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Trump: Blame on "Both Sides" for Charlottesville Violence; China Calls on U.S. and North Korea to Cool Off; LeBron on Trump: "The So-Called President". Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And people he respects.


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, a disturbing pivot on the deadly violence at 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 the counterprotesters.

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


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

REPORTER: From both sides, sir? You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides?

TRUMP: 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 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.


ROMANS: I watched it much more closely than you watched it. The president's comments making it clear that his full throated 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 maintaining white supremacy.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's bring in Zachary Wolf. He's the managing editor of, and Julian Zelizer is CNN political analyst and historian and professor at Princeton University.

Thanks both of you for being in on a big news day. Let's start with those monuments. Julian, here is what the president had to say in a sense comparing George Washington with Robert E. Lee. Listen.


TRUMP: Was 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 Washington?

How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? Do you like him?

REPORTER: I do love him.

TRUMP: OK. Good. Are we going to take down the statue because he was a major slave owner? Now, we're 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.


BRIGGS: Julian, first as a historian, your reaction to those comments from our president?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's kind of stunning to watch this. It's also for many Americans upsetting to watch this. Obviously, Washington and Jefferson were slave owners, but here we're talking about a leader of the confederate forces trying to destroy the Union to protect the slave holding society versus George Washington, the first president of the United States and the person who tried to build our republic, and the monuments that we're talking about are monuments that were built in the 1910s to '30s period and in the 1950s and '60s period.

ROMANS: What does that tell us, the timing of those monuments?

ZELIZER: These were monuments meant as a backlash to the idea of racial justice and racial integration. That's what they were and that's why they're so controversial. Monuments to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were not built for that purpose. So, there needs to be some clarity on what the debate is about.

ROMANS: We're showing Baltimore right now. A Robert E. Lee monument being taken down there I believe. And, you know, there are 1,500 of these around the country, 31 different states. These are big important local questions. What happened in Charlottesville, though, didn't seem to be a local issue. Those are people coming from outside using that monument removal as a rallying cry for white supremacist groups recruiting basically.

ZELIZER: Right. This was not a rally about history. This was a rally about white supremacy. And so, I think the other point that's important is President Trump wants to make it about this debate over monuments and how do we preserve the past, but if you watch the images from the march, if you listen to what they were saying, this was not about debates about monuments.

[05:05:05] It was actually about white supremacy. So, that's why this was troubling to hear.

BRIGGS: We do have that sound, Zach, and let's talk about it. Here's what Vice News, who was embedded with the protesters on Friday night, here's some of the sound from those protesters carrying torches, what they were saying on Friday night.


PROTESTERS: Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us!

Blood and soil! Blood and soil! Blood and soil!


BRIGGS: And, Zach, I want to get your reaction to that, but first, here's what the president said about those protesters yesterday.


TRUMP: You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest because, you know, I don't know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn't have a permit. So I only tell you this, there are two sides to a story.


BRIGGS: Zach, your thoughts?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNNPOLITICS.COM, MANAGING EDITOR: I mean, it's the easiest thing in the world to condemn, you know, Nazism and white supremacy and the U.S. president has now twice essentially, after a brief self-correction, has now twice basically, you know, not done that. He has -- he has chosen the other side in some ways and I think that's something that a lot of Americans are going to have to find a way to get used to going forward. It's not something anybody really expected to have to deal with in the White House, you know, particularly coming after this sort of, you know, transformational idea of a black president, to now have somebody who at the very least is OK with white nationalists parading around, is OK with people marching with them, says there's many fine people marching with them. At the very least, he's OK with those things and that's a jarring thing to deal with.

ROMANS: I mean, this morning, we're looking at the papers. We're talking about the response that we've been seeing and basically the only supportive, like raw supportive response to this president is from David Duke. It's from a white supremacist. I don't know what is President Trump's heart, but you can see what's in his mind and what in his -- he's angry and he's defiant.

This is what David Duke says: Thank you, President Trump, for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists, BLM, and the antifa. We've been learning about Antifa lately, the anti-fascist movement.

BRIGGS: It's not entirely innocent to be clear.

ROMANS: No, no. Of course, not. No, no, this was -- people were swinging fists and swinging clubs, there's no question about that.

What are his aides saying? Because it seems as though they had gotten him to be straight laced and read what is a presidential statement condemning racism and condemning these moves and then he undid it. There's his chief of staff, General Kelly, at this moment while the president was ranting yesterday.

WOLF: I think, you know, John Kelly was brought in from being in his cabinet to sort of clean house, to get the White House in order, to get their messaging operation in order, to sort of stop the leaks and, you know, basically get the trains running on time. You see right there. I think his body language tells you everything you need to know about the reaction he had to that pretty stunning press conference last night and I think throughout a lot of the White House it was probably similar.

There was this question earlier about whether Steve Bannon was on sound footing. I think the former "Breitbart" leader who a lot of people feel is kind of whispering in the president's ear about this stuff, I'm not sure we can project that anymore. It's pretty clear that President Trump has these believes himself but that performance last night suggests that Steve Bannon is not on the way out.

ROMANS: You know, his transportation secretary is standing behind him, Elaine Chao, who was a long time Washington hand, well-respected, Gary Cohn, Steve Mnuchin, and --

BRIGGS: All Jewish, mind you and those protesters Friday said Jews will not take these streets. They stood there and listen to all of that.

ROMANS: You just wonder what they were thinking.

BRIGGS: It would have been a newsworthy day if the president had just suggested this alone, that he is always one to be reserved and wait for the facts. Listen.


TRUMP: I didn't -- I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians that what I said was correct. Not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement was a fine statement, but you don't make statements that direct unless you know the fact.

It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts. And it's a very, very important process to me and it's a very important statement.

[05:10:01] So, I don't want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts.


BRIGGS: Julian, you don't make statements unless you know the facts. Hass that been the president's process?

ZELIZER: Well, it's good advice. He should take it. This is not what the president has done. The president offers knee jerk comments on almost every issue. He's attacked individuals. He's attacked organizations within seconds on his Twitter account.

So, if he doesn't do that, or he says that something that's dangerous, you have to wonder why in this case is he reluctant to share his opinion or are these the opinions of the president of the United States? At a certain point you have to wonder, why are we speculating about what he thinks? Maybe this is exactly what it is.

But he's not a president who's cautious. So, I think it's hard to listen to that and for many Americans to say this is generally how he conducts his business.

ROMANS: "The Wall Street Journal" in an op-ed talking about the CEOs who have left his side here, talks about his ego. Mr. Trump's ego won't allow him to concede error and he broods over criticism until he ends up hurting himself, as he showed again Tuesday by relitigating his to the Charlottesville violence. This is how he has achieved a 34 percent approval rating as even allies flee and his presidency shrinks in on itself.

Final thoughts. Quickly, Zach Wolf, do they try to right the ship today?

WOLF: This is not something you can right in a day. This is going to take them a long time. They need to figure out sort of a long-term strategy and somebody needs to figure out how to change the president's mind about this stuff, and I'm not sure how that happens.

ROMANS: All right. Zach Wolf, Julian Zelizer, come back in a few minutes. We'll continue to talk about just what was an amazing moment in presidential history yesterday there in Trump Tower. Thanks, guys.

President Trump is losing the support of the business class. Six business leaders have now withdrawn from a White House advisory council, three manufacturing union leaders did so yesterday after the heads of Merck, Under Armour and Intel withdrew Monday.

The president's remarks yesterday was a final straw for AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka. He says he can't sit on a council for a president who tolerates bigotry. Trump blasted the business leaders as grandstanders. But even though staying on board his council are criticizing him.

Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon told employees the president missed a critical opportunity to unite the country. This guy is the largest private employer in the country. His opinion really matters.

CEOs are becoming more quick to rebuke Trump on a host of issues, racism, immigration, climate change. But for now, some are keeping their seat at the table. Dow Chemical, Campbell's Soup, G.E.

If Trump's brand, though, becomes too toxic for some executives, that could spell trouble. A GOP president needs a business class, and, again, "The Wall Street Journal" op-ed says, right now, he is not helping himself. I'll read it again.

Mr. Trump's ego won't allow him to concede error and he broods over criticism until he ends up hurting himself as he showed again Tuesday by relitigating his response to the Charlottesville violence. This is how he's achieved a 34 percent approval rating as even allies flee and his presidency shrinks in on itself.

Those are from the pages of "The Wall Street Journal", the pro- business "Wall Street Journal".

BRIGGS: The last thing the president tweeted was for every CEO that drops out of the manufacturing council, I have many to take their place. We shall see in the hours ahead if that is indeed true.

China says the U.S. and North Korea need to cool their heated rhetoric, so what planned U.S. activity could set off Kim Jong-un. We're live in Seoul.


[05:17:38] ROMANS: China is calling on the U.S. and North Korea to put the breaks 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 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 -- Paula.


Well, we're hearing these calls for dialogue for an awful different, awful lot of different sectors at this point as you say. The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is calling for it overnight. We've also heard China saying put on the brakes when it comes to these provocative words, provocative actions between the U.S. and North Korea.

We're also hearing China and Russia saying the same thing, the foreign ministers of those countries have spoken and said there is no alternative to a political and diplomatic settlement when it comes to the North Korean nuclear issue. Russia also saying that any threats of violence or threats of force against North Korea are, quote, unacceptable.

Now, we have heard from North Korea today through the newspaper, they have slammed South Korea for calling for dialogue, at the same time as pushing these sanctions through with the United States and also carrying out military drills with the United States. So, that's what we're looking towards now, next week, there are military drills between the U.S. and South Korea and North Korea is always angered by them.

It's worth pointing out that these are less visual than usual. You're not going to see thousands of U.S. Marines in an amphibious landing on the South Korean coast. You're not going to see live fire drills. It's more computer simulation and communications drills. Whether that is seen as less provocative by North Korea, we'll just have to wait and see -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Paula Hancocks, thanks so much for that, in Seoul, South Korea.

BRIGGS: West African nation of Sierra Leone beginning a week of mourning today for hundreds of victims in the deadly mudslide. The death toll just now rising to 297, more than 600 people are still missing. Heavy rains triggered a river of mud to roar down a mountainside on Monday burying everyone and everything in its path. The country's president pleading for urgent support in the face of overwhelming devastation.

ROMANS: The U.S. military on tap to take part in joint military exercises with Egypt. For the first time since the Arab Spring, defense officials say some 20,000 American troops will participate in the exercise dubbed Bright Star.

[05:20:03] The biannual exercise dates back to the 1980s. It was conducted every other year until 2012 when it was cancelled because of the instability in Egypt following the ouster of the President Hosni Mubarak.

BRIGGS: OK. The king taking on the president. LeBron James weighing in on the Charlottesville violence and President Trump's defense of white supremacists. Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report", next.


BRIGGS: LeBron James once again speaking out against President Trump calling him, quote, the so-called president.

[05:25:03] ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report".

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, guys. You know, LeBron James has never shied away from speaking out on social issues and lately, he has been voicing his displeasure with President Trump. And last night at his annual family charity event, LeBron said that he felt that it was his responsibility to speak out on what's been going on.


LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: The only way for us to be able to get better as a society and us to get better as people is love and that's the only way we're going to be able to conquer something at the end of the day. It's not about the guy that's the so-called president of the United States or whatever case. Shout out to the people, to the innocent people in Charlottesville, North Carolina, and shout out to everybody across the world that just want to be great and want to love.


SCHOLES: LeBron also taking to Twitter yesterday afternoon after President Trump's news conference saying, hate has always existed in America. Yes, we know that, but Donald Trump just made it fashionable again. Statues have nothing to do with us now.

All right. Seattle Seahawks star Michael Bennett meanwhile says he will be sitting during the national anthem this season, like Colin Kaepernick. Bennett says he's doing it to speak out on injustice in our country. Bennett's teammates say him sitting is not a distraction and head coach Pete Carroll, while he doesn't agree with the method, respects Bennett's right to do it.


PETE CARROLL, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS HEAD COACH: He's partisan in a great place. He's going to do great work well after the time and it's easy for me to support him in his issues but I think we should all be standing up.

DOUG BALDWIN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS WIDE RECEIVER: It's not to be divisive, it's not to be negative, and I fully support Mike and his message and definitely the way he went about it.


SCHOLES: All right. For the sixth straight game, the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton had hit a home run. He now has 11 long balls in his past 12 games. If he's able to keep this up, Stanton could make history. He's almost on pace to beat Roger Maris' old record of 61 home runs.

You take a look at the greatest home run seasons, you see Stanton just one behind where Maris was back in 1961. So, guys, if he's able to keep this up, we could be in for a fun final two months of the season. You know a lot of baseball fans still consider that Roger Maris 61 home runs as the official home run record considering the other guys were all tainted by steroid --

BRIGGS: Including this one, yes. You just wonder if he'll get pitched to enough down the stretch. I wouldn't give him a pitch if I was a team --

SCHOLES: Well, you know what, the good thing is, the Marlins aren't really in it so their games aren't really that important so that's what everyone is going to be watching in terms of when they're on the field.

BRIGGS: That could help.

Thank you, Scholes.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-seven minutes past the hour.

President Trump says he did not want to rush when he initially refused to condemn Nazi sympathizers in Charlottesville.


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


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