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Trump Expected to Speak Again on Virginia Attack; Suspect on Virginia Attack to be Arraigned; Merck CEO Quits Trump Manufacturing Council in Protest; Trump Expected To Speak Again On Attack. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired August 14, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:17] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, John Berman here. We often start the show with the phrase, "new this morning," but today we begin with what is not new this morning.

What is not new is that White supremacists are bad, revolting, repugnant. Some of the people who've said in just the last 24 hours include members of the President's own party, his own daughter, his own Attorney General.

One person who has not said it out loud or on Twitter is the President of the United States. Not directly. Not in the wake of the violence in Virginia this weekend sparked by White supremacists and neo-Nazis. Not after the death of Heather Heyer there to protest the hate.

CNN has just learned that the President will address the violence in Charlottesville again later today. But will he directly condemn, by name, the White supremacists who were there?

Aides tell CNN, quote, it's his call. Indeed, it is his call whether he thinks it's worth a mention. So far, that mention has come from his staff, as noted by the Attorney General a short time ago.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday, his own spokesman explicitly condemned by name the Nazis --

CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: But that's the spokesman --

SESSIONS: -- and the Ku Klux Klan.

ROSE: That's the spokesman, not the President.

SESSIONS: Well, that's --

ROSE: And the President didn't

SESSIONS: It's the President's spokesman. And I'm sure he will speak about it again. But his own spokesman said that. I just think we're making him -- too much out of this. I really do.

ROSE: Fair enough, and that's why we're talking to you. But it's wrong to make a moral equivalency between these two groups of protesters, is it not?

SESSIONS: Absolutely.


BERMAN: Absolutely no moral equivalence, which are different words than the President has used when he said that the hatred and bigotry and violence was coming from many sides. Many sides, he says.

One side faces justice this morning. Very shortly, the man accused of ramming his car into a crowd, injuring 19 and leaving one woman dead, will face a judge. Twenty-year-old James Alex Fields is set to appear by video link from jail very shortly. He is being held there on multiple charges, including suspicion of second-degree murder.

CNN covering all the angles this morning. Jeff Zeleny is with the President in New Jersey. Kaylee Hartung and Rosa Flores, in Charlottesville.

Rosa, I want to start with you. What will we see in court this morning?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, good morning. As you mentioned, Fields expected to face a judge via video link in the building that you see behind me. This arraignment on count of second- degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and one count of failure to stop at a scene after a death.

Now, like you mentioned, this is through a video link because Fields is being held in a regional jail that's nearby. And we're not expecting for this proceeding to last very long. But here is what we are expecting, for the judge to determine if bail will be set.

Now, there's a whole separate other investigation handled by the feds, by the U.S. Department of Justice, and by the FBI's Civil Rights Division. They're also investigating. It's a separate investigation, but they're looking into the details of some of this case. They are looking to see if a hate crime was what happened here, if this rises to the level of domestic terrorism.

Now, an official that is familiar with this investigation tells CNN that they believe that there is evidence to be suspicious that this suspect intended to send a message, not just to hurt people but send a message. And, again, they're trying to figure out motive.

Now, we're also learning a lot about Fields from people around him. From his mother, that she believed that he was -- she -- he was coming here for a Trump pro rally. From his high school teacher, we're learning that he was obsessed with Nazis and with the Nazi culture. Take a listen.


DEREK WEIMER, FORMER HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER OF JAMES ALEX FIELDS, JR. (via telephone): He had some very radical views on race. He was very infatuated with the Nazis, with Adolf Hitler. He also had a huge military history, especially with, like, German military history and World War II. But he was pretty infatuated with that stuff.


FLORES: Now, from his principal, we learned that he graduated in 2015. That he was reserved, that he was quiet. And from an Army spokesperson, that he later joined the Army in august 2015 but he didn't go beyond basic training -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Rosa Flores for us in Charlottesville. We do have some breaking news in terms of the President of the United States, what he is saying. We'll get to that in just a moment.

He will leave New Jersey, his resort there, for Washington, D.C. in just a bit. White House aides tell us he will speak on Charlottesville. Just how he will speak, we are not sure. Will this second attempt be stronger than the first?

[09:05:05] CNN's Jeff Zeleny with the details on this in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Jeff, what are you hearing?


The President, as you said, will be heading back to Washington, a previously scheduled interruption to this working vacation here. He has a series of meetings. He'll be signing memorandum this afternoon in an unrelated matter. But now, the Charlottesville attack, front and center on the minds of everyone watching what the President will say.

We do know that he will be meeting with his Attorney General and his new FBI Director around 11:30 or so somewhere in the White House grounds. You know, we know the White House is under renovation. So this will not be an Oval Office meeting, but he will be meeting with the Attorney General.

And the -- you know, this really, John, is a moment for the President to respond or not. It's his call, as one aide told me, to all of the blowback that he has received over the weekend from Republicans and Democrats alike, you know, from supporters of his. Even from some advisers speaking privately, saying that he missed the opportunity on Saturday.

So the question here is -- you know, we usually do not see the President expressing apology or regret for something he said, but we will see if he amplifies his remarks on Saturday.

But this fallout is coming fairly fast and furiously, John. A new piece of information just in. There has been a major resignation from the President's advisory board, a group of CEOs from across the U.S. who advise the President.

This is from Kenneth Frazier. He's the head of a big pharmaceutical company, the Merck Company, that's based here in New Jersey.

I have seen him at the White House several times with the President over the last several months or so, John, but he has just resigned from his spot on this White House advisory board, sending out a statement. It says this. He says that he is trying to -- you know, he is taking a stand as a matter of personal conscience, standing up to extremism and hatred.

So, John, this is something that the President actually called out himself. He said, look, I hope he has time to work on the high prices of drugs and pharmaceuticals since he's off this advisory council.

But make no question about it, he is a leading African-American CEO in this country, stepping off the President's advisory board because of what's happened over the weekend, John. So this is something that is really going to be hanging over this White House, over this President, until he addresses it again. Which we're told he will do at some point later today.

BERMAN: We just don't know how. And, of course, that's the big question.

Jeff, just let me read you a little bit of that statement that --

ZELENY: And that is the question.

BERMAN: -- that we got from Ken Frazier here.

ZELENY: Right.

BERMAN: America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.

Ken Frazier quit the President's manufacturing council because, obviously, he feels that the President of the United States did not do that. And the President of the United States, who has not called out, by name, White supremacists or neo Nazis called out Ken Frazier this morning. He went to Twitter to call out this man who quit his manufacturing council.

Again, Jeff, as you well know, the President has no problem being direct when he wants to be, correct?

ZELENY: He definitely can be direct, often is direct, John. And so far, he has been tweeting up a bit of a storm. A small great storm, I would say, at least four tweets this morning. Not one of them has mentioned Charlottesville.

But, yesterday, at least by our count, John, was one of the only fourth days of his presidency he did not tweet at all, at least a direct comment. And this is something, you know, that was certainly capturing the conversation here. So this is a moment for this President, one of those moments that you can't foresee, that you can't plan necessarily, where the reaction is gauged in his -- you know, how presidential he wants to be is being gauged on this.

But, John, what I'm struck by, the Republicans who called him out over the weekend so quickly.

BERMAN: Right.

ZELENY: Orrin Hatch, not exactly a shrinking violet here, very close to the President, a supporter of his. He said his brother did not die fighting the Nazis for, you know, there to be a comment and action like this here. So it is incumbent on the President, he knows that, to speak later today. We'll see how he does -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Jeff Zeleny, who is in New Jersey near the President. All right. Jeff, we may have to come back to you because who knows what else the President will say and about whom, over the next several minutes.

Joining me now is Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, formerly with President Obama's civil rights division at the Department of Justice during the Obama administration.

Vanita, thanks very much for being with us. First, if I can, because it just happened, can I get your reaction to the breaking news of Ken Frazier from Merck, resigning the President's manufacturing council over the President's response or nonresponse this weekend to the action of the White supremacists?

VANITA GUPTA, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE ON CIVIL AND HUMAN RIGHTS: I don't think that any of us should be surprised. I'm glad that as a leader in our business industry, that he has taken a stance.

[09:10:03] I mean, look, you said it. The President is being roundly criticized by members of his own party, let alone the legions and legions of people in this country who simply cannot believe the kind of statement that the President issued after the violence that took place in Charlottesville. There just is no excuse for that kind of statement.

And then followed with insult upon injury, by an anonymous White House spokesman who kind of doubled down on that very kind of, you know, equivocal statement yesterday. It's been two days now since the President has had those comments lying in the air. You've got a person who died, people in the hospital.

You know, Ken Frazier -- other leaders should be following Ken Frazier's example at this point because there simply isn't any way to support a President who cannot bring it upon himself to denounce White supremacy unequivocally, supremacists who are marching, literally marching in his name, uttering his name on Saturday.

BERMAN: I want to come back to the politics in just a moment --


BERMAN: -- because you made a bunch of strong statements right there that I do want to probe a little bit more. But, first, I want to lean on your legal expertise, having worked in the civil rights division of the Justice Department as you did.

The Attorney General has launched a civil rights investigation into this. This morning, he says, as far as he is concerned, this meets the level of domestic terror. What is the significance of that, from the Attorney General?

GUPTA: So it's significant, and I'm heartened to hear the Attorney General say that. I thought it took far too long for the Justice Department to announce this investigation on Saturday. He should have announced it as an investigation into domestic terrorism activity.

It matters when the Attorney General says that because, internally, that means that resources are going to be aligned. You're going to have involvement of other parts of the Justice Department and other parts of the FBI to conduct the investigation.

Again, you know, one only has to wonder if that had been a Muslim man in that car, within seconds, this government and the administration would have referred to that as an act of domestic terrorism. So while it's been a couple of days, I think it's important that the Attorney General is labeling this as what it is, which is an act of domestic terrorism, no question.

BERMAN: Now, the group you are now with, you know, has condemned the President's reaction to this, or nonreaction, to call it by name, White supremacists or neo-Nazis, on Saturday. And you did it again right here.

The White House did, though, put out a statement. And it said: the President said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, hatred, and, of course, that includes White supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis, and all extremists groups.

So you don't think it's enough that the White House has now put those -- that out in fairly clear terms?

GUPTA: That was put out by an unnamed White House spokesperson. And when we -- when people have a President in chief who is the leader of this country, it is incumbent upon that leader to exercise the moral high ground that he or she has and to make statements personally out of their mouths.

And this is -- what is so troubling about this is that, on Saturday, President Trump issues a really disturbing statement that gets roundly condemned by people of his own party, by people across the country. He is silent yesterday.

And you know that he is not a president who is afraid of tweeting and condemning and criticizing people. He has already apparently criticized Ken Frazier. This is a president who is not shy about these things, and yet now, even if he calls this back today in a speech later this afternoon, it has been two days.

And, frankly, I think the statement yesterday from the White House spokesperson was -- added salt into the wounds for those of us who are deeply pained by the fact that his administration, his rhetoric, and that he has garnered support and buffer from White supremacists and that he was unable to very strongly and clearly criticize those White supremacists that were marching in his name on Saturday.

I don't -- you know, I worry. He has -- he's lost the moral --

BERMAN: Right.

GUPTA: -- ability to make those statements today even and to have those be credible for so many of us.

BERMAN: We will wait to see what the President says if, in fact, he addresses this directly. Vanita Gupta, thanks so much for being with us.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: Appreciate your time.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BERMAN: I want to go back now to Charlottesville, a community that is certainly reeling this morning. The residents there and so many people around the country are remembering Heather Heyer. She is the woman who was killed there. Now one of her close friends is speaking to CNN about the moments just before the tragedy.


MARISSA BLAIR, CLOSE FRIEND OF HEATHER HEYER: We were with a group of counter protesters that were happy. We were around spreading love. We were happy to be around people that believe in the same things that we believe in, that we're fighting for the same things that we were fighting in.

[09:14:57] We weren't around any protesters, any neo-Nazis, any alt- right people. We weren't around them. We were marching peacefully through the streets. There were clowns on the streets. We were having a good time, so it makes it even harder to just think that we were just enjoying ourselves and we were -- we're spreading love and then this happened.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Heather Heyer, 32 years old. CNN's Kaylee Hartung who has been in Charlottesville for days now joins me now. This young 32-year-old woman just one of three people who lost their lives as a result of the violence this weekend -- Kaylee.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, with the help of Heather Heyer's family and friends, we're learning more about her life and passion. She was a paralegal at a law firm in Charlottesville. She helped clients through bankruptcy proceedings, a job very indicative of a passion she felt in wanting to help other who needed it.

Her parents tell us they are very proud of the convictions that their daughter held, her dad saying that she had a bigger backbone than he did. Here is more from her mother.


SUSAN BRO, HEATHER HEYER'S MOTHER: It was important to her to speak up for people that she felt were not being heard to speak up when injustices were happening. And she saw in the lives of many of her African-American friends particularly and her gay friends that equal rights were not being given.


HARTUNG: As Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has said, her bravery should inspire all of us to come together. Nineteen others were injured at last report. Ten are in good condition. The other nine have been released from the hospital.

Today we are also hearing from the mayor of Charlottesville, Mike Signer. In the lead-up to this event, he told us he felt like his city was prepared for what could come during the weekend.

They had time to prepare for that and the scale of what was ahead of them. But it was after this rally was declared an unlawful assembly that people, thousands of protesters and counter-protesters began marching through the streets of Charlottesville and it was then that fatal attack occurred.

Pretty soon here, John, within the next hour, we will see James Alex Fields arraigned in a courtroom not far from here.

BERMAN: Heather Heyer's message, we hope, is the one that resonates today, though, not this suspect who will appear in court. Kaylee Hartung, great reporting. Thank you for being with us this morning.

We are waiting to hear from the president on Charlottesville. Will he identify the hate groups by name? If he does, does it change the impact of his initial response?

Also, we'll hear from a photographer inside the protest, he said these clashes were unlike anything he had ever seen.

Also, we have new developments in the standoff with North Korea. Stay tuned for those.



BERMAN: All right. Happening now, the president is leaving his resort in New Jersey heading to Washington where he will meet with the attorney general and new FBI director on the Charlottesville investigation.

And we are told he will speak again on Charlottesville. Will he have a second change, though, to make a first impression? With us now, CNN political analysts, David Drucker and April Ryan, and Margaret Talov, senior White House correspondent for "Bloomberg News." Guys, we have some breaking news from the president, he has made some statements this morning in direct response to Ken Frazier, who is the CEO of Merck, who quit the president's manufacturing council over presumably the president's response to the violence in Charlottesville.

Let me read you again part of Ken Frazier's statement, "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American idea that all people are created equal.

Now clearly Ken Frazier did not think the president clearly stated that. The president has responded on Twitter by attacking Ken Frazier. April Ryan, the president responded to Ken Frazier in less than one hour. It's been now about two days and he hasn't called the white supremacists out by name.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Ken Frazier is an African-American pharmaceutical executive and he's going after and talking about now you have time to lower rip-off drug prices. The president is angry. This tweet shows he's angry about Charlottesville.

And unfortunately, the president did not come out and make the statement, focusing on those who are responsible. The key group that's responsible. So, therefore, if he did not respond to them via statement, people are wondering and people within his own circle are wondering. That is why Ken Frazier, an African-American, is walking away, because of this hate.

BERMAN: He attacked an African-American CEO for his stance on racism before he attacked, by name, the white supremacists. Margaret Talov, this is creating an issue with many Republican members of Congress, many of whom who have made direct statements out loud, Cory Gardner, and many of whom are flat out trolling the president.

Marco Rubio with perhaps the most subtle and cutting tweet this morning. He wrote, "One who winks at a fault causes trouble, but one who frankly reproves promotes peace." That's Proverbs 10:10 for Marco Rubio right now. What kind of problems is this creating for Republicans?

MARGARET TALOV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG NEWS": Well, we are coming up on midterm season, quickly approaching and up until now the question has been about policy. It has been about changes to health care policy or tax policy.

This, you know -- the president's sort of inaction in terms of a very clear and forceful statement about what happened over the weekend has many Republicans concerned politically that they will be painted with a broad brush in terms of racial insensitivity.

I have to say beyond that, this has taken a national tragedy that really wasn't and didn't need to be about the Trump administration or President Trump and turned the focus on to him.

[09:25:10] And I think that can't have been intended, is definitely unfortunate, and has created a problem that didn't exist two days ago. And the decision to respond so quickly on Twitter to the Merck executive has compounded that.

BERMAN: Right. Because it shows what he can do when he sets his mind to it and it shows it was a choice what to say and what not to say on Saturday. David Drucker, we are told by the White House that the president will address Charlottesville later today.

We frankly have no idea what he will say. Will he decide to call out white supremacists and neo Nazis by name? If he does, how far does that go to correct whatever damage there might be, David?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, hard to say. He will have missed the moment. I think with members of his own party it might reduce tensions as a little bit and frustrations. The president is supposed to meet now with the FBI director and his attorney general to discuss Charlottesville.

The problem for the president is that he is being judged by his own standard. When there are acts of radical Islamic terrorism, he has never hesitated to comment quickly and call it out by name.

He has been critical of some of his political opponents and his predecessor for calling a violent extremism and refusing to call radical jihadism for what it is. When things like this happen -- there was a bombing of a mosque in Minnesota. Nobody died.

There was an attack by an apparent white supremacist in Portland, Oregon, on a subway. Somebody did die. The president has never commented explicitly and quickly about stuff like that. So, this fits that pattern. That's why it is so glaring.

If the president was a bland sort of guy that didn't say much on Twitter and wasn't very explicit, we might criticize a lack of moral leadership, but it wouldn't be as glaring as it is.

What we've seen from Republicans on Capitol Hill just adds to the tension and lack of trust between the president and his party on the Hill. That could have implications later as they're trying to get some of these heavy legislative lifts done.

Because we know the president doesn't like to be criticized, particularly by Republicans on the Hill, whom he views as his subordinates. Could the president take corrective action here? Sure, he could.

It might be helpful for Republicans. A lot of people in the country, there's still going to be a lot of work to do on his part because these things are about moments. The president, we're heading into 48 hours later, and still has not been explicit in the way many think he should have been.

BERMAN: You know, April Ryan, one of the president's chief jobs is to be healer in chief, which President Trump did after Steve Scalise was shot and other members wounded there in that baseball practice. We saw President Obama do it too many times after so many shootings here. Margaret made an interesting point here. One of the things that has happened, intentionally or not intentionally, instead of healing and reaching out and helping the families of those of Heather Heyer, who were hurt in Charlottesville, this has become about the president.

RYAN: It really has become about the president. This president is a moral leader. He is supposed to be a moral leader. When we look at presidents, he's not just a leader who deals with foreign issues or just economic issues.

He deals with domestic issues and sometimes he has to deal with issues of the heart. He is the commander in chief, leader of the free world and a moral leader at this point. He sets the tone. It comes from the top.

If this president does not come out with words forcefully, saying that he condemns this, this is not right -- even as David Duke is saying, what he is saying, if he does not come out there is still spillage.

Once again, I mean, we're seeing in this tweet about Ken Frazier. The president is angry. You know, there are people in different sectors, be it Republican, be it those who are in the civil rights movement.

He's doing this to himself by having people like Steve Bannon there who is basically an extension of some groups that are not seen as friendly to the other, to people of other religions, sexual orientations or races. So, this president has got to set the tone and change the course of what's been happening this weekend.

BERMAN: All right, we will see. Again, the president expected to speak later today. He will address Charlottesville. It is up to him, his aides say, about whether or not he will mention these hate groups by name. David Drucker, Margaret Talov, April Ryan, great discussion. Thank you very, very much.

China now weighing in on the North Korean conflict, as there are new developments and new statements from key advisers to the president with a decidedly different tone that the president himself has been using. Stay with us.