.
SCIUTTO: Senator Santorum, Jen Psaki, thanks very much.
OUTFRONT next, more Charlottesville fall-out for Trump. This time, it's a group of rabbis who don't even want to get on the telephone with him.
And a star from hit show "Duck Dynasty", she voted for Trump. But is she having second thoughts?
[19:37:53] SCIUTTO: Tonight, more fall-out from President Trump's Charlottesville comments. A group of rabbis has canceled a traditional call with the president saying his words in the wake of the violence were, quote, lacking in moral leadership.
This is just the latest in a string of groups cutting their ties to the White House. Two of his CEO councils disbanded over his handling of Charlottesville. The entire Arts Council quit. Several members of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council quit. The State Department science envoy quit, embedding in fact the word impeach in his resignation letter.
His comments also appear to be taking business away from his Mar-a- Lago golf club. Two more charities have now canceled events at the club, bringing the total to at least 18 organizations all listed there that scrapped events at the club and to be clear following Trump's Charlottesville response.
OUTFRONT now, one of the rabbis who made the decision not to hold that annual call. He's Rabbi Jonah Pesner.
And, Rabbi, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
RABBI JONAH PESNER, ONE OF THE RABBIS THAT CANCELLED CALL WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: So, I want to ask, why are you taking such a strong stand against a phone call that traditionally is taking place as a sign of goodwill?
PESNER: Well, thanks, Jim.
I think it is important for all of our viewers to understand the context here. We need to see the scene in Charlottesville, Virginia, with 40 Jews in their synagogue on the Sabbath morning, hunkered down, trying to pray. And outside were three white supremacists who are armed and dangerous and threatening the members of the congregation who wound up sneaking out the backdoor, led by their rabbis, who by the way, were on their way to be interfaith vigil to stand up against bigotry and hate, when the night before, they had seen people marching through the streets with torches chanting the words "Jews will not replace us" and Nazi slogans.
And so, it was a horrifying scene. And for the president of the United States to draw a false equivalency between those anti-Semites, those neo Nazis, and the very people who were peacefully protesting against bigotry was reprehensible and so, we just couldn't hold the call.
SCIUTTO: I want to play something for you here that you may be familiar with.
[19:40:00] But I want to make clear to our viewers, it is disturbing, it is part of an interview with one of those white nationalists who was at the Charlottesville rally. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here to spread ideas, talk in the hopes that somebody more capable will come along and do that, somebody like Donald Trump who does not give his daughter to a Jew.
REPORTER: So, Donald Trump but like more racist?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot more racist than Donald Trump. I don't think that you can feel about race the way I do, and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl. (END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: When you later heard Trump say that famous phrase, both sides were to blame for what happened in Charlottesville, in light of the kind of hatred you see there and what you described with a group, of having to run away in effect from violence, the threat of violence, what went through your mind?
PESNER: It really sent a chill down my spine and I think a shutter across the entire American-Jewish community, including our rabbis who, I'm very proud, the thousands of rabbis who stand together across the religious spectrum and the political spectrum, to say that this kind of hate is not acceptable and that this president, who has given comfort and sanction to the kind of neo-Nazi, the kind of white supremacist who we just heard from is unconscionable. And we -- all Americans need to be outraged.
This is not just about anti-Semitism and the Jews. This is about racism. It's about hatred in many forms. And we need to come together and hold our president accountable to be the commander-in- chief of the forces that will beat back bigotry.
SCIUTTO: I will share with you. I'm sorry you had to face that and I did not recognize my country in those comments and those demonstrations.
I want to ask you what is a difficult question. Trump, as you know, has several advisors who are Jewish. This includes Gary Cohn, his top economic adviser. His Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Of course, his daughter and her husband, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
Do you believe that they need to be more outspoken, take more of a public stand, if not against the president personally, against the comments that the president made in the wake of Charlottesville?
PESNER: I don't think it's the responsibility of the Jewish members of the administration to beat back bigotry, hate and anti-Semitism in all forms. I think it is the responsible of all Americans, which means that every member of that administration needs to be held accountable. And most important, the buck stops with the president of the United States.
And we need to see persistently and consistently, a clear message from this president and then actions that follow that message that and George Washington famously said to the Jewish community or Rhode Island hundreds of years ago, this is a country that will give bigotry no sanction.
SCIUTTO: Well, that's the country I recognize as well. Rabbi, thank you for taking the time tonight on this difficult subject.
PESNER: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: And OUTFRONT next, a star of the hit show "Duck Dynasty" comes forward tonight that Trump's failure to call out neo-Nazis is, in her words, shocking and scary. And special glasses are not required for the president's favorite
eclipse. Jeanne Moos has that story.
[19:47:24] SCIUTTO: Tonight, one of the stars of the popular TV show "Duck Dynasty" says that President Trump needs to change. Korie Robertson says Trump needs to do more to unify the country. Many in the Robertson clan did support Trump's run for the White House. Korie's husband Willie Robertson even opened the first night for the Republican National Convention.
CNN's special correspondent Jamie Gangel sat down with Korie Robertson for an exclusive interview and asked Korie why she retweeted this, President Obama's message about the violence in Charlottesville.
KORIE ROBERTSON, STAR OF "DUCK DYNASTY": To say something was positive and that was such truth, it just felt like light was winning and I'm going to retweet that as well.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Willie, your husband, was one of the early supporters of Donald Trump and you have publicly said that there were a lot of family discussions during the campaign. What were you concerned about?
ROBERTSON: It was a stressful time. I think our whole country felt that, you know? And there is a lot of husbands and wives, you know, arguing around the dinner table and we certainly had plenty. And Willie was outspoken about Trump from the beginning, and I was not.
GANGEL: In the end, can I ask you? Did you vote for Donald Trump?
ROBERTSON: You can ask me that. I will say I did not make that decision until the day of the election. I really, really struggled with it. It was a very hard decision for me.
And in the end, I did. I chose to mainly because of Hillary Clinton's views on abortion. So, I think that, you know, in the end, a lot of people made the choice because they felt like the other wasn't the right candidate, rather than we had a really great choice.
GANGEL: You didn't think Donald Trump was a really great choice?
ROBERTSON: Because I don't think he's leading our country to a place of like unity. I think he's in fight mode and he still is in fight mode and I'm like, you know, you won. Like you won the election, so you need to get out of fight mode and let's get into like peace and unifying people.
GANGEL: Talk to me about Charlottesville. When you watched it, how did you react?
ROBERTSON: I get emotional about it, because it was so sad to see that amount of hate being spewed out at people. And it was like, you know, you see these people, and these are just men that look like your neighbors, standing up there and just spewing this hate for other people, because of their skin color, or their nationality, or any of that.
[19:50:14] It's so counter to Jesus' teachings and the way we're supposed to be.
GANGEL: So then President Trump comes out and it's not hard to say the right thing, but he doesn't do it.
GANGEL: What does that say about Donald Trump that he seems to be so reluctant?
ROBERTSON: Yes. I don't know, you know? It was shocking and scary, the fact that it didn't feel like he was willing to call them out.
GANGEL: You don't think there's a moral equivalency between the two?
ROBERTSON: No, absolutely not. I really can't defend him in any way on that.
GANGEL: If you could send a message to Donald Trump right now, what would it be, about the way he's handled this?
ROBERTSON: You know, say you were wrong, and stop fighting, you know? I just feel like it's exhausting, like, why are you still fighting? What are you trying to prove at this point? Let's just like come together, and be a leader that unifies, that brings people together. And that's, I think, what we need right now.
GANGEL: Would you vote for him again?
ROBERTSON: Well, I think we'll just wait and see if that becomes an issue. I don't know. I can't answer that right now.
SCIUTTO: Leaving it open there. You also asked Korie about the removal of Confederate statues. How did she respond?
GANGEL: Right. So, this may surprise some people, because she's from Louisiana. But she absolutely thinks that the statues should come down. And she said, it's important to remember our history, so that we don't repeat it. But we don't need to revere it.
And also, you know, some people think they see the flag that her husband wears, that's an American flag, not a Confederate flag. There are no -- she has no interest in that.
SCIUTTO: People could make a lot of judgments now, and everybody's caricatured. But you also noted that the family is very diverse, their children.
GANGEL: Right. These are their values to begin with. But also, they have six children, three adopted. One is biracial, half African- American. One is from Taiwan. This is personal for them.
SCIUTTO: That is a very American family.
Jamie Gangel, thanks very much.
GANGEL: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Great interview.
OUTFRONT next, Jeanne Moos with an eclipse tweeted by Trump that you definitely will not find in any astronomy book.
[19:56:57] SCIUTTO: Tonight on CNN, the dramatic story of Elian Gonzalez, the 5-year-old caught in an international custody battle nearly 20 years ago after his mother died at sea trying to get him to America. He is now 23 years old, and telling his story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIAN GONZALEZ, 23 YEARS OLD (translated): When I got older, my father sat me down and said, I brought you back because I love Cuba. I love the revolution and love Fidel.
When the Cuban people need me, I have to be there. I have to fight for the Cuban people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Don't miss the CNN film "Elian". That's tonight at 10:00 right here on CNN.
Also tonight, a total eclipse of -- Obama? Here's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just when you thought it was safe to put away your eclipse glasses, prepare for the presidential reenactments. Oh, sure, we've seen reenactments featuring everything from cookies to cats. That's Pepper the black cat obscuring Toast, playing the sun.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a joke, guys.
MOOS: Even a pair of Los Angeles Dodgers got into the act. The right fielder covering a third baseman.
And just like the real eclipse --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's something to behold, Anderson. MOOS: So is this, retweeted by the president, it's Trump eclipsing
Obama. White House staffers didn't create it. The president just retweeted images a Trump fan named Jerry Travone says said he found on social media.
Travone immediately started taking flack for an anti-Semitic comment he tweeted a few days earlier about Jewish drivers.
Soon, the Trump eclipse started to take fire. A journalist for "The Atlantic" tweeted: It was pretty generous for Trump to compare Obama to the sun.
So he's the smaller thing that temporarily blocks the much bigger and brighter thing. Please, my God, teach this man how analogies work, tweeted a host at "The Daily Beast."
OK, it doesn't quite match the actual eclipse --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh! It's really exciting. I know I sounded like a little kid.
MOOS: That's what Democratic Senator Bob Casey said about Trump eclipsing Obama.
SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Even retweeting it is like third grade.
MOOS: When it comes to reenacting eclipses, stick with pugs over politics. Don't stare straight at them. You'll be blinded by cuteness.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
SCIUTTO: What can't you find on Twitter.
Thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm Jim Sciutto.
"AC360" starts right now.