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Two Councils Disband after Charlottesville; Trump's Leadership on Charlottesville; Removing Confederate Statues. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:00:12] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Here we go. Top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The breaking news continues. This presidency in crisis. It gets worse.

Just in, two of the president's CEO groups for jobs now totally gone, disbanding, in the wake of the president's controversial remarks about the violence in Charlottesville.

Just, heads up, any moment now, we may get the first images of the day of President Trump as the nation witnesses its leader place blame on both racists and counter protesters, appearing to defend the neo- Nazis, the KKK, the white supremacist. It happened during this -- lots of adjectives you could go with -- we'll go with meltdown of a news conference at Trump Tower just a day after his speech on teleprompter there to try to correct the first one in which he would not call out bigotry fully and unequivocally.

And now the fallout is hitting and hitting hard. The president just confirming on Twitter, as more and more CEOs pull away, the heads of Campbell's Soup and 3M just dropped out of the manufacturing group, making them number seven and number eight executives to depart.

I want you to listen to what Campbell's leader has said. Quote, racism and murder are unequivocally responsible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville. I believe the president should have been and still needs to be unambiguous on that point, she writes.

With me now to begin, CNN business correspondent Richard Quest.

Richard, these additional drop-offs, how significant?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, enormously significant, Brooke. These additional drop-offs, not just the Campbell's Soup but the 3M, but also the unions and Under Armour and the alliance yesterday.

Look, what was happening is that the herd mentality was starting. Cover was being given to chief execs who were now seen as being -- they were getting pressure from investors, pressure from shareholders, pressure from employees, pressure from friends and family. And what was at risk from the president's point of view is that more and more and more would leave the councils, and so he then decided to go for the nuclear option which was to abandon them, disband the councils, before he could be embarrassed any further.

This is a case here, Brooke, of the president firing the councils before they could all quit.

BALDWIN: Yesterday, the president tweeted, we talked about this, for every CEO that drops out of the manufacturing council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. Jobs.

Who -- if you're a mega member of the business community in this country, why do you want to help the president at a time like this?

QUEST: Yes. The -- you don't -- you're balancing a very, very difficult act here, because on the one hand, he's still the president of the United States, elected by the people and the head of state. On the other hand, you have all these rampant controversies going deep into the sewers, and you've got to balance that between not annoying one versus not annoying the other.

I think what's important here also is this strategic policy forum that was disbanded. Now, this is a very high level group of CEOs that was probably more important than the manufacturing council, but it also had several very strong and leading members of the American Jewish community that were taking part in it. And I'm guessing, from what I've heard anyway, from what our people have told me, that there's an enormous amount of pressure, particularly his refusal to criticize when you heard those marchers in Charlottesville saying about Jews will not replace us.

Put all this together, and what you have here, Brooke, and it's fascinating, it's worrying, but it's the first time we're really seeing this. Corporate America has become the moral compass that is leading the argument.

BALDWIN: Corporate America but you also have joint chiefs, the military, a very unusually weighing in, you know, denouncing all of this as well, the military.

Richard Quest, thank you so much for that.

And as the president faces all this outrage, the Heyer family is embracing the outpouring of support as they were her daughter. Her memorial service was today. She is the 32-year-old woman protesting against the white supremacist in Charlottesville Saturday when a driver plowed into a crowd and killed her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK HEYER, FATHER OF COUNTERPROTESTER KILLED IN CHARLOTTESVILLE: No father should have to do this. But I love my daughter. And as I look out on you guys, you loved her too. She was kind of hard that way. Hard not to love. And as I listened and -- to her friends, and hear stories of my daughter and the way she was, she loved people. She wanted equality. And in this issue, of the day of her passing, she wanted to put down hate.

[14:05:37] SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF COUNTERPROTESTER KILLED IN CHARLOTTESVILLE: They tried to kill my child to shut her up. Well, guess what? You just magnified her.

I'm reading pages of pages of pages how she's touching the world. I want this to spread. I don't want this to die. This is just the beginning of Heather's legacy. This is not the end of Heather's legacy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: May she rest in peace.

Now for more on just what all of this means for our country, Errol Louis is with us, CNN political commentator, a political anchor at Spectrum News, CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp and host of HLN's "S.E. Cupp Unfiltered," which debuts Monday, cultural critic and writer Michaela Angela Davis. She is back. Danny Zuker, one of the executive producers of the sitcom "Modern Family," who has engaged in numerous Twitter spats with Donald Trump.

So welcome to all of you.

And, Errol, let me just turn to your first.

You know, just ingesting so much of this, it feels like the past couple of days really feel like a sad moment in this nation. It feels like a page turn. It feels like, in a sense, not to sound like chicken little, but the sky is falling, politically, socially, on the president.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

BALDWIN: How does he recover? How does the nation recover?

LOUIS: Well, how does the nation recover is the question. And, in fact, I think it's the -- sort of the turning of the question has been, if anything, a bit of a ray of light here, meaning the president has abdicated his responsibility. It's his responsibility to bring the nation together, to speak clearly on something like Nazi flags and terrorist murder are bad things. He abdicated that responsibility.

So we've seen business leaders, military leaders, religious leaders all stepping forward, protesters in the streets even, her parents, other eloquent voices coming together and sort of saying, we're going to have to do what the president should have done. And he is in some ways making himself less and less relevant as sort of a central leading figure.

What he has done is not leadership. What the country is doing, what different people are deciding and recognizing, which is the way it should be in a democracy, is that we ourselves are the leaders.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about the leaders in our country as far as even on the Republican side. A number of Republicans have, of course, denounced racism, like that's not breaking news. But the fact is, John McCain, S.E., did call out the president by name. 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.

So, why are the other leaders not calling the president out? What are they afraid of?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I actually think you've seen most Republican members, to a person, denounce what President Trump said but not --

BALDWIN: Right, but they're not calling the president out by name.

CUPP: Well, you know, that would be great if they had that moral fortitude, but I think it is enough to say that there is no moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and those who would condemn them.

I thought what Richard was saying earlier was interesting, that business leaders were having to walk a fine line. I don't think it's a fine line. I think, actually, on this issue, it's a really easy decision. Donald Trump is on an island of his own.

This issue was settled 70 years ago by a global community. There's no one say (ph) for neo-Nazis themselves who defend neo-Nazis. So whether it's Republicans in leadership, business leaders, name another group, it's not a difficult thing to go out and say, (INAUDIBLE) don't see this equivalence.

BALDWIN: I hear you. I'm just -- I'm pressing you.

And I'm curious, Michaela, what you think. Because even the Senate majority leader, right, Mitch McConnell, according to Manu Raju's reporting, he has said privately that he is upset with the president over how he's handled Charlottesville but apparently he doesn't want to say it publicly. He's afraid of how it may be perceived because of the public spat between the two of them.

CUPP: Well, that's cowardly.

BALDWIN: But that's where I'm going, because he isn't saying this publicly. And if you're saying it's not a huge deal that these, you know, senior leaders aren't calling the president out --

CUPP: I didn't say it's not a huge deal. I said it's important for elected leaders, whether it's Paul Ryan or John McCain or Orrin Hatch to denounce this. I think it's less important to denounce Donald Trump in particular, but not doing so is cowardly. There's no way around it. That's a coward -- a coward's position.

BALDWIN: Do you think they should, Michaela?

MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS, CULTURAL CRITIC AND WRITER: So, first, I think that Heather Heyer is an American woman, patriot, who lost her life in service of the American project. So I want to say that first.

[14:10:08] BALDWIN: Yes. DAVIS: And I also want to say that 96 percent of black women did not vote for Trump, hash tag notourshame.

Secondly, he is not alone. He is one bigoted, narcissistic, small man that 53 million people gave him a lot of power. It is easy to just look at Donald Trump, but there are 53 million people that decided to vote for him. Who are they? They are people -- there's the --

CUPP: They're not all neo-Nazis or white supremacist. That's the point I'm making.

DAVIS: Wait a minute. But here's the thing. But here's what we're grappling with, right? This -- when David Duke tweeted quite accurately, white Americans voted for you. White Americans made you president. Don't ever forget that. That's who voted for him.

So, what is happening now is the soul of white America is having to reckon with itself. It's having to reckon with the idea that we started a country on a remarkable document, genocide, and slavery. That is what -- that's at the core of all of these issues.

Donald Trump is a flash point. Donald Trump was made in America. So we have to look at what we made and who is with him and who doesn't -- this is not -- where are the brave people? If this is the land of the free and the home of the brave, be brave now. This is -- what was happening on that street, when you saw white Americans fighting this idea, it is a civil war.

It's been a civil war online for a long time. Like since 2008 when that beautiful, brilliant black first family walked into that White House, the -- it began. The civil war began online. And yesterday -- or, I mean, in Charlottesville, that was the battle. And Heather Heyer lost her life as an American patriot in this battle for white America to reckon with its history for real this time.

CUPP: I just want to be clear, though, and I say this because I have Trump voters in my family, friends. I've met hundreds of Trump voters. To a person, none would say, I really want him to defend neo-Nazis in my name. Not a single one. And I think while white America can be generalized and lumped in with this --

DAVIS: (INAUDIBLE) --

CUPP: Awful group of repugnant people, that's only going to get him reelected. And I'm a conservative who didn't vote for Trump --

DAVIS: You -- but, S.E., before he --

CUPP: And I don't want to empower his reelection. So we should be clear about people who voted for Trump. And why and not all economic frustrations of white people --

DAVIS: Right.

CUPP: Are based in a desire for ethnic cleansing and superior races.

DAVIS: Right.

CUPP: That's not every Trump voter.

DAVIS: S.E., that -- S.E., that's on the extreme. And I never said that.

What I'm saying is that this is an opportunity for America to really reckon with its history. So you may not have voted for a neo-Nazi, but you voted for someone that wanted to jail the Central Park Five. We're from New York. We know who he is. We know him putting c's on people's applications. We know that he -- what he said about Mexicans. We know what he said about women. We know what he said about Barack Obama. This is not new.

BALDWIN: I --

DAVIS: This new shock is ridiculous.

BALDWIN: I actually -- we have two of the Central Park Five we're talking to in a little bit, just on, obviously, their point is, why are people surprised. This is the man that they saw several years ago.

But, Danny, I just want to make sure I get you in on the conversation.

DANNY ZUKER, CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "MODERN FAMILY": Yes. Thanks.

BALDWIN: And just because you're -- just because you're far away, I want to hear from you equally. Just obviously your thoughts, first, on this conversation and then I want to ask you about some of these central figures in the White House. But go ahead. You've been listening to this.

ZUKER: Yes. Yes, well, my thoughts on this conversation is the reason we're here is because we don't call out Donald Trump. I mean I think it is important to call him out by name. And hearing that Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan are privately upset about it without -- I mean it's so easy to say Nazis are bad. We have to say that the president is bad for not saying Nazis are bad. And it doesn't --

BALDWIN: But do you -- do you -- why do you think -- because then the question becomes, maybe if they come out and they call him out by name, what can they then get done for this country when they all return in September? Do you think that's part of the thinking?

ZUKER: Well, I would ask what they are getting done right now. And I just feel that you have this guy, Trump, who is so afraid to call out Nazism. My grandfather actually had to fight Nazis. All he has to do is say Nazis is bad, and I think all the Republican Party has to do is say that Donald Trump is bad for not calling out Nazis. Let's call it what it is, admit your mistake, and move on. I mean-- but, I don't see that happening.

BALDWIN: But let me stay with you, Danny, because you look at --

ZUKER: OK.

BALDWIN: You look at Jewish members of his family. I mean you look at his son-in-law. You look at his daughter.

ZUKER: Yes.

[14:15:00] BALDWIN: You look at Gary Cohn and Steve Mnuchin, both of whom were standing there in Trump Tower.

ZUKER: Right.

BALDWIN: Reportedly, you know, Cohn is upset and devastated, but they're still standing there. Do you think they should do more?

ZUKER: Yes, I think they should resign. I think it's awfully cowardly. I think by not speaking out, you're endorsing him. And I think it's a huge problem right now for us. And I don't respect -- I mean, I wouldn't stand next to somebody who couldn't say Nazis are bad. Let -- not just because I'm a Jewish person, but because I'm an American. We fought for that. I mean that's just sort of basic to me.

BALDWIN: Errol, where are Ivanka and Jared? They always seem to be away when the big moments --

LOUIS: Yes, there's this long-standing theory that when they go away, either because of the Sabbath or because they're on vacation, the president has no restraining influences and flies off the handle. Very possible. You know, we've got a lot of reporting on palace intrigue. That's the easy stuff. Maybe we'll find out.

I think, though, that there's some interesting stuff that I've been reading today written by and for orthodox Jews, writing one to another.

BALDWIN: Yes.

LOUIS: A very interesting kind of conversation going on saying, this has gone completely off the rails. I mean there's been so much remarkable tragedy over the last few days that if you go back and find it, the flyers that were supposed to be -- I guess the organizing flyers to advertise the Charlottesville hate rally --

BALDWIN: (INAUDIBLE). Yes.

LOUIS: It's, you know, it's a Star of David and a stylized figure smashing it with a hammer. This kind of stuff. This has been out there. We've had all kinds of -- you know, the preliminary chat, you know, less than 24 hours before the murder took place was, Jews will not replace us, right? So this -- this is --

BALDWIN: (INAUDIBLE) marching.

ZUKER: It's crazy.

LOUIS: This is -- this is in your face and it's right here. And for every single person, whether you're a wealthy powerful CEO, whether you're a general in the United States army, whether you're a minister of the gospel, or whether you're just a person who's wondering what to do, everybody's got to make a decision. That applies to Ivanka Trump. That applies to Jared Kushner. That applies to everybody. And so the president has, I think, set something in motion or allowed some things to happen that are, at this point, much larger than the presidency itself. We've got to really sort of figure out who we are, what we believe in, and what we all intend to do.

BALDWIN: We're going to end -- we're going to end with that.

DAVIS: And there's a lot of people in pain. There's a lot of pain.

LOUIS: Yes.

BALDWIN: We're going to end -- we're going to talk to a lot of those people and also folks who say, well, why do we need to tear down the flags and the confederate monuments. I want to hear from everyone.

For now, thank you all very much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

ZUKER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: And, Danny, to you, from afar there in L.A., thank you as well.

ZUKER: Thank you so much.

BALDWIN: So, what does the U.S. do with these monuments and these statues? We'll talk live with one man who's arguing, keep them up.

And New Yorkers are saying they have known about this president for decades. We'll talk to two members of the Central Park Five who Donald Trump, way back in the day, targeted in four newspapers, this full- page ad.

And the family of a Nazi at the rally denouncing him. You will hear from the man's nephew about their confrontations at home about race.

So much to discuss. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

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[14:22:29] BALDWIN: The statue at the center of the Charlottesville rally, or at least what these hate groups claimed was at the center of this, is reigniting this massive debate in this country, especially in the south about whether these confederate monuments should be taken down.

City leaders in Baltimore aren't waiting any longer. They voted unanimously to remove four statues immediately. All four linked to the confederacy came down overnight last night.

But during the president's defensive news conference where he blamed both the white nationalist and the counter protesters, the president made another startling comparison between confederate generals and the founding fathers of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. 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?

George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down -- excuse me, re we going to take down -- are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? OK, good. Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's discuss. I have Harold Holzer with me here in New York. He is the director of Hunter College's Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. He is also the author of a book on President Lincoln. Also with me, Alfred Brofre. He is a professor at the University of Alabama Law School.

So, welcome to both of you.

And, Harold, just going off of what the president just said. I mean just being historically accurate and having a correct argument, you know, he's referencing General Lee, who led the confederate army in the Civil War to try to break apart the country, versus the first and third presidents of the United States. Is that a valid argument? Is he -- should he be conflating those leaders?

HAROLD HOLZER, ROOSEVELT HOUSE PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUE, HUNTER COLLEGE: Well, two words that you've been using a lot this week, false equivalency.

BALDWIN: False equivalency.

HOLZER: The founders, especially the southern founders, were flawed by our standards and by the standards of many at the time. They were slave owners. And the president is not incorrect that there has been some agitation in the last year or two about statues of Thomas Jefferson particularly.

Here in New York City, one of our elected officials, when she came into office, said, let's take the Jefferson out of city hall rotunda. So he's not off on that score. But what he's saying is that flawed people who -- still created the moral framework of our democracy and our system can be compared to traitors who led a war that killed 750,000 Americans, the equivalent of 10 or 12 million today to protect slavery. And that's false equivalency.

[14:25:21] BALDWIN: False equivalency from you.

And, Al, to you. Just why were these historic confederate monuments erected in the first place?

ALFRED BROPHY, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA LAW SCHOOL: Sure. Many of them were put up in the early part of the 20th century as memorials to the confederacy. And I think that's the problem with them. But that's maybe also the reason why it's important, in some ways, to contextualize them, maybe keep them up so that we remember that once the people in power in Charlottesville and elsewhere in the south celebrated the ideas of the confederacy and the pro-slavery thought.

BALDWIN: So here is someone who obviously entirely disagrees with these sorts of, you know, monuments and with the president, "Killer Mike, Michael Render, who had this to say on Instagram.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL "KILLER MIKE" RENDER, RAPPER AND ACTIVIST: I just don't want to look that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) stupid to the rest of the world. So please stop saying that stupid (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and at least have a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) argument that makes sense with all respect. Don't cheer for the team that was trying to break up the country that you're now in charge of leading. Their flags don't go up because they're (EXPLETIVE DELETED) losers. That simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All right. So Mike's feeling passionate, you know, forgive some of the bleeps, but the point, Harold, is, why cheer for the losing team? He doesn't want the U.S. to look, to quote him, stupid to the rest of the world. Is that a valid argument?

HOLZER: Absolutely. And the professor is right. These monuments, for the most part, although there were certain waves of their creation, were for the most part created as statements saying, we may have won the war but we're going to win the peace. People of color are going to be kept in their place, at least the place we've defined for them, and these symbols of confederate power, of white power, are going to stay in your face for as long as you live, and your fore bears live, ancestors.

The problem is, there is another way to do it. We heard a second ago about contextualizing them. It may be too late. It may be too late for contextualization. Annapolis, Baltimore, taking down confederate statues, including one of Roger Taney, who wrote the dreadful Dred Scott decision that declared that people of color could not be citizens of the United States. However, a few years ago, what the people of Annapolis did is erect a statue right next to Taney of Thurgood Marshall, who joined the Supreme Court that Roger Taney despoiled by giving that horrendous decision. So there is a way to have responding statutes. In Richmond, the statues of Lee, Davis --

BALDWIN: I keep thinking of Monument Avenue. Totally.

HOLZER: Where does it end now? With Arthur Ashe in Monument Avenue. That was the reply to the -- by the way, that's a real issue because Monument Avenue statues are great works of art, unlike some of the others that we're talking about. What do you to? Do you contextualize it? Do you (INAUDIBLE) them?

BALDWIN: I keep thinking about Richmond. Yes, no, that's a great point. I was also reading some of these -- I think some of the cities where the statues are coming down are going to confederate cemeteries. So they'll be placed somewhere. So if you do want to see them, you can go. It's just not right there in the middle of the city.

HOLZER: And the artistic problem with that is they are created to be seen from 70 feet below. If they're in your face, they're going to look like cartoons. But, you know, maybe better than destroying them.

BALDWIN: That's why I wanted to talk, originally, the mayor of Richmond, we'll follow up. Harold, thank you so much. And, Al, thank you as well on that.

Coming up here on CNN, some New Yorkers say the president has shown his true colors for years, including the so-called Central Park Five, who Donald Trump once targeted in 1989, these full-page ads. We'll talk to two members of the Central Park Five, how they felt watching the president address the media from Trump Tower, coming up.

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