Return to Transcripts main page

State of the Union

New Report Released on MH370 Disappearance; Interview With California Congressman Darrell Issa; Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff

Aired March 08, 2015 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Chaos and confusion on M.H. Flight 370, and heavy blowback over Hillary Clinton's e-mails.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SMERCONISH: Good morning from Washington. I'm Michael Smerconish.

Coming up, I have the first television interview with a U.S. ambassador who thinks he was fired in part for doing what Hillary Clinton did, but, first, breaking news on Malaysia Airline Flight 370, which vanished exactly one year ago today.

Let's go to CNN's Richard Quest in Los Angeles.

Richard, a report has just been issued. Please give us the very latest.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: And this is the report, Michael. There are hundreds of pages in it, no major new revelations, nothing that will necessarily tell us what happened in the cockpit or, indeed, where the plane for certain actually is.

But we do know, for instance, that they are more satisfied that the pilot, the captain involved had no mental instability. He was not anxious. He had no family or domestic problems, so that rules out that as a potential cause. We also know that on the night, there was an enormous amount of radar confusion between the different areas, between Ho Chi Minh City and Kuala Lumpur.

And, finally, Michael, we have -- we are starting to see just how long this search/rescue took to get under way as a result of people going backwards and forwards, an inability to locate the plane or, indeed, to realize they were actually watching the plane flying back across Malaysia, chaos and confusion in many cases. Certainly, it could have been done better.

SMERCONISH: Richard, one follow-up. CNN viewers will no doubt remember when a year ago it seemed that the search was triangulated by pings that were being heard by searchers. Is the assumption today that none of those sounds were actually coming from MH370's black boxes? QUEST: Well, the so-called underwater locator beacons, the

pings, first of all, the report tells us that, according to the paperwork, the batteries on one of them, the flight data recorder, had actually expired. That might actually have been a technicality and it may not have been true.

But it shows the record-keeping on that was poor, but to the gem of your question, or the germ of it, yes. we don't know why. They have never said why they actually thought it was the pings and what it really was, but it was a complete wild goose chase. It was not the pings.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Richard Quest.

And now, was a U.S. ambassador fired when, like Hillary Clinton, he used a private e-mail service? As Hillary Clinton looks set to make a 2016 run for the White House, she's facing growing questions about why she may have broken government rules by using her personal e-mail for official business while she was secretary of state.

The controversy is being further fueled by new scrutiny of the firing of America's former Ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration. Gration is a retired Air Force general. His support of Barack Obama in 2008 was among the campaign's first high-profile policy endorsements. There was once speculation that Gration would head NASA.

But a report by the State Department's inspector general back in 2012 cited Gration's use of a personal e-mail account for government business as one of many criticisms that forced Gration to resign from the job all on Hillary Clinton's watch. That report said in part, "The ambassador has lost the respect and confidence of the staff to lead the mission."

Ambassador Gration joins me from Nairobi, Kenya.


SMERCONISH: Mr. Ambassador, given that which has now been revealed about Secretary Clinton's use of a private e-mail account, in retrospect, do you believe that your firing represents a double standard?


As I was going through it, I did not perceive that it was a double standard because I did not know of Secretary Clinton's use of a commercial e-mail account. But, as I have reflected on it in the last couple of days, it does appear like there was a different standard that was used in my case and that has been used in hers.

SMERCONISH: It occurs to me, as I read the inspector general report pertaining to your tenure in office -- and there was much more in this report than just e-mail -- but there's also language that speaks to you being reluctant to accept clear-cut U.S. government decisions pertaining to -- quote -- "the non-use of commercial e-mail for official government business."

That's language that seemingly would apply to what she has done.

GRATION: That's true. The language should apply to all of us, since we were all in the State Department.

But I need to correct something. First of all, I would say that I was complying. I used the OpenNet at work and at my residence. But, at the same time, I questioned some of the policy and tried to get some of it changed. And so I wasn't avoiding it. I wasn't flouting it. I wasn't being in noncompliance, but I did raise some serious questions about the use of commercial accounts, because I thought that they were helpful to me in the course of my duties as the ambassador to Kenya.

SMERCONISH: And, again, what I'm trying to do, sir, is understand both the parallels and the differences between your case and Secretary Clinton's case.

It occurs to me that the chief of staff for the Department of State, Cheryl Mills, is the individual who fired you, again, in part because of your use of a private e-mail account. Do you presume that Ms. Mills would have known at the time she fired you that Secretary Clinton was herself using a private e-mail account?

GRATION: In the end, we will have to ask Cheryl Mills that question, but I would assume that she knew. Secretary Clinton and Cheryl Mills were in very close dialogue on all issues, and I know that in my view that she would have known that Secretary Clinton was not using the OpenNet.

So I do find it sort of unusual that she stated that this was one of the reasons why I had to move on. And, as I look back, it seems a bit unfair.

SMERCONISH: Well, let me just drill down on that one step further. Presumably, the secretary of state would have e-mailed, Secretary Clinton would have e-mailed the chief of staff for the Department of State.

And to the extent such e-mails would have taken place, then Ms. Mills would have seen, she's communicating with me via a private e- mail account, not our department server.

GRATION: I see it the same way, but I was not there and these are questions that we will have to ask Cheryl Mills.

But, certainly, one could make that assumption and it seems very, very logical.

SMERCONISH: And, finally, sir, you have had such a distinguished career, a career that I think I should point out that included flying 274 combat missions in Iraq. That public career has come to an end because of this issue and some other things. I have made that very clear. How does it make you feel to watch the news unfold with regard to

Secretary Clinton, knowing that this brought a stop to your public career?

GRATION: For me, this was a dream job. It was a job where I felt I was making a significant difference, in light of America's interests and what we were trying to do here and to protect Americans.

And to have that terminated over some allegations that were in the end proven to be false, and I was exonerated, and these claims were dismissed, and to see this dream job of mine come to an end was very disappointing to me. And to now find out that, in reality, other people in the department, to include my supervisors, were doing things differently and were looking the other way, I think that's hard.

I didn't break any laws willfully. If I made mistakes, I apologize for those, but I don't believe I did anything wrong. And I can't speak the same for Secretary Clinton. Other people will have to make that decision. She will have to work that out herself.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us from Nairobi.

GRATION: Well, thank you very much, Mike. I appreciate the opportunity.


SMERCONISH: We invited the State Department to send a representative to this program. They declined. We also contacted Hillary Clinton for reaction to Ambassador Gration's comments.

And a spokesman for her had this response: "All of the many reasons the department took the action it did are well-documented in the Department of State's inspector general report."

I want to turn now to Congressman Adam Schiff, a member of the special House Committee on Benghazi, which has subpoenaed Hillary Clinton's e-mails, and Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, past chair of the House Oversight Committee.

Congressman Issa, react to what you have just heard.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think that this double standard is worrisome.

But, more importantly, in his firing, when they talked about confidence, integrity, ambassadors are -- records are seldom FOIAed. Seldom does the press and other groups under the Freedom of Information Act ask for specific information.

In this case, in addition to the Benghazi investigation, which clearly would have wanted some of these communications, countless Freedom of Information Act requests, including some that have now gone to the federal court, would have gotten those documents had they been in the public domain. And we may never get many of them because we don't know what we don't know when it's on a server where a click of the button can delete records forever.

SMERCONISH: Ambassador Gration, Congressman Schiff, was clearly fired for many reasons, not just the e-mail issue.

But I found it striking that the language used to criticize him noted his lack of adherence to a policy of non-use of commercial e- mail for official government business. And so here's an ambassador under the umbrella of the secretary herself. He gets canned for this.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, Mike, I want to be fair to the ambassador. And I haven't read his personnel file.

But it's clear, as you point out, from the inspector general report, he was urged to resign for a number of reasons, most significantly, his management style and the fact that the embassy staff lost confidence in him; it lacked cohesion. And I think that was really the gravamen of why he was let go.

But, look, if the Republican National Committee wants to make an issue of the consistency in which the administration applied their e- mail policy, they can do it. And the Democratic National Committee can make an issue out of Jeb Bush's use of a personal server and whether it's consistent for him to criticize Hillary Clinton over that.

But what's not appropriate is for a taxpayer-funded investigative committee, which is what we are, to be using our power, our subpoena, our tax dollars to become an arm of the Republican National Committee. And that's what happened this week. And that is deeply disturbing, because, Michael, we have the secretary's e-mails. She provided 55,000 pages of them to the State Department. They provided the 900 pages relative to Benghazi to us.

We have looked at those. There is nothing at all corroborative of any of these conspiracy theories, any of the stand-down orders that Mr. Issa claims were issued. There's no evidence of that. And that, I think, is what we don't -- we don't want to lose sight of.

SMERCONISH: But, Congressman, isn't this a problem of control? In other words, you have that which she gave you. So the decision has now been made further upstream in terms of what's being released to your committee, as compared to a scenario where she would have maintained two accounts, two phones, one to plan Chelsea's wedding and to set up dental visits and the other for all her official business.

And when you make a request, here you go. It simply gets handed over.

SCHIFF: Well, as a matter of law, we have moved as of last year to a requirement that official e-mails be used for official business.

But we have to evaluate and consider the secretary under the standard of, what was the law at the time? And the law at the time was, she could use her personal e-mail as long as she preserved it. And given the fact that she provided 55,000 pages, she clearly did preserve her e-mails. In my view, this was not provided in response to a "New York

Times" article or anything else. This was provided last year, when a request went out from the State Department to all former secretaries. And she has given more records than any other prior secretary of state. So she followed the law in place at the time. And that's, I think, the relevant point.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Issa, doesn't he have a point...

ISSA: Well...

SMERCONISH: ... when he says Jeb Bush was so -- also using an account like that?

ISSA: No. No.


SMERCONISH: Colin Powell was using an account like that.

And one other point, sir, if I might. Yesterday, I interviewed the former head of litigation for the National Archives, and he said to me, while he finds this extraordinary and highly unusual, there were no laws broken here that he can see.

ISSA: Well, the requirement to preserve is a requirement and an expectation to preserve in government hands, not in your own hands.

Hillary Clinton's statement that, you know, she met the requirement of preserving would be like somebody paying their income taxes five years late and say, but I kept the money on hand for that eventuality.

The fact is that the ordinary practice, a practice that goes back many, many years, is that, if you use a nongovernment e-mail, you forward it to your official account or you print it out, and that preserves them, and it's left in government hands.

She left office with her documents. That's not preserving for Freedom of Information discovery. The fact is, there were three subpoenas issued while I was chairman. Some of these documents clearly would be responsive to it. They were never produced.

Two-and-a-half years ago, four brave men died in Benghazi. And, in fact, Adam Schiff is talking about spending money. One of the reasons that there's a select committee is that we got double-talk and false statements for years from this administration, and the existence of these e-mails was hidden throughout the rest of her tenure and beyond.

So did she comply with the public integrity requirement? No, she didn't. Did she break a law for which there is a penalty? Not really. But there's a big difference between being open, transparent, honest and having public integrity and only when you get caught do you turn in documents. And I think, Michael...


SCHIFF: Michael, let me address this, if I could.


SMERCONISH: Finish up.

ISSA: We only have the documents -- we only have -- we only have the documents she gave us. That's not the basis.

Normally, an inspector general searches through all documents to find which ones are appropriate. You don't necessarily ask the person to self-disclose.


SMERCONISH: Let me allow -- let me allow Congressman Schiff to respond.


SMERCONISH: And, as part of your response, address this. Hasn't this unforced error now allowed the -- quote -- "Benghazi issue" to be transformed from something that appeals only to partisans, that -- something that will dog her all the way through the 2016 race?

SCHIFF: First of all, to my colleague's points, the fact is that all prior secretaries of state from Clinton going back have all maintained personal e-mail accounts.

She was the first, I think, to submit those personal e-mails to the State Department. So, let's not hold this secretary to a different standard than the other secretaries. Colin Powell has already acknowledged that he used his personal e-mails.

Second, in terms of the Benghazi investigation, we knew, as of last summer, that the secretary used a private e-mail account. This is not something new. We knew also that she was cooperating. She was giving us everything she asked for.

Nothing changed, except that the pressure on the Republican members of the committee this week became too great for them to resist from the Stop Hillary PAC people and the RNC people. So, they issued a subpoena for records we already have.

Now, the secretary has called for those records to be made public. Why isn't the chairman doing that? Why aren't we doing that? The reason is, we have read them. There's nothing in them. Now, my colleague says, well, how do we know we have them all?

And the reality is, if this secretary or anyone else e-mailed a stand-down order, as this mythical claim exists out there, there would be several...

ISSA: That is not what this discovery is about, Adam, and you know it. (CROSSTALK)

SCHIFF: ... discoveries, several people on the receiving end of that e-mail. There would be people at the Pentagon. There would be people in the field who would have to receive that order.


SCHIFF: None of that. There's no evidence of that.

SMERCONISH: Congressman, it makes me wonder.

And, Congressman Issa, quickly, you can have the final word. But it makes me wonder, well, who then is doing the screening? If you have 50,000 pages, she's not sitting there with the former president in the rec room going through everything. Who are these people? What kind of a clearance do they have? There are a whole host of questions that I think still need to get resolved. Take a quick final comment.

ISSA: Michael, Trey -- Trey -- Trey Gowdy, the chairman, and Adam Schiff have one thing in common. They both served in U.S. attorney's office. And they both know that voluntary cooperation does not guarantee that it's a crime not to deliver all.

A subpoena which Trey Gowdy issued is so that in fact it will be a crime if she knowingly withholds documents pursuant to subpoena. He needed to do that because she wasn't forthcoming two-and-a-half years ago. She, in fact, hid the very existence of this until she was caught. And the fact that they knew in August..


SCHIFF: Michael...

SMERCONISH: Quick rebuttal.




SCHIFF: There was no need to issue a subpoena last year.

ISSA: There was every need for a subpoena.

SCHIFF: There was no need to issue a subpoena this year because she has provided the documents we asked for.

The only reason to give a subpoena for documents you already have, if you want to politically grandstand or make a presidential political issue. That's the only reason to do that with a cooperating witness.


SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, thank you. Thank you both.

ISSA: Oh, Adam, I would love to see your history of that.

SMERCONISH: I wish we had more time.

Thank you, Congressman Adam Schiff.

Thank you, Congressman Darrell Issa.

ISSA: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: When we come back: Does the e-mail controversy spell trouble for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats' hopes in 2016?



HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, our constitution is being shredded. We know about the secret wiretaps. We know about the secret military tribunals, the secret White House e- mail accounts.


SMERCONISH: That was Hillary Clinton in 2007 slamming members of the Bush administration for their use of a private Internet domain.

With me, Lanny Davis, White House special counsel during the Clinton administration, and S.E. Cupp, CNN political commentator.

Lanny, I want to put up on the screen the e-mail that was -- the tweet -- pardon me -- that was sent out by Secretary Clinton pertaining to this controversy. There it is. "I want the public to see my e-mail. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible."

I am convinced. You may have attended Yale Law School with her, but she never read your book, because your book was all about telling it early, telling it all, telling it yourself.

She's not doing any of that.

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I also could have added, better late than never, though.

This is the right move. She could have done it in 2013, and then no one would be talking about it today. But she is the first secretary of state -- others have used private e-mails, but she's the first one to say, I want the public to read it. And she's ready for that to happen.

So I think it is a good move. If it had been done earlier, it would have followed my advice.

SMERCONISH: You told me yesterday when I asked you the why question, that you said convenience.


SMERCONISH: Did your phone ring last night? Were you asked to rein that in, or is that the answer?

DAVIS: So, I'm glad you reminded everyone that I'm a friend of Hillary Clinton's for over a large number of years, since law school. And I am speaking for myself.

But I have an observation that it was for convenience, the same reason why -- and I'm not saying it's the same thing -- that Jeb Bush for eight years used his private e-mail account and a server. Nothing wrong he did -- Colin Powell. I think it is convenience.

I think it is wanting to preserve some access to your own e-mails and be able to know who's going to be looking at it or not. But, right now, she's completely exposed. It will have to be verified at the State Department, says, you gave us 55,000, we want to see what else is there.

She's now open to complete verification. So the issue of whether it can be trusted or not, I think she's now say said, I want everybody to read what I have given you. And, of course, the State Department can ask for more.


S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But how will we know what she hasn't given us? That's the problem.

SMERCONISH: Right. Isn't the glass -- isn't the glass-half- empty analysis, that this isn't about convenience, it's about control?

CUPP: Sure.

SMERCONISH: She's in the complete power seat of deciding what is going to come out.

CUPP: Yes, exactly. And it makes you wonder. It makes you question the way government responds to Hillary Clinton, right, that no one at the State Department, no one in her inner circle, no one in the White House said, even just to spare yourself a future headache, get yourself a gov -- a .gov address.

It makes you wonder if she's become maybe a little too big, a little too powerful that no one will tell her, you're getting in your own way. Maybe this is going to come back to haunt you. That's not the way you want government to work, whether she's in the White House or whether she's at the State Department.

DAVIS: It's a very fair point, S.E., and I don't say they're the same.

But you have to wonder, after eight years and three million e- mails, why Jeb Bush kept his own server and why they didn't say the same thing to him? And he has cherry-picked what he's disclosed.

CUPP: Sure.

DAVIS: And what I both agree -- I agree with both of you that she's got to now be subject to verification. No one can take her word or her staff's word.

CUPP: Yes.

DAVIS: She's now open to that. The subpoenas have already been issued. She will have no choice but to respond.

The State Department might ask for more. So, verification, transparency is the end of what is a legal -- we both agreed yesterday with the expert. She -- everything she did was legal. She followed the regulations. The law changed in 2014. Now it's a crisis management issue.

SMERCONISH: The optics are terrible.

S.E., I want to show everybody what you wrote in your "New York Daily News" column, and let Lanny see this as well, if we can put that up on the screen.

You said: "There are two possibilities. Either Clinton was told these were bad ideas and she ignored the advice or no one around her had the temerity to tell her the truth. Either way, this is very, very bad, not only for Hillary's presidential aspirations, but for her ability to be an effective public servant answerable to all, instead of accountable to none."

When I read that, I said to myself, the worst critic of the Clintons would have to admire their intellect.

CUPP: Sure.

SMERCONISH: They are very bright individuals. I'm sure this was done with a great deal of thinking.

And your point is that somebody should have reined them in and said, you're making a bad mistake, if for no other reason than the optics.

CUPP: For her own good, right, for her own good, to preserve her future potential as a candidate.

The problem is, she's become too big to fail. She's become an institution, with so many investors who want her to succeed, over 30 years, that no one's telling her, this is going to be bad for you. I'm on your side. Help yourself get around this.

SMERCONISH: We have got the guy to ask.

Is there an emperor has no clothes problem with her?

DAVIS: No. SMERCONISH: That people have a difficult time saying, hey, this

is goofy, why are you doing this?

DAVIS: I think wisdom is in hindsight, but, honestly -- I know I won't be surprising you -- that this is much to do about nothing.

We had a lot of headlines and a lot of breathless comments, with all due respect, such as yours, about something called Whitewater. Three years, $70 million, nothing. This is going to be a big nothing three months from now because it's just a fact...

CUPP: This is a problem, though. When people like Lanny or David Brock or her -- her friends tell you the sky is green, when you can see that the sky is blue, this does her no favors.

To pretend that she is the victim of a Republican smear campaign or the media, let that sink in for a minute, I think does her a huge disservice.

DAVIS: I absolutely...

CUPP: And if that going to be the campaign mantra for her presidential campaign any time someone asks a valid question, bad news for her.

SMERCONISH: Lanny, Lanny Davis, go.

DAVIS: I didn't say that, and I don't agree that it is a smear campaign, but I do think it's analogous to Whitewater.


SMERCONISH: Thank you both for being here. Appreciate your time, as always.

CUPP: Thanks.

SMERCONISH: Up next: fallout from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress. I will ask Israel's ambassador to the United States if the U.S.-Israeli relationship is being redrawn along politically partisan lines.


SMERCONISH: The reviews of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress about Iran this past week depend on whom you asked. Republicans uniformly praised his address while President Obama and some Democrats in Congress were critical of the prime minister's remarks.

Here now, Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the United States. Ambassador, thanks so much for being here. Do you wish in retrospect when Speaker Boehner extended this invitation to you for the prime minister that you said to him, hey, I think we better loop in the White House? RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, hindsight is

always 20/20 and we regret very much that there was a perception, a partisanship before the speech. That was the last thing we wanted to do was inject Israel into your partisan debate. Israel has always been above politics in the United States and it's important for the U.S./Israeli alliance that it remained above politics and the prime minister made that clear in his speech on Tuesday.

SMERCONISH: Was the invitation Speaker Boehner's idea or your idea?

DERMER: Speaker Boehner who called me and I assumed that he was going to inform the White House. He did, but he did it only a couple hours before. But I hope that now we can get beyond the protocol and beyond the politics and we can talk a little bit about the substance because it's a pretty serious issue.

SMERCONISH: We will do that.

I watched first -- one other question. I watched the footage of this protest in Tel Aviv yesterday. It seemed like tens of thousands of people came together in opposition to the government. Do you worry that Prime Minister Netanyahu may lose his position because of the blow back to this visit?

DERMER: Look, we have a vibrant democracy in Israel. We're going to have elections in 10 days and there are rallies on all sides like any healthy democracy has. So, we'll just allow the Israeli voters to vote 10 days from now. And it's right that we have in Israel that unfortunately many of our neighbors do not have.

SMERCONISH: Some have noted that the prime minister did not use the word zero in his comments to the congress, his speech -- the comments, perhaps leaving open the door that he's willing to find acceptable some number of centrifuges. Are we reading the speech too carefully if come to that conclusion or is that fair?

DERMER: No. But we're not in the negotiating room. Israel is not there.


DERMER: Right. But the leading powers of the world they are the ones who are negotiating with Iran. Israel does not have a vote.

We do have a voice and the prime minister used that voice, I think, very effectively on Tuesday. And what he was telling the leading powers of the world, he said, look, the deal that currently is on the table is a very bad deal. In order to make that deal a better deal you have to extend the break at a time, which means to leave Iran with less infrastructure.

And the second thing which was very new that the prime minister said I,s you have to link the removal of restrictions on Iran's nuclear program to a change in Iran's behavior. They have to stop their aggression in the region, stop terrorism around the world and stop threatening to destroy Israel. And if you link that together then we can be sure that when those restrictions are removed Iran is a different country and won't be the same country it is today.

SMERCONISH: At the end of his remarks the prime minister said that -- I'm paraphrasing, (INAUDIBLE) the days of Israeli passivity are over and that Israel is prepared to stand alone.

I watched and I wondered, is he saying that if a deal is negotiated that he personally finds unacceptable that Israel will launch a first strike against an Iranian nuclear capability?

DERMER: Well, what he is saying is that Israel always reserves the right to defend itself.

We have in Iran a regime that threatens Israel with annihilation and that works every day in order to destroy Israel. They have surrounded Israel with three terror tentacles in the north in Lebanon through Hezbollah, on the Syrian Golan. They have maybe a couple of thousand of Iranians who are there now through Hamas and Islamic jihad in Gaza. So, you have these three terror tentacles around Israel and Iran is vowing to annihilate Israel and we cannot accept the situation where Iran would develop a nuclear weapon to achieve that goal. But understand it's not just a threat to Israel, it's a threat to the region and it's a threat to the world.

And what's interesting, Michael, is that Israelis and Arabs are on exactly the same page when it comes to the Iranian issue. And when Israelis and Arabs are on the same page, people should pay attention. That happens about once a century.

SMERCONISH: Ambassador Dermer, thank you, sir. We appreciate you being here.

DERMER: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Up next, a new justice department report offers disturbing new details about racism in Ferguson, Missouri's police department.

Former attorney general Alberto Gonzales on the government's blistering findings and what it can do to make Ferguson right. That's next.


SMERCONISH: The subject of race in America came full circle this week with the 50th anniversary of the Selma march for voting rights and a scathing new justice report on Ferguson.

Joining me now is Alberto Gonzales who served as President George W. Bush's attorney general and is now the Dean of the Belmont University Law School.

First off, great to see your boss in Selma yesterday with the former first lady. I thought that was appropriate.


You know, President Bush is really someone who believes very strongly in building relations with the people in this very, very diverse country. And I think that sent a very powerful message to have him there as well.

SMERCONISH: General, with regard to Ferguson, we've all seen the data. I want to put it up on the screen for the CNN audience if we might, how 67 percent of the population in Ferguson is comprised of African-Americans, pardon me, and yet 85 percent of those who are pulled over for car stops are African-American, 93 percent of those arrested, African-American. Another data set, 95 percent of those African-Americans who have a citation are charged with walking in the roadway, 94 percent of those charged with a failure to comply are African-American.

Here's my question for you, is there any benign, nondiscriminatory explanation for this data, such as economics?

GONZALES: Not to the percentage that we're seeing here, that's why the numbers are very troubling to me, and I believe that the Department of Justice was correct in raising this as a civil rights violation system wide in the police department, in municipal courts in Ferguson.

And so I believe that this is something that needs to be -- has been identified as a major problem and now a corrective action needs to take place.

SMERCONISH: Do you wonder, general, if we went to police department anywhere USA if we would find a similar finding?

GONZALES: I would hope not quite honestly.

We obviously made significant progress in race relations since Selma, and obvious -- and there are a number of -- I don't want us to paint with such a broad brush in terms of what happened in Ferguson that we ignore the very positive work that's being done by police departments and community leaders all across the nation, but we still have racial problems in this country. That's why we have civil rights laws, that's why we have a civil rights department at the Department of Justice to address these kinds of issues.

But I do think it's important for people to understand that our laws cannot change people's hearts. Our laws can't change people's behavior. It's going to take grace. It's going to take communication and understanding before we change people's hearts.

I'm hopeful that we can do that soon. We're making progress. I'm hopeful this country will have a leadership to take us there.

SMERCONISH: How do you rate Attorney General Holder's response to the situation in Ferguson and his handling of this case?

GONZALES: I think that, you know, he received some criticism about the fact that he went there and perhaps raised expectations about -- with respect to civil rights prosecution. But again the Department of Justice, the feds were invited into that community after the shooting of Michael Brown occurred and I think his presence there -- General Holder's presence there, I think, sent a soothing message to very (ph) (INAUDIBLE) feelings in that community. So, I don't fault him for that.

The only concern that I might have is, again, acknowledgment that all around the country every day police officers put their lives on the line irrespective of the color of the victim or the person that might be involved in the committing of a crime. And I think we need to acknowledge the very fine work that is ongoing but also understand more work needs to be done.

SMERCONISH: I agree with you.

By the way an irony of this particular case is that -- but for the shooting and the killing of Mike Brown, we wouldn't know what we know about Ferguson and yet in that particular instance, Police Officer Darren Wilson will not be charged by virtue of the conclusion reached by the attorney general's office.

GONZALES: Not only by the attorney general's office, but also by the grand jury there on the ground.

So obviously going in, my understanding was based upon the civil rights laws and the expectations that we have in the Department of Justice, that's a very tough hurdle to try to meet. But now the facts have been looked at and now we need to see what we can do to address system wide problems here in Ferguson.

SMERCONISH: General, let's also talk more about the parallel between Ferguson and what we saw yesterday at the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary from the march from Montgomery to Selma. President Obama spoke passionately about inclusion and voting rights but also briefly made reference to recent racial tensions across the country.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Together we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on, the idea that police officers are members of the community they risk their lives to protect and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland, they want the same thing young people here marched for 50 years ago, the protection of the law.


SMERCONISH: I want to bring in to the conversation CNN commentator L.Z. Granderson.

L.Z., the point that I just made to the general that -- but for the Michael Brown incident we wouldn't know what we know about Ferguson. Do you fear there are many Fergusons out there and that Ferguson might be typical of what you find when the spotlight is shown? L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't know if it's typical

to that extend but certainly you will find some racial behavior that I think would have some resemblance with that you saw in Ferguson. If you look at what happened with Cleveland with Tamir Rice, and if the Department of Justice went in there twice in the past 10 years to criticize the department about the behavior that was (INAUDIBLE), then look at what's going on in Chicago. Just two weeks ago there was a report about this so-called black sights where police officers are taking suspects and basically hiding them for two days while interrogating them off the books. So, when you start looking at what's been going on in major cities and certainly you can think at some of the smaller towns particularly in the south, there are some Fergusons. Maybe not to the extent but certainly some of the elements there.

SMERCONISH: In the buildup to the march in Selma, John Lewis, general, made the point that he worries lessons of nonviolence and nonviolent protests are being lost on America's youth.

GONZALES: Well, we saw that in Ferguson. That was very, very unfortunate. And so there are ways to get the message out, have your voices heard. I think John Lewis is exactly the right messenger to try to educate our youth about, how do we make change? How do we achieve change in this country?

SMERCONISH: I was thinking, L.Z., as I watched the footage yesterday from Selma that John Lewis was billy clubbed for the right of people to go exercise the franchise, many of whom aren't carrying that out.

GRANDERSON: Well you know, I always kind of burst a little bit at this notion of nonviolent protests because even when Dr. King was leading a nonviolent protest there was still violence present. (INAUDIBLE) we're marking bloody Sunday because there was violence present.

So, I agree with the attorney general we shouldn't villainize all of the police departments. But when we talk about what happens in response to people who are exercising their constitutional rights, is there violence happening on the other end? And if so, how are we shining a light on these problems so that it doesn't happen again? We didn't solve it 50 years ago and I was in Ferguson. I was tear gassed. I can tell you it didn't happen, you know, last summer either.

SMERCONISH: I guess I'd link all of this together for the obvious reason that you look at the population statistics, 67 percent African-American and yet I think only four black police officers out of a force of 50 or so. And you wonder, well, how can that be? Presumably it's because people aren't exercising the franchise. Only I think 12 percent came out to vote before the Mike Brown incident. They've got to exercise that right in order to have power in the system.

GONZALES: No question about it. People have to participate. And that's not solely true with the black community... (CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: All communities.

GONZALES: ...the Hispanic community. No question about it. You know, you think about a black individual and looking at that police force, they're not going to be encouraged to join. And so when they look at the numbers, to be one of just a few. And so, I think the department and the city needs to do a much better job in sort of welcome black recruits. And there is much more that, you know -- that the community can do, that the police department can do to make progress in that community.

SMERCONISH: Are you personally uncomfortable with the so-called ballot security initiatives that many states have initiated in response to the voting rights act? Voter I.D. and limiting when people can go exercise the franchise?

GONZALES: I believe that our vote is one of the most precious assets that we have and we need to protect it. I really do. I have no problems with doing so.

But to use voter I.D. laws to discourage minorities from voting that is something that is intolerable. There is a right balance here and every state has to find the proper balance.

GRANDERSON: Mike, if I could just add, you know, as I already (ph) said (ph) I was in Ferguson, I spent some time reporting there. One of the things that really shocked me, you know, part of the way that I report is that I can go into the community.

And so, I ate at some of the restaurants that were black owned. I got my haircut at one of the barber shops in town. I just sort of asked, have you ever cut a police officer's hair? Have you ever served a police officer? I couldn't find a single person that was in the community that talked about serving the police officers there. They were not of that community.

So, when you look at what happened with Officer Wilson and the fact that his previous department in Jennings was disbanded because of racism, (INAUDIBLE) to go to Ferguson you can't find anyone in the police department who actually worked or went to the businesses in Ferguson, you begin to see that the police department wasn't necessarily representative or in the community that they served. They came from outside the community to impose. Those are two different relationships.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, it's a great conversation. I wishing we had more time. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, L.Z. Granderson, good to see you both.

From one 50th anniversary to another America's full scale entry into the Vietnam war. Reflections on wow that changed the country's fabric and psyche when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: Today marks the 50th anniversary of the arrival of

the first U.S. combat troops in Vietnam. The escalation of America's involvement in the Southeast Asian country would go on for a decade, costs more than 58,000 American lives and end in military defeat for the United States.

Fast forward today in the fight against ISIS with some 1600 American advisers on the ground in Iraq. Is the U.S. on the path to another Vietnam?

Joining me now is former senator Bob Kerrey. He fought in Vietnam as a Navy SEAL and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism in combat, and journalist and author, David Maraniss, who wrote a book about Vietnam and the anti-war backlash entitled "They Marched Through Sunlight, War and Peace Vietnam, and America."

So David, today, 50 years ago 3500 American marines landed in Vietnam. Why don't we seem to note the milestones of that conflict the way that we do with our others?

DAVID MARANISS, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, Vietnam is apart from most of the other conflicts in American history partly because America lost that battle, but also because divisions of Vietnam are still with us 50 years later in so many different ways. Not just the soldiers who endured the fighting, which is always something to remember that goes on for decades after a war is supposedly over, but also in so many ideological and cultural ways. Vietnam will be with us as long as my generation and Senator Kerry's generation is alive.

SMERCONISH: Senator Kerry, some will look back and attribute the lost -- the lack of success to lack of American resolve. Was it ever winnable?

BOB KERREY (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Obviously the cost-benefit ratio was decidedly against a victory. It would have taken -- you know, it would have taken tactics. They would -- I think, unacceptable to American people. Moreover, by the way we voted to cut off military assistance after we left. It's not the first time we tire of a war. You know, Abraham Lincoln would not have won in 1864 had it not been for Sherman taking Atlanta. So, it's -- you know, Americans get tired of war in a hero (ph).

SMERCONISH: David Maraniss, let me ask you question about the battle on the home front. Because In the book you wrote...


SMERCONISH: ...which we referenced, you juxtaposed what was going on in a particularly bloody battle in Vietnam in October of 1967 with a protest movement at home in Madison, Wisconsin. My question is this. Would the protest movement have been as potent at home absent the draft?

MARANISS: I doubt it. I think the draft fueled so much of the fire of the anti-war movement because all movements are a combination of ideology or idealism, I should say, and self-interest. And the idealism was there, too, no doubt about it. There were -- you know, people were firmly against this particular war but the self-interest also made it such that every young man my age, their girlfriends, their parents, everyone had to talk about and deal with the war in some way or another, you know, were you going to fight, would you enlist, would you join the ROTC, would you go to Canada. All of that was fuel for the discussion which made it much more intense than anything that's going on today.

KERREY: Look I think it's not just the war that was going on in 1967. I'm sure you've seen Selma or heard controversy about Selma...


KERREY: ...five days after Lyndon Johnson signed voting rights in August of 1965 we had Watts and there was a substantial backlash. There was a cultural war going on, a civil rights war going on. There were other things going on besides the war in Vietnam.

SMERCONISH: Senator Kerrey, the nation is at war today and yet there is an absence of any protest movement. Do we care less as a country when it's a volunteer force?

KERREY: No, I don't think we do. I mean, I do think there's a big gap between the non-military civilian population and the military population. I think there is a -- there's a concern. I think there's a -- (INAUDIBLE) the all volunteer forces I think there's a -- (INAUDIBLE) improvement that you do have (INAUDIBLE). But no. I think Americans care much more today about men and women who are serving.

MARANISS: That's one of the lessons that everyone has learned from Vietnam that you can oppose the policy but you don't oppose the soldiers.


MARANISS: I think we didn't know that 50 years ago but that's something I think everyone agrees on now.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, some are saying there are parallel between the current situation and with regard to ISIS and what we went through in the '60s. The argument goes something like this, handsome, young, Democratic, Harvard educated president is leading us into a military quagmire.

David Maraniss, respond to that.

MARANISS: I think the parallels are more uniquely fit 10 years ago with the Iraq war. I think that's the point. I think ISIS is a separate issue. And I'm not sure whether it's going into a war or not. But 10 years ago you had America fighting in a place where the soldiers didn't know the language or the culture, where there were no front lines. Where there were questions about why the war started, how it would end, what the role of patriotism and descent were in American life. All that seems hauntingly familiar.

I think ISIS, in my opinion, just my opinion, I think it's in a separate category.

SMERCONISH: Senator Kerrey?

KERREY: I agree with that. Actually I think what you've got is a handsome Harvard graduate who was maybe traumatized by the war in Iraq and is not using military force in the way it ought to be. We passed on fighting (ph) a battle (ph) in Syria. We pulled our troops out of Iraq, in my view, too fast creating a power vacuum. I think his unwillingness to use conventional forces to put boots on the ground, common vernacular, and that -- I think in some ways it's a trauma of Vietnam, it's more the trauma of Iraq.

SMERCONISH: David Maraniss, Senator Kerrey, thank you both so much for being here.

KERREY: You're welcome.

MARANISS: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: We'll be right back.


SMERCONISH: Thank you for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Michael Smerconish. Remember, you can follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish.

Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," starts right now.