Return to Transcripts main page


Eric Holder Addressing NAACP; A Look At "This Town"; Weapons Found On North Korea Flagged Ship

Aired July 16, 2013 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. As we've been waiting for, attorney general Eric Holder has just started addressing the NAACP convention in Orlando, Florida. Right now, let's listen in.


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: -- civil rights leaders like Julian Bond.


HOLDER: And passionate men and women who have dedicated themselves to bringing our nation together, addressing common challenges and focusing attention on the problems and the inequities that too many of our citizens continue to face. Even as this convention proceeds, we are all mindful of a tragic and unnecessary shooting death of Trayvon Martin last year in Sanford, Florida, just a short distance from here. And we're also aware of the state trial that reached its conclusion on Saturday evening.

Today I'd like to join President Obama in urging all Americans to recognize that, as he said, we are a nation of laws and the jury has spoken. I know the NAACP and its members are deeply and rightly concerned about this case as passionate civil rights leaders, as engaged citizens and most of all, as parents. This afternoon, I want to assure you of two things: I am concerned about this case.


HOLDER: And as we confirmed last spring, the Justice Department has an open investigation into it. Now, while that inquiry is ongoing, I can promise that the Department of Justice will consider all available information before determining what action to take. But independent of the legal determination that will be made, I believe this tragedy provides yet another opportunity for our nation to speak honestly -- honestly and openly about the complicated and emotionally charged issues that this case has raised.

Years ago, some of these same issues drove my father to sit down with me, to have a conversation, which is no doubt familiar to many of you about how as a young black man I should interact with the police, what to say, and how to conduct myself if I was ever stopped or confronted in a way that I thought was unwarranted. Now, I'm sure my father felt certain at that time that my parents' generation would be the last that had to worry about such things for their children. Since those days, our country has indeed changed for the better. The fact that I stand before you as the 82nd attorney general of the United States serving in the administration of our first African-American president proves that.


HOLDER: Yet for all the progress that we've seen, recent events demonstrate that we still have much more work to do and much further to go. The news of Trayvon Martin's death last year and the discussions that have taken place since then reminded me of my father's words so many years ago, and they brought me back to a number of experiences that I had as a young man when I was pulled over twice and my car searched on the New Jersey Turnpike when I'm sure I wasn't speeding. Or when I was stopped by a police officer while simply running to catch a movie at night in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. I was at the time of that last incident a federal prosecutor.


HOLDER: Trayvon's death last spring caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15-year-old son, like my dad did with me. This was a father/son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down. But as a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in ways of the world, I had to do this to protect my boy. I am his father, and it is my responsibility not to burden him with the baggage of eras long gone, but to make him aware of the world that he must still confront. This -


HOLDER: This is a sad reality in a nation that is changing for the better in so many ways. As important as it was, I am determined to do everything in my power to ensure that the kind of talk I had with my son isn't the only conversation that we engage in as a result of these tragic events. In the days leading up to this weekend's verdict, some predicted and prepared for riots and waves of civil unrest across the country. Some feared that the anger of those who disagreed with the jury might overshadow and obscure the issues of the heart of this case. But the people of Sanford and for the most part thousands of others across America rejected this destructive path. They proved -


HOLDER: They proved wrong those who doubted their commitment to the rule of law. And across America, diverse groups of citizens from all races, backgrounds and walks of life are instead overwhelmingly making their voices heard as American citizens has the right to do through peaceful protests, rallies and vigils designed to inspire responsible debate, not to incite violence and division. And those who conduct themselves in a contrary manner do not honor the memory of Trayvon Martin. I hope -


HOLDER: I hope that we will continue to approach this necessarily difficult dialogue with the same dignity that those who have lost the most, Trayvon's parents, the same dignity that they have demonstrated throughout the last year and especially over the past few days. We should be proud of those two people.


HOLDER: They suffered a pain that no parent should have to endure and one that I as a father cannot begin to conceive. As we embrace their example and as we hold them in our prayers, we must not forego this opportunity to better understand one another, and we must not fail to seize this chance to improve this nation that we cherish. Today, starting here and starting now, it's time to commit ourselves to a respectful, responsible dialogue about issues of justice and equality so we can meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion and ultimately with truth, however hard that is. It's time to strengthen our collective resolve to combat gun violence but also time to combat violence involving or directed toward our children so we can prevent future tragedies.


HOLDER: And we must confront the underlying attitudes, the mistaken beliefs and the unfortunate stereotypes that serve too often as the basis for police action and private judgments.

Separate and apart from the case that has drawn the nation's attention, it's time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sew dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.


HOLDER: These laws try to fix something that was never broken. There has always been a legal defense for using deadly force if -- and the "if" is important -- if no safe retreat is available. But we must examine laws that take this further by eliminating the common sense and age-old requirement that people who feel threatened have a duty to retreat outside their home if they can do so safely by allowing and perhaps encouraging violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety. The list of resulting tragedies is long and unfortunately has victimized too many who are innocent. It is our collective obligation. We must stand our ground to ensure --


HOLDER: We must stand our ground to ensure that our laws reduce violence and take a hard look at laws that contribute to more violence than they prevent. We must also seek a dialogue on attitudes about violence and disparities that are too commonly swept under the rug, by honoring the finest traditions established by generations of NAACP leaders and other nonviolent advocates throughout history. And by paying tribute to the young man who lost his life here last year and so many others whose futures have been cut short in other incidents of gun violence that have passed too often unnoticed in our streets.


HOLDER: And we must do so by engaging with one another in a way that is at once peaceful, inclusive, respectful and strong. As we move forward together, I want to assure you that the Department of Justice will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law. We will not be afraid. We are committed --


HOLDER: We are committed to doing everything possible to ensure that in every case, in every circumstance and in every community, justice must be done. For more than a century this organization founded -


TAPPER: That's attorney general Eric Holder speaking about the Trayvon Martin case and the George Zimmerman verdict before the NAACP convention in Orlando, Florida. We're going to take a quick break and be back with reaction to the speech from a veteran prosecutor.


TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Before the break, we were listening to Attorney General Eric Holder talk about the George Zimmerman verdict at the NAACP convention. Let's get some reaction to his comments from Paul Henderson. He is a veteran prosecutor.

Paul, it was interesting, he did not specifically talk about the civil rights charges that the NAACP has been calling upon the Obama administration to file against George Zimmerman.

PAUL HENDERSON, VETERAN PROSECUTOR: Right. He did not. I think what he did was initially acknowledge the sentiment going on throughout the country and talk about it being an emotionally evocative situation and try and address his concerns from the administration, I believe he's speaking on behalf of the administration, and he did not start with federal charges. I think that was purposeful because the federal charges are very difficult given the circumstances to move forward on.

Now, what I appreciate is that what his administration and what he has said in the past is that an investigation is ongoing and they will pursue this to the fullest extent of the law, but understanding that federal approach in terms of the civil rights violations is an uphill battle and it's really challenging.

So I for one appreciate as an attorney and as a community member that his approach in addressing this issue starts off with, one, acknowledging the community sentiments and then also talking about the danger of expanding self-defense laws. And I thought that was really one. Most interesting things that he laid out in the beginning of his speech because I believe that's an allusion to the stand your ground laws. It's an interesting approach to how he's delivering this speech butch it's very good so far. TAPPER: Paul, one of the things that the attorney general said about the verdict, not in this speech, but I believe it was yesterday, was that he thought it was an unnecessary death of Trayvon Martin. Saying "unnecessary," suggests that he does not believe the defense argument of self-defense. George Zimmerman's argument is it was necessary to kill Trayvon Martin. Is it risky? We only have a little time, but is it risky for him to give his opinion on matters like that?

HENDERSON: Well, I think the way that he gave his opinion saying that it was unnecessary does not violate any of the findings and certainly reflects his opinion and I think if you talk to both sides of the fence, people that were supportive of the defense of Zimmerman and people that were supportive of the prosecution, all collectively feel like the death was unnecessary, that this should not have happened.

And I think that that's really true. I think the sentiment being reflected and the angst and anger are from different communities that feel disenfranchised from the process and feel issues weren't brought up that should have been brought up that may have been alluded to and I believe directly presented in the trial and that left him with the feeling of frustration compounded with the verdict that ultimately came out.

TAPPER: All right, Paul Henderson, a veteran prosecutor, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

Coming up on THE LEAD, my next guest has lived in this town long enough to know all its secrets and he's willing to risk being banned from every cocktail party in Washington call it as he sees it. I'll talk to author and "New York Times" reporter, Mark Leibovich next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Now it's time for our "Political Lead." Let's talk about Washington, D.C. for a second. I've worked here for about 20 years, live here with my wife and kids. Though I'll route for the Phillies until my last dying breath, Washington is my home.

It's also home to my friend Mark Leibovich who has covered politics for a while and is now the chief national correspondent for the "New York Times." Leibovich has a new book dropping today about Washington called "This Town, Two Parties And A Funeral Plus Plenty Of Valet Parking In America's Guilded Capital."

Let's listen to how he describes it. He says this is a city so interconnected, a city of beautiful, busy people constantly writing the story of their own lives, it's far from being homelessly divided. It is in fact hopelessly interconnected he writes. So Mark, are you there?

Mark, you're usually on the side of you and I talking about how crazy it is and now you've written a book about it. I know why I love this book because I know everybody in it, but explain to our viewers, why should they read this book? Why would they care? MARK LEIBOVICH, AUTHOR, "THIS TOWN": I actually do think that this book is aimed at people outside of Washington. There have been a lot of anticipation, a lot of speculation and a lot of, you know, tidbits taken inside the beltway. But ultimately I want people outside of Washington to know what the city that I think they fundamentally are disappointed in truly has come to. And the fact is it's a very, very guilded age in Washington right now and I wanted to sort of flesh out what the full carnival has really looked like and what America is paying for.

TAPPER: And it's a lot of connections and people paying for connections and people trafficking on connections and cashing in on those connections. What of all the things you describe in this book, what bothers you the most? Is it the politicians who leave Capitol Hill and then become lobbyists? Is it the people who completely sell out their ideals? What gets under your skin the most when it comes to the things about D.C. that bother you?

LEIBOVICH: I think I would say now the level of outrage has sort of reached a low point. People expect when they run against Congress that they'll run against the swamp and get in and settle in like a warm bath. After they leave office, they'll get a job and lobby, even though they vowed they wouldn't lobby. There's a level of you can say something and not mean it and that's just the way the game is played in Washington. It's sort of a weird answer to your question but it's the non-outrage. It's the fact that we've come resigned to certain way of doing business here.

TAPPER: You describe President Obama in the book as somebody who has a lot of disdain for this town, but as somebody who is completely part of the system, his own insider who traffic inside the same offices, the lobbying ban out the window, but he doesn't seem to be blamed for what the aides all around him cashing in are doing.

LEIBOVICH: Well, I mean, I think -- look, Barack Obama, was an incredibly -- his message of hope in 2008 and change was incredibly powerful and incredibly resident especially in that time. Ultimately, as the president of the United States, first of all, the presidency exists on a plain that I could not even begin to understand. That's almost its own separate history.

But ultimately there have been these series of never minds in this campaign and administration, whether it's we're not going to opt out of the campaign finance system, we're not going to work with "Super PACs," they worked with "Super PACs." We're not going to let lobbyists into the White House and so forth. Eventually it wears you down and I do think that ultimately a lot of the Washington insiders that got him elected who said they weren't of this world have really sort of settled in nicely.

TAPPER: All right, Mark Leibovich, author of "This Town," a very enjoyable read. Thanks so much for talking to us. We'll see you soon on our political roundtable I hope.

LEIBOVICH: Thanks, Jake. I appreciate it. TAPPER: Coming up, an illegal shipment from Cuba to North Korea and we're not talking about cigars. We'll show you the hidden weapons authorities just found on a boat near the Panama Canal. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. It's time for the "World Lead." You'll never believe what Panamanian authorities found hidden under a cargo of brown sugar, unidentified weapons, including missile parts. U.S. officials say they're looking into the possibility that Cuba was sending a surface-to-air missile radar back to North Korea for an upgrade.

That's it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" or as he's known at sci-fi, "Wolfnado" -- Mr. Blitzer.