New focus on Trump's counterterror strategy after van attack

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," August 17, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The latest scenes of carnage and mayhem sicken us all. As the president said earlier today, the United States condemns this terror attack and we will do whatever is necessary. Whatever inspired today's terror attack, the United States stands ready to assist the people of Spain to find and punish those responsible.

SECRETARY OF STATE REX TILLERSON: Terrorists around the world should know the United States and our allies are resolved to find you and bring you to justice.


BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS: Some of the reaction now as we continue to gather more information out of Barcelona where a driver took a van down a pedestrian mall, killing at least 13 and wounding more than 100 at this hour.

I want to bring in our panel right now and talk about this: Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, looking into law in Europe and here at home; Michael Crowley, senior foreign affairs correspondent from Politico, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. And gentlemen, we may be interrupted. The vice president is about to speak in Panama City, Panama, as he continues his Latin American tour, so if that happens we'll break away.

Michael, the point a lot of people seem to look at here is with the shrinking of territory in Raqqa and in muscle. They are trying to expand where they can, and this appears to be another case of that.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, POLITICO: Absolutely. It's a frustrating paradox that as ISIS loses territory it feels that it needs to compensate to show that it still in the game by striking outside of that territory in the Middle East that we are systematically taking away from it.

And there are a lot of foreign fighters who have returned to Europe, they have training. They have the desire to kill. They've been radicalized, not to mention the ideology that lives on online. Radicalization doesn't have to have anything to do with people who have been in combat, gone to Mosul, gone to Raqqa, met al-Baghdadi. As we all know by this time, guys on the Internet on Twitter are getting radicalized left and right and there's just not a lot you can do about it. This is the new normal unfortunately. And we have to get used to it to some degree.

HEMMER: We're still trying to sort through facts, and frankly, there is a lot, Judge, that we don't know right now. But we believe in less 24 hours explosions at two different homes, one leveled one of the homes.


HEMMER: The driver of this vehicle perhaps has not even been arrested just yet. When it comes to surveillance in Spain, are there many differences there as opposed to the rest of Europe?

NAPOLITANO: Spain is the second most pervasively surveilled country in Europe, the most being Great Britain. Their laws are very similar to ours thanks to recent legislation enacted. They capture like the American NSA does every phone call in real time, every email in real time, every text message in real time, and so they, just like the NSA here, suffer from information overload. More information about decent people and they don't have time to sift through it.

These things are just going to keep happening until intelligence authorities focus their attention on those as to whom there is reason to have suspicion. We know of at least five human beings involved in this, and some of the 40 or 50 miles apart. Unless they communicated by smoke signals, their communications were captured by Spanish authorities but not recognized until it was too late.

HEMMER: This particular instant is going to play out for several days, I think we can all agree on that as we learn more. The president tweeted this a short time ago. "The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough and strong. We love you."

Charles, to this point about crushing the ideology that Michael brings up here, Michael Waltz, a former Green Beret commander about 30 minutes go, he talked it to throughout history, you have to be committed to go ahead and wiping it out. When you look at the tactic that was used yet again, taking a vehicle, driving down the sidewalk and swerving right to left and back again trying to hit as many people as possible, this is not easy to defend, and some may even suggest impossible.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It is impossible to defend. And I think we have to do what we can, we have to surveil. We have to set up pedestrian barriers. We have to do all of that. But in the end is not going to make much of a difference.

One thing will make a difference, and that is defeating the ideology. And that doesn't mean clever stuff on YouTube and trying to out-argue them on the Internet. That has nothing to do with it. It's what Usama said a long ago, people go with the strong horse. As long as people have the sense that Jihadism is on the rise, the caliphate, there's a utopia on the other side, they will join. Once they get the idea that it's collapsing on them, then you get a radical reduction in that attraction.

The obvious example is communism. There was a lot of communist terror, Latin America, middle of Europe, everywhere in the heyday of communism. It got wiped out. It lost its home base, it lost its ideology, and there's almost none of it around the world. The key battle here is Raqqa. ISIS has been defeated in Mosul. When the Raqqa campaign is over, when ISIS has been utterly routed and on the run, it's not going to disappear. There will still be adherents, there will still be people who get into cars, trucks, and kill people. But the idea that it's on the march, that it's collecting recruits, it will be the beginning of the end. The same way Al Qaeda when it lost its base in Afghanistan and was scattered, it's still active, it still kills people. But it's not in 16 years been able to launch anything like 9/11. You've got to kill it at the source.

HEMMER: Very interesting point. You know, Michael, you wonder, then, Charles, and to you, Michael, how far we are from that point that Charles describes.

CROWLEY: We are a ways from that point I think. I take Charles' point, but I would say there is a scenario where we take the territory from ISIS but it becomes an insurgency in Iraq much like the one George W. Bush had to authorize a major and controversial troop surge to quash. The Iraqis would not be able to put on the major insurgency on their own at this point. And remember, that insurgency was flourishing and was a propaganda boon for Al Qaeda in the 2000s.

So the pessimistic take on what you're saying, which may be the right answer, is that even having lost territory, having lost the caliphate, ISIS will become more of a free-floating insurgency in the Iraq-Syria region that will continue to produce all kinds of propaganda victories and videos that will continue to be a recruiting tool. And what is the answer to that? I don't know. It's hard and it's disturbing.

KRAUTHAMMER: The answer is even if they can be active, once they lose the mandate of heaven, once they lose a sense that they are inevitable, it becomes harder to recruit. People don't want to join losing causes.

NAPOLITANO: But we have the tools to find them before this starts if we concentrate on who the bad guys are rather than the mass surveillance which produces more data than we possibly have the resources to sift through.

HEMMER: Spain experiences 13 years ago, 192 dead in those train attacks in Madrid.

NAPOLITANO: That's when they began their mast surveillance.

HEMMER: We're waiting on Mike Pence. If that happens we will bring it to you. In a moment, though, Steven Bannon and palace intrigue at the White House and the West Wing no less, next.


STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight, you're sadly mistaken. Every day, every day it is going to be a fight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In a telephone interview, Bannon dismissed what he calls ethno-nationalism, saying, quote, "These guys are a collection of clowns."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steve Bannon thought this conversation with a leftwing magazine called "The American Prospect" with a reporter Robert Kuttner who has not been friendly to the president was off the record.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will see what happens with Mr. Bannon, but he's a good person and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.


HEMMER: Steve Bannon is in the news for the words of Steve Bannon I will share with you in a moment. But in the meantime during the commercial break the vice president, Mike Pence in Panama City, Panama, went on to reiterate how the U.S. stands by our European allies in helping them in any way possible given the attack there in Barcelona. Some more on that when we get it.

In the meantime with regard to Steve Bannon, here is what we are learning. He did an interview in a liberal magazine, and in it he said a lot of things. But with regard to the nationalist movement, this is what he said. "These guys are a collection of clowns, ethno-nationalism. It's losers. It's a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much and we have to help crush it, you know, help crush it more. The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got them."

That was one interview with the American Prospect. There was another interview with The New York Times. In part he said the following on the Confederate statues, "President Trump by asking where does this all end, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, connects with the American people about their history, culture, and traditions. The race identity politics the left wants to say it's all racist, just give me more. Tear down more statues. Say the revolution is coming. I can't get enough of it," end quote.

And how do we then, back with the panel, how do we, Michael, look at these comments as to why they are coming out now? Let's start there.

CROWLEY: It's a very confusing moment because we have been hearing for several days, longer maybe, that Bannon's job was in trouble, Trump was on the brink of firing him. But this is one of the most Bannon-esque moments in Trump's presidency. That performance at the press conference a couple days ago was pure Bannon. It could have been Steve Bannon at the podium but for the fact that Trump wouldn't say he wasn't going to fire him.

So it's confusing. There's a lot of theories about what Bannon was up to. Did he know that he was on the record when he was later claiming he was off the record? Bill, I say to people that in Washington if the question is, is it a mistake or sloppiness or confusion versus some master plan or conspiracy, always go with the first one. Washington is more like the TV show "Veep" than "House of Cards." My bet would be that Bannon in that first interview did think he was off the record.

But let's step back and on the larger point of what he's talking about, the politics here, I think in the short term, particularly if you look at some of the polling, the Republicans are still with the Donald Trump are on the issue of the events in Charlottesville, the statues and that sort of thing. He has more support among Republicans in particular than I might have expected.

But I think that in the longer term, this is a losing game. So Bannon may be right that race and identity politics, generally speaking, leave the Klan out of it, there's no good that comes from being associated with the Klan. But on these questions of race and identity politics, it could be short-term gain for Trump. It's long-term terrible for the Republican Party in an America that is growing more and more diverse. Race is not a long-term winning issue for the Republicans.

HEMMER: Judge, was this an exit interview or is that going too far?

NAPOLITANO: I think that is going too far, Bill. I think this was planned and plotted by Steve Bannon to get his bosses troubles off the front page, and I don't think it will work. Donald Trump has just had the worst week of his presidency and it was 100 percent self-inflicted. And Bannon is trying to make himself a lightning rod. Bannon is trying to cause himself to be the center of attention to get the criticism off the president. The president lost natural allies in the Senate and natural allies in the business community as a result of that horrific press conference the other day. And Steve Bannon is trying to get the pressure off his boss. I think it will be short-lived.

HEMMER: Let's see, Charles, how much distinction there is between what Steve Bannon had to say and those extended interviews and what the president tweeted earlier today. "Sad to see the history," he writes on Twitter, "and culture of our great country being ripped apart. The removal of our beautiful statues and monuments, you can't change history but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish. Also the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns, and parks will be greatly missed never able to be comparably replaced." Is there separation between these two or not?

KRAUTHAMMER: On this issue, apparently not, but it's paradoxical that he should renounce and ridicule ethno-nationalism when the whole point on this emphasis on race, statues, defending heritage, is the essence of ethno- nationalism. So there's sort of a contradiction at the heart of what Bannon is saying.

And I'm not sure I would attribute the brilliant strategic maneuver that my friend the Judge is. I think that Bannon just got Scaramucci-ed.


NAPOLITANO: You have to define that verb.

KRAUTHAMMER: Actually, he was self-Scaramucci-ed, it was kind of a Japanese version of it where you actually impale yourself. This was completely unnecessary. I suspect he thought he was speaking to somebody who would not publish this. But part of the reason that it is so inexplicable and it can't be a part a larger strategy is that on North Korea, which he did speak extensively about, he totally contradicted the president. He ridiculed his position. The president is going around saying he continues these threats, fire and fury, we're going to retaliate. And Bannon says it's idiotic. There's nothing we can do. We are done. And he kind of equates Kim Jong-un and President Trump as sort of these amateurs blundering about. That I think is the most damaging part in terms of his standing with the president, and I'm not sure he survives that.

HEMMER: Michael, quickly, and then the Judge.

CROWLEY: I do think actually Bannon is right about North Korea. I think he has kind of punctured the veil of the debate here. And I suspect that a lot of people in the Trump White House agree that we don't have a plausible military option. The costs are too high for a first strike, although it is notable that Senator Lindsey Graham recently spoke to the president and came away saying I think he could really be serious about this. But I think what Bannon is saying reflects the overwhelming consensus in the national security team.

HEMMER: We'd assumed that he did not want this word to get out.

NAPOLITANO: I don't know how he can expect anybody to believe that. Steve Bannon calls The New York Times and expects to be off the record? That's inconceivable. And the same thing with The American Prospect.

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