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Memorial Service For Charlottesville Victim; Trump Again Blames "Both Sides" For Rally Violence; Military's Joint Chiefs Condemn Racism After Attack; GOP's Graham Calls Trump Out By Name: You're Dividing U.S. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 16, 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: -- service is about to get under way as we speak for Heather Heyer, the woman killed while protesting against the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville this weekend. A woman described as passionate, kind and a sweet soul and a strong advocate.

Today, she is lost but not forgotten and that is why there's an overflowing crowd turning out to pay their respects and also wearing purple in her honor. Her favorite color.

Her mother and others close to her say Heather's death reflects the principles that guided her life. The man behind the wheel of the car that barreled into her and many others is now charged with murder.

Amid the heartache, a new wave of moral outrage over the president and his latest comments. Again, blaming both sides for the violence over the weekend. There's only one side to be clear. Even more shocking, saying there were very fine people marching alongside the neo-Nazis and Klansmen.

This just in. Just got this in moments ago. Fresh condemnation of the president's remarks from a member of his own party. I just got this from Senator Lindsay Graham's office.

"Mr. President, I encourage you to try to bring us together as a nation after this horrific event in Charlottesville. Your words are dividing Americans, not healing them."

Through his statements yesterday, President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist, neo-Nazis, and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally and people like Ms. Heyer.

I along with many others do not endorse this moral equivalency. Senator Graham goes on to say, "Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world.

Finally, my thoughts and prayers will be with the family and friends of Miss Heyer as they remember and honor her today." That from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Many Republicans are having a hard time calling the president out by name. Lindsey graham did just that just now. We will get to that.

Much more of that in just a moment. I do want to continue to shine a light this hour on the life and death of Heather Heyer. CNN's Kaylee Hartung. She is outside the memorial service in her honor right now. Kaylee, what are you hearing and seeing? What's going on there?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the Paramount Theater where the service will be held is now full. With people coming here being sent to an overflow area. Governor Terry McAuliffe is inside, Senator Tim Kaine as well as the mayor of Charlottesville and some of the victims who survived the attack that took Heather Heyer's life.

We have just received a copy of the program from our Rosa Flores who is inside. We've learned we will hear from both of Heather's parents, her grandfather, two cousins, the man who hired her to work with the Miller Law Group here in Charlottesville as well as the Reverend Harold Behr.

And Reverend Alvin Edwards will deliver the eulogy as he shared with Anderson Cooper last night the message he plans to share today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REVEREND ALVIN EDWARDS, MT. ZION FIRST AFRICAN BAPTIST CHURCH: If he was at all concerned about not only her but the two troopers who lost their life as a result of that group coming here, if they had not been here, no lives would have been lost.

But because she stood up for what she believed, she lived a life of significance and not a life of success. The president has successful life but not a significant life because I don't know anybody he's made a difference in their life like she has.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARTUNG: Heather's parents have requested that no political views be shared in the service today that should be about remembering the life of their daughter -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: There is so much to remember from everything we are just starting to learn about Heather Heyer. We will be taking some of the key moments from this memorial service as it gets under way. Kaylee, thank you so much. We will be getting back to Charlottesville and that memorial service throughout the show.

Even for a man who based his entire political career on discarding norms and traditions, the collective shock, though, over the president's latest remarks is both extraordinary as it is deep and wide.

Americans woke up to these headlines today. "The Washington Post" opinion page declaring the nation can only weep. The "Chicago Sun Times" editorial calling him America's bigot in chief.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is outside Trump Tower right now in New York with much more on what's the view from inside the president's circle. What is the word from inside the president's circle today, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, we have received a tweet just moments ago from the president who is actually focused on what is going on there in Charlottesville. Let's take a look at this tweet.

I believe we have it here. It says, "The memorial service today for the beautiful and incredible Heather Heyer, a truly special young woman. She will be long remembered by all." That's a tweet from the president.

But, Kate, this is something that the president's advisers were hoping he could have talked about yesterday. They were hoping he could have continued his theme of the speech that he began earlier in the week when he was at the White House condemning the acts of hate over the weekend.

[11:05:10] But, instead, we all saw that he took a different approach. He decided to show his private frustration at the criticism of his initial reaction publicly as we have all seen now.

Let's take a quick look at this moment that is still causing so much controversy among Republicans like you said, Senator Lindsey Graham. It's because of the president saying both sides. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I do think there's blame, yes, I think there's blame on both sides. You look at -- you look at both sides, 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So, there we heard the president saying both sides, both sides. That is what has frustrated many presidential advisers. They are being very silent about it this morning, I have to say. There's been very little public reaction.

One administration official I talked to earlier this morning said this, Kate. We have work to do and we are going to do it. But the reality is this has complicated the president's legislative agenda as well.

So many Republicans he needs to work with him and indeed, they are supportive of his agenda, simply wish that he would talk about that and would have stuck to the script of infrastructure yesterday, was designed to turn the page to do that.

He of course did not. He will be leaving Trump Tower here in a few hours going back to New Jersey and Kate, we are just getting word in that he will be actually going to Camp David on Friday to discuss with his National Security Council his Southeast Asia strategy, his military strategy in Asia.

So, this is something again, the White House trying to get back on track. The president himself often drags them in the other direction -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Off the rails, as of yesterday. Jeff, real quick, though, you mentioned that you heard from someone within the White House saying that they have work to do and they are going to do it.

It does beg the question, what kind of work are they talking about? Are they talking about getting back to the agenda or about work to do to try to heal the wounds that he created with his comments just yesterday?

I mean, you have to wonder when you see those photos from when he held that press conference yesterday of John Kelly kind of hanging his head, Gary Cohn, Jewish members of his inner circle, Jewish members of his cabinet, African -- the African-American member of his cabinet. What are they saying? What are they doing today?

ZELENY: Well, I would put them in the category of people who have been utterly silent about this. You saw the looks on their faces. Chief of Staff John Kelly, I mean, the look on his face was very dispirited, disappointed.

But, as we know, he's explained his job as trying to bring order to the staff, not the president. He knows that is, A, impossible to do and B, something he cannot do. But there is deep disappointment among some of these staff members.

When they say we have work to do they are talking about their legislative agenda, about trying to focus on that. But I think that misses the magnitude of this. We heard the president earlier this week saying that he has condemned those remarks.

As it was a one-time event in past tense, then can move on. Of course, that's not the case here. He's opened up many old wounds. He's sided with supremacists, with members of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke praised this president.

So, there's no question, the White House cannot turn this page. They cannot move forward with their agenda until he addresses this. He alone will have to do this. He's not scheduled to make any comments today, Kate. We will let you know if that changes.

BOLDUAN: All right. Jeff, great to see you. Thank you so much. Jeff Zeleny is on top of it for us from the angle.

This morning another measure of the president's remarks and how they are being received. Four of the nation's top military leaders, all Joint Chiefs of Staff, have taken to Twitter to condemn racism and bigotry.

These men are the president's top advisers on military and national security issues. What are they advising the president today? CNN's Barbara Starr joins us from the Pentagon on all of this. Barbara, can you give us some perspective on this. It seems pretty extraordinary.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is very rare, Kate. To be clear, none of them are directly challenging the president or criticizing the president. But make no mistake, the Joint Chiefs have now stepped of their own free will into this national conversation.

It's very important to see what they are tweeting. Let me start with the head of the U.S. Air Force, General David Goldfin (ph), himself a combat veteran, saying quote, "I stand with my fellow service chiefs in saying we are always stronger together. It's who we are as airmen."

The head of the Army, General Millie, "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."

Head of the Marine Corps, "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."

[11:10:01] And the head of the U.S. Navy, very direct, saying "Events in Charlottesville unacceptable and mustn't be tolerated. The U.S. Navy forever stands against intolerance and hatred."

They are speaking to several audiences here. They are speaking to their troops. We know the man charged in the murder of Heather in Charlottesville served in the Army very briefly.

We know one of the heads of one of these white supremacist groups served in the Marines. They are speaking to their troops, speaking to veterans, saying this is intolerable, this will not be tolerated in U.S. military ranks.

But they are also very aware, we know, that there is this national conversation and they know that when people see these pictures in Charlottesville, they see people dressed in fake military gear, to a large extent, they see this, these images.

And now the Joint Chiefs speaking out and it's so extraordinary, Kate, because really, since the moment Donald Trump started running for president, they had been very determined to stay out of what some may call a domestic political issue. Today, not so much. They are weighing in -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's really remarkable. Barbara, thank you so much for bringing us that important perspective. We'll come back to you.

All right. We will also get back to Charlottesville to that memorial service for Heather Heyer throughout the hour. We are keeping our eye there in Charlottesville. We will get back there in just a moment.

Joining me to discuss everything that has transpired, former Democratic mayor of Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter is here, and CNN political analyst and "USA Today" columnist, Kirsten powers is here.

David French with the "National Review" and also White House reporter from "The Washington Post," Abby Phillip. Thank you so much all for being here.

Abby, first to you. I want to get your reaction to the statement that Lindsey Graham put out that I read at the top of the hour, where he calls out the president pretty directly, where many Republicans have not. What do you -- what's your take on it?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's not entirely surprising because as you noted, Lindsey Graham, is not a stranger to criticizing the president. But it's telling because it sounds in some ways like he's signaling to the rest of his party this is the direction you need to go in, your statements need to be a little more strong.

And I think Republicans have to talk to each other here, have to signal to each other what's OK. I know that sounds kind of cynical but this is politics. Sometimes people hesitate to stick their necks out, especially criticizing a president in their own party.

So, I think Lindsey Graham is someone who has often been a strong, vocal person out there pushing back on Trump, but it's notable also because he's a senator from a southern state.

It is important for him to say that, to actually be on the front lines of an issue like this, because this is a debate that's going on in South Carolina, too. I remember when a couple years ago after the Charleston shooting they had a debate about whether to take the confederate flag down.

That was a key moment for those lawmakers in that state. Southern Republicans have to lead the way on this and unfortunately help their brothers and sisters in their own party figure out what to do here.

BOLDUAN: David, I want your perspective on this. Because we have seen some other Republicans, big name Republicans like John Kasich, John McCain, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, all of them either mavericks or have run against Donald Trump, notably, calling the president out by name.

Then there was this. Manu Raju reported this this morning. David is that the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is privately upset with the president's handling of this episode, according to a source close to the leader. Is that enough, David?

DAVID FRENCH, WRITER, "NATIONAL REVIEW": It's nowhere near enough. At this point, what you have I think is you still have a lot of Republicans with their heads in the sand. They are sitting there thinking let's just get through these bad news cycles and we can still accomplish some good things with the president's agenda.

We can lower taxes, we can do some other good things, but they have to -- they cannot miss that there's a larger cultural conversation. There's a larger cultural significance to what's happening here.

That larger cultural significance can swamp 2 percent to 3 percent on tax rates and its long-term importance. What you had here was the president of the United States gave a press conference that was the press conference of the alt-right's dreams.

That's a significant moment. The alt-right was celebrating this moment because in many ways, they viewed that he mainstreamed them. He distinguished them from Nazis.

BOLDUAN: David, I will jump in to take us back to Charlottesville. Heather Heyer's father, Mark Heyer, is speaking. Let's listen.

MARK HEYER, HEATHER HEYER'S FATHER: -- you loved her, too. She was kind of hard that way, hard not to love. I want to tell a short story of when she was about 9. I came from Louisiana.

[11:15:07] Her mom came from Virginia and my folks came up from Florida. We went to a cabin and we spent a few days together. And the evening was about to get a little chilly and her mom told her to put a sweater on because we were going to the pool.

Well, actually, I kind of agreed with Heather. She didn't want to put a sweater on. But she defied her mom and her mom said we're not going to the pool unless you put the sweater on.

Well, for the next two hours, Heather decided that she knew better at 9, and defied her mom. Well, the only thing I could do was go sit in the room with her. I couldn't cross her mom. And to this day, I don't remember how that turned out, but I don't really remember.

All I remember is Heather's passion. Heather's passion extended to her ideas, her thoughts, her grandfather was right, she could tell if somebody wasn't being straight, and she would call you on it.

And like a father and daughter relationship, we don't always agree and Susan expressed to me that yes, along with me and everybody else, she would argue if she thought it was appropriate, even if she didn't think it was appropriate, she would tell you what she thought.

And as I listened to her friends, and hear stories of my daughter and the way she was, she loved people. She wanted equality and in this issue of the day of her passing, she wanted to put down hate and for my part, we just need to stop all this stuff and just forgive each other.

I think that's what the Lord would want us to do, is to stop, just love one another. I came here today and I was overwhelmed, I was overwhelmed at the rainbow of colors in this room. That's how heather was.

It didn't matter who you were or where you were from. If she loved you, that was it. You were stuck. So, for that, I'm truly proud of my daughter. That's as far as I've gotten. Next will be Reverend Harold Behr.

BOLDUAN: Mark Heyer, Heather Heyer's father. We will take more of this service, but just in the interim, Mayor Michael Nutter, if I could get your reaction to those emotional words, what that father just said about his daughter.

MICHAEL NUTTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first, Kate, you know, I have a 34-year-old son and a 22-year-old daughter, and I just, I cannot even imagine what Mr. Heyer is feeling right now, and it is the worst nightmare possible. But he got through it and talked about his love for Heather. You know, we are passionate about our children but we are often, of course, passionate about what they are passionate about.

I think the message that he tried to deliver right there at the end about love, it's not just a throw away kind of thing. It's not just a nice thing to do. I think he's really communicating a national message for where we are.

I don't often agree with Senator Graham about a whole bunch of things, but you have to recognize people for where they are. I think his statement was very powerful. I think what Senator Orrin Hatch said, again, not someone I normally agree with on a bunch of things.

But he said his brother did not die in a war to allow folks to express Nazi-ism and these kinds of thoughts here in the United States of America. This is a moment for us and in a most bizarre way, it is actually bringing some people who might not always agree with each other to start talking with each other.

And so, to some extent, Mr. Trump has taken himself out of a lot of conversations. He has no moral high ground to be on and will be ignored in many instances, but can we bring ourselves together as a nation.

[11:20:08] It might not be one person. It clearly won't be the president in this moment. But can we extend our open hand and start some partnerships, get some things done, but also do the right thing and not just by our words, but more importantly, by our actions.

Our children are watching us. All of us in these moments. We are at a critical time in American history. I haven't felt like this, going back a little ways, but I was a kid during much of the civil rights movement.

Not old enough to participate but I was paying attention. When I think about now Senator John Lewis and -- Congressman John Lewis and the Pettis Bridge, the day that Dr. Martin Luther King was killed, I mean, all of these things are coming back to so many of us.

So, these fights and these battles are still going on. But Americans are talking to each other I think in very different ways right now. We need to recognize the moment we're in.

The president is the president. He does whatever he does and has no standing to even try to bring people together. But there are leaders out there. I think those leaders need to step forward, say what needs to be said, then do what needs to be done. We are Americans. That's who we are. That's what we're about.

BOLDUAN: Right now, one of those leaders is Heather Heyer's father, Mark Heyer in the words that he left right there. She wanted to put down hate. We just need to forgive each other.

We will take a quick break. Heather Heyer's mother, Susan Bro, will be speaking very soon. The panel is sticking with me. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:25:08]

BOLDUAN: More reaction coming in to the president's remarks yesterday. What he said that both sides on this, many sides committing violence in Charlottesville. This coming in from Jamie Gingalo (ph), last two Republican presidents, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush issuing a joint statement. I'll read it for you. This is just in.

"America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred in all forms. As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city's most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence. We are all created equal and endowed by our creator with unalienable rights. We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country."

The panel is back with me to discuss as we keep our eye and our hearts on Charlottesville right now. Kirsten Powers is here with me. Kirsten, what's your reaction to hearing from the Bushes on this?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, think that we have now had a lot of different people weigh in with some generic statements about how important it is to not be racist.

What we haven't had enough of is people actually calling out Donald trump specifically for doing something that I actually think we have called a lot of different things and I think this is actually evil.

Evil really is the right word. If you look at the pictures of those people marching with those Tiki torches, that is the face of evil. This is not a partisan disagreement. This isn't an ideological disagreement.

This is the president of the United States trying to equate evil, racism, anti-Semitism, people killing an innocent young girl who is there just trying to protest against evil.

And we hear Republicans, we hear reporting at least that Republicans are saying other than the few that always sort of come out and do the right thing, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, whatever, saying well, they are worried about tax reform.

At some point, you have to decide where you stand on some basic moral issues. I also don't think if I ever hear Republicans talk again of why they can't figure out that African-Americans don't vote for them, this is the reason right here. If you cannot understand what's wrong here, you have a real moral deficit, I think.

BOLDUAN: David, what do you think of that?

FRENCH: It's hard to disagree with anything that Kirsten said. I mean, look, this should be honestly the easiest layup in American politics to call out neo-Nazis, neo-confederates and to not try to draw fine distinctions between who are the good people marching, chanting blood and soil and the Jews will not replace us, and who are the bad people marching, chanting those things?

This was a gathering of evil men and she is exactly right, evil men. To then have from the bully pulpit, the highest, the most prominent person in the land to deliver an impromptu news conference that causes these evil people to celebrate, to celebrate, is a stunning moment in recent American history.

That's why I said earlier, we can't be sitting here talking right now about 3 percent or 4 percent in marginal tax rates. There are larger cultural concerns here that go to the founding of our country.

This is the central divide that has been, that almost ruptured the country entirely at one point, and to not be able to have a clear, clarion call in this moment, is deeply distressing.

It's doubly distressing that evil men were given aid and comfort. That has to be called out and has to be called out clearly, unequivocally and unashamedly.

BOLDUAN: With all of that in mind, Abby, it's 11:20, almost 11:30 in the east, after the complete shock of what happened yesterday, after we watched this memorial service playing out this morning, where are we? What's your guess?

PHILLIP: That's a good question. I think it's still really unclear where we are right now. There are a lot of things happening with Republicans. I mean, on one hand --