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President Trump Faces Criticism for Delay on Condemning Racist Violence. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 14, 2017 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:04]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: He condemned the names of the racist groups who rallied there protesting the removal initially of that Confederate statue.

You have seen these horrendous pictures. This driver basically plowed through this group of people, these counterprotesters, ultimately killing this young woman, 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

The president today, when he spoke, did honor her, as he did the two state troopers who were killed when their helicopters crashed as they were patrolling those demonstrations. The tributes happened after he called out the KKK and the neo-Nazis, called them thugs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the deadly car attack that killed one innocent American and wounded 20 others.

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

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.

We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our creator. We are equal under the law. And we are equal under our Constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.

Two days ago, a young American woman, Heather Heyer, was tragically killed. Her death fills us with grief, and we send her family our thoughts, our prayers, and our love.

We also mourn the two Virginia State Troopers who died in service to their community, their commonwealth and their country. Troopers Jay Cullen and Berke Bates exemplified the very best in America, and our hearts go out to their families, their friends and every member of American law enforcement. These three fallen Americans embody the goodness and decency of our nation. In times such as these, America has always shown its true character:

responding to hate with love, division with unity, and violence with an unwavering resolve for justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: We will analyze that statement there in just a second.

But let's go to White House to Sara Murray, who is standing maybe live.

So, Sarah, we saw the president earlier. That was when he delivered that statement. He is supposed to speak within this next hour, specifically on China. And I'm assuming no mentions any longer of Charlottesville, correct?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We will see.

This is supposed to be an event designed to talk about trade, designed to talk about China, but, of course, there are reporters going into that room. You can bet they're going to yell questions at the president.

So, you never really know at what point whether will answer them or not, so I would stay tuned to see if he addresses it, Brooke. I think it's certainly a possibility. But you saw how uncomfortable this whole process has been for him, the fact he made that statement on Saturday that was really only sort of a muted disavowal of the violence that was playing out, made no mention of these hate groups.

And it took him days before he came out today and read off the Teleprompter to fully say things like he was disavowing the KKK and white supremacists and that those groups are evil and won't be tolerated.

BALDWIN: Sara, thank you. We will stand by for that and the questions sections of that.

Let's bring in CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny and CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins here with me in New York.

And so let's rewind. What brought us to this big statement today, because it was a bit of a miss initially, according to almost anyone you talk to?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right.

We can tell this was put together pretty rapidly, because this event was not on the president's schedule last night or the updated one sent out this morning. We know the White House this together and president came out, kind of bizarrely spoke about the stock market before he actually got into denouncing KKK members and neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

We're told by the White House that the president was really spearheading this, and he really wanted to speak out against this, and that he was also advised to do so by his chief of staff, John Kelly, and other White House officials.

But it kind of draws into question, because if he did want to say it, why didn't he say it in his original statement 48 hours ago on Saturday?

BALDWIN: Yet, meantime, over the weekend, you get the statement denouncing these groups on background. And everyone is sort of like, well, why does it need to be on background? Why can't they just use the name?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's a great question.

And the reality here is President Trump is a politician. He's like many politicians. He was backed into a corner on this. The criticism was coming fast and furiously from all corners, even from his supporters.

[15:05:01]

And he had to do this today. His initial instinct of course on Saturday was to not do this. Now, we don't know how much information he knew at the time. He's on a working vacation.

And there is some vacation in the work as well. He's done a lot of things. But he was playing golf and other things over the weekend. A lot of his advisers weren't there. But they were flat-footed on this, no question, but it also fits into a pattern of how he responds to hate groups like this, because the reality is, some of them are his supporters.

All of his supporters are not racists, of course.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Forgive me. Here's the president.

ZELENY: And there he is speaking right there.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

TRUMP: ... as a condition of market access.

We will combat the counterfeiting and piracy that destroys American jobs. We will enforce the rules of fair and reciprocal trade that form the foundation of responsible commerce. And we will protect forgotten Americans who have been left behind by a global trade system the has failed to look, and I mean look, out for their interests. They have not been looking out at all.

This is what I promised to do as a candidate for this office. And this is what I'm doing right now as president.

Ambassador Lighthizer, you are empowered to consider all available options at your disposal. We will safeguard the copyrights, patents, trademarks, trade secrets and other intellectual property that's so vital to our security and to our prosperity.

We will uphold our values. We will defend our workers. And we will protect the innovations, creations and inventions that power our magnificent country.

Thank you. And God bless America. Thank you all very much.

It's a very big move. Thank you.

And this is just the beginning. I want to tell you that. This is just the beginning.

Where's Raytheon?

Raytheon, congratulations.

(APPLAUSE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, can you explain why you did not condemn those hate groups by name over the weekend?

TRUMP: They have been condemned. They have been condemned.

ACOSTA: And why are we not having a press conference today? You said on Friday you would have a press conference.

TRUMP: We had a press conference. We just had a press conference.

ACOSTA: Can we ask you some more questions, then, sir?

TRUMP: It doesn't bother me at all. I mean, I like real news, not fake news. You're fake news.

Thank you, everybody.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. President, haven't you spread a lot of fake news yourself, sir?

BALDWIN: All right. So, let's respond to all of that.

Gloria Borger, first here.

That was obviously the voice of Jim Acosta, our senior White House correspondent, shouting the questions to the president about, why didn't you condemn the racist clashes over the weekend in Charlottesville weekend? He said they have been condemned, they have been condemned, and then was yelling -- I think he was yelling back at Jim, "You're fake news."

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BALDWIN: How do you respond?

BORGER: Well, look, I think the president didn't want to talk about it anymore, honestly.

BALDWIN: Yes. You think?

BORGER: I think...

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: I think he believes he said what he finally need to say 48 hours ago.

And I think the questions ought to be asked about, quite frankly, why he didn't say it 48 hours ago. And, you know, I think, if you sort of want to take a step back here, I think this is a president who we have seen over the last six months kind of lacks a sense of history and a sense of the gravity of the job of the presidency, and lacks a sense of understanding of the leadership that's needed from the bully pulpit at moments like we just saw over the weekend in Charlottesville.

And at a time when he needs to start building his credibility in the country -- you saw our polls last week which said an overwhelming majority don't believe things that are coming from the White House -- instead, he sort of squanders it.

And so I think that everybody's been grappling with what occurred on Saturday, and condemning Nazis and KKK members ought to be one of the easiest things that anybody can possibly do from the bully pulpit, and yet it took a long time.

BALDWIN: David Chalian, what do you think?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I certainly agree with Gloria that Saturday was a completely missed opportunity.

His statement was quite strong today. He came out and really hit the notes that I think the country was eager to hear from him on Saturday. And so I do think it begs the question, why was that not his initial instinct?

[15:10:08]

What have we learned now fundamentally about the way Donald Trump's world view is put into action as a part of the presidency of the United States of America? What did we see on Saturday that this was not part of his initial instincts of how to respond to this, and that this only came after 48 hours of pressure from his fellow Republicans, from the press, from critics, wherever?

He couldn't find comfort anywhere in what he had said Saturday. He realized he needed to fix the problem, but fixing the immediate P.R. problem I don't think is actually answering the fundamental question about where his initial instincts were on Saturday.

BALDWIN: Nia, you heard the president. He said he addressed it. I had a Trump supporter on last hour who was saying to me, why is the media so fixated on how the president is responding to this?

Meanwhile, I'm saying, well, because neo-Nazis basically descended upon a town in Virginia, and one woman has been killed. But, you know, that's just how -- one perspective. What did you make -- how did the president do today?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think that's right. It's not just the media.

I have a woman who I mentor who's actually going to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. And there are lots of -- obviously, people around the country are going to Charlottesville and perhaps going to the University of Virginia. People are afraid, right?

The images we saw on our television screens on Saturday, I think, were frightening to many, many Americans. And I don't think the president as of yet has addressed that real fear that a lot of Americans have that this is something that has happened on American soil, people shouting against Jews, shouting against African-Americans, raising Nazi salutes.

And I think he came up short today again, I think, in addressing that fear. I think we have a president who typically identifies threats. Some of those threats are imagined, right, this idea that all of these people voted illegally, for instance. And he addresses those, right?

This whole idea that illegal immigrants have committed crimes, he's talked about that. And he's sought to address them in real ways, in policy prescriptions.

And I think, here, I think people who heard him today might still be waiting on what the real policy prescriptions are that might come out of this. How big a threat are these white supremacist groups? Those were big crowds that we saw there. They themselves have said that they feel emboldened.

Is this something that the federal government is going to treat as a real kind of broad scourge? Or will they treat it as a one-off, kind of one investigation that obviously the Justice Department is looking into?

So I think he's got a ways to go still. I talked to one Republican, and I asked him, do you think the president can come back from this? And one of the things he said, he asked me, did President Bush come back from Katrina, right? That was a real watershed moment for President Bush.

He wasn't really able to come back from that. Of course, he was in his second term, but it left a lot of doubts about this president, his empathy, his empathy for certain groups of Americans.

And I think this president still has got a long way to go in terms of closing that gap for many Americans, who still doubt how he feels about these groups and what he's going to do.

BALDWIN: That's a great point. That's a great point. Cornell Brooks, people, of course, have been wondering, testing the

mettle of a man in the face of a crisis, and this is an atrocity, and that one young woman was killed and separately those two state troopers. But imagine a Pulse nightclub shooting or something of that magnitude, and you have to wonder how he would respond, based upon the course of the last 72 hours.

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT, NAACP: I'm afraid of how he would respond, because let us note this.

This moment was not a failure of message in terms of the White House Office of Communications, but it was of failure of morality relative to the office of conscience within the heart of our president, Donald J. Trump, because his response today, which represented a rhetorical minimum, followed an anonymously sourced White House statement that clarified what the president most obviously failed to say.

And it followed an initial statement that did not call out the Nazis, did not call out white supremacists and the Klan. And so it gave the impression that the president was trying to have his hate cake and eat it, too, in terms of having the White House disavow and condemn these white supremacists by name, while he failed to do so.

So, this was a moment in which he did the rhetorical minimum, but his sincerity and his stature as a president will be measured as how responds as a manner of policy, number one, making sure that the appropriate prosecutorial and investigatory resources are devoted to going after these criminals, or as he put it, thugs.

[15:15:06]

Two, he can fire Steve Bannon. Let us note, Steve Bannon was the architect of the Breitbart platform for the alt-right, AKA white supremacists.

He's still working in the White House. And as such, his mere presence creates, perpetuates a de facto office of legitimacy for the alt- right. That continues as we speak. So, he can fire Steve Bannon. He can make sure that the attorney general goes after these criminals, or this criminal, and any others who are posing a violent threat to the U.S.

And he can use his office as both a moral bully pulpit, but, more than that, an office that takes a clear stand against bigotry, anti- Semitism, and let's not forget misogyny.

When we had neo-Nazis desecrating the memory of Heather Heyer as a woman in the wake of this tragedy, this simply speaks to the kind of -- the ugliness of this, anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism, all at once and certainly hanging like a cloud over Charlottesville, Virginia. The president needs to step up with words and deeds. And that still needs to happen

BALDWIN: Sure.Let me go back to your point on Stephen Bannon.

And, Jeff Zeleny, turning to you, because Michael Eric Dyson made the same point last hour. He said Stephen Bannon -- he said Bannon and also Stephen Miller he added to that list, need to go.

ZELENY: That's right.

BALDWIN: So, to you, because we've heard some reporting in and out for months, he's on the outs, he's on the in.

What's the latest on Bannon's status?

ZELENY: Well, Stephen Bannon, definitely the chief strategist of Twitter, is on some thin ice.

And this is not a new situation. Over the last six or seven months or so, he's been at the front of everything and then he's been -- retreated a little bit. But he is on the ropes somewhat, not because of the president's response in Charlottesville, a totally different situation.

There are some in the White House who believe that Stephen Bannon is in a very public feud with H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser. In fact, "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, a friend to the president, basically called him out and said, cut it out, stop fighting with this.

So, the reality here is that Stephen Bannon, there were some who wanted him to go at the same time Reince Priebus did. He hung on because he has a lot of allies in the White House and the base likes him, so we will see how long he stays.

But I think the reality here is, the staff aside, this has been a revealing moment of what we learned about from this president himself Saturday, his own instincts.

And I think, in his response there, "They have been condemned, they have been condemned," it almost sounds like, OK, I have done it, I can check this off.

BALDWIN: Done it. Check. Move on.

ZELENY: The reality here is, if you listen to his words he said earlier which someone else wrote for him, he said, we must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together.

That did not to me -- speaking in the past tense, they have been condemned. OK, I'm done with the speech. Moving on.

We will see how much of a teachable moment this becomes that the president really I think could benefit from in a great way. He could bring people together, and people who liked him and wanted him to succeed. I think that was a revealing exchange with our own Jim Acosta there by suggesting this is a done deal.

BALDWIN: But then after he said, it's been condemned, it's been condemned, sort of that odd moment where he's yelling at Jim. I sort of heard, like, you're fake news or fake news.

ZELENY: He likes to say that to Jim a lot, as we know, because... COLLINS: Well, I think it's a reflex for him at this point.

ZELENY: Sure.

COLLINS: But then he said -- Jim followed up with, what about your press conference?

As you know, last Friday, the president said he was going to have a pretty big press conference at the White House today. We know that one this morning was hastily arranged, but he said, we already had a press conference. We just had one.

It's not a press conference if you don't take questions from reporters, which the president did not...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Do you think the president thinks it's a press conference just when he's just addressing the media?

COLLINS: Just delivering a statement? I assume so. That's what it must be.

And I have heard rumbling of that from White House staffers, but that is not a press conference. You have to take questions for it to be a press conference. And he should have been happy to answer these things.

And like Jeff said, it clearly shows what his instincts were on Saturday with that very vague statement about many sides. And then contrast with the one he had today that was carefully prepared after he had faced all of this criticism.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

Also today, the reticence has been criticized, but then he took to Twitter this morning, Gloria. We know that the CEO of Merck, Ken Frazier, he has quit now the president's manufacturing council over this response.

And then not minutes later, the president lashed out on him, this successful African-American CEO, lashes out on him on Twitter. Was that a revealing moment for you?

BORGER: Well, sure, because it took him less than an hour to respond to Frazier leaving a council that -- was it a manufacturing council or a business council, with the president, and took him less than an hour and criticize Frazier, but took him more than 48 hours to deal with this.

[15:20:00]

And this is a president who is never slow to criticize people he thinks are doing him wrong, whether it was during the campaign, calling Marco Rubio names, or Ted Cruz names, or calling Ken Frazier out this morning. And Frazier left because of the president's lack of response. But it

took him a while to sort of figure out the right tone. And this goes back to what David Chalian was saying and Jeff Zeleny was saying, which is, it tells you a lot about the president and that he doesn't have -- he's sort of unable to speak, I believe, to the country or for the country on an issue like this, that is very challenging to us at this time.

And what you look to a president for is someone who will be able to speak to everyone and saying, this unacceptable, we will bring these people to justice, this is wrong, this is who they are, and this is not what we stand for.

But his instinct, which went unchecked over the weekend, was to do something very different. And so it's not a staff problem. It really isn't. It's a leadership problem.

BALDWIN: How does he then -- just listening to you -- and, David Chalian, let me go to you.

Not only is it the CEOs are coming out. You have members of his own party coming out. Talking to Carl Bernstein a bit ago, he was saying he's talking to Republicans. They see like this is a -- you can't turn back from this sort of moment. How does he move forward and unite this country?

CHALIAN: Yes, I do think we saw a pretty significant break of his fellow partisans, Republicans on Capitol Hill, this weekend.

I think you will see, we're already starting to see, some praise for his remarks today from those folks to try to help move, turn the page on this moment a bit politically for him. But you don't see some groundswell right now of statement after statement coming out praising what he did this morning.

You will see some kind words from him. But I don't see those critics from Saturday now just completely dropping their criticism. It was a bit of an earthquake of a moment in terms of understanding, as Gloria was saying, his instincts.

But, Brooke, I do think there's an important political point here for the president, which is he's already at a huge deficit with the American people on these issues, on the stature of the presidency, on his ability to unite and not divide.

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: Our last week showed, 2-1, Americans are against him on these areas.

So this is already a leadership deficit for him, and he dug his hole a little deeper this weekend.

BALDWIN: Then, Cornell, on the digging deeper, and we mentioned Ken Frazier. But it is interesting to see the number of CEOs coming out against the president of the United States against racism and his response today.

BROOKS: Absolutely.

The reality is, the moral reality is, this is not about Democrat or Republican, about blue-collar or white-collar. This is profoundly about American values.

And where you have neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white supremacist descending upon the University of Virginia, an extraordinary institution, and literally desecrating that campus and that community with this violent extremism, and where you have the president who is slow on the trigger.

He responds in a nanosecond with respect to Ken Frazier acting as a matter of conviction and conscience to his moral failure, but he takes an eternity, a political eternity, to respond to a young woman being killed on the campus of the -- being killed in Charlottesville, Virginia.

This is a profound failure of public and personal morality. And it demeans the stature of the presidency, where we have a president engaged in this kind of conduct.

And so this is serious moment. It's a serious moment, and it goes beyond anything his advisers can tell him. This is not a public relations problem. This is not a matter of polls. This is a matter of conviction.

And the fact of the matter is, people want to look into the eyes of the president and see character, and see a soul, and see somebody who cares about them, and cares about all of them, Democrat, Republican, Latino, Asian, African-American, Jew, Gentile, whoever you are and wherever you come from.

You want a president who literally cares about people. And what we saw over the last couple days is a heartlessness that is, frankly, very disturbing.

HENDERSON: It's also a matter of safety and security, right?

BROOKS: That's right.

HENDERSON: The Nazis and the white supremacists, after this incident, they essentially said...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: They said, we're coming back.

HENDERSON: We're coming back. You can expect more of this.

So, we will see what the White House's, what Donald Trump's response is. I think those folks, if you listen to what they say, they see in Donald Trump an ally in the White House, right?

[15:25:00] So, I think many people think it's incumbent upon this president, not

only to denounce them, but say to those folks that you don't represent me, Donald Trump, because they certainly feel like, when they make those make America great hats, David Duke has said that white supremacists put Donald Trump in the White House, because they feel like his vision of America comports with their vision of America.

So, we will see. This isn't just a moment. This is likely, unfortunately, going to happen again. We will see what we hear out of this White House.

BORGER: You know, he could have said -- when I was just thinking about what Nia is saying, David Duke tweeted over the weekend, remember, we voted for you and all that.

The president, who personalizes everything, could have personalized this and said, if you are supporting me, I don't want your support, period. I disavow you, period, because David Duke said that.

Why not respond to that and say, I don't -- I don't want you to support me? Go away.

BALDWIN: Well, he still has time. He still has time to come down on them, and Nia is right. These folks are saying, we're coming back.

Here's hoping that they won't, and what happened in Charlottesville was tragic, but just a sole incident. We will see. We will be watching.

Everyone, thank you so much. I appreciate all of you.

As we're watching also just the investigation unfold in Charlottesville, the suspect there in that car attack, he was in court today for the first time. We will tell you what happened, and also what investigators have found inside of his apartment.

And after the Charlottesville Police Department was really criticized for its slow response over the weekend, the governor of Virginia is raising eyebrows for saying it was difficult for them because the militias were better armed than police. Let's talk about all of that and more.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Mr. President, can you explain why you did not condemn those hate groups by name over the weekend?

TRUMP: They have been condemned. They have been condemned.

ACOSTA: And why are we not having a press conference today? You said on Friday you would have a press conference.

TRUMP: We had a press conference. We just had a press conference.

ACOSTA: Can we ask you some more questions, then, sir?

TRUMP: It doesn't bother me at all. I mean, I like real news, not fake news. You're fake news.

Thank you, everybody.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. President, haven't you spread a lot of fake news yourself, sir?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: That was the president just now responding to our own senior White House correspondent.