Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Calls out KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists; Merck CEO Quits Trump Council; Ex-Charlottesville Police Chief on Attack. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 14, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In the meantime, the news continues right now, right here on CNN.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you so much.

Good to be with you on this month. I'm Brooke Baldwin. This is CNN's special live coverage of this deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and just this firestorm surrounding the president's response.

After two days of outcry from both parties for not calling out the racist groups behind the weekend rally in Charlottesville that turned deadly, President Trump finally did it. Just moments ago, he not only condemned the KKK, and neo-Nazis by name, but he also recognized the lives lost.

Thirty-year-old Heather Heyer was run over and killed when a driver just plowed into this crowd of counter-protesters. And State Troopers Lieutenant H.J. Cullen and Burke Bates were patrolling near the site of these clashes between white nationalists and counter protesters when their helicopters crashed. Here was the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Racism is evil, and those who call violence in its names are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

Two days ago a young American woman, Heather Heyer, was tragically killed. Her death fills us with grief, and we send her family our thoughts, our prayers and our love.

We also mourn the two Virginia state troopers who died in service to their community, their commonwealth and their country. Troopers Jay Cullen and Burke Bates exemplify the very best of America, and our hearts go out to the families, their friends and every member of American law enforcement.

These three fallen Americans embody the goodness and decency of our nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, who's here with me in New York ahead of the president visiting here.

But explain to me -- so we heard from the president this afternoon. He was supposed to speak -- and he is still speaking on China and trade next hour.


BALDWIN: And so that was when he was supposed to address this atrocity in Charlottesville. Why the sudden change in plan?

ZELENY: Well, Brooke, I'm told by a White House official that the president knew he needed to address this. This was clear to everyone, of course. I mean this is taking on so much controversy. Hour by hour it was growing. So the White House realized that they had no other options and they wanted to address it on its own, in a stand-alone setting with the president in a very -- you know, pretty controlled setting, standing there in the diplomatic reception room and reading these remarks, as opposed to having it tacked on to another event.

That's one of the things that got him into trouble on Saturday. It was jammed on to a bill signing and it didn't quite look as serious that he was sitting in the room and people were shouting questions at him. So this allowed him to speak about this. And I think, you know, if we break this down a little bit, when he said racism is evil, and he called out each of those groups, the neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the Klan as repugnant. I think, you know, the words were very strong and forceful today.

The biggest question is, what took him so long?


ZELENY: Why didn't you have the instincts to do this on Saturday?


ZELENY: What I've been able to learn is, the White House was caught flat-footed by this. No question. It was a summer weekend. A lot of the advisers were not around. And the president's instinct on all of his is usually to, you know, deflect, you know, is to not -- you know we saw the protests there. He thought both sides were involved.

But he underestimated the power of words --

BALDWIN: Of the many sides comment.

ZELENY: The many sides.

But we saw this throughout the campaign again and again, he was so refusing to denounce David Duke.

BALDWIN: Right. ZELENY: So refusing to sort of distance himself from this. But by not doing that, boy, I cannot remember such an outcry. Senator Orrin Hatch, I think, had the biggest comment of all, said my brother died fighting the Nazis. Yes, we call them out.

So, today, the president, reluctant, sort of dragging there to do it. That's why he started out with the economy, I think, to talk about -- this is something that he says he's doing well. Once he finally got around to it, I think his words were pretty on point. But once he finally got around to it.

BALDWIN: So he had been so quite on Twitter. He had been called out for being too quite.

ZELENY: Right.

BALDWIN: And then this morning he takes to Twitter to essentially lash out at this -- one of the very few African-American Fortune 500 CEO of Merck --

ZELENY: Right.

BALDWIN: For considering, you know, dropping off his manufacturing council because he hadn't called out these white supremacists.

ZELENY: It was so interesting. I mean to see the president -- we were watching social media all morning. I was out in New Hamper shire -- or, sorry, New Jersey, near Bedminster, and he was tweeting about other things. And then when he tweeted about Ken Frazier, he's the CEO of Merck, who's been at the White House at least a half a dozen times next to the president, but this is what the president said. He said, now that Ken Frazier of Merck has resigned from the president's manufacturing council, he'll have more time to lower rip-off drug prices.

[14:05:12] Well, this was in response to Ken Frazier, a leading African-American CEO, as you said, saying, look, I cannot be on this council because the president has not stood up for what is right in Charlottesville. So interesting that the president's reaction to that was to go after Ken Frazier.

The speech today, a different tone because largely it was written for him. He had a constant -- he played a role in it, of course. He could have said, look, I'm not giving it. He knew he had to give it, of course, but --

BALDWIN: Did he want to lead with the economy instead of focusing on the issue at hand?

ZELENY: I'm sure. I'm sure he wanted to lead with the economy because this is something that he views as the whole picture. But -- but, look, this is a speech he had to give. And I think by the time he gave it, he gave it pretty well. But, again, by the time he gave it.

BALDWIN: OK. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

ZELENY: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: You teed this up perfectly for me.

Let me bring in my voices here. Joining me now, CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, Georgetown sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson. He wrote the book "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America." Also with me, Joseph Pinion, a supporter of the president. Someone I just recently interviewed here of Trump supporters. And CNN's senior economics analyst Stephen Moore, who also is a former senior advisor to the Trump campaign.

So, gentlemen, welcome to all of you.

And I just want to quickly round robin. Chris Cillizza, first up, just on hearing the president and his words today, how did he do?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: I'm with Jeff, I think gave the right speech broadly speaking two days late. I think stating on the economy is a mistake, in the same way that it was a mistake trying to jam his remarks about Charlottesville into a preset speech he had for Saturday.

The problem here is that condemning what we saw in Charlottesville is literally the definition of a political lay-up. No one thinks that you should do on many sides in that regard. Well, I shouldn't say no one. But very few people think that. And Donald Trump effectively shot the ball over the hoop and into the stands.

So what's difficult now is, yes, he has executed this lay-up with a few fits and starts, but executed this lay-up. I don't know if we applaud him for doing something that I think almost everything thought that should have been done just out of kind of basic morality 48 hours ago.

BALDWIN: OK. Michael, same question, how did he do?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, AUTHOR, "TEARS WE CANNOT STOP; A SERMON TO WHITE AMERICA": You know, this is a convergence of white supremacy on the one hand and white privilege on the other. Here we are expected to applaud a man for doing the fundamentally decent thing to do. As Chris Cillizza has said, a lay-up. Maybe even an alley-oop for that matter where he could have jammed the ball if we're going to do it that way. He could have been LeBron James and he looks like the third player on the bench who can never start.

You are the president of the United States of America. You are expected to exemplify, not only command personality, but the -- but the reverence due to the American people who elected you by acknowledges their griefs and their vulnerabilities at a time of crisis. What this president did was spit in the face of those citizens of color and others who gathered there in Charlottesville to protest a vicious subversion of American democracy.

What he had to do was to say, this is wrong. The fact that it took him two days to be forced and to be coerced into saying this, and, oh, by the way, along the way I will then insult one of the most respected African-American leaders, it rings false. Crocodile tears. Hollow words that ring against the sky in ways that are deafening.

And, to me, this reinforces the viciousness of white supremacy. It is not simply what we saw on the streets of Charlottesville, it is the inability to acknowledge empathy for those victims. That, too, is a sign of white supremacy. And I'm afraid, at the highest levels of echelons of American government, where we have Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon whispering into the ears of our president, theirs white nationalists and alt-right sensibilities, what we saw in the streets of Charlottesville, those things are connected. We do a great disservice to ourselves to pretend that those things are disconnected.

BALDWIN: Stephen, you heard all the concerns, spitting in the face, you know, what -- what took the president so long. How do you respond to those valid criticisms?

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMIC ANALYST: Well, I certainly agree with everyone, including you, Brooke, that this speech, I wish he had given this speech two days ago. Because what he said today was absolutely appropriate. He said we condemn hatred and bigotry and prejudice and violence. And, of course, you know, he said a version of that on Saturday, but not nearly as -- with much force behind it. But I want to make another point here that --

BALDWIN: So it's too late? Do you agree with Michael that it's too late?

[14:10:01] MOORE: That will be for people to decide themselves. But I think I would refer people to the lead editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" today because I think it really made an important point, which is, the media, including CNN, has been obsessed since Saturday about Trump's response to this horrible incident. And as I just said, I thought it was inadequate.

But, you know, there's something bigger going on here, Brooke, and I wish we would all pay attention to it, which is the racial polarization in this country, which is as bad as it's been any time in recent memory. The political polarization that is leading to this kind of violence. I'm not condoning it in any way. This country has to be brought together.

By the way, I would say, Donald Trump has to be a person to do that. And, by the way -- and I just disagree with the gentlemen who spoke before who was saying, oh, all the people in the White House are, you know, related to the white supremacists or --

DYSON: Michael Eric Dyson, sir.

MOORE: You know, I just think that's -- that's not helpful, actually. We need to find ways to bring the racists together.

BALDWIN: But, Stephen -- but, Stephen, let me just jump in because you talk about the polarization of race in this country. And I think -- I absolutely agree, and I'm happy to discuss all of that with all these great panelists for a second. But when you -- when you say CNN and the media has been obsessed with the president's response or lack of response, why shouldn't the world be listening? He is the president of the United States. This was a fatal attack at a neo-Nazi rally. Why shouldn't we be listening to the president?

MOORE: We should. Absolutely. I'm not saying we shouldn't. And that's, as I said, I thought his response was not --

BALDWIN: But that fell just pejorative saying (INAUDIBLE).

MOORE: What I'm saying that it's too easy to just -- to summarize what happened on Saturday by saying, Trump's response was -- that's only a very small part of what's going on here. I mean the fact that we have, you know, the clashes the violence, almost like we saw in the 1960s, you know, when we had this kind of racial tension, is very troubling. And we've got to figure out what's going on here, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So what is going on here?

CILLIZZA: I just --

BALDWIN: Let me just -- let me use your question and --

DYSON: But see -- but, Brooke, can I jump in here?

BALDWIN: Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.

DYSON: Yes. Here's the point. That false equivalency between the 1960s, where we had the moral leader of the world, Martin Luther King Jr., disposed against the vicious white supremacy that we now see flaring up again, to create a, if you will, a parallel between the 1960s protests where the snarling dogs and the water hoses unleashed by a bigoted commissioner of police Bull Conor (ph) against vulnerable black people is now paralleled to white racists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the alt-right marching to reassert the legitimacy of their bigotry is ill-founded.

And this indeed is part of the problem. We're not able to discern the connection. And if the gentlemen wants to see a genealogy, you're absolutely right, Donald Trump doubted the legitimacy of Barack Obama for nearly five to six years, calling into question with a racist birther assault upon his legitimacy as a president, and then went on to lead that birther movement in spirit. And then that thrust him into office. So to suggest that Donald Trump is somehow divided from the white supremacist ideology that pushed him into office I think is for us to be naive.

BALDWIN: Stephen, you get to replay.

MOORE: Well, I know Donald Trump. I've spent a lot of time with him. He is not a white supremacist. He wants a rising tide for all races. And he made that point, by the way, also in his speech today.

You know, Brooke, I've been a member of the conservative, you know, activists for 30 years, and pretty much been on the front line of advocating conservative policies and I don't even -- I have to say, I don't know who these people are. I mean the people I've dealt with in the conservative community are not racist, they're not white supremacists, they're not members of statistic KKK. And, frankly, I don't even know who these people like David Duke are. I've never seen them at the kind of events that I've been at.

The reason I bring that up, I think it's unfair to say that the conservative movement, and somehow these wackos and the alt-right movement that don't stand for the things that we believe in as conservatives, which is that everyone should have an equal chance. We should -- that we should be a colorblind society, those are core conservative values.

BALDWIN: Sure. Sure. And I think -- let me just bring Joe -- Joe, let me bring you into the conversation. We spot at length a couple weeks ago. You are a proud conservative. You know, you didn't vote for Trump, but you support him. You're a Republican. I'm curious. I would love to hear your voice on this back and forth, but also, do you feel like the president, you know, showed his true colors in what he said or maybe didn't say over the weekend, or is it all OK because he -- he made this political alley-oop today?

JOSEPH PINION, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think that we have to be very clear about what has transpired here. The reality is that it is not OK. The reality that we are facing right now is the fact that you get one opportunity to make a first impression. And not that this was a first impression for our president, but the reality is that, you know, Malcolm X said that sincerity is my credibility. And this administration time and time again has demonstrated, unfortunately, that when it comes to issues pertaining to communities of color, that they have difficulty trying to present an argument that authenticates that they are sincere about their outreach, about the issues that are effecting people of color in this country. I think that that is a reality that we need to face. It might not be your reality. It might not be the reality of the very many -- great number of people that I know in the conservative movement who are very passionate about making sure that people feel that they are a part of this society, the tapestry of America.

[14:15:38] But it is the real pain that people feel. You know, when people talk about not being able to, you know, finish the, you know, the new Jim Crow, not being able to finish, you know, Dr. Dyson's book, you know, "Tears We Cannot Stop." That's not because people are not (INAUDIBLE) readers. It's because they're literally lifting every page is like thousands of years of pain being revisited time and time again.

So I think that it's incumbent on us to know -- to realize that when you have a president that is rarely circumspect, all of a sudden giving a critique that is circumspect of something that is, as Orin Hatch said, people should just call evil by its name, I think it is troubling to a great many Americans, and I think that a failure of individuals should be able to recognize that, to be able to speak to that directly undermines our efforts to do the very many things that we're trying to do, which is to raise all boats, which is to try to dispel this notion of equal -- you know, equal -- you know, of equal outcomes and really preach the promise of equal opportunity. I think those are the things that we need to talk about. And I think that, again, it is right to say that the president should be held to a higher standard because he is the president of the United States. BALDWIN: And because he is the president of the United States, I'm

curious too what happens next, right? When you -- when you read what some of these people -- these racists, these white supremacists have said, they've said, we're not finished. They say, we're coming back. And apparently there's some reports that they're staging some sort of protest this weekend in Boston.

So, Chris Cillizza, has the president done enough? Has he done enough to stop these evil people? What more needs to be done?

CILLIZZA: Here's the problem, Brooke. Leaders lead in the moments in which the country looks for leadership. I know I said the word "lead" a lot there, but I do think it is true. You don't -- it's not the every single day that the average person on the street thinks, you know, well, I wonder what the president is doing today? Or, what did the president say today. I do that because it's my job, but most people don't. Most people, politics are sort of, you know, over there and they don't like it all that much.

But there are times -- and this is true of George W. Bush, this is true of Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, go back, this is definitely true of Donald Trump, there are times in which presidents of the United States has to be the leader that we elect them to be, right? They have to appear -- they have to appeal to our better angels. They have to do it in that moment, calm tensions, make clear -- you know what, these people may say they support me. I don't support them. This is not -- to Steve Moore's point, which is a good one, this is not conservative. This is not Republican. This is hate. This is nothing to do with anything that I believe in.

It's so easy to say that. Steve Moore I know agrees with me, it's so easy for Donald Trump to have gotten up there and said that. The fact that they didn't -- whether he means to or not -- and I'm not in his head and I can't tell you what he means to do. But whether he means to or not, what it winds up doing is adding ambiguity into the situation, right?

Well, what did he mean when he said "many sides"? Well, why did he say what he said today two days after the incidents? Why was there the delay? Why did the White House only speak on background as a staffer rather than the president of the United States on Sunday?


CILLIZZA: So this is the problem. There are things that are -- and I don't mean this in racial terms, there are things that are black and white in this world, right? Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are people that we don't support. We don't condone. Republicans, Democrats, independent, Green, libertarian, pick your party, right? The fact that we can't have the president of the United States come out in that moment and say, I condemn these people. They do not stand for us. They do not stand for what we want to be as a society is a problem going forward because they people who espouse this ideology -- because I don't really think it's an ideology but it's -- you know, this hate, if you think hate is an ideology --

BALDWIN: Hate, yes.

CILLIZZA: They will take Saturday's remarks as some sort of, OK, well, that's step one. The idea that they'll go away after this is just not -- not that Donald Trump could have said anything to make them go away, but he could have condemned it in stronger terms, frankly, than he did. And coming back two days later is not going to scorn these people. Sorry for going on. Sorry.

MOORE: Right. Chris, look, I agree with you.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Stephen.

MOORE: I mean I think we all agree that he -- what he should have done was condemn this with harsher terms on Saturday. But we are where we're at right now.


MOORE: And you raised a great question, Brooke, about what does Donald Trump do now? And I believe -- look, I used to go to a lot of the Trump rallies around the country and you would be surprised how many African-Americans you would see at these rallies. I mean you really would be -- and Hispanics. A lot of minorities that would attend these.

[14:20:04] Trump now has to do something to really reach out to black Americans and really make them feel as if he cares about them, in a much more forceful way. And I -- by the way, I would be open to suggestion, I'm sure the White House would be, too, about what he can do to make all Americans feel like he is the president of all of us.

BALDWIN: So, Michael --

PINION: Well, and I don't think there's a shortage of --

BALDWIN: Michael Eric Dyson, you get -- you get the final word and that's my question to you, what dos the president need to do? How does he outreach?

DYSON: Well, I've got a couple things to say about that. I think that -- OK, well, first of all, first of all, he has to condemn not two days later but in the face of it what -- the atrocity that occurred. Secondly, he must follow up. OK, if he's serious, and this was not a one-off, then consistently argue what you're about.

And then, thirdly, put public policy in place that will address the most vulnerable people in this action. And then fourthly, speak out against the white supremacist logic that informs the white nationalism that is in his ear with Steve Bannon -- I mean with Mr. Bannon and with Mr. Miller. That's what he has to do in order to clean house and stop attacking black people on Twitter. (INAUDIBLE) bring to the American public this horrible, rancid racism that is reactionary in this country.

MOORE: Well, look, I agree with everything you just said except for the fact I know Steve Miller and I know Steve Bannon. They are not racist. That's all I want to say.

But I agree with you. I think what -- if Trump followed your advice, I think it would be a great thing. I mean he has to follow up now with actions that forcefully condemn these organizations with more action than words.

DYSON: Racism is not just what happened in Charlottesville, sir. Racism is not just what happened in Charlottesville, it happens every day when people give consent. White supremacy just means this, the unconscious or conscious belief in the inherent superiority of one group and the inherent inferiority of the other. We have practiced white supremacy in this country for nearly 300 years. It will not go away suddenly. And to the chagrin of many people, white supremacy manifests itself not simply in rancid acts of reaction, racistly (ph) speaking, on the streets of Charlottesville, but in polite society with pinstriped suits with people (INAUDIBLE).

And here's another thing, even black people themselves, who are complicit in the very vicious self-hatred that white supremacy represents, can themselves articulate white supremacist ideology. That's something we've got to grapple with.

BALDWIN: Gentlemen, I need two hours just with the four of you all. I would love it. We're going to continue this conversation. It's been a substantive one. I truly appreciate each and every one of your voice.

MOORE: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We've got to go. Thank you so much.

PINION: Thank you, Brooke.

DYSON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Staying on this story out of Charlottesville here. This suspect in the car attack appearing in court today for the very first time. Hear what happened inside, and what investigators found inside his apartment.

Also ahead, after police were criticized for their slow response there, the governor of Virginia raising eyebrows by saying it was hard because the militias were better armed than police officers. We'll talk live with the former chief of the Charlottesville Police department.

And I will speak live with Heather Heyer's boss, as friends and family speaking up and out about her life and her passion for justice.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was very strong in what she felt and she spoke with conviction. And she would never back down from what she believed in. And that's what she died doing. She died fighting for what she believed in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [14:27:17] BALDWIN: Welcome back. Back to our breaking news. Charlottesville, Virginia. The headline now is bond denied for the man accused of getting behind of while of the car and basically mowing people down -- there is no other way of putting it there -- over the weekend in Charlottesville. People who were protesting a rally staged by white nationalists.

We'll show you the picture of the man. This is 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. He stands accused of killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring at least 19 other people.

We also now have new photos of the suspect's apartment there from this town in Ohio where he lived alone with his cat, we're told. He moved there six months ago after leaving his mom's house in Kentucky.

And while his mother claims she thought he was simply heading out for an alt-right rally, although she admitted she didn't really know what that meant, his former teacher says that as a teenager Fields was a Nazi sympathizer.


DEREK WEIMER (ph): 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 Germany military history and World War II. But he was pretty infatuated with that stuff.


BALDWIN: We also know that back in 2015 Fields joined the Army, but he left active duty in December of 2015. A spokeswoman for the Army said that he failed to meet training standards. And we also know now he's been charged with second-degree murder.

So one of many questions being asked is, where were the police as the violence escalated over the weekend in Charlottesville as it turned deadly. They have been criticized by some for taking a hands-off approach as protesters and counter-protesters clashed. But the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, is defending police response. He says they did their best considering the circumstances and considering the armed protesters had, in some cases, just bigger guns.

One man with some pretty incredible insight into policing in Charlottesville is the town's former police chief, Tim Longo, who's there live with me now in Charlottesville. Was chief of police for 16 years. Full transparency, I was a cub reporters in Charlottesville and you and I know each other from way back in the day.

So, chief, it is great to see you, but I'm sorry under -- under the circumstances.


BALDWIN: Let me just begin with, from what you can tell, and I know you are retired, you're not on the inside of the conversations leading up to this weekend, but, you know, you know this city and how to protect it better than anyone. From what you can tell, did police there do enough?

[14:29:52] LONGO: You know, Brooke, it would be so irresponsible and frankly unfair of me to be critical of that of which I was no part. Unfortunately, I was not consulted. My opinion was not sought, nor desired and that's OK. I say that only to suggest I don't have a real basis upon which to criticize. What I can say is this, what happened here over the weekend, as shocking as it was, as tragic, as terrible as it was --