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President Trump Facing Criticism for Delay on Condemning Racist Violence; Charlottesville Police Answer Questions After Deadly Rallies. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 14, 2017 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper.

We have breaking news right now.

Charlottesville police will be taking questions and holding a press conference any second now, after the deadly rallies and racist violence over the weekend. We're going to bring you the moment that arrives.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Charlottesville.

And, Brian, we're expecting to hear from Chief of Police Al Thomas.

Do we have any idea what this press conference is about?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we don't know what the news conference is about, but there are some key questions that still haven't been answered by officials here.

They haven't told us about any potential motive for the alleged attack on Saturday. They haven't said whether they believe anyone was working with the suspect, James Fields, and we have not heard whether Mr. Fields has actually cooperated with authorities.

We do know from Justice Department sources that they believe that there may be enough evidence to be suspicious of him possibly wanting to send some kind of broader message, rather than just harm the individuals who he allegedly hit Saturday.

So, some of these other details, motive, whether he is cooperating, whether others were working with him, may be forthcoming in just a few minutes from the chief of police.

TAPPER: All right, Brian Todd in Charlottesville, we will come back to you as soon as the press conference begins. we're expecting that any second.

Let's go now to CNN's Sara Murray. She's at the White House.

Sara, the president today came out earlier and did finally condemn by name white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis. Why not do that on Saturday? Why wait until today? Why is the president's first reaction when it comes to condemning white supremacists often be to blink, to refrain from any direct criticism?


And, in fact, when shouted at the president by my colleague Jim Acosta earlier today, why did it take you so long, and Trump just said, "They have been condemned."

But this is clearly an issue he is not comfortable talking about. And there's a reason that when people look at what he said on Saturday, essentially condemning violence on both sides, suggesting both sides were culpable, and then you have this lag period, and they don't necessarily believe the words coming out of the president's mouth, they're skeptical of it.

And that's because they have seen this happen time and time again with this president. Remember, it was on your show when you were asking then candidate Trump about David Duke and whether he would disavow the support that he was getting from David Duke, and he couldn't say it.

And that was -- again, it took him awhile to come out to disavow them. When we were seeing one-off attacks in the wake of Trump being elected president, when we were seeing attacks on Muslims, attacks on Latinos breaking out in schools, the president was silent on that until he was called out in an interview.

So, I think that's part of the reason this may not go far enough for some Americans out there, Jake.

TAPPER: Sara, one of the other things that President Trump was doing today was holding an event in which he was giving powers, trade powers, to some of his top administration officials, so that they could be tougher on trade deals.

And one of the targets of the president's ire, obviously, is China. Are they not concerned at all that that could end up doing the opposite of what the president is trying to do? He is obviously trying to use trade and getting tough on trade as a stick against China to encourage China to be tougher with North Korea, but it could -- there's the risk of it having the opposite effect.

MURRAY: Absolutely.

This is a war that has been playing out among Trump's advisers within the West Wing. Some wanted to start going tougher on China and its trade practices early on. And in fact they held off on some of these measures. They planning on doing them sooner.

And some in the West Wing were pressed, can you wait until after you get this U.N. vote to slap North Korea with sanctions? And they did. So, it is certainly an ongoing debate within the White House, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray at the White House, thank you so much. It is a point of pride for President Trump calls things as he sees

them the moment he feels the need to weigh in.

Just seconds ago, when our White House correspondent Jim Acosta asked the president when he was going to hold the press conference he had promised, the president said this:




TAPPER: That's how he rolls. Indeed, a reel of the president's public statements and Twitter archive are a veritable gold mine of attacks against those whose behavior of which he disapproves. Let's go to the videotape.


TAPPER (voice-over): From the many tweets expressing disapproval of how actress Kristen Stewart broke up with actor Robert Pattinson, to rant after rant against Rosie O'Donnell, from suggesting John McCain and other POWs aren't heroes because they got captured, to mocking a disabled reporter.

TRUMP: I don't know what I said. Oh, I don't remember.

TAPPER: From attacking a former Miss Universe to a Gold Star family, from the cast of "Hamilton" to judges, including the ethnicity of one specific judge.

TRUMP: He's a Mexican. In my opinion...

TAPPER (on camera): He is from Indiana.

(voice-over): From chastising his own attorney general to the Senate majority leader.


TRUMP: But I said, Mitch, get to work.

TAPPER: There's seemingly no one who is immune to the president's ire. A new TV ad calls those of us who cover him his enemies.

NARRATOR: The president's enemies don't want him to succeed.


TAPPER: There are two exceptions, of course, Vladimir Putin and, it would seem, white supremacists.

The president seems to struggle when called on to specifically and unequivocally criticize those groups. Today, two days after the horrific hate-filled rally by Nazis, the Ku

Klux Klan, white supremacists, and the alt-right resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, allegedly killed by one of these racists, who plowed his car into a crowd, as well as two Virginia State Troopers, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, whose helicopter crashed as they patrolled near the protests, finally, two days later, President Trump condemned some of these miscreants by name.


TRUMP: Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.


TAPPER: Now, the president had to attempt this do-over of a condemnation, because the first time he spoke on this issue on Saturday, he embraced the notion that both the Nazis and those protesting the Nazis were equally at fault.


TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides.


TAPPER: Now, the moral equivalence and refusal to single out this particular vile crowd of bigots spewing hatred by name was received warmly on the Web sites of these hate groups.

"No condemnation at all," wrote one person on the neo-Nazi site. "Really, really good."

But it was all too much for Republican officials who took to Twitter and the airwaves to essentially beg President Trump to do the right thing.


SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: Call this white supremacism, this white nationalism evil, and let the world hear it. It is something that needs to come from the Oval Office and this White House needs to do it today.


TAPPER: It took another day, and this afternoon, the president did it.

But we're all left to wonder, why did it take so long? This morning, the president was on Twitter attacking in full force, as is his wont. Among his targets, the CEO of pharmaceutical company Merck, Ken Frazier. What was his offense? He stepped down from the president's Manufacturing Council, saying -- quote -- "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy."

The president of course found time to respond to that even before 9:00 a.m. "Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from president's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to lower ripoff drug prices."

Is it easier for President Trump to criticize Ken Frazier than it is for him to criticize the Klan? Is it easier for him to attack U.S. intelligence agencies?

After a story he didn't like leaked earlier this year, the president tweeted -- quote -- "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to leak into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?" the president asked.

Why for the president does it seem easier to suggest U.S. intelligence operatives are behaving like Nazis than to call these actual Nazis Nazis?

Let's go back now to the White House.

CNN's Sara Murray has more on the president's struggle to find the language to condemn these hate groups.


TRUMP: To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend's racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered.

MURRAY (voice-over): Amid mounting criticism, President Trump is finally denouncing the white nationalist group that led a hate-filled rally that left three people dead.

TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America.

Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

MURRAY: Trump's comments Monday mark the first time he denounced racist groups by name since Saturday's violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

On Saturday, the president made no mention of the KKK or white supremacists. He offered a rebuke to those involved, suggesting both sides share culpability.

TRUMP: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides, on many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama.


This has been going on for a long, long time.

MURRAY: The president's muted response instantly drew criticism from members of his own party. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch tweeted: "We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.'

And Colorado Republican Cory Gardner told Jake Tapper this on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION":

GARDNER: This isn't a time for vagaries. This isn't a time for innuendo or to allow to room to read between the lines. This is a time to lay blame, to lay blame on bigotry, to lay blame on white supremacists, on white nationalism and on hatred.

MURRAY: Criticism took hold among some of Trump's partners on Wall Street, too. On Monday, one of America's most prominent African- American CEOs, Kenneth Frazier of Merck, quit Trump's Manufacturing Council, saying: "America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, and group supremacy."

Even before Trump denounced white supremacists today, he condemned Frazier, tweeting: "Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from president's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to lower ripoff drug prices."

Trump's delayed condemnation is sure to be seen as too little, too late by some. This morning, the mayor of Charlottesville said Trump missed the moment.

MICHAEL SIGNER (D), MAYOR OF CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA: He kind of had his opportunity, and he whiffed. And I think that speaks for itself.


MURRAY: As the president faces public political backlash, one of his advisers, Steve Bannon, is facing a backlash of his own, as a senior adviser signaled the knives are out for President Trump's chief strategist.

Over the weekend, H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser, was asked repeatedly whether he could work on a team with Bannon and he kept dodging the question Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray at the White House for us, thank you so much.

While we're waiting for the press conference from the Charlottesville, Virginia Police Department, let me bring in Bruce LeVell. He's the executive director for the National Diversity Coalition for Trump. Also joining us, Dr. Russell Moore. He's president of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.

And I apologize ahead of time if I interrupt when that press conference starts.

Bruce, let me start with you.

You heard what the president said earlier today. I guess the big question, why did it take two days for the president to do something that I think the rest of us would find pretty easy, to specifically denounce white supremacists, the Klan and neo-Nazis?


Also, on behalf of the largest multicultural diversity coalition in history of the Republican candidate, we send our condolences to the troopers and the young lady that lost their lives. Just wanted to put that out there real quick.

But, Jake, it is interesting. When I heard all this going down, I was on my way over here, and I was looking back at how many times the president has denounced this person. I will not even give him life on the show who this name is or give him any more play in this mainstream media.

And, you know, he has gone back as far as Larry King, 1991, totally disavowing this person and this group, this person that went up to Charlottesville and created this mockery of a mess.

And so I think it is totally unfair. The other thing, too, Jake, is what people don't realize and what I know, I know the president's heart. I have very been privileged to be around him. I have seen in his eyes, I have talked with him. I have been with Pastor Scott, Michael Cohen, in many meetings with pastors. I know his heart.

In that press conference, there's no doubt in my heart that President Trump was very upset to see troopers die and people die in what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. In all defense, on the weekend, you know, I think he was very saddened. But he has said I think I counted 13 times from George's show, even your show, Jake,, and many shows in the past that he has totally disavowed this heinous group.

TAPPER: Well, he didn't do it on my show. But...


LEVELL: Well, I think he did. Yes, he did.

TAPPER: He didn't. But we can move on.

I'm sure he condemned the Klan and David Duke before. He definitely didn't do it on my show a year-and-a-half ago. And the video is out there. We can debate that some other time. Dr. Moore, let me ask you. You wrote a "Washington Post" op-ed today and you wrote -- quote -- "White supremacy is satanism. Even worse, white supremacy is a devil worship that often pretends that it is speaking for God. White supremacy angers Jesus of Nazareth."

Very, very strong words, sir.

Do you see a disconnect between President Trump and what we hear is his heart and for whatever reason is his ability to swiftly condemn white supremacists?

RUSSELL MOORE, PRESIDENT, ETHICS AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY COMMISSION, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION: Well, I don't know about the reactions of the political leaders, and I will leave that to the political class to sort that through.

What I'm primarily concerned about is American culture. It's about the American church. Are we speaking clearly? Especially when we look around the world and we see this resurgence of anti-Semitism and racism and bigotry.

We have to be the people who understand history doesn't just take care of this on its own. We have to be the people who guard what it means for everyone to be created in the image of God and to bear the dignity of human beings.

[16:15:05] And that's why churches are mobilizing, in Charlottesville and everywhere else, to say we can't assume just because we're in 2017 that somehow we've left the American legacy of bigotry and racism behind. That's what concerns me very much.

TAPPER: Bruce, you run the national diversity coalition for Trump. I get that you think that people are unfair to him. But at times like this, will you grant me that he doesn't make your job any easier?

BRUCE LEVELL, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, no. I just want to elaborate on Dr. Moore. Dr. Moore, I share a good friend of yours, Dr. James Merritt, down here in Atlanta that I know well.

One thing about this deal that's going to mainstream media as relates to this topic, you know, we're sitting here trying to debate policy on a man and woman's heart. Now, since we are on the subject of churches, I belong to a ministry down here that has over 118 nations. Jake, you know, one thing about reconciliation, race reconciliation, we have to challenge ourselves as Americans who our social crowds, who we are, our cultures around us. Are we one culture in our schools and community or are we challenging our children and ourselves to reach out beyond our, quote, comfort level, and get uncomfortable and reconcile with other diversity groups?

For example, we cannot under no circumstance look to the government to reconcile a man and woman's heart. It comes from within. I agree with Dr. Moore. I follow Christ. Christ is in the forefront for me, who's the best and known person to walk the earth as the reconciliator of all time. So, I challenge you to look in the mirror, ask yourself, am -- am I

looking outside my comfort level? Am I just around an all white church, or all black church or all white country club or all black country club? Ask yourself, am I challenging my kids to go to school, to sit with someone from a different culture, come back at the end of the day and say, hey, what did you learn about them?

This is -- this is a people thing, Jake, not a policy for the government. We as Americans, we need to reach out and reconcile our own hearts and get out of our segregated minds and hearts, ministries, as Dr. King always said, the most segregated time is Sunday morning, the white church, the black church, this church, multicultural. That's why I embrace, the president embrace the largest diversity coalition in the history of any GOP candidate.

Jake, we're over 2 million plus, We're growing. The numbers prove, when he won with the African-American vote, the highest since Richard Nixon.

TAPPER: Bruce --

LEVELL: He also proved it with Hispanic votes, at 28 percent.

TAPPER: Bruce, let me ask you a question. When there are Nazis and Klansmen and alt right and white supremacists marching and then there are people counter protesting, do you -- and violence breaks out, do you think that those two groups are equally responsible?

LEVELL: Anyone that comes out, and this is something interesting thing on this, Jake, I am very nervous about one day if the government says there will be no protests at all, peaceful protests at all, this is dangerous for all of us, for all Americans. Anyone that comes -- you know, it is interesting. I turn on the TV, I was on vacation with my son, he goes back to college. And I turned on the TV and I said, why are these guys dressed up in riot gear with makeshift shield and pepper spray. I said maybe this is the volunteer police department in this town, I don't know.

And I was amazed, who shows up to a protest with pepper spray and a makeshift shield and a helmet. You know, it is crazy.

It's also disrespectful to keep trying to paint this picture on the president and marry him --

TAPPER: But I didn't ask you about the president, I just asked if you think that Nazis and Klansmen and alt right and white supremacists marched, they go into a progressive college town, and they're spewing racist, and anti-Semitic chants, and then there are counter protesters, and I'm certainly not going to vouch for, you know, the clean records and angelic intentions of every counter protester, but certainly looked from what I saw that most of them were there just to show solidarity and support, certainly the young woman who was killed was not there with a shield and pepper spray.

When you have these two groups and the president comes out, now, I'll bring the president into it, the president comes out and says there's hatred on many sides, can you understand why people would be offended by that?

LEVELL: Well, let me share this with the viewers and everyone. I know a little about this, my uncles marched here with Reverend David Abernathy and Ralph David Abernathy and Martin Luther King. And I'm going to tell you, the best way as my dad taught me when they tried to march in the '50s here in Georgia, he said the best way is to ignore them, stop giving life to this group, stop showing up, trying to hope there's something going to break off, just ignore these people, Jake. That's the problem.

It is like I won't even say the man's name on national TV.

[16:20:02] He doesn't deserve the respect or anything to get his name spoken. So, I will not speak this negative spirit that's trying to totally take over the American people when it's crazy, it's absolutely insane.

TAPPER: Right. And you're in Atlanta, I'm in Washington, D.C., it is easy for us to ignore Klansmen marching in Charlottesville, but not easy for college kids in Charlottesville.

LEVELL: That mayor of Charlottesville, Jake, if I was in that leadership, I have been on public safety boards, higher education boards, transportation boards, I would have ordered towns people to say, hey, we've got this so-called protest coming from this group. Please stay home. What's wrong with just stay home? They're not even worth it. Just don't even show up. What's wrong with that?

TAPPER: I tend not to -- I mean, I don't know that people have to like hide in their homes. Isn't that the problem?

Dr. Moore, I want to bring you in for a second. When you look at all of the hate that was on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday night and on Saturday, and you're a religious leader, and you're somebody for whom racial reconciliation is an important issue, do you find it problematic -- let's remove President Trump from the equation, do you find it problematic when people act as if the Klan and Nazis are morally equivalent with the counter protesters?

MOORE: There's no moral equivalence between the Klan and neo-Nazis and others and counter protesters. We need more counter protesting of this sort of hatred and bigotry, and I don't think we can just ignore it and assume that it will go away. I think ignoring this kind of thing is what led to the sort of tragedy and hatred that we saw so often in the 20th century. We can't ignore it.

We have to speak up and we have to also be the people teaching our children what's happening when it is at the small level of protest marches and so forth to say this is not who we are as Americans and this is not who we should be as for those of us that are Christians as followers of Jesus Christ. I don't think we can ignore that, I think we have to speak very, very clearly in clear moral categories about these things.

TAPPER: We just got the two minute warning. So, I want to thank you, Dr. Russell Moore and Bruce LeVell, thank you both for joining us. Really appreciate it.

I want to go now to CNN's Kaylee Hartung. She's in Charlottesville, Virginia. We are awaiting that press conference from police there any moment.

Kaylee, you're there in that town that had a horrible, horrible weekend. What is it like being there? What's the mood there now?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, I have spoken to so many Charlottesville residents who told me they were traumatized by the violence that they saw in this college town this weekend. I have seen a city who is hurting. I stand at the crash that took Heather Heyer's life, we have seen a steady flow of people throughout the day coming here with flowers, and votive candles, writing feelings in chalk on the ground, mourning the loss of life too soon.

But I've also seen a city very full of hope, Jake, in the sense that businesses are now reopened. There was foot traffic, pedestrians back on the downtown mall, the area that we saw just a couple of days ago lined with police in riot gear. Even heard a woman playing amazing grace on a saxophone as a crowd gathered around her to take a moment to reflect on what it meant.

This town is eager to move forward, Jake, but the wake of the violence is weighing heavy on them. Everyone was reminded of it today when we saw James Alex Fields Jr. in court for the first time as he was arraigned, charged with second degree murder.

Jake, I'll send it back to you so we can get to the police press conference.

TAPPER: Well, actually, it hasn't started yet. So, let me ask you quickly, earlier today, the suspect in the attack that appeared in court. Tell us more. I will cut you off when I have to break away.

HARTUNG: OK. He is currently held in the Albemarle-Charlottesville regional jail. He appeared in that court room via a video teleconference. Now, he didn't say much, he was in a blue and white striped jump suit. The judge told him of charges against him --

TAPPER: We're going to the police chief in Charlottesville, Virginia, holding a press conference.

CHIEF AL THOMAS, CHARLOTTESVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT: Good afternoon, everyone. I am Chief Al Thomas, Charlottesville Police Department. Thank you all for being here and thank you for giving us opportunity to meet with you and answer questions.

I do have some prepared remarks and following the prepared statements, I would like to take time to answer questions that you may have as well.

Before I begin, on behalf of every member of the Charlottesville Police Department, I want to take a moment to send our deepest condolences to the families of the three Virginia residents who lost their lives Saturday. As you know, Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer was struck down by a vehicle while exercising her peaceful right to speech. The city stated earlier that while it will never makeup for loss of a member of our community, we will pursue charges against the driver of the vehicle that caused her death and are confident justice will prevail.

[16:25:05] The Virginia State Police Lieutenant Cullen and Trooper Pilot Bates were working with Charlottesville Police Department this past weekend to protect our community. These men also gave their lives in the line of duty and our gratitude to them cannot be overstated. Their loss is a loss for us all and we mourn with their families and colleagues.

We are working with the Heyer family to ensure the safety of vigils and other memorials that are planned for this week are safe. We plan to keep the four speed crossover closed until further notice as there are thousands of flowers lining the street and that is the location of the crash site.

We are also establishing a hot line for any victims or witnesses to contact local authorities and provide information that may not have been reported during the weekend. We understand it was a traumatic weekend for everyone. We're still receiving reports of assaults and additional crimes and we're working with state and local partners to investigate thoroughly any criminal or civil rights violations that may have occurred this past weekend that have not yet been reported.

Throughout the entire weekend, Virginia State Police, Charlottesville Police Department intervened to break up fights and altercations among those in attendance at the rally site. This began Friday night and continued through Sunday.

The city tracked approximately 250 calls for service on Saturday alone. And many of the conflicts, individuals would strike and disappear in the crowd. State police medics rendered aid to approximately 36 injured individuals Saturday, including several of the traffic crash victims on Water Street. The early morning hours on Saturday, Virginia State Police and Charlottesville Police were positioned in and around and across the street from Emancipation Park in order to readily observe and monitor the actions of the crowds and respond as quickly as possible when emergencies arose.

There were also state and local police on foot patrols and at road closures at various locations throughout the parks. So we could respond to emergencies occurring beyond the immediate area of Emancipation Park. Law enforcement were staged at McIntyre Park as well. You can see we had a very large footprint during this entire endeavor.

Around 10:00, Unite the Right attendees began arriving and entering Emancipation Park. We had a plan to bring them in at the rear of the park. They had agreed to cooperate with the plan. Unfortunately, they did not follow the plan. They began entering at different locations in and around the park and we had to quickly alter our plans to help facilitate that process.

Other groups also began amassing along the street and in the park. Gradually, the crowd sizes increased along with aggressiveness and hostility of attendees toward one another. Shortly before 11:00 a.m., individuals in the crowd began throwing objects and spraying chemical agents into the crowd. The city and county then made a declaration of local emergency.

The crowd size became increasingly violent with mutually engaged combatants, with one on one attacks following. An unlawful assembly was declared and state police troopers began to safely move individuals out of the park and through the streets. Charlottesville police officers were originally on site in their everyday uniform. We were again hoping that the members of the alt right rally would cooperate with our safety plan of ingress and egress.

Once violent began to erupt, we transitioned our officers into their protective equipment, we proceeded with organized response to safely ensure order in and around the park. No tear gas was deployed on Saturday by any law enforcement officers. There were a few incidents where the Virginia state police deployed O.C. or better known as pepper spray on those individuals refusing to comply with unlawful assembly declaration to leave Emancipation Park.

I would like to take a moment, open the floor to questions if you have any.


REPORTER: -- September 12th, they're claiming they had already said that there are going to be multiple rallies, Richmond, Lexington, here, September 12th?

THOMAS: I'm not sure that information is credible. But, yes, we heard those rumors as well. No one has contacted us directly concerning other demonstrations in and around the state.

REPORTER: Why was Fourth Street crossing open before 2:00 p.m.? It was supposed to be closed until 7:00.

THOMAS: I'm not sure whether or not the Fourth Street crossing was open.