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Samantha Steckloff is Interviewed about a Plot against Jews in Michigan; Conservatives Hold Dueling Events; Masih Alinejad is Interviewed about Iran Schoolgirls Being Poisoned. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 03, 2023 - 06:30   ET



OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, the suspect was an employee at the University of Michigan for 10 years, until December 2021. He claims he was fired for refusing to take experimental medication. Now, (INAUDIBLE) on that but did require a Covid-19 booster shot for employees around that time. He's charged with violating interstate communications laws when it comes to threats. He's due in court later today. He's represent by a federal public defender, but we haven't heard anything from them yet.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, just terrifying to see this intersection of threats against elected officials and the rise in anti-Semitism that we've been seeing.

Omar Jimenez, thank you for that report.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Attorney General Dana Nessel, the attorney general of Michigan, wasn't the only official in that state to be targeted in this plot. There were others, including first term State Representative Samantha Steckloff, who says she found out about the threat on her life when the FBI called her. She joins us now.

Good morning.

I'm so sorry that this is the reason you're with us, but I appreciate you sharing your experience with us.

SAMANTHA STECKLOFF (D), MICHIGAN STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Thank you for having me. It's important to get this kind of message out. So, I appreciate you having me on your show this morning.

HARLOW: What is so sad to me, on top of this, is that you're not surprised.

STECKLOFF: When I was first called, it was a week and a half ago. The FBI called, said they were on their way to arrest this gentleman. I put the phone down and didn't really think too much of it. And I so did not think so much of it that I didn't really tell anybody about it until the story broke yesterday. And let's just say, that is not the way I wanted my mother to find out about what happened.

HARLOW: You know, you have been very public about your battle with and overcoming breast cancer. And you said, I did not survive breast cancer to be killed for being Jewish.

Do you believe right now, as this threat came to you, that anti- Semitism, and the threat of attack on public officials like you, is now a greater threat to your life than breast cancer?

STECKLOFF: Oh, absolutely. We've seen the rise in anti-Semitism pretty much since the - Charlottesville.


STECKLOFF: When President Trump came in 2016, we saw this rise and wave of this right Christian national group. And it really, really, really hit the fire when Kanye West said he was going to go deaf con three on all of the Jews back in October/November.

HARLOW: You know, you've talked about that. That tweet that then Twitter removed for violating its policies. But what I think is interesting, Representative, is you've also talked about some of the media being somewhat complicit in this, or certainly not doing enough to stomp it out. Can you talk about that?

STECKLOFF: I do want to talk about this. And the reason I talk about it is because this is how it starts. You know, and I speak to my grandmother and I speak to Holocaust survivors. We have a very, very vibrant Holocaust survivor network here in metro Detroit. We were the first Holocaust memorial center in the country established in the 1980s. And it was created by Holocaust survivors. And I say that because we have this great cultural fabric here in southeast Michigan. And while this is the first time in my lifetime I have seen this kind of stuff happen, it's not the first time we've seen it happen, especially when we go back to the 1930s and why so many of our seniors are scared.

Back in October/November when Kanye West put that tweet out, "The Detroit News" editorial board put out an entire article calling Kanye a victim. And still to this day they refuse -- they absolutely refuse to retract it. I still go back and forth with the editor of "The Detroit News."

And I bring that up not to say so much about we need to be so much of going after our media. That's not it at all. But what it does mean is we need to be very conscience about what we say, the tropes we use. We, so often, here that the Jews are in charge of the media, that we are in charge of everything, and we need to stop that argument. And when you have someone who can tweet out to more people, to double the amount of people than there are Jews in this entire world, there are less than 115 million of us, a majority of people have never met another Jewish person. So, their information comes from the media.

HARLOW: You know, I read that. I remember that "Detroit News" op-ed. I know they altered it a bit. They said Kanye was a victim of cancel culture. It still exists. It's been altered a bit.

But just, final point, to the point Kaitlan made, that's such an important point, and in Omar's piece, you, as an elected state representative who's Jewish, faced this duel-pronged threat. Both a rise in attacks on and threats to elected officials and anti-Semitism that is at a record high right now according to the Anti-Defamation League. Does it ever make you rethink what you do now?

STECKLOFF: It does. It absolutely does. And the reason I keep fighting is because I know that it is my duty and my job to make sure that I leave this world a better place than I entered it, tikkun olam.


And it's so important that I continue to wake up each day and fight for my community.

While I said breast cancer was the most difficult thing I've ever had to go through, it really has been these last few months, putting myself out there openly as a Jewish representative when I've already received death threats on a daily basis was one of the scariest things I've ever done. And I know even today by showing my face, speaking out against this horrible tragedy that could have been, I'm prone to some today.

HARLOW: Wow. You're brave. And we thank you for your service to the state of Michigan, to this country. And thanks for sharing your story.

STECKLOFF: Thank you so, so much for having me.

HARLOW: Of course.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there are two dueling Republican gatherings happening this week. So, where are the 2024 candidates and hopefuls headed, Maryland or Florida, and how could that shape the race?



LEMON: So, new signs of splintering inside the Republican Party this morning. Conservatives are split between dueling events in Maryland and Florida. And some big names on the right are skipping what was once a must attend event, the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC.

CNN's Kristen Holmes live for us, CNN THIS MORNING, at National Harbor in Maryland, with the latest on this.

Good morning to you.

The people who weren't there are as notable as the people who were there, Kristen.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Don. I mean this event has really become a who's who of MAGA world. We have seen these popular social media stars. Don Jr. is here, Steve Bannon, as well as that MAGA wing of Congress. We saw Representative Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene. And, of course, Trump himself is speaking on Saturday.

But notably missing, almost all of the major 2024 Republican hopefuls, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, which had several people, several attendees here, pretty disappointed.


HOLMES (voice over): Dueling cattle calls for 2024 Republican hopefuls.

Outside Washington --


HOLMES: The Conservative Political Action Conference. For years, a launching pad for aspiring presidential candidates. Now, largely the Trump show.

TOM HOMAN, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS: No one did more to secure this border than President Trump. If you don't like him, then you don't like me.

HOLMES: With the former president headlining the three day event, filled with conservative activists and far-right firebrands.

Meanwhile, in Florida, other major potential candidates are gathering for a private donor event hosted by The Club for Growth, an anti-tax group at odds with Trump.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott skipping CPAC altogether.

Beyond Trump, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are the only major 2024 hopefuls set to address the CPAC crowd, raising questions about its relevance.

SCHLAPP: There's a lot of chatter in the media about who's here and not here.

HOLMES: The two events highlighting the deep party divide.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): Some politicians who say they're on our side are also destroying our country.

HOLMES: With former President Donald Trump at the center.

But while many attendees say they are still behind Trump --

MARIE ZERE, CPAC ATTENDEE: I'm not undecided. I am a Trump supporter because he's a warrior. He's the only one that can pull this through.

HOLMES: Others weren't so ready to commit. EVAN REISTER, CPAC ATTENDEE: Even if they're healthy when they get

elected, four years is a long time at that age. So, that's a big concern of mine with Trump.

HOLMES: As the GOP braces for a primary clash, some here said they were hoping to hear from more of the party's hopefuls.

REBECCA BRIAN, CPAC ATTENDEE: I think we're all a little disappointed about Ron DeSantis.

HOLMES (on camera): Did you - what -- did you want to hear him speak?

BRIAN: I did. I've seen him speak. And - and I'm moving to Florida. I don't think it's all decided yet, is it. But I would recommend one thing, take the Ronald Reagan approach, don't talk bad about Republicans.


HOLMES: Don't talk bad about Republicans. Now, that sounded like a little bit of wishful thinking. It's something we heard from a lot of attendees. But if this primary looks anything like what we saw in 2016, it is going to be very ugly.

And, of course, as we know, former President Trump has spent a majority of the last month just attacking Florida Governor Ron DeSantis all over his social media. So, again, seems a little bit like wishful thinking at this point.

LEMON: Took the words right out of my mouth.

Thank you, Kristen Holmes, appreciate it, in Maryland.

COLLINS: Also this morning, the White House is now calling for a, quote, thorough and transparent investigation into the reported poisoning of schoolgirls in Iran. The Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad is going to -- has been critical of the Iranian government. She's been a target of them as well. She's going to join us next with her thoughts.



COLLINS: There is fear, concern, and major questions this morning all across Iran after nationwide reports of schoolgirls being poisoned. The first reported poisonings happened back in November according to Iranian state media. Reports say that nearly 900 students from across the country have been poisoned so far. The White House is now weighing in with John Kirby saying that investigations should be done by the Iranian government to be thorough and transparent.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESMAN: Let's see what the results are here first before we make some kind of snap judgement. We don't really know what's going on with respect to these hundreds of schoolgirls. And we, I think, where the president is, we need to know. The world needs to know. Certainly the families of those little girls need to know.


COLLINS: Joining us now is Iranian journalist and activist, Masih Alinejad. She has been named as one of "Time" magazine's women of year for her work on behalf of women's rights in Iran. She was also the target of a murder for hire plot that was linked to the Iranian government according to the U.S. Justice Department.

He says we need to wait to know. You feel like we already know what's happening.

MASIH ALINEJAD, IRANIAN JOURNALIST AND ACTIVIST: Exactly. I was actually listening to John Kirby say, asking the Iranian government to do an investigation. Wow.

LEMON: You had a physical reaction when you -

ALINEJAD: Yes, because it's like asking criminals to do investigate on their own crimes.

We know what's happened. If really the U.S. government want to know what happened, they have to talk to - to people like me and to the parents of the students who believe that the Islamic Republic is behind this chemical attack because it's a revenge against those brave girls who removed their Hijab and protested against the Islamic Republic. That's clear for us.

HARLOW: What more do you - because for a long time you've called on west -- the United States, the Biden administration, the west to do more.


ALINEJAD: No, you're right. For a long time.

HARLOW: What more? What more can they do now? And -

ALINEJAD: First -- first of all, first of all, I want the U.S. government to stop believing in Iranian government and saying that you have to do an investigation. We need an open investigation from outside organization. This is what the U.S. government can do.

Second of all, we need strong condemnation. .We need President Biden, think about it, is - it's like happening to your own daughters, to your own sons, to your own - to your own children in the United States of America. But when the Iran government see no strong action, when they see that still the U.S. government, we're trying to get a deal, when the foreign minister of the Islamic Republic were welcomed by the European parliament, by the high representative of EU, so there is no reason for them to stop killing more innocent teenagers. There no reason for the Iranian government, when they don't see any punishment by the western government. So, keep killing people. They keep poising girls to create fear among students.

LEMON: You, obviously, are very outspoken. You say that you use your social media as your main weapon against these injustices. But one of your campaigns led to multiple women being in prison, for which you say that you felt guilty about at first. And then, what happened?

ALINEJAD: I always feel guilty. Can you believe that when I was in the makeup room, the woman trying to make my hair beautiful, and I was like, wow, you are here. You're being paid to make my hair beautiful. In my country, people are there to hide your hair. People are there to kill you, to torture women, to poison women, to make them to hide their hair, to cover their hair. Think about it. Every morning when you come to this studio, you think about your appearance. Every morning when we want to go out, we have to let the men, Iranian men, Iranian clerics, to think about, make decision over our own body. This is a - this is a gender (ph) part of regime that we are talking.

So, if sometimes I feel guilty when I - when I free here, when I enjoy myself. When - when I was heard that I'm woman of the year, I was like, I'm - I'm not sure whether I can be happy or not. While it has been six months that the Iranian regime oppressed my sisters, my daughters in Iran.

COLLINS: You said the Iranian government should not be investigating itself essentially. Who should do - who do you think should do this investigation into the schoolgirls?

ALINEJAD: I want to say that U.N. But, at the same time, you know, I don't have any hope. But I believe that the U.S. -- the U.N. accountability mechanism must be onboard. The Doctors Without Borders, we need them to be onboard. These are the organizations. We believe that they can do something. Otherwise, look, we're talking about a regime, killed Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman, for showing a little bit of her hair. And then they were the one saying that we're going to do an investigation. What they did, they killed more than 500 innocent girls in the uprising.

And yesterday I was watching Christine Amanpour on CNN interviewing the foreign minister of the Islamic Republic.

HARLOW: An amazing interview.

ALINEJAD: He was denying.


ALINEJAD: And we thank to Christiane Amanpour, look into his eye and challenge him, but he was denying the killing, he was denying the torture, he was denying the rape. So now John Kirby, you're asking the same government to do an investigation? Who (ph)?

HARLOW: That's why we're so grateful for - for you being here. Masih, thank you.

COLLINS: Thank you. ALINEJAD: Please, don't abandon Iranian woman. More bad news going to come up. But I promise you, we're going to have good news.

LEMON: You know we're not.

ALINEJAD: Thank you. And I love you guys.

LEMON: Thank you for communicating with us about this.

ALINEJAD: I love CNN this year. You did a great job for Iranians.

LEMON: We do too. Thank you.

ALINEJAD: Thank you so much.

LEMON: We love you. Thank you. We love having you here. Thank you.

HARLOW: Well, next for us, it is a critical bridge used to move supplies and people. And, overnight, Russian forces blew it up. Our Alex Marquardt is on the ground in eastern Ukraine with the latest on the Russian offensive there.

LEMON: You do know we're not going to hold back (ph).

ALINEJAD: You are awesome (ph). Honestly.

COLLINS: Thank you.

ALINEJAD: Thank you so much, guys.

HARLOW: Thank you, Masih.

ALINEJAD: See you soon.



HARLOW: Well, the Lakers are going to have to find a way to stay in the play-off race without LeBron James. The league's all-time scoring leader is expected to miss most of March with an injured tendon in his right foot. Yesterday, the Lakers announced LeBron will be re- evaluated in about three weeks after hurting his foot on Sunday against the Mavs. The Lakers are be without LeBron as they try to make the push to the playoffs.

What you think? Can they do it without him?

COLLINS: Bummer.

HARLOW: You know I don't know. So, can they do it without him?

COLLINS: But he's someone - he's so good. I - I was so impressed when we saw that game in person.

You think no? LEMON: It's tough without -- I mean it's their --

COLLINS: Watching how he coordinates with everyone and just like owns the court.

LEMON: Yes. Yes.

COLLINS: I mean it is -


COLLINS: I know I'm the first person on planet earth to say LeBron James is really good, but he's really good.

HARLOW: We'll see. Wishing him a speedy recovery.

COLLINS: All right, CNN THIS MORNING continues right now.


ALAN WILSON, SOUTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We may have the worst criminal justice system in the world, but it's better than every other kind that there is. And our criminal justice system worked tonight. It gave a voice to Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.


Their voice was heard tonight and justice was brought for them. We can't bring them back, but we can bring them justice.