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Spanish Media: Four Terrorists Killed In Terror Incident; Trump Tries To Change Subject From Off The Rails Remarks In Tweets About GOP Senators, Monuments And Gen. Pershing; 3 Presidential Councils Scrapped After Trump's Charlottesville Remarks. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 17, 2017 - 21:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: -- mostly young men, or men of different ages, carrying torches chanting "blood and soil," chanting "Jews will not replace us." Just as a rabbi, as a person of faith, when you heard the president say that there were good people there in that crowd, is it possible for good people to march with torches chanting those things?

[21:00:26] RABBI THOMAS GUTHERZ, CONGREGATION BETH ISRAEL: Yes. I mean, I was actually inside the church while that march was taking place. We were part of a very, very broad interfaith service but I think, you know, the sounds I'm hearing in the background, you know, they answer that question.

And I would say that, you know, of all the things that you think about, I mean, hate, you know, hate is like an illness. It's an illness of the heart and it can be cured and violence is a tactic and it's a sad one but the one thing -- and you hear them chanting in the background there. It's this language of us and them, us and them. And that's the language that doesn't belong in the vocabulary, not of a community and not of a complex society like ours and that's, I think, what we all have to take home from this, is that we reject that way of thinking. We reject that vocabulary. You know, it's we the people, you know, we the people, the American people. Not us and them. And that to me is the most -- you know, you hear it in those chants and you saw it on the signs and you hear it in the slogans and there's a certain momentum up there in the political realm and I think really all people of conscience needs to think about those words and that may be really the root of where we're at here, the root of the problem that we need to solve.

COOPER: Rabbi, thank you so much for your time.

GUTHERZ: Thank you so much.

COOPER: Well, we have breaking news tonight. Just past the top of the hour in the wake of another mass casualty terror attack involving a vehicle mowing down people on a crowded street.

Last weekend, it was Charlottesville, Virginia, today it is Barcelona, Spain. A search underway for the driver of the van which careened down the world renowned Las Ramblas in Barcelona, busy with early summer evening sites here. At least 13 people were killed by these terrorists. More than 100 hurt.

On top of that, Spanish police are involved right now in a separate terror incident south of Barcelona about 75 miles south which Spanish media reporting four terrorists were killed. CNN's Becky Anderson is in Barcelona. She's in there. She joins us now. So, what's the latest? I know still obviously a very fluid situation.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, a very fluid situation, 75 miles southwest of here of Barcelona in a town called Cambrils near Terragona, state broadcasters here in Spain reporting that four terrorists, as they describe them, have been killed in what they describe as a terror incident. They say five people were taken down. Four of them were killed. This, as you rightly point out, is a separate incident as far as we understand it. To that which happened here this afternoon around 5:00 p.m. local time when this van plowed into pedestrians in what was an incredibly busy Las Ramblas, pedestrianized (ph) streets. Killing 13 and injuring a hundreds, Anderson.

COOPER: The Barcelona attack, authorities and the diver of the van is still at large?

ANDERSON: Yes, correct. The driver of the van abandoned his vehicle. He fled and he's still on the run, according to authorities. Now, U.S. sources who have spoken to Spanish authorities here suggest he may have been running towards a getaway car, but it's unclear as to whether he made it to that car. What they are saying, importantly, is that there is no evidence that he was armed. So the driver of the vehicle still on the run, as we understand it, abandoning that vehicle after plowing into pedestrians in which was such a deadly and devastating attack. Men, women and children of 18 nationalities, we're told. That would be an incredibly busy street, full of international tourists on an afternoon here in Barcelona in the middle of the summer. Many of our viewers who have been to Barcelona would have used that street.


ANDERSON: The driver still on the run.

COOPER: And Becky, the two who have been apprehended in Barcelona are both from Morocco, is that correct? And I believe -- and it's correct to say ISIS has claimed responsibility?

ANDERSON: That's correct. ISIS has claimed responsibility. And I think some background for this, has been numerous arrests over the past few months of what are described as those involved with ISIS facilitation cells. This has been a hotbed, as described by authorities of discontent, of cementing (ph) of ISIS inspired characters. So ISIS claiming this attack and certainly, as you point out, two people have been arrested.

Again, very difficult to work out whether they are actually connected with what happened here in Barcelona at 5:00 o'clock this afternoon or what is going on in Cambrils in Terragona at this hour as we speak. But one of Moroccan dissent arrested north of Barcelona as we understand it earlier on today and a Spanish national from the Spanish enclave of Melilla which is in Morocco also arrested earlier on today, Anderson.

[21:05:23] COOPER: All right, Becky Anderson. We'll continue checking with you. Earlier today, I spoke with a witness to the Barcelona attack, his name is Tom, excuse me, and asked not to use his last name. He's American. Here's what he saw.


TOM, WITNESS TO THE BARCELONA VAN ATTACK (via telephone): I was actually in a taxi coming to my hotel and we just had turned onto Las Ramblas. We made a right on the Las Ramblas and, you know, I just -- the streets were full of people today because it's peak season and it's a beautiful day here and so when we made the turn about half a block into it going down Las Ramblas, I heard just an entire crowd of people scream and my initial thought was it must be a movie star or something because anytime you hear a bunch of women scream like that, that's kind of what you think and naive, I guess. And then I saw out of the corner of my eye just next to us literally the white van. It was like a cargo van without windows in the back. And it was just really in a very rapid pace coming down the boulevard in the center where the people were shopping, buying nicknacks and things at these little stands and he was just plowing people down and he was swerving left and right and it was -- my taxi driver stopped and we just froze and he kept just saying, oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God. I didn't know -- at that point, we didn't know what to do. We just kind of froze for a moment in time and I didn't realize our hotel actually was right there. So he made a right and pulled into the hotel and as he was turning right, I looked to my left and I could see the van continuing down the boulevard and I could see people just laying there. Like motionless on the ground.

COOPER: And Tom, when you were in the cab, you said that -- and you saw the van, how close -- as the van was traveling, how close was it to you?

TOM (via telephone): 25 feet.


TOM (via telephone): And I saw it and at first you want to think, you know, this must be just some guy, you know -- some city worker or something like that driving too fast down a pedestrian and you realize, no, this is not it at all. This is chaos. This is panic. It's surreal. And I noticed his front right turn signal was already broken and then you just add it all up in your head in a moment and you realize that everything that you read about and watch on the news is something that's unfolding in front of you and to say the word terror doesn't really help you -- you just can't even imagine the fear that comes over you.


COOPER: President Trump was quick to call the attack terrorism before the Spanish government did. He's taking heat for that as well as something else he said in the wake of it. And a top of the member to the president's own party went on the record questioning his moral authority, his competence and even his stability. And those are his words, not ours. Those are GOP lawmakers saying this. Joining us now with more, CNN's Jim Acosta, not far from the president's golf club in New Jersey.

So, what has been the president's reaction to the Barcelona attack?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, he's been behind closed doors all day long, not out in front of the cameras for a second straight day after his controversial remarks about the violence in Charlottesville. He did issued a couple of tweets. We can put those up on the screen. The first one says, "United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain and will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough and strong. We love you." The other one saying, "We all must be united and condemn all the hate stands for there is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let us come together as one." What's interesting to note, Anderson, is while the president was behind closed doors staying away from the cameras and just tweeting about the events in Barcelona, his Vice President Mike Pence was out in front of the cameras not once but twice today talking about Barcelona.

So really it was Mike Pence, the vice president, who was taking the lead and speaking out on behalf of the United States, not the president, when it came to that terror attack.

COOPER: The president also took some heat today for tweeting out a reference to an alleged historical or piece of American history that is not actually true, right?

ACOSTA: That's right. He was tweeting about something that he used to talk about on the campaign trail. He was talking about General John Pershing. We can show you this tweet. It says, "Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more radical Islamic terrorists for 35 years." Just a quick history lesson for folks, Anderson, this is in reference to General John Pershing back during the Philippine/American war, near the turn of the 20th century. A legend has it and President Trump has talked about this, he talked about it on the campaign trail, that Pershing would dip bullets in pig's blood before shooting Muslim prisoners. That has been totally rebunked. Historian had said time and again that that did not occur, yet the president likes to repeat the story and he likes to repeat it in reference to terrorist attacks. He did so again today.

[21:10:38] But Anderson, we should point out, not only has this been debunked, it is also offensive to Muslim-Americans who don't want to be equated with terrorism. And so, the president he likes to say -- said this couple of days ago, he likes to wait until all the facts coming before he makes a comment about something, obviously, as once again, talking about something that's been debunked time and again, and so again today, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Jim Acosta, thanks very much. I just want to correct something. Jim read a two tweets, the first tweet was from the president 6:00 today saying "United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain. We'll do whatever is necessarily to help. Be tough and strong. We love you." The other tweet that Jim referenced was actually in reference to Charlottesville saying, "We all must be united and condemn all the hate stands for. There's no place for this kind of violence in America. Let's come together as one." That was from 10:19 a.m. on the 12th of August 2017.

Joining us now is Josh Green, Molly Ball, Tara Setmayer, Alice Stewart, Joseph Pinion, and Steve Israel. I mean, how significant, Molly, that you have Senator Corker coming out, talking about the president's stability, I mean, for Republican talking about the stability of the president of the United States. Is that surprising to you?

MOLLY BALL, POLITICAL WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: It is and it isn't. I mean, Bob Corker is someone who speaks his mind so on one level it's not surprising that he would say what he really thinks. On the other hand, there is this larger phenomenon. This was the week that a lot of people came to the end of their rope with Donald Trump, whether it was business leaders, whether it was leaders in his own military, whether it was Republicans in Congress. We saw a lot of people who said, we have really tried with this president. We have stuck with him for as long as we could, for as long as we thought that maybe we could at least advance the agenda that we believe that we share with him.

COOPER: So a lot of those folks may have said that privately or tweeted about, you know, against racism but they weren't actually naming President Trump.

BALL: And they are now. And they are now because they have realized what -- and you still did hear from Senator Corker. He said the president has not yet figured these things out. I think that that word "yet" is going to disappear from a lot of people's statements going forward as they realize a lot of people who are saying give him time, give him a chance, give him the benefit of the doubt, they're realizing that honeymoon period where he had a chance, where he had some time to get used to things and figure things out, nothing got any better. Things only got worse and so, you know, people are cutting it off and saying, all right, this is it.

COOPER: I mean, Alice, president still has in the latest polling Quinnipiac polling, 81% approval rating with Republicans. So he's got a lot of support out there.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure, but there's a lot of them, Ted Cruz last night saying, well, look, let the president speak for himself on this. However, they are unequivocal with their denouncement of what happened in Charlottesville and certainly as a whole with regard to terrorism.

Look, President Prump is an on island on this. He is clearly on his own with regard to where he responded to Charlottesville and how he continues to fill. We've had Republicans -- members of Congress up and down the aisle, conservatives, I like Charles Krauthammer who is typically -- relatively supportive, call it a moral disgrace as to what happened.

But it's important now for Republicans, as I spoke with the Chairwoman McDaniel yesterday, and she says, look, Republicans unequivocally denounce this. We are a party of Lincoln. We do not support this activity. RNC is gathering next week. They're going to issue a resolution denouncing the KKK. We don't want your vote. We don't want your support. We don't support what you do and we don't want your support of us as well.

TARA SETMAYER, POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR, ABC NEWS: Can you believe we're having this conversation for the Republican Party that I've been a member of since I was 18 years old. In 2017, they actually had to at the Republican meeting denounce the KKK again, this is -- whose fault is this? It's Donald Trump. You know, I woke up this morning to the tweet storm and I just was beside myself because I thought to myself, just when you think it couldn't get any worse, he quadruples down on this and he comes out talking about the history and culture and beautiful monuments and using euphamisms that white nationalists use. And I thought to myself, what exactly does he want to preserve? What culture is that? Because the confederacy, I mean, the civil war era at that time, someone like my mother, I'm by racial, my white mother with the horrible things that those folks would have done to my mom during that time for having a child that looks like me is unspeakable. My husband, who is a federal law enforcement officer who is black, they would have strung him up and did all kinds of things to him, too. And that's the kind of culture that he wants to remember during the civil war? He's picking sides here?

[21:15:07] It's infuriating to me that the president of the United States, instead of coming together and healing those wounds, he is ripping those emotional scars off in this country and not only is he ripping the scars off, ripping the wounds off, he's infecting them in a way that is so unbecoming of the office of the presidency. And what that does is, he continues to put a strain, it's even institutionally on our democracy. And it starts to erode the moral leadership of the office of the presidency which is very dangerous when people start to look at the office of the presidency and no longer respect the moral high ground that --

COOPER: One thing that's interesting about the statues and, you know, my dad's family comes from Mississippi and in his town there's a statue of Robert E. Lee outside the courthouse. They were put up not to remember and honor the history of the confederacy. They were put up to rewrite the history of the confederacy, I mean, to make it some grand, you know, adventure, some grand battle full of honor that it just was not. I mean, so it's not a remembrance of history. It's a rewriting of history.

STEVE ISRAEL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And many of these statues were put to coincide with a surging of the Ku Klux Klan. Many of them were put up during the civil rights movement. They were put up --


ISRAEL: They were put up to sow fear. But just to the point of what is happening in the Republican Party right now, this is a party that is in crisis and it couldn't happen at a worst time. They are 15 months away from a midterm election and I used to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Rule number one, you never alienate your base if you're going into a competitive environment. The Democrats may be on the verge of taking back the House. And so, what is happening now, Congress comes back on September 5th. This is about the time that candidates -- you know this well because you worked for a member of Congress. Candidates begin to pull. They want to get a sense of what is happening back home. And every poll that's being written now by members in competitive districts has this question. Would you be more or less likely to vote for Congress person X if you knew that he/she was opposed to President Trump? And when those numbers begin to slide for Republican members in competitive districts, they will turn more quickly against Donald Trump.

STEWART: I don't think by any stretch of the imagination of what's going on in Charlottesville, the president is not alienating his base in terms of -- many of them I think is energizing them with regard to --

ISRAEL: He is but not Congressional campaign.

STEWART: Exactly. And I think money speaks volumes. And if you look at the recent financial disclosure forms with the RNC and DNC, the Democrats Party has raised $38 million and Republicans $75 million. So if you want to talk about support, that money speaks volume.

JOSHUA GREEN, AUTHOR, "DEVIL'S BARGAIN": But here's a problem that the Republicans have and one reason why there's not been more of a rush to distance themselves from Trump, there was a CBS News poll that came out this morning that said by a three to one margin the Republican voters support the president position in his response in the Charlottesville. That's a fundamental problem for Republican politicians because their ethical compass may tell them that we need to distance ourself from the president, but their polls are telling them that saying this is where a Republican voters are. We have to be careful about how and whether we do that.

BALL: We saw this happen during the campaign. Anytime Republican voters had to choose between Donald Trump and Republican leadership or Republican members of Congress, they always chose Donald Trump. It was like a bad divorce and the kids all chose daddy. It happened over and over again.

SETMAYER: Or like a cult.


BALL: But the point is, I think this is also, however a political problem for Democrats because while the general electorate may be turning on Donald Trump, he has always had a distinct brand from the Republican Party and it's not Donald Trump that's going to be on that ballot in 2018.

COOPER: I remember saying on a camera member how many panels during the election and there were a lot of Democrats on this panel who seemed gleeful over, you know, things Donald Trump had done and, you know, how important they felt it was and yet Donald Trump seemed to know something that a lot of the folks on that panel didn't understand about his electorate and that very well may be the case now. I mean, as well, much as Democrats are excited about upcoming midterm elections, Donald Trump -- there's a reason he's doing this and he's not a fool in terms of who his base is and who he needs to appeal to, right?

JOSEPH PINION, SECRETARY, MANHATAN YOUNG REPUBLICANS: I think that evil is on the march again. We see it overseas. We see it here at home. Nazis are marching here. I see them marching overseas. And so that's a real component of that, but I think the bigger issue, to your point, is that when we focus on Donald Trump being able to tap into America, America has a fundamental issue understanding that everybody is not always on the right side of history. And how do you bridge that divide? Sometimes you can outpace where society is actually going to be.

[21:14:55]COOPER: We got to take a quick break. Much more to talk about tonight, including the president's disappearing presidential councils and why they are being disbanded or even abandoned before they even ever met.


[21:23:28] COOPER: President Trump is of the generation that grew up in news imagine from getting on the cover would be consider a big deal, well, tonight, take a look, and it would be hard to imagine he's happy about this. The president shouting through a (INAUDIBLE) on "The Economists", of all places, portrayed as a blow hard on "The New Yorker" blowing to a sail that also resembles the while -- the Klan member. And on "Time" cover it's a man unclear who raising his flag- draped right arm in a "Sieg Heil" salute.

Back now with the panel. And you were talking about, which I had forgotten, Molly, is this infrastructure week again?

BALL: It is not. But I have to say, so infrastructure I have a theory and actually there's been a lot of jokes about this in the Washington press corps that infrastructure is sort of like Trump's kryptonite because actually the original infrastructure week that was decree by the White House was the week that Comey testified.


BALL: So that was -- and then there were a bunch of unhinged Trump tweets after the mayor of London and so forth. So, it was sort of a joke like, oh, infrastructure week has gone so well.

This week, Trump was doing extensively doing an infrastructure press conference on Tuesday.

COOPER: That's what it was supposed --

BALL: That's what it was supposed to be about. He was announcing that he was singing something on infrastructure when he, instead, as we know, went in a dramatically different direction. So, you know, Congressman Israel, we're thankful that infrastructure is sort of a big missed opportunity for Trump, something that he could have found bipartisan agreement on. Instead, every time infrastructure comes up, he manages to blow himself up in a new way.

COOPER: But why -- I mean, if this Quinnipiac poll is correct, and he was 81 percent of -- Republicans, why would he change anything he's doing?

[21:24:58] GREEN: I don't think he would and he doesn't seem to be changing anything he's doing. And he has guys like Steve Bannon in his orbit saying, no, this is good. We want you to sow this divisiveness that shows that you, you know, won't be victims of a liberal media and their dictate. You shouldn't back down and you shouldn't have to apologize for a rally that you didn't organize and you're responsible for.

STEWART: From a communications standpoint, when you're way off your message, as we started at the beginning of this week with Charlottesville, the most important thing you can do is get back on message. No better message for the president this week than tax reform and infrastructure. And when he went out there and rolled out the infrastructure announcement with Elaine Chow and others, great day. And I was watching that like this is perfect.

However, two words come to mind as soon as that was done, teleprompter. He should have stayed on teleprompter. He should have said his piece and walked away.

COOPER: But it's not really true, that he should stay on message? I mean, again, just keep going back the election where all of the experts said this is what he should be doing. He did the exact opposite and he obviously won. I mean, if he has sensed that this confederate monument issue is a wedge issue that rallies his base and makes all liberals seem like wringing their hands and politically correct and the base loves it and that riles people up and distracts from everything else, why shouldn't he be talking about that?

SETMAYER: But Anderson, the base is only about 25 percent.

COOPER: You were talking about folks in diner in Long Island you walked in, and they were complaining about how the president is being treated about.

ISRAEL: This is the strategy. Look, he has in Achilles heel. This administration in Achilles heel is, that all of the promises that has made have not been kept. He was going to deliver tax cuts, no tax cut proposal, he was going to deliver infrastructure. No. On his first day, he was going to build a great, beautiful wall. No. I don't think the wall should be built but he hasn't accomplished it.

And so, when you have to distract people from that one glaring weakness that you have in your administration, a weakness, by the way, that will lose swing voters and maybe part of his base, you've got to force the conversation to your sweet spot and his sweet spot is statues and --


COOPER: -- burning the American flag, again, which is, you know, tried and true issue which is, obviously, upsetting to many Americans but is also used by politicians to divide.

SETMAYER: Well, it's true if you look at the most recent polling that overall support from Republicans may still be there for Trump but there are still in the Monmouth poll, in the CNN poll, and even in the CBS poll, people are frustrated that to -- with Congressman Israel's point, that things aren't getting done. So they're kind of still trying to give him a change but that number is eroding as far as being OK with him not getting anything done.

However, in the Monmouth poll, it said that out of the people who support him, 61 percent would support him no matter what he did. And 57 percent would not support him short of resignation no matter what he did. So that is not a good sign. It shows how polarized people are when I say the cult comment. It's actually kind of true. But something else that speaks to what is going on here. You have -- that could affect Trump, you know. We all know that he loves the media. And James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch's son, who is the chairman of 21st Century Fox, which owns Fox News, came out, sent an e-mail castigating the president for his response to Charlottesville. He pledge a million dollars to the Anti-Defamation League and said that he cannot believe that we are having this conversation where we essentially have to reiterate our opposition to Nazis. That could -- when you start to see Fox changing, that could affect Trump, too.

COOPER: OK. It's easy to, you know, send a billion dollar check when you are --


COOPER: -- and yet their network is doing something else, you know, completely --

SETMAYER: That's true. But the point -- once they run the network.

GREEN: Here's the problem, though, with always throwing up some distraction or some cultural battle to distracting the fact that you're not doing anything. We're coming up against a period where the government is going to shut down if legislation isn't passed. The debt ceiling is going to be breached and cause a meltdown in the global economy. The stock market already dropped 200 points today because traders were worried that Gary Cohn, his national economic council director, might be leaving and that maybe really nobody responsible in that White House is going to be able to keep the economy from collapsing. There comes a point where you have to function as a government and there's no sign that Trump is able to do that.

COOPER: We're going to get a late update from Spain where there's been another terror incident we're told with fatalities, new information on that next.

Also, the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, joins us and now how he is handling the confederate monument statues in his city.


[21:32:18] COOPER: We are following late developments out of Spain where there's been another terrorist incident just hours after a vehicle attack that took 13 lives in Barcelona. CNN's Melissa Bell joins us now with the latest of what's been happening just south there about 75 miles southwest. Melissa, I understand there's new information about the suspected terrorist possibly wearing explosive belts?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And investigators are now working to confirm whether those four terrorists, alleged terrorists, we believe they were terrorists were wearing those explosive belts when they carried out what the authorities here in Spain believe may have been a terrorist attack related to the one that took place just here in Barcelona just a few hours before. We made it to the scene of where this truck rampage took place, Anderson, just a few hours ago and what we believe happened here at about 5:00 p.m. local time. So several hours ago now is that that truck made its way down that street, making its way onto the pedestrian zone and mowing down those many hundreds of tourists that were making their way around the area in the afternoon. Of course, 13 dead now and of course several hours later then this new incident in Cambrils, as you mentioned. And the authorities are working on the assumption that the two attacks were indeed linked.

COOPER: Melissa Bell, appreciate the update. Thank you. Be careful.

Returning now to the president's discussion about the removal of confederate monuments in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville. The president tweeting this morning, "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson -- who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also, the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!" That's the president's take. Joining me now, William Bell, the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, and Ken Ruscio, Former President of Washington and Lee University, as in George Washington and Confederate Order Robert E. Lee, two men who played, obviously, critical roles in the university's history.

Mayor Bell, you gave the order to cover up the confederate monument in your city of Birmingham. Can you just explain why you made that decision?

MAYOR WILLIAM BELL, BIRMINGHAM, AL: Well, first of all, Anderson, thank you for allowing me to come on your program. The decision was made because of the activities that took place in Charlottesville over the weekend and the reaction of the president to that terrible tragedy that took place. What I deem the core issue here is that the full story of the confederacy is not being told. We have monuments all across the country that tells a story of sedation and treason against this country but it's being praised and I took the position that either we tell the full story or we don't tell the story at all and part of the reason why we covered up the monument was there's a stat statue in place that won't allow us to alter it, move it or damage it in any way, but the statue does not speak to covering up and until we can present that memorial in full context about the slavery that it puts forward, about the sedition and treason, then we should not tell the story at all.

[21:34] COOPER: The attorney general of Alabama is actually suing both you in the city of Birmingham for violating --

BELL: Yes.

COOPER: -- the new law that actually protects monuments like the one you covered, that's correct, right?

BELL: That is correct. But we've examined the state statute and it does not speak to covering up or partitioning the monument.

COOPER: So Ken, I understand part of your decision to remove Confederate flags from a chapel of Washington Lee University was based on why they were put there in the first place. Can you just explain that?

KENNETH RUSCIO, PRESIDENT, VIRGINIA FOUNDATION FOR INDEPENDENT COLLEGES: Well, that's exactly right, Anderson. We had a decision to make in response to a group of requests, even demands from some students about removing the flags from the chapel and I took the position that I wanted to find out why they were there, what they represented, how they got there in the first place and how they fit in with the educational mission of the university. And what we found is something very similar to what I think you and some others have mentioned before and what Mayor Bell has mentioned. Once you understand why certain things got where they are, that causes you to think about whether they should be removed or not.

In our case, those flags went into the chapel 60 years after the chapel was erected. They went up in 1930. Not after the civil war. And they had no real historical reason for being there. In the end, we decided to move them to the museum because we did see them as pieces of history. And as Mayor Bell said, to have the full history told, we wanted to put them in a museum where we could provide some context and some explanation about what they were and what purpose they served in a previous time.

COOPER: Mayor Bell, I think, you know, that Ken raises such an interesting point. I don't think a lot of people understand and, frankly, I've just been learning this. You know, when I grew up and visit my relatives down in Mississippi, we go to towns where there was statues, I assumed that they were built right after the civil war to honor those who had died there fighting for the Confederacy but in many cases these were made, you know, a hundred years later at a time when the civil rights movement in part to intimidate.

BELL: Exactly. And what people have to understand about Birmingham, Birmingham is not a civil war city. We were created in 1871, which was after the civil war. We are a civil rights city that stood for equality and human rights for everyone. And so we have no direct correlation to the civil right -- I mean, to the civil war history.

Now, in our Birmingham civil rights institute, we have Klan robes, we have Confederate flags and all of that in context as to what it really means. But to have that monument in a public space lifting up the conflict that existed to overthrow the U.S. government, to abolish the constitution, to separate from the U.S. government, I think it's an abomination to what we all stand for.

COOPER: Ken, you know, I mean, every family who has a long history in America, has villains and heroes in their ancestor. They have slave owners or people who were enslaved. And to -- there are -- you know, a lot of Americans who feel you don't want to cover that stuff up. You don't want to, you know, whitewash it, pretend it never happened. You don't want to eliminate it and just ignore it. People say it's a part of the history that should be remembered. So how do you feel about that, Ken?

RUSCIO: Well, you know, I come at it from a different perspective than Mayor Bell in this respect. I was in a university setting as a university president and in an institution that had a very long history, in fact, a history that traced the arc of our nation's history before the founding, the founding through the civil war. And, you know, I thought that if any institution could help students understand the arc of our nation's history, it could be the one that I was at. But in order to do that, you had to look at things critically. You had to look at the full history. And you had to understand how decisions were made in the past in order to make decisions better for the future. So we -- I think very much looked upon our controversy an opportunity really to -- not just to educate our students but to educate the broader university community that we were a part of.

[21:40:22] COOPER: Mayor William Bell, I appreciate you being on tonight and Ken Ruscio as well. It's an interesting and important discussion. I appreciate it.

Up next, we're going to take our panel's take in all of this. Should the Confederate statues stay or go? We'll be right back.


COOPER: Back to the debate over Confederate monuments following the violence in Charlottesville this week. Across America symbols and moments celebrating controversial civil war era figures have been removed or in some cases vandalized as we've mentioned earlier on Twitter this morning. The president railed against the loss of, "beautiful statues." A clear sign he's not backing down from his off the rails comments that he made on Charlottesville on Tuesday. A lot to discuss with the panel.

I mean, Josh, is the president trying to focus or refocus attention on the monuments issue as sort of a cultural divide and away from his more incendiary comments?

GREEN: Yes, because it's a much more popular position to have with Republicans than defending white supremacists marchers which is very unpopular. So, returning to the statues of statues and heritage and history and, you know, the demands of what Trump would view as the liberal secular culture, wanting to tear down these monuments to our history I think puts him on safer ground than he was when he was trying to defend the marchers.

COOPER: Does everyone pretty much agree with that?

BALL: I think that's what he's trying to do. I don't know if it will be successful. I mean, I think ironically he seems to have polarized this debate in a way that it wasn't before. You did have various officials on both sides of the partisan I'll moving sort of cautiously around this issue and trying to find a way to diffuse it. Now that it has been so inflamed, ironically, you see moving a lot faster in a lot of places. You see a lot of cities moving to take these down or to consider taking them down where before they were sort of trying to put it off or defuse it. And so, it may have the opposite effect that certainly those marchers intended --

COOPER: -- but if a lot of cities do move against it quickly, that may upset people who don't want to see the statues down or sort of --

ISRAEL: I don't think this is about statues at all. I saw the effect of President Trump's strategy yesterday. When I was in Congress and I wanted to know what people thought, I didn't need a poll. I walked into a long island diner, that's what I heard, absolute democracy without diplomacy.

So, yesterday I walked into a diner on long island. Two guys sat next to me. They're looking at the television at neo-Nazi marchers and one guy says, these Democrats will not let Trump do what he needs to do and the other guy says now all these Democrats want to do -- they're worried about statues. That's exactly what Donald Trump wanted. Because these guys weren't talking about the real Achilles heel in the Trump administration and that is the failure to deliver anything to those two guys. Instead of talking about the fact that there's no infrastructure bill, no tax reform bill, no progress on paychecks, no nothing, they're talking about statues. And I don't know whether it's (INAUDIBLE) poses that President Trump has or it is just -- is what it is, but it's become a very effective strategy. It is another deflection.

SETMAYER: I think --

STEWART: -- I think we got to this point, excuse me Tara. You know, Here we have right out of the gate the fact that he didn't answer respond to this appropriately. His initial gut instinct wasn't to unequivocally denounce racism, hatred, and bigotry. And fumbling of the ball on the front end, instead of uniting us against hatred and bigotry, we are divided now over monuments and statues across this country and I think it's important to remind people as a Republican the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln. We are against hatred. We are against bigotry and in this issue, as in Virginia, they should be decided on the local level. I'm from the south, born and raised in Atlanta. We have and live in Arkansas. There's a lot of racial tension in the south and I think these are very emotional issues that should be decided on a local level and for the president to continue to drag this out I think is the wrong direction.

[21:45:44] SETMAYER: I think it's a combination of a couple of things. I think it's true that he wants to shift the focus a little bit off of the fact that he gave aid and comfort to white supremacy, but I also think there's a personal investment in this for him.

We have to remember something about Donald Trump. He never does anything that doesn't resolve around him and it was clear that we saw who the real Donald Trump was on Saturday, the both sides comment and then obviously in the train wreck of a press conference on Tuesday. Something that I didn't think about until today was, what is his obsession with this civil war stuff? And he has a personal investment. Let's not forget, he gave his presidential paycheck to the national park service and designated that money to be used for a civil war battle site in Maryland, the battle of Antietam. Now who fought in that battle? Robert E. Lee versus General McCollin (ph). That was a civil battle involved with Robert E. Lee because he keeps bringing this up, he's very invested in Robert E. Lee.

And I think that Donald Trump has an obsession with the idea of tough guys. He looks at these generals. He looks at these -- the civil war, he doesn't -- I don't think he really grasps the divide that the civil war really caused and the wound that that was. He sees tough guys fighting it out. That fought for their country, fought for freedom, fought for their families and the site that he chose to put his money into was the site where it was the bloodiest battle of civil war --

COOPER: -- he doesn't like losers, though. It's interesting that he's focused so much on the Confederacy.

SETMAYER: Right. It's interesting because more Union soldiers died that day than Confederate soldiers, by the way. But it's just interesting and even goes down to where he put up a fake monument at his Trump golf course. He put up a fake monument that claimed that there was the river of blood where there was another bloody battle. He made that up completely. It never happened.

COOPER: We're going to continue the conversation. Next, hear from the president of the AFL-CIO, one of many who left the president's business council because of his reaction to white supremacists in Charlottesville. Today, another council is gone before it even begin.


[21:50:23] COOPER: Another presidential council is over before it started. Today, a White House official says the president has scrapped plans for an infrastructure council. Just yesterday, two of the president's business councils disbanded. The president tweeted, he ended them, but in reality CEOs were fleeing one after the other in response to his Charlottesville reaction. Richard Trumka is the president of the AFL-CIO. He quit the president's manufacturing council on Tuesday. Richard Trumka joins me tonight.

Mr. Trumka, you said the president's statement on Tuesday, "really unveiled his true feelings about the situation in Charlottesville and around the country." You also said that he made a spirited defense of racism and bigotry. I'm wondering what you make of the fact that today he reiterated his defense of what he called beautiful Confederate monuments and complain that part of America's culture, which to his word culture, is being ripped apart.

RICHARD TRUMKA, PRESIDENT, AFL-CIO: I'm really shocked by the statements that he made both earlier in the week and today. I think he doesn't understand the symbolism and the power that those monuments and statues have and how they actually attract people that support racism and bigotry. When I heard him give that statement, at first I was shocked. Then I actually thought -- I felt bad for him because he didn't -- he didn't understand. I felt bad for the country because our president really didn't understand how he's dividing our country.

COOPER: You resigned obviously from the president's manufacturing council. Which the group was then disbanded because so many people are quitting. I wonder what you make of the fact that no one in the president's inner circle seem to take issue with his comments or their (INAUDIBLE) that they take issue but at this point nobody has resigned.

TRUMKA: Well, yes, first of all, the council was sort of a joke. It was -- it never met. It didn't do anything.

COOPER: You never even met?

TRUMKA: -- to do real policy.

COOPER: There were never any meetings for it?

TRUMKA: No. There were never any meetings for it. He brought in some of the CEOs but he never called a meeting or invited us to anything. But then, when you look at the symbolism of being associated with that council was the second thing. And that's what I addressed by resigning. I looked at that and said his defense of groups that their whole purpose is racism and bigotry that we reject categorically is too much for us to be associated with. And so we resigned. There are people on his staff that I'm sure are trying to work through what they do right now, because they don't want to embrace that.

COOPER: What you say to members of the president's base some of whom may be members AFL-CIO who voted for him, you know, hard working Americans who are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt even now. I mean, obviously, you were a Hillary Clinton supporter during the election. A lot of the folks your, you know, the folks you represented probably voted for President Trump. What do you say to them now?

TRUMKA: You know, we didn't support him we supported his opponent. But right after the election I met with him, because I thought it was our obligation to try to come together and do things that would help our members and our country to fix things. I told him when I met with him, look, I'm going to call balls and strikes. If you do something that's good for working people in this country, I'm going to support you and do everything I can to help you to succeed. And if you do things that are bad for working people, I'm going to oppose you and I'm going to do everything I can to stop you from hurting working people. And my members with very few exceptions have said you did the right thing. We can't be associated with this kind of defense of a group whose core principal is racism and bigotry.

COOPER: Mr. Trumka, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

TRUMKA: You bet.

COOPER: Back now with the panel. Joseph, what does it say to you that CEOs were leaving these councils but the president's religious advisory council nobody on that, people of strong faith, nobody on that has backed away from the president in any way no matter what he has said?

PINION: You know, I can't speak to, you know, what's going through the head of any of the individuals on that council. I would not presume to think what's in their hearts or what's in their mind. But I think today was a good day for moral leadership in America. I think that when you see individuals who have in many ways drawn their own line in the dirt and say to the president that, as I said yesterday, there can be no agenda. You cannot really seriously believe that we're going to have an American agenda revolving around business when you are giving aid and comforting individuals who do not believe that I should be allowed to walk into their business.

[2:1:55:35] You know, the preamble of the constitution says that, we the people of United States, in order to form a more perfect union establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility provide for the common defense.

Yes, we have laws. We have agendas. We want to do things with tax reform. We want to do things across the board that literally cannot wait because we've been kicking the bucket down the line for too long. But all of those things are rooted in a fundamental understanding of what America is which is a promise, a promise that we make to our citizens and a promise that we make to the world.

And so, again, I would encourage those religious leaders to search their hearts and say, what is it that I can do to get through to this president? Because it's very apparent to me that the only thing that ever gets his attention is some form of personal affront. At this juncture when you demonstrated that there is literally nothing anybody can do to get you to do something you don't want to do, I think that it is incumbent on all of us to start taking matters into our own hands.

SETMAYER: Well, I'll say something about the evangelicals. And I've been critical before. I think it's absolutely shameful that none of them have spoken. Where have they been? We talk about moral leadership. The other night on the show someone on the panel brought up Martin Luther King's reference to, you know, where those folks were during the civil rights era as well.

You know, it's unbelievable to me that what used to be the conservative movement that talked about the, you know, family values, faith, morals has completely advocated that that to support Donald Trump who is the antithesis to everything that the evangelical movement would ever stood for. So, in that case, they're going to have to answer with their hypocrisy. I say shame on them.

As far as the business councils are concerned, I think this is an interesting thing, because this Donald Trump prides himself on being of such a great businessman, right? That was his whole thing. I'm a great businessman. So when you start to see those folks abandoning him that is certainly a personal affront and could start to affect his pocket. When you see the Cleveland clinic decide to pull out of their conference at Mar-a-Lago we start to see businesses starting to pull of potential deals with his businesses, and things like that. Then maybe you might see -- (INAUDIBLE) move with him, but it has to affect him personally. A lot of this is for show. You heard in the interview Trump say they never had a meeting. A lot is for photo ops and for show. That's all we can say to people. Look, see what I'm doing. I'm surrounding myself with these people. It's all for fluff.

ISRAEL: I don't disagree with you. But I think that there is a substantive problem with disbanding these councils. Look, the one area of by partisan agreement when President Trump was sworn in was on infrastructure. He campaigned on a trillion dollar investment in infrastructure. House Democrats supported it, Senate Democrats, House Republicans and Senate Republicans. Everybody support an infrastructure. And there was a prediction that was going to be one of the first big items that would pass and it should have been.

SETMAYER: Yes, yes.

ISRAEL: And now not only is there no proposal on infrastructure, there's no council to talk about infrastructure. And that's really sad because a lot of President Trump's voters they voted for him because they've been economically clobbered. They've been clobbered by radical changes in manufacturing, globalization, automation, they've been clobbered by an absolutely decaying infrastructure in United States, 153,000 bridges deficient (ph). They look out their windows and see decay. What could have united Congress and those middle class and working families was progress on infrastructure. Now we have disbanded that council and the White House becomes more of an echo chamber.

COOPER: Are you surprise that -- I mean, nobody in the president's inner circle seems -- you know, there's a leaks every now and then that this person is horrified and really upset. But, you know, it's not a coincidence that's leaking out, they probably sent somebody out to leak it, but nobody is resigning.

GREEN: No which I think shows the problem of serving Trump and becoming part of an administration run by a guy who seems to know no limits. And on issue like Charlottesville really no decency when it comes to talking about the protesters. I mean, there's a certain sense that people who work for Trump I think are captured. I mean, talk to them. I'm sure Molly talk to them. Reporters talk to them all the time. They will use reporters almost as confessor (ph) to say I can't believe he did this. I can't believe he did that. But nobody wants to come out publicly. I think a lot of them are afraid of being attacked by the president. And so far nobody has been willing to take that leap and break with Trump publicly in a way that might start a departure a real wave of departure.

COOPER: I want to thank everybody. Thanks for watching "360". We're out of time. Time for "CNN Tonight" with Don Lemon.