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More rallies and marches were demands for unity in America and more condemnation of hate groups and racial violence; Antifa not only clash with bigots but also police; Three honorees would boycott the White House reception for the arts celebration; President Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon was shown the door of the White House; Aired 7:00-8:00p ET

Aired August 19, 2017 - 19:00   ET



[19:00:16] JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: 7:00 eastern, 4:00 in the afternoon out west. I'm Jim Acosta in New York and you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Across the country today, more rallies and marches were demands for unity in America and more condemnation of hate groups and racial violence.


ACOSTA: The biggest and loudest gathering was in Boston, a planned rally promoted as a free speech event was met by a much larger group of people who made their voices heard. There were a few tense moments. Police in riot clear clashed with counter-protesters a few times. More than 30 people were arrested. Most of them for disorderly conduct. There were of course of any injuries.

In Memphis, Tennessee today, activists tried to cover a statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest where they were protesting here today. The city council of Memphis has called an executive session for this coming week to discuss what to do with their confederate statues.

And in Los Angeles, about 200 people marched along to Venice beach boardwalk to celebrate racial unity and protest the racially tinged incidents of the past week.

Let's go live to Boston now. CNN's Polo Sandoval is there.

Polo, pretty special moment today not long ago as protesters and police came together. Let's take a listen to that.


CROWD: Boston strong! Boston strong! Boston strong! Boston strong! Boston strong! Boston strong!


ACOSTA: Polo, that's quite the contrast of what we saw last week in Charlottesville. The protesters and the police, they are chanting the other Boston strong. You've been on the scene. What can you tell us?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Jim, quite the contrast. After those pictures were shot, there was quite the tension moment here. But an immediate change when one of the Boston top officials arrived here and essentially requested some of these officers pulled back and then the conversation began, Jim. The man who was in the middle of that conversation, police superintendent William Cross.

Chief, you came out here. You had this discussion with people after what was a fairly tense moment.


SANDOVAL: What was the outcome?

CROSS: The outcome is positive dialogue. What we took away from here today, we talked about a victory that we had on the Boston commons that we stood together as a city, especially the youth of the city, some of them are standing around. Thank you my brother. And we took away a victory that we told people that are racists that are hated mongers that this is not accepted in Boston. And you saw many nations together today combatting racism.

So when it got contentious, I saw a lot of the folks in the audience there in the crowd that I knew in the streets. So I went up and asked, like, what's wrong, right? And then they said we just want to walk-through. So I had the officers step back and then I talked to the people I knew and other people that I had just learned of and we talked about take away a victory today that in Boston, as you look around, nothing is burning, nothing is stolen, nothing is looted, that the young people of Boston, their parents, their loved ones and especially the young people of Boston, you know, this is a victory today, to stand together and drive away racism.

Anything negative that happened, that's unfortunate. But there was victories today. There were victories. We need to work on everything else. Now that we found that common ground. The mayor, the commissioner, the city councils, the clergy. And we will not forget the youth today. You all brought it. That's the victory, having that dialogue after a victory to fix things for the future.

SANDOVAL: Chief Cross, really do appreciate you taking the time.

CROSS: Thank you. Now that I know you are not one of the kids. These brothers here, you all brought it today. Thank you.

SANDOVAL: Now clearly, this is an indication again, Jim. We have seen that conversation that's happening. Things did take a turn. The police chief did speak about some of the negatives, yes, some officers did get hurt. Some minor injuries. Yes, some arrests were made. But ultimately this is where it all ended, in a positive way. And as the chief admitted, still things need to be learned and of course people need to go forward taking a lot from this moment, Jim. ACOSTA: Polo, we know you are not one of the kids. But I think it

does -- I think it is worth taking a moment and just appreciating what the police superintendent said to you there a few moments ago.


ACOSTA: When this really could have unraveled, where this could have just been a repeat of what happened in Charlottesville a week ago, the country has just been weighed down with this heavy atmosphere after the President misfired earlier this week on all of this badly. To see people come together and chanting with the police, Boston strong, and the police superintendent to come out there and say that everything turned out all right in a major U.S. city when the elements were there that we could have had big trouble.

Polo, that's a great interview there. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. We appreciate it,

[19:05:14] SANDOVAL: You bet, Jim. No problem.

ACOSTA: All right. Thank you, Polo.

The President tweeted earlier about the protest in Boston. And this is worth noting now. He wrote quote "looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart. Thank you."

I guess the President missed the protesters singing and chanting with the police there. He then, we should point out, he did reverse course later on in the afternoon and tweeted this. I want to applaud the many protesters in Boston who are speaking out against bigotry and hate. Our country will soon come together as one.

It's worth noting all of this because the President said earlier this week he likes having all of the facts before speaking. That obviously was not the case earlier today when he tweeted about anti-police protesters and agitators. So here are the facts straight from the Boston police commissioner.


WILLIAM EVANS, BOSTON POLICE COMMISSIONER: Again, everyone did a good job. 99.9 percent of the people here were here for the right reason, to fight bigotry and hate for the most part here today.


ACOSTA: All right. Let's bring in our panel. Joining us, CNN political commentator and KBC top radio host John Phillips, political commentator and former spokesperson for Breitbart News Kurt Bardella. And here with me in New York, CNN political commentator, op-ed columnist for the "New York Times" the great Charles Blow.

John Phillips, let me go to you first. You heard the Boston police commissioner there and the superintendent who was just phenomenal there a few moments ago talking about how everything turned out right. But the commissioner saying that 99.9 percent of the people there today for this protest were there were the right reasons. Yet, the President's gut reaction, as we saw last week in Charlottesville, his gut reaction is sometimes tone deaf. He talked about anti-police agitators. What happened to waiting for the facts, John?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Jim, I don't know if you have ever noticed this in any of your interactions with the President, but he has been a bit of an ego and considers himself to be a counter puncher. So my guess is, the President turned the TV on this morning and saw some signs that were unkind to him and saw some scuffles with the cops and that was the counter punch that came out. He watched more TV, saw the rally was relatively nonviolent. Then saw the mayor and police commissioner say everything was OK and you saw the subsequent tweets which I think were accurate and should be celebrated. Because any time you have the vile incident we had last week in Charlottesville, the best way to handle horrific speech is to do it with more free speech. And to show that we can be better, to show that we can make arguments that denounce these racists and clans men and white supremacists which is what you saw today. I think today is a good day that should be celebrated.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

Kurt, do you think the President missed an opportunity to turn the tide today? He seemed a bit off in his tone, in that initial tweet talking about anti-police agitators. And then a few moments ago we are showing video of the protesters and the police officers chanting Boston strong together. What do you make of that?

KURT BARDELLA, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, BREITBART NEWS: Jim, it is almost as if this President is rooting for conflict, rooting for divide, that is rooting for violence, rooting for anything that will somehow justify his completely unjustifiable remarks last week with everything that happened in Charlottesville. And it just shows this isn't a President who cares about getting the facts. It is not the President who cares about actually learning what happened and paying attention. It is a President who is all about trying to find a way to frame everything through his narrow-minded lens trying to justify everything that he says and does, most of which is completely un-factual, most of which derives from information that is either twisted or turned or completely devoid of reality. That's just Donald Trump.

And it shows also that this is not about all the rocks for Steve Bannon. Donald Trump is Donald Trump. And nothing is going to change with Bannon gone and we saw that with the tweet he launched today.

ACOSTA: And Charles, I mean, to me this moment says it all, this video of the police with the protesters. They are hugging, they are embracing, such a contrast with what we saw in Charlottesville a week ago. And yet the President just can't seem to get it right. What do you make of this?

CHARLES BLOW, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, the President (INAUDIBLE), right? I mean, the spotlight is always on you every move you make, everything that you saw and you cannot hide who you are. Eventually whoever that is, for good or ill, it will be revealed. And we are seeing patterns develop from him as President. Forget what he did before, but just as President, he is slow to condemn violence against minorities, against Jews, against Muslims. He is slow to condemn the alt right and white supremacists. He is quick to condemn, even when he is wrong, people who he assumes are Muslims, who are Black Lives Matter, people he assumes are against him, he is quick. And like you say he digs himself a hole because he is very often wrong.

[19:10:15] ACOSTA: Does he get credit for reversing course later and after then him saying well it is time to come together and heal? I know he misspelled heal at first, though --

BLOW: No. I just don't think so because as it was reported on television, he literately made that tweet, at least it was reported that way, while the press conference was going on, when the police officer stepped to the mike and said this went well, right?

So there is something profoundly flawed in the man. There is a character issue. There is a morality cavity where your impulses do not align with what we expect a moral man to be. Even if we disagree on policies, I apparently disagree with his policies, but I do expect each President to have a sort of moral compass that leads you to at least articulate the right things and to reach out to the rest of the country.

This idea of constantly saying his base and him saying his base and him having political rallies, there is something wrong about that because the election is over. We will have another one in four years. At this point you have to rise above it and say you may not like me, you may not believe me, you may not have voted for me, but I am your President. So I will do my best.

ACOSTA: And John Phillips, what do you make of that Charles Blow saying that the President just lacks a moral compass, that he doesn't know how to respond to situations like this because it's just not in him.

PHILLIPS: Well, I spoke to someone who talked to the President recently and the President thought that his initial statement was a universal condemnation and was caught by surprise when it was met with outrage and people were criticizing him, which is when you saw the statement coming out on Monday. And then you saw the angry press conference on Tuesday when he felt he was under attack. When he feels like he is under attack and we have seen many of these stories with the same beats, he digs in his heels and fights back and it becomes less about the issue of whatever it is that we are talking about and more about him fighting with the media or fighting with his critics.

ACOSTA: Well, I certainly know that all too well.

Kurt, let me turn to you. You know, before Steve Bannon was fired yesterday, the President was in for a terrible news cycle. The mother of Heather Heyer was saying she didn't want to meet with him. Mitt Romney was saying he should apologize to the country. What do you think the White House do about all of that? Obviously, the Bannon news, whether it was a distraction or whether he was supposed to be fired yesterday, that's all going to go away. He still has to deal with this issue where he just failed everybody when it came to Charlottesville and as we saw earlier today he still can't seem to get it right.

BARDELLA: Well, I think if the President really wants to try to hit the reset button, he is going to have to try to change his approach, both to dealing with these national moments and opportunities to demonstrate leadership and some sort of moral leadership, but also in how he engages his policymakers on Capitol Hill, actually trying to be bipartisan, actually being engaged in the policy process.

So much of the lack of action on his agenda, whether it was trying to repeal and replace Obamacare, the tax reform done, infrastructure, is because he is completely MIA on these conversations. Other than sending some tweets out, he doesn't actually engage, he doesn't talk with congressional leadership. He doesn't talk with policymakers. There is a lack of substance to Donald Trump. It is alarming. And it is the reason why he can't get any traction and get any legislative accomplishments.

I think if he wants to try to hit the reset button and get some momentum for his presidency, he is going to have to abandon this catering to the alt right and actually reach across the aisle and try to get something done.

ACOSTA: And yet, as we understand, gentlemen, he has some campaign style rallies coming up later on next week. My senses is that reset button is being put off to the side. He is going to continue to go back to the base. Then he press the resent button to the base over and over and over again.

Charles Blow, Kurt Bardella, John Phillips, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

And amid the fall off from Charlottesville and a growing rift within the Republican Party, House speaker Paul Ryan takes part in a live CNN town hall. Do not miss this Monday night at 9:00 eastern only here on CNN.

Now this hour is just getting starting. Coming up, not done yet. What a source is telling CNN about chief of staff John Kelly's plans for the west wing.

Plus, Bannon's new gig, same as the old gig. How the President is responding to his former chief strategist returning to Breitbart.

And later, violence in three cities overnight leaves six police officers shot, two of them dead. The details ahead.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[19:18:54] ACOSTA: One day after President Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon was shown the door of the White House, the word of Washington is that chief of staff John Kelly is not finished yet. More exits are coming. Take a look at this photo just 200 days after it was taken on January

28th. Vice president Mike Pence is the last man standing in the President's inner circle in the oval office there. A claimed documentary film maker and author Chris Whipple and CNN political commentator Republican strategist Alice Stewart join me now.

Chris, let me start with you and your book "the Gate Keepers, how the White House chief of staff define every presidency." You examined the influence of past White House chiefs of staff, what do you make of these moves that general Kelly has made as the chief of staff? I mean, showing Steve Bannon the door is a big move for him in terms of consolidating this power structure inside the west wing which has been very chaotic and messy at times.

CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR/DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: Well, you know, it is no question it is a win for Kelly. It is a small win in the scheme of things when you consider what he's up against. Leon Panetta, his advice was to go out and get a big bottle of scotch. I'm sure he wishes he ordered a case at this point.

It is a small win because, you know, Bannon is really one of the reasons why this White House has been able to get nothing done. The guy is a disrupter. He is a flame thrower. He is an insider. He understood how to govern, but he had no idea - I mean, how to campaign, but have no idea how to govern.

So it is a win for Kelly. It means that the grown-ups can now try to assert order in the west wing. But at the end of the day, the big problem is the guy in the oval office. Donald Trump is the ultimate disrupter who has not learned anything about how to govern in the first six months. So it is still almost mission impossible I think for Kelly.

ACOSTA: And Alice Stewart, Steve Bannon leaving yesterday, how much of a difference is that going to make? I mean, obviously, Steve Bannon could be outside the White House and consult with the President or at least attempt to make calls to the oval office and give his advice to the President. What do you think moving forward here?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, clearly when Chris writes a sequel to his book "the Gate Keeper," he will be able to talk about General Kelly and say look, he has done a lot to right this ship (INAUDIBLE) and instill discipline in the White House. But also to his point, a lot of the trouble have been with the President himself and he is using twitter and getting off message and getting in, you know, back and forth with the media.

Here is the thing. I think if Bannon truly was the source of a lot of the chaos in the White House, this was a good move. However, it is very risky. Jim, as you know, he is the torch bearer for a lot of the base for President Trump. And many of them will be frustrated. His economic nationalist agenda was very popular. It helped him and he did a lot to help him get elected and carry that torch throughout this campaign. It did get into conflict with a lot of the globalists we have in the White House and the senior staff. And also his desire to reduce our military footprint was in conflict with what he have in the White House.

So while I think it was a necessary step with regard to if that's what General Kelly wanted and he convinced the President to do so. But look, it remains to be seen how this will affect the base. I think there are still other people there, Kellyanne Conway and Steven Miller and others that will help continue that connection. But it will remain to be seen how they react to this as the days move forward.

ACOSTA: And another person that we are hearing about being on thin ice, Alice, is Sebastian Gorka, you know. He is constantly out there on the air waves at times in the same way that Steve Bannon did sort freelancing, putting his own opinions out there almost in front of the President's.

What are you hearing about his future inside the White House? Should other people be, you know, sort of nervous about John Kelly when he starts walking down the hallway towards their office, you know? Should they be hiding under their desks?

STEWART: Well, one of the things we have learned is that one man gets the spotlight in the White House and that's the President. And Anthony Scaramucci learned that and Steve Bannon learned that. And obviously, Steve Bannon with several interviews this week and his really profile in the devil's bargain book, it rubbed the President and others in the White House the wrong way. So Sebastian Gorka oftentimes is out there on television doing interviews, but if he goes rogue, and does unauthorized interviews. He is clearly going to be on thin ice.

ACOSTA: Right.

And, Chris, General Kelly has only been on the job for a few weeks. Is it safe to say he is going to be evaluating this as he goes forward? What have other chiefs of staff done in the past that you see as a guide for General Kelly here? Obviously, no chief of staff has ever had to deal with a President like Donald Trump before. What do you make of how he's going to handle this moving forward?

WHIPPLE: Well, yes, it is absolutely unprecedented, you know. No chief of staff has ever had to deal with a President who is at the end of the day temperamentally unfit for office. This is a guy you cannot tell hard truth to because 24 hours later he will rip up the script and go on a tirade, an unhinged tirade.

ACOSTA: But if he is controlling the information coming in, if he is controlling who comes in to the oval office, who calls the president, could that help?

WHIPPLE: He can't completely control that. And he has been unable to control the President so far. He has been unable to control his twitter account, for example. And he can't control what he sees at night on Breitbart.

That's the fundamental problem. You have a got a guy who is temperamentally unfit for office. That's a really difficult challenge. You know, in the final days of Watergate, the Nixon White House was pretty bad. It could have been even worse. (INAUDIBLE) which sometimes talk Nixon off the ledge and not carry out crazy orders.

At one point, Nixon ordered (INAUDIBLE) to fire bomb, the Brookings Institution. The chief of staff, as I wrote in my book, "the gate Keepers," back in December has to be the thin line between the President and disaster for us all. And I think we are headed that in that direction, where Kelly has to be thinking about the nuclear codes. He had to be thinking about the 25th amendment. He has to be thinking about the unthinkable in a situation like this with this kind of President.

[19:25:08] ACOSTA: And Alice, Chris mentioned twitter. I mean, earlier today the President is tweeting I'm seeing a lot of anti- police agitators in Boston. I don't know if you saw the top of the hour, you saw video of the protesters and police officers together chanting Boston strong and putting their arms around with other each. I'm just trying to imagine a scenario where the President does not tweet, waits until the end of the day and sends a tweets that says isn't that great that the protesters and the police in Boston, all came together at the end and had a really nice moment together instead of initially going after the protesters as anti-police agitators? I mean, I know this goes back to twitter use, but isn't there a point there to be made?

STEWART: I hope he does. And, look, his knee jerk reaction on twitter is nothing after throughout the campaign and the administration. But I will say, look, throughout the day, as he has been watching these protests, he has changed his tone quite a bit. And I think that's a positive thing saying that sometimes we need protests to unite. And he has been encouraging lately about bringing about unity.

I think the interview at the top was fantastic. I think the police superintendent put a really good face on what has happened there and what is happening there. And I pray that future protests or opportunities to speak out against racial hatred and anti-Semitism and these types of hate groups, I hope they end in the same way as we are seeing in Boston today.

But I would like to think that as the day settles and the sun goes down and the President will take it all in and remind people again on twitter about how we can take this opportunity to unite as a country.

ACOSTA: That would be great.

Alice Stewart, Chris Whipple, thank you very much. We appreciate your insights.

Coming up, Steve Bannon fired just 24 hours ago, but he is already making stunning headlines saying quote "the Trump presidency that we fought for and won is over." It's over according to Steve Bannon. The editor of Breitbart London weighs in live. He is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [19:31:34] ACOSTA: Within hours of leaving the White House, Steve Bannon returned to Breitbart as executive chairman. And in an interview with the "Weekly Standard" Bannon says quote "I feel jacked up. Now I'm free. I got my hands back on my weapons. Someone said it is Bannon the barbarian. I am definitely going to crush the opposition. There is no doubt I built an f'ing machine at Breitbart. And now I'm going to go back knowing what I know and we are about to rev that machine up and rev it up we will do."

Some pretty strong words there. I want to bring Raheem Kassam. He is the editor in-chief of Breitbart London. He is also the author of "No Go Zone."

Raheem, it sounds like Steve Bannon is armed to the teeth. I'm getting like an image in my mind of Rambo, you know. He is like putting the war paint on.

RAHEEM KASSAM, EDITOR IN-CHIEF, BREITBART LONDON: I'm sure that's exactly what he's doing right now. I can visualize it.

ACOSTA: What do you make of this? This Steve Bannon. Same as the old Bannon, he is ready to do battle.

KASSAM: Yes, Bannon is back. Steve has always been that way. It's a sort of half playful but also half very committed to his principals, his values, the values he built. You know, not just Breitbart on but he has lived his life by. So I'm not surprised to see this from him. I'm not surprised to see that kind of chatter.

But what I will say is this, I noticed a lot from the Washington Post to you guys as well the use of this term fired all the time. But actually, Steve resigned two weeks ago. That's why it was such an easy and quick transition back. It was already planned out.

ACOSTA: He was given the option to resign from what we understand; isn't that right?

KASSAM: Sure. But I mean, yes --.

ACOSTA: But when you give the option to resign, you are being pushed out, correct?

KASSAM: Well, that's not entirely true. And he had it in his resignation two weeks ago. So you know, to say fired I think is slightly disingenuous. And he is obviously been building for the last two weeks knowing that he was going to leave and now he is ready to come back.

ACOSTA: Do you think he was pushed out or would you agree that he was pushed out?

KASSAM: Don't get me wrong, I think there were lots of people in there that are not for the economic nationalist agenda that Steve Bannon stood for. Yes, I mean, you and I are in total agreement over that. You know, pushed is strong, but you know, I think he had to take a

decision. Do you keep fighting an internal battle in the west wing and keep fighting the same old people over and over again or do you go into the outside and actually start achieving things, big things somewhere where he feels more comfortable and happier and where he could have more fun.

ACOSTA: And Raheem, I mean, why do you think this came to pass? You know, was he freelancing too much? Was he simply not going to work in the John Kelly power structure? Is it because Jared Kushner or Gary Kohen, the more moderate New York centric folks in the west wing, were successful in pushing him out? What do you think happen? What do you know?

KASSAM: See, I was kind of disappointed in all of this because, you know, there are always power struggles. I have been there myself inside politics, inside political parties. Not quite been in the west wing, but I know the feeling. And I thought they would iron themselves out over time. I thought these people would all come to the agreement that actually the most important thing was to make the Donald Trump presidency a success.

Some people as far as I can tell decided that it wasn't going to be any way but their way. And like you say, the more New York centric folks, what we refer to as the west wing Democrats decided they will just going to keep litigating this over and over again. And you know what? I don't blame Steve.

[19:35:03] ACOSTA: Are you angry with the President that he sided with those folks in the end? That he and John Kelly sided with those folks in the end? Are you guys mad at President Trump because yesterday when we saw that hashtag, #war, it led everybody to believe that this means Breitbart is going to war against the White House.

KASSAM: #war is on old Breitbart philosophy. We used to have it on our hand-rolled cigars at Breitbart parties. It is a kind of flip and funny way of saying that, you know, we are not going to take any prisoners. It is not quite as aggressive as you might think it sounds.

But at the same time, it is not about the President. The President, I feel, is still on the same page with Steve Bannon. It is about the people around him. Like you said, Gary Kohen and Jared Kushner deal of how, you know, these people who don't have - these people could have been in the Bush White House, right? They don't fit in this White House or at least that's not what the base wants.

ACOSTA: Yes. Let me ask you about this. Bannon also told the "Weekly Standard," you have seen this quote over and over again, "the Trump presidency that we fought for and won is over. We still have a movement and we will make something of this Trump presidency. With that presidency is over, it will be something else and there will be all kinds of fights and there will good days and bad days, but that presidency is over."

Is Steve Bannon kind of a legend in his own mind when he says something like that? It's all him? Has nothing to do with Donald Trump?

KASSAM: I don't know, Jim. You have been around D.C. a very long time. I feel like everyone is a legend in their own minds in some part of this --.

ACOSTA: Not quite as much as Steve Bannon perhaps.

KASSAM: Come on, Jim. You love the cameras just as much.

You know, look. I think the point is this. There is that white board, right, that famous white board with everything that Steve hoped the President would achieve. And now that whiteboard is where? Sitting in the back of some (INAUDIBLE) somewhere. So I think it is fair to say that something has drastically shifted and that we can expect the presidency to look rather different. So I don't think that's him blowing smoke of his, you know where.

I think it is entirely rational and reasonable thing to say. What happens now? Look, who knows? Where does the base put its principals? Where does the base put its heart? Does it put it in places like Breitbart who it believes has this economic nationalist agenda? Does it put it in President Trump? I would argue that they should still believe in this President. And does it trust the people around the President? And there are big questions over that. And we will see how it goes. You know, by the end of this year, if there are no major achievements, people are going to start scratching their heads, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Raheem Kassam, we appreciate your time very much. I hope Steve was able to get that whiteboard and bring it home with him.

KASSAM: I hope so, too.

ACOSTA: We put it in the Steve Bannon museum perhaps.

KASSAM: I thought the board one, you know. I need a hand me down.

ACOSTA: All right. Raheem, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

KASSAM: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Coming up, the President opts out of attending this year's Kennedy center honors after some of these celebrity guests threatened to boycott. We got a live report. That is coming up.

Stay with us.


[19:41:59] ACOSTA: It's a celebration of America's diverse artistic legacy but the President and first lady will skip this year's Kennedy Center Honors. More of the fall out after President Trump's comments about last weekend's deadly violence in Charlottesville.

Three honorees, TV producer Norman Lear, singer Lionel Richie, and dancer Carmen de Lavallade said they would boycott the White House reception for the arts celebration.

Boris Sanchez joins me now from Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Boris, what is the reason that the White House is giving for the President and the first lady not attending? That's a fairly rare occurrence for them to not show up for this.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You are absolutely right, Jim. This would actually the only the fourth time that a sitting President has missed out on this event. The White House putting out a statement this morning writing quote "the President and first lady have decided not to participate in this year's activities to allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction."

Certainly, this isn't an unprecedented moment where a President has missed this event. Jimmy Carter, Georg H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton have all been unable to attend different years. However, what is unprecedented is the amount of criticism that this President has received from several of the honorees, Jim.

ACOSTA: And Boris, have the honorees spoken publically about their concerns over the President's comments on Charlottesville? Those are some big names - Lionel Richie, Norman Lear and so on.

SANCHEZ: Yes, absolutely. Many of them have expressed discontent with the President's response to Charlottesville. Some of them were critical of this administration even before the President made those comments. Here's someone that calls himself a friend of Donald Trump, Lionel Richie. Listen to what he said.


LIONEL RICHIE, SINGER: I must tell you, I'm not really happy as to what's going on right now with the controversies. And they are weekly, daily, hourly. But I think I'm just going to wait it out for a minute and see where it is going to be by that time. This is going to be in December and we may be in a whole other world by that time. But I'm going to wait it out. I totally understand Norman's point of view and I understand where we are as a country right now is going backwards. But all we can do is kind of sit here and hold our breath for a minute.


SANCHEZ: Now, Jim, those comments were actually made before the President's off the rails press conference on Tuesday regarding the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Since then those names that you mentioned, Carmen De Lavallade, Norman Lear and Lionel Richie have decided to boycott a reception at the White House that takes place before the Kennedy center honors. In part, the Kennedy center put out a statement saying that they were grateful for the President deciding to skip this year's event to keep the focus on the honorees, Jim.

ACOSTA: And a pretty measured response from the Kennedy centers as well.

Boris Sanchez, thank you very much.

Coming up, the violence in Virginia brought attention to racist and Nazis and the ones fighting the Nazis. So what is Antifa? CNN takes you inside the movement. That's coming up.


[19:49:35] ACOSTA: By many accounts, most of the people protesting against the Nazis and (INAUDIBLE) in Charlottesville were peaceful, but in their midst was a sometimes very violent group of protesters called Antifa known to not only clash with bigots but also police.

CNN's Sara Ganim takes us inside Antifa and shows us this group that you have never seen it before.


SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's 6:00 a.m. in Portland, Oregon and we are headed to a bar with blacked out windows.

They wanted to meet us really in the morning because they are concerned about a lot of people being around.

We are meeting members of the row city Antifa, short for anti-fascist. This group's main goal is to disrupt neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but also take on government and capitalism.

[19:50:20] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Antifa is any group that is willing to stand up against fascists by any means necessary.

GANIM: By any means necessary they say can mean outing a white nationalist at their work or to their neighbors. Or as we have seen recently, violence, fires, property damage, hand-to-hand combat at protests across the country.

Explain to me as the reasoning behind fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have to make it so unpalatable to be doing white supremacists organizers that they no longer want to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And historically, that's what's worse. You have to put your body in the way and you have to make it speak in a language that they understand and sometimes out of violence.

GANIM: There is no firm number on how many Antifa activists there are in the United States because there isn't one organization. Most are local groups that recruit and communicate through social media. But expertise who track these organization say their membership is growing in response to the rise of white national groups and the election of President Donald Trump.

Violence and property destruction led to more than 200 arrests in Washington D.C. on inauguration day. Prosecutors say they were wearing masks, covered head to toe in black, the tactic the Antifa call black block.

SCOTT CROW, FORMER ORGANIZER: People dress in black block for a few things.

GANIM: Scott Crow has been leading anarchist and militant leftist groups for decades.

CROW: So people put on the masks so that we can all become anonymous. And then therefore we are able to move more freely and do what we need to do, whether it is illegal or not.

GANIM: So some people will push back on that and say that the black block is to keep people from being identified and arrested when they break the law, when they commit crime?

CROW: Damn right. It's a good way to avoid the ramifications of law enforcement.

GANIM: We see that firsthand at a mayday protest in New York City.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cover our face because the Nazis will try to find out who we are. And that is a very bad thing because they harass people. When they organize, they kill people, they hurt people, they fight people, and we are the ones who are fighting back. They are the second coming of Hitler.

GANIM: Police in Berkeley told us they haven't seen this kind of destruction since the 1960s.

Law enforcement in other cities are dealing with similar situation. Like in Portland, Oregon where Antifa has been involved in at least ten protests ending in violence according to police. And it's wearing on the community.

SGT. PETE SIMPSON, PORTLAND, OREGON POLICE: It is new. It's like this rumble mentality of I'm going to bring my friends, you bring your friends, and we are going to fight it out in the park. It is not something we have seen here. It's not good for the city. People are just frustrated by it. It's affecting their livability. It is affecting their business.

GANIM: Has it become more violent.

SIMPSON: It happens quicker. The fire starting that we saw mayday is something we haven't really seen much of in the past. The running through the street, breaking windows and everything in sight. We haven't seen it as consistently as we have seen it in the last eight months.

GANIM: But it's the violence that's gotten them attention, directly confronting groups that preach was nationalist rhetoric. Like on inauguration day when white nationalist Richard Spencer was punched in the face. And it was the Antifa movement that cause Berkeley to cancel speeches by extreme right provocateurs led Milo Yiannopoulos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's the more hardcore elements, the white supremacists and neo-Nazis that go to these rallies that are itching for a fight. We are there to say we will stand in your way.

GANIM: Sara Gamin, CNN, New York.


ACOSTA: Straight ahead, violence in three cities overnight leave six police officers shot, two of them dead. Details coming up ahead.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[19:58:29] ACOSTA: Police officers across the country heartbroken today after a tragic night for the law enforcement community. A second officer who was shot in Kissimmee, Florida, last night has died. Sergeant Sam Howard has come to his injuries just a short time ago. He and fellow officer Matthew Baxter were killed after shot was fired at them while responding to a call. This was just one of three separate violent incidents against police last night.

About an hour after the incident in Kissimmee, the second one in Florida just north of Jacksonville where two officers were shot while responding to an attempted suicide call. The officers exchanged gunfire shooting and killing the suspect.

And on the same night in Pennsylvania, two state troopers were shot. The suspect was killed.

Turning now to Charlottesville. One of the trooper's pilots who was killed last week while supporting police during last week's deadly riots, he was laid to rest in Virginia today. This was the public memorial service this morning for Lieutenant Jay Cullen. He and his co-pilot were killed when their helicopter crashed in a wooded area in Charlottesville. Cullen was just 48 years old. He was married with two kids.

Virginia's governor says he thought of him as family. Here he was speaking at the trooper's service earlier today.


GOV. TERRY MCAULIFFE (D), VIRGINIA: Today we lost a member of our family. Dorothy and I are heat broken. It will never be the same when I step in that helicopter and not see Jay in that front right seat with Cullen on the back of his helmet.