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Trump caves to outrage, denounces hate groups by name; Trump retweets right wing conspiracy theorist; Lawsuit alleges Trump was inaccurate about terror claims

Aired August 15, 2017 - 08:30   ET


JOHN WHITBECK, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN PARTY OF VIRGINIA: The statement that we saw on - yesterday was the statement we wanted to see on Saturday.

But at the same time, we were, as Virginians, focused on what was going on with all of our leadership and how they were reacting, what they were doing to respond on the ground minute-by-minute.

From the Democrat governor, who I don't give a lot of credit to, but I do give credit for this weekend; Ed Gillespie, our nominee for governor, all of our elected officials on the ground throughout Virginia, everybody was united behind. It was a non-partisan issue.

And the president's statement really meant a lot to us yesterday, at least from what I'm hearing from the people I've talked to since then.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, NEW DAY: And the too little, too late argument, you put any stock in that or no? Better late than ever?

WHITBECK: Well, I think I read somewhere that it was something like 54 minutes after the beginning of the event or something like that. I think if we start parsing out how much time it took and too little, too late and all the different things, we're getting away from the fact that three people died on Saturday - an innocent woman and two of our fine state police officers.

I think that's the focus of what it should be. And the president's statement went a long way to bringing this back to that focus. These people are violent, hate-filled racists, and they have no place in our Commonwealth.

And Republicans, Democrats and independents have all been very vocal, from the president on down, and denouncing that. And you cannot denounce these people enough. We've got to continue to get the message out there that we will not tolerate this type of hatred in the Commonwealth.

CUOMO: But isn't the point that he didn't denounce them straight off. He had announced violence and bigotry on many sides, which - to even the untrained ear - sounded like he was creating an equation between those who were protesting against white supremacists and the white supremacists themselves.

He just re-tweeted and then deleted a cartoon of a train running over CNN just days after the hit-and-run that we all witnessed as a terror attack in Charlottesville. Do you believe any of that's helpful?

WHITBECK: Well, I think the most important thing that we do right now is to remember the people that we lost, remember the violence that occurred.

And I think what we do when we start talking about who tweeted what and who did enough and who said enough, we start getting away from that.

We haven't seen anything like this in Virginia in a long time. And it really puts a black eye on our state. These people weren't even from Virginia. Many of them from other states. And I haven't found one person that knew someone from Virginia that was there.

CUOMO: And the people who were from Virginia were the people protesting against them, like Heather Heyer and like Marissa Blair and her fiance, they were Virginians, they went there to fight against hate.

And the reason that I'm bringing it up is not to distract. I believe that what you ignore, you empower. I believe that when you don't call out these groups for what they are, you're giving them some cover.

And you know who agrees with me, they do. They put out on their own site that they took the president's statement as affirmation and congratulations. That's what I'm bringing it up for.

Not to not bring attention to the two troopers who lost their lives and Heather Heyer, but to do exactly that, to emphasize that that's who matters and they died as a result of hateful people in the form of white supremacists. And that should have been called out from jump, don't you think?

WHITBECK: They sure did die from hate-filled people and it's despicable. And I'm very proud of the reaction of Virginia's leaders on that day.

And the President's statement yesterday, I think that was the right statement, the statement that we would have liked to have seen on Saturday.

And I think when Virginians are faced with adversity, we rise up. And I think - I'm just very proud to see the way that our leaders reacted on Saturday and have reacted since.

And the fact that my Democrat colleagues, on the other side, are standing with us, just like how we're standing with them, and it really is a non-partisan issue and something that - just a terrible tragedy for Virginia as a whole.

CUOMO: There's no question about it. In a country that has real cause for divisions, one of the things that most of us agree on, I would say just about all is, when it comes to hate in the form of these extreme righty groups, like the white supremacists, nobody is for them. And this is an obvious cause for unity. And we're seeing it play out in the aftermath and in Virginia. And we'll stay on the story. And please come back to us and let us know how the healing goes.

WHITBECK: Well, thank you. Well spoken. Thank you very much.

CUOMO: Appreciate it. Poppy?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST, NEW DAY: So, when President Trump re-tweeted a right-wing activist, who pushes conspiracy theories, did he just take away completely from the message he finally gave yesterday, naming these hate groups? We'll debate that next.


[08:33:29] HARLOW: It took two days after that deadly violence in Charlottesville for the president to finally call out these hate groups by name for what they are.

Just hours after doing it, he chose to re-tweet a conspiracy theorist last night and then re-tweet a violent image this morning, only to delete it.

Joining us now is CNN contributor Cornell Williams Brooks and former Trump campaign director Michael Caputo.

Gentlemen, it's nice to have you on such an important morning and discussion about this country right now.

Cornell, to you, the president came out and finally named these groups yesterday and then he follows that by these re-tweets of conspiracy theorists, of this train running into a person this morning, and then he deletes that animated image. Is he undoing what he finally did yesterday?

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND FORMER PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: He is undoing, but he is also maintaining a certain pattern, which is to say that the president is trying to have his hate cake and eat it too. He is demonstrating a pattern of immoral and implausible deniability.

And what I mean by that is by giving a full-throated denunciation of white nationalism yesterday, then re-tweeting this tweet where the author juxtaposes the crime in Chicago, black on black crime seemingly as an excuse for anti-black racism is just unconscionable.

And we see this pattern over and over again with the alt-right, which is to say, whenever there is an instance of the anti-black racism and anti-Semitism, it's juxtaposed with the so-called black on black crime.

[08:40:12] This is not an accident. The president is blowing a racial dog-whistle, right after he gave that denunciation of white supremacy yesterday. So, this is very disappointing, but it's in with a longstanding pattern, which is to say the president is unwilling to give up this segment of his base. HARLOW: So, Michael, you said this president has "no patience for racism or bigotry." Did he not display that patience in multitude, at least a patience to call it out, waiting more than 48 hours to do that by name yesterday?

And then instead of tweeting about Heather Heyer and what she stood for and fought for or Marissa and her boyfriend Martin who we had on the show earlier, heroes in all of this, he's tweeting these conspiracy theorists and violent images and then deleting them. Isn't that patience, but the wrong kind of patience?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR: No, I don't think so at all. I think the president's further elaboration yesterday was appropriate. And I expected it, as I said on CNN Sunday morning.

I also believe that his statement, his first statement, was a cautious one because there were people still roaming - marauders still roaming the streets of Charlottesville when he was speaking, carrying weapons, wearing helmets and shields, and I believe -

HARLOW: He shouldn't then call it - hold on, he shouldn't then, Michael, call a spade a spade and call hate what it is and call this un-American immediately?

CAPUTO: I think he did yesterday. I think -

HARLOW: Immediately. Doesn't it matter? Doesn't it matter what a person says right away? CAPUTO: Poppy, it does. Of course, it does. And I think the president chose his words carefully under the guidance of General Kelly because there were people in the street still ready to commit violence.

If he didn't please you in the DC establishment with his timing and his words, I'm sorry about that. But I think he was very clear yesterday. His statement was an elaboration, a very appropriate one.

And if any white nationalist watched that statement and still believes that he represents them in any way, shape or form, then they're just not listening.

HARLOW: Just for note, this isn't about me or the DC establishment. This is about people like Heather and her friend Felicia who came on the show and Marisa and Martin, and this is about Americans who are saying this is not right.


BROOKS: That's precisely it. This is not about a DC establishment. It's about Main Street America. And timing is everything.

Where the President issues this milquetoast, mealy-mouthed statement at the onset, then the White House issues an anonymously sourced statement clarifying what the pin fact did not say.

Then he does engage in a full-throated denunciation of white nationalism and then follows it up with this racial code whistle, if you will, today. The president is demonstrating a certain pattern, which is to say, he wants to both disavow while embracing this white nationalist segment of his base.

Timing is everything. Note, the president took a political nanosecond to criticize Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck, but took a moral eternity to come on against these white nationalists.

HARLOW: Why is that, Michael? Why is that that he came out against the CEO of Merck within an hour of him getting off the council?

CAPUTO: I can answer you, Poppy, if you give me a chance here. I believe the president's reaction was kind of akin to Barack Obama's reaction after the shootings in Dallas when the police were put down.

He was very cautious, didn't want to go off on any person or any group (INAUDIBLE).

BROOKS: It's not caution. It's cowardice.

CAPUTO: - President Trump did.

BROOKS: That's not caution. It's cowardice.

CAPUTO: I get that. I believe that you think that. I understand that. But if we're talking about Main Street America, I live on Main Street America.

BROOKS: I live on Main Street America too and millions of Americans can see it was the president's cowardice.

CAPUTO: Can you let me finish? Can you let me finish?

BROOKS: Yes, sir.

CAPUTO: Thank you very much. On Main Street America, I don't think people are as focused on what words he said and what boxes he checked the first time he spoke as they're looking at his message in total.

His further elaboration that came out yesterday, where he made very clear after he had all the facts that white nationalism and Nazism are absolutely at fault here and have no place, certainly in the Republican Party.

Also, Cornell, I'll agree with you that Republicans, and especially conservatives, have a duty to call out white nationalists and Nazis when we get the chance because that has been hanging around our head inaccurately for many, many years. We need to seize those opportunities.

I think the President did that. And if he didn't do it according to your timing, I'm sorry. But where I live in Main Street America, we're looking at it differently.

[08:45:14] HARLOW: This is a moment where the president could continue to seize that opportunity, Michael, and do that through his messages directly to Main Street on Twitter.

He is choosing to do something else. We are out of time. We will have you both back. Thank you very much. Chris.

CUOMO: All right. To the world of sports, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaking out about players protesting the national anthem. What did he say, we have it in the "Bleacher Report" next.


CUOMO: The number of national anthem protests against racial injustice at the NFL continues to grow. Coy Wire has more with the "Bleacher Report". What do we know now?

COY WIRE, CNN HOST, "BLEACHER REPORT": Hi, Chris. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked by a fan if anthem protests this season were "going to be another problem." Here is what he had to say.


ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: National anthem is a special moment to me. It's a point of pride and that is a really important moment.

And I think - but we also have to understand the other side that people do have rights and we want to respect those.


WIRE: All right. Also, yesterday, Browns said, Coach Hue Jackson was asked how he would react if his players were to protest this season during the anthem. Here he is.


HUE JACKSON, COACH, CLEVELAND BROWNS: Well, I think everybody has a right to do and I get it, but the national anthem means a lot to myself personally.

I would hope we don't have those issues. I understand there's a lot going on in the world. Hopefully, that won't happen.

I can't tell you it won't happened, but I just know our guys. I don't think that where our focus is and we hope that things that are going out in world get ironed out.


WIRE: Now, the NFL doesn't have a rule of uniformity that requires players to stand for the national anthem, so we will continue to see all season long, Poppy, players using that opportunity to continue to spotlight this very serious issue.

HARLOW: Yes, I think we will. Thank you so much, Coy. We appreciate it.

Coming up, a lawsuit where the plaintiff claims President Trump lied about terrorism to justify his travel ban. The details next.


[08:53:24] CUOMO: In a speech before a Joint Session of Congress last February, President Trump made the case for his ban on travel from six Muslim majority countries. Here is a little taste.


DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.


CUOMO: Our next guest says that statement by President Trump is inaccurate and, in fact, he is going to sue the government for information to prove whether that data actually came from the Justice Department.

The man doing that, his name is Benjamin Wittes. He is the senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and Editor-in-chief of Lawfare. He is also a friend of fired FBI Director James Comey. What are the grounds for the suit?

BENJAMIN WITTES, SENIOR FELLOW, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, the president made an arresting pair of claims in that comment that you just quoted.

One was the claim that the majority of terrorism-related crimes in the United States since 9/11 are committed by people who came here from overseas. And the second is that the first claim is based on Justice Department data.

I believe both statements are false. I don't believe any such Justice Department data exists. And so, in the wake of the president's claim, I requested from the Justice Department, under the Freedom of Information Act, any data and correspondence that might support the claim the president made.

I didn't get a response, and so late last week I filed a lawsuit.

CUOMO: Do you have standing for the lawsuit? Explain that to people why you would be allowed to sue in this instance.

[08:55:05] WITTES: Because anybody is allowed to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act to government and anybody who makes a request. And whose request is either denied or not acted upon within a specified period of time has standing to bring a lawsuit under the law, and so there is no serious standing question here.

CUOMO: So, part of it is they won't give me the information I want, so I'm going to sue, OK.

The second part of it is the substance of it. Why do you believe the president was making a false statement, which I believe in specific would be that the majority of terror-related crimes committed in the US are committed by people from outside the US? You say that's wrong.

WITTES: Right. So, first of all, the Justice Department data that has been released, which only involve international terrorism cases, those data alone which we analyzed at some depth on Lawfare do not support the president's claim, but more -

CUOMO: Wait. Hold on a second. Just to be clear, Ben. Don't support the claim that they come from the countries that he banned because, by definition, if they are international people who commit crimes here, they will be coming from outside the country.

WITTES: Well, no. That definition is wrong. So, not all international terrorism cases are committed by people who came here from abroad. International terrorism, under US law, involves acts by or in-coordination with international terrorist groups, and those can be done by domestic people.

CUOMO: Like the cases that we hear of when people were seen as providing support or sending money back overseas, but they are here in the US or US citizens. It's an important distinction that I wanted you to make. Thank you.

WITTES: Exactly. And moreover, those cases do not involve - many of the people on the list of cases that the president may have been relying on, though I'm not sure, were actually extradited to the United States for trial from abroad.

So, they're literally people we imported to prosecute, not people who came here and committed acts of violence or terrorism.

Moreover, it ignores focusing - just on that material, ignores critically all cases like what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend, which are domestic terrorism cases.

And so, I don't believe the underlying factual claim is true and I also don't believe that any Justice Department data could reasonably be said to support it.

And so, the purpose of the lawsuit is to find out. Is the President right both about the underlying facts and about the Justice Department or am I right?

CUOMO: All right. Benjamin Wittes, thank you very much. We will keep an eye on the lawsuit. You let us know if there are any updates. Thank you.

WITTES: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. CNN NEWSROOM with John Berman is going to pick up right after this. There's a lot of news. Please stay with CNN.