Return to Transcripts main page


Top GOP Senators Question Trump's Competency, Moral Authority; Trump Responds to Terror Attack by Spreading Debunked Rumor. Aired 7- 8p ET

Aired August 17, 2017 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront next, breaking news, two leading Republican senators breaking publically with Trump. One questioning his competence and stability, the other has, quote, moral authority. Will more Republicans follow?

And more breaking news, a massive man hunt underway for the driver of a truck that plowed into a crowd. The terror attack killing at least 13 and injuring more than 100.

Plus, the president's use of the word "culture". Is it a dog whistle to white supremacists?

Let's go OutFront.

Good evening everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, breaking news, two more Republican senators calling out President Trump in the wake of his response to Charlottesville. This time calling into question the president's competence, stability and moral authority.

This time the criticism is coming from two Republicans who have been allies to Donald Trump. One of them, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, he was once under serious consideration to be Trump's secretary of state. Here's Senator Corker today.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has not yet, has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation.


BOLDUAN: Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the lone African- American Republican in the Senate also speaking out forcefully tonight. Scott reacting to Trump blaming both sides for the violence in Charlottesville. He said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am not going to defend the indefensible. What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority, and that moral authority is compromised when Tuesday happened.


BOLDUAN: Moral authority compromised. Scott and Corker joining Republicans Lindsey Graham, Jeff Flake and John McCain who have long been critical of Trump. The president who was quick to slam Graham and Flake on Twitter today has so far been silent on Corker and Scott. Is his silence now an acknowledgment that their words could wound him? And does their condemnation open the door for others?

Jim Acosta is near the president's New Jersey residence in Bridgewater, New Jersey. So, Jim, the president tonight becoming increasingly isolated. Look at those two sound bites even within his own party.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Kate, that's right. And what's remarkable about Senator Corker's comments is that Bob Corker is not typically a critic of the president. You do often here from Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham, they were targeted by the president today, but not so much the case with Bob Corker or Tim Scott for that matter. So I think that makes those remarks coming from those two senators very, very important.

But just to give you a sense of what the president has been doing today. He hasn't been out in front of the cameras for the second straight day since that wild news conference on Tuesday, but he has been active in social media. We can show these tweets. Here's one about Lindsey Graham.

He said, "Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and the protesters down in Charlottesville." That's obviously not the case. That's a false statement from the president.

Then he went on to ping -- or excuse me, ding Jeff Flake. He said, "Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward", talking about a primary opponent, upcoming primary opponent of Jeff Flake, "is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is weak on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He is toxic."

Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who often tries to stay on the sidelines of some of these disputes between the president and various senators, he did weigh in today. He came into Jeff Flake's defense. We can put the statement up on screen.

He says, "Jeff Flake is an excellent senator and a tireless advocate for Arizona and our nation. He has our full support."

And so, a lot of statements, a lot of tweets flying back and forth today, Kate, but interesting to note and very worth noting, the president wrapping up his Twitter activity this afternoon saying that -- pointing to what General Pershing of the United Stats did to terrorists when caught. We're referring to General John Pershing and his treatment of terrorists when he was in the U.S. military.

We should point out, Kate, many fact checkers across the spectrum including Politifact have said that is just a pants on fire comment. It's a comment the president made time and again during the campaign.

But just to show you, you know, the president said the other day at that press conference at Trump Tower, he likes to wait on the facts before he weighs in. That is a statement that he's made time and again that is simply not true. It is not a fact.

BOLDUAN: We'll definitely going to get to that conversation about General Pershing in just one second. Jim Acosta has set it perfectly. Thank you so much Jim.

I want to get to those comments from those Republican senators and what the heck is going on. With me tonight, Gloria Borger, chief political analyst, Wes Lowery, national reporter for the Washington Post, Paul Begala, who serves as counselor to President Bill Clinton, and David Urban is a former Trump campaign strategist. Great to see you all.

[19:05:04] So Gloria, you have Corker questioning the president's stability and competence. Scott saying Trump have compromises moral authority. These aren't statements even, these are an camera, which many of them have been avoiding.

How big of a deal is this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think it's a big deal given who it is coming from. I mean, Kate, you've covered Capitol Hill. You know that these kinds of statements are rare, particularly from people in a president's own party.

And I think that Corker in particular, who was on the list to be vice president, who was on the list to be secretary of state, who was not known to be a bomb thrower in any way, shape or form, who's very considered and deliberate. When he comes out and says that there need to be radical changes and that the president hasn't demonstrated stability and competence, I think that people would listen, particularly his colleagues, because this is not something you would normally hear from the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

And I think that he probably considered a long time before he said those things.

BOLDUAN: Yes, he's a very sober contemplative careful senator. He doesn't speak out of turn. He's very thoughtful before, before he says anything.

David, Gloria is talking about that moment and what Corker said. Let me play that key moment from Bob Corker one more time. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CORKER: The president has not yet, has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.


BOLDUAN: David, he's not just saying he disagrees with the president. He's saying he's not sure the president can do the job. Does that concern you?

DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: I'm not sure he's saying that exactly. And I'll wait to see. Senator --

BOLDUAN: Wait to see what?

URBAN: Well, we'll see what he says further to clarify his remarks. I don't think that he's saying the president -- I don't think he's abandoning the president. He said he hasn't demonstrated it yet.

There's been a shakeup in the White House. You have a new chief of staff who is going through with a fine tooth comb, job descriptions and reorganizing things. There been a removal of the communications director.

I think the president recognizes some changes need to be made and they're making those changes. I think Senator Corker is a very thoughtful individual. He's entitled to his own opinion.

But I don't think this is a wholesale abandonment of the president by the Republican Party like everyone is painting it to be.

BOLDUAN: Yes, maybe -- I'm definitely not painting (INAUDIBLE). Please don't understand me to be that way at all.

URBAN: You know, you were kind of saying -- we were kind of saying this is -- listen, I agree with Gloria and Kate, you know, Senator Corker is a very thoughtful individual, very bright guy, supported the president. And I don't think what he was doing was throwing the president overboard. I think he was saying, look, things need to change and they are changing.

BOLDUAN: Paul, what do you think? Competency, TBD?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, competency, stability, moral authority, that's the essence of the presidency. And this is his own team.

You know, David is doing a good job of trying to spin it. But, you know, Lyndon Johnson, you can't try to (INAUDIBLE) that in a (INAUDIBLE). But that's what this is.

We have never seen this. When a president's own party -- yes, at the final day of his presidency, Richard Nixon had Barry Goldwater and others come to him and say, you have to resign.

That was the last day. That was after Watergate and during Watergate. We've never seen this. This is not --

URBAN: But Paul, no one is calling for anyone to resign.

BEGALA: This is not a dispute about taxes or trade or issues. This is about his very capacity to hold the office. His stability, his competence and his moral authority from as you guys have pointed out two senators, Bob Corker and Tim Scott who represent states that Donald Trump won overwhelmingly, who have been political allies of his and who are not hot heads. These are not guys who (INAUDIBLE), these are very serious deliberate people.

And I think -- I've never seen (INAUDIBLE).

BOLDUAN: But, Paul, with all of that, you say, take a look at these poll numbers that came out from CBS. I mean, a majority of Americans did not like the president's response to Charlottesville, but Republicans, they did overwhelmingly, 67% of Republicans approve of the president's response.

BEGALA: Which means what we've seen from Senator Corker and Senator Scott is the rarest thing in Washington, which is political courage. Politicians against -- Tim Scott is not up for re-election. And by the way, you know, an African-American Republican from South Carolina, that guy got talent. I don't think he needs to worry about Donald Trump or anybody else beating him --

BOLDUAN: I'm sure your endorsement helps him a lot.

BEGALA: Well, even in my party. He's golden, right?

Senator Corker is up for re-election. He does have a primary opponent. He's in a state where his party loves Donald Trump. He said it anyway.

It may be he said it because he believes it. It may be that finally we're seeing somebody putting their country ahead of their party.

[19:10:00] I would also say -- and I think (INAUDIBLE), the president's down to 67 among Republicans. That's pretty terrible. He's got to be in the 90s among Republicans because (INAUDIBLE) independence and Democrats out.

URBAN: Paul, listen, when we get back in the fall in a scant few weeks, people -- these members will have to all get back to work. Their agenda is the same as the president's agenda. They're going to want to cut taxes, want to get an infrastructure bill done. Everybody is going to be in the same boat, rowing in the same direction. I guarantee you that.

BEGALA: For he has teed that up. That infrastructure press conference was great. When he said that some of the Nazi protesters were nice people, that was supposed to be infrastructure, David. Come on. If you and I had any hair left, we'd be tearing it out if we will.

URBAN: Listen, I agree the president should seize that opportunity to talk about infrastructure and not only build physical bridges, you know, physical bridges but bridges amongst all Americans. I think you can maximize that press conference. I really do.

BOLDUAN: Well, Wes, to the point that David is making, you know, one good bit of legislation can kumbaya for everybody in the Republican Party. But how does is this setting have to look like when they come back in September now.

WES LOWERY, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, perhaps it can do that. I mean, we haven't actually seen a ton of talent when it comes to this White House and getting legislation they want pass passed.

I mean, if you remember, the last eight years of campaigning on getting rid of ObamaCare or repealing the Affordable Care Act and then two attempts that essentially were massive failures for the Republicans both on the Hill and the White House. And in fact, infighting that spilled out publically between the Senate and Congress leadership and the White House over how they were going to do this and what they were going to do.

And so, I do think, you know, this type of -- these type of statements from people like Senator Scott and Senator Corker do not bode well for what might happen when people come back because these are the types of folks who you need to be loyal soldiers when it comes down to voting. If they're willing -- Senator Corker is willing to question the competency of his president, I think that is pretty remarkable statement and I think we have to keep underscoring that.

I mean, that's quite a thing for Bob Corker to be saying.

BOLDUAN: And Gloria, to the point of you need these (INAUDIBLE) to vote for you, I mean, the president went after Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake today, almost endorsing Flake's primary challenger. Maybe like one word short of it.

BORGER: Well, he called him flake. He called him flake Jeff Flake, right?

BOLDUAN: Mitch McConnell then comes out to back up Jeff Flake.

BORGER: Right.

BOLDUAN: Is this setting up to be a war?

BORGER: Well -- and, look, and Mitch McConnell, don't forget, the president has tweeted about Mitch McConnell's competency as a leader in the Senate. And so what you have set up here is this war between the Senate and the president of the same party when the president needs these people to get things done. And they need to know that he has their back. And it sure seems like he doesn't.

Now, the benign interpretation of what occurred today is that perhaps these senators, and I don't subscribe to this, but I'm going to say it, perhaps these senators were trying to send a message to Donald Trump. BOLDUAN: An intervention like David Urban said.

BORGER: Well -- and maybe it was. You know, he watches television and here is what these allies of his have said, that you haven't grabbed the -- you don't understand the character of the nation as, you know, Corker said. And that you need to grab this mantle of leadership.

You know, I believe they were being critical, but, you know, you could also say, look, maybe he's going to listen if we actually say it directly to the camera. I think it's kind of like a, you know, a hail Mary in a way, like we have to get out there and say this because it's what we believe that he needs to hear it from us.

URBAN: Gloria --

BOLDUAN: David, hang on, we're going to have much more to discuss after the break, but just one thought to leave you guys with. The president can disband as many presidential advisor panels as he wants, but he can't disband Congress, that's the only thing. He's got to work with these guys.

BEGALA: Well, he's tried.

BOLDUAN: Paul, stop. David, you're going to get personal there (INAUDIBLE).

OutFront next, President Trump's tweets something -- President Trump tweets something completely false about history and terror after today's attack in Barcelona.

Plus, that attack in Spain killing at least 13 people, injuring more than 100. ISIS says that its soldiers are responsible. We're going to talk to Americans who witnessed the terror.

And, Trump doubling down on his defense of confederate monuments. Is he setting a trap for Democrats? We'll be right back.


[19:17:53] BOLDUAN: Tonight, President Trump responding to the deadly terror attack in Spain with a tweet, a tweet about a story that's been thoroughly debunked. The president writing this (INAUDIBLE).

" Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more radical Islamic terror for 35 years."

His story about General Pershing following the Philippine-American War is one the president has told repeatedly, he did it on the campaign train. And it's also a story that Politifact read pants on fire, meaning, completely untrue. Historians say just didn't happen.

The panel is back with me to discuss. So David, I promised and I always follow through on a promise. Just as Corker calls out -- calls into question the president's competence, the president tweets out a tale that historians say is not true. Why? URBAN: OK, so first let me just get back to the point that Gloria was talking about. No, I'll answer your -- I'll answer the question but talking about how the president needs, you know, needs the Congress. I think, look, I think the Congress needs the president as well.

The Republican Party and the president need to get together and work as one to pass some legislation so that they can all go home in two years and run on some accomplishments. So I don't think that the dependency just goes one way. I think the House and the Senate need to work with the president.

And you're going to see that we come back with a very robust legislative agenda in September. You have debt ceiling, the spending bills, things that really have to happen for the government to --

BOLDUAN: I love robust work. Now robustly answer my question.

URBAN: So, look, as to the president's tweet, I mean, I know what you say about the Snopes and Politifact. I -- General Black Jack Pershing and myself attended the same undergraduate institution, so I know a little about the general. And I will say that it is -- the story was conflated. There was -- in his memoir, General Pershing did right about another commanding officer did something similar in the Philippines. And I think what the president was doing was talking tough about terrorism and trying to be tough on terror in that tweet.

BOLDUAN: But, Wes, the wild bit about this is that the president -- one would assume now knows the story isn't true or as David said is not how he portrays it.

His campaign manager told the Washington Post during the campaign after he actually said this and when it was debunked that that doesn't matter that he didn't get it right. It's an analogy he said.

[19:20:09] Is it an analogy this time after this terror attack?

LOWERY: Look, I don't think it's an analogy and I think beyond that the president now -- this is no longer candidate Trump. This is the president of the United States of America. When he says things, he is speaking on behalf of our nation as the leader of the free world.

So for him to allude to an inaccurate made-up war crime committed against Muslims in a time in which we are engaged in multiple fronts in an international effort to combat terrorism, at the same time working with Muslim allies to do so, seems questionable at best. It speaks again to that level of competence and tact required to be the leader of this nation.

But beyond that, this is a long -- the next in a long line of incidents with the president more or less using his platform to pass along right wing chained e-mails, right. Donald Trump is the president of the United States. He's not your grandfather in a basement, he's not that guy you went to high school with posting on Facebook.

He's the president. When he says something -- I think it's important that what he says is at least in some semblance true.

BOLDUAN: Well, Paul, let's go back to the campaign trail, though. This is not new as Wes been putting out. He told the story more than once during the campaign trail. Here's just one rendition.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Pershing is having -- was sent there to solve a really serious terror problem. They caught 50 radical Islamic terrorists. They caught them.

They took the 50, they lined them up. They took a pig and then they took a second pig and they cut the pig open, and they took the bullets from the rifles and they dumped the bullets into the pigs and they swashed it around. And then they took the bullets and they shot 49 of the 50 people.

And the 50th person they said, take this bullet and bring it back to all of the people causing the problem and tell them what happened tonight. He took the bullet. He brought it back, that 50th person, and for 42 years they didn't have a problem with radical Islamic terrorism.


BOLDUAN: Just to put a point on it, that's not true. It didn't happen. Paul, he's still the man occupying the office, though.

BEGALA: Yes. And, you know, David is too modest to name his university, the one that produced Black Jack Pershing and Dwight David Eisenhower and General Patton. It's the United States Military Academy.

David is a graduate of West Point and we thank you David for your service to our country in the Army, you served with honor. At -- OK, I didn't finish the Boy Scouts, but I have had the honor of lecturing at West Point. And on that beautiful campus, it's one of the beautiful campuses in America. There is a stone and engraved on that stone is the honor code. And it says, I will not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate one who will.

Our president lied. He lied today. We don't tolerate that in America. We all don't have the standards of duty on our country frankly as military academy but we ought to at least not have a commander-in-chief who lies.

URBAN: And, so, Paul, I'd respond to that and one of our colleagues here at CNN and a friend of mine Salena Zito, who is on this network frequently had probably one of the most famous quotes of this campaign where says, you know, the Trump detractors take him literally but not seriously and his supporters take him seriously but not literally. I think that is the case of that right here what you're saying at.

BOLDUAN: I hear you, David. But I will make the case that when you become president, you should be taken both literally and seriously. At some point, it matters. Gloria, let me move on to this excitement to an important point.

The president called the attack in Spain today terror pretty quickly. It was known in Spain as terror pretty quickly also. Yet, he still has not called the Charleston -- the Charlottesville rather attack, terror. Here is actually what he said.


TRUMP: You can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want.

I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. That's what I would call it because there is a question, is it murder, is it terrorism, and then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer, and what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.


BOLDUAN: But the attorney general says it's domestic terror. What gives here, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, look, the point the president was making is whatever gets this person convicted faster, let's call it that. But it is domestic terror and it should be obvious it's domestic terror. And I think that, you know, there's a reluctance to use that term because, you know, the president said, well, there are very fine people on both sides and that both sides were to blame to a certain degree.

[19:25:07] And when you talk about radical Islamic terrorism as we saw in Spain today, there is no two sides. And I think that's the -- you know, that's the question here. There are no two sides in what happened in Charlottesville. There is the evil side. There were the Nazis.

And there were the people who were protesting the Nazis. And a man drove his car deliberately through the people who were there trying to protest the Nazis. It's domestic terrorism and there aren't two sides.

URBAN: And Gloria, listen, I don't think you're going to get a disagreement by that from the president if you spoke to him personally. Gloria, I think that's exactly what he said on the clip.

BOLDUAN: He says I'm going to call it murder.

URBAN: No, no. What he said if you go back and listen Kate is that, you call it what you want, whatever gets you to the quickest verdict.

BOLDUAN: Right. But do you think that the president would have said that when Barack Obama didn't call the attack on Benghazi, terror quickly enough? Call whatever you want (INAUDIBLE). You know what I'm saying?

URBAN: I'm saying you have the death penalty here for murder in the state of Virginia. You have a death for -- you know, I'm not quite sure the statute for hate crimes, but if it's domestic terrorism, one produces the death penalty and quick conviction. I'm sure that's what the president would be for and I think that's what he was talking about in that you just showed. I don't think there is really much there to parse.

BOLDUAN: I got you. But when the president runs on you need to call it what it is, you need to call terror what it is and criticize everybody for not calling out terrorism quickly enough.

URBAN: If you call it domestic terrorism -- it's criminal is what he said. It's murder. And what he said is whatever gets you the quickest verdict, the quickest death penalty verdict is what in my case I think it should be handed down swiftly and to send a big message.

It's abhorrent. I think that's what the president was saying. Whatever gets you the most quickly, call it that.

BOLDUAN: All right. We'll remember that next time something pops up. Great to see you guys. Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

BEGALA: Thanks Kate.

BOLDUAN: OutFront next, President Trump once called for the confederate flag to come down, but he's now passionately defending confederate monuments. Why?

And Trump using the word "culture" when talking about the confederate statue debate. Why white supremacists have a darker definition for that very word.


[19:30:42] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Tonight, the president trying to divert attention from his off-the-rails remarks about Charlottesville. He's adding fuel to the fire, though, in the debate over Confederate statues, tweeting this: Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being rippled apart with a removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall, who's next? Washington? Jefferson? So foolish.

OUTFRONT now, professor of history at State University of New York, Nicholas Waddy, and former Clinton White House aided, Keith Boykin.

Great to see both of you. Thanks for coming in.

Nicholas, you have been writing about this. The debate in Charlottesville, it began about a statue of Robert E. Lee. Obviously, it ended up in a very, very, very different and dark place. But on Robert E. Lee, do you agree with the president -- you agree with the president, it seems, that the statue should stand. Why?

NICHOLAS WADDY, HISTORY PROFESSOR, STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK: Absolutely. I have to say, I don't always appreciate all of his tweets, but his tweet this morning was spot-on. The simple fact of the matter is if you apply the moral standard to the present, the people in the past, you're going to be disappointed 100 percent of the time. That's a guarantee.

None of our national heroes were perfect men. None of them were perfect women. You have to be willing to engage in a suspension of disbelief to have heroes in the first place I would say.

So, the fact of the matter is Robert E. Lee is such a figure of honor, of integrity, of gentility. He was admired by people on both sides during and after the Civil War. He did a tremendous amount to try to heal the nation after the Civil War was over. And to tear down his statue at this point, the rewards are simply massively outweighed by the costs and by the damage it does to the national fabric.

So, I totally agree with the president on this one.

BOLDUAN: Keith, what do you say?

KEITH BOYKIN, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE AIDE: I don't even know where to begin. I think Donald Trump's remarks today, his tweets, were completely inappropriate, beneath the dignity of the office that he holds. No president of the United States should be celebrating men who took up arms against the United States of America.

What differentiates Robert E. Lee and other leaders like Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis from George Washington and from Thomas Jefferson, who were also slave holders, is that Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis and the Confederates took up armed, an armed rebellion against the United States of America. That makes them traitors. That makes them traitors and treasonous for a racist cause.

That is something that is unacceptable for a U.S. president in 2017 to endorse. We are not erasing history when we say that. We are embracing a history that is far more inclusive.

If you really want to celebrate the history of the South, why are there no monuments, as Mitch Landrieu pointed out, why are there no monuments in the South to the slaves who suffered during the South? Why no slave ship monument? Why do we celebrate this one-sided -- one dimensional part of history, which is designed to essentially rebrand the Confederacy and at some point was designed to terrorize African- Americans.

BOLDUAN: Well, Keith, to your point, though, on erasing history, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, he weighed in on the debate today. Listen to what he says.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I don't think we should go through and simply try to erase from history. Prior chapters, even if they were wrong.


BOLDUAN: Does he have a point? WADDY: Agree.

BOYKIN: To me?

BOLDUAN: Yes, Keith.

BOYKIN: I agree with Ted Cruz. I don't think he would erase history. I'm suggesting we should erase history. I'm suggesting we should remove the Confederate monuments. We should not celebrate this part of history.

There is a difference between -- as Mitch Landrieu again said, I urge people to go and listen or watch his speech that he gave, the mayor of New Orleans. There is a difference between remembrance and reverent.

[19:35:01] Yes, we should remember the past. We should remember the Confederacy. We should remember the Civil War generals who fought for the Confederacy.

But we should not revere them. They may have been good men in other respects, but they were bad men as far as the United States is concerned because they took up arms against our country. That is a wrong thing. And an American president should never endorse or embrace people who did so.

BOLDUAN: Nicholas, one --

WADDY: Could I please address that point?

BOLDUAN: Go ahead.

WADDY: I'd just like to point out that President Ulysses S. Grant, who fought Robert E. Lee in the field, invited Robert E. Lee to the White House. He didn't have to do that. And of course I'm sure it was controversial at the time. But he did that as a gesture to heal the nation.

Sometimes you have to acknowledge that on both sides of the conflicts, there is honor and there is decency, and there's figures to be admired, like General Lee. Ruling him out of bounds, casting him aside, it doesn't help the country. It wouldn't have helped the country then and I don't think it helps the country now.

BOYKIN: But there is a difference, don't you admit, Nicholas, between inviting someone to the White House for a rapprochement dinner or event to bring the peace as opposed to celebrating that person by creating a monument on his behalf. Six hundred thousand people, 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War, 50,000 people died at Gettysburg, 20,000 in Vicksburg, 20,000 in Teton (ph).

We're supposed to think that because Robert E. Lee did some good after the war, that we can forget about the fact that his actions caused the death of more people than any war in American history. That's unacceptable and it's time that we as Americans stop embracing the Confederacy, that tries -- the false narrative of the Confederacy and start to tell the truth of what happened. It was a war to perpetuate slavery and racism that should not be celebrated and tolerated in 2017 in America.

BOLDUAN: One important part of this is you are talking about history, in recent history, back in 2015, after the church massacre in Charleston, then-candidate Trump, he was on the other side of this debate. He said that the Confederate in South Carolina, that it should go. He said I think they should put it in the museum and let it go, is what he said.

Nicholas, is there a difference between the Confederate flag and Confederate generals?

WADDY: There is a difference. You can debate all these things separately, but they are tied together. I personally think he was wrong during the campaign to say that.

I understand that the Confederate flag is a symbol that offends a lot of people. But symbols mean different things to different people and in different contexts. And, you know, just like every city, every state makes its own decisions about what memorials to retain and which to get rid of, I think the same is true for the Confederate flag.

In the state of Mississippi, you had more than 80 percent of the people of Mississippi, and that means a whole lot of black citizens in the state of Mississippi vote yes to the flag that contains the Confederate flag. And that's because to them, it doesn't mean the same thing as it means to other people.

So, I think the elite is usually very ready to discard these symbols, to appease, you know, some very passionate people on both sides. But that's a mistake because as President Trump said in his tweet, it's a slippery slope. And when you start discarding heroes, you may not have any left.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Keith.

BOYKIN: I just don't buy the argument there is a slippery slope. Yes, I understand that Washington and Jefferson, other slave-holding presidents were not perfect men and I don't celebrate their imperfections. But I do understand there is a huge difference. A difference between people who did bad things or did things that even were considered not good under today's circumstances that may have been acceptable to some people in those circumstances.

There is a huge difference between that and taking up arms against the United States of America. I don't celebrate anybody who was a slave holder. But I do think that American presidents, regardless of their party or political affiliations have an obligation, a responsibility not to accept or to embrace those who stood up against this country, who took arms against this country, who fought an insurrection against the United States.

BOLDUAN: I still wonder, though, what is the change between Trump 2015 and Trump 2017? That's one thing we'll just have to keep wondering for now.

Great to see you both. Thank you very much for the perspective. OUTFRONT next, the word culture. Why white nationalists hear a dark

message when President Trump uses that word.

And breaking news we're following, at least 13 people are dead after being mowed down by a van in Barcelona. ISIS calls the attackers soldiers of the Islamic State. I'm going to speak with an eyewitness.


[19:43:40] BOLDUAN: Tonight, questions about a single word the president is using to talk about the debate over Confederate statues. Today, he tweeted about the, quote, history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. It echoes this comments from the president's press conference, controversial press conference, this week.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? Do you like him? OK, good. Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now, we're going to take down his statue.

So, you know what? It's fine. You are changing history. You are changing culture.


BOLDUAN: But do racist groups hear a darker message in the word "culture"?

OUTFRONT with me now, former FBI special agent who went undercover with extremist groups, Michael German. He is also a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program. And editor in chief of "The Daily Beast", John Avlon, is here. He's author of "Wing Nuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America".

So, this is a conversation we started last night, Michael. It is interesting it's moved on through today. What is it about the word "culture" that resonates with white nationalists?

MICHAEL GERMAN, WENT UNDERCOVER WITH WHITE SUPREMACIST GROUPS: So, they consider white culture. They believe that white people created every cultural innovation that we enjoy today and are interested in whitewashing history in a way that only celebrates white heroes and white important people.

[19:45:04] So, their concept of where we're living today is that their culture is under attack, that they are -- that civilization is being threatened by these illegitimate forces, whatever they are and different groups have different ideas of who an enemy is, whether it's Jews or whether it's globalists or Muslims. They have different ideologies, but the idea is we are victims and we have a right to defend ourselves. So, our violence isn't offensive, it's defensive and therefore legitimate.

BOLDUAN: You don't have to look very far. It's not very hard to find white nationalists using that word. Just listen to this.


JARED TAYLOR, WHITE NATIONALIST: If whites do nothing, they would be reduced to minority in which their culture is a side show.

DAVID DUKE, FORMER GRAND WIZARD OF THE KU KLUX KLAN: Barack Obama is not a person who will defend the rights and heritage of the European- American people. Our Constitution, our Declaration of Independence, our values, our traditions, our culture and I think we're losing those things.

RICHARD SPENCER, WHITE NATIONALIST: The arrow is pointed against white identity, pointed against white people defining America culturally and socially.


BOLDUAN: John, is there any doubt in your mind what they're talking about?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. I mean, it's barely a dog whistle. I mean, you know, what they're talking about is the sense of victimhood, that their culture is under attack and culture is being used as a phrase to sort of take a basic racial anxiety and to elevate it, kind of the way that people talked about segregation in terms of constitutional defenses, right? You've got to elevate it. You've got to dress it up in order to seem like you are fighting for something dignified.

Now, there is nothing wrong. You can have two competing ideas in American -- there's nothing wrong with the idea of celebrating Western civilization or defending our civilization. But this is a dog whistle designed to appeal to folks who feel that the white national identity is under attack and that has been a really ugly strain throughout recent American history and going back.

BOLDUAN: But in the end it is a word, Michael. Could it just be a coincidence?

GERMAN: No. It's one of many words. And as I said last night, it's how these ideas permeate into our society and affect our policy.

And it was interesting with the horrible attack in Barcelona, the comparison there is no hesitation for even people in media to use the phrase radical Islamic extremism, where we would never use that phrase to talk about the Ku Klux Klan who consider themselves Christians, right? We wouldn't call that radical Christian terrorism because they know it would offend millions of Christians who don't identify with that horrendous belief system. And yet, we don't have that concern with how many millions of Muslims we're offending by using that phrase.

AVLON: That's the key point. It's the moral imagination.

You know what's a Western value, a liberal democratic value, is the idea of inclusion. It's about that our civilization actually stands for ideas that are inclusive. One of the things that makes being an American unique, it's not your race. It's never been your race. People try to hijack it to impose that upon our country in ugly ways throughout our history.

But it's all about do you subscribe to an idea, an ideal that's open to anybody? And that's the fundamental division. And whether this dog whistle uses of it, whether the president's intentionally doing this or not, I think it is part of a troubling pattern.

I mean, you mentioned the phrase globalist as code for folks. We see that term as an insult emanating from some folks in the White House. So, it is an indication of some of these ideas get mainstream. And you got to keep your ear clear to it because some folks are hearing what they want to hear and that's ugly and empowering if they hear it from the president of United States.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. Great to see you both. Thank you so much.

GERMAN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: OUTFRONT next, we're going to follow breaking news from Barcelona where at least 13 people were killed by a driver who mowed them down. A manhunt is now underway.


[19:52:45] BOLDUAN: Breaking news: a manhunt under way tonight in a terror attack that's left 13 people did and more than 100 injured in Barcelona. I want to warn you that the video we're about to show you, it is graphic. It all started about 5:00 p.m. local time when a van drove into a crowded pedestrian plaza that's very popular with tourists.

ISIS says the perpetrators are soldiers of the Islamic State. Two men have been arrested. But police are still looking for the man who was driving the van. And moments ago, police towed that van away from the scene.

Melissa Bell is OUTFRONT for us now from Barcelona.

So, Melissa, do police have any idea where the driver is?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. That manhunt continues. Details are being emerged.

We understand that authorities know what the man is dressed like. They believe he's not armed crucially, Kate, because that's what witnesses who saw him flee the scene have told him. But the situation here in Barcelona, but also around, it remains extremely fluid.

We now know there's a police operation 120 kilometers south of Barcelona. We don't know yet whether that is linked to what happened here. Just over nine hours ago, two streets away from me this horrendous attack when that truck plowed through those crowds of people. We know two people have been arrested. We believe that is to do with

the events of the night here. We know that one man was arrested afterward. The other, we're not clear whether he was arrested before, but he's linked to a house that was blown apart yesterday evening. We believe one Spanish national was killed in that explosion and it might have been linked with tonight's terror attack.

So, as you see, an extremely fluid situation with that incident still ongoing 120 kilometers away from here, police have warned locals to stay away, but clearly, as that manhunt continues, so many questions, Kate, about precisely how he was connected to those other individuals now under arrest, whether or not that incident is connected to the one that is still ongoing. And, of course, very little yet on those 13 people that were killed, their nationalities, their identities. So many questions for people in Barcelona here tonight that we'll continue to keep a close eye on.

BOLDUAN: And so many people still in hospital, 100 people injured.

[19:55:02] Thank you so much, Melissa. I really appreciate it.

Liam Searle, he witnessed the attack. He's joining me now by the phone.

Liam, can you hear me?


BURNETT: Can you just explain what you saw?

SEARLE: So, I was -- I was coming down the Ramblas from -- as if you're going from the port. I was skateboarding down the road and I had my headphones and listening to my music. And there's two lanes of traffic on the right hand side of the Ramblas, and I was skating down and then I hear like vaguely like something -- some noises and this will happen in the space of like five, 10 seconds.

I have some noises from my left. At first, I think it's my music, and then you see hundreds of people getting up and running and then I put it together pretty quickly what was going on and I did the same. I grabbed my skateboard and ran.

But the van came to a halt next to me. I was directly right alongside it and it stopped. I was obviously still got my skateboard, so I was still moving. And then I jumped off, picked up, and turned around and started running. I didn't turn around and look behind me. But that guy, I -- on the corner of my eye.

BURNETT: Liam, did you know right away? Did you think right away that this was terror?

SEARLE: I really didn't know what to think. Like after -- after five minutes I thought about it. I guess yes and no. Like you kind of don't want to think it is, you know. You want to think it was maybe just a small accident or something because to this point I still didn't know it had driven down -- it had driven down half of the Ramblas. That's pretty far.

At this point I thought it mounted the curve nearly and just kind of hit some of the kiosks and stuff. I didn't know what was happening. And then you look at it from another perspective of the ones that happened in London and France and it's like the same thing.

BURNETT: Absolutely.

SEARLE: And then you immediately think it's linked to that, you know?

BURNETT: Well, we're so glad you're safe tonight. Liam Searle, thank you so much for getting on the phone.

I want to bring also right now, CNN national security analyst, Lisa Monaco. She was the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism under President Obama.

Lisa, it's great to see you, unfortunately under these circumstances again. The Department of Homeland Security, they say they've reached out to their counterparts in Spain?


BOLDUAN: What are they talking about? What are the conversations like right now?

MONACO: So, the first thing they're going to be doing, Kate, is reaching out, as you said, to the individuals that they work with, sometimes on a daily basis, in law enforcement, in the intelligence community over in Spain. This is why it's so important that we build those relationships so at times like this, we can rapidly share information, and that's what they're going to be doing now.

The FBI, the CIA, the other elements of our intelligence community here in the United States are going to be going back through their intelligence collection, back to their understanding of what they've been seeing in the recent past. We've seen ISIS affiliated media channels now claim credit for this attack. They're going to be looking at all of that traffic and make sure they pass everything they can to their counterparts in Spain.

BOLDUAN: Part of the president's job, of course, is now in the aftermath is to reassure the country in times like this, that we're going to be OK, we we're going to do whatever we can to stop an attack like that from happening here? How do you reassure that country when you're talking about a car running into a group of people?

MONACO: Well, Kate, this is the new phase in our fight against terrorism. Unfortunately as you've mentioned at the top, we've seen this tactic all too frequently, the use of everyday items, everyday tools to commit these heinous attacks, and the message should be that we show our resolve and our strength and our solidarity with our partners. And here, we have a NATO ally who has been -- had this terror inflicted upon them, and we reassure people that they need to go about their daily lives, but they need to be vigilant. We cannot show that we're changing our way of life. That's what the terrorists want.

BOLDUAN: Lisa, it's always great to have your perspective. Thank you so much for coming in. I really appreciate it. Thirteen people killed, more than 100 injured. We'll keep our eye on that.

But that is it for us tonight. Thank you so much for joining us.

"AC360" starts right now.