Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Condemns KKK, White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis; Driver Who Slammed Into Demonstrators in Court; North Korea Backs Off Missile Threat; Trump Moves to Crack Down On China; Court Victory For Taylor Swift. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 15, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:09] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The president finally, finally denounced white hate groups by name, and now re-tweeting an alt-right figure and lashing out yet again at the media.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, three CEOs now saying they won't serve on a presidential council, implying Trump's delay in condemning hate groups could be the reason two of the three, in fact, dropping off that council after his second announcement.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, August 15th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Nice to see you all this morning.

Up first, better late than never -- or is it too little too late? President Trump finally responding after two days, two days of harsh criticism from all directions in the wake of the hate-filled violence in Charlottesville that left three people dead. The president issuing a brief statement Monday. He began with a boast about the economy and what he said were all of his accomplishments before delivering a full- throated condemnation of hate groups.


TRUMP: As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America. Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything that we hold dear as Americans. To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend's racist violence, you'll be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Strong statement on Monday. But as a reminder, this was President Trump's initial response on Saturday to the violence in Charlottesville.


TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides -- on many sides.


ROMANS: All right. Let's get more from CNN's Sara Murray at the White House.



The president only clarifying his stance after days of backlash. Not just from some of his backers on Wall Street and not just from Democrats but also from members of his own party as it appears clear that the White House and Trump's advisers were caught flatfooted by the developments.

Now, when President Trump was asked why it took him days to condemn these actions by white nationalists, he said only that they are condemned. But that explanation rang hollow to some, in part because this is a president who has repeatedly fumbled his efforts to denounce the white nationalists that have rallied in his name.

Remember, it took him multiple attempts to say he disavowed the support of David Duke, a former KKK leader. This is a president who at different points has re-tweeted white supremacists. And this is also someone who rose to prominence in part by questioning whether President Barack Obama, the first African-American president, was born in the United States.

These are some things that lead people to believe that there are more nefarious efforts underway behind this delay in President Trump's comments and an indication that this controversy is not going to evaporate from the White House any time soon.

Back to you, guys.


ROMANS: All right. You're absolutely right. Sara Murray, thank you for that.

The president arriving at Trump Tower in New York last night, his first time back since taking office. He was greeted by a swarm of protesters shouting messages like, no hate, and impeach. Now, the president turning to Twitter to vent and in doing so, he sparked a new controversy.

So, just hours ago, you know, last night, like 11:00, he re-tweeted a post from a prominent alt-right activist. This is -- he re-tweeted someone best known for indulging in outrageous conspiracy theories. The post questioned why the media was covering the Charlottesville story instead of violence in Chicago.

BRIGGS: The president has been under fire for not specifically rejecting the support of white supremacy groups or immediately calling them out by name. He's not explained why. Listen to this exchange with CNN's Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORERSPONDENT: Mr. President, can you explain why you did not condemn the hatred by name over the weekend?

TRUMP: They've been condemned. They have been condemned.

ACOSTA: And why are we not having press conferences today? You said on Friday we would have a press conference.

TRUMP: We had a press conference. We just had a press conference.

ACOSTA: Can we ask more questions, sir?

TRUMP: That doesn't bother me at all, but, you know, I like real news, not fake news. You're fake news.


[04:05:00] ROMANS: That was not a press conference. That was a statement on camera. That was not a press conference.

BRIGGS: The semantics of that are absolutely true. He'll get a sense of what a press conference is perhaps if he has a communications director.

ROMANS: Yes, maybe.

BRIGGS: But time will tell if we get one of those. The president followed up the exchange with this Twitter attack on the press. Quote: Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realized once again that the fake news media will never be satisfied. Truly bad people.

But let's get back to that fake news moniker for just one moment. You just reminded us that we re-tweeted someone who trolls in the pizza- gate theory, which is truly the definition of what fake news is. Just fact check.

ROMANS: And the definition of the alt-right firing people up, you know? I mean, somebody came to a pizza parlor, a legitimate pizza parlor, because of something that he had read online. It's remarkable. This is the kind of milieu that the president lives with online. Fascinating.

BRIGGS: Just an ordinary day.

ROMANS: Just an ordinary. That's right.

All right. Business leaders are not happy with President Trump's response to Charlottesville. Not at all. Three CEOs quit his manufacturing council as a result. The heads of Intel and Under Armour are stepping down following the lead of one of America's most prominent black CEOs, Merck Chief Kenneth Frazier. Frazier quit the council after Trump's initial failure to condemn white supremacy, saying that America's leaders must clearly reject hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy.

Still, the CEOs of Intel and Under Armour, they quit even after the president later called neo Nazis repugnant. So, after that two-day late, presidential strong response, they still stepped down from the president's advisory councils.

Corporate America is quick to rebuke Trump on many issues, including on immigration and climate change. But very few CEOs have broken with the White House, perhaps because their companies and stocks still benefit from Trump's pro-business environment. There are a few exceptions. The former Uber CEO left the president's council after his travel ban. The Disney CEO Bob Iger and the Tesla founder Elon Musk, they quit after breaking with the Paris climate agreement.

But CNN asked two dozen execs on the manufacturing council if they would stay. Those that responded denounced hatred, at least seven companies said that they would remain including Dow Chemical, Whirlpool, Campbell's Soup, and General Electric. They cite the importance of participating in the discussion on the U.S. manufacturing.

And I've talked to the business leaders in months past about, you know, what they get from sitting in that photo op with the spray of the cameras next to the president when they disagree with him on so many things.


ROMANS: Some of them want a voice at the table to maybe moderate the president, maybe help advise him better they think on some of these issues that they care about. But some others have complained that it was kind of a waste of their time, you know, to fly --

BRIGGS: Photo-op.

ROMANS: -- all the way across the country to sit down with the president. The president only wants to talk about himself and his accomplishments. So, it's interesting to see how corporate America is responding here.

BRIGGS: It sure is.

All right. James Fields, meanwhile, the 20-year-old Ohio man accused of plowing his car into a crowd of Charlottesville demonstrators, is being held without bond this morning. And we're finding out more about him.

Here's CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, suspect James Fields made his first court appearance. He was video linked in to the courtroom on Monday morning from his jail cell in Charlottesville, outside Charlottesville actually.

The judge told him about his charges which include one count of second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and a hit- and-run charge. He asked James Fields if he could afford an attorney. James Fields said he could not afford an attorney.

And interestingly, the judge then said he could not appoint a public defender for James Fields because a member of the public defender's office had a relative who was affected by Saturday's violence. So, the judge went down his list and appointed an attorney named Charles Weber to represent James Fields. And we moved on with the proceedings there.

We reached out to Charles Weber for comment on this case, and we have not heard back from him.

Also, on Monday we got word from a security firm in Ohio that James Fields had worked for that firm, a firm called Securitas. They said he worked for them from May until July of 2016 and then from November of 2016 until the present. That firm said that he took a vacation leave to come here to Charlottesville, and that he has since been terminated -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that, Brian.

So, the mother of the Charlottesville victim, Heather Heyer, talking to CNN. Here's what Susan Bro told our Anderson what she would say to James Fields, the driver who allegedly plowed into the crowd of protesters, killing her daughter.


SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF HEATHER HEYER: You took the child from me and I'm going to be the voice that she can no longer be. And so, you gave us a national forum, and maybe I should thank you for that, but I can't. I would rather have my child.


ROMANS: Just heartbreaking.

She also told us how she wants her daughter to be remembered.


BRO: She would want that spark of self-examination, of the honest discourse of being able to explain yourself, to make yourself accountable, to continue on.

[04:10:14] If anything is ever to come of this, say her name, I want it to be that say her name means you hold yourself accountable. You check your actions before you do something. You explain yourself to God, to yourself, to another person, whatever you have to do, but you hold yourself accountable before you go after somebody.

And there's no excuse for hatred. There's no excuse for bigotry. There's no excuse for discrimination.


BRIGGS: Meanwhile, the hate-filled violence sparking protesters in North Carolina to take down a Confederate statue outside the courthouse in Durham.


BRIGGS: Yes, they attached a rope to the statue memorializing Confederate soldiers and pulled it down. North Carolina's governor responded in tweets saying: The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable, but there is a better way to remove these monuments.

Durham police saying no arrests were made, noting the incident occurred on county property where county law enforcement has jurisdiction.

Meantime, the governor of Arizona says he 100 percent condemns white supremacist hate groups, but he has no plans to remove confederate monuments from state grounds.


GOV. DOUG DUCEY (R), ARIZONA: It's not my desire or mission to tear down any monuments or memorials. We have a public process if the public wants to be engaged in this. I invite them to get engaged in it. I don't think we should try to hide our history. I think we ought to try to teach it and make people understand we've overcome a lot of mistakes.


BRIGGS: Arizona has six confederate memorials. Look for this, Christine, to spread throughout the country. A litmus test of where you stand on this issue -- should we tear down the confederate monuments. Let us know what you thin think @earlystart on Twitter.

ROMANS: It's a flashpoint for something bigger. You know, that, you know, opportunity in this country and fairness, it's -- the physical thing, the monuments, but there's something else going on around there. BRIGGS: Debate is far from over.

ROMANS: All right. Twelve minutes past the hour.

Game on. Defense Secretary Mattis warning North Korea over threats that the U.S. and North Korea now may -- the threats may be backing off. We're live in Seoul.


[04:16:33] BRIGGS: North Korea backing off its threat to launch a missile attack on Guam. State-run media saying Kim Jong-un has finished reviewing an attack plan and will hold off on a decision depending on what the, quote, foolish Yankees do next. The statement coming just hours after Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned that if North Korea fired on the U.S. territory, it would be, quote, game on.

Meantime, South Korea's president says his government is determined to resolve tensions on the Korean peninsula peacefully.

CNN's Paula Hancocks live for us in Seoul with the latest.

Good morning to you, Paula.

It's not often we hear Kim Jong-un back off on a threat. Maybe a small win for the president here.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, potentially yes, Dave. We did hear that Kim Jong-un was going to have the plan ready for the four missiles to hit the waters off Guam. He's had the plan. He's looked over it according to state-run media very carefully with his generals and now, he is waiting to see what the Americans do.

Now, clearly, that is a reference or likely a reference to next week. The South Koreans and the U.S. are going to have joint military drills next week, starting August 21st. They go on for 10 days.

They happen every year. The U.S. saying they are defensive in nature, but that it's quit simply not the way that North Korea sees it. They see them as provocative, and every single time, they are incensed by these military drills. So, it will be interesting to see reaction is after those drills go ahead, as the joint chiefs chairman, General Dunford, said they will go ahead. In fact, there was more of a need for them now than ever before.

We also heard from the South Korean President Moon Jae-in here in Seoul today. It's liberation day. North Korea and South Korea celebrating the same occasion on the same side for once, the liberation from Japanese occupation.

And he said there will be no second Korean war. He was insistent that he would not allow war to break out on the Korean peninsula, said it is up to South Korea to decide what military action happens on the Korean peninsula and says that the U.S. is on the same page as South Korea. And then, of course, at the same time, you had the secretary of defense saying that if North Korea attacks first, it is game on -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Indeed, Paula Hancocks live for us in Seoul this morning -- thank you.

ROMANS: Eighteen minutes past the hour.

China is threatening to retaliate now that President Trump's chief trade negotiator has been asked to determine whether an investigation of Beijing's trade practices is needed. The move could pave the way for the president to impose tariffs on Chinese imports. The administration turning the screws on China in order to get more cooperation on the North Korea crisis.

Let's go live to Hong Kong and bring in CNN's David McKenzie.

China might be complaining, but is this less harsh than people expected from the Trump administration?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Yes, I think so. I think many people expected this investigation to be launched straight away. But the trade representative of Trump has about a year to investigate possible infringement of U.S. intellectual property rights within China. Something people have complained for for a very long time.

So, I think it's sort of stepping off the pedal a little bit, perhaps to gain China's help on North Korea, Christine.

ROMANS: (INAUDIBLE) are very -- I mean, the number of CEOs I know who I've talked to, who build a factory or do a joint venture in China, and turn around and five miles down the road, there's the exact same factory that has been just sprung up, you know, making their goods but under different brand names or something. I mean, this is something they've been concerned. And cyber espionage and social property theft through spying, these are all accusations that the administration has had for years.

[04:20:09] What do you -- what do you hear from U.S. executives about the subject?

MCKENZIE: Well, Christine, you're absolutely right. I've heard those same complaints and sometimes you have a joint venture with a U.S. company, a Chinese company, and just sort of lo and behold a few months later or years later or years later, you have an almost identical product hitting the Chinese market with the U.S. companies, you know, almost identical.

So, yes, it is a complaint. It costs the U.S. more than $200 billion a year, according to a recent study. So, there's a lot of pressure on the Trump administration to help solve this problem. But they are looking at the big picture, I think, and want to be deliberate about it. The Chinese say that it's such a complex economy, complex linkages between the U.S. and Chinese economy that any push against China could result in a cascade effect that would ultimately, they say, hurt the U.S. consumer.

So, it's a complicated issue, business yes, there's been complaints for a long time -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, I mean, let's be very fair here. American consumers for years have had very low prices because of America's trade relationship with China. Companies complain, but, boy, they all are -- I mean, they get big revenue in China, as well.

So, it will be interesting to see, David, if there's anything different this time around from prior administrations when they've tried to address some of these prickly issues with the Chinese.

Dave McKenzie, thank you so much for that in Hong Kong this morning.

BRIGGS: Of course, some tenuous times in the regions.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BRIGGS: A trade war with China at the same time with the nuclear confrontation with North Korea.

All right. A lot of people talking about the Taylor Swift trial. Vindication, though, for Taylor Swift.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It takes people like Taylor, wonderful people like Taylor who we all know, to stand up and draw these lines.


BRIGGS: A jury ruling for the singer in court. We'll have the details, next.


[04:26:24] ROMANS: Victory in court for Taylor Swift. A jury ruling in favor of the pop superstar in her countersuit against former Denver deejay David Mueller. The singer accused Mueller of groping her four years ago.

After he got fired, she complained to his station, he got fired. He sued her. She won.

We got more from CNN's Scott McLean in Denver.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, a Denver jury awarded Taylor Swift exactly what she was looking for -- $1 and vindication. Swift, along with her mother Andrea and her radio liaison, Frank Bell, were being sued by former Denver radio deejay David Mueller who claims he was fired after Swift falsely accused him of groping her at a backstage meet and greet four years ago.

Last week, a judge ruled Taylor Swift was not liable in the case. And now, a jury of six women and two men has agreed. Andrea Swift and Frank Bell are also not to blame for Mueller's termination. Swift was countersuing Mueller for just $1, claiming assault and

battery and she won.

Her lawyer spoke to reporters after the verdict was read in court.

DOUGLAS BALDRIDGE, TAYLOR SWIFT ATTORNEY: As I said in the closing, that $1 is a single dollar, and it is of immeasurable value in this ever-growing fight for us to figure out where the lines are and what's right and what's wrong, intolerance, and whose body is whose.

MCLEAN: Taylor Swift also put out a statement that read in part: My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard. She promised to donate to organizations that help sexual assault victims defend themselves.

I also spoke to David Mueller on the phone. He maintains he did nothing wrong and says anyone who knows him knows he would not do this. He told me he will continue to do whatever he can to prove his innocence -- Christine, Dave.


ROMANS: Thanks so much for that, Scott.

You know, I got to say, a lot of young women -- especially on social media -- were talking about this trial and really engaged and thought that she handled herself so well. This is not my fault. It is not OK to treat women like this in any circumstance.

And she was very tough about, very strong about it. And a lot of young women really took notice. I thought it was cool.

BRIGGS: But I'll see you in an article on, they were not happy about the courtroom sketches.


BRIGGS: BBC, CNN, many articles about how Taylor Swift fans were not digging these sketches.

ROMANS: They were like, why did she look like that? That's not what she looks like.

BRIGGS: It harkens back to the Tom Brady sketch that didn't go well.

ROMANS: Yes, you're right. You're right.

All right. Good for her.

Twenty-eight minutes past the hour.

President Trump re-tweeting an alt-right figure, slamming the media, back to his usual business after he finally named names and condemning white supremacy. That's next.