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Report: Top Trump Adviser Was on Brink of Resigning Over Remarks; Trump Escalates GOP War, Attacks Bob Corker; Monster Hurricane Becomes Category 3. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 25, 2017 - 15:30   ET



[15:32:37] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Bottom of the hour you're watching CNN, Brooke Baldwin. We'll get you back to breaking news out of Texas, of course, this Category 3 hurricane barreling towards the coastline. But first, the White House reacted to one of the top advisers standing up to the president.

CNN has learned the National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn was on the brink of resigning over President Trump's controversial remarks in the wake of Charlottesville. Cohn was condemned for standing there at Trump Tower last week in silence while the president said what he did. Cohn now telling the "Financial Times" in an interview that the administration can and must do better to condemn hate groups.

Moments ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she thinks no one was surprised by Cohn's comments since he and the president have spoken openly about this very issue. So, let's get Michael Smerconish to weigh in, CNN's political commentator and host of "Smerconish" on Saturdays.

This near resignation is certainly news making in an interview that was supposed to make news on tax reform. What did you make of that?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: The president doesn't have a reputation for being very tolerant of dissent and I think that's why this particular case so open and so brazen from such a senior representative of his administration really stands out. I think it speaks well of Gary Cohn that he said what he said, if not sooner, but at least he said it now and maybe the president hears him because nobody, no rational person could dispute what he said. Which is the administration could do a lot better on this matter.

BALDWIN: But how does the president respond once he realized that this is the line, out of that FT interview that is garnering all this attention and that one of his very own, you know, a gang of six considered bowing out because of him.

SMERCONISH: I would be surprised if it took the president by surprise. I have no inside information. The reports are that Gary Cohn has already had a private word with the president in the aftermath of Charlottesville. My hunch is he knew it was coming. It probably speaks to the value that President Trump places on Gary. That Gary Cohn has the cache to be able to do this. [15:35:00] I don't know how many others in the administration could do so, much less would do so.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me ask you, I was just talking to General Honore, I am looking at pictures of hurricane Harvey churning off the coast of Texas, we got the brief that the president is already in route to Camp David which is just 25 minutes from the White House. Honore said it's not a good look. I am paraphrasing, not a good look for a president not to be at the White House when it's very possible that a lot of Texans and Louisianans are about to lose the roofs over their homes. Do you really think it matters though?

SMERCONISH: I don't know as a practical matter if it frankly matters where the president might be. I have never been one to criticize any president for being on vacation because I think the office follows them where ever they might be. The optics, Brooke, I really appreciated the candor of General Honore, I listened with great interest to what he just said to you.

He has the credentials and expertise. I'm more of the political animal. My own reaction is the same as his which is to say I think you want to stay right where you are and let the cameras show you in the situation room hunkered down and monitoring everything.

BALDWIN: Sarah Huckabee Sanders did say they are contemplating a trip for the president next week, but that is next week, that could be a different story.

Let me ask you about the president, lots of tweets this morning. Again, the president is pouring gasoline on another Republican senator. This is the president tweeting, strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run in '18. Tennessee not happy. You know, here he is, the president getting ready to hit the road. He is heading to Missouri next week to sell his tax reform agenda, an agenda he needs Republicans to get it passed. Do you see this as counter productive?

SMERCONISH: I think the reason Senator Corker got his goat is that there's a whisper campaign afoot. In fact, now It is louder than a whisper campaign pertaining to the 25th amendment and whether President Trump is unable to continue to perform his duties. And Brooke, in a month when a book by two dozen health care providers is released and they cast aspersion on his mental health it will grow even louder. Corker represents the first person of any stature within the president's own party to use a word like competence in doubting his leadership. I think that's probably the reason that it really ticked off the president.

BALDWIN: Yes. Good to see you. We'll wake up and see you tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. thank you, my friend.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Speaking of this hurricane, let's get back to our breaking story Harvey. Now upgraded as this Category 3 hurricane as it is churning towards Texas. We'll talk to the mayor of Corpus Christi next, his message to folks who live there, who are still there and plan to ride it out. I am Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN special live coverage.


BALDWIN: Back to the breaking news. One of the cities that is expected to be hit the hardest by this Category 3 hurricane is Corpus Christi, Texas. With me now I have the mayor of Corpus Christi Joe McComb and I believe we also have the fire chief. Mr. Mayor, first you have quite a job on your hands, sir. What is your concern?

JOE MCCOMB, MAYOR CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS: Our concern and our goal is really in this situation with no fatalities. That's our goal is life saving and protection. We think we have done the steps necessary. The emergency planning between the fire chief, emergency management people between the city and county practiced and practiced and practiced and had dress rehearsals. They have their game face on. I am very confident that anything that was within our control will be taken care of. Mother nature is a different source. But if we can keep people out of the low-lying areas and out of the way of the flood waters I think we'll achieve our goal. It doesn't mean we aren't going to have some damage to buildings and property, but that can be replaced and recovered. I feel very good with what we have put in place to deal with situations like this.

BALDWIN: What is your message to folks riding it out?

MCCOMB: There is no reason to be on the streets at this point until the storm is over. Working my way back from city hall to my home I haven't found a business that is open yet. There may be somewhere in town but I haven't found one. You can't go out and spend your money any where. There is no place to get fast food that I have seen. Stay at your house. Avoid anything that looks like it might be water over the road. It may have a smooth surface but there could be a hole 10 feet deep under that water. You never know because of erosion and collapsing of soils underneath.

So just stay home, try to relax, rediscover the art of reading a book or watching TV or listening to music, whatever, be patient. Be planning what you're going to do for after the storm. Be prepared if we lose power that means that in September -- in August and September are our hottest months in Corpus Christi. We have no power it's going to be hot. It's going to be humid and just begin to practice patience. We are going to get through this and the plan we have in place will be a good one for us.

[15:45:00] BALDWIN: Mayor Joe McComb, thank you for pulling over on the side of the road between city hall and home. You have a night ahead of you, sir. Thank you very much to the mayor of Corpus Christi. I have the fire chief with me. I will bring you on. Chief Rocha, we heard from the White House and their priority safety of public and first responders which is you all. You all are the ones that get out in the worst of it. And of course, dealing with the aftermath as well. How are you all preparing?

FIRE CHIEF ROBERT ROCHA, CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS: We are at ground zero here in the city of Corpus Christi. We are only few hours away from a Category 3 strike. We have taken a lot of time preparing for moment. We have trained, exercised, worked together with all elements of government from local, county, city, state and federal we have elements of Texas Department of Emergency Management that are ready if need to do water rescues, high angle rescues, any kind of work that needs to be done by firefighters I believe we are ready to do.

BALDWIN: We need you and are grateful for you as first responders and up and down Texas and Louisiana as well. Thank you. Good luck.

Powerful wind and rains. The bands are starting to hit the coast as this eye is getting closer and closer to Texas. We are there live. This is CNN special live coverage.

[15:250:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BALDWIN: The president's war against his own party is getting worse. He has just launched yet another attack against another Republican senator. This time it is Bob Corker from Tennessee, making him the 11th Republican senator the president has now targeted. And now a well-respected veteran and stalwart of the U.S. senate is calling for his party to essentially disown the president. Former Senator John Danforth, who was once vying to be the vice-presidential nominee, just wrote this in "The Washington Post." Here's a portion. Writing, the fundamental reason Trump isn't a Republican is far bigger than words or policies. He stands in opposition to the founding principle of our party, that of a united country. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln and our founding principle is our commitment to holding the nation together. John Danforth, who served three terms in the U.S. senate and is an ordained episcopal priest, joins me now. Senator, nice to see you. Welcome.


BALDWIN: So, tell me why you don't think President Trump is a real Republican.

DANFORTH: The history of the Republican party is holding the nation together. That was the basic principle at the beginning of our party. We're the party of Abraham Lincoln, we're the party of the union, and it's been the fundamental mission of the Republican party from the beginning. And Trump is absolutely the opposite. He is the opposite of what a Republican is. He's a divider, he set one group against another, he makes people hate each other, resent each other, treat people as though they're not really part of the country. So, he is the opposite of what a Republican is. He's the opposite of what the country is all about. And it's very important for Republicans to make it clear that Donald Trump does not speak for us, we are not like him, we do not talk like him or act like him.

BALDWIN: But, senator, if you look at it from a different way, I mean, I don't need to tell you the man was elected. Obviously, his base still loves him. The latest polling shows 77 percent of Republicans approve of the president's job performance. But Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have taken a, how shall I call it, a soft approach to criticizing the president? I mean, shouldn't this stronger stance you clearly embody and are calling for start at the top?

DANFORTH: I hope it's pervasive. I hope this is a general message by an awful lot of Republicans, and I hope we make it clear to the American people. Because the threat is that Donald Trump will be associated in the public mind with Republicans in general. And if the public feels that the Republican party is Donald Trump, that we're anything like Donald Trump, then we have a very, very bleak future. It's true that he has a corps of strong believers, but what is the corps, maybe a third of the public, less than that? And you can't win many elections with 30-some-odd percent of the vote, so it's really the future of our party.

And the importance of having a conservative political party in our country, we have to have it.

[15:55:00] The Republican party is very important to our country, and to let it just be destroyed by this guy, but the underlying problem is the divisiveness. That's the question. What's the point of being in politics? What's the point of being a leader? Is it to try to further divide people or is it to try to bring us together? And he's made it clear what he's trying to do. He's the most divisive president we've had in the history of this country, and Republicans have to make it clear that that is not what we believe.

BALDWIN: I understand. I understand. I want to ask you about some other news of the day, senator, as I have you. The National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn who is Jewish, in his interview with "The Financial Times" breaking with Trump on his handling of Charlottesville, saying the administration, quote, can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning hate groups. "The New York Times" is reporting that he even drafted a letter of resignation, though he told the FT he was reluctant to leave his post. Try to put yourself in his shoes, senator. Is that the right thing, you know, serving the greater good?

DANFORTH: I don't know. Every individual is different, and whether it's better to stay in the cabinet -- I think it probably is. I think particularly the national security people should stay put. I mean, that gives me some assurance that we're going to have soundness in the making of defense policy, defense decisions and national security decisions. So, I wouldn't advise people to just walk out and leave.


BALDWIN: Former Missouri Senator John Danforth, thank you, sir. Meantime, love, loss, fairy tale and tragedy. Princess Diana lived a life in the public eye, but two decades now after that tragic car crash that took her life, there are still compelling questions about how she lived and how she died. CNN's Clarissa Ward explores little known moments about the life of the people's princess in this new CNN special report, "Diana, Chasing a Fairy Tale."


CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The most famous and photographed woman in the world. A princess with style and substance. A loving mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Diana was absolutely born to be a mother.

WARD: A passionate advocate.

FORMER PRINCESS DIANA, UNITED KINGDOM: I'm trying to highlight a problem that's going on all around the world.

WARD: Through it all, her every move scrutinized and scandalized.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was followed everywhere. I think she found that time very difficult.

WARD: Behind the flashbulbs, a life marred by loneliness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She wanted her freedom, she wanted a life.

WARD: The tragedy that took her life --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Princess Diana, at the age of 36, has died.

WARD: Left the world devastated and in disbelief. 20 years later, what do we know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She went to her lawyer and said, they're going to kill me and here's how.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She knew something was wrong.

WARD: Friends, family, those who were there speak out about Diana. A woman who transcended celebrity and transformed a monarchy.


BALDWIN: Clarissa is with us for all the details. My mother has read every book on the planet that you could ever read. She's probably watching and say, yes, Brooke, I did, on all things Princess Diana. But it's so interesting the difference in her private life versus public.

WARD: I think everybody wanted so much to buy into the fairy tale, this incredibly beautiful young woman from an aristocratic background marries the most eligible bachelor in the whole U.K., if not the entire world, and you sort of wanted them to skip off into the sunset. Of course, as we all know, that's not what happened. Spending time with a lot of her friends, some of whom have never spoken before, you realize that in spite of being the most adored woman, this beautiful woman, this fashion icon, Diana was incredibly lonely, and her life in many parts of it was extremely difficult, extremely painful, and extremely sad.

BALDWIN: There are still, though, conspiracy theorists out there and who say, it wasn't a car crash, that's not how she died. How do you respond to those people?

WARD: Watch our documentary, listen to all the facts. It's all going to be laid out for you and then make your decision. There are definitely some bizarre things and some questions out there, but watch the facts and they will tell you that this was a tragic, tragic accident, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Clarissa Ward, thank you. Nice to see you, and we will all be tuning in to the CNN special report, "Diana, Chasing a Fairy Tale." It premieres this Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. eastern.

A large category 3 storm barreling off the coast of Texas and Louisiana. Live pictures up and down the Texas coast. Heed the warnings. I'm Brooke Baldwin. "The Lead" with Jake Tapper is next.