Return to Transcripts main page
Congressional Panel's Contempt Vote for William Barr; Trump Says Mueller Should Not Testify; Treasury Secretary Missing Two Deadlines For Trump's Tax Returns; Susan Glasser, Susan Glasser, CNN Global Affairs Analyst, and Norman Ornstein, Political Scientist and Congressional Expert, are Interviewed About Constitutional Crisis; Truth About Saudi Arabia's Mass Execution; Madawi Al-Rasheed, Professor, Middle East Center at London School of Economics, is Interviewed About Saudi Arabia's Mass Execution. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired May 6, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
Is it a showdown? Is it a crisis? It is Congress versus the White House. And we drill down into whether these fights over the Mueller report,
Trump's tax returns, the sanctity of the next elections leave the constitution on shaky ground.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUJTABA AL-SWEIKAT: I was sleep deprived, tortured and coerced into confessing something i didn't do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The truth behind Saudi Arabia's mass execution of 37 people. In an exclusive, the lawyer who had represented some of them says he now fears
for his life.
Plus, how African-Americans built industries, despite crushing inequality. Award-winning filmmaker, Stanley Nelson, is our guide through this history.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
It's a day of missed deadlines for President Trump and his administration, with the Attorney General William Barr declining to provide the unredacted
Mueller report to Congress by its 9:00 a.m. deadline this morning.
It's traumatically ratcheting up the drama as a congressional panel will now vote on whether to hold Barr in contempt on Wednesday. And it comes as
President Trump made an about-face on the Special Counsel testifying before Congress after initially saying that he would support Barr's decision on
the matter, he tweeted this morning, "Bob Mueller should not testify."
Meanwhile, the clock is also running down on Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, after missing two previous deadlines. He is set to reveal whether
he'll actually comply with Congress and release the president's tax returns, something Mr. Trump has been refusing to do since his candidacy
began in 2015.
So, what are we seeing here? Is this an extreme version of the usual cut and thrust that happens between different branches of government or are we
witnessing the route to a constitutional crisis?
Joining me with answers are two experts, Susan Glasser, a star freighter for "The New Yorker" and author Norman Ornstein, a political scientist and
longtime Congressional expert.
Welcome both of you to the program.
SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So --
NORMAN ORNSTEIN, POLITICAL SCIENTIST AND CONGRESSIONAL EXPERT: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: -- let me ask you the question that I just, you know, posited. What do you make, Norman, all the way over there in Poland, and you've been
studying this for a long, long time, of this reluctance by, you know, the Department of Justice, highest official, the attorney general, basically
flouting this Congressional deadline, what should we make of it?
ORNSTEIN: This is not business as usual, Christiane. This really is a difference. We've had, of course, other cabinet members who have had
disputes with Congress, including Eric Holder in the Obama administration. We've had contempt citations issued. We've had delays. But in the past,
it's always been resolved through some kind of negotiation.
This in terms of the volume, the blanket refusal to cooperate, the direct challenges to the authority of Congress from the Justice Department, from
the president, from a whole series of cabinet agencies is simply unprecedented in our modern age, at least, and it is leading to a
AMANPOUR: So, you think it is. Let me ask you, Susan Glasser, if you agree with that sort of maximalist interpretation of what's happening.
That it is leading to a constitutional crisis, and, if so, what exactly does that mean and what does it look like, including, of course, Steven
Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, so far not saying what he's going to do about the tax returns.
GLASSER: Well, that's right. It's a good point. It's not just about the Mueller report, and I think that's something important for people to
realize is that, essentially, President Trump has decided to thumb his nose at the broad range of Congressional investigations, and there are many that
are ongoing since the Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives.
The president has basically directed his staff not to cooperate at all with the new Democratic House and essentially, he's daring them. He sees that
he has retained the Republican-controlled Senate. He believes that there are not 20 Republican senators who are going to break ranks with him and
ever go for a move to impeach and remove him from office.
As a matter of politics, I should say that that remains, I think, a fairly accurate reading of the situation in Washington. But as -- it's typical
with President Trump, he is going to the nth degree with this strategy. And that's where, I think, Norm is right to say it's something different
than we've experienced in the past. Previous presidents didn't want to dial up the confrontation with Congress. They often wanted to dial it
down, and it seems President Trump is almost daring the House of Representatives [13:05:00] to go farther.
Perhaps even daring them to impeach him and see that there's potential political benefit from himself in alarming his Republican base in advance
of the 2020 presidential election. But it really -- what it means is that we're headed down a course of confrontation because these are co-equal
branches of government under our constitution. And so, that leaves, potentially, the courts to referee this fight, which is always a risky
AMANPOUR: So, you have just brought in the courts which is, obviously, the other branch of the American government. Norm, you know, it's really
fascinating to hear what Susan just said and what you've just said. What would a constitutional crisis look like?
And I ask because many people say, and particularly people around the world and obviously people in the United States as well, that the health of the
American institutions is robust and that no matter what happens, no matter whether a president challenges them more than another one, the institutions
still remain, and they can still, you know, carry out their constitutional requirements, their constitutional duties.
ORNSTEIN: So, we have seen some heartening things over the course of the last two years. We have had some independence on the part of the judiciary
when it came to, for example, the travel bans the president instituted. We've seen a few instances where courts that have stepped up.
But one thing I've learned from my visit this time in Europe is something that I knew before but it's been reinforced, no society is immune from a
slide toward autocracy. A direct challenge to the fundamentals of this system won't necessarily hold. And we have seen our judges become
tribalized and partisanized along the same lines that we've seen in Congress and in our politics more generally.
And it wouldn't be surprising with the degree to which Trump has been able to stack the courts. He's now picked about a sixth of all the appeals
court judges in the country. There is a clear Republican majority on the supreme court that they might uphold a level of executive power that would
pretty much make Congress an impotent body.
Now, that's not to say that it would hold for a long time. It wouldn't surprise me if there were a Democratic president down the road with a
Republican Congress that they would say never mind just as we saw with Bush v. Gore, which was a onetime thing.
But this is dangerous territory. And a president -- and a broad set of institutions stonewalling like this, and as Susan said, not just on the
Mueller report, an attorney general whose only parallel would be John Mitchell during the Nixon administration but many more cabinet officers who
are in the same category. This is really a place we don't want to be.
AMANPOUR: So, you know, right now, it's all about oversight or a lot of it is about oversight and trying to hold the administration, the president
accountable. So, to that end, Congressman Jerry Nadler was saying that, you know, if we cannot get our requests met, for instance, with Attorney
General William Barr, that really does affect the way the American democracy is able to, you know, remain healthy and transparent for the
But he also injected a bit of a fear for the future. I'm just going to play this little bit of what he said last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): This is a grave danger for American democracy and we must do all we can in the name of the American people to ensure that
when the Trump administration ends, we have as robust a democracy to hand to our children as was handed to us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, it's very interesting the way he puts it. And to both of you, and I'll ask you first, Susan, he also said in a different part of
that address to the press that, you know, what's going on is a little bit the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship. A democracy
requires the consistent checks and balances of the institutions and transparency and accountability.
What do you make, Susan, of what he said and the way he threw the gauntlet down there? I mean, is that over egging it, sore it that dramatic, do you
GLASSER: Well, you know, he has used fairly apocalyptic language the other day in suggesting that nothing less than the future of democracy is at
stake in whether or not Attorney General Barr complies with this subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence.
You know, it's an interesting debate. You said earlier, is this the constitutional crisis? What's amazing about the Trump presidency is that
almost every single day since he was inaugurated, people have been asking themselves one way or the way, "Is this it? Is this the crisis? Is this
the moment?" And to me, that suggests, number one, that actually President Trump himself is the crisis, right, and it takes [13:10:00] many different
Number two, the issue of the role of Congress and the role of the courts is really come into focus in a way that it hasn't in any other presidency of
my adult lifetime certainly. Is it a crisis for Congress to move forward with investigating the president or for the courts to enact decisions
against the executive branch? Arguably not. Arguably, that's exactly how our system of government is supposed to work, right, those checks and
balances that you referred to.
On the other hand, for Trump to pursue, again and again, a strategy of confrontation with the other branches of government in hopes of testing
their limit and their boundaries, I think that's what chairman Jerry Nadler is referencing here, that if Congress doesn't act, that's when you might
have a crisis, if it fails to perform the oversight responsibilities. They are the only way in our system of imposing accountability on a president.
Otherwise, there really is unchecked almost dictatorial power that we've invested in the White House if Congress won't do anything about it.
AMANPOUR: And Norm, what would a, you know, contempt of Congress looks like as they are suggesting might happen if, for instance, the attorney
general does not comply and reveal the unredacted, the full Mueller report? What does it mean practically?
ORNSTEIN: Look, before I get to that, Christiane, let me underscore something Susan said earlier. If this were simply a dispute between
Congress and the president, I wouldn't be as worried. But we don't have a single Republican in the House or Senate who has objected to lying by
cabinet members. Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, for example, who stood up after Barr testified in front of the Senate and dissembled
repeatedly, offering any unease about it.
So, that's one of the real problems we have here. It's not just Congress against the president, it's a Democratic House against Republicans in the
House, the Senate and the president.
Now, beyond that, the power that Congress has, to start with it, is to hold officials in contempt or to impeach them. Impeaching them requires a
Senate that would go along with two-thirds. And right now, no Republicans would do that. Contempt means going to the courts and where we've seen
that occur in the past, it can take months and months.
Now, if we go back in history, Congress actually has an inherent contempt authority. There's a jail in the Congress, in the capitol. They could
send out capitol police or U.S. marshals and arrest the attorney general, in theory, and put him in jail. But, of course, that's not going to
happen. And the fact is, we rely on the norms of this process as much as we do the rules and the laws.
And in this case, the law isn't going to work because contempt could lead us all the way through the remainder of this presidential term and the
norms have broken down completely. And that's where our crisis is, it's more in the breakdown of norms.
AMANPOUR: So, given the breakdown of norms that you describe, I mean, President Trump came in as a self-declared disruptor of norms. I mean, he
just said, "This is what I'm going to do. I'm not going to be politically correct. I'm going to say it like I see it. And I am going to change
things because that's what voters want."
So, again, the question is, is this just Trump being Trump? And do the norms, in a way, have to or must they, because he's the president, sort of
expand and shift a little bit for as long as he's president?
I mean, for instance, the bit about Mueller testifying in front of Congress, in public. You know, he's saying, the Democrats are looking for
a redo, that they've already stolen, those are his words, two years of the presidency. Does he have a point as a constitutional matter? What is the
constitutional significance of Mueller, for instance, being called to testify?
GLASSER: Well, Christiane, I think this is an important point. First of all, Trump, you know, is making a ridiculous argument in many ways. The
notion that it's a redo to have Mueller testify and tell the public about this two-year investigation that the public paid for, you know, of course
that's not a redo. That's how the system is supposed to work. It's literally an absurd argument.
And that goes to your broader point. Trump would love nothing more for the American public just to see him as some sort of truth teller who is telling
uncomfortable facts to the snooty elite and, you know, just challenging political correctness. But, you know, the legal theories and the view of
the presidency itself that he and his advisers are advancing is a direct contravention of the system of government that the founders envisioned.
And it's not just, you know, telling uncomfortable truths to have the [13:15:00] attorney general of the United States testify under oath as he
did last week in the United States Senate, and William Barr said, it was a breathtaking moment, he said the president of the United States," in his
view, has so much power that he can shut down any investigation of himself if he believes it to be unfair. That is the most sweeping assertion of
executive power that Americans have heard since Richard Nixon said to David Frost that actually, it's not illegal if the president does it.
And, you know, I don't think that's just being politically correct or politically incorrect, as the case may be, that's just a stocking
AMANPOUR: You know, to that point, a former Congressional counsel tells the "Wall Street Journal," "The entire system of checks and balances
depends on Congress constantly looking at how the country is being governed." He was a former general counsel who says that.
So, clearly, you know, that is the foundation of what makes the United States, you know, this bastion of democracy, rule of law and all the other
values the United States stands for. And I want to put it that way because, Norm, you are in Poland, you're in Warsaw, at the heart of what is
a very close U.S. ally, you know, fought -- certainly, you know, the non- communist poles fought during the war on the allied side. They have had concentration camps in their own country. You have just witnessed a
commemoration of some of that. And you've seen -- you're seeing what they're doing in terms of trampling the rule of law. Just explain what
Poland is doing and what kind of, I suppose, contagious effect that can have in our democracies.
ORNSTEIN: Well, ou know, what we're seeing in Poland as we have seen across Europe, not just Central and Eastern Europe, but now in Western
Europe, in Italy with the rise of a power on the right in Spain, in so many countries, and we're seeing it here, obviously, tangibly now, is a move
away from democracy back towards autocracy.
And in some countries, it's moving more rapidly than others. There's a challenge to fundamental authorities and to the Democratic norms, and Trump
has accelerated that. When we see other strong boot figures like Erdogan and Duterte using the term enemy of the people to jail their own press,
we're seeing this play out in a lot of places. It's not just the United States. And many of the forces that brought us to where we are in the
United States proceeded Trump and he's just accelerated them.
But once you've lost some of that sense of how a democracy is supposed to work and how checks and balances are supposed to work, it's not easy to get
them back. And one of the things about Trump is he knows, as he said himself two years ago, "I could shoot somebody in broad daylight on Fifth
Avenue, and I couldn't lose a single vote."
40% or so of Americans are with him no matter what. They don't care he's shattering the norms. A substantial number of would be perfectly happy
with the dictatorship, and that makes it much more difficult because and it makes it particularly difficult because his own party is acting, in the
phrase of Lindsey Graham who has been as big a perpetrator as anybody, for party over country. That's a dangerous thing, it's an unusual thing and it
is something we haven't seen in the 50 years, at least, that I've been around Washington and our politics.
AMANPOUR: So, Susan, lastly to you then because you're sitting right there in Washington. You know, what Norm just said about a significant number of
Americans, you know, wouldn't mind a strong man or some kind of a dictatorship, he's actually quoting a poll which actually has suggested as
much. I mean, just to be clear, he's not just saying that out of nowhere and it was shocking when it came out.
But I wonder how you reacted to what Nancy Pelosi has said in an interview to "The New York Times" that the Democrats should be careful about the
whole impeachment, rush to impeachment and concentrating on that, and they need to be careful about the next election because she sees a possibility
that President Trump could cry foul and question an election that didn't go his way. How seriously is that all being dissected in Washington this
GLASSER: Well, it was a striking comment, and I think you're right to highlight it. But remember, this was also said in the run-up to the 2016
election. As you recall, there were a lot of fears that Trump -- he was expected to lose, of course, and a lot of people thought at that time he
might not recognize the outcome of the election. Obviously, that's one of many might have beens. We don't know the answer to because he did win in
In my own view, there is a raging debate here in Washington right now over not only whether Democrats in the House should proceed with impeachment
[13:20:00] proceedings even though they know they are likely doomed to fail in terms of removing Trump from office. But there are consequences on the
other side of the ledger, too. The politics of impeachment may look one way in a set of polls taken today.
But from the long view of history, what would be the consequence of Democrats saying, "We can't proceed for political reasons against Trump,"
and leaving, therefore, unchallenged many of the extraordinary actions he has taken in his two years in office.
Let's not forget that he attempted to fire the Special Counsel, ordered his aids to do so. He did, in fact, fired the FBI director and fire his own
first attorney general in the effort to shut down an investigation of himself. These are significant challenges to not only norms but to laws in
any other circumstance, they are challenges to Congress' authority. And if Nancy Pelosi and Democrats in the House leave these uncontested actions, I
think that's the other part of the political debate over President Trump.
And so, it's not resolved here. That's why you see them proceeding with the investigations because nobody is quite sure how any of this is actually
going to turn out. But Norm is right, 40 percent of the American public still supports Donald Trump. You know, you can't look away from that fact.
So much has happened the last 2 1/2 years and yet, the polls have remained amazingly, even shockingly consistent. And so, that's the political
reality in which this is all playing out here in Washington, and it's unbelievable.
AMANPOUR: And by the way, according to the latest, latest poll, an even higher number support his handling of the economy, something like 56
percent. So, that puts all of this in stark perspective.
Susan Glasser, Norm Ornstein, thank you very much indeed for joining me this evening.
Now, as these confrontations continue, it is not the only area where the Trump administration and Congress clash. Saudi Arabia is another major
flash point. While President Trump has been keen on building the relationship with the Saudi kingdom, come what may, the legislative branch
is denouncing the nation for its role in Yemen's four-year role and of course, for the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
inside the consulate in Turkey last October.
Less than two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia executed 37 men for "terrorism." But court documents reveal that defendants told the judge they were tortured
into confessions. Arwa Damon has an exclusive interview with a Saudi lawyer who defended some of those men. He told her that he started
receiving messages trying to make him come home just like Jamal Khashoggi received messages. Here's her report.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Seventeen and arrested for protesting.
AL-SWEIKAT: I was sleep deprived, tortured and coerced into confessing something I didn't do.
DAMON: An interrogator threatens this 16-year-old.
ABDULKAREEM AL-HAWAJ: If you don't validate your confession, I will kill your father and your mother.
DAMON: And this young man, also claiming he was abused in custody.
ABDULLA SALMAN AL SRIH: The confession was written by the interrogator. I signed it only after torture and threats.
DAMON: These are statements made in a Saudi court by some of the 37 whose death sentences were carried out and the second largest mass execution in
the kingdom's recent history.
Taha Al Hajj is haunted by their stories. He was a lawyer in his former homeland of Saudi Arabia where he briefly represented some of those
executed in April on what he calls trumped up and bogus spying and terrorism charges. The day of their execution, the Saudi government said
justice had been served. But hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents, exclusively obtained by CNN, lay bare another narrative.
TAHA AL HAJJ, SAUDI LAWYER (through translator): The court documents are proof of torture and injustice and they still have the audacity to say they
are merciful and humane.
DAMON: The defendants say they confessed because they were being tortured. That should have been investigated under Saudi law.
AL HAJJ: The judge is supposed to take this seriously, to ask the interrogators for an answer to these allegations. But what happens in most
of these cases is that the judge ignores it.
DAMON: Saudi Arabia has denied accusations of torture in the past. And the Saudi government has not responded to CNN's numerous queries about the
allegations of confession under torture as stated in the court documents.
Among the crimes the dead are accused of committing, demonstrating violence, spying, organizing demonstrations, filming misleading videos and
communicating with foreign media.
Taha suspects the government might have also accused him of false crimes. While still in Saudi, he received a call asking him to appear at a
[13:25:00] police station, he fled the same day. But even here in Germany, he is wary of the far-reaching tentacles of the Saudi government.
It's a very politely worded letter from the Saudi embassy here that he got on his phone. How did they get your number?
AL HAJJ: I don't know how they got my number. This was a new number.
DAMON: The message from someone claiming to be a Saudi official in Berlin says, "The homeland still welcomes its sons with open arms. And, if you
want, I could help you go back. I guarantee you an easy return that you will thank me for."
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has obtained exclusive new video in the murder investigation of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
DAMON: A few months later, the news of the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, dominated the headlines. He, too, had received similar
assurances from Saudi officials.
AL HAJJ: I thought to myself, I could be in the same state as Jamal if I had agreed. They brought this to my mind right away.
DAMON: He says his government could try to get to him, even here. But he will not stop using his freedom to be a voice for those who are still
inside, for those who are being tortured and abused, for those who can't scream even when they are in pain.
ARWA DAMON, CNN, Berlin.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: So, let me just read a statement that the Saudi authorities did give. Now, it wasn't in response to the allegations of torture and
confessions under torture, but it was in response to questions about that mass execution, and this is what they have said, "Justice was served. The
kingdom of Saudi Arabia has long ago adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorists who spill the blood of the innocent, threaten the
national security of the kingdom and distort our great faith. The convicted criminals who were executed had their day in court and were found
guilty of very serious crimes."
So, for more on all of this, I'm joined by Saudi scholar, Madawi Al- Rasheed. She's a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, Middle Center. And she's with me here on the set.
Madawi Al-Rasheed, welcome to the program.
MADAWI AL-RASHEED, PROFESSOR, MIDDLE EAST CENTER AT LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: You know, you've been a critic for a long time. You've watched what the government has been doing for a long time. I guess, where does
this, first of all, mass execution fit into a country that, in any event, has the death penalty, and you heard what I read, that justice has been
AL-RASHEED: Well, it fits very well. And since the beginning of 2019, we had 104 executions. But the shocking thing it was the mass execution and
also the crucifixion.
AMANPOUR: Explain that. What do you mean?
AL-RASHEED: Well, usually the beheading takes place, but in one particular prisoner case, he -- after beheading, he was crucified and there were
reports that he was on display. But it is in line with what Saudi Arabia does. The death penalty is upheld in Saudi Arabia. But the worrying thing
is their judiciary that is not independent.
So, we know the death penalty exists in democracies and in autocratic regimes, but when there is no way to challenge the courts and the courts
are under the authority of the Ministry of Interior or even higher in this particular moment, under the authority of the crown prince, Mohammed bin
Salman, then it is very difficult to see how justice is done.
AMANPOUR: Can I just put up a graphic we have with the list of those countries, because you just mentioned that, you know, their death penalty
even if some democracies like the United States. Let's just put that up and just say that Amnesty International on 2018 global executions listed
China as being the one who executed the most. There are no numbers actually because the data is not public. Iran, then Saudi Arabia is number
three, Vietnam, Iraq, Egypt, the United States is seventh on that list.
Before we get to some of the -- you know, some of the points of why Saudi Arabia says they executed these people, you know, when there is a country
like the United States, which also has the death penalty, what then is the mitigating ability of diplomacy or appeal to human rights or appeal to
their allies? Saudi Arabia is a big ally of the United States. Mohammed bin Salman is somebody the United States has taken a major gamble on,
certainly, the Trump administration. They believe he's their man. What can the U.S. do in these instances?
AL-RASHEED: Well, the U.S. doesn't want to do anything, especially at this particular moment. We have seen how Saudi Arabia and the Saudi regime
itself got away with murdering a journalist in the consulate in Istanbul on the 2nd of October.
And Mr. Trump at the time said maybe they did it, maybe they didn't. And even when he was confronted with the report of his own intelligence
services, he refused to take any notice. So at the moment, those who are calling for human right, calling for open trials, open representation and
lawyers to defend those people who in an independent court are really having no support from governments in the west -- in the west, what they
are getting is quite a lot of media coverage and also support from the international global human right organization, such as Human Rights Watch,
Amnesty International and from the U.N., of course.
AMANPOUR: Yes, and indeed Amnesty has talked about sham trials that violated international fair trial standards which relied on confessions
extracted through torture. We'll talk about that in a moment. And you mentioned the U.N. The head of the U.N. human rights commission, Michelle
Bachelet is particularly abhorrent that at least three of those killed were minors at the time of their sentencing. What do you think is going on?
What do you think is the real reason? Some people say it's because they had links to Iran, an, obviously there's a war of words at least between
Iran and Saudi Arabia.
AL-RASHEED: Well, it is a message to Iran, but I think the real victims are the community in Saudi Arabia and that is the Shia community of the
eastern province. The message --
AMANPOUR: Which is a minority in Saudi Arabia.
AL-RASHEED: Which is a minority in Saudi Arabia and it had been at the forefront of protests in a very, very peaceful way. And the Saudis did
this kind of execution in 2016 when they executed an important Shia cleric by the name of Nimr al-Nimr. And what happened was that Iran condemned the
execution of this Shia cleric and that at -- immediately after that, the Saudi embassy in Tehran was attacked, and then this relationship
deteriorated. So the Iranians didn't stop the mobs attacking the Saudi embassy.
But I think the execution are actually a domestic matter, although the message might get to Iran. Domestically, Mohammad bin Salman is ruling by
fear and by repression and these kind of mass executions which amount to a massacre, 37 people in one day, it's quite a lot. And also lumping
together different people, different categories of people. One of the executed was a Shia religious scholar who was invited to the national
dialogue forum established under the rule of King Abdullah to talk about Sunni-Shia relations. Quite a lot of the executed we have evidence, we
have YouTube clips saying those people are giving lectures or mobilizing others.
And I did not see any kind of sectarian tone in their speeches that they were given after 2011. Some of those people are very, very young. When
they were arrested they were only like under the age of 16, and they were peaceful demonstrators who got really carried away with the Arab uprising
of 2011, but they were arrested at the time, and then we are in 2019 when they were executed.
AMANPOUR: Briefly, are you surprised that we're hearing -- and this is what Arwa Damon's report was -- that significant numbers of -- of these who
executed told the court that they didn't mean what they said, that it was only extracted under torture and they were told what to write?
AL-RASHEED: Yes, absolutely. I mean, torture in Saudi prison is confirmed, is confirmed by one woman activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, who
told her family during their monthly visit that she was tortured, that she was sexually abused, physically abused, and she didn't want to talk about
these issues early on, fearing that that might make her situation worse in prison. But at the end she had lost hope and told her family. Her brother
in Canada, Walid, and her sister in Brussels, they were both talking to the media about the exact detail of horrific sexual abuse and torture in Saudi
AMANPOUR: So let me tell you a broader story, then, because we've brought up women now. There are women who are in jail now and -- and -- and
reports from their families of -- of abuse there and there are women who are fleeing -- like, it's stepped up quite significantly. There are a
couple of public cases -- you know, Bangkok, Hong Kong, et cetera, Saudi women. And -- and what do you think is going on with this rather stepped
up number of women and others who are seeking asylum abroad?
AL-RASHEED: It's the only thing that is in common between these various cases of women activists in prison, of religious scholars in prison, of
peaceful activists, lawyers who defend prisoners of conscience are in prison. And what we call the runaway girls, they tend to be very, very
young. The -- the common factor is actually they are fleeing repression. When things get really, really bad, they have no resource. And in the case
of the young girls, the state or their government agencies fail to provide protection against some kind of abuse within the family.
[13:35:00] In fact, the government becomes an accomplice in this when they reach out to foreign governments asking them to return the girls. So they
enforce the situation and bring the young girls back to Saudi Arabia. But there are so many cases at the moment that, you know, we only hear about
very high-profile ones. And also they have been using social media in order to publicize their case so we know more about them. But there are
young women in Saudi Arabia who are in so-called shelters, and these shelters -- they can go to a state-run shelter if they are abused at home
but then in order to leave, they have to get their guardian to come and collect them, which means that sometimes you have to get the one who abuses
you to come and sign the documents to get you out.
AMANPOUR: It's a phenomenal situation. I'm really glad we were able to highlight it, Madawi al-Rasheed, and particularly Human Rights Watch today
has talked about this new app that Saudis are being -- being used to stop women from being able to leave and -- and -- and give them permission to
leave, so we're going to keep our eye on this. Thank you so much, indeed, for joining us. We turn now to our next guest, the Emmy award-winning
documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, who's widely considered the foremost chronicler of the African-American experience.
His latest work "Boss: The Black Experience in Business", looks at the challenges faced by African-American business owners from the Civil War to
the present day. And he sat down with our Walter Isaacson to discuss what drives his work, his production company, Firelight Media, and his upcoming
film on jazz musician Miles Davis, which is set to release this summer.
WALTER ISAACSON, JOURNALIST, CNN: Stanley Nelson, thank you for joining us.
STANLEY NELSON, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: Thank you for having me.
ISAACSON: I was blown away by watching "Boss." And we've all known the problem that African-Americans have had since the Civil War in doing wealth
creation. But what you show is how systematically the problem of wealth creation was even starting right after the war with the 40 acres and the
mule not being a fulfilled promise. Tell me why you got onto that and what you were trying to show.
NELSON: Well I mean, I think the story of African-American businesses is just such a poignant one and that it's a story that we don't know, and --
and the resiliency of African-Americans in, you know, fighting through that and -- and starting banks and hair care companies and insurance companies
and in the tech industry now. And I thought it was -- I mean, I thought if I didn't make the film, who's going to make it? You know what I mean? And
that it's not something that people are like, oh, yes, that's a great idea for a film, but that it could be made as a film, and that's what we tried
ISAACSON: And it seems to break a lot of stereotypes but also disrupt sort of this theme of America that we all have equal opportunity.
NELSON: Yes, I mean, I think it's very clear that so many times -- and there are so many different stories in the film where African-Americans
start businesses or towns, even, and they -- they're destroyed, like, systematically. But I think that that's -- you know, just to be clear,
that's not the focus of the film. The focus really is on the starting of the business and the making of the business succeed.
ISAACSON: You talk about towns being destroyed because freed slaves and African-Americans went out west to places like Oklahoma and started their
own self-contained enclave. We have a clip here, it's a part of Tulsa called Greenwood and it's one of my favorite parts of the movie. Let's
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On may 30th, 1921, the mob came to Greenwood.
MEHRSA BARADARAN, AUTHOR AND PROFESSOR: This white woman is in an elevator and this black teenager allegedly whistles at her, talks to her. She is
taken to jail. A mob gathers of whites and blacks, and blacks in Tulsa are armed. They take their second amendment right seriously and they come with
guns. And this is a threat. Someone fires into the crowd and the riot is born. This was not about the whistling boy in the elevator, this was about
blacks becoming too economically powerful and showing that wealth in a way anyone would by creating buildings and constructing churches and having
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a whistle that blew. And then the mass invasion and the destruction of Greenwood began.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When the smoke cleared in the early morning of June 1st, 1921, Black Wall Street lay in ruins.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When the smoke cleared in the early morning of June 1, 1921, Black Wall Street lay in ruins.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is by far the largest single incident of racial violence in all of American history.
NELSON: Yes. I mean, I think one of the most amazing things about that clip I the footage, you know, is that we are able to tell this story
because of this newly discovered footage of Greenwood and you actually see the people in their homes. And right before what we saw is you see them
kind of building the town, you know, you see them planting their gardens, you see black people on horseback herding cattle because they're in
Oklahoma and all of those things, and then you see the destruction of that, and it's just - it's very moving to me partially because you can really see
it and you can visualize what the town was.
ISAACSON: One of the things I learned was that the first real businesses were sort of services whether it be barber shops or beauty and other
things. How did that help pave the way for building of wealth?
NELSON: Well, one of the things that happened in the south was, you know, after the time of enslavement as African American became free, many times
they - as black people took up the jobs that they kind of already were doing. So you know, if I was a barber or that was one of my duties and I
became - had my own barber shop. If I worked in the field, then I became a farmer. So a lot of those things led to the first businesses that African
Americans had and led to a certain amount of economic freedom.
ISAACSON: What were the obstacles, though, to real wealth accumulation?
NELSON: Well, I mean, I think there were so many. I mean, at first and for a long time as we show in the film, African Americans really only sold
to African Americans. You know, you could have a store that sold to black folks, but what people really don't sometimes understand is that in most of
the this country if you are even a black grocer, it was very hard to have a black grocery store that whites would frequent. So basically for a lot of
the history of the United States after the Civil War, black people were having businesses that sold to black people. And so, you know, that in
some ways was limiting. You can't borrow capital. You could not go to a bank and borrow money. That was somehow in some ways alleviated when black
people started having their own banks, but in so many places in this country you couldn't even walk into a bank, but if you could, you couldn't
get a loan.
ISAACSON: One of the obstacles seems to be the big corporations. You have a wonderful sequence of Ursula Burns who moves from being the executive's
assistant to the CEO of Xerox - to being the CEO herself, but she's a very unusual case. Why is it that it's hard for African Americans to become the
NELSON: Well, I think, you know, there's this ceiling above you and it's not a glass ceiling. It's a real ceiling. One of the things that Ursula
says in the section we have on Ursula is she says it was hard for me because what this - what businesses looks at as excellence are white men.
You know, that's what they - as she says, that's what it looks like, that's what it sounds like, you know, that's the model. And it's very hard for a
black person, and especially for a black woman, to, you know, fit into that model. How do you fit in it? If that's your standard of excellence, how
do you break in? People do it, but you have to be extraordinary.
ISAACSON: One of the entrepreneurs you've done a documentary on before and then as part of this one is Madam C.J. Walker. Tell me about who she was
and how she created a business.
NELSON: Yes, so Madam C.J. Walker was a woman who, you know, pretty much started out with nothing. In the south, she started working for a woman
named Annie Malone who had a company called Poro Products, a black beauty company in Chicago - out of Chicago, and Madam Walker said to herself, you
know, I could do this and I could do it better. And so, Madam C.J. Walker, you know, moved to Indianapolis, started her own company, and just raised
it from nothing until she had a whole series. I think it was 19 or 20 different products that she had and, again, is kind of in the Guinness Book
of Records as the first woman to start with nothing and earn a million dollars.
ISAACSON: All of your documentaries on the deal with race from different angles, how does the arch of your career, how do you put those together to
say, "here's the story I'm trying to tell"?
NELSON: I feel that people should tell their own stories, that stories are richer and deeper and more meaningful and more heartfelt if they're told by
the people who live them. So I try to tell stories that I live, that I think are important. But I also think in very general terms I'm really
interested in institutions and movements and things that are bigger than just, you know, the great man or woman of history.
ISAACSON: Now, the film that's coming out soon, which I just loved what I got to see on it, is on Miles Davis.
ISAACSON: And that seems a bit of a departure. I mean you're doing somebody who is an artist and just wakes up every morning with his music. In fact,
let's do a clip about the importance of music to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MILES DAVIS, AMERICAN JAZZ TRUMPETER: Music has always been like a curse with me. I've always felt driven to play it. It's the first thing in my
life. Go to bed thinking about it and wake up thinking about it. It's always there. It comes before everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NELSON: Yes, I mean that's just a beautiful clip. I think for me, you know, I'm a real music lover. I listen to music from the time I go to bed - time
I wake up to the time I go to bed. It's just something that - and I've always wanted to do, like, a pure music film.
And you know, who's better than Miles, you know? Because one, Miles' music is so great and so important, and I believe will last forever, but two,
Miles was a really complicated individual. You know, he was really complicated, and it makes - it makes for a much richer film.
ISAACSON: He was complicated, too, in his feelings about race, right? Because he gets beaten up once by a white deputy here in New York City, and
it sort of scars him for the rest of his life. There's an anger there that's in his music sometimes.
NELSON: Yes, I mean I think that, again, you know, Miles, there's so many facets to Miles to understand and try to unpack. And I always say that I
think before you try to unpack anybody or anything, you have to first say that, you know, different people react to different stimuli in different
So you might have lived, or I might've lived, the same thing and reacted differently. But Miles grew up - his father was dentist, and Miles grew up
in East St. Louis, and they were - for the standard - for African-Americans at the time, they were rich, OK.
They had a farm outside the city. Miles had a horse, you know, that he would ride. I mean, you know, Miles grew up rich, but he also grew up black
in segregated America, you know, in East St. Louis. So he had all that to pack on top of it. Also, Miles was very, very dark skinned, and Miles was
beautiful. So he had that going on.
ISAACSON: Let us show something about the blackness, because that blackness is an amazing part of the movie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAMMY L. KERNODLE, MUSICOLOGIST: I think the darkness of Miles Davis' skin, instead of seeing that as a liability, he saw that as an asset. It was very
different from anything that was projected on television or in movies at that time. Miles turned that into something cool, something desirable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ISAACSON: Cool. And that's what - it's like the birth of cool, is what you'd call this, like, because that's what he does with his music, is a
birth of cool.
NELSON: Yes, Miles look - Miles was - we're making the film. We're like, "OK, so Miles is just the coolest guy that ever lived." I mean he just is.
You know, I mean, you know, with - as somebody says in the film, you know, Miles had the cars, the fast cars, the snappy clothes, you know.
Miles had his clothes tailored. He had beautiful women. One of the musicians says, you know, "We not only wanted to play with Miles. We wanted
to be Miles. That's what we wanted to be." So Miles is this - you know, has all these things going for him, but he also has this chip on his shoulder,
And, you know, that part of that was his reaction to the racism that he was exposed to - he was born in 1926 - racism that he was exposed to in that
America. And, you know, he is that person.
ISAACSON: And he was always innovating, in a way. I mean this creativity is like, don't stand still. Let me try a whole new form of music.
NELSON: Yes, I mean I think that's who Miles was, you know, to our great benefit and sometimes to his own detriment, you know. I mean, you know, he
breaks up groups just because he wants to do something else, you know.
There's a great scene in the film, where he asks Ron Carter - I mean he has what's one of the greatest groups ever, and he asks Ron Carter to play
electric bass. And Ron says no. Miles is like, "OK, well, then bye," you know. I mean that's kind of how it was with Miles, you know.
It was - he had this thing where he constantly had to change. He constantly had to create. And you know, I think, again, for us, listening to it, it's
great, because he great music in so many different ways. But for him sometimes, personally it was hard.
ISAACSON: Your next big project, I think, is on the Atlantic slave trade, and you're going to try to try to treat it as a business.
NELSON: Right. Yes, we're working on a four-part series for PBS on the Atlantic slave trade. We're just starting now. And I think that, you know,
one of the things we wanted to try to do was say, you know, look, this was the first global business.
This was a business that set so many things in motion. You know, shipping, banking, insurance, all of these things came out of the slave trade and we
-- it's something we never look at.
So, this is a four part series on the trade, it's not on slavery, it's on the trade, which was a business that was in Europe, Africa, North America,
South America, the Caribbean were all involved in the slave trade. So, it's the first real global business in the world.
ISAACSON: One of the small things that you did that I find very interesting as I looked at it, was a training video you did for the
Starbucks Company, of what it's like to be in public and be black.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Especially being a teen of color, they assume that you're doing something bad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like I'm disturbing people by just being there. Like, people feel uncomfortable when I walk in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ISAACSON: Explain why you did that and what you conveyed there.
NELSON: Yes, well Starbucks came to me after they had the incident where the four -- the two guys were arrested in Starbucks in Philly and they
decided that they were going to close their stores down and kind of have a training session for the employees and they wanted to do a video.
And so, what we came up with was an idea of African-Americans and other just talking to the camera about how we feel in public spaces and that so
many times we don't feel entirely welcomed and that it has it's roots in the civil rights movement, which part -- a large part of civil rights
movement was to say, everybody is equal in public spaces, right?
So, you could go to a public library, you can go to a park, you can go to a swimming pool, but we still, as African-Americans, don't feel welcomed so
many times when we walk into stores and other places.
ISAACSON: Did you have any reservations about working with Starbucks and to try to help smooth their situation over?
NELSON: I mean, for a second, when they called me, I wanted to meet with them, but then when I met with them I -- I mean, they were totally honest
about it. I mean, they had -- they closed down their stores, they didn't have to do that. I think Starbucks, in some ways they were really shaken
by this and they really wanted to try to make it right. And so, I felt very comfortable in trying to help.
ISAACSON: Did we move on too quickly?
NELSON: Yes, I think so. I think -- and there's a lot more discussion to be had. I think it's really at -- it's and important, important discussion
and I learned so much from doing the film, because I didn't know that there were things that I didn't talk about. I didn't ever think about the fact
that I am not comfortable going into a lot of places.
Or it's not even uncomfort, it's that just little, you put your hand on the door and you're like, OK, I don't know what's going to happen and what
might happen. And I think that's important to talk about.
ISAACSON: Name of your company is Firelight Media and it's important for Firelight to be training a next generation, especially of African-Americans
who can own the story and tell the story.
NELSON: Yes, well we have a documentary lab where we train filmmakers of color, of all races, so black, Latino, Asian, all races and we have between
10 and 15 filmmakers who are -- who we mentor in the lab at the same time.
There've been, I think, over 80 filmmakers who have graduated the lab, and these are filmmakers who are making full length films, they've been on all
different networks, we've been -- had multiple films at Sundance, one of our films just won an award at Sundance this year. Emmys, Peabodys,
Duponts, all those things have our films have won.
ISAACSON: And where do you see it going over the next 10, 15 years?
NELSON: Our next step that we're really pushing to do and raising money to do is to have a move for the filmmakers to make their second film. Because
what we're finding is people who have been through the lab, they win a Dupont or they won a Peabody, they win an Emmy and it's still hard for them
to get their foot in the door for that second film.
So, what we want to try to do is be able to give filmmakers seed money, mentorship to get that second film made, because when I made my second
film, when I made Two Dollars and a Dream, William Greaves, who was kind of my mentor said to me, well Stanley, you've done it twice, they can't say
it's an accident, you're on your way.
ISAACSON: Stanley Nelson, thank you so much for being with us.
NELSON: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: Words of support from the maestro. That is it for now. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us on online at
Amanpour.com and follow me on Instagram and Twitter. Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.