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Peaceful Protests Continue After Police Officers Charged; Former Defense Secretary Rips Trump for Dividing America. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired June 4, 2020 - 05:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We demand justice. My father should not be killed like this.

KEITH ELLISON, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Trying this case will not be an easy thing.

Winning a conviction will be hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Massive peaceful protests all across this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There about several hundred protesters who headed towards downtown Brooklyn. We saw a small group of them break off, surround a police car. That's when officers were called in for backup.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I heard Secretary Mattis speak out against Donald Trump, that's what we have been looking for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He talked about dividing America. He talked about immature leadership. This is a very broad, powerful statement.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world.


This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, June 4th, 5:00 here in New York.

Overnight, we saw some of the largest demonstrations yet in cities across America. Even after the remaining three police officers involved in George Floyd's death were arrested and charged. These were largely peaceful protests, demanding justice and fundamental change to a system that has made it dangerous to be black in America for decades.

This morning, we are hearing for the first time from a key witness in the death of George Floyd. It's his long time friend who was in the passenger seat the day that Floyd was killed. He said that George Floyd did not resist police. And despite that video showing a police officer putting his knee on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes, Minnesota's attorney general is warning it could be hard to win a conviction against the cops.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So much news this morning.

Also, new fallout from historic rebuke of a president by one of his former cabinet secretaries. Former defense secretary, General James Mattis, with a 650-word takedown of the president. Each word, a carefully chosen dagger attacking the president's action this week and really also Donald Trump as a man. Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, says the president is intentionally trying to turn Americans against each other. He says we're witnessing the effect of three years without mature leadership.

We have new reporting on why Mattis came forward now and also the president's response.

Also, overnight, retired Marine General John Allen piled on, saying the president's actions, quote, may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment.

All right. A lot going on this morning. We want to begin in Minneapolis with CNN's Omar Jimenez where the memorial for George Floyd will happen today, Omar.


And this news of the four officers in this case being charged is what many protesters, the family, and many in this community have been hoping for. Now, even with that news, we still saw demonstrations across the country, largely peaceful. But ground zero for this story, at the intersection where George Floyd's final moments play out the news was met with applause and cheers.


JIMENEZ (voice-over): Large demonstrations on display from coast to coast for a ninth day in a row, with crowds of hundreds and sometimes thousands marching in the name of George Floyd.

PROTESTERS: George Floyd! George Floyd! George Floyd!

JIMENEZ: The protests as four officers involved in Floyd's arrest are now behind bars, facing charges related to his death.

ELLISON: George Floyd mattered. He was loved. His family was important. His life had value. And we will seek justice for him and for you. And we will find it.

JIMENEZ: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announcing an upgraded charge to second degree murder for Derek Chauvin, the former officer seen pressing his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder and abetting second degree manslaughter. Cheers in Minneapolis as protesters heard the news. But Ellison

offering this warning, saying it's often difficult to convict a police officer on murder charges.

ELLISON: The net effect is that it's very difficult to hold police accountable even when there's a violation of law. If we can help the jury understand what's really happening here, what their duties and obligations are, we're confidence we will get that conviction.

JIMENEZ: Earlier, Floyd's son Quincy visiting the growing memorial at the site of this father's final moments.

QUINCY MASON FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S SON: I did this for my father. No man wants to be without their fathers. I want justice for what's going on right now.

JIMENEZ: And as many Americans continue to press for justice for Floyd and others who died at the hands of police brutality, his family's attorney calling the moment a tipping point within the country.

BENJAMIN CRUM, ATTORNEY FOR GEORGE FLOYD'S FAMILY: After so much effort on everybody's part, you finally have these murderers being arrested and brought to a court of law to answer for their crimes.

JIMENEZ: And for Minnesota where people are still fighting for change, the governor says the message is clear.

GOV. TIM WALZ (D), MINNESOTA: I think this is probably our last shot as a state and as a nation to fix this systemic issue. The systemic issues and the systemic racism and the lack of accountability up and down our society that led to a daytime murder of a black man on the street in Minneapolis.


JIMENEZ: Now, in regards to the prosecution, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has said one successful prosecution still won't rectify where there's been generations of pain.


But he also says this is a process that's going to take months. And for the family, processing this pain is likely going to take a lot longer.

Today begins what will be a series of memorials for Floyd, culminating in his funeral on Tuesday in Houston. This one taking place at North Central University in Minneapolis starting at 2:00 p.m. Eastern -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Omar. Thanks very much for that.

Also this new morning, we're hearing for the first time from a longtime friend of George Floyd who was in the passenger seat of his car when he was killed. CNN's Josh Campbell has the latest on the investigation. We should

note that Josh was the first to report yesterday that all four officers were being charged in Floyd's death -- Josh.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, John, it's been just a dramatic 24 hours here in Minneapolis. For the community, obviously, the nation, those who are watching and wondering if the officers that were seen on that video footage, whether they would be charged.

We learned yesterday that obviously they were. The first officer arrested days ago, his charge being elevated from third degree murder to second degree murder. The other three officers here at the scene behind me when that police encounter occurred they are now being charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder. We're now told that all four of those officers are in police custody. We're expecting at least one to appear in court later this afternoon.

Now, as you mentioned, you know, this case is obviously about digital forensics. We've seen this video, the troubling video of the officer with his knee on George Floyd's neck. But we're also getting a sense what it was like to be here from an eyewitness. One of George Floyd's friends speaking with "The New York Times" describing what that moment was like.

I'll read what will he said, he said he was talking about George Floyd from the beginning, trying in his humblest form to show he was not resisting in no form or way. I could hear him pleading, please, officer, what's all of this for?

Now, Mr. Hall is a key witness in this case. We heard from investigators that they're talking to people who were involved in this, who had any information that could help in them in their investigation. Obviously, this is a story about an investigation but also the life of George Floyd. And I just want you to see behind me here, this is the scene where that police encounter occurred. This is the very spot where the officer had his knee on George Floyd's neck.

There's been an around-the-clock vigil here. People bringing out flowers and signs, posters and just a really moving moment. People really around the clock that have been here.

Now, to the question what happens next, folks in the community are pleased that the officers have now been charged, that prosecutors have determined that there's evidence to move forward. Of course, that's just one step. We'll wait and see what happens next in the trial, and indeed if there's some type of plea or some type of conviction -- John and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Josh Campbell, thank you very much for all of your reporting from the ground for us.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis made an extraordinary statement yesterday, that President Trump is intentionally trying to divide Americans. And last night, President Trump responded.

CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond joins us with more. JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, it was

extraordinary rebuke from the former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, condemning the president's handling of the protests and unrest that we have seen across this country over the last week, and specifically calling out the president's use of military force, particularly in clearing out those demonstrators from Lafayette Park earlier this week, when we saw both federal law enforcement as well as national guardsmen clearing out the protesters so that the president could go and have a photo-op in front of that St. John's Church. Mattis also accuses the president of a lack of leadership.

And let me read you part of this extraordinary statement from the former defense secretary. He says, Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people -- does not even tend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.

Now, we should note that, you know, more than of those three years was with Jim Mattis as defense secretary. So remarkable to hear him say this, and particularly because Mattis has really been resistant to calling out President Trump since retiring from the military, since leaving his post as defense secretary.

Now, the president has fired back in very Trumpian fashion. Let me read you part of the president's tweet as well. Where he says that Jim Mattis was the world's most overrated general, the president falsely claiming that he asked for Mattis' letter of resignation. Mattis actually resigned of his own accord.

And he also says his primary strength was not military but rather personal public relations. I gave him new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom brought home the bacon.

Now, the president is also facing problems with his current Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who yesterday also stepped out of line with the president, disagreeing with the president's suggestion that he would put out, that he would use active duty military forces here in the United States to quell some of those protests and unrest in the United States.


Now, we reported yesterday that those comments from the Defense Secretary Mark Esper did not go over well at the White House. They angered the president. Mark Esper was actually at the White House yesterday after he made those comments from the Pentagon.

We're told that he did meet with the president. And three sources are now telling us, Alisyn, that Esper is expected to stay on the job. But we should it note that yesterday, the Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, after Esper was at the White House, after he had met with the president in the Oval Office, she refused to give him a vote of confidence saying simply that we will all learn at the same time if the president loses confidence in his current defense secretary -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Right. I mean, those keywords for now stood out for me as well.

Jeremy, thank you very much.

So, how rare is it to hear a retired marine general speak out against a sitting president and how does it affect our men and in uniform? That's next.



CAMEROTA: An extraordinary rebuke of President Trump by his first defense secretary. General James Mattis says the president is trying to divide Americans and is a threat to the U.S. Constitution. Mattis says we know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witness in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.

Joining to us talk about this is CNN military analyst, retired General Mark Hertling, and CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip.

Great to have both of you.

General Hertling, everyone has a breaking point, obviously, and it sounds as though General Mattis hit his this week. Why now? Why do you think of the timing of his statement?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILTIARY ANALYST: I'm sure it was a very tough call for him to make, Alisyn. I'm sure he's been thinking of it for quite a long time. He's seen not only inside the White House but since he's resigned, the implications of some of the Trump decision- making. And I think the combination of the threat to our constitutional norms, as well as the pitting of soldiers against the American society is what finally pushed his button enough that he would publish something like this.

But, remember, too, this is part of a momentum of a lot of retired generals saying things against Trump. Admiral Mullen, General Dempsey, several others have already made these kind of comments, and it's interesting because this is one of the hardest things for a retired officer to do, is to come back, especially somebody like Mattis, in an administration that he served in and critique them in such a devastating way.

BERMAN: James Mattis isn't just any retired marine general, with all due respect to my retired army general friend here, I was embedded with marines in 2013. He is the most revered marine general in my lifetime. I think that's safe to say that, among the people who are in the Marine Corps.

And he's not just some former cabinet member. He's a guy who the president basked in his glow for years. It was so important to President Trump to have James Mattis there.

And, Abby, this isn't just a rebuke, it's like a 630-word surgical evisceration of the president. James Mattis chooses every word here so carefully.

I mean, he basically compares the president to Nazis. He points out on D-Day, before the landing there, it was pointed out to the soldiers the Nazi slogan to destroy us was "divide and conquer." And then he goes on to say the president is basically the most divisive president we've ever had. He tries to divide us.

So, again, the impact of this, how do you thing this was felt inside White House?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, Mattis practically called President Trump un-American in this comment. And, you know, I think that there's really no -- I can't think of a parallel for this kind of thing where a defense secretary, a senior high-ranking official in a president's administration resigns.

And let's not forget how Mattis resigned. He resigned also writing a scathing letter denouncing President Trump's approach to foreign policy, and then comes back to basically say that this is a president who doesn't embody American values.

I mean, President Trump has been kind of appraising his so-called generals and trading on General Mattis' experience and his reputation for the entire time that Mattis was in the administration. So, this is clearly going to hurt. And I think, you know, our sources in the White House have basically said as much. The president then lashed out on Twitter. And I think we can see that he has kind of resorted to these -- these kind of bizarre lies and insults claiming that he fired Mattis, claiming that he gave Mattis the "Mad Dog" nickname which he did not.

And I think all of that really just underscores the president's state of mind right now, which is that he is being reprimanded from within his administration and from outside of his administration over his handling of the military which is something that is a point of pride for him. And so, this is going to hurt. It's going to have an impact. And I don't think this is the last we're going to hear about it.

CAMEROTA: General, John described Mattis as being revered by the troops. And how do you think a statement like this affects men and women in uniform?

HERTLING: I'll overlook John's misplaced marine bias for a second, Alisyn, and practically just say that he is revered within the Marine Corps and in other places. He was an excellent combat leader, a very good tactical and operational commander.

Again, I keep going back to the point that Secretary Mattis from the standpoint of American values (AUDIO GAP)

[05:20:00] General John Allen from the standpoint of policy (AUDIO GAP) don't mess around (AUDIO GAP) soldiers to (AUDIO GAP) many of us have seen actions (AUDIO GAP) these actions by the administration as being devastating.

How will it be taken (AUDIO GAP) --

CAMEROTA: General, sorry, sorry to stop you. I was hoping your audio would get better. But it's just breaking up too much to actually be coherent. But thank you. I think we got the gist of all of that.

So, Abby, that leads us to, of course, the current Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Sounds like his days are numbered since the president secretary said something to the effect of, yes, he's still the defense secretary for now.

PHILLIP: Right. Can you imagine, Alisyn, we are less than five months away from the president facing re-election, and we're talking about whether he might have to replace his defense secretary? It is incredible that this is a president who cannot seem to keep senior cabinet leaders in his administration.

But this one, I think, really falls pretty squarely on Mark Esper who was given all kinds of shifting explanations for how he ended up being involved in that St. John's Episcopal Church photo-op at the White House. At first he said he didn't know where he was going. Then he said he did know where he was going. He didn't know it was going to be a photo op.

And then he gave that press conference where he tried to kind of paper all of this over and say he doesn't want to politicize the military. He doesn't support using the Insurrection Act. Well, all of that, I think, had a combined effect of actually probably increasing president of the United States Trump's dissatisfaction with him. I think it would have been one thing if Esper had pushed back quietly and not shown up in Lafayette Square that day, and not had -- not placed the military in such a compromising position in the first place. But then to contradict the president publicly has only made things worse.

Now, I know our Kaitlan Collins has reported overnight that sources are telling her that for now Esper is not -- there's no sense that he's immediately going to be removed. But this is the kind of thing, again, the combination of all of these military officials, you know, speaking out against President Trump is, I think, going to have an impact, because this is how President Trump wants to show strength at a moment where he feels particularly weak, given all of these protests going on, and given the state of the economy and the state of the country.

CAMEROTA: Abby Phillip, General Mark Hertling --

BERMAN: Yes, no Marine Corps bias. I'm biased towards you, General Hertling. You're number one in my book. Thanks so much for being with us.

HERTLING: Thank you, John. CAMEROTA: Thank you.

All right. Minnesota's attorney general says it will be hard to convict the four fired police officers who are accused of killing George Floyd, even with the video of the deadly encounter. We discuss why, next.




ELLISON: Trying this case will not be an easy thing. Winning a conviction will be hard. I say this not because we doubt our resources or our ability. In fact, we're confident in what we're doing. But history does show that there are clear challenges here.


BERMAN: That's Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison warning that it will be difficult to convict the fired police officers involved in George Floyd's death. Let's discuss why.

CNN's security correspondent Josh Campbell is back with us. Also joining us, CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson.

Counselor, I want to start with you. What specifically do the prosecutors need to prove and why does the attorney general say it will be hard?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning, John. Good morning, Alisyn.

So what we saw yesterday were two things. Number one, we saw the upgrading of the charges. Number two, we saw the arrest of the additional officers. Let's talk about that.

People were crying for a first degree murder charge, I think the state attorneys came to the conclusion that it would be too difficult to prove, because you have to show with first degree murder, premeditation, planning, in addition to intent. What the state attorney did do is upgrade the charges to second degree murder.

The significance of that is that he's establishing a theory called felony murder. What on earth does that mean?

What they're suggesting as prosecutors is, during the admission of a felony, that underlying felony being assault, when you're assaulting someone, if someone dies as a result of that, and then even though you did not intend the death, you're still responsible for murder. So that charge is there.

I do want to point out, though, John and Alisyn, that that third degree murder charge remains. It was upgraded but it remains. And that means if you show a depraved-heart, that is you were callous, you were doing something dangerous and he died, that also could sustain the charge.

Finally, as to the other officers, the theory of the prosecutor is that they aided, abetted, assisted and were not merely present but that they actively participated in the assault, as a result of their participation, there was a death and as a result of that, the prosecution suggests that they are guilty.

And so, that's the theory moving forward as to whether or not a jury convicts. That's the open question. And that's what the prosecutor was concerned about in talking about history not being kind.