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Governor Declares State of Emergency Amid Violent White Nationalist Protests; Car Rams Counter Protesters in Charlottesville; Donald Trump Tweets about Charlottesville Clashes; Charlottesville Vice Mayor Talks Protests, Car Ramming; Trump Speech on Veterans Affairs Bill, Violent Protests in Charlottesville. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired August 12, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: The violence breaking out in the normally quiet town of Charlottesville.
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CABRERA: Complete chaos. On one side, white nationalists sporting symbols of the racist extreme right. On the other side, crowds of people trying to break them up. They fought with their fists, with sticks, with bottles, with pepper spray. And even though no shots were fired, a lot of people were openly carrying guns.
And then a short time ago, a horrifying scene.
We warn you this video is very graphic.
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CABRERA: A car plowing into a crowd of people in Charlottesville where police were disbursing the white nationalist protesters and the people fighting them. Several people sent flying into the air. We are not yet clear on the number or severity of the injuries.
What brought these violent groups to Charlottesville is a statue, a memorial to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which the city of Charlottesville is planning to take down. People on the extreme right, including the Ku Klux Klan and other white power groups, they're not happy about it.
CNN's Kaylee Hartung is right there in Charlottesville.
Kaylee, you've been following the story from the beginning. Scary images on the streets there of the fights earlier today. Now this car crash into a crowd of people. We're seeing people being arrested. We're seeing people badly hurt. Tell us what you're learning now? KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, tensions have been incredibly
high in Charlottesville. That was the case in the lead up to today. There have been two rallies prior to today throughout the summer as protesters and counter protesters voice their opinion on the Confederate General Robert E. Lee statue in the middle of Emancipation Park here in downtown Charlottesville.
We saw very stark images last night of a torch-literally by national supremacists through the University of Virginia's campus. That violence culminated today before the Unite the Right rally that was organized, actually, even began, as law enforcement told everyone to leave the area. It was an unlawful assembly.
We saw people using flags, the poles of them, as weapons, water bottles flying through the air, some with cement in them, smoke bombs going off, protesters pepper-spraying other protesters. No real show of force from law enforcement though.
But if you could see the visual I see right now in front of me on the downtown mall in Charlottesville, Virginia, we have the National Guard, state and local police here in their riot gear, trying to bring peace through a day that has seen so much violence.
And if we could give our viewers a second to prepare for the graphic images, we will now show you video of a car crash from earlier today. We'll let you take a look for yourself.
HARTUNG: Now, from the looks of this video, very clear that that Dodge was intentional in its actions as it then sped away from the scene of the collision with two other cars. That Dodge then went through town. A police pursuit followed. We are unclear on the fate of that driver. We have not been able to confirm with police if they've apprehended the vehicle or the driver of that vehicle.
We do know there are injuries, as you could see from the video, you would expect that. I spoke to one eyewitness who saw CPR being performed on a woman.
Very graphic images today, Ana, of violence in this otherwise quiet college town of Charlottesville, Virginia.
I've heard verbal altercations between locals here shouting at whether it be protesters or counter protesters to go back home, to leave this town be. But right now, tensions remain high.
CABRERA: Absolutely. It's so disturbing to see all of that video.
Kaylee Hartung reporting on the ground. Stay safe and keep us posted, of course.
There've been a lot of responses from across the country related to the violence we're witnessing before our eyes here in Charlottesville, Virginia. President Trump has lent his voice to this incident today. He tweeted
not long ago, "We all must be united and condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let's come together as one."
And, again, we are expecting him to make some remarks at this event on Veterans Affairs and some legislation and a bill he's planning to sign here any moment.
Let's bring in our panel while we wait for the president's remarks. CNN law enforcement analyst, Cedric Alexander, is with us. CNN senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter, is here. And CNN contributor and former president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell Brooks.
Cornell, I'll start with you.
I just read the president's words urging unity. Your reaction?
[15:04:57] CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We appreciate the president's words urging unity, but we need a unity of will in our opposition to white nationalism and white supremacy. The words, thus far, do not explicitly address the hate in our midst that has been exacerbated and intensified by this president's actions and inactions beginning on the campaign trail many months ago. When we have a president, who can engage in nuclear trash-talk with respect to Pyongyang but cannot explicitly condemn the mushroom cloud of white nationalism hanging over Charlottesville, it is a shame. It is a bottom. It is reprehensible. We need the president to act as not only as commander-in-chief but moral tone setter in chief, and to speak to the hate, the bigotry, the bias, the anti-Semitism, the xenophobia in our midst that is violent. Where we have a crowd assault by car, apparently, if this happened in Paris or London or Madrid, we might call it an act of terrorism. We need the president to step up. This is a moral moment. It calls upon him to act in core with the gravity and gravitas of his office. That means he has to be very clear, very explicit that we cannot tolerate this kind of violence, we cannot tolerate this kind of hate speech and hate crimes occurring in our midst, and certainly not in Charlottesville, Virginia.
CABRERA: Let me read what the president tweeted once again, because he does condemn hate. He says, "We all must be united and condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let's come together as one."
He also sent a follow-up tweet that was less specific to this incident, but he does mention Charlottesville, saying, "I'm in Bedminster for meeting and press conference on V.A. and all that we have done and are doing to make it better, but Charlottesville, sad."
Cedric Alexander, to you.
You have said that tweet, the first one and the second, aren't enough. What do you want to hear specifically from the president in his upcoming remarks? CEDRIC ALEXANDER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think what
this country needs to hear as a whole and around the globe, we needed to hear the president say to this country in this very moment he needs to speak specifically to the groups that are out there that has created this violence and those white supremacist groups. He needs to make sure he tells the American people and the world he is separating himself from anything that is anti-American, if you will. And their acts are anti-American, quite frankly. And what we have to have at this very moment, Ana, is a president who stands up and not just say we need to come together as a nation but need to demonstrate it now through action going forward.
And as you heard Mr. Brooks say, this just did not start today. A lot of the messaging that came out of his campaign very early on, in many ways, many people will conclude or believe it set the stage. Now, whether that's true or not, here's the important piece. The president of the United States himself has to separate himself from anything that associates itself with violence because we're in a place in this country right now at this very moment where all people, black, white, Jewish, Christian, everyone, we have to stand together as a nation. We may be upon a nuclear war here any day, any moment. We don't know. But what we're seeing today in no kind of way suggests to the rest of the world that we are standing together as a United States of America.
So here's what I will say to those groups that are out there who perpetuate racism and sexism and anti -- and who are anti-Semitic, there is no place in our nation for this. This nation is going to move forward. And we have to move forward together. But everyone wants a piece of the American pie. And we all have a responsible to each other as Americans to be respectful of each other, to hear each other's differences and to find resolve. And that is not going to be done through violence, because our children are watching.
ALEXANDER: And not only are our children watching, but the world is watching us today. And this is very shameful. I'm embarrassed by it. But hopefully, the president of the United States here momentarily will speak very specifically to these groups that are perpetuating this violence, which started last night and before, and put an end to it and separate himself from David Duke and anyone associated with this type of violence.
CABRERA: Brian, do you anticipate what the president says having an impact on these white nationalist people?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: I think that's the most important point. Exactly what you're describing. This is not over in Charlottesville. This is ongoing. The protests are ongoing. At the moment, the white nationalists are off on their side and others off on the other. There's not clashes we're showing live right now. But this is ongoing. It's going to get dark tonight, folks are going to drink, they're going to go out, and they're probably going to continue this kind of chaotic behavior. The president had an opportunity here to be a calming influence. And
I'm sure the Virginia governor and the Charlottesville mayor would greatly appreciate the president showing that kind of leadership in this moment. As you do still have hundreds of folks that came into town to protest and then hundreds of counter protesters coming into Charlottesville as well.
This stage was set a while ago. We kind of knew it was coming today. There was a hope there wouldn't be violence the way there has been. I think for a lot of Americans who watch the video of that attack with the vehicle, it's a vehicular attack --
[15:10:28] CABRERA: By the way, these are live images right now from the scene --
STELTER: Of the aftermath.
CABRERA: -- of the aftermath.
STELTER: Yes. These were the other cars that were there that got rammed when this car came in a very fast rate of speed down this pedestrian area. A lot of Americans are going to watch that video of those protesters having their bodies thrown into the air, they're going to say that looks like domestic terrorism. Whether we call it that, whether the president calls it that, a lot of Americans are going to watch that video and be reminded of Nice, where there was a terrorist attack with a car last year. They're going to be reminded of London, where a car was used on London Bridge in order to mow down people there.
CABRERA: Let me get your -
CABRERA: Let me get your thought on that, though, Cedric, because of your law enforcement experience. What would you call this?
ALEXANDER: Well, that was a very deliberate act from what we're seeing in this video. We saw a car, late-model sedan, plow into a crowd of people and left the scene. There's video footage of that person backing away, leaving the scene. That is -- that was done on purpose.
CABRERA: I don't think we know yet who the victims are.
ALEXANDER: We don't know who the victims are.
STELTER: I think we can confidently say these were counter protesters hit by the vehicle. The reason I say that is we see the slogans on their posters. We see the signs they were carrying. This was an anti-white nationalist march. Some of these were Democratic Socialists of America members, other liberal groups. There were leftist groups that were protesting. They were walking through the downtown mall area, which is a pedestrian plaza, when this car came speeding up. We don't know who was in the car, we don't know what the motive was. There's always an outside chance, right, this could be someone had a problem, a heart condition and suddenly lost control of their car.
ALEXANDER: Well, I seriously doubt that was the case.
ALEXANDER: That's not going to be the case. This was very deliberate.
But let me say this, is that this must stop. It must come to an end right now at this very moment in Charlottesville, if anybody out there is listening. Because what we are seeing taking place at this very moment is not in the best interests of this nation. And the greatest majority of people in this nation, at this very moment, are looking for leadership. We're in dire need of someone stepping out. And hopefully, the president of the United States and his office will step out and say this must stop, we won't tolerate it, I denounce it, and this needs to end. And the type of violence that's being imposed upon people have to stop at this very moment.
CABRERA: What else --
CABRERA: Brian, just a second. Hold your thought for a moment.
What is extra disturbing though, when you look at the images, when you hear from some of the people who were part of this protest today, again, clashing groups.
But, Cornell, we know David Duke was at this protest. And he felt emboldened to say this. Let's listen.
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DAVID DUKE, WHITE SUPREMACIST & FORMER KU KLUX KLAN MEMBER: This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in. That's why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he's going to take our country back.
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CABRERA: What's your reaction to him saying this is part of taking the country back?
BROOKS: David Duke is simply expressing the sad, disturbing, distressing thoughts and racial impulses of many people. So when the president spent time as a candidate talking about making America great, when he spent time as a candidate sanctioning by acts of omission and commission the racial animus and hatred and xenophobia in the country, he stirred the pot. And David --
CABRERA: Let's remember, though, the president did disavow David Duke, specifically.
BROOKS: Yes. He did so, seemingly begrudgingly and with a great deal of delay.
But listen to the moment. David Duke said this will be a turning point. He means in favor of white nationalism and white supremacy. This may well be a turning point, but it's a turning point in the other direction, in the direction of the future. Because David Duke and his ilk, the white supremacists, are underestimating the integrity and the character of the American people. We will not go down that road. We will not give in to hate and racism and anti-Semitism and xenophobia. This will not be the nightmare that they envision. But in fact, I believe the American dream and certainly the dream that Martin Luther King spoke about a generation ago. We're not going to go down that road.
But let's be clear about this, the president has to speak to this moment. And he cannot engage in finger wagging and chastising a wayward faction of his base. He needs to speak clearly. He needs to disavow this. And more to the point, he needs to direct his attorney general and all members of law enforcement to prosecute anyone who's engaged in violence and the victimization of American citizens based on race and ethnicity. This is a moment for strong leadership, not weakness, not gutlessness, but a moment for strong leadership. And our president has to be president for all the people, and certainly, the people who found themselves on the back end of a car driving -- plowing into a crowd.
And I can tell you this, as a former president of the NAACP, being on the receiving end of death threats and seeing members of the NAACP, the Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU and numerous other groups being on the receiving end of this hate, this is dangerous. And we need the president to respond vigorously.
[15:15:52] CABRERA: OK. Everybody standby. We've got to squeeze in a quick break.
CABRERA: I'm sorry to do that to you, Brian.
STELTER: That's OK.
CABRERA: We got to get in this quick break. We have much more to discuss as we await the president's comments any moment now. We will hear from President Trump, expected to speak about the violence and the protests happening in Virginia. Also, I will talk with the vice mayor of Charlottesville about the
situation unfolding there as we speak, and what he expects to happen tonight. Standby.
And stay with us here on CNN.
[15:20:36] CABRERA: Welcome back. We are continuing to follow the breaking news out of Charlottesville, Virginia, at this hour, where there were violent protests in the streets there. White nationalists clashing with counter protesters around the statue of a Confederate general.
And I want to bring in the vice mayor now of Charlottesville, Virginia.
There was also a car crash where pedestrians were plowed into, what appeared to be an intentional car-ramming incident.
Wes Bellamy is joining us on the phone.
Wes, we know you are very busy today, thanks for joining us for a few minutes. What's your reaction right now in your city?
WES BELLAMY, (D), CHARLOTTESVILLE VICE MAYOR (via telephone): To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement. But one of the things I'm a firm believer that God does everything for a reason. And I'm praying and hoping that our community is going to continue to stand together and stand united and come out of this a lot stronger.
But I'm also very much so looking forward to the people who are protesting the correct way and those who are standing for their brothers and sisters, love the community, and continue to do so. And I'm looking forward to our law enforcement to continuing doing their job and making sure they have to the best of their ability keeping the streets and citizens of Charlottesville safe.
So while I know on the news it looks very bleak, I do not want this image to paint an entire image of the city of Charlottesville because I believe that this city, the one that I love, the one that potentially raised me from a young man to a 30-year-old father and husband is better than a display that we're seeing from these racist cowards coming from out of town. These people do not dictate who we are as a city. And they're not going to take our city. This is still our city.
CABRERA: Why do you think they're coming to your city, specifically?
BALLAMY: Oh, it's plain. It's very simple. We know why they're coming. One of the most ironic things is individuals are trying to mask or couch this behind the issue of the statue, but this is quite plainly and quite frankly white supremacists and white nationalists who, by their own account, have said they want to, A, fulfill the promises of Donald Trump and of, B, they said they want to take back what they believe is, quote/unquote, "theirs." They believe people like myself -- I'm the only African-American on city council, and I'm only the seventh African-American in our city council's history. They believe individuals like myself and those like me, who want equity and not inequality, we should not have a place. Who are we to try to say that we deserve the same rights and we deserve the same things as everyone else? And they want to try to take back again what they, quote/unquote, believe is "theirs." And we're not going to stand for it. And, again, we know that it's a troubling time. to say the least, but we will survive this. We will grow stronger from this. We will move forward from this.
CABRERA: As we wait for the president to make some remarks here any moment, which we are standing by, we have that image up on the right -- bottom right of our screen. We'll see when the president does take to the podium there.
But let me read what the first lady wrote in the first tweet coming from somebody inside the White House. Today she said, "Our country encourages freedom of speech, but let's communicate without hate in our hearts. No good comes from violence, #Charlottesville."
We also heard from speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, shortly after, who tweeted this, "The views fueling the spectacle in Charlottesville are repugnant. Let it only serve to unite Americans against this kind of vile bigotry."
We also heard from Marco Rubio, "Nothing patriotic about KKK or white supremacists. It's the exact opposite of what America seeks to be."
The president, now, we've read his tweet a couple times, said, "We all must be united and condemn all that hate stands for."
But as some of our other guests have pointed out, he hasn't been as specific as some of those I just read to vice mayor.
Do you think the president needs to say the words "white supremacist" or "white nationalist" in the remarks he uses today?
BELLAMY: Yes. Emphatically, yes.
CABRERA: What more do you want to hear from this president?
[15:24:50] BELLAMY: I would like to hear him very plainly say and state that he denounces this hate, that these individuals who are saying that doing all of these things in his name do not represent him. Would like him to call them out and use his resources to be able to try to bring calm. It is, in my personal opinion, an absolute travesty that people are saying that this is about quote/unquote a statue so people can walk around within our country and within our community and say that they will not -- we will not be replaced, white power, we are here to take back what is ours and all of this other just ridiculous rhetoric. And I hope that, as a community, as a city, as a state and as a country, that if we can't wake up and rally around each other after this, then we clearly see these hateful tactics and violence as being throughout our communities, if we can't wake up and stand together, black, white, Latino, Jew, Gentile, Baptist, Muslim, Christian, whomever, if we can't stand together after this, then I don't know what else will.
BELLAMY: I'm sitting in a park right now in which we're supposed to be having a back to school bash and having a community giveaway for little kids throughout our community here in Charlottesville. And their parents are afraid to have them come to the park. Why? Because white nationalists are walking around with guns and saying they're going to harm people of color or harm anyone who doesn't agree with their ridiculous ideology.
If we can't get people to come in and help us now, or stand together with us now, then when will we? And it's not just today. It's next week. It's the week thereafter. It's equity throughout the city. It's equity throughout our time. We need your help. And I hope that the president hears this message loud and clear and shows some leadership.
CABRERA: We're showing some images from the scene of the car attack. We know that a car ran into a crowd of people. What more can you tell us about that situation, the injuries, arrests, and what you're learning in terms of the investigation into it?
BELLAMY: Well, obviously, it's a horrific incident. We're still collecting intel and gathering information at this time. And that's all that we can speak on it at the moment.
CABRERA: Can you tell us how many people were injured?
BELLAMY: We cannot speak on that at the moment.
CABRERA: And have there been any arrests?
BELLAMY: We cannot speak on that at the moment. We're still collecting intel. There's a current investigation going on. But I'm sure our police chief and our police department will release details when they become available.
CABRERA: Meantime, we know the governor has declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville. What are you anticipating as we go into later afternoon hours and even into the evening?
BELLAMY: I'm praying that God helps us all. And what I'm anticipating is the community that I know rallies together, stands together, not only rejects the notions of hate, but also decides to protect their brothers and sisters however we have to. If that means through love, if that means making sure, as a bystander, you're looking out, if that means calling the police whenever you see something going on, I just pray that that continues to happen. The city that I know is better than the images that you see on the television screen. We're better than this. But we are not going to allow these white supremacists to take over our city and let the nation think that this defines us.
These issues didn't start today. They didn't start last week. They didn't even start when we would begin talking about the statue. And honestly, I think it's a microcosm of what's going on throughout the country, much of which may be due to some of the rhetoric in which we've heard at the national level. And it has to stop some time soon.
So when you ask me what do I hope, I hope that people will decide now, after seeing this, after seeing everything we've seen as of late, that we can finally come together and stand together.
BELLAMY: What more do you need to see in order for us to be able to stand together? You see those images of a car driving into a crowd of people. What more do you need to see? Do you need so see a reenactment of Dr. King and others walking across the bridge and seeing them being beat by those who didn't believe we needed equality and equal rights? What more do you need to see? It's 2017. If you can't come together, and rally with us and stand united with you, I don't know what else to say to you.
CABRERA: Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, I can hear the passion and emotion in your voice.
We have now confirmed from Charlottesville Mayor Mike Singer that one person has died, in fact, today during the violent events in the city. Didn't give any specific details, only saying, quote, "I am heartbroken that a life has been lost here. I urge all people of good will, go home."
So as one of the leaders in that city, you are calling for calm. What specific actions are you and fellow leaders taking tonight to try to ensure that that calm does, indeed, happen?
BELLAMY: Yes, I posted a video earlier today requesting everyone to go home and be safe. Safety is paramount, when you talk about action. And, again, I'm calling for safety. People going home, remaining safe.
[15:30:00] But also unity, love. Please, people, let's come together. What more does it take? What more does it take for our eyes to be open? I'm begging and pleading with you, go home, one. Two, decide to rally together and stand together with your brothers and sisters. And thirdly, do not think that just because this happened today in our city that it won't happen somewhere else. This is an opportunity for us to open our eyes. And we all have to come together to stand against what I believe to be a vicious group of hateful individuals, who have no regard, as you can see, for human life. What else does it take?
CABRERA: Charlottesville Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy, thank you very much for your time. We hope to stay in contact with you as the evening draws on. And we hope and pray, too, for the safety of the people in that town tonight.
I want to bring back our panel, as we await the remarks from the president. Expected any moment now. He is planning to address, we understand, the incident that's happening in Charlottesville, the clashing protests and the violence there today. And he is also going to be making some remarks about Veterans Affairs and some legislation that is enacting. We'll continue to monitor those images.
But, Cedric Alexander, as we look at some of this earlier violence that was taking place, the video that's on the screen right now, you hear from the mayor begging -- the vice mayor, begging and pleading with people to go home, to stay peaceful. From your law enforcement background and having been a leader, a mayor as well, previously, or deputy mayor, what would you do in this scenario to try to ensure that more people aren't injured or, God forbid, killed?
CEDRIC ALEXANDER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You know, as a community leader, for myself, as a deputy mayor and mayor back in Rochester, New York, one thing that we would do at this very moment -- and fortunately, we live in a wonderful community there in Rochester where it's very diverse and people work well together. But I think one thing that is critically important in any city across this country right now, if you're a leader, elected official or appointed, is that you have to bring in people from the community together at this point. You have to lean heavily. For me, I'd be leaning heavily on my local law enforcement, both local police, state police, National Guard, whoever came into my community.
But here's one thing that I would ask for at this point of the president of the United States. If we look at the images that we've been seeing all day, this brings to mind, to me, that I would ask the Trump administration and also our Attorney General Jeff Sessions, we're looking at some very clearly open straight-at-you hate crimes that are taking place right in front of us.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, RELIABLE SOURCES: That's a great point, too.
ALEXANDER: There needs to be some prosecutions that need to be made. We got images of people who've emboldened themselves to the point where they don't cover up or hide themselves. This is what I'd ask the Trump administration to do, is to look at hate crimes. And if you really dig really deep enough on this, this is really some forms of domestic terrorism. And you can't deny it. You can't overlook it. Because had this been a Muslim careening into a crowd of people in this country or involved in acts that we saw so vividly, thus far, we would be going off the charts and going and using --
STELTER: The president would be.
ALEXANDER: And so would the president.
STELTER: He would go off the charts.
ALEXANDER: We need to show consistency across the board. We have millions of Americans in this country, regardless of race or gender or whatever or religious affiliation, who totally oppose what we see here today. CABRERA: Are you surprised people are doing what they're doing and in
such an in-your-face way?
ALEXANDER: Well, here again, if you feel emboldened, and if you have the Grand Poohbah of the Ku Klux Klan standing there saying not only to that crowd there but to the rest of the country, we're holding this president responsible to do the things that he said that he was going to do --
CABRERA: OK. Here he is. Let's listen to the president.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.
As you know, this was a small press conference, but a very important one. And it was scheduled to talk about the great things that we're doing with the secretary on the Veterans Administration. And we will talk about that very much so in a little while.
But I thought I should put out a comment as to what's going on in Charlottesville.
So, again, I want to thank everybody for being here.
In particular, I want to thank our incredible veterans.
And thank you, fellas. Let me shake your hands.
They're great people. They're great people.
[15:34:55] But we're closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.
I just got off the phone with the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and we agree that the hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true -- really, I say this so strongly -- true affection for each other.
Our country is doing very well in so many ways. We have record -- just absolute record employment. We have unemployment, the lowest it's been in almost 17 years. We have companies pouring into our country, Foxconn and car companies and so many others. They're coming back to our country. We're renegotiating trade deals to make them great for our country and great for the American worker. We have so many incredible things happening in our country. So when I watch Charlottesville, to me, it's very, very sad. I want to salute the great work of the state and local police in
Virginia. Incredible people. Law enforcement, incredible people. And also, the National Guard. They've really been working smart and working hard. They've been doing a terrific job. Federal authorities are also providing tremendous support to the governor. He thanked me for that. And we are here to provide whatever other assistance is needed. We are ready, willing and able.
Above all else, we must remember this truth, no matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country. We love our God. We love our flag. We're proud of our country. We're proud of who we are. So we want to get the situation straightened out in Charlottesville. And we want to study it. And we want to see what we're doing wrong as a country where things like this can happen. My administration is restoring the sacred bonds of loyalty between this nation and its citizens. But our citizens must also restore the bonds of trust and loyalty between one another. We must love each other, respect each other, and cherish our history and our future together. So important. We have to respect each other. Ideally, we have to love each other.
And now to the Veterans Administration, where I'm so proud of David Shulkin and the job you've done. What you've done in such a short period of time, I think you folks would attest to it.
If anybody disagrees, you can leave the room right now.
But David really has, he's a star, what he's been able to do.
So, David, I'd like to thank you very much for your leadership and for the profound improvements to the V.A. services that you've made in such a short period of time.
Today is another milestone in our work to transform the V.A., where we're doing record-setting business including something called the Accountability Act where David and his executives can now hold people accountable for doing a poor job and say, you're fired. You do a poor job for our veterans, you're fired. That's been in the making for 40 years. They weren't able to get it approved. One of our legislative successes, frankly. One of our many legislative successes. We got it approved.
And I know, David, it's making life a lot better and people are working a lot harder because of it.
[15:40:00] In a few moments, I will sign the V.A. Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017. This bill will ensure that veterans continue to have the ability to see the doctor of their choice, so important, and don't have to wait or travel long distances for care.
And during the campaign, I kept talking about it. People -- these great, incredible veterans, our finest, they're waiting in line for seven days, nine days, 14 days for ailments that could be fixed quickly. And they end up dying of things that could be taken care of very, very routinely. And I said that's never going to happen when I'm president. And I said, even at the time, before having tremendous research given to me and after the research was given, it was still back to the same basic common sense, why can't they go out and see a doctor? If they have to wait seven days or 14 days in line, why can't they see a doctor and we'll pay for the cost of the doctor? And that's going to be a lot less expensive. But more importantly, you're going to have immediate medical care for our veterans. And that's what we're doing. And they're very, very thankful.
And it started already. Quite a little while ago, considering we're a very young administration. And I think you see from the veterans, they're very, very proud of it and very happy.
Very importantly, this bill also authorizes new community-based outpatient clinics and improves the V.A.'s ability to hire quality job candidates. We're getting candidates that are of the highest quality into the V.A. system now, so that our veterans have more choices and more access to the absolute best possible care.
I want to thank Congressman Phil Roe, Senator Johnny Isakson, two people have been working so hard, Senator Dean Heller, for their dedicated efforts to get this bill through Congress. Was very, very tough for reasons that, I guess I understand, but it was not easy. And I will tell you that Phil and Johnny and Dean worked very, very hard to get it through. And by the way, I can also say others and even some Democrats.
Do you want to say their names?
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Sure.
TRUMP: Go ahead, say their names.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Senator Tester and Representative Walls were key in helping us get this done, Mr. President.
See. I can do it.
But people fought, and they really fought us hard.
And now the administration is fighting for you. We're working night and day to ensure our brave veterans are provided with world-class treatment, which is what they're getting, world class treatment.
And by the way, again, we're here for just a little more than six months. You're seeing it on a daily basis get better and better and better. And you're hearing it from the veterans. But they're getting this great medical treatment, care, procedures. And we're getting our facilities shaped up and made into world-class facilities at the same time.
So our great veterans deserve only the best, and that's exactly what they're getting.
I want to thank everybody for being here, especially the wonderful veterans behind me. They have helped us so much. They're spectacular people.
And, again, going back to Charlottesville, we have to heal the wounds of our country. These are wounds that have been going on for really a long time. And I thought, and everybody thought, and everybody wants it to heal, and it will heal. And we're going to make every effort possible to make sure that that healing procedure goes as quickly as possible.
I love the people of our country. I love all of the people of our country. We're going to make America great again, but we're going to make it great for all of the people of the United States of America.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
CABRERA: We were just listening to the president starting with remarks on Charlottesville and the terror incident that has happened there today amid the protests of the clashing factions that all began with white nationalists gathering on the grounds of a Confederate statue that is expected to be removed.
I want to bring back Cornell Brooks.
And get your reaction, Cornell, to what we just heard from the president -- oh, standby, looks like he may be taking questions. Let's listen.
It looks like the president is going to be signing this veterans legislation talking about veterans access. While he does that -- are we listening in, you guys, or shall we continue our conversation? All right.
Cornell Brooks, your reaction to what we heard from the president?
[15:45:20] CORNELL BROOKS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the president's remarks were morally frustrating and disappointing. Because while it is good that he says he wants to be president for all the people and wants to make America great for all of the people, let us know this, throughout his remarks, he refused to say their names. When it comes to African-Americans and Latinos, he has no problems using a one-word thought. He seems able to use an acronym, KKK, three syllables, or five-syllable phrase "white nationalist." He did not say their names, number one.
Number two, he asserted a kind of moral equivalence. He said that there was too much -- suggested too much hate or violence on all sides, as though the protesters and counter protesters were on the same moral plain. The fact of the matter is the KKK, the Nazis, the so-called Alt-Right, came to Charlottesville to engage in hate crime, to engage in hate speech and to victimize others. The protesters and counter protesters are not on the same moral plain. But in fact, these white nationalists, this Ku Klux Klan polo-shirt wearing white nationalists are in the valley of their own moral despair. These people are not the same.
Number three, in situations like this, we would expect the president to stand in the tradition of presidents before him, which is to say, when you see hate crimes occurring, you open the possibility or at least make it clear the possibility of deploying federal prosecutorial and investigatory resources.
CABRERA: That's the point Cedric Alexander was making earlier too.
BROOKS: To hold these folks accountable. This was the moment for not only quiet words of appeasement, seeking to maintain the peace, but we must also seek justice as well. And that means prosecution. It means arrests. It means being firm and tough and responsible when it comes to holding people accountable for victimizing others. We expect from our president, not mollifying words of appeasement, but we seek words of strength and firmness when it comes to dealing with white nationalists. He said nothing in that statement that would cause any portion of his base to get the message that it is not, it is not a mark of American greatness to drive a car into a crowd of people sending their bodies everywhere. It is not a mark of American greatness to call people out of their names, to blemish an entire city with this hate. The fact of the matter is this president is trying to have it both ways, to speak to the country in ways that are just morally sufficient to suggest he cares about the problem without alienating the very people who support him who are quite willing to victimize other Americans. And so it appears that this president has Steve Bannon and white nationalists and supporters of the Alt-Right whispering in his ear.
We got to be very clear about this, you have to stand on the side of right. You cannot compromise with this issue. You cannot talk around the edges of the issue. You must speak to it directly. And that means saying their names, Nazis, Ku Klux Klan --
CABRERA: OK. Cornell, standby with us.
I want to bring in Ben Ferguson.
Ben, you have been a supporter of this president, have often come on this show and defended what the president has said or done or policies that he's trying to implement. What's your reaction and takeaway from the speech he just made?
BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he made it very clear that this is unacceptable behavior, this type of violence and hate. He was very strong in his words. I also don't think this is a time --
CABRERA: But are there many sides, Ben, to this? Are there many sides? Because what you just heard from Cornell, he did not call out white nationalists, the KKK. He said I condemn hate from all sides.
FERGUSON: Well, and I think there is a lot of -- I think there is a lot of hate from different groups. And his point was very clear that he was condemning those that did these attacks today. And I think his point was very clear that there's a lot of people out there that have a lot of hate and that it is unacceptable, and they will be prosecuted and people will be arrested, and the police will come after you and we need to come together as a as a country.
I also don't think it's a time for it to become a political conversation. We all need to take a big breath here and realize there are bigoted, racist, God-awful people in this country. And let's not pour more gasoline on that fire. Let's condemn it. Let's make sure everyone can go home and be safe. And let's make sure we're not trying to make political statements or attack the president or attack a governor or somebody else for your own personal political gain. I think that's one of the things that bothers me the most.
[15:50:33] CABRERA: Ben, when you hear from somebody participating in the hate that's happening there, David Duke, saying they're trying to fulfill --
CABRERA: -- the president's promise, they're bringing politics into it.
FERGUSON: David Duke is white trash. The only reason that David Duke brings up any political leader is because he knows he'll get on TV for it, and then his hate will be broadcast to millions of people. And he accomplished that today.
David Duke has been condemned by this president. David Duke has been condemned by literally thousands upon thousands of politicians. David Duke I a nobody and a has-been.
As he walks out there to get himself on TV, he mentions something that connects him to a sitting president. When he does it, his message gets out to millions of people. I don't care about David Duke. David Duke is a vile, disgusting human being. I don't think he should have a voice. I don't think he has a voice to that many people. And we shouldn't give him a megaphone when he says bigoted and racist things. David Duke is a disgusting human being. But let's stop letting him play us by saying I'm going to talk about Donald Trump and then, all of a sudden, we give him a podium to somehow maybe reach another 300 or 400 or 500 racist white people in this country.
CABRERA: But the president did not call out David Duke, the KKK, white nationalist, white supremacist.
FERGUSON: He's already made it very clear during the campaign. He said I'm not David Duke. I don't like him. I don't know him. I don't want to be part of him. His group is not --
CABRERA: But, forget David Duke. We are talking about this movement, the people who are emboldened right now to have a rally like this, to ram a car into a crowd of people.
Ana Navarro, what is your take?
ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: At least Donald Trump said something. There's been so many acts of violence in this country where he's remained shamefully silent. So at least the president, at this point, has said something. But what he said was severely lacking. First of all, he turned the -- you know, shortly after he talked about Charlottesville he turned into the conversation about all the accomplishments that have happened under his leadership. Today, the focus is on what's happening in America, what is happening in the streets of Charlottesville. He needed to have called out what -- you know, the plowing of that car into people is a domestic act of terrorism by white supremacists.
Damn it, Donald Trump, call a spade a spade, call the KKK, call the neo-Nazis, call them out by name. The same way you want to call out Islamic terrorism -- and you should -- you should call out white supremacist terrorism because it's just as dangerous in the streets of America.
FERGUSON: Look, I have no problem with what Ana just said there. This is where we actually agree. You need to be clear and you need to be blunt.
But I also think we don't even know who is driving the car yet. We don't know a lot about the situation. And I think the president made it very clear that what happened today was wrong. And that those that were responsible are going to be prosecuted. I think that's the reason he walked out in front of the microphone and started off the press conference talking about it.
Again, it's easy to say I want X, Y, Z. The president condemned what happened today. He said what happened today was wrong. He said those people are horrible human beings. And there's no place for bigotry.
NAVARRO: But, Ben, your condemnation today is much stronger than what we heard from the president. His was mealy mouth and mushy. He did not say the words that America needs to hear. He did not say, stop calling out my name, any of you. This is not what I endorse and you must stop it. He did not say just how strongly he was going to fight about this.
You know what? It took him a really long time to say anything at all. A lot of other political leaders have come out since last night because the disturbing, sad images have been going on since last night. And he remains silent all day while this is going on.
FERGUSON: Ana --
NAVARRO: He has got a bully pulpit that none of us have and he needs to it as the president of the United States.
(CROSSTALK) CABRERA: Guys, let me read what the president said as we work to turn the sound because we don't want to get too far away from the president's words here. He says, "We are closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It has been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It has been going on for a long, long time. And it has not a place in America."
I want to get your thoughts as well, Cedric.
[15:55:04] ALEXANDER: Let me say this, first. I have been in law enforcement for over 40 years now, and I have been accused of being a very conservative law enforcement, law-and-ordinary kind of guy. I'll tell you the truth, I am. But here's what I know as it relates and what my experience in training has taught me. We're about being fair and just to everyone. That's the leadership position that you take, when you're in the leadership position, that the oath that you uphold, being fair to everyone. But in this particular case, this is about a group of people who, as of last night and before, staged this violence to take place on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. Period.
ALEXANDER: There's nothing fair and equitable. The president of the United States had an opportunity to say to America that I'm going to ask my attorney general -- me, being a deputy mayor, and I'm quite sure this vice mayor would like to do in Charlottesville, and I hope he does -- is request formally from this administration and from Jeff Sessions to investigate this as a hate crime and domestic terrorism. There is sufficient evidence, I would suggest, anecdotally, based on what we are seeing through video, that at least there should be some interest in going after those, regardless of what side of the aisle they may sit on, regardless of the group, but there's clear acts of violence that were perpetuated in a very hateful way. Our president of the United States had the opportunity -- all of our presidents, whether we want him to be or not, he's the president of the United States -- he had an opportunity to say to this country that I totally oppose these groups, I find them to be deplorable, and they are not what I stand for and this nation to stands for. This was not even a good middle-of-the-road speech, quite frankly.
CABRERA: You think it was that bad?
ALEXANDER: It was not a good speech. We're talking about evidence that we're looking at every time you turn on your television of these hateful acts.
CABRERA: He did say, "I condemn it in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence."
STELTER: This is will be remembered as the "many sides" speech. Many sides.
CABRERA: He did say on many sides, many sides.
STELTER: To be clear, Unite the Right, there may be members of the protester group that are not racist. But many of them are racists.
STELTER: They are the ones that perpetuated the violence today. What we saw on the other side was an attempt to counter protest them. The counter protesters, the people trying to oppose the racists and the neo-Nazis, are the ones who had a car plowed into them by a driver. Thankfully, that driver is under arrest. We hope to know soon more about the driver. But I think we can confidently say the goal of these racists is to intimidate. And the goal of the driver was to terrorize. An act of domestic terror.
Now, there's a lot we don't know. But "The New York Times" said 19 people were injured. And the mayor of Charlottesville said one person is dead. We don't know how. But someone has died as a result of all of this.
But the president, at the end of the event -- by the way, I looked at President Obama's speech on the night of the Ferguson riots --
CABRERA: Just two years ago.
STELTER: -- there wasn't talk about Foxconn or no talk about jobs in this country. In that speech just now, President Trump there were questions shouted out him. Reporters said, do you want the support of these nationalist groups? He didn't answer. He was also asked, would you call this terrorism? He didn't answer.
I mention that, Ana, because there's a lot the president hasn't addressed today, but I think now he's going to be under increased pressure to try to address as these protests continue in Charlottesville.
ALEXANDER: And one thing that's very hypocritical is when Barack Obama was president, he was accused of not calling Muslims "Islamic radicals" --
ALEXANDEDR: -- by this current sitting president. But here we are, looking at these radicals on national television, demonstrating violence, and in return, they're meeting people who are themselves are responding to violence, and he says nothing. Be specific. Call it what it is.
Now, here's the thing I also want to know. This is not a political issue for me and many of us who are having this conversation across the country. This is about right and wrong. It's not going to be politicized. It is about what we're currently seeing in this nation. And there's emerging evidence and research to suggest that you have just as much as dislike and hatred towards those who are part of different parties, Democrat and Republican, as you do with race.
STELTER: Right. Right.
ALEXANDER: Both of them are wrong. But we're dividing ourselves to the right and to the left, and we're forgetting that we're American citizens. This is where an American president has to take a stand. And one of the best things he could do at this point, in this juncture, is ask for a fair, equitable investigation into what took place here today for all people.