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Democratic Primary: "Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide"; How The Detroit Debates Shaped The Democratic Field; How Talk Radio Propelled Trump To An Election Win; NYPD Judge: Officer In Garner's Death Should Be Fired; What's The Role Of The CIA Post-9/11?; Newly Unearthed Audio Tape Of Ronald Reagan Using Racist Slur. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired August 03, 2019 - 09:00   ET



MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michael Smerconish back in Philadelphia after spending the week in Detroit. As Martha and the Vandellas once famously sang, "Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide." After nearly five hours of debate spread out over two nights, where does the Democratic presidential contest now stand?

I would argue that while the exchanges were revealing on a myriad of issues, it's still not clear when and how the nomination will end. The combination of so many candidates and both an ideological and strategic divide within the Democratic party means this race won't resolve any time soon.

And by the way, that's completely normal. Donald Trump leading the GOP nomination fight from start to finish in the last cycle, that's the exception, not the norm. What was made clear on stage at the Fox Theatre is that Democrats have an ideological divide between the left and the left of center and those differences were made clear in debate over issues like healthcare and immigration. By the end of the week, there was no longer consensus as to even the Obama legacy.

Time and again, I wrote in my reporter notebook, "That played well in the hall," but I questioned whether it wins in a general election. Strategically, there's also a difference of opinion as to whether the surest path to the White House is by energizing the party's very liberal base or broadening its appeal to disaffected Rust Belt Democrats who went for Trump.

The process itself, that's another obstacle. With more than half of the 20 candidates in jeopardy of being eliminated from the next debate in September, they're under intense pressure to create viral moments so as to boost fundraising and polling status. Like Trump in 2016, Biden benefits from having so many competitors competing for attention and barring a gaffe, the dynamics of the race probably won't change until he faces a much thinner field. Only when that happens, when, say, Elizabeth Warren is finally standing on stage next to the front- runner will this race really clarify.

So in the meantime, the nomination is very much in play and the party runs the risk that this long and arduous process may produce a nominee who is unelectable owing to compromises made to satisfy the base in order to secure the nomination.

I want to know what you think. Go to my website this hour at and answer our survey question. Did the Detroit debates improve or worsen the odds of a Democrat winning the White House?

With me now is the Democratic lieutenant governor of the great state of Michigan, Garlin Gilchrist. You'll remember him. He grabbed national attention this week by telling the audience before the start of Wednesday night's debate that many in power have fallen out of touch with everyday Americans. Mr. Lieutenant Governor, Eastside props.

You knocked them dead on Wednesday night. Now, I know that you and Governor Whitmer delivered a primer (ph) of sorts to all 20 candidates before they arrived and you said, look, here's what you need to address in the state of Michigan. How did they do on what you provided?

GARLIN GILCHRIST, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF MICHIGAN: Well, first of all, thanks for having me here, Michael, and we did provide that information because we want them to have context about what's important to Michigan voters and Michigan residents. We want to hear more. We want to hear more about the Great Lakes.

We want to hear more about how you're going to fix infrastructure because in Michigan we have the worst roads in the country. We have too many people who are still not as confident as they should be in the water they drink. We have our education outcomes that are still lagging where they need to be.

In 2018, Governor Whitmer and I won on an agenda that spoke to those issues -- fixing the roads and the infrastructure, improving education, closing the skills gap and guaranteeing drinking water. When Democrats run on those issues, they will win in Michigan and they can win all across the country.

SMERCONISH: How about the big picture question? You heard my opening commentary and I can tick off a couple of things that come to mind -- outlawing private insurance, guaranteeing a job for everybody in the Green New Deal, decriminalizing border crossings that are illegal, even calling into question President Obama's record relative to deportations. Do you worry that a narrative is now taking hold that the party has just moved too far to the left to satisfy those Michigan voters who abandoned the party and went for Donald Trump?

GILCHRIST: Well, Michigan voters, Michael, will respond to people who speak to their issues and we do not have to choose between being progressive and solving problems. The reality is Governor Whitmer and I ran on the most progressive agenda that a Democrat has ever run on in the state of Michigan and we won by 10 points. This is the same state that Donald Trump won by 10,000 votes. So we know what works and how campaigns can win in Michigan.

[09:05:02] And when Democrats speak to those issues, when they focus on those issues, again, education, infrastructure, closing the skills gap, clean water, that's what will help them win. So we just need to make sure that we are speaking to people directly.

SMERCONISH: Yes. I'm just not sure, Mr. Lieutenant Governor, that those are the issues that did get the attention. I understand that's what resonate in your state, probably a state like mine in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Wisconsin as well, but I'm not sure that's the picture that emerged from five hours over the span of two different nights.

GILCHRIST: Well, the candidates certainly have more opportunities and we look forward to seeing them continue to show up in Michigan and in those key states and this is what they need to speak to. So, you know, whatever happened on the stage, that's one moment in time, but this is a long process and this is -- we have a while before we're going to have primaries and we're going to have caucuses. So candidates have time to make up this ground and speak to people really and they have to demonstrate that they care about what voters care about.

SMERCONISH: You know the strength of the African-American vote in this nomination process, so let me ask a specific question about it. When Joe Biden, the former vice president, is taking incoming on his association with President Obama, does that end up benefiting him among African voters -- African-American voters nationwide because if Obama's under assault, you know, they're going to -- they're going to want to rally around the flag that is Joe Biden?

GILCHRIST: Well, that's an -- that's an interesting question. I mean, I think what we need to focus on is the fact that, you know, candidates will win again with (ph) speaking to issues. I'm not sure that voters are really going to, at the end of the day, be enamored by these arguments on the esoteric. I think they're going to focus on what candidates speak of the (ph) issues and black voters are no different.

You know, black voters turned out in record numbers in Michigan in 2018 and that led to us having some important firsts. I'm the first black lieutenant governor because of that turnout, but if we're speaking to education, education inequity is a big issue in the city of Detroit where I live, in the state of Michigan and in cities all across the country. And so candidates need to focus on speaking to that rather than trying to, you know, attack the record of the previous president. That will motivate black voters and that will motivate voters, you know, of all races and ethnicities.

SMERCONISH: OK. Final strategic question and you're not allowed to say both. Which is more important in terms of a Democratic successful path, is it rallying the core constituency, people of color, women, younger voters, or trying to win back those high school educated white guys in Rust Belt states who abandoned Hillary and went for Donald Trump?

GILCHRIST: The answer to that question is that we do not have to choose. An electoral strategy that excludes voters is not a good electoral strategy. So the truth is, Michael, progressivism and problem-solving are not different. The truth is that we do not have to choose between persuading and turning out voters. We need to do all the above. So much is at stake here, but we can do it. In 2018, we did it in Michigan and Governor Whitmer and I got record voter turnout and won by 10 points in a state that Donald Trump won by 10,000.

So our path is clear. We do not need to have this false choice. We do not have to set up this war between the party because the country is so divided, so Democrats need to be united.

SMERCONISH: All right. You didn't take my bait. You did go for both, but that's OK.

GILCHRIST: That's what I believe.

SMERCONISH: Garlin Gilchrist, thank you so much.

GILCHRIST: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program. What do we have, Catherine? From Facebook, "Obama has a 95 percent approval rating among Dems. What a mistake to attacking him." Michael, I thought the same thing as I sat in the hall at the spectacular Fox Theatre.

Could Barack Obama -- here's a question for you. Could Barack Obama win the nomination of this incarnation of the party? It seems like so much has changed since 2008 and that's what I'm trying to get at with my survey question today at Go there and answer this right now. Did the Detroit debates improve or worsen the odds of a Democrat winning the White House? Details, answers at the end of the hour.

Up ahead, the New York police officer who allegedly fatally choked Eric Garner and caused his death, a lot of allegedlies in there, right? May soon be off the force after a recommendation from an internal judge. I'm going to talk to a retired FBI supervisory agent who says the officer should not be fired.

And later, President Trump never misses an opportunity during rallies to thank the states that won him the election, but he also might want to thank the tireless support from radio talk show hosts including Rush Limbaugh.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW: It's a bunch of reasons. The radical extremism number one, but also who needs the Democrats working for you to get wages up when Trump's economy is taking care of it?





SMERCONISH: Forget the conventional wisdom as to how Donald Trump won a stunning upset in 2016. That story holds that Trump won the presidency by swinging 80,000 voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan in a one-off election, but actually Trump won by harnessing forces and emotions that were 30 years in the making.

He owes his success not so much to high school educated white males who traditionally vote Democratic and could not stomach Hillary Clinton, but to the titans of talk radio, for it is they who paved the way for his type of candidacy and his Republican Party. That's the oversimplified version of the thesis of a brand-new book by my next guest, Dr. Brian Rosenwald. The book is called, "Talk Radio's America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States."

Dr. Rosenwald, by the way, earned his PhD by studying talk radio. He's a scholar in residence at the Partnership for Effective Public Administration and Leadership Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

OK, Brian. You say it wasn't the escalator ride that began the Trump candidacy. It was actually August 1, 1988. How come?

BRIAN ROSENWALD, AUTHOR, "TALK RADIO'S AMERICA": That's the day that Rush Limbaugh takes his act national and it's a great show and people tune in.

[09:15:02] And they start this habit -- forming this habit of listening to talk radio and then later cable news and what they hear every day is calls for a fighter. You know, it doesn't make for good radio to say, hey, nuance, compromise. That stuff's boring, but fighting, that's good radio and Donald Trump captured that ethos.

SMERCONISH: By the way, less anybody think the book is a hit job on Rush and others, you give Limbaugh props as being a master showman and a -- and a performing virtuoso.

ROSENWALD: Michael, he blazed the path. He created an entirely different media form from anything that ever existed before because it's a great show. You know, early in his time on the air, he would abort callers, he would play a vacuum cleaner sound effect, you'd hear screams in the background as he's hanging up on a caller. They were things nobody had ever seen or heard and people had to tune in every day because they never knew what he was going to say.

SMERCONISH: So did he, Rush, shape listener opinions in the 30 years that you focus on or was he simply giving them voice?

ROSENWALD: He was simply giving voice to the bedrock conservative sentiments that he had grown up with and that his audience had. That doesn't mean that he didn't shine a spotlight on issues that his audience might not otherwise have heard. It didn't mean -- didn't mean that he didn't shape attitudes in terms of what expectations were for Republicans, but it wasn't like he was some sort of puppet master who, you know, directed his audience to believe things. His audience already believed them.

SMERCONISH: There's this mindset out there, you reference puppet master, that the whole talk landscape was controlled by individuals eager to spread conservative wisdom and ideology. In the book, that's not the conclusion you reach. What was the motivation?

ROSENWALD: The motivation, as Rush always said, was to charge confiscatory advertising race, which means how can we make the most money? What's the best, most engaging show that we can put on every single day and that didn't always work with what Republicans wanted to do.

At times, Republicans would say, hey, this is the best deal we can cut and talk radio would say, no, stand up and fight for us, you know, fight for our values. They're rolling over again for the mainstream media, for Democrats. It's all they do. They just roll over. And that's the sentiment that helps, you know, give us Donald Trump.

SMERCONISH: And so in the process, the Republican Party, the leadership of the Republican Party is supplanted by the industry. How did that all work?

ROSENWALD: Well, when you spend three hours a day with your favorite host, sometimes more because these guys are on cable at night some of them, you start to listen to them. They're like trusted friends.

You know, you spend more time with them than with your spouse and so when they say something, that carries a lot of weight and especially in primaries where very few voters turn out, you know, it's like 10 percent or something like that, the fact is if your favorite host is talking up a candidate, that means something.

And the elected Republicans courted these guys for a lot of years and by the time they sort of said well, you know, the relationship is less good than bad, it was kind of too late already at that point for them. The host had the relationships with the audience and that was what was going to shape things.

SMERCONISH: OK. Here's what I'm hearing from you and I -- and I read the book and I know this is the argument that you make, essentially that there's a certain swath of American voters, particularly Republican primary voters, who in 2016, after 30 years of a trail being blazed by their favorite talk radio host, whoever that may have been, they wanted to elect someone who was in that mold.

ROSENWALD: Yes. They were frustrated. They were frustrated by both Bushes. They were frustrated by John Boehner. They were frustrated by Paul Ryan because these guys kept making promises and sounding good on the campaign trail and then they get to Washington and they didn't actually deliver and the reason they didn't actually deliver was that the whole country wasn't with them and they couldn't enact drastic things.

You know, we have a lot of checkpoints and veto points in our government, but that's not what these folks heard on the airwaves. They heard frustration. They heard anger. They were afraid that, you know, hosts were saying, just to pick one issue, immigration, they were saying this is going to destroy the character and the fabric of America. And the end result was that they were looking for someone like Donald Trump, someone who sounded like their favorite host, someone for whom the most important thing was punching back against the liberal elite, you know, not just people on television, but in the Democratic Party and Donald Trump gave them that. And so they put aside any worries they had about him not being a conservative.

SMERCONISH: Brian, I've had a front-row seat for that which you have chronicled and I think you nailed it and I think that the book is the most cogent explanation of anything I've seen as to how 2016 brought about that conclusion that stunned many. Thank you for being here.

[09:20:03] ROSENWALD: My pleasure, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Let me see what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. This comes from Facebook. What do we have. "Everything comes down to the money. So very sad that people sell their soul, if they ever had one." Well, I think, Charlotte, what he dispels in the book is the idea that there are, you know, puppet masters out there who want to spread conservative ideology.

They would just the same have spread liberal ideology -- those who controlled the industry. I don't necessarily mean the hosts. I'm talking about the owners and the program directors -- if that were the meal ticket, but there was already such liberal dominance in the industry when Rush gets syndicated at the end of the 80s that the vacuum was on the conservative side, but it was never about spreading conservative ideology. It was about wringing the register and selling ads.

Make sure that you're voting on the survey question at Did the Detroit debates improve or worsen the odds of a Democrat winning the White House?

Up ahead, conventional wisdom says a New York police officer puts a chokehold on Eric Garner because he's selling loosies and causes his death and needs to be fired, but are the officer's actions actually defensible? My next guest says yes.


SMERCONISH: Hey, I want to warn you, the video you're about to see, you've maybe seen it before, but it is really disturbing. It's been more than five years since Eric Garner died after police tried to arrest him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes illegally on Staten Island.


ERIC GARNER: Now listen, don't touch me. (ph)

[09:25:00] Do not touch me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me your hands, buddy. (ph)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your hand behind your back. ERIC GARNER: I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once again, police beating up on people.


SMERCONISH: Ever since Garner's death, the police officer who's accused of fatally choking him, Daniel Pantaleo, has been on desk duty, but has remained employed by the New York Police Department. That could soon change. Friday, an NYPD administrative judge officially recommended the firing of Pantaleo who's now been suspended. Commissioner James O'Neill is expected to follow the termination recommendation according to a senior law enforcement source.

Some allege that Pantaleo used an illegal chokehold on Garner and point to the video as proof. Pantaleo denied that he used a chokehold. The controversy even made its way into the 2020 race after protesters chanted, "Fire Pantaleo," when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was on the debate stage. "The New York Post" is editorializing and saying the opposite, quote, "The facts say: Do not fire Daniel Pantaleo."

With me now is retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Gagliano. James, this is one of those cases where it's very hard to watch that. You look at it and you say my God, he's selling one-off cigarettes. Who gives a damn? He was killed for that. It's appalling. Excessive force, but then you start to sabrooder (ph) the tape and you see something else. Explain.

JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: Sure. Well, first of all, Michael, I mean the family's undergone incalculable pain and grief over the last five years, so let me say that full stop, but this was an avoidable tragedy. And look, for the folks that are going to think you trotted out a garden-variety police shill or apologist, you know, I've argued when cops deserved the death penalty or a life sentence.

I've argued when police should go away for beautality or for, you know, on the use of force continuum going to excessive lengths. In this instance, we asked a police officer, a team of police officers to arrest somebody for, to your point, selling loose cigarettes.

Now, what does that mean? It's a -- it's a small, minor infraction and you're right about that, but those tax stamps on those cigarette packs are what pays for improving neighborhoods like Mr. Garner's. So the police were dispatched to do this. They were enforcing the law. Mr. Garner, as we watch on that tape, says, "Stop. Do not touch me. Leave me alone. You're not doing this today."

Now, Mr. Garner is six-foot-three and 350 pounds. History, Michael, of chronic asthma, obesity, diabetes, heart disease. One medical examiner for the city of New York said yes, a contributing factor was what was described as a chokehold and I'm sure we'll talk about the mechanics of that in a second, but a second medical examiner for the city of St. Louis that testified in this departmental trial said it was not the cause of Mr. Garner's death, Michael.

SMERCONISH: I get that Garner did not go quietly, although he wasn't aggressive, something that I know you ...


SMERCONISH: ... recognize, but yes, let's talk about the chokehold. Why was that necessary and isn't that a prohibited tactic?

GAGLIANO: It absolutely is and over the years, we've got to disassemble what that means, chokehold. A chokehold is typically a rear-naked restraint, meaning you put your arm around somebody, you catch their neck inside of a V and you squeeze against both their carotid arteries. That generally causes somebody to go unconscious.

Now, Mr. Garner, and it's hard to watch, says 11 times, "I can't breathe," Michael, I've arrested hundreds upon hundreds of people across a 25-year career. Every time I had to forcibly take them into custody, they complained about the cuffs, about the pressure on their wrists, about this, that or the other.

I believe what happened here was Mr. Garner's a large man, Officer Pantaleo is not. He was trying to bring him to the ground. There's an old adage in defensive tactics and police instruction that says where the head goes, the body follows. If Mr. Garner had just complied with those lawful commands, we wouldn't be where we are here today.

SMERCONISH: OK, but -- and by the way, Catherine, can we run the beginning of the tape one more time as James' speaking and let him go through what he sees and if -- go ahead, James. You explain.

GAGLIANO: OK. So essentially what happens when the officers arrive on the scene, again, Mr. Garner is standing there, he'd been arrested some 30 times "The Wall Street Journal" reported for a whole host of different crimes, most of them petty crimes, but also assault and grand larceny. Now, he decides that he's not going to be arrested. When the officers tell him to turn around and put his hands behind his back, he resists.

Michael to your point, he's never aggressive to the officers, he doesn't try to attack them. But when police are instructed to bring someone in, to make them comply, to have them appear in court, and they don't, it appears that Officer Pantaleo tried to wrestle him to the ground.

We always want somebody who's resisting on the ground it prevents them from being hurt. Obviously that didn't happen in this instance. And it also prevents the arresting officers from being put into harm's way as well.

Now, you can argue that Officer Pantaleo --

SMERCONISH: But, James --

GAGLIANO: Go ahead -- had his arm around his --

SMERCONISH: But by my -- but by my count there are six or seven police officers.


SMERCONISH: Why was it necessary for Pantaleo to perform that tactic, whether it was a choke hold or not? Surely, there was another way, with six or seven guys there to bring him in?

GAGLIANO: Absolutely. Generally speaking we bring 10 to arrest one. We bring 20 to arrest two.

And why is that? We want to remove that fight or flight instinct that sometimes people have. In this instance, Officer Pantaleo was trying to control him. And as you notice, Mr. Garner never puts his hands behind his back which would have immediately de-escalated the situation.

Michael, I, you, no one else certainly wanted to see Mr. Garner lose his life. But he set into a cascading set of events. Something that could have been so unavoidable here. How are police officers to treat somebody who says you're not bringing me in today?

SMERCONISH: James Gagliano, thank you. It's -- it's a different perspective than one that we are hearing. I'm happy that you gave it voice.

GAGLIANO: Thank you, sir.

SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have?

"He murdered Eric Garner! He said it 11 times he can't breathe!"

I get it, Deb. I understand that's the conventional way of looking at the tape. And the first 10 times that I've watched it I came to the same conclusion.

But I listened to James, and James says, look, this is what they were dealing with. He wasn't being cooperative, nor was he being aggressive.

My take is this, they had six or seven law enforcement officers on that scene. There had to be a better way than what we saw to take him into custody. Big guy but outnumbered by six or seven. And it should never have come to this.

Still to come, he's charged with being the architect of 9/11, but could the blurring of FBI versus CIA's role in the tortuous conditions under which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confessions came make them inadmissible?

Our own Phil Mudd is here to talk about his brand new book on the role of the CIA in a post-9/11 world, next.


[09:36:28] SMERCONISH: A report from "The New York Times" this week said that defense lawyers for 9/11 suspects are seeking to preclude at upcoming trials statements given to the FBI on the grounds that the FBI and CIA intermingled their work. Where CIA obtained information was tainted by torture, they argue and is inadmissible.

And the lawyers say the FBI obtained confessions should likewise be ruled inadmissible. The issue should not be more timely for the release of a new book by a colleague. You know Phil Mudd. He's the author now of "Black Site: The CIA In The Post - 9/11 World." He's the ex-deputy director of the CIA counterterrorism center and the FBI's national security branch.

Phil, so much has been written about the 9/11 world and a lot of these detainees, why did you think it was important to write this particular story?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This is a slice of history and American intelligence and American history that was so tense and so significant, that is, the CIA's choice to build its own prisons and interrogate its own prisoners.

I knew that colleagues I worked with would never speak. I knew America should have a slice of that history almost an oral history standing back in the shoes of the CIA officers who decided to go down that path.

So, I figured if those guys aren't going to speak and some of them were women and if the story is significant for America they'll speak to me because I knew almost everybody I interviewed. I'm going to tell their stories for them. So, I sat down one day, interviewed 35- plus and wrote the book.

SMERCONISH: You fill in the gap of what happened between 9/11 and Gitmo. And you tell the story of how we treated these detainees.

The CIA is not in this business. The CIA was never in this business. I mean, one of the things that become clear is that there was a blank slate here as to what the protocol would be.

MUDD: There's two interesting philosophies. The upside is the CIA whether it was moving into Afghanistan almost immediately after 9/11. They were there very quickly.

As you know there's these famous stories of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, saying, why can't we get there that fast. The CIA is very agile. They like to take risks and they like to look at a mirror and say, if nobody else will do it we will.

The downside of that is you go into something like the interrogation program, without a lot of policy and procedures, and what you get as the book outlines is the first period of the detention program was pretty rough. They were fast and furious. But sometimes, they made mistakes.

SMERCONISH: You say that it's important to re-create, as we look at the events post-9/11. The urgency that existed in the country at that time. I want you to speak to that.

I know that some will say, well, that's really not an excuse. But your point is one of context. Wind the clock back and remember how little we know post-9/11 about what else might be in the pipeline? I hope I said that clearly.

MUDD: No, that's right. I talk to -- I mean, I was there, I wrote the book in the third person because it's confusing to go back and forth between what I saw and what my colleagues saw.

But let me take you back in time which is really the purpose of the book, to live like we lived. We were on the back foot in terms of technical intelligence, that is intercepts in terms of penetration of Al Qaeda. Our human source that is our informant picture of Al Qaeda was poor.

We thought that the second wave was coming which is what Al Qaeda was planning the next 9/11. There was research on anthrax and southern Afghanistan. We didn't know who had sent those anthrax letters in the fall of 2001.

And then in the midst of this, when the American public is saying, if this ever happens again, it's on you, the first prisoners captured, Abu Zubaydah. And people start to say, when Abu Zubaydah shuts up -- if he knows the stuff that will stop the next one the American people might look at this and say, why didn't you do more?


That's the genesis of the program, the interrogation program.

SMERCONISH: Why is there what you regard as the -- quote -- unquote -- "effectiveness debate" relative to harsh interrogation methods? Either they work or they didn't work. Why can't we resolve that?

MUDD: Because, I think, people who want to argue -- and, I think, it's perfectly appropriate that America should not be in the position from values or from a moral perspective of doing this to prisoners. Think they have to go down the path of saying, it doesn't work. And that's another reason why we don't have to do it.

My point is it does work. Why is that significant in the judgment of about values? If you don't think this is an American way to do business, pass laws against it. If you're scale on morals and sliding it (ph) up (ph) so that you say up, I have to say that they're not effective and say that they're immoral. That doesn't make sense to me. Either they're appropriate or they're not.

The effectiveness piece is brought in because people want to support their point that we shouldn't do it. I don't know why we have that argument, if you like them, or if you accept them because they're effective, fine. If you don't like them because they're un-American don't go through the path of effectiveness. They were effective.

SMERCONISH: Quickly, two final points. As you point out in "Black Site," the people responsible for handling the worst of the worst post September 11 are convinced they prevented a second wave. Second observation is, they've always enjoyed the support of the American people. The public polling suggests people are OK with this.

MUDD: I don't think that's the question I would ask. Look, the president of the United States, the current president raised the earlier to the administration of waterboarding. The question I would ask is, the people who represent the people, that is the Congress of the United States raked us over the coals. They raked us over the coals and I briefed them in '03 and beyond about what we were doing, after they told us it was OK.

Anybody in a leadership position going down the road including current director Gina Haspel who would say, I would do this again, is putting their people at risk. I know some of the American people according to polling say it's OK. I can't imagine doing this again, because the Congress, they'll moonwalk on you.

SMERCONISH: I am not giving you props because you're a colleague. I'm giving you props because I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. And I learned a hell of a lot, "Black Site." Thank you, Phil.

MUDD: Thanks.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, newly unearthed audio of a conversation between former presidents Nixon and Reagan has brought the question of Reagan's legacy to the forefront.

Don't forget to answer the survey question. Go to

"Did the Detroit debates improve or worsen the odds of a Democrat winning the White House?"



SMERCONISH: New tapes released this week by the National Archives revealed shocking language used by President Donald Reagan. It was 1971 and Reagan, who was then governor of California, was on a phone call with the then President Richard Nixon. During the conversation Reagan referred to leaders of African nations as monkeys. Then Nixon gets in his own dig, listen.


GOV. RONALD REAGAN (R-CA): Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did.


REAGAN: To see those, those monkeys from those African countries -- damn them, they're still uncomfortable wearing shoes.

NIXON: The tail wags the dog there, doesn't it?

REAGAN: Yes. NIXON: The tail wags the dog.


SMERCONISH: With me now is Reagan biographer and presidential historian Craig Shirley. He has written four best-sellers on our 40th president. This fall he'll be teaching a class on Reagan at the University of Virginia.

Craig, in the research that went into all four of those books, did you ever see any evidence of similar behavior by Ronald Reagan? And if not, how do you explain it in this instance?

CRAIG SHIRLEY, REAGAN BIOGRAPHER AND PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN (on the phone): No Michael, no evidence whatsoever. In fact there's a lot of evidence to the contrary.

In 1932 when he was playing for Eureka College the team was making a road trip, and the local hotel had a no black policy. And they had two African-Americans teammates on his team. So instead, he took them to his home in Dixon where his parents warmly took him in.

When he was -- when he was an actor in Hollywood, the ritzy country club asked him to join, he was ready to until they found out they had a restrictive policy that didn't allow Jews or African-Americans. So they it turned down.

At the end of his tenure, as the president of Screen Actors Guild in 1952, he called on all of Hollywood to make more roles for African- Americans directors and actors.

In chapter and verse and in the thousand examples Reagan demonstrated nothing but a generosity of spirit and magnanimity and (INAUDIBLE) attitude. This is the one case -- and if he was alive today, he would -- I would bet my bottom dollar, he would be the first one to denounce it, apologize for it and express deep regret and contrition for having said (ph) that (ph).

SMERCONISH: Well, that's -- that's what -- that's what Patti Davis, daughter Patti Davis said in part in "the Washington Post."


SMERCONISH: Here's what else she wrote, "There is no defense, no rationalization, no suitable explanation for what my father said on that taped phone conversation." You'd agree with that, right?

SHIRLEY: Oh, sure, I thought it was a brilliant piece that Patti wrote yesterday. And I agree with it entirely.

SMERCONISH: You wrote on Newsmax, "If a man says something nasty in anger should the totality of his life be defined by that statement?"

You're obviously worried, Craig, and I think for good reason that the Reagan legacy has just suffered an enormous blow. I would tell you that as one who came of age in the 80's as Reagan Republican, this is a devastating stomach punch?

SHIRLEY: Well -- and I remember that you became, I think, a Republican after you met Reagan in 1980, in Philadelphia, if I'm not mistaken.

SMERCONISH: It's true. You're right.

SHIRLEY: I -- I -- I -- I don't think, Michael -- this is -- this is a bump in the road. This is an unfortunate thing. As I said, if he was alive, he'd apologize for it. But the totality of his life, the signing of the Martin Luther King holiday.


The signing of the 10-year extension of the Civil Rights Act, in every way, shape or form is that all these -- thousands of examples of his generosity and his kindness and his color blind attitude have to be taken into consideration. If you're going to take -- and by the way, too I want to point out in 1976, the Plains Baptist Church, which Jimmy Carter was a member did not allow African-Americans to become members of that church.

Carter did not resign in protest. He continued as a member of the Plains Baptist Church. In 1976 in stretch of time was far nearer to us today than 1971.

So if Reagan is going to be judged by this and is going to earn a black mark for this, then so too should Jimmy Carter -- and by the way, every other president from Franklin Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman to John Kennedy --


SMERCONISH: All right. You're losing me. Come on. Up until -- up until -- up until now you are -- you were making a decent argument, but to now cast dispersion elsewhere, I think you were better served when you adopted the Patti Reagan line which is there's just no defense. There's just no defense.

SHIRLEY: But I agree with that. There is no defense except to say that he would apologize for it and look as I said the totality of his life and all the good things that he did.

SMERCONISH: Craig Shirley, thank you so much.

SHIRLEY: You bet, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And the final results, I can't wait to see the answer to this survey question.

"Did the Detroit debates improve or worsen the odds of a Democrat winning the White House?"

Go vote.



SMERCONISH: So how did you vote? The survey question at

"Did the Detroit debates improve or worsen the odds of a Democrat winning the White House?"

Survey says, 7,642 with -- let's call it two-thirds say worsen. Interesting, I think, probably adopting the line of thought that says in an effort to curry favor with the base and secure the nomination, the net effect is to do harm to the likelihood of a November victory because they're tacking too far to the left.

I think that's probably the right answer, by the way. I mean, if Barack Obama's record is now being questioned on that stage, I think it's headed in the wrong direction.

Here's some of what you thought in terms of social media.

"Democrat contenders should say what they believe and why is that always a negative? Why do Democrats feel they need to hide what they believe to get elected?"

Well, Connecticut Animal Removal, interesting tag, the point is that those positions, you know, a job for everyone guaranteed by the Green New Deal or decriminalization of those who crossed the border illegally. I could rattle off five or 10 examples of that, are out of step with majority opinion getting rid of all private insurers in the United States.

So it may play well at the Fox Theatre in Detroit where I had the privilege of spending time, but I question whether it's going to be a winning ticket in November. Bottom line, there's a ton of time on the clock.

Hey, I am off for a vacation next week. I'll see you back here in two weeks. Have a nice weekend.