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Trump tells "weak" governors they "have to dominate" as civil unrest divides the nation

Trump attacks governors as "weak"
Trump attacks governors as "weak" 08:54

President Trump unloaded on the nation's governors Monday morning, calling them "weak" for failing to more aggressively enforce law and order over the weekend, as some of the nation's biggest cities burned in the wake of the death of George Floyd

On a video teleconference, the president warned that the law enforcement presence across Washington is set to intensify later Monday. He said the protests are ruining the nation's standing on the world stage. And he called on governors to pass new bans on flag burning, a constitutionally protected expression of free speech.

"Washington was under very good control, but we're going to have it under much more control," Mr. Trump said, according to audio of the meeting obtained by CBS News. "We're going to pull in thousands of people." He added later: "We're going to clamp down very, very strong."

His comments came as Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that the nation's capital will be under a 7 p.m. ET curfew for the next two nights. And the president spoke as his presumed Democratic Party rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, was praying and meeting with religious and community leaders in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, about the violence roiling the country.

During the call, the president repeatedly called into question the leadership and decisions made over the weekend by governors and big-city mayors, imploring them to make broader use of the National Guard and other military capabilities.

"You're making a mistake because you're making yourselves look like fools," he told the governors at one point. "And some have done a great job. But a lot of you, it's not – it's not a great day for our country."

One participant on the call described the president's words and tone as "unhinged."

"You have to dominate, if you don't dominate you're wasting your time. They're going to run over you. You're going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate," the president told governors.

The president said that the violence "is coming from the radical left — you know, it everybody knows it — but it's also looters, and it's people that figure they can get free stuff by running into stores and running out with television sets. I saw it — a kid has a lot of stuff, he puts it in the back of a brand new car and drives off. You have every one of these guys on tape. Why aren't you prosecuting them? Now, the harder you are, the tougher you are, the less likely you're going to be hit."

This kind of violence has happened before, Mr. Trump said. "It's happened numerous times. And the only time it's successful is when you're weak. And most of you are weak. I will say this, what's going on in Los Angeles — I have a friend lives in Los Angeles — they say all the storefronts are gone," the president continued. "They're all broken and gone. The merchandise is gone. It's a shame. It didn't look as bad to me — maybe it was the sunshine, I don't know. But in Los Angeles, the storefronts are gone. Philadelphia's a mess. What happened there is horrible."

The president himself hasn't been seen by the public since Saturday, when he attended a space shuttle launch and addressed the death of George Floyd in Florida. He is not scheduled to make any public appearances Monday, after staying out of sight on Sunday as well. Mr. Trump was briefly moved to the White House bunker on Friday evening as protests were being held near the White House.

Mr. Trump was joined on the call by Attorney General William Barr — who he said he plans to "activate very strongly" — General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

"We can't play whack-a-mole," Barr told the governors — before the president interjected.

"If you're weak and don't dominate your streets, they're going to stay with you until you finally do it," Mr. Trump said. "And you don't want it. Philadelphia, you'd better toughen up. Because what's going on in Philadelphia, like New York, is terrible. It's terrible. You'd better toughen — they'll never leave. I know you want to say, 'Oh, let's not call up the Guard, let's call up 200 people.' You've got a big National Guard out there that's ready to come in and fight like hell. I tell ya, the best, what they did in Minneapolis was incredible."

"We're shocked that you're not using the greatest resource," the president added — urging governors to call up the National Guard.

Esper told the governors that so far just two states had called up more than 1,000 Guard troops.

"You've got to arrest these people. You've got arrest these people — and you've got to charge them," the president said to the governors. "And you can't do this deal where they get one week in jail. These are terrorists, these are terrorists, they're looking to do bad things to our country. They're Antifa and they're radical left."

Amid talk of more aggressive police tactics, the president made specific suggestions for how law enforcement should engage aggressive protesters:

"When they have bricks — you know they come armed with bricks. And they have bricks and rocks, big rocks, and they have other big things, and they throw them. You know, you're allowed to fight back, folks. You don't have to have a brick hit you in the face, and you don't do anything about it. You are allowed to fight back," the president said.

Mentioning Barr, the president said, "Bill —... if a brick is thrown at somebody, and it hits them, or maybe if it doesn't hit them, your very tough, strong, powerful people are allowed to fight back against that guy. And very strongly and powerfully."

Governors on the call shared quick updates with the president.

Minnesota Democratic Governor Tim Walz credited Esper and Milley for helping coordinate the state's response to violence in Minneapolis.

"There are bad actors in this, but there's also legitimate anger and fear," Walz said.

Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp detailed how state authorities worked with Atlanta city officials to quell violence in the state capital on Friday. He said that people protesting in Charleston, South Carolina, had traveled to Savannah, Georgia, to continue protesting across state lines.

West Virginia Republican Governor Jim Justice said that if the president is facing resistance from other states, "you can come to West Virginia. ... there won't be any disturbance whatsoever."

And Illinois Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker called on the president to tone down his political rhetoric. "We have to call for calm, we have to have police reform called for. ... The rhetoric coming out of the White House is making it worse."

"I don't like your rhetoric much, either," the president said before moving on. "But that's okay, we don't agree with each other."

Aaron Navarro, Nicole Sganga and Jack Turman contributed to this report.

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