Return to Transcripts main page


"Central Park Five" Members React to Trump Remarks; Family Repudiates Son Over Racist Charlottesville Rally; CNN Source: Trump "Without Regret" over New Remarks. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 14:30   ET



[14:33:35] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump may have shocked the nation with his sudden about-face on the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists who invaded Charlottesville, Virginia. But many who have actually followed Donald Trump long before he became president say they're not surprised. In fact, his critics claim his stance on racial issues is quite well known, from his Birther attacks on President Obama to refusing to accept the innocence of the so- called Central Park Five.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: If the state of Hawaii says this is official, he was born in Hawaii on this date, here it is, why do you deny that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via telephone): A lot of people do not think it was an authentic certificate.

BLITZER: How can you say that --


TRUMP: -- Wolf, but many people do not think it was authentic.

BLITZER: Donald, Donald, you're beginning to sound a little ridiculous. I have to tell you.

TRUMP: No, I think you are, Wolf.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, A.C. 360: Do you accept that President Obama was born in the United States?

TRUMP (on camera): I don't know. I really don't know.

COOPER: You don't know?

TRUMP: I don't know why he wouldn't release his records. But honestly, I don't want to get into it.

The problem we have is we don't have any protection for the policemen. The problem with our society is that the victim has absolutely no rights and the criminal has unbelievable rights. Unbelievable rights. And I say it has to stop. That's why I took the ad. And I have to tell you, that ad, I have never done anything that's been so positively received. Of course, I hate these people. And let's all hate these people, because maybe hate is what we need if we're going to get something done.


[14:35:00] BALDWIN: Well, the Central Park Five was a group of teenagers, black and Latino, who were wrongly convicted of a brutal 1989 beating and rape of a Central Park jogger. The crime inflamed the city and really the country. And it also prompted Trump to take out an ad in four newspapers demanding the state of New York reinstate the death penalty. The real rapist confessed in 2002.

To date, President Trump has never apologized for his comments about the case, nor publicly accepted the fact that all five men did not commit the crime.

So, with me now, two members of the Central Park Five, Yusef Salaam, who was 15 at the time of his arrest, and Raymond Santana, who was all of 14.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with me.



BALDWIN: Yusef, starting with you, going back, you once called Trump a fire starter and said he lit the match for all the backlash that you faced. When you watch the president standing in Trump Tower talking about Charlottesville and the groups on both sides, how did you feel?

SALAAM: You know, I think it's despicable and deplorable for him to, at this point in the game, to say, you know what, impacted I wanted to wait for the facts. This ad that he took out in relationship to the Central Park jogger case was taken out on May 1 of 1989. This crime happened April 19. There was a rush to judgment, and it was a stoking of the fire in a similar way, him saying that this group and this group were both equally wrong caused the death of a young woman. Horrible and horrific.

BALDWIN: So, you're saying if there was a rush to judgment in the case judging you, back then, why wasn't there a rush to judgment over the weekend in Charlottesville?

SALAAM: Well, what I'm saying is that the ideocracy of saying you want to be able to judge the facts when we see that this is clearly American terrorism that's going on, you got folks running around, chanting and chanting and chanting, I mean, we've all seen it. We've all seen what was going on.

BALDWIN: It's evil. On its face, it's evil.

SALAAM: It's absolutely evil. And I think that for this to be the ideal of make America great again, this is making America hate again.

BALDWIN: Raymond, same question to you and just listening to the president yesterday, how he's essentially giving these protesters, you know, the benefit of the doubt, something I imagine you would say he never gave you.

SANTANA: Yes, he never gave us the benefit of the doubt, and you know, to sit there and say, like, you have to look at both sides was totally wrong. At the end of the day, these people came and they were protesting a statue that represented hate. It represented bigotry, it represented keeping us people of color oppressed. It represented making us slaves again and so that was the root of it and he never once touched on the root, why these people were here to protest against this statue in the first place.

BALDWIN: You have people -- let me come back to the statues, because that is a whole other piece of this conversation.

But to both of you, Yusef, you have all these people now on social media, on TV, asking this question, why are we surprised, right? That Trump has this history of insensitivity when it comes to race. You've been arguing this for decades.

SALAAM: Well, you know, Donald Trump comes on the heel of President Barack Obama, and President Barack Obama gave us a tremendous sense of a hope that we needed as a nation, this ideal that we can get past a lot of the things that we're seeing that are coming out today. And I think the surprise that a lot of people are experiencing that we haven't experienced is a surprise that hopefully this person who has become the president is going to maybe grow into his presidency, is going to maybe change with the time. But I think that when you're talking about a person who is, for all intents and purposes, probably my grandfather's age, he's already solidified in the type of person that he is. He's never changed. He's never shown us anything other than what he's showing us now. We actually need to be able to say, no, we always knew it. We should have never gone down the road of making this person the president of the United States. Because as we see, everything that's happening is --


BALDWIN: But he is the president.


BALDWIN: I just have to point out, the fact is, he's the president.

SALAAM: He's not my president.

BALDWIN: He's the 45th president of this country.

SALAAM: He's 45th. He's 45th.

SANTANA: He's not my president. I didn't vote for him. He's not my president. SALAAM: But that's -- there should be no surprises, basically, what

I'm saying. If you look at the track record, if you look at everything that he's done, the people, I think, were enamored by the fact that he got a nice, you know, loan from his dad and was able to rise up the ladder of success. But that really was not a real truth- telling in terms of how that even happened as well. You know?

BALDWIN: We could -- there are documentaries. There are all kinds of lanes we could go down.

SALAAM: Yes. Yes, absolutely.

BALDWIN: But on right now, Raymond, I mean, you're saying he's not your president. And, god forbid, something like Charlottesville happens again. I mean, these Neo-Nazis are threatening to come back. And if you are not looking to the president to lead, who are you looking to?

[14:40:13] SANTANA: We're looking at Democrats. We're looking at Republicans. We're looking at other public figures, those who can step in a calm the situation down. Those who have stepped up and they denounced white supremacy. This is what they are supposed to do. These are our leaders in the political field. They're supposed to take that stuff forward if the president can't do it. This is why they are there.

BALDWIN: And these monuments, we've seen these monuments and flags coming down. That's become this whole conversation. But at the end of the day, and I realize it symbolizes a tremendous amount for a huge percentage of this country, but at the same time, how much does that really fix the root issue.

SANTANA: It's part of the whole issue because nobody has sat down and said, OK, if George Washington has owned slaves, Jackson had owned slaves, you know, do they deserve these statues also? It's like everybody has forgotten what, you know, people of color have been fighting for. They've been fighting for equal opportunity, an equal chance to be successful. Those statues represent oppression, even today. Even though they are considered our forefathers, but they still represent oppression. They represent how this country was built on the back of our ancestors, and it's wrong.

BALDWIN: Last question, real quickly.

Yusef, do you have hope?

SALAAM: I have tremendous hope in us. I think when -- the most poignant statement I've heard in the last few years was from Michelle Obama when she said, when they go low, we go high. I think, ultimately, it's us. It's up to us to make sure we are the change we see, as Obama said. I think when we move in that manner, and we're talking about moving forward and moving into a progressive state, there's no room for hate in the future we see and we seek as a people for ourselves. And that's the total. When I look at we, the people -- and I know that wasn't written from the perspective of us as we are today. But when I look at it today, we are the people. We are that melting pot of America. And we are here. There's nothing that can be done about it except for us to move forward and progress together.

BALDWIN: Yusef, Raymond, thank you, guys, so much.

SALAAM: Thank you.

SANTANA: Thank you.


[14:46:33] BALDWIN: The racist chants and march in Charlottesville by totalitarian Nazis, Klan members and other white supremacists have torn a North Dakota family apart. This is over the words and actions of Peter Tefft, a Fargo man, who voiced his hateful views to the world on social media. I read his father's letter to him yesterday. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What the -- say a source for what you're saying about white people being murdered in South Africa?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Where on the Internet?

TEFFT: It's a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) rabbit hole.


BALDWIN: Well, as I mentioned, his father repudiated his own son in this open letter, writing in part, "Peter Tefft, my son, is not welcome at our family gatherings any longer. I pray my prodigal son will renounce his hateful beliefs and return home. Then and only then will I lay out the feast."

A former neo-Nazi and skin head, Christian Picciolini, and best- selling author and historian, Ibram Kendi, join me now to discuss.

Gentlemen, just welcome to both of you.

And before we have a conversation, let me just play something the nephew of Peter Tefft said on our morning show today about how his uncle came to have these racist and extremist views.


JACOB SCOTT, NEPHEW OF PETER TEFFT: I feel that, as a society, we need to be talking about this phenomenon of, like, white -- young white asocial men who are going into these Internet spaces and becoming radicalized, often without their family's knowledge. And it's becoming a real problem in our society. We see the explosion in popularity of these Neo-Fascist groups among these young white men and it is tearing families apart. It has torn my team apart. And it bears, frankly, a scary resemblance to the recruiting tactics of terrorist groups like ISIL.


BALDWIN: Christian, on his last point, you're nodding. On the ISIS recruitment comparison, it's my understanding that a lot of these young people, they don't even know initially who David Duke is. You agree this happens on the quiet, scary corners of the Internet.

CHRISTIAN PICCIOLINI, FORMER NEO-NAZI & SKIN HEAD: The parallels between recruiting, regardless of extremist group is striking. They prey on vulnerable marginalized young people who are searching for three very fundamental human needs, identity, community, and purpose. If there's a brokenness under that Brooke, if there's a trauma or abuse or mental illness or addiction, in my case, it was abandonment. People tend to look in negative spaces for very easy answers to blame the other for the problem that they're experiencing in their lives. It's very easy to hate somebody. It's hard to love because you a risk losing something. They're not fitting in, they're looking for answers online.

And I really appreciate what that gentleman said on the clip that you played because the Internet is so incredibly full of propaganda, misinformation, fake news, parody, it's hard to distinguish what's real these days. And if you go down that rabbit hole like he said, if you start to click on these sites, the algorithms that exist in social media will keep recommending these same sites to you so you go further and further into your double. And that's dangerous, especially when we have a period in our history where young people are the most disenfranchised and disenchanted they've ever been.

BALDWIN: As they're going further and further into their bubble, Professor, to you, some of these young people, these young Neo-Nazis, I mean, some of them, their grandparents might have even fought the Nazis in World War II.

[14:50:10] IBRAM KENDI, PROFESSOR & AUTHOR & HISTORIAN: Yes, I mean, it's an amazing sort of contradiction. And I think we have to recognize what really is the source of hate, what's really generating hate, and that's racist ideas, and that's racist ideas that are swirling around us, racist ideas that tell us that the inequalities in this country are not the result of discriminatory policies. They're the result of what's wrong with black people, what's wrong with people of color, that people are losing jobs, not because of specific policies that specific leaders and companies have made. They're losing jobs because of immigrants. And so I think these ideas, these forms of hate allow people to not necessarily come to grips with these larger policies and really cause these people to think that there's something wrong with people as opposed to policies.

BALDWIN: Christian, what was your source of hate?

PICCIOLINI: You know, I was a marginalized 14-year-old kid when I was recruited in 1987. And I spent eight years in this movement. I hated myself, and that's why I hated other people. I was projecting my own pain and my own insecurities on other people. And it wasn't until I started to receive compassion from those people, the people that I least deserved it from, when I least deserved it, that allowed me to make the transformation to be able to humanize them again. BALDWIN: So, then, that's how you turned it all around. But you have

these -- you have these Neo-Nazis and you have these white supremacists.

Professor, I'm also just left wondering what white people, you know, those who don't support these evil people, what can white people do about all of this? Is it -- does it just start with self-awareness?

KENDI: I think certainly, you know, as Christian stated, we have to sort of look within ourselves, first and foremost. We have to imagine or think about? Do we share any ideas with these white supremacists? Do we think that there's something wrong with people of color in any way? Because if we do, then those are racist ideas that we're sharing with those white supremacists. And if we can release ourselves of those ideas, then we'll begin to realize that, you know what, it's discrimination that's actually causing these problems. So, we're, of course, you know, taking down -- beginning to take down Confederate monuments, but much older than Confederate monuments in this country is the monument to inequality.

BALDWIN: Ibram, thank you.

Christian, thank you, both so much.

Coming up next here, two of the president's CEO groups for jobs now completely gone. Disbanding in the wake of his remarks about the violence in Charlottesville. Does President Trump have any regrets? What CNN just learned about that.


[14:57:26] BALDWIN: Just in to CNN, President Trump is moving forward, quote, "without regret" after his extraordinary news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower.

CNN's Sara Murray joins us with new details, including strong reaction from the president's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn.

Sara, what have you learned?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Obviously, the president has been facing backlash from members of his own party, from former presidents, from Wall Street executives who are fleeing his company. But he is moving forward without regrets. Sources are telling my colleague, Jeff Zeleny, that the president does not regret the comments that he made, that he feels defiant in the face of all of this criticism.

Now, he really is looking at the reactions playing out and basically sees it as hyperventilating from a bunch of east coast liberals and the media, who the president has made clear that he views as his opposition. And this is kind of the mindset that he was in throughout the presidential campaign, certainly at the end, when he was under fire, when the polls showed him behind, and he went on, of course, to president the presidency. That is kind of where his mind is at. But of course, there are tensions amid the people who have to work for

him. Not all staffers are off the same mindset of the president. And one person who is certainly not of that mindset is Gary Cohn, the president's top economic adviser. We're told that he was enraged to be by the president's side as he was making those comments at Trump Tower yesterday. Remember, this was supposed to be an infrastructure event. That's what went off the rails. And since then, he's just been embarrassed. He's been disappointed. One of his associates said it wouldn't be a surprise if he does contemplate quitting. But of course, Cohn has had his eye on jobs bigger than the one he has now, possibly being the next Fed chair. These are the things that people are weighing as they're deciding, look, should I jump ship in the administration or can I hold out? Is there still more work for me to do here, is it worth it.

BALDWIN: Sara, thank you.

Let's discuss a little bit more. Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries here, of New York, who's calling for two streets named after Confederate generals to be renamed and was behind a bill to remove Confederate flags to be removed from government buildings.

Congressman, nice to see you. Thanks for rolling through CNN.


BALDWIN: Before we get to all of that, to what Sara just reported, that the word from the White House is that after that extraordinary news conference, the president has no regrets. Where are you on all of this?

JEFFRIES: What Donald Trump did was rip the sheets off and show the American people who he is and what he represents. It's shocking for a lot of people, but for those of us who grew up in New York, who followed Donald Trump, we understand who he is as an individual. He has always used racial stereotypes to benefit himself professionally, politically, and personally. And now he's taken his despicable act to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It's time for him to stop acting like a --