Return to Transcripts main page


Racist Book Displayed in Republican Congressman's Office; 2020 Democratic Message?; Rep. My Staff Displayed Confederate Book, Not Me; Trump's Hypocrisy Of Anti-Semitism As He Calls For Rep. Omar To Resign; Former Intel Specialist Charged With Spying For Iran. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 13, 2019 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Others from the coasts giving it full endorsements.

As CNN's Jessica Dean reports, the 2020 race is turning into something of a geographical divide.


JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the 2020 Democratic field takes shape, fault lines are emerging over the party's leftward shift on policy, the latest example, a split over support for the Green New Deal resolution introduced by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey that calls for tackling climate change.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: We should do it because we are an example to the world.

DEAN: The divide appears to follow along geographic lines with Midwestern contenders voicing more measured approaches, while coastal candidates offer full-throated endorsements.

While Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is a co-sponsor of the bill, she framed the Green New Deal as more aspirational.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm in favor of it simply because I see it as a framework to jump-start a discussion. I don't see it as something that we can get rid of all these industries or do this in a few years. But what does make sense to me is to start doing concrete things and put some aspirations out there on climate change.

DEAN: Unlike Klobuchar, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, who is considering a run in 2020, has not committed to supporting the Green New Deal plan.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: I'm not going to take a position every bill that's coming out. I support a green New Deal. I think we need to aggressively we need to aggressively support climate change. DEAN: Four other Senate Democrats eying 2020 have signed on as co- sponsors of the proposal, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

On Capitol Hill Wednesday, Harris reiterated her support for the resolution.


DEAN: In a CNN town hall on Tuesday, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who is weighing a bit as an independent, called the Green New Deal not realistic.

HOWARD SCHULTZ, CEO, STARBUCKS: Let's not just throw stuff against the wall because it's a good slogan or we get a press release. Let's be truthful.

DEAN: Meantime, the Democratic field continues to expand to include a record number of women. Booker says he expects the party's gender and racial diversity will be reflected on the Democratic ticket going forward. But he refused to commit to choosing a woman as his running mate if he becomes the nominee.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to box myself in, but should I become it, you know I will be looking to women first.


DEAN: As for Republicans, they're really looking to use this leftward pull on policy in 2020 as a point where they can really exploit the Democrats.

Senator Mitch McConnell has promised a vote on the Green New Deal at some point on the Senate floor, really forcing these 2020 contenders to take a position, also any vulnerable -- vulnerable Democrats up in 2020.

And also, Jake, important to note, we saw at that rally in El Paso this week President Trump already railing against the Green New Deal.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Dean, thank you so much.

Appreciate it.

So let me start with you, Senator Turner.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, she called the Green New Deal aspirational. She also wouldn't fully, full-throatedly commit to another progressive idea for universal health care. Take a listen.


KLOBUCHAR: The smartest transition right now would be to do a public option. And you can do it by expanding Medicaid. You can expand Medicare.

I'm on both bills that do that.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So not Medicare for all?

KLOBUCHAR: I am happy to look at it as an option, but I'm not on that bill right now.


TAPPER: What do you make of that?

Can a candidate who is trying to run as a more moderate Democrat, if you will, win the Democratic nomination in this year?


I think there's space for everybody. So, Jake, I'm not going to say that there's no room for her. At least she's being up front and honest. That's one thing about what she feels. But, as you know, I do believe and so do millions of others, of Americans, that the federal government has to take a stronger role in helping to provide health care in this country.

Medicare, as it exists right now, is one of the most popular federal programs in this country. People are still suffering disproportionately underinsured, not insured.

And I believe we need a Medicare for all plan.

TAPPER: What do you think when you see that, as a Republican?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What's interesting is that usually what happens is the national candidates, 2020 candidates going out on the campaign trail, they are the ones that have a better chance to define the agenda, to define the profile of the party on a national level.

And instead what's happening is, they're being forced to react to Democrats in Washington who are much further left than a lot of different communities around the country.

TAPPER: Ocasio-Cortez.

MADDEN: Ocasio-Cortez and a whole bunch of others who have,, what about 30 days of legislative or congressional experience, are now defining the profile of the party, forcing people like Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown to react and define their candidacies based on reactions to their platforms.

That's very, very different. And I think as a presidential candidate you want to be the one that is shaping the agenda, you want to be able to define your agenda on your own terms. And that's not the case here.

[16:35:03] TAPPER: Do you agree?

JENNICE FUENTES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Somewhat, I think to some extent.

I think what we have here, the Democrats as we head up to the presidential election, we cannot be known as the just anti-Trump party. I think we're a lot more than that. And there is more than one way that we can give anyone supporting a candidate their fair shake of health care, federal benefits, the economy.

So I think plans like Cortez, they open the discussion, as the senator says, aspirational. But this is a complicated issue. And I don't think we can just focus on one bill, per se. I think if you take that as an example, it will go through many different variations, if it ever were to become law, right?

So I think moving forward there's many ways to basically skin an apple.

TAPPER: So all of my Republican guests who are not necessarily the biggest supporters of President Trump, I always ask them about Howard Schultz, because I think you, Bill Kristol, Mia Love, you're kind of potentially Howard Schultz voters.

He was in asked about race last night. And it was the answer he gave, because you might remember there was a horrific incident at the Starbucks in Philadelphia, and it prompted this whole national conversation about race, whether -- and how horribly it was treated at that one Starbucks, but here was his response.

It's been really criticized by progressives. Take a listen.


SCHULTZ: As somebody who grew up in a very diverse background as a young boy in the projects, I didn't see color as a young boy, and I honestly don't see color now.


AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, it's not really an answer. And that's the problem with Howard Schultz.

Yes, on paper, I like him. I share his concerns about how extreme the Democratic Party has become. But then once you start talking to him about his policy positions, there's no there there. I mean, being a moderate, being an independent isn't an excuse not to have a position on anything.

And so I think his candidacy has kind of tanked even before it's gotten rolling.

TAPPER: And let me just say, I have never heard a person of color say that they don't see color.

TURNER: Right.


TAPPER: Just observing. Just observing.


TURNER: No, you're right.

What he said makes absolutely no sense. And, again, he has the luxury not to see color. You see color. And just because you see -- to me, you recognize the unique differences in people and what they bring to the table.

But to say that you don't see color, it is a lie, actually.


CARPENTER: And he's like no color, nothing.

TURNER: No, right. It just -- it's not reality.

What did you what did, just because...

FUENTES: I think he needs better campaign help. I think he needs a better way to communicate to people of all colors and all backgrounds.

I think he's coming across as somebody that, although he may have grown up in the projects, I think he's an elitist mind-set. I don't see color.


MADDEN: The problem is that his -- support for him is not guaranteed just by the simple fact that there are maybe centrists who have problems with both parties.

He has to actually talk about what he is for and why and offer some sort of detailed vision and then sort of marshal support behind him as a vehicle for that vision. He hasn't really done much of that.


FUENTES: Like Nina said, he has to tackle the issue if he ever wants to be taken seriously, because he would be the president of everyone.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

A scheduled meeting with a Georgia congressman turned into, oh, so much more. The racist book guests found displayed in his office and who the congressman is now blaming. That's next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Our national lead now.

Labor union members were stunned by what they found displayed out in the open of a Georgia congressman's office, and not just on display, but encased in glass, a biography of Confederate General Robert E. Lee open to a page full of racist sentiments.

Now, as CNN's Lauren Fox reports, Republican Congressman Drew Ferguson is blaming his staff, as the union's president, is calling on the congressman to publicly apologize.



LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER (voice-over): Octavius Miller shocked at what he saw inside Georgia Republican Congressman Drew Ferguson's office.

MILLER: The first thought that came to my mind was to flip the bookcase over.

FOX: Right there on a bookshelf encased in glass, the book "General Robert Edward Lee: Soldier, Citizen and Christian Patriot," a biography of the Civil War general, open to a page highlighting the racist ideology of the times.

MILLER: That's when we found out that the book had some quotes from General Robert E. Lee that were very, very anti African-American.

FOX: The quote on that page: "The blacks are measurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race, and I hope will prepare and lead them to better things."

MILLER: It was just disrespectful.

FOX: Because of a scheduling conflict, Miller and his fellow union members were unable to meet with Ferguson, but a representative from the group later called the congressman's office to complain about what they saw.

The next day, the congressman's chief of staff called Miller to privately apologize and tell him the book had been removed.

In an interview with CNN, Ferguson blames the book's presence on his staff and said it did not represent his own views.

REP. DREW FERGUSON (R), GEORGIA: I did not realize that the book was in office. The staff decorated the office when we moved in. It's not something that I ever remember seeing there.

I certainly am as offended by the remarks in that book as anybody would be. And that's why it's no longer in the office. FOX: But Ferguson acknowledged he has read parts of it before.

FERGUSON: There were parts of that I found completely against my ideology and my belief system. And so, no, I have not delved deep into that book.

[16:45:00] REP. DREW FERGUSON (R), GEORGIA: But I certainly have studied that subject in other ways. It's an important part of our American history so that we can learn from it and not make the same mistakes.

LAUREN FOX, CNN POLITICS CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: The Union contends the book's placement was no accident and once a formal public apology from the congressman not from his staff member.

FERGUSON: I think we've already done that. We spoke to the gentleman. I think we're good.


FOX: Now I spoke with Republican leadership. Steve Scalise's office said that they were just happy that the congressman dealt with this swiftly and that the book is no longer in his office. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Lauren Fox, thank you so much. What do you make of this, Nina? Do you -- is the Congressman's apology sufficient to you?

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Maybe he knew maybe didn't, Jake. But I'm going to tell you something. Black folks need to do over for Black History Month this year, really, in 2019. It's just really been too much.

We should learn from the past, but learning from the past in a way that edifies. His staff needs some cultural sensitivity training, maybe so does he, and whoever displayed that. You just don't open up to a page by accident. It was done very deliberately and I can certainly understand how Mr. Miller felt because I'm feeling the same way right now.

TAPPER: And look, I mean it is a part of American history --

TURNER: Yes, that's right.

TAPPER: -- this ugliness, this racism as you -- as you remind us often and appropriately so. It might be anybody that has historical books might have some with passages like that. But why was it encased in glass and open to that page? I mean, that's the mystery here.

TURNER: That's right.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, I'm rarely rendered speechless about things and this one did leave me somewhat speechless. I mean it's not -- I mean to even think it's -- it could be just tossed off as, like a staff mistake, it can't be a mistake. And the fact that it happened is just you know, it's outrageous. I'm glad he's apologizing. I'm glad they've taken action. But you just can't let stuff like this happen.

TAPPER: Do you think he should apologize more fulsomely?

JENNICE FUENTES, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ: I think where this stuff is you get fired. And then the explanation for something like that to be in a congressional offices is if the stuff didn't know how to read. And obviously, they knew how to read so I think it's problematic. I think it's obviously a problem for the congressman and his constituents, a problem for the visitors that I think he should be dealt with. Somebody put the book there.

TURNER: That's right.

FUENTES: Who put the book there, that person should answer, why.

TAPPER: And what's upsetting about this also I can imagine for the -- for the union representatives who went there to meet with their congressman and just do what Americans do, meet with their congressman, talk to them and then they have to encounter this, they have to encounter this pain.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It shouldn't need to be said but books like this, Confederate plaques, Confederate flags, yes, they're part of history but they have no place in a place of business. Stick them in the museum and if it needs a reason to scrub your office, get in there and scrub it now.

TAPPER: There's been a lot in the news about bigotry recently. Minnesota Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar this week was accused by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats of spreading "anti- Semitic tropes." Omar has apologized but our own Manu Raju found her quite unwilling to discuss the controversy when he asked her about it today.


REP. ILHAN OMAR (D), MINNESOTA: Are you serious? What's wrong with you?

MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, I'm asking you a question about your tweet. You had a tweet saying (INAUDIBLE)

OMAR: Yes, I tweeted. There's a response. You can run that. Have a nice day.


TAPPER: Omar's apology that she referred to there was not good enough for President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anti-Semitism has no place in the United States Congress. What she said is so deep-seated in her heart that her lame apology -- that's what it was. It was lame and she didn't mean a word of it, was just not appropriate. I think she should resign from Congress, frankly. But at a minimum, she shouldn't be on committees. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And Amen came from Vice President Pence who tweeted "to those who engage in anti-Semitic tropes should not just be denounced, they should face consequences for their words." Congresswoman Omar specifically suggested that financial donations from American Jews are what fuels support for Israel. She tweeted "it's all about the Benjamins baby."

And when asked to whom she was referring, she tweeted AIPAC, the pro- Israel lobbying organization. Because there is nothing that this White House finds more offensive than a politician feeding into stereotypes about Jews and Jewish money and controlling politicians which is what Congresswoman Omar is accused of having done.


TRUMP: Is there anybody that doesn't renegotiate deals in this room? This room negotiates up. I want to renegotiate -- this room, perhaps more than any room I have spoken to. Maybe more. It's OK. You know, I've been called in that a couple of times too. You're not going to support me even though you know I'm the best thing that could ever happen to Israel and I'll be that.

And I know why you're not going to support me. And you know, you're not going to support me because I don't want your money.

You don't want to give me money, OK, but that's OK. You want to control your own politician, that's fine.


TAPPER: I'm sorry. That was the wrong clip. That was then-candidate Trump in front of the Republican Jewish Coalition suggesting that haggling Jews like to control politicians with their money. We wanted the clip of Congresswoman Omar. Control room, I want the Omar clip.

There -- wait, that's not it either. That's a deleted Donald Trump retweet from 2016 as conservative Eric Ericson tweeted at the time "A star of David, a pile of cash, and suggestions of corruption. Donald Trump again placed to the "white supremacist."

Control room, I'm not looking for stuff about Trump. I'm looking for the Congresswoman Omar clip. Do you have it? OK, I'm being told we have it. Thank you. Run it, please.


[16:50:37] TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me. And you have some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.


TAPPER: No, Control Room, that was President Trump saying that very fine people were marching alongside neo-Nazis, and skinheads, and white supremacist. People who had chanted Jews will not -- yes, those people, the anti-Semites in Charlottesville.

My sincerest apologies. Can we please forget about President Trump for a second? Can we show the Omar tweet? Please, the Omar tweet. Can you show it, please?

That's not -- this isn't it either. Unbelievable. This is a tweet by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy right before the Midterm saying "we cannot allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to buy -- in all caps -- this election." Of course, that's such an allegation by the House Republican Leader, the wealthy liberals, all of whom happen to be Jewish descent, who were trying to buy the election.

Guys, I'm not talking about that either. OK, I'm sorry. We're going to take a quick break. We seem to have some issues here sorting out which anti-Semitic tropes are offensive and which ones are not. We'll be right back as we sort this out.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "WORLD LEAD" today, she vanished years ago in the Middle East and her disappearance was of special concern because she had access to some of the most highly classified secrets of the United States military. Today the FBI announced they concluded that the missing woman is now a fugitive and believed to be a spy for Iran.

Former Air Force Intelligence Specialist Monica Witt has been charged with espionage allegedly having shared secrets with Iran, even helping the regime target her fellow intelligence agents. This all comes as tensions are rising between the U.S. and Iran whose arsenal of missiles continues to grow. As CNN's Barbara Starr learned on the ground in the region, U.S. officials are trying to respond to every threat with a plan for action.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A former U.S. Air Force Intelligence Specialist who disappeared and was believed to be in Iran is now wanted by the FBI for spying on behalf of the Islamic republic. 39-year-old Monica Witt who had access to top secret information including names of U.S. intelligence officers defected to Iran in 2013 and was once thought to be missing. But instead, the Justice Department says she was recruited by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Monica Witt provided the Iranian government with the identities of employees in the U.S. Intelligence Community who are operating covertly.

STARR: The Justice Department says Witt worked with Iran to target at least eight U.S. government agent computer accounts in order to provide malware that would provide access to computers and networks used by the U.S. Intelligence Community. The U.S. also alleged Witt created target packages for Iran to

identify and track down U.S. government agents. This week, Iran marks 40 years since the Islamic revolution brought the current regime to power. And the rhetoric from the Trump administration is getting hotter.

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER, UNITED STATES: I don't think you'll have many more anniversaries to enjoy.

STARR: The hawkish language from National Security Adviser John Bolton is at odds with the Pentagon according to a senior military official. The official said the military is seeking to avoid open conflict with Iran and rely instead on economic and diplomatic pressure.

Military commanders believe Bolton who worked for President George W. Bush during the Gulf War is more strident and has a proclivity for action in the Gulf, the official said. But in an exclusive television interview, the top navy commander says the threat is real.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We see several capabilities there. They have a growing capability in cruise missiles. They have a growing capability in ballistic missiles. They have a growing capability of unmanned surface systems.


STARR: U.S. military officials say some of these new Russian weapons moving into Iran are so powerful with longer ranges that the U.S. military may have to change the way it conducts operations in those vital Persian Gulf Waterways within the next five years. Jake?

TAPPER: And Barbara, you were aboard the USS Gladiator in the Strait of Hormuz, what's the specific mission for that crew?

STARR: Well, there's actually four of these small mine ship out there. They're permanently stationed down here in the Gulf and their sole job in the contingency in the crisis is to go out on the waters, find the mines, most likely laid by Iran, search them out and disable and destroy them to keep the shipping lanes open, commerce oil shipping to keep all of it going. Jake?

TAPPER: Great reporting. Barbara Starr, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Be sure to tune in to CNN Monday for a live presidential town hall with Democratic candidate Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. CNN's Don Lemon will host. You can see it all 10:00 p.m. Eastern on Monday night.

You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues.