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Trump Slams Merck CEO; Trump under Fire for Not Condemning White Supremacists; Trump Meets with AG And FBI Director; Trump Condemns Hatred; Republicans Question Trump. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 14, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:06] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

President Trump is back in Washington for the day, now trying to clean up a profound mess, a mess of his own making. The initial reason for interrupting his vacation was to take issue with China's trade policies. That is still on tap a few hours from now.

But, at this hour, the president is in a newly scheduled meeting withies attorney general and his new FBI director. They are investigating the death this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a possible hate crime, or domestic terrorism.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation toward the most serious charges that can be brought, because this is an unequivocally, unacceptable and evil attack.


KING: Those words from the attorney general. Yet for three days now the president of the United States has declined to explicitly condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marches sparked the weekend chaos and bloodshed. That failure has brought a torrent of criticism, much of it from fellow Republicans, who say the president is failing a giant leadership and character test.


SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: This president has done an incredible job of naming terrorism around the globe as evil, radical Islamic terrorism. Whether it's in Europe on the Middle East he has said and called it out time and time again. And this president needs to do exactly that today, call this white supremacism, this white nationalism evil and let the country hear it, let the world hear it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg Politics," CNN's Manu Raju, Matt Viser of "The Boston Globe," and Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast."

The Ohio man charged with plowing his car into a crowd Saturday in Charlottesville was arraigned on murder and other charges this morning and ordered held without bail. This morning's court hearing for James Alex Fields Jr. was on state charges. He also, of course, is central to the federal investigation now that the president is hearing about at the White House as we speak. And we are told we will hear from the president again about Charlottesville later today.

His team, including the vice president, say it is a media creation that the president fell miserably short in his Saturday statement, blaming the violence on, quote, many sides. Wrong. Leading Republicans are part of a giant bipartisan chorus saying the president of the United States failed a big leadership test by failing to name names and single out the hate mongers. It is not the media but leading Republicans who say the president seems tone deaf, even soft, they say, in the wake of a domestic terrorist attack on his watch.

And this morning, well, the president dug the hole deeper. Not one tweet over the weekend or this morning on the scourge of white supremacy but a rush to attack an African-American CEO who resigned from a White House manufacturing panel because he is disappointed by the president's response to Charlottesville. Kenneth Frazier at Merck Pharmaceuticals said he quit because, quote, America's leaders must honor our fundamental views by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy. The president's response, to attack. Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from the president's manufacturing council, the president said on Twitter, he will have more time to lower ripoff drug prices.

I asked yesterday when we were here for INSIDE POLITICS, why? Why can't the president name names? Why wouldn't the president name names? Why this? The country and the world are waiting to hear from you. You get a chance to reset and you get a chance to say, maybe I didn't get it right the first time and you attack an African-American CEO. Why not retweet him and say, you know what, Ken, I agree, I agree, please don't quit. Listen to what I say later today. Why?

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG POLITICS": Well, I think we are going to hear from him today possibly really soon and I think he's going to need to articulate these points. He's now effectively taken a tragedy that was not at its outset about him, made it about him and then tempted his own party and top business executives, basically dared them, stick with me or I'll -- you know, or I'll come after you.

And it has created a real moment of dissidence at a time that traditionally has caused -- has called for presidential healing. And, you know, at Bloomberg we're looking -- we're watching, obviously, all these other advisory councils to see whether other CEOs, black or white or of any race follow suit. It has taken a major news event out of one realm and put it squarely at the White House. And it's caused a real mess. KING: And it's just -- I'm wound up a bit about this, but this is why

we elect presidents. And if you're out there and you voted for Trump or if you didn't vote for Trump, this is why we elect presidents, to step up at moments like this. This is what they're paid for and, frankly, this is what a lot of Americans pray for. They pray for their president to step forward at a moment like this and try to unify the country. Why?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Hey, John, it's been -- well, it's been remarkable too over the past days to see all these administration officials essentially try to put words in the president's mouth, trying to say things that he didn't say. Ben Carson, his HUD secretary, is saying on FaceBook that the president, quote, overly disavowed any relationship with white supremacists." The president did not do that. And this unnamed White House official, who put out this statement yesterday saying the president, of course, disavows these groups. Well, the president --

[12:05:24] TALEV: Jeff Sessions on the --

KING: Yes.

TALEV: Show this morning (INAUDIBLE) --

RAJU: Jeff Sessions on the show this morning.

But the president has not done that himself. And this is a time that calls for presidential leadership. He has -- he could have put on 140 character tweet just as quickly as he did to criticize the CEO this morning. He could have done that to say, of course I criticized. I'm calling out white supremacist, KKK, neo-Nazis. He's chosen explicitly not do this.

JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST: But this isn't -- this isn't the first time. This is a pattern from this president. I mean look how long it took him to disavow David Duke of all people. I mean, goodness sake.

So it -- I don't know if it's because this is a group of people that do not criticize the president, so he doesn't feel like he needs to hit back. That's definitely something worth looking into. But this is a gimme. This is an easy thing to say, why supremacists are bad. Nazi's are bad. We should all disavow them.

KING: I don't want to understate the horror of what happened. A woman is dead. Two Virginia state police officers were killed when their helicopter crashed. They were there responding to this.

And you're -- we should be talking about. We should be talking about these organizations. But, you're right, the president made it about him.

Before you jump in, I just want to go back to this because to your point about Ben Carson, the attorney general this morning. I would make the case that these people who think they're trying to help the president are making it worse for him because they are speaking out clearly, including the vice president of the United States.

He is traveling in Colombia. Listen to the vice president here. The vice president said it is a media creation. That the vice -- that the president of the United States, the vice president says, called it out clearly. Listen.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump clearly and unambiguously condemned the bigotry, violence and hatred which took place on the streets of Charlottesville.

We have no tolerance for hate and violence. From white supremacist, neo-Nazis or the KKK. These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate. And we condemn them in the strongest possible terms.


KING: Well put by the vice president there. His initial statement Saturday was not so clear. And you heard the vice president say the president did that. The president did what he just did, called them out by name. Here's the president on Saturday. He did no such thing.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. It has no place in America.


KING: He's certainly right, Matt, racism, bigotry, hatred have been going on for a long time. But he's the president of the United States. His test was to respond to the specifics of what happened on his watch.

MATT VISER, "BOSTON GLOBE": And there are moments like that for a president. You think of George W. Bush on the rubble after 9/11, or Barack Obama after the shootings in Charleston. There are Moments for a president to speak to the country and to unite the country. And part of that, you know, Trump is calling for unity without recognizing that there's a segment of the population that believes in him that has racist ideology, that he's not rejecting that. And that's -- that's a big deal.

And Trump, during the campaign, showed a master at branding people and sort of diminishing them very quickly with that branding. He's not used that skill that he has to direct it at this neo-Nazi group that believes in him. And that's telling that he's not doing that. And so I think he has moments today where he can do some of that and speak out in a way that he so far has not.

KING: The question is telling of what? Is it just that he doesn't want to criticize people who he knows supports him? There are those saying that this proved to them that he sympathizes with them, which we all pray is not the case. But when you don't have -- when you have a lack of clarity, you allow people to make their own interpretation, including these groups, which are saying the president hasn't singled us out. This is a good thing.


KUCINICH: And let's see what the Justice Department does. There is a -- there is an investigation that has been opened into these incidents. And whether they prosecute, how hard do they go after these groups? I mean that is something that we're certainly watching and I think the country will be watching.

KING: Right. And to your point about the president has been very clear, if he doesn't like you, if he wants to criticize you, he does it quite well. This is Erick Erickson of "The Resurgent," a conservative activist. Not always a Trump fan. So Trump critics will say, well, he doesn't like us to begin -- Trump supporters I mean will say he doesn't like us to begin with.

[12:10:06] But in "The New York Times," this is the same president who routinely mocked and attacked Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for failing to call Islamic radicalism by its name. In Charlottesville, evil has a name, and it is white supremacy. Silence and obfuscation in the face of evil only feeds evil. Naming and exposing evil forces it back into the shadows. The president, who warned Barack Obama to name radical Islam should take his own advice and be forceful.

That from a conservative. Again, not always a Trump fan, but from a conservative, I would urge the vice president, who wants to blame this on the media, to read that and to read the Twitter feeds of about 650 Republican lawmakers who -- or more -- getting in the president's face.

RAJU: And also some of his allies, like "The New York Post" editorial page, something one -- one of the president's favorite newspapers, also taking him to task. The -- you make a good point, the president made all these points about political correctness on the campaign trail. Why is he showing any sort of nuance here at a time when this is a president who rarely shows nuance in going after people.

The only time that he really showed nuance or skirts criticism seems to be, according to Republicans and Democrats have pointed this out, about Vladimir Putin. He does not want to criticize Vladimir Putin. And why is he not calling out white supremacists? I mean that doesn't makes any sense to a lot of folks. We'll see what he does today. He can still clean it up. He can still say it in a very strong, direct terms. But maybe he's defensive over all of the criticism he's gotten so far. I mean you have to --

KING: And if you listen to the chants, if you listen -- we should be shaming the protestors. We should be playing for you -- although probably not too much because you're just giving them the attention they want, but the protests, the screams against Jewish people, the screams against African-Americans, the rants by those protesters both Friday night and then on Saturday to the point we're discussing, the former Secretary of State John Jerry tweeting at POTUS has been tougher naming and shaming an American CEO and Senate majority leader than a domestic terrorist who took an American life.

And this is the criticism now for the president, which makes a lot of people just simply -- I keep asking the same question, why? What is it about him, what is it about his team, that why can't they figure out, a, this is just a moral obligation of anybody, but he's the president of the United States.

TALEV: Last week, and the week before, we were all talking about John Kelly, the new chief of staff, and how his mandate is going to -- was going to be to return order and structure and priority to the White House as best he could. We don't have a lot of visibility into the internal discussions going on about how the president would respond to this. We know he's been up at Bedminster. He's now back in D.C. today.

But this has been also a test for that new chief of staff in terms of helping the president to understand the implications of doing this one way, doing it another way, the inclusion of some comments, the absence of other comments. It is -- it seems to be underscoring the idea that the president ultimately does always go with his own gut and make his own decisions.

VISER: And I think, like Jackie was saying, I mean there's a base instinct with Trump that seems to be, if you are nice to me, I'm nice to you. If you're mean to me, I'm mean to you. You know, and it's kind of -- this is a group that supported him during the campaign and so he's been reluctant to disavow himself from it. And that sort of elemental instinct of his is not even overriding the fact that they're Nazis and (INAUDIBLE) --

RAJU: And we also know that the president does not like to admit when he's wrong.


RAJU: And he's getting all this criticism right now from the media, from his own party, from Democrats. For him to come out and say something would be an acknowledgement of making a mistake. Perhaps that's one reason why he has not tried to clean this up after his comment on Saturday.

KING: Well, we'll see if we hear from him today. He's meeting with the attorney general of the United States right now. He's meeting with his new FBI director right now. They promise an aggressive investigation into possible domestic terrorism to possible hate crimes. They're way out ahead of the president. We'll see if he says something and we'll see whether he waits until this afternoon and whether he speaks sooner.

When we come back, more of this conversation, this incident in Charlottesville and the president's response only increasing the view that more and more, even in his own Republican Party, the president is on an island.


[12:18:08] KING: Welcome back.

As we noted, the president of the United States, in a meeting with his attorney general and the FBI director, discussing the federal investigation into the hatred and the murder on display in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, the president facing a barrage of criticism from all corners that his statement on Saturday fell way short of the -- singling out the hate groups involved, the neo-Nazi, the white supremacists and the like. Advice for the president coming in from all corners, including a fellow Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who says the president fell short and he should fix it.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If I were president of the United States and these people showed sympathy towards me and my agenda, it would bother me. And I would urge the president to dissuade them of the fact that they're -- that he's sympathetic to their cause, because their cause is hate. It is un-American. They are domestic terrorists. And we need more from our president on this issue.


KING: I don't think there's anybody in America, or very few people in America, who would disagree with that, we need more from our president on this issue.

What can he do right now? We're expecting the president to come out momentarily at the White House and make a statement. That's a change in the schedule. He was not going to speak until 3:00 this afternoon. That underscores the urgency with which they view this at the Trump White House.

But three days later, how does he fix it?

TALEV: Well, there are other steps, of course, reaching out to the families of the victims, having private conversations with them, words to the public, an appearance in Charlottesville at the appropriate time at a memorial, more initiatives and the discussion of those initiatives in terms of dealing with this problem, both from a law enforcement perspective and a societal perspective. There's a number of things he can do. But the timing matters. And the approach matters.

RAJU: And he can also be completely unequivocal. He was equivocal on Saturday saying very clearly who is responsible for this. The United States does not condoning this behavior. Strongly condemns these groups in the sharpest possible terms. He could certainly do that. Better late than never, but, clearly, a concern within the White House that what he did on Saturday is overshadowing everything right now and the president needs to do something to clean this up because they do not move as quickly (ph) now.

[12:20:17] VISER: I think that sincerity matters, too.


VISER: You know, I mean how into it is he and how much of this is just a reaction from the blowback that he's gotten. And how much does he really feel these things? Because his first instinct was not to condemn these groups on Saturday. So how sincere is he going --

KING: I think that's a critical point because you made the observation that this should have been politically a no-brainer for the president.

KUCINICH: Completely.

KING: And a president who lost the popular vote, a president's approval ratings below 40 percent, a president and the left hasn't reached out either, but a president who's done nothing to reach out to his critics, to reach out to the people who didn't vote for him. That is a two-way street. It's not all on him. Had an opportunity. Had he come out on Saturday and condemned this by name, we would be having a very different conversation today about a potential reset moment for a president of the United States who has struggled from day one.

My question now is, if he comes into this room and says all the right things, says what he should have said on Saturday, will it be viewed credibly by his skeptics and many critics who have only been reinforced in the past 72 hours or so about what they view as a miserable failure.

KUCINICH: What he does after also matters. I mean if he does come out here and says all the right things, this isn't going away. These groups have made it very clear this isn't over. They're going to protest other places. And so there needs to be follow-up here. And this needs to be a consistent message from this president because the only -- the consistent message that we've heard up until this point hasn't been the right one.

KING: And I'm going to read from the conservative "National Review," an editorial on Sunday. They have taken his thus far mealy-mouthed both sides do it, his refuse to reject them specifically, strongly and by name as tacit indulgence. As the closest thing to a public embrace that real politics will allow. The president has a great gift for ridicule and the Charlottesville Nazis are ridiculous.

"The National Review" making the case there that these hate groups, because the president did not say, you know, I denounce neo-Nazis. If you think you represent me, you do not. If you think I speak for you, I do not. That He didn't specifically call it out. That those groups are now taking it as a wink nod from the president of the United States.

RAJU: And I think we can expect some strong words from the president according to our colleague Jeff Zeleny. He is reporting this right now, that a White House official said that the president is expected to directly address the Charlottesville attack, declare that racism is evil, call out the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, other hate groups, saying they're repugnant to everything we hold dear as American. This according to a White House official. Now the guidance on this note that's being sent around is that it's subject to change listening to what the president has to say. So we'll have to hear what he says and we'll have to see if he backtracks at all in any way for these remarks that the White House is giving out telling reporters and if the president tweets something different from what he's going to say here.

KING: Right.

And as we wait for the president, you see the shot there from inside the White House. Again, this was -- the president was supposed to speak publicly later in the day. They've added this event so that he can address Charlottesville. He's meeting with his attorney general and the FBI director. They, by Saturday night, said they would have a federal investigation. Perhaps potential domestic terrorism, the attorney general said clearly today. Perhaps hate crimes as well. One woman was killed when a man from Ohio allegedly plowed his car into a crowd. The two state troopers had a helicopter crash there.

My question again though is I guess about the credibility of the president. The critics will say he was pushed into this, or pulled into it, by his attorney general and his vice president and others. It is a -- we're human beings. Human beings make mistakes. Presidents make mistakes. How does he do this?

VISER: But I think that's, again, how he -- what his body language is like during this. You know, does he show any -- he rarely does this, but does he show any remorse for his initial reaction, that it took me longer than it should have to come to this conclusion. I doubt he'll say something like that. But if he does, then that goes a long way, I think, towards, you know, his own growth as a person and as a president to admit that he should have acted differently in these past few days.

KING: And he had this African-American CEO walked away from the White House manufacturing council today saying to the president, I'm sorry, you know, failed the morality test. I need a president who stands up and says this is wrong. Will the president, in addition to what he says here, maybe pick up the phone to Ken Frazier and say, you know what, please, come back. I was wrong.

TALEV: Yes, I mean --

RAJU: I would be surprised if he did that.

KUCINICH: Yes, same.

RAJU: You know, I just --

KING: But why? Why? Why? I -- it's -- you're right. You're right, there's nothing in this president's past to suggest he will admit a mistake, reach out, do the sustained (ph) network (ph). But at some point, if he wants to lead the country, doesn't he have to do that?

RAJU: You would think that would be helpful to healing the damage that he's done here. But I don't think you can really overstate how much of a problem this has become for this White House. I mean if the -- the president coming out two days later to make this statement after all this growing, growing backlash just shows, I mean, the significant miscalculation, not only just by ad-libbing, adding the on many sides in that statement, but why not come out directly afterward on Twitter, or elsewhere, just being clearer, that -- calling out these names, these groups right way. This story would have been maybe a few hours story instead of a two-day story and one that people are going to remember this for a long time.

[12:25:23] KING: And they add to it by yesterday putting out a statement by an anonymous White House official. So a White House official hiding behind a curtain saying, of course, the president meant the KKK. Of course the president meant white supremacists. That only adds to the cowardice of the whole thing that nobody would even put their name to it.

TALEV: Yes, well it was as close as they could get to the statement that the rest of the country was demanding.

But I think, you know, going beyond the obvious racial issues here you -- we're still talking about campaign instincts six months into governing.

KING: Right.

TALEV: And this can be explained during the course of a campaign, sort of. But we are talking about this like, is it too late to respond? Can he get credit? And all in the context of politics. Like, is it good for his politics?

But this is a national tragedy. It's a national event.

KING: Right.

TALEV: In a sense it doesn't matter if it's too late or not, he still has to do it because that's what it means to the president. That's like essentially the core -- that is the core -- when he gets right down to it, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the defense secretary, I mean Congress, everyone else can kind of backstop a lot of this stuff. But when there is a national moment of crisis or of tragedy, there is no one with the same platform as the president to heal, to unite, to comfort, to calm, to put aside their own personal issues, to bring everyone together. And that is the test that -- actually, it's not even a test. I mean he has to do it.

KING: It's his job. It's his job, as I said before. Even people -- I'm sure people didn't vote for Barack Obama were praying for him. And when you had the shootings in South Carolina and he came out, or other tragedies that happened -- many multiple shootings during the Obama administration -- that's what presidents are supposed to do.

You know, the question is, can he step -- can he step up now?

TALEV: Obama had to be careful in the way that he talked about racism in a different way so that it did not seem that his own background, you know, was sort of affecting his bias. And now President Trump is dealing with kind of the same range of complexity, but on a different side of the spectrum, right? And it's important for him to be able to say, I speak for everyone.

RAJU: And I think you made -- you made a good point earlier. I mean this -- he probably was going to come out right here and read a prepared statement. I doubt he'll deviate too much for it given what happened on Saturday. It probably will be very strongly worded, as Jeff Zeleny is reporting, suggesting that he's going to call racism evil, call out these groups by name.

But what happens when he goes off-script and he's asked about this either at this big press conference that he planned to have later today, which is not going to happening anymore, but he will probably be asked that at any sort of open press event. Does he equivocate then? And does he come out sort of bashing everybody in the media on Twitter afterwards and back off in a statement anyway then? So it is -- this statement is very important, but it's continued actions afterwards are equally as important.

KING: And, again, go back to, you know, I know the vice president has a job to do and part of the job is be loyal to the president, try to help the president. But the vice president repeatedly saying this is just the media.

I read a few of them. I'm going to read another one. This is from Senator Ted Cruz. Not known as a liberal, not known as a huge fan of the mainstream media. Tragic and heartbreaking to see hatred and racism once again mar our great nation with bloodshed. The Nazi, the KKK, and white supremacist are repulsive and evil. And all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, the bigotry, anti- Semitism and hatred that they propagate.

Amen. Amen. That's a Republican senator trying to send a message to his president. And I don't even think party has anything to do with it.

KUCINICH: Well, and -- but it also -- it does alienate him even more from his party. From people who are very quick to stand up and say -- like Cory Gardner saying, say something. You need to disavow these people. This is -- this is something you have to do.

Marco Rubio had a similar comment to Ted Cruz. So this does -- this does have, not to, you know, make this political, but this does have political ramifications in terms of people wanting to stand behind this president and wanting to support him publicly. You can't -- you can't really -- the damage that is done by what he's doing here, both internally and externally.

KING: You mentioned Marco Rubio. I was going to use this. We're waiting for the president. Marco Rubio going to the scripture today to make clear his displeasure with the president of the United States, saying, quote, one who winks at a fault causes trouble, but one who frankly reproves promotes peace. That's from Proverbs 10:10.

Marco Rubio, today, again, it has been fascinating in the last 48 hours to watch the number of Republicans in part trying to distance themselves from the president because they worry about what he's doing to their party. But their first instinct, I think, is to just do the right thing, to stand up and speak out and to try to set an example for the president of the United States and what -- where are we that everybody else has to set an example for the president? It's supposed to work the other way, isn't it?

[12:30:06] VISER: And that had already -- that sort of split had already started when you saw that from the health care and things.