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Alene Tchekmedyian is Interviewed about Backlash from the Sheriff; Carlton McCoy Talks about "Nomad"; Canceling Loan Debt. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired April 29, 2022 - 08:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: This week, the Los Angeles County Sheriff announced that his department was targeting a journalist in a criminal leak investigation for her reporting on an alleged cover-up within the sheriff's department. "L.A. Times" reporter Alene Tchekmedyian has written a series of stories about an incident from March of 2021 where a deputy kneeled on an inmate's head. this including an article on Monday about an allegation that Sheriff Alex Villanueva was implicated in a cover-up. And the at a news conference this week, the sheriff said that he was investigating all parties involved in the leaked video, which he said was stolen property that was removed illegally, and the sheriff later confronted that reporter.


SHERIFF ALEX VILLANUEVA, LOS ANGELES COUNTY: Reporters, like from "The L.A. Times," maybe need to start clarifying exactly what you did with this and when did you -- who did you get it from and when did you get it. So that's a question for you to answer. So, with that --


KEILAR: Did not take a question from her. Posed one there. The sheriff is now backing off of his investigation of the reporter because there was so much backlash.

And joining us now is that reporter for "The L.A. Times," Alene, with us now.

Now, we should note, the L.A. Sheriff's Office did decline multiple interview requests with us. We did ask them. OK, Alene, this is -- this is a complicated story, but that's the

whole point is that you've done a tremendous body of work here, and it appears that the sheriff's office was then targeting you in response in this criminal leak investigation.

Explain to us what happened at this press conference and how he has since backed off.

ALENE TCHEKMEDYIAN, REPORTER, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Yes. So, he announced this press conference after a commander had filed a legal claim alleging he had directed the cover-up. So, he called this press conference to talk about what he called false allegations against -- brought by a disgruntled employee. But when we got to the news conference at the hall of justice in downtown L.A., he presented a timeline of his version of events, and then, you know, started to focus on this leak investigation and, you know, singled out me as a reporter on the story and had my picture up there, and said that he was looking into, you know, what he called, you know, the leak of stolen property from the department.

KEILAR: So this -- we have to be clear, this is an incident that happened in the courthouse. There was someone -- a suspect who had been charged with other charges, and got into an altercation with the sheriff's deputy. And that sheriff's deputy ends up kneeling on this suspect's head, even for three minutes after he's handcuffed.

The other thing that you've uncovered in your reporting is that internally there were investigators who were taking a look at this very critically and saying, this isn't right, and yet it appeared they were also being retaliated against, is that right?

TCHEKMEDYIAN: That's right. So, we had one commander, and the one that filed a complaint on Monday, who wanted to, you know, elevate both sides of the investigation, take criminal charges against the -- pursue criminal charges against the inmate who very clearly on video punched the deputy and then more deeply look into the deputy who, you know, he thought committed excessive force. But, you know, the department didn't want to do any of that because they were scared about the negative light that publicizing this case could have on the department, especially this all happened two days into jury selection of the trial of Derek Chauvin, who was, you know, convicted of murdering George Floyd. And they saw that there were similarities to these -- both cases and didn't want the extra attention and the negative publicity.

KEILAR: So he's backed -- sort of backed off now of targeting you, but, at the same time, you just reported this week that a former top ranking L.A. County sheriff's official -- or, pardon me, you just -- you reported that there is evidence.


One of Villanueva's closest advisers, in a filing alleging that she had actually personally brought a DVD of this video of a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed inmate's neck to Villanueva five days after the incident happened, which it runs very counter to what he said, Alene.

So I guess my question is, who holds him accountable? He seems to very credibly have been caught in a lie here.

TCHEKMEDYIAN: Yes, you know, since the beginning of when I reported this story, sources were saying that Sheriff Villanueva was in office cover-up. But yesterday was the first time that we heard from someone with firsthand knowledge of that, that says they were personally in the room when they watched him -- when they watched the video with him five days after it happened. And, you know, he has been saying, since this became public, that he found out about this incident eight months after it occurred and took very swift action, but that sort of called into question now with these -- yesterday's, you know, firsthand witness.

KEILAR: Look, Alene, you're --


KEILAR: Sorry, go on.

TCHEKMEDYIAN: I was just going to say, he's under, you know, the inspector general, which oversees the sheriff's department, is looking into the incidents. You were asking about who holds him accountable. That's, you know, one, you know, independent body that's looking at this case.

KEILAR: Your reporting is tremendous here. It is so backed up. And this is, obviously, something to take very seriously when someone that you are raising legitimate questions about is then coming after you and your First Amendment rights. We do appreciate you discussing this, Alene. Thank you so much.

TCHEKMEDYIAN: Thank you so much for having me.

KEILAR: President Biden suddenly warming up to forgiving student loan debt. But there is a big caveat here.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, a surreal moment in space. Hear what Americans had to ask of Russian cosmonauts.



BERMAN: Carlton McCoy is a classically trained chef, master sommelier (ph), and expert traveler who has found himself at home everywhere, from his grandmother's kitchen, to top restaurants in the world, and a variety of places in between. Now in the all-new CNN original series "Nomad with Carlton McCoy," he takes us on a global exploration of food, music, art and culture to discover the universal threads that connect us all.

Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CARLTON MCCOY: I was first introduced to the art world exploring museums here in Paris. But one thing that became quickly apparent to me was a distinct lack of black and brown perspectives.

I'm heading back to Sant-Deni to meet two people who are on the cutting edge of Paris' art scene looking to change that.

MARIANE IBRAHIM, GROUNDBREAKING GALLERIST: In France you're exposed to the art. But you're exposed to the domination of a culture of others. What you are seeing are works of them by them about people like us.

MCCOY: Mariane Ibrahim is an art world powerhouse. She has a beautiful gallery in Chicago and she's opening a brand-new one in Paris. Mariane has an incredible roster of uber talented artists from Africa in its diaspora, including her friend artist Rafael Berentini.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This picture was taken in a kind of exotic blends of western people who are colonizing Africa.

IBRAHIM: As a black person, or as a mix, as a brown, thinking to make art requires a lot of audacity and a lot of confidence because what you are motivated, it's what you see that looks like you.


BERMAN: Yes, that's so cool.

Joining me now is the host of "Nomad," Carlton McCoy.

Great to have you here and congratulations on the new show.

CARLTON MCCOY, HOST, "NOMAD WITH CARLTON MCCOY": Thank you. It's good to be here. It's good to be here.

BERMAN: It feels like, you know, your entire life trained you perfectly for this, from your grandmother, to your education, to everything.

MCCOY: You know, it was a very organic journey. You know, I grew up with an enormous admiration for food and food culture. And when it became a career, instead of just something we did at home, I learned that there was an enormous amount of history, spent thousands of years that went into the creation of some of those dishes. And when my career gave me the opportunity and the resources to travel, I got to explore that.

And what I realized was that, much like myself, everyone had been raised with their own unique sort of perspective on the world. And I sort of just created this hunger for learning, how they saw the world. And what it led to was, instead of being afraid to travel, I sort of led those journeys with more curiosity and enthusiasm. And that's what we try to show people in the show.

BERMAN: I was going to say, what's the goal here?

MCCOY: Yes, you know, I -- you know, when you look at what's going on in the world now, it's really easy to be sort of cynical about things that go on in the world. Instead of realizing the world's an absolutely amazing place. And the chances that any of us will ever explore the whole thing in a lifetime is unrealistic. But what you can do is go on your own journey. And when you go to a place, you know, go with your eyes and your heart wide open, explore how people live in that space. But do it on their terms. And you shouldn't be afraid to do that.

BERMAN: The Paris episode fascinates me because, you know, 99 out of 100 shows on Paris, you know, you'll go to Paris, you'll go to the Left Bank (ph), you'll eat at the bistros and that will be it.


BERMAN: It will be awesome, but that will be it.

MCCOY: Absolutely.

BERMAN: But you went literally beyond that. And I'm going to mispronounce the word, the Bomus (ph).

MCCOY: Bomus (ph), pretty good.

BERMAN: It's the -- it's sort of the outer band, the immigrant communities largely, around Paris.


BERMAN: What did you find there? Why did you want to go and what did you find?


MCCOY: Well, what I felt was that, you know, those communities and those stories were equally authentic Persian experiences. And instead of sort of discounting what we know is a stereotypical Parisian identity, what we wanted to do was say, that's -- that's accurate, but there's more to that story.

So, we went out to visit those communities where some of those families have been in these communities, neighbors, three, four generations, much like, you know, some of the immigrant communities we have even in New York City. You know, you go out, you know, to Queens and some of those families have been there for three, four generations. That's a New York experience.

So we just wanted to sort of add more diversity and exciting parts to the Parisian story that probably were not -- not told.

BERMAN: Yes, Ghana, South Korea, where else?

MCCOY: Ghana, South Korea, surprisingly Toronto is exceptional. Obviously, Paris. D.C. And probably what was one of my favorite shows is Mississippi.

BERMAN: Listen, I can't wait. If you need a key grip or anything, as you head out the next time, I'm available.

MCCOY: Got it. Throw you in the back.

BERMAN: Great to see you. Carlton McCoy, nice to meet you.

MCCOY: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: You can catch the series premiere of "Nomad" Sunday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific only on CNN.

KEILAR: President Biden is warming up to a demand from many on the left to forgive student loan debt. But Biden says it will not be $50,000 for each borrower, as some in his party are pressuring him to do. Senator Mitt Romney, though, trolling the White House for even considering debt forgiveness here. He tweeted this, desperate polls call for desperate measures. Dems consider forgiving trillions in student loans. Other bribe suggestions, forgive auto loans, forgive credit card debt, forgive mortgages and put a wealth tax on the super rich to pay for it all. What could possibly go wrong?

Joining us now is CNN chief international correspondent John King.

What do you think about this battle?


First, a couple of points. What Senator Romney first came to Washington, he tried to keep a low profile. He wanted to be Utah's senator, not the former Republican presidential nominee. And he didn't want to every day be the Republican who comes out and says, yes, I think Donald Trump is crazy because -- he just didn't want to be in that role. And now that Trump is gone, at least for now, Romney is beginning to assert himself more as a national player in the Senate and in Republican politics.

Number two, words don't fall from the sky. Things happen for a reason. Why is -- why is -- I called him Governor Romney, Senator Romney, Berman will get the governor part, why is Senator Romney think this is a big issue? The deficit. Government spending is clearly a big concern to voters and the politicians are seeing it in the data. I say words don't fall from the sky. At the White House yesterday, President Biden said, it would be nice if the Republicans would help us lower the deficit. Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco liberal, at her press conference on Capitol Hill yesterday, said Democrats, with the rest of this legislative year, want to do a number of things, including reducing gas prices and lowering the deficit.

So, why are the politicians talking about debt and big spending? Clearly they're seeing data from the voters that this is a giant concern coming out of the pandemic when there was a ton of government spending, and coming at a time the president is asking the Congress, and therefore the American people, to pay for billions and billions more for Ukraine. It's an issue and Senator Romney is trying to lay a marker down, sort of an old school Republican, Democrats want to spend money. They believe it helps with their base, but they also think on this student loan thing, just blanket forgiving them, which President Biden's not ready to do, but liberals are trying to push him there. But the Republicans think that helps them in the suburbs with people who think, wait a minute, gas is costing me a lot of money, groceries are costing me a lot of money. Be careful, government, don't start throwing money around.

BERMAN: You did talk about what President Biden may or may not do here. It puts him in a little bit of a bind. He said he won't do the $50,000 of forgiveness that some progressives want. Does he have to give them something?

KING: Yes. But the question is what. And, John, this is a trademark example of how Democrats behave differently than Republicans, and they always have. I've been doing this for 40 years now. The Democrats fight it out publicly. Republicans try to settle most of their policy disputes. Trump is the exception. But without that, they try to settle most of their policy disputes in private.

So, Chuck Schumer went to the floor and said, maybe the president's willing to go as high as $50,000. That's the Senate majority leader. He's supposed to be the president's partner. The president comes out yesterday and says, I'm not doing to $50,000. So they're debating this publicly. There's a lot of pressure on the president.

Look, his polls are down with everybody. But for the constituents, Democrats need to turn out in the midterms, especially younger voters who are a big part of the Biden coalition, a big part of the Democratic coalition, this issue is very important to them. It's especially important to progressives from cities where, you know, you lie in New York. The cost of living is high. That's why Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is so hot on this issue. Young kids get out of college, they get a lower paying job, their rent is high and they have this student debt and it is legitimately crippling to a lot of their lives.

So, it's a huge issue. The question is, how far can the liberals push the president to go? The White House wishes they would push privately.

KEILAR: Vladimir Putin is going to the G-20, we have just learned. And Berman was talking to John Kirby over at the Pentagon, who said to him that, you know, this is clearly a privilege that he should not be afforded. But it makes you wonder, what is Biden going to do? What are other American allies going to do? Are they going to go to the G-20?

KING: It was interesting listening to John Kirby, and I appreciate the tough position he's in, saying, I don't speak for the administration or the president on these issues, and then he was essentially speaking for the president and the administration, or speaking his view on the administration.


President Biden is not going to be in a room with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 if the war in Ukraine continues, period. Not going to happen. So now the president of Indonesia, who's the host this year, has invited Putin to this club. This club was founded back in 1999. The idea was, we need to have rules for international trade. So even the bad guys can come to the club. Well, 23 years later, after 1999, you look at China, you look at Russia, and there are a lot of people thinking, was that a good idea or was that a bad idea? Have we actually moderated their behavior in a better way? So the whole idea of these clubs, right, kick Putin out of the G-7, the G-8, used to be the G-8, you know, Putin's getting kicked out of a lot of clubs right now.

So, does the meeting collapse now? Does the president of the United States get on the phone to the leader of Japan and other leaders and say, forget it, we can't go, we're not going, or do they have the meeting and boycott Putin somehow, not go to the big events, not take the big photo? These are decisions the White House is going to have to make now because there's every reason for the president to go to Indonesia, to project power, American power, American economic power in Asia right now. That part of it is critical.

However, Putin is a pariah to Biden and they'll have to work this one out. Whether that's a boycott or just somehow -- I've been at these meetings before. I was at the Mandela inauguration. You know, Al Gore is walking down the hall as the vice president o the United States. Fidel Castro comes out and, zoop (ph), just go the other way.


KING: Do you pull that off? To be -- but it's very delicate diplomacy. Biden will not be in a room with Putin unless things change dramatically.

BERMAN: Speaking of clubs, there's the White House Correspondents Association Dinner Saturday night.

KING: Yes.

BERMAN: It hasn't happened in a few years because of Covid. It is happening. Trevor Noah is going to be the comedic relief there. President Biden will be speaking as well. I don't think we have time to play clips of past presidents, but I do want to ask you, President Biden is going to give a speech here. You know, a comedy routine. It's not easy, you know, and it's important for presidents to pull this off.

What do you think the goal is for him in this particularly strange moment?

KING: Well, it is a strange moment in the sense that he's a wartime president, even though the United States is not directly involved, boots on the ground. But it's a very serious moment, a sober moment. Inflation is kicking Americans in the teeth every single day. And so the president needs to be careful here. He can't be clowning, if you will.

But, John, we've seen in the past that presidents who are struggling have used this self-deprecating humor at dinners like this to make fun of themselves, to make fun of the crowd and to maybe get a little bit of a reset, to get people to say, OK, I'm mad at him about gas prices, I'm not sure about this policy, maybe about the border, but that was funny. That was funny. And that's the Joe Biden I actually like.

So, it is an opportunity, if he handles it right. The question is, can he find the sweet spot?

KEILAR: Self-deprecation always works.

KING: Yes.

KEILAR: So, I have some ideas for jokes. I'll see if they're going to be in there.

John King, it's always great to have you. And, of course, we're going to catch you on "INSIDE POLITICS" at noon.

KING: I'll be there.

KEILAR: And you can join me and John Berman tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for CNN's live special coverage of the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

BERMAN: Gazing into the horizon.

KEILAR: There you are.

BERMAN: Looking -- looking for truth at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. The truth is out there.

All right, we have much more breaking news out of Ukraine. Plans to evacuate civilians from the besieged steel plant in Mariupol, now facing new obstacles from Russian forces. CNN following the latest developments on the ground.



KEILAR: This week's CNN hero, DeAnna Pursai, grew up doing everything with her sister Angel. But there was one big difference between them, Angel has down syndrome. And when DeAnna went off to college, she saw how few opportunities Angel had to keep learning and growing. So, DeAnna co-founded a college for students just like her sister.



DEANNA PURSAI, CNN HERO: College of Adaptive Arts is a life-long equitable collegiate experience for adults with special needs of all differing abilities who historically haven't had access to college education.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You hit that right there.

PURSAI: We have ten schools of instruction. And they get the same access to the array of classes that any college student can select.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Out reaching towards the sun.

PURSAI: I want for every student that walks through our doors to be treated like the thinking intellectual that they are.

I love you.


PURSAI: My experience with my sister, Angel, has helped me be a better, more authentic, transparent person. I am so humbled each and every day by their depth and ideas and ways to make the world a better place.


KEILAR: Love it. And to see the full story about DeAnna's unique program, just go to And while you're there you can nominate a hero in your life.

BERMAN: So, as we mentioned, tomorrow is the White House Correspondents Association Dinner. Brianna and I will be anchoring special live coverage of the dinner, because we weren't invited.

President Biden will be giving a speech there. And presidents, in the past, they speak and they make jokes.

Here's a little example of what they've done.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here it comes. Nuclear proliferation. Nuclear proliferation. Nuclear proliferation.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Nukier poliberation.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: In my final year, my approval ratings keep going up. The last time I was this high, I was trying to decide on my major.


BERMAN: So the question is, what will -- what will President Biden do? Will he talk like that? Who knows?

KEILAR: And, you know, tomorrow night we're actually going to look in the same direction, unlike in these photos between us right here.


BERMAN: Yes, we will. We'll absolutely look in the same direction.

Thank you, all, for joining us today on NEW DAY.

CNN's coverage continues right now.