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Peaceful Protests Continue After Police Officers Charged; Former Defense Secretary Rips Trump For Dividing America. Aired 7- 7:30a ET
Aired June 4, 2020 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is New Day.
The first memorial service for George Floyd will take place this afternoon in Minneapolis. A huge turnout is expected as we've seen visit this makeshift memorial at the spot where he was killed.
Last night, we saw large mostly peaceful protests across the country after those new upgraded murder charges against the fired police officer who kneeled on George Floyd for nearly nine minutes on his neck. Three other officers have now been charged with felonies as well.
We're also learning new details about Floyd's death. A key witness who was in the car with Floyd is speaking out about what he saw and heard.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Also overnight, a major new voice of dissent against the president of the United States. Outrage, really. in a blistering statement, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis rips President Trump for intentionally dividing Americans.
And the current defense secretary, Mark Esper, may be on shaky ground for publicly be breaking with the president's threat to send active- duty soldiers into American cities to crack down on protests.
A lot going on this morning. We're following it all. Let's begin with CNN's Omar Jimenez live at the memorial today, later today, the first official memorial for George Floyd. Omar?
OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. This is the first of what is said to be a series of goodbyes for George Floyd over the course of the next few days culminating in his funeral back in Houston on Tuesday.
And this comes as we are now seeing all four of the officers in this case arrested and all four of them facing charges. This is what the protesters have wanted. This is what the family has wanted and what many in the community have wanted. But the family attorney, Benjamin Crump, says now it's not the time to celebrate, because an arrest is not a conviction. And in his words, they don't want partial justice. They want full justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMENEZ: 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.
The protests, as all four officers involved in Floyd's arrest are now behind bars facing charges related to his death.
KEITH ELLISON, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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 the 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 confident we will get that conviction.
JIMENEZ: Earlier, Floyd's son, Quincy, visiting the growing memorial at the site of his father's moments.
QUINCY MASON FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S SON: I'm trying to get justice for my father. And no man or woman should be (INAUDIBLE) their faters.
We 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 CRUMP, 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-MN): 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 a street in Minneapolis.
BERMAN: All right. Omar Jimenez joins us again. Omar, as I said, a lot going on. In the middle of all of this, you had a moment yesterday where the governor of Minnesota who we just heard from issued you a personal apology for what happened to you last week. What went on here?
JIMENEZ: That's right, John. Well, as we all remember, it was on your show last Friday, our crew and I were out reporting we were taken into custody, handcuffed and detained by Minnesota State Patrol.
So, yesterday, the governor was visiting what has been the ground zero for the story, the literal site where George Floyd's final moments played out on camera. And he was leaving the memorial, he was walking by where we were set up and his press secretary did a quick introduction.
And he immediately said, oh, my gosh, I am so sorry. He went into that apology face to face, not in a press conference. He deeply apologized for what happened and seemed very sincere in doing so and says this is not the first thing that they have had issues with over the course of this, and they are working to rectify as many things as possible.
And then, more importantly, I continued to ask him about what it was like to be at that site, the site that has brought so much attention to his state for all the wrong reasons. And he says he needed to be there to feel some of the pain that his community has felt and also, he says, as we heard just a few moments ago, I don't think we get another chance to fix this.
BERMAN: Omar, good for you, by the way, to make this about the journalism and ask him the important questions during that moment, mask to mask or face to face, as we're in a pandemic right now. Thanks so much for being with us, Omar. Great work.
CAMEROTA: What a moment.
Also developing this morning, a long-time friend of George Floyd is speaking out. He was in the passenger's seat of the car during Floyd's fatal encounter with police.
CNN's Josh Campbell is live in Minneapolis for us this morning with more. What's the latest, Josh?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, Alisyn, just a dramatic turn of events here in this community in the last 24 hours. We know that all four officers that were involved in the death of George Floyd, which took place behind me, they are now all in custody. The attorney general announcing yesterday charges against one officer of second-degree murder. That charge being elevated.
The other three officers seen on that dramatic cell phone footage where we see an officer with his knee on George Floyd's neck, those officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder. And, again, they are now in custody.
We're also hearing, as you said, from a key witness who was here on the day that this went down behind me. Maurice Hall was a friend of George Floyd's. We see him on CCTV footage in the passenger seat of the vehicle where George Floyd was at the start of that encounter with police.
And what he has told in The New York Times is that George Floyd was not resisting, in his own words, saying that he was, 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 this for?
Now, he is a key witness because state investigators have said they want to hear from everyone who has any information about what went down. We have the digital evidence. They're now wanting to gather that information from witnesses as well.
Of course, this investigation that continues is but one that's going on. We know the FBI continues to conduct a civil rights investigation into these four officers.
And, finally, we're also hearing from members of the community about the pressure that the attorney general, Keith Ellison, was under as he conducted this investigation. He acknowledged yesterday that there was great weight and pressure on him. But he said he did not allow that pressure to influence his decision in this case, saying that he took the time to review all the evidence to go through things methodically, saying that he understood that it was important to do this right.
I also asked him what he thinks that this case means to the rest of the country. We have these seen protests from coast to coast, people calling for justice. He told me that while his focus is on this one case, he understands how this reverberates throughout the nation, saying that, when it comes to police brutality, it is important to seek justice everywhere. John and Alisyn?
BERMAN: He does have a job ahead of him. That's for sure. Josh Campbell, terrific reporting, thanks so much for being there for us.
Also developing this morning, former Defense Secretary James Mattis breaking his silence, man, is he ever, comparing President Trump essentially to Hitler and saying that he's a threat to the Constitution.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond live in Washington with the details. Jeremy?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, it was a withering statement from the former defense secretary, who, for the last year-and-a-half since he left his post as defense secretary, has been largely silent on President Donald Trump, his former boss. But now, he is now breaking that silence, criticizing President Trump's response to the protests across the United States, in particular his decision to deploy military forces here in Washington, D.C., specifically criticizing the use of National Guardsmen in that aggressive dispersal of protesters in Lafayette Square just before President Trump went out to St. John's Church for that photo-op last week.
Mattis is also criticizing President Trump for a lack of leadership, and let me read you part of that statement. Mattis writes, Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people, does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of these deliberate efforts. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.
Now, John, as striking as those comments are, President Trump is also facing problems with his current defense secretary. Yesterday, we heard Defense Secretary Mark Esper stepping out in a position against President Trump's support for deploying military forces here in the United States. Esper saying that he would oppose the use of the Insurrection Act to deploy military forces to get -- to handle the unrest in certain cities in the United States.
Three sources are telling us that Esper for now is safe in his job despite the fact that his comments did not go over well yesterday at the White House. I was told that White House officials did not get heads up that Esper was going to come out in contradiction to the president.
And most strikingly, John, yesterday, we heard the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, speak after Esper visited the White House. And despite the fact that Esper was there and meeting with the president, McEnany would not give a vote of confidence for Esper saying only as of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper, and saying that if the president loses confidence, we'll all hear about it first together. John?
BERMAN: Well, we'll read about it on Twitter, no doubt. Jeremy Diamond thank you for that reporting. Please keep us posted.
So why did General Mattis say what he said? Why did he choose the words that he chose? We're going to speak with a former top aide to General James Mattis, next.
BERMAN: Former Defense Secretary General James Mattis slamming President Trump in a forceful rebuke of his former boss, calling him a threat to the Constitution.
Joining us now, CNN Political Analyst David Gregory and Guy Snodgrass, a former speechwriter to Secretary Mattis, and author of Holding the Line Inside the Trump Pentagon with Secretary Mattis.
Commander, let me start with you, and let me just read one quote here so people can hear it. I have watched this week's unfolding events angry and appalled. When I joined the military some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream the troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens, much less provide a bizarre photo-op for the elected commander in chief with military leadership standing alongside.
I think calling this a forceful rebuke is sanitizing it, frankly. I mean, this is a punch in the gut. You worked with Mattis for a while. Why did he choose these words and why did he choose to speak them now?
GUY SNODGRASS, FORMER SPEECHWRITER TO SECRETARY MATTIS: Well, as you discuss at the top of the hour, you know, Secretary Mattis has caught some flack over the past few months because of his reticence to speak out. He has been very hesitant to say anything that might be construed or speaking against the president. And then he's made it a point he doesn't want to talk about a sitting president.
So I think, in general, this just highlights for Secretary Mattis the seriousness of this moment in time and the concern that he has, which I share, and, in fact, as you mention, that's what my book talks about, is just when you politicize the military, you now degrade the trust and confidence with the American public. Mattis is concerned and he's ready to speak up.
CAMEROTA: I mean, Guy, a lot of disturbing things have happened obviously of late and over the past many years. But this moment, this moment, there's something about it that is making -- that is changing General Mattis', as you say, long held practice and belief in not speaking about a sitting president. And so, for instance, here is something that he says about the protests themselves.
He says, we must not be distracted by a small number of law breakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values, our values as a people and our values as a nation.
There seems to have been something about the president using the military or the attorney general to beat back those peaceful protests so they could cross the street and have that a photo op in front of a church that was General Mattis' tipping point.
SNODGRASS: Right. And when you think about, once again, you're politicizing the military, something Mattis has been adamant about, and he was for the two years he served as defense secretary, is that you do not use the military in overtly political situations. When you do so, you erode the trust and confidence of the American public.
So not only has this president used the military in a very politicized way over the last three and a half years, but we've seen, as you mentioned in the past week, that the military is standing guard on the streets, they're now -- the optics are incredibly poor that the military is somehow turning against the American public. And that's, of course, not the case but that's how people could interpret this.
And that's not only Secretary Mattis, many have spoken out. I think the one who actually led the charge was former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. He is the first one who spoke out. And now, you have Secretary Mattis and subsequently General John Allen, another friend of Secretary Mattis' who have since come out very forcefully to say that this is the not the proper use of the military. And not only that, but it risks eroding that trust and confidence. And that's something that once you've lost that, it could take years, if not decades to rebuild that trust.
BERMAN: David Gregory, I'm glad that Guy pointed out that are seeing many military leaders come out, from Admiral Mullen to General Mattis to John Allen as well. But I think that their concerns are beyond just matters of the military. When General Mattis talks about dividing and conquering it, it's not just about that.
It's something bigger. John Allen is talking about an assault on the Constitution and the beginning of the end of the American experiment here. There is fundamental concern among these people that something has gone terribly wrong.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: These are men who are valued, who are respected, who are honored in political circles, bipartisan political circles and in Washington for leadership. And so what Mattis is doing that is so stunning is calling out the president for lacking mature leadership for seeking to divide the United States, for raising the specter of the Nazis. That's General Mattis doing that, saying that their proposition, what they tried do in opposing forces of the United States was to divide and conquer.
It's stunning as you sit back and think about that criticism and no tweet that the president, no criticism that he can level at Mattis will take away from the fact that he valued this man, he praised him up and down, there's always videotape when it comes to President Trump, and that Mattis saw him up close and has made this determination.
And I think that's what I'm really sitting with this morning. The idea that you have somebody of the likes of General Mattis who is saying, in a time of pandemic, when you have 100,000 dead, when you have 40 million without jobs because of the coronavirus, when you have a stunning act of violence against an African-American man, George Floyd, a president's job is to bring people together, to lead the entire country. And what Mattis is saying is no, the president has never tried to do that. He's only tried to lead his political base. That's not what you do. That's not what the moment calls for.
CAMEROTA: And just to remind people of what David Gregory was talking about in terms of all of the times, that President Trump heaped praise on General Mattis and how proud he was to have General Mattis on his team. Let's recap that and play a few moments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We are going to appoint Mad Dog Mattis as our Secretary of Defense.
I have a general who I have great respect for, General Mattis.
Secretary Mattis has devoted his life to serving his country.
I think he's a terrific person. He's doing a fantastic job.
Mad Dog plays no games.
He's a man of honor, a man of devotion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Guy, you would know better than us how General Mattis felt even on the receiving end of the positive stuff, never mind the -- today's negative stuff. What do you think this has been like for him? And in terms of the words, because you were his former speechwriter, when he goes after -- not goes after -- when he comments on President Trump's character, saying that, for the past three years, we've been without mature leadership, those are carefully chosen words. What is he trying to tell us?
SNODGRASS: Well, I think he's sending a very clear and unequivocal signal that he has very clearly broken with this president, as has other senior military leaders. Just like David mentioned, it does go far beyond the military. It is about a lack of ethical leadership. It's about the lack of someone who is going to unify this country. Mattis, as you mentioned, chose those words very carefully because he wants to send a signal that he no longer stands with this president. He does not believe with the direction President Trump has taken certainly of late as he seeks to divide the country.
But the biggest concern I would have at this moment in time is not only just here at home but it's also abroad. I mean, if you're an adversary, if you're a Russia, a China and you're looking at the United States right now, you're seeing a country that is openly divided and has been so for now three and a half years. So there's the risk of, one, do you lose Secretary Esper as the secretary of defense? Two, do you actually have your adversaries miscalculate and believe that because we're distracted here at home, that gives them an opportunity to maybe take advantage of the situation abroad? And I think that that would be a severe miscalculation, America's military remains ready. But you could forgive them for thinking that we are in a less than ideal situation.
And certainly with Secretary Esper being the fourth secretary of defense under President Trump's tenure, if there was any risk to Secretary Esper's job, that could be one of the worst things that could happen to the U.S. military right now.
GREGORY: Can I add one coda to all of this, because you have the White House trying so hard to counterattack and to try to bolster the president's image, the notion that his press secretary compared him to Winston Churchill touring bombing sites during the blitz, I saw that and I thought, you know what one major difference was? Churchill was willing to be vulnerable with the public. He would actually weep when he would go to those bombing sites. He was able to be compassionate, to feel the pain of what the people were going through, as well as show their resolve.
The contrast is quite stark, I think, with this president at this time.
CAMEROTA: Guy Snodgrass, David Gregory, thank you both very much.
George Floyd is just one of so many unarmed black men and women killed at the hands of police. Up next, we're going to speak with the mother of a young man, Amadou Diallo, whose death sparked anger across the country more than two decades ago now.
CAMEROTA: Minnesota's attorney general is warning that it will be hard to convict the four fired police officers arrested and charged in George Floyd's death. That's the situation all too familiar for our next guest.
Kadiatou Diallo, her son, Amadou, was killed in 1999 by police in New York. His death resulted in a rallying cry across the U.S. for change.
Ms. Diallo, thank you very much for being here. Your son was shot 41 times by four New York City police officers. He was in his own apartment building.
And so today, as you watch these four officers in Minneapolis get charged finally.