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Trump: "Country Being Ripped Apart" Over Monuments; Bannon Brags That He's Helping Trump "Change Narrative"; Bannon Interview: I Want Democrats To Talk Racism; Senate Candidate Defends Trump's Rally Response; NYT: Trump Lawyer Forwards Email With Secessionist Rhetoric. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 17, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- Bolduan. Despite criticism from his party, Democrats, military leaders, former presidents, his own staff, world leaders and the pope, President Trump is defiant about his remarks about the violence in Charlottesville right now.

He is now igniting a new debate about American history in the aftermath of it all and the role of confederacy. Here's the tweet for you, "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.

You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, whose next? Washington, Jefferson? So foolish." Also, he continues in another tweet, "The beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns, and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced."

A lot to discuss here. Let's start with CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, who is joining me right now. So, Ron, oh, my dear friend, Ron, tell me why is the president -- let's start with the statues and the tweet for the president. Why is the president -- why does the president want to make this about statues, confederate statues?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He's trying to blur two distinct lines here. First, he is suggesting that the violence in Charlottesville was fundamentally about a statue as if neo-Nazis from the Midwest came because of their deep appreciation of southern culture.

In fact, the statue was a rallying point. It was a pretext for a rally that was about expressing white nationalist views. You know, Jews will not replace us. It's not a slogan of the confederacy.

Second, I think he is also, you know, he is trying to do a second line by basically saying there is no difference between Robert E. Lee and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson because they both owned slaves.

Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson led a rebellion against the United States. They try break up the United States. They took up arms against the U.S. government. They were in that definition of the word treasonous.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson built the nation. Why is he doing it? Well, you heard from Steve Bannon in a rather remarkable interview that was released yesterday with Robert Cutner (ph) of the "American Prospect" magazine.

That they believe if the debate is polarized about race and racial identity, they will win that debate every day. He said we will talk about economics. We want Democrats talking about race.

There is a sense in the administration -- I mean, clearly, you see on a variety of issues, they are willing to take racially polarizing positions in the hope of energizing a portion of the public at the price, though, of deeply alienating other aspects, particularly these younger generations (inaudible) in American history and that are becoming the largest in the electorate.

BOLDUAN: And I do want to get that. You write about it extensively. The president also not only talking about statues, he was also attacking Republicans this morning now in the aftermath of it all. Attacking Senator Graham and Senator Flake. Jeff Flake by name. Why are they safer political targets than white supremacists in this whole conversation?

BROWNSTEIN: It's fascinating, right? I mean, he does -- look, the president has always seemed to reserve the most ire to get the most genuine emotion for anyone who challenges him in anyway.

Whether it was Judge Curiel a couple of years ago, you know, or whether it's Republican senators. These are among the very few Republican senators who have been willing to criticize the president by name.

And I think it is rather striking that we have seen in the past 48 hours this remarkable exodus from the administration's advisory council of corporate leaders, who like Republican senators agree with the president on economic issues, but who concluded that his views on racial and social issues made him too toxic to associate with.

I really do wonder if that is a leading indicator of where we may see more Republican-elected officials go because essentially, they have been making the same bet for the past two years, try to turn away from the racial division that is embedded at the core -- has been embedded in the core of the president's message in the hope of working on economics.

The business leaders decided that was too high a price to pay. I do wonder whether you will see more Republican-elected officials reaching the same conclusion as a Jeff Flake and a Lindsey Graham in many ways have already reached.

BOLDUAN: You have been writing -- you wrote this morning a new analysis on the Trump response to Charlottesville and what it could mean for the Republican Party. I want to know why does his response threaten the GOP? How is this one different from other controversies? BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I think this crystallizes his views on race and tolerance and the nature of a diversifying country much more powerfully for average Americans than any of the many policy debates that go in the same direction.

Whether the way he's handling undocumented immigration or has called to cut legal immigration in half or what he's doing on voting rights. This is very visceral. I think what this has done is bring to a head what was always the gravest risk that President Trump presents for the long-term health of the GOP.

On the one hand, there's no doubt that very his polarizing position has helped solidify very strong positions with older, blue-collar, non-urban and Evangelical white America.

[11:05:06] But he risks and I think the Charlottesville greatly advances that risk, he was stamping the GOP as a party of racial intolerance precisely as the millennial generation, which is the most diverse generation in American history.

In 2018, for the first time will become the largest generation of eligible voters. Right behind them, Kate, is the post-millennial generation, young people born after 2000, which is even more diverse.

You know, I quote in my story today a prominent Republican pollster, (inaudible) Anderson who says if I was a young person today, there is no reason I would not think the GOP is uncomfortable with white supremacy. That is a very risky place to be in an exorably diversifying country.

So, while Republicans are weighing the moral stakes and the moral challenge of whether to remain silent in the face of the president's remarks, they also have to reckon with a political consequence that may come from allowing him to define the party in the way he is doing.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating. Ron, great to see you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Kate.

Also, this, racial politics and their value are playing into headlines from Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon. In a new interview with the "American Prospect," a progressive magazine, Bannon is quoted as saying that he wants Democrats to discuss racism every day.

A source tells CNN that Bannon didn't know he was being interviewed, didn't know it was something that was on the record. Worth noting, though, there has not been a claim that he was misquoted in any way, at least no claim quite yet.

Let's talk about this. You don't often hear from Steve Bannon. Let's talk about it. CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," of course, Brian Stelter is here with more details. What should folks take of this interview with Steve Bannon. It hit on many topics. BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He also spoke with "The New York Times" briefly last night saying much the same thing he said to the "Prospect." In both cases, Bannon is saying that he believes Trump benefits from racial strife, the kinds of tensions that Ron Brownstein was describing.

Bannon also saying there is no military solution to the North Korea crisis. That's a huge headline from this conversation with the "Prospect."

BOLDUAN: Kind of contradicting the position that the president has been taking, it appears.

STELTER: Now the president has been reportedly thinking about removing Steve Bannon. Was this Bannon trying to send a message to the president? There's a lot of speculation about that.

But I think it's preposterous that he didn't know that he was speaking on the record when he called up this reporter.

BOLDUAN: Why?

STELTER: Because Bannon is so media savvy. I remember running into in an airport last year asking him questions. He knew I was going to quote him when I was seeing him in that capacity. He talks to reporters off the record all the time. So, he knew what he was doing here.

I think he wanted the quotes out here. Now in the last hour, he's told "The Daily Mail" that he kind of did it on purpose. He said, I was trying to draw fire away from the president and I changed the media narrative.

So, he changed the narrative away from the fact that this is a historically unpopular president, rejected by CEOs, mocked by world leaders. He's changed the narrative away from the investigation by Robert Mueller --

BOLDUAN: Did he really change the narrative?

STELTER: Well, that's what Bannon thinks. I don't think that's true, but that's what Bannon is claiming now he was doing it to distract. This is Bannon's strategy and its treacherous. That he believes that playing into these racial conflicts is beneficial for the president, it's treacherous territory.

BOLDUAN: I'm confused. Is he saying that he doesn't believe what he said. He was just saying anything?

STELTER: The quote is that I changed the narrative and I drew fire away from the president, but now the president seems to be embracing this confederate monument debate, embracing these racial issues trying to encourage it further.

BOLDUAN: I have more questions. Brian, great to see you. Thank you so much. All right. Let's continue the conversation. Joining me right now is Corey Stewart. He is running the Republican nominee to challenge Democratic Senator Tim Kaine in 2018. He was a former Virginia chairman of Donald Trump's campaign. Corey, thanks for coming in.

COREY STEWART, FORMER VIRGINIA CHAIRMAN, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Great to be on the show, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I appreciate it. On Bannon, part of the interview, Steve Bannon also calls the far right a collection of clowns, fringe and losers. Are you with Bannon on this one?

STEWART: Well, I think that, yes, certainly, there is the fringe element. I think what the left is trying to do is conflate the two things. They are trying to say that conservatives, those who oppose the removal of historical monuments are somehow tied to these right wing, far, far right-wing groups, neo-Nazi's, KKK, et cetera, which the Republican Party has nothing to do with. So, I think that was the point he was trying to make.

BOLDUAN: So let's talk about -- since you wanted -- we talk about the statues, let's talk about the statues. You told this to "The Washington Post." I'll quote it for you, you know your quote, but for viewers, "I don't believe this is caused by white supremacy. I believe this is caused by two dudes duking it out in the streets."

How does this not started by white supremacist, Corey? It was organized by Jason Kesler, who the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a white nationalist.

STEWART: Well, some of the groups there were, you know, the KKK and neo-Nazi's, but there were also a lot of, you know, just people, normal people, not even necessarily the conservative end of the spectrum who don't want to see these historical monuments removed.

[11:10:07] Once the rally began, you had this far-left group, this violent group which attacked them. They were out to start a fight. They got the fight. They got the attention that they wanted and both of these groups should be condemned for this violence, which is completely unjustified.

BOLDUAN: Didn't this stop being about monuments when they started carrying around swastikas?

STEWART: Well, like I said, there were a small group of people who were like that, but not everybody --

BOLDUAN: That is not a small group. We have video of it.

STEWART: It was a very, very large group and some of them were, in fact, neo-Nazi and some KKK. To say everybody who was there to defend these monuments was neo-Nazi is just not the case.

BOLDUAN: Well, you know, who is saying that, elected Republicans. Elected Republicans saying that if you are a fine person and you show up at a rally and standing next to you is someone shouting Jews will not replace us, you are no longer a fine person if you stick around. Do you agree?

STEWART: look, I don't -- absolutely don't agree with those statements, but let me say this.

BOLDUAN: Why? Why would you hang out at a rally --

STEWART: Can I answer the question please?

BOLDUAN: Corey?

STEWART: What I'm trying to say here is that we have a lot of weak, lily-livered Republicans who are refusing to stand-up for conservative America, for conservative values and people who don't want to see historical monuments removed. The left is doing a very good job trying to conflate neo-Nazi's with conservatives. It's wrong and the Republicans are refusing to standup against it.

BOLDUAN: There is a place for -- there's long been a debate and a nonviolent debate about the appropriate place for confederate statues. That's not where this is anymore. This is now -- there are people there shouting Jews will not replace us. You condemn that, right?

STEWART: Absolutely. Everybody condemns that, but that's not the issue here. The issue is you have the violent left and, by the way, Kate, no Democratic --

BOLDUAN: What about the violent right?

STEWART: Everybody has been talking about the right. Nobody has been talking except for the president and myself --

BOLDUAN: No, no, no.

STEWART: Everybody is talking the violent left Antifa, who have been equally to blame for the violence that occurred in Charlottesville.

BOLDUAN: Do you think that there's any moral equivalence between a neo-Nazi and anyone else?

STEWART: I'm not trying to make any equivalence at all. What I'm saying is that any group that espouses violence in a democracy where it's not necessary --

BOLDUAN: Do you think anyone would have been there in Charlottesville -- no one would have been there.

STEWART: -- neither CNN, the mainstream media or any Democratic politician has came out and not even the establishment Republicans have come out and condemned the far left group, Antifa which has been espousing violence and attacking people.

BOLDUAN: Why do you think that is, Corey? Maybe is it possible --

STEWART: Because they are afraid. They are afraid.

BOLDUAN: No, is it possible because someone died? STEWART: Because establishment Republicans are afraid of being labeled by CNN as racists and bigots, and they know that that's exactly what you are going to do. There's only a few of us who is going to stand-up to you.

BOLDUAN: Is it possible that it's because someone died who is counter protesting?

STEWART: No, what you are saying, Kate --

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: You are trying use this poor women's death to say that confederate monuments should be taken down. There's no --

BOLDUAN: I'm sorry, is that what I said at all? No.

STEWART: That's exactly what you are trying to say, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Corey. Corey.

STEWART: They will not stand-up against these left attacks.

BOLDUAN: Corey. In no way, if we could all be intellectually honest here --

STEWART: Intellectually honest? Coming from CNN, I don't see it at all.

BOLDUAN: I'm the anchor of the show. I'm asking the question, hold on a second. In no way am I conflating two things. In no way am I conflating --

STEWART: So why are you putting up this poor woman's death and trying to say that that's somehow --

BOLDUAN: Stop talking. Stop talking. You are the guest on my show. I would like to continue the conversation with you respectfully. In no way am I trying to do anything with this poor woman's death that has anything to do with the statue.

I already said to you that there is a time and a place and has been for a very long time, a time and place to have a debate and conversation about the appropriate place for confederate statues. It stopped being about statues when people showed up with swastikas.

STEWART: It stopped being about statues when the left came and started the violence, and the violence occurred by both sides, including the left. Where is the condemnation of Antifa?

BOLDUAN: Where is your condemnation of the right?

STEWART: I've already condemned it. By the way, so has every other Republican under the sun. You haven't seen Terry McAuliffe.

[11:15:06] All the Democrats had the opportunity to condemn Antifa. They never -- not once -- the left never condemns itself.

BOLDUAN: If the president is right that both sides are to blame --

STEWART: He is right.

BOLDUAN: How are all the Republicans wrong? How are all of the Republicans wrong who have come out? How are so many Republicans from so many different districts, so many different states, how are they so wrong?

STEWART: Because --

BOLDUAN: How are the Joint Chiefs wrong to come out and condemn this? They would not have felt compelled to condemn this kind of violence if this had not happened and the president had not responded the way he had? Why does Lindsey Graham feel the need to respond this way?

STEWART: Are you kidding me? Lindsey Graham --

BOLDUAN: You are putting -- some of the most racist and hate-filled individuals and groups in our country.

STEWART: Well, do I have a chance to respond. Presumably, you brought me here to respond, right?

BOLDUAN: Corey, let's be adults. When I finish reading the quote, you can respond.

STEWART: All right. Fine. Go ahead.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

STEWART: Look. The right has been backing down for years and years and years. They are so afraid of being labeled by the mainstream media and the left as racists and bigots that when the attacks come, they immediately back down.

Finally, you have a president of the United States saying no, look, what neo-Nazi's and the KKK have nothing to do with the Republican Party. They are absolutely wrong and of course, we condemn them.

But then to go ahead and say that's OK that violence committed by the left is somehow OK, but we have to condemn the right, look, you have to condemn both sides. Violence is always wrong. Political violence is always wrong in America.

BOLDUAN: Here is just where it gets confusing, Corey. Yu are saying it is the media's fault and the left's fault for trying to combine the conservative movement and these far, far right groups.

I've just -- I hear you, but I'm confused when I see images of you showing up as recently as I think it was February, the one I looked at, showing up at events with Jason Kessler, a white nationalist who has quotes, the most recent interview he did, promoting the rally, he said I am prowhite. I want to stand-up for my people. Right now, there is an ethnic cleansing against white people in the United States. Are you doing much to try to separate the two?

STEWART: He's got to speak for himself.

BOLDUAN: But you can also speak for yourself in showing up to events with people.

STEWART: If we are talking about guilt by association --

BOLDUAN: No, I'm just saying --

STEWART: He is going to speak for himself.

BOLDUAN: You are standing next to him.

STEWART: I didn't know he had those views back then. Look, Terry McAuliffe stood right next to West (inaudible) who is on the Charlottesville City Council, who said the most heinous, misogynistic, racist things about women. Where is the condemnation. How come CNN doesn't ask that question.

BOLDUAN: I appreciate your suggestions on my interviews and I will take them into consideration. I'm asking questions of you. You know what happens when people deflect and change the conversation because they don't want to answer my question.

And that's when you say others are trying to combine the far, far right with conservatives and other people's fault, when you show up at the events with Jason Kezzler, the guy who organized the rally, the guy who says these things, the guy who is a white nationalist --

STEWART: I didn't show up to that event. I don't know what you are talking about. I wasn't there --

BOLDUAN: There is an image (inaudible) with Jason Kessler when he is promoting what he was talking about.

STEWART: You are trying to say that if you go to an event and there is somebody there with some really radical views that somehow you are responsible for that person's views? I'm asking the question to you.

BOLDUAN: No, we've already established this one. When you show up to a rally and people are shouting blood and soil and Jews will not replace us then you are associating yourself with them.

STEWART: I didn't show up to that rally, Kate.

BOLDUAN: I'm not saying you were. I thought that's what we were talking about when we were talking about if this is about a confederate statue or not.

STEWART: This is why it's important because the president is absolutely right. After they get done removing the statues of confederate generals because arguably they fought to preserve the institution of slavery, they are going after slave owners, including the founders, Jefferson, Washington.

And when you undermine the founding fathers, you undermine the founding documents namely the Constitution of the United States. The left isn't doing this just to redecorate some parks across this country. They are going after the Constitution and after the foundation of the U.S.

[11:20:06] There is of course a time and a place for that conversation is going to have. Just one final question. You do condemn -- you do condemn the violence on the part of the white nationalists, right?

STEWART: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Because one of your constituents if you win your seat, if you would beat Tim Kaine, one of your constituents would be Heather Heyer's mom.

STEWART: Yes, look, everybody feels so bad about that. It's a horrible, horrible tragedy committed by this nut case kid, but don't think for a moment that because of that --

BOLDUAN: Is it terrorism?

STEWART: No, I don't think it's terrorism. I think it's a murder, a crime.

BOLDUAN: Jeff Sessions thinks it is domestic terrorism.

STEWART: I don't see it that way. I see it as an act of murder. Look, I think, at the end of the day, you have to be intellectually honest, the left Democrats, everybody, you need to condemn Antifa who are espousing violence. It's never happened in our country before. The Democrats are saying it's OK, political violence is OK. It's wrong.

BOLDUAN: So the attorney general, when the attorney general of the United States says that it's domestic terrorism what happened, you think he is wrong?

STEWART: Look, I mean, I have no idea what he said about it.

BOLDUAN: He said he agrees that it's domestic terrorism.

STEWART: That's his view, not my view, but that's OK.

BOLDUAN: Great to get your perspective, thank you.

STEWART: All right, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, an e-mail services from the president's lawyer laying out talking points on Robert E. Lee and George Washington. Why was he setting it around? We'll show you what it says.

Plus, one former FBI agent says when the president uses the word culture, it's a dog whistle. It's important. Let's discuss it. And as critics rip Republicans, who won't call out the president by name, why are former President Obama and Hillary Clinton and Congressman John Lewis, do we need to hear from them? I'll ask a Democratic Congressman, that's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:26:07]

BOLDUAN: We are getting some breaking news coming in right now. We are getting word that a van has plowed into a crowd of people in Central Barcelona. I'm going to read you the latest that we received.

A van has plowed into a crowd of people in Barcelona. The Catalan (ph) Police spokesman told CNN it happened in the popular tourist area of Las Ramblas, which has been sealed off according to police.

They do believe that several people have been injured. They do not have a motive, as of yet. Obviously, this is a very developing situation. A truck or a van of some sort hitting, plowing into a crowd of people in Barcelona.

As soon as I get more information on this, we will bring it to you and go there when we get everything sorted out with that.

Let's get back to the other news that we are talking about right now. An e-mail conspiracy, an e-mail written by a conspiracy theorist that tries to put the first American president on equal footing with the confederate general, Robert E. Lee, is lighting up inboxes in Washington and beyond and some government officials' inboxes.

The man who hit the forward button, John Dowd, an attorney defending President Trump in the Russia investigation, a personal attorney of President Trump's. Let's find out what is actually going on here at the moment.

Let's get to CNN White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. She's got all the details. Kaitlan, what is in this e-mail and how is John Dowd involved in this?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Kate. So John Dowd, as you know, is the lawyer for the president who is leading his legal team and sported this e-mail around to about two dozen reporters, some government officials and some of his friends.

The subject line of it was the information that validates President Trump on Charlottesville. Let me read you some of the things that were included in this e-mail that the Trump lawyer sent around.

He was saying there is literally no difference between George, between the two men, referencing George Washington and Robert E. Lee saying you cannot be against General Lee and be for General Washington.

He listed several reasons why, saying both men owned slaves. Both rebelled against the ruling government. Both men's battle tactics are still taught at West Point. Both were great men, great Americans and great commanders, and both saved America.

So, as you see there, Kate, this man wrote the e-mail is essentially equating Robert E. Lee with the founder of our country. In an interview with "The New York Times," the man who wrote this e-mail, not the Trump lawyer, the man who wrote it said that he hoped the e- mail would get into the president's hands as well.

We know John Dowd forwarded it to reporters and friends. We do not know that the president saw it, but we did see the president echo some of these sentiments in his tweets this morning about taking down these monuments across the country that celebrate confederate people.

One of the questions he essentially asked this morning was, if we start taking down Robert E. Lee's statues and monuments, who are next? George Washington, other leaders like that. So, we did see the president echo some of those sentiments this morning on Twitter -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Let's have a conversation about that. Kaitlan, great to see you. Thank you for bringing the details. I really appreciate it.

With me right now, (inaudible), a journalist and author, Angela Rise, former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, John Avlon is the editor-in-chief of the "Daily Beast," and Amanda Carpenter is former communications director for Ted Cruz.

Guys, great to see you. No shortage of things we need to get to first. Amanda, let me just start with this simple thing, John Dowd, the attorney for President Trump who's focused in handling the Russia probe, why is he writing about this?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think there's any doubt what is going on. Every arm of the White House, whether it's Steve Bannon, Donald Trump or his lawyers, are really trying to stoke racial tensions in America.

What does Donald Trump do when he gets into political trouble? He goes to the bottom of the gutter and directs people down and makes people fight on those terms. Revisit the Bannon interview last night, he says I love it when they --