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Business Leaders Abandoning Trump; Confederate Monuments Coming Down; Confederate Monument Battles Grow After Charlottesville; Ex- White Power Activist on Stopping Hate. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The good news for President Trump, there is one former presidential candidate standing with him today. The bad news is, it is David Duke.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Abandon ship. Everyone from business leaders to both Presidents Bush and other prominent Republicans saying they cannot support President Trump's defense of those who march with the Klan and neo-Nazis.

Heritage or hate? Confederate monuments coming down in the wake of Charlottesville, some built a century after the Civil War. What do they really stand for?

Plus, sitting down to take a stand. NFL preseason kicks off with more player protests during the national anthem. Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion Michael Bennett will join me to explain what he is going to do and why.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper.

Today, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush issued a statement condemning racial bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred. They were joined by the chiefs of staff of the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, and the National Guard.

Now, none of them referred to President Trump, but all, for some reason, felt the need to tweet condemnations of the racist, hateful ideologies of the Klan and neo-Nazis and white supremacists and the alt-right on display in Charlottesville within hours of President Trump's suggesting a moral equivalence between Nazis and those protesting Nazis.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there is blame on both sides.

You look at -- you look at both sides. I think there's blame on both sides.

You had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.


TAPPER: The president of the United States of America there saying that the press has treated unfairly those people who marched alongside neo-Nazis and white nationalists and the Klan.

Now, VICE News was embedded with the marchers. Let's take look and see how many -- quote -- "very fine people we can find."


UNIDENTIFIED MARCHERS: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Blood and soil! Blood and soil! Blood and soil! Blood and soil!

Whose streets?

Our streets.

Whose streets?

Our streets.

Whose streets?

Our streets.

Whose streets?

Our streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We greatly outnumbered the anti-white, anti- American filth, and at some point we will have enough power and we will clear them from the streets forever. That which is degenerate in white countries will be removed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God. We got hit by a car.


TAPPER: I'm still not really certain where these -- quote -- "very fine people" the media has been unfair to were.

The march was billed from the beginning as a rally for racists. Here's the organizer of the march before it happened.


JASON KESSLER, RALLY LEADER: We're trying to do a pro-white demonstration, so we're trying to make it OK so that folks can stand up for white people. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And that's what it was, complete with torches, and swastikas, racist and anti-Semitic chants and barbarism.

The reviews for President Trump's affirmation that both the Klan and Nazi side and the side protesting them were equally to blame and equally full of bad and very fine people, well, those reviews not so good.

So many CEOs and union leaders have fled White House business councils in protest, President Trump was forced to abandon the councils this afternoon.

As for politicians, well, to save time, let's just do Republicans. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted: "Mr. President, you can't allow white supremacists to share only part of the blame. They support idea which caused nation and world so much pain."

Senator John McCain: "There is no moral equivalency between racists and Americans standing up to defy hate and bigotry. The president of the United States should say so."

Charles Krauthammer on FOX:


CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS: What Trump did today was a moral disgrace.


TAPPER: Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, John Kasich. I could go on and on.

You know who did applaud the president's remarks? Racists, white supremacists.

Former grand wizard of the Klan David Duke: "Thank you, President Trump, for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the left as terrorists."

And white supremacists. Richard Spender: "Trump's statement was fair and down to earth."


Men and women in the United States military fought two wars to defeat the morally repugnant ideas represented in that rally. The first, U.S. Civil War, was fought against those states that had seceded from the Union because they wanted to preserve their right to own African- Americans as slaves.

And even after the South was defeated, some of them got together and assassinated President Lincoln.

Now, the Second World War, the second war, World War II, was a massive effort, with the U.K., Australia, and other allies to defeat Nazis, Nazi Germany, which was sending millions of Jews, Catholics, gays and others to death camps as the Nazis attempted and failed to conquer the world. They, too, were defeated.

Now, we have freedoms in this country. So Klansmen and Nazis, they can think their ugly thoughts and spew their hideous words. And they have to peacefully assemble.

But to act as if these defeated, intellectually destitute and pathetic ideologies and people have any moral standing as they rally to intimidate and vomit forth their treasonous filth, it is not only immoral. It is unpatriotic. It's un-American.

I want to bring in CNN's Sara Murray now, who is here with me.

And, Sara, plenty of extremists celebrating, but the consensus seems to be President Trump's remarks didn't go so well yesterday. What is the view from Trump Tower?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He may not be getting rave reviews externally, but the president has no regrets about what he had to say yesterday.

In fact, he has been defiant. We are told he views this essentially as the liberal media and these East Coast liberal elites having a panic attack, hyperventilating over his comments, this, though, as criticism spreads to both sides of the political spectrum and now to the business community.


MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump increasingly isolated as the backlash to these remarks a day ago builds.

TRUMP: I do think there is blame -- yes, I think there is blame on both sides.

You look at -- you look at both sides. I think there's blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt about it either. And -- and -- and, if you reported it accurately, you would say.

MURRAY: Trump equating neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching through Charlottesville with outbursts of anger from counterprotesters opposing their white nationalist ideology.

The president's comments swiftly drew rebukes from GOP leaders in Washington, former presidents and Wall Street executives. Business leaders, including the CEOs of Campbell and 3M, began fleeing the president, quitting the White House advisory councils.

On Tuesday, Trump insisted he had plenty of CEOs vying to replace those departing. By Wednesday, he scrapped the councils altogether, saying: "Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the manufacturing council and strategy and policy forum, I am ending both. Thank you all." Meanwhile, Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush offered pointed words in a joint statement, saying: "America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred in all forms."

Even as Trump shed supporters, the White House doubled down, releasing a set of talking points declaring: "The president was entirely correct. Both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately and bear some responsibility" and insisting Trump has been a voice for unity and calm.

Today, Vice President Mike Pence was one of the few Republicans to stand by Trump, though he avoided answering a question on whether he agreed with the president's statements that there were very fine people on both sides.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spoke at length about this heartbreaking situation on Sunday night in Columbia, and I stand with the president and I stand by those words.

MURRAY: As for the president, he recognized the memorial service held for Heather Heyer, who was mode down and killed by an alleged white supremacist in Charlottesville with a tweet: "Memorial service today for beautiful and incredible Heather Heyer, a truly special young woman. She will be long remembered by all."

Trump has not announced plans to travel to Charlottesville. When asked about it Tuesday, he used the opportunity to tout a Trump- branded winery.

TRUMP: I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It's in Charlottesville.


MURRAY: Now, in what is probably not the most enviable job in Washington at the moment, the White House has tapped an interim communications director.

That would be President Trump's longtime trusted hand Hope Hicks. She's expected to keep her title of communications adviser as well. Obviously, this is a position that has been held by many before her, including Anthony Scaramucci.

TAPPER: Scaramucci, of course.

Sara Murray, thanks so much.

As we mentioned earlier, some Republicans are speaking out against the president's remarks yesterday. Some are even calling out President Trump by name to emphasize that they don't agree with him.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is on Capitol Hill for us.


Ryan, we have had these moments before when Republicans come out and denounce something the president has said. Is there any indication that this time it is different in any way?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the tone and language from some of these Republican leaders does appear to be a little bit different than some of the controversies of the past.

Let me give you one example. And that's Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He put out a statement where he said -- quote -- "Mr. President, I encourage you to try and bring us together as a nation after this horrific event in Charlottesville. Your words are dividing Americans and not healing them."

And there's a list of Republicans who specifically criticized the president, although it's not a very long list, among them, we mentioned Senator Graham, Senator John McCain, Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Jeff Flake, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Congressman Will Hurd of Texas, as just an example.

But there's no question, Jake, that the vast majority of people who have weighed in on the Charlottesville incident that are Republican members of Congress have avoided using the president's name -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

Coming up: four Confederate monuments taken down in the middle of the night in Baltimore. A look at the debate raging in cities and communications across the country about monuments to the Confederacy next.


[16:15:29] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

To many Americans, they are relics of racism, oppression, and an effort to break up this country over the issue of whites owning blacks. To others, they are still a source of pride and heritage. In the wakes of racist terrorism in Charlottesville, protests that were held under the guise of defending a statue of Robert E. Lee, this fight of disappearing monuments to the confederacy is heating up across the Union.


TAPPER (voice-over): Overnight in Baltimore, a stark reminder that even that which is set in stone can be removed with enough force. Statues of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were among four monuments hauled off into the night on a flatbed truck.

Hours earlier in Birmingham, Alabama, crews put up plywood to obscure a 52-foot obelisk honoring confederate solders and sailors, all just hours after President Trump posed this question.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop? TAPPER: For Baltimore's mayor, the answer was simple.

MAYOR CATHERINE PUGH (D), BALTIMORE: You know, the confederacy didn't fight to unite this country and we are the United States of America. We should be focused on how we become a more united, more loving city, state, country.

TAPPER: Days after violent protests sparked at least in part because of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, government officials in at least nine other states are publicly contemplating the fates of their memorials to those who fought for slavery on the losing confederate side.

In Durham, North Carolina, some broke the law and took matters into their own hands.

Another nationwide debate about whether these monuments set in stone honor heritage or hate. Were they erected by grieving mothers of confederate soldiers or by someone else?

The Southern Poverty Law Center says the majority of the more than 700 confederate monuments in public spaces across the country were erected decades after General Lee's surrender.

FITZ BRUNDAGE, HISTORIAN, UNC CHAPEL HILL: They were erected when they were erected at the same time that white Southerners, conservative white Southerners were, if you will, seizing power for white Southerners, and imposing Jim Crow segregation and white supremacy on the society more broadly.

TAPPER: This carving on Georgia Stone Mountain planned in the early 20th century but finished in 1972 used to be a well-known gathering place for white supremacists. As far west as Arizona, a state not yet part of the nation during the civil war, confederate memorials are up for debate as well.

Some say the memorials are important to keep, to remind Americans of our racist past.

GOV. DOUG DUCEY (R), ARIZONA: I don't think we should try to hide our history. I think we ought to try to teach it, make people understand we have overcome a lot of mistakes.

TAPPER: Where should the line be drawn? Washington, D.C. is a city named after the first but not the last slave=owning president. Statues of confederate leaders grace the halls of the capitol building. Interestingly, Robert E. Lee was once asked about placing memorials at Gettysburg in 1869. The former general replied: I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war but follow the examples of those nationals who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.


TAPPER: Charlottesville gave the nation and the world another glimpse into the violent reality of this racist/extremist group. So, how do people get sucked into that world to begin with, is it ever possible to leave? We'll talk to a former white supremacist next.


[16:23:22] TAPPER: Welcome back. More on our national lead.

They were spewing unthinkable hate as they marched through the streets of Charlottesville as witnessed in this clip from Vice News.


PROTESTERS: You will not replace us! You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!


TAPPER: Shocking for just about every American to see. And few have witnessed this kind of venom like my next guest. Arno Michaelis is a former white power activist who says he's learned how to stop hate. He's now dedicated himself to racial reconciliation and standing against this kind of violence and bigotry. He's the author of the book, quote, "My Life After Hate."

Arno, welcome. Thanks so much for being with us.


TAPPER: So, when you see images and hear chants from the rally, what are your thoughts? Is that what it was like for you when you were involved in the movement?

MICHAELIS: Yes, for my side, I have been on the neo-Nazi side of those kind of events, and it's a huge adrenaline rush. It's a huge sense of power and especially for people who are suffering and have things going wrong in their lives, it is a huge boost to their sense of self esteem, albeit a completely false one that isn't going to get them anywhere good.

TAPPER: How did you originally get introduced and buy into this horrific ideology?

MICHAELIS: I was an adrenaline junkie as a kid. I grew up in an alcoholic household.

[16:25:01] My childhood was overall pretty idyllic, but because of emotional violence in my house from alcoholism, I started lashing out at other kids at an early age. I developed a habit of getting stimulation from causing trouble. As I grew older, like many addictive habits, I needed more chaos to give me the same kind of thrill.

So, things escalated from being a bully on the school bus to getting in fights in the schoolyard to burglary, breaking and entering. As a teenager, I started drinking myself, and that is when I heard white power skinhead music which was really coursing with the same rhetoric that was on display in Charlottesville, and for the same reason as these misguided young men get swept up in it, I did as well.

TAPPER: What do you tell people like this when you encounter them to try to explain how wrong they are? What works?

MICHAELIS: The point I make is that I have lived both lives, I've lived their life. I spent seven years of my life terrified of the world around me, hating every other person who wasn't a violent white racist and I live the life I do today where I literally travel around the world, working with the most beautifully diverse group of people you could possibly imagine, and everywhere I go, I see family, I'm not afraid. I'm grateful, I'm joyful, and it's just a much better way to live your life than the ideology that they're saddling themselves with.

TAPPER: You said you were a recruiter of angry white people. How might other such white supremacists currently be reacting and maybe even using President Trump's language about them right now?

MICHAELIS: The recruitment process into a white supremacist hate group or any kind of violent extremist hate group, it is important to understand it is the same process the Islamic State uses, is to cultivate fear. So, amongst white people, they're going to first of all take Trump's statement as big encouragement, because, now all of a sudden, it is not just them that agitated the problem, it's their counterparts on the left, which while it isn't entirely untrue, the bottom line was Charlottesville was agitated by a far right Unite the Right rally. They're the ones who started that violence, that's what they came for, they were dressed in motorcycle outfits thinking they're Mad Max.

That whole notion of them being warriors for their people and using very peaceful inspiring efforts like Black Lives Matter as a seed of fear is the way that people get recruited into it.

TAPPER: What would you tell President Trump about these groups if you got an audience with him?

MICHAELIS: I would love to have an audience with President Trump, honestly, and I would let him know that I agree with him by saying that there are good people on both sides, but I don't think they're realizing the good people they can be and that they need leadership to get to that place. So, in order to do that, to me, leadership is about responsibility, it's not about blame and I would love to see President Trump take some responsibility for this kind of violence that's happening, I'd like to see him come out stronger to condemn the white power ideology and the fear behind it, and I think that would go a long way to help address this very pointed problem in our society.

TAPPER: Well, Arno Michaelis, we thank you for your leadership on this issue. And thank you for your time as well.

MICHAELIS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: New reaction from inside the White House to the president's comments yesterday, that's next. Stay with us.