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Los Angeles Angels Pitcher Tyler Skaggs Found Dead In Hotel Room; CNN Reality Check: NRA Scandals Escalate, Claiming T.V. Channel; Conservative Journalist Assaulted, Says Antifa Behind Attack. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired July 2, 2019 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- for us. We appreciate you giving us your firsthand take on all of this.

And, obviously, CBP says they are investing and that all of the wrongdoers will be punished. So we will stay on this story, of course.

Thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.

REP. NORMA TORRES (D-CA): Thank you so much.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: What a story from that visit at the border.

So, tragedy leaving Major League Baseball in mourning. What those who cover the Angels are saying about the death of Tyler Skaggs and the questions that remain about his shocking death.


BERMAN: The Los Angeles Angels reeling this morning over something that is so much bigger than any game. Starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead yesterday in a hotel room outside Dallas.

The Angels were there to play the Texas Rangers. The game last night was postponed.

The "Los Angeles Times" says foul play is not believed to be a factor in the 27-year-old's death.

Skaggs, who went by the nickname "Swaggy" was married less than a year ago.

Joining me now is Maria Torres. She covers the Angels for the "L.A. Times." Maria, thank you so much for being with us.

First off, this morning, are there any answers to how or why this happened?

MARIA TORRES, ANGELS BEAT WRITER, LOS ANGELES TIME: We still haven't found out. The last thing we heard, the Police in South Lake, Texas ruled out suicide, so maybe that's some reassuring news to people. But, no, we have no idea yet what it might have been that caused his untimely death.

BERMAN: Yes, not suicide, not foul play. That's all we've heard so far.

Let me read from some of the obituary, which you contributed to, for the "L.A. Times." And again, you're a beat writer on the Angels.

[07:35:02] "Skaggs brimmed with a confidence that he leavened with a dry wit. He grew up an Angels fan in Santa Monica and joined the organization as a first-round draft pick. He battled injuries" -- he had Tommy John surgery -- "throughout his career, but his belief in himself never slackened."

Give us a sense of Tyler Skaggs, the man.

M. TORRES: Tyler Skaggs is someone who -- he was just -- he brimmed with confidence, as is written there. He never doubted his own ability. He would -- he was someone who if anyone questioned what he could on the mound, he would very much push back in a way that was good-natured. But as long as, you know -- he was just focused on giving the best of himself.

And one instance, for example, earlier this month, the Angels were in Toronto playing the Blue Jays and he got into a bit of a tough spot in a game. And, Angels' manager Brad Ausmus actually pulled someone up in the bullpen and had them start to warm up.

And, Skaggs immediately just kind of hunkered down in that inning and got out of it and went up to his manager after the inning and told him -- told him in no uncertain terms, "This is my game. I'm going to finish it here. You don't need to be warming anyone else up."

So, that just kind of gives you a perfect glimpse of who he is -- who he was like.

BERMAN: "This is my game."

And we've seen postings from Angels players -- really, players all around baseball.

Any sense of how the Angels -- the team is doing? How they intend to handle this?

I know the game last in Texas was canceled. Will they play tonight?

M. TORRES: Hard to say. I know that the Texas Rangers general manager said that they will do whatever the Angels would like them to do. So I'm sure if they would like to postpone another game that the Rangers will happily oblige that.

The Angels are just -- they're distraught. This is something -- it's the second time in 10 years, essentially, that an Angels player has died in-season. Granted, the first time was a different circumstance, but this one is so sudden and tragic in the middle of -- BERMAN: Yes.

M. TORRES -- right in the middle of the season, too. Very tough for them.

BERMAN: Well, you brought up Nick Adenhart and it's been 10 years since the death of Adenhart. I remember when I was a lot younger, Donnie Moore, who took his own life.

Is there a sense there's a cloud hanging over this team? Do you they still feel the loss of Adenhart and does that make it that much more difficult with Tyler Skaggs' passing?

M. TORRES: Hard to say if they believe that they have a cloud over them. It definitely seems like the franchise is kind of star-crossed in that sense.

Last year, even -- for instance, Mike Trout's brother-in-law passed away and he was also part of the Angels organization at one point.

So, obviously, no death is timely but they're reeling right now.

BERMAN: You know, as a beat reporter, I just want to give our audience a sense of what this has to be like for the team. This is a group of people that lives together, basically, for six months or more during the year.

Two days ago, Skaggs was on the plane with them. Two days ago, he was in the clubhouse with them. Now that seat will be empty and that locker will be empty. And how do you go from one day to the next with that happening?

M. TORRES: Oh, I can't -- honestly, I can't even fathom what it's going to be like for them to return to that clubhouse, whether it's today, whether it's tomorrow -- whenever that is. The Angels return from the All-Star break at the end of next week, so I'm sure when they return to Angel Stadium and see Skaggs' locker, it will be another shock.

It's -- like you mentioned, they spend their entire lives together, essentially. They live together, travel together, eat together. They just -- they do everything together.

And for them to deal with this is going to be really tough. They're going to obviously need to lean on each other here.

But, Skaggs was -- I don't want to say he was the heart and soul of that team but he was definitely a leader in that clubhouse.


M. TORRES: He was someone who was just a -- was a light for them.

BERMAN: Lastly, he was just married. Just married, what, in December? So basically a newlywed -- his wife, Carli.

There was a picture on Instagram I saw of Tyler Skaggs dressed in a cowboy outfit the night before died.

Any sense how she's doing this morning?

M. TORRES: I can't imagine what it must be like to lose your newlywed husband.

And to have seen him two days ago dressed in the western attire -- the Angels left Anaheim on Sunday afternoon, all of them dressed like cowboys because they have a -- they're in Texas right now for two series, playing the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros. And everyone was -- everyone dressed to the nines.

[07:40:05] As you can see in that picture, there was Skaggs in his -- in his getup and from what I understand, he --



BERMAN: It's just hard. It's just hard to see.

All right, Maria Torres, again, thank you for joining us this morning. I know this is hard for the entire Angels community and that includes, I think, the reporters that cover them every day. I really appreciate you coming on and giving us a sense of the man that was lost.

M. TORRES: Thank you so much, John.

BERMAN: And we are getting an update from Major League Baseball. Major League Baseball says at the moment, the game tonight in Texas between the Rangers and the Angels will be played -- at the moment. I think they're trying to keep some flexibility and to find out how the Angels are doing. It's going to be very hard for them to take the field.

CAMEROTA: I mean, any sudden death, of course, is very hard to process and it's shocking. But of a 27-year-old with no answer?

BERMAN: And, you know, literally, the picture of health, right? When you're a 27-year-old baseball player you are the picture of health. So it does raise so many questions but we have no answers -- no answers today.

CAMEROTA: All right, we'll follow all of that.

Meanwhile, there are also new shakeups at the National Rifle Association and they have to do with money and politics. So we have a CNN reality check for you on this, next.


[07:45:37] CAMEROTA: All right.

Well, disappointing news for all your NRATV lovers. The live programming there is gone. That's, of course, the gun lobby's online video outlet. This comes amid escalating scandals for the very powerful organization.

John Avlon has our reality check to sort it all out. John, what's happened to NRATV?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Guys, it looks like NRATV got crushed by its own --

DANA LOESCH, NRATV HOST, "THE DL": Clinched fist of truth.

AVLON: That's right. America's biggest gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, shut down live programming last week and its online television channel, NRATV.

Now, that's because -- according to its CEO, Wayne LaPierre -- members felt the outlet had wandered, quote, "too far removed from our core mission -- defending the Second Amendment."

Well, take a look at this clip and you be the judge.


LOESCH: They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler, all to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism, and sexism, and xenophobia, and homophobia.


AVLON: Now, since its founding by two union officers after the Civil War, the NRA's morphed from its early mission to help teach marksmanship and gun safety to being a political powerhouse dedicated to inflaming culture wars and fundraising off fears about gun control.

Which may help explain why NRATV became best-known for strange stunts like putting characters from "THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE" into KKK hoods, all apparently to protest the show's introduction of a character from Nigeria.

But if LaPierre wanted a reason to cut NRATV he could have just said that no one was watching because according to Comscore, the NRATV Web site, clocked a stunningly bad 49,000 unique visitors in January alone. Now, by comparison, saw an average of more than 120 million unique visitors a month from 2018.

But the NRA also recently cut ties with its advertising firm, Ackerman McQueen, which had been charging the NRA some $40 million a year for its services, including NRATV.

And that hadn't been the only shakeup in NRA land. Last week, the group pushed out its longtime second in command, Chris Cox, after accusing him, along with former president Oliver North, of orchestrating some kind of internal coup against LaPierre. Now, Cox denied it but if and North were concerned about the future of the NRA they had good reason.

The group's finances have been in a shambles with North warning that, quote, "These allegations of financial improprieties could threaten our nonprofit status."

As always, if you want to find the truth follow the money. And audits of the NRA by accountants last year showed that after spending nearly $420 million in 2016, including $54 million to support Donald Trump and Republicans in the election, the group had a nearly-$15 million deficit. And double that the following year, while donations fell.

And according to numbers published by Vox, membership dues are off 21 percent since 2016. Donations were down the same period more than 23 percent. And, the NRA has cut everything from employee pensions to free office coffee.

Now, that's really tough to swallow given that Wayne LaPierre apparently spent almost $275,000 over a decade in change at the Zegna store in Beverly Hills on the company dime despite having a salary of about $1 million a year. Apparently, you're going to have to pull those fancy suits from his cold, dead hands because the board still backs it.

Now, the NRA's power over Congress can't be denied. After Sandy Hook, they helped lock basic gun reforms like universal background checks, still backed by as high as 94 percent of the American people.

But, the NRA's problems are a reminder of how people invested in the partisan economy like to talk about principles while they seek to profit from polarization. The truth hurts, but not quite as much as --

LOESCH: The clinched fist of truth.

AVLON: And that's your reality check.

BERMAN: You know, the Second Amendment does include a reference to Zegna. I believe -- I believe that the Skopes suits are something covered in the Bill of Rights.

CAMEROTA: Rejected.

AVLON: Somehow I think those donors at the NRA weren't thinking they were buying Beverly Hills suits.

CAMEROTA: But, John -- so how fascinating that something can actually be too polarizing. I mean, I think that maybe that that's what you've just proven. Sometimes the programming can actually be too toxic, even for --

AVLON: There is such a thing as too extreme, apparently.

CAMEROTA: That's -- wow, we found --

AVLON: Congratulations.

CAMEROTA: -- the line.

Thank you very much, John Avlon.

BERMAN: All right.

So, a journalist attacked and seriously injured while covering a protest in Portland. We will hear from him, next.


[07:54:06] BERMAN: All right, this morning --


PROTESTERS, PORTLAND, OREGON: Attacking conservative journalist Andy Ngo.


BERMAN: This morning there are serious questions about security in Portland after a journalist was attacked there while documenting violent protests between anti-fascist protesters and members of several far-right groups.

Joining me now is Andy Ngo. You saw him there in the video. He suffered serious injuries at the hands of some Antifa protestors.

Andy, just tell me what happened.

ANDY NGO, CONSERVATIVE JOURNALIST: I, as a journalist, was covering a protest organized by Antifa activists and the event was billed as resisting fascist violence. But as a journalist of color and a gay man, I ended up in the hospital, covering that event, with a brain hemorrhage.

[07:55:02] BERMAN: A brain hemorrhage. How are you doing this morning? What are your injuries?

NGO: I am glad to be out of the hospital. I'm surprised at various times I'm having these cognitive hiccups that weren't really apparent to me from just laying in bed in a hospital. But now that I'm trying to return to more normal activities they're becoming more apparent.

BERMAN: You were out there covering this. Again, it was -- there was some kind of Proud Boys in there -- sort of white nationalists -- and there was the Antifa counter-protest against them. It was the Antifa protesters whom you've had issues with before -- they are the ones who came after you, you say?

NGO: Yes, they're the ones who came after me.

I think this country, rightfully, is very attuned to knowing and sensing when the right goes too far. It was only just days ago that James Fields was sentenced for his murder of Heather Heyer. I wonder if the rest -- if this country, though, is also attuned to when the left can go too far.

In the city of Portland, it's become a hotbed for far-left militancy and it's always been my goal to just go in and to document these protests in a professional manner. And for that, I was deemed to be a provocateur and deserving of the mob beating.

BERMAN: Let me read you, actually, something that Professor Brian Levin said. I read this in the paper today. And he knows of you and he's been covering Antifa for some time.

He says of you, "He, Andy Ngo, is a political pundit who certainly makes the most out of his conflicts, which sometimes turn violent on him. But to his credit, I've never seen him be the physical aggressor in the posts that he's made generally."

Do you think that's an accurate description from the professor of what you do and how you cover Antifa?

NGO: When I cover Antifa, I'm just showing what happens. And I appreciate that Professor Levin is honest in pointing out that I am never the one to be aggressive and to promote physical confrontation.

This disinformation campaign going on by Antifa and their allies that I came there to provoke a response -- if anybody has evidence that I acted unprofessionally, I ask that you make that public for the record.

BERMAN: Who do you blame? Obviously, the people who attacked you -- those demonstrators we saw hitting you and in some cases, spraying things on you. I know there were milkshakes being thrown. They're to blame.

But who else do you blame for this?

NGO: Well, it was surreal as I was getting beat is that I could actually still see the Multnomah County Justice Center, and that houses some of the most important institutions of law in Portland. It has the sheriff's office, it has the central police precinct, it has courthouses.

And I just kept thinking that any moment after the first punch to the back of my head that police were going to swoop in and save me, but it never happened. The punches kept coming and as I stumbled away on my own, bloodied, I thought at any point the police would come to me then. And that didn't happen, either.

BERMAN: Let me just read you one of the tweets from the Portland mayor, Ted Wheeler.

"We stand against all forms of violence, regardless of someone's political leanings. Portland police officers have had the unenviable task of keeping the peace. It's a difficult job and hard decisions are made in real-time.

While we continue to learn more about what transpired over the weekend, we will keep you informed. We will do everything we can to make sure that those who have committed violence are held accountable."

Your reaction to the mayor? NGO: How many more people have to be beaten and attacked in the city of Portland before things change? I'm, by far, no the first one. These -- there's been many other incidents that have happened since 2016 and the policing has remained the same, which is a policy of not engaging with militant protesters.

BERMAN: Look, violence against journalists of any kind is something we all need to fight against.

Andy Ngo, thank you for being with us this morning. I appreciate it.

NGO: My pleasure.

CAMEROTA: What a horrible story, and we hope that he recovers quickly.

Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" with Max Foster is next.

For our U.S. viewers, it's a whole new 2020 race. We have our new poll numbers out this morning. NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This race is resetting. All images of Joe Biden being the front-runner are now reshaping this summer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You talk to black voters and they still feel like he's a winner.