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Kellyanne Conway Discusses President Trump's Reaction to Synagogue Shooting; Interview with Rabbi Inside Synagogue During Shooting. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired October 29, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Steve Scalise caught across his blood in the outfield. And thank God he's alive.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank God, I agree.

CONWAY: He was being gunned down for his politics, them for their religion. And the president is not trying to reach his base by denouncing anti-Semitism and asking everybody to rise above hate. He's being the president to all Americans. Some will turn a deaf ear to that, some will turn their eyes away from that, but he will be there regardless because that is his obligation. That is his --

BERMAN: But Kellyanne.


BERMAN: Some people do hear. OK, let me just ask. The anti- globalism, nationalism, you do acknowledge some people hear, people like Lynnette Lederman hear strains of anti-Semitism in those statements. Does the president need to make clear that is not what he is saying? Does he need to disavow --

CONWAY: He has said that.

BERMAN: -- the people who hear anti-Semitic things?

CONWAY: He has said that. He has said that many times. He said it many, many times just in the course of the Saturday remarks. And I know this man, and that is the way he feels, and that is what he says and he means it.

Also, when he says I'm a nationalist, he explains what that means. It means America first. And that's why you've got many more Americans working now, American industries that were flat on their backs that other people told us the new normal was two percent gross or less. It's not normal under this president. It's been double that. It's that you've got more manufacturing jobs, construction jobs, you've got more mining jobs. These are decided American.

I'm answering the question on the economy as well as what I said is the issue of today, the 11 murdered Jewish people in Pittsburgh. But it's also an America first foreign policy. It's not America alone, but it's not going to be America last. This president has been a great friend to Israel, to Jewish people worldwide. He kept the promise of five presidents to move the embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize it as the capital of Israel as Israelis do. President Netanyahu said President Trump is the best friend to the state of Israel.

We don't ask people -- as I wrote in an op-ed on last week, John, when people are in need, the president doesn't ask them how did they vote. He asked how can we help. And there are many people in Pittsburgh and elsewhere who are looking toward the president for his words and his actions, and I would urge you to keep an open mind. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: Kellyanne Conway, I appreciate you being here, and I know your heart goes out to the people, and all I will say is that the country is looking to the president this week at everything his says, so thank you for being here, Kellyanne. Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: John, we have just gotten a new guest we want to add right away, because joining us now is the rabbi of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers. Rabbi Myers, we're so, so sorry for your community's loss.


CAMEROTA: What are you telling your congregation today about what happened this weekend?

MYERS: I don't have a specific congregation message. I'm regrettably active, engaged with all of these families because I have seven congregants I have to bury.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Do you blame anyone for what happened there at the Tree of Life beyond the gunman?

MYERS: I don't really foist blame upon any person. Hate does not know religion, race, creed, political party. It's not a political issue in any way, shape, or form. Hate does not know any of those things. It exists in all people.

CAMEROTA: But can hate be cultivated? What we're struggling with today is maybe hate is in all people. Maybe it's dormant. What lights the match of hate?

MYERS: I think you're raising one of those great questions that people far smarter than I can answer, but I do recall this. If we look in the Bible after the story of the flood and Noah, God regretfully says to Noah, I have learned that man from his youth is prone to evil, which you would think is a horrific thing for God to tell us. The message I get from that is, yes, there is the possibility of hate in all people, but there's also the possibility of good, and good will always win out over hate if we let it in each of us.

And I have seen so much good these past two days, the e-mails, the texts. When I went home last night, I think I finally cleared out from my phone, my e-mails, I woke up this morning. I had 399 e-mails. These are strangers, people I've never met from around the world, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, every religion, people just pouring out their hearts in giving support. And it shows me that good will always win out over evil.

[08:05:00] CAMEROTA: Rabbi, will you tell us what was happening on Saturday morning inside synagogue Saturday morning before the gunfire broke out?

MYERS: When I came, it was what I would assume to be a typical shabbat morning. Shabbat is the Hebrew work for our sabbath. Got ready for services, greeted people in, so far.

So we begin our services. Everything seemed as it normally would, nothing out of the ordinary in any way, shape, or form. Began services at 9:45. Then within a few short minutes, I heard a loud -- it sounded like a crash to me, as though one of our metal coat racks had toppled over. And to that, while it was jarring, I wasn't immediately concerned because I thought, number one, maybe someone had just pulled on the rack and toppled over. Maybe someone fell. We house -- we're a synagogue with three synagogues within it. Three people from one of the synagogues in our building ran down the stairs. As they ran down the stairs I could see them from the rear of my sanctuary.

Another round of what I now knew was gunfire came out. I can't tell you how I knew it was gunfire because I had never heard gunfire before, but something told me this was some kind of semiautomatic weapon. At that point I instructed my congregants to drop to the floor, do not utter a sound and don't move. Our pews are thick old oak. And I thought perhaps there's some protection there.

The people that were in the front of my sanctuary, I quickly tried to usher some up to the front, out some doors in the front towards exits or towards the closets, someplace that they could hide, someplace safe. I turned back to see if I could help the remaining people in the back of my congregation. At that time, I could hear the gunfire getting longer. It was no longer safe to be there and I had to leave them.

One of the eight was shot, and she has survived her wounds. The other seven of my congregants were gunned down in my sanctuary. There was nothing I could do. I was not in the space at that time. I had run to safety as I called 911. From what I have been told I was the first caller, and I stayed on the phone for about 20 minutes. It seemed like an eternity until SWAT extricated me from a safe space in choir loft and escorted me out of the building because they had not apprehended the shooter at that point and did not know where the shooter was.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh, Rabbi, that is such a searing image and knowing that you witnessed it all and you tried to help until the gunfire was threatening your own life. And what do you say to those families now who want to know how this could happen?

MYERS: I don't know how this can happen. Those are questions that I think I've still got to digest. I don't have answers, but I do live with regret that I wish I could have done more. And I live with that, and the sounds that are seared in my brain that I'll never forget for the rest of my life.

CAMEROTA: Rabbi, how are you doing this morning?

MYERS: I really don't know. I haven't thought about that. I don't think -- I know I haven't slept much. There are more important things to take care of. I have a congregation to take care of. As I said, I have families that need me. I have funerals to plan. At some point they'll be able to sit down and reflect upon all of this and move on from there.

But we are a Tree of Life and, as I've said before to many, you can cut off some branches from our tree, but Tree of Life has been in Pittsburgh for 154 years. We're not going anywhere. We will rebuild, and we will be back stronger and better than ever. I will not let hate close down my building.

CAMEROTA: That's a beautiful message, rabbi. President Trump has talked about coming to Pittsburgh and coming to your synagogue in the aftermath of this. Do you want him to come?

MYERS: The president of the United States is always welcome. I'm a citizen. He's my president. He is certainly welcome.

CAMEROTA: The ADL tells us that anti-Semitic incidents, violence, threats, hate speech have gone up 57 percent just since 2016. Did you fear that something like this could ever happen at your synagogue?

[08:10:00] MYERS: I never thought this could happen in my synagogue ever.

CAMEROTA: Have you felt the rise of anti-Semitic incidents?

MYERS: I've experienced anti-Semitism my whole life in one form or another. I just never thought it could reach this level that someone could take into their own hands and make a decision that they needed to murder Jews. That concerns me, not just as a Jew, because it wasn't just an attack upon the Jewish community, this was an attack upon America. This gunman made it clear that people anywhere that wish to worship need to be concerned because this challenged our freedom of worship.

CAMEROTA: And so what will change, Rabbi, now? What will change about how you worship? What will change about your message to your congregation, security at your congregation there in Squirrel Hill?

MYERS: I can tell you that security will be of the utmost concern, as we rebuild, as we examine our future, where we're going, that synagogues, and not just mine, but throughout the United States, are going to have to reexamine their security. It's a big challenge I think for all houses of worship in the United States. We've just not only have felt it. Charleston has felt it as well. How do you keep your doors open to welcome all who are in need yet simultaneously keep all who are in need safe? It's a big question. I never had to deal with it as a kid. We all felt safe. But it's a different world now, and we must react to that reality and find ways to keep all people who worship safe but yet be welcoming simultaneously. Big, big question.

CAMEROTA: Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, you and your congregation are in our thoughts and prayers today. Thank you very much for joining us.

MYERS: Thank you, Alisyn

BERMAN: What a deeply moving interview that was.

Joining us now is Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, CNN political analyst David Gregory, the editor of "The Weekly Standard" Bill Kristol, and "New York Times" op-ed columnist and CNN contributor Frank Bruni. There's a lot of small politics going on as we speak and going on during that interview you just had with Rabbi Myers right there. I want to get to that. First, I want to focus on what he said. And Bill Kristol, I want to start with you there. The Rabbi said I will not let hate close down this building, and it just struck me that here we are in 2018, and a rabbi there is speaking in terms that could have been spoken by Jewish leaders thousands of years ago, 70 years ago. It's just one more page in history.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes. It was a very moving interview, and he's a very impressive Rabbi. And I think the general reaction of our synagogue and elsewhere, and of our neighbors, of Christian and Muslim houses of worship near us and just in the community in northern Virginia, has really been remarkable, I have got to say. I think we can't let the president --

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, this is heartbreaking. It's just heartbreaking to hear all these people and everything that they've lost. And I don't know if this morning we should see it as, well, there's hate in people's hearts and this sometimes happens and we all have to come together, and we all have to get past it. Of course, that's true. But there are also things that are also catalysts for hate. And aren't we seeing that now?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think a few things. One, I think that rabbi was a beautiful messenger this morning. And I often wish we had faith leaders in this country whose voices could be elevated into the public square like that, and that it wasn't just at moments like this, who could contribute to our public discourse, because, to me, he said several things.

One, he so beautifully elevated the idea of what the Bible says, that we should choose life, that God sets before you a blessing and a curse, that we should choose life, a life worth living, a life in pursuit of an optimistic view and not just of a hate-filled view, and that he can hold on to that a couple of days after that is so important.

He's also welcoming this president. Even in this political climate he is saying the president of the United States is always welcome. The Jewish community is incredibly politically divided, and it's really sad. And you see that division play out here with your earlier interview with the former president of the congregation saying I don't want that president to come. He's not our president. I think this is a huge problem because, to your point, Alisyn, there is an opportunity. And I think this time demands of our president that he not just seek to heal but that he take account for the ways he has spoken about nationalism, white nationalism, and anti-Semitic tropes that he's used that can be a catalyst.

KRISTOL: I don't agree with that, I could just say that. That's not what the President of the synagogue said there. She said, she just personally would not welcome the President. She has respect for others in Pittsburgh and I agree with her. If the President wanted to come to our synagogue this week and make some talk, I would say no, thank you, for now. It doesn't mean I don't think he's our President, I just think he does bear some responsibility for this climate and I see no -- and we don't need him. We don't need him to help us overcome this.

GREGORY: Well, we don't need him, but there's still an opportunity.

KRISTOL: There's no opportunity.

GREGORY: Well, I have a different view. I think there is an opportunity for him to speak out and to take accountability for some of the things.

KRISTOL You saw Kellyanne Conway on here and that excellent interview. She's taking no responsibility.

GREGORY: Okay, well, so that's it, you want to end the discussion there?

KRISTOL: No, I want the rest of the country ...

GREGORY: ... and forget about it until the last of his term.

KRISTOL: Yes, I do want to actually get beyond him.

GREGORY: I think there's a different view and the reality is that I don't know that the -- that some of the division in Jewish community is necessarily going to be healed by all that.

BERMAN: Let me ask this, Frank Bruni, what's the President's responsibility in meeting this opportunity that David Gregory is talking about? And I ask that question telling people -- I'm not going to read them, but the President's last statement before he went to bed last night was a statement on Twitter, attacking media. His first statement upon waking up this morning was on Twitter attacking the media.

And I don't know if you heard my interview with Kellyanne Conway but she was talking about how everyone is rushing to slice and dice and sneer and jeer. And it just strikes me is as, did she not see what the President is doing?

FRANK BRUNI, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: That's exactly right. She's describing what people are doing that is wrong and the person I hear her describing is the President of the United States. And she is correct, he always comes out with a few sentences, as he did this time, that are the right sentences, that are important that are moving, but that moment goes away in the blink of an eye and he is back to attacking people on Twitter and he is back to modeling the exact kind of behavior that Kellyanne Conway is saying we all need to move beyond.

How can she expect Americans to move beyond that kind of behavior if the President of the United States can't? And she does something and they all do this thing over and over again. Where when we call him on those tweets, when we call him on his attacks, enemy of the people, she says everyone in America talks like that now. He's just giving back as good as he gets.

He's the President of the United States, he is supposed to provide the example and the moral leadership. He's not supposed to descend to the level at which everybody else is operating and by the way, not everybody operates at that level. He's supposed to ascend to a higher level and he seems to have completely excised that from the job description of the President of the United States.

CAMEROTA: Jonathan, you're the director of the ADL as we just said, the numbers have spiked, since 2016, the numbers of anti-Semitic incidences, crimes, threats have gone up 57%. What do you think is causing that?

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, CEO AND NATIONAL DIRECTOR, ANTI DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Well, I think there are a few different factors that are driving this situation. There's no doubt that the political climate, the broader environment is creating the conditions in which haters feel license to operate. We see this manifest in lots of ways. I mean, we all know that it's difficult to say that the President doesn't have responsibility and use the phrase "America First" to describe his agenda.

America first, as we called out during the campaign in 2016, is a phrase that was pioneered by Charles Lindbergh in the '30s to exclude Jews. He was a real voracious anti-Semite, and so we see number one, a political climate in which haters feel a license to operate. I'll also say that the social media and technology has a lot to do with it. It is amplifying and accelerating the kind of intolerance that we're talking about.

CAMEROTA: Right and anonymously. I mean, of course social media contributes to this horrible toxic climate. People can lob whatever hate bomb they want from their keyboard, but what do you do about that?

GREENBLATT: Well, at the ADL, we've opened a center in Silicon Valley. We're working directly with the companies. They have a role to play, Silicon Valley does to try to stop this hate before it happens. So that's a big part of how we're going to get this done.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, Bill because Kellyanne wasn't going to have any of it when I suggested that the language of nationalism and anti-globalism was somehow heard by some white nationalists as a dog whistle to them. She just denies that possibility completely.

I can't get in the President's head. I don't know exactly what he intends to say when he says that, but then don't you have a responsibility then if you are going to use that language to tell people filled with hate, this isn't meant for you?

KRISTOL: Sure and he's done worse than that in terms of re-twitting and not repudiating supporters who have gone beyond just using terms that are somewhat loaded as America First as Jonathan says.

I mean, David and I -- that's a tough call about what one wishes the President would do or whether what he gives up in a sense with what the President is doing, but I also think the social -- look, there's a lot of bad anonymous stuff on social media. There's a lot of non- anonymous stuff.

The people on Fox News and Fox Business are not anonymous. Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham having guests on and encouraging them and they are not anonymous, and so people need to take responsibility. This is the only thing I balk at when we sort of look to the President.

Fox News has corporate board of directors. Fox News has employees. Fox News has management. Everyone else has colleagues and associates. States have governors, cities have mayors.


KRISTOL: As David said very well, there are pastors and rabbis and others are in this country who have positions of leadership and people need to just not keep hoping that the President is going to change and do their best to try to help heal our wounds.

GREGORY: Let me say that -- you know, I think Bill's point is well taken by me as well because it can't just be the president especially because this President is so challenged and worse on this issue. But I think we have to call out, and John and I were talking about it. We've got to call out Israeli leaders as well and representatives like their ambassador here.

They have an obligation to call out anti-Semitism by political leaders in our country or in social media to raise the awareness. For younger Jews who have grown up in a country that feels like Zion, that America is the promised land, they don't know anti-Semitism in the way that other generations do, but it is here, it is revived.

And social media provides a kind of connective tissue for it as well. And what bothers me most about what Kellyanne says, and we agree here, is that it is a-historical. It is a rejection of history to say that the President has spoken about anti-Semitism, you can't declare in a glib way in a rally, "I'm a nationalist." They do not understand how frayed that is, and if he wants to really shut this down in the name of his Jewish grandchildren, make it a point.

You have all the resources there. He may not be well educated enough himself, he has got all of the resources around him to stand up and speak out big. He can do it in this moment.

CAMEROTA: Frank, one of the things that I am always struck by when I hear from the White House is how they equate the President of the United States and his stature and his platform to a cable news pundit. You heard it again.

Well, cable news just this weekend, this weekend, you heard some guests on cable news saying unkind things about the President. The President of the United States and a cable news pundit. That's one of their go-to logic plays, which doesn't -- I don't get that.

BRUNI: No, you're preaching to the choir and it's not just them, but I think Mike Pence said over the weekend, people don't expect a certain kind of tone from this President. He's a fighter. He's supposed to speak this way. Is he really supposed to brand people enemy of the people? Is he really supposed to go on Twitter and go after Tom Steyer at this particular ...

CAMEROTA: And calling him a crazed lunatic. The same language that is being used for the serial bomber and the mass murderer.

BRUNI: Yes, words matter and the President uses words in extremely dangerous ways. But I want to say something else as we've been talking about anti-Semitism, which is a huge problem and I'm so glad we're talking about it.

The rabbi said something very important there. This was not just an attack on that congregation. This was not just an attack on Jews. This was an attack on America and I think it's really important we all remember that when you go after, when you do something like this and you forget that this country is about freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, diversity and pluralism, you are attacking each and every one of us in this country.

BERMAN: Jonathan, I want to give you quick last words.

GREENBLATT: Yes, look, I think it's not about just what the President says after the event, it's the climate you create every single day and going after George Soros, talking about globalists. This should worry all of us and I would just build on what Frank said, racism is not just a problem of black people. It's my problem. Anti-Semitism isn't just a problem of the Jews or Israelis, it's every world leader's problem, it's every person and political authority's problem.

GREGORY: And this organization that is serving immigrants, a core Jewish religious value is an American secular value above all else in our country.

BERMAN: Gentlemen, I really do appreciate you being with us this morning. We had a really great discussion. Thank you.

So how can we unite this divided nation? We're going to hear from Former Senator Joe Lieberman and former member of Congress, Charlie Dent. See what maybe ideas they have maybe to get through this.

[08:25:00] BERMAN: Terror and hate-filled crimes gripping the nation this

morning. The President remains defiant and defensive frankly after a string of deadly attacks on Jews and blacks and mail bombs sent to critics of the President. So how can this nation heal?

Joining me now, former Senator Joe Lieberman and former Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Charlie Dent. Senator, I want to start with you and I just want to know, and I don't know why this moves me so much, but you're an orthodox Jew, that's not a lot of people know.


BERMAN: You did not learn of this shooting at the synagogue until Saturday night because, like many Orthodox Jews, you don't use electronics at all until after sundown during the Sabbath.

LIEBERMAN: That's true. I mean, my wife and I went to a synagogue Saturday morning, so we saw a lot of people, we went home and it was a wonderfully quiet sort of separate afternoon, so it wasn't until sundown, around 6:45, that we went through our iPhones and turned on the TV and saw what had happened.

We have some relatives who live in Squirrel Hill so the immediate -- there were some text messages on the iPhone telling us that they were okay, so we were relieved, but we were also heartbroken and infuriated.

BERMAN: How do you process what happened there and how do you process this moment in our nation's history?

LIEBERMAN: Well, it's a shocking moment. I mean, we view it all through our own experience. I have had a life as a Jewish American, which has been not only free of anti-Semitism, but I've had this opportunity to be elected Senator from a state of Connecticut where the Jewish population is about 2% and then Al Gore gives me the chance to run for Vice President, first Jewish American on a national ticket.

Really, I faced no anti-Semitism and, forgive me for going back to the end of the 2000 election, we actually got 500,000 more votes than the other ticket, which was a reflection in numbers that people weren't voting based on religion.

So when something like this happens, it's shocking and it changes that reality. But I believe the reality is that the American people are very fair minded, not bigoted. You saw it in the wholesome reaction of the neighbors who were not Jewish in squirrel hill, Pittsburgh, and in the elected officials there. It was very genuine.

BERMAN: And that's the reason for hope, isn't it?


BERMAN: That's the reason for hope, but congressman Dent, one of the reasons to be concerned -- and hopefully, we just don't ignore, is what the Anti-Defamation League says in that in 2017, incidents of anti-Semitic attacks rose 57%. Why do you see that happening in this country?

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, certainly first, let me just tell you, I've seen these levels of anti-Semitism where I live, too. I mean, I have a very strong Jewish community right here in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, area, an area I represented for years and I will tell you that they take security seriously. That there are threats against Jewish community centers a couple of years ...