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President Trump Facing Criticism for Delay on Condemning Racist Violence. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 14, 2017 - 16:30   ET



QUESTION: It was supposed to be closed until 7:00.

AL THOMAS, CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA, POLICE CHIEF: I'm not sure whether or not the Fourth Street crossing was open.

I don't have the action plan with me currently, but I am certain that the action plan called for this route to be closed.


QUESTION: Last month, for the Ku Klux Klan rally, we were here. You guys were there from the beginning. You were in the middle of the rally. You kept the two sides separate. Why did you take a different approach on Saturday?

THOMAS: Well, this was a completely different event from the rally on July the 8th.

The entire option -- action plan was different. We did make attempts to keep two sides separate. However, we can't control which side someone enters the park. We had agreements, and worked out a security plan to bring the groups in, in separate entrances.

Again, they decided to change the plan, and enter the park in different directions.

QUESTION: Chief, we have heard reports that police did not do enough to break up fights, that it appeared they were standing around, letting people duke it out. And some people have suggested they may have been intimidated by the firepower of the alt-right. Can you respond to that?

THOMAS: We were certainly not intimidated by firepower of the alt- right.

However, it was prudent to make sure that officers were equipped to go out and deal directly with the violence at hand. Originally, we had our officers out in their everyday uniform. We were hoping for a peaceful event.

We urged leaders from both sides to engage in a nonviolent demonstration. Once the violence erupted, once the plan was altered, we had to quickly transition our officers into their protective gear. Once the unlawful assembly was declared, we requested the state police mobile field force to deploy in their riot gear, and our officers took a position behind them at that point to guard their rear.

QUESTION: Chief, I witnessed personally dozens of acts of violence, people being assaulted and other general assaults as well with police officers in sight watching who did not intervene or help those victims.

Did you give any orders to the police officers not to help people who were being assaulted?


QUESTION: At the point that it turned violent, why didn't you guys clear the streets completely? Why allow any protesters at that point to remain on the streets?

THOMAS: We did clear the park. And we had -- once the crowds were dispersed, they went to many locations throughout the city.

At that time, we had to actually send our forces to multiple locations to deal with a number of disturbances in and around the downtown area. We were -- it took probably an hour to gain control of the streets.

We had groups that were moving constantly. We were following a number of groups, ensuring that they were being peaceful. But it was a challenge. It was certainly a challenge. We were spread thin once the groups dispersed.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Was there any plan, decision-making, or thought process to say this might not be a good idea to let these people continue to march around the streets, knowing that these two sides were so agitated at that point?


We have to focus on behavior and criminal activity, not just citizens walking in our streets.

QUESTION: Chief, Chief, this didn't end well. Do you have any regrets? And do you wish you would have come more prepared, so to speak?

In other words, you knew what was coming. You had met with them. You had a plan. You talked it out. Do you regret not having your officers better prepared and in their proper gear earlier, so they could have acted sooner?

THOMAS: Absolutely, I have regrets. We lost three lives this weekend. I have -- I have -- I certainly have regrets. We lost three lives this weekend, a local citizen and two fellow officers. We certainly have regrets. It was a tragic, tragic weekend.

QUESTION: Do you regret your actions and your decisions that day?

THOMAS: I explained what our regrets are. We regret this tragic day. We regret that we had a tragic outcome and we lost lives.

QUESTION: Do you believe that -- hi, Chief.

Do you believe that one side was more responsible than another for instigating the violence?

THOMAS: This was an alt-right rally.

QUESTION: Do you believe that they're the ones who instigated the rally -- the fighting?

THOMAS: We did have mutually combative individuals in the crowd.

We tried to be patient. We tried to give the individuals in the crowd who wanted to leave, we wanted to make sure that they were able to leave safely. We facilitated that process. We had a number of individuals who chose to remain and caused violence, caused disturbances in our community.


QUESTION: Thank you.

We have heard from a senior law enforcement source in another county whose officers who were that in a briefing conducted here for law enforcement either Friday or Saturday morning that officers were instructed to make no arrests without the explicit approval of the Charlottesville mayor.

Our law enforcement source said that he was outraged by the instructions. Did you or the mayor or anyone on the mayor's staff instruct law enforcement not to make arrests unless approved by the mayor?


And I would like to know who that officer is what allegedly made those remarks. That's simply not true.

Folks, thank you so much for your time.

QUESTION: What would you do differently next time, sir?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: That was the chief of police of Charlottesville, Virginia, Al Thomas, updating us after the deadly racist violence over the weekend. He called it a traumatic weekend for those involved. He said he had regrets.

He said a hot line is being set up to report more assaults that may have not been reported during the chaos. He said that assaults have been continuing. There were some questions about whether there would be future alt-right/Nazi/Ku Klux Klan rallies. And he said he heard rumors of that, but nothing concrete.

Let's bring in my panel to talk about this.

Kevin Madden, let me start with you.

Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan tweeted after President Trump's -- his comments today: "All it took was three days of crushing public pressure for @realDonaldTrump to finally muster the courage to condemn Nazism and racism."

Do you agree with that sentiment, not just that it was too late, but that he only did it because of public pressure?


And I think there are a number of people that -- of both parties that wish that the president came out and spoke sooner, spoke with greater sense of clarity about what was going wrong down there and calling out the actions of these vile racists that were protesting.

You know, presidents don't get to do do-overs. And today felt it like an attempt to achieve a do-over. And I think the lesson here from the White House ought to be very clear, which is that you don't get a second chance and that you have to seize on that moment.

Presidencies are defined by big moments, and rising to the occasion on those big moments. And This was clearly one of those missed opportunities.

Symone Sanders, if President Trump gave on Saturday the comments that he gave today, would that have sufficed?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it definitely would have made a huge difference.

I have always said words matter, especially the words of the president of the United States. And he failed us this weekend.

I am happy he used the words KKK, white supremacy today. Now I need his words to line up with his actions. We know that there's been a policy change in the Trump administration, where white supremacists have been taken off of the list of groups that are monitored by the counterterrorism program.

I think they need to be put back on. I think we can all agree with that right now. Also, there are white supremacist sympathizers currently serving in our administration right now in the people's house. And I would call on President Trump, to Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, they need to go.

TAPPER: Let's talk about that.

Josh Green, you have an excellent book about Steve Bannon. You, I think it's fair to say, are the -- other than Mr. Bannon, the world authority on Steve Bannon.

He has a waiver so he can still talk to his former employees at Breitbart, where he was once chief executive. In addition, he said he wanted Breitbart to be the platform for the alt-right. Anthony Scaramucci, the short-lived communications director at the

White House, told George Stephanopoulos this weekend that the problems were in no small way Steve Bannon's. Take a listen.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: If the president really wants to execute that legislative agenda that I think is so promising for the American people, the lower-middle-class people and the middle-class people, then he has to move away from that sort of Bannon-bart nonsense.


TAPPER: How much do you think Steve Bannon is responsible for saying to President Trump, don't criticize these people specifically, keep it vague?

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know what the discussion was, if any, between Trump and Bannon.

Certainly, Bannon is someone with a viewpoint that you shouldn't apologize for these sort of things. But I also don't think that Trump needed to be convinced not to come out and explicitly condemn the groups that he finally came out and condemned today, because we have been in a situation like this during the campaign.

Hillary Clinton in August gave a speech condemning the alt-right and Trump for having hired Bannon specifically because of these Breitbart connections, and Trump saw no need then to apologize or modulate or get rid of Steve Bannon, and it didn't cost him in the polls. I think that Trump went into this thinking, I have been through this once before. There's no reason I should have to apologize.

TAPPER: And to be fair to Stephen Bannon, words that I don't often say, in February 2016, Kevin, when then candidate Trump was on my show, and I asked him what I thought teat the time was kind of like a throwaway question about the ADL calling him to vociferously and unequivocally condemning David Duke and the white supremacists who were expressing support for him, and President Trump three times refused to, Stephen Bannon had nothing to do with that.



And this goes back to an old saying that I have always employed, whether it's been on campaigns or working in an administration. Organizations are reflections of their principal.

At the end of the day, staff does not matter. And I think, again, this should be another lesson for this White House, that no matter how strong the vice president comes out and says something, no matter how much a family member tweets, whatever language they use, as strong as it is, it doesn't matter until the president himself articulates it. And that's why as a nation, we have always turned our eye to that

executive to look for a sense of healing, or a sense of purpose, or a sense of resolve to our presidents.

And so that's something that Steve Bannon and some of these internecine battles in the White House are not as important as whether or not the principal says something and says it clearly to the American people.

SANDERS: I would agree, Jake.

And I think I'm also concerned about the speech that Donald Trump gave today. He specifically said this country was founded on equality for all. And we all know that is not true.

The folks who were, the white supremacists who were marching in Charlottesville Friday and Saturday were marching because they were angry that the vice mayor introduced a resolution to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee, who was a general of the Confederacy.

There are deep-seated ties to white supremacy embedded in the systems of our country that we have yet to fully address. In Nazi Germany, folks were put on trial. Reparations were rendered. There are no schools in which children in Germany attend named after Nazi generals.

But here in America, our children go to school every day in schools named after generals of the Confederacy. So, I don't think the president even fully understands the gravitas of what really happened this weekend.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We're going to take a very quick break. We have much more to talk about on the violence in Charlottesville, the president's reaction and then his do-over.

Stay with us.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We have more breaking news now. The Secretary of Defense, Retired Marine General James Mattis just issued a new warning. If North Korea hits Guam or any part of the United States, it is "game on." He also said "if they shoot at the United States, I'm assuming they hit the United States. If they do that, then it is game on." Joining me now is CNN Senior National Security Analyst Lisa Monaco, she served as Homeland Security Adviser to President Obama. Lisa, your reaction, you have been critical of President Trump's rhetoric, escalatory rhetoric, would this qualify?

LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, good to be with you, Jake. Just hearing this new comments from Secretary Mattis, I think it's another indication that we're getting ourselves into a bit of a war of words here that could lead to miscalculation and miscommunication and that's concerning. I noted that Secretary - I'm sorry, General Dunford is on route, is in the region, is going to be meeting with Chinese officials. He's been sounding what sounds like more measured tones, talking about

military force being the last resort and they're needing to be diplomatic pressure and other types of pressure brought to bear, but he, of course, is there to provide military options should those be need. And that's absolutely appropriate. I do think, though, this type of escalatory rhetoric that President Trump started with last weekend was really something that is - needs to be tempered and not box him into a situation that we can't climb down from, and as Admiral Mike Mullen said, you don't want to be limiting your decision space.

TAPPER: So the North Koreans had said that they would possibly be presenting to Kim Jong-un a plan to fire missiles towards Guam that would land in the sea about - I think it was about 20 miles away from Guam. General Mattis, I'm sorry, Secretary Mattis, former General Mattis, seeming to say if they're headed toward Guam, he's going to assume that they're going to hit Guam. Is that an unreasonable position?

MONACO: I'm not sure it's unreasonable and certainly Secretary Mattis has a lot of experience in these areas to be sure. I think, though, the concern is that what President Trump said initially with his initial comments was to lay down a bit of a red line that any type of threat that Kim Jong-un would issue would be met with fire and fury. So the question immediately arises, what qualifies as a threat. Is it more verbal posturing from the North Korean regime, is it mobilizing missiles, is it firing missiles that land like so many of theirs have in the sea? That type of question and those uncertainties is a dangerous place to be in this region with this regime.

TAPPER: I want to ask you also about the attack in Charlottesville. President Trump did not refer to it as act of domestic terrorism. Should he have?

MONACO: I think he should have, Jake. I think it is important that Attorney General Sessions did. By any measure, this kind of violence of an individual plowing a car into demonstrators, that type of violence that we have seen used by ISIS in the past is the very definition of terrorism. And I think it's important to call it what it is. President Trump's statement today I think was a welcome change from what he said on Saturday. It was, however, disturbingly delayed in my view.

TAPPER: In May, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security put out an intelligence bulletin warning that white supremacist groups continue to pose a serious security threat to the United States. I want you to take a listen to Breitbart editor turned White House Aide Sebastian Gorka, he was on Breitbart Radio suggesting that the media talks too much about white supremacist terrorism instead of focusing on radical Islamic terrorism.


[16:50:04] SEBASTIAN GORKA, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DEPUTY ASSISTANT: It's this constant, Oh, it's the white man. It's the white supremacist. That's the problem. No, it isn't.


TAPPER: Obviously radical Islamic terrorism is a serious threat. How serious is the threat from white supremacist groups?

MONACO: I think we should take our direction in these matters not from Mr. Gorka but from the experts at the FBI and from the Department of Homeland Security who as you noted have said that white supremacist extremism poses a threat of lethal violence and they highlighted in that bulletin that you referenced, Jake, that goes out to state and local authorities, it's a - it's a mechanism by which federal law enforcement and the intelligence community make known to their state and local partners what those state and local law enforcement authorities should be most worried about, and in that bulletin they said that white supremacist extremism has caused more deaths in the last five or six years than any other form of domestic extremism. So I think we should be listening to the experts.

TAPPER: Is there any policy reason you could think of why white supremacist terrorism which the FBI is warning about which obviously allegedly took a life this weekend, why that should be ignored as opposed to Islamic - radical terrorism the way that Mr. Gorka suggested?

MONACO: Absolutely not, and we should be looking at all forms of terrorism and extremism and we should be focusing on enforcement and we should be focusing on prevention, on the enforcement front, we should be looking at what the tragic events that happened over last weekend in Charlottesville. Are there connections to domestic terrorist group, domestic extremist groups that are long been the subject of FBI investigation like the Ku Klux Klan, like white supremacist organizations, are there connections to those groups?

Are there going to be other types of violence like we saw in Charlottesville at other demonstrations against removing Confederate statues around the country? These are the types of things that our law enforcement should be focusing in on. Prevention, we ought to be funding the types of research and work by groups who are there to focus on the threat posed by domestic extremists, and what we've seen is the most recent budget submitted by the Trump administration zeroed out exactly that type of funding.

TAPPER: Lisa Monaco, always good to hear from you. Thank you so much. A report that the President may grant a pardon to a controversial figure and big time Trump supporter, some call him a racist. We'll talk about that next.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: Back with our "POLITICS LEAD." Let's continue the conversation with my panel. So President Trump just told Greg Jarrett of Fox News that he is seriously considering pardoning Joe Arpaio, the former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, he was recently convicted of criminal contempt for failing to stop patrols targeting suspected undocumented immigrants as he had been ordered to do by a court. If you were advising President Trump, would you - is that a good -

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I hate the premise of that question.

TAPPER: Would you recommend that pardon?

MADDEN: Look, I think - look, first of all, the President's pardon power is pretty broad, broadly interpreted. So - and this is - had become a cause (INAUDIBLE) amongst the most important supporters of the President. So, if the President wanted to do it, I wouldn't really advise against it, and it does fit with some of the pardons that you have seen, it's for a misdemeanor that you know, six months for a misdemeanor conviction is a lot. So -

TAPPER: Symone?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You all know I love Kevin Madden, but Joe Arpaio is a racist. He's a known racist. He's convicted of racially profiling Latinos. So, if Donald Trump decides to pardon Joe Arpaio, he is endorsing racism. Well, he just stood out there today and told us that he didn't. So, when somebody shows you who they are, believe them. And clearly, Donald Trump is talking about standing on the side of racists.

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And the quickest way to undo whatever small but of good Trump did with his statement today would be to turn around, and to pardon Joe Arpaio. So it wouldn't make a lot of sense for me, political decency standpoint.

TAPPER: They do. We should point out, they did work together on the racist nonsense that Barack Obama, the first African-American President, wasn't born in this country, was born in Africa. So they have some common cause.

GREEN: Well, just because your racist pal is going to jail doesn't mean you automatically pardon him if you're the President would be.

SANDERS: Look, if I was advising President Trump, which I am clearly not, he should not do this. But if he does, I think it would give us the clearest - the clearest thing that we've seen since he has been elected in office of who he really is. And if he pardons him, I don't want to hear anybody talking to me about a pivot. There is no pivot, this is who he is.

TAPPER: One quick thing, the CEO of Merck Ken Frazier resigned today from the President's manufacturing council because the President's response was insufficient. President Trump took to Twitter to attack him and pharmaceutical companies in general. That's a pretty big resignation. I mean, that's a very -

MADDEN: And you're seeing more of this. I think it started with the Paris Climate Agreement. A lot of CEOs felt the need to go out and state essentially what their corporate values were, and they want to make that known to a lot of not only their customers but just the public overall.

TAPPER: OK, thanks, everyone. I really appreciate it. Great panel. Be sure to tune in next Monday for a CNN special event, I'm going to be moderating an exclusive town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan. We're going to be in Racine, Wisconsin. Speaker Ryan will answer questions from his constituents about the challenges facing Congress when lawmakers return to the hill. Everything from the federal budget to tax reform, infrastructure, maybe a question or two about President Trump. I don't know. I can't predict what people are going to ask. The Town Hall airs next Monday on CNN at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thank you for watching.