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Trump Threatens Military Action to Stop Violent Protests; Peaceful Protesters Tear Gassed for Trump Church Photo Op; Joe Biden Speaks Out in Contrast of Trump; Two Autopsies Say George Floyd's Death was Homicide; George Floyd's Bother Calls for Peaceful Protests. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 2, 2020 - 11:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing this difficult day with us.

This should give you pause regardless of your political views. The president of the United States is congratulating himself today for using police force to break up a peaceful protest in front of a leading symbol of American democracy. Great job done by all, the president brags in a morning tweet. Overwhelming force. Domination.

That overwhelming force and domination was used against American citizens peacefully exercising their First Amendment right to free speech, peacefully voicing their anger at the death of yet another black man in police custody. Tear gas and flash grenades, you see it there, and batons used to clear Lafayette Park right across from the White House. A use of federal force and taxpayer dollars to clear a path for a photo op.

The president, who almost never goes to church, posing in front of a historic church, holding up a bible. The mayor of Washington, D.C. calls it an outrage.


MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D), DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: We were very shocked and, quite frankly, outraged that people who were not violating the curfew and who did not seem to have provoked attack were attacked and moved out by the federal law enforcement officials who were directed to clear the way for the president.


KING: The episcopal bishop here in Washington, D.C. sees nothing Christian in the president's stunt.


BISHOP MARIANN EDGAR BUDDE, EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF WASHINGTON: Let's not forget the real pain that's spread before us every second of every day in these last weeks. And so that's the real thing. This was a charade that in some ways was meant to bolster a message that does nothing to calm the soul and to reassure the nation that we can recover from this moment, which is what we need from a president.


KING: And the Democrat looking to replace the incumbent also took issue.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president held up the bible at St. John's Church yesterday. I just wish he opened it once in a while instead of brandishing it. If he opened it, he could have learned something. They're all called to love one another as we love ourselves. It's really hard work, but it's the work of America. Donald Trump isn't interested in doing that work.


KING: There is so much happening at once, it is hard to keep track and hard to keep context. The president of law and order, as he now calls himself, wants you to forget about the coronavirus and those early days when he insisted there would be no pandemic and that Americans were not at serious risk.

The overwhelming majority of the protesters wants you to remember George Floyd and the police force used to kill him eight days ago. Thousands are expected to take to the streets of Houston today to march in honor of Mr. Floyd. Members of his family members will also be there for a march to city hall. Floyd moved to Minneapolis from Houston.

There's more violence and destruction to discuss today as well. Police in several cities raining down tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters. In New York City, broken store windows, looting. Police trying, trying to control that situation. But we also saw scenes like this, peaceful protesters marching together, chanting the name over and over again, George Floyd.

The president's walk to St. John's Church was part of a day-long law and order theme. He called governors weak on a conference call and threatened to send in the military if looting and chaos continued. This was his Rose Garden message as the protesters across the street were being cleared.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am your president of law and order, and an ally of all peaceful protesters. But in recent days, our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa and others. By far our greatest days lie ahead.


KING: CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us along with White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond.


Barbara, I want to start with you and some new reporting you have. There is some ease in the military brass about what the president is asking, right?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is among some officials and we're beginning to hear more and more of this, John. A short time ago, General Lengyel, the head of the National Guard, called this mission of support to civil authorities. That's what they call it when they put the National Guard out there. He called it the most dangerous mission that the National Guard has stateside in this country.

We had another National Guard officer -- actually, the head of the Georgia National Guard yesterday tell reporters this is a sign of the times, we need to do better as a country if it requires basically the National Guard to be out on the street.

The president also very clearly signaling he is willing to send active duty forces, some are already on standby, of course. This would be a significant escalation. And he already is using the secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, as visual signals of a potential intention. They were with him yesterday. General Milley walking across to Lafayette Park in his battle fatigues, something we rarely see.

General Milley went back out on the streets last night. Have a listen to a little bit of what he had to say.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Just allow freedom to assemble and freedom of speech. That's perfectly fine. We support that. We took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America to do that and to protect everyone's rights, and that's what we do. We've got the D.C. National Guard out here and I'm just checking to see how well they're doing, that's all.


STARR: OK. Remember, this is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He has no authority to run operations, if you will. His only legal job is to be the chief military adviser to the president of the United States. That is what a chairman of the Joint Chiefs does. President Trump repeatedly talking about putting General Milley in charge. He can't legally be in charge of any of this. He can advise the president. The president clearly putting him out there along with the Defense secretary as a very visual signal to the country -- John.

KING: Visual signal, powerful signal. Barbara Starr, thanks.

And Jeremy Diamond, we showed the president's clip at the top where he said he stands with every peaceful protester. As he was saying that, peaceful protesters were being shoved and pushed and tear gas was being used against them a few feet away from his house.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. It was an incredibly powerful split screen moment, John, and one that really exposed what the president is all about here when he talks about being a law and order president.

While the president, in his remarks, has tried to distinguish between the violent rioters and the looters in the streets versus the peaceful protesters, even declaring himself an ally to peaceful protesters, it became very clear that the president, when it comes to actually enforcing that kind of law and order stance, sees no distinction because that is exactly what we saw yesterday when federal law enforcement officers, park police as well as the National Guard, which was called up by the federal government, were firing tear gas and rubber bullets at peacefully demonstrating protesters just moments before the president walked over to St. John's Episcopal Church for that photo op yesterday. So, again, very clear what the president here is ultimately doing.

And, John, the president wants this approach to be followed by others as well. Yesterday on a call with governors, he berated them, saying that most of you are weak, and urging them strongly to call up their state National Guards in order to bring a military presence, a military footprint to tamping down these protests across the country.

And you also mentioned, John, that tweet from the president this morning talking about total domination. This is, again, total domination not over the looting and the rioting that we had seen several nights ago in Washington, D.C. Last night, John, those protests remained peaceful almost entirely throughout, and yet president this morning congratulating himself and talking about overwhelming force -- John.

KING: That is the distinction the president clearly does not get. Looting and violence should not be tolerated. Those people across the street in Lafayette Park were doing as they are gifted to do as American citizens.

Jeremy Diamond, Barbara Starr, appreciate the reporting there.

Joe Biden is in Philadelphia today drawing a very sharp contrast with the president.


BIDEN: "I can't breathe. I can't breathe." George Floyd's last words but they didn't die with him. They're still being heard, echoing all across this nation.


KING: CNN's Arlette Saenz is there in Philadelphia.

A rare trip for the vice president because of coronavirus, Arlette, outside of Delaware. It's a very detailed speech. He wants Congress to move quickly on police reform. He says it can't wait for the next president of the United States.


What was the former vice president hoping to accomplish today?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, Joe Biden came here with this message that the country is going through a wake-up call right now. And he really issued his harshest criticism of President Trump to date. And what Biden was trying to do here was present this contrast with President Trump in both temperament and leadership style. He said that President Trump is a part of the problem, and that right now he is focused on appealing to his base instead of caring to the needs of the American public.

He also said that the country is crying out for leadership, and Joe Biden tried to present himself as that steady hand who can unite the country. Take a listen to a bit of his message about his vision going forward.


BIDEN: The moment has come for our nation to deal with systemic racism. To deal with the growing economic inequity that exists in our nation, to deal with the denial of the promise of this nation made to so many. You know, I've said from the outset of this election that we're in the battle for the soul of this nation.


SAENZ: Battle for the soul of the nation. That has been a central tenet of Joe Biden's campaign since he launched over a year ago. And you heard him reinforcing that message today. He also challenged Americans to look at what's going on and ask themselves, is this who we are?

Now Biden also leans heavily into empathy. He talked about the loss of his own son, Beau Biden, five years ago from brain cancer and tied that into the loss of the life of George Floyd, of his family and also many others who are struggling with similar losses in their life. He said that a president needs to feel pain and to care, and that is something that Biden over and over, we have seen him project on the campaign trail those moments of empathy.

And as you mentioned, this was Biden's first trip outside Delaware since mid-March, since the coronavirus pandemic really brought campaigning to a standstill. And he decided to come here to Philadelphia, which has been the site of many of those protests that we've seen across the country, and he came here today going back to that central message from his campaign, painting this as a battle for the soul of the nation -- John.

KING: Arlette Saenz for us in Philadelphia with the former vice president. Context, it's hard to keep the calendar, it's hard to track five months from today. Five months from today is the presidential election.

Arlette, thank you so much for that reporting.

Just moments ago the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacting to the president's church photo op. Holding a bible of her own, she says it's time for the president to be the healer-in-chief, instead of a chief she says fanning the flames.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Protesters in front of the White House were beaten. Some people came out to beat them so they could clear the area, so the president could come out and go forward. What is that? That has no place and it's time for us to do away with that. A time to heal. The Book of Ecclesiastes.


KING: Let's get some perspective now. Brendan Buck was the top aide to the former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and John Boehner, our David Gergen, adviser to four American presidents and of course a CNN political analyst.

David, I want to start with you. Even in the age of Trump sometimes we think well, you know, this norm has been broken, this norm has been broken. An American president using federal force to clear demonstrators from Lafayette Park who were demonstrating peacefully, who were exercising their First Amendment right, that is not something I did not think I would ever be discussing on live television.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. You know, John, if you look at it now, the president has had two major crises on his hands in the last few months. First on the pandemic and now on these racial issues, and he's bungled it twice. It was surprising to me being so direct about being the president of law and order. You know, that was race-baiting. And we all know what that was about, stretching back to 1968.

So I think for a lot of us to go back, and you, John, and I both go back some, that I just have never thought a president would deliberately incite violence instead of calming the nation, soothing the nation, in a time of crisis. It just never occurred to me that would happen. It's not the voice of democracy, that's the voice of authoritarianism. And I do think the president blundered on that.

Can he make up the difference? I think he should, I think he should try, I think he should reach out. I do think that Joe Biden was wise to come out of the basement and make that speech today. It was not the blockbuster speech that Obama gave in that same hall back in 2008, but it was a good speech and it was more presidential.

KING: And Brendan, coming in on that point as you do, I want to read this quote from you in the "Washington Post." First I'll read the quote, then I'll give a little context here. "We long ago lost sight of normal, but this was a significantly immoral act.

[11:15:04] "The president used force against American citizens, not to protect property, but to soothe his own insecurities. We will all move on to the next outrage, but this was a true abuse of power and should not be forgotten."

Those are very strong words and you are a very proud Republican. My question to you is why, why do we not hear words like yours from other proud conservatives, who do not think any president of the United States, Democrat or Republican, should turn federal police forces against people who are peacefully demonstrating?

BRENDAN BUCK, FORMER TOP ADVISER TO PAUL RYAN: Yes, it's tough, you know. I think it ultimately goes down to the fact that the president really has a stranglehold on Republican voters and that flows up all the way up. Members of Congress are reacting to their constituents who think that any time you speak out against the president that you're undermining him and hurting him.

And look, there are a lot of people who think that what we did in the speaker's office enabled Donald Trump, and I promise you for every person who thinks that, there is another one who thinks that we were undermining him. And it's a lot of stuff that you don't necessarily hear in mainstream media or on this channel, but there are a lot of voters who simply believe that the president needs to be defended at all costs, and that flows up to members of Congress and that's how they end up responding. And they're actually acting politically very rational.

KING: And so, David, some images. First we see the president standing, you know, at St. John's Church quite well. You served four American presidents. You're in the White House all the time. The president standing outside of that church holding a bible. I just want to make that point again, he very rarely goes to church. A couple Fridays ago he was in the White House briefing room telling governors to open churches and then he spent the weekend golfing. He did not go to church when he had that choice.

We also saw the former vice president yesterday meeting with faith leaders at a church in Delaware. The election is five months from today. If it were held today, all the data tell us Joe Biden would win, but it is not today.

GERGEN: It is not indeed, and we have five months. It can be a long, long time especially with so many crises building up together. I don't know how this is going to end, but, you know, one of these things could turn in his direction, in Trump's direction. You could have -- if there is some major looting or murder or whatever it may be coming from the hard left people, I don't see that happening, but if it were to happen, then the dynamics of this race could change pretty swiftly.

So you cannot count on Donald Trump at this point, especially in the swing states. Things swing in swing states, as you well know.

KING: And Brendan, to that point, you served two Republican speakers. It is hard. It is hard to get a House majority. You've seen what's happened in the midterms last year, and especially in suburban America. That is why Nancy Pelosi, not a Republican, is the speaker of the House right now.

When you see the president, the law and order, it's George Wallace, it's Richard Nixon, it's in the rearview mirror a long time ago. Can you look at a map, and whether you're running a presidential campaign and trying to keep the Senate, which a lot of Republicans are nervous about, is that the message you can sell in today's America?

BUCK: Well, I think those suburban women voters are the ultimate target we need to be talking about. Everybody talks about the president driving out the base, and that's, you know, important, that's clearly what they're focused on doing. But you can't win without the suburbs. And that's where we got killed in 2018, and everything that the president does continues to hurt us with that group, and I don't know how you can recover that way.

Look, I don't want to make any predictions about what's going on, I don't even know that there is a political strategy behind this. I think this was purely what the president wanted to do on a whim. But to the extent that you are driving law and order, you're also -- the tone matters and the way that the president talks really does alienate educated women voters in the suburbs. And you can't win a majority -- certainly not in the House, and it would really be tough I think to win the White House alienating them.

KING: Brendan Buck, David Gergen, appreciate your insights. We'll talk again in these times of testing. Five months to the election. Moments of testing here. And Brendan, to your point, I wouldn't make a prediction about the next hour, that's the state of America.

Gentlemen, thank you both.

GERGEN: Thanks, John.

KING: Up next, an independent autopsy deems George Floyd's death a homicide. But the independent analysis differs from the county medical examiner on what caused his death.



KING: Two different autopsies for George Floyd, two different causes of death. Experts hired by the family of Mr. Floyd and the county medical examiner have both concluded the death was a homicide. But the independent autopsy done for the family concludes his death was caused by, quote, "asphyxiation from sustained pressure." The medical examiner said Mr. Floyd died of heart failure.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is in Minneapolis following that story.

So they agree on homicide, Omar, disagree on just how that came about.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. Two separate autopsy reports but both of them say what happened here at this intersection eight days ago to George Floyd was a homicide. Now you touched on the differences a little bit between the two, but specifically when you look at the independent autopsy report commissioned by the family, they point to the main reason there being asphyxia saying that it was due to compression of the neck and back. And in that one they say there was no significant underlying disease of the heart.

Then you look at the Hennepin County medical examiner's report, and they say it was due to cardio pulmonary arrest, heart failure. Now again both of them agree on the manner of death being homicide, but in that reports they also mentioned Fentanyl intoxication and meth but they do not detail how much was actually in Floyd's system and whether that played any sort of role in this whatsoever.


Now regardless of that, it is going to -- both of these reports will likely play into determining any sort of criminality in regards to the former officer that has already been charged and likely if we see charges for any of these other officers as well.

Outside of that aspect, we have seen eight straight days of protests, and in recent days things have been increasingly peaceful here in the Minneapolis area. In fact, just yesterday --

KING: Omar's microphone went down. Omar Jimenez on the ground for us in Minneapolis. Thank you for your reporting there.

Let's now bring in Sonia Pruitt. She's chairwoman of the National Black Police Association.

Miss Pruitt, thanks so much for being with us today. You just saw the scene behind Omar there. It is incredibly moving to see so many people coming to pay tribute to Mr. Floyd, and yet we've also seen seven nights in a row now of violence across the country. From a police perspective, from a black police perspective, what do you see at this moment?

SONIA PRUITT, CHAIRWOMAN, NATIONAL BLACK POLICE ASSOCIATION: What I see is that people are still hurting. This is going to take a while. It's like we've been living with our fingers stuck in a dam and now all of a sudden the finger got tired and the dam has burst. And so while it may be peaceful in Minneapolis, as we know, it's not peaceful in other areas of the country.

KING: You know the statistics all too well. What is it like to be a black member of a police force to try to convince your white colleagues that this is built into the system? You need to have pause, you need to step back, you need to have more respect.

PRUITT: Well, listen, I'm not sure that convincing is a good word. Just like right now when things are being forced upon us, we have a pandemic, we have an epidemic with police brutality in the country, at least that's the perception of a black community. And so while we're trying to convince, we're wasting time. So we're past the time we're trying to convince someone, now we've got it square in our faces.

And I'm talking to my peers and I'm saying, OK, what is it that you're seeing? And by the way, while officers are kneeling, that's great for trying to show solidarity. But for me, we need more than kneeling. I mean, Kaepernick knelt and several factions of policing, several policing organizations stood against him while the National Black Police Association stood for him because we understood the struggle.

So while police officers are kneeling, I want them to say, we will no longer stand for anyone, particularly black people, to be marginalized and abused by the police structure in this country. That's what I want to hear verbalized.

KING: And I want to ask you what you think when you hear things like this from the president of the United States. Let's listen.


TRUMP: I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters. We are ending the riots and lawlessness that has spread throughout our country. We will end it now. America is founded upon the rule of law.


KING: From a police officer perspective, does that help?

PRUITT: From a black police officer's perspective, no, it does not help. Listen, it's egregious for people to loot and destroy property, but people have a First Amendment right to peacefully protest. We watched a crowd of people standing in front of the White House yesterday and be pelted with rubber bullets and -- I'm sorry, tear gas. OK. So now we're going to weaponize the police against people who are constitutionally in the right in terms of their First Amendment rights.

I mean, this is just crazy, and that whole catch phrase about law and order, we've heard it many times before, and what it really does mean to us is that now we're going to over police the black community, so no, we're not in accordance -- we don't feel what the president is saying right now.

KING: Sonia Pruitt, grateful for your insights and experts today. Thank you for joining us.

PRUITT: My pleasure.

KING: Thank you. We'll see you again.

Coming up, the bishop here in Washington, D.C. who says she's outraged over the president's church photo op. She'll join us live next.