Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Remembering George Floyd; GOP Senator Murkowski Agrees with Mattis Criticism, Says She's "Struggling" to Support Trump in 2020. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 4, 2020 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: It's an honor to work with all of you and...

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: It's an honor.

LEMON: ... and to have this experience with you.

So, thank you all.

BALDWIN: It's an honor.

LEMON: Yes.

BALDWIN: Thank you. And...

LEMON: Thank you, Laura. Thank you, Bakari. Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Let's go to Washington now.

"THE LEAD with JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD on this historic day. I'm Jake Tapper.

And you have been watching this afternoon a community coming together to mourn and remember the life of George Floyd, the first memorial service for Floyd, the unarmed black man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer last week.

Family and friends, community leaders and more all gathered in Minneapolis, brothers, a cousin and a nephew of Floyd all speaking, honoring Floyd's life, George Floyd, a big LeBron James fan, a father figure for his nephew, a man who would stand up for his family and friends, by all accounts, a loving and caring person.

The family attorney saying that they will seek justice in George Floyd's name.

The service right now is pausing for eight minutes and 46 seconds. They are in silence there for almost nine minutes. That's the amount of time, obviously, that the police officer's knee was on Floyd's neck, killing him.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has more from today's memorial service, including how George Floyd's family members hope he will be remembered.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moments of prayer and reflection at the first memorial service for George Floyd.

PHILONISE FLOYD, BROTHER OF GEORGE FLOYD: I love my brother, man. We had so many memories together.

SHAREEDUH TATE, COUSIN OF GEORGE FLOYD: The thing that I will miss about him most is his hugs. Like, he was this great big giant. And when he would -- when he would wrap his arms around you, you would just feel like you were -- everything could just go away.

MARQUEZ: As a city and a country mourn Floyd, killed by Minneapolis police, which has sparked 10 days of protest and outrage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want you guys to know that he would stand up for any injustice everywhere. Whew.

Can you all please say his name?

AUDIENCE: George Floyd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you all. Oh, my God.

MARQUEZ: Also today, former police officers Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao making their first appearance in court after being charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and abetting second-degree manslaughter, as we learn new details from newly released personnel records on the four officers, including a 2007 incident where Derek Chauvin, now facing a more severe second-degree murder charge, was reprimanded after claims he needlessly removed a woman from her car.

KEITH ELLISON, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's very difficult to hold the police accountable even when there is a violation of law.

MARQUEZ: The Hennepin County medical examiner's final autopsy report concluded, Floyd's death was due to cardiopulmonary arrest, or the stopping of his heart, and that he had tested positive for the coronavirus in April.

While the medical examiner said he did not find physical evidence of mechanical asphyxia, a second autopsy requested by the family said he did. However, both concluded that the manner of death was homicide.

Across the country, thousands of mostly peaceful protesters, though there were some clashes last night in New York City and Washington, D.C. Today, thousands preparing to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge with Floyd's brother Terrence, as Floyd's life is remembered back in Minneapolis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Our thanks to Miguel Marquez.

He's on the scene of the memorial service right now, and they're holding this moment of silence, still going on. It's quite a long time to be kneeling on somebody's neck for almost nine minutes.

So, Miguel can't tag his piece, but we appreciate it.

Joining me now, former special adviser to President Obama and CNN political commentator Van Jones.

Van, thanks for joining us.

This is the first of a series of memorial services for George Floyd. This one was a celebration of his life. Tell us what you're thinking as you as you watch this reflection.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I remember so many of these funerals that we have covered in different ways together, Jake, and I always come back to this idea of hallelujah anyhow.

If you wanted to take black theology down to two words, it would be hallelujah anyhow. It's still the singing, still the laughing, still the celebration, still the love of family, the love of community.

[16:05:06]

No matter what you do to us, you're not going to steal our joy, fundamentally. We have been through a lot in this country. It is not the first lynching that we have been through. That was a lynching. That was the taking of a black man's life in public, in broad daylight, in a way that shocked and demoralized and terrorized a community.

That's what that was. But it's not the first one. Maybe it will be the last one. But there's -- there's a resilience in this community. There's a well of resistance and resilience that has had to be dug so deep, had to be dug so deep.

So, we know how to hold each other and carry through. You know, I had one of the worst conversations I ever had with my son, where he was talking about his fear that his little brother, who likes to go outside and play, might become a hashtag, and trying to explain to him that he doesn't have to worry about that.

I mean, we live in this -- and watching the light go out in my own son's eyes as he realized I was lying to him and trying to make him feel better. And he said, "Daddy, I know what's going on."

His innocence is gone, way too soon.

So -- and that's the -- my ex-wife and still best friend posted a photograph of our little boy just reading a book, reading a "Harry Potter" book on the couch, as she tagged it saying, "We're just enjoying these last days before we have to really talk to him." So it's just -- it's a deeply painful period. And yet I know that in a way that I have never seen before., there are 20, 30, 40, maybe 50 million white Americans whose hearts are breaking too.

And maybe with some of these other deaths, you could say, oh, well, he was running or he had a hoodie on or he did something scary, or what's the cop is supposed to do, he was scared for his life.

I mean, I think we just now hit the eight-minute mark. I mean, that's a long time. And I think everybody can see, at least in this one...

TAPPER: It's a long time.

JONES: Yes, it's a very long time.

I think everybody can see, at least in this situation, nobody was in any danger at all, except for the brother who died. And so I think that we have this moment now where hearts...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Van, how old is your son that you're talking about, your youngest son? How old is your youngest son?

JONES: My little boy is 11. My big boy will be 16.

The little boy, he likes his science fiction and science fantasy. He doesn't pay a lot attention to this stuff. And -- but it's coming. And he knows more than he says he knows. But his big brother's worried about him. And I usually can reach him. I can usually talk to him.

And everybody black family is going through some version of this. I mean, we have these black parent phone calls, Zoom calls now, where, at night, after the kids go to bed, trying to compare notes. When there's somebody 6 years old, what can you tell them, what can you not tell them? Are there resources.

I mean, this is a -- every time this happens, it's like a nuclear bomb being set off on our kitchen tables. And so at least we get the funerals now.

There will be several. And you will see African-Americans, and the ones who can't watch it because they're at work or whatever is going on, people will look at the clips, and people will share it around.

And so this is, unfortunately, a ritual of America -- in America that shouldn't exist, the ritual of black grief, that you notice how energized the sermons are. You are trying to get people to find some energy, find some life to connect to in the face of death.

And I'm tired. My white friends are shocked, some of them, not you, but my black friends are tired. And we're tired.

TAPPER: Well, it's traumatic. It's traumatic for the nation. And it's especially traumatic for African-Americans and also the African- American communities where these incidents happen. We had -- earlier in the week, we had a professor, a Harvard

professor, who talked about the specific trauma, emotional and physical, visited upon neighborhoods where unarmed black men and women are killed by police, and how long-lasting that is.

Let me ask you a question.

The Reverend Sharpton used what physically happened to George Floyd, the murder of him, as he's been charged, the officer, with a knee on his neck, he used that as a metaphor for how he believes blacks have been treated in the United States for centuries.

I want to just play a part of his comments and get your reaction. Hold on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is, you kept your knee on our neck.

[16:10:08]

(APPLAUSE)

SHARPTON: We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck.

We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: One of the things, it seems different to me, from my privileged white point of view, is that it does seem as though this message is breaking through to new audiences, white audiences, like it never has before.

Do you see that?

JONES: I agree.

TAPPER: Do you feel that?

JONES: I do.

It's funny. I had this conversation with one of my just despairing African-American friends. And she was just saying, look, nobody cares about us. Nobody cares about us. Nothing has changed. We go through this every time.

I said, I don't -- I don't see it that way. I -- this time, in a way I haven't seen before, I think people care. I think -- I think, listen, witnessing a lynching flattens you. The helplessness, the helplessness, the cruelty, it just flattens you. Black, white, I don't care who you are. If you watched the whole video, which I don't recommend you do, but if you watch the whole video, it will flatten you. And there are tens of millions of white people who see this differently.

I think there were even well-intentioned white people who said, maybe the black community is complaining a little bit too much. Maybe they're kind of angling for some kind of favoritism or affirmative action or just lazy or just want to have a grievance or be P.C., try to get some kind of advantage out of their own situation, just a tiny little bit of a hold-back and withhold.

I think that's gone. I think you now have people who would have said that racism was important, but maybe it was number 17 on their list now say it's in the top two or three, maybe number one, for the first time.

And now they say, well, what can I do? And we have to go through the process of trying to figure out what to do. But I do think something has changed. I -- and I have been doing this for a long time, as you know. This is different. The nature of the killing was different.

The fact that it was recorded from beginning to end. You know, there's no -- there's no cuts in the tape, the cruelty of it, the children -- the daughter.

TAPPER: The nonchalance of the police officers.

JONES: The nonchalance of the police officer.

But I want to acknowledge something that Reverend Sharpton said, which is provocative, but I think that there is some truth to it, which is that all of us have been participating in systems that have been choking off black opportunity, that have been choking off black dignity, that have been choking off the ability of black people to rise, in our workplaces, in our boardrooms, our local banking institutions, that just withhold that oxygen, withhold that opportunity, and always with a good reason and whatever, again, looking nonchalant while doing it.

And yet so much is being lost. And so now, listen, to be clear, black folk die of a lot of things. We have street violence. We have health issues, et cetera.

So, why do we spend so much time on these kinds of deaths? It's not because they're the majority of the deaths for black people, far from it. But it's because of that historical trauma that goes back so many generations.

I'm a ninth-generation American, ninth-generation American, first one in my family born with all my rights recognized by this government. And there's something about the police who others can more easily say are going to come to my rescue if I need them, that I can have a little bit of safety in my life because I can put up that Bat Signal, I can hit that 911, and someone will come to help me in an uncomplicated way. For us, that's just not as true. I'm from a law enforcement family. My

dad was a cop in the military. I do not -- I'm not insulting all police officers in any way.

But, for us, a good police officer would be a police officer that would stop a bad police officer from doing what was done.

TAPPER: Yes.

JONES: A good police officer would stop a bad police officer from writing down something false on that police report that you know is false, but you don't say anything.

A good police officer would be somebody who would turn in his buddy and say, this guy is consistently doing something negative.

And we don't see that. And so we don't know who to trust, and we're constantly on guard.

And then, when something does happen, it just brings all of our worst fears and insecurity. And then there's no consequence. So, it's almost like you have this -- this force out there that you know many of them are good and well-intentioned, but when you reach in, you don't know which one you're pulling out.

[16:15:10]

And that's a terrible way to live --

TAPPER: That's right.

JONES: -- when you get pulled over, when you see one.

And so, this is I think the reality. I think more people, their hearts are opened. They're willing to hear it. There are laws we can change this year. Banning the chokehold, increasing training, taking away qualified immunities so we can sue more effectively.

We can restore more balance to this and the lawlessness in our police departments, which then turn into lawlessness in our streets. Nobody wants either one. There is common ground in the lawlessness in the departments and on the streets by justice for this family, arrest and charge of these cops, that's happened. Pass some bills that change some of these negative practices, and then let's serve some economic support back in those neighborhoods that burned.

If we do those three things this summer --

TAPPER: All right, Van Jones --

JONES: -- we can get out of this.

TAPPER: Yes. From your mouth to God's ears. Van Jones, always great to have you on.

Coming up, more police officers under investigation after several new incidents around the country come to light. That's ahead.

Plus, his own former defense secretary denouncing President Trump. I'm going to talk to another retired general who says Trump's threats of military force against protesters, well, that's an indication that we're possibly at the end of the American experiment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:20:37]

TAPPER: Our politics lead now, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska saying today that President Trump's behavior in the last few days is making it difficult for her to consider voting for his re- election in November. Murkowski, along with Senator Mitt Romney, praising former Trump Defense Secretary James Mattis after Mattis' comments assailing his former boss, Donald Trump, for dividing Americans.

Mattis is just one of a number of top retired military leaders criticizing the commander in chief. Others include former joint chiefs chair, Admiral Mike Mullen, and former Afghanistan commander, General John Allen.

If Trump seems figuratively walled in at the White House amid all this criticism from former Pentagon leaders, he is also being literally walled in, as more fences and barricades are being raised surrounding 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: When someone like Jim Mattis makes this comment, it's a fundamental misunderstanding of what's occurring.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The White House is struggling to deal with the fallout today after President Trump's former defense secretary accused him of dividing the nation in a time of crisis, breaking his silence after resigning in protest, retired four star Marine General James Mattis said Trump does not even pretend to try to bring Americans together. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. The White House ignored Mattis' criticism and instead hit him for saying that the protests are being upended by a small number of law breakers.

GIDLEY: It's obvious the general doesn't have a clue what's going on in the American cities out there or actually worse, turned a blind eye to it.

COLLINS: But sources say the White House knows that Mattis' condemnation of Trump could have consequences. He's widely revered by both parties and throughout the Pentagon, and he is not the only former top military official denouncing Trump.

Retired four-star Marine General John Allen said he was stunned by Trump's photo-op outside of a church Monday. GEN. JOHN ALLEN (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN:

That's what happens in authoritarian regimes. That is what happens in illiberal regimes. It doesn't happen in the United States. And we shouldn't tolerate it.

COLLINS: The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, said he was sickened to see those protesters cleared out of the way and couldn't stay silent any longer.

Even the president's former chief of staff, John Kelly, is pushing back on him today, disputing his claim that he fired Mattis. He did not ask for his resignation. The president has clearly forgotten how it actually happened or is confused.

Most Republicans have tried to avoid commenting on what Mattis said. But today, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski called his rebuke necessary and overdue. She says she's struggling with whether to support the president in November. Trump remained behind closed doors today as the fences outside the White House were fortified, despite several nights of peaceful protests and no arrests on Wednesday night.

The park in front of the White House has been closed, an eight-foot fence has been erected and officers from an alphabet soup of federal agencies are now patrolling Washington, D.C.

The D.C. mayor says she's concerned.

MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D), WASHINGTON, D.C.: That's the people's house. It's a sad commentary that the house and its inhabitants have to be walled off.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, the president was scheduled to go to his New Jersey golf club this weekend. But the White House just announced they are cancelling that trip. The president is still going to go to Maine tomorrow to visit a swab factory that played a role in the coronavirus response.

But, basically, advisers thought the optics of the president going to his own golf club on a weekend when the nation is still expected to have so much protests, all this unrest we have been seeing, they did not think it was a good idea. We should note the vice-president has also canceled travel for the immediate future.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you so much.

Joining me now is one of the military leaders critical of the president, retired four-star Marine General John Allen who commanded NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

General, always good to have you on. Thanks so much.

You write in your piece for "Foreign Policy" the slide of the United States into illiberalism may well have begun on June 1, 2020. [16:25:02]

Remember the date. It may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment.

What did you mean by that, General?

ALLEN: I'm very concerned, Jake, that when we see a moment like this where the American people are hurting so badly, that the reflex to, for example, to deploy federal forces to deal with difficulties in the cities or to term those who are conducting themselves in a riot environment as terrorists, justifying the use of federal military force, I worry about that.

I worry about self-styling our leaders as law and order -- the law and order president and within earshot you can hear civilian protesters who have peacefully gathered to protest massive social injustice in our country, being attacked by riot police, in order just to clear a street so that we can have a photo op in front of a church.

You know, we don't -- we don't just do that in this country, Jake. What we should be doing right now, given the difficulties that we're facing as a country from COVID and in the aftermath of the terrible murder of George Floyd and the very emotional memorial service this afternoon, which ought to be healing environment, we should be carefully embracing the Constitution of the United States so that we're holding up the rights of our citizens, not violating their civil rights, at the moment when they are in fact exercising their First Amendment rights for peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.

TAPPER: What if anything are you hearing from people who are currently in the military and, thus, not able to speak as freely as you are? Are they as concerned?

ALLEN: The concern really isn't about accomplishing the mission. The concern is a reflex -- an apparent reflex that the American people can be the enemy very quickly. And once again, we should spend less time trying to lead the charge of federal forces against the American people and much more time trying to lead the charge of legislative reform, the changes of those conditions that have constituted the massive violation of the civil rights of a large segment of our population for centuries, let's have that be the charge that we lead at this moment.

That's what the American people are in the streets trying to do, to redress these kinds of social grievances that have been persistent in our population now for centuries, in particular the black population. Let's have the outcomes of leadership, of compassionate, empathetic leadership be to embrace every possible way we can within the Constitution to undertake a series of reforms to help the police do better, help the governors and mayors fulfill the desires of their population, control those folks that are going to be rioters, because they're criminals. There might be some terrorists in there, but they're criminals really.

Let's have the charge that we're leading today be less about making the American people the enemy and more about doing what we can, what we possibly can in the context of governance to improve the situation in this country.

TAPPER: President Trump has been applauding Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who is also a veteran of the war in Iraq. And Cotton has been advocating for the president to invoke the Insurrection Act, which would allow him to send active duty military to quell the protests in cities.

Now, the act has been used before to integrate schools in Arkansas in the '50s, during race riots in Detroit in 1967 and during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles back in '92.

Why is it a bad idea? What do you think will happen? What are you worried about?

ALLEN: We don't need to use federal troops to do this right now. Governors and mayors have substantial law enforcement capabilities. If the law enforcement forces, the patrol cops, the SWAT teams, if they don't have enough capacity to control those elements of the population that are out of control, potentially rioting, then we have the national guard.

And, look, in Afghanistan, I served with a lot of National Guard brigades. They are very good troops. And they have the capacity if the governor needs them ultimately to provide support directly to those law enforcement elements. And if governors need more than that, then they should ask the president.

When the president tells them that if they don't rise to his standard of how they're going to control and as we say dominate the streets, consider the cities to be battle spaces, imposing federal forces and a governor does not ask for it, it's completely out of whack with respect to how we operate within this country and the way we would employ the Constitution.

TAPPER: You've been outspoken about concerns you have about President Trump's leadership for quite some time. You obviously endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016.

General Mattis, who is a fellow four star marine general like yourself, and served as secretary of defense for Trump, finally gave --

[16:30:00]