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Gold Star Mother Reacts to Colin Kaepernick's Controversial Sit-Down. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 29, 2016 - 16:30   ET



NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They seem to be on their back foot now in Syria, but it is that distraction we are talking about with the fight there between the Turks and the Kurds that really could cause a mess in this final chapter, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

He says he is sitting out the national anthem to take a stand about the state of our country. Her son lost his life fighting for America in Afghanistan -- a Gold Star mother reacting to Colin Kaepernick's controversial sit-down next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our sports lead now, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick defending his decision to sit down during the national anthem at a preseason game Friday night seen here in this photo. It's a personal stand Kaepernick hopes will call attention to discrimination and oppression of the black community.



COLIN KAEPERNICK, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS QUARTERBACK: This is because I'm seeing things happen to people that don't have a voice, people that don't have a platform to talk and have their voices heard and effect change.

So, I'm in a position where I can do that. And I'm going to do that for people that can't.


TAPPER: Several fans responded by burning his jersey in protest.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should never play another down in the NFL again. Move to Canada. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Kaepernick says he will continue to sit during "The Star- Spangled Banner" going forward.

Playing the national anthem at sporting events is said to have started in the 1918 World Series to honor World War I veterans. So, perhaps it is not surprising that many military families have reacted strongly to Kaepernick's decision, among them, Teri Johnson, a Gold Star mother who lost her son, Sergeant Joseph Johnson, in an IED attack in Afghanistan back in 2010.

Mrs. Johnson wrote a very strongly worded Facebook post over the weekend that has gotten a lot of attention.

And joining me now is Teri Johnson.

Teri, first of all, most importantly, we are so, so sorry for your loss, and we honor your son, Sergeant Joseph Johnson, and his service and the sacrifice that you and your family have given to this country. This is a show that tries to give voice to veterans and their families.


TAPPER: So, you had a very emotional and maybe even visceral reaction to Kaepernick's decision. Tell us about it.

JOHNSON: When I read that he said he couldn't stand for a flag that he didn't have pride in, right away, my heart kind of stopped and I lost my breath, because the flag that I see is the flag that draped my son's casket in honor.

And I see the flag that was handed to my husband and I with deep respect from a grateful nation. When I look at the flag, I see the best of us.

TAPPER: I can certainly understand your strong feelings about this. I tweeted out your statement yesterday. I heard a lot of support from a lot of people, also some respectful, respectful disagreement.

One of the pushbacks was this notion that your son, a hero, died in no small way for the right of free speech, which is a right that's tested when it comes to unpopular opinions. In other words, some of these people were saying that Colin Kaepernick was in some ways the embodiment of the freedoms for which your son so bravely and selflessly risked and gave his life.

Can you see why some people might see it that way?

JOHNSON: I can understand that. And we do have freedom of speech. That is a right.

Wisdom of speech is a responsibility.

TAPPER: So, Kaepernick says he has no intention of dishonoring you or any other families who have lost loved ones fighting for this country.

Specifically, his explanation for the NFL -- to the NFL Network that he stayed seated during the anthem was because -- quote -- "I'm not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football. It would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street, people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

And one of the other pushbacks I got on Twitter, Teri, was that there are other grieving moms out there. And while their sons were not heroes like your son fighting in a far-off land, they are also grieving moms, because their sons were innocently and wrongly killed by law enforcement.

If one of them were here and said to you, hey, Kaepernick wasn't standing up against your son, he was standing up for my son, what would you say to that?

JOHNSON: My response would be that, yes, you have the right to sit down. Sitting down is something that is easy to do.

But standing up and stepping forward is something that is hard to do. And what I would like to see is if you really see oppression when you look at the flag, then make it your mission to be proud of it. Do something. Make a difference, so that when you look at that flag, you show pride and you feel hope and possibilities.

We have it within ourselves to do that. And he has such a large reach that if he -- if he wanted to truly make a difference and truly be proud, he could do that.

TAPPER: Do you think it's fair if he were to respond by saying that this is what he's doing to try to make a difference?


Obviously, it is nothing like what your son did, but that this is his way of trying to spark a debate and spark discussion and improve the country?

JOHNSON: In improving the country, I think that's a great mission.

Positive words, positive actions result in positive words and positive actions. So, instead of saying what's wrong and telling us how everything is oppressive, I agree that we have a lot of work to do. But let's try to do it in a positive manner. Support each other.

TAPPER: Teri Johnson, thank you so much.

And, as always, our thoughts and our prayers are with you and your family, and our deepest condolences on the loss of Joseph.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

TAPPER: He's an American who traveled to Venezuela to get married. But now he is sitting in a Venezuelan jail accused of possibly being a terrorist -- that story next.


TAPPER: Our buried lead, that's what we call stories that we don't think are getting enough attention, an American locked up in a jail on a hostile foreign nation on what at least one U.S. official is calling trumped-up charges.

[16:40:07] On June 11th, 24-year-old Joshua Hilt, a Mormon missionary, traveled to Venezuela to get married. He and Tamara Caleno planned on coming back home to the United States with her two daughters and starting a life together. But days after their wedding while they were waiting for visas to travel to the U.S., according to the Miami Herald, Venezuelan police appeared at their building and began conducting door-to-door searches.

Joshua, his family says, began filming the police on his mobile phone which the police did not like. A witness told the Herald that police brought a bag into the apartment and then claimed to discover weapons inside that bag.

Now, Joshua Holt faces potential charges not only involving the weapons but possibly terrorism and espionage. Venezuela's Interior Ministry even held a press conference accusing the American of being tied to a political assassination referring to him as the gringo.

Needless to say, Venezuela has a frosty relationship with the United States which has sanctioned the country for numerous human rights abuses. We reached out to the State Department, the spokesperson tells us representatives from the U.S. Embassy have been visiting Holt in jail regularly as recently as August 16th and that the U.S. government is asking for a fair trial.

Let's bring in Laurie Holt. She is the jailed American's mother, as well as Congresswoman Mia Love of Utah. Thanks to both of you for joining me.

Laurie, Josh, I imagine if you've talked to him, what does he say? He says he was framed?

LAURIE HOLT, MOTHER OF JOSHUA HOLT: Yeah, he -- there's no way that he did a mean thing there accusing him of, he actually did not film anything. He was actually in bed when it all happened. He could hear guns going off, children screaming, you know, women screaming, and they went out to look at -- out the window and saw hundreds of National Guard breaking into houses.

And so, when he saw that, he was afraid. They came into the apartment the first time, they hit him on the foot, told him to go out, and they wanted to talk to him as to why he was there. He told them why he was there. They then let him go back in to the apartment, 45 minutes later, came back with five police officers, stormed in, took him immediately, took his cellphone, start searching it.

They took him out to a truck. They had him kneeling. They kept hitting him. They kept calling him a gringo. And, some of the police officers were saying, "Why do we have him? What did he do?" And they just said, "Gringo". And, the other officer would say, "Oh, OK." And that happened several times that morning.

He finally was taken to the jail. When he was at the jail, he still he kept asking them, "What did I do? What did I do wrong? Am I in trouble?" And, the two officers that took him to the jail said that, "You're not in trouble, you'll be OK, don't worry. We are your friend." They stopped, they bought him an empanada and then took him to the jail.

When he got to the jail, he saw his phone plugged into a machine. They were scanning through it, looking through it for he doesn't know what at the time. He then saw his wife be brought in. She was in handcuffs as well and crying. And begging him to not hate her and not to leave her and that they had brought in -- after he had been taken away, they brought in a bag, a black bag. She was following them around when they were looking through the apartment building, and watched them put the grenade into Joshua's suitcase as well as the MK -- the M4 and the AK-47, put those into the closet, take pictures of it.

They've taken his life away. And all he did was go to Venezuela to marry, you know, this woman that he fell in love with, and just wanted to live happy and come home and be a family.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Love, what is the Venezuelan government saying and do you think he's being held just because he's an American in the wrong South American country at the wrong time?

REP. MIA LOVE, (R) UTAH: Look, the biggest issue that we have is that the Venezuelan government is becoming increasingly -- having a reputation for doing this not just to their own people, but now to American citizens also. Arresting people on trumped-up charges, they have over a hundred people being detained today on political crimes and prosecuted over 2,000 people.

And, you know, speaking to other members of Congress who have had experience with the Venezuelan government and speaking to the State Department, writing a letter to the State Department on July 22nd. We just got a response back from legislative affairs, United States State Department saying that they are very concerned about his health.

[16:45:05] They visited him twice. They're concerned about his health and the fact that he is being held without any due process at all.

It's just -- all of a sudden, he's taken off into jail and this is a personal constituent of mine so this is a personal issue for me. And I think that we need to do as much as we possibly can to make sure that we let, first of all, Americans know that Venezuela is not a place to go.

And two, that we need to do everything we can to demand that he gets home. We've written a letter to Secretary John Kerry demanding that he ask the Venezuelan government for a release of Joshua Holt.

TAPPER: Laurie, other families of hostages abroad have complained that the Obama administration did not help them enough. Has the State Department been responsive?

LOVE: You know, we just got the letter back, that's -- I wrote this letter ...

TAPPER: Can I ask Laurie that? I'm sorry, Congresswoman, can I just ask ...

LOVE: Yeah.

TAPPER: ... Laurie that?

LOVE: Go ahead. No, that's perfectly fine.

TAPPER: Have they been responsive enough to you, Laurie?

HOLT: No. I don't feel like they have. Right now, I just need -- President Obama said last year that he was going to do better with these cases with, you know, Americans being held hostage. I need him to step up and do that.

TAPPER: What more do you need him to do?

HOLT: I want him to get my son out, sooner than later.

TAPPER: All right, Laurie Holt, Congresswoman Love ...

HOLT: I haven't heard from ...

TAPPER: You haven't heard -- just go ahead, I'm sorry. You haven't heard from?

HOLT: I haven't heard from anybody as far as the State Department, anybody in Washington, the White House, no one. And I've written numerous letters, e-mails, I just need them to work harder than what they're doing.

TAPPER: All right, well, we're going to stay on top of this and we're going to have you back and we're going to make sure that the Obama administration hears from you one way or another.

Laurie Holt, Congresswoman Mia Love, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

LOVE: Thank you, Jake.

HOLT: Thank you.

LOVE: Thank you.

TAPPER: From the Producers to Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, remembering today a Hollywood legend.


[16:51:28] TAPPER: President Obama today joining in paying tribute to Mexican music icon, Juan Gabriel. The 66-year-old died Sunday of natural causes according to the Los Angeles County Coroner. His final performance is a sold-out concert in Santa Monica Friday night. In his 45-year career, Gabriel sold more than 100 million records. In the statement, President Obama called him one of the greats. Our condolences to his family and his fans.

A short time ago, we also learned that the brilliantly talented and funny Gene Wilder has died, a man who could go from zero to hysterical in a split second or just get bad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm getting bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Better get bad, because if you ain't bad, you're going to get (inaudible). You bad, they don't mess with you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey home, get down.



TAPPER: That was Wilder with the great Richard Pryor in the film classic, Stir Crazy, with whom Pryor he had a long and shaky relationship, but it was built on laughs.

Along with his role in Young Frankenstein, and others, he's probably best known as the man who brought Willy Wonka out of the pages of a children's book and onto the big screen. He's probably the only person who could make Wonka so sarcastic and yet so lovable.

CNN Sara Sidner joining me now live in Los Angeles. And Sara, how did Wilder die?

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're hearing from his family, his cousin has sent out a statement saying that it was Alzheimer's, complications from Alzheimer's that took his life.

But Jake, you'll remember that he was -- he battled Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma back in 1999, he started to beat it and then he went into remission for a little while. But then it came back and he did something that ended up saving his life. He was given just a few months to live. In 2005 though, he got stem cell therapy, something that was pretty unusual back in that day.

And, it ended up helping to cure him. So, he survived that but ended up being taken by Alzheimer's.

Also, we should remember his wife of five years, the comedic genius, Gilda Radner. She died of ovarian cancer in 1989. So 10 years before he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, he was an incredible actor as you alluded to. My absolute favorite was Stir Crazy, I'm so happy that you played that. But most folks of our age remember him as Willy Wonka.

TAPPER: No, definitely. The tributes are really starting to pour in for him.

SIDNER: They are. And the first person out of the box was his good friend and his co-worker, really the guy that helped bring him from Broadway to the silver screen, and that was Mel Brooks.

And here's what Mel Brooks said. He twitted it out to the world, you can see it now it's being retweeted thousands of times. "Gene Wilder, one of the truly great talents of our time, he blessed every film we did with his magic and he blessed me with his friendship." Showing how tight those two were and how important that relationship was for all of us. Jake.

TAPPER: Another classic, of course, Blazing Saddles. Sara Sidner, thank -- I know there's too many to name. Sara Sidner, thanks so much for joining.

SIDNER: It's true.

TAPPER: Appreciate it.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. We do read them. That's it for The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He is in The Situation Room. Thanks for watching.