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Trump Again Blames Both Sides; David Duke Thanks Trump; Conservative Commentator Calls Moral Disgrace. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Was blind but now I see. Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. 'Twas grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home. When we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than we first begun. Hallelujah, hallelujah, amen (ph) hallelujah, amen.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Live pictures there of Charlottesville, Virginia. The memorial service for 32-year-old Heather Heyer. An amazing rendition of "Amazing Grace" just performed after Heather Heyer's mother spoke to the gathering there in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.

We'll continue to watch this memorial service, take you back if there are major developments.

Let's move on, though, to the big discussion going on about this service, about the events central to it, going on here in Washington, around the country and around the world. Angry, defiant and more, the president leaves no doubt about how he really feels about this weekend's deadly chaos in Charlottesville.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What about the alt-left that came charging here -- excuse me, what about the alt-left that came charging at the -- as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?


KING: Neo-Nazis and white nationalists are celebrating the president's remarks and promising more protests and marches. The Republican Party is in full panic.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: This is terrible. The president of the United States needs to condemn these kind of hate groups. This is not about winning an argument. This is about the fact that now these folks apparently are going to go other places and they think that they had some sort of a victory. There is no moral equivalency between the KKK, the neo-Nazis and anybody else. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Among the many head-spinning moments yesterday, a president with a long history of ignoring facts and shooting from the lips, offering this explanation for his initial response that made no mention of the hate groups.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You don't make statements that direct unless you know the fact. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don't know the facts. And it's a very, very important process to me.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia- Malika Henderson, Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post," Julie Bykowicz from "The Associated Press," and CNN's Sara Murray.

The president is in a very lonely place today. And he can only look in the mirror if he bothers to wonder why. The Republican speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader, the party's 2008 and 2012 presidential nominees, two past Republican presidents among the scores of Republicans rushing to disagree with the president. This last hour from Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. Quote, Mr. President, I encourage you to try to bring us together as a nation after this horrific event in Charlottesville. Your words are dividing Americans, not healing them.

The condemnation is global.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I see no equivalence between those who profound (ph) fascist views and those who oppose them.


KING: That's the British Prime Minister Theresa May there.

Germany's justice minister calls Mr. Trump's remarks, quote, unbearable, and warns of the price of trivializing neo-Nazi views. But new White House talking points today insists the president was dead on yesterday when he equated counter protesters in Charlottesville with neo-Nazis, KKK members and white nationalists who marched through the town chanting anti-Semitic and racists slogans.

[12:05:20] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not putting anybody on a moral plane. But there is another side. There was a group on this side -- you can call them the left, you've just called them the left -- that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that's the way it is.


KING: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is outside Trump Tower, where the president held that remarkable event.

Jeff, as we get to you today, team Trump saying he was exactly right. We just came out of a very emotional memorial service. Emotions are raw in Charlottesville. Emotions are raw all across the country. The president is being condemned in all corners (ph). But in that building behind you, team Trump thinks they're right.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Some people think that, John. But I can tell you, talking to a variety of people this morning, I'm struck by a couple of things. One, silence. You do not hear a public comment from Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin. Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, of course, top advisers, were in the frame right next to the president during this. But privately, all wincing, all wishing the president wouldn't have done this.

The official line is, look, we're going to focus on our agenda, focus on the work to do. But the complicating factor of that, John, is that this has indeed made that agenda more difficult. Today was scheduled to be a turn the page day. A lot of advisers were here at Trump Tower yesterday to talk about the legislative agenda. President Trump went into the lobby of Trump Tower to talk about infrastructure, how he wanted Democrats to work with him on infrastructure.

Of course that is all lost in what he decided to do. The staff did not want him to do this. They did not believe he would. If you don't believe that, just look in those pictures. The eyes of new Chief of Staff John Kelly. His displeasure and discomfort with that was apparent.

So now, John, the question is, where do they go from here? The president has been silent today. He'll be going to Bedminster in New Jersey in a couple hours or so. And the White House has added something else to the schedule this week. He'll be going to Camp David on Friday to talk about his Afghanistan policy. You get the sense that they are very much trying to schedule him and focus him.

But again, John, the president and the president alone decided to go off the rails yesterday, and now it's cleanup duty once again in this Trump White House.


ZELENY: Jeff Zeleny outside of Trump Tower.

Let's come back into the room.

It just begs the question -- we'll go back to yesterday. We'll spend most of the hour going back to yesterday and what it tells us about our president, the president of the United States and how he really thinks about what happened in Charlottesville. I guess that's the answer to my question, because we just left a very emotional memorial service, the father and the mother of the victim, Heather Heyer have spoken. We heard "Amazing Grace at the top of the hour. Why isn't the president in the front row or the second row sitting in a pew at that memorial service?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know -- and we remember -- we were talking about this on the break -- Obama, after Charleston, he was there. He gave the eulogy. And he actually sang a bits of "Amazing Grace" from the pulpit there, which was a fairly unifying moment for the country.

This president, I don't think he could do that. He certainly couldn't sing in that way. And certainly, I don't think, has the kind of capability, or maybe the empathy, right, to do that. I mean that was what was so striking about these last couple of days.

I don't think it's clear yet whether or not he's even reached out to the family. I think he tweeted just recently about the memorial service and talking about Heather's life and what she meant obviously to her family. But that is not the kind of president we have now, someone who can do that.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I think that was evident yesterday when reporters asked him if he was going to go to Charlottesville --


MURRAY: And he started talking about how he has a winery in Charlottesville.


KING: Right.

MURRAY: I have a home there. I have a place to stay in Charlottesville. And you're just kind of watching that thinking, it's -- that's the first place your mind goes?

KING: And so what you have is the global condemnation and then other Republicans essentially trying to tell him how to do his job. Lindsay Graham saying, Mr. President, think again. Many others saying that, including two former presidents of the United States named Bush, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush issuing this joint statement today. America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred in all forms. As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city's most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country.

Now they don't specifically name Donald Trump. But this is again another shot across the bow of this White House saying, Mr. President, it is your job, it is your job to stand up for the, quote, decency and greatness of our country at a moment like this.

JULIE BYKOWICZ, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": You know, and they were -- Republicans were quick after Saturday to sort of offer these same suggestions. And then you had on Monday the president actually saying words that, you know, many people had wanted him to say right out of the gate on Saturday. And at the time you heard all sorts of people saying, you know, it's too late after Saturday and we sort of know how he really feels.

[12:10:13] Well, now, it's really too late. And it's hard to see where the president goes from here, other than perhaps hoping that the page just sort of turns on its own.

KING: Because we know how he feels now. He delivered the statement Saturday. He will get through this in the hour ahead. He said, well, I didn't have all the facts. And then he delivered this statement.

The White House Monday, we know from our sources, everybody at this table knows he was pressured to do that by his staff. No, Mr. President, you need to be specific about denouncing the KKK, the neo- Nazis, the white supremacists.

And then yesterday he made clear, essentially they made me do that. This is what I really think. And we got it.

And I want to listen to a little bit more of it here because the president says both sides are to blame. Now, there were violent counter protesters without a doubt. Any president, the governor, should certainly call out those people. But you can't equate them.

This is the problem for the president. He equates them, essentially calls them equal to people who were marching around town saying that Jews are evil, blacks are evil. There's a difference, Mr. President, but he doesn't seem to get it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will tell you something. I watched this very closely. Much more closely than you people watched it. And you have -- 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. But 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.

Well, I think there's blame -- yes, I think there's 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 it.


KING: Let's report something accurately. After that statement from the president yesterday, Republicans are shocked and in horror and wondering about the impact on their party and the person celebrating among them is David Duke, reporting accurately, Mr. President. Thank you, President Trump, for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists. KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST: That's not the one person that

you want in your corner, really.

KING: No, it's a great character witness.

DEMIRJIAN: No, no, not really. It's not -- it's not just Republicans. It's Republicans. It's basically almost every former living president. It's every former -- almost every Joint Chief. I mean the military does not usually come out and make statements like this, but everybody is -- in a position of authority is coming out and saying absolutely, no, we reject that.

And as to the point the president was making about their being culpability on both sides, I thought Marco Rubio summed it up actually really well yesterday when he said, look, if you build an entire movement based on hatred towards others and bigotry, you are justifying any sort of means that is used against you, including violence. And that is -- and that's basically saying like you can't even -- you know, even (INAUDIBLE) if you were trying to draw equivalency, you can't do that.

And this is, you know, now a major problem for basically how everybody -- clearly nobody is swallowing this episode with the president, but does this spin out and how are they going to swallow the president now down the line (INAUDIBLE).

HENDERSON: And I think in some ways we sort of overstate the condemnation from Republicans, right? I mean if you look at the numbers, there are over 300 elected Republicans on The Hill and governors. And, you know, maybe 20 or so have come out. Some of them haven't even been brave enough to say the president's name. They kind of, you know, denounce bigotry just in a very generic way. So there isn't this sort of bravery and really sticking up for this woman who passed away and sticking up -- and going against white supremacists.

And this whole idea of sort of private wincing, right, I mean all of these people are privately wincing. They've been privately wincing for the last seven months and you would think --

MURRAY: They privately winced and then they voted for him anyway.

HENDERSON: Yes. Yes. Yes.

KING: Right.

MURRAY: They privately winced and then they endorsed him and then they pulled their endorsements and then they endorsed him again. I mean we have seen -- I said this yesterday, we have seen this show before. So anyone who woke up and was shocked to see the words coming out of the president's mouth yesterday really hasn't been paying attention to the words that have been coming out of his mouth for two years. There's nothing that he said there that should come as a shock, if you've been listening to the other comments that he's made about women, about minorities along the way while he was running for office.

But I think one of the things, which is not to justify the president's mindset, but to explain it, is that when he looks at these groups, when he looks at the two sides clashing and he sees the left, he doesn't see the left in terms of just those people who were at that march in Charlottesville. When he looks at those people, he thinks about people who are waiting outside his rallies and attacked Trump supporters. He thinks about people who have attacked and killed cops. And he lumps all of these people together when he is referring to the alt-left.

And that is what he's talking about when he goes out there. But he doesn't understand the difference in those situations. He doesn't understand the difference between decrying someone of course who shoots a police officer versus someone who grows outraged because they're in the face of neo-Nazis. Remember, in the past, we've had people who stood up to Nazis and we called them American heroes. That was World War II.

[12:15:13] KING: Well, it's a great point in the sense of, the president can talk about, everybody should calm down. Everybody should step away from violence. But you can't do that as if everybody there was equal.

MURRAY: Right.

KING: But when there are people who -- and, you know, we'll get to this more in the program, you know, but essentially he says he didn't have all the facts. Well, that's his fault.


KING: The facts were available to him.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. Exactly. At what point are we just going to say, oh, well, it's too bad he didn't understand the difference. And I know he just said it just like right, right --

KING: That's right.

DEMIRJIAN: But, like, I mean, you're the president of the United States --

MURRAY: He should understand the difference.

DEMIRJIAN: (INAUDIBLE) and you're well into your sixth -- seventh month.

HENDERSON: Seventh -- seventh month, yes.

DEMIRJIAN: Sorry. And that's -- it's not a good enough explanation.


KING: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: At the same time, what you were saying a minute ago, Nia, that the, you know, there's not that many Republicans that have been brave enough to come out. It's a little bit weird that we're applauding as a brave thing to actually even say --

KING: Racism's bad. Yes.


DEMIRJIAN: Neo-Nazis are a good thing. That's like, whoa, that's such a brave statement.

KING: Yes, and --

DEMIRJIAN: That is a basic place for everybody.

KING: It's an interesting point because the last of the leaders to speak was Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who issued a statement in the last hour mentioning that there's a planned march in Lexington, Kentucky and that he's worried about that. And he said, there are no good neo-Nazis and those who espouse their views are not supporters of American ideals and freedoms.

Now, the reference there, the president said some of these people -- the people -- and there were people in Charlottesville there to support keeping the Robert E. Lee statue there who are not neo-Nazis, who are not white nationalists. The president is right about that.

However, you can say that after you strongly condemn the neo-Nazis, and the white nationalists and those who did violence. That maybe this is a conversation the country has to have. Maybe, if we had a unifying president, we could have that conversation.

But is that what you mean in the sense that Mitch McConnell's statement does not mention the president of the United States.


KING: It does not say, Mr. President, you got this wrong, make it right.

HENDERSON: Yes. And I think probably the strongest statement, Lindsay Graham, and he has been very strong against this president in many ways and it's a statement expected from him, saying with John McCain. Paul Ryan's statement was pretty bland as well, didn't mention the president. You know, people are kind of praising Marco Rubio for calling the president by name. He also called Barack Obama the -- one of the most divisive figures in modern history and criticized Obama for being divisive when he visited a mosque. You know --

KING: I've seen some -- I've seen some questions today about why -- why is President Obama silent today. I think part of this -- the calculation is, if you're a Democrat, you're watching. It may not be as specific as it should be, but they're watching Republicans run from the president and Republicans, you know, take issue with the president. The Democrats, I think, don't want to make it political. They want to let the Republicans consume their president at the moment.

DEMIRJIAN: At a certain point, a train wreck is a train wreck and you don't have to cheer it on. You would look really, really kind of -- it's in poor taste to almost jump in on this train because it's taking its own -- it's running (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Right. Right.

Hold the thought, because this is more than a crackling political conversation. Giant consequences for the president, his ability to get things done, what people think about him around their kitchen tables and around the world.

Next, more on the president and the fallout that includes some Republicans asking if leaving the party is preferable to fighting the president over what it should stand for.


[12:22:22] KING: More now on the fallout from the president's remarks yesterday.

Quote, no, not the same, tweeted 2012 GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney. One side is racist, bigoted. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was equally harsh. This is the time for moral clarity, not ambivalence, Governor Bush said, urging the president to think again. Quote, he must leave no room for doubt that racism and hatred will not be tolerated or ignored by his White House.

Tough global criticism too.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far right views wherever we hear them.


KING: And here at home, check out this exchange on Twitter. Trump ally Kayleigh McEnany, a former CNN commentator, offered her take after the president's event. President realdonaldtrump, once again, she said, denounced hate today. The GOP stands behind his message of love and inclusiveness. That's how Kayleigh saw it.

To which a rising young GOP pollster and strategist, Kristen Soltis Anderson, replied, I've stayed in the party because I figured staying and fighting for it was better than leaving, but the Lord is testing me.

I found that interesting. I've known Kristen a long time. Often when these things change, it's the younger people who force the grown-ups to change their ways. You made the point, I think Governor Romney was very clear in criticizing the president, no, they're different. Governor Bush, very clear.

But you're right, a lot of the leaders in Washington have tried to say the right thing without saying, Mr. President, you're wrong and naming names. When you have the younger Republicans, who might have a different perspective on some of these race issues and some of the cultural issues, but essentially saying, you know, she works for a congressional candidate. She works for -- if she works for a campaign saying, maybe I don't belong here anymore?

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, that's the thing, although I would say that it's difficult to paint with that broad a brush also because a lot of the alt-right, you know, movement also came from younger and newer generation, people that have affiliated themselves with the Republican Party. So it is in some ways, yes, it doesn't -- it's not just the party of old white men and their antiquated, racist -- potentially racist views or what have you. Also because a lot of those people lived through the 1960s and 1970s and they don't want to return to that point. So they're equally, you know, hearing all these things and saying, no, this is wrong.

But, yes, when you do have younger members of the party coming out that are saying, well, this isn't the world we live in anymore and we can't return to that sort of idea, it's always very -- it's a real marker to have somebody say, I'm considering leaving the party over this.

BYKOWICZ: And social media has just really added rocket fuel to all of these discussions and I thought that --

KING: For better and worse.

BYKOWICZ: And I thought that Hugh Hewett, a conservative radio show host, made a great point when he was saying that because of the social media environment and how much, you know, people can just pipe up whenever they want, it's extra important for main stream media, for leaders, such as the president, to just very forcefully and clearly denounce hate groups when they rise up like they did last weekend.

[12:25:23] KING: And to this point, the president came into that room yesterday looking to do combat with the media. It was clear he wanted -- he had a statement. We'll get to more of this in a minute. And if you watched some other networks, some of them frankly, I'm sorry, it's fantasy land when you watch how they cover these things. Except, not all of them, I want to say amen to one of the Fox News contributors, Charles Krauthammer, who, on this occasion and others, calls it like he sees it.


CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: To critique what he did today on the grounds that it detracts from the agenda or was a tactical mistake I believe is a cop out. What Trump did today was a moral disgrace. What Trump is missing here is the uniqueness of white supremacy, KKK and Nazism. Yes, there were bad guys on both sides. That's not the point. This was instigated, instituted, the riot began over a Nazi riot, a Nazi rally.


KING: Capital a, capital m, capital e, capital n. You don't hear enough of that in some corners (ph).

There's not -- there's no gray here.


KING: Often there is gray. Often there are points of debate. Often there are legitimate differences in policy or perspective. There's no gray here.

HENDERSON: Yes. And, you know, I think the Republican Party has some real soul searching to do on issues of race and racism to put it more pointedly. Mitt Romney, very strongly coming out to say that -- you know, the sort of anti-Trump sentiments and had been doing that. But he also maybe, more than anybody else, responsible for main streaming Donald Trump for 2012. I mean he was the one who very much sought out an endorsement from Donald Trump. And he was in full birther mode at the time.

We've seen these points in GOP history. Bob Dole, for instance, showing the racist the door, 2005 Ken Melman (ph), who was the RNC chief at that point, goes to the NAACP and apologizes for some of the racial sort of politics they played to gain advantage at the ballot box. And then you have in 2015 Colin Powell saying, you know, you -- the GOP has a dark vein of intolerance. That's the conversation that Republicans are going to have to -- have to have amongst themselves.

KING: Well, we'll see if this accelerates it or brings it to a critical mass, at least.

Up next, changes on team Trump. We continue this conversation. One of those changes confirmed. One, we'll see, as the boss puts it.

And get ready, Arizona. The president at war with both of your Republican senators is about to pay a visit.