Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Repeats Blame "Both Sides" for Charlottesville; Heather Heyer's Memorial Service Soon to Begin; Trump: Bannon "Not A Racist," "We'll See" About Future; Trump Diversity Council Member Wants Bannon To Resign. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:04] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here. The big question this morning is, what now?

What now after the President made his feelings crystal clear on the violence and death sparked by White supremacists this weekend? What now for Republicans critical of the President's words on hate but less critical of the man or his agenda?

What now for the White House staff, including those of the Jewish faith, the faith that was slandered loudly and clearly on the streets of Charlottesville? What now for the military whose leaders have made unusual bold statements in reaction, if not opposition, to the President's words?

What now for the family of Heather Heyer? She was killed, perhaps murdered, because of the hate. Her memorial begins shortly.

What now for all the United States, all the United States, and its ongoing struggle to understand its own complicated heritage?

The President's comments have been critiqued and chewed over for many hours now, but let's set a baseline here. At a bare minimum, the President said that folks who marched alongside or near self- proclaimed White nationalists chanting racist anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans, at a bare minimum, he called these very fine people.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people. They were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest.


BERMAN: Very fine people. So make no mistake, this is an important moment, a different moment which is developing before our eyes this morning. So what now? Let's go first to Jeff Zeleny at Trump Tower.

You know, Jeff, they've had a night to digest and see the reaction to the President's statement. Wondering if you're getting a sense from inside the White House staff, the Trump team, how they think things are going this morning.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The people inside the White House and indeed here at Trump Tower inside the President's inner circle have been virtually silent. There's been no comment from Ivanka Trump, from Jared Kushner, form any of the top advisers. This is the most uncharacteristically silent White House that I have seen in such a critical moment here, John. The reason is this.

They isn't -- you know, there's not a lot of defense going on. Usually, you hear advisors trying to defend the President, explain what he was saying. Well, this is a much harder moment to explain and defend.

So I'm struck by the silence this morning, John, but let's go back to those comments yesterday in Trump Tower. Of course, they started the week by the President was trying to clear up his comments from the weekend with a scripted statement.

Yesterday, that statement was anything but scripted, but it came right from his heart. Let's listen.


TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, my question was to you --


TRUMP: Let me ask you this. What about the fact they came charging -- that they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.

I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you have -- you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I'll say it right now.

You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch, but there is another side.

There was a group on this side, you can call them the left --you've just called them the left -- that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that's the way it is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On both sides, sir? You said there was hatred, there was violence from both sides? Are you --


TRUMP: Well, I do think there's blame -- yes, I think there's blame on both sides.


BERMAN: And it is those words there, John, blame on both sides, that has put the President back in a far deeper hole than he was over the weekend, you know, when he was criticized by many Republicans for not condemning the hate and the violence at that Charlottesville rally over the weekend.

But, John, the -- again, the White House, we're not expecting -- we're told the President will not be talking anymore today. He's not been tweeting about this specifically. He'll be going back to his golf course and resort in New Jersey this afternoon.

We'll see if we hear from him or from any of his other advisers. His daughter and son-in-law, of course, are on vacation. The -- a lot of advisers are, you know, as I said, silent before and not defending or talking about the President.

There's no talk of resignations. There's chatter as there always is in Washington about, you know, what people will do. But Republicans on Capitol Hill, other ones we're talking to this morning, John, are disappointed in their President, so we'll see where this goes.

[09:04:59] One side note in terms of staffing, we are learning this morning that Hope Hicks, the President's long-time communications advisor, she is on track to perhaps become the new communications director of the White House. That is a big job as well, John.

BERMAN: All right. Jeff Zeleny for us outside Trump Tower. And you mentioned Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. They somehow let it be known that they were not there, that they are on vacation right now, while the President has been saying what he has been saying. That fact tends to leak out whenever the President does something controversial.

Here to discuss, CNN's Senior Political Reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN political analyst and Washington Correspondent for the "New Yorker," Ryan Lizza, and Salena Zito, a CNN contributor and "Washington Examiner" reporter and columnist for the "New York Post."

You know, Nia, I asked a lot of what now questions at the top of this show. One of the big questions is, what now for Republicans? There have not been many elected Republicans, in fact, I haven't seen any Republican elected officials, out defending the President of the United States this morning. What we have seen is more reaction like this from Governor John Kasich.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Pathetic, isn't it? Just pathetic listening to this and hearing these marchers. The President has to totally condemn this.

And this is not about winning an argument. This is about the fact that, now, these folks apparently are going to go other places, and they think that they had some sort of a victory. There is no moral equivalency between the KKK, the neo-Nazis, and anybody else.


BERMAN: That's just a taste of the words you're hearing. You know, John Kasich, maybe not a surprising critic of the President, but there have been others as well, many others. And as I said, no defenders.

The question though, Nia, is, do you think that these Republican elected officials will treat the President differently now? Has their relationship fundamentally changed with the President of the United States?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I mean, if you look at a lot of the statements, the tweets, right, from people like Marco Rubio, others who have tweeted, some of them are, for one, reluctant to actually call the President out by name. I think Marco Rubio did do that. Others have been reluctant to do that.

So, you know, I mean, given the seriousness of this, of which I think John Kasich there really articulates, this is a matter of public safety. This is a matter of an American president giving aid and comfort to a group that wants to do great harm to other Americans.

Given that seriousness, the fact that I think most of these Republicans, so far, have been fairly weak in terms of their condemnation of the President, not even really condemning the President, condemning his words, but nothing very personal in terms of the President.

You think about Marco Rubio called President Obama one of the most divisive figures in modern history. I mean, those were his words for President Obama, and he hasn't given sort of similar critique of this president. And I think you're going to have Republicans who have to figure out what they're going to do with this president.

I mean, they obviously like his agenda, and they have to figure out whether or not backing that agenda ultimately means that they're going to be standing beside a president who, in word, seems to have some sympathies for White supremacists. That's a major, major thing for them and the Republican Party.

Remember, the Republican Party has tried to get away from that. I think they're going to have to do some soul searching in terms of their own history with kind of playing the race card, with racial polarizations through these last many decades. And Donald Trump is just the most, I think, egregious outgrowth of what we've seen from Republicans for many decades.

BERMAN: So, Ryan Lizza, those are elected Republicans. What about Republicans actually -- and some Democrats, frankly -- who work inside the White House for President Donald Trump?

Our friend Maggie Haberman is reporting that Gary Cohn, who -- Jewish, is disgusted --



BERMAN: -- disgusted and upset with the President's statement. Gary Cohn along with Steve Mnuchin, also Jewish, stood beside the President along with the Chief of Staff, John Kelly, who looked pretty uncomfortable, people noted, during that whole speech.

LIZZA: Stared down, yes.

BERMAN: What do you make of the White House staff, the rumors that Cohn's upset? To what end? Is he just going to be upset, write a strongly worded letter, or --

LIZZA: Exactly. I mean, there are a number of options for both members of Congress and people who work in the White House. If you work in the White House and you leak anonymously that you are upset, that's not taking any moral or principle stand against what the President did.

You either have to speak out publicly and risk being -- losing your job or resign because you find it too morally reprehensible to work for a president that gives aid and comfort to Nazis and the KKK.

Traditionally, in American, the President would be the voice of moral authority on issues like this. Since he has abdicated that control, Congress now has to step in and do something. If you are a member of Congress, especially if you are Republican, you can send out a tweet and say you disagree with the President.

But I think we're at a place where there has to be more. Democrats are calling for hearings. There's a rising tide of anti-Semitism and far right violence and activism in this country. Congress should step in, perhaps, and hold some hearings.

[09:05:04] Maybe someone in Congress should present a resolution if they find what the President did so reprehensible. There could be a solution in the House that condemns what President Trump did.

And we have a system of checks and balances for a reason. And because the President has failed here, Congress now has to step in and have that moral voice that the President has given up. That's my view, anyway.

BERMAN: Yes. Salena, you know, you have your finger on the pulse of the Trump voter here, and we love your reporting. You do terrific reporting on this. But you note that if the President thinks he's doing this for them, if he thinks he is making the statements in handling this the way that he has for those Trump voters out there that you talked to frequently, he's fundamentally misreading what they like about him.

SALENA ZITO, REPORTER, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Yes. Yes. He's -- look, he was elected to be a doer. He was also elected in the succession of presidencies that have been politics of conflict. And what people have been looking for is a politics of result, right? There haven't been enough results for a lot of these voters.

He is fundamentally misreading these voters. They want him to do something, right? And this isn't the thing they want him to do. You know, he -- they don't benefit from his grudge with the press.

And I suspect part of what happened was, yesterday, from what I understand, it was an infrastructure event. Well, you know, infrastructure is why a lot of working class Democrats voted for him, right? There was nothing about infrastructure.

He went out there with a bee in his bonnet, and he wanted to, you know, poke the eye in the press because he was mad at the press. Well, nobody that votes for him gets to benefit from that grudge, right?

I mean, they might not like our profession, but at the end of the day, they're there for results for their family, for their personal lives, for their communities, for the country. And he is not providing them by doing this. He gets in the way of himself, and he gets in the way -- he is not going to have a successful presidency if he just continues to go down this rabbit hole.

HENDERSON: You know, I didn't see that -- I mean, that press conference wasn't about poking the press. We've seen Donald Trump do that very effectively at times. That press conference was about embracing it, in some ways exonerating --

ZITO: No --

HENDERSON: -- White supremacists. I mean --

ZITO: Yes --

HENDERSON: I mean, if you read the transcript of it, I mean, it's mostly about the -- what he -- he's sort of demonizing the alt-left and in some ways demonizing the alt-left more than the alt-right, right? He frames the alt-right as sort of innocent bystanders who were there to peaceably assemble, as if this was, on Friday --

ZITO: Right.

HENDERSON: -- some sort of candle light vigil and the alt-left charging. I mean it wasn't even both sides.


HENDERSON: It was more like the alt-left was more guilty. So this idea that this was about the press, it wasn't.

ZITO: No --

HENDERSON: And I think we also forget the ways in which Donald Trump's presidency was, in some ways, based on racial resentment and White grievance politics, this idea of building a wall, this idea of banning Muslims from certain countries, this idea of deporting illegal immigrants. Remember, when he announced, he talked about -- BERMAN: Right.

HENDERSON: -- Mexicans as rapists. I mean, you know, I think we talk about sort of the economic piece of it.

BERMAN: Salena --

HENDERSON: There's also a culture -- a nationalist piece as well.

BERMAN: Salena, I don't want to put words in your mouth. I think what you were saying is, if he thought he was delivering a press critique --

ZITO: Yes.

BERMAN: -- what he actually was delivering was a defense of a strange set of moral values that many --

ZITO: Yes.

BERMAN: -- maybe even perhaps most Trump voters don't want to get anywhere near.

ZITO: Yes. I didn't mean the context of what he said. I'm sorry I didn't make that clear. What I meant is that he was mad because he didn't like the way things were covered on Saturday. He was mad because he had to come out on Monday, and so he was --


ZITO: You know, it wasn't about what he said yesterday. This wasn't anti-press yesterday in terms of what he said. It was about that he was mad because he didn't like the way he was treated for three days in a row.

BERMAN: So he let us know how he really feels --

ZITO: Yes.

BERMAN: -- which, of course, now, what matters to America --

ZITO: Exactly.

BERMAN: -- and Americans. All right, guys, stick around. We've got a lot more to discuss.

The President of the United States has tweeted about many things this morning, but one thing he has not tweeted about, one name he has not mentioned this morning. It's Heather Heyer.

This morning, the city of Charlottesville is gathering to mourn the woman who died marching peacefully for what she believed in. The public memorial will begin shortly. Hundreds are expected to attend.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is outside the theater where the service will begin very shortly. Kaylee? KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, the first of

those people looking to attend this memorial for Heather have begun to line up. You can see them in their purple behind me for the service that begins at 11:00 a.m.

Among those wearing purple this morning, Alfred Wilson. He's the man who hired Heather at 26 years old to join the Miller Law Group.


She was 26, working as a waitress, had no more than a high school education. She told him that he was crazy to want to hire her, but he recognized her warm personality.

He saw how she interacted with others. He knew this was a person he wanted to take a chance on. Now he told us just a short while ago what he thinks Heather would think of all that she's come to mean to so many.


ALFRED WILSON, HEATHER HEYER'S SUPERVISOR AND FRIEND: Heather would be proud to know that she's being recognized for such a fighter, such a struggle. One of the things about Heather is she's a very humble young woman, a woman that would do anything for anyone to help anyone, and to see that anyone would actually get a fair treatment.

The fact that the country is standing behind this 32-year-old woman, it just amazes me. I'm so proud of her.


HARTUNG: Mr. Wilson will be speaking at Heather' service today at the request of her mother. Her mother asked that today's service not tend towards any political views of others, but be a day to memorialize and honor Heather's memory.

BERMAN: It should be that day in the city of Charlottesville and around the country. Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much.

We asked what now, well, immediate impact, perhaps, from the president's statement of the events this past weekend. Four confederate statues brought down overnight in the city of Baltimore, the mayor responds.

Plus, a member of the president's Diversity Council, how will he react to the events over the last few days? He says he wants Steve Bannon out of the White House, but will this individual stay on the Diversity Council?



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: He's a good man. He is not a racist. I can tell you that. He's a good person. He actually gets a very unfair press in that regard, but we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon, but he's a good person and I think the press treats him frankly very unfairly.


BERMAN: The president of the United States talking about Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, whose fate is not any clear this morning, though. A member of the president's Diversity Council is calling for Steve Bannon to resign.

Joining me now, Javier Palomarez, the president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Diversity Council. Javier, always great to see you.

Your group, the Hispanic Chamber put out a statement after the president's initial response to Charlottesville. It said this, "Denouncing white supremacy without equivocation and with reservation should have been a no-brainer for President Trump."

The group went on to say that "it will continue to work with the White House, but the administration's behavior makes continuing that role exceedingly difficult." That was after Saturday.

After yesterday, after the president made even more clear where his heart and head is on this matter, will you continue to work with the White House?

JAVIER PALOMAREZ, MEMBER OF TRUMP'S NATIONAL DIVERSITY COUNCIL: You know, let me begin by saying, John, that a clear unequivocal denunciation of anti-Semitism of Nazis, white supremacy was the order of the day. The president missed that moment. These are the moments that define a presidency.

These are the moments that define a president. We will continue to serve in the capacity, but only because it is my constituency that is asking me to stay in the role. I represent American small businesses, women-owned businesses that collectively contribute over $668 billion to the American economy.

Our job is to make sure that our small businesses, our American job creators and taxpayers have a voice in this administration, frankly, in any administration. So, the path forward is clear. We stay the course.

But I have to say it is a sad day for the American people, and I call on this president to remove Steve Bannon. I think that would be a clear signal that he understands the gravity of the situation and that he is taking steps to remove this anti-Semitism, this nexus of hate- filled rhetoric that is right down the hall from the oval office.

BERMAN: Steve Bannon wasn't in Trump Tower yesterday. As far as we know he hasn't talked to the president since Saturday over the last few days. They may have exchanged some text mass messages here, but this wasn't a Steve Bannon statement. This was a statement from President Trump. So, why do you think removing Bannon will change anything?

PALOMAREZ: Absolutely, the president owns what has happened here. This is a clear failure on behalf of the president and the rest of the administration. But Bannon's influence and his fingerprints are all over this.

At the end of the day, Steve Bannon is against everything my association stands for. Let's think about this for just a moment. Steve Bannon is anti-globalization, not realizing that 95 percent of the global market exits outside of the United States and our businesses in order to grow must play in the global market place.

Steve Bannon is anti-immigrant, not realizing that 42 percent of America's Fortune 500 corporations was started by immigrants.

BERMAN: I totally get this. Absolutely, I understand from an economic standpoint at a minimum why your group opposes Steve Bannon. But you're ready to quit Steve Bannon for the comments but not you are ready to quit the president.

PALOMAREZ: Absolutely I'm ready to quit the president. I don't serve this president. I serve the American taxpayers who put me in this role. I don't want to conflate the two.

I serve at the pleasure of the American small business owners who are asking me to stay the course and to ensure that American small business has a voice in this or any administration. Whether I agree with the president or not has nothing to do with it, really, John.

[09:25:01] BERMAN: I understand that. I appreciate where you are coming from on that. So, the next time the Diversity Council meets with the president of the United States, the next time you have a chance to say something to him, what will you say?

PALOMAREZ: We're not waiting for a meeting. We're sending our message right now clearly. I'm sending it right here and right now. He has failed this moment. He needs to make sure that he understands the gravity of the situation and that he owns it.

He needs to act presidential. He needs to bring this country together. That's why he's in that White House. That's why --

BERMAN: Have you seen any sign that he will act the way you want him to?

PALOMAREZ: You know, I remain hopeful. There are people around him like Ivanka, like Secretary Perdue, like Secretary Perry, like Secretary Mnuchin who I do work with constantly. I'm hopeful that those voices will win out and that he will see the error of his ways and do the right thing by the American people.

BERMAN: Javier Palomarez, as I said, always nice to talk to you. Thanks so much for coming in for us today. Appreciate it.

PALOMAREZ: Thanks, John. Appreciate it.

BERMAN: All right. The alt-right is praising him. The White House is digging in. Talking points urging Republicans to say that the president is entirely correct. That's next.