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Covering Ferguson Uproar over Slain Teen; Ferguson Police Shooting; New U.S. Airstrikes on ISIS Targets; Gov. Rick Perry Indicted
Aired August 16, 2014 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: One week since a white police officer named Darren Wilson shot unarmed black teenage Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri continues to erupt in violence and anger. The bitter divide there goes much deeper than mostly white police force against a mostly black community. The heavily armed response only adds to the growing tensions.
We're covering Ferguson from many different angles with some really great, insightful voices who will be joining me. We are also talking about the indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry and more U.S. air strikes in Iraq. General Wesley Clark is with me here today.
I'm Michael Smerconish. Let's get started.
Armored vehicles and officers in riot gear and gas masks were back on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri early today after protests and looting broke out overnight. SWAT police ordered demonstrators to go home or face arrest. Looters broke into several stores near where 18- year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer one week ago. Police say he'd just committed a robbery.
Missouri state representative Jeff Riordan joins us now live from Ferguson. He is also the business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association and a retired police officer. Joining us also Lewis Reed. He is the president of the St. Louis Board of Alderman.
Mr. Riordan, let me begin with you. I thought the release of the information yesterday by the police in Ferguson was terribly executed. Here is why. People wanted to know the identity of the police officer who shot Mike Brown. When we finally got that information, it came wrapped in a 19-page police report talking about a robbery. The chief then offered a timeline. Verbally offered a timeline wherein I thought he was suggesting a direct connection between the use of deadly force and the robbery of cigars.
Later, the chief said "Well, Darren Wilson did not know that Brown was a suspect when he initially confronted him" and then yet later in the day, the chief told the "St. Louis Post Dispatch" that initially he did not regard him as a suspect, but when he saw the cigars in his hands, things changed. And I guess, sir, my question is this - Is this what you get when the chief of a small police department is suddenly thrust into the national spotlight and has to deal with the national media or was this deliberate on the chief's part to obfuscate and to cloud and confuse some of the details of this case? JEFF RIORDAN, MISSOURI STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Well, Michael, I worked with Tom Jackson back in the 90s when we're both in the narcotics division. Tom is a great police officer. He is the picture of integrity. I don't think anyone should question his ethics and I certainly don't. This is what happens, I think, when the public is demanding answers and they get puzzle pieces instead of the whole picture.
I think it is a time for deliberation and allow the police department to finish its investigation and give us the whole picture, not just pieces of the puzzle when we only have the border and not the pieces.
SMERCONISH: But why not release that information on Monday? Why not release that information Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday? Mr. Reed, what are your thoughts on this? Why at the time when people were poised to take receipt of information about the identity of the officer are we then told the information about the underlying robbery? And don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I, as a member of the public, I want to know everything, but I'm questioning the manner in which that information was provided. Mr. Reed, the floor is yours.
LEWIS REED, PRESIDENT, ST. LOUIS BOARD OF ALDERMEN: Michael, I completely agree with you. I think it was handled very poorly. You know, I hate to criticize the chief and the police department, but you know the fact remains that this thing has been handled very poorly. If you take a look at the - not last night, but the night before, there was no looting or any of that stuff happened.
Then when the chief released the name wrapped in all of this other stuff, including a video of the robbery, then you ended up having more tension on the streets and then when the police officers showed up in the riot gear and shooting off smoke bombs or tear gas again, we saw the looting come back again. You know, it continues to take away from the central point and that is getting to the bottom of what happened in that parking lot between Michael Brown and the police officer.
SMERCONISH: I think it also, gentlemen, causes more of a distrust in the police. I know that as these events broke yesterday on my radio program, I tapped into CNN because I wanted to report on them real- time. I immediately had callers who were disbelieving of the video. In fact, if we can, Nora, can we show a piece of video to these gentlemen and our audience of a person who makes this point. Roll that tape if you can.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe that it took so long for them to do that because they photo shopped it. Because any time a crime happens, they always show it. The crime. Because that would have given people a chance to say "OK, do we want to be involved or don't we want to be involved."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: I mean, Mr. Riordan, regardless of whether it was deliberate, the net-net is that you have that woman and others wondering if it were all photo shopped, if it were all dummied up just to try to cover up the police activity.
RIORDAN: Well, listen, that is just silly. The timing of the delivery of this information is a tough choice. You know, holding out on it may have been a strategic decision to let the crowd calm down and then you saw what happened when the video was released last night. There was an angry reaction.
I'm not going to second guess the police investigation or arm chair quarterback. I think that's the problem here. I think the cavalcade of the police chiefs around the country that had gotten on TV and questioned the merits of the investigation, (INAUDIBLE) there is no place for second guessing.
SMERCONISH: All right. To be continued for sure. Jeff Riordan and Lewis Reed, thank you, gentlemen. I wish I had more time. I don't.
The divide in Ferguson goes beyond police versus the community or vice versa. There is a much larger chasm in this small community but one that could be almost anywhere USA.
And the show of force in Ferguson. Tanks, high-powered assault rifles. Riot gear. Do cops really need all of this?
SMERCONISH: Ferguson, Missouri. Home to 21,000 people. It's a town of stark divide. According to the most recent census information, 67 percent of Ferguson's community is black. 29 percent is white. And while Ferguson is predominately black, it has a mostly white police force, only three of the cities 53 officers are African-American. And it's police chief and the mayor are white.
Joining me now cultural critic and writer, Michaela Angela Davis and radio commentator and author Larry Elder. Larry is the author of "Dear Father, Dear Son." I think what the two of you have in common is that you tweet a lot. You've tweeted about this.
Michaela, let me - I'll show you and the audience, one of each of your tweets. I'll start with Michaela where you said you're responding to someone, you say "I don't ever hear about unarmed white children being killed by police." Do you see this completely in racial terms, that which we now know about Ferguson?
MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS, CULTURAL CRITIC: Well, you know, there is context in tweets right? That was in response to the captain saying this not a black and white thing. Though we saw community working together, the crime seems very black. I have been in New York for years. From you know, Rodney King to now, every one of these cases happens to be a black male.
So I've never - I'd love to know about it, but I never heard of a young white male being shot because he had a candy bar or had his wallet in his hands or was choked to death on the streets. This doesn't happen to our children.
SMERCONISH: Larry, does she have a point in saying that? LARRY ELDER, AUTHOR: Well, I guess my point, Michael and thank you for having me, is this is not your grandfather's America. We have a black president who had been re-elected. I live in Los Angeles. We have back-to-back black police chiefs. The average cop that someone is going to encounter in the street is likely to be a black person of color or a female. So this is a very different country right now, Michael.
The other thing is what makes us feel that whatever happens in Ferguson, however bad it was, won't be thoroughly investigated? There is national scrutiny going on here right now. We have Eric Holder who has never shown any reluctance to sue people based upon what he perceives to be a violation of civil rights. So he has every reason to believe that whatever happened will be thoroughly investigated.
I also think that it is unfair to the police officer just as it is unfair to a black guy walking down the street to be pulled over just because he is black. It is unfair to assume that whatever happened, that went down between an officer and a black person happened because of the officer's racial (INAUDIBLE). That's also racial profiling, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Continuing on the racial theme, Nora, show one of Larry's tweets, if you would. Larry makes the point that 53 cops. Three are black. How many applied? Larry wants to know. Will the media ask the three black cops why they work for this apartheid force? Respond Michaela to Larry Elder's tweet.
DAVIS: Well, you also have to understand who is doing the hiring, right? Because we are looking at what we are getting from this community is that there is systemic racism. That this is a layered generational problem. So whether you apply and who hires you and who is calling the shots, that is also in question.
I don't think that no one wants to be a police officer. I think that is just the way that that community has been organized. You don't see black leadership. When you don't see black leadership, particularly when it is this sensitive and on the ground, you want to see people have empathy and understanding like when the captain came in, how things changed. How he was engaging. And police officers used to be part of the community. Not policing the community. It is a very different dynamic.
SMERCONISH: Another of my visual aids today. This is for Larry Elder and then you can respond as well. Nora, one more. Hit me with that image from Drudge. I knew an image like this was coming. I predicted it on my own radio program which you can't see because we blurred it. Larry Elder is that that's Michael Brown giving the finger. Is that kind of a depiction, fair use, fair game in a case like this? Or is a repeat of Trayvon Martin and the grill shot?
ELDER: Well, you're going to have this in a case like that because of social media. But Michael, the point about whether or not the Ferguson Police Department is somehow unfair because it's not representative of the district. I live in Los Angeles, it's a suburb of Los Angeles. You probably heard it, called Compton. At one time, Compton was almost all Latino. Now, it's almost all black and now it's mostly Latino.
However, the people running the city, the city leaders and people that are in government positions of authority, Michael, are almost all black. When you ask them about it, they tell you what do you want me to do resign because my constituents have now gone from black to Latino? You tell me I cannot fix a street light or street lamp in front of a black home as I would in front of a Latino home as I would in front of a black home? That's racist. Why can't we just have good cops.
SMERCONISH: Is it really necessarily racist to think that African- Americans cannot be represented by white cops fairly?
DAVIS: You know, what is difficult is when we are not focusing on what is happening here right? We're in Compton and we're talking about Ferguson, right. The tragedy that happened in Ferguson. I do think that having compassion and being part of the community is critical, particularly when you have communities that are poor, that are in unrest, that feel oppressed. This is obvious the community is traumatized and that they are beyond stressed out.
When you heard in that press release yesterday, a young father that I have five sons. I'm scared to death. They're scared to death. We never hear that voice of young black father saying "I'm scared for my children." He felt comfortable to say that to the black cop and not the head of the police that was white.
SMERCONISH: The chief. Thank you.
DAVIS: The chief. Yes.
SMERCONISH: Michael Angela Davis, Larry Elder, thank you both so much. Hope we can have you back.
ELDER: Our pleasure.
SMERCONISH: Tanks, tear gas, snipers. Armed police in Ferguson in camouflage driving battering rams that came straight off the battle fields in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it really necessary?
And speaking of Iraq, U.S. air strikes begin again. This time in an effort to take back a key asset. Nobody better to talk about this than General Wesley Clark. He is up in just a few.
SMERCONISH: The local police in Ferguson have been accused of using excessive force, firing rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators. Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol tells CNN the cycle of violence must be broken. He walked alongside protesters himself to show that he is committed to do things a different way.
Norm Stamper is the former chief of the Seattle Police Department and author of "Breaking Rank." And Jason Fritz is a former U.S. Army officer who served three tours in Iraq. Norm, I heard from cops via my radio show this week who said "look, the bad guys have a lot of equipment of their own. This is what we need to be competitive with them." What's your response?
NORM STAMPER, FORMER SEATTLE POLICE DEPARTMENT CHIEF: There are times and places and circumstances that demand the use of S.W.A.T equipment and weaponry and tactics. No disputing that. Armed and barricaded suspects, school shootings, active shooter situations of any kind. But on the streets of an American city, day in and day out, appearing as military officers, military soldiers, I think is a huge mistake. The police in America belong to the people, not the other way around.
SMERCONISH: People may recall your involvement in 1999 when you had to deal with the WTO in Seattle. I know that you personally, Norm, have regrets about the use of chemical agents in dealing with those protests.
STAMPER: I have huge regrets, Michael. I think that was the worst mistake of my 34-year career. I will gladly acknowledge that I have made other mistakes, but that one was an absolutely unnecessary decision on my part to authorize the use of chemical agents against non-violent, non-threatening protesters.
SMERCONISH: Jason, I think the argument that I've heard from Norm, I've heard from others all week long is that if law enforcement is armed to the teeth, it might have a contrary to reaction to what they are looking for. It may cause more violence in the response from whoever they are dealing with. My question for you as a veteran, does it operate the same way on a battle field or if you're in an Iraqi neighborhood?
JASON FRITZ, FORMER U.S. ARMY OFFICER: Yes, of course, it does. Especially if the crowds are protesting against excessive force on behalf of the policing or the controlling element to respond with more force and more control, it causes just more inflammation in the crowd.
SMERCONISH: I guess, Norm, one of the problems is local communities have been offered via this federal program by the Department of Homeland Security, this equipment and they are hard pressed to turn it down. And so when the feds posed, Iraq posed Afghanistan say to Mayberry R.F.D., we got an anti-tank weapon for you, they say, "yes, what the hell? We'll take it."
STAMPER: And that's exactly what has been happening for years. I think with the advent of the drug war, and certainly post-9/11, we have seen the federal government providing assistance to local police agencies that those agencies and their communities can really do without. I think it is a huge mistake for municipal law enforcement, but particularly small rural police departments in the country to go after m-raps and armored personnel carriers and military-grade weaponry. Some of these departments have one and two and three people in them.
SMERCONISH: Jason, as you have been watching the events not only in Ferguson, this issue first came on my radar screen when an author named Radley Balco (ph) wrote about it. I started to think about the Boston bombing, meaning the Boston Marathon bombing and the equipment that I had seen rolled out in the streets of Boston. As a veteran, as you are watching police department responses, are you ever looking at the equipment and saying, "my god, we didn't have that when we were over there?"
FRITZ: Well, I would say the most equipment I saw we generally had. We did not have tear gas and some things like that. It is not so much the equipment that they have, which is a bit shocking to see on U.S. streets, it's the fact that these police don't look like they're trained in how to use them properly for what they are trying to accomplish. It is police officers who are moderately trained on how to use military equipment acting sort of how they perceive military would act. It is not the same.
SMERCONISH: In other words, they lack the training that you went through before you could utilize that equipment on a battle field in Iraq.
FRITZ: Yes, correct. One of the main indicators for me, especially in Ferguson, was all these pictures of the snipers that were highlighting themselves on top of tall vehicles in the middle of streets, having employed snipers in Iraq before, this is not what you do with snipers. You want to put them some place where they can't be seen because they're there to counter precision shooting, to (INAUDIBLE) a threat. Go ahead.
SMERCONISH: I have taken note of the political reaction to this. Because these images that we are showing right now on CNN have brought together strange bed follows like Claire McCaskill and Rand Paul who may not agree on too much, but are concerned about what's being referred to as militarization of police. Norm Stamper, Jason Fritz, thank you both so much for being here. We appreciate you.
Dorian Johnson was with Michael Brown when he was shot and killed.
Since that day, many new details have emerged about what police say happened. Coming up, I got an exclusive interview with Dorian's attorney.
And Texas Governor Rick Perry will allegedly have to report to the county jail to be fingerprinted and have a mug shot taken. Two felony counts against the potential 2016 contender.
SMERCONISH: By now, you have seen the store surveillance video showing what police say is Michael Brown accompanied by Dorian Johnson robbing a local convenience store. Police say that Brown is seen stealing cigars from the store. Upon walking out, police say Brown can be seen getting into a scuffle with the store attendant who is apparently trying to stop him from leaving. Just after Brown was shot by police, this is what Dorian had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DORIAN JOHNSON, SHOOTING WITNESS: We were not causing problems with anybody. We had no weapons at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Dorian Johnson has since gotten a lawyer and has made several television appearances alongside his attorney, Freeman Bosley. Freeman Bosley is also the former mayor of St. Louis and joins me now.
Mayor, good to have you here. Did you know of your client's presence at what has been described as a strong-arm robbery before yesterday's release of information?
FREEMAN BOSLEY, DORIAN JOHNSON'S ATTORNEY: Yes, I did. I interviewed with Dorian about two and a half hours before he retained me. And then he told me the whole thing. And just as long -- three or four days ago, we met with the FBI, we met with the Justice Department, we met with the prosecutor's office and representatives of the prosecutor's office, particularly the detective with the St. Louis County police department.
And we laid this story out. Dorian told them what he started doing when he woke up that morning. He told about the story about he and Mike going to the Ferguson market. He told the story about Big Mike getting the cigarillos. So, they knew well in advance of this that these things occurred.
SMERCONISH: So, here is my question, counselor, why not put that information out on your terms? I know in my civil practice, if I had a client about whom there were issues and I wasn't sure how they're going to play, I'd much rather be the one letting the public know than have my adversary do so. And you know what the net-net was of this when they finally released that information to police, you know, they wrapped the officer's identity around that 19-page police report.
BOSLEY: Yes, they did. That was a strategic move on behalf of the Ferguson police department. It was tantamount to throwing a hand grenade down at the table. The police chief of Ferguson had been relieved of his duty, the St. Louis County police chief had been relieved. They were mad by the fact that the governor taken over their departments. They knew they had to release the name of the officer and so, they did it all in conjunction. It's like throwing a hand grenade down on the table, and that's what they did.
SMERCONISH: But why didn't -- so my question is why didn't you release that information at some point sooner than allowing them to do it yesterday?
BOSLEY: Because we knew what would happen. The media has an attempt to distract the real issue here, which is whether or not the officer used excessive force when he shot Big Mike. It had nothing to do with what occurred at that store and that was the reason.
SMERCONISH: OK. So, your argument is it is irrelevant to the use of deadly force. I guess I should ask this. In the mind of the officer, if we accept what we have been told thus far and there's so much we don't know, in the mind of the officer when he happens upon the scene and perhaps not knowing the two individual connection to the robbery, but now sees the cigars, how does that change the dynamic? Because now, he's not just looking at two individuals walking down the middle of the street. Now, he is looking at two individuals who may have been involved in a strong armed robbery.
Of what significance is that?
BOSLEY: This incident happened last Saturday, a week ago today. The officer did not start -- they did not, the police did not start talking about the fact that the officer saw cigarillos until yesterday. They never indicated this officer saw cigarillos. I think it's an attempt on behalf of the Ferguson Police Department to weave the cigarillos into the situation to try to give the officer justification for what occurred here and that dog just simply won't hunt.
SMERCONISH: In other words, sir, you believe that this officer comes upon the scene without knowledge of the robbery and without knowledge that these individuals may have played a role in the robbery, but rather to him, they are two African-American teens who are walking down the middle of the street when they should have been on the sidewalk.
BOSLEY: That's right. He confronts them as police officers often do and said get the hell -- get the F on the sidewalk. And we -- and then it went ugly early after that.
SMERCONISH: I had calls in to my radio program yesterday. We showed footage on CNN today already from individuals who were just totally disbelieving. Going so far as to say that maybe the video was photo shopped. It's going to be very difficult don't you think to convince a jury if it gets to that, of exactly what did happen in the case. There are so many conflicting opinions.
BOSLEY: And I'm glad you said that because basically it is our job now to stay focused on the matter at hand. And the matter at hand is exactly what happened when that officer shot or chose to shoot Big Mike so many times. So, I think the issue here is whether the officer used excessive force when he shot the young man.
As a result of that, we now are looking for, one, the police report. We need to have that. Two, where is the autopsy report? Since they want to release video and photos of what happened in the store, release the photos -- release the autopsy report so we know exactly what type of condition Big Mike's body was in.
SMERCONISH: Final question, what do you expects the forensics will tell us relative to Big Mike?
BOSLEY: Well, I think forensics are going to tell us that Big Mike was not in that car as the police department wants to assert. The forensics are going to tell us that Big Mike was shot at the car like the police department in Ferguson does not want to admit.
SMERCONISH: Freeman Bosley, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate you.
This can't be good for Texas Governor Rick Perry. He has been indicted by a grand jury on two felony counts.
And more airstrikes in Iraq. This time, U.S. forces take aim at an all important dam and want to get it back from terrorists. Generally Wesley Clark is here with me this morning to talk about the U.S. intervention and the vacuum America is accused of leaving in the region.
SMERCONISH: President Obama says a mission to rescue thousands of terrified Iraqis from terrorists has been victorious.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar. We helped vulnerable people reached safety. And we helped save many innocent lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Just days after the president announced the 130 military advisers were heading into Iraq to help evacuate Iraqis from the threat of militants, he now says the U.S. humanitarian and military mission did what it was intended to do, and those advisers will be going home soon.
But hundreds of other troops in Iraq are staying and U.S. airstrikes on ISIS targets are continuing as terrorists sweep into more towns in northern Iraq.
I want to bring in retired Army general, former supreme allied commander of NATO, Wesley Clark. He's a senior fellow at the UCLA Berkell Center for International Relations.
General Clark, I have been looking forward to chatting with you. And I made notes yesterday to be able to say to General Clark, I guess it was a good week in Iraq. Nouri al Maliki is relinquishing power. The Yazidis were relieved of that Sinjar situation. But to wake up today is to wake up to news that now, we've got to protect this dam in Mosul. Is there ever going to be a good week in Iraq in the foreseeable future?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I think we will have a year, several years, or decade or more of trouble in the Middle East. The whole region is in turmoil one way or another, some of its suppressed or repressed by authorities. Some of it comes out.
And a lot of it is due to its young people without jobs. It's rising expectations. It's resentment of the West. It's protection of what they believe are the truths of God. So, there's a lot of elements to this.
Now, it was a good week in Iraq. We did through working with the Kurds, with the Central Intelligence Agency and they're providing some military assistance to them on an urgent basis. The use of aircraft to bring in strikes, yes, we helped all of these
Yazidis get off that mountain. There are still some there, but the bulk of them have escaped. There apparently is still some cell phone communication up there. So, we hope they will all be out of there.
But this is a problem far from over. The ultimate solution is going to be the nations of the region have to come together and eliminate this Islamic state as they call themselves. And so, in that respect, the new prime minister in Iraq, yes, that is a very hopeful sign.
For whatever reasons, Prime Minister Maliki had become -- he had become so sectarian. He had become so vicious against his opponents, that he, himself was a destructive factor in the future of Iraq.
And so, I think it's a very wise move that we combine to put pressure on him and get him out of there. But --
SMERCONISH: How much concern, sir, do you -- how much concern, sir, do you have been mission creep? You know, here on CNN, we have this documentary about "THE SIXTIES", which I'm addicted to. I see a lot about Vietnam and frankly much of what seems to be going on today is reminiscent of how that all began.
CLARK: Well, there may be similarities as a lot of differences with that. I don't think mission creep is really the factor here. I think how do we bring the nations of the region together to confront a common threat when each nation is so different and so many are divided and having their own internal troubles?
So, it's a real task for U.S. diplomacy and U.S. leadership. We're going to use diplomacy, we're going to use economic persuasion. We're going to work the price of oil, which is very key in this region and we're going to use our military to advise, assist, train, sometimes we deliver ordinance.
Hopefully, we won't have to put a lot of ground troops in there. You cannot rule it out as you look ahead years down the course. But this is a whole region that's going through trouble. It's much different than Southeast Asia and thus far, at least, we don't have the same level of super power rivalry that's the major factor here. Although Russia is involved, it's not the same as the 1960s by far.
SMERCONISH: General, with regard to ISIS, with regard to ISIS, I want to ask if you believe that our failure to build a more moderate Syrian opposition was a failure that left a big vacuum in Syria? I ask you that question, sir, because you know Secretary Clinton said that we left a big vacuum when she sat for an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg from "The Atlantic".
Do you share that view?
CLARK: Well, I wish we could have done more with the moderate Syrian opposition. The difficulty that was there and I wasn't on the inside. So, I'm not really capable of weighing the sides of the argument.
Here is what I saw from the outside. Normally, what you need if you are going to provide assistance is you need political leadership that can command the loyalty of the men and women who are doing the fighting. And when you have a situation where there isn't political leadership, then you're putting weapons into various armed groups. In Syria, there were hundreds of groups. You don't really know the outcome is going to be.
And particularly in the Middle East, where it is only hard to tell who is on your side and who is not on your side, who's not going to be on your side tomorrow, even though they say they are on your side today.
It's a confusing and very difficult area to work with. So, maybe we could have done more. That's an inside baseball kind of discussion. But from the outside, what's clear is right now, it would be really helpful if we had a strong political leadership for the Syrian opposition that they can command the loyalty of the force that can resist both ISIS and Assad.
That's what we really need. I hope they'll come together. They are still talking about it.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, General Clark. We appreciate your service and your time here today.
Texas governor and potential presidential hopeful Rick Perry now facing two felony indictments.
And in our need to know culture, did we really need to know all those details about Robin Williams' suicide?
SMERCONISH: Texas Governor Rick Perry has been indicted on two felony counts. He's accused of abusing his power by trying to pressure a district attorney to resign. The grand jury indictment alleges that Perry threatened to veto funding for the county unless that D.A. stepped down.
CNN affiliate KVUE says the presidential candidate will have to report to the county jail to be booked, fingerprinted, and have his photo taken for a mug shot.
CNN political commentator Errol Lewis joins me now.
Errol, they say all politics is local. This is a great example, right, because this gets a little complicated with the personalities.
ERROL LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, absolutely. In fact, very quick history lesson, what happens is that the local prosecutor that covers Austin, the state capital, is also an anti-corruption investigator, you know, because the crime takes place in the statehouse. So, they were looking at whether or not it was right for Rick Perry to have allegedly sort of tamper with the funding of a cancer research project.
Rick Perry, in order to get back at them, took advantage of an extraordinary opportunity. The district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, was found stinking drunk. There's not other way to put it. There hours after the fact, she was still three times over the legal limit. There's videotape of her acting out. Do you know I am? I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that.
She agreed to step down and not run for reelection, but that wasn't enough for Rick Perry. He called for her to step down immediately, or he said, he would eliminate all of the anti-corruption funding for that office. And he made good on the threat and that's why he got indicted.
SMERCONISH: And his response to this is to day, wait a minute, this is a woman who has lost the confidence of the public that she serves. I'm doing a public mitzvah here because she's a drunkard and I'm simply trying to get her out of office.
LEWIS: Yes, but he pushed it probably a little bit too far. Again, she was already going to leave. For him to sort of squelch it, and eliminate all the funding, not just the small amount that was going to apply to the cancer funding where he had this sort of potential conflict of interest, but all of it. And that amounts to, according to the grand jury, possibly coercion of a public official, which is a crime in Texas.
SMERCONISH: And it comes Errol at a time when he's sporting some new specs, like the two of us, I think he ditched the cowboy boots. He has been on a rehabilitation tour with some success it would seem among Republican loyalists because he wants to go again.
SMERCONISH: What now? Because, you know, the only person I can think of who got ahead of a mug shot was Frank Sinatra. I don't know if you ever saw the Sinatra mug shot.
LEWIS: Sure. Looks like an album cover, yes.
SMERCONISH: Can a presidential candidate survive a mug shot?
LEWIS: Well, we'll find out. But to be honest with you, Michael, I don't think that's his biggest problem. His biggest problem is that he's polling in 5 percent and 7 percent in Iowa and New Hampshire.
The presidential primary schedule was always going to be especially tough for Rick Perry because he doesn't do well in those states, like a lot of the other southern candidates on the Republican side, he wanted to sort of maybe somehow coast through and make it to South Carolina and sort of prove his bona fides in a region that really might like him. That's going to be much harder than that, with or without a mug shot.
SMERCONISH: Twenty seconds left. Big question: does he smile for the mug shot or does he pull a Nick Nolte? Hey, I'm being serious about this. Should he smile or just look grim?
LEWIS: I would advise him to not smile, actually.
SMERCONISH: Not smile? I'm P.O.-ed about this, it's not funny.
LEWIS: Rick Perry thinks this is a laughing matter.
SMERCONIS: Errol Lewis, thank you so much. We appreciate you being here.
This week, we saw the passing of an American icon, but then, something happened after his death that I worry will tarnish his legacy.
SMERCONISH: Hey, one last thing.
Earlier this week, before we knew the identity of the shooter in Ferguson, I sent the following tweet. I said, odd that we know exactly how Robin Williams died, too much, but not the name of the officer who shot mike brown. What we still need to know more about Mike Brown's death, but I think we've heard too much about the manner in which Robin Williams took his own life.
I watched that press conference by the Marin County, California sheriffs office coroner's division. The assistant chief deputy coroner, Lieutenant Keith Boyd was briefing the media and he was remarkably graphic in his level of detail.
Now, you might be thinking, well, Michael, you could have just turned it off. I didn't. And to accentuate my hypocrisy I'm now talking about it. I know.
We learned the manner of the comedian's death, that he was found in a bedroom. There was a suggestion that his wife slept separately. We learned that he was not completely clothed, that he was in a raised, but seated position. That he tried to cut his wrists, and that a belt was found around his neck.
It was over the top. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. There was an immediate blowback via Twitter.
Lieutenant Boyd has since defended his handling in response to an inquiry from NBC, he said in an e-mail, the sheriff's office understands how the release of the kind of information you heard yesterday may be viewed by disturbing as some and unnecessary by others but under California law, all that information is considered public information and we're precluded from denying access to it.
"USA Today" then wrote on the subject and they quoted Craig Harvey, the chief coroner investigator with the L.A. County Department of the Coroner. He said, we got the same blowback from Michael Jackson's death.
He further noted the coroner's office is a public records office, quote, "So, all that information, as uncomfortable as it might be is fair game." Hold on. I get that the California Public Records Act necessitates the release of such information to the public. But having read the law, I don't see a requirement that it be offer in a press conference and broadcast nationwide. Why not release the information through a report, documents would
limit the sensationalistic aspects. There's something more dignified in reading the black and white as compared to seeing it on TV, being disseminated by individuals with limited media experience.
When a tragedy strikes a community, unaccustomed to the media glare, we often meet a public servant embracing their 15 minutes of fame, few of whom are equipped to handle the media spotlight. Not only did I think the Robin Williams availability was in poor taste, I'm also concerned about its effects.
Robin Williams was revered by all age groups. I worry details of his behavior can have a contagion attack.
I share that theory with Frank Farley, the former president of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Farley agreed with me and he told me something else. He said he was concerned Williams' stature would diminish in the eyes of many who looked up to him because of their misunderstanding of depression. A notion that was bolstered when some publicly criticized Williams as cowardly.
I understand the importance of maintaining the public right to information. I am calling for decency, not censorship.
That's it for me. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Have a great week, and I will see you back here next Saturday.