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Trump's Racial Firestorm. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired January 12, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: This is coming after major fallout from what a source says happened during this bipartisan on immigration reform.
The president not only insulted Africa, this source tells us, but also the nation of Haiti, asking -- quote -- "Why do we need more Haitians?" -- quote.
He was just told they are under what's known as temporary protected status. Today, the president denied the expletive, saying that -- quote -- "This was not the language they used."
He also tweeted this about Haiti, quoting him: "Never said anything derogatory about Haitians, other than Haiti is obviously a very poor and troubled country. Never said take them out. Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings. Unfortunately, no trust."
However, at least seven other people were in that room, Senator Graham, also Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, whose account, if true, means that the president's denials are a lie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: You have seen the comments in the press. I have not read one of them that's inaccurate.
To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning denying that he used those words. It is not true. He said these hate-filled things. And he said them repeatedly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Senator Lindsey Graham was also in the room and, according to his statement, he said this: "I said my piece directly to him yesterday. The president and all those attending the meeting know what I said and how I feel. I have always believed that America is an idea not defined by its people, but by its ideals."
With me now, our CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.
And, Jim, the president held this event earlier today honoring Dr. King ahead of MLK Day Monday. We know that Dr. King's nephew was there. And you talked to him about this, asking him flat out if he thought the president was racist.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
BALDWIN: What did he say?
ACOSTA: It was interesting, Brooke.
And it was sort of a sad spectacle to watch, the president honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, who was obviously a civil rights icon and legend, and then at the conclusion of that event having reporters question the president about these remarks that he made yesterday and asking the president point-blank, our CNN contributor April Ryan asked him point-blank, are you a racist?
Now, at this meeting, as you just mentioned, was Isaac Newton Farris Jr. He's the nephew of Martin Luther King. As he was leaving that event here at the White House, I asked him very quickly what he made of the event, what he made of the president's comments.
And he said to me that at one point he and the HUD secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, went into the Oval Office with the president that the president privately said to Mr. Farris and Dr. Carson that he is not the kind of person that you're hearing about in the media.
Here's more of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ISAAC NEWTON FARRIS JR., NEPHEW OF MARTIN LUTHER KING: The president just simply said to me that, "I'm not the guy that is being described in the media."
ACOSTA: And do you believe him?
FARRIS: I don't think that President Trump is a racist in the traditional sense as we know in this country. I think President Trump is racially ignorant or racially uninformed. But I don't think that he's a racist in the traditional sense.
ACOSTA: And what does that mean that we have somebody like that, that you just described as president of the United States?
FARRIS: It means that we have him until 2020 or until something else happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: And so there you hear from Isaac Newton Farris Jr., Brooke.
That is not exactly high praise coming from the nephew of Martin Luther King for the president of the United States. And it just goes to show you that even the people that were invited to this event today -- and keep in mind many of them were Republicans or supporters of the president, but here you have the nephew of the civil rights icon Martin Luther King saying the president of the United States is racially ignorant -- Brooke. BALDWIN: Thank you, Jim Acosta.
I'm going to use what we just heard and ask that of my next guess.
With me now, I have our CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash and CNN contributor Cornell Brooks, former president of the NAACP.
And, Cornell Brooks, when I hear that, when I hear Dr. King's nephew saying that the president is not a racist in the traditional sense, I don't know about you. I grew up, you are either a racist or you are not a racist. What is that supposed to mean?
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I believe Mr. Farris was being kind and being diplomatic.
The evidence is compellingly overwhelming and morally damning. The president, Donald John Trump, is an unreconstructed, uncensored racist. When you look at the list of his comments, you look at his policies, you look at his behavior before, during, and since he's been elected, he's demonstrated that he is a racist.
That is a reality that Americans have to confront. And so Mr. Farris was diplomatic. But that was not a ringing moral endorsement, by any means.
BALDWIN: No, no, no, it wasn't.
Dana, to you just on -- people have been listening out, A, to the people who were in the room and just Republican leadership in general responding to what the president has said and they're all walking this fine line. Again, Senator Graham saying that he challenged the president after saying those words.
You have two other Republican senators saying that they don't recall. What are we to make of this?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the "I don't recall" is -- it's like F3 on the computer when you don't want to answer a question in Washington.
I mean, it doesn't mean anything. It means that you don't want to answer the question and you probably did hear it or maybe you were in another part of the room and you didn't really hear it and you don't want to say it didn't happen.
But I think what is most telling and interesting is Lindsey Graham's statement that he just put out that you gave our viewers just a few minutes ago. And there are so many reasons for it.
The first and foremost is just getting stuff done in Washington. Lindsey Graham is exhibit A, Brooke, and we all know, of somebody who has decided to deal with the president he's got, despite his feelings, which were very public, during the presidential race that he ran. He is alongside Donald Trump. And he has gotten a lot of guff on that from people who are very close
to him. I mean, just last week, one of his close friends, John Weaver, who ran John McCain's presidential campaign and became very close with Lindsey Graham, tweeted out an attack on Lindsey Graham, saying he's disappointed that he is watching Graham cuddle up to Donald Trump.
But the reason Graham has done that, he argues, is because he is the president and Graham's hope was that the president can be convinced to do things like immigration reform.
BASH: And despite the fact, Brooke, that Graham is saying in this statement he still hopes some kind of many immigration bill can be done for these dreamers, he knows full well, he's got to know full well, that this makes it so much harder.
And there's no question. I believe the idea that someone like Lindsey Graham condemned the president for saying this in private. But that doesn't answer the question of whether or not people like Graham are just going to throw up their hands and say, I give up. I tried. I tried to make the best of the president that we have, the president that was elected by the American people and the Electoral College. And at the end of the day, even I can't make this work.
We will see.
BALDWIN: What I can't get past, right, to your point, if Lindsey Graham is challenging him, the indication is that the man said it, and he was challenging him on it. You have senators who are saying I don't recall.
You have Dick Durbin saying this was the most vile and most hatred thing that has ever been uttered in the history of the Oval Office.
And so, Cornell, the president's denial, let's -- the lying, and not only that, in the tweet, he said, maybe I should start recording my conversations.
What did you think of that?
BROOKS: It is unconscionable.
The fact is that the president is that lying about what he said. It does not give any of us any comfort or pleasure to call the president a liar, but he is.
The fact of the matter is that Senator Graham challenged him privately. Senator Durbin confirmed the remarks. The White House initially declined to say that the reports were not true. And then subsequently the president alone seems to suggest that he didn't say what say what he in fact said.
We have got to be very clear about this. The president's remarks are both dangerous abroad and domestically. When the president demeans and degrades people based on skin color, based on race, based on ethnicity, it's not a matter of the prejudice being personal. It's a matter of the prejudice being policy.
In other words, when we consider DACA, when we consider comprehensive immigration reform, the president is looking to implement his prejudices, bias, his bigotry as a matter of policy.
That means that Senator Graham, that means that the GOP leadership has to call this out. You cannot cuddle up with the president, you cannot engage in silence as a matter of encouraging this president in training to get with the program. We have to call this for what it is, which is bigotry in the highest office.
BALDWIN: On the calling out, let me just read one more quote, Dana, and then I want to come back to you.
This is a California Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and she released a statement, a blistering statement.
Part of it reads: "The president's expressed desire to see more immigrants from countries like Norway must be called out for what it is, an effort to set this country back generations by promoting a homogeneous white society."
The thing is, we are hearing from sources saying that this whole controversy, the fact that we are talking about this on national television, that the president loves it, the president loves it.
On the calling out bit, Dana, explain this to those of who are following along.
We heard from Jim Clyburn, congressman, saying the Democrats, Congressional Black Caucus want to censure the president, but that's just like a public slap on the wrist, correct? There is no political fallout from that.
BASH: No, there's no actual...
BALDWIN: It's just a bad look.
BASH: Exactly. There's no political fallout.
But as the minority party in both houses of Congress, they don't have very much -- they don't have very many tools in their toolbox. And at least calling for a censure, which is just something that is recorded in history formally, that's about as much as they can do right now.
That's also why the notion of this year being an election year is so completely related, especially if you are the James Clyburn and other Democrats of the world, to what we are hearing now, because it's mobilizing tool and a mobilizing factor.
They don't really even have to do much, they don't think, to mobilize people to get out and vote for Democrats who could put potentially put their party in charge in the House, which could make the Democrats' job a lot easier, giving them the ability to do a lot more than potentially offer a censure, which probably wouldn't even -- likely wouldn't even pass, because you still have a Republican majority in the House.
So right now, they have their voices. They have their statements. They have the rhetorical tool of saying what they want to say, but not much more than that. You are absolutely right.
BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.
You mentioned, Cornell, you mentioned calling this what it is, right, calling it out, finding solutions. But if the president is enjoying this controversy in which he is being called a racist, how do you fix that, as you said?
BROOKS: I think one of the things we have to do is be clear the about consequences of his racism.
We need to be clear in terms of lifting this up, not nearly as a moral -- I should say as a racial obscenity, but also as a form of speech that precipitates, encourages and inspires hate crimes.
The next immigration child who is bullied and beaten as a consequence of the inspiration that this president has lent to those ride-or-die racists that are part of his base, he should be held accountable for.
The fact that we can speak up, the fact that we can call out does very much speak to the midterm elections. The president may be secure in his base. He may be happy about his base. But there are other members -- there are members of Congress and in the House of Representatives and in the Senate who need moderates.
And I'm not entirely sure at what point the GOP will decide that they can no longer stay in this shotgun marriage with the president without being held accountable.
And so one of the things that we can in fact do is be very clear. Any senator or representative who does not call this for what this is, do not show in a black church on Sunday and let the words Martin Luther King come out of your mouth.
BROOKS: Lest you choke on the hypocrisy while you're singing "We shall overcome."
Don't ask for our vote, our vote in the midterms. Don't look for support from our communities. Don't ask for us to provide cover for this bigoted president.
And so, yes, people should be inspired, they should motivated to turn out in multitudes, in the millions, en masse, to not only vote against this president, but vote against anyone who sides with him or refuses to call him out.
The GOP has to be held accountable. Either call the president out or suffer the consequences. It's just that clear.
BASH: And can I just quickly add to that?
BASH: The moderates that Cornell is talking about are running for the exits. We have 30-plus House Republicans, not all moderates, but a good number of them, who are saying, I am so out of here because I don't even want to have to deal with all of this stuff, these questions, but having to deal with governing in this environment.
Dana Bash and Cornell Brooks, thank you so much for both of your voices on such an important issue.
BROOKS: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Next here, we're going to take you live to Sudan, the home of our CNN international correspondent, Nima Elbagir. She shares her personal perspective and reaction to the president's comments from across Africa.
Plus, a wild interview. President Trump says he -- quote -- "probably has a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un." Say what?
Later, President Trump is wrapping up first physical exam since taking office. Hear from someone who makes the case that all of his results should be made public.
BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
And you know what? When the president of the United States speaks, the world listens. So, when the president uses vile words to describe some African countries, Africa reacts.
Here's what some people had to say on the streets of both Kenya and Nigeria.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Trump will say whatever he wants to say. Like, Trump talks a lot. He says a lot of things. And it is his opinion, and he's entitled to his opinion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know he looks down on African countries. What does he mean by saying that Africa is a shithole? It means that, to me, that the black people, they're not part of -- he look at them like animals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the president of the United States of America. Like, we expect more of him. We expect him to be an example.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's take you now to Africa, to our CNN senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir. She covers conflict zones all around the world, recently uncovering modern-day slavery in Libya.
And she happens to join us live today near her home Khartoum in Sudan.
Nima, when you first heard the president's comments, was it like a punch in the gut?
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think we are kind of past that point.
I think the initial ban of countries, which Sudan was amongst, was the first punch in the gut. I remember waking up and seeing that, and it coalescing almost -- I could almost feel it on my skin, kind of seeping into me, this realization that it didn't really matter, as an African, as a Muslim, what you have achieved in the eyes of so many people, including clearly the eyes of the president of the United States. We would always be second-class citizens.
And perhaps along the way, you get inoculated to that. What was interesting this morning, when we woke up to these comments here in Khartoum, was the response from so many of my friends and family. I don't think I'm under any illusions, as a female Muslim journalist, what the president of the United States thinks of me.
I think what's been really interesting is the impact that this is having on how the world is viewing America. And that's what's really sad, this erosion of this perception of America as a beacon, as somewhere to look towards in terms of institutions and democracy and freedom of press, and this ability as a human being, which doesn't exist in many African countries, to work really, really hard and realize your dreams.
In countries that are often mired in corruption and cronyism, I think that was what America really solidified, what it represented. And that's what's been really sad. As someone that's so proud to work for an American network, to be a journalist at CNN, what's been sad is hearing people doubting that my colleagues and co-workers are worthy of respect and trust, and that, fundamentally, they respect me.
I think that's what's been really difficult today, Brooke.
BALDWIN: I was texting with my friend Inarusha (ph), Tanzania, who helped me get up Kilimanjaro, saying to him, please know that what our president has said is not how we feel. Please tell your friends that.
And as I'm thinking of friends like me and relations with different African nation, not to mention the fact that U.S. has military on the ground in several nations where you are, what's the impact? ELBAGIR: The reality is that, for example, here in Sudan, we spent --
I shouldn't say we -- the government spent years lobbying for the suspension, for the ultimate lifting of financial sanctions.
And by the time that had happened, we were within the Trump administration. And the first visit post-that by President Omar al- Bashir, who, while being an indicted war criminal by the International Criminal Court, is also already crucial in terms of security cooperation in the Horn of Africa, in terms of the offensive against Al-Shabaab, where America is deeply, deeply involved during this administration.
The first thing he did was get on a plane and go to Russia. He went to visit Vladimir Putin. And I think that's incredibly telling, because people forget that Africa has options. There are now alternatives.
Africa is a burgeoning middle-class economy across the continent. This is something that I think a lot of Americans aren't aware of. Africa is a market that Americans want in on. And when the president of the United States comes out with these kind of boldly racist comments, whether he was quoted directly or indirectly, the reality is that this is in keeping with Africans know of him, when we hear this, it impacts America's soft power.
It impacts America's market share, and instead of people carrying Apple phones, they carry Samsung. Instead of people aspiring to drive Fords and G.M.s, they aspire to drive Hyundais and Toyotas.
So, how does that fit with President Trump business-friendly perspective when it comes to representing U.S. interests in Africa? So it's not just about the age-old issues of terror and the historical ties between Africa and America.
This is also about the bottom line in terms of the U.S. taxpayer. Do African consumers want to buy into America the brand? And, sadly, increasingly, the answer is going to have to start being no, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Which everything you just outlined, you would think that would be the bottom line, that would be the point that would translate for the businessman President Donald J. Trump.
Nima Elbagir, thank you so much for all that you do, live for us in Sudan.
More on our breaking news now. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham now saying he challenged the president's vile remarks when he was in that meeting. We have more details from the inside.
Also ahead, I will be joined live by one of the "Wall Street Journal" reporters who actually sat down with President Trump for that wild interview, one in which he said he should get credit for firing FBI Director James Comey, and what he said about his relationship with Kim Jong-un -- coming up.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [15:29:42]
BALDWIN: President Trump's vulgar remarks have immigrants stunned -- about immigrants -- have so many people stunned, but it's not first time that he has made comments widely considered disparaging to ethnic and racial groups.