Return to Transcripts main page


Biden Defiant After Booker Says He Should Apologize for Remarks; Trump: Iran Made "Very Foolish Move" Shooting Down U.S. Drone; Senators Briefed on UFO Sightings by Navy Pilots. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired June 20, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: -- Senator Cory Booker decided to be Biden's most outspoken critic.


BALDWIN: Former Vice President Joe Biden defiance after 2020 rival, a New Jersey Senator Cory Booker says Biden should apologize for his remarks about working with segregationist senators. And that set off a new round in this war of words.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to apologize as Cory Booker has called for --


[15:35:01] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cory Booker has called for it.

BIDEN: Cory should apologize? He knows better. There not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in civil rights my whole career.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So for his posture to be to me, I've done nothing wrong, you should apologize, I'm not a racist, is so insulting and so missing the larger point that he should not have to have explained to him. That this should not be a lesson that someone who is running for president of the United States should have to be, to be given.


BALDWIN: Senator Booker added that he was raised to speak truth to power and that he will not be apologizing.

And just last hour, I talked to a senior adviser to the Biden campaign Symone Sanders. This was her response.


BALDWIN: Have you spoken with the vice president and what is his response to what Senator Booker told on last night? SYMONE SANDERS, SENIOR ADVISER, BIDEN CAMPAIGN: I'm not going to get into what I specifically said to the vice president today but I want to tell you this, OK, because I understand and I get it. A lot -- I want to say a lot has been going on this week, but I do want to be clear that we don't conflate with everything that's going on this week from the president re-launching his campaign with the device of rhetoric that we've heard since 2015 to Mitch McConnell basically eluding that the election of Barack Obama was somehow reparations, to this very point of conversations we've been having about race on the Hill, on Capitol Hill but also in the media. I don't -- I want to make sure we don't conflate that with the comments that Vice President Biden made in his example at the fundraiser.

So I want to be clear here, Brooke. The vice president did not embrace segregationists. He doesn't praise and was not praising segregationists. He agrees that their views are repugnant and that the language that they had used and were using during that time is unacceptable and it understands that it's hurtful to millions of Americans.

BALDWIN: Senator Booker did not suggest that Biden is embracing segregationists or he's not saying that he's racist, but what he is saying is that he's upset over Biden's choice of words. And my question to you is, is Booker wrong to feel that way?

SANDERS: So I want to be clear, Brooke. One, I have immense respect for Senator Booker, our campaign has immense respect for Senator Booker but most importantly, the vice president has immense respect for Senator Cory Booker. And it's not on anyone to say how Senator Booker should or should not feel. You know, he is entitled to his own feelings and his own thoughts as is everyone else.


BALDWIN: Rebecca Buck is a CNN political reporter. She's been traveling with Senator Booker's campaign.

So, Rebecca, this is not the first time that Senator Booker has taken aim at Joe Biden. Last month, he called the '94 crime bill that Biden spearheaded shameful and a mistake. Biden has tried to keep above the Democratic fray, you know, since launching his campaign. Does the fact that former Vice President Biden responded directly to Senator Booker elevate the senator and his bid for president?

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: There's no question that it does, Brooke. I mean, Cory Booker's campaign has been slow to get started, let's say. He's in the single digits in most polling and so he's been sort of on the quiet side. There's no question that this is going to push him into the spotlight in a way that he hasn't been today.

But let me just tell you an interesting nugget from my reporting. I spoke with a Booker campaign source today and they told me that initially in their draft of the statement that they put out to rebuke Joe Biden on his comments, they did not initially call for him to apologize. Ultimately, they decided to do so because it was so important to them. This issue was so important to him and they felt so strongly about it. And so you see that this could have been a very different moment for Cory Booker but ultimately because they made that decision, that's what elicited the reaction from the vice president.

I'll just add that they say this was not a political move. They were not trying to elicit a reaction from the former vice president but because this was something he felt so strongly about on a personal level, on a moral level, and that's why they made the statement they did.

BALDWIN: And the timing of all of this, right? So this is all happening a week before the first Democratic debate. Booker and Biden will not be sharing the same stage but do you think this will factor into debate night strategy for Team Booker?

BUCK: I mean, they're expecting the question now. And so one, I think, the wild card for them is, can they keep this conversation going into next week, carry this momentum into next week, and maybe get more attention on the debate stage than they would have otherwise had? Again, because this campaign hasn't been, you know, leading the conversation in this race, he might have been overlooked on the debate stage in favor of Elizabeth Warren, for example.

Now he has an opportunity to stand out in a way he didn't before. And I think they're going to be trying to take advantage of that, absolutely.

BALDWIN: Rebecca Buck, thank you.

BUCK: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says Iran shot down a U.S. drone to test President Trump. But my next guest says it's actually the Trump administration that is to blame for taking us to the brink. Hear him explain why.


[15:44:50] BALDWIN: We continue to follow the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. President Trump speaking earlier from the White House saying that Iran made a mistake. A very foolish move, these are quotes, when they shot down a U.S. drone in the Gulf of Hormuz -- Strait of Hormuz.

[15:45:06] And then he said Americans will soon learn if the U.S. will strike back. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham gave this fiery warning after being briefed by the White House.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Trump has told the Iranians, you cannot disrupt navigation of the seas, you cannot take our interest, our allies. That's an unacceptable way to live in the 21st century. They are testing him. They need to do so at their own peril.

If they get away with this, God help us with North Korea and throughout the world. I'm convinced that as a last resort President Trump will stop this behavior.


BALDWIN: Peter Beinart, CNN political commentator and a contributing editor at the Atlantic is with me now. And, you know, you wrote this whole piece positing that Iran isn't actually the aggressor, America is. How so?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. The Iranian regime is a horrible regime, no question about it. But if you look at the sequence of events since Trump took office, we have been the aggressive actor.


BEINART: Iran was, by all accounts, abiding by the 2015 nuclear deal in which they accepted the most stringent oversight of their nuclear program any country had ever received. We pulled out of it. We started violating it. The whole point of that deal for them was sanctions relief.

We tightened the screws on sanctions further than anyone had ever gone before. We basically said we're not going to allow you to export any oil which is where they get most of their revenue. And then we basically designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist force even though the U.S. military reporters was saying don't do this, it puts U.S. troops at risk.

We have been pushing them and pushing them and pushing them back against the wall. John Bolton, the National Security adviser, this is not a secret, has been calling for war with Iran for more than a decade now. And we are now in this crazy position where the person we are relying on as the cool head who doesn't want war inside the administration is Donald Trump.

BALDWIN: Who is -- doesn't want any part of this. It sounds like from, you know, his comments at the end of his point at the White House today, he wants to get out of these endless wars. And what about Republican Senator Graham's point though that, you know, nevertheless, we are where we are today, and if the U.S. does nothing, what kind of message would that send to places like North Korea?

BEINART: Well, first of all, we don't know what happened here, and I think that's important to remember, right? The United States -- I don't trust the Iranians but I don't trust John Bolton either. I mean, we know from many of the people he worked within the Bush administration that this is a guy who has a history of playing fast and loose with the evidence. It was his office that made the claim about Iraq having yellowcake from Niger if you remember that horrible memory from before the Iraq war.

So, we need some kind of independent investigation but we also need to de-escalate, right? These things do not happen in a vacuum. The Europeans, the military have been telling us again and again, if you keep threatening Iran, they will fight back. They will push back. We need to de-escalate and return to diplomacy, into a nuclear deal that was working.

BALDWIN: To your point as far as the factors getting Iran to where they are today on the sanctions and how it's really crippled their economy. I was reading this piece. This is from Brookings today noting the value of their currency has sunk by two-thirds, inflation is approaching 40 percent, the economy is expected to shrink by six percent this year. Has Iran been back into a corner and what's their off-ramp?

BEINART: People in Iran can't import lifesaving medicines. How would Americans respond if other countries place sanctions on us that totally tanked our economy, made it impossible to get the goods that many people rely on for their basic lives?

Again, this is not to say anything positive about the Iranian government, it's a horrible government. But the truth is, this form of sanction, where you choke a country off from being able to do the commerce on which ordinary people rely is itself an aggressive act. And we need to move back to that towards a diplomatic process that was containing Iran's nuclear program and creating a possibility that the terrible ironies that Iran had a pro-American population.

Where do we think this is going to -- this is doing to their perceptions of the United States, let alone when we start bombing them? Do we think in the long-term this is going to be good for our relationship with the Iranian people?

BALDWIN: Cools head in the room to President Trump. President Trump. Peter Beinart, thank you very much.

BEINART: Thank you.

BEINART: You're excellent. It is not unusual for U.S. senators to receive classified information but the topic of one recent briefing is getting some extra attention. Why the sudden interest in UFOs?


[15:54:56] BALDWIN: A Syrian refugee living in Pittsburgh now accused of planning to bomb a church there in the name of ISIS.

[15:55:02] The FBI announcing the Wednesday arrest of a 21-year-old suspect who was admitted into the U.S. as a refugee in August of 2016. This is actually a video here on the left side of your screen of authorities searching a home where the suspect may have lived.

According to the FBI, the suspect had bomb-making materials, a multipoint plan, and marked-up satellite maps of the area around the church. The 21-year-old said he was targeting it to quote-unquote, take revenge for our ISIS brothers in Nigeria. He is due in federal court for his first appearance tomorrow.

And, is something really out there? Three more U.S. senators received a classified briefing about UFOs at the Pentagon, or in current lingo, unidentified aerial phenomena. You may have heard the pilots and other military personnel been reporting these kinds of sightings for years. A couple of weeks ago, the Department of Defense even released footage shot by a Navy super-hornet pilot. But you may not have known that back in 2007, Congress directed the Pentagon to set up a $22 million search for the truth.

And Tom Foreman is with me more on the advanced aviation threat identification program. So Tom, talk to me about these senators getting the classified briefings on UFOs?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, here's the interesting thing. It's easy to laugh and it's easy to think it's silly or it's just a bunch of hoax amount there. But, Senator Mark Warner who is the vice chair of the Intelligence Committee said look, I think it's important. He told us just this afternoon, I think it's important that the military is taking this more seriously now than they did in the past.

So what are they thinking seriously? Those videos you were talking about relating to a couple of different sightings we're talking about. In 2004, there is one called the Tic Tac sighting. They called it that because they said it looked like a tic tac flying out there very close to the water on the West Coast.

And then more recently, there were some out on the East Coast that people were talking about. 2014, 2015 where these pilots were describing seeing these things up to 30,000 feet in the air, flying at extraordinary speeds, hypersonic, well over the speed of sound, changing direction in the most astonishing ways, and seemingly defying the laws of physics. Listen to what one of these pilots had to say.


LT. DANNY AUCOIN, NAVY PILOT: No distinct wings, no distinct tail, no distinct exhaust. It seemed like they were aware of our presence because they would actively move around us.


FOREMAN: So, that's what has everyone excited here, these reports, the release of these videos, and you mention the program. That was originally started by Senator Harry Reid because they said look, we just need to know what's going on. It only lasted about five years. It has been shut down for a number of years.

And they said they really didn't find anything. But Brooke, you know, the obvious question here is, is there something out there? Not necessarily extraterrestrial but is there something else, some kind of a drone, some kind of secret technology? Something that maybe we control? Maybe we don't?

BALDWIN: So, yes, maybe they'll get to the bottom of that. I know that in April, the Navy actually issued guidelines for pilots to report any sightings of the unidentified aerial phenomena. Are you surprised this kind of information is now getting out to the public?

FOREMAN: Well, I think it's been a long time in coming, Brooke. I mean, this is a sort of thing back early in my reporting career, some 30, 40 years ago you would hear about. But at the time it was just over (INAUDIBLE) of a bunch of crazy conspiracy theorists with a bunch of ideas out there, and people taking pictures of an odd-shaped cloud in the sky.

I'm not really surprised that we're finally getting to the point of looking at this more carefully. And particularly, Brooke, when you think about the technology we're dealing with today. We're dealing with technology that we really haven't seen before.

Remember, when the first stealth fighters came out, there had been pictures of these things taken from very far by civilians saying there's some kind of strange aircraft out here that we've never seen before. Eventually we found out what it was, but initially, it was just a mystery. So I think for a lot of people who aren't looking for space aliens, this is still very interesting because they're saying is it something?


FOREMAN: Even if it's not space aliens, is it something that will make a difference in the future? And again, is it something that the U.S. is controlling or is this some new technology that somebody else has developed?

BALDWIN: What -- 30 seconds, Tom. What has President Trump said about this?

FOREMAN: You've got to listen to what President Trump said about it. It's really interesting. ABC asked him about it. Listen to his comment.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think my great -- our great pilots would know, and some of them really see things that are a little bit different than in the past, so we're going to see. We'll watch it. You'll be the first to know.


FOREMAN: So the top levels of government, they're talking about it, Brooke. No answers yet, but a lot of questions.

BALDWIN: Tom Foreman, thank you very much.

FOREMAN: You're welcome.

BALDWIN: Before I go, a quick check at the Dow. Up nearly 300 points today despite the volatile situation as we've been reporting between the U.S. and Iran. One of the reasons, the Federal Reserve signaling it may lower interest rates in the coming months, something that President Trump has publicly called for.

Thank you for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Let's go.