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Inside Politics

Discussing Trump Statement On Charlottesville Attack. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 14, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: -- what -- where are we that everybody else has to set an example for the President? It supposed to work the other way, isn't it?

MATT VISER, REPORTER, BOSTON GLOBE: And that had already -- that sort of split, had already started, when you saw that through health care and things. But there was this idea that the recess, you know, and then you can pivot to a tax reform or we can work together on other things and that seems like this is only opening up the distance between Trump and his Republicans in Congress.

But the other point from earlier today in his criticism of the Merck CEO is -- Wall Street and sort of Corporate America has been one bright spot for President Trump, and to the extent that he now is a toxic brand of himself, where Corporate America does not want to be associated with him. That's a whole another problem in an area where he can also become an island from the rest of mainstream America.

KING: And it's just -- he's the CEO. We can put fault at the President's team, we can ask why the new White House chief of staff, you know, can't run an orderly ship, why the White House chief of staff didn't get the President to think twice about what he said on Saturday. You can ask all those questions. But as the President himself has said many times he is the CEO. This is his operation which begs the question, why?

And, again, again, why when you know you're under all of this criticism is your reflex to lash out at an African-American CEO who resides on a White House council because he thinks it's a matter of principle that he has to do so?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: It reminds me of some instances in the campaign where he tripped over racial issues as well. Whether when asked about David Duke and he wouldn't -- condemn him right away.

KING: The judge is a Mexican.

RAJU: Yes. The Mexican-American judge who was -- could not rule fairly, because he was Mexican. In those situations, too, you saw Republicans go after Trump in pretty strong terms. Paul Ryan calling that, the Mexican-American judge comment, textbook definition of racism. And this is a similar situation. You get into the issue of race, that's just not the partisan issue. Most Republicans agree with that. The President seems to not understand that his words on this particular topic are particularly damaging if he -- depends on what he says.

KING: All right. As we wait for the President, let's bring our CNN White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny who's been reporting on this. We expect tough words from the President. Jeff, let me start with this question. What specifically do you hear is coming and let me add this as a follow -- why in the world did it take so long?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, John, what we hear specifically is coming is a direct and forceful and full-throated condemnation of the acts of violence in Charlottesville on Saturday. I am told by a White House official that the President will directly say what happened in Charlottesville was evil. I am told that he will directly talk about the neo-Nazi groups, the white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, he will mention those groups by name.

I am told that he will also talk about the victim. The victim who was hit in the crash on Saturday as well as the two state troopers who also died on Saturday. He will talk about the loss of life. I'm also told that he will talk about the need to bring the country together. To unify the country.

As for your question of, why this has taken so long, it's a good one. This is still a young White House. This is still a White House that is getting its bearings in many way. And I think this is one of the first examples, or certainly the biggest example, of how this White House is reacting to external events. Something that they did not see coming. And there's no question.

If you talk to people inside the White House, they were caught a bit flat-footed by this. The President is reluctant to sort of weigh in against some groups that have been supportive of him, but now they view this as the only option. They have seen this really remarkable criticism across the board coming.

So, I am told we are going to hear a speech, remarks, a brief set of remarks this afternoon that directly confronts all of this. Now the question is, once he is in a more spontaneous setting, will any of that change? But this is something that many of his supporters would have liked to have heard him give on Saturday. But I think on Monday, it's certainly, you know, a better than not doing it at all, of course.

But, again, these are remarks that have been prepared for him, with him. We'll see if he goes through and delivers all of these, but I am told that this is a very forceful condemnation.

KING: Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Just stay with us. As we wait the President at the White House to deliver this statement.

If you listen to the way Jeff describes how this came about, though, when you see an aide putting some comments on the podium the maybe the President is coming any second.

[12:35:02] The question is, is the President doing this -- we can't read minds here -- but is the President doing this because he realizes he made a mistake, that he failed the test and wants to? And he feels that this is something he must say? That he wants to say? Or is he walking in to give this statement because he realized politically he has to?

RAJU: Maybe he's been convinced that he has to by his staff. See if this is -- hey, we'll see if John Kelly, the new Chief of Staff, had any influence here in pushing the President to make this statement. But why not make the statement in Sunday in Bedminster? They didn't tell the press what they were doing, what the President was doing all day long.

They put out an anonymous statement yesterday they would not explain why it could not be on the record, who it was from. That just made this story worse for them.

KING: I think that's right. And we've got a two-minute warning that the President will speak, so we expect him about a minute and a half. I get your point and there are a lot of questions in the days and weeks ahead about how did this work with the staff? Who did he talk to? Was he pushed out there by the new Chief of Staff?

But let's make a mistake. He's the President of United States. This is his job. He leads the country, the entire country Mr. President. The entire world is watching right now.

When you see the pictures of like this Nazi flags, people chanting anti-African-American slogans, anti-Jewish slogans, just the bigotry and hatred on display. It should be a moral reflex. You mention the health care debate. Yes, he's an unorthodox President, so he has fights with his party because he's an ideologically.

Did they disagree over taxes and spending in the role of government and health care? That's a whole separate issue. This is a human being. Whether he's a Democrat and Independent, whether he's been a Democrat or Republican for 20 years or 20 minutes. What we saw in Charlottesville it's just universally repugnant and why does it take three days for the President to say so?

VISER: And that he didn't react that way. It's telling. I think that he did not react that this is repugnant, I want to speak out immediately is telling. Instead he has to be convinced over the course of several days, both from people inside the White House and members of his party who are willing to criticize him is -- it tells us something about him.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: He also should be noted that his daughter who is Jewish, her husband, his grandchildren, she came out before the President, as did his wife Melania. Melania, I believe, was the first of the White House, the Trumps certainly, to come out against this. So not only is he on an island in this party, it seems like his own family even got out of ahead of him on this. RAJU: And I just go back to the point that this is a President who just cannot, does not admit making mistakes. I mean, the one time that he did, he made generally, that he made mistakes, he said it, I believe in the campaign, if my memory serves me correctly. But at the end of the campaign he did not say, what is the stakes were. And this has to be one reason why. Did not want to admit that he made a huge mistake on Saturday. Didn't want to feel like he needed to clean it up. maybe he feel like --

KING: He is hardly unique among American presidents to have a big ego. And I don't say that critically. To get involved in this arena, you want to be president of the United States, you have to have a healthy ego. You have to have a lot of self-confidence.

But he also he's not alone among American presidents to make mistakes. Every one of them does, just like every human being does. The question is, how do you get up and recover? When you're knocked down, how do you get up? How does your recover to submit?

I just -- I come back to the same question is how can this president given the history and given the ticking clock since what happened in Charlottesville happened? I mean, what is the most important test when, in a minute or so, we see the President of the United States standing right there, trying to essentially reset his failure in Charlottesville?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: We had talked about all the southern conservative male Republicans who have used much more direct language and then called on the President to do so themselves. And, you know, one political question I have after the tragedy of this subsides is what happens when everyone comes back from the August recess? Are things different?

KING: Here we go. About to find out what the President of the United States will say differently. Here he is at the White House.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. I'm in Washington today to meet with my economic team about trade policy and major tax cuts and reform. We are renegotiating trade deals and making them good for the American worker. And it's about time.

Our economy is now strong. The stock market continues to hit record highs, unemployment is at a 16-year low, and businesses are more optimistic than ever before. Companies are moving back to the United States and bringing many thousands of jobs with them. We have already created over one million jobs since I took office.

We will be discussing economic issues in greater detail later this afternoon, but based on the events that took place over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, I would like to provide the nation with an update on the ongoing federal response to the horrific attack and violence that was witnessed by everyone.

[12:40:13] I just met with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Department of Justice has opened a civil rights investigation into the deadly car attack that killed one innocent American and wounded 20 others. To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend's racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered.

As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America. And as I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God.

We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.

Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our Creator. We are equal under the law. And we are equal under our Constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.

Two days ago, a young American woman, Heather Heyer, was tragically killed. Her death fills us with grief, and we send her family our thoughts, our prayers, and our love. We also mourn the two Virginia state troopers who died in service to their community, their commonwealth, and their country. Troopers Jay Cullen and Burke Bates exemplify the very best of America, and our hearts go out to their families, their friends, and every member of American law enforcement.

These three fallen Americans embody the goodness and decency of our nation. In times such as these, America has always shown its true character, responding to hate with love, division with unity, and violence with an unwavering resolve for justice.

As a candidate, I promised to restore law and order to our country, and our federal law enforcement agencies are following through on that pledge. We will spare no resource in fighting so that every American child can grow up free from violence and fear. We will defend and protect the sacred rights of all Americans, and we will work together so that every citizen in this blessed land is free to follow their dreams in their hearts, and to express the love and joy in their souls.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you hear --


KING: The President of the United States there, leaving the room after delivering a statement. He began oddly with talk of being in Washington to meet with his economic team to talk about trade policies and tax policies and creating more jobs. The President claiming credit for the economy, economic environment then he did turn to the events in Charlottesville.

And after saying the Justice Department and the FBI will leading the investigation, he talked about the KKK, the neo-Nazis, white supremacists, say they are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. Repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. No disagreement there.

One of the questions will be why Monday not Saturday? But we were talking before the President came into the room about his challenge. Trying to convince people he means it. How did he do?

TALEV: It was important to say some of those key lines that he said. I'll note one thing he didn't do was a lot of outreach to people who are not white or who might feel that they were victimized and the message that the protesters were carrying, I think that's a criticism that will probably continue beyond today.

[12:45:02] He said a minimum of what he needed to say, but there were a lot of questions as he left the room that you heard being shouted.

RAJU: And of course, saying on many sides, which what got him in trouble on Saturday. Did not place the blame on many sides. He did very clearly said, the KKK, the neo-Nazis, white supremacists are repugnant and he said everything we hold dear as Americans.

The question, though, as we talked about earlier, what does he do now, what is he doing off script, and what he doe when asked directly about this? Does he get defensive? Does he spread the blame out? That's going to be the big question going forward. This is not the end of this test. This probably the beginning.

VISER: And he did seem defensive in starting with the economy. By the way, the economy is great, and then let me address this thing I have to address, you know, because I didn't address it two days ago, you know? And he was very clearly reading a statement that had been, you know, well crafted by his advisers, but it did strike me, same as Margaret. Like in sort of the minimum of what he need to do. Inserting some of those phrases and things that you expected him to do earlier, but without the outreach to some groups that probably feel victimized at this point.

KUCINICH: And just to add on to what Manu was said. What happens the next time? What happens -- how he reacts in those the next time is also going to be worth watching. Because this message needs to be consistent to kind of undo the damage that has already been done.

KING: And our White House Correspondent Sara Murray is standing by at the White House. Sara, this, obviously, the President realized he had to do this. There will be a debate whether it was genuine, whether he was forced to do it, whether he means it. We'll see that in the follow-through.

Take us in the conversations at the Trump White House. Obviously, they understand what's been happening, and they understand despite them saying it's the liberal media, that this torrent of criticism was coming from every corner of the political spectrum including very loudly from fellow Republicans?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well that's right, John. Obviously, there I've seen wall-to-wall media coverage of this horrific tragedy. A woman lost her life and also the President's muted response. Part of the reason that it got so much attention is Republicans have been willing and eager to call the President out and say he did not go far enough.

We've seen the backlash, of course, from Democrats. We've also seen it from Republicans. We've also seen it from Wall Street and so in many ways he could not escape this clamor. And I think that that's why when people look at the comments coming from the President today. They are a little skeptical. They are a little dubious. They wonder why it took him days to say something like this.

Remember, the day after the President made his sort of very muted remarks about this, equivocating about how both sides were to blame and both sides kind of needed to ratchet down the temperature and the violence. An unnamed white House official put out a statement saying, of course the President denounces the KKK. And of course the President denounces neo-Nazi groups.

But even that White House official wouldn't put their name on the statement. I think it's pretty clear that this is a problem that's going to continue to dog this White House, John. You're watching alongside me on the campaign.

Every time an issue like this would come out, it always took the President a couple tries, at that point candidate Trump, a couple tries to hit the right note. We saw it when Jake Tapper was pressing him to denounce David Duke. Obviously, we saw it with his attacks on a Mexican judge.

We even though in the wake of his election when we were seeing one-off attacks on minorities and people chanting racial epithets in Trump's name. It took him a while. It took him being pressed in an interview before he would denounce those supporters. This is not something the President feels comfortable doing and I think that was evident again today.

KING: Sara, you've covered him for a long time throughout the campaign now at the White House. I don't know that there's an answer to this. But what is it about this President that he knew what the country was waiting for? He knew what politically he had to do.

Why does he need to windup? Why does he need to walk in and brag about the economy before he gets to the point? Why can't he just walk in the room and say, I'm just back from Washington. I just met with my Attorney General and the FBI Director. Let me tell you about Charlottesville and then make the denunciation of these groups, he should have done Saturday. Why?

MURRAY: Well, I think that's an indication this is not what the President wants to be talking about. He is not comfortable talking about these racial issues. If they were and they would have had a full-throated statement from him on the day this was all going on. Obviously, we did not get that.

He feels much more solid talking about the economy, talking about the stock market. And frankly, he and his advisers feel like that's one sort of bright shining star in this administration so far. The fact the economy is still humming along, that the stock market has been booming. So he's going to try to bring that up every chance he gets.

And, of course, John, we know that Congress has a very robust agenda when they get back to Washington. If the President had not made these statements today, this would have followed members of Congress as they got back to town and would have been yet another thing that inhibits what the President wants to get done.

Now, I think Republicans will point to what the President said and say we need to move beyond it. Remember, that's also what they did during the presidential campaign. It was not an indication that President Trump's mind-set on any of these has changed or his view on how to handle these things has changed, but he waits a couple days.

[12:50:05] He makes a statement he needs to make and then members of his own party tend to back off and give him the breathing room to go back to whatever his agenda item was. And my guess is that's what happens again in this area, John.

KING: Sara Murray at the White House. Sara, thank you. Couldn't agree more. Republicans will be grateful for the statement today although I do think the last 72 hours furthered, if that's the right word, the chasm between the President and his own party.

We've seen it on policy issues, we've seen it on trust issues this is more of a character moral issue. And I think their just lack of faith that he will do the right thing is not going to go away even as they now can seize on the statement today and say, well, the President finally got to where he had to be.

And let's go back to the President came out, as you noted. As I know when he talked first about a million new jobs created during his administration. He talked about his meeting and his promise that the Attorney General and the FBI will vigorously investigate and prosecute those, bring to justice those responsible for the violence. And then the President did what many had hoped he would have done on Saturday. Name names.


TRUMP: Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs. Including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.


KING: Reading from a teleprompter there. A lot of people talked about on Saturday when he looked up from his prepared remarks and talked about, you know, many, many, not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, but he did it there. Hey, he did it there. And the question is, I think we discussed this before the President came out, you know, what comes next? You know his critics will say, too little, too late. What is the test now?

VISER: As Jackie mentioned a minute ago, sort of, what happens during the next time there is some sort of racial incident or some sort of animosity. The same group that helped plan this event in Charlottesville is planning an event in Boston and the Boston common this coming Saturday. So -- I mean, this incident and this kind of friction is not going away.

KING: Right.

VISER: So, is President Trump going to go away or is he going to keep speaking out about this and denounce these groups, you know, as they hold more events?

KING: An excellent point, because these hatemongers do what they do, pay to get attention. As we saw in Charlottesville, many of them were carrying Trump signs. Many of them have said they were there because of him, were there to speak for him or that he spoke for them. I think the President did some of that today but this is not certainly -- one statement is not going to make this go away.

RAJU: I'm interested to see the Republicans who criticized him now react to this statement. I think that -- I would guess that they would be happy that he said this. I think that they'll -- when they're asked about, they will say at least he made the statement. Better late than never. They'll be happy about it.

But, as Matt said, racial tension in this country is not going away. It's gotten a lot worse. These demonstrations are going to continue to happen. How does the President react then? Does he take this as a learning? A lesson to be learned? And does he speak out forcefully? And does the party -- will they be satisfied by that going forward? But I do think at the moment he gives his party a little bit of breathing room on what has become just a dominating story the last couple days.

KING: And this is on him. This is on him. This is on him. I'm going to repeat myself. But when you hear this, oh, this is still a young administration. You know, understanding this is a presidential moment. Not only the President but the entire White House has to jump in.

It's seven months. And, again, you know, whether it's a mass shooting or a protest likes this that shouldn't take a meeting to figure out it's a challenge for the President of the United States to step up. Should it?

VISER: I mean, denouncing Nazis.

KUCINICH: I mean, really? That takes a lot of thought? I mean -- I don't mean to be flippant about it, but --

KING: No, it's --

KUCINICH: -- you don't have to be a young administration to not know to denounce Nazis.

RAJU: And that's why I don't -- I mean, I mentioned John Kelly earlier. He's supposed to bring in and right the ship in this administration.

KING: You can't change the President. You can't change the President.

RAJU: Exactly, that was the point I was going to make. Presumably, he saw this as a huge problem on Saturday as everyone else seemed to -- in the administration which is why they made those comments going further than the President over the last couple of days. The President seems to have been reluctant to come out here. Perhaps that's why it took so long for him to ultimately say, I have to do this.

TALEV: There are two other measures that I would watch. And one is the reaction of the counter protest community for lack of a better word. Not just in Charlottesville but across the U.S. in the next few days. Are there going to be vigils or, you know, whatever? Are those groups going to be speaking out against President Trump or satisfied with the comments today?

And then the other is polling (ph), right? Because, fundamentally, that will affect both the President's approach and Republicans' approach which just what we're asking. Will they come back to support him and try to stick together as the party heading into those midterms or to separate? And whether this changes his overall numbers and his numbers inside the Republican Party, that's a crucial metric to watch. May dictate what happens in the days to come.

KING: And to the point we made coming and waiting three days, would only get skeptics to think we don't buy this.

[12:55:05] Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, a Democrat, trying to raises national profile says, "All I took was three days of crushing public pressure for @realDonaldTrump to finally muster the courage to condemn nazism and racism." I think it's a valid point whatever your politics. You mentioned, you know, criticizing Nazis, white supremacists, people who drive their cars into crowds should not be hard. Somehow he made it hard.

RAJU: And, of course, is how long will this episode be lasting? Will people remember this? Will this haunt his administration going forward or will they be able to pivot? That it's so many controversies over the past seven months. This could be the biggest. And how do they deal with it going forward.

KING: And we are told by our White House team, and this is about as telling as it gets. The President insisted on putting those economic remarks at the top of his statement before he got to the events in Charlottesville, before he got to his denunciation of the KKK and other hate groups. That was the President's call. Thanks for joining us on Inside Politics. Dealing to that breaking news. Wolf Blitzer will continue our coverage after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Jerusalem. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining --