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Trump Fires White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon; Confederate Symbols Targeted, Defaced Across U.S. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired August 18, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:32:38] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Welcome back. We continue with the breaking news. In case you are just tuning in on this Friday afternoon, let me bring you up to speed. Controversial White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is out. He's been fired by President Trump. Bannon has been making headlines and waves in recent days, giving a candid interview to, of all places, this progressive reporter, and in the process, contradicting some of the president's major policies.
Bannon's interview caught a lot of people by surprise because this is someone who rarely gives interviews. In fact, one of the times Bannon made public remarks was way back in February at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. Here he was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: I think if you look at, you know, the opposition party and how they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and now they're portraying the administration, it's always wrong. On the very first day that Kellyanne and I started, we reached out to Reince, Sean Spicer, Katie, it's same team that every day was grinding away on the campaign, the same team that did the transition. And if you remember, you know, the campaign was the most chaotic -- you know, by the media's description, most chaotic, most disorganized, most unprofessional, had no earthly idea what they were doing, and then you saw them all crying and weeping that night on the 8th when --
BANNON: -- when -
BANNON: And the reason it worked, the reason it worked is President Trump. I mean, Trump had those ideas, had that energy, had that vision that could galvanize a team around him of disparate -- look, we're a coalition. You know, a lot of people think, you know, have strong beliefs about different things but we understand that you can come together to win. And we understood that from august 15th. And we never had a doubt, and Donald Trump never had a doubt that he was going to win.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Joining me now, one of those few reporters who interviewed Steve Bannon on the record. Sara Posner is a reporter for the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. She interviewed and wrote an article about Bannon for "Mother Jones."
So, Sarah, welcome to you.
And your thoughts on the firing news?
SARAH POSNER, REPORTER, INVESTIGATIVE FUND, THE NATION INSTITUTE: Well, I don't think that firing Bannon is going to change Donald Trump. Donald Trump is who he is. He was who he was before he brought Bannon on to his campaign last August. And he showed us who he was this week with his comments about what happened in Charlottesville. Having Bannon in or out of the White House isn't going to change that.
[14:35:02] BALDWIN: All right. You don't -- OK. I'm hearing all these different perspectives on that. That's interesting.
And we now, though, have this tweet from the editor of "Breitbart" writing, "#war." You've done reporting on the conservative Web site, "Breitbart." You know what they are capable of. What do you think this war means?
POSNER: Well, I think that they're going to continue to portray this battle between what they call "globalists," which is their kind of anti-Semitic code for their enemies in the White House, and the, quote, unquote, "nationalists" that they think that Bannon represented.
BALDWIN: But do you think he goes after the White House?
POSNER: Yes, I think that they're going to go after the people they perceive to have been the people who forced Bannon out or who --
BALDWIN: Including the president?
POSNER: Possibly including the president. And it remains to be seen how the president would react to that. But it's -- I wouldn't doubt that they go after -- continue do go after McMaster, go after Jared and Ivanka, go after Gary Cohn, anybody that they perceive as getting in the way of their messaging and their agenda.
BALDWIN: So it doesn't matter within the White House or on the outside. That war will rage on, so says Sarah Posner.
Thank you so much, Sarah, for coming on --
POSNER: Thank you.
BALDWIN: -- as we're all handling this breaking news.
Much more on the story. Steve Bannon has been fired. What this means for the rest of the West Wing.
And in the wake of the week that was, the violence and unrest in Charlottesville and the president's response, vandals have hit Confederate statues and monuments across the country, and not just in the south. We'll talk to a member of the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans, get his perspective on all of this, next.
[14:41:04] BALDWIN: Welcome back. We have much more on the firing, the breaking news of the firing of the White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
Turning now to the fire storm engulfing the president since his controversial remarks after who was to blame for the violence in Charlottesville.
So, the deadly violence happened now nearly a week ago. And since then, vandals have hit Confederate statues and monuments all across the country. This is not just in the south. One of the latest happened at Duke University chapel in Durham, North Carolina. Someone damaged the statue bearing the likeness of a Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the entrance.
Now, remember, racists say they were there protesting the removal of the statue of Lee when they rallied in Charlottesville.
And the president renewed his support of Confederate monuments this week. This is what he tweeted, "Sad to see the history and culture of our great culture 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." And that's the end of that.
So joining me now, a member of the North Carolina chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He is a commander of the Blue Ridge Brigade. His name is Bill Starnes.
Bill, thank you so much for being with me.
BILL STARNES, COMMANDER, BLUE RIDGE BRIGADE, SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS: Yes, ma'am. Thanks for having me.
BALDWIN: Listen, I want to hear all perspectives of this, this week, including from yourself. I understand you agree with the president that these statues represent history and culture. Tell me why you want to keep them up.
STARNES: It's very simple. And I do want to make clear I'm not speaking for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, although I'm a member. I'm speaking for myself here.
STARNES: I believe those statues represent the honor and courage and bravery of the Confederate soldier. Those soldiers -- based on 17 years of historic research that I've done, those soldiers were not fighting to perpetuate the institution of slavery. They were fighting for the constitutional rights of government at the consent of the governed. There is nothing in the Constitution --
BALDWIN: Bill, Bill, hand on. If you really want to talk about the history of this chapter of our country, the consensus among historians -- and I've got one we'll talk to in a second -- is that the Civil War wasn't about state's rights and secession. This was about upholding the economic system of slavery.
In fact, let me quote -- this is a Harvard University president and historian: "Historians are pretty united on the cause of the Civil War being slavery and the kind of research that historians have undertaken, especially in the year since the centennial, where there has been so much interest in this question about the role of race and slavery in the U.S. That research has shown pretty decisively that when the various states announced their plans for secession, they uniformly said the main motivating factor was to defend slavery."
I mean, I know, as a proud southerner, you don't want to hear that, but you can't rewrite history.
STARNES: I'm not trying to rewrite history. The professor there needs to actually study some history before he opens his mouth and says something that's stupid.
Number one, if you go back to 1850, all the way up to 1861, and find for me one bill, one law in the United States Congress that they were working on to end the institution of slavery nationwide, then I might say he has a point. There was no such bill in the 1850s or the early 1860s to end slavery in the United States. In fact, the only constitutional amendment or bill I could find in Congress was in 1861 that pertained to slavery. And that was what came to be known as the Corwin Amendment, which clearly stated that Congress shall never have the authority to interfere with the institutions within the states, including those institutions pertaining to service and holding people to service and labor.
BALDWIN: I know you've studied all this and I can't sit --
BALDWIN: Yes, sir, and I can't check you on bills written in the 1850s off the top of my head. But here --
STARNES: I would go look at them before I did an interview on them.
I mean, the bottom line is --
BALDWIN: Hang on, sir. Hang on, sir. With all due respect, as a fellow southerner, with all due respect, I did do my homework, and I just cited this quote and I have a historian coming up. So please, sir, don't tell me to do homework.
Secondly, let's move that aside and talk about the pain in this country. You know, when you look at a place like Germany where they don't force Jewish children to attend a school named after Adolf Hitler, it is the same for a lot of African-Americans in this country, you know, attending a school named after Robert E. Lee.
What do you say to the -- Facts is one thing. Feelings is another. Do you acknowledge those feelings of those Americans?
[14:45:32] STARNES: Well, facts are one thing, and feelings are another. And the truth on this, the pure fact is Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler have a lot more in common than Robert E. Lee and Adolf Hitler. Robert E. Lee did not kill civilians. Abraham Lincoln did.
STARNES: When the Union Army came into the south, the Union Army came to the south and killed over 70,000 southern civilians, men, women, and children, black and white, slave and free. So, yes, they did that. You can study some history and find that out. It's very easy to look at.
As far as comparing Robert E. Lee to Adolf Hitler --
BALDWIN: Abraham Lincoln, anti-slavery. As a result of that, states wanted to secede. I don't think we want to compare Adolf Hitler and Abraham Lincoln.
Bill Starnes, thank you so much. Thank you. We've got to go.
Historian, I just got to bring you right in.
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I mean, I was ready to talk to this gentleman about the pain of eras where people are -- fight for the losing side and the lost cause, and the fact that we don't hold every foot soldier responsible for the actions of their commanders. But then he compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler.
BALDWIN: You can't compare Abraham Lincoln --
NAFTALI: Let me say, we are in a very, very emotional moment.
BALDWIN: We are.
NAFTALI: Can we not
BALDWIN: And that's why --
NAFTALI: No, no. I want -- BALDWIN: -- I wanted to have him on, by the way. It was my idea. I wanted to have the Sons of the Confederate Veterans on.
NAFTALI: And I'm not here to lecture because, by the way, I'm not a Civil War expert. I have colleagues who are. I had to learn about it, of course.
But this is the most important thing. The reason why those statues matter is not that anybody wants to erase the fact of the Confederate States of America. It's part of American history. It's that those statues were put up, many of them, in the era of Jim Crow when there were bitter-enders. There were southerners who didn't want African- Americans to enjoy all of the rights of citizenship. And these people put those statues up so that African-Americans would be put in their place. That's what this is about. Our country has evolved.
And Shannon is going to tell you a great story.
BALDWIN: Forgive my rudeness, as I just jumped in.
This is Shannon LaNier, and you are the -- how many greats.
SHANNON LANIER, SIXTH GREAT GRANDSON OF THOMS JEFFERSON AND SALLY HEMMINGS: Sixth great grandson of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings.
BALDWIN: Sixth great grandson of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings.
BALDWIN: You listened to all of this. What do you think?
LANIER: Yes, and your last guest, if he did need some form of documentation, he can look at the original draft of the Declaration of Independence that did include freeing slaves. But that was one of the largest debates during that time, whether it was going to stay in or stay out. Of course, it was taken out of the Declaration of Independence. But if he needed some documentation, he has it.
And I agree with you that this is an opportunity for the country to step forward and get rid of some of those sites and those statues. I don't think they should be destroyed. I think they should be put in historical places like a museum where you can add context to who they are and the whole story, instead of just them being praised and held for the horrible acts that they did.
NAFTALI: You know, I learned -- and I was in Charlottesville when this debate over Sally Hemmings reached a point where the Thomas Jefferson Foundation changed its approach to it. For decades, they denied the possibility that Sally Hemming and Thomas Jefferson had children. But thanks to DNA evidence, they couldn't deny it any longer. Now they could have been bitter enders. They could have said, I don't have 100 percent certainty. But they decided and they understood that history evolves. So, they changed not just their public statements but they're exhibits. And they welcomed Shannon's family. What I'm adding today -- what we need today is more of that.
BALDWIN: That's what I wanted.
BALDWIN: Yes. You're reading my mind.
LANIER: It's about educating people. And I think that's what's being a missed component. People aren't being educated about the full history of this story. It's a complicated history that this country has come through, and we need to start educating people about all of it, the good, the bad, the ugly.
BALDWIN: Can we end with, I feel like this reunion at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's beautiful home. I lived in Charlottesville. It's a special place, the good and the ugly and everything in between. And this reunion of descendants of Martha and Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings came together in the wake of the DNA and it was -- I mean, I've heard you speak about it. It was like a family. It was -- people weren't at each other's throats over history. Can you just tell me about that moment and how we can learn from that?
[14:50:07] LANIER: I think that first meeting, it was, in some aspects, divisive because people wanted it to be. But there were so many great stories where people were meeting each other for the first time and saying how they're more alike than they are different, seeing each other as family. And if this family can come together and stand as one, then other people in this country can put their differences aside, regardless of how many years they were separated by slavery, and come together and unify as a country. And that is what this country is about, unifying as a country and standing for what America now should represent, not what it did years and years ago. We have evolved and it's time for change.
BALDWIN: Shannon, thank you so much for saying that and for coming in.
Tim, sorry to put you on the spot on your Civil War history there, but needed to.
Thank you both so much.
And I thank Bill as well for coming on here.
Coming up, much more, though, on the breaking news. Steve Bannon is out at the White House. We are right back.
BALDWIN: We will have more on our breaking news on the firing of Steve Bannon today. But let's just first get to the developments on the controversial white supremacist march in Charlottesville. One of the public faces of that protest, this Neo-Nazi filmed espousing violence and ethnic cleansing has been brought to tears.
Christopher Cantwell was the central figure in that chilling "Vice" documentary. The New Hampshire man was heard denigrating blacks, Jewish people, showing off his arsenal of weapons, and declaring the death of Heather Heyer as justified.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED VICE REPORTER: What do you think this means for the next Alt-Right protest?
CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL, NEO-NAZI: I say it's going to be really tough to top, but we're up to the challenge.
UNIDENTIFIED VICE REPORTER: Wait, why?
UNIDENTIFIED VICE REPORTER: Tough to top? I mean, someone died.
CANTWELL: I think that a lot more people are going to die before we're done here, frankly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Well, in a YouTube video shortly after, loaded after the march, Cantwell isn't nearly as brash or tough-talking. A tearful Cantwell claiming he and his group did everything they could to prevent violence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CANTWELL: We have done everything in our power to keep this peaceful, you know? I know we talk a lot of (EXPLETIVE DELETED) on the Internet, right? But like literally, Jason Kessler applied for a permit like months ago for this, OK? When they yanked our permit, we went to the ACLU, and we went to court and we won. We've been coordinating with law enforcement the entire time, every step of the way. We've tried to do the right thing. And they just won't stop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: One rapper activist contends these riots could be the best thing to happen to black America, and he'd rather see, quote, "the ugly truth than a beautiful lie." David Banner tweeting, "Why do you wish someone else was in office? Is it so the snake could go back into the grass? No. Let it show its head so we can deal with it."
David Banner joins me now.
David, welcome to you, sir.
[14:55:09] DAVID BANNER, RAPPER ACTIVIST: Hi, how are you doing.
BALDWIN: I'm -- it's been a week.
BANNER: Yes. Well, it's been about 400 or 500 years for black folks.
BALDWIN: Let's talk about you. Let's talk about what your message this week that you said you are glad this is happening, the mask has been ripped off.
BANNER: I didn't say that I was glad that this has happened. My comments were about Trump.
BALDWIN: But let's talk about that.
BANNER: It wasn't about Charlottesville. So, let's be clear.
The thing is this. Let's be honest, when Mike Brown got killed and I was in the same exact room talking to you all, I would say the same exact thing that I've said then, that I said before, that Malcolm, that Martin said. The funny thing is when it comes to black people, America acts like it's something new every time, whether it's a cop killing an innocent black man or it's Alt-Right running their -- the Alt-Right running their cars through a group of innocent people. It's the same thing for us. So, I don't understand why America acts so surprised. You know? So, for me, one thing that Trump was able to do was to show the world that this post-racial America that liberal white people were trying to talk about, it doesn't exist, and black people have been saying this.
BALDWIN: I'm listening to you.
And by the way, let me just go on the record and say, of course, I wouldn't infer that you thought the death of Heather Heyer was a good thing. I just think the fact that the mask has been ripped off, to your point, that we're having this conversation out loud, you know. And I don't know if you were listening to my conversation a second ago with the guy from the North Carolina Sons of the Confederacy, and trying to hear all the perspectives on these Confederate statues and monuments.
How do you see it? Because you have the Nancy Pelosis and the Corey Booker saying, take them all down.
BANNER: I agree.
BALDWIN: And you have Chuck Schumer, who I'm paraphrasing, who is saying, hang on a second, this is a distraction by the president and by Steve Bannon for the handling of Charlottesville and not delivering a full-throated condemnation of these white supremacists.
BANNER: The amazing thing to me is this, the Confederate Army lost. They literally lost. So, for me, you actually said it, Germany is a great example of what you do if you -- if you are really sorry for what happened. If they lost, you shouldn't care. Because really, their symbols not only make black people feel that way, it should make you feel that way. But since America won, it doesn't have the same feeling as slavery and the things that black people still go through in the south. Because the 2010 census said the largest conglomerate or the largest synthesis of black peoples are in the south. So, we have to deal with what people say is an opinion, or it's not that bad. It's similar to me arguing with you about pregnancy. What can anybody from the Alt-Right tell me -- can tell me about how the Confederate flag makes me feel or those statues make me feel.
BALDWIN: Which was the point I was trying to make earlier with the gentleman from North Carolina about the feelings. I understand there are the facts, but it's the feelings.
And I can't crawl into your skin, David, and know how you feel. Do you feel, though, with the firing of Steve Bannon, do you feel that -- do you feel better?
BANNER: No, I -- listen. Let me tell you, I didn't feel better when Obama was elected president. Because it doesn't change for black people in the hood. It does not change. It doesn't matter whether it's the Alt-Right or, like I said, black men and women, whether it's Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, it doesn't matter whether it's Tamir Rice. Black people are dying and black people -- white supremacy is affecting us regardless of who it comes from.
So what I'm saying is what I think should happen is this. It's what you all do as supposed good white people. You see what Germany did. Why do you even care what the people from the Confederate feel? They lost the war. It should come down. Because if you really care about history, what about the Native American history? What about the African history? Everywhere that white men have conquered some -- anybody on this earth, they have literally almost totally decimated their culture. So why all of a sudden, because it's other white men, they care about the history.
When you think about it, think about public flags. Public flags are supposed to be a conglomerate effort of everybody in that state. So, as a Mississippian, and knowing how many black people stay in Mississippi, that is -- that does not represent me or my culture. That means death and slavery to me. And just like most things in America, if it's something that's important to a while male, it would be considered.