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No Republicans Have Publicly Condemned Trump's Latest Racist Remarks; Founder of Baton Rouge African-American Museum Found Dead in Car Trunk; New Book Out on Boko Haram Kidnappings. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 15, 2019 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:30:00] TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They remain confident that impending software updates to the Boeing 737 Max, along with new training elements, developing in coordination with the union partners, will lead to recertification of the aircraft this year.

But the problem, Jim and Poppy, is that that's what has been said, in some way or another, throughout this year, ever since these planes went to the ground --

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes.

FOREMAN: -- in March and have stayed there.

SCIUTTO: Well, what about the bigger-picture issue here? Because one thing that this revealed, right? Was what I think you could call a systemic problem, right? That you had the FAA farming out, in effect, a lot of the certification process to the manufacturer itself. I mean, is there any sign, signal that that process is going to be reformed so that there's more oversight, in effect?

FOREMAN: Well, there's a lot of scrutiny of that over at the FAA, and that's a little bit of what I'm talking about when I say this sort of opened the box for everything. This is one of those things where they had one definable problem, which was the MCAS system, this idea that there was an automatic leveling system that could sort of go haywire and in two terrible instances, cause these planes to dive into the ground, based on the initial reports, killing all people on board.

What happened as they started scrutinizing that system, then people started saying, "Well, if you put a new revision in, do you need time in a simulator or can you simply do it by updating people through updates?" And if we're putting that in, do we actually just change the software or do you have to change the hardware too? And by the way, now that we're looking at hardware, what about that hardware we approved a long time ago?

So that's what has happened. And at the FAA, what has happened is exactly what you described. Are our procedures correct? Was that part of it. And this just keeps -- honestly, it looks like it's getting bigger, not smaller --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

FOREMAN: -- as the months go on. And that's the key problem here.

SCIUTTO: Yes. No question.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Tom Foreman, thank you so much for being on this for us. We appreciate it.

FOREMAN: Happy to do it.

HARLOW: Right now, a majority of Republican lawmakers are silent about the president's attacks for sitting members of Congress over the weekend. Why? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:36:37] SCIUTTO: This morning, there has been almost total silence from Republican lawmakers in reaction to the president's latest racist attacks. And that silence, speaking volumes, you might say, about the state of the party, the state of the national discussion.

The president, suggesting on Twitter that four Democratic lawmakers -- congresswomen -- who happen to be minorities, should, quote, "Go back and fix the places they came from." Well, three of them -- three of these four women -- were born here in the U.S. The other, a U.S. citizen, now elected to Congress.

HARLOW: That's right. And this morning, the president's ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, did speak out, saying the president should aim higher when attacking them, and attack their policies. But he also called them "a bunch of communists" and said they hate our country.

With us, Ayesha Rascoe, White House reporter for NPR, and Karoun Demirjian, congressional reporter for "The Washington Post."

Good morning, ladies.

I mean, I just -- I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at the lack of condemning, you know, statements like this. But I am a little surprised. Especially as Ana Navarro -- Ayesha -- pointed out on our air last hour. What about Ted Cruz? What about Marco Rubio? Where are they, weighing in on this?

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: Well, I think at this point, I guess it isn't really surprising that they're not stepping up because it seems like the Republican Party has decided that it's better to be silent when Trump says things like this, than to get on his radar and to be attacked. And that it's more important to protect their seats and protect themselves from primaries than to speak out.

But we should be very clear about what the president was saying and the message that he's sending, not just to these four congresswomen, but what about the Somalian refugees who are here, growing up, and will become U.S. citizens? And some of them are U.S. citizens.

What about all of the young children here who may have families that didn't come here originally -- brown children who -- who are now citizens. What is this message that the president is sending, that they cannot talk or have a role in this country because of where they're from or where their families are from?

SCIUTTO: Karoun, the thing about the comments -- the comments by themselves, of course, have weight, coming from a sitting president of the United States. But they are tied to policies.

Just today, we saw the Trump administration introducing a rule that changes where and how people coming into Mexico specifically can claim asylum. Typically, you do that in the country that you're coming to. The Trump administration, unilaterally, without Congress setting a rule, saying they now must do that in Mexico.

And that's been true, tied to a whole host of other comments by the president. For instance, disparaging comments about Muslims. Then you have the Muslim travel ban, which eventually got through to become law. I mean, that's what's key here. It's not just the words, is it not? It's words and an approach tied to policies.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: It's words plus actions and words plus the threat of actions coming from the leader of the free world, who has the power to do not everything, but a lot of things that can really complicate many people's lives.

And we're not just talking about people that aren't Americans, we're talking about people that are part of American families. This is why it's become such a close emotional issue for so many people.

But, yes, at this point, the president seems to be taking the latitude that he has been allowed by the fact that few in his party have actually taken steps to stand up to him since he was a candidate.

[10:40:02] I mean, remember what he said -- when he said fairly racially incendiary things when he was running, how the leaders of Congress would distance themselves from him, even disinvite him to appear in their home districts for rallies. And we're not seeing that any more since he's become president and wields this authority, and also wields this influence over the base of the party that people seem to be afraid of.

But the fact that there has been this practice of keeping silent when the president does incendiary things until forced to say something, has given him this latitude to keep pushing the envelope and taking these further steps.

And as we've seen, then it gets to a point like this where we're actually having a moment of, "How did this happen?" in the country. And the Republican politicians who might have stepped up two, three years ago are not -- haven't done it in the first 24 hours, and so now anything they do say is going to be interpreted as, "Well, why did it take you so long?" And that's kind of where we've come to at this point.

HARLOW: One thing that struck me, guys, was a tweet from George Conway. Of course, he is the husband of Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to the president. And I know that he doesn't like the president at all. But just think about this for a moment. Here's what he wrote on Twitter yesterday. "What would likely happen if anyone, even a CEO, made such a racist

statement in any workplace in America," Ayesha? I mean, can you imagine if a CEO said this? They would be out in 0.2 seconds.

RASCOE: They would be out. This type of language isn't acceptable from CEOs or anyone who had to, you know -- if you were the head of a company, no. This type of language would not be acceptable.

And so -- and coming from the president of the United States, it does carry a weight and it does -- at times, it is tied to policy, right? And all of these things.

So when you have this coming from the president of the United States, making these -- saying that American citizens, U.S. citizens need to go back to where they came from, that message to the American people, it is a question of -- you can understand what he's trying to do. I think he's trying to rile up his base. But at what cost?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

Karoun, we're 16 months away from a presidential election. Again, of course, midterms elections as well -- or congressional elections as well. This is a political strategy by this president, both the policies and the words. Do you expect covering this administration, to -- these kinds of comments to become more, not less common from the president?

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, it doesn't seem like he is saying, "Mea culpa" or doing a backpedal. It doesn't seem like he is inclined to pull back from the threats of raids and other sorts of policies that have been stoking this fear and this split and this situation in which these racial epithets are defended by some.

But it's -- yes, it does not seem like he's going to change course any time soon, so I imagine this will be par for the course. The question is, is it something that he frequently repeats so often that it's all we talk about, come the 2020 elections? Or is this sort of thing that he will just kind of quietly sidestep and move on to other things that seem to appeal to his base --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

DEMIRJIAN: -- so that we forget it happened, so that it's not so incendiary and divisive by the time we get to 2020. That's not necessarily clear. I mean, if the president will keep this in the conversation, that's probably going to be on him because so much happens every day that we tend to lose focus on these things when we are over a year out from the general election.

SCIUTTO: Can I just do a little quick experiment here before we go? Because the four of us on the screen I imagine, have a whole host of immigrants in our families' past. I'm Italian-Irish, a little German, a little Hungarian. Let's just say for me, two countries. The others, if we added up how many countries with immigrant histories do we have on the screen? Add them up -- Poppy --

HARLOW: Yes. I mean --

SCIUTTO: -- Ayesha, Karoun --

HARLOW: -- I think we're dozens. Dozen, at least.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes. I mean, my family's Armenian, came through the Middle East, came through various countries to get here on both sides, so.

RASCOE: Yes. And I'm a black American, so I know one of my great- grandparents came from the West Indies, but obviously my family came here through slavery, through -- from Africa. We don't know exactly where.

HARLOW: Yes. So there you go. It's a good question, Jim.

Guys, thank you --

SCIUTTO: It's America.

HARLOW: -- so -- that is exactly America. You are exactly right, my friend.

Thank you, ladies, we appreciate it.

RASCOE: Thank you.

[10:44:17] SCIUTTO: A longtime community leader and activist, found dead in the trunk of a car in Louisiana. That is her there, before her death. The latest on this mysterious, disturbing loss, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are investigating the death of a beloved community activist who was found dead in the trunk of a car.

HARLOW: Her name is Sadie Roberts-Joseph. She was 75 years old. She is the founder of the city's African-American museum and her body was found on Friday in a car just about three miles from her home.

Randi Kaye joins us now.

Randi, this is stunning. It is tragic. What have police said about what they know at this point? And I guess what they're trying to figure out.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They're not releasing much, Poppy, because they don't want to compromise the investigation. But what they have told us is that they got an anonymous tip on Friday about 3:45 in the afternoon, about a body in a trunk a few miles from her home, as you said.

[10:50:07] So they went to check it out, and that's where they found Sadie Roberts-Joseph. She had been to her relatives' house earlier in the day, police tell us, to her sister's house. She said she would be back later, and then she never returned.

TEXT: Who Was Sadie Roberts-Joseph? Community activist; Founded an African-American museum in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Founded nonprofit organization Community Against Drugs and Violence

KAYE: So this is quite a mystery because she was 75 years old. And to be put in the trunk of her car? Police are trying to figure out what happened.

And she wasn't just any woman in this community. She was an icon. She was committed to African-American issues. She was a tireless peace advocate here. She helped at-risk youth. She opened the African-American Museum, here, of Baton Rouge, where we are today. And she also created this Juneteenth celebration to try and celebrate the emancipation of slaves in the United States.

We actually have a clip of her from a recent celebration. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SADIE ROBERTS-JOSEPH, FOUNDER, AFRICAN-AMERICAN MUSEUM: Today, we come to celebrate, to embrace our history, to learn of our past and to be able to move forward in unity, knowing that we all have contributed to the greatness of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: What's especially sad about this is that she's considered one of the last African-American oral historians. She was beloved in this community. So it really is a tragic loss. Her autopsy is scheduled to take place today. We'll see if we learning anything from that.

But right now, police are telling us they don't have any leads. They don't have any suspects. And they don't even have a motive at this point. They won't say anything about what might have been found in the car with her or how she was killed.

The district attorney says she was so beloved that there are people coming out of the woodwork to offer their help to try and solve this murder -- Poppy, Jim, back to you.

HARLOW: Of course. It's a tragedy. I'm glad you're on this story, Randi. Please keep us posted.

All right. Ahead for us, it's been a long, long road for those schoolgirls rescued after being kidnapped five years ago in Nigeria. What is life like for them now? And what about those more than 100 girls who have still not been returned? Coming up, we will speak with the journalist who is continuing to fight for them and tell their stories.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:56:33] SCIUTTO: It has been, if you could believe it, five years since the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from their school in Nigeria. That sparked an international outcry, a viral social media campaign to find and free the girls. But today, 112 of them, nearly half, remain missing.

HARLOW: Our next guest covered the 2014 abduction here, as a journalist at CNN. It won her and her team a Peabody Award for their coverage, and she is still fighting for them and telling their story. Isha Sesay, a good friend of ours and former colleague, joins us now. She is the author of the new book, "Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram."

Here it is. It is beautiful, it is breathtaking. Congratulations --

ISHA SESAY, AUTHOR, BENEATH THE TAMARIND TREE: Thank you. Thank you for --

HARLOW: -- on this. You spent a lot of time with a number of the 164 girls who have been returned. You followed the journeys in this book, specifically, of Priscilla and Saa and Dorcas in this uplifting tale of sisterhood and resilience. What do they want the world to know about them?

SESAY: They want the world to understand that they had their liberty taken from them. That these men tried to break them, but they still are strong. They are still committed to their Christian faith, which is a very big part of how they endured this, and they're still hungry to go to school. They're still hungry to be educated and to make something of their lives.

HARLOW: Yes, yes.

SCIUTTO: You spent time with the families of the 112 young girls, now women -- young women, some of them who remain missing. Are they -- how are they coping, first of all, but are they maintaining hope about their fate as well?

SESAY: That was the most difficult part of researching this book, spending time in particular with the family of Dorcas, one of the girls -- who was actually the youngest taken at the time, she was 15, about to turn 16 -- and I spent time with her mother, Esther, and her father, Yokubu (ph). And, Jim and Poppy, to be in the room and to feel that anguish --

HARLOW: Yes.

SESAY: -- it is almost overwhelming. It's -- it takes everything out of the room, and all you're left with is their grief. Their grief, which comes from not just the fact that their child has gone, but the sense that they've been abandoned and forgotten by the world.

HARLOW: Do you -- you write about and you talk about the sort of ineptitude in part of the Nigerian government, and their inadequate efforts. You've still got 112 girls missing. Could you speak to that a little bit? And also just the world. Because it seems like the world has moved on.

SESAY: Yes. HARLOW: And if these were 112 white girls still missing --

SESAY: Yes (ph), there's no doubt about it --

HARLOW: -- would it be different?

SESAY: -- I strongly personally believe that if there were 112 missing American girls, that life as we know it would have been altered in a permanent manner. Yes, we had the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. That was for all of about 2.5 weeks, really, if you look at the concentration of focus.

But in the case of the Nigerian government, I mean, this is largely a story that has been shaped by classism, that's been shaped by sexism, the fact that these girls are poor, they come from a part of the country that is so out of the way, I say in this book, that it might as well be on another planet, you know?

And the fact that they -- their families aren't educated and can't really speak up and speak out for their children, they've been cast aside.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: But you've brought their voices to life in this book, Isha. Thank you very much --

SESAY: Thank you.

HARLOW: -- I wish we had more time.

SESAY: I understand.

HARLOW: But everyone can read it --

SESAY: Thank you.

HARLOW: -- "Beneath the Tamarind Tree," this is the book. Jim and I really appreciate you joining us.

SESAY: Thank you, Poppy.

Thank you, Jim.

HARLOW: Thank you. I know it was a labor of love, for sure.

SESAY: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. Thank you for being with us. Jim and I will see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

[11:00:00]