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President Trump Under Fire for Reaction to Charlottesville Violence; North Korea Nuclear Crisis. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 15, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Then he retweets and deletes before someone grabs the freeze frame, you know, this train running over a CNN reporter, and then retweets a story where he is considering pardoning the controversial sheriff in Arizona Joe Arpaio.

Put all of that, that whole picture together. What does that tell you, David?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It tells me that what the president went out to say yesterday when he denounced those groups is not the final word on this for him, that he still, as you just -- I mean, you just laid it out perfectly, Brooke, but he undermined his own attempt to clean up what he did not do over the weekend, and came in for so much controversy from his fellow Republicans, from folks in every corner.

He came in under controversy. He then went to go clean this up on Monday, but he can't clean it up cleanly, because these other instincts kick in that show us a bit more of what his natural instincts are.

And I think it undermines everything he was trying to attempt yesterday.

BALDWIN: Yes. David, thank you.

CHALIAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Let me just broaden out the conversation and bring in a couple more voices.

Solomon Jones, host of WURD Radio in Philadelphia and a columnist for "The Philadelphia Daily News."

Welcome.

SOLOMON JONES, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Also with us, CNN legal commentator Matthew Whitaker. He's an executive director of FACT. That is the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust.

So, gentlemen, you heard me, you know, rattle through a couple of these tweets, retweets, deletes from the president with David.

Solomon, you first. How do you interpret that?

JONES: Well, I think that the tweets are interesting. I think that that is where the president says what he really means.

But beyond even the tweets, I think that it's about his policy. His policy says that he does not refute, that he does not repudiate white supremacy, when you come in and make the Justice Department into the injustice department and you attack affirmative action with the Justice Department, you attack voting rights with the Justice Department, you attack police brutality with the Justice Department, and then, for good measure, you back it up with your own words by saying that a little police brutality is OK.

And so I think that these things that affect black and brown communities, in addition to him trying to pardon Joe Arpaio, who has been someone who has been against Latinos and really has racially profiled them for years with impunity, I think all of those things really speak to where he really is on the issue of white supremacy.

BALDWIN: Sure. And just to clean up and just being precise, you know, police brutality, I don't think he ever said -- it's not OK, but I know what you're referring to on Long Island.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: Yes, he said, bang their head against the car.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: A lot of people thought he was not joking. I know. I hear you. I hear you.

So, Matthew, to you. Just respond to Solomon and also, I think, David's point that he's undermined his attempt to clean up this controversy over the weekend. Has he in the last 24 hours?

MATTHEW WHITAKER, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think he has been the Donald Trump that we sort of expect.

And I know that that is disappointing for many of us that don't disagree with his entire agenda, but there are things that we do disagree with. These CEOs represent some stakeholders, including customers, the most important thing that make a business go round, and I think they're making the right decision for their own personal -- and I think there is a stage on that committee for folks to interface with the administration and interface with this president.

You know, on the issue of race, I mean, this is horrible, what we watched play out on Saturday, and the president's comments were woefully inadequate. And to come back three days later in the manner that he did in putting it in the middle of a speech that we all agree, the conventional wisdom and thoughtful people all agree that the president could have done more on Charlottesville and more broadly rejecting, you know -- if white supremacists and alt-right groups are part of his base, he needs to reject that.

That's not how you win elections. You win elections with people that are conservatives, people that are Republicans, and people that are independents and Democrats that believe in growing the American economy is in the best interest of all Americans.

BALDWIN: But do you, Matthew, realize how it looked, right? He took 72 hours to outright condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists, yet it takes the president all of like 51 minutes, once Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck, a major, majorly successful African-American CEO, to say, essentially, thanks but no thanks, you're not condemning this, so I'm out of your manufacturing council.

Takes the president, you know, less than an hour to attack him on Twitter.

WHITAKER: No, the optics on that are terrible. He should have immediately condemned the terrorist act in Charlottesville. And going after the Merck CEO, who is a -- not only an African-American, but a very successful CEO, who navigated that company through a very difficult time when they had the Vioxx heart challenge and had to pay billions of dollars in damages, I think that's tone-deaf, and I will admit that.

But, at the same time, you know, there are important pieces of this president's agenda that are separate and distinct and can't be just grouped into a simple one-sentence talking point.

[15:05:08]

BALDWIN: What's the -- Solomon, what's the incentive for, you know, businesspeople, successful business men and women to be part of these councils for the president if, you know, they end up disagreeing with the president and end up having to walk away?

JONES: Yes, I don't know that there is an incentive, because the bottom line, we can talk about black and white, we can talk about race, but for businesspeople, the bottom line is green.

And so if they are losing customers, if a community decides that they want to boycott them, if they are really risking their own reputation by being attached to the president, there is no incentive for them to stay.

And so I was pleased to see Kenneth Frazier, who is a Philadelphia native, by the way, take the lead on this and be the first to say, no, I'm not going to stand with this president when he won't stand up against white supremacists.

BALDWIN: What can the president do to, I guess I should say, not only just keep these CEOs on these councils, but, you know, just to keep Americans having faith in the president? I mean, can the president fully separate himself from the white supremacists who have supported him?

WHITAKER: Oh, he has to. JONES: I don't think he can, because he's still got Steve Bannon

sitting there in the White House. Steve Bannon is somebody that these people look to as their voice in the White House.

So, as long as he keeps Steve Bannon there, number one, I don't think that he can separate himself from it, because he has it sitting right there with him in the White House.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Matthew.

WHITAKER: Well, I mean, you know, he needs to not just have the one sound bite from earlier this week, from yesterday, where he spoke out against neo-Nazis and white supremacists and those type -- this is an ongoing conversation that he needs to be very clear that, you know, he does not represent them and he does not represent their interests and he does not want their support.

And I think that is going to have to be a continuing dialogue from this president. And, you know, I think folks like Steve Bannon, who represent that lightning rod in the White House, he's going to have to take a serious consideration on that. I mean, that's something that -- you know, Steve Bannon has been part of the campaign and has been part of the White House.

You know, we didn't need something like Charlottesville to bring attention to that.

BALDWIN: What about, Solomon, I was listening to our air, and there was the vice mayor of Charlottesville who was on, African-American man, who was referring to President Trump as 45. And he just -- he was explaining, he just cannot call him -- I'm paraphrasing -- but he cannot call him his president.

And I have talked to -- listen, there are people in this country obviously who say, this is not my president. But is that helpful, Solomon?

JONES: I don't know that that is helpful, but I think that that's the reality. I think that there are people in the black community -- and I speak to them every day on my radio show -- who feel like we have been cheated out of the presidency, who feel like this Russian investigation certainly has some legs to it, who feel like, you know, our votes have been suppressed.

You had the Justice Department coming out in favor of Ohio purging their voting rolls last year. That affected the election. And so there are a number of reasons why people don't want to call them their president. Racism, I think, is one of those things or the perception of racism with this president, but I think the other one is his policies and the feeling that the black community and other communities of color have been cheated out of a fair election.

BALDWIN: Let's continue this dialogue.

Matthew Whitaker and Solomon Jones, thank you both so much.

JONES: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Now this. Oh, you know that tune. Members of the Dave Matthews band say they are just absolutely heartbroken and disgusted by the hate, the racism, and the violence unleashed in their town where they came to be, Charlottesville, Virginia.

Boyd Tinsley is violinist for the Grammy Award-winning band. He lives in Charlottesville. He joins me now live.

Boyd, thank you so much for being with me.

As someone who started my career in Charlottesville, I have love for that special place where you are standing. I am so sorry for what's happened there.

But, Boyd, this is personal for you. How are you feeling about all of this?

BOYD TINSLEY, MUSICIAN: It is.

I mean, I have been upset, like, since it happened. I was coming back to Charlottesville, and I was at the airport, and just watching it going on, on TV, I was in absolute shock, you know?

So, I wanted to say something to my Twitter followers, but I said I just had to digest this thing before I can even write anything about it. But I can't believe it. I have never seen anything like this before, and this is like the most, I mean, unlikely places to have something like this, because Charlottesville's such a diverse community.

People here just love each other. I mean, everywhere you go, people are waving at you, saying hello. There's so much going on in this city that, to see all this ugliness and hatred, like right here in the middle of my town, was like, you know -- that really that really got me. And that just -- it got me angry, and it's gotten everybody in this community angry, and I think around the nation and probably even around the world.

[15:10:22]

BALDWIN: Yes.

I was talking to the former police Chief Tim Longo, and he was telling me yesterday that there had been chatter online for multiple months ahead of this weekend, right, that these white supremacists were getting organized, they were coming to town. Word had spread through Charlottesville.

Boyd, did people have any idea how so many of these evil people would be coming to Charlottesville?

TINSLEY: I honestly had no idea that that were -- that there were that many of them, and so I don't think anybody had that idea that there would be so many of them. I mean, they sort of had four or three demonstrations in the past.

They came to this park in the dead of night one time holding torches in this sort of, I don't know what they call it, protest. And then they came back again for a Klan rally, which, you know, wasn't as huge as this, you know, but still a traumatic thing on this city.

And then they went to the University of Virginia last Friday night, you know, my alma mater, and they're walking around there spreading hate, and then they come here to this park on Saturday. And I don't think anybody expected, you know, that amount of hatred.

And what you saw was a town that just, like this is a close-knit community here, and people, you know, look out for each other. And to see something like this, people are compelled to come down and say, no, you cannot be here. This is our city. We don't believe in this.

And all the people that came down to this, they were not from here. None of those people were from here. And, you know, so this is not Charlottesville. This is not what we're about. This is a bunch of outsiders coming here to try to create some publicity for themselves, pretty much.

BALDWIN: Boyd, do you have kids?

TINSLEY: I have two kids, and...

BALDWIN: How do you explain this to them?

TINSLEY: ... both of my kids -- well, my kids are -- you know, they're very mature. And they have a way of sort of processing this on their own.

My daughter wrote something very eloquent when the Klan came here. They process it on their own. They're also mixed. You know, my wife is white. So they see things in a completely different way. But, in this community, it's just like color is just not a big thing here. There's never really been a big racial problem at all or any really racial problem at all in Charlottesville.

So, just the thought of this is pretty mind-boggling. And, Brooke, there's one thing I wanted to say, and that is that I know that all around the country, and perhaps around the world, that there are cities that are holding vigils in solidarity of Charlottesville.

And I just want to say, on behalf of Charlottesville, as a citizen, to those people, thank you very much. We really appreciate your support.

BALDWIN: What do you make of just, Boyd, how the president handled, mishandled, responding to this?

TINSLEY: Brooke, I -- I don't have any comment on what the president does.

You know, everybody does, and it's not that I don't have an opinion, but I just don't have a comment.

BALDWIN: OK.

TINSLEY: And, you know, it's like -- I have no comment.

BALDWIN: OK. That's OK.

Boyd Tinsley, I just appreciate your voice, being there in Charlottesville, speaking up for the city here.

Just, I guess, lastly, you know, you keep saying over and over you never thought it would happen here, you never thought it would happen here. But it has. And so now what?

TINSLEY: Well, I will tell you one thing. It's brought this community even more tighter together. You know, I'm like walking down the sidewalk, and I'm just like shaking hands with strangers and fist- bumping and just like -- just we're all coming together over this.

And if anything else, that's the positive that we take away from this, is that this community is tighter.

BALDWIN: Boyd Tinsley, I appreciate you, the great Dave Matthews Band. Thank you so much.

TINSLEY: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

TINSLEY: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, my next guess says white America has been lying to itself for decades on matters of race. Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. joins me. We will talk to him.

Also ahead, new developments in the showdown with North Korea and the threats to launch a missile strike at Guam. Is Kim Jong-un backing down after that standoff with President Trump, the back-and-forth volley, verbal volleys?

[15:15:02]

BALDWIN: And, soon, we are expecting to hear from President Trump from the lobby of Trump Tower. We will take it live in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

My next guest says white America is and has been lying to itself for decades when it comes to matters of race. He says, because of this intellectual dishonesty, it was just a matter of time before something like Charlottesville exploded before our very eyes.

I would like to bring in Leonard Pitts Jr., a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at "The Miami Herald."

Sir, welcome. LEONARD PITTS JR., COLUMNIST, "THE MIAMI HERALD": Thank you very much. Good to be here.

[15:20:01]

BALDWIN: In the wake of what happened in Charlottesville, there were a bunch of different, you know, hashtags that were out there. But there was a hashtag, #thisisnotus, meaning what happened in Charlottesville is not who we Americans are.

But you say we're lying to ourselves. Why?

PITTS: I think we have embraced -- a lot of my white fellow countrymen, frankly, have embraced a false narrative that everything that needs to be done with regard to race was done or was ended about the time that Martin Luther King left us, that we have overcome, that we have reached the promised land.

The fact of the matter is that, by any measure you want to use, whether you use anecdotes or statistics or any other measure you want to use, that is not the case, but they seem to have a vested interest in believing that.

And when you challenge them on that, then what you get is this sort of intellectual dishonesty, these answers which really don't hold together, these assertions which really don't hold together or really make any sense, except to the degree that people need to believe them in order to feel good about themselves.

BALDWIN: I'm curious about what kind of feedback you have been getting on your piece, specifically from white Americans.

PITTS: I have been getting -- to tell you the God's honest truth, I had to go right from that piece into traveling and then writing another piece. So, I really haven't had a chance to...

(CROSSTALK)

PITTS: ... with the responses too much.

BALDWIN: OK. OK. You're a busy man. I appreciate the honesty.

(CROSSTALK)

PITTS: I'm going to look at them, though.

BALDWIN: OK. I'm sure you will.

One graph that stood out to me, you wrote, "But the racial riot and terrorism that just visited Charlottesville and the emboldened brazenness of the white supremacist movement now that one of their own has taken the White House, suggests that you no longer have the luxury of avoidance, at least not if the future of this country matters to you."

How do you mean avoidance, and what can we do about that? PITTS: An example of avoidance would be when you hear people say all

lives matter in the response to black lives matter. Obviously, all lives matter, but that's avoiding the issue.

People say black lives matter specifically because we have lived in a country where, particularly with regard to law enforcement, black lives have been treated as if they did not matter for years. And yet, when you say this, when you come up with a slogan that says this, people pretend to this confusion that I, frankly, don't believe really exists.

You have another example of this when people say that, oh, it's -- you know, racism is on both sides, which is really kind of a silly thing to say if you have any understanding of how race works in this country. Certainly, there is no shortage of bigotry. You know, there's no group in this country that can claim to be free of bigotry.

But when we talk about racism, we're talking about systemized oppression. And in order to benefit from systemized oppression, you have to have the power. So, in other words, people think that they're -- white people tend to think they are being victims of racism when a black person calls them out of their names.

That's not what I'm talking about. If all racism meant was that a white person was going to call me a name from time to time, I would chalk it up as a victory. What racism means is the courts, the media, you know, the education system, the banking, all of these things aligned against me and mine. That's what it means.

BALDWIN: What about -- you point out in your piece, though, that the whites that marched through the streets of Charleston in the wake of that church shooting, the whites who have been killed in standing up for injustices of African-Americans in this country, the fact that in Charlottesville, you know, the victim was Heather Heyer, a white woman there fighting for justice.

PITTS: They are what gives me hope. They are what makes me feel good. They are what allows me to -- you know, to sort of get up in the morning and go slogging through this.

My intention in writing that column was, frankly, to say, where are the rest of you? Because there need to be more. There needs to be a willingness to let go of these excuses and a determination to sort of engage.

That's what Heather Heyer was doing. That's what those kids were doing. That's what James Zwerg did 50 years ago, more than 50 years ago, during the Freedom Rides, and on and on and on. There's always been white heroes of African-American history, people of conscience whose conscience would not allow them to stand aside.

I'm challenging my white fellow countrymen of 2017 to join them.

BALDWIN: At least you have some hope. We are listening. We must act. There must be more hope.

Leonard Pitts, thank you so much.

PITTS: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Thank you, sir.

Just in to CNN: Obamacare insurance premiums could soar 20 percent higher than they are now if President Trump stops funding a key set of subsidies. That's according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office. President Trump has been threatening to stop paying some of the cost-sharing subsidies to insurers, which would then drive up the costs.

But CBO also estimates that eliminating the subsidies would increase the deficit by $26 billion by the year 2026.

[15:25:00]

Coming up next: Kim Jong-un backs off his threat to attack the American territory of Guam, at least for now. So, did President Trump's tripling down win round one of this bluster war with North Korea? Let's talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un maybe has just blinked in the latest standoff with the United States.

It appears the dictator is backing off threats to fire missiles at the American territory of Guam. After reviewing a plan to strike the U.S. territory, the leader of the rogue nation says he will wait to see what the -- quote -- "foolish and stupid Yankees" do next.

This is just the latest in a week of ramped-up rhetoric between these two countries. Defense Secretary James Mattis has already warned Pyongyang that it will be game on if missiles are fired --