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Bernie Sanders Booed After Name-Dropping MLK Jr.; Biden Asked Obama Not to Endorse, Should Win on Own Merits; Biden Launches Campaign, Takes Direct Aim at Trump; Inside Russia's Plan to Crush Sudan Protests. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 25, 2019 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: If you are a Democrat running for President, there is already one rule. Do not take any votes for granted. That is why eight of the candidates running for the 2020 nomination showed up at the "She the People Presidential Forum" in Houston organized by women voters of color. Senator Bernie Sanders learned a couple of other things at that event. Answer the question you are asked and do not name drop Dr. King.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you believe is the federal government's role to fight against the rise of white nationalism and white terrorist acts and how do you plan to lead on that in your first year as President?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, we have got to make it very clear that the type of demagoguery we are seeing from the Trump administration is not what this country is about and I will do everything that I can to help lead this country in a direction that ends all forms of discrimination.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The core of the question is about as President, what would you do with the rise of white supremacist violence to protect our communities.

SANDERS: Absolutely.

You know, as somebody who -- I know I date myself a little bit here, but I actually was at the March on Washington with Dr. King back in 1963. And as somebody who actively supported Jesse Jackson's campaign and one of the few white elected officials to do so in '88, I have dedicated my life to the fight against racism and sexism and discrimination of all forms.


BALDWIN: Sayu Bhojwani is the woman who asked the question. She is the former New York City commissioner of immigrant affairs and is the founder and president of New American Leaders. So Sayu, thank you so much for coming through and you really asked the question. You even had to have an assist from on stage because it sounds like he wasn't answering your question. Were you satisfied with his answer?

SAYU BHOJWANI, QUESTIONED BERNIE SANDERS ON THE RISE OF WHITE NATIONALISM: Absolutely not. I certainly wasn't satisfied with the first part of his answer. I think that I came to that question because in my work with immigrant communities and with people of color there is just this incredible sadness and fear that has developed over the last few years. As we've watched churches being burned. As we watch our young people being killed by police. As we watch our young children being caged. And I brought to that question the weight and the feeling of so many of those conversations. And I didn't feel that we were being seen or heard in that answer.

BALDWIN: But yet when you look at the totality of everyone running for President, you have the men, white men at the top of the pack. Senator Sanders and now Joe Biden. Which reminds me of something I want to read this quote for you. Alexis Grenell is a writer.

[15:35:00] She wrote this piece in "The Daily Beast." Saying while Biden and Sanders are well established candidates with decades of public service and national name recognition, it is galling to see previously obscure men with limited accomplishments like Beto and Mayor Pete leap frog over women whose outside accomplishments and respective resumes would put most people to shame.

BHOJWANI: Yes, well, I say two things about that. First, there is a tendency to look at the people who are already in leadership and think that our future leaders should look just like them. And so there is obviously -- we see a lot of white men in leadership and we look at any white man and think they too can lead. And forget there are systemic reasons why white men are the people in power.

And just to bring it back to the question that Bernie Sanders was asked, I think for every Presidential candidate it is not enough to have a diverse staff, it's not enough to talk about how you're going to stand up against racism. We've really need to see very specific things that are going to happen to make us feel that we are going to be protected by the future President.

So we're talking about things like how are you going to create a national task force to respond to white nationalism? How are you going to address systemic racism in government agencies? How are you going to make sure this rampant disease of white nationalism is going to get responded to?

BALDWIN: So given all of that, you spent the day at "She the People." You saw a bunch of people who would like to be President on that stage, who impressed you.

BHOJWANI: I think it's generally agreed that Elizabeth Warren won over the audience. I mean, if you were in the room, the energy was electric throughout the day. But what Elizabeth Warren did was really give us proof that she understood our concerns, connected her own experience to ours and most importantly had very specific plans. So we can't take voters for granted and assume we could talk in platitudes and generalizations --

BALDWIN: You want substance.

BHOJWANI: She understood that.

BALDWIN: She brought it. Sayu, thank you so much.

BHOJWANI: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, former Vice President Joe Biden says he asked President Obama not to endorse him as he rolled out his 2020 campaign this morning. But can he keep the Obama coalition on his side? We'll ask our own Van Jones who was once an Obama adviser.


BALDWIN: Breaking now, remember the case of that Coast Guard officer accused of masterminding a terror attack on politicians and media figures. Well a federal judge just ordered that he be released. The judge says that the government had not met a standard to keep him in custody. Keep in mind, he was only indicted on weapons and drugs charges. Nothing related to terror or attempted murder. The judge says he still needs to be supervised.

And now to politics. Joe Biden's long anticipated announcement for the presidency has for months now been billed as a candidate who will continue the Obama legacy. But on this first day of his campaign, Biden told reporters that he asked former President Obama not to endorse him. Which may come as a surprise to some supporters after seeing eight years of White House moments like these.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the final time as President, I am pleased to award our nation's highest civilian honor. The Presidential Medal of Freedom.

This also gives the internet one last chance to -- talk about our bro- mance.

JOE BIDEN, (D) FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Which do you like better? These or these?

OBAMA: Joe, they're the same.

BIDEN: They capture different moods.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States of America Barack Obama.


BALDWIN: CNN political commentator, Van Jones, who was a former senior adviser to President Obama. He has a new CNN original series. It's called "THE REDEMPTION PROJECT." Which we'll get to in a hot minute. But it's always fun to look -- back at the clips. (INAUDIBLE) at the pizzeria. But so all right, Biden doesn't ask Obama for an endorsement but he will effectively be seen as sort of the Obama third term. He wanted to hang on that to Obama coalition. How challenging will that be for him as an older white guy?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think first I want to say looking at the video that he launched, I felt like help it on the way. Help is on the way. I mean, to hear somebody speak about -- I think the heart break people have in the country in sober tones, in compassionate tones, but in serious tones, I just like, wow, OK, thank you. I don't know where you'll come on policy, I might for you, I might vote against you but I welcome his presence back on the national stage. I welcome him -- he's not just calling Trump out he's calling us up and I think he is uniquely qualified to do that. I thought it was a beautiful video and I'm glad he's in the race.

BALDWIN: Not just calling Trump out but calling us up. On policy we're already seeing a -- some sampling of the pushback he'll get from other Democrats. Let me just throw a tweet up on the screen and you could see from the group that helped launch Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Noting his past votes on the Iraq for, mass incarceration, marriage equality. How does he handle that?

JONES: That's tough. And I don't think people understand the importance of the justice Democrats. People talk about the Tea Party every day they were on the scene. The justice Democrats are as strong or stronger the Tea Party. They are a major center of gravity in our party that doesn't get talked about enough. And I think they'll have criticism of his record. I also think, though, that you have a Democratic base that is torn down the middle in our hearts.

[15:45:00] Do we want to go with a new fresh young face that will throw out most inspiring ideas or do we just need to find somebody who can bring us back together and frankly get those 70,000 Midwestern voters to come back over the fence. Because don't forget, we lost the industrial Midwest three states by a total of 70,000 votes. Joe Biden can get those 70,000 votes without get out of bed in the morning.

And so you've got this challenge inside out party. Some say let's go energize a new coalition and we don't need those 70,000 votes. And other people are saying that we need those 70,000 votes. But, listen, the justice Democrats need to be taken a lot more seriously than they've been because they are a major force in this party.

BALDWIN: Speak of justice. Let's talk about you. Congratulations.

JONES: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I mean, this is a huge, huge deal. He's got this original series. It's called "THE REDEMPTION PROJECT." We're going to play a clip. Quickly explain to me what this is about.

JONES: Listen, I feel like the culture has just gone in a such negative, toxic direction. We talk about this all of the time, you and I. It's the call-out culture. It's the cancel culture. The idea of compassion and empathy has just gone. And I wanted to do something that would go 180 degrees in the other direction. And show people who have done bad things, not just a bad tweet, done really bad things and are in prison but who want to make amends, who want to atone.

And I talk to them and I talked to the people who they've hurt and then I just let them talk to each other face-to-face and we film it. And it is a beautiful, powerful process. Listen, sometimes it doesn't end warm and fuzzy. Not going to lie. But sometimes it does. And I just believe that we can do better. We have got to get empathy and listening and caring and compassion back in the culture so this is a medicine for a sick culture.

BALDWIN: Let's watch a clip of the medicine from Van Jones.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My actions started the cycle of violence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He took the love and what my life could have been like. I want him to look me in the face and tell me why he killed my mother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no way that you could actually prepare for something like this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the last piece of that puzzle from a lifetime of what if.


BALDWIN: Oh, my God.

JONES: Listen, that's the first one that we did. And when it was over, I cried so hard my nose started bleeding it was that emotional and cathartic. People say this might be too heavy for me. This is a heart break to hope show. This is a heart break to hope show. And sometimes breakdowns could lead to break-throughs if we use them right. And so we're arguing every day on the air about sometimes it is minor stuff.

These are people who you would think would never want to talk. And yet it turns out that sometimes the person who hurt you ten years ago, 20 years ago, they've got information that you don't know. You got questions that have never answered. You've got pain. You were in your own prison of pain and that person just sitting down and explaining what happened, saying I'm sorry could make a huge difference and we show that in this series.

BALDWIN: Thank you for doing this.

JONES: Thank you.

BALDWIN: This is the show. The premiere of the "THE REDEMPTION PROJECT" it is this Sunday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. Van, thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you. BALDWIN: Still ahead here, the FBI raids the home of the Baltimore

mayor and it is all tied to a scandal involving children's books.


BALDWIN: As protesters in the Sudan can continue to hold out against the country's latest military rulers, the families of the dozens killed by Sudanese government forces over the three months of protests are still mourning their dead. But as deadliest months of protests have been, CNN has learned it could have been much worse.

Documents obtained by the London-based Dossier Center and shared with CNN, detail a plan very similar to that which is believed to have played out during the 2016 U.S. elections. This time put forward by a shadowy Russian mining company linked to U.S. sanction, Putin confidant, Yevgeny Prigozhin. Offering to help crush the protesters, spread misinformation and keep Omar al-Bashir in power. At stake, a naval Russian presence on Sudan's strategic Red Sea coast. CNN senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir has the exclusive report. And we just should warn you some of the images are graphic.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He was just 17 years old, in his first year of university.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): January 8, government forces in Khartoum opened fire on unarmed protestors. A teenager, Mohammed El-Fateh (ph), is among the first to die. His mother tells us, he knew there was a chance he'd be killed that day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It was Mohammed's hope that the government would be overthrown. Our hope is that the same way Bashir killed our son, he must be executed, killed.

ELBAGIR: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is ousted, but the crowds gather still outside the military headquarters. Today, they're chanting, "only blood washes blood." They want justice for the dozens of lives lost during the pro-democracy process but it could have been so much worse.

[15:55:00] CNN has learned that in January, Russian advisors to the government drew up plans to suppress the protests. Government sources in Sudan say they worked from an office in Khartoum belonging to an obscure Russian mining company called M-Invest.


ELBAGIR (on camera): We just asked in those offices, and they told us that this was another mining company, not M-Invest. But this is the exact address that we've been given by numerous sources, and there really isn't any other Russian company matching the description that we were given of M-Invest right here. (voice-over): CNN has discovered that M-Invest had sophisticated

plans to disrupt the process. Painting them as a foreign plot. Fabricating evidence that protesters were being paid, that they are destroying mosques and schools.

(on camera): The evidence comes from thousands of documents shared with us by the London-based Dossier Center. They paint a picture of an operation prepared to go to great lengths to keep Omar al-Bashir in power. But why would an obscure mining company care?

(voice-over): Because M-Invest is part of the business empire of Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of Russia's most prominent oligarchs and a man close to President Vladimir Putin.

The documents reviewed by CNN offer no confirmation that official Russian security agencies were involved directly in trying to suppress the protests in Sudan. But Sudan was at the heart of a Russian drive to expand its influence in Africa. Russia had bet big on Omar al- Bashir. It wanted logistical help for their navy at Port Sudan.

In January, activists circulated images of heavily-armed men observing the protests. Government and military sources in Sudan say they were private Russian contractors, embedded with Sudanese government forces.

(on camera): At the same time, M-Invest was working on a plan to discredit the leaders of this process, recommending that looters, so- called looters, should be executed. Putting together a social media campaign suggesting that Israel was behind the process. And saying that lesbian, gay and bisexual activists were working among the protesters. Something that would have been utterly unacceptable in the deeply Islamic and conservative society here in Sudan.

(voice-over): Multiple government and military sources in Sudan tell CNN that Russian advisers were placed in government ministries and the national intelligence service. According to one senior figure in Bashir's regime, their plans involved what he called minimal but acceptable loss of life.

The regime did begin to implement the M-Invest plan, smearing students as trying to foment civil war. Limiting Internet access and even devising a fake social media campaign to start disputes and disinformation. The same playbook U.S. prosecutors say Russia's Internet Research Agency used to disrupt the 2016 presidential election. The agency and M-Invest both tied to Yevgeny Prigozhin. He's previously denied any ties to election meddling, and calls to his company for this report went unanswered.

And when he apparently felt Sudan's government was slow to act, Prigozhin evidently wanted more. In a letter to Bashir in mid-March he accused the government of inaction and warned that the lack of active steps to overcome the crisis is likely to lead to even more serious consequences. As the process gained strength, Prigozhin wrote again, praising Bashir as a wise and farsighted leader but urging immediate reforms.

Senior officials in Khartoum tell us that Bashir hesitated. Within a week, he was gone. But M-Invest is not. The documents we've reviewed show that it has close ties to Sudan's military, and they're in charge now. The families of the fallen prey that their sacrifices are not in vain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I'm happy that Mohammad's dream of freedom was realized. I'm grateful to God, and I hope -- dear God forgive me.

ELBAGIR: The Kremlin and its oligarchs may have other ideas. But for now, here in Khartoum, the fight for freedom continues.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Khartoum, Sudan.


BALDWIN: Russia has consistently played down Russian contractors operating in Sudan saying, quote, We are informed that some employees of Russian private security firms, who have no relation to the Russian government authorities, are indeed working in Sudan but their functions are limited to personnel training.

Nima thank you so much for that reporting.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. "THE LEAD" starts now.