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CNN NEWSROOM

Senate GOP Leader McConnell: Trump "Is Not A Racist;" Melania Trump, An Immigrant Herself, Is Silent On Trump's Racist Comments Against Four Democratic Congresswomen Of Color; A.G. Bill Barr Decided Not To Charge Officer In Eric Garner Case, Going Against Justice Department's Civil Rights Division; ICE Official: No Mass Arrests Yet In Immigration Crackdown. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 16, 2019 - 14:30   ET

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


[14:30:00] JOSHUA DUBOIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We just had a president of the United States basically say the same thing. There were ages, there were eras in the Republican Party where people would have pushed back.

I have to believe, if John McCain was alive today, there's no way that he would not have said something about this. And yet, we have Republicans, well meaning folks sitting on the sidelines.

Listen, it's not just elected officials. We need everyday folks who may be conservative, but they know in their gut what President Trump said was wrong, they should be speaking out and we are just not hearing enough of that.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: What do you think of Mitch McConnell's comments? He came out and sort of made everything in this heated political atmosphere, he equated all of it, and he talked it all up overheated political rhetoric.

DUBOIS: Yes. Listen, I think Donald Trump only responds when he has to respond. One thing that would make him change the way he approaches things is if Mitch McConnell and Republicans in Congress did something different.

I thought in this way, Senator McConnell was a part of the problem, not the solution. If he would have said something sharper, more pointed and more directed, to Donald Trump about how this isn't acceptable in our politics today, I believe that would have an impact on President Trump.

But he chose not to. He choice once again to avoid the big issues and go along to get along. I think that's a problem.

MARQUARDT: Saying very clearly, in his mind, President Trump is not a racist.

Joshua DuBois, former adviser to President Obama on race issues.

DUBOIS: Thanks for having me.

MARQUARDT: Thanks very much. All right. Melania Trump, who is an immigrant herself, is remaining silent. What we know about the first lady's reaction to all of this behind the scenes.

Plus, no federal charges in the death of Eric Garner. His last words, "I can't breathe," became a rallying cry in the Black Lives Matter movement. Now there are new details about Attorney General Bill Barr's role in that decision.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:36:09] MARQUARDT: First Lady Melania Trump, is only the second first lady of the United States to have not been born in the United States of America. Yet, so far, she's remained silent in the aftermath of her husband's racist and xenophobic attacks at four Democratic freshmen congresswomen, suggesting they should, quote, "go back to where they came from."

We should note, the first lady, Melania Trump, has been a U.S. citizen for a shorter amount of time than all four of those women targeted by Trump. Three of whom were born in the United States.

Now, Melania Trump was born in Slovenia. She got her U.S. citizenship in 2006, a year after she married the now president.

No one knows more on Melania Trump than our Kate Bennett, who is a CNN White House reporter.

Kate, not only is Melania the first lady. Her campaign is anti- bullying, Be Best. Is there any indication she will speak out?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I don't think so. We've reached out to her. Her spokesperson, who is now the press secretary for the president, asked for comment on his comments, whether she aligns herself with him. We've seen her come out before and contradict the president. She talked before about immigration. She was blindsided and heartbroken by the family separation, zero- tolerance policy. We've heard her say other things that contradict him, but she's been quiet on this, which is sort of in a way frustrating.

She has this unique perspective being an immigrant. This is someone who started working in New York as a model in the late 1990s, married Donald Trump in 2005, became a citizen in 2006. She hasn't -- whether she aligns with what he's saying, or she opposes him, she has a voice to use as someone who is uniquely qualified to do so.

MARQUARDT: And as an immigrant, we've heard so many people in the wake of these comments come out with their own stories of when they were told to go back home. And the vast majority of these cases, these are minorities and people of color.

Do you think there's a chance that given the fact that she's been around, been in the states for so long, that someone has probably told her the same thing, go back to your country? BENNETT: It could be possible. Melania Trump is independent, and she

fiercely defends her path in life. We watched her defend her modelling career, being a mother, putting her child first.

Another thing she is vehement about is she went through the immigration process to America very legally, lawfully, said she followed all the step.

I don't know what her personal history is. It's curious and unfortunate that she's being quiet in this moment.

MARQUARDT: Melania Trump, so far, silent on her husband's racist comments.

Kate Bennett, thanks so much.

Breaking today, why the federal authorities decided not to charge a police officer who's accused of putting Eric Garner in a deadly choke hold.

[14:38:58] And despite the president's claims, an ICE official tells CNN there have been no mass arrests of undocumented immigrants.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:43:38] MARQUARDT: We're learning today there will be no federal charges against a New York City police officer who is accused of putting a deadly choke hold on Eric Garner in 2014. CNN has learned the decision was made by the Attorney General Bill Barr himself. And it followed a debate between Justice Department teams investigating the case in New York and it's Civil Rights Division in Washington.

Recall, the officers took down Eric Garner for allegedly selling loose individual cigarettes on the streets of New York.

In a video that went viral, you can hear him telling officers, "I can't breathe."

We want to warn you that this video is graphic and some people may find it disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

ERIC GARNER, DIED IN CHOKEHOLD BY N.Y. POLICE OFFICER: Don't touch me.

(CROSSTALK)

GARNER: Don't touch me.

UNIDENTIFIED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: Put your hands behind your head.

(SHOUTING) (CROSSTALK)

GARNER: I can't breathe.

I can't breathe. I can't breathe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Garner's death and those words sparked protest nationwide.

For more, let's go to former federal prosecutor in Maryland, Assistant Attorney General, Debbie Hines.

Debbie, thanks so much for joining me.

What is your reaction to today's decision?

[14:45:08] DEBBIE HINES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, it's disheartening what happened in terms of the Justice Department's decision to forego facing any criminal charges against the officer.

While it's disheartening, it's not surprising. It's sad, but not surprising. We've seen this time and time again happen where there's charges that could have been brought, federal charges, we're talking about, and they're not brought.

You're looking at the video, that's what they're deciding in terms of whether the officer took away the basic rights of Eric Garner. The right to life is a very basic right. The federal government had to look at whether it was willful. Willful means whether it was intentional.

Looking at it, when someone says, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe," over and over again, it doesn't matter about the seconds or the timing of the video, but just the fact that he continued, the officer continued to place an illegal choke hold on Eric Garner, makes it all the more reason why I believe there was enough in order to bring the federal charges.

MARQUARDT: For many, it will be surprising that Attorney General Bill Barr inserted himself into this, making the decision himself not to prosecute. And taking the Justice Department of New York's advice. Do you think it's a good thing that Bill Barr got involved in this situation?

HINES: This is what I can say. I don't agree with the decision. When there are two competing sides in a prosecutor's office, ultimately the federal prosecutor can be the one that decides in this case, the U.S. Attorney William Barr.

Even that happens on the state level where there's two sides and you can't make a decision. The ultimate person who will decide is the chief prosecutor or, in this case, William Barr.

If we're looking at it, it's unfortunate that it passed the Obama administration, the Department of Justice did not bring charges. They couldn't decide what to do. And so the ball was punted to now attorney general, Bill Barr, and what he did was basically put the nail in the coffin on the case.

MARQUARDT: Debbie Hines, thank you for your thoughts on a very controversial case.

HINES: Thank you so much for having me.

MARQUARDT: Developing right now, police hold a news conference with details on the investigation into the murder of a civil rights activist. I'll be speaking with her niece about this mysterious case.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:52:09] MARQUARDT: It's been several days now, and there's no sign of the massive deportation raids the president warned would be carried out this weekend. One ICE official tells CNN there hasn't been any surge of arrests or roundups.

This comes in spite of what the president had to say just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People came into our country illegally. Illegally. Many were felons. Many were convicted of crimes. Many, many were taken out on Sunday. You just didn't know about it.

In fact, I went to -- I spoke to the head of ICE. I spoke to a couple people. We had many people -- it was a very successful day.

But you didn't see a lot of it because it was done a lot -- you'll speak to them. I'm not sure we should be telling you about it. But it was a lot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: You just didn't know about it, the president says.

CNN's Nick Valencia has this new reporting from ICE.

Nick, this was heavily pushed in the days leading up to last weekend by the administration. It terrified many immigrants all across the country. Many were taking precautionary measures, trying to learn what their rights were.

What's ICE saying?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It makes you wonder. According to an ICE official who has knowledge of this operation in several states, there was not only no surge in arrest, no surge in roundups. We've been hearing from observers for several days now in these targeted 10 major U.S. cities similar things.

This is significant because this is the first time we're hearing from within the agency itself that this operation may not have been as large scale as suggested.

This ICE official went on to give you quotes here. Quote, "This notion that we were going to do this massive sweep, to be honest, there have been limited results so far." The official went on to say, "There have been no mass arrests."

We played that sound there from the president who called them successful.

This ICE official is telling us is in direct contrast to what the president had been saying.

We should be fair, Alex, the administration sources have been telling us these raids are expected to carry out through the week, through Thursday. There's a possibility that we could see more arrests.

Right now, as it stands, according to in ICE official, it's just not what it's being built to be -- Alex?

MARQUARDT: Still could happen, and maybe the fear of it all was perhaps one of the tactical goals.

Nick Valencia, in Atlanta, thank you very much.

VALENCIA: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: A quick programming note right now. Find out which Democratic candidates will face off on each night of the next debates in a special live event. Watch the draw for the CNN Democratic debates, Thursday night at 8:00 Eastern time.

Underway now in the House of Representatives, they're starting to debate the condemnation of President Trump over his racist tweets. How are Republicans going to vote?

[14:55:03] Plus, an eyebrow-raising remark from one of the president's most senior advisers, that was about ethnicity. I'll speak to a reporter who had quite the exchange with Kellyanne Conway.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARQUARDT: It's the top of the hour. I'm Alex Marquardt, in for Brooke Baldwin.

[14:59:43] We start with the racist comments from the president, which may soon be part of the congressional record. You're looking live at Capitol Hill where, a few hours from now, the fallout from the president's tweet targeting four Democratic congresswomen, all women of color, will come to a head on the floor of Congress.

Democrats are going to be introducing a resolution that will call out each Republican will be called out on whether he or she thinks it was racist.