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CNN NEWSROOM

The Bizarre Story Behind "Blacks for Trump" Guy; ESPN Under Fire for Taking Robert Lee Off UVA Game; 17 Charities Pull Events from Trump's Mar-a-Lago; Ex-Russian Diplomat Denies That He's a Spy; Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 23, 2017 - 15:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Going back to Phoenix last night, there was a lot going on in President Trump's appearance but one thing really actually stood out. As the president was delivering his speech, you couldn't help but notice the one African-American sort of waving his handmade "Blacks for Trump" sign. We've actually seen this gentleman before. If you look closely, this is -- here he is from a year ago. Right behind President Trump.

And notice the president's hats change color, you know, locations change, but the same "Blacks for Trump" guy is often right there behind the president. He calls himself Michael the Black Man. But who is he?

CNN's Jessica Schneider is in Washington with more.

Who is this guy?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, we know that he is outspoken, controversial, inflammatory, and as you saw there, really a regular presence at some of these rallies and events for Donald Trump. So we've been combing through some YouTube and even campaign videos all day and this man, as you said, refers to himself as Michael the Black Man.

He has not only been at those campaign rallies, Brooke, but he's also been front and center at Donald Trump's victory party on election night or actually it was the morning after and he's even been at Mar- a-Lago for an event in March of this year. So really the question is, what does the president and his team know about this guy who has called Hillary Clinton a member of the Ku Klux Klan, has called Democrats slave masters?

Well, the White House referred all of our questions to the Trump campaign, which hasn't responded to our questions about why this man is always prominently featured so here's what Maurice Simonette, that's what he calls himself, told a Chicago radio station this morning about how he got into that Phoenix rally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL THE BLACK MAN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, I wasn't placed there. I put myself there. They have seen me a lot of times, so when I -- I was like -- well, I'm sorry, about sixth in line. I got there, like, 8:00 that morning. I'm glad I was there so that I could get the message out, tell people what's going on with the Democrats and the Cherokee Indian, absolutely destroying the black man and the white man of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:35:10] SCHNEIDER: So Maurice Simonette is his name, Brooke, and he says he stands in line to get into these rallies but it still is curious how he always gets that prominent place right behind the president -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. Jessica Schneider, thank you.

Just in, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell saying he and the president's team are in contact about their shared goals, which includes everything from jobs to the war on ISIS. This statement comes as we learned the two have not spoken in a couple of weeks after some apparent shouting match over the phone early August.

The president, we're told, was upset with the Senate majority leader for not doing more to protect him regarding the Russia investigations. More on that just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: ESPN coming under fire over a Confederate general's name that sounds oddly familiar to one of the sports network's play-by-play guys.

[15:40:03] So the announcer's name is Robert Lee, not Robert E. Lee, as in the general who led the South in the civil war. Just plain Robert Lee.

Lee, the play-by-play guy, was set to call the home opener for the University of Virginia in Charlottesville but ESPN worried Lee's name might create a bit of a distraction, so they pulled him. They reassigned him.

Social media went absolutely bananas over this. ESPN laid out its reasoning in a statement, quoting here, ESPN saying, "We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name."

So I have sports journalist Clay Travis with us who broke the story on his FOX Sports radio show, "Outkick the Coverage."

Clay, good to see you. I mean, I realize this is just a total coincidence, name-wise, but really? Because of his name?

This is how insane the world has become. BALDWIN: This is a little insane.

CLAY TRAVIS, SPORTS JOURNALIST WHO BROKE STORY ON ESPN UVA DECISION: That a situation like this could even arise, that anybody could even think of it is I think just testament to the fact that we basically live in a world where "The Onion" can't even come up with fake news articles anymore because the real ones are more absurd than the ones they can think of.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Yes. I'll go with you on that.

TRAVIS: Right? I mean, it's crazy.

BALDWIN: It is a little crazy. I mean, when I saw this this morning, I was like, this is the dumbest thing I have ever seen. Has the journalist -- has Robert Lee spoken up?

TRAVIS: No, he has not. And you know, ESPN in that statement that you read, that they initially provided to my Web site, "I'll Kick the Coverage," tried to contextualize why they made this decision, but I think this is an example of where you need to take a step back and think about, OK, what's the worst case scenario here?

He is showing up as an Asian man named Robert Lee to call the University of Virginia against William and Mary game. Maybe 100,000 or 200,000 people are watching this game. Maybe a few people think it's funny, we have a few laughs, look, Robert E. Lee's under fire, he's trying to sneak into Charlottesville any way he can, he's now disguised himself as an Asian play-by-play man.

It's something that the Internet has fun with for like 45 minutes on a college football Saturday when you're down in Atlanta and there are many more big games going on. Right? Florida State's playing Alabama. I mean, Michigan is playing Florida. There's all these games that people care about. Nobody cares about William and Mary against UVA and so this story would have disappeared.

Instead, ESPN overreacts, removes the guy from the story. People at ESPN to, their credit, reach out to me and say, have you seen how insanely sensitive my network is becoming? You've got to see this story. We write about it and now it's been not just major national news. It's international news.

People are reaching out to me to come on all over the world because they can't believe this is a real story from the United States.

BALDWIN: Listen, in a sense, you understand the sensitivity at first, but I think we're all grown-ups and realize it's a different person and case closed. Real life onion.

Clay Travis, thank you so much. "Outkick the Coverage." Good to see you. Thank you for that.

We have this, though. More charities parting ways with President Trump's Mar-a-Lago down in Florida following the president's Charlottesville response. Those new details next.

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[15:47:52] BALDWIN: This list keeps growing. At least 17 charities have now canceled events at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. This is all because of his controversial remarks he made following the deadly terror attack in Charlottesville.

David Fahrenthold with his trustee reporter notepad and everything is our CNN contributor and "Washington Post" reporter, you know, tracking this whole thing.

And so here's the picture. You know, you've been tweeting out your list and the organizations. Why -- what are they telling you? Why are they pulling out?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Here's what's interesting. These are all -- the ones you can see there that have the red lines drawn through them.

BALDWIN: Yes.

FAHRENTHOLD: These are all charities that had been long-time clients of Donald Trump's club at Mar-a-Lago down in Palm Beach. They've gone after these big charities where they can pay between $150,000 to $300,000 a night just for one gala. And that these are charities that said we're going to come back in 2017 or 2018, because we think it will be a political choice to pull out, you know, the nonpolitical thing is to stay doing what we've done before.

But then comes Charlottesville. After Charlottesville, Trump changes his brand so much that these folks have said the opposite. It would be political for us to stay. To stay nonpolitical, to stay out of politics, we're going to withdraw and try to find some other venue.

And that's been the huge shift that happened just for those comments about the folks marching in Charlottesville being fine people that the president made last week.

BALDWIN: So how much is this hitting him where it hurts, you know, in the pocket? How much money does he or does Mar-a-Lago lose?

FAHRENTHOLD: Well, you're right to say he. He owns Mar-a-Lago. Even though he's not theoretically in operational control of it now, he owns it. So this money that goes to him. Each one of these galas is between $150,000 and $300,000. Figure $150,000 for each, 11 had dropped out, that's $1.6 million. In addition, we've had four luncheon -- charities drop out from luncheons and those are between $25,000 and $85,000 apiece. So north of $1.6 million is my estimate of how much revenue he might be missing out on.

BALDWIN: At 17 and counting, we follow your reporting up at "Washington Post."

David, thank you so much.

FAHRENTHOLD: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

He is the man at the center of the Trump Russia investigation. And up until now, no Western media outlet has gained access to him until now.

[15:50:02] Coming up next, CNN's exclusive conversation with the Ambassador Sergey Kislyak with our own Matthew Chance.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:55:35] BALDWIN: The former Russian diplomat at the center of the Russia Trump campaign controversy exclusively telling CNN about that Oval Office meeting with the president of the United States. Keep in mind no other Western media outlet has spoken with Sergey Kislyak except for CNN.

The former Russian ambassador had pre-election conversations with then-Senator Jeff Sessions who is now attorney general. And also General Flynn, the shortest serving National Security adviser in U.S. history. General Flynn resigned after misleading the vice president about the content of their conversations. Then in May the former Russian ambassador met with President Trump in the Oval Office and that is when the president reportedly disclosed classified information.

And so our very own Matthew Chance tracked down the former Russian ambassador.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Mr. Ambassador. Quick question. Did you discuss lifting sanctions with any members of the Trump team when you were in the United States?

SERGEY KISLYAK, FORMER RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: With your respect, I'm here to talk to the Russian people.

CHANCE: I understand that. So you've got no secrets --

KISLYAK: I have said everything I wanted prior to this.

CHANCE: Did you discuss opening secret channels with the Kremlin with Jared Kushner, for instance?

KISLYAK: I have said many times that we do not discuss the substance of our discussions with our American intel actors out of respect to our partners.

CHANCE: Fair enough. But when you met Donald Trump, the president, were you surprised when he disclosed secret information to you about Syria?

KISLYAK: I'm not sure that I heard anything that would be secret. But that was a good meeting. And we were discussing things that were important to your country and to mine. CHANCE: What about this allegation that you are a spy master, a spy

recruiter?

KISLYAK: Nonsense. Nonsense.

CHANCE: Did you attempt to recruit any members of the Trump administration?

(LAUGHTER)

KISLYAK: You should be ashamed because CNN is the company that keeps pointing to these allegations. It's nonsense.

CHANCE: It's U.S. security officials, intelligence officials that made it, of course.

KISLYAK: I've heard other statements by them, also by former -- head of the FBI who said that I was a diplomat. I had no reasons to doubt that he knew what he said.

CHANCE: OK. Just one last question. What's your prediction for the future of U.S.-Russian relations?

KISLYAK: I'm afraid it's going to be difficult. And it's not because of us, it's because of the U.S. political dynamics, the anti-Russian law holding Russian-American discussions.

CHANCE: Is it sanctions?

KISLYAK: It's a sanctions law but essentially as an instrument. It's basically a statement being against the Russians. That is the most important thing. And it's not going to be washed away, it's going to stay. It's going to spoil the ability of both countries to resume normal relations and normal relations are exactly what is missing.

CHANCE: Have you lost faith that Donald Trump is going to be able to do what he said during his campaign and make things better with Moscow?

KISLYAK: I'm not sure that I operate with the finishes of faith, absence of faith. We work with the United States based on the policies. They have seen so many different things about us and we feel pretty comfortable with what we do for Russia. And by the way, I'm here to do exactly what is important to us.

CHANCE: Sergey Kislyak, thank you very much.

KISLYAK: Thank you. Bye-bye.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BALDWIN: How about that? Matthew Chance tracking him down. I've got you for 50 seconds. How did that happen?

CHANCE: Well. It wasn't -- it wasn't easy at all. I mean, Sergey Kislyak did not want to see us and did not want to do an interview with us. We've been trying to get an interview with him for the past couple of weeks and we've got no response from the Foreign Ministry.

His people here, the press people here that have been dealing with us have been trying to give us false information about where he was located. They tried to send us on a wild goose chase to a village three and a half hours drive outside this city Saransk earlier today, saying that he would meet us there. And so, you know, he was not expecting to see us waiting for him as he got out of that van and to address a youth summit in the middle of Saransk. And so, you know, it was lucky for us that we got him.

BALDWIN: Extraordinary. Well done, Matthew Chance. Well done. Thank you so much.

And thank you for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Brooke. And which President Trump attempts to rewrite history, omitting all pertinent facts?