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CNN NEWSROOM

Criminal Convictions Not Stopping Some Republican Candidates; Trump Attends Mike Pompeo's Swearing in at State Department; Kanye West Says 400 years of Slavery was a Choice; President Trump Threatens to Get Involved in DOJ; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 2, 2018 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:330:00] AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You don't have to go to trial. Pardoning somebody without going to a trial and seeing what may be convicted of is nearly unprecedented and that hasn't gotten nearly enough focus because, I mean, let's see what he would be convicted of. Shouldn't we have at least people gone through the process rather than just, you know, giving the finger to the court and saying I don't have to talk to you?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So Arpaio is not the only candidate running right now, Robby, who has been convicted of a crime. In West Virginia you have the Senate candidate there, former coal mining CEO Don Blankenship went to prison for conspiring to violate mine rules. 29 people died when the mine that he ran exploded. Here's his ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON BLANKENSHIP, WEST VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Politicians are running a lot of crazy ads. They blew up the coal mine and then put me in prison. Now they're running ads to say the coal mine blew up and I went to prison. There's no surprise there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: That's a real ad, first of all. Just let that stew for a moment. He did go to prison, the mine did blow up, the 29 people did die. He's not hiding from it. This is the -- you know, the law and order party, the Republican law and order Party, and yet you have multiple people running as Republicans that have been convicted of crimes. You've got Michael Grim here in New York running for Congress, Blankenship, Arpaio. What's going on?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, this is Donald Trump's Republican Party. The facts don't matter and I don't think the law matters for these folks anymore, and the president has 100 percent enabled and nurtured this kind of behavior. You know, it should be surprising -- the vice president is on stage there in Arizona. I'm just shocked. You know, Michael Grim had to basically leave Congress because of his crimes and now he's, you know, a legitimate candidate to run again.

Again, I think Blankenship is probably a particularly good example in this case because that's someone who, because of his own negligence killed 29 people. It was his company that didn't keep that mine safe .

HARLOW: Right.

MOOK: And as Democrats, that's what we're going to have to focus on how these people are hurting us and everyday people. And in Michael Grim's case it's his corruption and in Joe Arpaio's case I think he cost that county millions of dollars because of all the lawsuits. So it's stunning and it's scary, and -- but we're going to have to be disciplined in our messaging because just pointing at them and calling them criminals isn't going to do it.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: It's interesting, but not completely unrelated. You know, we learned a man, a Dr. Harold Bornstein, the guy who was the president's physician for a long time, now says it was candidate Donald Trump who dictated the now famous, you know, this will be the healthiest president ever message.

I feel like someone should write a book about this.

CARPENTER: Yes.

BERMAN: Oh, wait, you did. You did.

CARPENTER: Yes.

BERMAN: "Gaslighting America." You mentioned Dr. Bornstein on page 88 of this book. And in some ways this seemingly tried episode, you basically think it's emblematic of something bigger.

CARPENTER: Absolutely. If you watch Trump and we all have, we noticed there is a pattern of his people in his inner circle speaking like him, giving him the highest praises, it's almost a joke. There is a Trumpian language and now we're seeing that he's even dictating it at times. And this is a sign of loyalty that people who want to get in his inner circle must signal to him. It's a prerequisite. It's why people, you know, are leaving the party or getting candidates that are really the bottom of the barrel types because there's very few people willing to engage in this.

I mean, Sean Spicer got in trouble for the crowd size comments but to me the most stunning one which I detailed in the book, I've got a whole appendix, as the most over the top statement because it just makes you laugh when you read them all because how similar they are. But his most over the top statement was the speech that he gave from the press room after the president's first Middle East trip where he essentially stood up and said he's on the verge of achieving peace in the Middle East.

Hope Hicks was writing statements that people were comparing to North Korean propaganda. I mean, the list goes on and on. And because it comes straight from the top. It's part of the gaslighting.

HARLOW: Robby, switching gears here, Nancy Pelosi feeling very confident right now. She comes out and she says and I quote, "We will win. I will run for speaker. I feel confident about that," thinking the Democrats are going to take the House. She's introducing Democratic Congress members at events as the next chair of their committees. Is she a little over confident, a little too cocky right now?

MOOK: Well, the thing we have to give Nancy Pelosi credit for is I literally do not think any other human being on the planet is working harder to help the members and help the party, you know, win this election. She -- you know, she's flying back and forth on the red eye all the time. I don't think we want to push too hard on the idea that a win is a given.

HARLOW: Right.

MOOK: I think a lot of people in 2016 didn't turn out to vote or voted third party because they thought that Hillary Clinton didn't need their votes. So I wouldn't, you know, put it in certain terms today, but the wind is certainly at our back and Nancy Pelosi and every other Democrat should put everything that they can into this.

BERMAN: You know, Conor Lambs of the world who ran against Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats who are doing the same will take issue, I think, with that statement as well, but that's a whole other discussion.

HARLOW: Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.

[10:35:03] MOOK: Well, a race for speaker will be a great problem for us to have, by the way.

HARLOW: There you go. You'll take it.

MOOK: We'll welcome that.

HARLOW: Robby, bring us your book when you have it. Amanda, big congrats on the book. Look forward to reading it.

All right. President Trump set to make his first visit -- first visit as sitting president to the State Department. His new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be sworn in today as he promises to bring the swagger back. His word.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Very shortly the president will make his first visit to the State Department where he will participate in the official ceremonial swearing in of Mike Pompeo as secretary of State.

HARLOW: Now Pompeo comes to head the department that is full of unfilled senior positions including ambassadorships in crucial locations around the world. Take a listen to Pompeo addressing his new team just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I talked about getting back our swagger and I'll fill in what I mean by that, but it's important.

[10:40:03] The United States Diplomatic Corps needs to be in every corner, every stretch of the world executing missions on behalf of this country and it is my humble, noble undertaking to help you achieve that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott joins us now.

So, Elise, this is a big day. You're at the State Department, the president is about to head there in just a few moments. Morale, no question, needs to be lifted at the State Department. What is expected to be different? What are you hearing from people within the department about Pompeo now at the helm?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, guys, I already think yesterday Secretary Pompeo went a long way to acknowledging that there is a low morale problem and he's going to improve it. His first act, official act yesterday was to lift this hiring freeze on family members overseas of American diplomats. It sounds like something very small, but it was something that Secretary Tillerson put a freeze on, and it was something very important to diplomats overseas.

You know, already people are saying he's saying the right things. Obviously when abroad in the last couple of days and made a showing that he has the ear of the president. And a source close to the secretary told me that the idea of President Trump coming here, swearing in Secretary Pompeo officially today was a joint decision for the president to come and show the support for the Diplomatic Corps.

So I think now that President Trump has a relationship with Secretary Pompeo has his ear, trust him, I think it's going to go a long way to improving the relevance of the State Department, and I think that's what the secretary was getting at yesterday. I think he's sending the right signals, he has a lot of positions, as you said, to be filled. He has a budget session coming up. So we'll just have to see what comes. But I think already people are starting to think things are getting back to normal after Secretary Tillerson, who, you know, was obviously not very popular here.

BERMAN: I think the mood music in the lobby there might also improve morale at the State Department.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: Elise, very quickly, any change on how this secretary will interact with other members of the National Security Team, whether it'd be the secretary of Defense or National Security adviser.

LABOTT: I think it's going to be a little bit more seamless. Obviously, Secretary Mattis was very close to Secretary Tillerson, but there was a divide with the National Security Council, and I think Secretary Pompeo is going to work well with John Bolton. I think they have more of a similar world view, and I think that's what the secretary was getting at yesterday. He is going to be implementing the president's policy. So I think you're going to see less divisions among the National Security Team. We'll have to see, obviously, but that's what it seems like so far.

BERMAN: All right. Elise Labott, thank you very much, enjoy the harp, enjoy the ceremony.

The controversy created by Kanye West. His shocking comments about slavery and the fascinating reaction. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:47:24] HARLOW: Rapper Kanye West stunning pretty much everyone with what he said about slavery in the TMZ newsroom yesterday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KANYE WEST, RAPPER: You hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years? That sounds like a choice. Like, you were there for 400 years and it's all of you all? You know, like, it's like we're mentally in prison.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Slavery is a choice. Shocking to hear that. Really impressive, though, the powerful response from TMZ's Van Latham following what Kanye West had to say. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VAN LATHAM, TMZ EMPLOYEE: You're entitled to your opinion. You're entitled to believe whatever you want, but there is fact and real- world, real-life consequence behind everything that you just said. The rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery that you said for our people was a choice. Frankly, I'm disappointed. I'm appalled and, brother, I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something, to me, that's not real.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now, Monique Judge, staff writer for "The Root."

Monique, you know, we've all been watching this. Your reaction?

MONIQUE JUDGE, STAFF WRITER, THE ROOT: I think that this was incredibly poor judgment on Kanye's part. I feel like he spoke from an uneducated place. You know, slaves revolted all the time. Slaves tried to get away all the time. They died for it. So to make a statement like the choice to remain in slavery was or -- rather that remaining in slavery was a choice is just completely ignorant, and irresponsible, quite frankly. Kanye has a wide base. A lot of rabid fans who hang on to his every

word and so when you put something like this out there, you know, and people are going to listen to you and take you as an authority on this, and believe you, they're going to take that information and run with it, so that's dangerous because he's putting out misinformation.

HARLOW: So you -- and you write about this, your response about how dangerous you believe this is. Kanye tried to clarify things if that's even possible, tweeting this afterwards. "To make myself clear, of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will, my point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved."

Your reaction to his attempts to clarify but also is there anything that he could say at this point that would make you think, OK, actually he gets it?

[10:50:01] JUDGE: No, there's not. You know, quite frankly, Kanye makes his living with words. Just like I make my living with words. So it's very important that you choose your words carefully. You don't get to get a do over a lot of times, so for him to try to come back and play Monday morning quarterback after the fact and say actually this is what I meant. You should have said what you meant the first time. You make your living with words and that's just the bottom line.

BERMAN: Look, maybe he is choosing his words carefully and maybe this is about something else, right? Maybe this is about Kanye West trying to generate controversy and publicity. Because it seems to be several days of these in a row at this point.

JUDGE: And it has been. And if that is Kanye's end goal, then again I have to state that this is very dangerous what he's choosing the rhetoric that he's choosing, to further that agenda, if, in fact, that is his agenda is dangerous, and irresponsible and he should not be doing this. They need to take his Twitter password away.

HARLOW: So in a separate interview Kanye West sat down with Charlemagne on a very well known radio show here and he talked about Harriet Tubman being put on the $20 bill, for example, and he just sort of went off again. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WEST: Why you got to keep reminding us about slavery? Why don't you show us, put Michael Jordan on the $20 bill? My boy Tremane tweeted, you know, a picture of me and Virgil, and he said, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. And all these people got mad. It's like, how can you compare them to that? Man, I know this is going to cause an uproar, but certain -- certain icons is too far in the past and not relatable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Monique? JUDGE: So here's the deal. To first of all say why do you keep

reminding us about slavery, the reason why is because systemic racism, institutionalized racism, the things that we're still experiencing today started back in slavery. These are institutions that have continued and prospered because of slavery and they continue until this very day. So again, with the irresponsible comments and to just, you know, why don't we talk about this instead of this.

You know, black people are not monolithic. We talk about everything, but the fact remains that when we're still seeing our people shot down in the streets, you know, when people are experiencing racism everywhere that they go then it is an issue that we do need to continue to discuss until we come to some sort of resolution.

BERMAN: Monique Judge, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

JUDGE: Thank you.

BERMAN: We've got a lot more ahead. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:57:22] BERMAN: All right. Breaking news. A new threat from President Trump to intervene with the Department of Justice and maybe also the Russia investigation.

Our Abby Phillip at the White House. Abby, what do you have?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, John. This is a tweet that as you just mentioned could probably only be interpreted as a threat. The president once again weighing in on congressional Republicans' request for documentation from the Justice Department. They've been saying the Justice Department has been stonewalling.

The president says now, "It's a rigged system. They don't want to turn over documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting," he asks. "Why such unequal justice. At some point I will have no choice but to use the power granted to the presidency and get involved."

Now I'm not going to speculate too much about what the president means here about get involved. The president has been -- being advised by a lot of people outside of this White House to fire Rod Rosenstein who is the deputy attorney general, the person who is in charge of the Mueller investigation and someone who a lot of Republicans on the Hill, allies of the president, have been talking about drafting Articles of Impeachment for.

Now the president has had some tough words for Rosenstein in the past. It's unclear whether this is a reference to that or to something else, but here clearly President Trump is growing increasingly frustrated and while he has said in the past that he's decided to leave the Justice Department alone for now, he seems to be apparently getting close to the point where he's willing to step in in some way. What will he do? Very unclear, and what will the reaction be and more

importantly, among Republicans on Capitol Hill is also a huge question mark here -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Abby, you know, this also follows some Republican members of Congress namely those in the House Freedom Caucus drafting Articles of Impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, essentially saying, they're calling it a last resort if they were to actually put those through and bring them to the Judiciary Committee. So just an interesting development off of that. The president clearly attacking Rosenstein here.

PHILLIP: Absolutely. The question of whether or not the president supports the drafting of those Articles of Impeachment is a real one in part because it's being drafted by people who are close allies of his on the Hill. He also -- the president has very poor relationships with other leaders of the Justice Department namely Attorney General Jeff sessions who has been in his crosshairs for months now. Rosenstein is right there with him, John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillips at the White House. Thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thank you all for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.