Bushes 'pray for Charlottesville' and 'reject racial bigotry'

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."

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.

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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Trump praises North Korea's 'wise' decision to back off Guam missile threat

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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Special counsel's Russia probe loses top FBI investigator

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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President Trump announces end to manufacturing council amid resignations

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!"

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."



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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North Carolina bill that could protect drivers during protests hits snag after Charlottesville

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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Hope Hicks named interim White House communications director

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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RNC chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel to white supremacists: 'We don't want your vote'

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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Trump makes civil rights-related appointment to Dept. of Homeland Security

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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Obama's Charlottesville tweet is now the most-liked tweet ever

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...," 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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Trump lashes out at 'alt-left' in Charlottesville, says 'fine people on both sides'

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- President Donald Trump lashed out on Tuesday about the criticism of his initial statement about the Charlottesville violence and quickly went on to blame both sides of protestors for the conflict, adding that there were “very fine people” in both the group of white supremacists and white nationalists as well as the counterprotesters.

“I think there is blame on both sides. You look at both sides. I think there is blame object on both sides,” Trump said during remarks in Trump Tower on Tuesday.

“You had some very bad people in that group. You also had some very fine people on both sides,” he said.

Trump also defended his initial statement that he made about the violence on Saturday, saying it "was a fine statement" and that he wanted to make sure that he had the facts before speaking again on the issue, which happened on Monday when he made a second statement from the White House.

"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," he said.

Trump took issue with a reporter's characterization of part of the crowd being part of the so-called alt-right.

"When you say the alt-right, you define it. Go ahead. Define it for me," he said.

"What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, at the alt-right? Do they have any assemblage of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do," he said. It's unclear what Trump meant by the "alt-left."

Trump said that he "looked" at images of the protests that were held "the night before" the violence Saturday. Photos and footage from the event on Friday, Aug. 11, showed groups of people carrying lit tiki torches on a march through the University of Virginia campus.

He went on to question why the statue of Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee, which prompted the protest in the first place, was being removed.

"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,” he said.

"George Washington as 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 statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him. Good. Are we going to take down his statue? He was a major slave owner,” he said.

When asked about whether or not he thinks the Robert E. Lee statue should remain standing, he said that he thinks it's a local issue.

He was also asked about his view of the driver of the car that plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring others.

"I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and this country. 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. There is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? Then you get into legal semantics," Trump said.

At one point during the press conference, Trump said that he "didn't know David Duke was there," but Trump's remarks appeared to please Duke, the former Louisiana lawmaker who was once imperial wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Shortly after the press conference finished, Duke tweeted: "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa," he wrote, appearing to reference Black Lives Matter and the anti-facist counterprotest movement.

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