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Senate Candidate Jaime Harrison (D) Discusses Economy, Hopes for Unseating Lindsey Graham, Democratic Debates Lacking Diversity; Congress Authorizes Sanctions on Syria for War Crimes after Evidence Exposed 6 Years Ago; Trump Administration Opposes New Sanctions Bill Against Russia; Trump Criticizes Evangelical Magazine Calling for His Removal. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 20, 2019 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00]

JAIME HARRISON, (D), ASSOCIATE CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE & SOUTH CAROLINA SENATE CANDIDATE: People are hungry for change. We're going to give them that change. We're going to bring hope back to South Carolina.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well --

HARRISON: That's why I tell folks, come to Jaimeharrison.com.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about -- oh, geez. I just spilled water all over my desk. I'm sorry, Jaime.

Let me ask you about running against Senator Graham in your race right now. When he last won re-election, he won in 2014 by 17 points. In 2016, Trump won the state by 14 points. So much support there. I have heard Republicans refer to the state as Trumpistan. And we'll seen a lot of Democratic candidates in red states come up short since Trump won.

What is going to be different about your race?

HARRISON: What's different is we're focused on the people of South Carolina. We're helping people.

I launched a program in my campaign called Harrison Helps. We go into every community in South Carolina and partner with community organizations. We do something novel in politics. We roll up our sleeves and help folks.

We've be been doing school supply drives. I've been going to Ronald McDonald Houses over the holidays, making meals for families whose kids are in hospitals. We're doing resume-building workshops, job- interviewing skills.

We're looking at what are the challenges that people have to live the American dream and we're going out to help folks address that.

I am running against a Senator who cares more about what's going on in Washington, D.C., than what the people here in the state are dealing with. He hasn't done a town hall in almost three years. He's on TV every other day.

It shows you where his priorities are. He wants to be relevant in Washington, D.C. I want to be relevant in South Carolina where the people are suffering and need some help. Right now, we have an absentee Senator not focused on that.

BOLDUAN: There's been a lot of ink spilled about the evolution of Lindsey Graham. In 2015, he called President Trump a jackass and then calling Donald Trump a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot at another point in the campaign.

Now he's a key ally of the president on the Hill and makes no secret about it. Look, people change their minds. People evolve.

Do you think that's just what it is when it comes to Senator Graham?

HARRISON: No. It's for Lindsey Graham -- the most important thing and person to Lindsey Graham is Lindsey Graham. He's looking for political relevance.

I hear it all the time, from Democrats, Republicans and Independents in the state, what happened to Lindsey Graham. What happened is Lindsey saw his political fortunes will be tied to the president. He's going to do and say anything that he can in order to stay relevant, to stay important, to get re-elected. That's sad.

He epitomizes what people hate in politics. They want someone with more conviction, a spine, who will stand up and do the right thing even when the politics doesn't say it's the best thing to do for politics.

That's what I'm going to bring to the people of South Carolina. Someone who has character and integrity.

I grew up in rural South Carolina, the son of a single mom with my grandparents. They taught me the importance of having character, integrity and keeping a promise. He can't keep his oath of office. So how can we expect him to fight for the people of South Carolina.

BOLDUAN: Leaning with your role with the DNC, I want to ask quickly, bouncing off of last night's debate, there was something impossible to ignore. You heard it from Andrew Yang and others. Andrew Yang was the only non-white candidate on the stage.

Does the DNC have a problem? It was the most diverse field in history. Now the debate stage is anything but. Does the DNC have a problem when it comes to that?

HARRISON: Diversity is really important. Kamala and Cory, Secretary Castro have been running great campaigns. I would love to see them back on the debate stage.

One thing I constantly tell people, you get called by a pollster, make sure, if you want the diversity on the stage, make sure you express their names so they can show out.

What Tom has tried to do at the DNC is create a system that was fair, where the DNC is not putting their finger on it.

At the end of the day, I hope all the candidates go into the communities, particularly communities of color, and talk about the issues important to those folks. That's what's really important at the end of the day.

You know, continue to push. I hope they come back here to South Carolina, which is the first-in-the-south presidential primary, where it is the first primary where there's significant African-American communities that will show up and vote.

Because they want to hear from these can't candidates. They want to see these candidates. They want to make sure these candidates are talking about the issues that are important to them.

[11:35:04]

That's what we're trying to do in our Senate campaign. And I hope the presidential candidates will also do the same.

BOLDUAN: Jaime Harrison, thanks for coming in. I appreciate it.

Coming up for us, he put his life on the line to expose atrocities by the Assad regime. Now, after nearly six years, real action from Congress stemming from his courage. Will it make a difference?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:40:19]

BOLDUAN: It's a moment that's six years in the making, a moment one man risked his life for. In the midst of the impeachment debate, Congress passed a massive defense spending bill with wide bipartisan support. In that deal, new sanctions that targets Syrian leaders. And it commits the U.S. to supporting international prosecution of those accused of human rights abuses there.

It's called the Caesar Sanctions Bill. That's the code name for a Syrian military defector who smuggled out almost 5500 photographs, evidence of torture by the regime. He's lived in hiding ever since.

He spoke with us in disguise during his last trip to Washington in September to plead with members of Congress to take action. When we spoke, he'd almost lost hope.

A warning to you, what you're about to see is graphic and disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAESAR, PHOTOGRAPHED ATROCITIES IN SYRIA: I would work for hours taking photographs, loading the photographs. And I would have to hide my emotions. I would have to pray that a tear does not come down my face. If they saw one tear, if they saw one expression on my face that showed sympathy, then I would be killed, as would my family.

BOLDUAN: How did you do that?

CAESAR: I don't know.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): In 2013, he fled and brought with him what the FBI confirmed as authentic and the State Department's ambassador for war crimes described as stronger evidence than what existed against the Nazis.

(SHOUTING)

BOLDUAN: The Syria government has denied responsibility and called the photos fake.

Caesar made his first trip to Capitol Hill in 2014 testifying before Congress under cover, in the exact same disguise he used for our interview.

CAESAR: I honestly thought that if I had the courage to go for the years that I did doing the work that I did, endangering my life every day, that once I came out and showed the world what I had, then the entire conscious of the world would move.

BOLDUAN (on camera): Then that didn't.

CAESAR: Five whole years the world did not move.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: That was September. But this week, they did more. The president this morning announced he'll be signing this into law today.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, a co-sponsor of the Caesar Bill in the House.

Thank you for being here, Congressman.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): You bet. You bet.

BOLDUAN: What does today mean?

KINZINGER: It's huge. As I was listening to the story, I got choked up.

Back when Caesar came in front of our committee and we saw his pictures of torture, it was reminiscent of Nazi Germany, both in terms of how the documented it and just the cold-heartedness with it.

If you told me this wouldn't get passed until 2019, I would say that's entirely too late.

The problem is the civil war is still going on. These atrocities are still going on. So better late than never.

This sends a very strong message that Congress is watching, that the United States is watching. And that with all the mistakes we made in Syria, straddling both administrations, frankly, we are now taking a step forward to say that war crimes still have no place in this world.

I'll tell you, they're shuddering in halls of -- in Syria because of this right now.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, there were years when there were few of us paying attention to this. You were one of them. You met with Caesar when he came to Washington. You pushed for this passage.

What do you think it finally was that pushed it over the line?

KINZINGER: I think it's persistence.

Kate, I want to say to you and your viewers, you and S.E. Cupp, for instance, are two of the folks on TV that would not let us forget about this story. You get a lot of credit, too. It's easy with the news today to glaze over these stories and not talk about them, people lose interest.

But these are real human lives. At a time we sit around and say, the worst thing that ever existed is the fact that the other party exists. You think about, on the other side of this world, there are people and children being targeted by Russian jets, by Syrian jets, by Iranian ground troops. It's a tragedy.

The fact it went through is a testament to persistence. And it's also a testament to just how purely evil the Assad regime is that it is still relevant basically six years after the first testimony.

BOLDUAN: And to you as well, Congressman. Thank you very much.

As you mentioned, the atrocities in Syria are not ending. The announcement by the president to pull U.S. troops back from northern Syria added another level of chaos, according to most -- you know, everyone involved.

[11:45:00]

So what does the Caesar Bill do in this moment? It was important six years ago, three years ago, four years ago, when -- the House passed it three times, to remind everybody. What does it mean today?

KINZINGER: Yes, it would have been better to get it done earlier. It shows the United States Congress and the administration for signing it into law is not forgetting Syria, especially on the human rights side.

There's two issues here. There's the geo-political question. What do we do in Syria? That's another discussion.

Then there's the human tragedy thing. People who are against intervention or for intervention in Syria, can all agree we shouldn't stand against prosecuting human rights. Unfortunately, one U.S. Senator did for years. That's why it's just getting signed. But we have finally taken a stand. I'll tell you, if you're Assad right now or one of his supporters or you're Russia and you're the mercenary group upholding Assad in Syria, you're going to be pretty nervous. If we implement this right, it's going to have a major impact across the world. We're going to shame you and hunt you down.

BOLDUAN: You mentioned Russia. This week, we learned another sanctions bill against Russia is getting pushback from the White House. This was introduced by Lindsey Graham and it's in response to Russian interference in the election. It had bipartisan support, as Russian sanctions bill do. The White House is opposing it.

Do you wonder why the president is opposing holding Russia accountable? It's like a different side of the same coin.

KINZINGER: Yes. I mean, look, I'm been extremely critical of it. I've look at it and said -- I don't know why. Maybe they can make arguments we have enough sanctions or whatever.

The reality is we have to stand up to defend or election system and the integrity of democracy. The fact that we can yell at each other, because, oh, my gosh, you're a Republican or, oh, man, you're a Democrats, we have to be able to preserve that because that's what democracy is. But it's also our biggest weakness if somebody wants to try to exploit that.

I think the administration should be on board. It's not delegitimizing President Trump's election. But it's saying, going forward, there can be no involvement by Russia. Obviously, in an open society, they're always going to try. And going to be a penalty.

So I would call on -- outside of technical issues, where that gets turned into something else. But let's do anything we can to defend our election system. I'm on board. I've always been on board. We need to continue to push for that.

BOLDUAN: When it comes to the Caesar Bill, look, the country is divided. This is one thing the country can count as a bipartisan win. That is something to pay attention to even when we're talking about a conflict that's gone on so long in Syria.

Thank you for your work on it.

KINZINGER: You bet. Hey, thank you for yours. God bless you and happy holidays.

BOLDUAN: You, too.

Thank you, Congressman.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:52:39]

BOLDUAN: President Trump doing what he does, attacking a prominent evangelical magazine for running an editorial calling for his removal.

The magazine is "Christianity Today." They put out a striking op-ed, writing said, in part: "The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president's moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency. It damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people."

While that may be surprising, the president's response is not, saying on Twitter than "'Christianity Today' would rather have a radical left, non-believer who wants to take your religion and your guns than Donald Trump as your president.'

Joining me now, Emma Green, a writer who covers religion for "The Atlantic."

It's good to see you. Thank you for being here.

EMMA GREEN, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Mark Galli, the editor-in-chief, he spoke to "NEW DAY" a little earlier. I want to play a little bit of what he said. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK GALLI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "CHRISTIANITY TODAY": As a Christian, I like to think of myself as a person who has given my ultimate loyalty to Jesus Christ and the gospel he's called us to proclaim. So when Christians, of any stripe, support a cause that strikes me as manifestly immoral, it does damage to the cause that I've given my life to.

So I think that's one part of the equation that all Christians, especially my brothers and sisters in the evangelical world, need to think about more seriously and more deeply.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: I found it very fascinating his conversation on that.

You also spoke with him. And you cover the intersection of religion and culture for "The Atlantic." What did you think when you first saw this op-ed?

GREEN: Immediately, I knew it was going to be a real big deal, not just in the worlds I follow, but generally.

BOLDUAN: Yes.

GREEN: That's because it's become such a strong association in the public imagination between Trump and evangelicals. We always talk about the 81 percent of white evangelicals that voted for Trump.

And here is "Christianity Today," this magazine founded by Billy Graham, probably the most evangelist of the 20th century. And that does speak for a fairly broad segment of evangelicals, coming out strongly, sharply, not only calling for the president to be removed from office, but also Mark Galli condemned his fellow Christians and called on them to take more seriously the moral obligation to speak out against what he sees as immoral behavior.

BOLDUAN: I thought it was interesting that he said he is under no illusion that his writing was going to change minds.

[11:55:02]

GREEN: That's right. I spoke with him on the phone last night, and we were talking about the way he thinks of this in his faith. He doesn't think it's his job to come in on a white horse and heal the divide among evangelicals or change the world or even change evangelicals' minds.

He says he thinks he has the responsibility to speak truth where he can, in a timely manner. If it makes a difference, thank God. And if it doesn't make a difference, that's kind of up to a higher power.

BOLDUAN: Igniting a conversation, once again, that we should all be having much, much more about the intersection of faith and politics here.

It's great to see you, Emma. Thank you very much.

GREEN: Yes, thank you.

BOLDUAN: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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