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Interview With Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer; North Korea Crisis; President Trump Facing Criticism for Delay on Condemning Racist Violence; Trump Finally Condemns "KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists"; Oklahoma Man Charged in Anti-Government Bomb Plot; Jury Awards Taylor Swift Only $1 in Groping Lawsuit. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 14, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Behind bars. The suspect is that deadly car attack is facing a murder charge, as we learn more about the radical views that brought him to Charlottesville for a violent demonstration of white nationalism. Will he and others be charged with hate crimes?

Back from the brink? America's top general is on North Korea's doorstep trying to cool tensions and move away from the president's fire and fury rhetoric. But, this hour, Kim Jong-un may be moving toward a dangerous missile launch anyway.

And attempted bombing. Authorities say a suspect arrested in a plot to blow up an Oklahoma City bank was out for blood. Was he trying to reenact one of the most horrifying acts of homegrown terror in America's history?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news, President Trump saying the words he refused to say for two days. He is now specifically condemning racist groups and their role in the attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Mr. Trump, sticking to a prepared script, declaring that racism is evil and calling out the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists as repugnant. His remarks at the White House came after many Republicans, as well as Democrats, have been expressing outrage over his initial response to the weekend violence in Charlottesville when he suggested that many sides were to blame.

Also tonight, the suspect in the deadly car attack in Charlottesville is being held without bond charged with second-degree murder. James Alex Fields is accused of plowing his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at the so-called Unite the Right rally, killing 32- year-old Heather Heyer.

And in the North Korea crisis, CNN has now learned that Kim Jong-un's regime has moved at least one mobile missile launcher in recent days. That could signal a potential launch in the next 48 hours.

Tonight, Defense Secretary James Mattis is warning that if North Korea hits Guam or any other part of the United States, it's, in his words, game on.

This hour, I will get reaction to the president's new remarks on racism and hate groups from the mayor of Charlottesville, Michael Signer. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

But, first, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president isn't offering any explanation as to why he waited two days to denounce those white supremacist groups by name.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Trump picked a side today, though he did promise a news conference, and that didn't happen. Instead, he delivered scripted remarks and seemed defensive when he was asked about those comments here at the White House, where he finally condemned white supremacists, something he failed to do by name over the weekend.


ACOSTA (voice-over): After two days of stinging criticism for his failure to call out hate groups by name, President Trump finally did just that in a scripted statement at the White House.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

ACOSTA: On Saturday, the president ignited his own fire and fury when he appeared to blame both the white supremacists and the counterprotesters for the unrest that left one woman dead.

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

ACOSTA: When asked why it took him so long, the president got testy.

(on camera): 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 (voice-over): Mr. Trump did not hold a news conference, despite promising one last Friday. But that was when he was beating his chest over North Korea.

TRUMP: We have a very important meeting scheduled and we're going to have a pretty big press conference on Monday.

ACOSTA: The president's initial reluctance to condemn the hate groups prompted a backlash from inside his own party.

From Colorado Senator Cory Gardner:

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: This isn't a time for innuendo or to allow room to be read between the lines. This is a time to lay blame, to lay blame on bigotry and to lay blame on white supremacists, on white nationalism, on hatred.

ACOSTA: To Utah's Orrin Hatch, who tweeted: "My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.'

Some administration officials were straining to come up with answers. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pressed on why an anonymous White House official was slamming the Nazis in a statement to the media on Sunday, when Mr. Trump wasn't.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The president did do that yesterday. His spokeswoman said that.



QUESTION: That wasn't the president. That's not the same as the president of the United States.

SESSIONS: You're interrupting me. You asked me. I was giving you an answer.

ACOSTA: And a member of the president's manufacturer council, Merck Pharmaceuticals CEO Ken Frazier, resigned from that panel in protest, saying: "I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism."

The president fired back on Twitter, saying Frazier will -- quote -- "have more time to lower ripoff drug prices."

On a trip to Columbia this weekend, it was Vice President Pence who condemned the white supremacists by name.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK.

ACOSTA: But Pence also bristled at questions about the president's handling of the matter.

PENCE: Many in the media spent an awful lot of time focusing on what the president said, and criticisms of what the president has done, instead of criticizing of criticizing those who brought that hatred and violence to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: One other distinction to note, during his remarks, the president did not refer to the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville as an act of domestic terrorism. That's despite the fact that his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, used that same term earlier in the day.

And as for a trip to Charlottesville, the White House says the president has no plans to make a trip there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Tonight, we are also learning more about the suspect in what many people are calling a domestic terror act, that deadly car attack on opponents of racism and hate.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Charlottesville for us.

So, Kaylee, what's the latest there?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today, we learned that James Alex Fields Jr. was working as a guard for a large security company in Ohio.

He had asked for vacation time off this weekend. Then he chose to drive here to Charlottesville and march alongside white supremacists. Investigators continue to search for a motive, what led Fields to use his car as a weapon in a deadly attack on this street?


HARTUNG (voice-over): James Alex Fields Jr., appearing in court by video this morning, has been denied bond and given a public defender as tensions mount over his suspected actions. The 20-year-old is seen here with the racist anti-Semitic American Vanguard group in this picture from the weekend posted by the Anti-Defamation League.

He faces second-degree murder charges after he allegedly drove this car through crowds of counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday; 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed.

Two state troopers, Pilot Berke Bates and Lieutenant Jay Cullen, were also killed Saturday when their helicopter crashed near the protest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nationalist community defended ourselves against thugs.

HARTUNG: Outside the courtroom, participants from Saturday's bigoted Unite the Right rally, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Klansmen and the alt-right, gathered once more, defending Fields.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is on the hands of the city government, of the police and the radical left.

QUESTION: Do you have any accountability for this death at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all. HARTUNG: CNN has learned Fields recently moved to this apartment

complex in Maumee, Ohio. He told the judge he works for a security company earning $650 every two weeks, not enough, he said, to afford a lawyer. His former high school history teacher tells CNN Fields was "infatuated" with Nazis.

DEREK WEIMER, FORMER TEACHER OF FIELDS: He had some very radical views on race. He was very infatuated with the Nazis, with Adolf Hitler.

HARTUNG: Fields joined the U.S. Army in 2015. But according to the Army, he failed basic training and was released soon after. Charlottesville continues to reel from the weekend's violence. Friends of Heather Heyer are in mourning.

MARISSA BLAIR, FRIEND OF HEATHER HEYER: She died fighting for what she believed in. But Heather was a sweet, sweet soul. And she will never be replaced. She will never be forgotten.

HARTUNG: Her mother told NBC it wasn't a surprise her daughter was at the counterprotest.

SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF HEATHER HEYER: It was important for her to speak up for people that she felt were not being heard, to speak up when injustices were happening.

HARTUNG: The Department of Justice and FBI have launched a civil rights investigation into the deadly crash. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an interview with ABC calling it an act of domestic terrorism.

QUESTION: Do you agree, was this domestic terror?

SESSIONS: Well, it does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute. We are pursuing it in the Department of Justice in every way that we can make it, make a case. You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation toward the most serious charges that can be brought.


HARTUNG: The public defender's office here says too many people in that office were affected by the weekend's events. A judge has appointed a private attorney for Fields.

Just a short time ago, the police chief here says they are continuing to get additional calls of assaults and crimes during Saturday's events. Three others were arrested. It's unclear if there will be more. Wolf, tonight, we will be keeping our eyes on protests around the country.


BLITZER: And we will stay in close touch with you, Kaylee. Thank you very, very much.

Also tonight, Charlottesville police are defending the response of the demonstration of racism and the violence that clearly unfolded.

CNN's Brian Todd is also reporting from Charlottesville for us.

Brian, we heard from the police chief in Charlottesville just a little while ago.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. He held a news conference seemingly for simply and purely for the purpose of defending the police actions on Saturday.

The chief, Al Thomas, was asked questions about why the police didn't intervene sooner to stop some of the violence on the streets right around this park. He also addressed a question of why the street where the assault happened on the pedestrians there, where the vehicular assault happened, why that street was open and the alleged perpetrator was able to get his vehicle on that street when it was supposed to be closed.

Take a listen to what the chief said about that.


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 street to be closed.

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.


TODD: We repeatedly asked Chief Thomas questions about the suspect, James Fields, about his motive, whether they have established a motive for the actions on Saturday, whether Fields was working with someone else and whether Fields had been cooperating at all with authorities. Chief Thomas did not answer those questions, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you, Brian Todd on the scene for us.

Let's talk a little more about the violence in Charlottesville and President Trump's response today.

We are joined by the city's mayor, Michael Signer.

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.


BLITZER: Let me get your reaction, first of all, to the president's statement today, belatedly, but specifically calling out the KKK, neo- Nazis, white supremacists, other hate groups for the role -- their role in this weekend's racist violence in your community.

What did you think?

SIGNER: Well, let me just -- I have got to first by saying this community is still grieving. This was really a horrible weekend for us all.

Three people lost their lives who didn't need to lose their lives. But we are also getting back up on our feet. This is truly one of the -- not just one of the greatest cities in the country, one of the greatest cities in the world. We are diverse and progressive, tolerant, welcoming.

A lot of those virtues are what make us also extremely successful. We're AAA bond-rated. We have Virginia's lowest unemployment. We have a lot of other successes in our economy. The secret to a lot of those things -- we are frequently rated in the top five list of cities to visit, live in.

We were just rated America's most charming city recently. In keeping with all those things, we also made a very hard decision about a year- and-a-half ago as a progressive city, but that bears the baggage of being a Southern city, to start telling the full story of race in our city, to start telling the truth.

And that made us a target for a lot of these forces that you saw converge on us this weekend. It was a really a horrible thing to see Nazis and the KKK out in public. And I publicly made several comments saying that I thought the blame for the normalization of this sort of -- these sort of elements in our country went right to the doorstep of the White House.

I don't really want to spend much more time talking about Donald Trump. I think that the silence over the last couple of days speak for itself. I'm glad that he chose today to join the rest of the country in finally saying some of these words. You know, we had -- I think there were 600 rallies yesterday in support of Charlottesville.

The country is rising up and speaking with one voice about how it's time to turn the page on this dark chapter in American politics where the KKK and Nazis literally were invited into the mainstream.

You know, I don't think he probably should have been dragged kicking and screaming to have to do that, but I'm glad that he has joined the rest of us. And I think now the hard work of rebuilding, strengthening this democracy after this particular test we have been through, it's going to begin in cities like Charlottesville, but it's going to happen all around the rest of the country.


And I'm glad that the White House will be there. I hope that their actions match their words.

BLITZER: I know you don't want to speak about the president, but I want you to explain, Mayor, why you think the doorstep to the violence that hit your beautiful community this past weekend lays at the doorstep of the White House.

SIGNER: Well, look at the campaign they ran. Look at what David Duke has been saying. Look at the consorting, the collaboration between white supremacists and white nationalist groups during the Trump campaign. There was. There was open enthusiasm.

There were all kinds of dog whistles sent. You know, I don't think it's an accident that you see these tides of racially explicit, you know, bigoted language and actions that were really -- you know, whether it's on social media or whether it's out in public -- at Trump campaign rallies.

Certainly, the anti-Semitism that we see, just waves upon waves upon waves, come up with any challenging of anybody associated with the alt-right or Trump, this is all of a piece. And the point is, it's pretty easy to speak against it. It's not hard work to use the words white supremacy, white nationalists, and say this has no place in American politics.

In fact, it was so easy that you saw a number of leading Republican senators, Republican major figures in the country use those very words, and so I'm glad that the Trump campaign did it. I found it, you know, just incredibly regrettable that we saw, you know, a presidential campaign really go into the gutter, as it did repeatedly.

And I have said a couple times recently, there is an old saying, when you dance with the devil, that you don't change the devil, the devil will change you. And I think that's what we saw, not just with the Trump campaign, but with the modern Republican Party.

It looks now like they're finally disentangling themselves from this devil. You know, and I'm glad that the president is coming along. I hope everybody takes this opportunity to just close this awful chapter when bigots and white supremacists and anti-Semites and all these people who had previously been in the shadows were invited to come into the daylight.

It just does not suit American democracy. I will say, we have been through a lot of challenges with this wonderful, precious democracy we have. We have been through McCarthyism, we have been through segregation, we have been through Jim Crow.

We get better through every one of those tests. If you think about us like a muscle, the muscle has to be tested and worked out to get stronger. It is not a pleasant experience, what we're coming through today, but in my soul, especially speaking, as I am, from the heart of a lot of Americans' best ideas about democracy, we will come through this stronger than before. I'm seeing that happen right now in Virginia. I will give you a quick

story. You know, I have been likening this recently to what happened in Charleston. Dylann Roof went there and other terrorists convinced that he was going to start a race war. What happened in that great city was, that resulted in exactly the opposite, in an upsurge of racial harmony and unity, people working together.

I think the same thing is going to happen here today. They wanted to intimidate Charlottesville from the work of equity progress, telling the full story of race in America and turning us against one another through this, through terrorism, through intimidation.

And, you know, just this morning at 6:00 in the morning, I was, you know, waiting to do a TV spot. I saw a Republican representative, Tom Garrett. Don't know him particularly well, hadn't actually sat down and talked to him. The first thing we did was, we gave each other a hug. We met this afternoon to talk about what we have in common with getting this democracy back on its feet.

I think this is going to lead to more connections. I think it's going to lead to more unity and it's going to lead to more progress around the country.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope it does. And our condolences to your community. It's a beautiful community, home of a great university.

SIGNER: It is.

BLITZER: And we appreciate your joining us very much, Mayor Michael Signer of Charlottesville, Virginia. Good luck to you and all the folks there.

SIGNER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we're going to have much more on the violence in Charlottesville, the threat of new racist rallies coming up. Did President Trump's statement today change anything?

And we're also getting breaking news out of North Korea right now, about its plan to fire missiles toward Guam. We have details ahead. I will speak with the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.



BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. President Trump finally denouncing racists and hate groups by name after two days of stinging criticism for his initial response to a rally by white nationalists that turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia.

We will have much more on that coming up.

But also breaking right now, North Korea just issuing a new warning to the United States that Kim Jong-un has reviewed a plan to launch missiles at the U.S. territory of Guam.

Let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, what is the very latest?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this report coming from the North Korean state news agency describing the North Korean leader visiting the forces that would carry out this threatened launch against Guam.


Also at the same time issuing what appeared to be something of a response to President Trump's rhetoric in recent days. The North Korean leader quoted as saying that he would -- quote -- "watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees," this coming a little more than an hour after the U.S. defense secretary, James Mattis, told reporters at the Pentagon if North Korea were to fire missiles anywhere near Guam, it would be, in his words, game on.

That in contrast to a more diplomatic tone coming from General Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is now traveling in Asia and visited the Korean Peninsula.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): On a visit to the front lines of the North Korean conflict today, the nation's top general emphasized diplomacy and economic pressure over military action.

GEN. JOSEPH DUNFORD, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: The focus today is on peacefully resolving this crisis through diplomatic and economic means. That is the focus, and I wouldn't speculate on what might happen should our diplomatic and economic efforts fail.

SCIUTTO: China, the North's primary trading partner by far, is now adding to that pressure, announcing a new ban on imports from Pyongyang. China's Ministry of Commerce announced that beginning Tuesday -- quote -- "China will impose a complete ban on the importation of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood."

President Trump has publicly threatened trade penalties on China if it does not increase pressure on North Korea. Beijing has responded by saying a potential trade war -- quote -- "has no future or winners."

Still, the White House is doubling down on a firmer line against North Korea's nuclear program. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis laid out the administration's approach in an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal," calling for the end of strategic patience and beginning of strategic accountability.

Traveling in South America, Vice President Mike Pence delivered the same message.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Successive administrations in both political parties have believed that negotiation and patience with North Korea would achieve the long-term objective of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That has utterly failed.

SCIUTTO: North Korea, however, continues to issue threats, warning that upcoming joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea planned to begin next week could spark a war.

"What matters," said the Korean central news agency, "is that when a second Korean war breaks out, it would be a nuclear war."

For his part, Secretary Mattis told reporters today that if North Korea attacks any U.S. territory, the U.S. would respond with military action.

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If they shoot at the United States -- I'm assuming they shoot at the United States. If they do that, then it's game on.

SCIUTTO: This after CIA Director Mike Pompeo seemed to be allaying fears of an escalation this weekend.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: An attack from North Korea is not something that is imminent.

SCIUTTO: U.S. officials do warn that North Korea is making significant progress. One new study found that their advancement in rocket engine technology could mean that they are acquiring it through illicit Russian or Ukrainian channels.

MICHAEL ELLEMAN, INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES: It appears that they sourced an engine from a foreign entity, and they have successfully incorporated that engine into some missile bodies and have tested both an intermediate-range and an intercontinental- range missile.


SCIUTTO: Defense officials tell CNN that U.S. surveillance satellites have detected signs that North Korea has mounted what appears to be an intermediate ballistic missile on a mobile launcher.

Dates, celebrations forever important for North Korea. And did you know that tomorrow is a key holiday, Liberation Day for the North? The missile preparations could be intended to either mark that holiday or make a show of force for next week's military exercises, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, between the U.S. and South Korea. The North Koreans hate those. Jim Sciutto reporting for us, thanks very much.

Let's bring in the former Director of National Intelligence General James Clapper. He is now a CNN security analyst.

General Clapper, thanks very much for coming in.

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Thanks, Wolf. BLITZER: All right, so the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, supposed

has been briefed on this plan to launch intermediate-range missiles towards the U.S. territory of Guam.

He says he would "watch a little more of the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees."

Is this just bluster, or is there a real threat to the folks on Guam?

CLAPPER: Well, obviously, that's a great question.

I personally think that this is more bluster. It is the classic North Korean propaganda verbiage that they typically use. And I do think it's important to bear in mind the circumstance here, with the onset of the annual joint exercise held between the United States and Republic of Korea forces, which the North Koreans find quite threatening.

And so I think they -- it wouldn't surprise me if they did a demonstration launch just to convey the optic.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, SITUATION ROOM: Demonstration of launch towards Guam - they said the other day, remember, by mid-August that they might launch four intermediate range missiles towards Guam and they would land about 20 miles off the coast. First of all, do they have that precision and do you believe they might do that?

I don't think they have that kind of precision yet. I wonder about their own confidence level to launch one, let alone four. So, I would think at this point they would be staying away from aiming at in any direction remotely related to Guam.

BLITZER: You saw that story in "The Washington Post" the other day that they ready, according to US intelligence estimates, have 60 nuclear bombs and that they pretty soon will be able to miniaturize those bombs and put them on warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles. Do you buy that?

CLAPPER: Well, we forecast that their general line of progression here - and this was a forecast of two to three years ago. And now we are seeing this happen, particularly as they aggressively pursue a missile technology.

I won't go into speculating about the number, but it's always been a range of estimates. But I think it's clear that the North Koreans are very committed to achieving a credible nuclear capability because, as I pointed out before, this is their ticket to survival. This is deterrence for them.

BLITZER: They're not going to give up that nuclear capability. They see that as their insurance.

CLAPPER: Exactly. I think it's very unlikely that, going in, certainly or our establishing as a condition for negotiation, you must de-nuclearize first, I tried that talking point myself and got absolutely nowhere. BLITZER: When we spoke at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado a couple weeks ago, you said you don't consider North Korea yet an existential threat in the same way that Russia is. Explain that.

CLAPPER: Well, if you look at the magnitude and sophistication of the Russian nuclear arsenal, which is comparable in size and capability to ours, there is no comparison between what the Russian capability is versus North Korea.

BLITZER: But you don't believe Russia - it's not even realistic to think Russia would launch, would start a nuclear war with the US, but a lot of people believe North Korea might?

CLAPPER: Well, I think there's a big difference between - when you speak of an existential threat, there are actually a couple of dimensions here. One is the capability, which clearly the Russians have, to wreak great death and destruction on the United States if they so chose. Don't think the intent is there.

You have to also consider, though, the other capabilities they have, notably in the cyber arena, which are the most sophisticated threat that's posed to us.

BLITZER: You're talking about Russia.

CLAPPER: I'm talking about Russia, much more so than Korea. Korea has a - it's kind of the second-tier and improving. But I think the ability of the North Koreans to launch an existential threat attack of that magnitude is just not there.

BLITZER: General Clapper, thanks so much for joining us.

CLAPPER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We will keep counting on you for your expertise in this area.

Just ahead, we are following the breaking news as President Trump finally speaks out against hate groups after the Charlottesville Virginia violence.


DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 group that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.



[18:35:] BLITZER: Go back to the breaking news. President Trump declaring that racists have been condemned after he finally spoke out in a more forceful way against white supremacist groups.

His remarks over at the White House coming two days after a demonstration of hate in Charlottesville, Virginia turned deadly.

The president refusing to explain why he waited to specifically denounce racist groups, including the KKK despite criticism from many Republicans as well as Democrats.

Let's bring our analysts and our specialists. Cornell William Brooks, the former president and CEO of the NAACP. President finally said today what a lot of people were urging him to say. Listen to this.


TRUMP: 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. Justice will be delivered.

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.


[18:40:07] BLITZER: All right, Cornell. What did you think?

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, FORMER PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: What I thought was his speech today represented a kind of rhetorical minimum.

But we have to be very clear about this that heretofore the president's position has represented a kind of immoral and plausible deniability. That is to say he wants to retain the support of the white nationalist base or portion of his base, while saying to the nation he stood against hate, bigotry and discrimination.

In other words, he wanted to have his hate cake and eat it too. So, today's speech represented an attempt to be very, very clear about his stand, his opposition to the Klan, to white nationalists and the Nazis.

It's a good first step, but it has to be followed up by policy. That means firing Steve Bannon, Mr. Miller. It means being consistent with respect to going after these white nationalists and this extremist violence in our country.

It also means not signaling and engaging in messaging racial dog- whistles with the alt-right. You can't play a game here because, the fact of the matter is, the whistles he blew during the campaign were answered in Charlottesville and someone lost her life.

BLITZER: You're talking about Steve Bannon, the senior strategic advisor to the president.

BROOKS: That's exactly it. BLITZER: Stephen Miller, another top adviser to the president. Gloria, what was your reaction when you finally heard the president say those words?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: There were a few things and we listened to them together, Wolf, on the air. And my feeling was that it should've been a separate speech.

I again say -

BLITZER: Because he opened with the economy -

BORGER: I am glad he did it. Let's put that on the table. I am glad he did it. It was late, but it was important that he say those things.

I think it should've been a separate speech and trade policy or whatever shouldn't have been on the top of it. It's not an addendum to anything. It is a huge challenge facing this president.

I think that, if you step back for a minute, this is a president who has to learn or is learning perhaps about the leadership role that he has as president of the United States.

And he has to understand the gravity of his words and the gravity of the office that he holds and the importance of a nation looking to a president when it faces this kind of a crisis and this kind of a challenge.

We're facing a foreign policy crisis now with North Korea. Same thing, we are facing a domestic crisis right now. And his words matter and the way he delivers them matters.

So, it was late - and we all know this is a president who when he is angry about something tweets within a minute of it and this took 48 hours.

BLITZER: David, I want you to standby. Heidi, please standby as well. We've got to take a quick break. We're going to resume this important conversation right after this.


[18:47:42] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We are back with our analysts and the breaking news on President Trump vowing to pressure to condemn racist groups by name two days after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent, including a deadly car attack on counterprotesters.

You know, it didn't take very long, but the president just tweeted this, David Swerdlick, and let me quote from the tweet. Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realized once again that the #fakenewsmedia will never be satisfied, truly bad people.

He didn't waste much time going after the news media. DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He didn't. And first,

Wolf, let me echo what Gloria said before the break, better late than never. The president did say for the most part the right words today even if it was a couple of days late.

That being said, when I hear that tweet or when I listen to that tweet, what I think of is this old Chris Rock routine where he takes fathers to task for bragging that they take care of their kids. And he says, you're bragging about something that you're supposed to do.

You're the president of the United States. Stop looking for credit for something that you're supposed to do, Mr. President, and just do it.

The nation is grieving. Someone was killed on Saturday. Say something sincere and meaningful on Saturday. Don't wait two days.

BLITZER: Heidi Beirich, you're with the Southern Poverty Law Center. You monitor some of these hate groups all over the country. As you know, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, they issued an intelligence bulletin warning about the rise of these white supremacists groups. You track these groups.

Do they represent a significant threat?

HEIDI BEIRICH, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Look, there is no question that white supremacists groups represent a significant threat. I mean, we have had so many domestic terrorism incidents, not just in -- what we saw this weekend, but across the country since Trump took office. And these problems, you know, tend to be ignored by this presidency as opposed to being taken very, very seriously. So, this is a very serious situation in the United States.

BLITZER: So, you think what happened in Charlottesville could spread to other communities around the country?

BEIRICH: I think it's definitely going to spread. These people are extremely emboldened. A lot of that came from the campaign. They want to keep taking their activities to the streets. And what we saw was exactly how absolutely out of control these situations could get.

And let's not forget, these are people who believe that this country should be a white ethno state.

[18:50:03] In other words, they support ethnic cleansing. And ideas like that are the kinds of ideas that lead to types of domestic terrorism we've been seeing lately.

BLITZER: Well, explain what do you mean by that? What do you mean ethnic cleansing? We know what that meant in other countries around the world. But what are you saying they believe here?

BEIRICH: I mean, look, those are two of the more scary words that you can say along with genocide, right? Ethnic cleansing. But the point is, if you want this to be a white ethno state, how are you going to get the hundred million people of color out of this country? And some of these white supremacists like Richard Spencer has been

asked about this and sort of replied along the lines of, well, it could get ugly. Well, of course, it could get ugly. It's absolutely terrifying.

BLITZER: Cornell, do you see this kind of hate that we saw over the weekend in Charlottesville spreading elsewhere around the country?

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, FORMER PRESIDENT & CEO, NAACP: I'm absolutely concerned about that, and so are millions of Americans. And when we have the so-called alt-right and aka white supremacist, modeling the killing methods of jihadists, driving cars into crowds, when we have the alt-right coming together, uniting, getting organized, bringing weapons, showing their faces out there, we have to be concerned that this cancerous hate does not metastasized across the country.

And the way we express our concerns is first of all, having our commander-in-chief speaking out forcefully, directly to this attorney general to respond forcefully, with every prosecutorial and investigatory resource at his disposal, and most importantly, modeling the kind of country we want this country to be.

BLITZER: You know, in the midst of all of this, Gloria, there were reports now that Steve Bannon, one of these top advisers to the president, supposedly on thin ice right now.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. But I think that probably has very little to do with this. This is something that predated this. That at the time Reince Priebus left, there were a lot of -- there was a lot of talk about whether Bannon would in fact be the next to go, and I think that it's unrelated to what we saw in Charlottesville.

BLITZER: Well, if he were to go, how would that play out in terms of this bigger issue that we're talking about, this rise of white supremacists?

SWERDLICK: A couple of things, Wolf. First of all, unlike some of the other members of the White House team that the president either has pondered firing or has fired, Steve Bannon has his own sort of base because of his affiliation with Breitbart and I think one of the considerations in terms of whether he stays or goes is that Bannon could be more harm to the administration if he's kicked out of the administration.

In terms of white supremacy, Wolf, I think the issue with Bannon is complicated because he has many detractors and there's a lot of evidence to suggest he holds some of these views. There are a lot of people I have talked to, including people of color that work for Breitbart, that have sworn up and down to me that he is not a white supremacist.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Heidi, what's your biggest fear right now?

BEIRICH: Well, I mean, my greatest fear is more metastasizing violence on this front and a White House that takes too long and hasn't taken seriously how to respond to this. This needs to be on the top of the White House's agenda.

BLITZER: Very serious issue right now facing the country. We're going to take a quick break. We'll have much more on the breaking news right after this.


[18:57:54] BLITZER: New tonight, the FBI's revealing disturbing details of an alleged bomb plot in Oklahoma City. The suspect accused of looking to follow in the footsteps of the nation's most infamous home-grown terrorist.

Our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is with us.

Jessica, what's the FBI saying about this?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're saying that the plot they foiled this weekend, it echoed the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

FBI agents arrested 23-year-old Jerry Drake Varnell as he attempted to detonate a van full of explosives next to an Oklahoma City bank on Saturday. And the feds say Varnell initially planned to target the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C. Now, much like the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Varnell spewed anti-government ideology, posting extensively on Facebook and talking about the 111 percent ideology, which is actually a wing of the militia movement.

Now, the FBI was on to Varnell for the past nine months. They got a tip about Varnell's bomb plot in December 2016 and then the FBI used an undercover agent to pose as someone who could assist Varnell. Varnell tried to trigger a van he believed contain explosives. He tried to trigger it with his cell phone on Saturday.

The FBI says that the public was never in danger and that Varnell's eventual arrest was a culmination of a long-term domestic terrorism investigation. Wolf, Varnell is now behind bars and he faces up to 20 years in prison.

BLITZER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you very much for that.

Another story breaking in Colorado right now, a Denver jury announced his verdict in dueling lawsuits involving pop singer Taylor Swift, finding against the former disk jockey, but awarding the pop singer only $1 in her counter suit. Swift accused David Mueller of reaching under her skirt, groping her before a 2013 concert. Mueller denied it, sued the singer, her mother, Swift's radio liaison and accusing them of pressuring his radio station into firing him.

A judge dismissed Swift as a defendant on Friday. That's happening right now.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.