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Trump Blames Both Sides For Charlottesville Violence; China Calls on U.S. and North Korea to Cool Off. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:08] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A defiant, angry President Trump once again putting counter protesters, people protesting against racism, on the same level as white supremacists and Nazi sympathizers.

Why? Why did he abandon his message just a day earlier condemning hate groups?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Why? Because it wasn't his message. It was someone else's message.

I'm Dave Briggs. It's Wednesday, it's August 16th. A difficult day in this country for some. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East. We begin with President Trump going off-script and off the rails.

At a stunning news conference, the president making a dramatic pivot on the deadly in a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, reverting back to his original vague response from Saturday blaming both sides for the unrest, equating white supremacists with counter protesters.

ROMANS: During a combative, to say the least, exchange with reporters there in the Trump Tower lobby. The president said those protesters who he dubbed the alt-left were also the aggressors. When asked if he was putting the counter-protesters and the white supremacists on the same moral plane, again people who gathered to protest racism and people who were holding up homemade shields and tiki torches, he said this.


TRUMP: 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 REPORTER: Both sides, sir? You said there was hatred, there was violence --

TRUMP: Well, I do think there's blame -- yes. I think there's blame on both sides. What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?


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 this 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.


BRIGGS: The president's comments making it clear his condemnation of the hate groups just a day earlier was largely a sterilized version of his views.

The president also raising eyebrows with his take on the nationwide effort to remove confederate memorials. Apparently unable to differentiate between flawed American leaders and Confederate generals committed to cessation and maintaining white supremacy.

CNN's Jim Acosta was at that news conference, has more from Trump Tower in New York.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, the presidency of Donald Trump appeared to be heavily damaged after he reverted back to his initial response to the violence in charlottesville. The president went on to blame both sides for the unrest that led to the death of Heather Heyer.

During his remarks the president complained about the removal of the statue dedicated to Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, echoing some of the complaints of white nationalists, and wondering whether monuments of George Washington might be next.

Here's what he had to say.


TRUMP: Is George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down -- excuse me. Are we going to take -- are we going to take down statues to George -- how about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think about Thomas Jefferson? You like him? OK, good. Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now are we going to take down his statue? So you know what? It's fine. You're changing history, you're

changing culture, and you had people, and I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. OK. And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.


ACOSTA: The president's latest remarks on Charlottesville drew immediate criticism from inside his own party with one Republican congressional leadership source telling CNN, the president's ability to effectively govern may be dwindling by the hour -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. The president says the charlottesville rally was to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

For some context, here's what some of those protesters carrying tiki torches were chanting.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Blood and soil. Blood and soil. Blood and soil.


[04:05:09] BRIGGS: VICE News was imbedded with those protesters Friday and throughout the weekend. They shared that video.

The message not quite about monuments. The Charlottesville tragedy appears to have been accelerated the removal of Confederate statues across the country.

CNN affiliate WBAL confirms at least two of Baltimore's four Confederate monuments were removed overnight including one featuring Robert E. Lee. Other cities including Gainesville, Florida, and Lexington Kentucky, are moving or planning to remove Confederate monuments.

ROMANS: There are 31 states and 1500 Confederate monuments in this country. And there's a real debate about whether they're appropriate. You know, many of them went up -- the bulk of them went up like after 1910 and 1920 at the height of Jim Crow. Others say you know, look, you know, this is America's history. You don't just erase America's history.


ROMANS: So how do you recognize through monuments what happened, but not glorify or let white supremacists glorify America's stain of slavery?

BRIGGS: Yes, you can't wash away our history but this debate will continue across the country indeed in the days ahead. ROMANS: Yes.

Glittering criticism of the president coming from all sides in the way of his shifting position -- shifting position on the Charlottesville tragedy. House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeting this. "We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity."

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida also weighing, "Mr. President, you can't allow white supremacists to share only part of the blame. They support ideas which cost the nation and the world so much pain. The white supremacy groups will see being assigned only 50 percent of the blame as a win. We cannot allow this old evil to be resurrected."

And I can say that on those message boards and media outlets for white supremacists, they are doing a victory laps this morning.


ROMANS: And thanking President Trump by name for supporting them.

BRIGGS: Yes. We'll get to that in a moment. Marco Rubio, I think really the only sitting congressman -- senator that took on the president. Many were critical of white supremacy, neo-Nazis, KKK, but not necessarily taking on their president.

This from Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake, "We cannot accept excuses for white supremacy and acts of domestic terrorism. We must condemn them, period." Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, says, quote, "The moral authority of this nation rests upon clarity of convictions and actions that reinforce our commitment to the greater good for all. Let us not repeat history with ambiguity when it matters most. There is absolutely no gray area when it comes to condemning groups who breed on racism, hate and division."

ROMANS: So let's talk about where the president did find some support for his comments on Charlottesville. David Duke, the former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, tweeting, "Thank you, President Trump, for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists and Black Lives Matters/Antifa."

The "Washington Post" invoked David Duke in a scathing editorial titled "The Nation Can Only Weep." The editorial from the "Washington Post" begins like this.

"Tuesday was a great day for David Duke and racists everywhere. The president of the United States all but declared he has their backs."

BRIGGS: Members of the president's inner circle caught completely off-guard by his charlottesville comments but not by their opinions. A senior White House official tells CNN's Jeff Zeleny that was all him. "This wasn't our plan," end quote. They were hoping the president would keep the focus on infrastructure which is what he was actually talking about in the first place or intended to. Take a look at this photo of Chief of Staff John Kelly looking

straight down, arms crossed. Looking down at the floor during the president's remarks. A source tells our Sara Murray, he is, quote, "very frustrated by this turn of events."

ROMANS: One person who spent time with President Trump over the past 24 hours describes him as distracted and irritable because of the negative charlottesville media coverage and we can expect him to continue with his controversial view of this tragedy. A GOP source says White House aides are asking the president's surrogates to emphasize, again, both sides acted inappropriately in Charlottesville.

And in fact there's a list of talking points that went out to surrogates.


ROMANS: And some Republican surrogates rejecting these talking points. Number one on that list, the president was correct.

BRIGGS: And these have been the talking points all along. This has been the stance and the true feelings of the president from the start.

If President Trump is determined to keep the support of the alt-right Steve Bannon could play a critical role here. He is known of his support of that movement and the source tells CNN the president and his chief strategists communicated by text on Saturday when Mr. Trump first refused to condemn white supremacists.

Republicans We're told the president is torn when it comes to Bannon. The Trump children and several top advisers want him out, but the president is said to be very worried about losing his base.

[04:10:07] There have been reports of a rift between Bannon and his boss. Listen to the president's response when he was asked about their relationship.


TRUMP: I like him. 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.


BRIGGS: Not exactly an full-throated endorsement there.

So how much longer will Bannon have a job? A person close to the president's chief strategist says, quote, "for now, probably for long, doubtful."

ROMANS: All right. The president is losing more corporate leaders on his side. The big question for these corporate executives, the cost of working with the White House. Does it outweigh the benefits especially to their brands? Six business leaders have now withdrawn from a White House advisory council. The heads of Merck, Under Armour and Intel Monday. Three manufacturing union leaders just yesterday. Trade groups.

In fact the president's remarks yesterday were the final straw for AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka. He says he can't sit on the council for a president who tolerates bigotry.

The president is accusing those who quit of being grandstanders. In true Trump form he lashed out at the people who say that they can't advise him anymore. Even those staying on board his council are criticizing him including Walmart CEO Doug MCMillan. He told employees the president missed a critical opportunity to unite the country.

While CEOs are quick to rebuke Trump at issues like racism, immigration or climate change, is that worth giving up a seat at the table? So far at least seven companies CNN spoke to said no. These companies will stay on his manufacturing council. Dow Chemical, Campbell Soup, GE, Trump's pro-business agenda has been good for these companies so far. That could change if Trump's brand becomes too toxic for some execs. And many CEOs are already facing backlash from grassroots movements to quit.

You know, the president very quick to say that anybody who's criticizing him or some of the companies criticizing him, well, they just make all their stuff overseas and he's been pushing them to make their stuff domestically.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: A reminder that the president's products that bear his name are made overseas. His daughter's products that bear her name are made overseas, so he's quick to hear that as an excuse for the CEOs who are criticizing him over Charlottesville.

BRIGGS: And look, this is the business president. These are --


BRIGGS: A lot of Americans, millions of Americans in fact voted for him because his business sense, he would create jobs, and move this economy, and you have six CEOs, theoretically his people, pulling out.

ROMANS: I would say they're more than six. Elon Musk from Tesla already pulled out of one advisory panel.

BRIGGS: Right. Six since --

ROMANS: Right. Bob Eiser --

BRIGGS: -- Charlottesville.

ROMANS: There has been a drip, drip, drip of corporate executives who say, you know what, they think that he's got a pro business environment here but they're the ones creating jobs. He's not the one creating jobs, and they think that it's just not worth it.

BRIGGS: OK. Heather Heyer, the woman killed in charlottesville when a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters, will be remembered at a memorial service today. It's being held at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville. Will be open to the public. The theater marquee displaying the message, "Lives lost, but not forgotten. Heather Jay, Berke," including the names of the two Virginia state troopers killed in a helicopter crash during the white nationalist rally on Saturday.

ROMANS: Meantime, a tweet from former President Obama reacting to the attacks in Charlottesville is now the most liked tweet ever. It's a quote from Nelson Mandela along with a picture of Obama and young children, saying, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion."

BRIGGS: That message has been re-tweeted more than a million times, liked more than 2.9 million times. Also ranked 7th among the most re- tweeted according to the tweet tracking site Fave Star.

The former president has used Twitter occasionally since January, tweeting a handful of times each month to weigh in on national conversations.

All right. We're far from done with this story. Much more later on. But next, China with a blunt message to the U.S. and North Korea. Cool the heated rhetoric.

So what planned U.S. activity could set off Kim Jong-un? We're live in Seoul on EARLY START.


[04:18:20] BRIGGS: China is calling on the U.S. and North Korea to put the brakes on provocations and name calling. Now that Kim Jong-un has apparently backed off his threat to fire missiles toward Guam.

The call for de-escalation coming just hours after North Korean leader decided to hold off on a plan to launch four missiles on a trajectory over western Japan.

Let's go live to Seoul, South Korea, and bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks for the latest developments.

Good morning to you, Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Dave. Well, this is a tactic that China has tried many times before with varying levels of success. Basically calling on both sides to back down, to stop any provocative actions, any provocative words which could make the situation more tense. And that China has also been calling for a freeze on both sides, a freeze of the military drills on the U.S. side in return for a freeze of the nuclear and missile program on the North Korean side.

Washington up until now has not even entertained the thought of giving up their military drills, saying they are very necessary.

China and Russia foreign ministers have been talking about this situation saying there is no alternative to a political and diplomatic solution. There is simply no other way to deal with the Korean crisis.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on its Web site also saying that any sort of military threats against North Korea are simply unacceptable.

We've heard from North Korea, the North Korean state-run newspaper, (INAUDIBLE), saying that they are slamming what they see as South Korea calling for dialog at the same time as pushing for sanctions with the United States and carrying out military drills with the United States.

So next week is when those next set of military drills happen. The fact is, though, one saving grace is they're not very visual. It's mainly computer simulation, potentially less provocative to North Korea -- Dave.

[04:20:05] BRIGGS: All right. Paula Hancocks live for us in Seoul. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. The president's ultra brief condemnation of white supremacists gave late-night hosts plenty to speak of.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, " THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": That's why I sent him this card. "Happy belated ku-ku-condemnation. I can't believe we did Nazi you condemn them sooner."


ROMANS: I don't know. It's so hard to laugh about it. But those guys really tried to find a way.


ROMANS: How the late-night shows handled Trump's reversal on Nazi sympathizers next.


[04:25:01] ROMANS: Criticism of President Trump for blaming both sides for the deadly Charlottesville violence in that racist rally, he was swift and sharp. Among those most eager to pounce, the late-night crowd. Stephen Colbert's executive producer Chris Licht tweeting this as the news broke. "Monologue blown up again. Good thing Colbert Late Show team is used to this, hash tag intense."

Queue the late-night reaction.


COLBERT: Even though many criticized how long it took the president knew the right thing was to make a statement on Monday, be clear about who was to blame, and then move on to the people's business. I'm just kidding.

TRUMP: Before I make a statement, I need the facts. COLBERT: OK. I wait for the facts. OK? Just ask the millions of

illegal voters who refused to look for Obama's birth certificate during my record breaking inauguration. OK? It's all on the Obama wiretap.

TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don't have any doubt about it either.

COLBERT: Well, the only thing I'm doubting right now is whether you're still going to be president by Friday.

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": President Trump this afternoon gave a press conference that can only be described as clinically insane. You know, that list of side effects at the end of a pharmaceutical ad, he apparently has all of them.

TRUMP: Is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

MEYERS: Where does it stop? Buddy, we've been asking ourselves that question since January.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Maybe we won't talk about Donald Trump much tonight, and then he opened his mouth and all manner of stupid came out.

I don't know who decided it would be a good idea to send him out there to talk to reporters today but whoever did obviously misread his state of mind and the mood in this country right now.

The president -- I feel like I can say this with reasonable certainty. The president is completely unhinged.

I want to speak to those of you who voted for Donald Trump. You can do one of two things. You can dig in like Chris Christie at a hometown buffet or you can treat this situation like you would if you put "Star Wars" wallpaper up in the kitchen.

All right. I got caught up. I was excited, I made a mistake. And now it needs to go. Well, now he does need to go.


BRIGGS: But to be clear, now there are millions of Trump voters who did like what they heard yesterday. They did feel this from the start. I heard from many, many of those people throughout the day. So this is not a wakeup call for all of Trump voters as some have characterized it this morning.

ROMANS: Is he the president of Trump voters or is he the president of the United States of America? That's the question.


ROMANS: Twenty-seven minutes past the hour this morning. BRIGGS: President Trump says he did not want to rush when he

initially did not condemn those in charlottesville.


TRUMP: I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct. I want to know the facts.


BRIGGS: So now that he knows the facts, why did the president go back to blaming all sides for this violence?