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Confederate Flag Coming Down in South Carolina; Remarks by Gov. Nikki Haley at Signing of Fag Removal Bill; Sources: Law Enforcement Thwarted July 4 Terror Plots. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 9, 2015 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We're going to begin with the national lead. It has been a flash point ever since the massacre of those nine innocent worshipers on June 17 at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the blue and red battle flag flown for the Confederate cause in support of slavery in the 19th century.

It's coming down from capitol grounds three weeks after that horrific terrorist attack. South Carolina's governor, Nikki Haley, who called for the Confederate Battle Flag to be removed just a few days after the massacre, is moments away from signing the bill to do that.

Overnight, South Carolina lawmakers, after a grueling debate, finally voted to remove the flag, which has flown at the state capitol for more than 50 years. The bill made it past the state Senate earlier this week, and landed in the state House of Reps, where the final vote was 94-20, above the two-thirds majority needed to make it to the desk of the Republican governor.


Let's turn straight to our CNN reporters in South Carolina.

Alina Machado is inside the state House in Columbia. Nick Valencia is outside, where that flag still stands.

Alina, set the scene for us. What are you seeing where you are?

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right, Jake, this place is packed with people who have gathered here to witness firsthand this historic moment.

It's a moment that some here in South Carolina would say has been in the works for decades. And what we are about to see take place here in South Carolina is the product of Republicans and Democrats working together to remove this Confederate Battle Flag.

You can see that there are already people gathered here. They're waiting for the governor to walk outside and sign this bill into law. As you mentioned, this flag has been flying on state capitol grounds here in South Carolina since the 1960s for several decades. In 2000, it was moved from the dome over to its current location, and

now that was a compromise. But today this will all change, Jake. Today is the day that South Carolina will be officially removing that flag, at least on paper. The actual removal of the flag, Jake, is expected to take place tomorrow.

TAPPER: And, Nick Valencia, who is standing outside right near the Confederate Memorial, where the flag still waves, this is a move being made despite public opinion in South Carolina and nationally, not because of it. CNN reporting and -- CNN polling, rather, shows that more than 50 percent of the American people still see that flag as a symbol of heritage, not of hate, but a significant percentage in the United States does see it as a symbol of slavery and racism.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a monumental day here, let's make no mistake about it, for the state of South Carolina.

It's one that people have come not just far and wide across the state, but across the United States to witness. I was just talking to a family from Maryland, who showed up here today, because they were under the impression that the flag was going to be removed today, and they say they wanted to come to see it before it was taken down.

You mentioned that so many people here in the United States, they believe that this is a symbol of Southern heritage, of pride. I was talking to one Confederate Flag supporter who said that to him it doesn't symbolize racism or hatred. For him, it represents his ancestry and those ancestors that he said fought against a Northern invading army.

Even still, there's the general consensus here in the state that this is an ugly part of history here in the South, that this represents a very painful part, and those that believe it should fly are having a selective reading of history. It's divided the community. You can still see behind that are still some holdouts, those that believe that this should -- flag, still others celebrating this historic decision that we saw happen at 1:00 a.m. after 13 hours of an exhaustive debate by lawmakers.

And we cannot forget what happened to make this moment possible, that accelerated the debate, those nine innocent victims being shot and killed at the historic Emanuel AME Church. That event, that tragedy accelerated this conversation and led to this moment you are witnessing today -- Jake.

TAPPER: That's exactly right. We should of course note that, that the racist killer who attacked the Mother Emanuel Church, Alina Machado, is -- he changed the debate. He wanted to have a race war. He didn't get a race war, but by appearing in pictures with the symbol of racism as he saw it, of white supremacy as he saw it, the Confederate Battle Flag, he changed the debate not the way he wanted to.

Alina, you're inside the state capitol right now. A lot of people there have been fighting to get this flag taken down since 1961, when the Democratic Governor Ernest Hollings first put it up in the centennial celebration of the Civil War. A lot of them probably never thought that they would never see this day.

MACHADO: It's funny you mentioned that. I spoke with a representatives who was very, very outspoken last night. She told me, she said, I never thought this day would come. I never thought this would happen.


MACHADO: People are starting to cheer. It looks like we're just a few moments away from this historic moment, but this is a moment, Jake, that definitely a lot of people here in South Carolina never thought they would see.

This representative in particular told me that she never thought she would see it in her lifetime. And as you can imagine, the kinds of emotions that must be coming through her mind as she's waiting for the governor to come out and sign this bill into law.

TAPPER: And, Nick Valencia, one of the things that's so interesting -- is that Governor Haley? No, it is not. Sorry.

One of the things that's so interesting, Nick Valencia, is that after the photograph of the racist killer came out with him and the Confederate Flag, and there was this groundswell of support to get the flag removed by Democrats and civil rights groups, what happened was the three leading Republican officials in the state, Governor Nikki Haley and Senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, all three of them Republican, they bound together and they decided they were going to support removing it.


They announced it. And it was almost as if the removal of the flag was a forgone conclusion, although, of course, there was very intense and serious debate by the state Senate and the state House, Nick Valencia.

VALENCIA: You saw a sea change in ideology.

You saw Republicans who were going to have to go back to their constituents and face some very tough criticism, those who are really sticking their necks out for this vote, because it's not a vote of political convenience. It's a vote of convictions. It's a vote that people really wanted to see happen.

There was immense public pressure for this to happen. Just a few months ago, the conversations were happening among the public, but not necessarily among the lawmakers. This was a gubernatorial candidate who ran largely on a platform to take down the Confederate Flag. He ended up losing to Governor Nikki Haley.

Nikki Haley herself, just a few months ago, not mentioning support for taking down the Confederate Flag. And it wasn't until that we saw those images emerge of the shooter in the Charleston church shooting that you saw a lot of politicians here in this state far and wide and beyond the state of California -- South Carolina, I should say, really dig deep into their convictions, into their souls, I should say, and make this vote happen.

And we saw a lengthy legislative process. The timeline that we were given, some lawmakers were saying that this could have taken a month, others were saying this was a filibuster by amendment. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, I interviewed him yesterday. And he was saying let's make no mistake about it. This was a filibuster by amendment.

Every representative had an opportunity to introduce an amendment, and we saw more than 26 of them introduced. Even still, they stayed here for 13 hours at 1:00 in the morning. That's when that final vote came, an overwhelming vote, both in the Senate, a 36-3 vote there in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, you saw 94 representatives in the House here give their support for this bill.

And I don't think that's something that you would have seen just a few months ago, Jake.

TAPPER: If you're just joining us, we are waiting for the governor of South Carolina, Republican Nikki Haley, to come out and sign the legislation that will remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the state capitol grounds. We will bring that to you live.

You are looking at live pictures from inside the chamber of the South Carolina Capitol.

Alina Machado, where is the flag going to go? And when is it going to be taken down?

MACHADO: So, our understanding is that tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m., there will be a ceremony to remove the flag from its current location. And then once it's removed from there, eventually they will take down not only the flag, but also the flagpole and the fencing around it.

And once that's done, it will end up at a museum, the Confederate Relic Room that's also here in Columbia, South Carolina. And it's expected to be there. We know there is a joint resolution that was brought to the House floor yesterday, last night, and in that joint resolution, it's supposed to go into a little bit more detail about what they're going to do with the flag and also making sure that the museum gets some guidance and also funding to take care of the flag.

That resolution is still in the House, and it's expected to make its way to the Senate, and eventually turn into something that could guide the museum in terms of how to handle that flag, Jake.

TAPPER: My understanding is that it's specifically going to go to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, as you mentioned, which is a few blocks away from the state House.

This is a museum founded in 1896, which focuses on South Carolina's military history from the Revolutionary War until the present, not only the museum itself focused on the Confederate cause.

Nick Valencia, you mentioned the deep emotions. One of the South Carolina Republican legislators with whom I spoke acknowledged that it took the event, the terrorist attack, the racist terrorist attack at Mother Emanuel for him to see the flag through the eyes of those who have been calling for it to be taken down for so long, and it sounds as though that was the prevailing feeling among most of the members of the South Carolina state House and state Senate.

VALENCIA: We saw a microcosm of that last night at 8:00 p.m. when Representative Jenny Horne took the floor, and she teared up. She couldn't contain her emotion. She herself is a distant relative of the former president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.

And a lot of people here see that moment on the House floor as being a turning point for so many here. We want to play part of that statement that she made on the House floor late last night.


JENNY HORNE (R), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful, such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday.



VALENCIA: Strong words from Republican Representative Jenny Horne, who took to the floor last night and addressed her colleagues. Some people were grabbing tissues after that speech.

We saw her today as well, and she was still teary-eyed from what happened, that raw emotion still very apparent and evident on her face. And this has been a different decision for a lot of lawmakers here, Jake, also a dangerous one.

You know, we spoke to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. And they told us a handful of representatives were getting death threats because of their position on this. I saw some of those letters that were being sent to these representatives here and senators.

And they were very ugly. They're words that cannot be repeated on television, words certainly that I don't want to repeat, but it was a difficult decision for a lot of people and a dangerous one, one that was a security situation at times. And that cannot be underscored enough. This is an emotional thing, one that a lot of people are still holding on to. You can see some of the holdouts behind me.

Let me just get out of the way here so you can see this crowd. The crowd that you are looking at there right now is the biggest crowd that we have seen all day. We have seen that one individual with a Confederate Flag and the U.S. flag upside-down all morning long. He's been joined by a few others, and now you can see also a crowd forming around him.

Not quite sure what is happening there, but there are some state troopers. We have seen a very large presence of state troopers here because of a security situation.

I understand now that the governor, Nikki Haley, may be approaching the table.


TAPPER: Yes. She has come into the room. We're expecting Nikki Haley to speak right this minute. Let's take a listen.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Everybody around us, I mean, that's the first thing I want you to take in, is just look at the shot.

Can you all hear me on the mike? Press guys, are we good? One, two, three? One, two, three? We good? Can the TV guys hear?


HALEY: All right. I will yell as loud as I can.

So, you know, it's hard for us to look at what is happening today and not think back to 22 days ago. It seems like so long ago, because the grieving has been so hard. But at the same time, we have all been struck by what was a tragedy that we didn't think we would ever encounter, nine amazing people that forever changed South Carolina's history.

Having said that, I have to acknowledge the series of events that took place through all of this, because it is the true story of South Carolina. The actions that took place are what will go down in the history books. Nine people took in someone that did not look like them or act like them, and with true love and true faith and true acceptance, they sat and prayed with him for an hour.

That love and faith was so strong that it brought grace to their families. It showed them how to forgive. So then we saw the action of forgiveness. We saw the family show the world what true forgiveness and grace looked like.

That forgiveness and grace set off another action, an action of compassion by people all across South Carolina and all across this country. They stopped looking at each other's differences. They started looking at each other's similarities, because we were all experiencing the same pain.

So, then you take that compassion and that compassion motivated action. That compassion motivated people wanting to do something about it. So, the action was taken by the General Assembly, and what we saw in that swift action by both the House and Senate was we saw members start to see what it was like to be in each other's shoes, start to see what it felt like.

We heard about the true honor of heritage and tradition. We heard about the true pain that many had felt. And we took the time to understand it.

I saw passions get high. I saw passions get

I saw passions get hot. I saw passions get low, but I saw commitment never ending, and so we saw was another action, and that action is that the confederate flag is coming off the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse.


So, tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m., we will see the Confederate flag come down. We are a state that believes in tradition. We are a state that believes in history. We are a state that believes in respect. So, we will bring it down with dignity, and we will make sure it's put in its rightful place.

But this is a story about action. This is a story about the history of South Carolina and how the action of nine individuals laid on this long chain of events that forever showed the state of South Carolina what love and forgiveness looks like.

And I will tell you that now this is about our children, because when they go back and look he history books, while we're still grieving, and the grieving is going to last for a long time, when the emotions start to fade, the history of the actions that took place by everyone in South Carolina to get us to this moment is one that we can all be proud of.

So, 22 days ago I didn't know that I would ever be able to say this against, but today -- I am very proud to say that it is a great day in South Carolina.


So, with that, we don't want to wait any longer, we are now going to sign the bill.

So, I want to say it is with great pride that I am surrounded by members of the Emanuel Nine family. I want to thank them for taking the time to come. I'm also surrounded by former governors who put their name on a letter, put their support together to say -- yes, while we have been a part of South Carolina's past, we want to see this part of South Carolina's future go in the right direction.

So I thank everybody that is with me today.

With that, I am proud to say that the bill has been signed. I do want to also acknowledge these nine pens are going to each of the nine families of the Emanuel Nine.


May we never forget the actions that those people took to get us to this point today.

And then I've got a couple other pens. Many people have talked about the courage that took place by so many across this state, but one person started this almost two decades ago, and that was Governor David Beasley. The last time I saw him, I said, "You started it," and he said, "Well, I need you to finish it."


[16:15:10] And the second one was someone who also understands what this can feel like, what the tensions can feel like, what it means to do something. He worked very hard, and is the person that brought of Confederate flag off the dome.

And I want to thank you for all that you have done in terms of support and all that you have down for South Carolina in the past.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Governor.


HALEY: And these two are for me.

So, with that, I will tell you thank you very much. Thank you for making it another great day in South Carolina. We are now looking forward to the future and the future of our children. Thank you very much. God bless you.


TAPPER: An historic day in South Carolina, as Republican Governor Nikki Haley signs legislation to bring down the Northern Virginia battle flag, more commonly known as the Confederate flag or Confederate battle flag, from the capitol grounds. It all started, of course, 22 days ago with the racist terrorist attack at the Mother Emanuel Baptist Church. Governor Haley making a point she will give nine of the pens used to sign legislation to the families of the Mother Emanuel Nine.

Let us take a moment to give their names -- read their names. Of course, there's the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator, Reverend Daniel Simmons, Reverend Sharonda Coleman Singleton, Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Tywanza Sanders, and Myra Thompson. Nine victims whose lives are now going to be remembered in history for quite a long time.

Let's bring in South Carolina State Senator John Scott, and Bakari Sellers, who's a CNN contributor and previously served in South Carolina's House of Representatives.

Mr. Sellers, let me start with you.

What did that event -- what will the removal of the flag tomorrow at 10:00 a.m., what will it mean to you? BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it means a great deal. I'm

trying to gather my words as we go, because of the heroes, and she- roes that lifted their voted and gave their lives so that I could be here today.

It didn't start with legislators like myself, it started with legislators like John Scott standing to my right. It started with Kay Patterson. It started with so many of those who marched before us to take this flag down.

And now, if we can come together in South Carolina, black and white, Democrat and Republican, to remove this flag, imagine what we can come together and do next. That is the vision, that's the hope. This flag is not the end of anything. It's just the beginning of another amazing journey that we'll take here in South Carolina.

TAPPER: Mr. Scott, are you surprised how quickly it came down -- I guess quickly is the wrong word, given that people having trying to get it down since Governor Hollings put it up in 1961. But in the last three weeks, are you surprised at how quickly this came down?

JOHN SCOTT (D), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATE: No, I'm not. Given what has happened, beginning with the families on June 17th, and watching South Carolina come together, with members above the House and the Senate saying we've had enough of this kind of behavior in South Carolina.

We understand that the flag coming down has its own responsibility. There's a tremendous price, a lot of us have paid in the past for it. And going forward, it will have a lot of great responsibility for us to learn how to work together, learn how to take care of a lot of issues that affect Carolinians' jobs, economic development, health care, education so many issues.

I'm just really happy about this beginning, but I don't want this beginning to just be a one-time beginning. I want us to really especially the state Senate to focus on real issues that help South Carolina, as we move away from those issues that have divided us, let us find common ground to take care of those South Carolinians who really need to do a lot of good things for.

TAPPER: All right. State Senator John Scott, Bakari Sellers, former state representative and CNN contributor, thank you both.

We'll have a lot more on this later on CNN.

But let's now turn to other national news. U.S. officials admitting just how close terrorists came to striking inside the U.S. on the Fourth of July weekend. Some attacks were apparently thwarted at the very last minute. That story next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Today, a chilling discovery about just how close terrorists linked to ISIS may have come to pulling off a terrorist attack on the Fourth of July weekend. You saw police and federal officials across the country ramped up security, of course, after that bulletin went out warning of potential Islamic extremist attacks tied to Independence Day, also coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

And now, U.S. officials are telling CNN that law enforcement foiled multiple terrorist plots in recent weeks, some of them tied to the holiday.

Let's bring CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

According to the FBI, Jim, how close did the suspects get to actually carrying out these attacks?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that it's days or week, because the FBI Director James Comey said today that they made more than ten arrests in the last four weeks, some of them tied to ISIS and some of them tied to the Fourth of July holiday. So, it helps explain that level of alert that they had, and to keep in mind, Jake, that I'm told, they still have in terms of likely there is to be at least an attempted terror attack on U.S. soil. So, that threat remains even after the July 4th holiday.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.