Return to Transcripts main page
Top General: Taking Part in Trump Photo-Op Was a "Mistake"; Senate Panel Votes to Remove Confederate Names from Military Bases Despite Trump's Opposition; Critics Hammer Trump Campaign Rally Plan; Trump Heads to Dallas Amid 2 Challenges: A Push for Police Reform & Pandemic; Trump to Meet with Law Enforcement, Faith Leaders in Texas on Concrete Police Reforms; Tulsa Police Release Video of Rough Jaywalking Arrest; Basketball Legend, Jalen Rose, Discusses NBA Superstars Teaming Up to Energize Black Voters. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired June 11, 2020 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining us for the next couple of hours.
We really start with an extraordinary apology from the nation's top general. Joint Chiefs chairman, General Mark Milley, expressing deep regret over taking part in President Trump's photo-op last week when they walked from the White House, across Lafayette Park, to St. John's Church across from the White House.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has already said he regrets having been there. You see the photo we're talking about right there.
A slew of former top military leaders, you will remember, have, in recent days, also offered a biting criticism of the president's response to the protests.
But even with that kind of chorus of anger and criticism over the president's response, it is today's comments by the current Joint Chiefs chairman that really stick out, that are really making news.
Let me play -- let me play Mark Milley's remarks to the graduating class at the National Defense University.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Many of you saw the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week. That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society.
I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have
learned from. And I sincerely hope that we can all learn from it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon and she's joining me now.
Barbara, what are you hearing about this? What else did he say?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, General Milley is making a very specific point here that really is resonating across the ranks and I think he hopes resonates with the American people, that as a serving officer, as chairman, guardian of keeping the U.S. military out of partisan politics, he is now apologizing.
He shouldn't have been there. It had had the aura of a political event. And he says he should not have been there.
You know, it's extraordinary. He has apologized. He's owning it without any qualification. He is just standing up and saying what he now really wants people to know is that he shouldn't have been there.
So he goes on and says a bit more about how he viewed everything that happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MILLEY: And we should all be proud that the vast majority of protests have been peaceful. Peaceful protests mean that American freedom is working.
And I'm also proud of the response of our National Guard forces, who provided excellent support to state law enforcement under the control of state governors in more than 30 states across the country.
We never introduced federal troops in the streets of America as a result of the combined efforts of the National Guard and law enforcement at quelling the violence and de-escalating very, very tense situations.
We all know the system in the United States is imperfect, full of passionate debate and continually evolving, and we, in the military, will continue to protect the rights and freedoms of all the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: Perhaps the most important thing here is not the politics, but Milley, along with Esper, had sought very much last week to dissuade President Trump from even the notion of activating active military troops, putting them on the streets in Washington, D.C., and cities where there was unrest.
Milley is telling everyone that peaceful protest is a good thing, that the American military does not take to the streets against the American people -- Kate?
BOLDUAN: Barbara, thank you so much.
Joining me right now is CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.
General, it's great to see you, man.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs publicly breaking with the president, doing something that the president never does, apologizing. What's your reaction to this?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I had a strong reaction to it, very positive, Kate. This is something, this action of 10 days ago, has been reverberating through the military community.
Many people like me did not like what General Milley did, what Secretary Esper did as being part of that photo-op.
For General Milley to now step forward and say, hey, this was a wrong move. And the audience he stepped forward to do it to I think really says good things about the status of civil military relationships and is a positive that comes out of this.
A lot of people are talking about these kinds of things, what is the proper role of the military and the civil military relationship. And General Milley saying that this morning, at a graduation of the National Defense University is a big deal.
BOLDUAN: Talk to me about the venue. Do you think that's significant that he chose this graduation speech to speak about this?
HERTLING: Yes. I'll first inform your audience, because many might not know, Kate, that the National Defense University is not a college where 20-year-olds are graduating. This is the national war college. It's one of many war colleges in the military.
And the attendees are senior-level military people who have been chosen to attend. So this is -- this is a group of up-and-comers. They are colonels and captains in the Navy and the Coast Guard.
And at this particular venue, there's also senior executives from many of the agencies, like the CIA, the State Department, USAID. They have been in a year's worth of study learning about how to apply national strategy.
So for Milley to address that -- I'm a graduate of the national war college. And for Milley to address that audience with these words really says to them, hey, I was wrong to do it. But it also sends a very nuanced message of you should never do something like this, learn from my mistake, the military is sacrosanct in terms of how they deal in politics.
BOLDUAN: I also notice he's not criticizing the photo-op. He's not criticizing the forceful clearing of protesters that happened right beforehand as they were walking over right?
BOLDUAN: He's saying very clearly he shouldn't have been there. This is on me. I should not have been part of that walk over. Is that distinction significant?
HERTLING: It is, because what he's saying, which is what all military senior leaders wrestle with, the civil military relations, is, hey, I'm a servant of the nation. I -- I adhere to the Constitution of the United States. I may disagree with the political leaders, but I'm never going to outwardly say that. I will obey the orders that I'm given as long as long as they are not illegal, immoral or unethical.
Now, the president, on the other hand, doing this photo-op, you can debate that all you want, American people, but don't pull me into that debate because I am your guardian. I have pledged my oath to defend elections officials if they are giving me illegal orders.
BOLDUAN: Can I also ask you, because at the same time you have another split between the president and what we're learning is top Pentagon officials over possibly renaming military bases that have been named after Confederate generals.
BOLDUAN: Trump tweeting out very clearly, his press secretary doubling down on this, that this is a no-go. There's no even opening for conversation. We're not renaming any base no matter how vile these generals were.
What is your -- can you just give me your feel on this? And do you have a sense of the feeling among the military on this?
HERTLING: I do. And the military is split, as they are on everything, because they are representative of the American population.
My personal feeling, Kate -- and I've been to all of these bases, Fort Bragg, Fort Polk and Fort Pickett -- never really connecting, you know, the people they were named after.
Even though I'm a student of the Civil War, I never really made the connection between these leaders, who were not only traitorous to our country, but they accepted something that is anathema to who we are as a people, that the respect for all, the placing of value on all of our citizens.
And, frankly, these bases we're honoring, when they were named, were people that went after the Constitution. They were traitors. They fought against the Union. They held slaves as part of their property. So I think that the debate on this issue has been a good one, too.
Now you're going to see a lot of military -- and I've seen on social media a lot of military thinking of names that should replace the ones like Bragg and Hood. Let's not worry about that. Let's think about, how do we move forward in this and, in fact, take a
look at this conversation of saying, who do we really honor with naming conventions and with statues and should we be doing that. And I think that that's the debate that's taking place in the military.
And frankly, there will be old soldiers that say, I trained at Fort Jackson, I don't want that renamed. But then there are some that are a little more thoughtful, saying how is that representative of who we are, and how do black soldiers feel about serving at those bases.
BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, some vile people that these bases are named after.
BOLDUAN: The more we learn -- go ahead.
HERTLING: If I can add one more thing. If anyone were to do a study of these individuals, they were all terrible in terms of being not very good generals, with the exception of one or two.
BOLDUAN: Right. Right.
HERTLING: They also were bigots.
BOLDUAN: Also, by definition, they were not winner as we can say. Just take a brief look at history.
BOLDUAN: Great to see you. Thanks for coming in
HERTLING: You've got it, Kate. Thank you.
BOLDUAN: President Trump is also drawing criticism today for his decision regarding a return to the campaign trail. The president is going to be going, he says, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 19th.
Both of those significant. June 19th is known as Juneteenth, the day that marks the emancipation of slaves. It's also known as Freedom Day. Tulsa, Oklahoma is also the sight of one of the worst acts of racial violence in American history, the massacre of hundreds of African- Americans, which happened 99 years ago this month.
So Senator Kamala Harris got to this today, tweeting out this, the fact that he's holding this rally: "This isn't just a wink to white supremacist," she writes, "He's throwing them a welcome home party."
Let me bring in CNN political correspondent, Abby Phillip, on this.
Abby, what are you hearing about the White House decision on this? Are they at all reconsidering?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are actually doubling down, Kate, this morning.
The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, and the president's campaign manager, Brad Parscale, both reiterating that the president will be going on Juneteenth and said that the president understands what Juneteenth is and basically is going to take a victory lap about what he's done for the black community. So that's the explanation today.
It's notable to me that we are first hearing about it this morning as opposed to yesterday when this was first announced and there was all of this criticism exploding about it.
But I think they have had some time to think about it and figure out how they are going to frame it. And this framing, I think, will be interesting and challenging, frankly, for this president.
Yes, he has, for many years, touted low employment prior to COVID for black Americans. He touts the First Step Act. But on the first front, unemployment is no longer low, as we all know. And there are extraordinary challenges for black Americans in this country.
But I also think that it's going to be challenging for the president to -- to do this kind of talk about how he's done so much for the black community when there's so much of a sense among black Americans right now that things are not all right, things are not going well, and that more needs to be done.
So Kayleigh McEnany has said this morning that he will be looking forward to the work that needs to be done. The question now will be, how specific will he get.
He's not said what he will be proposing in terms of reforms. He's not said that -- how he'll be using the levers of the government that he now runs to rectify some of these wrongs.
And -- and, in fact, he's been speaking out at length about Confederate symbols and about all these other ancillary issues that seem to have thrown fuel on the fire on the issue of racism in this country.
BOLDUAN: If nothing else, it's setting the expectation for what should be discussed and brought up, and he should be talking about during this rally. It's setting an expectation now for what they should be doing.
PHILLIP: And it's notable, Kate, quickly, that he has not done that up until this point. The White House keeps promising. The president hasn't actually done it. BOLDUAN: That's right.
Good to see you, Abby.
Coming up for us, President Trump is heading to Texas and will be heading with law enforcement and faith leaders amid these nationwide demands for real and concrete police reforms across the country. But what changes is the president willing to support?
Plus, Lebron James is leading a team of sports superstars to try to get black voters to turn out in November. Basketball legend, Jalen Rose, is on board, and he's joining us.
BOLDUAN: President Trump heads to Dallas, Texas, next hour with two major issues facing and challenging the White House. First is the push for police reform coming from, well, Capitol Hill, but really from a groundswell of communities across the country, demands for change, real change.
And there's also the pandemic. The numbers of cases in the United States just topped two million. And the president is headed to a state that is seeing a spike in infections.
CNN's John Harwood is at the White House and is joining us right now.
John, what are we expected to hear and see with the president today?
JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we haven't got a lot of details from White House aides about when the president may say today. There's some talk of an executive order that might include some data collection, standards, guidelines, that sort of thing.
But there are few things we do know. First of all, the president is going to the political equivalent of that underground bunker beneath the White House. That is to say, a white evangelical church. That's his strongest particular group of supporters, so it's a safe space there.
The second thing is, apart from the efforts on Capitol Hill, the president has personally sent signals of escalating racial division rather than unity and rather than easing them.
There was the tweet earlier this week about the 75-year-old protester in Buffalo who he lumped with Antifa. There was the dismissal yesterday of even the idea of renaming Confederate military bases named for Confederate generals.
And we saw this morning that the president sent a tweet, taunting protesters from that June 1st demonstration when tear gas and rubber bullets were fired to clear Lafayette Park, which is, of course, behind me. The president said it was a walk in the park. Of course, after the park was cleared, he walked across to the church and was photographed.
So the president himself is not someone, in his personal history, in his political history, who has been interested in messages of racial unity. And we have no indication he intends to do any different today.
BOLDUAN: How do they thread the needle if they even try to at all? Let's see.
John, thank you.
John will be standing by. And the president will be headed out soon to head to Dallas.
Let me bring in, in the meantime, Charles Ramsey, the former police chief of Philadelphia. And he was also the co-chair of the Police Reform Task Force put together by President Barack Obama, you'll remember, after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
That experience I really want to lean on, Chief, because, in the response to public outcry back then, you all put together a playbook of concrete steps and changes that police departments can make, these reforms that you think could be put in place.
What among those changes can be accomplished through executive order by any president, I'm wondering?
CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, policing is local. It's really governed at the local and state level. But that doesn't mean that the federal government can't play a role in trying their best to standardize some training, some inclusions in policy and the like.
The only way to make states do it and local municipalities is by tying it to funding but that doesn't mean, again, that they can't play a role. And they should play a role.
But we laid out 59 recommendations and 92 different action steps. And I think all of them still apply today. You can also take a look at consent decrees that are in existence because a lot of information can be gleaned from that.
There's no excuse for departments and governments not to take a look and try to do what they can to actually try to implement real reform.
This is a moment in time that we have to take advantage of if we're actually going to see real change occur.
BOLDUAN: No excuse on the local level and no excuse on the federal level as well.
BOLDUAN: And this gets to a question of kind of policy and culture I've got a question about, because there's a new video that came in overnight that we just got of an arrest in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The arrest is under investigation.
Two black teenagers handcuffed by officers for jaywalking down, what appears in the video, as you see, a peaceful street. And, yes, I did say handcuffed for jaywalking.
As I mentioned, under investigation. But this has me thinking of the famous quote that culture eats strategy for breakfast. How do you fix that?
RAMSEY: Well, it's difficult. But first of all, jaywalking, give me a break.
RAMSEY: I can't think of anyone who has done that, including myself. So I'm actually admitting to it. It's an ordinance violation, for the most part, and it's meant for the safety of pedestrians and drivers on the roadway. It's not something you would handcuff individuals for.
That's the kind of stuff we're up against. The questions about systemic racism, I've not seen policy or directives that have that thing included.
But part of the culture of policing, you can't argue against the fact that it still exists because it does. And I don't know if two white kids walked across the street if they would have done the same thing or not. I'm not going to get that.
But that just shows that policing is in crisis right now. And those kinds of things are what people out in the streets right now are protesting because it is unequal treatment and it just makes absolutely no sense.
But I think it's fixable. I really do. But it's going to really require holding people accountable and not tolerating that kind of stuff
You know, you don't need to investigate that to take action to know that that was not appropriate, and it's certainly not something that the chief wants to see.
BOLDUAN: OK. Chief, thanks for your leadership on this.
RAMSEY: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Coming up next for us, Lebron James also leading the way in a new push to protect black voting rights. Basketball great, Jalen Rose, he's part of that effort. He joins me next.
BOLDUAN: Georgia's primary election this week widely considered a complete mess, and all you have to look at are scenes like this. People lined -- forced to wait in line for sometimes four hours to cast a ballot, facing broken machines.
And now, of course, there's a lot of finger-pointing as to who and what is to blame.
NBA superstar, Lebron James, captured the impact of this in a tweet writing this: "Everyone talking about, how do we fix this," talking about racial injustice in America. "They say go out and vote. What about asking if how we vote is also structurally racist."
And now James along with a group of other prominent black athletes are forming a group to help protect the voting rights of African- Americans. The group is called "More Than a Vote" and is aimed at getting more African-Americans registered to vote and to cast a ballot in November.
Joining me is another NBA star, former Indianapolis Pacer, now ESPN analyst, Jalen Rose, who is joining Lebron James in this effort.
Jalen, thank you for taking the time.
Talk to me about what this is about and how it came about.
JALEN ROSE, ESPN ANALYST & FORMER INDIANAPOLIS PACER BASKETBALL PLAYER: One of my favorite artists of all time is Chuck D. And he once said, I roped a dope to evil, with righteous bobbing and weaving, so that the good get even.
They are going to be so many people that will try to politicize this. And more than a vote. It's just a mobilization of urban environments, of inner-city people, of black and brown people to unite and be energized the same way were in 2008 to help Barack Obama get elected, in the same way in 2012.