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Trump Under Fire for Refusing Condemnation of White Supremacists; Car Ramming Suspect in Court; Knives out for Bannon. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired August 14, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[06:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: But said on many sides, on my sides. Twice he said something that shocks the conscience of members of both political parties and people across this country. The vice president, Mike Pence, defending the president, blasting the media for scrutinizing his deafening silence. But then the vice president did exactly what the president did not do, he condemned white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK by name.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And naming them is critical.
Meantime, the suspected attacker will be arraigned in just a few hours. He's accused of driving his car straight into that crowd killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer for standing up to hate and voicing that. A high school teacher says the suspect was a Nazi sympathizer who long idolized Adolf Hitler.
All of this as America's top general is in South Korea pushing for a diplomatic solution, yet he says military options are indeed prepared in case sanctions on North Korea fail to defuse the nuclear threat.
We have this all covered for you on a busy Monday morning.
Let's begin with CNN's Jeff Zeleny. He is live in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where the president is on this working vacation.
Still, retweets from the president this morning of other things, political things, but silence on this.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy.
It is a vague silence. We have heard President Trump, of course he's known for being outspoken and blunt when he wants to be. But Sunday, yesterday, marked only the fourth day of his presidency where he was completely silent on social media.
Now, all of this is coming as he's facing renewed criticism over failing to call out those white supremacists from the deadly violence in Charlottesville.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK.
ZELENY (voice-over): Vice President Mike Pence doing publically what President Trump did not over the weekend, directly condemning white supremacists by name after the deadly violence in Charlottesville.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.
ZELENY: The vice president coming to the president's defense in the face of growing backlash over Mr. Trump's response.
PENCE: President Trump clearly and unambiguously condemned the bigotry, violence and hatred which took place.
I take issue with the fact that many in the national media spend more time criticizing the president's words than they did criticizing those who perpetrated the violence to begin with.
ZELENY: The White House releasing a statement from an unnamed spokesperson Sunday, 36 hours after the protest began, insisting President Trump's comments decrying bigotry includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi and all extremist groups. Top aides to the president also pushing back on the Sunday shows.
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president's been very clear, we cannot tolerate this kind of bigotry, this kind of hatred.
TOM BOSSERT, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: The president not only condemned the violence and stood up at a time and a moment when calm was necessary and didn't dignify the names of these groups of people, but rather addressed the fundamental issue.
ZELENY: President Trump ignored multiple questions from reporters after a statement on Saturday.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, do you want the support of these white nationalist groups who say they support you? Mr. President, have you -- have you denounced them strong enough?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, would you -- a car plowing into people, would you call that terrorism, sir?
MICHAEL SIGNER, MAYOR OF CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA: We just aren't seeing leadership from the White House.
ZELENY: The president's refusal to denounce the groups by name drawing fierce backlash from his own party.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And I would urge the president to dissuade them of the fact that they're -- that he's sympathetic to their cause because their cause is hate, it is un- American. They are domestic terrorists and we need more from our president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Call this white supremacism, this white nationalism evil and let the country hear it, let the world hear it. It's something that needs to come from the Oval Office and this White House needs to do it today.
ZELENY: Now, the president is interrupting his working vacation here in New Jersey to fly back to Washington later this morning to sign an unrelated legislation -- piece of the legislation on China trade policy.
But, Poppy, still so many questions here about the president's comments on this. White House aides tell me this morning they believe he will take questions on this later this morning, even as new questions are swirling at the White House about Steve Bannon's future. He, of course, is the chief strategist. So a lot happening on this busy Monday here in New Jersey and the White House.
HARLOW: Indeed. We'll get into all of that about Bannon a little later and hope the president does take those important questions today in that press conference he promised that he would have.
The man accuse of driving a car into a crowd of counter protesters killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, injuring 19 others, he'll be arraigned in just hours. A former teacher of the attacker claims that he proudly proclaimed himself a Nazi sympathizer.
[06:05:01] Let's go to Kaylee Hartung. She is live in Charlottesville.
What else are we learning ahead of this arraignment?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, James Alex Fields Jr. will be arraigned at 10:00 a.m. this morning. He's currently being held in the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail and he will remain there and appear in the courtroom today via a video teleconference. He'll be facing one charge of second degree murder. Among others, the DOJ and the FBI also conducting a civil rights investigation into the assault.
Now, investigators will be looking into this man's past to help determine his motive, and we're learning more about the 20-year-old man from Ohio. While his mother said just moments after learning of the charges against her son that she'd never really discussed his political beliefs with him, one of his high school teachers providing some insights.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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 German military history and World War II. But he was pretty infatuated with that stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP) HARTUNG: The U.S. Army confirms to our Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr that Fields reported for basic training in August of 2015. He didn't meet the basic training standards and h left the service in December of that same year.
We are also learning more about the victim, 32-year-old Heather Heyer from the Charlottesville area. There was a vigil scheduled last night in her honor. But because of perceived threats, the organizers canceled the event. Mourners continue to lay flowers at the crash site as a makeshift memorial has been set up there. Now, Heyer's mother says she's -- had always been someone wanting to help others.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF WOMAN KILLED IN CHARLOTTESVILLE: 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's equal rights were not being given.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARTUNG: Heyer was a paralegal for a Charlottesville law firm.
The law enforcement community also mourning the loss of two of their own as a helicopter crashed as it was serving the violence in the area. Pilot Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke Bates lost their lives. Now, Governor Terry McAuliffe knew both of these men personally. As he said, these heroes were a part of our family and we are simply heartbroken. The president also offered his condolences on Twitter.
On this Monday morning, the barricades that we saw in this park throughout the weekend, the center of the controversy here in Emancipation Park where Confederate General Robert E. Lee's statue stands, well, those barricades are gone, the streets are open. But, Poppy, there is a lot of healing left to do in Charlottesville.
CUOMO: All right, Kaylee, thank you very much.
Let's bring in our political panel, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and CNN political analysts John Avlon and Abby Phillip.
John Avlon, we want to keep mentioning Heather Heyer, we want to keep mentioning the troopers because hate took lives down there in Virginia and we want to remember the people that were resistant to that hatred. That's important.
Equally important is the message from our leadership. And Mike Pence, the vice president, can say whatever he wanted. The president created a WTF moment with what he did and did not say about this event. Him repeating on many sides, on many sides, didn't just not make sense contextually, but is completely baffling given the circumstances. How do you explain it?
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think you can explain it, which is why the White House has been scrambling, trying to play offense, but not really addressing the president's problem, which is doubling down on that "on many sides" comment on the day this was all going down.
Look, this isn't really subtle here, folks. This isn't a high bar for presidential leadership --
AVLON: Condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists. And even on the Friday night in the square there are young men giving Nazi salutes in front of a statue of Robert E. Lee. If that's not -- you know, that's not a misunderstanding. That's nothing you should consider any part of your base. That's something that needs to be clearly condemned. And if it can't be clearly condemned, then people have got to look really hard in the mirror. That's not to say the president is a part of these groups, but if he is in any way encouraging or empowering these groups, his online comments subsequent to the statement said from neo- Nazi websites, basically saying -- he called the other side haters, this is a victory for us, that's a problem. If they can't be seen, it needs to be confronted. We need to have this conversation as a country now.
HARLOW: If you stand by silently, then what? This country has learned that lesson too many times.
Ron Brownstein --
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
HARLOW: Something from Jon Meacham that stood out to me on Twitter last night and got a lot of people talking, history will judge the president's word play over resurgent white nationalism harshly and sooner, I think, than he realizes.
[06:10:01] Despite all that the White House has said in this statement condemning -- later, yesterday, by the way, 24 hours later, white nationalism, the KKK, does it matter if the president doesn't say it out loud?
BROWNSTEIN: Sure. And I think -- I think he's already sent the message that he means to send. I actually don't think this is a WTF moment or hard to explain. It's hard to justify. It's not hard to explain. It's exactly to the tee what he did with David Duke on the Sunday before the key southern states voted in the Republican primary last year where he sent his clear signal by what he did not say initially, but not condemning him. And then only when elite opinion and kind of broad opinion across both parties condemned him did he come out with the -- with the denunciation, which I'm sure is coming eventually here, too. But this isn't (INAUDIBLE) --
CUOMO: Let's play it. Let's play it, Ron.
HARLOW: Yes, let's listen.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. CUOMO: Let's play it. This is what he said to Jake back when he was being asked about this during the campaign with David Duke.
All right, well, we will have it in a little bit.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, OK. Just to finish the point --
BROWNSTEIN: Which is -- which is that -- which is -- you know, there is a relatively small -- I think there's a minuscule percentage of Americans who completely sympathize with KKK or Nazi ideology and imagery. But there are a much broader universe of Americans who are uneasy about demographic, racial and cultural change. And from the beginning President Trump has signaled his sympathy to those voters in a variety of ways, from the ways he described Mexicans in the -- in the first, you know, his first press conference and saying that Judge Curiel could not, you know, judge fairly in a case because of his heritage, to what he said about David Duke. And he has, you know --
CUOMO: OK, here it is, Ron. Let's listen to this so people have some context.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, sure.
CUOMO: Here's the sound.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't even know he endorsed me. David Duke endorsed me? OK. All right. I disavow, OK?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don't want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?
TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, OK? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: Just for timing context, one, we screwed up and we flipped those two bites.
BROWNSTEIN: Right. Yes, right.
CUOMO: The disavow came after it. And also, it just -- it just wasn't -- it just wasn't -- excuse me, it just wasn't that it was about what he was saying. He had complete evidence of who David Duke was.
HARLOW: Jake also asked him -- Jake --
CUOMO: And he had also denied him earlier. HARLOW: Yes.
CUOMO: He once was going to run for president with part of this party called the Reform Party and Duke was connected to it. And he said at that time, I don't want anything to do with this guy. I don't want to be connected to him. Somehow it changed.
BROWNSTEIN: Just to finish -- just to finish the point, Chris. It was the Sunday before the largest number of southern states voted in the Republican primary.
BROWNSTEIN: So, I mean, that was very calculated. And then eventually -- and, you know, eventually he kind of provides the denunciation that the bipartisan critics demand. But after he has sent his signal. And, again, you know, he has done very well from the beginning with the elements of American society that are most uneasy about racial tensions. This big debate was his vote driven by economic anxiety or cultural and demographic anxiety. In fact, it -- the two were braided together. Many of the same voters are most uneasy, feel the most (INAUDIBLE) happening in the economy and what's happening demographically and the president has been unwilling to kind of draw a clear, bright line isolating these groups, not, I think, because so many Americans are sympathetic to them, but because it's part of a continuum of views that he has played on and has spoken to, I think, as clearly as he possibly could.
HARLOW: Abby, "New York Times" editorial board this morning writes, Mr. Trump is alone in modern presidential history in his willingness to summon the demons of bigotry and intolerance in service to himself. He began his political career on a lie about President Barack Obama's citizenship and has failed to firmly condemn the words and deeds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan leaders and other bigots who rally behind him.
Your thoughts this morning?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean I think that we have to go all the way back to the time when the president was thinking of running for president. And he decided that what he was going to do was talk about President Obama's birth certificate and the fact that he was -- that he was born in Hawaii and insinuate that he was, in fact, born in Kenya. That was the foundation of a racist lie that really spoke to something that a lot of Republicans, perhaps for a long time, wanted to shove into a corner. Donald Trump, at that time, spoke directly to it.
This is a very analogous situation. I think that politicians have always known that these people are out there, the David Dukes, white supremacists. They've been out there for a long time. I think Republican politicians have shoved them in a corner.
But Donald Trump is not doing that. That is not an accident. And it's also incredibly telling that, you know, this is a presidency that has for a long time been fairly ahistorical. The president has not been particularly interested in history and where he is in the context of other presidents.
[06:15:04] And the fact that white supremacists, the KKK, can march in Charlottesville with torches and then later kill someone allegedly with a vehicle in what appears to be an intentional attack, and the president doesn't speak at all to the long history of these groups terrorizing African-Americans in this country, is a second part of this broader failure of this president to address the moment.
Violence aside, the existence of KKK in the streets should draw condemnation. And that didn't happen. It's very telling. There's no acknowledgement that there's a history here. That it's not just today. That over a long period of time these folks, these individuals and these groups were responsible for domestic terrorism for a large swath of this country.
And, you know, the president still hasn't spoken out about that, despite all of the corrections and the revisions of his statement from his staff and from the vice president.
CUOMO: Well, look, and, Abby, as you beautifully point out, the morality is fairly clear here. So is the logic. Remember, this president hammered the idea of calling terror and calling evil what it is. And then now, with this, they argue, well, we didn't want to dignify the names of these groups. It's logically inconsistent and it was morally vacant.
CUOMO: And why that was, we don't know, but the White House should say more about it.
AVLON: And I think that parallel is exactly right by folks and we need to name the problem of radical Islamic terrorism (INAUDIBLE) on this. And Abby has eloquently pointed out, that this is also the flip side of a defiantly ahistorical approach to the presidency. You can't lead the nation if you don't want to deal with its history or perhaps don't understand it.
And, you know, we've also played footsie for a long time with this idea that part of his base is ethno nationalists. That's a very polite term for what is, in fact, white nationalists. And white nationalist is white supremacist.
CUOMO: All right, so, in the next hour we're going to talk to the mayor of Charlottesville to find out what's going on down there. As Kaylee Hartung told us, the streets are back open. What's the mood? And what should be the legacy of this situation.
Then, in the 8:00 hour, we're going to talk with a woman who was at the scene of that terrible car ramming. And she knew the victim, Heather Heyer. We'll get some perspective on what brought this young woman there and what she was about.
HARLOW: So important to remember her name and what she was fighting for that day. So, is the growing criticism against President Trump's response to
everything that unfolded in Charlottesville a sign that one of his closest advisers could soon be on the outs? The latest controversy, what it all means for Steve Bannon, next.
[06:21:11] HARLOW: President Trump under fire for failing to condemn in any way white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazis by name or distancing himself from these extreme groups.
Let's bring back our panel, John Avlon, Ron Brownstein and Abby Phillip.
And, Jon, to you. It also goes to the question of who's around the president in the West Wing, right? "The New York Times" editorial board this morning notes that he -- he consulted the president, a lot of people, before giving the remarks that he gave on Saturday where he didn't blame these groups. He just said many sides, many sides.
He also has Steve Bannon around him, you know, who called Breitbart, which he founded, the platform for the alt-right.
CUOMO: And the site that was oddly quite in coverage of this.
HARLOW: And Sebastian Gorka, who said this just earlier this month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEBASTIAN GORKA: It's this constant, oh, it's the white man, it's the white supremacist, that's the problem. No, it isn't Maggie Haberman. Go to Sinjar. Go to the Middle east and tell me what the real problem is today. Go to Manchester.
AVLON: Yes. So what you've got here, I think, is a question of who was in the room when Donald Trump's remarks were being made? Who encouraged him not to call out these groups by name?
CUOMO: They say he spoke with a number of advisers.
AVLON: Right. No, exactly. So --
CUOMO: So this wasn't out of haste.
AVLON: So how many? Right. Exactly. And that's what's troubling, right?
AVLON: And when you have an nationalist wing, an ethno nationalist wing of political advisers driving a president's agenda, this is the kind of thing you get.
You know, Breitbart has a complicated relationship -- I don't know why I'm putting it politely -- with issues of difference, particularly with the African-American community, with the Muslim community. Sebastian Gorka, on inauguration day, wore a medal from a Hungarian resistance group that gave an award to his father which has been associated with Nazis in the past.
This is not the kind of crew you typically see advising an American president. And you've got to believe that these deliberate omissions by the president are driven at least in part by advisers who seem to have a vested interest in stoking these flames on the part of a portion of their base. Again, it's the ethno nationalists. Let's not be too polite about it. That's another name for white nationalists.
CUOMO: Right. Well, look, you've got the moral component, which, again, Abby, you know, you laid out the right way. We're not used to hearing any contextual discussion of many sides when you're dealing with people that hate African-Americans, Jews, Italians, Catholics. I mean there are a lot of people that they put on their hateful little lists. You don't usually see any type of equivalency drawn on that or any type of limitation on condemnation of them. You also have a factual problem here. We talked about the logical one, why are you so intent on calling out Muslims but you won't dignify calling out Nazis. It doesn't make any sense logically.
But the fact problem. Why did David Duke say this? Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID DUKE: We are determined to take our country back. We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's who we believe in. That's why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he's going to take our country back. And that's what we've got to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: Now, let's give the best defense in this situation, which is, hey, they are latching on to Trump wrongfully. He didn't want them. But you would think, if that's the case, you would deny them most of all if you were Trump or anyone around him because that's the last thing you'd want. And then we get the kind of language that we had here, which is not doing that to say the least, Abby.
PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, I think it should be a pretty easy decision. David Duke says that you support -- that he supports Donald Trump, Donald Trump supports him. It should be easy to say that's not true, I reject his support, I disavow him.
I think, Chris, we should also really point out here that White House aide Sebastian Gorka essentially glossing over white supremacy as a problem is a huge movement away from the norm. I think we cannot lose sight of it. But that --
[06:25:08] CUOMO: Right. And it's factually incorrect.
PHILLIP: And it's factually incorrect.
CUOMO: He said go to Sinjar. But we're not in Sinjar. We're in America.
CUOMO: And white supremacy is the number one terror threat that they deal with in our government in this country.
PHILLIP: Yes. We have to -- we can't let that slide because that's -- the reality is, that's not something that would be acceptable in any other administration.
I mean but -- also, you know, I think this White House is dealing with, yes, the president was advised by a lot of people. He heard a lot of input. There were a lot of people in the White House advising him to give a more fulsome response, as you can -- you can see based on the fact that Vice President Mike Pence did give a more fulsome response.
But the president himself heard about what happened in Charlottesville and he heard about the various groups descending on the city, and he was the one who decided, we have to condemn all sides of this. There are a lot of folks within this White House, Trump aides, who believe that we -- that there is not enough condemnation of the, quote, unquote, violent left as there is of the violent right.
That is the wrong frame for this. I think that what you're hearing from Republicans outside the White House, folks like Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, is that there is no equivalency here. Wrong is wrong, right is right, and the White House needs to point that out. The president is the one making a decision not to do that.
HARLOW: Hey, guys, just to note, after the horrific Paris terror attack on the Bataclan, et cetera, it was then civilian Donald Trump who tweeted, when will President Obama issue the words radical Islamic terrorism. He can't say it. And unless he will, this problem will not be solved. Directly tying the language to the problem.
HARLOW: Hold on you guys, really quickly, I do want to get to this. Think what you will about Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House communications director and his short tenure in the White House. However, in his first interview yesterday he called out Bannon and he said, he, being the president, has to move away from this sort of Bannon Bart.
Now, big picture here, CNN has reporting from multiple reporters of ours that Bannon is on the outs with the president. Could this hurt him more, Ron?
BROWNSTEIN: Sure. I mean I think the -- you know, look, what -- as I said before, I don't think there's anything surprising about this reaction from the president. It is exactly the pattern, the template that he has used before. I think what's different is, if this would have happened in February,
you would not have seen nearly as much reaction from Republicans as well as Democrats. There's a cumulative weight of things he has said and done that are outside the boundaries, outside the norms of what you would expect from a U.S. president that I think has kind of created a greater willingness to kind of criticize from the beginning. And, you know, so we'll see.
I mean I think that, you know, for Bannon, you know, he has been -- we talked about before being a continuum, not being a bright line separating these kinds of groups from others who are uneasy about demographic change. That has been part of the mission of Breitbart, I think, to break down those boundaries as a kind of media institution.
And to the extent that he continues to do that in the White House, I think he is more vulnerable now simply because there is this greater willingness to call out some of the things the president has said and done. Earlier, I think you would have heard Paul Ryan say something like, well, you know, I can't comment on everything the president says. We need to get back to our agenda. Now you are seeing more Republicans saying, this is unacceptable, this is outside the boundaries of what we would accept from a U.S. president.
CUOMO: And the president, who was not shy on Twitter, not shy about watching this show and commenting about what happens in real time, just tweeted, heading to Washington this morning. Much work to do. Focus on trade and military, #MAGA, make America great again. Still no word from the president about what he knows he's being asked to clarify this morning.
Appreciate it, panel. Thank you very much. We'll come back to you in a little bit.
Now, tomorrow on NEW DAY, we're going to have former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci. What does he believe led to his dismissal? What does he believe led to this weird situation that we're dealing with right now with what the president did say. Who would tell the president not to mention these kinds of groups, to go easy on them?
HARLOW: Also, a deadly terrorist attack in West Africa. A gunman opened fire on a restaurant that is frequented there by foreigners. The late-breaking details are next.