Return to Transcripts main page


Ex-Defense Chief: "No Choice" But to Leave Trump Administration; National Guard Major Endorses Biden in Uniform on the Trail; St. Louis Man Wrongfully Imprisoned for 24 Years but Not Allowed New Trial; White House Trade Adviser Contradicts Own Words on Recession Stance. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 29, 2019 - 13:30   ET



[13:34:21] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: James Mattis is a retired four- star general. He has more than 40 years of military service commanding Marines in Operation Desert Storm and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. He's the highest-ranking military official to ever lead the Pentagon.

But in the new interview in "The Atlantic," entitled, "The Man Who Cannot Take It Anymore," we learned there's a breaking point for General Mattis. Quote, "You've going to have to tell the next secretary of defense to lose to ISIS. I won't do it."

This followed the president's announcement that he would withdraw all American troops from Syria, a decision that contradicted the administration's stated policy. That's when Mattis resigned over this policy that he said he couldn't support.

[13:35:03] Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling is a former Army commanding general for Europe and the Seventh Army. He's also a CNN military analyst.

Thanks for being with us to give us your perspective here.

We're hearing Mattis speak out. In some ways, it's all the more revealing about what he won't say because here's an example. "This is a period in which I owe my silence. It's not eternal, it's not going to be forever."

This is interesting. Is it his duty to remain silent about the president or is it his duty to Americans to say something if he feels the president isn't adhering to the Constitution?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think he's done both in this interview. I've read the interview, it's a very good piece. And he has remained faithful to his duty to serve the nation.

I think Secretary Mattis will probably say, the reason I'm not speaking out is because anything I might say now would cause more churn within the Department of Defense that I so love, the military I so love, and cause further divisions. That's the problem that I think he's conflicted with, Brianna. I thought a lot about this. And whereas, you would want to speak out

when you see someone violating the elements of the Constitution or doing dumb things in terms of national security strategy, you would want to say something.

But when you come out of government, and especially when you have the background of the military, you know your duty is to the Constitution and the constitutional processes of electing a president and allowing them to serve.

Anything that you might say that would be a detriment to that, it would harm the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that he served is problematic. So that's really the crux of the issue and how I believe Secretary Mattis sees this.

KEILAR: I do want to ask you about something that we've just seen out on the campaign trail. Joe Biden was in South Carolina and there was an Army major who spoke to him. This really sparked a controversy. Let's listen.


MAJ. GINGER TATE, SOUTH CAROLINA ARMY NATIONAL GUARD: My first sergeant made these coins and it has every city that my soldiers were in in Afghanistan. And I've been saving these coins for six years to meet you and President Obama, so that if I ever met you --


TATE: -- I could give this to you.

And when I saw on the news last night that you were coming, I just had to be here.

Thank you so much for your guidance.

I took 130 soldiers over and I brought them back. And I'm so honored to have served under your administration and your leadership. And I hope and pray that you will be our next president of the United States.



KEILAR: What was your reaction when you watched that clip, especially the ending where she's clearly supporting him for president while she's in uniform?

HERTLING: Well, it was very emotional. I'm sure it was heartfelt by the young major. But it was also incredibly wrong and a violation of the U.S. military regulations and policies.

When you're in uniform, you don't represent your command or your soldiers to support one candidate or another. In fact, the regulation says you can't campaign, you can't support or you can't provide information when you're in uniform that shows your public support of a candidate.

Had she taken off the uniform and been in civilian clothes and said, hey, I really love you, I served in the military, that's super. But as soon as you put on that military uniform, you indicate that you are supporting everyone in your organization.

She even said in the clip, Brianna, that she was a company commander. I'm sure that there were people in her company that don't support Joe Biden and might even support President Trump.

It is the same deterioration that we've seen with all the soldiers wearing the MAGA hats or the Trump patches on their uniform. All of it is wrong and it should be called out on both sides. It's a violation of military standards.

KEILAR: Thank you so much, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. We appreciate your perspective.

HERTLING: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: He's been in prison for 24 years and now prosecutors say he's innocent, but a judge refuses to allow a new trial.

[13:39:28] Plus, as the Amazon Rainforest burns, see how a tribe has been forced to become firefighters. CNN takes you there.


KEILAR: A St. Louis man has spent half of his life behind bars for a crime that prosecutors now say he did not commit but a judge still won't grant him a new trial.

Let's go to CNN national correspondent, Ryan Young, who is following this in St. Louis.

Ryan, tell us about this case and where it goes from here.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, such a strange story. Lamar Johnson has been in jail for some 24 years. According to prosecutors back then, when he was convicted of murder, apparently he walked up to a man and shot him on his porch. The problem is whoever did that crime was wearing a mask.

Since then, two other men have come forward and basically said they committed that crime. There was an eyewitness in this case and they also pulled back their testimony.

Johnson is serving a life sentence, despite prosecutors saying he didn't do the crime. There's been a 70-page report that has come out saying the circuit court attorney believes that police and prosecutors did misconduct back then.

[13:45:03] In fact, they even claim they paid a witness $4,000 to help that person move and to come forward. That person who was paid the $4,000 also says he doesn't believe Johnson did this crime.

Now, he's in jail right now saying he wants to get out obviously with this new information.

All this being said, the old prosecutors are saying they didn't commit any issues in this case and they want to make sure that it's understood that they don't believe they did misconduct.

Now, of course, you're wondering when will he get a new trial? On Tuesday, the circuit court judge may grant this appeal to move forward.

But there's so many questions around this case, especially with witnesses coming forward and the circuit attorney and everyone else saying, look, they believe this man is innocent.

A lot of questions surrounding this right now. Hopefully, we'll figure out tuesday what will happen next.

KEILAR: We'll be watching with you.

Ryan Young, thank you so much.

As fears grow over the economy, hear why the second quarter GDP was just downgraded.

Plus, when it comes to a possible recession, did the president's top trade advisor just contradict the views that he literally wrote in his own book?


[13:51:01] KEILAR: The Commerce Department says the U.S. economy slowed down a bit more than expected in the second quarter. Gross domestic product increased at only a 2 percent annualized rate. That is down from the 2.1 pace estimated last month.

President Trump's year-long trade war with China is undercutting business investment and manufacturing. And it's also triggered an economic phenomenon with an inverted yield curve, which often indicates that a recession in on the horizon.

Despite all of this, Trump's trade advisor, Peter Navarro, is insisting the economy is doing just fine.


PETE NAVARRO, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S TOP TRADE ADVISER: The yield curve is inverting because of very bullish circumstances. Basically, this is the best game in town across the globe.


KEILAR: Catherine Rampell joins me now.

I'm going to ask you in a moment if he's right, even by his own standard. But first, tell us, in your assessment, is the economy doing as well as Navarro is suggesting? CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, a yield curve

inversion doesn't necessarily mean we have to have a recession. But historically, it has predated them.

The reason for that is it reflects where investors think interest rates are going to go. It means they think the Fed is going to have cut rates at some point in the future. Why would they do that? Because the economy is weakening, not because the economy is strengthening.

And there are a lot of other indicators that suggest at the very least the economy is weakening. We had bad manufacturing numbers. Consumer sentiment numbers were at their lowest point so far this year. Nine other economies around the world are in recession or on the verge of recession.

So it doesn't look like catastrophe is imminent. But there are a number of reasons to believe we should be concerned about the path of the trade wars and the path of the economy.

KEILAR: Navarro came on our air and he claimed the yield curve inversion technically didn't happen. But he says, if it did, it's a good thing. Let's listen.


NAVARRO: Let's clear up this inverted yield curve thing. I didn't write the book on it, but I've written several books about the yield curve is a leading economic indicator. Technically, we did not have a yield curve inversion. An inverted yield curve requires a big spread between short and long.



NAVARRO: Correct. We always had a flat yield curve.


TAPPER: Well, it was inverted for a little bit.

NAVARRO: Well, that's not technically an inversion. It's a flat curve, which is a weak signal of any possibility. And in this case, in this case, the flat curve is actually the result of a very strong Trump economy.


KEILAR: Fact-check that for us. And then also he said, "I didn't write the book, I've written several books."


KEILAR: You went back to see what he's written? Tell us about that as well. RAMPELL: He used this line in a number of interviews over the course of a weekend or so. And I was curious about what Peter Navarro did say. Peter Navarro seems to have forgotten what Peter Navarro actually believes about the yield curve.

Because he himself said exactly what I reflected earlier. The conventional wisdom about what a signal like this means, which is that yield -- an inverted yield usually means recession, almost always means recession.

He also said that a flat curve, which I would argue is not what we have seen recently, but give him the benefit of the doubt, even a flat curve is a weak indicator of a recession.

I think the quote was, yes, that's still a flat curve is only slightly a weaker signal for a recession, although it predicted all of the past six recessions within an eight-quarter horizon. It also had two false signals.

And beyond that, in that same book, he actually mocked business leaders for failing to recognize this signal leading up to the 2001 decision. They failed to notice the ominous progression of the yield curve.

I think we have that quote as well. "Given the old curve's excellent track record, it seems truly remarkable that so many corporate executives chose to ignore it's strong recessionary warning signals leading up to the 2001 downturn."

[13:55:01] So it's striking that, on the one hand, he was mocking people for getting freaked out or for not getting freaked out about the flattening, and ultimately, the inversion of the yield curve.

And today he is -- he is trying to tie himself into knots to say why we shouldn't be worried. His argument is something along the lines of, this time is different because the yield curve is only inverted because our economy is so strong. The global economy is so weak that all of these investors are coming to the United States.

If that were the case, and it may partly be the case, you would also see them flooding into the stock market, which we haven't seen recently.

And beyond that, the fact that the rest of the global economy is weak also does not bode well for us, because there are threats of contagion. If we have the U.K. crash out of the E.U. with a no Brexit deal, if we have a China crash, if we have all these other economies fall into recession or worsen their recessions, that's bad for us.

This is not something we should be cheering on.

KEILAR: Catherine, thank you for explaining that to us. Catherine Rampell, we appreciate it.

We have news just in about "Jeopardy!" host, Alex Trebek and his health. Stand by for that. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)