Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Peaceful Protesters Tear Gassed for Trump Church Photo Op; Video Shows Car Striking NYPD Officer Amid Unrest; George Floyd's Brother Calls for Peaceful Protests; Two Autopsies Say George Floyd's Death was Homicide; Four-State Governors Declined Defense Secretary's Request for Additional National Guard Members to D.C.; Trump Threatens Military Action to Stop Violent Protests; Protesters Tear-Gassed for Trump Church Photo-Op. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 2, 2020 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:13]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It is Tuesday morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

This is our country today. Americans in dozens of cities big and small across the nation protesting, sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently, and sometimes meeting a violent police response. Seven straight days of outrage and calls for justice after the killing of George Floyd, two autopsies now rule his death a homicide after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

All of this comes at a tumultuous time in this country when many have simply lost confidence in their government.

HARLOW: That's right. A complete loss of confidence that they will be protected. Clashes between protesters and police at times growing very violent on the same day that the president threatens a military crackdown. Moments after he declared himself the law and order president, troops outside the White House tear gassed peaceful protesters.

Why? So the president could walk for this photo-op outside of a D.C. church. A stunning moment drawing outrage from the very people who lead the country in worship, our faith leaders.

We have reporters across the country this morning. Let's begin there in our nation's capital with Boris Sanchez.

Good morning, Boris.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Poppy. Yes, it all started at about 7:30 -- or rather 30 minutes before 7:00 last night, just outside the White House here at Lafayette Park. The president as he was talking about standing alongside peaceful protesters had law enforcement violently block out the more than thousand protesters that were gathered here peacefully outside of the White House. Tear gas, violence to get them out of the way. This morning you can see behind me they've installed this about eight-

foot fence blocking people out of Lafayette Park. There's a law enforcement presence here right now, Secret Service, FBI agents, local police as well. The president used the opportunity yesterday when protesters were away from this area to come to this church, St. John's Church, to stand out here, with a bible, posing for this photo opportunity.

Senior administration official tells CNN that that was not an orchestrated move, that it wasn't something that the White House had planned, even though not that long ago the deputy chief of staff for communications Dan Scavino tweeted out a video of the president walking out in slow motion to this church set to Rage Against the Machine. So even though they don't call it a photo opportunity, they're certainly treating it like one.

The president expected outside another religious landmark later today. He is set to visit the National Shrine of St. John Paul II. Sources close to the president say that he's been concerned about his support among the evangelical community, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, again, killing more than 100,000 Americans across the country -- Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: Not the moment to be concerned about your political support from one sector. It's a moment to be concerned about the entire country, Boris. Thank you. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Now to the latest from New York City, where business owners cleaning up after yet another night of looting and violence there. One of last night's victims, an NYPD officer who police say was targeted in a hit and run.

HARLOW: Let's get to our national correspondent Brynn Gingras, she joins us with more. Let's certainly begin with how that officer is doing this morning.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, listen, he's in serious but stable condition. He has a head injury and a leg injury from being hit by a car, which was in connection to what officers, police believe, was looting that was carried out in the Bronx.

Now that's not the first time an officer was attacked during these nights of violence, really. There was one that happened in the West Village the night before where an officer was struck. I was being told by sources that there was objects being thrown from high rises, not only just at officers but also at protesters as well.

And guys, again, this morning, we're looking up, more boarded buildings, even still they're being damaged. This is the sunglass store that had a brick or something thrown through it. And you're seeing Herald Square, Macy's, the flagship store with boards up for another night and yet it didn't matter. Protesters were -- or rather looters were able to get in there and steal things. Five people were arrested inside.

And the question really is now, we're going into the fifth night of these protests that then turned into acts of violence, and nothing has really changed. We know that there was a curfew last night at 11:00 last night and there was even more police officers on the street, double, 8,000 officers, and yet the violence seems to be escalating not only just in the, you know, small neighborhoods outside of Manhattan, but we're talking about flagship areas, Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center, Herald Square, in addition to Soho, of course which we were -- we were there yesterday. And really the question is, what's going to change?

[09:05:02]

The mayor has said tonight the curfew will be 8:00, but I can tell you, guys, yesterday I was tracking those protests and at about 6:00 in the evening, when it was still light out, there was looting going on across this city. So the mayor is going to have a news conference at 9:30 today and she's certainly going to have to answer what's going to be different tonight that we haven't seen yet -- guys.

HARLOW: Exactly. Brynn, thank you for those updates. We wish that officer a full recovery, of course.

Let's go to Minneapolis for the latest on the protests and the investigation there. Omar Jimenez, Josh Campbell are standing by.

Omar, let's begin with you. It has been eight days since George Floyd was killed. What have you seen and what have you heard in Minnesota? Because I know the governor there does not want the president to send military forces in.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Poppy. In fact, the governor has wanted peaceful protests and the people to sort of lead the way in how these demonstrations are unfolding and so far at least when you look at the past few days, it seems to be working. Last night was maybe the most peaceful night yet in regards to the protests that we have seen now for eight days since George Floyd's final moments played out in this intersection behind me.

Specifically when the curfew went in effect at 10:00 p.m. local time here, through 4:00 a.m., there are people gathered in this intersection that stayed the entire night, protesting not only the curfew, but of course Floyd's death as well. Now we did still see arrests throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul area but as we understand, again, it came during largely peaceful protests.

Now, this is something the family has wanted. In fact, Terrence Floyd, George Floyd's brother, came to this exact site yesterday and spoke as he was reflecting on his brother's death, about the fact that if he's not out there destroying his community and looting places and destroying places, then what is everyone else doing? And that seemed to be a message that resonated with a lot of people.

He specifically said, let's do this another way. And this, of course, comes as we're set to see a memorial for George Floyd play out here in Minneapolis on Thursday and a funeral on Tuesday back in his hometown of Houston -- Poppy. SCIUTTO: Listen. It's a good point. You cannot paint all the protests

or protesters with the same brush. Some have been violent, some have not, and to see the positive progress in Minneapolis is important and notable. That's where this started.

Josh Campbell, you're there as well. So we now had two autopsies of George Floyd, both point to one conclusion, that is homicide. What does this mean not only for the prosecution of the officer who is already been charged, but the others who stood by?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this is obviously a sensitive topic when you're talking about forensic data of someone who died. But it's so important. It's a key part of this investigation.

Now, the medical examiner released a preliminary report that indicated there were no apparent signs of asphyxiation or lack of oxygen. That stands in contrast to a report that was released yesterday by the family, in an independent report that was commissioned. This autopsy showed that there were indeed signs of asphyxiation.

The reason this is so important to the prosecution is because if you're the defendant here in this case, the officer, if the cause of death is listed as a heart failure, they might argue that perhaps there was some type of pre-existing condition rather than the cause of death being the officer's knee on George Floyd's neck.

We're still waiting for the full investigation to be released, the full report from the medical examiner. However, as you mentioned, although they disagree on the -- what contributed to the death, both of these reports point to homicide as the cause of his death.

Now, I want to tell you something else that's very important. We did a deep dive on the use of these neck restraints by Minneapolis police officers here and what we found was really so striking. I mean, since 2012, there were 428 people that were the subject of neck restraints by Minneapolis police officers. And of that number, 58 lost consciousness. Some 14 percent.

Now, these neck restraints are largely banned or restricted by many police departments across the country and for good reason. They can be very dangerous, indeed in those instances where it was used on people here in Minneapolis, nearly half of them sustained some kind of injuries.

The figures are even more striking when you look at race and a city where African-Americans make up 19 percent of the population, nearly two-thirds of those who were subjected to neck restraints by police were black -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: I --

SCIUTTO: Let's look at the data.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: And the data is alarming. Omar Jimenez, Josh Campbell, thanks very much.

Four officers are now recovering after they were shot during protests last night in St. Louis. Keep in mind, officers facing deep risks here as well. The shootings occurred as hundreds of people were looting downtown.

HARLOW: Some protesters were throwing gasoline and fireworks, it's been reported, at police. The officers targeted there, hit, expected to be all right.

Let's go Las Vegas now, where there were two shootings overnight, both involving police.

[09:10:02]

According to authorities, an officer was shot in the head near Circus Circus on the strip, while trying to disperse a crowd. We're told that officer is now on life support and there is a suspect in custody.

SCIUTTO: Just the violence is alarming on the streets of so many cities. The other shooting overnight happened outside the federal courthouse in Las Vegas. An officer opened fire there after a suspect reportedly started shooting at that courthouse. There is no word on that suspect's condition.

We'll bring you that information as it comes. So much coming in. Really just every hour now.

HARLOW: Yes. Still to come, the president threatening to send the military into states to dominate. That word he keeps using over and over again. What can he actually legally do and not do?

SCIUTTO: Yes, this is about active uniform military. Plus, the president's photo-op with a bible as a prop. This is what happened to clear the way for that, protesters there, most of them peaceful, being cleared, sometimes violently by police. Tear gas, rubber bullets. An Australian cameraman punched.

We're going to show all of that and we're going to show the faith leaders respond to that use of force.

Also, a former NBA player is leading thousands in peaceful protests. We're going to speak to him live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN. An administration official tells CNN that four-state governors have declined a request from the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper for National Guard troops, additional ones, to deploy to D.C. This comes as some Pentagon officials are now on edge after President Trump threatens to send active duty military into the streets of U.S. cities. HARLOW: Our Barbara Starr is with us now. And Barbara, this is

action, the kind of action being threatened that has not been used in this country since 1992, of course, after those four white police officers were acquitted in Rodney King's beating. What do we need to know this morning about all that has transpired since the president's threat?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what you are seeing now are some very influential military officers quietly expressing their dismay about this because, look, already the National Guard is on the streets of this country. And as one official said, we want law enforcement to take the lead in this. They always want civilian law enforcement to be the prime authority on the streets.

And another National Guard official saying, you know, the guard, they're the friends and neighbors of the people who are out there protesting, National Guard is drawn from America's communities. So they don't want to be -- they want to support local police, they want to bring law and order, help bring law and order to the streets, but they do not want to be in a law enforcement role.

And I just want to tell people that the head of the Georgia National Guard, General Thomas Carden spoke to reporters the other day, and in part, he encapsulated much of the feeling right now and he said, and I want to quote some of this, he said, "I believe we in America should not get used to or accept uniformed service members in that kind of security role", he went on to say.

And he said, quote, "this is a sign of the times, we need to do better as a country." So you are beginning to see some in the military, National Guard or active duty, really articulate their deep concern to bring -- to help bring peace to the streets, bring some stability, but do it the right way and not be in that law enforcement role.

SCIUTTO: Barbara, I want to talk more for a moment about the president's photo-op in front of a church yesterday. Because part of that image that disturbed some was seeing the nation's top General Mark Milley; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs walking across Lafayette Park in his battle fatigues.

This, of course, after Mark Esper, next to him there, the Secretary of Defense talked about dominating the battle space, describing the situation on the streets of U.S. cities. One, what's the reaction to the Pentagon, two, what are the regulations because doesn't Mark Milley normally go to the White House in a suit and tie?

STARR: Well, you know, words and images matter more than anything. Look, what the U.S. military knows better than anybody is peace is not brought at the end of a rifle, but at the end of a police baton. Now, U.S. military obviously learning that overseas, the hard way for decades. There is no particular regulation, but it's an image that matters. He was in his battle dress -- his battle uniform, his battle fatigues, that is an image that I don't think there is any way around it. He chose to be in that --

SCIUTTO: Yes -- STARR: Uniform to walk across that park and to be seen that way.

Later last night, he went back out on to the street and looked around at some of the National Guard troops in the same uniform on the streets of this country. It's raising some questions. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes, just a reminder, you may remember, I'm sure you do, Barbara, that Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman when he testified before the Impeachment inquiry was given grief for wearing his uniform by some Republican lawmakers and others, although, that of course was per DOD policy. We'll see if any similar criticism from the same quarters today. Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

STARR: Thanks.

HARLOW: That's a good point, Barbara, thank you. Let's talk about all of this, Laura Coates is with us; former federal prosecutor, CNN senior legal analyst, Minnesota native. Laura, you were there over the weekend.

You just got back and you saw images of the National Guard driving down one of the main streets in St. Paul. Just I think a striking thing for people to see. Now, the president is saying I'm going to escalate this, and I'm going to send active military to the streets of America. What legally can he and can he not do under the Insurrection Act of 1807?

[09:20:00]

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, it's so important to flash this out, Poppy. I want people to understand just how jarring it is across this country. Even the thought of having a military presence -- remember the military is intended for combat.

So viewing a protest, one that is based on a reaction to excessive force, to have protests viewed through the prism of combat is very scary and raises legal questions. In particular, the president is the commander-in-chief. We know that. But there are limitations to having federal military people come and try to act as law enforcement bodies.

And normally, it's only done in two ways. Either one, because a state governor is actually requested it, we saw this in the -- after Rodney King riots in L.A., when then Governor asked George H.W. Bush to send his assistance to California, he did so.

We've also seen that in the second context when of course, the other way to have the Insurrection Act be implemented is because they're trying to enforce federal law, and they have every reason to believe that the local jurisdiction is not going to do so. When do we see this? When Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy sent people in to try to ensure that the de-segregation laws were actually going to be enforced.

Walking people into ole miss, James Meredith and the like, that's when it was envisioned. But now, to do so without the request of a government official, a governor or a state, and also to do so when there is no clear federal law that's being enforced and implicated is really surprising and unprecedented here.

And I don't see that we're going to have an actual legal foundation to be able to do so, unless something more happens. And, of course, the irony of all of this is that 1800 era Insurrection Act, it was created in response to southern mayors and southern officials and elected officials trying to use federal troops to station them at polling places during --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

COATES: The reconstruction era, trying to prevent people from being able to exercise their rights at the polls, and to re -- you know, re- orient people back towards the pre-civil war era. And so now, to use it in this perverse way, to suggest that it's important to do so is really turning it on its head.

SCIUTTO: Laura Coates, thanks very much. The president's photo-op outside a church that had been damaged in the protest sparking outrage. The violence used to clear peaceful protesters to enable that photo-op. Listen to the Bishop of that diocese responding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIANN EDGAR BUDDE, EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF WASHINGTON: This was a charade that in some ways was meant to bolster a message that does nothing to calm, to calm the soul and to reassure the nation that we can recover from this moment, which is what we need from the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: I'm joined now by Jesuit Priest, father James Martin and CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. Thanks to both of you. I want to, if I can, just for historical context, but begin with you, Douglas Brinkley. And as I do, I want to show a video of the action that police took to clear the way for this photo-op.

These were police using tear gas, batons, charging as you can see protesters there, back-packs, there was an Australian photo journalist punched in the camera to enable this. Is there a recent historical precedent for the use of such force to enable really a moment for the cameras by a sitting president?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No. I've never seen such a thing or even thought such a thing would happen. I mean, I could walk you through moments in American history, like when Herbert Hoover in 1932 put the U.S. military to get the bonus army as it was called to lead Washington.

The bonus army was World War I veterans begging for pensions. And George Patton and Douglas MacArthur took part in that, and ended up being two veterans were killed by D.C. police and the military in an event like that.

And then this Insurrection Act gets used different times like in World War II when FDR used it to put down the riots in Detroit in 1943. But the idea that a president would do a commercial, infomercial walk across the White House and have rubber bullets and tear gas sprayed on people who are executing their constitutional rights of protest, rubber bullets do real damage to people, this aren't -- it's not a game, making people's eyes -- you know, cough and sick. So I found it a shocking bit of presidential hubris on underlying yet a threat to do this kind of behavior over and over again across the country.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

BRINKLEY: Using U.S. military --

SCIUTTO: We should remind people --

BRINKLEY: Was a grim day.

[09:25:00]

SCIUTTO: Having been shot at by rubber bullets, rubber bullets are metal bullets encased in rubber. They're not toys. Father Martin, when you see the president there claiming a religious moment, holding up that Bible somewhat clumsily in front of the church there, and yet requiring that sort of violence to make this awkward moment happen there.

You heard the reaction of Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, just going to read here, "the president just used a Bible in a church of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for." President claims to be speaking for the faithful, is he there?

JAMES MARTIN, JESUIT PRIEST: No. He's not. He's not speaking certainly for the majority of the Christian faithful who listen to what Jesus says in the Bible which is "blessed are the peacemakers".

And so to use violence to remove peacemakers from in front of a church, so you can hold up a Bible and say how great America is while you're promising military action against peaceful protesters, that seem to me to be the complete opposite of what Jesus taught. And so, I think it makes a mockery of Christianity.

SCIUTTO: Douglas Brinkley, many are making comparisons, understandably to 1968 when you had violence, cities burning, right across the country as we're seeing right now. Compare the leadership in the country then and now, President Nixon, his reaction, President Trump today.

BRINKLEY: Well, in 1968, when Martin Luther King was killed on April 12th, riots broke out all across the country. And Lyndon Johnson was president. There were 125 cities that were rioting and Lyndon Johnson did everything he could to heal the country. This is what allowed Nixon running for the Republican nomination to say Johnson was allowing hippies, protesters --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

BRINKLEY: Anti-war types, to get away with things. And so that's where Nixon threw down his gauntlet about I'm the law and order candidate. Over and over again, Jim, I have seen Donald Trump steal pages from Richard Nixon's playbook. One time I spoke with --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

BRINKLEY: Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago, he told me that Nixon was this formidable figure in his life, he had a letter that Nixon wrote him on his wall. And this is his strategy, rile up the silent majority, get -- only if he had a gun over his head, a gun and a Bible --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

BRINKLEY: Rile up -- rally my base and become the law and order candidate in 2020 instead of the COVID-19, 40 million unemployed president.

SCIUTTO: Yes, listen, of course, and I said Nixon, but of course, Johnson was president at the time, although Nixon as you say ran on that law and order mantle. And I have to imagine President Trump might be thinking along the same lines. Father Martin, the president is going to visit another church today, shrine to John Paul II. The reporting is from inside the White House, many of his advisors believe that yesterday was a great victory for him, that appearance in front of the church. Today, he's doing it again. Your reaction?

MARTIN: Yes, he's going to the National Shrine of Saint John Paul II. He might want to read some of the things that Saint John Paul II talked about in terms of standing up against racism, which he called a sin, in particular his desire for the church to stand with the poor, for people who are marginalized, for people who have no voice. And so once again, if he's going to use Saint John Paul and the statue and the shrine as a backdrop for these policies, again --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

MARTIN: He is ignoring the legacy in one case of Saint John Paul II, and the other case, a more seriously, Jesus.

SCIUTTO: Yes, listen, Douglas Brinkley, father James Martin, thanks to both of you, I hope we can keep up the conversation. These are remarkable times in this country, and it's good to have your perspective.

BRINKLEY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, the police chief in Louisville, Kentucky, fired after yet another police involved fatal shooting there. This time during a protest. We're going to take you there.

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures pointing higher this morning amid all of this unrest. Stocks did close in positive territory on Monday. Markets up, but states do continue to open their economies in this pandemic, and this national crisis. Keep a close eye on Wall Street, stay right there.