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Trump May Pardon War Criminals; Billionaire Pays off Loan Debt for Hundreds; Deutsche Bank Reported Suspicious Activity. Aired 9:30- 10a ET

Aired May 20, 2019 - 09:30   ET



[09:33:07] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Listen up for this next story because it's a story that American service members are listening to very carefully and are concerned about.

President Trump may be planning to grant clemency to some accused and even convicted war criminals. "The New York Times" reporting the president has requested paperwork which would allow him to move forward quickly with pardons possibly by Memorial Day. Now, you may recall, earlier this month, Trump pardoned Michael Behenna. He's a former Army soldier convicted -- convicted by his peers of killing an unarmed and naked Iraqi man, stabbing him repeatedly in the neck, in fact.

Joining us now to discuss this and other issues, Army veteran Waitman Beorn. He is author of "Marching into Darkness." It's about Holocaust and genocide. He also has an op-ed piece in "The Washington Post" today about why he says Behenna's pardon was wrong.

Thanks so much for joining us. It's great to have you on our air, Waitman.

WAITMAN BEORN, U.S. ARMY VETERAN: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, first, let's get to the essential argument here. And I've heard this from a lot of service members as well in the wake of this story over the weekend. You led a platoon in Iraq in 2003. You've done your service on the ground. And you say in this op-ed, and I'm quoting here, soldiers take most seriously the things their leadership makes most serious. By issuing pardons like this, is the president making it less serious when U.S. soldiers break the law, break U.S. military law, and kill civilians?

BEORN: I would say so. I think he's sending a message -- we always said in the Army that, you know, like I said, soldiers do what the leadership tells them or signals to them is most important to them. And I think it's clear in this case, you have the president who also functions as the commander-in-chief sending a message that he disagrees with decades, even centuries of legal precedent in the law of war and with the prosecution of those criminals by our own military. I think that's a really disturbing trend. [09:35:10] SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. I'm sure you keep in touch

with a lot of your fellow service members, fellow veterans. Is there a big push in the military to pardon these guys or no?

BEORN: My sense is no. And I actually read some really interesting comments on "The Washington Post" piece from Vietnam veterans and -- thanking me for writing that piece because it reinstated with them in some way. Those friends that I have that are still in I think are insulted and offended by this because one of the hallmarks of the military, the United States military, and granted, you know, we don't always get it right and historically have not always gotten it right, but we take risks -- we go to different lengths to try to avoid these kinds of civilian casualties. And in these cases, they're not even, as I've said before, they're -- this is not even a fog of war, you know, judgment call kind of situation, bullets are flying. These are premeditated cold blooded murders. And it gives everyone a bad name, every veteran that served. It gives every American who hasn't served -- I mean it makes us all look bad.

SCIUTTO: And I want to note to people, if they haven't read this, you've done your homework on this. You studied military command during Nazi Germany and how, even with Hitler at the helm, that soldiers deployed, took the messages from their commanders. It makes a difference what they hear about what is acceptable.

I want to get, though, to soldiers' safety here because this has been a consistent message from veterans that I speak with, and I'm quoting from you here again in your op-ed. Trump's posture endangers our deployed men and women by betraying the trust of host nations that we will prosecute those rare individuals who commit crimes against their people.

Tell us how this, in your view, makes U.S. soldiers and service members on the ground less safe.

BEORN: Absolutely. It's a great point.

You know, we're not a member of the International Criminal Court, which is a completely different issue that I don't want to get into right now. But what that means is, that we, as a nation, are responsible for trying those individuals that commit crimes on foreign soil. And if those host nations don't have confidence that what -- that we will do that, it does several things. One is it lessens their overall trust in us as a partner, it makes us sound very hypocritical in countries where we're trying to help them to develop the same kinds of moral, ethical military behavior that we try to model. And, you know, it -- I think it, in many ways, encourages our enemies -- enemy combatants, to behave in a similar form because, you know, if we're not abiding by our own self-professed values, then why should they.

SCIUTTO: Yes. No question. Listen, Waitman Beorn, I appreciate you writing this and coming on our air, you know, sticking a bit -- your head above the ramparts on this to make -- to make your position clear. Thanks so much for your service and thanks for your time.

BEORN: Thanks for having me. SCIUTTO: And, you know, Poppy, when you look at a decision like this, what is the constituency for this?


SCIUTTO: It's certainly not soldiers, current and former. They're not the ones calling for this. In fact, they're the ones who are raising their hands and saying this is not good for the U.S. military.

HARLOW: Right. Right. Right. Right. Absolutely. All right, we'll stay on this, for sure.

Ahead for us, a wonderful story. If you missed it this weekend, look what happened at Morehouse College. This is just a gift for so many people who are saddled with tons and tons of student debt. But not for these graduates. That story and one of the graduates who got such a great gift, ahead.


[09:43:21] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT F. SMITH, FOUNDER, CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF VISTA EQUITY PARTNERS: This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.


HARLOW: Yes, he is paying for all of those graduates' student loans. Pretty remarkable. Morehouse College grads received their -- much more than their diplomas over the weekend. Billionaire investor Robert F. Smith, who you just heard from, stunned the entire class of 2019 by pledging to pay off all of their student debt. According to Morehouse University president, David Thomas, that is tens of millions of dollars and he called Smith's gesture, quote, a liberation gift. The nearly 400 graduates at the historically black college received the gift with one condition, and that is that they pay it forward.

So I'm lucky to be joined now this morning by one of those lucky graduates, Cameron Edge, and his mother, Athena Cross.

Good morning to you both.



HARLOW: And I was joking, you can't stop smiling. And you don't even need to get this in writing because you have it on videotape.

Cameron, let me just begin with you. You're sitting there. You're getting your diploma. You're psyched about that. But you know you've got $150,000 in student debt. What did you think when you heard him say that?

EDGE: When I first heard Dr. Smith say that he was going to gift our entire class our loan forgiveness, it was almost like a -- you know, am I -- am I really hearing this right now moment? You know, it was -- it's honestly something that, you know, can be written in a movie or something that can be -- a story that could be told for generations to come. So it was just very exciting. And I was just very thrilled to hear that myself and my brothers would, you know, be going to -- will be going out into the real world without the loans that we had -- will have to be paid back. So it was amazing.

[09:45:01] HARLOW: Yes. Yes. That really, you know, oftentimes having that student debt makes people choose different careers where they know -- you know, they may not be their passion, but they want to be able pay off their debt. Now you have the freedom to do whatever it is that passion that you -- that you want to pursue.

Athena, I should just say for folks who don't know, kudos to you as a mom paying for both -- you know, saving to contribute for both of your sons to graduate from college while you yourself are getting your Ph.D. Not an easy feat.

CROSS: That's right.

HARLOW: One thing that Dr. Smith said in his commencement speech that struck me is he said, my story would only be possible in America and it's incumbent on all of us to pay this inheritance forward. What do you think it means for your son's future?

CROSS: Yes, I think -- I think Cameron's absolutely right. I think it's, you know, a sense of liberation and freedom. Being able to, you know, follow whatever path he finds to be right for him without being saddled with the burden of debt. I mean I think one of the biggest travesties is that education isn't as affordable as it could be and that, you know, those children who want to have the opportunities to go and do and be and thrive and exist with freedom and liberty, you know, are doing so with so much burden that really prevents them from being able to enjoy or appreciate those successes. So I'm thrilled for Cameron.

HARLOW: I'm thrilled for him and for all of them.

I know, Cameron, you've talked about your long-term goal is to -- is to go to law school.

EDGE: That's right.

HARLOW: Can you talk a little bit about how you plan to pay it forward, because that is the, you know, the return, if you will, the return investment that Dr. Smith asked from all of you is to pay it forward. So what are you going to do?

EDGE: So -- so currently with a lot -- myself and my friends, Cameron Rollins (ph), (INAUDIBLE) Bryson (ph), we created the organization at Morehouse's campus called Lighthouse (ph). It's an acronym that stands for Lifting Youth Through Enrichment. And basically what that is, is a mentorship organization in which we plan to mentorship in which we had mentored incoming freshmen at Morehouse College and helped them get acquainted with the social aspect of the campus, as well as having them serve in the community.

So that's my short-term goal. But -- and if we're talking about my long-term goal, it's my goal to go to law school and study civil rights law and actually pay it forward by representing people who are underrepresented in the courtroom and advocating on their behalf.

HARLOW: Wow, good for you.

EDGE: Thank you.

HARLOW: Good for you.

Let me just ask you finally, Athena, the fact that this happened for your son and his fellow graduates and the class of 2019 is a beautiful thing. But it's a rare thing, right? You've got so many graduates that are saddled with this debt. And you've got 2020 contenders, presidential candidates talking about solutions. Some say eliminate student debt. Some say free college. Free four-year college for all. What do you think the best sort of route is to deal with this?

CROSS: Yes, I think the -- I think it's kind of two parts, right? The first part is that other people, like Mr. Smith, should use their power and their agency to help others. And we -- there's should -- in whatever capacity that you can, whether it's, you know, mentoring or providing internships. And the second part is, you know, in order to be competitive in today's job market, you really need to have it, at the bare minimum, a four-year degree. And so ideally the four-year degree should be free for anyone in this country. But, you know, you still have, you know, generations of people who have been paying off student loans.


CROSS: So some sort of loan forgiveness, as well as, you know, going forward, having education be available and free for anyone, especially on a -- on a bachelor level and the undergraduate level.

HARLOW: And the question becomes how do -- how do we, as a country, if that's the path, how do we, as a country, pay for that, right? And that's the key -- core of the debate.


HARLOW: Congratulations. I'm so happy for you, Cameron.

CROSS: Thank you.

EDGE: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: Thank you both for joining me.

EDGE: Thank you so much.

CROSS: Thank you.

HARLOW: OK. All right, we'll be right back.


[09:53:19] SCIUTTO: This morning, President Trump is pushing back on a story in "The New York Times" that Deutsche Bank anti-money laundering specialists had their eyes on and in fact reported on the Trump Organization, specifically Trump himself and Jared Kushner.

HARLOW: The report says that concerns were raised about transactions by the Trump Org, controlled by the president and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Those transactions were, according to "The Times," recommended to be reported to the U.S. agency that investigates potential financial crimes, but that they were actually never filed to that agency. It's complex but important.

No one better than our Cristina Alesci to break it down.

It took you it took me a long time to get through this piece, but it's really, really important. What are we talking about here?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, at essence, what it comes down to is a number of Deutsche Bank employees in the anti-financial crime's unit flagged these transactions. And it went -- seems to have gone through the proper protocols in the sense that these transactions were then sent up to senior bankers in New York who determined that they should not be sent to the Treasury Department, which handles these kinds of financial crimes.

What typically happens in these situations is that the senior bankers do have discretion on whether or not to forward the transactions to Treasury. In this case, the employees are saying, hey, we feel, in our opinion, that Deutsche Bank did not send these to Treasury because it wanted to protect and preserve its relationship with Kushner.

HARLOW: Five employees, right?

ALESCI: Yes. One of them is on the record saying that potentially she was fired because she kept raising these concerns, so Deutsche Bank put out a statement saying that at no time was an investigator prevented from escalating activity identified as potentially suspicious. Furthermore, the suggestion that anyone was reassigned or fired in an effort to quash concerns related to any client is categorically false. So Deutsche Bank hitting back quite strong.

[09:55:08] I think the problem here is that this is yet another negative headline for Deutsche Bank. We know that potentially it's facing fines in Europe connected to a large money laundering scheme connected to Russian individuals. We know that it's being sucked into investigations related to the Trump Organization. Both by the New York AG and by members of Congress. So this is just another negative headline for Deutsche Bank.

HARLOW: Right. Right. OK. It's worth a read, for sure. Thank you for the reporting. We appreciate it very much.

ALESCI: Of course.

HARLOW: So, to Iran, firing back after the president launches a new threat on Twitter. The details, ahead.