Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Asks if Washington and Jefferson Statues Next; Four Joint Chiefs Condemn Hatred After Charlottesville. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 10:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[10:33:27] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So this week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson's 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.

MAYOR CATHERINE PUGH (D), BALTIMORE: This movement here is about white supremacy. It is about Confederate statues. It is about what you should be doing for the people in your city, in your communities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That was Baltimore's mayor talking about the removal of monuments to Confederate icons. That happened overnight. Four monuments were taken down barely two days after the city council voted to remove them because or following the violence in Charlottesville.

Joining me now to talk about the history here, you know, President Trump asked a key question. You know, if you take down statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, should George Washington and Thomas Jefferson be next?

I'm here with James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, and Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

You know, and James, the president made a fairly direct, partly even implicit comparison between Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and George Washington. Historically speaking, is that apt?

JAMES GROSSMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION: No. It's a specious comparison. Yes, these were all slave holders and in that sense, Washington and Jefferson were deeply flawed individuals. Washington and Jefferson, however, participated in the creation of a country, in a democratic experiment. Jefferson has other aspects to his life that are worth honoring. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't be critical of them for being slave holders.

[10:35:03] Lee and Jackson, however, have been honored for one thing, which is the attempt to create and then defend a new nation that existed for one reason, which was to protect the rights of some individuals to own other individuals. It's there in the Declarations of Secession, very straightforward.

BERMAN: Yes, I mean, you know, to be clear, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, y, created a union. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson fought to leave that union, our union.

Now, Professor Sabato, you are at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, obviously the site of these demonstrations, but also, you know, in Virginia, of course, which, you know, the key state of the Confederacy. And this is not a new debate about Confederate monuments and people always point to the heritage. There is history here. This is something that people have struggled with, you know, in Virginia for a long time.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: Well, of course it is. And I'm at the university founded by Thomas Jefferson. I live in a building on the lawn where I witnessed the outrage of the neo-Nazis last Friday night, in a building designed by Thomas Jefferson.

How do we deal with this complicated legacy? We honor, as Mr. Grossman suggested, Thomas Jefferson's tremendous accomplishments, author of the "Declaration of Independence," founder of the university, author of the "Declaration of Religious Freedom," Louisiana purchase. We could go on and on. I think that balances in some way the unfortunate part of his legacy about slavery. We certainly do not support that.

But, John, we're building a monument to enslaved laborers right here. We have a dormitory named after enslaved laborers. We are doing things that matter. But this is more false equivalency from President Trump. Just as he falsely equated the neo-Nazis with those showing up to protest their fascism, so too is he trying to make equivalent Robert E. Lee with Thomas Jefferson or George Washington, and as Mr. Grossman has just explained it is outrageous and wrong.

BERMAN: And in fact, the statues, even beyond the role of these men in history, the role of these statues in history historically speaking, most of the statues built to Confederate icons came up during Jim Crow at the turn of the 18th and the 19th century or in the 1950s during the civil rights struggle as a specific statement against either integration or equalization for African-Americans.

And one other historical point here, James Grossman, I don't need to tell you, someone who was against statues of Robert E. Lee, Robert E. Lee. You know, he didn't think it was a good idea, James Grossman, to memorialize him. You know, what do you make of that?

GROSSMAN: I'm impressed by his level of humility and perhaps his wisdom in that regard. And I wish maybe that descendants had listened a little more closely. His political descendants. But this is the -- you have just mentioned the absolutely crucial issue which is when people say we can't whitewash history or we can't erase history, the history that is being addressed with these statues is two things. One is the Confederacy but more important is the historical context in

which these statues were built, which as you say were during the Jim Crow era. Most of these statues were built between around 1900 and 1917, 1920, and between 1955 and 1965. They had a specific purpose. That purpose was less to honor individuals like Lee or Jackson, which they did, but they did that for a purpose. And that purpose was to maintain white supremacy if you look at the historical context.

So yes, take down the statues, maybe leave the pedestals, because the erection of the statues, that is itself an important historical moment.

BERMAN: James Grossman, Larry Sabato, who lives in Monticello, we should say, by the way, in the house, thank you so much for being with us. Professors, thanks.

GROSSMAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. The events in Charlottesville started a national conversation now that the Joint Chiefs have chosen not to ignore. Rare remarks from the nation's top military brass. Important to hear, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:43:25] BERMAN: In normal times the Joint Chiefs stick to advising the president on military affairs and try to stay out of politics. These are not normal times. We have heard from leaders of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps publicly speaking out against bigotry and hatred, a move in it of itself which speaks volumes to the historical significance of this moment we are in right now post- Charlottesville.

Joining me to discuss, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr and CNN military analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Barbara, first to you. What are we hearing from these leaders?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, you are right. The Joint Chiefs, especially since the moment Donald Trump started running for president, have been adamant that they will stay out of what you might think of as domestic politics.

As of this morning, all of that has changed. Every one of the four major members of the Joint Chiefs, the heads of the services, now weighing in on Twitter. The fact that they are talking in this moment of national conversation is worth taking note of in itself but let's go to what these men are saying.

The head of the U.S. Air Force, General David Goldfein, a battle veteran himself, a short time ago tweeting the following. "I stand with my fellow service chiefs in saying we are always stronger together. It's who we are as airmen."

The head of the U.S. Army, General Mark Milley, a battle veteran, "The Army doesn't tolerate racism, extremism or hatred in our ranks. It's against our values and everything we have stood for since 1775."

The head of the U.S. Marine Corps, a battle veteran, General Robert Neller.

[10:45:04] "No place for racial hatred or extremism in the U.S. Marine Corps. Our core values of honor, courage and commitment frame the way Marines live and act."

And General John Richardson began all of this commentary over the weekend. He was the first to tweet about this. The head of the U.S. Navy saying bluntly events in Charlottesville, unacceptable and mustn't be tolerated in the U.S. Navy, mustn't be tolerated. The U.S. Navy forever stands against intolerance and hatred."

Now is there a linkage? The Marine Corps has learned that the head of one of these white supremacist groups did serve in the Marine Corps, has been out since earlier this year, not in the Marines, but did serve. Also the man charged in the murder of that woman by ramming his car into her served in the U.S. Army for about four months.

The Pentagon taking very deep note this morning that the chiefs are speaking out -- John.

BERMAN: It is fascinating. And Admiral Kirby, you know these men, some of them very well.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes.

BERMAN: And you feel that they must have believed this was something they needed to do.

KIRBY: Absolutely. This is not something that they do, you know, with happy heart. As you rightly pointed out, they don't weigh into domestic politics. And I would tell you that even today they probably would tell you they're still not weighing into domestic politics. What they're doing is standing up for the values they represent. You notice in Milley's tweet, he capitalized the word values. You noticed in General Neller's tweet, he capitalized the words honor, courage and commitment.

These are the ideals that these guys have lived and fought and served and seen their fellows sacrifice for. It means a lot to them. So there's a pragmatic notion here, John, where they have to man, train and equip the services. And so they want to make it clear to the American people who are sending their sons and daughters into recruiting stations that this is what they stand for and that they don't have to worry about racism and bigotry in the ranks.

There is also idealism here. They believe in these values very, very much. I do know all four of them. Again, a couple of them very, very well. This gets right to the heart of who they are. This was not an act of defiance against the president. It would have been an act of defiance for these men not to say these things in light of what happened on Saturday.

BERMAN: You know, it is pretty interesting, you said these military leaders don't normally make political statements. Again in normal times I am not sure coming out against neo-Nazis and white supremacists is even a political statement anymore.

KIRBY: Absolutely.

BERMAN: There is no real political debate left in that.

KIRBY: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Admiral Kirby, Barbara Starr, thanks so much for being with us. I do appreciate it.

KIRBY: You bet.

BERMAN: All right. The NBA's biggest star is now speaking out forcefully against the president of the United States in the wake of what happened in Charlottesville. LeBron James calling him the so- called president.

We have the "Bleacher Report" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:52:18] BERMAN: All right. LeBron James, the world's biggest basketball star, calling President Trump the so-called president.

Andy Scholes has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report." Good morning, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. You know, LeBron James has never shied away from speaking out on social issues. And lately, he's been voicing his displeasure with President Trump. And last night at his annual family charity event, LeBron said that he felt it was his responsibility to speak out on what's been going on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: The only way for us to be able to get better as a society and us to get better as people is love. And that's the only way we're going to be able to conquer something at the end of the day. It's not about the guy that's the so-called president of the United States or whatever case. Shout out to the people, to the innocent people in Charlottesville, North Carolina, and shout out to everybody across the world that just want to be great and want to love.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: Now LeBron also taking to Twitter yesterday afternoon after President Trump's news conference saying, "Hate has always existed in America. Yes, we know that. But Donald Trump just made it fashionable again. Statues have nothing to do with us now."

All right. Seattle Seahawks star Mike Bennett meanwhile says he will be sitting during the national anthem this season, like Colin Kaepernick. Bennett says he's doing it to speak out on injustice in our country. And Bennett's teammates say him sitting is not a distraction. The head coach Pete Carroll, while he doesn't agree with the method, respects Bennett's right to do it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETE CARROLL, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS HEAD COACH: His heart's in a great place. And he's going to do great work well after the time he's with us and it's easy for me to support him in that -- in his issues but I think we should all be standing up when we're playing the national anthem.

DOUG BALDWIN, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS WIDE RECEIVER: It's not to be divisive, it's not to be negative. And I fully support Mike and his message and his thoughts and definitely the way he went about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: Finally the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton hitting a homerun for the sixth straight game last night. He now has 11 long balls in his past 12 games. If he's able to keep this up, Stanton could make history. He's almost on pace to beat Roger Maris' old record of 61 homeruns.

You can take a look at the greatest homerun seasons ever, through 116 games, you see Stanton just one behind where Maris was back in 1961.

And I know you're aware, John, you know, a lot of baseball fans still consider Roger Maris' 61 homeruns as the true baseball homerun record, considering the steroid accusations that surrounded Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire.

BERMAN: Giancarlo Stanton, if he hits over that number it would certainly clear things up and make things easier for those of us who care about that. He's crushing it.

Andy Scholes, thanks very much. I appreciate it.

SCHOLES: All right.

BERMAN: All right. We have an eye on Charlottesville, Virginia, right now. We have some live pictures I believe from inside the memorial service. This is the service for Heather Heyer, the 32-year- old woman who was killed in the events there.

[10:55:04] That's Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, you can see him in the back right there. We are going to cover this event for you as that city and this nation remembers that young woman. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Right now a quest for healing in a city heartbroken by hate-fueled violence and a country left searching for moral guidance right now and wondering, where does the president stand? A memorial service is about to get under way as we speak for Heather

Heyer, the woman killed while protesting against the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville this weekend.