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Analysts Examine Donald Trump's Recent Comments on Violence at Charlottesville; Trump Again Blames "Both Sides" for Violence in Virginia; Rabbi From Trump Inauguration Weighs In On Charlottesville. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] JACOB SCOTT, NEPHEW OF WHITE NATIONALIST PETER TEFFT: -- he's fallen back on sort of this idea that Trump was compromised by the deep state and no longer works for them. But he still regards Trump as this lesson that nationalism can win. He changed the conversation and things of that nature. But he's always -- since the start of Trump's campaign, he's definitely been an admirer of Trump, I would say.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Do you know if your uncle has any regrets about how Heather Heyer was killed and all the violent that took place down there?

SCOTT: No. From what he's said, it sounds like he blames the Charlottesville police. I'm not sure what his rationale is for that. But, you know, he's planning -- he said that he's planning some kind of event here in Fargo in October where he's going to get a bunch of his Nazi friends together. And considering the national profile that he's accrued over the last few days, he very well could end up summoning quite a few Nazis to Fargo.

And we have kind of a sizable progressive anti-fascist movement here in Fargo, and we're going to go out and we're going to counter protest them for sure. But who knows how many people he's going to bring. So if there are any people out there that are DSA, Black Lives Matter, women's march kind of people who want to come down and stand by us and march with us, we'd be more than grateful. We'd absolutely love them there.

CUOMO: Just remember everybody has a right to speak, you've got a right to be there, and the point is to keep it nonviolent and try to move this country forward. That's what everybody should try to do and stand firm for what matters. Jacob, thank you very much for being with us. I'm sorry you are family is going through this. Be well.

All right, let's go going. It's the top of another hour. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow is joining me for this week. It's good to have you, need you here.

President Trump is under fire for once again blaming both sides for the violence that killed a woman in Charlottesville. The president's condemnation of white supremacists on Monday seemingly rendered meaningless because he once again equated the actions of hateful racists with those protesting against them.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So Republicans in Congress are united in denouncing hate, but very few are calling out the president by name and laying this in his lap. Newspapers this morning around the country rebuking President Trump with scathing headlines, blistering editorials, as this nation today mourns the death in Heather Heyer, her memorial service to be held in just hours. Another American city, this time Baltimore, removes Confederate monuments overnight.

CUOMO: The president with his press conference yesterday, wasn't even supposed to be about this topic but became all about it for him, the media, and the country. Here's a little bit of it, the president in his own words.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I do think there's blame on both sides. 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.

TRUMP: What about the alt-left that came charging them? Excuse me. What about the alt-left that came charging, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? Let me ask you this. What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs. Do they have any problem? I think they do.


CUOMO: All right, let's bring in our panel, CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, CNN senior political commentator and former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod, and anchor of "CNN Tonight," Don Lemon.

The president's factual basis about this being equal combatants on the ground. Our sister network HBO was on the ground there, "Vice" took footage. We want to show you, here's what was being said and done on the ground.


CROWD: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!

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

Whose streets? Our streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm here to spread ideas, talk in the hopes that somebody more capable will come along and do that, somebody like Donald Trump who does not give his daughter to a Jew.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So Donald Trump but like more racist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot more racist than Donald Trump. I don't think you could feel about race the way I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl.


CUOMO: Don, the president wants to talk about the fact basis here. Just to be clear, yes, they had a permit.

[08:05:00] But this was supposed to be moved to a different site. They didn't want it moved. They actually won the legal battle because they wanted this congested. They wanted this to be as provocative as possible. They wound up being cited for unlawful assembly because of what happened. But this isn't about the facts. This is about moral agency and what do you make of the president saying it's wrong on both sides.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: No one has a permit to hate, right, for hateful behavior. We all know the history of the Klan, we all know the history of white supremacy. And as I watched the president yesterday all I could think of is this is the ramblings of a very ill- informed, ignorant man who is ignorant of the history of this country, of the facts of what went on, on the ground, and who obviously is saying exactly what is in his heart when he is not on teleprompter. This is what he believes. There is no other way around it. He said it in so many terms after being questioned about it over and over and over again.

He is ill-informed. He doesn't know the history of this country. He should go back to school and get an elementary history education of what the difference is between a hate group and a protest group who is protesting fascism and is protesting racism and bigotry. It is a sad state of affairs in this country right now when you have a president of the United States defending bigots, defending the offspring of the Ku Klux Klan in this country.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: David Axelrod, you worked in the White House, and there was a big question this morning as we watched the people around the president, his cabinet members, like Gary Cohn, like Steve Mnuchin who are both Jewish standing by the president. General Kelly, chief of staff, with his arms crossed. Glenn Thrush with "The New York Times" is reporting this morning, he just tweeted of Gary Cohn of the NSC, who is Jewish, was "disgusted and upset," both in quotes, by the president's comments on white nationalists, this is according to three different people with knowledge. That's one thing.

And then, what do you do about it? You worked in the White House. If you fundamentally disagree with what the president has done, can you stand by? Should you stand by?

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: I think a lot of people are going to have to wrestle with that he question. I have a sense that some of these people are telling themselves, I'm a thin blue line between an unstable president and the rest of the world, and therefore I should stay here and try to guide him. And the question is how much can he be guided.

But let me just say generally, I share in the outrage and disappointment. I'm the son of a Jewish refugee, so I very much feel that, but I'm not surprised because this is exactly who the president was when he was running for president. He re-tweeted neo-Nazi tweets, he re-tweeted white supremacist tweets. He said things that caused Speaker Ryan to say last year that he had engaged in the textbook of a racist comment. And so now, he is who is he.

Michelle Obama said in her convention speech the presidency doesn't change you, it reveals you. This is who Donald Trump is. So the question is who are we? Who are we now as a country, and how are we going to react to this? He is not going to change, but are we going to react to what he has said and done and to this sort of embrace of racism? And that is a question for Republicans. It's a question for Democrats. It's a question for all of us.

CUOMO: Well, Chris Cillizza, David Axelrod just mentioned Paul Ryan. Who is that? I haven't heard from him. He tweeted. He said well, we're on vacation now. What is going on here right now? He didn't even mention the president by name. John McCain did in his tweet.

But look, again, the job is to fight injustice and to reinforce morality, to stand firm. How do these men and women justify being so quiet? We couldn't get them on television this morning. This wasn't to defend the health care Bill that doesn't make a lot of sense according to the CBO and others. This is about moral agency and fighting hate. And we've got one congressman, Scott Taylor of Virginia, who came on and said the president was wrong, he failed yesterday. None of them would even come on.

LEMON: They're cowards. They're cowards. That's why. They're cowards

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: They don't want to talk about it, and they should because, again, I think you're seeing this in a political light just like Donald Trump was trying to paint it, well, on the one side people do this, on the other side people do that, which is just frankly not true, when, as Don rightly pointed out, on the one side you have hate-filled people who want to eliminate people because of what they believe or what they look like. On the other side you have people who don't agree with that viewpoint. That is not a reasonable argument.

When you try to put it in a political context, place it on a political spectrum, I'm sure their advisers say stay away from this. This is radioactive, you talking about neo-Nazis and white supremacist and Donald Trump is a 100 percent stone cold loser.

[08:10:00] But this isn't a political issue. It really isn't. Of course we're talking about it in the context of politics because Donald Trump is president of the United States. But this is moral. This is a moral issue of moral leadership. Can we condemn things as a society that are based on hate and intolerance? And the answer to that has to be yes, right?

I remind people, this Republican party, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, lots of other folks, I went through two days ago before this press conference, I went through and found nine instances when I found nine instances in which some, many or all of them denounced, ran away from, said they could not support Donald Trump over the past two months, to David Axelrod's point. This is not new, and yet here we are pushing his health care bill.

At some point I do think you have to stand up and say this isn't about politics. This is about morality. This is about doing what is right, and this is clearly wrong.

Where do you go from there? Because Donald Trump ain't changing, right? So where do you take this as a Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell is harder to determine. I do think you need to stand up and say this isn't what we are.

LEMON: Can we just stop beating around the bush here. Let's just be honest. Us New Yorkers, we've known who Donald Trump was for a very long time. We've known about the Central Park Five. We've known with the housing discrimination. We've known with him pushing the whole birther thing, which is a bunch of bull. We've known that. We know now why he's so obsessed, for those of you who didn't know, so obsessed with Barack Obama. Barack Obama was a black president. Maybe he didn't think that Barack Obama was fit to be in office. He traded on racial animus and racial b.s., and he's been doing it for decades, and we're going to sit here and pretend we're surprised.

Why aren't people talking about his -- and Carl Bernstein who has been on CNN for months talking about his fitness for off and what's going on in his head, how can anyone defend what the president said yesterday? It is indefensible. I can't believe people get up here on CNN and on other networks actually try to defend, especially African- Americans and Jewish people, and try to defend what Donald Trump said yesterday. There is no defense for what he said yesterday. What he said yesterday was disgusting. It was un-American. And anyone who is an American who believes in this country should be speaking out against this person and saying that it is wrong for him to do this. And let me be plainly clear. Anyone who is in that White House and who is supporting him is complicit in their racism as well.

HARLOW: So the question then becomes, David Axelrod, what do Americans waking up across this country in the heartland on Main Street, America, what do they do with that? Because the president won't denounce this. And many people around him won't denounce it and all it out by name and call him out by name. So what does that leave America with this morning?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, Americans themselves have to pull together and make statements in their own lives that they reject this. They need to call on their elected officials to do it.

But let me get back, Poppy, to the question you asked Chris and put a finer point on it. The reason the Republicans don't speak out is, a, they're afraid of Donald Trump and his Twitter account, b, this alt- right group is actually a force within the Republican Party, and they're afraid of taking on Breitbart and that crowd who have given comfort to these groups. And the third is that they've made this Faustian bargain with Donald Trump, if you sign our stuff, if you do the things we want, then we will give you support. And I think that they're going to have to reexamine all of those

things right now and decide if they're going to stand up as John McCain stood up and a few others stood up yesterday.

CUOMO: You saw it, what the president said yesterday, to Don's point, about the alt-right. What he was saying who the media, you tell me, who is the alt-right. Who is the alt-right. Go ask Steve Bannon who the alt-right is. He created a base for them at Breitbart, an outlet, a supposed fair media outlet that was painfully quiet about what happened in Charlottesville. He doesn't need us to tell him who it is. But it is pretty clear, Chris, he wants to defend these groups and these people in the alt-right. That's why he compares them to the alt-left when there is no such equivalency, and he continues to do so.

CILLIZZA: I wanted to take slight issue with Don's point earlier when he said Donald Trump is ignorant of history. I actually think if that's true, it's the best outcome for Donald Trump. I think if you look at the body of what he has said and done since he has been a candidate, it is difficult to conclude that he's not doing this stuff on purpose, with a knowledge -- I'm not saying he's a historian, but with a working knowledge of the kind of racially coated language, the provocation that it causes. I think it's virtually impossible now to say, oh, well, he may not know -- and I'm not saying this is what Don was saying, but he may not know what he's doing but it has these impacts.

[08:15:12] It seems clear to me at this point that a reasonable person would have to conclude he knows exactly what he's doing. And that that means --

LEMON: Chris, I don't disagree with you on that but what I'm saying is he say he's ignorant.

CILLIZZA: He is there in campaign.

LEMON: I'm talking about when he compares George Washington --

CILLIZZA: Right, right, right. That's --

LEMON: And he doesn't understand why people are --

CILLIZZA: Why does makes sense.

LEMON: -- sensitive that there's a why it's Robert E. Lee statue.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: But he says they were all slave owners. So, they aren't they all the same where you have told him who founded the country one of them led a (INAUDIBLE) --

CILLIZZA: That's right.

CUOMO: -- that killed 600,000 people.

CILLIZZA: But, I feel like he had -- I feel like that's kind of stuff.


CILLIZZA: Yes. Sure David, sure.

AXELROD: Just to add, all I wanted to say wasn't it in that very building that he began his campaign?

CILLIZZA: That's right.

AXELROD: -- with what was essentially a racist appeal? I mean his campaign was predicated on appeals to bias. That's not to say that everybody who voted for Donald Trump voted for him for that reason.

And I think we ought to make that clear. I think there are a lot of people who voted for him because they were frustrated, you know, with the economy and frustrated with Washington and he was a vote for change. They weren't signing on for all of this.

But at the core of his appeal, certainly at the beginning and throughout the campaign, really, was this racist notion that began at that building on that day when he came down the escalator. So I just echo what I said before what Don said. This is not a surprise. Donald Trump -- this wasn't bait and switch. He ran this way. But the thing is we expected somehow that the presidency would lift him. And clearly, that's not going to happen.

LEMON: And that's the case that Donald Trump supporters and indeed all of them are racist, the bulk them are not racist or not racist probably but are not racist. And also, the more reason for those who are good Americans to stand up against this kind of language and belief with the President.

If you believe in the President, then you should speak out and you should let it be known that that behavior that they had -- that he displayed yesterday was not..

CUOMO: That's why the silence is so problematic from other, you know, look, the Democrats have to stand up and so especially the Republicans have to stand up, David. And they're not. A tweet doesn't cut it in this situation. It just doesn't.

I mean this is a big moral failing. It's not about politics. And it really is a time for leadership. I mean if you look at the people who supported Trump on social media, right? And that's a big part of where they live.

You have these groups that he's em powered. There's no coincidence that David Duke and all those guys who are congratulation him and thanking him for what he said yesterday. That tells you everything you need to know.

But then you have all these real Republicans who do not espouse bigoted views, who are lost right now. Where are their leaders standing up reaffirming what they parties about? I just don't get the silence.

AXELROD: They espouse bigoted views but they do benefit from a base within their party that holds them. And so, they're afraid to defy that base. They are afraid to defy a president whose prove himself to be spiteful. And they're hopeful that this will blow over and somehow they can move on to tax reform. And the questions is what --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: But why David. But why if you're Paul Ryan and you're saying, "OK. I sort of made these bargains so that he can get our legislation through and he get my agenda through, he's not. For what?

LEMON: They're benefiting from it, those beneficiary of it. They -- it, you know --

HARLOW: I mean keeping their job?

LEMON: You're getting their agenda across?

HARLOW: But they're not. They're not getting it through.

LEMON: But, yes, how much? How much? When do Republicans stand up and say?


LEMON: Enough is enough. At what cost? Is it -- listen, how much of a tax benefit is worth giving away your humanity? How much is wall going to the -- how much -- I don't understand it.


LEMON: I don't understand it.

HARLOW: So well said.

CILLIZZA: Put in political terms. Sorry Poppy. Put it in political terms. What will be left of the post Donald Trump Republican Party if this is allowed to fester? Yes. I mean that's -- I think the moral question is far more important. Who we are Don? Who are we? What are we as a society, right?

But even if you look at it in pure political terms, you're not -- being a party that tries to make moral equivalence between white supremacy and people protesting white supremacy that's not -- breaking news, that's not a majority vote in this country.

So, there are so many reasons why it doesn't make any sense here and what he is doing is dangerous, and genuinely dangerous for our society and politics.

CUOMO: Gentlemen.

HARLOW: Yes. And how can they stay we're the party of Lincoln and then not on that --

LEMON: And only that it's a betrayal -- it's a family betrayal.

CUOMO: I think that ship has sails. LEMON: It's a betrayal of this family if you look at that sound bite of the guy saying, "How can Donald Trump allow his daughter, beautiful daughter to marry that B word Jared Kushner?"

CUOMO: No question. Don Lemon, thank you for being here for us.

LEMON: Thank you.

CUOMO: David Axelrod, Chris Cillizza as always.

[08:20:06] So, while politicians aren't doing what they need to do and standing and leading faith leaders are. They're weighing in on Charlottesville and the conversation that needs to happen. The rabbi from President Trump's inauguration is speaking out about what he thinks happened yesterday. Next.


CUOMO: The rabbi who offered a prayer in President Trump's inauguration is speaking out disagreeing with how the President's response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville came across. Rabbi Marvin Heir joins us.

Rabbi, thank you very much for taking the time to join us. What do you make of what the president said yesterday?

RABBI MARVIN HIER, FOUNDER AND DEAN, SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTER: Well, if the President would have asked me, I would have advised him that you cannot equate neo-Nazis, the Klan and white supremacists with the other demonstrators. Because those three, that's a code word for an America without Jews, for an America without African-Americans, without Latinos.

Now, it's true that in every demonstration, you may have average citizens that violate the law, but the president of the United States should make it very clear that is no comparison with the bigots and haters that is represented in the philosophy of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the Klan.

[08:25:11] And let me say something else. These demonstrations are very dangerous. People forget. The third riots started with small demonstrations. It got bigger and bigger and the next thing we know is that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Nazi-Germany.

So, I'm vary -- if the President would have ask me I would him told him, "Mr. President, go out there, condemn these racists and bigots and that's all." And I make one other comment. It takes away from -- in my opinion from some of the good things President Trump has done, like standing up tough to the North Korean dictator.

You can't kick the ball down the line if we stood up to him 15 years ago, we wouldn't be facing intercontinental missiles today. And his -- the fact that he's open, he went to Saudi Arabia trying to make peace between the Saudis and the Israelis. But all that is being this distracted by what is happened. The terrible events in Charlottesville -- CUOMO: Well, but here's the thing Rabbi. This is about what's in his heart, what happened yesterday because you have to explain why he did it. And that answer is going to windup casting a shadow or, a ray of sunlight on everything else that happens, because if someone wants to defend these types of haters, it doesn't matter what they do with North Korea.

It doesn't matter how good a negotiator they are abroad because the presidency is about moral agency. And I know you know this. This was part of yo you are prayer. So why do you think the President chose to say what he said yesterday, something that's so clearly wrong to you and so many others?

HIER: I have no idea. I tried to analyze it. I have no idea. I think that the President should correct this cause. He should choose an occasion now to make it very clear that there's no comparison between other demonstrators on the left and bigots like Nazis, the Klan and white supremacists.

And I would make one other comment, which I think it's very important. You know, there's other bigots in the world. This often needs inconsistencies in our society. The greatest deniers of the holocaust today in the world are the Iranians. We schmooze with them, we invite them to cocktail parties. They're on television. Their diplomats are welcome.

We don't take them to task that they say the holocaust never happened. The world has forgotten on the very day that the Yatala (ph) said there was no holocaust. President Rouhani was received by the Pope in Vatican. So, if I would the Pope I would have said you're not welcome until your leader stops saying that the holocaust never happened.

CUOMO: Rabbi, I appreciate your thoughts on this. You were a powerful voice on the day of the inauguration, your powerful voice today as well. Be well.

HIER: Thank you.

CUOMO: Poppy.

HARLOW: The statue of Robert E. Lee still stands in Charlottesville but overnight one came down in Baltimore. We're going to talk about the battle over these confederate symbols with the mayor who is dealing with it in his own city. Next.