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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Joyce Mitchell To Be Arraigned; Interview with Former Corrections Officer; Computer Breach Could Hurt National Security. Aired 20:30-21:00p ET.
Aired June 12, 2015 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:25] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hey, good evening. Thank you for joining us on this Friday night.
Joyce Mitchell, the prison seamstress accused of helping two ruthless killers escape from New York's toughest maximum security facility is now herself in custody, expected to be arraigned very shortly, any minute, facing up to eight years behind bars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJ. CHARLES GUESS, NEW YORK STATE POLICE: She has been charged with promoting prison contraband, first degree, a class D felony. Criminal facilitation, fourth degree, class a misdemeanor. This is one large piece of the puzzle in our quest to find the two escaped murders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Joyce Mitchell now known as Tillie in custody. That's not all, though. She has now been linked by investigators to both cop killer David Sweat and torture murderer Richard Matt. And not only did she allegedly have some kind of relationship with both men, her husband is also potentially connected. We don't know how. He is under investigation though. He has yet to be charged with anything we should point out. And on top of all that, of course the two very dangerous men, those killers are out there somewhere. Tillie may be in custody, but they certainly are not.
So we begin tonight our complete coverage with Alexandra Field on the arrest and arraignment. She joins us now.
What else did the DA have to say about Joyce Mitchell?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson this is the woman that police believe was meant to drive the getaway car but never showed up at the prison when those fugitives escaped. She has been arrested. She will be arraigned tonight. And then the woman who worked at a maximum security prison will likely be booked into this county jail.
All of this going down today. Investigators say, that she may have provided these two inmates with tools. That sunny when was the one that brought these two convicted killers some of the tools that they may have needed including blades, drill bits, and even eyeglasses with lights affixed to them.
As soon as the two fugitive escaped, investigators quickly zeroed on this woman because there have been previous suspicion that she had some sort of relationship with both of these men. Investigators have said that she cooperated over the course of the last week, speaking to them almost every day. And in fact, Anderson, the Clinton county district attorney said he believed that she was being so open and so readily available to them because she might be feeling some sense of guilt or responsibility.
COOPER: And as far as the possibility of more people being charged with helping the prisoners escape, any word on that?
FIELD: Well, we do know that investigators have been speaking to her husband, Lyle Mitchell. He also works in the prison in the maintenance department of the same tailor shop. They have been trying to determine whether or not he had any kind of role in the planning or if knew in any way about the plan. We are also hearing this evening from state police that they're speaking to other is civilian employees who work in the prison as well as certified staff members in the prison. And we have heard from department of correction tonight that Joyce Mitchell has now been suspended from her job in the tailor shop, Anderson.
COOPER: The plot seems to thicken. Alexandra Field, thank you.
Some of our reporting earlier today really foreshadowed this. And "360's" Randi Kaye has been the one doing it. She is in Dannemora near the prison and she joins us tonight.
Randi, what's the latest?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this case as you see is full of surprises. We spoke with a source earlier today with a great deal of knowledge of this investigation. And he told me that Joyce Mitchell did have a relationship with both of these men, both David Sweat and Richard Matt at some point.
He said it was definitely more than a friendship although he wouldn't say any more than that. He also said that he wasn't clear which one of the men Joyce Mitchell favored. Those were his words.
Meanwhile, Joyce Mitchell has been arrested and charged. She has been talking with investigators all this time. But now it seems they will have more question for her husband.
KAYE (voice-over): This is the man investigators are looking at, Lyle Mitchell husband of Joyce Mitchell. She is the prison employee now charged for her role in the escape plan. Lyle Mitchell works at the prison too.
ANDREW WYLIE, CLINTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: He is working at the facility in the maintenance department in the tailor shop area. KAYE: The very same tailor block where his wife worked and where both
fugitives once worked. It's where they all got to know each other. What's still unclear is what Lyle Mitchell's role may have been in helping convicted killers Richard Matt and David Sweat escape.
WYLIE: We have information that's coming through, through interviews, just through our investigation that he possibly could have been involved or at least had knowledge of what was happening.
[20:05:08] KAYE: Any idea what his role may have been?
WYLIE: We have information on what part his role would be. And you know I hate to keep saying this, to everyone, but this is a -- an investigation that not only has helped us taking Matt and Sweat into custody. But we are pursuing other people that were involved.
KAYE: Investigators now believe Joyce Mitchell provided the escapees with lighted glasses, drill bits and hacksaws to cut their way to freedom. Once out, they may have stopped here, Maple Field's gas station and subway shop, just one mile down the road from Clinton correctional facility. This is where bloodhounds first picked up the escapees' scent.
When was the actual scent picked up by the dogs?.
WYLIE: On Wednesday night. And then continued through yesterday. And then, even with the weather they're working it today.
KAYE: If the fugitives did come here they may have been caught on video. The gas station has surveillance cameras. That's one of them right there. And the owner tells us he gave those surveillance videos to police. The district attorney says they are reviewing them.
WYLIE: Have not seen anything at this point in time on the video to confirm if either Sweat or Matt's presence here.
KAYE: Bloodhounds are continuing to track the men. Perhaps all the way to the towns of Cadyville and Cerenak about three miles away. And the scene of some of the most intense search efforts.
THOMAS LASALLE: Just got word from of our neighbors that they possibly spotted the inmates jumping a stone wall at, near the intersection of crinkle road and bucks corner's road.
KAYE: Neighbors were alerted by state police. Amber Cringle posted this message on her Facebook page. It reads in part, right now the inmates were seen jumping the stone wall behind my parents' house. Adding, I hope this is it. Please, please, please.
Canines searched the woods as helicopters buzz add buff the neighborhood. But still no sign of the killers on the run.
COOPER: And Randi, how have investigators actually connected Joyce Mitchell to those tools that the fugitives allegedly used. KAYE: I asked the district attorney, Anderson, about that today. He
told me that just yesterday, investigators did serve search warrants at Joyce Mitchell's home. I asked him what did you find, did they find receipts, or what was there as evidence? And he wouldn't comment on whether or not they had found receipts. But he did say the information connecting Joyce Mitchell to the tools came from Joyce Mitchell and also did come from those search warrants, Anderson.
COOPER: And Randi, is there anything on what the possible motive would have been for Joyce Mitchell's husband to somehow be aware of this or involved in this, if he in fact was?
KAYE: It is really unclear. They're not talking about the motive. They are still trying to figure out if he was connected or if he was knew about it or maybe helping her. But they are not sure if it was knowledge or real action in his case. There are reports that, that he doesn't read or write. Maybe she was manipulating him. There were some discussion about that. The district attorney would not talk about that. But we do know he worked in the very same tailoring block with the two convicts and with his wife. So all of them got to know each other.
COOPER: Randi, stay with us. I want to bring in our panel. CNN legal analyst Mark Geragos, and Sunny Hostin.
Mark, I mean, authorities are saying they charged Mitchell because her interviews have been fruitful and productive, those were the words they use. And they want to move on to other parts of the investigation. Does that mean you think they have gotten everything out of her that they can or is bringing charges against her, perhaps, a way to pressure her?
MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, I think given what they have said so far, that they have reached the end of the road with her. Now they have put her into custody. Now they want new move on to her husband. I am not so sure that, that the husband necessarily has any information. I've will tell you one way for law enforcement to get him to talk is to leak out information that he may have been involved and to arrest his wife. Nothing will make somebody cooperate quicker than that.
COOPER: And Sunny, she has one felony, one misdemeanor charge against her. Were you expecting something more substantial considering the seriousness of the allegations. I assume they can add more charges later if they want it?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I was suspecting something more substantial, quite frankly. You know, her exposure is only about eight years. And let's be clear. I mean, this is an extremely serious matter. If one of these convicted murders gets cornered and harms someone else, kills someone else, that in my, mind is a foreseeable action. And so, she could be certainly charged, perhaps, with something like that.
I think the reason that the charges aren't as significant as they can be is she has been cooperative. Maybe they want her to be more cooperative. They could just be holding charges. I suspect, though, that we are going to see a bit more when it comes to Miss Mitchell.
[20:10:09] COOPER: You know, Mark, when I talked to the district attorney last night, I was interesting that he said that up until last night at least, she didn't have an attorney present. She never requested an attorney for any of her conversations.
GERAGOS: The old expression "no good deed goes unpunished." That's precisely why she probably should have had an attorney to begin with. You know, a lot of people and I can't tell you how often, I see it figure they're going to talk their way out of something, or if they go forward and they feel guilty and they're going to talk. And think it is going to help them and work to their benefit. As you see, they waited until Friday and make sure that, she is going to get put into custody and charged and face eight years which is a substantial amount of time.
But Sunny is spot on here. Because if something happens, she has got to be praying every single minute of every day that these people get captured without any harm being done to a third party because that's reasonable and foreseeable. And I know plenty of prosecutors who would charge her with whatever harm is caused.
HOSTIN: I certainly would. And I think for the record, Mark just said that I was "spot on." So I would look to note that.
COOPER: Every time it happens. We can mark it down. It's so rare.
GERAGOS: It's Friday. It's Friday.
But Sunny, it's interesting, because if, God forbid, they kill somebody, they hurt somebody on their run, they get killed, you know in being apprehended, she is then, as of now the only one who is, they could then prosecute?
HOSTIN: I suppose that's right, actually. And you know when you have two convicted murders, one facing life, he was -- I think convicted of murder and then life in prison without possibility of parole. Someone like that has nothing to lose. And so, it is very significant possibility I think that if he gets cornered, this could turn very, very bad.
GERAGOS: And, I was going to say, to Anderson's point, Sunny, can you imagine if both of the guys end up getting killed in their apprehension and she is the last person standing who caused all off this effort and all of this anxiety and everything else? You are going to see them ratchet up the charges on her look you wouldn't believe.
HOSTIN: No question about it. No question about it.
COOPER: And I should point out to our viewers, we are expecting an arraignment really any minute now. And we are hoping to be able to bring that to you live. And really get our first glimpse at, at Miss Mitchell to see, it will really be our first chance to actually see her, see what kind of condition she is in. As you know the day sunny was supposed to or allegedly according to authorities, to pick up the two convicted killers as they escaped, she'll checked herself or went to a hospital with what was described as a case of the nerves. And then a family member described it as some sort of panic attack. So, it will be interesting to see if tonight and again we will be able to get the video of her being arraigned. If there is a perp walk. Let's see to get our first sight, really, of her beyond the pictures. We will show you.
Mark Geragos, thank you. Sunny Hostin as well.
Coming up. Late developments in the manhunt, as well. There is a lot to tell you about. We have a live update on the manhunt. And a look at how inmates con their keepers into doing their bidding. It happened more often than you might expect.
And coming up later, a story that has a lot of people talking to day. Had twitter basically exploding. The woman on the right heads the NAACP in Spokane, Washington. So does the woman on the left. They're the exact same person. Rachel Dolezal, just at different points in her life. She has said for years that she is black. Her parents both white, say otherwise. Just ahead, we'll talk about what she is saying now and the whole question of race and identity.
Are you African-American?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't understand the question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[20:17:20] GUESS: We have a message for David Sweat and Richard Matt. We are coming for you we will not stop until you are caught.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's Major Charles Guess of the New York state police. Now, so far the only one in custody tonight is prison worker Joyce Mitchell expected to be arraigned at any moment now. We are hoping to bring you that so we can get our first glimpse of her. As for the manhunt it remains intense but focused by and large on the single piece of territory.
Miguel Marquez joins us now from that search area.
So you have been there at the scene of the search all day. What are you seeing tonight?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been raining all day which is really unfortunate. I mean, just raining buckets at certain points. There are hundreds of searchers involved on this so it must be extraordinarily tougher then it's also cold at 60 degrees now.
Much tougher and much colder I'm sure for the murderers who are on the run. We have had very intense periods of search activity during the day. Most of it centered around Trudeau road, highway 3, right sort of the middle of the Adirondack park there. Very, very close to the area where the -- where the gas station was, where the surveillance camera may have picked them up and then about a mile beyond there where that area where they bedded down where they belief they picked up the scent there of the two individuals they're looking for.
One thing that is going to concern people here though is that press conference earlier. There wasn't a lot of confidence expressed that they had actually had a bona fide sighting of either of these individuals despite the some 700 tips they have had here locally. So I think that will be met with some frustration. The other thing people are talking about of course is Joyce Mitchell and her arrest. And the idea that one of their own would provide support for these individuals to get out and have all of this happen to their community. It's beyond belief for many -- Anderson.
COOPER: So Miguel, that Facebook posting that we showed earlier where someone said one of the prisoners may have been seen jumping a stone fence by her parents' any house, authorities aren't confirming that in fact was a sighting of any one of the prisoners.
MARQUEZ: That is not a bona fide sighting. If you notice the stone fence, part of it was on the wires, the electrical wires on those pass. The police and the searchers have been very, very methodical in going through in trying to search certain areas. And especially any place that might be easy, egress or regress for these individuals. So, those of the areas are being search heavily, a lot of the times it is just searchers out there, either their cars or the searchers themselves, that people are seeing calling them in as a bit of a closed loop situation, Anderson.
COOPER: Right, interesting. Miguel Marquez, I appreciate the reporting.
Digging deeper now with Commander Robert Fernandez, who heads the U.S. marshal service, capital area regional task force and John Culf, former head for the marshals northeast fugitive investigation division.
John, the fact that just a few miles from the prison this morning, two men were according to that Facebook posting seen jumping over a stone wall. It is interesting what Miguel is saying is that it seems like there is kind of a circular reporting loop for people, or seeing so many investigators out, sometimes people are seeing, you know, a law enforcement officer and saying they maybe that's one of the prisoners.
[20:20:35] JOHN CULF, FORMER U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE DIVISION HEAD: Well, Anderson, that very well could be. But the mere fact that the public is reporting these sightings is good for law enforcement. It is good for the community at large. But, the heightened -- heightened level of alertness by the public along with all of this media exposure is tantamount to generating those calls. And, law enforcement responded to that. And law enforcement will be vigilant on the searches. And, it will pan out one way or the other. But by all indications are that these subjects are most likely in the area they will make a mistake at some point. If it was them that was a mistake they made.
COOPER: Robert, it's interesting. We talked about this with you in past days. And I find it interesting, the whole idea of maintaining a perimeter and searching the area, it is actually extremely difficult to maintain that perimeter and prevent somebody from perhaps going back into an area that has already been searched. That is something that you constantly have to be concerned about.
ROBERT FERNANDEZ, U.S. MARSHAL CAPITAL AREA REGIONAL FUGITIVE TASK FORCE: Absolutely. In a case like this, whenever there is a sighting, first you have to figure out where it is. Is it viable? And then you have to get - you have to send resources out to set up a perimeter. So you pick a borders which are generally natural borders, streets, roads, dirt roads. And you get law enforcement there. And you post them, at certain distances where they can see the next law enforcement officer.
Once that's closed in, you hold that perimeter and then insert tactical teams to then systematically clear and sort of a grid search from one end to the other alerting the perimeter that the tactical team is going through and trying to flush the individual to the perimeters.
COOPER: Do you have to then, I mean, once it has been searched, do you leave personnel there to be sure that someone doesn't come through again? But I suppose even that, there is no way you can leave enough personnel?
FERNANDEZ: Well going back to the Eric Frein case is eerily similar to this one. It is almost impossible logistically to do that. You search the areas, but we just don't have the manpower to keep and hold those areas. You try and do it best you can. You try to do the best search you can which all boils down to, to the, the possibility that it's easy for people to slip through because it is a very difficult thing to do once you see someone. And the New York state police are doing a phenomenal job. And God bless those men and women out there, that are, that are doing this, this search and the perimeter.
But it, it's also, we have to keep an open mind. I've hope they're in there. And I hope they close in and get the guys. And like John said. It, it is looking like they're going to be in there. But we also, because of the dangerousness of the guys. It's, I mean, the brutality of the crime, the amount of time they were, they were, facing, they were serving, them being out. It is a ticking time bomb. So, we also have to assume that they could have gotten out. And we need the rest of the country to stay vigilant. And call if you see anything. Call if you believe you have seen either of the guys.
COOPER: Yes. And to John's point as well and we continue to put that number up throughout the hour.
John Culf, thank you. Robert Fernandez, thank you for your insights.
Just ahead, it turns out that Joyce Mitchell had, if it turns out, I should say, that she romantic relationships with the convicted killer David Sweat and Richard Matt before helping them to escape, she certainly joins a long list of people who have been wooed by inmates and followed them down of criminal path. We are going to look at that ahead.
Plus, a bizarre revelations sparking heated debate today, the leader of an NAACP chapter saying she is black. Her parents who are white saying no she is not. And they don't understand why she is pretend to be black. Who is right? And does it matter? Details ahead.
[20:28:17] COOPER: Our breaking news tonight, prison worker Joyce Mitchell expected to be arraigned sometime this evening. We believe shortly. The last word we had is that she is being transported to be arraigned. We are hoping to get our first look at the -- at the former prison worker. She has been suspended without pay. The charges against her will be read in court tonight. She can enter a plea, but she doesn't have to. And there will likely be some kind of determination on bail tonight.
Now before her arrest, Mrs. Mitchell had been cooperating with authorities. We are told, as of last night by the district attorney on the program that she was cooperating without a lawyer present. Mitchell's husband, the man on the right, actually, let's, forget the picture, is also under investigation. Mitchell's husband is under investigation. He works in the same block of the prison as his wife. That's the husband there on the right, their son in between them.
According to authorities Mrs. Mitchell had relationships of some sort with both escapees. Now, if the allegations against her are true, she would not be the first woman to go down this path.
Here is Tom Foreman with more.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the Baltimore city jail in 2013, officials had never seen anything like it. A vast scheme to smuggle in cell phones, marijuana, prescription drugs and more all under the heavy hand of the black guerrilla family or BGF gang.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This situation unable BGF members to continue to run their criminal enterprise with any jail on the streets of Baltimore.
FOREMAN: Investigators say 13 female correction officers helped for who even got pregnant by the alleged jail mate ring leader.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are committed to ensuring that this activity does not happen again.
FOREMAN: Keeping inmates from enlisting help from those who are close can be difficult. In Oklahoma in 1994, the wife of a warden helped an inmate get away and go on the run for 11 years before they were found living together in Texas. In Phoenix, in 1997, a death row inmate had his wife shoot at guards while he ran out. She had been practicing her aim with her landlord.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She told me she was a good shot. She loved to target practice. And would I take her out to a target practice range.
FOREMAN: In the end both were gunned down by guard as the prisoner begged his love for a final way out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Him, yelling, shoot me, baby, shoot me. I'm sorry it went wrong.
FOREMAN: And Kansas authorities believe guard Amber Goff developed a relationship with inmate Steven Ford at this maximum security prison.
LAURIE ANN NUTTER, MOTHER OF AMBER GOFF: Ford was very familiar. And I have heard her mention that name many times.
FOREMAN: After she left the job, authorities say she returned and ran off with Ford and another inmate. All three were captured.
NUTTER: I know my daughter. She is gullible. And when somebody has 24 hours a day to sit around and think of all the charming things in the world to say, they might charm me, you know, I mean, it is possible.
FOREMAN: And then there was the jailbreak in Brazil earlier this year. Two women dressed in erotic lingerie showed up at a prison and seduced a pair of guards with spiked whiskey. The guards woke up in handcuffs to find the women had slipped away, and so had 26 prisoners.
FOREMAN: Of course, they immediately started rounding up all of those inmates, but they also needed some extra cell space because they also arrested the two guards and the guy in charge of the prison for letting it happen. Anderson.
COOPER: Bizarre, Tom. Thank you very much. For more perspective, I'm joined by Anthony Gangi, former corrections officer himself and host of "Tier Talk," a radio show about corrections works. Also with us, former FBI profiler, Mary Ellen O'Toole.
Anthony, in general, what type of individuals do prisoners tend to try to single out when they're choosing somebody to groom, I guess is the best term?
ANTHONY GANGI, HOST, TIER TALK: First I want to say that corrections is an honorable profession. Law enforcement professionals that do their work every day, and this isolated incident does not define who we are in any way, shape or form.
GANGI: In regards to -- I guess, a target, it depends on the situation and the vulnerability of the person. Like I don't know the story for this young lady. But let's say, in case she has low self- esteem. These inmates will know exactly what to say to her to build up her self-esteem. And then when she gets home and she's looking for that comfort, who is she thinking about? She's thinking about that inmate who was able to lift her up. And then when she starts thinking about that inmate at home, now she's going to work looking forward to seeing him. So the thing is, they build on vulnerabilities. But that also depends on the situations that are created, which could be manifested through the inmate or could be created by us as staff. She could have been separated from staff. You know, maybe staff had some type of, you know, animosity toward her. At that point, what do the inmates do? They welcome her in. They take her into this group, and they say, hey, this is who we are. We are accepting you. You are not like them. Next thing you know, she is pulled in. Now the game begins. Because she is identifying more with the population as opposed to with the job, her proscribed role.
One thing I want to mention too, is that, if I may, is that the inmates' objective is to make you forget they're an inmate. You forget they are an inmate, you forget your prescribed role. And when that happens, then the game is on.
COOPER: Mary Ellen, let me bring you in here. It is interesting. We heard the woman in that piece, the mom of a -- of a previous guard who had helped somebody, saying these people have 24 hours a day to try to charm you, to look at your vulnerabilities, they are studying you. You think you are watching them, but they -- as a guard you think you're watching them. They're the ones who are kind of watching you, probably even more closely. And we keep hearing from people that, Richard Matt is in a way charismatic. He's able to figure out the emotions of others. How does somebody who by all accounts is something of a psychopath, who doesn't feel emotions in the same way that other people do, how is he so perceptive at identifying others' emotions?
MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, PROFILER: Well, he has had a lifetime of really targeting people and zeroing in on their feelings. While he himself does not have deep emotions, he understands that that is part of society. So he can be a very good actor. And he understands that to fit in, and to be a master manipulator or a charismatic individual, he has to pretend emotions. Emotions are very strong in the way that they communicate with someone.
So he can act. They're amazing when it comes to convincing you, I feel your pain. I love you. I would never hurt you. And they have got the body language and they've got the -- the focus on what they're saying, and there is tears in their eyes, and -- somebody that is naive, not knowledgeable about psychopathy, is very needy, has low self-esteem. That's what they need to hear.
They're not going to assess them as being a phony. And this happens not just in a prison, though. This happens every day out in a bar, in the work place, that you have people that can come across in a way that you are not prepared for their ability to manipulate and charm you. It's probably more pronounced here. But it does happen everywhere.
GANGI: I would have to agree.
COOPER: Anthony, I assume they start with asking for small favors, or -- or just small rules to be violated. It's not, you don't ask for something big right away.
GANGI: No, because it is progressive. If you are going to ask for something big, it kind of makes the person that you are targeting, like whoa, what is going on? It starts small. To the point the person doesn't even know they're being manipulated. They start with a pen. But the pen becomes a leverage for the next step up, a candy bar. And each thing levels up.
I always give an example, of if I am losing weight, my wife may not notice it because she is closest to me. She won't see it. But there is a change that is occurring. The person that is mostly involved in that change ain't going to see it until it finally occurs. And then sometimes in that case, she may not even know how deeply involved she was.
That's why it's important for staff to get involved and see it occur. Because here's what gets me upset. I'm sorry for people, if they get offended by this. But staff should be shocked when a, when a civilian or another staff member gets caught up. The reason why, because if you are not shocked, then you saw things that you didn't act on to prevent, and if you didn't prevent it, what if that would have been a weapon? What about if that would have killed somebody? That is something you have to get involved with immediately, and that's why training is paramount, because not only should you be trained on how to resist manipulation, but you should be trained on to how to see signs from others, so you know to get involved.
COOPER: Right. How to identify it. A good point. Anthony Gangi, appreciate you being on. Mary Ellen O'Toole as well. Fascinating stuff. Ahead, parents of a civil right activist, an NAACP officer say their daughter has been lying abut her race. She says she is black. They say they are white and so is she. The controversy that erupted is full of grays. What does the NAACP have to say about it? We'll talk about that ahead.
COOPER: Tonight a story about race that has caught a lot of people by surprise. Rachel Dolezal is a prominent civil rights activist, president of a NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington. That's her. She is a part time professor at the Africana studies program in Eastern Washington University. For years she claimed that she is black. But now her estranged biological parents, both Caucasian, are calling her out publicly, saying she has been dishonest about her race, that she is actually white. CNN's Paul Vercammen has details.
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is a simple question that Rachel Dolezal had a lot of trouble answering. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you African-American?
RACHEL DOLEZAL, NAACP ACTIVIST: I don't understand the question. I did tell you, that yes, that's my dad. And he was unable to come in January.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are your parents, are they white?
VERCAMMEN: She didn't answer, she simply walked away. Dolezal, the head of the Spokane NAACP and civil rights leader, has been living as a black woman. But now her biological parents tell CNN their daughter is most certainly white.
LAWRENCE DOLEZAL: Bottom line, we are just saying, we are confirming the truth. We are her birth parents. And we do not understand why she feels it's necessary to misrepresent her ethnicity.
VERCAMMEN: They provided CNN with her birth certificate and photographs of Dolezal as a child and wedding photographs from 15 years ago. When asked about her parents' claims that she is white --
DOLEZAL: I would say if I was asked, I would definitely say, that yes, I do consider myself to be black.
I'm Rachel Dolezal and I'm the president of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington.
VERCAMMEN: Dolezal is a prominent figure in the African-American community in Spokane, known for speaking out on race issues. Here she is photographed with Baltimore City state's attorney Marilyn Mosby, who filed charges against police officers in the death of Freddie Gray. And on this recent job application for the Spokane police ombudsman commission, Dolezal represented herself as African-American, along with several other ethnicities, including white and Native American.
In 2013 she offered advice to African-Americans wanting to see the movie "12 Years a Slave" in the theater, writing on Facebook. "Sit in the top back row so that during the movie people aren't constantly looking at you to monitor the black response to the film."
So why would Dolezal say she is black when her parents say she is white? That's a question that the mayor here in Spokane wants answered after appointing her to a police oversight committee that keeps a watch on fairness in police work.
DOLEZAL: Whatever they say really -- I wish could say doesn't affect me at all. Unfortunately people might listen to them. Or give them a platform that they don't deserve. But I don't have anything to say to them.
COOPER: Paul Vercammen joins me now. So, what do the NAACP made a statement about this. What have they said? VERCAMMEN: Well, they say, Anderson, that racial identity is not a
qualifying or disqualifying factor in leadership. They also say they stand by her record of advocacy. Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Paul Vercammen, thank you. A lot to talk about with our panel. Joining me tonight, to the program, CNN political commentator, Huffington Post Live host Marc Lamont Hill, also cultural critic and writer Michaela Angela Davis.
Marc, what do you make of this? She got apparently a complete scholarship to Howard University, a very prestigious African-American college, and I don't know if she, I don't believe she said, I don't think on the application for that it has race marked off. But I guess on this application for this police tribunal, she did indicate she is African-American.
MARC LAMONT HILL: Absolutely. Again, I am puzzled by this, Anderson. People historically have lied about their race in order to get more stuff. They lied in order to avoid Jim Crow. They lied in order to get access to jobs. They lied in order to be safe from lynching. Very few people choose black as an identity unless they have to. Black is something historically people try to get out of, which is also problematic. So this is a puzzling choice for this woman. In some ways it speaks to the way we think about race, right now, which is it's an individual choice, that it's a social contract, all this fluid stuff. But on the other hand I think it speaks to a very dangerous practice of trying on someone's identity, of trying on a marginalized notion of race. Whenever you want to. To me it's the ultimate exercise in white privilege to say I am going to be black for a little while.
COOPER: Michaela, that is an interesting point, can you try on? Can you just stay I'm black? If I just started to say I'm black, and one, I don't think a lot of people would believe me. Two, I mean, is that, is there something offensive about that? Because you haven't lived through the same experiences as somebody who can't change their ethnicity?
MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS, CULTURAL CRITIC: Well, just for the record. Black people love you, Anderson. But this is, this is -- appropriation to a pathologic level. If it weren't real, it reads like a Chappelle show skit. Because of all the nuances she is bringing to it.
What it does is it triggers people's pain. Like history does matter. Because I think she has some kind of mental disorder because of the degree in which she has, you know, created family members and probably created this hate mail story. So I think we are looking at an individual with some kind of racial, or identity disorder, some kind of dysmorphia.
But what it is doing is it's triggering the work of real black women, whose lives are threatened all the time. Where she can -- if she decide to take that weave out, she can go about her life and be a white woman. She doesn't struggle with edges.
I saw her give a lecture on black hair and privilege. And she was claiming it as hers. And what is so disturbing is she could have done all this good work as a white woman. Right? She could have actually used her white privilege to help the civil rights movement. There have been black -- white people in resistance and going against structural racism all the time. She didn't need to lie in order to do good race work. So that's why I think there is something going on with her family. This is weird.
COOPER: Marc, it is interesting, what Michaela is saying, because the NAACP in their statement were saying, look, you know, it doesn't matter. There are plenty of white people in the NAACP. And certainly throughout the history of the civil rights movement, there have been white people who have joined along in that.
But there is one thing, it is one thing to say I am a white person as a, and I am in the NAACP. It is another thing to say, as a Caucasian person, I'm black, and I'm in the NAACP. Why not just say well I do, I, I was born white, but this is my, these are my beliefs?
HILL: Again, let me again preface this by saying I think there are some mental health issues here, and so I don't want to make this completely an issue of her character. She may not be willfully making any of these choices at the level that we might be attaching to her.
But I think that there is again an exercise of white privilege here to be able to say, I know what is best for black people. So if you are a white woman, you can still be part of the NAACP. The NAACP, all the way back to the Niagara movement, folks like John Dewey (ph), have been at the center of the NAACP. White folks started the NAACP on a lot of levels. So it's not a question of that. The question is, what does it mean for black people to choose their own leadership? Maybe they would not have elected her to be the leader of the NAACP if she were a white woman. They may have made a different choice. Maybe the university that she works at perhaps would not have hired her if they knew they were hiring a white woman to teach Africana study. Not because white people can't teach Africana studies, but perhaps they had a diversity hire and they wanted to hire someone of color to diversify an increasingly white university. These are choices that black people can make. And if you are an advocate of black people, you should be advocating black self-determination, the opportunity and ability of us to make our own choices for ourselves.
We can't do that if you throw on the braids and the sarongs, and act if you are African, and blacker than black. Look, I don't know her well. But I have been in settings with her. I've organized with her. I've been on the West Coast and talked with her. And one of the things she has been adamant about and other activists will attest to this, just with regards to the black lives matter movement. She was one of the people that said that black lives matter movement needs to be led and directed by black people. Outsiders should not be there. It's the height of arrogance to say that, at -- and mendacity to say that at the very same time that you are actually white in the middle of it.
She's out there (inaudible)--
DAVIS: She announced she was going to go natural. She announced on her birthday she was going to go natural. Like, it's so, it's so complex. Yes. It's so complex.
COOPER: It is complex.
DAVIS: It's so layered in pathology.
COOPER: Yes. It was interesting. Because (inaudible) the interview, second interview today. She said, I don't, I can't really explain it to a lot of, a lot of people because they're just not going to understand it. I would love to have a conversation with her, just to try to understand where she is coming from. How she sees this. I do think she has some explanation in her mind. I would be genuinely interested in hearing that. We certainly invite her obviously on the program. Marc Lamont Hill, good to have you on. Michaela Angela Davis, always great to have you on. thank you.
Coming up, breaking news, that government computer security breach that we have been following, that compromised so many people's information. Well, it gets worse. We'll explain why.
COOPER: Surprising new revelation tonight in the breaches of government computers which the United States believes originated in China. Now we are learning more about what the computer hackers may have gotten their hands on, and one official says it could be very damaging to national security. CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta joins me now with the latest. Jim, what more have you learned?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it was during this ongoing probe that we have all been talking about over the last several days of the hacking of the federal government that investigators discovered what they're calling a separate intrusion affecting a different set of systems and data. Earlier this week, those investigators told agencies across the federal government that they have what they're saying is a high degree of confidence that systems containing information related to the background investigations of current, former and prospective federal government employees, and those for whom a background check was conducted, may have been compromised.
Anderson, you are talking about not just people inside the federal government, but people who are looking at being hired by the federal government, not even federal employees here, so the number affected by all this is getting much bigger.
COOPER: So the White House -- are they still saying that China is to blame?
ACOSTA: It is interesting, Anderson, you will hear officials say privately, that China is to blame. But you will not hear an official statement from the White House that China is to blame. It is a curious situation. Because Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader said on the Senate floor earlier this week that China is to blame. But the White House has yet to say at this point, no, Senator Reid, you are wrong about that. And Anderson, it is fascinating to see how the White House is handling all of this. You will recall last year, there was a concern Russia may have hacked into nonclassified systems here at the White House.
The White House never came out and said, Russia, you are responsible for this. But they did go after North Korea on the Sony hacking. So it is interesting how sometimes they pick and choose who to shame and blame in all these investigations. We will be watching closely to see if the White House changes its tune on whether or not they will actually say, China, you are responsible for this. So far they haven't done it.
COOPER: Jim Acosta from the White House. Thank you.
Coming up, we are waiting for the arraignment of Joyce Mitchell, who is charged with helping convicted murderers, Richard Matt and David Sweat from prison. We'll bring it to you live when it happens. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Before we go. A quick update. Joyce Mitchell, the prison worker charged with helping two killers break out of the Clinton correctional facility in upstate New York, is now herself in custody. Her arraignment expected very shortly. We have been waiting for it. Sometime in the next hour, we are told, the charges against her will be read. She might or might not enter a plea. Our legal analyst Sunny Hostin says there will likely be a determination on bail, and she expects that it will be granted, though obviously nothing is certain in this story. We have to wait and see what happens. We have seen so much already. And of course, the men that Ms. Mitchell allegedly helped, they remain at large. We'll keep you updated. The CNN original series, "The 70s," starts now.