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VA. Governor Ralph Northam Holds Press Conference on Racist Yearbook Photo; VA. Governor Denies He's in Racist Photo, Insists He Won't Resign; Interview with NAACP President Derrick Johnson; Massive Security Operation Underway to Keep Super Bowl LIII Safe. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired February 2, 2019 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you saying the last photo (INAUDIBLE)?

RALPH NORTHAM, (D), VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: Yes. There are three photos. If I could look at the picture, but I think there are three photos. One is me standing in front of a car that I restored, one kneeling like on a farm setting, and one a more formal picture. I did submit those. Where this other picture came from, I don't know. And I'm not going to sit here and hypothesize or speculate how it happened. But I can only imagine that if there are a number of photos laid out on the table and someone is pasting those on, page after page, that one could get mistakenly put on the wrong page. As I said earlier, this has happened numerous times in this particular yearbook and I suspect that's what happened in this case.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor, how do you expect people to believe you, because yesterday you were accepting responsibility for this, and then in less than 24 hours, you're saying, no, it wasn't me. People are having a hard time believing this. Why should they believe it?

NORTHAM: I'm accepting responsibility that this photograph was on my page in the yearbook. I regret that. It's horrific. It made me sick when I saw it. But I will tell you that my word, I will stand and live by my word. I was the president of the VMI Honor Court. Our code there is a cadet shall not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do. That's the most meaningful thing to me in my life. I tell the truth. I'm telling the truth today. That was not my picture.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On the yearbook, is it possible -- were you a big drinker at the time? Is it possible you were drinking when you took the photo and just don't remember?

NORTHAM: You know, I have had a drink over the years, several drinks over the years. But I have never been to the point where I'm not in touch with my surroundings. The whole point -- and this is what really baffled me of this situation. I looked at that photograph. Once I started thinking, I said, if I had dressed up like that, had put whatever was on that person's face, and stood beside a costume of the KKK, I would remember that. And I have no recollection at all. And there were some other things, that as I said, if one looks at the picture, it's not my picture. I remember the dance contest in San Antonio just like it was yesterday. And so my conclusion from that is, I certainly take responsibility for what happened in San Antonio. I have learned from that. But this was not my picture. I was not in that costume either as blackface or as KKK. And it's not me.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: If that would have been you in that picture, would you have resigned? And why do you think that picture is any more offensive than dressing up as Michael Jackson? Are both of those things disqualifying?

NORTHAM: It's a great point. You know, I at the time, when I dressed up at Michael Jackson, it was a talent show. I didn't personally find it as unacceptable at that time. I have learned since, again, in talking to my friend, Seth. The picture, though, that is in the EVMS yearbook with the blackfacing and the member of the KKK, is just horrific. It's totally offensive. So I find both of them to be wrong. I wasn't responsible for the first one. I can tell you that. I take responsibility for the issue in San Antonio.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor -- (INAUDIBLE) -- why do you think this photo surfaced now?

NORTHAM: You know, I don't want to ever, you know, try to judge someone's intent. But it is perhaps coincidental. I guess most accurately, is to probably ask the person. I've heard kind of secondhand from that person, why he did this. But I would rather it come from you. But there was an agenda involved.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: To that point, you've run two pretty rough and tumble statewide races in recent years. Anyone that goes through this kind of a race does a self-search of this kind of material while inevitably your opponents are probably doing it as well.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: To go back and look, everyone from kindergarten all the way through, just in case they say something?

[11:04:54] NORTHAM: We're always asked when we're running what kind of things should our people look into. Obviously, there's opposition research on the other side. But I will tell you, no, I didn't ever really think about that there would be anything offensive in my EVMS yearbook. This literally hit me like a ton of bricks last night. It totally caught me off-guard. It was something I wasn't expecting. To your point, the people who do that kind of research, perhaps they should have looked at that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You said that the competition in San Antonio was a dance competition?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You danced the moonwalk?

NORTHAM: That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you still able to moonwalk?

UNIDENTIFIED WIFE OF RALPH NORTHAM: Inappropriate circumstance.

NORTHAM: My wife says, inappropriate circumstances.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor, why do you feel like this is the best way forward for Virginia for you to stay in office? Democratic leaders say they've lost trust in you.



NORTHAM: What I really want to do is talk about the racism and bigotry that I've fought so long and hard. When the white supremacists marched into Charlottesville, I was there with then- Governor McAuliffe and our attorney general, denouncing that. And so I have felt very strongly about that. We still have a lot of issues to work on as we move forward, as I talk about inequities in access to voting, access to education, health care, the justice system. So we still have a lot of work to do. I really think this is probably a good opportunity to -- you know, to talk about that issue with what has happened this week.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus -- (INAUDUIBLE). How do you respond to that?

NORTHAM: Well, I will continue to reach out and talk to them about this issue. Again, I want to reinforce, as I was saying earlier to the question, I have made mistakes in my life. But what caused this stir-up yesterday, I'm not responsible for. That is not me in that photo. I would hope that all the caucuses and the people of Virginia will realize that. That's not me. That's not who I am. And while I have made mistakes in my past, what started this yesterday, it's something that is not realistic. And I just hope people will realize that.


NORTHAM: Hey, John.

UNIDENTIFID REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- reconciliation in the state and use what happened as an opportunity to move forward. In that spirit, there are a lot of people who are saying that they believe that this moment should prompt people to take down the monuments to Confederate soldiers. Why do you come down on that at this point? If you stay in office, will you take down the statues?

NORTHAM: Jonathan, we've had that discussion. That discussion really was highlighted after the Charlottesville episode. And I really think what Virginia has looked at is doing this on a regional basis, to let the localities assess the statues that they have, and if they find them unacceptable, to remove them. I think the other thing that we can do as we move forward -- UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION)

NORTHAM: Pardon me?


NORTHAM: Well, that's going to be a discussion for the city of Richmond.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It's hard to still understand how this all came to be. You're saying that you were able to get together with a group of friends and family and closely look at this photo to come to the determination that it wasn't you. And I think that's deeply troubling for a lot of people. How is this something that you could be confused about? Was this part of a lifestyle, or was this one particular incident, as you describe related to Michael Jackson?

NORTHAM: Not to repeat what we have already said, but this was -- when I was shown this last night, it was horrific. And it really horrified me. And so we did what we needed to do last night, and that was to reach out and make sure to apologize for those that may be hurt. But I will tell you that the more time I've had to think about this, to realize that I have no recollection at all of ever dressing up like that, to be able to talk to some of my classmates who said that they have never seen me in any outfit like that. And just finally, to be able to talk to my roommate. We're very close, I think some of you have already reached out to him, Rob Marsh, who was the medic in "Blackhawk Down." And --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The correlation between the photo and your nickname. You're saying the nickname was rooted in the fact that your voice changed. There's a correlation there, right?

NORTHAM: Two nicknames, the nickname Goose --




UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). What about the other nickname? How do you ascribe that?

NORTHAM: As I said, you would need probably to go talk to the folks that put that in the yearbook and also the folks that used to refer to me. I don't know what their intent was with that.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor, I wanted to ask, you said to resign would be the easier path to take. As you've noted, multiple leaders, including the NAACP, Black Caucus here in Virginia, that's the path they've asked you to take. NORTHAM: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why not out of respect for their wishes (INAUDIBLE)?

NORTHAM: I will continue to have a discussion with them. Again, I really think if they will listen to me -- again, I would hate to be so redundant. But for them to know that this was not me in that picture. That was not Ralph Northam. And I hope that they will accept that. I hope they will take my word. And then we need to continue to have discussions. As I said earlier, I have talked to these individuals in the last 24 hours on numerous occasions. And I will continue to do that, to hopefully build their trust and let them know that, you know, we've done a good job in the first year. We've made some great accomplishments in Virginia.


NORTHAM: I'm sorry. What was the first --


NORTHAM: I will certainly be open to their desires and concerns. But, you know, one of the things I think we'll be able to do, we're collecting information on this particular photo. And I hope to have some more information in the next couple of days. I will continue to present that to them and just let them know that that was not me.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On that point, Governor, for clarity, you seemed to suggest in your comments there were other mistakes, that your page wasn't the only page. Is that entirely anecdotal or do you have something to --


NORTHAM: No, and I would welcome you to look at that particular yearbook. There are numerous pictures in there of face painting, none of whom are me.


NORTHAM: Yes, I'm sorry, blackface -- that are in there. I believe, I don't know if they've released it yet but I think Eastern Virginia Medical School is in the process of reviewing each of their yearbooks and will put a statement out that it is unacceptable and that we need to make a change as we move forward.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor, in the last 24 hours, you've had time to recollect and think back on your experiences, talk to your family and roommates. Shouldn't those discussions have taken place before you came out and released a written statement and then a video statement? If that was a mistake, maybe a misjudgment, why should the people of Virginia trust your judgment going forward on other issues?

NORTHAM: I've always been straightforward with folks and honest. That's what I'm doing now. And again, just to see this horrific picture yesterday evening, that was on my page with my name over the top of it, that was horrifying to me. And so I did feel it was necessary to reach out and discuss that. As I said, and I'm not going to be redundant, but in the last 24 hours I have been able to review the picture, talk to people, and the picture is not me.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What do you think happened before, though?

NORTHAM: I just thought it was very important --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It's an important thing to admit.

NORTHAM: As you may imagine, there were a lot of people calling. You all do a good job of releasing information. And I was doing everything I could to really communicate with the people that I felt needed to be communicated with that were hurt by this.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you initially think that it could have been you?

NORTHAM: Pardon me?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you initially think that it could have been you?

NORTHAM: I didn't study it as well as I should. Let me just say -- finish my question. The first comment that I made to the individual that showed it to -- I said, this can't be me. It, though, was on --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It sounds like a question more than a statement.

NORTHAM: Well, it's not me. And it was horrific. And the fact that it was on my page was just unacceptable. And I felt the need, as did my staff, to reach out and apologize to --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The Michael Jackson incident, what time frame was that?

NORTHAM: During that, I was 25.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you talk a little bit more about what you did to investigate the picture? Can you talk a little more about that?

NORTHAM: There were several different measures to, yes, to look at things such as facial recognition. And again, I hope everybody in Virginia will be patient with me. That's going to take a little bit of time. That's really, Greg, why I don't want to rush into any decisions. I want to have all the facts. And I want Virginia to have all the facts. That's important to me.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What are you going to do in the immediate future?

NORTHAM: I will continue to work with my staff and continue to reach out and -- my phone has been working very hard in the last 24 hours, and I'll continue to do that. It's all -- this process of leadership is all about communication. And I've done a good job in the past with that. And that's what I plan to do in the upcoming days.


[15:15:04] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: If you knew it wasn't you, why not just say that publicly?

NORTHAM: Alan, I didn't know at this time. There was so much happening. But like I was --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You just said you saw the picture and said that can't be me. Why not just say that publicly?

NORTHAM: Well, because my word is important to me. My first intention, Alan, was to reach out and apologize. As you might imagine and understand, there are a lot of people that are hurt by this. I wanted to reach out to them. After I did that last night, I sat and looked at the picture. Today, I have a had the opportunity to talk to classmates, my roommate, and I am convinced that is not my picture.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Could there be other photos that look similar to this of you in blackface?

NORTHAM: Absolutely not.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor, you're asking folks now to take some time, let this investigation unfold, avoid a rush to judgment. Isn't that the opposite of what took place yesterday with yourself, when you rushed to judgment, apologizing for this, rather than waiting for the full facts to come out and sharing those?

NORTHAM: It's a fair question. But I just really thought it was important to -- again, when this broke yesterday afternoon, there were just a lot of people calling. And I just felt like I needed to talk to them and to put out a statement that this is unacceptable, to have a picture such as that in the yearbook on my page. And so that's why I started reaching out to people.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You could have done that without saying, "That is me in that picture," though

NORTHAM: It's taken time for me to be sure that it's not me. I am convinced, I am convinced that I am not in that picture.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Some of the lawmakers who said you should resign, said the possibility that you thought it could be you is enough. What do you say to that?

NORTHAM: You know, Alan, I don't know how many times I can say this, but again, you know, if you could go back sometimes and reword things, maybe that would be a good idea. Hindsight is 20/20. I saw this last night. It was horrifying to me. It literally shocked me. And I just felt it important to reach out and let people know that I was sorry that this picture not only was in the yearbook but was on the page with my name on it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think Virginians will see a meaningful difference between you in the Michael Jackson face paint and blackface, is that a meaningful distinction?

NORTHAM: That's up to them. If -- everything is in sound bites these days, but I really do believe that both of them are wrong. But there's a contrast between the blackface and someone standing there in a Ku Klux Klan outfit and me dressed up in a Michael Jackson costume for a dance contest.


NORTHAM: And again, they're both wrong, but I would hope people would see the contrast.


NORTHAM: No, because I'm letting you know right now, without a picture, that this is what happened. And that's the way I operate. I want to be honest with people. And again, as I said earlier, I discussed this with a person of color. He let me know why this was offensive. I apologized to him. And I will never do it again.


NORTHAM: There wasn't a photo, number one.


NORTHAM: Yes, I mean, I would have been glad to talk about it but I didn't see the need. Nobody asked me about it, so --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does this experience help you better understand what these symbols potentially do to people of color and how they harm them, the emotional trauma associated with them?

NORTHAM: There's no question. You know, we live and learn. We're all human. And this has been a tremendous learning experience. And, you know, I will tell you, I had the, I would say, unique opportunity, growing up on the eastern shore, I was in public school during desegregation. I have a lot of African-American friends that I went to school with, played ball with. And I suspect I've had as much exposure to people of color as anybody. But I have learned a lot, in answer to your question. And I will continue to.


NORTHAM: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When did you decide to do the Michael Jackson contest (INAUDIBLE)?

[15:19:59] NORTHAM: Why did I dress up?


NORTHAM: Yes, I didn't realize at the time that it was as offensive as I have since learned. And knowing that, what I know now, I wouldn't have done it. But at the time, I didn't realize that.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How do you think this will affect your medical practice?

NORTHAM: Hold on a second.


NORTHAM: Well, right now I think it's important that we take one day at a time. I think that we will continue to collect information to definitively prove, in addition to my word, that I'm not in that picture.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor, how do you think this will affect your medical practice, especially with people of color knowing and hearing all of this now? And also what about the Lee/Jackson holiday in Virginia that (INAUDIBLE)?

NORTHAM: Yes, as you know, there was a piece of legislation this year to make Election Day a holiday. It didn't pass. But certainly, in that discussion, if Election Day were a holiday, would we need to rid ourselves of a different holiday? And that was part of the discussion, to eliminate Lee/Jackson. It's actually a four-day weekend, as you know, on the Friday, with Monday being Martin Luther King Day.

Regarding taking care of sick children, as I've said, I learn every day. I have taken care of literally thousands of children and their families. And I can tell you, I treat everyone the same way. Nobody has ever thought or accused me of being racist. And if and when I practice again, I will continue that same direction.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think it's problematic that you need to have it explained to you that blackface is offensive?

NORTHAM: No. You know, I'm not a person of color. And people of color experience different things. It affects them different ways. And for us to have a dialogue, for example, me with you, you let me know what's offensive to you and vice-versa --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- exposure to people of color, who may not have had the same experiences as you.

NORTHAM: As I've said, I continue to make mistakes in my life and I continue to learn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much, guys.

NORTHAM: Thank you all very much.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

This is breaking news on CNN. He said, "It wasn't me." The Democratic governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, there, under fire from every direction and under pressure to resign. It's all after a racist photograph emerged from his medical school yearbook. That picture is one of several photos on this page dedicated to Northam in 1984.

Last night, he initially apologized for being in the picture. Now he says maybe not.

Let me play for you again what Northam said at the Virginia governor's mansion just a few minutes ago.


NORTHAM: When I was confronted with the images yesterday, I was appalled that they appeared on my page. But I believed then and now that I am not either of the people in that photo.

I stand by my statement of apology to the many Virginians who were hurt by seeing this content on a yearbook page that belongs to me. It is disgusting. It is offensive. It is racist. And it was my responsibility to recognize and prevent it from being published in the first place.

I recognize that many people will find this difficult to believe. The photo appears with others I submitted on a page with my name on it. Even in my own statement yesterday, I conceded that, based on the evidence presented to me at the time.


CABRERA: Northam did say there were incidents in his youth that he realizes were racially insensitive. He also told reporters he once darkened his face to look like Michael Jackson in a dance contest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NORTHAM: I dressed up in a -- what's the name, the singer -- Michael Jackson, excuse me. That's why I have Pam with me. I had the shoes, I had a glove. And I used a little bit of shoe polish to put under my -- or on my cheeks. And the reason I used a very little bit, is I don't know if anybody has ever tried that, is you cannot get shoe polish off. But it was a dance contest. I had always liked Michael Jackson. I actually won the contest because I had learned how to do the moonwalk.


[15:25:05] CABRERA: I want to get immediate reaction from the president of the NAACP. This group has called on Governor Northam to resign. NAACP President Derrick Johnson joins me right now.

Sir, I want to get your reaction to Northam's refusal to resign and his claim that he had no idea this photo was even in his yearbook.

DERRICK JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, NAACP: Whether it was him in blackface, and he was in the party, in the room, or that it was in the yearbook, is a demonstration of his lack of competence in terms of race relations. Blackface in 1984 was a problem as it is today. Being an individual from the south, it is unfortunately a cultural norm for too many people to accept racism. For him not to acknowledge this on the front end, to identify this as a problem, to object to the yearbook, having blackface in the yearbook, particularly on his page, it speaks to the character of the individual. And that individual's inability to understand that racism is a problem not only in Virginia, not only in the south, but across this country.

CABRERA: What do you make of the fact that this governor now admits he wore blackface at another time in the past? He said, in fact, it was the same year as that yearbook photo, 1984, and he says that's how he knows this actually isn't him in this particular photo.

JOHNSON: Well, you know, he was 25 years old, in medical school. So he was a learned individual, carrying out a southern traditional way, and that is making a mockery of African-Americans. That is a problem whether it's in this photo or the acknowledgement of him trying to portray as Michael Jackson. African-Americans, we have journeyed through this country for many years, objecting to and fighting caricatures of us in a negative light. The NAACP, one of the biggest campaigns we took on was against "Birth of a Nation," which had individuals in that film in blackface. The NAACP, we understood what it went when Ronald Reagan went to the county and the message it sent. We understand what happened with Lee Atwater and Willie Horton. We understand the impact FOX News has had and Glenn Beck. We understand the environment in which he existed. That environment is an environment in which he should have none better or acknowledged the wrongness of that activity well before now.

CABRERA: Have you had a chance to speak to Northam?

JOHNSON: I have not spoken with Northam. Our state president in Virginia has spoken with him.


JOHNSON: And our position is the same. We think it's time for him to resign.

CABRERA: What do you want to say to him?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, whether he feels he's a victim of a political attack, the truth be told, I am African-American, we represent African-Americans. And to see this is a painful reminder of the journey we're taking in this country to ensure that we are afforded equal protection under the law and we are seen as human beings and not something that's subhuman.

CABRERA: This yearbook is almost 35 years old now. Do you think Northam has done enough in the last three decades to show that maybe he's a different person now or to separate himself from everything that picture represents?

JOHNSON: I think the first step should have been acknowledgement, acknowledging prior to now that this is a problem. You can't get your hands caught in the cookie jar and then say, look at me, I'm a different person, my hand just happened to be in the cookie jar. In order for us to turn the page on race relations in this country, there must be some level of acknowledgement before one is put in the spotlight of past activities. I can tell you for a fact, there are many individuals who were involved in these types of racialized incidents. Some of those individuals have come to terms with that and acknowledged the wrongness of their activity. We didn't see that with this governor.

CABRERA: So I just am trying to understand. If he had been out there and said something about this in a more transparent fashion, prior to even being elected, that would have made a different -- that would have given you a different impression of him now?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. So why now, is the question. Why now? Because his political career is at stake. What would have happened if he had come out on the front end and said, you know, I've had a change of heart, I understand how my participation, whether I was in blackface or didn't object to the picture in the yearbook, actually could hurt individuals and is a part of a negative history and legacy of this country. That did not happen.

[15:30:00] Let's understand, race has shaped the most recent political dynamics in this country. Racism is germinating from the White House. Racism allowed for there to be public policy for children to be taken at the border. Racism allowed for an individual to go to a synagogue in Pittsburgh and perpetuate a massacre. Racism allowed for what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. Racism is something we have to deal with in this country. And you don't deal with it after you've been exposed. You deal with it before you've been exposed.

CABRERA: I hear you. But of course, as politicians, I'm sure they would expect, if they - if you were to throw that out there, would he have been elected? JOHNSON: As a politician, had he thrown it out there and showed that

he had a change of heart and he was promoting public policy that would advance all Americans in a way in which we all could have been afforded access to opportunity, equal protection under the law, and receive the needed services from everyone, then, yes, it would have been a bigger platform for him to stand on, and he would have had a larger microphone. This would not have been used as a weapon against him. As African-Americans, we can embrace someone who steps out front before there's an issue as opposed to getting caught and then asking for an apology.

CABRERA: We've heard from a lot of Democratic lawmakers, both in the state of Virginia as well as across the country, calling for his resignation. But there are a few that stand out who aren't explicitly calling for him to resign. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Northam to do the right thing, but she didn't explicitly call on him to resign. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a former vice-presidential nominee, condemned the photo, the same with Virginia Senator Mark Warner, but they didn't call on him to resign. At least, not at this point. Why are these officials hesitant to call on him to step down?

JOHNSON: First of all, let's not conflate the issue of racism and intolerance with political expediency. Two different things. The NAACP, we are not partisan. We are addressing the issue of racism, not partisan posturing. I can't explain why any politician would call for him to do anything. I stand on the value system that African- Americans, with other ethnic minorities, we should be afforded dignity and equal protection under the law and we should move beyond the sad racial past and look toward a more productive future.

CABRERA: I hear you. But African-Americans reliably vote Democrat. Do you think the Democratic Party deserves that support, that they've earned African-American support?

JOHNSON: You have to understand political parties are vehicles for agenda. NAACP, we establish an agenda. It is up to the political parties to determine whether or not they want to add our political agenda into their platforms. There have been times in history when African-Americans support the Republican Party. There are local communities where African-Americans support the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. We should stop conflating the issue as we talk about racism and try to conflate it with partisanship. Those two things are not the same.

CABRERA: What does this incident tell you about the state of race in America today?

JOHNSON: We have a long way to go. We've seen a rise in hate crimes since 2016. We have a commander-in-chief that allowed racism and intolerance to germinate from the White House. We have public policy that's supporting that position. We have a president that I have openly called him a racist. We have a long way to go. The 2018 midterm elections turned the corner. Many Americans are seeing we need to be an inclusive nation, not a nation based on divisive politics. Political parties have used race as their instrument of choice to divide this nation for political outcomes. CABRERA: Charlottesville, Virginia, was the site of that deadly white

nationalist protest that I covered here at breaking news about two years ago. I'm sure that fact is not lost on you.

JOHNSON: It is not lost on me. And it's not lost on me today, especially because that was the opening for him to say, you know what, this was a heinous crime and, in my youth, I was a part of a group that did some bad things, so I recognize that this is a problem because I participated in that, I apologize for what I did as a young person, as I condemn what has taken place today. That could have been his statement. And many people would have gravitated towards him because, in that moment, he could empathize both with individuals who have gone astray but also the victims of the crime that was committed in Charlottesville. That was an opportunity. And he did not see the opportunity.

CABRERA: Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP, thank you very much for joining us.

JOHNSON: Thank you for the opportunity.

CABRERA: CNN's Jessica Dean is live now in Richmond for us.

Jessica, walk us through this. What reason specifically did the governor give for initially saying it was him in the photo, when he apologized for it last night?

[15:35:07] JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana, that's exactly right. I asked him that very question. I said, you do realize it's hard for people to believe you when yesterday you were taking responsibility and today, less than 24 hours later, you're saying it wasn't me. It is a very hard thing for people to wrap their head around.

And so let me just start you at the beginning of what he said. He says that the photo was brought to him, that he took a look at it and said, that can't be me. And then felt compelled to reach out to people he believed had been hurt by it. And then he says, after he did that, which was a written statement, which we have aired, which was a taped statement which we have shown you all, he says, then after that, after reflecting with his family, reaching out to his medical school classmates, his roommates and friends, that he's then able to conclude from last night into today that it is not him in that photo.

Now, he says, when asked about the other photos that are on that yearbook picture or that spread, you see he's in front of the car and other things, he says those photos he remembers, he knows were his. But it's the photo of the blackface and the person in the Ku Klux Klan outfit, he doesn't know where it came from. He doesn't understand how it got there. He says he never even bought the yearbook, that he's never seen the page before yesterday.

When you zoom out and say, how does he get from taking responsibility yesterday into today, saying that's absolutely not me, Ana, we never actually heard an exact answer, except that once he took time to reflect and talk to people he knew, that he just says it wasn't him. And that now he wants to use facial recognition technology to find out who that is.

Now, he did also, too, today, talk about how in that same year he participated in a dance contest as Michael Jackson in blackface. And that he did the moonwalk and that he now sees that as wrong as well. So he did say that was him. But he absolutely would get very animated -- he was very calm during this press conference, and it went on for a while. An aide wanted to shut it down several times, but he took all the questions. He was very calm. But you would see him get agitated and firm when he would say, that wasn't me in the photo and I'm telling you the truth.



DEAN: But again, how he got from yesterday to today is still a little murky.

CABRERA: A lot more questions to be answered there.

Jessica Dean, thank you.

I want to read this to viewers because he has been facing so much pressure to resign. This was his response to many questions asked by reporters about why not resign. He writes, "I cannot in good conscious choose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility to reconcile."

Still to come, more on this breaking news. How the 2020 Democratic contenders are weighing in. Stay with us.


[15:42:06] CABRERA: Our breaking news this hour, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam speaking out, refusing to resign, and insisting he is not the guy in photo, a racist photo that surfaced in his 1984 medical school yearbook. Northam now says there was a mix up when the yearbook was produced, and he says the image of a person dressed in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan attire mistakenly ended up on his page.

Northam today also admitted he did put shoe polish on his face when he dressed as a black entertainer, Michael Jackson, he says, for a dance contest when he was 25 years old. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER Will Virginians see a difference between you in the Michael Jackson case in blackface, and this case? Is that a meaningful distinction?

NORTHAM: That's up to them. Everything is in sound bytes these days. But I really do believe that both of them are wrong. But there's a contrast between the blackface and someone standing there in a Ku Klux Klan outfit and me dressed up in a Michael Jackson costume for a dance contest. And again -- (CROSSTALK)

NORTHAM: -- They're both wrong, but I would hope people would see the contrast.


CABRERA: Joining me now, Symone Sanders, she served as national press secretary for Senator Bernie Sanders' 2016 White House run, senior columnist at the "Daily Beast, Matt Lewis, and CNN's Ryan Nobles, who has covered Virginia politics for years now.

Symone, you first.

What do you make of where we are right now? What is your reaction to the governor's evolving story?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, Ana, honestly, it's sad. I think what we saw at this press conference today was a new explanation that was drummed up in the dead of the night last night. And frankly, it's just sad. At this point, Governor Northam has lost the confidence of the people. You heard him say over and over in the press conference that if he can still be effective, he wants to continue to lead. But, you know, the entirety of the Democratic caucus in the state of Virginia has let him know he is not effective. Based on, mind you, what Governor Northam himself said. Yesterday no one in Virginia and even national folks, I'm a senior adviser at Priorities USA, the chairman of Priorities USA hadn't said anything. I know you had derrick from the NAACP just on. No one said anything until Governor Northam came out with his statement that said there was a photo of me published in 1984 and I am sorry. He said it was him. Now, mind you, in that statement, he didn't tell us whether he was in the hood or the blackface. Come to find out today he doesn't think he's either one of them. This just doesn't cut it.


CABRERA: Let me -- let me read what he did say yesterday. I'll read a portion of it that you reference, because he said, "Earlier today, a Web site published a photograph of me in 1984." He goes on to say, "I'm deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo." Which is also why this is so confusing, the change in his story.

As a black woman, Symone, how hurtful is it to see these images?

[15:45:09] SANDERS: It's hurtful. I know Governor Northam is hurtful. I'm more concerned about the staff who works for him, about the many people who work in the government, in the statehouse in Virginia, the young black folks, the young interns that are working and interning in government because they want their shot to participate. People always say this isn't who we are. Frankly, I don't think Governor Northam understands this is now an inflection point not just for he and Virginia but for the entire ecosystem of the Democratic Party. What do we say to young, disillusioned, disaffected, young black and brown people that we're asking to come out and vote particularly in a presidential election against Donald Trump? How do we say you have to come out, we have to stand up against X, Y, and Z, we have to be for something, but also let Governor Northam continue to serve? So I know Virginia Democrats have come out and said he needs to resign. It needs to be extremely impossible for Governor Northam to still be Governor Northam come 8:00 a.m. Monday morning.

CABRERA: Ryan, the fact that this is Virginia, how much does the state's history play into the depth of the impact of all of this?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, it's an enormous part of this story. Virginia has a deep and uncomfortable connection to the Civil War South. Richmond, of course, was the capital of the Confederacy. It continued through the Jim Crow era. Monument Avenue, which is just a few short blocks away from where Governor Northam gave this press conference at the governor's mansion, is littered with Confederate monuments in honor of the Confederate generals that fought that battle. And that is still a very strong flashpoint for people across the border in Virginia, not just politicians, but people of every stripe. To have the state's governor be pictured or allegedly be pictured in a scenario like this just opens up all of those wounds again.

There was a serious conversation about the role of these Confederate monuments throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, not just in the governor's race in which Northam participated, but again, the Senate race that just concluded here that Tim Kaine won, against the backdrop of 2016. And the Republicans in that race were firmly on the side of keeping those Confederate monuments in place.

You heard Ralph Northam talk about those Confederate monuments. He still says he believes it should be left up to the local officials. But any time this particular topic rears its ugly head, we're reminded of just how this kind of unique and uncomfortable position Virginia has as it relates to race relations in American history. And when you have a leader in this important, prominent position, in such a difficult, you know, scenario like the one we see here, it's one of the reasons that I think it's going to be so difficult for him to hold on to his position.

CABRERA: And we have been quickly seeing the reaction from these 2020 hopefuls, everyone from Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden. Others haven't gotten into the race yet, but all saying this is a situation that calls for a resignation.

Matt, what is the impact do you see this having on the start of the 2020 race for Dems with racism now front and center?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think Symone is onto something. Having this guy as a Democratic governor really messes up the brand. The Democratic Party is trying to stake out a brand the opposite of Donald Trump. And look, Governor -- I'm forgetting his name --


SANDERS: Northam.

LEWIS: Thank you.

Governor Northam ran against Ed Gillespie, a Republican former RNC chairman, and basically accused him of being a racist. So there's a lot of hypocrisy here.

I do think it basically undermines the message Democrats want going into 2020, which is to say Republican, racist, bad, Donald Trump evil, we are the good party. And that's part of the reason why you've seen all these Democratic candidates come out. I don't think Northam can make it, by the way. If he had come out like Bill Clinton and had this righteous indignation and been angry and said, that was not me, maybe he would have had a shot. I just don't see how he holds on.

CABRERA: Symone, the nation's first black governor, Douglas Wilder, of Virginia, though, did not call for Northam's resignation. I'll just read the last part of it, he says, "You know, all of the -- the choice of his continuing in office is his to make."

Coming from the first black governor of that state, elected in 1984, the very year of that yearbook photo, how much weight does that response have, should Northam choose not to resign?

[15:49:58] SANDERS: Look, I think Governor Wilder makes an important point. The choice of resigning is, in fact, Governor Northam's. And he should be about the business of doing what's in the best interest of all Virginians, what's in the best interest of not just his party, but the entirety of the Commonwealth of Virginia. I was at Delaware State University this morning speaking to young students at a leadership conference. I talked to them about the five tenants of good leadership, if you are effective, strategic, ready, if you're willing to take on your adversaries as well as your allies, and if you're creative and innovative? You can't be a good leader if you're not effective or strategic. The press conference was not strategic. Governor Northam is no longer effective. So he cannot continue to serve. It's on him to decide. But what else do we need to see and hear? It's exhausting for me, frankly, as a young partisan, and particularly a young woman of color, a black woman, and during Black History Month, to have to sit up here and listen to the privilege, in my opinion, that oozed from that press conference to say, look, take my word for it. We took your word yesterday when you said it was you. What would you have us do?

CABRERA: All right, Symone Sanders, Ryan Nobles, Matt Lewis, really appreciate all of you. Thank you.

Quick break. We'll be right back.


CABRERA: It is Super Bowl weekend. A massive security operation is now underway in Atlanta this weekend as it gets ready to host Super Bowl LIII. Thousands of local, state, federal law enforcement officers are patrolling on the ground and in the air to help keep the big game safe and everyone around it. CNN correspondent, Kaylee Hartung, flew over the no-fly zone for a

better look at the Super Bowl security.


[15:55:06] KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN (voice-over): This is an aerial view of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of Super Bowl LIII, courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the same officials known to patrol the U.S. border.

UNIDENTIFIED U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION AGENT: We consider the Super Bowl to be a national security special event. This is a sear-one, level-one event.

HARTUNG: That means more than 50 federal state and local agencies are working together in careful coordination, each with a specific role to play.

The Air and Marine Divisions of Customs and Border Protection are enforcing a temporary flight restriction within a 30-mile radius of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta Sunday.

(on camera): But there are exceptions for the no-fly zone.

UNIDENTIFIED U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION AGENT: Some of the aircraft will be allowed inside the NFZ, some of the military aircraft, the law enforcement.

The key thing is, everyone who operates in the airspace, they've been cleared by us.

HARTUNG (voice-over): If any aircraft should breach the no-fly zone, this Blackhawk along with six others will work to spot it and intercept it. Fighter jets are on standby if a threat arises.

UNIDENTIFIED U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION AGENT: It's a different mission but it's one we're very familiar with, intercepting aircraft, steering aircraft away from sensitive areas. This is what we do day in and day out.


CABRERA: That was our Kaylee Hartung reporting.

Quick break. Back with our breaking news right after this.