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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With NFL Player Michael Bennett; No Regrets From President Trump Over Charlottesville Remarks. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:33:01]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our politics lead.

We have a lot to discuss with my panel.

Scott, let me start with you.

So, sources are telling CNN the president has no regrets. And last night, the White House put out some talking points for Republicans, saying the president was entirely correct, there was blame was to go around on both sides for violence. The president embraced the country's founding principles. He's been a voice for unity and calm.

Do you agree?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, no, I haven't really agreed with his strategy since Saturday.

I thought trying to cram a Charlottesville statement inside of another event on Saturday was wrong. I thought the Monday statement was good, and then the Tuesday conference, of course, erased everything.

I think the president needs to reflect on what it means to be a Republican president and what it means to be in the party of Lincoln and what it means to wear that mantle, because it is who we are as Republicans.

And I think -- right now, I have heard from a lot of Republicans in the last 24 hours, especially a lot of younger ones, a lot of younger elected officials, that they're very concerned about what they're going to say to their constituents and their people when they're just out in their jurisdictions.

And so, look, I think the Republican Party mostly still supports the Trump, Republican agenda on which they ran and were elected.

TAPPER: Trade and that...

(CROSSTALK)

JENNINGS: But there's a difference in being with someone in policy and being with someone in spirit, and I think to be the president, you have to do both, and that's where I think they're coming up short right now. TAPPER: Van Jones, let me go to you.

Two White House sources are telling CNN that they don't believe President Trump's comments will result in any long-term damage. One source saying there was -- quote -- "nothing disqualifying."

How do you see it particularly with the president's base and, of course, the others that supported him that ultimately sent him to the White House?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, his base is probably going to forgive this and overlook it, but he can't win reelection with his base only.

There are a bunch of independents, there are some Democrats that swung over, and I think those people are getting increasingly uncomfortable with the president. For one thing, it's just the erratic nature of his response to this crisis overall, underplaying it, reading a speech as if he were a hostage someplace, then blowing up.

[16:35:10]

All this stuff begins to undermine any sense of credibility for just -- and confidence in his ability to govern, period, let alone to govern for all the people.

And I think that I -- it's very interesting. Sometimes, things begin to erode and they erode and they erode, and then they break. Is this going to break him with the independents? No, but I don't think that he understands that this is a country where a certain level of respect for each other is required and expected.

False equivalencies between Nazis and people who are fighting Nazis is something I think that people are not going to follow him down the road on.

TAPPER: It was reported Gary Cohn, the president's National Economic Council chair, who is Jewish, was disgusted and upset by President Trump's comments, according to Glenn Thrush of "The New York Times," referring to three people with knowledge.

It's interesting that people in the White House are sharing their views on this and it is getting out to reporters, and yet, beyond that, there's nothing that happens. Nobody -- I really -- I didn't, I guess, expect any resignations today, but it is an odd thing to kind of have it leaked that you're disgusted, but you're still going to stick around, because maybe he will make you Fed chair.

NEERA TANDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, honestly, it's -- basically, I think it's worse.

Like, if you -- first of all, what the president did was basically excuse rallies in which people said things, like Jews -- anti-Semitic statements, just purely anti-Semitic things. And he excused that behavior, which is outrageous. And I do not understand why Gary Cohn is still working in the White House, but it's almost forced to say, I am offended by what he did, but I care so much about tax cuts for billionaires and millionaires, I'm going to let it slide.

How do you look people, not your Jewish family, but like people of common decency, how do you look them in the face when you say you don't like it, but you show up? Does Gary Cohn need the money of this paycheck? No. He will be fine.

He can do right by his conscience and the American people and resign today, just like those CEOs disbanded the councils.

TAPPER: There are people, Scott, in the administration who feel that they are there because they -- understanding the problems of this president and this presidency, but they're there to do the right thing, to be patriots, to serve, to try to keep the ship of state going.

General McMaster comes to mind, Secretary Mattis, new Chief of Staff John Kelly, and perhaps Gary Cohn feels the same way. If he leaves, who is going to be NEC chair? He needs to be there to be -- I'm just playing devil's advocate, Neera.

TANDEN: Yes.

TAPPER: I see you rolling your eyes -- that they need to be there to do the patriotic thing for the country.

JENNINGS: Yes.

And, remember, when you take senior-level jobs in the White House, you don't take an oath to serve an individual president. You take an oath to serve the country and the Constitution.

And so I do think people take these jobs out of the sense of public service and they want to contribute what they can contribute to our national economy, in Gary Cohn's case. And so I don't really support the concept of mass resignations.

We see in other countries, well, the government resigned today and we're going to have an election in six weeks. It doesn't work that way here. And I have seen people today, oh, is this the end of the presidency? Are we going to have an impeachment?

No. Look, here's the way it works. We elect a president and unless we have an egregious case, we don't impeach them, they don't resign usually. Their advisers don't resign en masse. We go through these cycles and then we have another election. And so that's what they will face, not in 2018, but in 2020.

I'm not someone who thinks the government should be turned over because it's been roiled. That's just not the way we do it.

TAPPER: Van, Michael Cohen, the president's personal lawyer, tweeted this morning -- quote -- "As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I have no tolerance for #racism. Just because I support POTUS, @realDonaldTrump, doesn't make me a racist."

And for those listening on SiriusXM, the tweet has photographs of him, Michael Cohen, with a number of African-Americans. Did you see this tweet, and what do you make of it?

JONES: I saw the tweet, and it is one of those things where we're just beating up a bunch of straw people.

If you're a straw person, get out of America, because all these straw person arguments are going to be bad for your health. Nobody is making a serious argument that you are a racist if you voted for Donald Trump or whatever.

That's out there, but that's not what's gotten this thing so hot right now. What's gotten this thing so hot right now is that we have Nazis marching down the street in America using ISIS tactics to murder Americans in broad daylight, and the president of the United States can't speak with passion about that.

[16:40:00]

He can speak with passion about statues. He speaks with more passion about a statue than a human life. That is a big problem.

And so to jump out and say, I am not a racist, I am not a racist, well, fine, you're not a racist, but you're not exercising good judgment if you aren't being tough on this president with his lack of judgment.

And so we're not talking about people's moral character at this point. We're talking about their judgment. And right now, people are not showing appropriate judgment near this president.

TANDEN: Can I just say about the staff, and to Van's point, at the end of the day, the president of the United States is supposed to bring the country together, not sow division, heal division.

He is not supposed to justify racism. He is supposed to fight racism. He is supposed to heal the wounds of the country. That's what we expect from presidents, and people who work from him are sanctioning it if they don't stop.

TAPPER: Thanks, everyone, for being here. Appreciate it.

He sat out the national anthem after the deadly violence in Charlottesville, so how does the Seahawks' Michael Bennett feel about the president saying both sides are to blame?

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The "SPORTS LEAD" now, the racist terrorist in Charlottesville and the President's reaction to all of what went on there is shining the light back on protests started by NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He's still out of a job just a few weeks from the regular season kickoff. But as the league gets ready for a new season, more football players are taking a stand by not standing for the National Anthem, including Seattle Seahawks Defensive End Michael Bennett who says the ugly racist violence and terrorist attack in Virginia were a tipping point for him. So Sunday he stayed on the bench with a towel on his head during a preseason game in Los Angeles.

Joining me now is Michael Bennett, he's Defensive End for the Seattle Seahawks. Michael, thanks so much for joining us. President Trump, of course, big news saying that there's blame on both sides, he characterized some of the counter protesters as alt-left. I want you to take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Yes, I think there's blame on both sides. You look at -- you look at both sides. I think there's blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What's your reaction, Sir?

MICHAEL BENNETT, SEATLE SEAHAWKS DEFENSIVE END: I think my reaction is all on one side is breeding hate. I think you look at the white supremacist thing going on in Charlottesville, I think you try to you know, pick one side. I think, there's only one side that's really trying to stir up hate. It is a lot of hate going on, lot of people being victimized in that town and all across America. And right now, such a thing that's happening as you mentioned, I just disagree with this that it happens to be on both sides.

TAPPER: Do other players in the NFL discuss all this racial politics that is-that is really been bubbling up in our society in the last few years, but then especially of course, in the last few months?

BENNETT: I think -- I think there's a lot of players in the NFL and around Major League Baseball and just athletes in general who are talking about these issues because we live these issues. I mean, at this point in America, you know, I can't -- we can't -- I can't hide behind the shield, I can't hide behind logo of the team I play for, can't hide behind the brands that I play for. I'm a black man in America and living this, I'm living what's going on right now, and I think a lot of players agree with that, they all talk about it, and it's very hard to talk about it on the outside because you know that you're going to be judged for what you say. So I think a lot of people are fearful of backlash that will happen to them, but there's a point where silence is becoming dishonest. And I think at this point, you can't be silenced anymore. You have to be able to speak up about the issues and find a way to create change and finally get the injustice and inequalities in America right now.

TAPPER: You have young children, what do you say them about incidents like Charlottesville or I mean, I could run through the names of a number of horrific incidents of violence and white supremacy. What did you tell them? BENNETT: It's hard, I mean, it's hard. Every day I try to remind my daughter that she matters and that she's important, her skin doesn't matter. She's going to be judged on the content of her character like Martin Luther King said. But every day when I watch TV, I'm reminded that that's not -- that's not the America I am living in. I'm living in a place where you are being judged by the color of your skin. You are being judged by your religion. You are being judged by your sex. And so, I just have to remind her that she's living in this world, and if she wants change, then she'll have to go out there and try to create it. And she have to treat people the way you wants to be treated. And that's the thing -- and that's why I live by every day, I try to do the same thing, the thing that I tell my daughter.

TAPPER: You decided to protest what's going on in this country. Tell us about what you're going to do and what specifically was the tipping point on Saturday for you that led you to this decision?

BENNETT: I think -- like I said, I won't stand until I feel like everything is equal. I won't stand until everybody has justice. I won't until everybody has freedom on the things that America is built on. I think protesting on the national anthem begins the conversation about the truth of America. I'm not protesting the flag, I'm actually trying to honor where we're supposed to be honoring, the freedom of America, the equality of America, the justice for all and liberty. Those are things I'm trying to remind people that we all fought for, the forefathers. We say we are fighting against terrorists domestic and foreign, and right now there's a whole bunch of domestic terrorism, domestic hate going on between the race, the gender, all of the stuff going on because somebody is discriminating color.

So I want to bring up those issues and create those conversations and create -- and get people out there and go out and to try to act and fix the problem. Go out and work with people of different race, different colors, different sex, different gender, whatever it is. Just go out, try to find out how to help instead of being the problem and sitting back, being silenced. Like I said, I think at this point, to be silent right now, you're being dishonest about the truth of what's going on. We want to figure out how to get to the bottom of this. And I believe the protests is the right thing to do for me and for what I feel is right.

I think, as a young black man growing up, I want to be able to inspire the youth, especially minority kids and kids around the world. If you see something and feel like you are -- you want to make a change, don't be afraid, don't be fearful for what you think the truth is and we were fighting for liberty and equality for all. And I think that's what I live by and what I believe wholeheartedly.

[16:50:42] TAPPER: What -- I was told that on -- that Charlottesville really was the tipping point for you. You've been thinking about this, but what happened Saturday really was a deciding factor. What specifically?

BENNETT: I think I just think -- I just -- turning on the TV, I think Charlottesville really had the tipping point for me that Friday night when I -- or Saturday night after watching everything that was going on. It was a tipping point to see so much hate and see so much hatred toward people. At the end of the day for me, it's about being a human being. And when those things are going on, there's no way I can just go out and try to hide behind the game, try to hide behind the touchdowns that we score and try to hide behind the sacks that I make. I've got to go out, and I couldn't do it anymore. I had to be able to stand up. And I thought that it was the right thing to do for me.

TAPPER: Last year when Colin Kaepernick began his protest, I spoke to a Gold Star Mother Teri Johnson, she lost her son, Sergeant Joseph Johnson in an IED attack in Afghanistan in 2010. She opposed what Kaepernick was doing. Take a listen to what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERI JOHNSON, AMERICAN GOLD STAR MOTHER: When I read he said he couldn't stand for a flag that he didn't have pride in, right away my heart kind of stopped and I lost my breath because the flag that I see is the flag that draped my son's casket in honor and I see the flag that was handed to my husband and I with deep respect from a grateful nation. When I look at the flag, I see the best of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you say to gold star families? I know your dad is in the Navy. What do you say to Gold Star families who might take your protest that way?

BENNETT: I think my father was -- my father was in the military, a lot of my family was in the military. I got friends who's vets, people who have been to war, who's done it all. Like I said at the beginning, I honor -- I honor the military. I do stuff for kids in Hawaii at the military bases. I lived on the military base, I grew up in a military family. And I would say that I honor the military every time I see them. And at this point like I said, I'm not actually not dishonoring the contributions they made if somebody loses their life. I'm actually trying to honor that. I'm honoring the freedom and liberty that they fought for, to be able to have that. And that's the thing that I'm really trying to honor. I'm not trying to dishonor the flag, I'm more about the principles, honoring the principles that America was built on, and that's the liberty, freedom, and justice. And like I said, I cannot stand until I see equality and freedom every day.

TAPPER: Well, let's hope that you see that equality and freedom for everyone very soon.

BENNETT: I hope I see that equality today, tomorrow. I'm challenging everybody that watches this not to judge me because you think that I'm doing something wrong. Judge me on what my character and my content of who I am and go out and try to change society. Challenge yourself to be uncomfortable, go understand somebody else that's different from you, whether it is race, whether it's sex, whether it's religion. Go out and look for that. Look for what I'm saying, and not try to judge me because you think that I'm doing something wrong. I'm actually just honoring what we're built on.

TAPPER: Michael Bennett from the Seattle Seahawks, thank you so much. Good luck this season.

Heather Heyer's mother had some strong words for the racists who killed her daughter. Her powerful message when we come back. Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN BRO, HEATHER HEYER'S MOTHER: But I have to go to Facebook to find pictures of my child --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Before we go, we'd like to take a moment to honor the strong call for action we heard today from the mother of Heather Heyer. She's, of course, is the 32-year- old killed during Saturday's protests in Charlottesville.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRO: They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what, you just magnified her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Heather's mother, Susan Bro, encouraged everyone watching her daughter's funeral today to channel their anger into righteous action. Her charge received a standing ovation almost two minutes long. Guests flooded Charlottesville's paramount theater inside and outside wearing purple, that's the color that Heather Heyer loved. This entire ordeal understandably painful for everyone involved. Her father spoke as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK HEYER, HEATHER HEYER'S FATHER: No father should have to do this but I love my daughter and as I look at on you guys, you love her too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Speaker after speaker described Heather Heyer as a bold soul, known to stand up for what she felt was right, and that's what she was doing when she went to Saturday's rally. Two Virginia State Troopers were also killed Saturday in a helicopter crash while overseeing the Charlottesville protests and ensuing violence. Trooper Berke Bates will be laid to rest on Friday. Lt. Jay Cullen's funeral will take place Saturday.

That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thank you so much for watching.