Corker says many of public Trump criticisms were effort to influence president

COLUMBIA, Tenn. - U.S. Sen. Bob Corker says many of the criticisms he made this week about President Donald Trump were first raised privately to the president and later made publicly in an effort to influence Trump and top White House officials.

"But let me just say to you, the things that I said publicly [Thursday], I have said privately to the president numerous times," the Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Friday in Columbia during a speech to local Rotary and Kiwanis Club members.

On Thursday, Corker, who often speaks with Trump, made national news when during and following a speech to the Chattanooga Rotary Club he openly criticized the president for having charged that far-left activists shared responsibility along with white supremacists and neo-Nazis for the death in Charlottesville, Va., of a woman fatally struck by a car driven into a crowd.

A far-right demonstrator has been charged with second degree murder in the melee in which nearly two dozen others were injured as right-wing groups demonstrated, marched and fought with left-wing counterparts over removal of a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

"We're at a point where there needs to be radical changes at the White House - it has to happen," Corker told reporters after his Chattanooga Rotary Club speech. "He [Trump] recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of our nation - what has made it great and what it is today."

With Congress in recess, Corker has been making the rounds across Tennessee this week, speaking with civic service clubs in Chattanooga, Cleveland, Knoxville and Columbia.

Earlier on Friday, Corker told reporters in Nashville that he hoped his comments regarding white supremacists' violent acts in Charlottesville last weekend will "influence [Trump] and the people around him."

Corker was in Nashville where he spoke to attendees at the Operation Stand Down Tennessee Heroes Breakfast, a fundraiser for veterans, and then with reporters.

He told reporters he has not spoken with Trump since last week, but noted, "I'm sure he's very aware of what I said yesterday."

"The things that I say, I say hopefully to influence him and to influence the people around him," said Corker, who had been considered by Trump at one point as his running mate and later as U.S. Secretary of State.

"I'm very aware of many frustrations internally, and look, there's such a great opportunity," Corker said. "Our economy is doing well, we've got tremendous opportunities as a nation. There are so many things that he has done that I agree with.

"But," Corker said, "we're at a point in our nation where bringing out the best in the people in our nation, and bringing out the best in our country is where we need to be - not seeking to further divide our nation in order to stimulate your base, to energize your base. That's not an appropriate place for our president to be."

The former Chattanooga mayor later told reporters in Columbia, south of Nashville, that he had little to say about the abrupt departure of Trump's top strategist, the controversial Steve Bannon, executive editor of the self-styled "alt-right" Breitbart News.

"I've tried to stay away from personalities. When we've had conversations about some of the issues that needed to be addressed [with the president] I've never tried to associate them with any individual," Corker said of his conversations with the president.