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Trump Blames Many Sides for Violence; Interview with Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis; President to Speak about Charlottesville; Trump Disavowing Extreme Groups. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 14, 2017 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:00] APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sessions is -- they might have a rift, but Jeff Sessions is absolutely right, if this president does not say something, it's going to spill over.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you both very much, April and Karoun, we appreciate it.

RYAN: Thank you.

HARLOW: And we're going to talk more ahead about those members of the president's own party, from Marco Rubio, Cory Gardner, on down to Ted Cruz, calling him out. A Republican lawmaker joins us next.


CUOMO: All right, so President Trump is under intense criticism for blaming the violence in Charlottesville on many sides, many sides, instead of calling out white supremacists. Listen to it for yourself.


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. It's been going on in a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It's been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.


CUOMO: All right, President Trump is heading back to Washington today. He says he's going to meet with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his new FBI director, Christopher Wray.

[08:35:05] So we are told that the president's going to address Charlottesville again today. Is that the right idea? What will he say? What does he have to say? Let's discuss.

We have Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis of Florida.

Thank you for joining us. Appreciate it. Important conversations to have today.


CUOMO: So what is your take on what the president still needs to do when it comes to addressing what happened in Charlottesville?

DESANTIS: Well, I hope after he meets with Attorney General Sessions that he'll say definitively that this was, in fact, a terrorist attack.

Chris, I've been somebody that's been critical of previous administrations. When you have somebody saying "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar" then they kill people or try to kill people, that that's not viewed as terrorism until many years, sometimes, in the case of Ft. Hood. So this is an example of, we know this individual was motivated by a neo-Nazi ideology. He took aim at civilians. That is a terrorist attack. And I think the Justice Department needs to treat it as such. I think Attorney General Sessions has been strong and so I think there's a good chance that that's what they'll do.

CUOMO: That's about the case and the facts of the case and what they reveal, fair point.

But the larger point was about what Charlottesville was all about. And the many sides, many sides does, not seem to capture the reality. What is your sense?

DESANTIS: Well, I think that there has been violence in some of these other instances throughout the country. But, obviously, yesterday, or on Saturday, you know, that was an example of people who had a neo- Nazi ideology, white supremacist ideology and I do think that it's important to say that not only is that not something that we want in our country, it really conflicts with what the country was founded on.

I mean the founding fathers didn't found America because of European nationalism. In fact, they were rejecting a lot of the prevailing orthodoxies in Europe and they founded the country based on principle, not based on any type of ethnic origin. And so that's not healthy for our politics and so I think it would be good for the president to tell people that that's how he feels.

And here's the thing, I think that that's how he feels knowing him. I mean this is a guy who -- you see this individual and some of his compatriots carrying this Nazi flag. President Trump ran as a very pro-Israel candidate. I think he's been the most pro-Israel president in my lifetime. So he's got some policy chops that he can put out there and I think he should do that.

CUOMO: What do you make of David Duke saying -- or cottoning to Trump and some of these alt-right guys which, let's be honest, in a lot of instances is a nice way, which we shouldn't do, of saying white supremacists grabbing on to him and saying he's good for us, then putting out his statement about Charlottesville as proof of affirmation of their cause. What do you make of that?

DESANTIS: Oh, I don't want anything to do with them in terms of supporting a Republican president or really any president. But I think that they understand kind of how the media works and I think that they know if they can put themselves out there, anything attached to President Trump, just in our politics, is going to be elevated. And so I think there are people that don't have the president's best interests at heart who can then use that association as a cajole against the president. I don't think it's accurate at all to say that the people who supported Donald Trump are reflective of that type of bigotry.

In fact, I was on the ground in Florida during the election. I mean you had millions of people -- and these are good folks. And I think it's wrong to try to malign them, as some have suggested, and try to tar them with people like David Duke, who really have no credibility with the broader America public.

CUOMO: Don't blame all for some. Fair point.

However, when you say many sides, many sides, when you have white supremacists who are down there complaining about a confederate icon coming down, it does not speak to equivalency. It does not speak to a complex dynamic that needs to be measured. That's not what this was. And I have to believe, Ron, if I were asking you about it, if, God forbid, this had happened in your district, I don't think you would have come out and said, well, you know, many sides. There's a lot of blame to go around here. Because that's what it sounded like. And it just -- it doesn't make sense logically. It doesn't make sense with the facts. And it doesn't make sense here. It doesn't make sense in your heart when you think about what this country's about. How do you explain why he arrived at that conclusion?

DESANTIS: Well, I don't know. I wasn't privy to any of the discussions and I don't know what type of advice, you know, was given. But I will say this, Chris, I mean, you know, some of these things that you say are fair points, no doubt about it. But had he said everything people say he should have said, would his critics have simply praised him for that or would they have found something else? And I'll note --

CUOMO: What would be found -- if someone said this white supremacist needs to be out of here --

DESANTIS: Well, let me -- let me just finish this -- let me just finish this thought.

CUOMO: Please.

DESANTIS: Let me just finish the thought.

You know, there was a "New York Times" reporter that was criticizing Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio because they forcefully condemned and made a lot of the points that you made immediately after this happened and they said, oh, well, they're just political posturing. So my point is not that -- that the -- that there aren't substantive criticisms. My point is, is that in the way our politics is, they're going to find ways to criticize him no matter what he does. And so hopefully he comes out today and make a statement that can unify the country.

[08:40:24] But I've got to tell you, Chris, I think there are going to be people who are going to criticize him no matter what and say, oh, well, he's late to the game or he's this or he's that. Let's not make this so much about the president and try to make it about what we can do to have a better society and to marginalize some of these people who don't really have America's founding principles at heart.

CUOMO: Agreed. You need to condemn hate and you need to counter it. And countering goes to all of us. But it all starts at the top. You know, we elect a leader for a reason.

Ron DeSantis, I appreciate you coming on to talk about what matters. Thank you, sir.

DESANTIS: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Tomorrow on NEW DAY, we're going to have former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci. And he's been talking about this. He has ideas about who is putting the different types of ideas into the head of the president. We'll talk to him about this.

HARLOW: And he said the president should have gone further in that statement. So look forward to that interview here tomorrow.

Meantime, the number of hate groups in America is on the rise. What is fueling that? We're going to look at that, next.


[08:45:20] HARLOW: President Trump under heavy criticism this morning for not denouncing white supremacists, the KKK, neo-Nazis by name after the deadly violence over the weekend in Charlottesville.

Joining us now, CNN political commentator Paris Dennard and Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Gentlemen, thank you for being here.

And, Richard, let me just begin with you by setting the scene, right? This comes in an important context. And that is the fact that hate groups have ballooned in this country.

RICHARD COHEN, PRESIDENT, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Yes, they've gone up from about 600 in the year 2000 to over 900 now. An interesting thing, Poppy, is that the groups are actually starting to come down a little bit in 2013, 2014, but then shot up again during the period that coincided with Mr. Trump's campaign.

HARLOW: So, Paris, the president has another opportunity today. He could really do it at any time on Twitter, he's chosen not to since Saturday, to condemn these groups, to call out the one side responsible for this violence and hate, Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists. Should he do that?

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not only should the president, once again, in my opinion, condemn these acts, but I think he should call them out by name because so many people feel that he need -- that they need to hear the president say that. They've heard the vice president say that. They've heard the senior adviser to the president, Ivanka Trump, say it. But now they want to hear the president also say it. And I agree. And I think that he will, not only double down on his statement that this has no place in America and denounce it, but also call them out by name. And I also --

HARLOW: He didn't, Paris. The fact that he didn't, what he left unsaid by not naming them and then also blaming, you know, all sides, you know, on many sides, on many sides, which is just perplexing, what was worse, in your mind?

DENNARD: Well, you know what, I -- I -- this is the way I view it. I view the president gave remarks that were prepared for him after this horrific --

HARLOW: Oh, come on, Paris, you know that the president says what's top of mind for him.

DENNARD: That is true, but I want to give some context, just like Richard was giving context to the situation.

The president gave prepared remarks that I think were actually very strong and very good. He added the -- as ad lib "on many sides." The problem with the "on many sides" was that it was undefined for the interpreter. So if you interpret -- if you view the president as someone who is a racist or someone who is against black people, then you're going to view what he said through that prism. If you're like me and don't believe the president is a racist or actually believe he's trying to bring the country together and wants to do good things for all Americans, like myself and people who look like me, you don't hear that and don't see that. You can understand what he was trying to say.

HARLOW: You know what, I think there are a lot of Americans -- there are a lot of Americans that don't think this president is a racist that were stunned that he didn't name these groups. Richard, your thoughts?

COHEN: Well, look, I think the president's remarks were bizarre and disheartening. And at this point simply condemning white supremacy is not enough. Here's why. The president is responsible for energizing the white supremacist movement in this country. They're marching to his tune. And what he needs to do is acknowledge his role in energizing the white supremacist movement, apologize for it. He needs to signal that he's going to change direction by firing Steve Bannon, the man he gave a platform to the alt-right on Breitbart News and I think he needs to take concrete actions to repair the damages he's caused, starting with the directive to federal agencies to take white supremacy seriously.

You might remember last week his aide, Mr. Gorka, tried to suggest that it wasn't a problem. Well, it obviously is a problem. Charlottesville proves the point.

HARLOW: So, Paris, he's pointing -- he's pointing to Steve Bannon, who has said that the site he founded is the platform for the alt-right and Sebastian Gorka, who just, on Breitbart radio, two weeks ago said, you know, they say it's all about the white man, it's all about the white man, but it's not just all about the white man, et cetera. He said, it's this constant, oh, it's the white man, it's the white supremacist. That's the problem. No, it isn't.

Does the president need to get rid of people around him that Richard believes are pushing this agenda?

DENNARD: Look, I'll leave personnel decisions up to the president. There were people who I think that are -- they are serving the president who have great hearts and are doing great things and are trying to move this country in the right direction.

[08:50:00] But I take direct issue with Richard trying to imply that somehow President Trump is responsible for the KKK or the rise of the KKK. He knows full well if he would take his study and go past 2000 and go back to when the KKK originated and many cases during Democrat presidencies, when you go back in the '60s, and things like that, this president is not responsible for it. He has nothing to apologize as it relates to the rise of it.

HARLOW: So, Paris, what he failed to do -- hold on, what he failed to do is denounce it.

DENNARD: And let me just -- there's one last point.

HARLOW: It took Jake Tapper 12 times of asking him if he denounced David Duke and he didn't. And he did it later at a press conference. You know, said, OK, I denounce. Is that not -- is that not the same thing? If you don't call it out and denounce it, are you not aiding it?

DENNARD: He said -- he actually said I disavow anything that relates to David Duke.

But for the point about the speech, when you read this, listen to the speech, where is it when he says, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides was an ad lib and he says, this has been going on for a long time. It has no place in America.

Why is that problematic when you say, this has not place in America, when you say I condemn in the strongest terms possible hatred, bigotry, violence? That is -- that is not a bad thing to say. That is actually a good thing to say. And people who have pure hearts and open minds understand full well that hatred, that's the KKK. Bigotry, that's neo-Nazism. That's what he was talking about. And I know today the president's going to go back and clarify what he said so there's no ambiguity.

HARLOW: We will be listening.

Richard, I have 30 seconds. Your final thoughts?

COHEN: Look, the president ran an incendiary, racist and xenophobic campaign.

DENNARD: Untrue.

COHEN: That's why the white supremacists were energized by what he did. They celebrated his victory and there was a tremendous surge and anti -- and hate crimes after he was elected. I think we all know what's happening. Mr. Trump is, you know, it's more than a dog whistle. And he needs to take it back. He needs to fire Brannon.

HARLOW: Richard Cohen, Paris Dennard, we'll have you both back. Thank you very much.

DENNARD: Any time.

COHEN: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right, especially when we're dealing with heavy matters, it's always good to remember "The Good Stuff." And we have some for you. It will help you get through the day. Stay with us.


[08:56:21] CUOMO: All right, so here's "The Good Stuff." Would you give up the chance to win in order to help an opponent? Rob Gomez (ph) and Jesse Oroff (ph) were running a race in Maine. Jesse, in the lead, suddenly feels week. Rob saw the whole thing.


JESSE OROFF (ph): You know, kind of pushed me to make sure that, you know, I got across before him, which was pretty remarkable.


CUOMO: How about that? The two men wind up crossing the finish line together. As for Rob, he's just glad his new buddy is OK.


ROB GOMEZ (ph): I was just sort of doing what anyone in the Maine running community would have done.

JESSE OROFF (ph): I just said, you know, I don't know what to say, I'm speechless. And he said, you don't have to say anything.


CUOMO: I don't know that anybody in the -- I don't know the Maine running community. Let me tell you, that was really something special. And that's why he deserves "The Good Stuff."

HARLOW: We needed that today. That's good to see.

All right, thank you so much for being with us today. We will see you back here tomorrow.

CNN "NEWSROOM" with John Berman is next.