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Interview with Genesee County, Michigan Sheriff Chris Swanson; American Situation Weakens Authority Abroad; NFL Quarterback Drew Brees Apologizes for Anthem Comments. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 4, 2020 - 10:30   ET



CHRIS SWANSON, SHERIFF, GENESEE COUNTY, MI: -- they're coming in today for Jimmy John's. These conversations have to be talked to every single day. In fact, we had a long meeting yesterday -- two hours -- because of those community members. We've never had that. We've had great relationships, but we haven't had a seat at the table with them.

And I'm going to tell you, it's every one of those micro (ph) decisions which is going to get us to where we need. And trust me, I've been around for a long time -- 27 years -- in this community. I love my people, but I don't call it right all the time. And last Saturday, it changed the way we do business.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, it's quite a statement to say that George Floyd's death will change policing in America, because I think so many people --

SWANSON: Hundred percent.

HARLOW: -- wish that policing in America had changed after so many other African-American --


HARLOW: -- unarmed African-American men have been killed at the hands of police.

SWANSON: That's right.

HARLOW: So what actually needs to change, right? You've got, for example, Hakeem Jeffries -- he'll be on with us tomorrow -- he has proposed banning, on a federal level, chokeholds for example. What are the specific things that need to change now?

SWANSON: Well, clearly, the legislation is going to be revamped in cities and in states and around the nation. I've already talked to those in Congress, throughout the United States, and our local leaders.

But I tell you, you can't legislate heart, you can't legislate common sense. So they have to work in conjunction. And I want to say this because I am one: It starts with the police, it starts with police executives -- from the top. From the state, to the counties, to the cities and townships. We've got to set that example of what it looks like, coming from behind the conference tables and the podiums and intel centers, and start going into those communities, if we haven't already.

And don't give up on people that have given up on us. The burden falls on us. So I think with the legislation and the heart change, that's going to be the difference.

HARLOW: You've been very clear to say you do think that there is systemic racism in police forces across the country. That is, you know, the antithesis of what the National Security advisor said just a few days ago. He said, oh, it's just a few bad apples.

My question is, what do you do to weed that out, right? I mean, Officer Chauvin --

SWANSON: Well --

HARLOW: -- had a record with 17 complaints, for example. Not all having to do with race, but my point is, how do you weed that out so we don't even get to this point?

SWANSON: Well, to the point, if there's one bad apple, then that's systemic. So there's not a number that makes it just a few bad apples and now it's systemic. So if there's one person in a field like law enforcement that creates a racial divide, that is heavy-handed, that violates human rights, then it is a systemic problem. Especially if there's more than one, and we know there are. There's 800,000 police officers.

In any field, you're going to get a few small people that disrupt that. And that's why eight minutes and 46 seconds eroded (ph) and erase (ph) so many different great inroads.

But I can just say that we have to make sure that law enforcement doesn't ever go back to the day before George Floyd met the Minneapolis Police Department. They don't want it, police officers around the nation don't want it.

So how do we keep that from happening? We cut out those things that can't be disciplined out or trained out. They don't belong in our field. The burden falls on law enforcement. We have the ability to change it and it's got to come from us.

HARLOW: Sheriff Chris Swanson, thank you very much --

SWANSON: Thank you.

HARLOW: -- for being with us today. And good luck.

SWANSON: Thank you very much.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We have this breaking news in to CNN. U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, who was detained in Iran for nearly two years, has now been released by the Iranian government.

CNN's Vivian Salama joins us live from Washington. Vivian, it seems this followed shortly after an Iranian scientist was returned to Iran from U.S. custody. Was this an exchange? Tell us what you know.

VIVIAN SALAMA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Jim, Michael White was supposed to be serving a 13-year sentence. But as you say, he's served just under two years before this great news today, that he is now making his way home from Tehran.

As you say, Sirous Asgari, who was an Iranian scientist, detained here in the U.S., had just been released several days ago and sent back to Iran. Iranians and the U.S., completely denying that the possible hostage swap was on the table. My sources were telling me that a swap was actually considered for some time, but then done away with as we got closer. They decided they didn't want a tarmac swap, they didn't want those optics.

But Asgari, who had been here on charges of trying to steal some trade secrets, was acquitted last December but he couldn't get back to Iran because the COVID outbreak had happened, and it was very hard to get flights into Iran.

And that also complicated matters with Michael White's release. He had tested positive for COVID, and so he was released on furlough in March and negotiators, both with the State Department and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's team have been working day and night to try to get his release, and they just secured it today.

SCIUTTO: Welcome news for his family, a Navy veteran, Michael White, released from Iranian custody. Vivian Salama, thanks very much.

SALAMA: Thanks.


SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: The death of George Floyd has only further exposed some deep divisions within this country. Now, Americans fighting to rebuild the country's institutions. And you're seeing divisions, even within the highest levels of the Trump administration.

Our next guest warned about the safety, the confidence in institutions being in jeopardy years ago. I'm pleased to be joined now by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.


Director Clapper, I was recalling your comments, four years ago. This was at the Aspen Security Forum in July 2016, talking about what we appear to be seeing right now in this country. I just want to play those for our viewers so they get a sense of what you're saying then, and then get your thoughts now. Have a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: We pride ourselves in this country on the institutions that have evolved over hundreds of years. And I do worry about the -- you know, the fragility of those institutions.


SCIUTTO: You went on to say there's not a lot of margin between preservation and the thriving of those institutions, and you cited the rhetoric attacking them. I mean, that was by President Trump as a candidate. Now, he's been president for nearly four years. What are we seeing take place in this country today, and how concerned are you by it?

CLAPPER: Well, first, I'm very concerned, Jim. And I think what has unfolded since July of '16, at -- you know, during that Aspen Forum discussion, is more and more characteristics of instability, which is what I was talking about, and how the intelligence community gauges instability in other countries.

And what we've seen unfold, of course, is attacks on our institution, rule of law, attacks on a free press, increasing movement towards autocratic actions, use of the military or the threat of the use of military to quell domestic disturbances. All these things are very, very worrisome, not to mention the economic stress, occasioned by the pandemic, and the fact that our nation is awash in weapons. And these are all characteristics of unstable states, as we would gauge them overseas.

SCIUTTO: It's remarkable to hear you say that, and you've spent decades as an intelligence officer, looking at other countries to measure exactly those things, those questions about stability.

Tell us where we stand right now today. Because I think Americans who -- sometimes we can be guilty of moving on, saying, well, OK, that was last week's news. Are you concerned that the U.S. cannot get on the other side of this division that we're seeing right now?

CLAPPER: Well, I am concerned about it. I -- I still harbor hope that we'll weather the storm. You know, we have weathered previous traumas. Of course, you know, the Civil War, and then one I lived through was you know, Vietnam, and all the upheavals that ensued after that. And reform, the reform I experienced in the armed forces, serving in the Air Force then.

I think there's still room for optimism. But at the same time, this could continue to go south if we don't handle this right. And of course, unfortunately, right now we have the double whammy of -- triple whammy of the pandemic, the ensuing economic crisis, and now the racial strife that we're seeing once again play out in the streets of this country.

SCIUTTO: China, Russia, U.S. adversaries, watching the situation closely. Are you concerned that they attempt to take advantage of it? You might say China, for instance, making a power grab in Hong Kong, already an example of taking advantage. But is that something that you're watching closely?

CLAPPER: Yes, I do watch it as best I can. And I am concerned about it because this is a very vulnerable time for this country. If we don't manage this right and pay attention to what's happening overseas, clearly in the information realm the -- both the Chinese and the Russians are going to take full advantage of our -- of the situation.

And one of the things they'll do, of course, is point out our hypocrisy. Here we are, the champion for human rights. And on display is our abuse of human rights in our own streets.

SCIUTTO: It's a sad statement to hear. I always remind people you served intelligence for five decades, Republican and Democratic presidents. Director Clapper, thanks very much for taking the time.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jim, for having me.

HARLOW: That was great to hear from him.


OK, so next for us, you've probably seen this morning, NFL MVP Drew Brees is apologizing after major backlash -- including from his own teammates -- for what he said about, quote, "disrespecting the flag." His apology and analysis, next.


HARLOW: Well, this morning, an apology from NFL quarterback Drew Brees after facing widespread backlash for comments he made about other NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. Listen to what he said.


DREW BREES, QUARTERBACK, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.

Let me just tell you what I see -- or what I feel when the national anthem is played, and when I look at the flag of the United States. I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corps, both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.



SCIUTTO: Well, in his apology today, Brees writes in part, "In an attempt to talk about respect, unity and solidarity centered around the American flag and the national anthem, I made comments that were insensitive and completely missed the mark on the issues we are facing right now as a country.

"They lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy. Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character."

HARLOW: Mike Jones is with us. He's an NFL columnist for "USA Today Sports," and you had a very moving column on this yesterday, saying he just completely blew his opportunity here. On the apology, Mike, he says that he can be a leader for the black community in this movement. Can he be?

MIKE JONES, NFL COLUMNIST, USA TODAY SPORTS: I think he can be an ally, he can be someone who supports and assists. I don't know if he can lead the black community. I don't know that, you know, his teammates were asking him to take over or lead or anything like that. But I do think that with conversation, with understanding, with a lot of communication, he can help support the black community.

SCIUTTO: As you know, like Drew Brees, the president, the vice president, others took the take-a-knee protest started by Colin Kaepernick, also to protest police violence, as an assault on the flag, right? As an insult to the flag.

Now, you write, "It never had anything to do with the flag or the anthem itself. The protests were to draw attention to the country's ongoing problem with police brutality against people of color, and systematic oppression."

I wonder if you could explain that argument, and I wonder if the NFL season starts in the fall on time and we see games, if we're going to see more athletes kneeling now, during the anthem?

JONES: Yes. Well, when Colin Kaepernick decided to do this, originally he sat down during the national anthem. He talked to a former military member, and he decided, you know what, I'm not going to sit, I'm going to kneel.

And when asked about it, it wasn't because he hated America, it wasn't because he hated the flag or hated the national anthem. He wanted to start the conversation and wanted to draw attention to the fact that people of color are disenfranchised, people of color are treated unfairly, they're abused. In times of police brutality, he looked at the deaths that were mounting, and continued to go on.

And he wanted to do something about it, he wanted to draw attention to the matter. And along the way, that message was misconstrued, and people were saying, Oh, well, he's disrespecting the flag. When it really was nothing to do with the flag, it was the fact that he knew that this country was in a situation that he really could not support. And there needed to be a change.

And other NFL players decided that they wanted to join that fight. Some of them took a knee, some of them didn't. They had other ways of protest. They began working in their communities, they began lobbying lawmakers for changes in legislation, and trying to find ways to improve education, and a wide range of topics.

But the message was always -- the critics were always still focused on the fact that their protests took place during the national anthem, when as you saw yesterday, when a number of players spoke out, they just had to reiterate what they have been saying for years: This was never about the flag.

And how Drew Brees missed that, I don't know. And so now, he's going back, he's having to talk to players. And I don't know if we'll see more protests. We could, but the fact is, is that the players are still in their mission of trying to fight racism.

HARLOW: I was struck, Mike, by the comments made this morning by his teammate Demario Davis to our colleague John Berman. And I'll paraphrase them for the sake of time. And that is, he said, It's -- you know, what Drew Brees said this morning is a model for America in terms of he said he missed the mark, but most of America missed the mark.

JONES: Yes. That's exactly right. And I think that, look, Drew Brees has got a lot of work that he's got to do to repair relationships, as we saw, like, the hurt is real, it's deep. But the fact that he was willing to acknowledge that he misconstrued things, that he missed the mark and he wants to listen, that's what it's going to take for everybody.

You know, hopefully it's all sincere and not just damage control, we'll never know. But all you can do is take him by his word and then his actions. So his teammates are going to be watching, just like people in all of our communities. We need to, you know, draw together, we need to find ways to support each other and change your way of thinking, be open to learning how to change the way that you've been thinking over the years.


SCIUTTO: We all have a lot of learning to do. Mike Jones, it's good to have you on this morning.

JONES: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: Well, just moments ago, a hearse carrying the body of George Floyd -- there it is there -- arrived at the site of his memorial service. It will be the first in a series of ceremonies to remember him. We're going to bring you that, live.