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Interview with Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA);. Meadows Introducing Lynne Patton Sets Off Fire Storm with Tlaib on Racism. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 28, 2019 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] SEN. JOHN KENNEDY, (R), LOUISIANA: Whether he knew or not, to me, I don't know how we'll ever know. But he's responsible and it's just that simple. He is a barbaric authoritarian. We have given him here an opportunity to come into the 21st century, if he'll give up his nuclear weapons. And I hope the gentleman who I've never met has sense enough to accept that opportunity. If not for himself and his family, for his people.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Whether he knows this or not, Senator, this isn't the first time that President Trump has a history of believing murderous dictators. Roll the tape.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have President Putin -- he just said it's not Russia. I will say this. I don't see any reason why it would be. I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

I hate the crime, I hate what it's done, I hate the cover-up. And I will tell you this. The crown prince hates it more than I do. And they have vehemently denied it. The CIA points it both ways. As I said, maybe he did, maybe he didn't.


BALDWIN: Senator Kennedy, do you support this backing the president gives these thugs, as you call them?

KENNEDY: I wasn't there. When you meet with someone and you try to assess whether they're telling you the truth or not, there's several things you can do. You judge demeanor and credibility. You look at corroboration. I wasn't there. I don't think any of us will ever know --


BALDWIN: Do we need to be there to know what Kim Jong-Un and Putin and Duterte and MbS, according to the CIA, to know what they're capable of?

KENNEDY: Not to know what they're capable of. The question, Brooke, was is Kim lying to the president? And I don't know. I don't know. (CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: No. The question, Senator Kennedy, is why does the president keep supporting these murderous men?

KENNEDY: I don't know. You'll have to ask him that question to get your answer. I'm just saying it's an interesting discussion. I don't know how we'll ever resolve it. But to me, Kim is responsible any way, just as Vladimir Putin is responsible for the things that his government does, as is the ayatollah and Iran.

BALDWIN: So why on earth is the president of the United States not defending an American citizen or his family?

KENNEDY: You'll have to ask him that, Brooke. I wasn't there. I have heard him defend --


BALDWIN: Mr. Trump, if you're watching, come on to CNN.

KENNEDY: Maybe he'll call in.

BALDWIN: I think there's a better chance of a lot of things, but Mr. Trump, call us. You know the number.

Speaking of MbS, you are very vocal about Saudi Arabia. And just this week, the Senate is pushing the Trump administration for a complete report on Jamal Khashoggi's murder at the same time the president's own son-in-law was in Saudi Arabia meeting with Mohammad bin Salman, the man the CIA says ordered the killing.

Any thoughts on that, Senator Kennedy?

KENNEDY: I'm sorry. I thought you were going to play a tape.

Brooke, one of the hardest things that a president, any president has to do is deal with an authoritarian government that doesn't share American values, but whose interests are important to us. And if we just refuse to deal with any country that doesn't share our Western values, the world would be a more dangerous place. Now, I've been very critical of the prince. Whether he knew it or not, he's responsible.


KENNEDY: But I've also said we couldn't sever ties completely with Saudi Arabia because it's in our interests, the security interests of the Middle East and Israel and the United States to have some sort of dialogue. I don't know how you -- Saudi Arabia's a major player in the Middle East. I don't know how --


KENNEDY: -- you can deal with the problems in the Middle East without talking to Saudi Arabia. And whether we like it or not, Prince Mohammad bin Salman is in charge.

BALDWIN: Let me ask you about, switching gears, Michael Cohen.


BALDWIN: Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney. Let me just start with you, Senator, on those hush money payments to those women. Cohen came to Capitol Hill yesterday with those checks paying him back, checks signed by President Trump, right, so after he took office. Unlike your House colleagues on that committee, are you bothered by that?

KENNEDY: You know, I've been asked repeatedly, Brooke, since that happened and I think -- I think you're asking the same thing, you know. If Mr. Cohen's testimony is true, does that erase his problems with the president? Well, that's like asking if I murder somebody, am I a murder? I would be if I murdered somebody. I don't know if Michael Cohen is telling the truth of not. I have to look at -- I have to look at --


[14:35:23] KENNEDY: Let me just finish my thought.


KENNEDY: I have to look at his credibility. We know that in the past he's been convicted. He's lied to the Federal Elections Commission. He's lied to Congress. He's lied to banks when he borrowed money. He lied to the IRS --


BALDWIN: Sure. And he's going to prison.

KENNEDY: And he's going to prison.

BALDWIN: Let me -- if I may, let me interject.


BALDWIN: Tell me with a straight face -- let's flip the script and say, President Hillary Clinton, if there were a President Hillary Clinton and she conspired with her personal lawyer to pay off people to keep quiet about her affairs in order to keep it secret from the American people before a presidential election, and also detailed tax frauds in her foundation, the Republicans, you tell me, Senator Kennedy, the Republicans wouldn't want to talk to her lawyer? Really?

KENNEDY: If the shoe were on the other foot and I were asked to judge the veracity of a witness against a President Clinton, as I am with respect to President Trump, I would just say, look, let me look at corroboration but let me look at their background, their character. It's just a fact, Brooke. Mr. Cohen is a convicted liar. To me --

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: You'd be asking those questions? You'd be asking those questions?

KENNEDY: Sure, I would. But I think he's an angry man. He's bitter. He's a little unbalanced. I'm not saying he's crazy or as my son might say, I'm not saying he's a bunny bowler, but he's a little unbalanced. And --


BALDWIN: A bunny bowler? You bring some new vocabulary, Senator, to the conversation.

KENNEDY: But take a nonsensical approach. Would I take his check? And the answer's probably not and I don't think he would --


BALDWIN: Can you tell me why not a single Republican defended the substance of the allegations regarding the president? They ripped into him, liar, liar, pants on fire. Where was the defense of the president?

KENNEDY: The guy doesn't have a good background for veracity, Brooke.


BALDWIN: That's not what I'm asking about. I'm asking about the president and the accusations.

KENNEDY: He did -- Mr. Cohen has presented all that information to the special counsel. I assume he's going to look at it --


BALDWIN: His signature was on the check, Senator Kennedy.

KENNEDY: Right. And the issue is, is that a violation of the federal campaign finance laws and you can argue that one round or flat. They're good arguments on both sides. I happen to believe it isn't a violation of the campaign finance laws but a lawyer smarter than me could probably make an argument --


BALDWIN: Why not?


KENNEDY: You have to prove intent and I don't think you can prove it in a case like that. The federal election statutes are primarily meant to be civil. That doesn't mean that you can't have a criminal violation of the FEC provisions, but that's just my personal opinion.

But I'll tell you this, if -- if the special counsel thinks that anybody violated the FEC laws in a criminal way, I suspect he'll bring an indictment. But I also make this prediction. He's not going to do it solely on the testimony of Mr. Cohen and have Mr. Cohen as his only witness.

BALDWIN: Of course. Of course.

KENNEDY: For obvious reasons.

BALDWIN: To your point for corroboration, absolutely right.

Senator John Kennedy, a pleasure. Come back.

KENNEDY: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up, a Republican lawmaker attempts to prove Trump is not a racist sparking this bitter back and forth.


REP. RASHID TLAIB, (D), MICHIGAN: The fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself. Donald Trump is setting --


MEADOWS: Mr. Chairman, I ask that her words be taken down.


TLAIB: -- president -- I reclaim my time.

MEADOWS: Mr. Chairman?


[14:39:14] MEADOWS: Mr. Chairman?



BALDWIN: As those headlines were coming fast and furious at the Michael Cohen hearing, something else extraordinary happened on Capitol Hill. In an effort to make the point that there's no way President Trump can be racist, Republican Congressman Mark Meadows, of North Carolina, a Trump ally, had a woman by the name of Lynne Patton take the stage. Patton is an African-American associate of the Trump family who now works for HUD. That's the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And Congressman Meadows went on to say this about her, as the daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, there's no way she would work for an individual who was racist.

Now, several of Meadow's Democratic colleagues took him to task throughout the rest of the hearing.

Congressman Brenda Lawrence called him out, but it was Congressman Rashida Tlaib who went the furthest.


REP. RASHIA TLAIB, (D), MICHIGAN: Just because someone has a personal of color, a black person, working for them does not mean they aren't racist. And it is insensitive that some would even say -- the fact that someone would actually use a prop, a black woman, in this chamber, in this committee, is alone racist in itself.

REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I ask that her words, when she's referring to an individual member of this body, be taken down and stricken from the record. I'm sure she didn't intend to do this, but if anyone knows my record as it relates, it should be you, Mr. Chairman. I would like --



MEADOWS: I want the words --



MEADOWS: I've defended you --


CUMMINGS: Mr. Meadows --


[14:45:03] CUMMINGS: Mr. Meadows! I'm the chair.

MEADOWS: Yes, sir, you are.

CUMMINGS: Thank you. I will clear this up.

MEADOWS: Mr. Chairman, there's nothing more personal to me than my relationships. My nieces and nephews are people of color. Not many people know that. You know that, Mr. Chairman. And to indicate that I asked someone, who is a personal friend of the Trump family, who has worked for him, who knows this particular individual, that she's coming in to be a prop? It's racist to suggest that I ask her to come in here for that reason.


BALDWIN: It was an emotional moment for Congressman Meadows clearly. He put Chairman Elijah Cummings in an uncomfortable situation. Saying, hey, you're my black friend, tell them I'm not racist. Congressman Tlaib further explained that moment on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TLAIB: I apologize if it made him feel like I was calling him as a racist. At was at that moment, as a person, as a mother, this was a teachable moment. I used that moment to say, just FYI, that was not the way to do it. And it was not out at all calling Mr. Meadows a racist. If I wanted, everyone knows this, I'm pretty direct, I would have done that. That's not my intention. It was my intention to educate, to share what I was feeling at that moment, just like what he was feeling at that moment of what his reaction was to the comments from Mr. Cohen.


BALDWIN: Here's the thing, I can't believe I have to say this, but having a black friend does not mean you're not racist. And yet, this line has been used over and over and over again by others, including the president.


TRUMP: I am the least anti-Semitic person you've ever seen in your entire life. As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends. A daughter, who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren, I think that you're going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening and you'll see a lot of love. You'll see a lot of love.


BALDWIN: I'll say it again, knowing the Israeli prime minister and having Jewish family members does not mean you are not anti-Semitic. How does one prove that they aren't racist or anti-Semitic? For starters, not having to explain yourself after comments like these.


MEADOWS: The more we find out, the more we realize how wrong the direction we're going. And so what we're going to do is take back our country, 2012 is the time that we're going to send Mr. Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is. We're going to do it.


TRUMP: And you had some very bad people in that group but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.


BALDWIN: You know this, racism, anti-Semitism, any kind of hate cannot, should not be tolerated in this country. This isn't, you know, just about having a black friend or Jewish or gay or Muslim. This isn't about not just hearing but listening to what the other side has to say.

Coming up next, we'll discuss all of this and how Congressman Meadows is now responding today. We'll be right back.


[14:52:54] BALDWIN: Continuing on that last conversation, with me now, Leah Wright Rigueur, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Leah, you know, when you were watching the whole Congressman Mark Meadows, Lynne Patton, Rashida Tlaib, those moments, what did you think?

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD'S KENNDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: I mean, Brooke, it's incredibly disappointing, but it's also exhausting because we continue to have this, you know -- just faulty conversation. What we saw yesterday was a political stunt in a day full of political stunts that added to the craziness of a situation that was already a circus and so to have this moment that where this black woman is trotted out essentially and stands speechless behind Mark Meadows and as he gets into this back and forth about my black friend says so much about where we are and why we keep repeating these things over and over again. And then for it to escalate later on, escalate into something much bigger with Congressman Tlaib, it points to these moments, these moments of political stunt where in this moment Mark Meadows makes -- made it about himself as opposed to actually listening to the substance of what the congresswoman was trying to say. Really, you know, you have to ask yourself, why are we having this conversation over and over again? And, you know, why are we -- why are we continuing to engage in these political stunts that actually detract from the substance of the matter at hand?

BALDWIN: I think you said a keyword, which is listening, right, and because of that exchange yesterday, a lot of people have been referencing when a couple of years ago the congressman is saying to Obama, go back to Kenya or wherever you're from, and now today he's defending himself saying he doesn't have a "racial bone" in his body. Your response?

[14:55:11] WRIGHT RIGUEUR: I just saw a statement from someone who said that racism is not or racial is not found in the bones and it's not found in the hearts. It's found in actions and a look at actions. Part of what -- part of what these clips have shown is that Mark Meadows participated in the birther movement. It was this movement that helped give Donald Trump his political start. Rather than interrogating people on the substance of the issues, on policies, we are focused on these political stunts, racialized, racist, racial stunts that are designed to really delegitimize people.

One of the things that struck me about the conversation yesterday and kind of all of the --


BALDWIN: Fallout? WRIGHT RIGUEUR: Yes. In fact, Mark Meadows could have spent his time

actually interrogating what Michael Cohen was saying and what he was presenting in terms of evidence, the veracity of the claims that he was trying to make. But instead we get political circus and we get political stunts and we get the fall back on this very old and tired trope, but my best friends are black.

BALDWIN: My biggest takeaway, this is all about -- it's not about your friends, it's not about what's in your bones, it's about actions. And we should all take note of that, each and every one of us.

Leah Wright Rigueur, thank you for the conversation.


BALDWIN: Good to see you.

Coming up next, an apology from the Virginia governor's office, but this time, it's actually from the first lady.