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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Steve Bannon has broken his silence on last weekend's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, describing the participants as "a collection of clowns."

In an interview published Wednesday with The American Prospect, a publication whose goal is to "advance liberal and progressive goals," the White House chief strategist dismissed the far-right as irrelevant and downplayed his role in its development.

"Ethno-nationalism -— it's losers," he said. "It's a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more ... These guys are a collection of clowns."

While talking about the far-right, Bannon took the opportunity to slam the Democrats' fondness for tackling "identity politics."

"The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got 'em," Bannon said. "I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats."

In the interview, Bannon also seemed to counter President Trump's incendiary comments about unleashing "fire and fury" upon North Korea if the rogue nation continues to threaten the U.S.

"There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it," he said. "Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us."

Bannon did have harsh words for China, which he says is at war with the U.S. -- economically, that is. He added that the U.S. is at risk of losing its economic superpower status to the world's most populous country.

"We're at economic war with China," Bannon said. "It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow."

He continued, "To me, the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we're five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we'll never be able to recover."

Bannon's plan to counter China's increasingly strong economic influence is to file a complaint under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act against Chinese coercion of technology transfers from American corporations doing business there, and follow-up complaints against steel and aluminum dumping. "We’re going to run the tables on these guys. We’ve come to the conclusion that they’re in an economic war and they’re crushing us.”

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, urged President Trump not to equivocate when addressing white nationalists and the protesters who opposed them, after the president blamed "both sides" for the violence that broke out in Charlottesville on Saturday.

"Hatch urged him to speak clearly and unequivocally on these issues, because even the appearance of tolerating hate and bigotry only divides us further," an aide to the senior Utah senator told ABC.

Hatch, who initiated the call with the White House, also said he wants Trump to find opportunities to unify the nation "and come together so we can grow from this."

Hatch, who has occasionally defended the president even when his fellow Republican senators decry his actions, also stressed that he wants to help Trump be successful in any way.

Hatch issued a detailed statement Monday saying the nation "has some soul-searching to do." He also spoke about his brother who died fighting in World War II.

"I was just eight years old when my older brother Jesse was killed in World War II. As I said on Saturday, Jesse didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home. I will never hesitate to speak out against hate -- whenever and wherever I see it."

A White House spokesperson did not respond to requests for their own readout of the call.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Fallout from President Donald Trump's response to the Charlottesville, Virginia, violence Wednesday cost the White House two key economic advisory councils made up of the nation's top
CEOs and business leaders.

Trump announced via Twitter that he was ending both the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum, rather than “put pressure” on the leaders involved in both councils.

The development deals a major blow to the president's signature initiatives to create jobs, and to his claim of harnessing the best and brightest of America's business leaders to get it done.

Just 24 hours earlier, as more business leaders stepped down from Trump’s manufacturing council, the president remained bullish and said he had many candidates to replace those who had left.

But, on a conference call convened shortly after 11:30 a.m. ET, members of the president's Strategic and Policy Forum -- formed in December 2016 and loosely known as the "CEO council" -- agreed to
disband amidst growing concerns following Trump's statements on Charlottesville in recent days, sources familiar with the call told ABC News.

News of the move broke publicly around 12:50 pm ET. A source close to the forum said the panel had informed the White House of its decision to disband before 1 p.m. ET.

Following Trump's press conference Tuesday, all the CEOs on the forum were invited to a mandatory phone call Tuesday night to discuss the panel’s future, and the discussion led to many wanting to
quit, according to sources familiar with the call. The group unanimously voted to end the panel then.

The panel, chaired by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, released a statement around 1.40 p.m. ET Wednesday on its decision.

“As our members have expressed individually over the past several days, intolerance, racism and violence have absolutely no place in this country and are an affront to core American values,” the
statement read.

The forum, a bipartisan group of business leaders, stressed that they were “called to serve [the U.S.] to “provide independent feedback and perspectives directly to the President” on economic
growth and job creation in the U.S.

“We believe the debate over Forum participation has become a distraction from our well-intentioned and sincere desire to aid vital policy discussions on how to improve the lives of everyday
Americans ... as Americans, we are all united in our desire to see our country succeed,” the statement added.

JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, a key member of the group whom Trump once called a “good guy” in 2012, sent a separate statement to employees, stating that he “strongly disagreed with Trump’s reaction
to Charlottesville” and that “there is no room for equivocation here: The evil on display by these perpetrators of hate should be condemned.”

“Constructive economic and regulatory policies are not enough and will not matter if we do not address the divisions in our country. It is a leader’s role, in business or government, to bring
people together, not tear them apart,” Dimon added.

Members had floated the idea of asking Trump to dissolve the panel weeks before Charlottesville, sources close to the call said.

The panel's dismantlement didn't come as a surprise as many had voiced privately to each other their concerns to stay on board after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord on June 1
and announced a transgender military ban on July 26, sources close to the call said. Members felt pressure to step down from employees and customers, and were anxious about being regarded as
supportive of the policies Trump had signed on due to their panel positions, according to the sources.

The council had only met two times in the past eight months, and members felt they weren't achieving much.

At the same time, the president’s manufacturing council suffered a continuous stream of defections from CEOs and business leaders following Trump's remarks Saturday.

Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison, 3M CEO Inge Thulin and GE CEO Jeff Immelt all abruptly resigned before noon ET today, joining six other members who had resigned in the wake of Trump’s
Charlottesville response.

Morrison said she believes Trump “should have been-and still needs to be-unambiguous” on white supremacy in Saturday’s violent rally.

Merck’s CEO Kenneth Frazier led the stream of resignations on Monday, saying in a statement that as a "matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and

The American Manufacturing Council has not yet issued a statement following the president’s tweet Wednesday.

However, more resignations came on the heels of Trump’s “blame on both sides” comment Tuesday, when the president lashed out at Trump Tower, attacking the "alt-left" and saying that there were

“fine people” among both the protesters and counterprotesters in Charlottesville.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Here is a transcript of the question-and-answer portion of President Donald Trump's press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 15, at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

The press conference itself was focused on infrastructure reforms he plans to make, and then he invited questions.

TRUMP: If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Q Mr. President, why do you think these CEOs are leaving your manufacturing council?

TRUMP: Because they're not taking their job seriously as it pertains to this country. And we want jobs, manufacturing in this country. If you look at some of those people that you're talking about they’re outside of the country, they're having a lot of their product made outside. If you look at Merck as an example, take a look where -- excuse me, excuse me -- take a look at where their product is made. It's made outside of our country. We want products made in the country.

Now, I have to tell you, some of the folks that will leave, they're leaving out of embarrassment because they make their products outside. And I've been lecturing them, including the gentleman that you're referring to, about you have to bring it back to this country. You can't do it necessarily in Ireland and all of these other places. You have to bring this work back to this country. That's what I want. I want manufacturing to be back into the United States so that American workers can benefit.

Q Let me ask you, Mr. President, why did you wait so long to blast neo-Nazis?

TRUMP: I didn’t wait long. I didn’t wait long

Q You waited two days --

TRUMP: I didn’t wait long.

Q Forty-eight hours.

Q (Inaudible) Why do Nazis like you?

TRUMP: I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct -- not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement. But you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don’t know the facts. And it's a very, very important process to me, and it's a very important statement.

So I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts. If you go back to --

Q So you had to (inaudible) white supremacists?

TRUMP: In fact, I brought it. I brought it. I brought it.

Q (Inaudible)

TRUMP: As I said on -- remember this, Saturday -- “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America.” And then it went on from there.

Now, here's the thing --

Q (Inaudible) many sides.

TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me. Take it nice and easy. Here's the thing: When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. In fact, a lot of the event didn’t even happen yet, as we were speaking. This event just happened.

Before I make a statement, I need the facts. So I don’t want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent. In fact, the young woman, who I hear is a fantastic young woman, and it was on NBC -- her mother wrote me and said through, I guess, Twitter, social media, the nicest things. And I very much appreciated that. I hear she was a fine -- really, actually, an incredible young woman. But her mother, on Twitter, thanked me for what I said.

And honestly, if the press were not fake, and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. But unlike you, and unlike -- excuse me, unlike you and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.

Q Why do Nazis like you -- (inaudible) -- these statements?

TRUMP: They don’t. They don’t. They don’t.


TRUMP: How about a couple of infrastructure questions.

Q Was it terrorism, that event? Was that terrorism?

Q The CEO of Walmart said you missed a critical opportunity --

TRUMP: Say it. What?

Q The CEO of Walmart said you missed a critical opportunity to help bring the country together. Did you?

TRUMP: Not at all. I think the country -- look, you take a look. I've created over a million jobs since I'm President. The country is booming. The stock market is setting records. We have the highest employment numbers we've ever had in the history of our country. We're doing record business. We have the highest levels of enthusiasm. So the head of Walmart, who I know -- who's a very nice guy -- was making a political statement. I mean --

Q (Inaudible.)

TRUMP: I'd do it the same way. And you know why? Because I want to make sure, when I make a statement, that the statement is correct. And there was no way -- there was no way of making a correct statement that early. I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters. Unlike a lot of reporters --

Q David Duke was there.

TRUMP: I didn’t know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts. And the facts, as they started coming out, were very well stated. In fact, everybody said, "His statement was beautiful. If he would have made it sooner, that would have been good." I couldn’t have made it sooner because I didn’t know all of the facts. Frankly, people still don’t know all of the facts.

It was very important -- excuse me, excuse me -- it was very important to me to get the facts out and correctly. Because if I would have made a fast statement -- and the first statement was made without knowing much, other than what we were seeing. The second statement was made after, with knowledge, with great knowledge. There are still things -- excuse me -- there are still things that people don’t know.

I want to make a statement with knowledge. I wanted to know the facts.

Q Two questions. Was this terrorism? And can you tell us how you're feeling about your chief strategist, Stephen Bannon?

TRUMP: Well, I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family, and this country. And that is -- you can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as "the fastest one to come up with a good verdict." That's what I'd call it. Because there is a question: Is it murder? Is it terrorism? And then you get into legal semantics. The driver of the car is a murderer. And what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.

Q Can you tell us how you're feeling about your chief strategist, Mr. Bannon? Can you talk about that?

TRUMP: Go ahead.

Q I would echo Maggie's question. Steve Bannon has come under --

TRUMP: I never spoke to Mr. Bannon about it.

Q Can you tell us broadly what your -- do you still have confidence in Steve?

TRUMP: Well, we'll see. Look, look -- I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that. And I like him, he's a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He's a good person. He actually gets very unfair press in that regard. But we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon. But he's a good person, and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.

Q Senator McCain has called on you to defend your National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, against these attacks.

TRUMP: I’ve already done that. I did it the last time.

Q And he called on it again, linking --

TRUMP: Senator McCain?

Q -- to the alt-right, and saying --

TRUMP: Senator McCain?

Q Yes.

TRUMP: Senator McCain? You mean the one who voted against Obamacare?

Q And he said --

TRUMP: Who is -- you mean Senator McCain who voted against us getting good healthcare?

Q Senator McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those who perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville.

TRUMP: Well, I don’t know. I can't tell you. I'm sure Senator McCain must know what he's talking about. But when you say the alt-right, define alt-right to me. You define it. Go ahead.

Q Well, I'm saying, as Senator --

TRUMP: No, define it for me. Come on, let's go. Define it for me.

Q Senator McCain defined them as the same group --

TRUMP: Okay, what about the alt-left that came charging at 'em -- excuse me, what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?

Let me ask you this: What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. As far as I'm concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day.

Q (Inaudible)

TRUMP: Wait a minute. I'm not finished. I'm not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day --

Q Sir, you're not putting these protestors on the same level as neo-Nazis --

Q Is the alt-left as bad as white supremacy?

TRUMP: I will tell you something. I watched those very closely -- much more closely than you people watched it. And you have -- 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'll 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.

Q (Inaudible)

TRUMP: Go ahead.

Q Do you think that what you call the alt-left is the same as neo-Nazis?

TRUMP: Those people -- all of those people --excuse me, I've condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

Q Should that statue be taken down?

TRUMP: Excuse me. If you take a look at some of the groups, and you see -- and you'd know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you're not -- but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

So this week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

But they were there to protest -- excuse me, if you take a look, the night before they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

Infrastructure question. Go ahead.

Q Should the statues of Robert E. Lee stay up?

TRUMP: I would say that's up to a local town, community, or the federal government, depending on where it is located.

Q How concerned are you about race relations in America? And do you think things have gotten worse or better since you took office?

TRUMP: I think they've gotten better or the same. Look, they've been frayed for a long time. And you can ask President Obama about that, because he'd make speeches about it. But I believe that the fact that I brought in -- it will be soon -- millions of jobs -- you see where companies are moving back into our country -- I think that's going to have a tremendous, positive impact on race relations.

We have companies coming back into our country. We have two car companies that just announced. We have Foxconn in Wisconsin just announced. We have many companies, I say, pouring back into the country. I think that's going to have a huge, positive impact on race relations. You know why? It's jobs. What people want now, they want jobs. They want great jobs with good pay, and when they have that, you watch how race relations will be.

And I’ll tell you, we’re spending a lot of money on the inner cities. We’re gonna fix- we’re fixing the inner cities. We’re doing far more than anybody has done with respect to the inner cities. It’s a priority for me, and it’s very important.

Q Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?

TRUMP: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this: You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs -- and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch.

But there is another side. There was a group on this side. You can call them the left – you’ve just called them the left -- that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.

Q (Inaudible) both sides, sir. You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides. Are the --

TRUMP: Well I do think there’s blame. Yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. If you look at-- If 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.

And if you reported it accurately, you would say.

Q The neo-Nazis started this. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest --

TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me. They didn’t put themselves -- and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group.

Q (Inaudible.)

TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did.

You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.

Q George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same.

TRUMP: Well know, George Washington was a slave owner. 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? You like him?

Q I do love Thomas Jefferson.

TRUMP: Okay, good. Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue?

So you know what, it’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture. And you had people -- and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists -- because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.

Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people. But you also had troublemakers, and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets, and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad people in the other group.

Q Who are the good people?

Q Sir, I just didn’t understand what you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? I just don’t understand what you were saying.

TRUMP: No, no. There were people in that rally -- and I looked the night before -- if you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people -- neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them.

But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest -- because you know, I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So I only tell you this: There are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country -- a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country.

Does anybody have a final --

Q I have an infrastructure question.

TRUMP: You have an infrastructure --

Q What makes you think you can get an infrastructure bill? You didn’t get healthcare --

TRUMP: Well, you know, I’ll tell you. We came very close with healthcare. Unfortunately, John McCain decided to vote against it at the last minute. You’ll have to ask John McCain why he did that. But we came very close to healthcare. We will end up getting healthcare. But we’ll get the infrastructure. And actually, infrastructure is something that I think we’ll have bipartisan support on. I actually think Democrats will go along with the infrastructure.

Q Mr. President, have you spoken to the family of the victim of the car attack?

TRUMP: No, I’ll be reaching out. I’ll be reaching out.

Q When will you be reaching out?

TRUMP: I was very -- I thought that the statement put out -- the mother’s statement I thought was a beautiful statement. I will tell you, it was something that I really appreciated. I thought it was terrific. And, really, under the kind of stress that she’s under and the heartache that she’s under, I thought putting out that statement, to me, was really something. I won’t forget it.

Thank you, all, very much. Thank you. Thank you.

[Trump walks away from the lectern.]

Q Will you go to Charlottesville? Will you go to check out what happened?

TRUMP: I own a house in Charlottesville. Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville?

Q Where is it?

TRUMP: Oh boy, it’s going to be --

Q Where is it?

TRUMP: It's in Charlottesville. You'll see.

Q Is it a winery or something?

TRUMP: It is the winery.

I mean, I know a lot about Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great place that's been very badly hurt over the last couple of days.

Q (Inaudible.)

TRUMP: I own, actually, one of the largest wineries in the United States. It's in Charlottesville.

Q Do you believe your words are helping to heal this country right now?

Q What do you think needs to be done to overcome the racial divides in this country?

TRUMP: Well, I think jobs can have a big impact. I think if we continue to create jobs -- over a million, substantially more than a million. And you see just the other day, the car companies coming in with Foxconn. I think if we continue to create jobs at levels that I’m creating jobs, I think that’s going to have a tremendous impact -- positive impact on race relations.

Q Your remarks today, how do you think that will impact the racial, sort of conflict, today?

TRUMP: The people are going to be working, they’re going to be making a lot of money -- much more money than they ever thought possible. But that’s going to happen.

Q Your remarks today.

TRUMP: And the other thing -- very important -- I believe wages will start going up. They haven’t gone up for a long time. I believe wages now -- because the economy is doing so well with respect to employment and unemployment, I believe wages will start to go up. I think that will have a tremendously positive impact on race relations.

END 4:21 P.M. EDT

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Agencia Makro/CON/Getty Images(SANTIAGO, Chile) -- Vice President Mike Pence declined Wednesday to defend President Trump’s controversial comments casting “blame on both sides” of the violence at a white supremacist rally in
Charlottesville over the weekend.

“What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy,” Pence said in Santiago, Chile. “The president has been clear on that tragedy and so have I.”

Pence did not directly answer questions about whether he agrees with Trump’s comments that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the clashes in Charlottesville between white supremacists
and counter-protesters.

“I spoke at length about this heartbreaking situation on Sunday night in Colombia,” Pence said in the midst of his trip through South America. “I stand with the president, and I stand by those

In Cartagena, Colombia on Sunday Pence condemned white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

“These dangerous fringe groups have no place in America public life or the public debate, and we condemn them in the strongest terms,” Pence said Sunday after the violence in Virginia.

On Wednesday, he also ignored questions about Trump’s comments about the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The white supremacist rally was initially prompted by
plans to remove a statue of Lee in Charlottesville.

"George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status?” Trump asked reporters yesterday. "Are we going to take down statues to
George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?”

Speaking after a meeting with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Pence acknowledged the memorial service for Heather Heyer -- the young woman killed Saturday by a car driven by a Nazi sympathizer
that plowed into counter-protestors in Charlottesville.

“Today, while I am here in Chile, our hearts are in Charlottesville,” he said. “We've been praying for God’s peace and comfort for her family and her friends and her loved ones.”

“We're also praying that in America, that we will not allow the few to divide the many,” he said.

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friendlydragon/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- At Tuesday's combative press conference in Trump Tower, President Donald Trump questioned the removal of statues of Confederate leaders, but at the start of his presidential campaign, Trump publicly expressed his approval of South Carolina's decision to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State Capitol.

“I would take it down, yes,” said Trump in June 2015 at his first news conference following the declaration of his presidential candidacy. “I think they should put it in a museum and respect whatever it is you have to respect.”

The long-running debate over whether the Confederate flag should be flown over the South Carolina State House arose again after nine people were fatally shot in the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in a racially charged killing.

Then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is now serving in Trump’s Cabinet as the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, ultimately decided to order the removal of the flag on July 9, 2015.

Trump argued Tuesday that taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee, a civil war general who fought to keep slavery intact, would be “changing history.” A protest of the monument's removal spurred the white nationalist rally that ultimately turned violent Saturday.

“You’re changing culture,” Trump said during the news conference at Trump Tower Tuesday.

Asked whether statues of Lee should remain in place in the U.S., the president said the situation was one that should be handled on a case-by-case basis, depending on the location of the monument.

"I would say that's up to a local town, community, or the federal government, depending on where it is located," he said.

Trump then characterized removing Confederate memorials as a slippery slope, equating Lee to American Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who both owned slaves.

“George Washington was a slave owner…. So will George Washington now lose his status? ... Are we going to take down statues to George Washington?” Trump wondered.

“How about Thomas Jefferson?” Trump asked. “... Because he was a major slave owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue?”

Trump later added, “So, this week it’s Robert E. Lee, I notice that Stonewall Jackson is coming down, I wonder is it George Washington next week? Is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

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Mark Ralston/Getty Images(KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine) -- Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush released a joint statement on Wednesday in response to racial tensions sparked by the violence this weekend during
protests over a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred in all forms," the statement, released Wednesday, said.

"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," the statement continued. "We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country."

The Bushes are the only living former presidents who are Republicans.

Democratic former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama posted statements on Twitter on Saturday, Aug. 12, when much of the violence took place.

Clinton tweeted first, writing, "Even as we protect free speech and assembly, we must condemn hatred, violence and white supremacy. #Charlottesville."

Even as we protect free speech and assembly, we must condemn hatred, violence and white supremacy. #Charlottesville

— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) August 12, 2017

Obama shared a quote from Nelson Mandela over the course of three tweets, the first of which is now the most liked tweet in the history of Twitter.

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love for
love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite," the quote reads.

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..." pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017

"People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love..."

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017

"...For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." - Nelson Mandela

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017

The only living former president who has not publicly addressed the matter is 92-year-old Jimmy Carter, a Democrat.

President Donald Trump has spoken repeatedly about Charlottesville, and some of his comments have prompted widespread criticism.

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estt/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a "very wise and well reasoned decision" to delay any military action against the United States and back away from his threat to strike near the
U.S. territory of Guam, President Donald Trump said on Wednesday.

"The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable!" President Trump wrote on Twitter.

According to North Korean state news agency KCNA, Kim was briefed on his country's plan to launch a missile toward Guam, the Pacific island that is home to several U.S. military bases.

Kim appeared to put the threat on pause in the KCNA report.

"Dear Supreme Leader will watch such stupid American behavior for a bit longer," a KCNA statement read, according to a translation from South Korean news agency Yonhap.

During Tuesday's State Department briefing, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said North Korea’s simply saying it won't fire toward Guam would not be enough to bring the United States back to the
negotiating table.

"They know what they need to do," she said. "We would like to have talks with him when the time is right, when they show they're serious, serious about an effort to move to denuclearization. We
have not seen that yet."

North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile last month – the second launch of an ICBM in its history – leading the United States to enforce new economic sanctions against Kim and his

Angered over the sanctions, North Korea said on Aug. 7 it would take a “thousands-fold” revenge against the United States.

The following day, President Trump warned North Korea to stop threatening the United States or else “they will be met with fire and fury.”

In response to Trump’s comments, North Korea announced that it would launch four intermediate ballistic missiles near Guam by mid-August.

Trump tweeted last Thursday that U.S. military solutions are “locked and loaded” and told reporters perhaps his “fire and fury” warning “wasn’t tough enough.”

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Coast-to-Coast/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- One of the FBI's top investigators, tapped by special counsel Robert Mueller just weeks ago to help lead the probe of Russian meddling in last year's presidential election, has left
Mueller’s team, sources tell ABC News.

The recent departure of FBI veteran Peter Strzok is the first known hitch in a secretive probe that by all public accounts is charging full-steam ahead. Just last week, news surfaced that Mueller's
team had executed a search warrant at the Virginia home of Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. And the week before that ABC News confirmed Mueller is now using a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., to collect documents and other evidence.

It's unclear why Strzok stepped away from Mueller's team of nearly two dozen lawyers, investigators and administrative staff. Strzok, who has spent much of his law enforcement career working
counterintelligence cases and has been unanimously praised by government officials who spoke with ABC News, is now working for the FBI's human resources division.

He is no stranger to complex and controversial investigations.

As chief of the FBI's counterespionage section last year, he helped oversee the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, and he took part in the FBI interview of the Democratic presidential candidate.

Within weeks of the Clinton probe ending, Strzok found his office facing a new challenge: investigating Russia's alleged efforts to influence last year’s presidential election, including a cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee.

A spokesman for the special counsel's office declined to comment.

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bboserup/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- After several business leaders announced their resignations from the White House's American Manufacturing Council in recent days, President Donald Trump announced he was ending the
panel Wednesday, along with the separate Strategic and Policy Forum.

"Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both," wrote Trump on Twitter. "Thank you all!"

Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2017

Eight members of the American Manufacturing Council dropped from the panel following Trump's response to last weekend's violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. A ninth, Greg Hayes of United

Technologies, announced his resignation just minutes after the president's tweet.

On Saturday, Trump received widespread criticism over his perceived weak response to a white nationalist rally in the central Virginia city which resulted in the death of a counter-protester struck
by a vehicle. The president repeated sentiments Tuesday that he first expressed over the weekend when he said at a Trump Tower press conference that there was "blame" "on both sides" of Saturday's

The American Manufacturing Council was established in January and featured 28 members at its start. Tesla CEO Elon Musk left the group in June in response to Trump's decision to remove the U.S.
from the Paris Climate Accord, the most recent resignation of a sitting CEO prior to that of Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of Merck who was the first to drop out this week.

The Strategic and Policy Forum, an additional group of business people advising the president, was considering disbanding prior to Trump's announcement, according to a report by The New York Times.
The newspaper reported that several members spoke via conference call Wednesday morning to discuss the panel's future, a conversation rendered moot by the president's tweet.

In a joint statement, members of the Strategic and Policy Forum appeared to cast the decision to disband as a mutual one.

"As our members have expressed individually over the past several days, intolerance, racism and violence have absolutely no place in this country and are an affront to core American values," the
statement reads in part. "... We believe the debate over Forum participation has become a distraction from our well-intentioned and sincere desire to aid vital policy discussions on how to improve
the lives of everyday Americans. As such, the President and we are disbanding the Forum."

Trump was defiant in the wake of the resignations from the manufacturing council Tuesday, writing on Twitter that "for every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take
their place," and labeling those who had departed -- numbering four at the time -- "grandstanders."


For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2017


In addition to Frazier and Hayes, the leaders to announce their resignations from the manufacturing council this week prior to Trump's announcement were: Kevin Plank of Under Armour, Brian Krzanich
of Intel, Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, Richard Trumka and Thea Lee of the AFL-CIO, Inge Thulin of 3M and Denise Morrison of the Campbell Soup Company.

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hcfiv/iStock/Thinkstock(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- A North Carolina bill that could protect drivers who hit protesters may have hit a snag, following a highly-publicized incident involving an Ohio man who police say deliberately accelerated his car into a crowd of counterprotesters on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing an activist and injuring others.

The bill, which was approved by the North Carolina House of Representatives in April by a 67-48 vote, would make drivers immune from civil liability for causing injuries to protesters who are blocking roadways if the driver is “exercising due care" in navigating. It does not protect drivers if the protesters have a permit to demonstrate in the roadway, or if the driver’s actions resulting in injuries are “willful or wanton.”

The bill still, however, has to clear the Senate Rules and Operations Committee before reaching the State Senate, and State Sen. Bill Rabon, the committee’s chairman, indicated this week that it is unlikely to proceed.

“As far as I can recall, none of the House sponsors have asked for this bill to be heard in the Senate, and there are no plans to move it forward,” Rabon, a Republican, told Raleigh's News & Observer in a statement.

ABC News reached out to Rabon for further comment but did not immediately receive a response.

The news was welcomed by Democrats like State Senator Mike Woodard, who told ABC News in a phone interview that it was "poorly drafted" and left people with a bad impression after the events that took place over the weekend.

"Certainly, now after [Charlottesville], this is not a time to be having that conversation," Woodard said about the bill.

The news was also welcomed by rights groups, who argue that House Bill 330 is designed to discourage free speech.

Sarah Gillooly, the policy director for the ACLU North Carolina, said to ABC News in response to a question about the bill's viability that "we certainly hope it's dead."

"The bill was intended to have a chilling effect on people that would discourage them from exercising their First Amendment right to protest," Gillooly said. "It's specifically designed to keep people off the streets."

She alleged that the bill was not only a response to the larger-scale protests that followed President Trump's election, but also an attempt to stifle local uprisings, like the protests that took place in Charlotte after the police shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, an African-American man.

North Carolina State Representatives Justin Burr and Chris Millis, the two Republicans who introduced the bill, are still eager to see it passed.

The reps released a joint statement about the bill, saying that the recent controversy over it was "a gross mischaracterization."

"It is intellectually dishonest and a gross mischaracterization to portray North Carolina House Bill 330 as a protection measure for the act of violence that occurred in Charlottesville this past weekend," the statement said. "Any individual who committed a deliberate or willful act, such as what happened this weekend in Charlottesville, would face appropriately severe criminal and civil liabilities."

The statement rejects the ACLU's argument that the bill is an attempt to weaken free speech rights, saying that it "[respects] the right to protest according to the 1st Amendment."

It went on, "We denounce the violence, racism, and acts displayed in Charlottesville that run antithetical to American ideals of peaceful demonstration and the right to free speech. Our thoughts and prayers are with those killed and injured, their families, and our nation as we grieve the tragic events perpetuated by those that wish to divide us."

Legislators in Texas, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Florida and North Dakota have introduced similar bills to HB330 and, so far, those attempts have produced underwhelming results.

Two different Florida bills died in committee, the North Dakota bill failed to clear the State House of Representatives, and the Rhode Island bill was placed on hold for further study. The Texas bill was referred to committee in March and its status is pending.

The Tennessee bill died in committee, and was referred to the State Senate, where its status is also pending.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Longtime Trump aide Hope Hicks will serve as interim White House communications director until a permanent replacement is found for the job, the White House announced Wednesday.

"Hope Hicks will work with White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and all of the communications team and serve as the Interim White House Communications Director," a White House official said in a statement. "We will make an announcement on a permanent communications director at the appropriate time."

A senior administration official had confirmed to ABC News earlier in the day that Hicks, 28, will assume the role vacated most recently by Anthony Scaramucci, who served in the position for 11 days.

In addition to Scaramucci's short tenure, the White House communications office has seen multiple shakeups in recent months, with White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigning from his position when Scaramucci was hired. Spicer had also been unofficially filling the role of communications director since the departure of former Communications Director Mike Dubke, who resigned from the role after a three-month stint.

Hicks, one of the president's closest advisers, has served as director of strategic communications in the White House and was by Donald Trump's side throughout the 2016 presidential campaign as his spokeswoman.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel says there's no place in her party for white supremacists and neo-Nazis following a weekend of deadly violence at a rally attended by hate groups in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"We don't want your vote, we don't support you, we'll speak out against you," McDaniel told ABC News' David Muir in an interview on Good Morning America Wednesday.

McDaniel acknowledged that President Donald Trump may have been slow to single out the hate groups when denouncing them. Trump named the groups on Monday after initially making a controversial statement on Saturday that condemned “violence on many sides" in downtown Charlottesville, where white nationalists clashed with counter-protesters.

McDaniel also admitted that the deadly violence was initiated by the white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and members of the Ku Klux Klan who participated in the rally.

A silver Dodge Challenger, allegedly driven by 20-year-old Ohio resident James Alex Fields Jr., barreled into a crowd of counter-protesters and residents during the rally on Saturday afternoon, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring many others.

Following outrage over his initial comments on Saturday, Trump denounced neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan during a statement at the White House on Monday. But the next day, the president told reporters at Trump Tower in New York City that the counter-protesters demonstrating against the rally in Charlottesville were also to blame for the violence, saying "there are two sides to a story."

"The president was saying that people brought violence from both sides," McDaniel said on GMA. "And violence isn’t OK, but the blame lays squarely at the KKK, the white supremacists, the neo-Nazis who organized this rally, caused violence and are pushing hate across this country."

McDaniel added that the white nationalist rally was "un-American" and that Republicans and Democrats should not be divided over what happened in Charlottesville, but rather come together to condemn hatred, bigotry and all forms of violence.

"This is not a Republican or Democrat issue," she said. "It's going to take bipartisanship to bring people together around unifying this country and the president has called for that."

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Just hours after President Donald Trump held a press conference in New York at which he lashed out over criticism of his initial remarks about Saturday's white nationalist rally in Virginia, he announced a civil rights-related appointment to the Department of Homeland Security.

A White House statement released Tuesday night -- as anti-Trump protesters were surrounding Trump Tower -- announced the appointment of Cameron Quinn as Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security.

According to the statement, Quinn previously served in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; as a senior policy adviser in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice; as counsel to the Chairman of the Merit Systems Protection Board; and as an assistant attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Quinn has also served on the Virginia State advisory committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She also served as Virginia’s chief State election official, the United States elections adviser for International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), and more recently in the Federal Voting Assistance Program at the U.S. Department of Defense.

Quinn has taught election law for more than a decade at George Mason University’s Scalia Law School.

Quinn is a graduate of the University of Florida, and earned both her Juris Doctor and a Master’s Degree in accounting from the University of Virginia.

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Steffi Loos/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- He may not be the president anymore, but Barack Obama is still influential enough to break the Internet.

The tweet Obama wrote in response to Saturday's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virignia, became the most-liked tweet ever, as of 10:07 p.m. on Tuesday, according to Twitter. That honor previously went to Ariana Grande for a tweet the singer wrote following the attack at her Manchester concert.

Late Tuesday night, Obama's tweet had racked up 2.8 million likes.

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..." pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion...," the former president tweeted Saturday at 5:06 p.m., along with a 2011 photo of himself greeting a group of children through a window taken by former White House photographer Pete Souza at a day care facility next to his daughter Sasha's school in Bethesda, Maryland.

Obama's tweet is also the fifth most-retweeted tweet ever, according to Twitter. His tweet was retweeted 1.2 million times as of late Tuesday night.

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JPD Alert for Wed., Aug. 16, 2017

From Jamestown Police...   ...This is an ACTUAL REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE ALERT... Issued By: Chautauqua County Emergency Management Jurisdictions: New York Headline: JPD FOUND A...

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