Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN); Debating the Firing of Daniel Pantaleo; Sargasso Sea is Full of Microplastics. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired August 20, 2019 - 10:30   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: -- in public, saying, "The economy is just fine." But in private, now discussing a payroll tax cut to help stave off even the possibility of a recession. Would you support such a payroll tax cut?

REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): You know, I'd look at it. We did it with Obama, so I'd take it into consideration but I'd be concerned about it because it would increase the debt, which we -- I voted against the Trump tax bill, which put over a trillion dollars on the debt, and I voted against other proposals he's had, the budget proposal, put over a trillion dollars on the debt.

We're going so far out that the debt the United States carries, that China carries is imperiling both our economies and China's economy, which affects the world's economy. I have no doubt, we're going to see a recession. What you see with U.S. steel is a response to the tariffs that were poorly thought out.

The world is concerned about Trump acting on his own on these tariffs, and not working with allies to try to come up with mechanisms that help our country --


COHEN: -- and the world's economy. We're not independent. And Trump said, yesterday, that there are recessions in Europe but we're great. Well, if the recession's in Europe, they're going to come to America. It's a worldwide economy. And if they can't buy our goods, we're going to have a recession. We all work together, and he can't understand that, or he just refuses to admit it.

SCIUTTO: Are you concerned, though, as a Democrat, that if the president proposes this and Democrats vote against a payroll tax cut, one that they've supported in the past and, two, one that would put more money into the pocket of Americans, that the president would be setting you up and say, "Listen, I tried to help you. Democrats stood in the way."

COHEN: Well, that's certainly what he could say. He's going to say whatever he has to say. The man has no conscience whatsoever, and he has no understanding of the truth. He's a prevaricator when he wakes up in the morning. I mean, he just -- or, I guess it's still the morning at 3:30, when he starts to tweet. But I don't think we should base our policies and our actions on what

he's going to do, because he's going to create his own realities, whether it's Pocahontas, whatever it is --

SCIUTTO: But why wouldn't that be --

COHEN: -- he's going to create it.

SCIUTTO: -- but why wouldn't that be a fair argument? To say, "Listen, a payroll tax cut will give you -- economy may be slowing down, I want to cut you a break here. And after all, Democrats voted for this in 2011." So why wouldn't that be a fair argument?

COHEN: Well, that's a good argument except for the fact that it does cause more of a deficit down the line, you have less income, coming into the federal government. It could affect Medicaid, it could affect Social Security. And we need to protect Medicaid and Social Security. That's so important.

And if you just do (INAUDIBLE) that you're going to have to pay for tomorrow, it's not good policy. And there are certain things we could do immediately, like an infrastructure bill, to put people to work and get goods to market, that would help the American economy and it would help the American worker. And we need an infrastructure bill.

We need a minimum wage bill that puts money in the hands of people that are not living at poverty wages, and they spend every penny and that stimulates the economy rather than the Trump tax bill, that put money in the upper one percent, who put it into C.D.s or even bonds, if they could make any money, get an interest rate return and let it sit. But they don't invest it.

SCIUTTO: OK. But before we go, I do want to ask you, because you're on the record as a strong supporter of impeachment. Another Democrat, this time the fourth highest-ranking Democrat in the House, has come out, announcing his support.

But still, a majority of Americans don't want to go there. They don't want to go there. Why are Democrats coming out in support of a truly extraordinary step here, when you don't have the public backing for it?

COHEN: Well, we do have the public backing in a lot of areas. Ben Ray is running for the Senate -- United States Senate in New Mexico, and I guess the support's there in New Mexico, and it's certainly there in my district and in a lot of districts around the country.

SCIUTTO: Not nationally, though. You would need --

COHEN: There are --

SCIUTTO: -- a majority of Americans to want this, for it to go somewhere. And you'd also need a Republican Senate, by the way.

COHEN: The fact is, if you have hearings -- and we're having kind of quasi-hearings -- but if you had a full impeachment inquiry, you would develop facts and put out information concerning the Mueller report, concerning obstruction of justice, concerning Emoluments Clause violations and other errors, mistakes and violations of the Constitution in this administration, that would bring those numbers up.

In Watergate, the hearings started with about a 19 percent for impeachment, it got to about 67 or something. True, we had the John Dean and we had Rose Mary Woods and you're not going to have a Rose Mary Woods, but you could have something like that.

And I think if the people heard from McGahn and were trying to get McGahn to testify, we've gone to court and asked (ph) the (ph) -- Judge Jackson, I think, will have it in his court, to order him to appear.


COHEN: But if he testifies, if Dearborn testifies, if Lewandowski testifies, the information that Trump tried to obstruct justice, might bring those numbers up to where they need to be.

SCIUTTO: Well, we'll see. There's a lot of ifs there. Congressman Steve Cohen, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.

[10:35:02] COHEN: You're welcome, Jim. Have a good one.

SCIUTTO: It took five years for the NYPD to fire the officer who used an illegal chokehold on Eric Garner. Has justice been served now? We're going to discuss. That's coming up.


SCIUTTO: The officer accused of fatally using an illegal chokehold on Eric Garner is out of the NYPD. But it took five years for Officer Daniel Pantaleo to be fired. An internal NYPD investigation found, quote, "grave misconduct" by Pantaleo. I'm joined now by CNN law enforcement analyst James Gagliano and Jumaane Williams, he's a New York City public advocate.

Thanks to both of you for coming on.

James, if I could begin with you. In an op-ed earlier this month, you wrote that his firing, Pantaleo's firing, would be, quote, "a glaring miscarriage of justice." Why?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I look at it from the perspective of the law, OK? It's easy to watch the video and anybody that sees it, and feel passion for the family. We've had his wife on here, we've had his mother on here, we've had his children on here. I get that.

But when it comes to the law, we have to look at it from the perspective of due process. and before anybody thinks that I'm a, you know, unapologetic, unabashed police shill, I have argued many times, when police officers got off too easily on issues of brutality or on the use of force continuum going too far. In this instance, I believe that with hindsight, being able to look at

this and stop the film as the deputy commissioner for Trials to the NYPD did, and the police commissioner based his decision off of that, is unfair to the officer who was dispatched there that day to arrest somebody, on what I'm sure we'll discuss is an inconsequential charge, selling loosies.

But that spot had been a place that "The New York Times" has reported, up to that point in July of that year, 98 arrests, 100 criminal court summonses, 646 calls to 911 --


GAGLIANO: -- so my only argument is, we're looking at this with hindsight being 20/20. Nobody wanted Mr. Garner to be -- to be put into a position where he was going to die, being taken into custody. But he contributed to that. He refused to comply. His health obviously played a role in that, chronic asthmatic, blood pressure issues and all those other things.


GAGLIANO: That's my issue.

SCIUTTO: Your argument.

Jumaane, you have a different --


JUMAANE WILLIAMS, PUBLIC ADVOCATE, NEW YORK CITY: Well, obviously, of course I do. And I would say we have to stop pretending that black folks aren't human beings. And so when these high-pressure situations, "They shouldn't have moved, they shouldn't have this," they're human beings and I've seen other human beings do the same thing, and they don't end up dead.

Even if all the things he was accused of were true, he didn't deserve to be dead. And I disagree with the stopping and looking. If you do that, you will actually see that something wrong happened. This is the only profession where I see something wrong happening, where people die, and we say there shouldn't be accountability.

He did start with a seat-belt hold, and it turned into a chokehold. And it remained a chokehold for several seconds. And there was no attempt to provide medical help when that occurred. Most importantly, there was no danger to the officer, to Eric Garner himself, or the public. And in that case, you're supposed to ask and wait for your supervisor to come.

SCIUTTO: He was not armed. I mean --

WILLIAMS: And that didn't happen.

SCIUTTO: -- should that not have made a difference? Because many of these interactions, the police will say, you know, "My safety -- GAGLIANO: Right, sure.

SCIUTTO: -- "was under threat here." He -- Garner was outnumbered, and he wasn't armed.

GAGLIANO: Let's look at what the NYPD has done throughout my FBI career. I got to New York City in 1990, 2,245 homicides. Last year -- and you're the public advocate, you would know -- 289. That is a 95 percent decrease in homicides.

Now, use of force is important. And every officer has to be judged by an objectable -- objectionable, reasonable standard. Did he operate objectionably reasonable? He initially tried to do an arm bar takedown. Mr. Garner resisted and said, "You're not taking me in today." Then he went behind the waist and tried to bring him down. You want to arrest somebody on the ground so nobody gets hurt.

WILLIAMS: You're skipping a very important point. Which is, why did you do that in the first place? And so --

GAGLIANO: Because -- because the laws on the books say that you have to go to arrest --

WILLIAMS: No, no. But it also says --

GAGLIANO: -- people for selling --

WILLIAMS: -- you should wait for a supervisor if there is no fear of danger or harm to yourself.

GAGLIANO: That's not true.

WILLIAMS: That is true.

GAGLIANO: A police officer has to wait for a supervisor -- I was in the job for 25 years in the NYPD --

WILLIAMS: OK, well --

GAGLIANO: -- Task Force. I never waited for a supervisor.

WILLIAMS: And -- and on top of that, there are other officers still in the force who lied on the report, who accused Eric Garner of selling up to 10,000 cigarettes on the report --

GAGLIANO: But those are separate issues, Jumaane.

WILLIAMS: Those are not. We have to look at it all together.

GAGLIANO: They are. We're talking about Pantaleo's firing.

SCIUTTO: No, and I appreciate that -- and you're both -- listen, you're doing it great because you're listening to each other.

WILLIAMS: Oh, yes. Absolutely. SCIUTTO: And you're (INAUDIBLE), and I appreciate that. I want to

ask you big picture here. Because there is a pattern when you have officer-involved killings, where there are, at best in some cases, or at worst, at the extreme, administrative penalties, but very rarely legal penalties, right? Where officers go to jail.


SCIUTTO: I mean, those are definitely in the minority. California has just passed a law that changes the standard from "reasonable" to "necessary" use of force in these kinds of encounters. I want to get both your views before we go.

Do you think that's -- I might start with you, Jumaane. Do you think that's a good step, what California has done?

WILLIAMS: Repeat again what they --

SCIUTTO: So California -- the California governor and their state legislature passed a rule that changes the standard that allows a police officer to use deadly force, from "reasonable" to "necessary." In other words, makes it a higher standard for applying that kind of force --


SCIUTTO: -- and I wonder from a legal perspective, do you think that makes --

WILLIAMS: I think that is -- that is important. I think we have to continue to have these civil conversations like this. Because policing is hard, I think everyone can agree with that.

[10:45:04] We also ask our police to do too much. I'm also concerned, in New York City, because there were some changes made that were looking into that change makes it almost easier to use a chokehold. And they are doing some change -- use of force changes that we think may actually be damaging, so we're looking to that here in New York City as well.

But that sounds like it's a good step in the right direction.

SCIUTTO: Do you think that works?

GAGLIANO: I think it's careful. I don't necessarily disagree with that. But I think when we have reflexive legislation -- let's look at the Patriot Act, how it looked 10 years after 9/11 -- let's look at the '94 crime bill, how it looks now, when the Congressional Black Caucus at the time thought it was a good deal.

I think we need to be careful with that. Understand, I don't know what it's like to grow up as a black man in America. You do. You don't know what it's like to be a cop on the streets, in an area --

WILLIAMS: That's true. GAGLIANO: -- that is -- that is a high-crime area, and you never know

when somebody refuses to comply, "Are they looking to take my life? Or are they just looking to make it hard for me to arrest them?"

WILLIAMS: And I agree with that. And I don't know Daniel Pantaleo. I do know he's somebody's son. I do know he's someone's family member, and someone loves him.

And I also know that people in high-crime areas want that crime down more than anyone else. But there was an error made and someone died, and an illegal technique was used. And there has to be accountability for that.

SCIUTTO: Right. Listen, Jumaane, James, can I thank you for having the kind of conversation I wish we were able to have more often, right? On enormously divisive and important issue. But you discussed it like adults, and I appreciate it.

GAGLIANO (?): Thank you.

SCIUTTO: I'm sure we'll have you back soon, because I know it's going to be a --

WILLIAMS (?): Cool.

SCIUTTO: -- continued conversation.

Coming up, a sea of debris in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Our CNN crew, they went there and took a deep dive, looking at the extreme amount of plastic threatening wildlife in what's known as the Sargasso Sea in the north of the Atlantic. This is a remarkable story, you're going to want to watch it. Stay with us.


[10:51:39] SCIUTTO: Folks, you really want to watch this story. It's alarming, it's amazing. There's a rainforest in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but researchers say the Sargasso Sea is now on the brink of devastation. Small fish, baby turtles, all under threat because of plastic. CNN's senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, she went there, right in the middle of it, and she explains why.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see more there.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is humbling to be out in the deep blue, hundreds of miles from land. We're in the Sargasso Sea, named after sargassum, a free-floating seaweed dubbed, "The Atlantic Golden Rainforest."

Under the cloudlike mats, there is an unexpected array of biodiversity. But along with our awe is also the shocking realization of what we are doing to it.

DAMON: In one little chunk, look at all that.

DAMON (voice-over): There are also tinier pieces, hard to see but everywhere.

DAMON: You find little pieces like this throughout. I have to say, I was quite struck by the pieces that you actually can see, and hoe much of it is located down there.

DAMON (voice-over): Each time we got into the water, we found countless plastic pieces, all different shapes and sizes. Most plastic is not dumped directly into the ocean. Much of what you see has been discarded on land, traveling thousands of miles and breaking up along the way.

The Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic is the world's only body of water without shores. It's defined by the currents of the North Atlantic Gyre, currents that also carry with them our plastic filth, making it one of the five ocean garbage patches.

ALEXANDRA GULICK, MARINE BIOLOGIST:: I think this one's a good one to do first.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow, there's big (ph) plastic in that spot. Got it.

DAMON (voice-over): Alexandra Gulick and Noreen (ph) Constant (ph) are marine biologists.

GULICK: Oh, these are bite marks, like animals taking bites.

DAMON: Really? Out of the plastic?

GULICK: Yeah, you can tell these are fish because they are little half circles.

DAMON (voice-over): The sargassum provides a habitat for baby turtles and fish, shrimp, plus hundreds of other marine organisms. In the oceans, degrading plastic becomes even more poisonous as it binds with other manmade chemical pollutants. All that toxicity ends up in the digestive systems of marine life, and travels up the food chain, all the way to our dinner plates.

On board the Esperanza, a manta trawl collects water samples, part of a Greenpeace study into microplastics in this remote body of water, and its broader campaign for a global oceans treaty.

DAMON: You can see quite a bit of plastic already, just when it's in here. Has this been fairly common in most of samples that have been coming up?

CELIA OJEDA, MARINE BIOLOGIST: Yeah, in most of the samples that we have been sampling, while there was sargassum in the sample, we have seen a lot of plastics because I think -- because they get entangled in the sargassum.

[10:55:01] DAMON (voice-over): The initial results of the study are alarming. In its samples, Greenpeace found similar or greater concentrations of microplastic to what they found in the notorious Great Pacific Garbage Patch last year.

OJEDA: we need to change our consumption, our patterns, the way we rule (ph) the planet, the way we do things.

DAMON: You have a son?


DAMON: When you see the way things are now, are you worried about his future?

OJEDA: Yes, I am. A lot. Because I think what -- with this and with climate change, what are we leaving them? It's insane.

DAMON (voice-over): Being out this far from land, you can't help but be struck by how interconnected our world is, and how destructive we are being to marine ecosystems. And with that, also to ourselves. Arwa Damon, CNN in the Sargasso Sea.


SCIUTTO: Just so harrowing there, incredible reporting from Arwa Damon, right in the middle of the ocean.

Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. We always appreciate you having us with -- you with us. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" will start right after a quick break.