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Service Members Wear Trump-Themed Patches at Event; U.S. Congressman Admits Taking Photo with Enemy Corpse; Broadway Actor on Impact of "To Kill a Mockingbird"; Facebook Deletes Fake Accounts Used in Pro-Iranian Influence Campaign. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 28, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That maybe his statement a short time ago, Brooke, saying that the Navy leadership is aware of the incident and reviewing to ensure the patch doesn't violate DoD policy or uniform regulations.

Well what we do know is that often units looked -- and they can order this stuff themselves. There are places that make it and provide it. Sometimes some units will try and put on what they consider humorous patches or something a little bit lighthearted about what they're doing.

So does it violate policy? Generally, yes. Generally you are supposed to only wear the authorized military parts of your uniform. You're in the military. You don't get to decide what goes on your uniform. And generally what happens is the boss comes out, yells at everybody and says don't ever do this again.

The issue here, of course, is that this is an image of the President. It is a play on words for his political slogan "make America great again". And we saw those red hats with that slogan appear when he made his holiday trip to Iraq. And when you are in the military, you are not allowed in uniform while you are on your duty day, so to speak, to participate in any political slogan-ing or any political offense. And that slogan is now widely interpreted to by a political slogan of the President of the United States.

So the question now is once again, will there be any kind of discipline? It may be -- it may turn out to be the boss wagging the finger and saying don't do this again. But the question really is, will the military respond? There wasn't a great track record of doing that in Iraq because the President, the commander-in-chief, then signed some of those hats. So you couldn't really be a commander disciplining about something that the President was doing. It's another case of we're in interesting times, uncharted waters for so many, including the military.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Yes, we've heard that one. Barbara Starr, thank you so much on those the patches.

Congress -- Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter is admitting that while serving in the Marines he posed with the body of a dead enemy combatant. He made the comments in defense of Navy SEAL, Edward Gallagher, who is facing a court-martial. Gallagher is charged with stabbing a defenseless and wounded teenage prisoner of war to death in Iraq and then posing with the body for a photo. He's also accused of shooting at civilians and opening fire on crowds. Even so Trump reportedly is considering say pardon for Gallagher. Considering a pardon for Gallagher.

So let's see here. Where -- I also want to note that Hunter himself is under indictment accused of misusing a quarter of a million dollars in campaign funds. With me now, Captain Waitman Beorn. He's an Iraq war combat veteran and in an opinion piece in "The Washington Post" recently, he wrote that he led a platoon in Iraq and that Trump is wrong to pardon war criminals. And so, thank you so much, sir, for being with me and thank you, of course, for everything you've done for this country. I want to begin with Congressman Hunter's comments. What did you make of him speaking about what he says he did?

WAITMAN W. BEORN, U.S. ARMY VETERAN: I mean, Brooke, sometimes you just going to have to shake your head. I would like to say I was shocked. But given his support for Gallagher, it doesn't surprise me at all. It was kind of off-putting was the very off -- nonchalant way in which he admitted to doing something that is horribly immoral, if not a war crime. He just sort of said, oh, well you know, we've all been there. We've all done that. We've all taken pictures with dead bodies.

BALDWIN: But you haven't all been there and you haven't all done that.

BEORN: Absolutely. No, we haven't.

BALDWIN: Absolutely against anything you are supposed to do. And I want to come back to that point. But when he was speaking about it, he said, essentially, that I did it but I didn't post the photo on social media or text it. Does that matter?

BEORN: I mean, perhaps it matters in terms of litigation. But I don't think it matters in terms of the ethics. I think the ethics is all about the picture taking itself. The selfie phenomenon and what that says about what you think about the human being that is in front of you now and that is dead.

BALDWIN: And explain to civilians who may be thinking, well, you go to war, these are the enemy, this is the enemy, and you are objective to kill so what is wrong with doing this? I want you to explain to civilians watching why it is.

BEORN: Sure. It's a great question that a lot of people I think have problems with or at least problems understanding. First of all, it is in the law of war regulations, Geneva Conventions that the bodies of enemy soldiers and combatants are to be respected.

[15:35:04] Why we do that, it's -- it comes down to dehumanization and this is really difficult because at a certain level soldiers have to be able to kill the enemy. And so they have -- they have to be able to see them as the enemy. However, one of the really important roles of a leader in the military, leaders manage violence. They're not there to really commit it. And they're job is to keep soldiers, sailors and marines on the positive side of that line. Which means that you're able to kill the enemy but you are not -- you don't become sort of an amoral killing machine that doesn't recognize the humanity of what you're doing.

And so we respect the bodies of enemy combatants because at that point they are no longer combatants, they are just human beings. And we wouldn't want anybody to treat any human body in a way that desecrates it or makes fun of it or uses it as a prop in the way that Hunter has. And I should point out that he was a leader at the time. So that makes it even worse in my book.

BALDWIN: We wait to see what happens now that he's, you know, admitted also course his potential pardons. Discussion of potential pardon is for the Navy SEAL such as Mr. Gallagher. Waitman Beorn, thank you so much for coming on. I hope to have you back

BEORN: Thanks for having me as always.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

My next guest is one of the stars of one of Broadway's biggest productions "To Kill a Mockingbird". Where he was confronted with the stark realization where he writes every night racists kill me. Then I leave the theater for a world of danger. Do not miss my conversation with Gbenga Akinnagbe.


BALDWIN: What is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature, "To Kill a Mockingbird" has gone from a beloved book to a movie, to now a deeply moving Broadway play. It brings to life the dramatic and emotional story of a white lawyer who hopelessly tries to prove the innocence of a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in Jim Crow, Alabama. And the themes of race and inequality still resonate today.

Gbenga Akinnagbe plays Tom Robinson, the man on trial, in the Broadway play and he wrote this powerful, raw and enlightening opinion piece in "The Washington Post" entitled "Every night racists kill me. Then I leave the theater for a world of danger." It is a pleasure to see you again. I was there opening night. Cried. Thought you were phenomenal. And so just thank you for all that you do. But when you -- why has this role so profoundly moved you, as a black man in America.

GBENGA AKINNAGBE, PLAYS TOM ROBINSON IN BROADWAY'S "TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD": It's been interesting because we workshopped it for a year and then rehearsed it. And we went through the process of just breaking it all down as far as race and time and gender and all of those things. But when we got in front of an audience, I started to feel it differently than I ever felt it before.


AKINNAGBE: Well, now we are in front of an audience of very -- mainly affluent people who could afford to be there, white faces and now I'm showing this black man's story and it just hit me difficultly. I was like, you know, most of these people have my politics and agree with a lot of the things that I agree with but they're still benefactors of this racist system. And so to them tell Tom's story in front of the audience that that's open and that's getting more open through the experience of the play, it was just --

BALDWIN: You feel it. Deeply.

AKINNAGBE: It was strange. It was a dichotomy there. There was a lot going on that I just had to get out and put it on paper.

BALDWIN: There's so much that stings as a member of the audience watching you and part of it is hearing the N-word multiple times, weaponized against you. And I'm wondering just over the however shows you've done, does it sting less for you as an actor or what -- what power does that word carry for you?

AKINNAGBE: It's while having heard the word so many times over so many shows, what stands out is the power it carries for other people. And how they use it, avoid it, pretend it doesn't exist which in some ways is offensive in itself. And so seeing how prevalent the word -- the meaning behind it or the various meanings behind it, is so layered into our society. So that -- it's interesting, so it's almost like a litmus test.

BALDWIN: And tell us about the ladies who came backstage.

AKINNAGBE: Yes, that was wild.

BALDWIN: Tell me about it.

AKINNAGBE: They are kind, older, liberal ladies --

BALDWIN: White ladies.

AKINNAGBE: -- white ladies and they came and talked about how -- what they felt and how they empathized with Tom and then -- all of a sudden, she's using the n-word left and right.

BALDWIN: Like legit using the N-word in conversation with you.

[15:45:00] AKINNAGBE: Yes. As soon as I turned to the first person who said it and asked how it felt to be called that, the other woman said it. and then I was just -- I was like, is this really happening? This doesn't seem real. And they don't -- and they don't see that. And they were former educators, a couple of them. So all right, I'm not quite sure what is going on here. Should I even -- should I feel offended because we just did this play that does that give them permission now and they don't intend --

BALDWIN: To offend.


BALDWIN: But -- AKINNAGBE: But this is -- Yes.

BALDWIN: Yes. So you're a character on trial for raping this white woman. Tom didn't do it. And when Tom is sitting there, in the trial and Atticus, the lawyer, is saying still like why did you run? It is so powerful. What is going through your mind as Gbenga?

AKINNAGBE: It is crazy to me that -- because that question is very real. I mean it is real in the play but you hear people who make excuses for black people being shot, whether it is by the police or some other -- being shot out there. Like, well, why did they run if they didn't do anything? They should respect authority. Justifying the victimization of these people. And ignoring the history that we have in this country.

It is ignoring -- honestly if a person has a gun, whether they have a badge or not, I'm inclined to get away from that person. I'm inclined to see that person as a danger, whether they are wearing a uniform or not.

BALDWIN: To run.

AKINNAGBE: So to ask that question, that ignores all of that. It ignores -- the experience of your fellow Americans because they happen to be black and you've never experienced that. So it is -- to hear that on stage, it rings true every single time Atticus asks that question.

BALDWIN: I reached out to Aaron Sorkin today about you. And Aaron says Gbenga illicit gasps and sobs from the audience every night part of that is because Gbenga is a world class actor and part of that is because he can't help bringing his own humanity on stage with him. He refuses to let Tom Robinson be an anonymous black victim.

AKINNAGBE: He's very, very kind.

BALDWIN: For people who haven't seen it, what do you want them to know?

AKINNAGBE: I want them to come out and see the show. Well, part of the reason I wrote this was to encourage the diversification of the audience because everyone needs to see this show. I think it is the most important play on Broadway right now. Not necessarily because of what we're doing but because of the conversations that could come from it.

Yes, and everyone needs to be part of the conversation, not just white people or black people. Everyone needs to be part of the conversation if we really want to address it and have some ugly truths come out and not hide from them.

BALDWIN: Gbenga, you are extraordinary. Thank you so much. I appreciate you sharing all that with us.

We've got to move along. Just into CNN, attorney Michael Avenatti is about to be arraigned for the second time today. His first hearing was over allegations that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from former client Stormy Daniels. Hear what happened in the courtroom next.


BALDWIN: Breaking news now. Facebook is taking action in the fight against disinformation campaigns. They have just deleted several fake accounts used to spread pro-Iranian propaganda across social media in the United States. CNN's senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt is monitoring the developments for us. So Alex, who's behind these fake accounts?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, all we know now is that these are pro-Iranian accounts. Facebook is saying that they did originate in Iran, but the company whose intelligence was reported today, FireEye, they are not tying this necessarily to the Iranian government. It's not just Facebook that was affected, it was Twitter as well. These are accounts that were pushing pro-Iranian messages, so anti-Saudi Arabia, anti-Israel, pro-Palestine.

They were trying to stir up trouble by talking about how the U.S. should distance themselves from the Saudi Arabian government over the death, the murder of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Just in terms of the numbers, we have numbers from Facebook. They say that they took down 51 accounts, 36 pages, seven groups, and three Instagram accounts. Twitter did not put out their numbers. They did note they have taken down some 2,800 inauthentic accounts since May. But Brooke, what's really interesting here is it's not just social media, which we spent so much time talking about, it was newspapers, as well.

This campaign succeeded in getting letters to the editor, pushing those pro-Iranian messages published 13 times in American newspapers over the past year, including the "LA Times" and the "New York Daily News".

So, you know, Brooke, we spent so much time talking about Russia, we spent so much time talking about China hacking into our intellectual property and stealing economic secrets, we don't spend all that much time talking about Iran. What we're seeing here is them taking a page out of the Russian playbook, and when you talk to intelligence officials, they talk about Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as the biggest cyber threats against North Korea. Brooke.

BALDWIN: Alex, thank you so much. Alex Marquardt in Washington.

Coming up next, the Biden camp just fired back after the President blasted the former Vice President and praised the North Korean dictator. We have that for you.

[15:55:00] Also ahead, the 35-year-old woman who survived those 17 days lost in the Hawaiian forest is about to hold a news conference and we will take you there live for her story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BALDWIN: A busy day in court for celebrity Attorney General Michael Avenatti. He had two court hearings, one related to charges that he stole $300,000 from his former client, Stormy Daniels. He pleaded not guilty in that case to charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. He allegedly used the money to pay his employees and to buy luxury items and right now, Avenatti's second hearing is underway.

This is the one where he's accused of trying to extort more than $20 million from sportswear giant Nike. He's also expected to plead not guilty in that case, as well. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you, as always, for being with me. Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD" starts right now.