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President Back to Blaming "Both Sides" for Clashes; Trump's Charlottesville Controversy. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[000026] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. Great to have you with us.

I'm John Vause.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isha Sesay. You're watching NEWSROOM L.A.

VAUSE: Donald Trump has set off another firestorm of criticism for once again blaming both sides for Saturday's violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. In what could be one of the most memorable presidential news conferences in history, Mr. Trump was combative and angry and he said members of the alt-left armed with clubs charged at protesters who were marching to save a confederate statue.

SESAY: Many of those protesters were actually white supremacists and neo-Nazis, some armed with guns. Mr. Trump said some of the protesters were fine people who just wanted to preserve history.

Take a listen to some of the President's remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement. But you don't make statements that direct unless you know the facts.

It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts.

Before I make a statement I need the facts. So I don't want to rush into a statement.

Unlike you and unlike the media, before I make a statement I'd like to know the facts.

Frankly, people still don't know all of the facts. It was very important -- excuse me, excuse me -- it was very important to me to get the facts out and correctly.

There're still things that people don't know. What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? (CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Let me ask you this. What about the fact they came charging, that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.

You had a group on one side that was bad. And you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that. And I'll say it right now.

You had a group -- you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.

I had condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.

Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue -- Robert E. Lee. So -- excuse me -- and you take a look at some of the groups and you say -- and you know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you're not -- but 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 all -- you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

But they were there to protest -- excuse me -- you take a look the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- race relations in America. And do you think things have gotten worst or better since you took office?

TRUMP: I think they've gotten better or -- look, they've been frayed for a long time. And you can ask President Obama about that because he'd made speeches about it.

You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch.

But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left, you just call them the left that came violently attacking the other group. I think there's blame on the both sides. And I have no doubt about it. And you don't have any doubt about it either.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: And if you report it inaccurately you would say that. You had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists -- ok.

And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest because you know -- I don't know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn't have a permit.

So I only tell you this -- there are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country -- a horrible moment. But there are two sides to --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Well joining us now Democratic strategist Matthew Littman and CNN political commentator John Phillips, a Trump supporter and talk radio host.

VAUSE: Also with us here in Los Angeles, entertainment journalist and social commentator, Segun Oduolowu.

[00:05:03] So John -- I would like to start with you. Up until this point, some have debated they thought Donald Trump was a genuine racist or he just plays one on television simply to get votes. Did this news conference -- his train wreck of a news conference -- did it answer that question?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I don't think Donald Trump is a racist. I think on this subject though there are four points that should be made and made in this order.

The first point is the groups that were behind the Unite the Right march are horrible people -- all of them. The neo-Nazis, the white supremacists, the white nationalists -- all of them.

Number two is that they have a constitutional right to be there. They had a constitutional right to spew their hatred. We've seen the courts reaffirm this over and over and over again going back to Skokie and the KKK to this particular case where the ACLU defended their right to be there and they had the proper permit.

Three -- any one of those members of those groups that broke the law when they were there, that attacked police officers, that attacked counter protesters, that ran someone over with their car -- they should be prosecuted by the fullest extent of the law.

And four, counter-protesters who were there who broke the law and committed acts of violence -- acts of violence should also be prosecuted.

I think the problem that he made today was he over-emphasized four, instead of going through one, two, three --

VAUSE: So there were fine people over in that group --

PHILLIPS: No, I don't believe that. I think that if you went to that rally and you saw one swastika, you would turn around and leave. It's like if you go into a women's restroom by accident, you look around, if you don't see any urinals except for the sinks then you say those are really high urinals over there, you turn around and leave.

VAUSE: Ok.

SESAY: Segun -- to you, let me bring you in. Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader said, by the President not taking sides on Tuesday, he's shown what side he is on. Where do you stand on this issue? I mean you just heard John say that he doesn't believe the President is racist. Where do you stand?

SEGUN ODUOLOWU, ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST: Well, I agree with Chuck Schumer on that point. Again -- I know John pretty well and we've spoken on the radio before so let me measure these comments correctly.

John -- you can't be serious. I mean what President Trump did today was probably the dumbest, most idiotic thing I've ever actually seen a sitting president do where just like you said there were fine people in the march. If you're marching alongside swastikas and the Nazi flag, I don't care what your point is anymore. You lost me at Nazi.

And I saw confederate flags marching side by side with neo-Nazi flags. So when the President is going to say that the people that protest Nazis and are violently opposed to Nazis are just as bad as the Nazis themselves, he loses that argument. He loses me.

And quite frankly, he should lose -- he should lose all credibility and the power to govern anymore because what he is doing is dividing a nation and doing it piece by piece. He's got Bannon in his cabinet who is an alt-right contributor to Breitbart and a former editor, so white nationalists have infected his party.

He had a grand wizard of the KKK, David Duke, absolutely say that they voted him into office and support his measures of making America great again. And those people that are trying to say that the confederate flag is heritage not hatred, I just watched with my own four eyes because I have glasses on -- with my own four eyes, your flag march alongside a neo-Nazi flag --

VAUSE: Ok.

ODUOLOWU: -- and for that there would be no forgiveness.

VAUSE: Let's take a look at some of the images of those fine people as the President - -or some of the fine people as the President described taking part in the Unite the Right rally.

Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWD: 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.

Blood and soil. Blood and soil. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Matt -- they say you're judged by the company you keep. But what is truly remarkable that these images in the past, the Klan wore hoods, the neo-Nazis were sort of in the shadows. It was always sort of a covert element.

These guys are out and proud for everyone to see.

MATT LITTMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right. And now all over the Internet. I just want to say it's no wonder Trump hasn't been able to hire a new communications director. I mean who would want this job at this point?

You know, when he goes out there to speak, they should just pull the fire alarm, let the water come down pooling out of the room.

You know, they were saying, you know, Jews will not replace us. By the way, I don't want to replace them. I don't want to replace any of those people. Let them stay where they are.

You know, Trump's friend Alex Jones that those were Jewish actors playing those people.

SESAY: Yes. He did.

VAUSE: Wow.

[00:10:00] LITTMAN: Let me just say -- I saw Billy Kristol in that crowd.

But, you know, like you said I mean these people are now out there. They're walking around and they're proud of it. And why have they become so proud. Why have they felt that this was ok? Because of what Trump has enabled.

And when we say that Trump is not a racist, let's remember he has a long history of racism. In the 1970s sued by the Justice Department for not allowing black people to live in his buildings which he settled -- right. In the 80s, the Central Park 5 which he called for the death penalty for five people who were exonerated; when they were exonerated, he still called for the death penalty. The first African-American president he said was not from this country.

So he has a long history of racism going back decades. There's no reason to believe he's not racist. He's quite clearly racist.

SESAY: So John -- listen, I know you're going to -- I know what you're going to say. You're going to say he's not. I mean you've made your point clear.

I do want to put up on our screen the response from David Duke and Richard Spencer, you know, leaders of the far right movement. Let's put it up and show what they're saying because they are applauding the President's stance.

You see David Duke there saying, "Thank you President Trump for your honest and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists and Black Lives Matter and Antifa -- the anti- fascists."

Let's put up what Richard Spencer also said. Richard Spencer also sharing his point that again he was saying -- he's basically thanking -- "Trump's statement was fair and down to earth. Charlottesville could have been peaceful if police did its job."

Any time you have far right leaders applauding you, that's a bad day.

PHILLIPS: These people are trolls. They're the most condemnable possible people and they latch on anyone or anything that they think can generate publicity for them. I would refer back to a guy by the name of Tom Metzger who was the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan here in the state of California who won the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat -- Darrell Issa's congressional seat in Orange County California in the 1980s -- so we're not talking about ancient history.

And every so often he tries to find a way to make himself relevant again. So his last big splash was during the recall election of (inaudible) because he endorsed Cruz Bustamante's candidacy for because Cruz Bustamante when he was a college student was a member of a group called Mecha which was accused of believing in racial separatism and he said this is my guy, this is my candidate.

These guys will do anything they possibly can to get in the headlines because they're obsessed with the publicity.

VAUSE: But, you know, Trump though doesn't -- he attacks everyone except Vladimir Putin and white supremacists.

LITTMAN: Right. I mean in this case, it's not the same. Trump is very clearly equating the people who are Nazis with the people who are against the Nazis and saying they're basically the same thing; that there were some really good Nazis marching today.

So obviously, these people feel empowered, that's why they're marching without their hoods and their masks on and that's why they feel that this is ok. And by the way, this isn't the end of this. This is the beginning of this.

Now that these people feel empowered, we're going to see more of this. And my concern is Donald Trump's a horrible president. I think everybody admits it. That's fine.

When Donald Trump goes away, this problem isn't necessarily going away and I just think that we have a long term problem because now these people are basically they're out of the closet. They've got the sheets off and they're marching around the streets.

SESAY: And to that point, Segun -- I want to go to you. As a black man living in America at this point in time who listened to his President say what he did on Tuesday, what is your feeling about where we go from here and what happens next? And the wounds that have been re-salted by the President's statements.

ODUOLOWU: Well, I think as a person of color, a person -- all minorities should be a little bit more afraid because to that point, you're absolutely right that the hoods have been pulled off. But he's made hatred -- he's made hatred fun. He's made it safe. He's made it -- I can take my hood off. I can march to the street.

He said there were very fine people marching that day. The same people that said -- that were saying no to Jews and blood and soil and radicals and carrying tiki torches which I'll never understand. I mean why not co-opt Polynesian culture. That makes no sense.

But what I'm tired of is I'm tired of the measured responses by the people that support Trump. When the devil and these repugnant people -- these white supremacists, these white nationalists -- when they support the President, for me it's not a far step to say I don't need to support this guy.

When the only people that seemed to retweet him and say what a good job he's doing are the people that want to kill anybody that's colored or ban them from having a job or stopping them from achieving the American dream, I don't understand how right-minded conservatives, smart people like you -- John. I can't understand how you can still defend not only your party but what heads it.

And if fish rots from the head down, your party should be dead and buried with what you're doing to America. And you guys should be ashamed of yourselves because you guys know better. You do know better. You do see it just like we're seeing that there's no defense for this -- none.

VAUSE: Ok. We'll pick up this conversation because we've got to get in a very quick break.

[00:15:01] SESAY: Yes, absolutely.

VAUSE: One programming note, we will replay the full news conference from Donald Trump. That happens in the next hour right here on CNN.

If you haven't seen it, you won't want to miss it. If you have already seen it, you'll want to see it again. SESAY: Most definitely.

Time to take a quick break.

President Donald Trump is doubling, even tripling-down as (inaudible) by these initial comments about the deadly Charlottesville rally. What the Republican Party thinks about all of this.

We're going to discuss -- just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Welcome back -- everyone.

President Trump shows no signs of regret after blaming both sides for the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In a news conference Tuesday, he slammed those who protested against the neo-Nazi rally and he defended some on the other side saying not all of them are neo-Nazis or white nationalists.

VAUSE: A Republican source tells CNN White House aides have been asking Trump surrogates to reiterate the President's talking points from that new conference but leaders are now questioning Trump's ability to lead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I talked to a top Republican Congressional source who said tonight that the President's ability to effectively govern this country is quote, "dwindling by the hour". So clearly Anderson -- the Republican Party is losing patience with the President tonight. But if they don't really do anything about it, Anderson, this is really becoming the party of Trump, not the party of Lincoln.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Jim Acosta there, speaking to Anderson Cooper a little earlier.

SESAY: Yes, indeed.

We're back with Democratic strategist Matthew Littman, CNN political commentator John Phillips, entertainment journalist and social commentator Segun Oduolowu; plus joining us now, CNN senior correspondent Sara Sidner who is in New York.

Welcome to you all once again. Sara -- to you first, we have all seen those terrible, terrible pictures of that car just driving through that crowd on Saturday. We know that it the life of a young woman. It injured some 19 people.

We know that two people in basically security forces also lost their lives. But what hasn't necessarily been -- maybe talked about in huge amounts is the fact that there was other violence that took place there in Charlottesville. I want to show this video to our viewers. This is of Deandre Harris (ph) who has been beaten there in Charlottesville. Let's put up the video.

He was being set upon a mob there in a parking garage. It is truly shocking. You see them standing around him and he was -- he was terribly injured after all of this.

And Sara -- I guess my question to you is when you see these pictures which the President obviously has and then you hear what he said on Tuesday it does beg the question, does he want to be the President for all Americans?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That is such a good question, I think what you're seeing play out is that he definitely wants to be the President for the alt-right and make sure that he doesn't lose that base.

[00:20:07] And in so doing he's willing to sacrifice the feelings and the morality of the country. That is what's playing out here. I mean it's very obvious to many Americans who watched what he did today.

He was emotional. He was passionate but for all the wrong reasons. He was wooden and he had a hard time sort of just reading through very starkly the day before his comments that condemned the KKK specifically, and that condemned neo-Nazis specifically.

But when it came time to sort of see how he really feels, that's what we saw today. I think a lot of the people in the country saw him today and put their hand in their head and thought, I thought you figured this out and you corrected yourself and here you had turned right around and spoke again to your base.

Now it's a small percentage of his base but they are rabid and they are very vocal. And you will see and hear from them no matter what. And I think the country's looking at him going, ok, I guess you're no longer the moral leader of this country. And that is a problem because he is the President of the free world.

VAUSE: Yes.

You know, there was this thought that General John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff may be ought to bring some discipline and might be able to rein the President in.

Take a look at General Kelly as Donald Trump delivered those comments during the news conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And the first statement was made without knowing much other than what we were seeing. The second statement was made after with knowledge -- with great knowledge.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What were the many sides we're talking about -- sir?

TRUMP: There's still (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was the other side?

TRUMP: I wanted to make a statement with knowledge. I wanted to know the facts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said on many sides, Mr. President --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Matt -- that's a former Marine Corps general who doesn't really show a lot of emotional reaction.

LITTMAN: Well, you know, you've been hearing a lot of people say today that he should resign immediately. And my feeling is that he shouldn't because I think that if it were up to Donald Trump, we'd be at war with North Korea. And that some of these people -- Kelly and McMaster, they do need to stay. I mean I'm sure that they're conflicted but somebody responsible needs to be around.

I just want to say a couple of other things. One is -- I don't believe that Trump called the mother of the woman who was killed.

SESAY: No.

LITTMAN: How is that even possible?

And the other thing I would say is, you know, these marches -- this is all happening when the economy in the United States is actually pretty good. I mean imagine what's going to happen in this country when the economy starts to go south as it inevitably will because it goes in cycles.

I just -- and Donald Trump is going to be president during that time, what is going to happen to this country?

SESAY: John Phillips -- a lot of people looking to the GOP. They have of course, come out and expressed their displeasure. A lot of them including Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, has put a tweet that he posted earlier on and basically in that tweet he effectively as we see it there, "We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no more ambiguity."

Yes, that's Paul Ryan there. He's saying we must clear. White Supremacy is repulsive. But he doesn't call the President out by name. Why?

PHILLIPS: Yes. Look, Paul Ryan is 100 percent right with what he said in that tweet. John McCain and other Republicans who are leaders in the legislature have done the exact same thing. That's what they all should be doing.

There is a big disagreement when it comes to politics between Republicans in the legislature and the President. We've seen that not just when it comes to, you know, stylistic politics.

We've seen it come down to policy. We saw it with health care. We've seen it happen with certain foreign policy issues. We're going to see it with tax reform. This is not something that's going to go away. They're going to butt heads.

SESAY: Can I push back on that just for a second --

PHILLIPS: Sure.

SESAY: This is bigger than politics. This is about what this country is. It's about who this country -- what it is, where it's come from, where it's going --

PHILLIPS: Right. And they're making their --

SESAY: This is a moment that --

PHILLIPS: -- they're making their position very clear. And by the way, the position that Trump had earlier in this week was the position that he should have just left it at because that was the right tone.

That statement that came out earlier this week --

LITTMAN: But that's not his position. That's not --

VAUSE: That was like -- that was like, you know, a hostage video.

LITTMAN: Yes. Trump's position is that he actually agrees with these people who are protesting and marching. He agrees with them.

PHILLIPS: I don't believe that.

LITTMANN: That's Trump's -- I think it was pretty clear today on the fact that he thinks that some of these people are really terrific people. That's actually Trump's position.

And as for people like Paul Ryan -- Paul Ryan is saying the absolute least that he could possibly say --

ODUOLOWU: But let's -- wait. Can we -- can we --

VAUSE: Segun -- yes very quickly, Segun. I wanted to ask you this question because we heard from Paul Ryan a very tepid statement. Mitch McConnell was -- according to Politico, a spokesman for Senator Mitch McConnell said the Kentucky Republican had no new comment in response to Trump's remarks on Tuesday.

So that's the leadership of the Republican Party. Yes, Republicans lawmakers have condemned Trump but the leadership is not really taking a stand here.

ODUOLOWU: Right. And so I just wanted to address this to Sara -- while I was shaking my head while you were talking I think -- I meant no disrespect by it. What I was doing was you said that that base, this rabid base of white nationalists and alt-right that support Trump is a small one.

[00:25:01] But I think it's larger than people really actually realize because when the leadership of the Republican Party are turning their heads and looking the other way when all of this is going on, it shows almost tacit agreement.

I know what Trump is. That really -- it doesn't bother me as much as it used to. But bothers me is when a Mitch McConnell has no new comments. It bothers me when Paul Ryan won't call out what he says to be wrong and repugnant.

These people that are surrounding him remind of the old slave owners in the South who knew that lynching and all of that stuff was bad but they prefer to turn their head and look the other way as long as they weren't the ones who were taking the front fire and they weren't the ones actually saying what Trump is saying.

So I don't want to read the body language of generals anymore. I don't want the statements to be measured. I want to call those people who say that they're conservative but that they don't agree with the racism and the bigotry. How they can still keep supporting this man.

Because to me it looks like that old Southern gentlemen turning his head while the black people got lynched. And that kid that got beaten in a parking garage didn't get any -- didn't get the type of news coverage he was supposed to but a white girl that got run over by a car did.

VAUSE: I want to very quickly go back to Sara --

(CROSSTALK)

ODUOLOWU: -- really quick. Can I just say that Trump is a liar and a coward because when you can't even remember the girl's name, the mother of the girl -- say her name if you actually spoke to someone. I call it cowardice and I call it hypocrisy.

VAUSE: Very quickly Sara -- with regard to Deandre Harris, you know, eight staples to his head, a broken wrist -- it's all apparently happened in the proximity of a police station. Were there any similar or criminal attacks carried out by members of the counter protest on the white nationalists?

SIDNER: Look, the counter protesters, there is a group within the counter protesters because some of the protesters who were there to say no to this, who were students, they were unarmed and they were getting beaten. They had book bags. So there's a whole bunch of different people that were out there on the other side of this.

But yes, there is a group of people known as the Antifa within that group, the anti-fascists, within that group, there is a smaller group known as black block. They're the people that you see in Berkley that have covered their faces with black so you can't tell who they are. They're wearing black clothes.

And you see them often. They are about trying to sow destruction because in their minds non-violent action hasn't worked. And so they have decided that violent action is the next best thing.

So was there violence perpetrated by the counter-protesters, yes there was. That should be unequivocal. We saw it there. However, if you look at the totality of this, first of all they wouldn't have been there had these white supremacists not shown up and, to be fair, terrorized them and the people in Charlottesville.

There were people that were afraid seeing what looked like a new age KKK rally with tiki torches in khakis as opposed to hoods and burning crosses. I mean that is what you're seeing play out there and we should be very clear.

But I do want to respond to talk a little bit about this -- when I say small. What I mean by that is that 46 percent of the country didn't vote. So we're not talking about a huge part of the country that is looking at Donald Trump. I mean he lost the popular vote.

But there are a very strong number of people who go to the polls --

VAUSE: Sara -- I'm sorry -- (inaudible)

I've got to get a break in. Ok. So it's a good place to take a break. Thank you -- all.

When we come back, many who took part in the Unite the Right rally were self-declared, you know, Nazis and white supremacists. The President says there were some fine people there as well. And that has sparked a lot of outrage.

[00:28:38] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

VAUSE(voice-over): Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

SESAY (voice-over): And I'm Isha Sesay.

Donald Trump's off-the-rails news conference on Tuesday was like nothing we've ever seen before. On national television, the President of the United States defended Nazis and white supremacists.

VAUSE: And there was no surprise his remarks, like the next one we're about to hear, were met with outrage from almost all sides.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

You had people in that group -- excuse me, excuse me -- I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: With us now, CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, and CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley.

Doug, first to you, in the past Republican Presidents Reagan, Bush 41, Bush 43 have gone out of their way to publicly condemn white supremacists.

At this news conference Donald Trump not only defended them but it was also the tone and the way he did it. It was just so incredible combative.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN POLITICAL HISTORIAN: Well, it was. This was a great low ebb in American history. Donald Trump, I think, today has now earned the score of zero moral authority. It was a horrendous, rambling conversation that he gave. He ended up praising Stonewall Jackson and denouncing activists on the Left as being somehow the equivalent of neo-Nazis and Klansmen.

It was really a despicable performance.

And the question is where do we go from here?

It's going to be curious to see how the polls treat Donald Trump in coming days. He's at 33 percent.

Will he lower than that?

And I'd like to see if more CEOs today -- we had six major corporate leaders trying to distance themselves from Trump.

Will you get more CEOs?

And will we start seeing some courage of Republicans, like Mitch McConnell, for example, who's so quiet, so mum, finally stepping up and saying enough's enough with Donald Trump kind of fueling hatred in this country?

SESAY: Ron, to you, as we said, the press conference was a train wreck. It went off the rails so quickly. It was stunning to behold. And among the things the president said, we know when he was pushed on this issue of the delay in making the comments on Saturday, he said he had been waiting for all the facts, which seemed almost like a darkly comedic moment, this president who weighs in so instantaneously on everything.

And here is saying that he was waiting for the facts.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: And you could also see the contrast between the passion with which he made his case today versus what he read yesterday from the White House, as people have said, seemed almost like a hostage video.

After the famous statement that power corrupts as Doug knows, Robert Caro in his biography of Lyndon Johnson amended that to say "power reveals." And that has rarely been more true than in this episode with Donald Trump.

And I think what we are seeing is an almost unprecedented, real-time shredding of a president's legitimacy and capacity to govern. Doug mentioned the CEOs who quit his advisory council. Just think about that. These are business leaders who by and large support the economic vision of the Republican Party of lower taxes and less regulation but have concluded that Trump's approach and a style and rhetoric on racial and social issues is so toxic that they cannot be associated with.

And you mentioned the polls, you know, President Trump yesterday -- and Gallup reached 61 percent disapproval -- that was higher disapproval than was ever reached by the last two one-term presidents, Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush -- and he reached that incredible low point at a moment when the economy is doing pretty well. Unemployment has been declining for several years; the stock market is soaring. This is a personal judgment on the part of the American people.

And when you look at it, it is both the elite level, kind of the business leadership, potentially more Republicans in Congress, and the public, I think you're seeing a president who faces a risk of isolation that is unlike anything we have seen in the modern presidency.

VAUSE: And, Doug, to you, another remarkable thing about this news conference, standing next to the president on that state was the chairman of the National Economic Council, Gary Cohn; the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin. Both are Jewish. They didn't say a word --

[00:35:00]

VAUSE: -- at the end of the news conference about what Trump had said.

And to your point, when will Republicans speak up against this president when does it no longer become worthwhile the tax cuts of the cuts to Medicare or is the people Donald Trump because of his behavior is

The prophet said you to win more Republicans speak up against this president, when does it no longer become worthwhile, the tax cuts and the cuts to Medicare and all the rest of it, hoping for from Donald Trump, because of his behavior on issues like this?

BRINKLEY: It's in the civil rights movement, on April 16, 1963, famously, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote the letter from the Birmingham city jail. And Dr. King's scolded really Southern Christian leaders, pastors, ministers, where are you?

How can you be staying mute with this kind of evil going on around you?

We're at that moment now. I mean this is not about being a Democrat or Republican; it's about being an American and the Republican Party has to now denounce and distance themselves from Donald Trump. I think they're going to have to start envisioning, can we have a President Pence down the line? I'm not suggesting impeachment's coming soon but at least it's got to be started to look on the drawing board. We are now looking at a presidency that is an utter wreck. It's dangerous, it's reckless, it's getting boos and hisses from around the world.

And today is a important day because it's -- you're starting to get, I think, a whole new wave of people that are saying enough is enough.

VAUSE: OK. We will get a short break in there. But Doug and Ron, please stay with us.

SESAY: We're just going to hit pause briefly. Coming up, we'll have more on President Trump's fiery news conference and talk about one of the most controversial comments, his reference to America's first president.

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VAUSE: The U.S. president is in the middle of (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) this may be the biggest so far and it involves the attack in Charlottesville. He's facing a backlash for blaming both sides again. This is over the deadly violence which cost the life of one counter protester.

SESAY: Mr. Trump also defended those attending Saturday's Unite the Right rally, who were protesting the removal of a statue of a Confederate general. To make his arguments, he brought up America's first president. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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 -- are we going to take down -- are we going to take down statues to George -- ?

How about Thomas Jefferson?

What do you think of Thomas Jefferson?

You like him?

OK, good.

Are we going to take down the statue?

Cause he was a major slave owner. Now are we going to take down his statue?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Back with us CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley.

Douglas Brinkley, to you first; can you help pour international viewers understand why, for many people in this country, to hear the president invoke the names of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in this controversy surrounding the taking down of the Robert E. Lee statue --

[00:40:00]

SESAY: -- it basically made some people's heads explode.

Can you explain what is at stake here and why the parallel is so offensive to many or just wrongheaded to many?

BRINKLEY: Well, it's extremely wrongheaded. Donald Trump has no sense of history. He's admitted he's never read a book about the American Revolution or about any president. He knows nothing about George Washington.

Washington and Jefferson both were presidents. They represented the United States. They were the -- went through Valley Forge. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. They were Americans through and through.

With Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who were Confederates, these are people that ripped down the American flag, that left our country, that wouldn't give up slavery, that -- you know, and it's the crucible of America's, our Civil War with over 600,000 people died.

The Confederates lost, thank goodness, because they were they were a backward step in the march of humanity. And for Donald Trump to try to relitigate the Civil War, to give a kind of equal status of George Washington and Stonewall Jackson, who was really a murderous Confederate general and kind of giving equal weight in history, just tells you how foolish he really is.

And it's dangerous because we have history -- the history deficit disorder in the United States. And he's confusing people by equating George Washington with Robert E. Lee.

VAUSE: It seems that this talking point by the president originated on FOX News on Monday night. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: When are you going to stop it?

You want to say, what if you aren't sensitive enough to the Holocaust?

We should take down all the statues of Franklin Delano Roosevelt? You could make an argument for that.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- make an argument for Thomas Jefferson and George Washington -- are you going to change the name of the Washington Monument? Are you going to --

GINGRICH: -- slaveowners.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. That's my point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, well, look, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were flawed human slaveowners, who built the country, as Douglas Brinkley. Thomas Jefferson wrote American scripture, the Declaration of Independence, and George Washington built the nation.

Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee tore -- you know, sundered the nation and sought to divide the nation. The idea that this is equivalent is absurd. But it is a far right talking point and it does go to a larger kind of truth here, which is that the president, from the beginning, as we've talked about many times -- you know, there's a relatively small percentage of Americans who ascribe to Ku Klux Klan or neo-Nazi ideology.

But there is a much wider circle of Americans, who are uneasy to varying degrees about demographic, cultural and even economic change. And from the beginning, that has been the core of the president's support.

There was one postelection poll that found three-quarters of Trump voters believe discrimination against whites is as big a problem in the U.S. today as discrimination against African Americans.

And he has always been reluctant to, in any way, divide himself from those voters. And what he did, up until today, what he did on Charlottesville is very similar to what he did about David Duke last year with Jake Tapper, where he sent the first clear signal by what he didn't say, not repudiating them, and only later, under intense bipartisan criticism, kind of made a pro forma denunciation.

This year, he went even -- this time he went even further in the opposite direction by not only through his volley of tweets yesterday but by essentially today invalidating what he said yesterday and giving the party an idea of what he really means.

And I'll just say real quickly, finally for Republicans, this is not only a moral test, this is a political challenge. Donald Trump is identifying the party with these forces of racial backlash at a moment when the Millennial generation, which is the most diverse in American history, is becoming the largest group of -- generation of eligible voters in the country. And right behind them are the post-Millennials, who are even more

diverse. So there is a real choice in silence here, not only on a moral but a political plane.

(CROSSTALK)

SESAY: Very astute --

VAUSE: We've used the word unprecedented so much --

(LAUGHTER)

VAUSE: -- Donald Trump but this truly was unprecedented.

Douglas Brinkley and Ron Brownstein --

SESAY: Thank you.

VAUSE: -- thank you so much for being with us --

SESAY: Appreciate it --

VAUSE: A programming note here: we will replay the full news conference from Donald Trump. That happens in the next hour, right here on CNN.

SESAY: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, @CNNNewsroomLA. Stay tuned now for "WORLD SPORT."

SESAY: And then we'll be back with another hour of news from all around the world. We'll continue to explore the president's comments, bring you that analysis. Stay with us. You're watching CNN.

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