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Mattis Condemns Trump as Threat to Constitution; Black Unemployment Rate Rises; Montel Williams is Interviewed about Military Use by Trump. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired June 5, 2020 - 09:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. the significance of that public disagreement.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, first of all, Jim Mattis is an extraordinary soldier, notwithstanding what the president is trying to demean him by saying he's vastly overrated. One of the most honored and decorated and most admired military men in our history.

But the difficulty is, I think there's a code of honor that Jim Mattis and others have always followed that the commander in chief, you serve under him and at his pleasure, and you do so until you receive an illegal order, a clearly illegal order, or he does something which strikes at the core of your conscience. And at that point you have a choice, you can continue to serve him, or her, or leave. And those are the choices made.

Jim Mattis left. He said, I can't serve this (INAUDIBLE) any longer consistent with my own conscience and my duty to my men and women in service. So those are the choices that the secretary of defense has.

SCIUTTO: And he did so voluntarily, although the president claimed falsely that he demanded his resignation.

Interesting comments, notable from Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski yesterday. She said that -- she said, I felt like perhaps we were getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up.

She seemed to be referencing concerns among Republican lawmakers, private, not expressed publicly, about this president. Are those concerned Republican lawmakers, in your view, failing their duty, their country if they're keeping such serious concerns to themselves?

COHEN: I think there is a dereliction of duty across the board. H.R. McMaster wrote a book back when I was at the Pentagon and all of us read it, namely that you should never allow the military to become used by politicians for a political objectives. And when I signed on with President Clinton, I had an agreement with him. I said, I will do my very best to carry out the duties of this office and I expect you will never ask me to participate in a political decision or a political activity. He said, absolutely.

And so to see the military being used for a political purpose seems to me that undercuts the very notion that we have a military subordinate or subordinate to the commander in chief, but the commander in chief cannot and should not politicize our military. It is the last institution I'm aware of that he hasn't been able to politicize successfully.

He's politicized the Justice Department. He's tried to politicize the judiciary, my judges, my generals, my attorney general. So now it's my military. It's not. It's not his military, it's the American people's military. And we are sworn to defend the Constitution, not to defend his office.

So I find it very offensive that he would use our military to fire rubber bullets or mace or other pepper spray into the eyes of innocent people in order to get a photo-op.


COHEN: That's -- that's not a commander in chief, that's a dictator in chief.

SCIUTTO: Retired Four Star Marine General John Allen wrote about the president's threat of military force. He said, quote, it may well signal the beginning of the end of the American experiment. That is quite a jarring statement. And I wonder, given also your concerns about racial division in this country, as demonstrated by Ahmaud Arbery's death, is that how serious this situation is for this country right now?

COHEN: I think it is serious. I think we are at that tipping point. A former Supreme Court justice, Brandeis, said that when government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for the law. It invites every man to become a law unto himself. It invites anarchy.

And so we can't afford to have the government become a law breaker. The police, who executed George Floyd, Mr. Arbery, those were basically lynchings.

Now, my wife, 15 years ago, was very much involved in going to the United States Senate and begging them, along with her friends, to say, pass a resolution apologizing for the United States Senate failing to condemn lynching, failing to pass laws that prevent lynching. And you know what, the Republican majority at that time said, OK, only by a voice vote, only on Monday night, so the members who didn't want to go on record as being opposed to lynching didn't have to be seen.

And here we are today, the Senate debating making lynching a federal crime. And one senator saying, no, it goes too far. These were lynchings that took place in Minneapolis and in Georgia and we ought to stand up and condemn them because that is a case of extra judicial killing, that is murder, those were lynchings. And the Senate ought to be ashamed if it doesn't pass this -- this law making it a crime.

[09:35:01] SCIUTTO: I should remind our viewers, as they're listening to you, that you were a former Republican senator yourself.

Secretary Cohen, thanks very much.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a stunning jobs report. Jobs coming back. But, not for everyone. The racial disparities in the numbers, clear. We'll talk about it ahead.


HARLOW: All right, well, a pretty shocking economic headline this morning, jobs are coming back. The U.S. gained 2.5 million jobs in May. The unemployment rate now still, though, is a devastating 13.3 percent. The worst we've seen since the Great Depression.

The numbers, though, if you look at the numbers, they are not only up ending economist predictions, they are especially catastrophic for minorities, Latinos and black Americans.


In fact, black unemployment got worse. It's at 16.8 percent now as this pandemic exasperates two major injustices, health and economics for so many black Americans.

With me now is Mohamad El-Erian, chief economic adviser of Allianz, and Michelle Holder, assistant professor of economics at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

It's so good to have you both.

I mean, yes, this is a better number than everyone expected. Let's just put that out there. And it's good for America, for sure. We'll hear more from the president on that next hour.

But, Michelle, to you, the black unemployment rate got worse from last month to this month. When everyone else's got better, the black unemployment got worse.

Your thoughts?


Yes, I will say, you know, this report was quite unexpected. A lot of economists were expecting the unemployment rate to go up, not down. So only in a pandemic situation like the one we're in would we sort of feel, wow, that this is a good report, right? But -- but the -- the overall unemployment rate at 13.3 is still higher than it ever really was during the great recession. Our most recent economic downturn.

But, you're right, the unemployment rate for African-Americans, in fact, did not go down. It ticked up. It ticked up modestly but still ticked up. So if we -- if we disaggregate the numbers, we'll see that the largest decline in the unemployment rate really happened for white Americans. Their unemployment rate ticked down from about 14 percent roughly, 14.2, to 12.4 percent. That was the biggest decline since April. But for other groups like African-Americans and Asians, the unemployment rate actually went up.

HARLOW: So, Mohamed, you wrote about this in a fascinating new op-ed this week, the headline, the pandemic is compounding disparities in income and wealth and opportunity. We know that.

At the same time, this headline from my colleague Matt Egan (ph), that U.S. billionaires have just become richer during this pandemic. In fact, $565 billion richer during this pandemic. So the inequality is exacerbated on so many different levels. That is, you know, 43 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits. What are the policy solutions you would recommend to Congress and the White House at this point?

MOHAMED EL-ERIAN, CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER, ALLIANZ: So, first, embrace the reality. We have long-standing hopes of an economy that's an equal opportunity employer. It turns out to be something very different. It's an unequal opportunity unemployer. And even when we get a surprise upside to the unemployment numbers today, like we just said, it is black unemployment that edges up, while unemployment comes down significantly.

So we -- we have to recognize that the inequality of income, wealth and, most importantly, the inequality of opportunities (INAUDIBLE) is that third word that goes (INAUDIBLE) policies. We've got to make opportunities more inclusive. That means more investment in people, not companies, people. More investment in education, in later (ph) retooling, in later (ph) retraining. Poppy, we had the tools. It's a matter of political implementation.

HARLOW: Yes, and courage and the will to do it.

I was struck, Michelle, obviously, by the reporting that the double gap, the report you did that gets into specifically black women and how underpaid they often are. Can you just speak so people fully understand the extent of what's going on in the middle of this jobs crisis for black America?

HOLDER: Absolutely. So I will start by referencing the report you mentioned, Poppy, thank you for that, that I did for the Roosevelt Institute where I looked at the gender wage gap born by black women and we all are familiar with the term, you know, the gender wage gap, but, in fact, for black women. And we all are familiar with the term, you know, the gender wage gap. But, in fact, for black women, it's also -- it's a gender and racial wage gap.

So one important take-away from my report, as it relates to the current economic downturn is that black women are the least well positioned to weather this type of economic storm. And further just tying it to the current -- the current unemployment report, you'll notice that the unemployment rate for women is still higher than men, right? It ticked down for both groups overall. But women are bearing the brunt more so than men of this pandemic. And then when you couple that with looking at what's happening with

unemployment -- the unemployment rate among African-Americans, which actually ticked up, it's -- it's a really difficult situation that black women are facing right now in this country as a result of the pandemic and the joblessness.


HARLOW: Yes, for sure.

Mohamed, let's end on this. I -- my husband sent me yesterday an op-ed written by David Brooks in April that I hadn't read, but it was so much more relevant even now. And the headline was, who's driving income inequality? You are. And this line struck me. Inherited inequality is bad enough. But it's the geographic concentration that is really turning America into a caste society.

What can we do?

EL-ERIAN: So we have to understand that we're battling long-standing legacies, but also accumulated conscious and unconscious bias. What Michelle just said about black women is really important because that brings in the unconscious biases against -- in two ways.

And they are on the receiving end. There are many studies that have proven you have to address this in a very bold manner. The simple -- let me show you, the simple trick, when you're hiring someone, of not asking them on the CV (ph) for their gender or their race helps a ton. Putting --

HARLOW: Looks like we lost the connection there. OK. We'll have that -- pick that conversation back up soon.

Appreciate it, Michelle, thank you to you.

And, Mohamed, our thanks as well.


SCIUTTO: Important conversation, digging into the numbers there.

Former Defense Secretary William Cohen, a Republican, we should note, just told me we are heading toward a dictatorship. Montel Williams, a U.S. military veteran himself, joins us next with his perspective.



SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN. The mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, has official requested that President Trump remove all federal law enforcement and military presence from D.C.

Joining me now to discuss this and other issues, Montel Williams. He's a Navy and Marine Corps veteran, a veterans advocate today, former host, of course, of "The Montel Williams Show." Montel, great to have you on this morning.

MONTEL WILLIAMS, VETERAN AND VETERANS' ADVOCATE: Jim, thanks so much for having me, sir.

SCIUTTO: We've seen a public debate, disagreement about the use of uniformed, regular military on the streets of the U.S. to respond to these protests and sometimes the violence. And you have the president's own defense secretary disagreeing with him about the use of such forces and the mayor of Washington here.

Tell us what the danger is, in your view, to the relationship between the U.S. military and the American public by -- by the president, in effect, pitting them, to some degree, against each other here.

WILLIAMS: You know, the turmoil that I think it causes in the souls of those who wear the uniform is probably the most despicable thing that comes out of this. You know, we stand before a flag and put our hands in the air and we say, I do solemnly swear, affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

And to make us think that we are standing against our fellow Americans, our family members, our loved ones, our wives, our husbands, our parents, our siblings, because someone who doesn't understand that oath of office wants to put us on the street to treat our loved ones as if they are the enemy, that's -- that's really, really, really just a tough thing -- a tough (INAUDIBLE) for all who wear a uniform and who ever wore a uniform to have to swallow.

SCIUTTO: You know, looking at the pictures of the White House now as new fencing, concrete barriers go up around the White House and amidst these protests, the president tweeting out a letter from his former personal lawyer describing the terrorists -- the protesters as terrorists. You know, I was here in D.C. during 9/11, when there were real terrorists who, of course, attacked the Pentagon. Yes, they closed Pennsylvania Avenue there but still allowed the public right up to the White House there as the people's house to some degree.

What do you think when you see that, when you see the White House become a fortress in the midst of this?

WILLIAMS: I do solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. That's the oath of office that the president took himself. And, you know, the first tenet of the Constitution is freedom of speech. And to suggest that because people are speaking out against hatred, injustice, racism they are somehow terrorists?

And you pointed out very clearly that we didn't even do this when planes were falling out of the sky and flying into buildings and flying into the Pentagon. We didn't build walls around the White House, but we are going to do so now to silence the voices of those who believe in a document that clearly, I think, that this administration doesn't believe in.

SCIUTTO: Do you worry that the rioters, looters, among the largely peaceful protestors across this country, who took advantage of these protestors, are you concerned that they undermine, damage the broader message?

WILLIAMS: Oh, no question. And we know now for a fact they are groups that have infiltrated and hijacked this so make sure that they can cause a deeper chasm in the United States. We've got to recognize the fact that we've now detected white supremacist organizations who have been supporting violence so that the public's idea will be tainted somehow against those who are lawfully protesting and trying to make their voices heard.


So I think we're in a really tough time. But I think there is at least a spark of hope. Some of that hope is what you talked about this morning, the fact that a lot of Fortune 500 companies, several of them, whether it's because they're doing something because they want to protect their bottom line, they need to step forward and call out this racial injustice.

When you take a look at the protests, every single night, those protests are not just people, those protests are why every nationality, every single group in America, whites, Asians, Hispanics, you know, Native American, (INAUDIBLE) to LGBT, everybody is saying enough is enough. And so that should be a spark of hope.

And when we look at the ages and we recognize it's the next generation that's really saying, this is not the way we want to live in our future, I think there is a little hope and we should grasp onto that hope for them.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And I'm with you. We've been looking for those signs of hope, and as the protests, particularly in recent days have almost exclusively peaceful in many cities.

Montel Williams, great to have you on. Let's keep up the conversation.

WILLIAMS: Thank you so much for having me on.

Remember the fact that yesterday Michael White was released from an Iranian prison and he's now back on American soil This was a U.S. Navy personnel man (ph) who was arrested just because he fell in love with someone and went to that country, just like Amir Hadmadi (ph), who's four years, five years in prison.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. Yes.

WILLIAMS: So, let's remember, he's out, he's home and let's pray (ph) for him.

SCIUTTO: You're right. And you -- and you did yeoman's work on that. You deserve credit. Thanks very much, Montel Williams. Our best to Mike White's family.

And please stay with CNN.