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Interview With Texas Congressman Marc Veasey; Business Leaders Abandoning Trump; No Regrets From President Trump Over Charlottesville Remarks; U.S. Military Chiefs Condemn Racism After Trump Remarks. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 16, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Has Mr. Trump lost the confidence of corporate America?

And remembering Heather -- an emotional memorial in Charlottesville honoring the victim of a car attack on counterprotesters. Tonight, her parents are pleading with mourners to carry on the fight for equality and justice.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking tonight, sources tell CNN that President Trump is without regret even as a crisis of his own making grows more explosive by the hour.

His raging unscripted remarks about the Charlottesville attacks leaving many Americans shocked, sad and even appalled, while white supremacists appear to feel emboldened. Some top Republicans, including Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Marco Rubio, now are directly rebuking the president by name for reverting to his claim that both sides were to blame for the violence.

Graham accusing Mr. Trump of dividing the nation. The president also is feeling the heat from corporate America. Two of his advisory councils have now been disbanded, as more and more CEOs resigned in protest. America's top generals, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they are publicly taking a stand against racial hatred and extremism after the commander in chief's remarks.

Also tonight, former CIA Director John Brennan is speaking out exclusively to CNN, saying President Trump is putting our national security and our collective futures at grave risk. That's a direct quote.

As the nation grapples with the events of the past five days, an emotional memorial was held for Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car plowed into counterprotesters in Charlottesville. Her parents urging mourners to follow Heather's example and to stand up for civil rights against hatred. We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests,

including Congressman Marc Veasey. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, how is the Trump team dealing with this huge backlash from the president's remarks?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, so far, the posture coming out of the White House is defiant, no apologies. In the words of one White House adviser, who put it to me earlier today, there is nothing disqualifying about the president's comments.

Wolf, you can't set the bar much lower than that.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump laid low, steering clear of the cameras, arriving back at his New Jersey golf club one day after his incendiary news conference on Charlottesville.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's blame on both sides.

ACOSTA: The president is said to have no regrets about his performance. Still, he is dealing with the consequences, announcing that he's shutting down two advisory boards due to defections from big business executives over his remarks, tweeting: "Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople at the Manufacturing Council and Strategy and Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all."

Top White House officials are backing the president, including Vice President Pence, who danced around a question about Trump's comments.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I spoke at length about this heartbreaking situation on Sunday night in Columbia. And I stand with the president and I stand by those words.

ACOSTA: For now, aides to the president and his key surrogates appear to be sticking to these White House talking points that read: "The president was entirely correct. Both sides of the violence in Charlottesville acted inappropriately and bear some responsibility," an echo of the president's own words.

TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it. And you don't have any doubt about it either. And, and, and if you reported it accurately, you would say.

ACOSTA (on camera): Sir, the neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest the removal of that statue.

TRUMP: Excuse me. They didn't put themselves down as neo -- and you had some very bad people in that group.

But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Other signs the White House is trying to ride out the storm, Chief of Staff John Kelly emerged from Trump Tower frustrated, but still very much on the job, while the president promoted his longtime aide Hope Hicks to be his interim communications director. They will be dealing with mounting outrage from Republicans in Congress.

From GOP Senator Lindsey Graham issued a statement saying, "Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back the idea that the party of Lincoln has a welcome mat for the David Dukes of the world."

To Senator Cory Gardner:

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: The president should have immediately denounced the racism and the bigotry and the hatred that he saw in Charlottesville.

The president should have done that immediately. The president was wrong to do that. And I have said that loud and clear.

ACOSTA: But it's not clear GOP leaders are going to do much about it. Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed their disappointment and not much more, though one Republican source told CNN, "I think the president's ability to effectively govern is dwindling by the hour."


Many in the party are still shell-shocked by the president's comments.

TRUMP: So, this week, it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson's coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?

You know, you all -- you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

ACOSTA: With the president back at Bedminster, one Michigan Republican congressman offered one suggestion to Mr. Trump. Go back on vacation, tweeting: "I think America needs more unity and less divisiveness, meaning Donald Trump should focus more on golf and have less press conferences."


ACOSTA: Now, some White House official, I'm told, are upset by the president's comments, but consider how one aide put it to me, Wolf. "Nothing surprises me."

People around this White House saw President Trump survive the "Access Hollywood" video scandal. They think he can survive this, too -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see. Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's go to Charlottesville, Virginia, right now, where the pain from the white supremacists rally is very, very deep, still very raw.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's outside the site of the memorial service for Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed during a counterprotest.

Brian, Heather Heyer's mother gave a very, very moving and powerful address.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She certainly did, Wolf. You know, this ceremony was attended by every top state official from Governor Terry McAuliffe to U.S. senators to the mayor of Charlottesville.

But, as you mentioned, it was the sentiment from Heather Heyer's family which really drew the emotion from the crowd. Her mother, Susan Bro, said -- quote -- "They tried to kill my child to shut her up. But guess what? You just magnified her." That really drew a heavy round of applause. Here's what else Susan Bro had to say about her daughter.


SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF HEATHER HEYER: We are going to have our differences. We are going to be angry with each other. But let's channel that anger, not into hate, not into violence, not into fear, but let's channel that difference, that anger into righteous action.

I want you to pay attention. Find what's wrong. Don't ignore it. Don't look the other way. You make a point to look at it and say to yourself, what can I do to make a difference? And that's how you're going to make my child's death worthwhile. I would rather have my child, but, by golly, if I have to give her up, we're going to make it count.



TODD: Heather Heyer's grandfather and father also gave some emotional testimonials today. The grandfather talking about what it was like to take care of Heather as a baby and put her to bed at night. The father just getting overwhelmed with emotion, saying he was really taken aback by the rainbow of colors and diversity here, Wolf.

It was really the family that made the biggest impression on everyone coming out of this building today.

BLITZER: It certainly was.

And one of the white supremacists, Brian, featured by VICE on our sister network HBO is also speaking out. Explain what you're finding out.

TODD: That's right, Wolf. This man's name is Christopher Cantwell.

He is the subject of a VICE documentary which covered the racist march, that torchlight march on the UVA campus on Friday night and some other aspects of the violence here over the weekend. Cantwell was at that march. He was also at the rally on Saturday. He gave -- he posted this video late today, crying, saying he feared that there was a warrant out for his arrest. Here's what he said in that video.


CHRISTOPHER CANTWELL, WHITE SUPREMACIST LEADER: We have done everything in our power to keep this peaceful. I know we can talk a lot of (EXPLETIVE DELETED) on the Internet, right? But like, literally, Jason Kessler applied for a permit months ago for this. OK?

When they yanked our permit, we went to the ACLU and we went to court and we won. We have been coordinating with law enforcement the entire time. Every step of the way, we have tried to do the right thing. And they just won't stop.


TODD: And we did reach out to city officials and asked them if there is indeed a warrant out for Christopher Cantwell's arrest. City officials are checking on that. They could not confirm that at this hour, Wolf.

Also, we have some new information to report on something President Trump said yesterday. He said a couple of times in that news conference that the counterprotesters who went against the white supremacists did not have permits to be there.

We have found out from city officials moments ago the counterprotesters indeed did have two permits. They had two permits to protest in two other parks in downtown Charlottesville. But as for showing up at Emancipation Park where the white supremacists were, a city official told me just moments ago that they did not need -- protests -- to be there on the streets be around that park or to enter that park that day, Wolf.

But they did have two permits to be elsewhere in the city.

BLITZER: Interesting.

Brian, authorities are also getting more information, but still the number of actual arrests is tiny, right?

TODD: It really is, Wolf.


Again, just speaking to a city official a short time ago, that number of arrests stands at five. You have got five people in custody stemming from Saturday's violence. And, of course, one of them is that chief suspect in the car strike, James Fields.

Officials here that I have spoken to today, from U.S. Senator Tim Kaine to the mayor of Charlottesville, say, we need more help. We have got to have more people coming forward and giving information, video, et cetera.

The FBI is now asking for more information, posting a link and a tip line. They need the public to come forward. Only five arrests so far.

BLITZER: Brian Todd in Charlottesville, thank you very much.

We reached out to many Republicans. They all declined to join us, at least today. The invitation still stands.

But, right now, I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Marc Veasey of Texas. He's a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Several members, Congressman, of the Trump administration, they privately expressed their anger, their disappointment with the president's comments yesterday. We still haven't seen anyone step down, resign in protest.

Outside CEOs have resigned from these advisory councils. I want you to listen to what Democratic Senator Chris Murphy tweeted about this today. Listen to this: "White House staff have effectively been folded into the White House supremacy propaganda operation. Your choice, stay or go."

Congressman, do you believe White House staffers are enabling -- quote -- "white supremacy" if they remain with the president?

VEASEY: What I think is that White House staff, they need to speak up. I mean, you have African-Americans that work for him, Omarosa.

You have -- including his son-in-law -- Jewish Americans that work for him. And I do think that their silence really speaks volumes. And by not saying anything at all, they absolutely are enabling him. And to me, they need to really step up.

And the reason I say that, Wolf, is because President Trump right now, he is on a path that is going to make his presidency and his legacy perhaps the worst on race relations since Reconstruction ended. And that is saying a lot when you think about the fact that President Wilson had D.W. Griffith at the White House and they viewed "Birth of a Nation" at the White House, and the comments about President Wilson saying that what he viewed that evening was terribly also true.

When you think about the comments that Richard Nixon made in the secret tapes with Bob Haldeman, speaking in very disparaging terms about Jews and Italians and African-Americans. If Trump does not immediately do something about this, his presidency, again, when it comes to race and many other areas is going to be considered the worst, perhaps maybe even in U.S. history.

BLITZER: But we're hearing from sources, Congressman, very close to the White House that the president has no regrets about what he said yesterday. What does that tell you about President Trump?

VEASEY: To me, that tells that he's not serious, and that he is not taking his position as president as one that will enable him to lead.

It's hard to imagine for the next three-and-a-half years that he's going to be able to effectively govern because of the things that he's saying. He's not going to be able to put pressure on members, including members of his own party, to be able to get legislation passed and be taken seriously, because when it take -- when it comes time for him to actually step up to the plate and do what's right, he's shown repeatedly that he just cannot do it.

And his lack of leadership on something that should have been easy, it would have been so easy for him to say Saturday what he said Monday, and for him to keep his mouth shut on Tuesday, and he just blatantly failed. And it's just -- it's really a shame. And, again, moving forward, it's just hard to see how he can effectively govern.

And, remember, we're talking about this right now, but think about it. When this ends and when the clouds of this finally go away, we're going to have to start examining again what happened with Russia, the connection between his son and Russian officials, other election -- other campaign officials on the Trump campaign that may have been colluding with the Russians.

We still have to get to the bottom of that. It's just -- it's hard to imagine what's going to be left of this presidency moving forward.

BLITZER: You're on the Armed Services Committee, Congressman. I don't know if you know this, but the chiefs of the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, the National Guard, they have all issued very pointed statements condemning the violence, the white supremacy, the racism, the anti-Semitism in Charlottesville.

What does it tell you that these military leaders now feel it necessary, essential for them to make these kinds of statements?


VEASEY: I'm really proud that our military leaders are stepping forward.

When you think about the military, particularly post-segregation military, you know, after President Truman signed executive orders ending segregation in the military, whether it's the Army, the Marines, the Air Force, the Navy, the military has been really the perfect example in this country of how one has the opportunity to get ahead regardless of their ration, religion, or nationality.

And for them -- and they want to reinforce that. And you would think that the commander in chief would also hold those same values true and that he would, again, condemn white nationalists, white supremacists, and not try to make false equals with other groups to these organizations.

And, again, he just -- he continues to fail in that area. And I hope that with some time and some reflection, that maybe he can follow the example of our leaders of armed services.

BLITZER: Stand by, Congressman. There's more we need to discuss. We have got to take a quick break.

We will resume our coverage of the breaking news right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with Congressman Marc Veasey.

We're following the breaking news, a very defiant President Trump struggling to move forward as he is publicly blasted for his newest remarks about the violence in Charlottesville. Sources telling CNN the president is -- quote -- "without regret."

I want you to watch, Congressman, a little bit of this very disturbing video from the white supremacist rally as it began Friday night. Then we will discuss. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of our sight, anti-white.

UNIDENTIFIED MALES: You will not replace us! You will not replace us! You will not replace us! You will not replace us!

Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!

Blood and soil! Blood and soil! Blood and soil! Blood and soil!


BLITZER: Very alarming video. If you couldn't hear, they were saying, "They will not replace us. They will not replace us," referring to African-Americans. "Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us. Then they uttered the words "blood and soil." That's an old Nazi slogan that was used by the Nazis in the '30s to gain control of Germany.

What's your reaction, Congressman, when you see and hear that kind of demonstration that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, Friday night?

VEASEY: Oh, Wolf, it makes me sick.

And when you think about what we have achieved really since the Voting Rights Act, since the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s, we have integrated schools now. And to see that sort of scene in America, in Virginia, I think is sad.

And to see their numbers growing, I think, is also very sad. But, sadly, I think that you can attribute the rise in these hate groups to the campaign that Donald Trump ran in 2016 from the very beginning. I mean, his campaign questioned whether or not President Obama was born in this country.

And one of his campaign slogans or Twitters used the star of David. And I think it was some clip art that was actually taken from a white supremacist Web site. There are just so many other examples.

And then the fact that he pretended that he didn't know who David Duke was, and, by doing that, you give aid and comfort to these groups, and you help increase their numbers. And I think that this is really only the beginning. I think that we're going to see more protests like this throughout the country.

I think that there is going to be more people that are going to be interested in these groups. And, again, I think it's a failure of leadership from the White House, from President Donald J. Trump, because he refuses to unite, and he only wants to try to govern with the people that seem to allow him to do and say whatever it is he wants.

BLITZER: You represent, Congressman, a district in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Texas. Yesterday, you and other Texas Democrats, you won a very important legal victory after a federal panel ruled that the Republican-controlled legislature drew congressional maps with discriminatory intent, violating the Voting Rights Act.

What's the significance of this ruling?

VEASEY: Oh, it's big. Of course, we said from the very beginning, and I was a part of the lawsuit, that Republicans discriminated against African-Americans and minorities in the way that they drew these districts.

They packed in certain areas. They split communities of interest in other areas. And it looks like there is finally going to be some reconciliation and some justice in that area.


Of course, this is a way that the Republicans have tried to keep control of the House, is by discriminating against these communities of interest. And it looks like, particularly in the southern part of the state, that we're finally going to get some relief on this.

I actually started on this lawsuit, Wolf, back when I was still in the Texas legislature in 2011, when the lines were being drawn. And it's been a very long and hard-fought battle, but I'm glad that we're finally here, and I'm glad that, again, these communities are going to see some justice.

BLITZER: Congressman Marc Veasey of Texas, thanks very much for joining us.

VEASEY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: Are America's top generals sending an important message to the commander in chief? We're going to take a look at their very unusual public statements only hours after the president's stunning remarks about who is to blame for the violence in Charlottesville.


TRUMP: You had a group on one side that was bad. And you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I will say it right now.

You had a group -- you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.



BLITZER: Breaking tonight, we're told President Trump is without regret, but members of his own party clearly are deeply worried about the fallout after he reverted to blaming both sides for the violence in Charlottesville.

[18:31:00] Let's bring in our analysts and our specialists.

And Cornell, Republican sources telling CNN that several administrations are very unhappy with the way the president handled his comments yesterday.

But I want you to listen to what Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut had to say. Quote, "White House staff have effectively been folded into the white supremacy propaganda operation. Your choice: stay or go."

Do you believe that staying, an official staying in the Trump White House effectively are, in his words, folding into the white supremacy propaganda operation?

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, FORMER PRESIDENT & CEO, NAACP: I'm reminded of the words of a former professor and Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel, who said, "The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference."

The country is not prepared to believe that the White House staff and the president are hateful bigots. But whether or not they're indifferent to the bigotry and the hate in our country, that appears to be more and more true each day. And to the degree that you stay and work with this administration, enabling and empowering this president, you are contributing, not alleviating the problem.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, a lot of Republicans have been very critical. They've been issuing tough statements. Some of them have even named the president specifically for what he said yesterday the way he put the blame on both sides. I was reminded of how specific Mitt Romney was last year when I interviewed him about what the president was saying as a candidate. And here is the clip. Watch this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He's demonstrated who he is, and I've decided that a person of that nature should not be the one who, if you will, becomes the example for coming generations or the example of America to the world.

Look, I don't -- I don't want to see trickle-down racism. I don't want to see a president of the United States saying things which change the character of the generations of Americans that are following.

Presidents have an impact on the nature of our nation, and trickle- down racism, trickle-down bigotry, and trickle-down misogyny, all these are extraordinarily dangerous to the heart and character of America.

And so I'm not -- I'm not looking for Mr. Trump to change a policy that more aligns with my own. This is not a matter of just policy. It's more a matter of character and integrity.

BLITZER: Do you think he's a racist?

ROMNEY: I think his comments time and again appeal to the racist tendency that exists in some people, and I think that's very dangerous.


BLITZER: Very strong words from Mitt Romney. That was more than a year ago. Why aren't we hearing Republicans, by and large, go out, do any views? We've invited many of them to come on this program. And if they feel that strongly as Mitt Romney did then, say publicly how they feel?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree with you. And I want to point out that Mitt Romney tweeted after the famous press conference yesterday to the president, it's clear he's referring to the president. He said, "No, not the same ones. One side is racist, bigoted Nazi. The other opposes racism and bigotry. Morally different universes."

But Romney is not an elected official. Elected officials, I believe, should not be shy about going on television right now and publicly taking on the president on this.

I mean, we've seen in tweets John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio. But these people were never Trump supporters in the first place. A lot of them are clearly afraid of alienating some of their voters, who may support Donald Trump, no matter what. But I think there are certain moments in history where you have to, particularly as an elected official, say what you stand for.

And this isn't about taxes. This isn't about health care reform. This is about basic humanity and the history of this country. Not only the history, but what happens going forward.

Now, members of Congress are out of town. They don't have an immediate bully pulpit, but I guarantee you that, as your people have been calling around, you've gotten a lot of no's. [18:35:08] BLITZER: You know, but a source close to the White House

says the president, in these words, is without regret about yesterday's performance. David Swerdlick, what does that say to you?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, Wolf, the president was at pains yesterday to drill down on a couple of these points, right? He wanted to make the point that not everybody wants to preserve the Lee statue is a racist. That's true. He wanted to make the point that, you know, everybody has a right to the freedom of speech, even racists. That is also true. He made this public safety point about no side can use violence. All of those things are true.

What he failed to apprehend, either intentionally or just by accident, is that that's not what people have been calling on him to do since Saturday. Since Saturday, they've been calling for him to make a statement like the one that Governor Romney made, totally putting racism in one corner and putting the rest of decent society and Americanness in the other corner. And he didn't convince people that he really, really believed that at that moment when he made his statement.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, we all noticed today that the president had to disband two of his advisory councils, including some very, very high-powered CEOs, because they were fleeing. They were resigning en masse. Because those two councils were not going to exist much longer. What were the factors that convinced these CEOs to abandon the president?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Yes, the president can say that he disbanded them, but you know, these CEOs were breaking up with him way beforehand, especially over the last 48 hours.

You know, these councils are traditionally prestigious. And they're not really risky. People join, the CEOs join these councils to pursue their own business-friendly policies with the president, to show their shareholders and customers that they have the president's ears.

I think regardless of what a lot of CEOs personally felt about this president, they thought that he would be offering more business- friendly priorities and policies like deregulation, tax reform, what have you. They did not think that they would have to be answering questions from reporters as to whether or not they support Nazis and white supremacists.

So, you're seeing this evolve over time now where there, in fact, is more pressure on them from their shareholders, from their customers. Quite frankly, from themselves when they look at themselves in the mirror, as well.

And you're seeing a real difference from a president who throughout his career ran a privately-held company versus publicly-held companies, which have shareholders to account to and to answer to, and their own customers. And these companies traditionally are held to higher moral and social standards.

If any of these CEOs, if any employees at these companies would have done half of the things or said half of the things that this president has said thus far, they would have been fired, as we've seen over the past year and a half.

And what's interesting, Wolf, is that we're seeing now internally, we're hearing the differences within his own administration. Axios is reporting that Steve Bannon, for instance, was happy to hear that these globalists were leaving. Obviously, this is Gary Cohn's issue with Steve Bannon. But he was very happy to hear that these councils were disseminated.

But this is a huge blow to this president, who considered himself a very pro-business president. And you factor that against President Obama who you remember, with the bank CEOs, said, "I'm the only one standing between you and the pitchforks out there." A lot of these CEOs expected more pro-business policy, not Nazi talk from this administration.

BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, go ahead.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I was going to say that, you know, in fact, I think to just continue on Bianna's point, I think the business departures, the exodus of business leaders is sort of a leading indicator of the situation Republican elected officials may find themselves in. Because by and large, these were people who agree with the president's economic agenda, who maybe on trade they're in a different place, but by and large, they want less regulation, lower taxes. But nonetheless, they concluded his views on racial and social issues were so toxic that they could not afford to associate with him, given all of their other constituencies internally and externally.

And I think Republicans in Congress are in a somewhat analogous position, where essentially, they have been trying for two years now to turn their heads away as much as they can from all of the racial signaling and divisiveness that have been intrinsic to the president's message since the first day he came down the escalator, in the hope that they can work together on other fronts like cutting taxes and cutting regulation.

And I think the clear risk to them is that the president is defining the Republican Party as a party of racial intolerance, precisely, exactly as we are going through this enormous generational transition, where the millennial generation, which is the most diverse in American history, in 2018 for the first time will be the largest generation in terms of eligible voters, surpassing the Baby Boomers. And what comes after them are the post-millennials, which are even more diverse than the millennial generation.

And Republicans who, like Paul Ryan who says he is a disciple of Jack Kemp, who are kind of saying, "OK, I'm trying to look away, because I want to cut taxes. I want to cut regulation" have to consider not only the moral implications but the long-term political implications of seeming to tolerate this level of intolerance from the Oval Office.

[18:40:07] BLITZER: You know, Cornell, you're a former president/CEO of the NAACP. The president suggested this is simply a fight about removal of Confederate statues. And he went one step further to say these were fine people, and they were arguing about this. And he equated removing these Confederate statues to removing statues, memorials, monuments to America's Founding Fathers. Your reaction to that argument he was making?

BROOKS: The argument is morally vacuous. It's disingenuous. The fact of the matter is monuments to Confederate heroes, as opposed to Founding Fathers, two different categories.

Generals led armies. Confederal generals led armies to break up the union. They were committing an act of treason. Let's be very clear about this.

And for him to introduce this whole issue of the Confederate generals at a moment where people wanted him to speak out against the alt- right, Nazis, neo-Klansmen, white supremacists, white nationalists, he introduced an argument that really had nothing to do with the moral moment in which he found himself in and the nation found themselves in, we found ourselves in.

So the point being here is that this president has misread the country, the mood of the country, the need for gravitas, and he is, in fact, engaged in, again, appealing to a narrow sliver of his -- of his base.

BORGER: You know, I've watched politicians twist themselves into pretzels during the campaign, after the Judge Curiel incident, when even Paul Ryan came out and said, you know, "I think it was a racist remark."

I've watched them twist themselves into pretzels, because Republicans were so happy that they finally had a Republican president and a Republican Congress. And they felt that they could get their agenda through.

But this issue keeps rearing its ugly head over and over and over again. And at a certain point these politicians have to say, "What is important to me as an -- as an elected official of this country, given where we have come from and given where I think we are -- we are headed?"

And, so, I think it's kind of a serious tipping point here, if you will. And I do want to hear from more of them. I mean, we -- we understand where the Democrats are on this. And you could read whatever into that that you want, whether it's political or whatever.

But from Republicans who are conservative, who don't agree with the president on this, it's not enough to just say, "I'm against Nazis." That's easy to say, OK? It has to be more personal to this president. And some of them want to go to the White House, and some of them ought to ask to either meet with the president or meet with Kelly and find out, what's going to happen next? And how they're going to go forward.

BLITZER: Yes, Ron, you know, so many of these Republicans, though, we invited so many to come on. They're in hiding right now. BROWNSTEIN: Yes, they are. And Wolf, look, I mean, historically it

has -- there are not a lot of cases of parties, in effect, having to quarantine a president from their own side.

But, on the other hand, I looked at this recently. Every time we have seen members of Congress stand up to a president in their own party on an important issue, usually around kind a state of the nation quality level things, they've had to do it at a moment when he was still popular with the party base. When William Fulbright held the hearings on Vietnam in 1966, Lyndon Johnson still had overwhelming support among Democrats. When Republicans in the Senate voted to create the Senate Watergate committee in 1973, Nixon still had overwhelming support among Republicans.

There have been times in our history when even people -- their own party as the president have concluded that the national interest demands a more serious posture. And that is something that is possible here.

I mean, the business executives, in many ways, have shown that it is possible to agree with the president on his economic agenda and still conclude that what he is doing in terms of dividing the country and sending racial signals is unacceptable. You know, if they can do it, it really does beg the question of why a Paul Ryan is not.

BLITZER: You know, usually, Bianna, after a moment like this, a president tries to heal. I remember in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton went to Oklahoma City at that memorial service, did a major job healing the country.

As far as you know, was there ever any serious consideration in the White House to President Trump going to Charlottesville for today's memorial service for Heather Heyer?

GOLODRYGA: Well, as far as I know, as far as yesterday was concerned from the press conference, he had not reached out to her family yet. So, obviously a lot of people were hoping and even expecting him to attend that memorial service.

I know throughout the campaign and even into this early presidency, a lot of people were talking and sources close to this administration were worried about what kind of consoler in chief this president would be, what kind of national healing would he bring to a country that clearly is divided and only getting more and more divided. Instead, all that he's able to do is incite more division and take way any sort of blame that he as commander in chief does hold.

I would also argue, Wolf, that it weakens us in an international standpoint as well. I think a lot of countries are following what's happening here very closely and are going to be able to use that as propaganda at home to say to their own people -- and I'm talking about Vladimir Putin, I'm talking about North Korea, I'm talking about Iran, I'm talking about a lot of other countries that know our history. I would even argue better than this U.S. president knows our history and can use this as propaganda with their own people, saying America promotes itself as a democracy-loving nation. Look at this. WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes, Bianna, David, looks a very important

point. People all over the world are watching.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: People are watching. Compare and contrast to President Obama. In 2008, when he was running for president, people questioned his allegiance to Reverend Wright. He came out and gave the more perfect union speech. It left people with a clear interpretation of where he stood on race relations.

The Gabby Gifford speech when she was shot, Congresswoman Giffords, his 2014 speech on immigration, on and on down the list. The Emmanuel -- Mother Emmanuel Church, when President Obama went there for that memorial.

President Obama, I think, the difference between him and President Trump is that when you thought deeply about these issues, you can jump in as the consoler in chief, the bridge builder. President Trump is a little rudderless on some of these points.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, everybody. We're going to have more on the breaking news including members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff over at the Pentagon speaking volumes by condemning racism after the president's rant about the violence in Charlottesville and the battle over removing symbols of the confederacy.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Was George Washington a slave owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down -- excuse me. Are we going to take down -- are we going to take down statues to George Washington?

How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson?



[18:51:53] BLITZER: Tonight, America's top generals and admirals are taking a stand against racism and bigotry just hours after the commander-in-chief sent the American people a different message.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, this is a rather unusual move by members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The joint chiefs are some of the nation's top military personnel. They say always they do not get involved in politics, they do not challenge the president of the United States, but they are stepping into this national conversation.


STARR (voice-over): All of the chiefs of the U.S. military branches have taken the extraordinarily rare step of publically weighing in on the violence in Charlottesville.

TRUMP: Now, here's the thing --

STARR: Now, a political crisis for President Trump. Hours after the demonstrations turned deadly, the chief of naval operations first tweeted: Events in Charlottesville, unacceptable and must not be tolerated. U.S. Navy forever stands against intolerance and hatred.

An aide says Richardson tweeted because Charlottesville was a significant event that caught the country's attention.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I know John Richardson very well. He was not being political. He was just very quickly saying, Navy, these are our standards. This is what we will live by.

STARR: Defense Secretary James Mattis offering a single comment.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I would just tell you I was saddened by it, very saddened by what I saw.

STARR: Aides are adamant. The military is not challenging President Trump. But Richardson and the other chiefs making clear violence and bigotry is not tolerated in the ranks.

At least two former military members now tied to extremist groups. James Field served in the Army for just a few months. He is charged with second-degree murder after police say he rammed his car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing Heather Heyer.

Fields' involvement led General Mark Milley, head of the Army, to tweet: The Army doesn't tolerate racism, extremism, or hatred in our ranks. It's against our values and everything we have stood for since 1775.

And following reports that Dillon Hopper, who left the Marine Corps in January, leads a white supremacist group Vanguard America, Marine Corps commandant, General Robert Miller, tweeted: No place for racial hatred or extremism in the U.S. Marine Corps. Our core values of honor, courage and commitment frame the way Marines live and act.

They were followed by the heads of the Air Force and National Guard, tweeting they stand with their fellow chiefs, condemning racism, extremism and hatred.

HERTLING: This national conversation is about American values, what we hold dear, what we expect our servicemen and women to defend and to fight for.


STARR: It may not be about politics, but this very rare move by the joint chiefs is getting a lot of attention -- Wolf.

[18:55:05] BLITZER: It certainly is. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you very much. I want to get some more perspective on this very rare move by the

Joint Chiefs. We are joined by our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto and our CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby.

It's almost an iron clad rule that the military leadership does not get involved in politics. But this situation is different.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. And, listen, they have been caveating these public statements by saying, listen, this is just meant for the corps, this is not directly contradicting the president. But let's be frank here, the four chiefs who don't like to make statements really at all tied to politics, in quick succession starting on Saturday with the chief of naval operations, Admiral John Richardson, made very public statements while, not mentioning the president, but directly contradicted the president's meaning and his words.

I spoke to the staff of the chief of naval operations, Admiral John Richardson, and they said to me specifically that that message was meant not just for naval service members but for the public as well, because he saw what was happening there and he wanted to go on the record to say that.

Now, the military chiefs have to say and understandably that this was not meant to contradict the commander in chief, but let's be frank. The four of them had a unified voice here that gave a contradictory message frankly to the president.

BLITZER: John Kirby, you know these chiefs.


BLITZER: You worked closely with them. Why do you think they felt compelled at this moment in our history to join this conversation?

KIRBY: I think what happened was so egregious and so terrible and unfolding on national television that they couldn't ignore this. This is about leadership. General Hertling in that piece would -- Barbara is right, this is about values. This is about what you sign up for when you sign up to defend this country in uniform.

And I felt it was really important for them I believe to make sure they communicated not just to the American people but to potential recruits, to moms and dads that are thinking about putting their sons and daughters off on that bus to boot camp that this is who we are and just as importantly, Wolf, this is not who we are.

BLITZER: You know, the former CIA director, John Brennan, he wrote to me last night after the show just let me tell you a couple things he said. He said, Mr. Trump's words and the beliefs they reflect are a national disgrace and all Americans of conscience need to repudiate his ugly and dangerous comments. If allowed to continue along this senseless path, Mr. Trump will do lasting harm to American society and to our standing in the world. By his words and his actions, Mr. Trump is putting our national security and our collective futures at grave risk.

SCIUTTO: Wolf, this is the meaning of Nazism. I do not have to tell you with your own family history. This is the meaning and the legacy of Nazism, 6 million deaths. That was what happened. That's what the Nazis carried out.

The president either doesn't know that history or doesn't respect it based on his public comments. That's the truth of it.

And keep in mind, it's not the first time the president has used that word, Nazi. Remember, he used it to describe his own intelligence community, obviously, something that was unusual for a commander in chief to do, but that one that there really is no comparison between U.S. intelligence community and what the Nazis carried. So, either it is willful ignorance of the legacy of Nazism or something else. But his words do not reflect the actual legacy.

BLITZER: When he was criticizing the U.S. intelligence community, he didn't like the leaks. He said, what is -- the tweet, what is this, Nazi Germany?

KIRBY: Yes, it's incredible, the hypocrisy here at play. But I associate myself with Director Brennan's -- I think we are reaching a very dangerous point here and there are real national security crises that need the president to step up and he's got to have the support of his leadership, which means he has to be a more inclusive leader than he has been today.

BLITZER: And you think people all over the world, countries all over the world, friends and adversaries, they're watching this obviously, very closely.

KIRBY: Absolutely they are, every single day. And I can tell you, many of them that I have spoken to out there, they're just concerned. They're worried about where American leadership is going in the world.

BLITZER: He's got to do something in the next few days to try to fix this. Let's see what he does.

Guys, thanks very, very much. An important moment in the country's history right now.

Finally tonight, I want to end our program with some happy news to share. We're welcoming two new members of THE SITUATION ROOM team. Meet Spencer Kai McConnell, weighing in at just over seven pounds. Our great producer Dugald McConnell reports that he and his wife Nicole and baby Spencer, they are all doing well.

Also joining us, meet Evelyn June Allen, daughter of our CNN political analyst Jackie Kucinich and her husband Jared. Evelyn is healthy six pounds 12 ounces.

We want to wish both of these wonderful families all of the very best. Very cute babies as well.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.