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Interview with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL); Federal Employees Union Wants GOP Congressman's Apology for Racially Insensitive Office Display; Amazon Scrapes Plan to New Headquarters in New York, Alexandria, a Victory for Rep. Ocasio-Cortez; Tense Exchange Between Rep. Ilhan Omar and Trump's Venezuelan Envoy Nominee Eliot Abrams; Bill Cosby Has No Remorse, Claims He's a Political Prison Like Mandela, Gandhi, MLK Jr. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 14, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: What do you make of the 25th Amendment part, that there was a discussion going on in the DOJ about removing the president from office using the 25th Amendment. We had a legal expert saying that wouldn't have been the right fit. There was discussion of having Rod Rosenstein wear a wire to record conversations with the president at the White House.

REP. TED DEUTCH, (D), FLORIDA: Right. I just, I think it's important to separate this discussion into parts. It's not really the part of the discussion about whether or not Rod Rosenstein wore a wire or even whether or not this was the right approach. What we ought to really focus on is the fact that there was concern enough about the president's actions and behavior that this even came up as a possibility. There's -- we knew that over the past two years, the Republicans in Congress and the Republicans in the House Judiciary Committee, especially, saw their role as defending the president above anything, rather than their duty to uphold the Constitution and defend that. Well, now, we know what was happening and it makes the work we have to do in the coming months and the next two years even more important.

KEILAR: We just saw that William Barr has been confirmed, the new A.G. His son-in-law is leaving the U.S. attorney's office in Virginia but taking a job in the White House counsel's office. What do you think about that?

DEUTCH: I didn't know it was a two-fer that the attorney general of the United States gets to bring his son-in-law with them. I don't have much to say, except that's the way things work with this administration. My concern is the things the attorney general said about the Mueller investigation, the hearing last week we had with Acting Attorney General Whitaker, and why he was plucked ahead of others in the order to serve in that role. What is it that he knew about the Mueller investigation? What communications did he have with the White House? And how did that inform and perhaps color the actions of the president? Those are the very real concerns I think we should all have about the new attorney general.

KEILAR: I know I'm changing subjects here. I know you have a heavy heart today and that the people of your district certainly do. It's been a year now since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman High School, which is in your district, 17 people who were killed there. How is the community remembering them today?

DEUTCH: Well, I just came back from the high school. The students are doing service project projects. At the park, there are memorials, beautiful tributes to each of the 17 lives that were taken. Tonight, there's going to be a memorial service and I think more than anything else, the community is using this opportunity to be there for one another, to think about what happened last year and reflect upon the past year since where these courageous families and remarkable young people have, in the name of the 17 who were killed, worked so hard to try to prevent that from happening in any other school or any other street corner anywhere in America.

KEILAR: You have introduced a bill to ban high-capacity magazines. You know that's not going to get through the Senate. The NRA opposes it. Republicans leave the Senate. Where do you go from here?

DEUTCH: Well, I'm actually going to respond to your assumption. I don't know that's going to pass. A year ago, a year ago in the aftermath of this horrific shooting, we were told that the gun lobby controls everything that happens in Washington. That's why there's never been a hearing on gun safety in the Republican majority. It was impossible to breakthrough. Well, what we know a year later is that these students, these activists who started a movement that appealed to their young friends across the country who were sick and tired of seeing people killed across this country, guess what they did? They mobilized. They marched. They impacted the election. That's why there's a gun safety majority in the House. That's why, last night, late last night, the Judiciary Committee passed common-sense measure of universal background checks for the first time in decades. That's why once that bill gets through the House and any of these important pieces of legislation get through the House, they are going to go to the Senate where these young people and these activists from the families will have to go to the Senators and tell them directly, you have seen what happened in the House both at the elections, at the polls and as a result in the House. You can either stand with people who want to keep our community safe or continue to stand with the gun lobby. It's your choice. There's now a clear example of what happens if they continue to make the wrong choice.

[13:35:24] KEILAR: Their influences certainly unprecedented as you talked there.

Congressman Ted Deutch, thank you so much. We are thinking of Parkland and the entire community there today. Thanks for being on today.

DEUTCH: I appreciate that very much. Thank you.

KEILAR: Ahead, Bill Cosby says he has no remorse for his crimes, comparing himself to Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, even Martin Luther King Jr. We'll have new details about his life behind bars.

Federal employees union, one of them, is demanding an apology after several members discover a racist book in a Republican Congress's office. The national president of that union joining me live, next.


[13:40:41] KEILAR: A federal employee's union wants an apology from a Republican congressman over a racially offensive display in his office. This is a display in Congressman Drew Ferguson's office. It included a book about Confederate General Robert E. Lee, open to a passage that read, "The blacks are immeasurably better off here than Africa, morally, societally and physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their instruction as a race."

J. David Cox is national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

So, you are the president of this union that these representatives were there in his office from representing. This all went down and they called you pretty quickly. What did they tell you?

J. DAVID COX, NATIONAL PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES: They called us very quickly. They were upset. They were all African-Americans trying to, number one talk to the Congressman about, please don't shut the government down again. Keep the government open and support TSA, give them Title V rights, all other federal employees, and see this book. They were astonished and amazed. This is 2019. The Civil War has been over for many hundreds of years. It's unconscionable we would have such a display in a taxpayer-funded office.

KEILAR: The aspirin apology, they got one from the chief of staff, not the Congressman.

I want to have you listen to the Congressman, Ferguson, trying to explain to our reporter from CNN how this book ended up in his office.


REP. DREW FERGUSON, (R), GEORGIA: I did not realize the book was in my office. The staff decorated the office when I moved in. It's not something I don't remember seeing there. I'm as offended by the remarks in that book as anybody would be. That's why it's no longer in the office.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN REPORTER: Have you read that book?

FERGUSON: I read parts of the book. There are parts I found completely against my ideology and my belief system.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN REPORTER: Had you read it before it was brought to your attention?


FERGUSON: I have to get back to a committee meeting right now, so --

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Wow. OK. So, there's a reason, perhaps he didn't want to answer that question. Do you accept his explanation he didn't realize the book was in his office? Now, he's familiar with the book.

COX: He's read the book. He didn't know it was in his office, but he read the book. This is a United States Congressman. They know what's in their office. They are very much aware of what's in their office. I think his staff immediately pulled him away. They were trying to manage him. I know how that process worked. I know what's in my office. I wouldn't have such things in my office. I disagree. He knew it was in his office. How would he have read it.

KEILAR: You do not believe him?

COX: No, ma'am.

KEILAR: These members of your union who were in his office want an apology from the Congressman?

COX: That's all they are asking for, an apology. If you do something wrong and offended someone, say it. Admit it. Pull it back. Try to do better. When you start trying to do a cover up, do a two-step as I just saw him do at that interview there, no, that's the wrong way to go about it. The Congressman is wrong. First off, that's a taxpayer- funded office that that book is in. There's a lot of tension in this country, race relations are still crucial in our country and there's still a lot of turmoil as we have seen over and over. He needs to apologize.

KEILAR: This was a lobby at the office?


COX: Yes, ma'am. This was the lobby --

KEILAR: So this is anyone impacted. If you are on the Hill, you can walk in and this is what you can see in any office, the foyer, just to point that out.

COX: Yes. Clearly, right there, public view. People come in and out of that office on a regular, recurring basis. No, the congressman knew that was in his office. To say, I have read the book, and it's despicable, totally despicable.

KEILAR: David Cox, thank you for coming into the studio. We appreciate it.

COX: Thank you so much for having us in today.

[13:45:01] KEILAR: Amazon is scrapping plans to build its second headquarters and bring 25,000 jobs to New York. How much influence did Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have in this decision?

Bill Cosby comparing himself to Martin Luther King Jr while releasing new details on his life in prison. Michael Smerconish will sound off on this, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Despite support from New York's governor, New York City's mayor and $3 billion in state and city incentives, Amazon said they will not move forward to build its headquarters in Queens. It is a victory for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who fiercely protested the plan. Moments ago, she tweeted, "Anything is possible. Today was a day of a group dedicated, everyday New Yorkers and their neighbors defeated Amazon's corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world."

She's part of a group of freshman lawmakers shaking up Congress.

[13:50:21] Just take a look at something else, another freshman member. A tense exchange between Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the Trump administration's new special envoy to Venezuela, Eliot Abrams.


REP. ILHAN OMAR, (D), MINNESOTA: I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.


OMAR: It wasn't a question.


OMAR: That was not -- that was not a question.

ABRAMS: It is not right --


OMAR: That was not a question. On February 8th --

ABRAMS: -- that you can attack a witness who is not permitted to reply.

OMAR: That was not a question.

Thank you for your participation.


KEILAR: CNN political commentator and the host of CNN's "SMERCONISH," Michael Smerconish, here with us now.

What do you think, Michael? Are these new Democrats, are they being bold or are they burning bridges?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR & CNN HOST, "SMERCONISH": Probably a bit of both, depending on who the audience might be. I think it's probably invigorating the base of the Democratic Party. But with a lot of eyes now shifting toward 2020, you have to wonder, Brianna, how does this all play in the next presidential race. There's a reason that President Trump laid down a marker in that State of the Union address in opposition to Socialism, Democratic or otherwise. I'm sure he enjoys part of this and hopes that this is the perception of the party, so as those swing voters who were responsible for putting him in office, will remain in his column and not come back to whomever might be the Democratic nominee. That's the -- that's the risk for the Democratic Party. Great for the base, is it good for the general election? We'll have to see.

KEILAR: I wonder, what do you think about Amazon. If this is Amazon deciding not to go to New York. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing for New York?

SMERCONISH: Listen, I think we'd still take them in Philly if they want to come 90 miles south. It's so counter-intuitive. We're used to the politician who wants to be the one to stand up and take all the credit for luring an Amazon or something a fifth the size of Amazon. So to have Ocasio-Cortez crowing about the fact that, you know, she's been able to slay that dragon is really interesting. I mean, it's just really stunning.

KEILAR: But think about her audience. When Amazon's gotten a lot of press for sort of the labor practices that come with the pressure to get things delivered in the time frame that they're talking about, I mean, what do you think about that?

SMERCONISH: Well, there's no doubt. As I say, it plays to her constituency. But to a different audience, it will be perceived as anti-business. One of the funnier aspects of this, to me, is that to take an opposing side, if you're President Trump, is to take the side of Jeff Bezos. And we know that he's not inclined to do that for a variety of reasons. So I'll be very keen to see how he handles this issue.

KEILAR: Oh, that's a great point.

I do want to shift gears with you. Let's talk about Bill Cosby. He's speaking out from prison. And in his first public statement, he says he has no remorse for crimes. He compares himself to a political prisoner. And he names the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. What do you think of that?

SMERCONISH: I think there are better strategies that he could be using to reach the attention of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, a little something that I know about. And I don't think invoking race is the way to go. I think, frankly, those statements after the two trials where his spokespeople lambasted the local judicial system and placed it in local terms was mistaken. He has, Brianna, legitimate, bona fide grounds for appeal. He's got a legitimate claim to say that he was convicted based on deposition testimony that should never have seen the light of day, and that if the deal was honored, that he fulfilled, where he would testify with the knowledge that he'd never be prosecuted, and then had that turned against him, I think that's a -- that's a very valid issue that the court will be inclined to look long and hard at. I wouldn't get caught up in these distractions, if I were them.

KEILAR: But he -- I mean, he's making the evaluation that he can only -- there are many people who do support him. He's clearly speaking to them, right? He seems to have lost faith in the legal system going the way he wants it to go.

[13:55:47] SMERCONISH: Well, but if my assessment is correct, he's going to get a fair shake in the appellate process. And that there's -- you know, there are always appeals, especially in a case like this, where it's a well-funded defense. There's always something you can say. I'm telling you, in this particular case, there's something legitimate for him to say. He gave a sworn deposition after he was told he would not be prosecuted. He didn't invoke his Fifth Amendment right, as a result, gave testimony that they then used to convict him on.

KEILAR: Yes. No, maybe he's foreclosing an opportunity there.

Michael Smerconish, thank you so much. We always love having you on for your take.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: And we will catch your show on Saturday at 9:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

Just in, CNN has seen a videotape that allegedly shows singer R. Kelly having sex with an underage girl.

Also, the clock is ticking towards another government shutdown, but the president still has not committed to signing the spending bill yet.