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Trump Blames Both Sides For Charlottesville Violence; China Calls on U.S. and North Korea to Cool Off. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 04:30   ET




[04:32:32] 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.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A defiant, angry President Trump once again putting counter-protesters on the same level as white supremacists and Nazi sympathizers.

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

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. A very busy morning this morning. We begin with President Trump going off script and off the rails at a simply stunning news conference.

The president making a dramatic pivot on the deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. He went back to his original response from Saturday blaming both sides for the unrest, equating white supremacists with the counter-protesters who are against racism.

BRIGGS: During a combative exchange with reporters the president said those protesters who he dubbed the alt-left were also aggressors. When asked if he was putting the counter-protesters and white supremacists on the same moral plane, 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.


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

Remember he stuck to the script. He read a prepared statement. A prepared statement that many thought should have come Saturday and now here he goes back to the Saturday position.

[04:35:06] The president also raising eyebrows with his take on the nationwide effort to remove Confederate memorials. The president apparently unable to differentiate between flawed American leaders, leaders of the American Revolution, and the Confederate generals who wanted to secede from the union, who wanted to maintain white supremacy, who wanted to keep blacks in chains.

CNN's Jim Acosta was at the news conference and 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 down -- are we going to take down statues to George -- how about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think about Thomas Jefferson? You like him?

ACOSTA: I do love Thomas Jefferson.

TRUMP: 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.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Jim.

The president says the Charlottesville rally was to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee but for context here's some of what 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.


ROMANS: That's from VICE News. VICE News was embedded with the white nationalists at the rally. The message you can see there. And there's a lot of tape like this, folks. This is not just an isolated moment. The message there is not about monuments. The message there is about white supremacy.

The Charlottesville tragedy appears to have 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, they are moving or planning to move Confederate monuments.

You know, there are 1500 Confederate monuments, 31 different states. They range from everything from glorified, you know -- you know, Confederate generals on horses to also sort of nameless Confederate soldiers with the Angel of Peace.


ROMANS: And forgiveness over them. So some of them have a forgiveness theme, you know, forgiving the sins of slavery and the sins of the war, others are, you know, holding up the Confederacy. BRIGGS: Yes. And it also depends when these were built. Some were

built -- put up in the '60s at a time of tension as a statement that we will not give up our Confederate past while others were put up, you know, in the 1920s. So it also -- I think that's why it depends on the local community. This should be a local issue for local leaders and the people in those towns to decide. But the debate will continue.

Weathering criticism of the president coming from all sides in the wake of this shifting position on the Charlottesville tragedy. House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeting, "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 weighing in and going off in multiple tweets, "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."

ROMANS: And this from the 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, "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 the most. There is absolutely no gray area when it comes to condemning groups who breed on racism, hate and division."

[04:40:06] BRIGGS: Of course they're on recess. It will be interesting to find out what they say when faced with the cameras when returning to Capitol Hill.

But the president did find some support for his comments on Charlottesville. But not the kind you want. 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," begins, "Tuesday was a great day for David Duke and racists everywhere. The president of the United States all but declared that he has their backs."

ROMANS: Members of the president's inner circle caught off-guard by his Charlottesville comments -- these most recent Charlottesville comments. A senior White House official telling CNN's Jeff Zeleny this was all him. "This wasn't our plan." They were hoping the president would keep the focus on infrastructure which is what he was actually talking about in the first place. Today it's about negotiating NAFTA. The president's message, however, is entirely a message created by him at that press conference yesterday. Take a look at this photo of Chief of Staff John Kelly looking

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

BRIGGS: I think there was surprise by the turn of events yesterday, but not by the opinions of the president. If you listen to the reporting of our folks up on Capitol Hill, they'll tell you this was the president's thoughts from the start on this. He was infuriated that he had to go back on Monday and read the scripted statement. This is the way he intended it.

ROMANS: This is the way he really feels.

BRIGGS: Right. And you saw a passionate President Trump speaking about that yesterday.


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

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

BRIGGS: We are told that President Trump is torn when it comes to Bannon. Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and several top advisers want him out but the president said to be very worried about losing his base. There has 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.


ROMANS: Not exactly a full throated endorsement. Also very unusual to have a president of the United States stand up in front of the media and say my chief strategist is not a racist. So how much longer will Bannon have a job? A person close to the president's chief strategist says for now, probably. For long, doubtful.

BRIGGS: 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 and 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 this rally on Saturday.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump declares he can fix racism in America. He will create jobs. The way the president explains it, people will be making money. Quote, "much more money than they ever thought possible. That will fix race relations."


TRUMP: They've been frayed for a long time and you can ask President Obama about that because he made speeches about it. But I believe that the fact that I brought, it will be soon, millions of jobs, you see where companies are moving back into our country, I think that's going to have a tremendous positive impact on race relations.


ROMANS: Racism is the jobs market is a painful subject that labor market experts and social scientists have studied for more than two generations now. Truth is, even in the best of times, the spoils of job creation go disproportionately to white workers over black workers. Today after years of strong jobs growth. The jobless rate for black Americans is nearly double that of whites.

The reason, it's not simple. It's a toxic brew of discrimination, criminal justice issues, education, family resources, a whole host of things. The president was not specific about how his job creation would end racism.

[04:45:07] The president again declared he has created a million jobs, by the way, since he took office. A couple of points here. Job creation under President Trump is actually exactly on pace with the last six months of President Obama, which Trump at the time derided as depression level unemployment. Another point, presidents don't create jobs. Companies create jobs. Small businesses create jobs. Mom and pop stores create jobs. Big corporations create jobs.

And the cracks are starting to show between Trump and corporate America. Six business leaders have now quit Trump's Economic Council this week alone.

BRIGGS: Of course he's not the first president to take credit for jobs. Every president takes credit for creating jobs. They do create an environment. Would you agree?

ROMANS: Exactly. Exactly.

BRIGGS: In which we do create jobs.

ROMANS: And sometimes it's so interesting because president gets too much credit and too much blame for the economy but this president has taken all the credit for the economy but giving none of it to Barack Obama when the economy was growing there as well. So the risk for President Trump is he has taken so much credit for the economy. What if it stalls? What if it turns? What if there's a recession? This president will have to own that, too.

BRIGGS: Yes. An interesting "Wall Street Journal" op-ed this morning which reads "The GOP president who loses the business class has a big problem."

All right. Ahead, China says the U.S. and North Korea needs to dial down the heated rhetoric. Can I stay that way with U.S. military drills planned in the region. We're live in Seoul, South Korea, ahead on EARLY START.


[04:50:42] BRIGGS: Welcome back. China is calling on the U.S. and North Korea to put the brakes on provocations and the 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 the 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 and bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks for the latest developments.

Good morning to you, Paula. Rex Tillerson once again, a call for diplomacy in the midst of all of this.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Dave. This word diplomacy we are hearing an awful lot this week far more than we heard this week, showing that there's somewhat of breathe, somewhat of a pullback from both sides. We've heard China saying to the U.S. and North Korea, you have to put the brakes on. They've said in the past they thought that the U.S. and North Korea were like two trains about to crash and they are once again calling for restraint from both sides.

We're also hearing similar things from Russia and China. The Foreign ministers of both countries spoke and they said that there's no alternative to a diplomatic resolution to what is happening in North Korea. They said there's simply no other way to deal with this. A diplomatic and economic measure needs to be focused on, which is really what we're hearing from top U.S. diplomats now as well.

We also heard on the Russian Foreign Ministry Web site saying that any threats of violence or war against North Korea are simply unacceptable.

Now we did hear from North Korea today through Rodong Sinmun, their state-run newspaper, slamming South Korea for talking about dialogue at the same is talking about sanctions and at the same time as about to be carrying out these military drills with the United States. They start next week. The fact is though they're not visual. It's computer simulations so potentially less provocative to North Korea -- Dave.

BRIGGS: But nonetheless all eyes on those exercises next week.

Paula Hancocks, thank you. ROMANS: All right. The West African nation of Sierra Leon begins a

week of mourning today for hundreds of victims in a deadly mudslide. The death toll just now rising to 297. More than 600 people are still missing. Heavy rains triggered a river of mud roaring down this mountainside Monday bearing everyone and everything in its path. The country's president pleading for urgent support in the face of overwhelming devastation.

BRIGGS: Oh boy. Donate if you can.

ROMANS: All right. 53 minutes past the hour. Uber is being punished once again by the U.S. government for deceptive behavior. We'll tell you on CNN Money Stream.


[04:57:36] ROMANS: Let's go check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Global stock markets mostly higher after Wall Street closed essentially flat. Retail stocks fell sharply on disappointing earnings from a few major retailers. We've been telling you about this retail seismic shift from online digital to -- to brick and mortar. This affected the broader sector. It lost 2.7 percent for the day. Even bringing shares of Home Depot despite Home Depot had strong results.

The market is coming off its biggest one-day gain all summer as stocks rebound from last week's drop. Right now we're checking U.S. futures they are higher.

All right. Uber is being punished once again by the U.S. government for deceptive behavior. The company is agreeing to be audited by an outside party for the next 20 years. It's part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission. The case revolves around a 2014 incident in which more than 100,000 customer names and driver's licenses were accessed as a breach. The FTC says Uber didn't take enough steps to secure its data. Now it will be monitored for that data for the next 20 years.

Wells Fargo is naming a female chairman to its board. The first for a top U.S. bank. Wells Fargo is tapping former Federal Reserve governor Elizabeth Duke as chairman. She takes charge January 1 and inherits a board that has been rocked by scandal including this. It created some two million fake accounts last year. Duke said in a statement that she looks forward to making Wells Fargo a better company today and in the future.

BRIGGS: Boy, does she have her hands full. All right.

ROMANS: Yes. She's got to really clean that place up. So good luck to her.

BRIGGS: On EARLY START, you get a history lesson on the president's press conference from Julian Zelizer and the politics of what happened yesterday from Zach Wolf as EARLY START continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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.


BRIGGS: A defiant President Trump once again putting counter protesters on relatively the same level as white supremacists and Nazi sympathizers.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs. The president will wake up to these headlines. He's here in New York at Trump Tower where these are the newspapers. He will not like his favorite newspaper. This one. "They weren't all Nazis."

ROMANS: I mean, withering assessments from his favorite newspapers, also from the editorial boards of newspapers that are -- have been loyal to him in the past.


ROMANS: And people he respect.

BRIGGS: Indeed.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans, it is Wednesday, August 16th. 5:00 a.m. exactly here in New York. Let's welcome all of our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. We start this morning with President Trump going off script and off the rails at a stunning news conference. The president making a pivot.