Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Again Blames 'Both Sides' for Violence in Virginia; Lieutenant Governor of Virginia Speaks Out. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 06:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's blame on both sides. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.

[05:59:25] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's posing a danger, not just to his party but to the country. He's going to tear us apart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Peddling to racism as just as bad as being a racist.

TRUMP: Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not the party of Robert E. Lee. We're the party of Abraham Lincoln.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is no longer Republican versus Democrat. The moral blindness that our president showed today was unlike anything I've seen.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not just the people that are involved in this. It's the people who now don't know if they have a government that gives a damn about them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump is who he is. He's not going to change. This was definitive proof of that today.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, August 16, 6 a.m. here in New York. You've got Chris Cuomo and Poppy Harlow with you this morning. And the president of the United States has made it clear he will not completely condemn the hate that led to violence and death in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump's insistence on equating the actions of neo-Nazis and the KKK with those protesting against them has united lawmakers in his own party and much of the country in outrage against his words and apparent lack of moral leadership.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Make no mistake this morning, the president showed us his heart yesterday. Newspapers all over the country today are blasting his off-the-cuff comments with scathing headlines and editorials. Rarely have we seen something like this in American history.

All of this as the nation mourns the death of Heather Heyer at a memorial service where she will be honored today.

And another American city takes down Confederate monuments overnight.

CUOMO: All right. Here now is the president of the United States in his own words.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those who perpetrated the attacks in Charlottesville.

TRUMP: Well, I don't know. I can't tell you. I'm sure Senator McCain must know what he's talking about. But when you say the alt- right, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead.


TRUMP: Define it for me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator McCain defined them as the same group.

TRUMP: OK. What about the alt-left that came charging in? Excuse me. 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 they came charging -- that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.

As far as I'm concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day. Wait a minute. I'm not finished. I'm not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the same level that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

TRUMP: I will tell you something. 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. You had a group -- you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think -- what you call the alt-left is the same as neo-Nazis?

TRUMP: Those people -- all of those people. Excuse me. I've condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there, because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee. So this week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is

coming down. I wonder, 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?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... race relations in America. Do you think things have gotten worse or better since you took office?

TRUMP: I think they've gotten better or -- look, they've been frayed for a long time. You can ask President Obama about that, because he made speeches about it.

But I believe the fact that I brought in -- 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. What I'm saying is this. You had a group on one side, and you had a group on the other. 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 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.

I do think there's blame -- 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. And you don't have any doubt about it either. 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. You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK. And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.

Now, in the other group, also, you had some fine people, but you also had trouble makers. And you've seen them come with the blackout fits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. There were people in that rally, and I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I'm sure in that group there were some bad ones.

[06:05:13] The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people -- neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest. Because you don't 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. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment.


CUOMO: They were also cited for unlawful assembly, the violation of a local law because of how their protest wound up unfolding.

But whether or not this was a defense of those who hate or a defense of his own political standing, President Trump wound up in the same place, defending hate. His insistence that many were very quietly and innocently protesting efforts to remove a Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee has driven disgust in many people.

He did say some of them were bad. You heard that. Well, let's test the proposition that the president is trying to put to the country. A team from our sister network, HBO's "VICE News," captured the sights and sounds of what unfolded last Friday night on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Watch for yourself and decide if the president is telling you the truth.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will not replace us. You will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will not replace us. You will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will not replace us. You will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blood and soil. Blood and soil. Blood and soil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blood and soil. Blood and soil. Blood and soil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blood and soil. Blood and soil. Blood and soil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whose streets? Our streets. Whose streets? Our streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whose streets? Our streets. Whose streets? Our streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whose streets? Our streets. Whose streets? Our streets.


CUOMO: He can say he condemns some of the groups, but if you equate what those people are about, with those who are protesting against them, what are you really defending?

Let's bring in our CNN political analysts, John Avlon, David Gregory and Abby Phillip. David, what's the instant analysis of the events of the last 24 hours?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that President Trump clearly is -- was forced into a situation where he condemned the white supremacists at Charlottesville, the neo-Nazis. He gave a speech that was carefully worded with a teleprompter where he condemned them.

But where his heart is, where his head is, is where he was yesterday, which was giving a real boost to white supremacy in America and to the ideology of neo-Nazis. Even if he condemned these people, he still wanted to equivocate and say there are two sides to this story.

There's really no defense of this. Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, white nationalists are anti-Semites. They are racists. They are advancing an ideology of hatred that this country is trying to put behind it, many, many years ago. And the president gave it a boost by equivocating.

So there's a lack of discipline on the president's part. You've got aides around him, some of whom are Jewish, who look so uncomfortable as he's making these remarks. And it just stuns me that this new influence of General Kelly apparently is for naught, because President Trump is out there really trying to divide people over incredibly fraught topics of race, of how we remember our past in this country. He wants to kind of shred through that in a way that really pits people against each other and creates an incredibly false equivalency between white supremacists who committed an act of terror against counter-protesters who were standing up against racism and against hatred. There is no equivalency.

Even as we fight for their right to speak that filth, to speak that hatred, because that's what America is -- by the way, that's not what they are. In their vision of the world, if they had control, they wouldn't allow any of those rights, but they get them because they're Americans.

HARLOW: Abby, when you are being praised by David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK, and thanked for your remarks, how is that not a gut check?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's a good question. And this would be really the second time that President Trump has had an opportunity to mull that. David Duke has praised the president repeatedly in the past, and Trump has seemingly been dragged kicking and screaming to the point where he has had to denounce David Duke.

It is -- it is reflective of a president who really doesn't like to be told what to do. He doesn't like to be boxed in. He wants to be praised. He talked repeatedly about praising -- about being praised by the mother of the victim in the Charlottesville attacks who, by the way, he had not yet called three days after the attack occurred.

This is reflective of who the president is. It is not reflective of what we expect from presidents in general. And I think that's why it is so alarming to see this, because -- because this is Donald Trump, the businessman, the guy who wants everybody else to think that he is so great.

But that's not at all what this is about. This is not about being right -- Donald Trump being right and wrong. It is about what is right and wrong. And there's no -- there was no reflection of that in his comments. That's what was so alarming. Violence aside, what is right and what is wrong is the ideology behind -- if you are marching in a Nazi white supremacist rally, can you possibly be a good egg? The answer is unequivocally no.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and look, I think the key point that Abby made for me is, is that this is not the way we expect presidents to behave. President Trump gets judged against his predecessors in the office. And one of the core responsibilities of the president is to try to unite the nation. And there is a blatant, callous disregard of that responsibility.

For a man who does not see nuance, to try to find nuance at Charlottesville in a neo-Nazi rally when people are giving straight arm salutes, amid torches the night before, if that's the time to get nuance, if that's the time to try to see subtlety, then that speaks to what's in his heart. And it's completely tone deaf to American history and to the responsibilities of uniting the nation, the office. Over and over again we've seen this.

And what was so terrible about yesterday in that unhinged sort of moral abdication ceremony in Trump Tower lobby, was that we really saw what was in his heart. The hostage video he gave Monday, speaking the scripted remarks, doesn't reflect what he actually thinks. And that's a challenge for the country. It's a challenge for his political party. But it cannot be denounced clearly enough. For a man who proudly says he's never read a presidential biography, we see the dangers in that, because there's a fundamental cluelessness about the history of our nation.

GREGORY: And I think, John, too, the fact that defenders of the president describe yesterday's really -- it's worth going back, and I'm glad we showed an extended version of that exchange with reporters. Because if you're watching how the presidency works and interactions with reporters, it doesn't usually go like that. Trust me.

That was a screaming fest by the president who's trying to, as John said, some nuance to something that should clearly be condemned without any -- and defenders of the president are essentially saying, "That's a distraction from his agenda."

No, this was a president who decided to react to a neo-Nazi march where one of them killed one of the counter protesters, and spin the country up and get the country even more divided around -- around the question of race. And to inject himself into a conversation of national memory, and the idea of these statues and how we remember the confederacy, to do that in such a divisive way is beyond counterproductive and is just -- it's just incredibly wrong.

AVLON: And let's talk about the history of this for a second. He's equated George Washington and Thomas Jefferson with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. You know what the difference between the Founding Fathers and the Confederate generals are? One group of folks, however flawed, created our nation, and the other committed treason and 600,000 people died. OK?

So this is -- this is not a jump ball, and we can have a debate about context and the role of statues in American historical memory. But that's not what the president is interested in. That's not what the president's interested in. His own aides -- look at his chief of staff's face yesterday. You saw a man who would have rather been on the Titanic.

CUOMO: Well, look, here's what's troubling about it. Even if you take his supporters and the president at their best defense, which is, well, this is about painting the president into a corner. He feels he's under attack, so he's defending, because he's a fighter. That's what he does."

Change the facts here a little bit. And instead of these hateful white supremacists, you had ISIS marching in the streets, and they were saying, "Death to Americans," and a group of Americans came out there. and it got ugly the same way it did here.

Do you think the president of the United States would have been saying there was problems on both sides? We all know the answer is no.

HARLOW: He screams radical Islamic terror. He screams it before he knows the facts.

CUOMO: And he wants to define it and call it out for what it is and overreach and overstretch the facts and realities of that situation. But not here, not when it's these groups. This is consistent from jump, David. Whether it was David Duke, whether it was the alt-right, him asking us to defend the alt-right. He doesn't know who it is?

Turn around and ask your adviser who they are. He gave them an outlet that they never had before in the form of Breitbart, which has shown exactly what it is with its silence in the last few days.

HARLOW: Let's get Abby back in here, as well -- Abby.

PHILLIPS: You know, it's important to point out that none of this is happening by accident. The president isn't just talking off-the-cuff. He knows what the alt-right is. That's the reason he asked that reporter to define it. He retweeted a person who identifies as being an alt-right activist, essentially, on Tuesday night -- on Monday night.

I mean, look, the president has from the very beginning, and this is factual here, he made a very important calculation early on in his political career, that he was going to speak to certain people who live on the Internet. He was going to speak to the Info Wars. He was going to speak to some of these people on the very far right. He knows that some of these people are his supporters. He is loathe to condemn them, because he does not ever want to condemn people who support him.

That -- that is a fact of maybe being a candidate. Maybe you can say, "OK, whatever, you're a presidential candidate." But when you're the president of the United States, that dynamic has to change. You cannot associate the office of the president of the United States with that kind of vitriol. If you look further in that vice clip that you all helpfully showed

earlier this morning, it is shocking the things that some of these people are saying about the president's own daughter, because the president's daughter is Jewish. And these people hate, viscerally hate Jewish people in addition to other people: black people, Hispanic people.

So -- so there is a strain of deep hate in these groups, and they are aligned ideologically with some of the very same people who support the president, and he is not willing to condemn them, and that is not by accident. It's not because he doesn't know who they are.

HARLOW: David.

GREGORY: Well, and I would just want to underline what Abby is saying. First of all, his daughter, Ivanka, is a convert to Judaism, which in the Bible is an even higher level, if you think about Ruth in the Bible. And so for a neo-Nazis, this is going to drive them even crazier.

The president has Jewish grandchildren. What would happen to his grandchildren if this ideology were to prevail?

So I don't actually want to judge what's in the president's heart. I do think we just have to take him at his actions. He rose to political prominence on the back of a racist lie, in birtherism. He failed to condemn David Duke during the campaign, because he says he didn't even know who he was. And he's apparently making a decision, not to tamp down the kind of social tearing apart of our national fabric that this kind of event represents, but to stoke it.

That as president is something that he feels he should do. He's got to be doing it strategically, politically, and I think that's what's so distressing to the country right now.

HARLOW: All of you, please stay with us. We have a lot more to talk about ahead. Much more on this and what the president is facing this morning. Ahead, we're going to have more on the panel and also, the lieutenant governor of Virginia will join us. He has a lot to say about the president, and the opportunity that he says he squandered to bring this country together.


[06:22:00] CUOMO: There is widespread and justified outrage after President Trump doubled down on his comments, condemning both sides, following the violence and death between white supremacists and counter-protesters. One American killed, two state troopers, Americans, also killed in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Joining us now is Virginia's lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam.

Mr. Governor, good to have you with us this morning. Obviously, a lot of hard feelings about what the president said yesterday. You say it was an opportunity missed. How so? LT. GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA: Absolutely, Chris. And thanks

for having me on this morning. But you know, we've had a horrific few days in Charlottesville, just a wonderful city in Virginia, with a beautiful University of Virginia. Our children are getting ready to go back to school this weekend. And for, you know, white supremacists and neo-Nazis to just march into Charlottesville, bringing their hatred and bigotry and violence, it's just something that we in Virginia don't condone.

And the governor and I have been very clear and have told these folks to -- they're not welcome in the commonwealth of Virginia and to please go home.

You know, we're trying to start the healing process, Chris, and today Heather Heyer will be laid to rest. We will be at that funeral, certainly, to support her family and offer our condolences. And for the president to continue to say that this violence is coming from various sides, it's very clear where it's coming from. It's coming from white supremacists who brought their hatred and bigotry into the commonwealth of Virginia. And we don't need them here, and we would ask them never to come back.

And we want to start the healing process. That starts, Chris, with leadership. That starts with our president, and he has disappointed all of us.

CUOMO: The president says they were there legally; they had a permit, and many among them were there peacefully, just protesting the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee and that it was the alt-left, as he calls them, that came charging with sticks and, therefore, they deserve blame. What is your take on those facts?

NORTHAM: Well, I think his facts are very incorrect. And, you know, this is a peaceful city in Virginia. And for people, for white supremacists to march in with torches and with semi-automatic weapons, you know, we believe in the First Amendment, freedom of speech. but you know, we certainly don't condone violence.

So I'm not sure what he's looking at. But they brought this violence in within -- had the individual, as you know, that weaponized his vehicle, ran down a street of crowded counter-protesters, peaceful people, killed Heather Heyer and injured many others. And again, this is unacceptable in Virginia, and we'd just as soon they not come back.

CUOMO: The white supremacists and haters that were there were cited for unlawful assembly. Were they not? It was found that the way that they were protesting, the way they were conducting themselves was actually against the law.

NORTHAM: It was. And you know, we had a lot of law enforcement. We had the National Guard in Charlottesville, and I want to commend them and also our first responders.

[06:25:08] Chris, not a shot was fired with all that violence, and so these individuals and also all the folks that took care of these wounded and hurt in the hospital, they should be commended. I think they did a wonderful job.

And as you know, when someone gets in a vehicle and weaponizes it the way that this individual did, those things are hard to defend against. And so, again, we'd just as soon this not happen again in Virginia.

CUOMO: So if the facts, what this is about, because the president doesn't have the right version of them, then it's about something else. How do you explain -- I'm sure you're getting a lot of people coming to you, governor and saying, why is he saying this? Why is he equating people who fight against hate with those who espouse hate?

What is your answer? What do you think is motivating our president to talk this way?

NORTHAM: Well, I certainly can't figure out what his judgment is all about, but you know, he ran his campaign. It was based on hatred and bigotry. And you know, initially his statement, he condoned the white supremacists. And then he was given a script and then the following day, yesterday, he came out. And I think it showed what was in his heart. And that is the hatred and bigotry that these people brought to the commonwealth of Virginia.

And again, our leaders need to step up. And this is a healing process. We need to bring this country together. There are so many issues not only in this country, but in this world that we need to deal with. And this is not a time to divide our country. It's not a time to divide the commonwealth of Virginia. And he needs to show leadership.

CUOMO: Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia, we wish you well down there. We will stay on the story and show the positive reaction to this negative situation. The country needs it now more than ever. Thank you for being with us on NEW DAY.

NORTHAM: Thank you so much, Chris.

CUOMO: Poppy.

HARLOW: In the immediate aftermath of what the president said, showing his true feelings, Republican lawmakers decrying him saying both sides are responsible for what broke out in Charlottesville. Some of the strongest reaction is next.