CNN Guest: Steve Bannon Helped 'White Nationalist Terrorists'

TheRoot.com's Jason Johnson unleashed on Donald Trump on Friday's CNN Newsroom, after the President-Elect called for unity at his Thursday rally in Ohio: "I don't believe anything that Donald Trump says about unity. I can see that from the administration that he's picked. I can see that from the policies he's proposed." Johnson targeted the billionaire for an apparent lack of women and "people of color" in his Cabinet. The guest also blasted his senior advisor, Steve Bannon: "He has a website that terrorists – white nationalist terrorists – consider to be their home base; consider to be their personal bible." [video below]

Anchor Carol Costello raised Trump's post-election rally during a panel discussion segment with Johnson, Matea Gold of the Washington Post, and CNN correspondent Dana Bash: "He [Trump] did talk unity at his big rally in Cincinnati. The problem was...he kind of dissed Hillary Clinton. The crowd chanted, 'Lock her up.' The crowd was mostly white...Protesters were thrown out. So was it unifying, Jason?" Johnson, who is also a political science professor at Morgan State University, replied with his skepticism about the President-Elect's message and his compaint about the Cabinet picks:

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: No, no. I don't believe anything that Donald Trump says about unity. I can see that from the administration that he's picked. I can see that from the policies he's proposed....I don't believe anything Donald Trump says until he Tweets it – right? He'll Tweet about the New York Times; he'll Tweet about 'Hamilton.' He'll Tweet about Carrier. He hasn't Tweeted anything about the rise in hate crimes. He hasn't Tweeted anything about white nationalist groups. When he does that, I'll believe him.

And I'll also say this about bringing people together: if you bring people together, how do you have a Cabinet that looks like America? He might be the first president-elect in almost 25 years to have the big four positions – Commerce, the Treasury, A.G, secretary of defense – and no women? And no people of color.

To her credit, Costello interrupted her guest and pointed out that "he's named four women to his staff." Johnson retorted, "In the big four positions, though. I mean, you had Colin Powell under George Bush. You Madeleine Albright under Bill Clinton. You had Eric Holder – A.G. for Barack Obama. That is how you show unity – not just through party; but also, through people."

The anchor later spotlighted a heated exchange between Hillary Clinton's campaign communication director, Jennifer Palmieri; and Trump's campaign manager, Kellyannne Conway, at a Harvard University forum on Thursday. Palmieri blasted Conway and the billionaire's campaign of "providing a platform for white supremacists." Conway shot back, "Do you think you could you just had a decent message for the white working-class voters?" Gold contended that the spat "highlighted...how deeply polarized – not just the political class in this country is after this election – but voters in general...there is a lot of anger on both sides."

Costello followed up by pointing out that "Steve Bannon...was supposed to be at that Harvard event, too. He's the guy that some people say is racist..except Steve Bannon canceled yesterday and did not give a reason why." Bash gave her take on the situation, followed by Johnson's blast at both Bannon and Trump:

DANA BASH: You know, you can argue it both ways. One, you can argue that he should be there, because it's much easier to demonize somebody who you know anything about them...and the only thing that you know about them....is what you hear about them, not hear from them...I think that he would do himself a big service by coming out in public and putting a third dimension on this two-dimensional character that – that people have created about him.

Having said that, I also, kind of, get the idea of him not wanting to go; because if he went, that would be the whole story – and the story would be him, and the story would be protests of him–

COSTELLO: But right at the moment, isn't the story him – I mean, as far – as far as the disunity in the country?

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: And legitimately so. Here's the thing....if I run a restaurant, I'm a restauranteur. If I run a bank, I'm a banker. If I run a white nationalist site, I'm a white nationalist – okay?

Steve Bannon has a lot to answer for. He is the senior advisor to the President of the United States. He has a website that terrorists – white nationalist terrorists – consider to be their home base; consider to be their personal bible. He has put people who have that belief system on display on that website. So he has a lot to answer for....If he's supposed to be serving me, I have every right to expect him to sit down and answer questions. It's pretty reasonable.

This isn't the first time that Johnson has attacked white nationalists as "terrorists," in the context of Bannon. On the November 18, 2016 edition of CNN's New Day, the college professor decried how "Trump selected Steve Bannon to be his senior advisor...someone who sympathizes with white nationalist groups — who are basically terrorist groups."

The transcript of the relevant portions of the panel discussion segment from the December 2, 2016 edition of CNN Newsroom:

CAROL COSTELLO: He [Donald Trump] did talk unity at his big rally in Cincinnati. The problem was – you know, he kind of dissed Hillary Clinton. The crowd chanted, 'Lock her up.' The crowd was mostly white – right? Protesters were thrown out. So was it unifying, Jason?

[CNN Graphic: "Transition Of Power: Trump Meets With Advisers, Candidates Today; Trump Holds Raucous, Campaign-Like Rally; Crowd At Trump Rally Chants 'Lock Her Up'"]

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: No, no. I don't believe anything that Donald Trump says about unity. I can see that from the administration that he's picked. I can see that from the policies he's proposed.

Let's look at what he said just at the rallies – like, 'We're against the hate' – this, that, the other. I have come to the conclusion that, I think, his own behavior speaks to this. I don't believe anything Donald Trump says until he Tweets it – right? He'll Tweet about the New York Times; he'll Tweet about 'Hamilton.' He'll Tweet about Carrier. He hasn't Tweeted anything about the rise in hate crimes. He hasn't Tweeted anything about white nationalist groups. When he does that, I'll believe him.

And I'll also say this about bringing people together: if you bring people together, how do you have a Cabinet that looks like America? He might be the first president-elect in almost 25 years to have the big four positions – Commerce, the Treasury, A.G, secretary of defense – and no women? And no people of color–

COSTELLO: Well, he has – but he has four women. He's named four women to his staff–

JOHNSON: In the big four positions, though. I mean, you had Colin Powell under George Bush. You Madeleine Albright under Bill Clinton. You had Eric Holder – A.G. for Barack Obama. That is how you show unity – not just through party; but also, through people.

(...)

[CNN Graphic: "Trump Thanks Supporters, Rips Critics"]

COSTELLO: But you know, Jason, you do bring up – emotions are still raw through most of the country – right? And you could see that at a Harvard event last night – right? So Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, was there. Jennifer Palmieri were there, who was Clinton's communications director. They were at a forum to, kind of, to talk about the election, and to – you know, record history for Harvard University – but things turned ugly quickly. Let's listen.

JENNIFER PALMIERI (from Harvard Institute of Politics forum on December 1, 2016): If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant – a brilliant tactician–

KELLYANNE CONWAY: That's just crap–

PALMIERI: I am proud to have lost. I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.

CONWAY: Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform? You're going to look me in the face and tell me that?

PALMIERI: It did, Kellyanne. It did.

CONWAY: Really? So that's how you lost?

PALMIERI: It did–

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You guys are pathetic!

CONWAY: Do you think you could you just had a decent message for the white working-class voters?

[CNN Graphic: "Shouting March Between Trump, Clinton Aides"]

COSTELLO: Okay. So Matea, that – that was ugly, and it was raw; but does it really reflect the two Americas that we supposedly live in, or was it – I don't know – somewhat over-baked?

MATEA GOLD, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think a lot of people noted that it actually reflected their Facebook feed. So, you know, I think what it – it highlighted was how deeply polarized – not just the political class in this country is after this election – but voters in general. And, you know, there is a lot of anger on both sides.

The Clinton people clearly feel that they had an uphill battle, and you heard complaints from them yesterday that the media was against them; and that they were really up against a candidate and a campaign that was waging a nasty, negative race, and – and harnessing some of the worst impulses of voters. That is something, obviously, Kellyanne Conway and the Trump folks took real issue with.

I think, really, to the point: this shows how much work there is yet to do to try to hit this note of unification that Trump gave a nod to at his rally. And, I mean, it's really on him, at this point, to try to set the tone and set an example that will try to bring some of these factions together right now.

COSTELLO: Well – well, here's what I wonder: is it – is is really up to Mr. Trump? Because Steve Bannon – he was supposed to be at that Harvard event, too. He's the guy that some people say is racist. In fact, there were students outside protesting Steve Bannon presence – except Steve Bannon canceled yesterday and did not give a reason why. Why wasn't he there – and I know it's just speculation on your part – and two, should he have been there just to, like, be out in the open?

DANA BASH: You know, you can argue it both ways. One, you can argue that he should be there, because it's much easier to demonize somebody who you know anything about them, and you rarely – and the only thing that you know about them is what you hear–

COSTELLO Because he's kind of gone underground!

BASH: Is what you hear about them, not hear from them – and the things we've heard from him in public are from the time – for the most part, from the time when ran Breitbart. So, we haven't heard from him, and I think that he would do himself a big service by coming out in public and putting a third dimension on this two-dimensional character that – that people have created about him.

Having said that, I also, kind of, get the idea of him not wanting to go; because if he went, that would be the whole story – and the story would be him, and the story would be protests of him–

COSTELLO: But right at the moment, isn't the story him – I mean, as far – as far as the disunity in the country?

JOHNSON: And legitimately so. Here's the thing–

BASH: Yeah – a part of it is–

JOHNSON: Here's the thing: if I run a restaurant, I'm a restauranteur. If I run a bank, I'm a banker. If I run a white nationalist site, I'm a white nationalist – okay?

Steve Bannon has a lot to answer for. He is the senior advisor to the President of the United States. He has a website that terrorists – white nationalist terrorists – consider to be their home base; consider to be their personal bible. He has put people who have that belief system on display on that website. So he has a lot to answer for. If he's supposed to be serving me, right? I'm an American citizen. If he's supposed to be serving me, I have every right to expect him to sit down and answer questions. It's pretty reasonable.

COSTELLO: Well Matea, in fairness, he has given print interviews, right? And in those print interviews, he says he's not a white nationalist. He's a nationalist, and there's a difference. (Johnson laughs) That's what he said, Matea.

GOLD: Well, you know, we did a long profile about Bannon, who actually declined to talk to the Post. He said he was too busy. But I think what's interesting: if you look at his remarks over time, when he's been pressed about the fact that he called Breitbart a 'platform for the Alt-Right;' and when he's been pressed about the white nationalists who are attracted to this movement; you know, his answer, time and time again, was sort of dismissive – that these elements of it will 'wash out' – was a term he used once in 2014; that these things sort of fade away over time. So, I think there are a lot of questions about how strongly he denounces some of the people who are coming to this discussion with a lot of hate and racism.

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