Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Lawyer Forward's E-mail with Secessionist Rhetoric; Van Plows into Barcelona Crowd & Shoots Restaurant Patrons; Interview with Rep. Denny Heck. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired August 17, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Every arm of the White House, whether it's Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, or his lawyers, they are really trying to stoke racial tensions in America. What does Donald Trump do when he gets in political trouble? He goes to the bottom of the gutter, drags people down, and makes people fight on those terms. Revisit the Bannon interview. He says, I love it when they talk racism, bring on the revolution. They have a strategy to make white people scared they are going to lose their culture in America. Donald Trump and Steve Bannon love it when they see the proud voice, fighting for Trump in the streets with Antifa, because, in that political dynamic, there is no room for moderation. He is forcing people to pick a side. Until there's leadership, I don't care, Republican or Democrat, that provides a better sort of middle way in a safe place for people to land, that's what we are going to see in many more cities as we go forward in these elections because that's what Donald Trump wants.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: John, why are people comparing George Washington and Robert E. Lee? What is this about?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They shouldn't. It's an idiotic comparison. I think it scratches an itch we have seen throughout American history, even back -- just to nerd out on history -- during the Civil War, Confederates tried to claim Washington as one of their own, rebel, slave owner. Some of the arguments put in the e-mail by the president's attorney. It falls apart on the fundamental level that George Washington devoted his life to trying to unite our nation. Confederate generals made a fateful decision to try to tear apart our nation, and six million people died. The line in the e-mail that said, "both tried to save our nation," falls apart on scrutiny. It's about trying to elevate the south and put it on equal patriotic footing.

What we are talking about, of course, was a treasonous rebellion in which more Americans were murdered than any other war. Forwarding it on, if you are the president's attorney, we can dismiss the actions of a drunk uncle. But it speaks to a need for validation that's not rooted in American history, and he should be ashamed of himself. And she should be focused on larger, bigger things. The fact that the president is doubling down says the tone comes from the top and he's chosen to divide the nation rather than unite it.

BOLDUAN: Some of the words sticking out to folks. Let me ask you this. The president's tweet, we have read it a few

times, but the top of it is, "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country ripped apart." And he goes on. Because of the Confederate statue.

When I read that, the president's tweet echoes some of the wording. He used the word culture in that press conference this week, that culture is under attack.

I spoke with a former FBI agent last night, whose gone undercover, who has infiltrated hate groups, and he says that word is one of those dog-whistle words.


BOLDUAN: He explains it in a fascinating way. Listen to this.


MICHAEL GERMAN, FORMER FBI AGENT: So, that's long been a dog-whistle term in Western culture, that we don't hate anybody, we want to defend Western culture. They mean Western European white culture. When he uses that phrasing of culture, we are afraid our culture is under threat from whatever force, multiculturalism, what the Nazi's say is Jewish or internationalist influences, it is a message to them, yes, it's about our white people being victims in this case and our right to defend ourselves violently, if necessary.


BOLDUAN: Is there a clear indicator? Does the president not understand the word he's using?

CHIDEYA: He understands perfectly. He is a media strategist. For everything he does -- I mean, I got in trouble with some people early, during the campaign saying that he was a brilliant orator. They said what do you mean? I said, I don't believe he's a great politician. I covered Sheriff Arpaio. I've been covering -- I met white supremacists in a blizzard. I've been covering the white supremacist movement for 25 years. He hit the nail on the head. He knows how to deliver in dog whistle and in straight-ahead racial terms.

Here is the thing. My family, for example, dates back to the mid 1700s in America. My family, genetically, is mixed between Irish, English and black. Yet, everyone in our ancestry line is black. So, we are probably descended from Irish indentured servants and African indentured servants. President Obama is related to a man of African descent, who was here in the 1630s. The first capital city of America is Santa Fe, New Mexico, founded in 1610.

So when white supremacists talk about the original America, it was already multicultural. There were already Latinos and black people. If we are going to relitigate history, let's start with that.

BOLDUAN: Is it about statues and monuments? You saw the interview I did Corey. He's trying to run for a seat in Virginia. He makes the case that it is about statues and monuments, and everybody is trying to make it about something else.

[11:35:16] ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We have to get to the heart of the problem here. The heart is the way many of us were taught American history. American history is not all glorious. I love John to death, but I couldn't disagree more about George Washington. George Washington was a slave owner. We need to call slave owners out for what they are. Whether we think they were protecting American freedom or not, he wasn't protecting my freedoms. I wasn't someone -- my ancestors weren't deemed human beings. To me, I don't care if it's a George Washington statue or Thomas Jefferson, they all need to come down. There is a way to recognize.


RYE: I'm not -- I'm not --


RYE: No, no, no, but I'm not --


RYE: I'm going to finish my point. I'm going to finish my point.


RYE: I'm not feeding into white supremacy. I'm calling out white supremacy for what it is. And sometimes what it is, John, are blind spots. Sometimes what it is, is not acknowledging this country was built on a very violent past that resulted in death and the rape and the killing of my ancestors. I'm not going to allow us to say it's OK for Robert E. Lee and not a George Washington. We need to call it what it is. I don't say they don't deserve to be taught about. We definitely need to learn about it so we don't repeat it. We are close to repeating it right now. I'm not giving any deference to George Washington or Robert E. Lee.

AVLON: Well, let me jump in.


BOLDUAN: Go ahead, John.

AVLON: Look, we have to be careful here. What we are doing here is polarizing the conversation exactly in the direction that Donald Trump wants. We can -- obviously, the founding fathers were slave owners. But the larger point is the perspective is key in American politics. While George Washington released his slaves upon his death bed, which was too late. Slavery is the original sin in our country that we've been dealing with fitfully and unsuccessfully for a long time.


AVLON: We need to confront it more correctly. If you, all of a sudden, buy into the slippery slope argument that Donald Trump is presenting -- RYE: I don't.

AVLON: -- that the founding fathers are the moral equivalent of founding generals --


RYE: I didn't.

AVLON: I believe you just did, Angela.


RYE: I didn't. I don't think you liked what I said.

AVLON: But I believe that's what you said.

RYE: But that's not what I said.

CHIDEYA: Can I throw one more thing in here?


CHIDEYA: In my house, I have a portrait of George Washington and family. In that portrait is a man named William Lee. He is a black man who was -- who worked with George Washington. He is depicted in the painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware." Yet, George Washington, this same man, who I believe was a hero, also pursued his runaway slave. There's a new book out called "Never Caught." George Washington was a complex man who was a hero, who validated William Lee, who served beside him, and yet, who pursued a runaway slave all across America. I'm someone who can believe in the nuance of heroes. There are no people who are heroic who don't have lead feet. So, I perhaps triangulating between you.

I am obsessed with history. Dig into it. Let's know our history. I don't think George Washington is a Robert E. Lee. And I don't think President Trump knows anything about history. He is using it as a blunt instrument for talking points to please white supremacists. That's what I believe.

BOLDUAN: This is fascinating. This is an important conversation. If you will stick around with me, I want to continue. We've got more to discuss.

Amanda, stick around with me, please, as well.

I want to give you an update. We're continuing to follow breaking news overseas. A van plowing into a crowd in Barcelona. I'm going to speak to an eyewitness. More details coming in. We'll be right back.


[11:43:04] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BOLDUAN: All right. We are following breaking news. We are getting word, more details, word that a van plowed into a crowd of people in central Barcelona. It happened in a popular tourist area, which has now been sealed off. New pictures from CNN. Just seeing them for the first time as well.

Let's get the details. Let's go to Isa Soares right now. She has details.

Isa, what are you picking up, what are you hearing?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. This is a very fluid situation for viewers just looking at these pictures. This, what we are hearing from authorities, that a van plowed into a crowd of people in Barcelona, the center of Barcelona, a very busy area. Looking at the picture, it looks like Plaza Catalunya, the Catalunya Square, that connects the old city of Barcelona to the new city, that leads to the long road. Basically, the van -- one witness described a white and blue van, really went up and mounted a sidewalk, Kate, and, basically, rammed the van into a crowd of people.

We have been speaking to ambulances on the scene, authorities on the scene. They say eight ambulances now on the scene. Police have asked everyone to evacuate the area.

In terms of injuries or casualties, we have only been able to confirm there are injuries. We don't know the type of injury, how many injured. But looking at the video coming out of Barcelona, the pictures, we have been able to see several people lying on the ground, Kate.

Now, this is a popular area of Barcelona. It is August. It will be packed with tourists. It is a very commercial area, for the viewers who have been there. It would have been very, very busy. One witness telling me it is very tense. It is chaotic. Families were running to the side streets, children crying.

But, at the moment, authorities closing the whole area off, closing the local metro, closing all the buses to try to ascertain what was -- who was behind it and whether it was intentional. One witness telling CNN it was intentional. At the moment, of course, we cannot confirm that -- Kate?

[11:45:00] BOLDUAN: As you mentioned, if you have ever been to Barcelona -- you have been there -- it's one of the first tourist attractions, one of the first sites you associate with Barcelona. It's a pedestrian mall, tree lined, lots of shops, lots of hotels. This is a very busy area.

We are getting word, trying to get more details in about a van plowing into a group of people.

Isa, thank you so much.

We are going to get more details in.

We are going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[11:50:25] BOLDUAN: A scathing new editorial calling on Republican lawmakers in Congress to link up with Democrats to censure the president. Censure, not quite impeachment. It's a form of rebuke coming from Congress. It's also extremely rare. But according to the "USA Today's" editorial board, the president's response to Charlottesville now demands action and demands it right now.

They write this, in part, in the editorial: "This is a moment of reckoning for members of the party of Lincoln. Do they want to stand up for American values or do they want to keep enabling a president whose understanding of right and wrong has slipped dangerously off the rails?"

Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Denny Heck for more on the conversation.

Congressman, I appreciate you coming in.

REP. DENNY HECK, (D), WASHINGTON: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

Do you agree with "USA Today" that the president should face censure over his response to Charlottesville?

HECK: Wholeheartedly. I have a counter-intuitive view, which I believe if Congress were to take up and enact the censure resolution, which I will support, it actually would have a healing effect on all of this. It would enable us to hit the reset button and start over with respect to this conversation, and with respect to the ability of Congress actually to assert its co-equal branch responsibility for checks and balances. I think it would enable Congress to be more effective, not just vis-a-vis the administration but with respect to getting things done that the American people want, like growing the economy faster, creating better job and higher paying jobs.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, what do you do about it? Democrats, of course, are in the minority. I don't need to remind you of that, of course.

Have you seen any signs the Republicans --

HECK: Thanks, Kate!

BOLDUAN: Sorry, sorry, Congressman.

Have you seen signs that Republicans are leaning that way? Do you see a tipping of the scales?

HECK: So one of the things that I have actually taken some heart in, over the last 48 to 72 hours, is the number of Republicans who have spoken up forcefully and clearly and cogently. I think I'm not going to dignify the words of the president. I think they're beneath the dignity of the Oval Office. But I respect greatly some of the things that have been said by Senator Hatch, and Senator Rubio, and Senator Graham. They have been very clear in strong statements about American values and I laud them for that.

BOLDUAN: So we received -- talking about lawmakers who have spoken out. We have received a statement from the Bushs on this, responding to the violence. They don't name the president by name but are speaking out. We've only seen tweets from President Obama in response to this, and they don't directly address the president's comments. Do you want to hear him speak out? Do you think he should?

HECK: I think President Obama's entire life and career of public service is testament to the kinds of values we're talking about here today. I don't think anybody should doubt where his heart is or where his commitment has been any more than, as you indicated earlier in the broadcast, that of Secretary Clinton or, for goodness sakes, John Lewis, my friend, with whom I serve, and literally bears the scars of his advocacy on behalf of civil rights.

BOLDUAN: But if Republicans deserve criticism for not speaking out in the face of this, what about President Obama?

HECK: So is there any doubt about President Obama's commitment in this regard? The question seems to me is -- will he advance this debate or become a distraction and enable President Trump to now create a new target, if he were to speak out. President Trump has made a living off of changing the subject, what I call the 3-D movie, deception, deflection and distraction. That is his stock and trade.

You know, he wants this now to be about statues and monuments, Kate. And the last time I checked, the Republican Party was, frankly, in favor of local control. And every one of these statues being taken down is done so by a local elected official. In fact, the president's own ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, took the Confederate flag down in her state. And the truth is, that's a distraction. Right? Because the white supremacists and the anti-Semites who marched in Charlottesville were carrying signs of white racism and anti-Semitism. Even though the president has now spun this to be about statues and monuments, that's not why they were there. Nobody doubts that. That's not what they're about. And that's what we have to stay focused on, what it is they are advocating for and it is so antithetical to the fundamental values of this country.

[11:55:11] BOLDUAN: Congressman, I know this is quite a turn, but I want to ask, since it's breaking news coming in, and you sit on the House Intelligence Committee. We have reports that a van plowed into a crowd of people in a very popular area in Barcelona. There are reports, you see there, that has gone further than that, reporting that -- there is local reporting that two armed men entered a restaurant in Barcelona after the van crashed. This is all clearly coming in minute by minute. Can you -- have you -- are you asking for a briefing on this? Is there anything you can offer?

HECK: Well, I first found out about it about three minutes ago, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I know, I hear you. Of course.

HECK: Let me say this, as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I'm painfully aware there are people all over this world who get up every day and whose sole thought is how to do harm to the United States of America. This is another painful reminder we must be ever vigilant. We must allocate the resources and strategically extent them in an effort to keep ourselves safer. And if this prompts me to observe anything, it's how grateful we should all be our counterterrorism efforts in this country and the efforts, the valiant efforts of our first responders have kept us safe. I have often observed that not having replicated anything on the scale of 9/11 since, is a miracle. But it isn't a miracle. It really is the result of the efforts on the part of the people I referred to earlier. And we should all be grateful for that.

BOLDUAN: That put their lives on the line every day for us.

Congressman, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much. I've got to move on to this breaking news.

We'll head back overseas to get an update.

Thank you so much, Congressman.

We'll get back over to Isa Soares, following this.

Isa, what is the latest. What is the reporting of armed men?

SOARES: Absolutely. Very worrying, indeed, Kate, what we're hearing happening in Barcelona. As we were hearing earlier, a van plowed into a group of people in this area by the Plaza Catalunya. There was a white and blue van that plowed into a group of people. We're now hearing the men left the van and now have gone into a restaurant in the local area. We're hearing from a local witness who has been speaking to us in this area that they've heard multiple shots, Kate, and several injured. More than a dozen injured inside this restaurant in -- in Barcelona.

Of course, this is a very popular area. Packed with tourists. The footage, it's empty now. But we've heard from authorities they've expanded that perimeter. Clearly taking this very, very seriously. We've heard from the prime minister who says the most important matter now is to deal with those injured in the area. But he also touched on the fact we need to give the authorities the space to chase, to investigate, the matter further.

But we know the police have closed off the metros, closed off the buses. They've expanded the perimeters. Helicopters are on the scene. Eight ambulances also on the scene. And we have been speaking to witnesses who say that this was a deliberate act. This, of course, very worrying for Spanish authorities. Very worrying for the people there. Packed with tourists. We've heard of children and families running as they -- and running and crying as they tried to get away from that very busy, very popular street that connects Plaza Catalunya. It's a long street lined with trees -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Isa, I want to make sure I'm not missing anything. The reports of armed men going into a restaurant, are you getting -- do you get a sense this is over and they're dealing with the aftermath and injuries now or is this ongoing? SOARES: It seems to be ongoing. From the calls we're making, from

the people we're speaking to, authorities, and listening to Spanish TV, it seems like a very, very fluid situation, Kate. Local TV, they say they're having trouble connecting to cell networks. And emergency services are telling people to really stay away from the area. Stay away from social media. But you know, this area of -- of Barcelona, so busy. So many restaurants. But, you know, if we are -- if we go to what we've heard from one witness, basically, saying that one of the restaurants, called La Palma Restaurant, he heard an explosion. His words. Didn't know what happened. Heard multiple shots, Kate. And then people basically injured in the restaurant. So very, very worrying. Very disconcerting. But a very tense and very chaotic scene -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Chaotic, as we speak.

Isa, thanks so much.

For our viewers, a quick recap. Reports of a van plowing into a crowd of people in Barcelona. Injuries, we don't know what kind, how many, how serious they are. It sounds like it could be ongoing as we speak.

I'm going to pass off now, our special coverage, over to John King to continue.