Return to Transcripts main page
Next Hour: Hundreds Gather to Remember Heather Heyer; WH Aide: "We Have Work to Do, and We're Going To Do It"; Soon: Heather Heyer's Memorial Service Begins; More Execs Quit Trump Council over Charlottesville. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired August 16, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone, John Berman here.
I want to go to Charlottesville right now. We have some pictures where people are beginning to assemble for the memorial service for Heather Heyer. 32 years old, she was the young woman who died on Saturday or was killed on Saturday in Charlottesville because of what she believed in. She went to demonstrate against hatred, against bigotry and she lost her life in that city.
Also, this morning, we are taking note of this moment in history, the president of the United States making clear how he feels about what happened in the city of Charlottesville. The president of the United States noted that the demonstrations which began as a protest in some ways against the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and ended with people chanting anti-Semitic slogans. He said there were very fine people at this assembly. Listen to what the president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.
You had people in that group -- excuse me, excuse me -- I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. We are getting new reaction from leaders all around the country. There are new developments this morning. I want to go first to CNN's Jeff Zeleny. Jeff Zeleny is outside Trump Tower. Jeff, what are you learning?
JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The reaction here at Trump Tower and indeed at the White House is simply one of people putting their heads down and getting back to work. I talked to one senior administration official a short time ago, John, who told me this. We have work to do and we are going to do it. They are trying to not get caught up in the intense criticism coming from Republicans, coming from Democrats across the board here at the president's comments yesterday.
The question is, of course, how this will impact his agenda. Don't forget, the press conference yesterday the president was supposed to talk about infrastructure. The plan was yesterday to turn the page beyond Charlottesville but the president took matters into his own hands. He had been fuming privately behind the scenes, we are told, and he vented quite publicly yesterday. But those words from Trump Tower are still reverberating, still causing so much controversy among Trump supporters as well. Let's listen again to the president yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?
Let me ask you this. What about the fact that 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 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 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 have 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 REPORTER: You said there was hatred. There was violence on both sides?
TRUMP: Well I do think there's blame. Yes, I think there is blame on both sides.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: And it was those words, blame on both sides that again sparked so much controversy. And you know, Republicans wherever they are this month of August, the Congressional recess, certainly are being asked about this. When you talk to advisers on Capitol Hill, Republican strategists and others, they simply view this as yet another headache that the president has dealt them, yet another unforced error here. The president for his part has not spoken this morning. He's tweeted a few times. He's scheduled, John, to resume back to his vacation, working vacation here heading back to New Jersey later this afternoon. Again, though, all eyes will be on this president to see when he addresses this again. He surely will have to, John. BERMAN: All right, Jeff Zeleny for us outside Trump Tower. We are getting some breaking news in terms of the reaction now to what the president said, breaking news from a very important front. The senior Republican in the U.S. Senate, our Manu Raju now has reaction from inside the camp of Senator Mitch McConnell. Manu, what are you learning?
[10:05:00] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. A source close to the Republican leader tells me that the Senate majority leader is upset at President Trump over his handling of this episode, believing that the president could be potentially opening up long-festering racial tensions. This of course, Mitch McConnell has a long history working on civil rights issues. The concern from the Senate majority leader is that the president by his comments yesterday essentially could be undercutting the years of work that have been done on the civil rights issues.
Now, Senator McConnell has not put out a statement since yesterday raising questions about why he has not joined a lot of other Republicans in going after President Trump. One reason why, I'm told by this source, is that the Senate majority leader is concerned about this looking like retribution because of their fight that happened last week. Remember that spat that occurred between President Trump and Mitch McConnell that occurred when the president accused Mitch McConnell of failing on health care, failing to deliver a key vote on health care. This after Mitch McConnell said the president may have excessive expectations about what he can accomplish coming in.
Mitch McConnell not wanting to look like he's getting into a back-and- forth with the president but behind the scenes, John, I'm told that McConnell has had concerns with the president over this whole Charlottesville episode, wants to make that very clear. I think we can expect him to say something publicly as soon as today on this, just adding another voice to this episode.
But one other reason why, John, is that there's some concern about going too hard after the president, they still have to work together, particularly in September when the government needs to be funded past September 30th to avoid a government shutdown, when they need to raise the national debt ceiling to avoid debt default. They're going to have to do a lot of work together. So McConnell has been cautious about this but expect some potentially strong words coming out soon even as his home state of Kentucky, John, in Lexington, where demonstrations could take place there, some white supremacists warning that they may do that as well. John?
BERMAN: One of the really interesting parts of this, of course, is that Mitch McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, was standing next to the president of the United States when he said all of these things which I'm sure, doesn't make the situation any easier for the senator.
RAJU: Yes, that's right. In fact, afterwards, she was asked specifically by reporters about that flap that occurred last week. And she said that she stands by both men, referring to both President Trump and the Senate majority leader. But of course, that adds a little bit of awkwardness, if you will, particularly if that event, John, as you know, was about infrastructure.
She's the Transportation secretary. She even have to shepherd this through and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have to get that enacted through, passed through the Senate if they were to achieve one of President Trump's chief objectives here. But just showing, John, that the president's remarks yesterday getting criticism from all fronts and making it harder and overshadowing things that they are trying to do on Capitol Hill. John?
BERMAN: All right. Manu Raju, thank you so much for your reporting.
I want to go back to Charlottesville, where the public memorial for Heather Heyer set to begin very shortly. There's going to be a lot of people there. The whole country will be watching.
CNN's Kaylee Hartung is outside the theater where the service is set to begin shortly. Kaylee, what are you seeing and what are you hearing out there this morning? I see a lot of purple.
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is, John, purple being Heather Heyer's favorite color. You can see people wearing purple stickers with Heather's name, purple ribbons. This line stretches about three blocks down Charlottesville's Downtown Mall, began to move just a couple of minutes ago as the doors opened to her memorial service.
There are people in this line who knew and loved Heather and there are people in this line who never got the chance to meet her but are here to show their respect for a woman gone too soon like Donna Price. Donna is a resident of Charlottesville. Donna, you didn't know Heather. Why was it important for you to come out here today?
DONNA PRICE, CHARLOTTESVILLE RESIDENT: Well, there are so many reasons. While I did not know Heather I do know the attorneys that she worked with. I am an attorney. I'm a previous trial judge. I'm a retired Navy JAG captain. So I'm a lawyer. The rule of law is very important to me.
But I'm also a Christian. I'm an Episcopalian and in my Church, my dioceses, my parish, they teach me that that all of us are God's children. And I chose to move to Charlottesville a year ago because it's a city of love and inclusion and those who came and attacked us did so because we are a good, caring, loving people and we are here to show that we are not going to be bowed. We will unite. We will resist. And we will overcome this hate that has infected our country.
HARTUNG: What has Heather come to mean to this community and to this country?
PRICE: Sadly, she has come to represent for white America what has been happening to minorities, which particularly the black Americans, throughout many, many generations. My hope is that through the tragedy of what happened here last weekend, white Americans will wake up and open their eyes and see that we must all stand up for what this country truly stands for, the Constitution, the declaration of independence, equal protection under the law for all. And I'm sorry. I'm really getting emotional as I think about the murder, the domestic terrorist murder that was inflicted here last weekend.
HARTUNG: How do you describe those emotions you're feeling?
PRICE: You cannot describe them. They go to the very core of what I believe about this country. And I'm very sadly disappointed in what our country has done to this point but I'm hopeful. I'm optimistic that we will open our eyes. We will take the shackles off. And we will actually be the America that we say we are rather than the America that we have unfortunately demonstrated of recent.
HARTUNG: Thank you, Donna. We will let you enter today's service.
PRICE: Thank you, Kaylee.
HARTUNG: John, we are just a block or two from Robert E. Lee's statue and a couple more blocks to my left is the site of that deadly crash that took Heather Heyer's life. As we now let people enter this theater to celebrate her life and remember a woman gone too soon.
BERMAN: Celebrate her life. Remember everything that she stood for and that city really coming together there, remarkable thing to see. I do want to note the president of the United States has tweeted about a lot of things this morning. He has not mentioned Heather Heyer's name so far this morning.
Joining me to discuss is Patti Solis Doyle, CNN political commentator, former 2008 campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, Margaret Hoover, CNN political commentator, Republican consultant and Errol Louis, a CNN political commentator and political anchor for "Spectrum News."
Sorry, guys. It's pretty emotional to see those pictures of the people in Charlottesville turning out for Heather Heyer, knowing that she was there to protest the hate and bigotry that people saw on the streets. Again, we are looking at those live pictures right there. You know, seas of people showing up wearing the color purple.
Let's start with some politics here, Margaret, to you. Mitch McConnell, the breaking news is, Manu Raju reporting, Mitch McConnell uncomfortable right now which is an emotion and a feeling being held, I think, widely within the Republican community. I got texts last night from some pretty important Republican officials who were saying they did not like one bit what they were seeing or the position that puts them in this morning.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: You know, I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who feel like they are in an uncomfortable position because there is -- this is one of those moments in time, John, and I speak as a Republican, as a life- long Republican that comes from a long line of Republicans in American history. This is one of those lines in the sand. This is a moment where Republicans, every single elected Republican has to choose whether they are going to stand on the side of moral equivalence of racism and of the darkest currents in American political history, or they are going to stand on the light and on the side of the highest principles of the American declaration. There is no choice here. Mitch McConnell can't feel uncomfortable. He needs to know exactly what he has to do, which is to come out and clearly, decisively denounce what the president said, denounce that history in American politics and say that he as a Republican is going to stand for the higher principles, for a Republican Party that is inclusive and -- not even distance, denounce. This is absolutely unconscionable what has gone down yesterday and it is on not just Mitch McConnell, not just Paul Ryan, not just every aspirant who wants to challenge the president in the presidential primary in a few years, but every Republican elected. And it is specific to Republicans because Republicans have a history in modern American history in the 20th century of too often being too close to that line of bigotry.
This is a straight line. It is very clear, you are going to pick one side or the other and I need to hear as a Republican, here now, that continues for some reason to still self-identify with the Republican Party, there is no choice. There must be a clear differentiation between bigotry, racism, the worst instincts in American history, and the highest principles of the declaration.
BERMAN: Just to be clear, if you denounce the statements and you come out clearly as you said against the bigotry and hatred that was seen in Charlottesville. Do you then think that these Republican leaders that you're talking about should then tomorrow morning continue to work with the president on his agenda?
HOOVER: Republican leaders have already, John, decided that they have their own agenda, all right? And that's actually been clear since the beginning of this presidency, right? Health care wasn't the president's agenda. That was the modern American conservative movement's agenda. That was Paul Ryan. That was Mitch McConnell, all right? I'm not so sure that anything is going to get done, all right? And this is beyond what's the policy of the moment because nothing has gotten done so far. This is about what makes the fabric of America work.
BERMAN: So, Errol, again, we are getting breaking news, new developments on this story, fast and furious here.
[10:15:01] We have been hearing from military leaders including, I think now, all the members of the Joint Chiefs who have weighed in, you know, not coincidentally on the issue of race in this country. Most recently, we heard from General David Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, who says I stand with my fellow service chiefs in saying we are always stronger together. It's who we are. The other service chiefs coming out with even stronger, more direct statements saying, you know, racism and bigotry, there is no place for this in the U.S. military. And again, this is not happening in a vacuum. This is U.S. military, apolitical, the most apolitical individuals in the country or should be who feel like they need to say this out loud today.
ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND POLITICAL ANCHOR, "SPECTRUM NEWS": That's right. I mean, I think what we are seeing, we saw corporate leaders yesterday, military leaders today, incredibly eloquent individuals like you just had on the show, the woman from Charlottesville. What we have got is people stepping forward and providing the leadership that the president has essentially abdicated, on something, in a situation like this where there is a fatal terrorist attack, when there is an attack on our values, on our system, on our Constitution, somebody's got to step up and defend it.
Now, we are all incredibly shocked that the president has willfully, specifically and deliberately chosen not to be that person. It's part of why we elected him. It's part of his job description. He doesn't want to do that job. It is gratifying however, to see that others are sort of doing what you are supposed to do in a self-governing democracy which is the rest of us step forward.
So increasingly, the question is not what does the president think and what is the president going to do and what the president stands for. The question is, what do we think, what are we going to do and what do we stand for. And I think he's given birth to something that's probably much bigger than at this point his entire presidency.
BERMAN: Patti Solis Doyle, interesting observation right there. And I opened the show, you know, more than an hour ago, by asking you know what now, because this feels like a different moment that we are in right now. We haven't heard this type of thing before from a president and maybe there are supporters of his, who like what he said but it is a new direction. Where do you see this going over the next few days, Patti?
PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER 2008 CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, I agree with you and I agree with Margaret and I agree with Errol. This is a moment. This is a moment in history. It will stay in our minds and hearts forever. And history is going to judge where people stood on this.
They will judge members of Congress. They will judge the White House staff. And you have to look in the mirror and you have to ask yourself, what are you going to tell your children when they ask you what did you do when this happened, what did you do when the president of the United States stood behind the White House podium and sympathized with you know white supremacists? What did you do? What did you say?
And so, you know, I heard reports this morning that Gary Cohn was disgusted and very upset. What are you going to do about it, Mr. Cohn? Are you going to stay there or are you going to walk away?
BERMAN: But you have been inside the White House, Patti. Is that decision as easy as that?
DOYLE: The president of the United States of America addressed the American people and sympathized with white supremacists. Yes, it's easy. Walk away.
BERMAN: All right, Patti Solis Doyle, Margaret Hoover, Errol Louis, I appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for coming in.
All right, he co-authored "Think Big" with the president of the United States but what does this businessman Bill Zanker think about the president and the way he's treated the events in Charlottesville? Stay with us.
[10:22:48] BERMAN: All right, new reaction this morning from the president's new statements about Charlottesville. Here's a reminder about some of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. Joining me now, a friend and business partner of President Trump, Bill Zanker, he co-wrote the book "Think Big and Kick Ass: In Business and in Life" with President Trump. Mr. Zanker, thank you so much. Thank you for letting me swear on TV, I always like that. Look, there's been some reaction from inside the business community on what the president said. Several CEOs have left his Manufacturing Council. What do you make of their actions?
BILL ZANKER, BUSINESS PARTNER AND FRIEND OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, listen. These guys are the titans of industry. They are huge CEOs. And listen, I can understand because they are CEOs. They have to answer to board members. They got to answer to shareholders and it's very difficult for them not to get politics involved with this.
And unfortunately, politics did get involved but the president is right and he's absolutely right, we have to bring jobs back to America. We got to get people working again in America. And unfortunately, these guys who are great CEOs, great head of organizations, they are terrific guys, but politics got involved. They got to answer to shareholders.
What I think the president should do is maybe bring in entrepreneurs who don't have to really respond to shareholders as much and can get it done, bring back jobs and bring back business back to America again. And that's what we need.
BERMAN: A lot of what the president said and most of what he said that is controversial is not about jobs. The president made statements about the people who were at the events since Saturday and did not make statements since Saturday in certain ways that upset a lot of people. Are you proud of how your friend, the president of the United States has reacted to the events in Charlottesville?
[10:25:02] ZANKER: Look, I think I'm here to talk about job creation and making jobs and I think the president has done a great job doing that, and he continues to do that. And I think this is a president who will create, he's already created a million jobs in America, brought them back here. And we just got to keep on doing that. This was a tragic event, just tragic.
ZANKER: It was terrible.
BERMAN: But there are people saying -- there are people saying that what they have seen now is the president's heart and that there are people now looking at this administration who say no matter what it does, you know, is it being done with someone who doesn't have my interests as maybe a Black American or a Jewish American -- look, you know Mr. Zanker, you famously, I think, started one of your giant companies with $5,000 in bar mitzvah money. And I'm just curious, I don't know if you have seen the video, vice video shot this of some of the demonstrations in Charlottesville. Let me play some of this for you, just so you can see it.
So, Mr. Zanker, you know the president of the United States, they are saying "Jew will not replace us" is what these people are saying. He condemned the neo-Nazis by name, finally, and the White supremacists by name. But he also said that there were some very fine people or also good people who were also demonstrating that night. From where you sit, do you think good people or very fine people would be involved in the same types of events as the men you just heard?
ZANKER: You know I have worked with the president for 15 years. We wrote a book together. I sat with him for hours. I've talked to him on the phone for hours. And never once, once, never once did I see him as racist, did he utter anything inappropriate as a bigot, never once in 15 years. So that's who I know. That's what I have experienced. And the president has never been racist and he's always cared.
Listen, he's a very demanding man and he wants you know everything -- as any entrepreneur would, but he's never been racist. He's never been inappropriate. I have never experienced any of that in my life.
BERMAN: Again, did you listen to his full response yesterday and was that as you would say completely appropriate?
ZANKER: Look, I just know him as being totally -- he's never said anything racist or bigot in my life. That's my experience with him.
BERMAN: And I believe you 100 percent in terms of your relationship with him, but David Duke was thrilled with what the president said yesterday and I can't imagine that's someone whose praise you would hope the president would be getting.
ZANKER: Of course not. Listen, the whole thing is tragic but what I'm here to talk about is the job creations in America that the president's doing, the million jobs that he brought to America already and more jobs to get there. This tragic event is just terrible and it's just terrible. But again, I have never experienced the president ever being racist or having any statement of bigotry, saying anything inappropriate to Jews, to Blacks, to women, ever, ever. So that's my 15 years with him. That's what I know. That's what I've experienced.
BERMAN: 15 years of experience with the president of the United States, as you said, talking about the jobs and the Manufacturing Council with the people leaving, some staying on. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your insight on this.
ZANKER: Thank you.
BERMAN: All right, President Trump compared Robert E. Lee to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, defending the people who protest to keep Confederate monuments. So, what should happen to this history and these statues? We'll discuss.