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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Giving Felons Voting Rights; Lobbying Congress Is All in the Family; Walmart & American Goods

Aired February 19, 2014 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Some really sad news in the case of a missing 10-year-old girl from Springfield, Missouri.

Police say a stranger grabbed Hailey Owens yesterday afternoon, threw her in a truck and drove away. Officials just announced they have found a young female body in the suspect's house, and they have a high degree of confidence it is Hailey.

The suspect is in custody, 45-year-old Craig Michael Wood, booked on charges of first-degree murder.

Police in Lumpkin County, Georgia, say this inmate and his buddy escaped from their cell by removing a toilet from the wall, breaking through to the outside of the building and climbing over two barbed and razor-wire fences.

The other inmate, William Harris, got hurt, turned himself back in, but Larry Farmer still on the lose and considered dangerous. So, you do the crime; you do the time. Now comes election day. Can you vote? It depends. If you live in Maine or Vermont, you can vote, even before you get out of prison.

In Florida, Iowa and Kentucky, convicts can't vote, cannot vote ever again, unless they petition the government and the government agrees.

In most states, voting rights are restored once a convict finishes his or her sentence, including parole or probation. So, point is, it is a patchwork and in the mind of the U.S. attorney general and an injustice, as well.

I want you to hear now Eric Holder, what he said last week at Georgetown Law School.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans, 5.8 million of our fellow citizens, are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions.

Now that's more than the individual populations of 31 United States, 31 of our states.

And although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states use these measures to strip African-Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement in modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So you heard me mention Kentucky, the freshman Republican senator from that state not usually an ally of the Obama administration is joining the attorney general's call to let felons vote.

Let me just say, Rand Paul, joining the attorney general's call to let felons vote, nonviolent felons, at least, anyway.

Rand Paul is testifying as we speak before a state committee. Are these live pictures we're looking at? Still tape? OK, still tape.

But he is testifying -- testified just moments ago.

And I want to speak with my lawyers again, Paul Callan, Danny Cevallos. Again, he just spoke moments ago.

He is joining Eric Holder? That's a switch.

Listen, what's the argument for not letting felons vote after they rejoin society? First, you, Danny.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Constitutionally, the Supreme Court and other courts have held that felons are different.

Yes, it's true that the Equal Protection clause prevents us from discriminating against different classes of people --

LEMON: But they pay their debt to society.

CEVALLOS: Yeah, but the same Constitution, the same 14th Amendment, specifically says you can deny the right to vote if you participated in rebellion or other crimes.

So. if you go to the source of all of our law, the U.S. Constitution, there is clear authority for states having that power to deny its felons the right to vote, even though it would appear otherwise to be a violation of equal protection.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: What it comes down to, though is obviously, we can do it constitutionally. But the real question I think you're asking is, should we do it, why should we do it?

And I think historically, when you look at the U.S., it's really kind of interesting. When George Washington was elected president in 1776, under pretty much the same Constitution, only six percent of the American public could vote at that time.

Now obviously -- LEMON: Because we had so many felons?

CALLAN: Well, yeah, they couldn't vote. You know who else couldn't? You had to own land to vote in 1776, right? You couldn't vote without land.

So, obviously, we're under the same Constitution, basically, a few changes through the years, but our view of this has changed as a society, I think.

And although the Constitution allows you to single out people like criminals and say they can't vote, they can be treated differently, I think we're seeing a trend nationwide where felons are being given the right to vote after they have served their time.

Some states, by the way, allow them to vote from prison, so --

LEMON: It's interesting, but doesn't this go back to -- it's early Constitution, but doesn't it go back also to the times of slavery where, if you tried to run away, you became a convicted felon, therefore could not vote and so you could not have power.

That's the question I ask, and you summed it up perfectly. Why don't we do it? It seems like that is a backward way of thinking now once you have paid your debt to society?

CALLAN: Let's face it. It's political. And in the end, I don't know how much of a difference it's going to make.

The Democrats who think that most of the felons are going to be voting for them rather than the Republicans would like to pass this law.

However, I don't think felons vote for the most part. Now, I'm not talking about all of them. There's some guy, I suppose, who's served his time, and he's a responsible citizen, but there is about a 50 percent recidivism rate, and I'm betting most felons are thinking about how to commit another felony, rather than who they're going to vote for.

LEMON: I just think the alliance between Rand Paul and the attorney general is very interesting.

CEVALLOS: Strange bedfellows.

CALLAN: Yes. Maybe they both go on a cruise.

LEMON: Looking out the window, do you see any pigs flying out there?

All right, thank you, guys. Appreciate it. All right.

In the world of Washington lobbyists, a shocking number of them have the closest connections of all. They're actually relatives of lawmakers they're being paid to influence.

We're "Keeping Them Honest," coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: If you're already jaded about Washington, this will not help.

All year long, we'll be keeping them honest about money, influence and power in the nation's capital, working with the nonprofit Government Accountability Institute.

CNN's Drew Griffin takes a hard look at lobbying. Not just thousands of run-of-the-mill lobbyists who earn a healthy living in Washington, we're looking at influential lawmakers in powerful positions whose family members lobby Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For some of the most powerful people in Washington, people you vote into office, power and influence are a family affair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you take somebody like Harry Reid, for example, the majority leader in the Senate, he has three sons and a son-in-law, all of whom have been registered lobbyists

Same thing in Missouri with Republican Roy Blunt whose wife and several of his children are registered lobbyists.

GRIFFIN: Reid and Blunt's family lobbying ties are legendary, but neither has a monopoly.

According to LegiStorm, a congressional watchdog tracking service, since 2001, 100 federally registered lobbyists related to 78 members of Congress have worked on lobbying contracts worth nearly $2 billion.

That's 100 congressional family members related to these 78 members of Congress

And transparency campaigner, Peter Schweizer says every one of those family lobbyists got paid.

PETER SCHWEIZER, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY INSTITUTE: It's not just about staying in office because you like the power.

It's about staying in office because it generates huge amounts of cash for your family.

GRIFFIN: But official registered lobbying by family members is only one part of this family business, and one of the only parts you can track.

Nick Nyhart heads Public Campaign, a group trying to get special interest money out of politics.

Campaign donations, lobbying, schmoozing, that's easy to track, he says.

There is something much more subtle yet larger going on in D.C. big government contractors seem to have a lot of congressional relatives on their staffs.

It's just not talked about.

It just seems like it's one, big inside game.

NICK NYHART, PUBLIC CAMPAIGN: Well, I think that's right. This town is built on that kind of inside game.

GRIFFIN: Want an example? Take Kristi Clemens Rogers.

Four years ago, she married the powerful chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers.

Up until 2012, she was also the CEO of the American branch of Aegis, a defense and security contracting firm, where. according to her new employer, the law firm, Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, Kristi Rogers successfully developed and led a two-year pursuit and capture strategy to win a five-year, $10 billion contract under the Department of State's Worldwide Protective Services program."

And, yes, it's an area her husband's committee has Congressional oversight, making sure diplomats and their staffs are properly protected.

You would think Congressman Mike Rogers would at least disclose that family connection, or that in appearing before Congress, Kristi Rogers would disclose her marital ties.

But on his Web site, Congressman Rogers only states he's in fact married, no name, and Kristi Rogers in an appearance before a presidential commission back in 2010 didn't mention the name of the man she just married, even though she missed her first appearance due to her honeymoon.

KRISTI CLEMENS ROGERS, WIFE OF REPRESENTATIVE MIKE ROGERS: It was an unfortunate perfect storm. I had just come off my honeymoon. That was not the perfect storm --

GRIFFIN: The congressman declined our interview request, and his press secretary set us straight in this email, telling us this is all old news.

"Kristi Rogers is not a lobbyist," she writes, and "is not engaging in those activities."

"She has also never met with any member of Congressman Rogers' staff or staff members of the intelligence committee in any professional capacity on any issue."

Kristi Rogers is now the managing director of Federal Government Affairs and Public Policy from Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

She is not a registered lobbyist. She just happens to work for a firm that does extensive lobbying, and on its Web site, touts its "strong relationships in Congress" with a "solid record of success in securing legislation and federal funding on behalf of clients." NYHART: And it's this kind of conflict of interest that leads to this deep distrust.

GRIFFIN: What we are told constantly by the members is, I never talk to my spouse about this issue.

I never talk to her on this business. There's a firewall between me and my sons who are lobbyists.

Do you buy that?

NYHART: Well, whether you buy it or not, here's the question of the appearance. I'm sure there's some reality.

I can't quite believe that members of Congress don't care about the fortunes of their family members.

GRIFFIN: And the fortunes go both ways. Mike Rogers' wife, Kristi becomes CEO of defense contractor, then is hired by a lobbying firm.

Rogers becomes chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and according to the Federal Election Commission, political donations from the defense industry quadruple, all legal, all within the rules, all routine in the family business of Washington.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: All right, Drew.

If you have a story for Drew Griffin and the CNN Investigations Team, you can go to CNN.com/Investigations, CNN.com/Investigations.

You know, he is the host of the wildly popular show, "Dirty Jobs." His name is Mike Rowe, and he is here. That's him, hanging out with me in the newsroom.

It's fun and games, but I have some serious questions for him, as well. We're going to talk about his connection to Walmart, among other things.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: "Dirty Jobs" host Mike Rowe, well-known for being an advocate for the working class. Well, Rowe has even testified before Congress about our country's lack of skilled labor. But now he finds himself in the middle of a firestorm over lending his voice to this new Walmart ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE ROWE, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER & HOST, "DIRTY JOBS" (voice-over): At one time, I made things. I opened my doors to all. And together, we filled pallets and trucks. I was mighty. And then one day, the gears stopped turning. But I am still here. And I believe I will rise again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: All right. That was Walmart and a very - that was Mike Rowe in a Walmart very dramatic ad there. Walmart is committing to buying $250 billion worth of American products over the next 10 years. Well, critics say that commitment just isn't enough. Mike Rowe, the author of the new book, it's called "Profoundly Disconnected," he joins me right now.

How do you defend Walmart and this -- first of all, it's a pleasure meeting you.

ROWE: Likewise.

LEMON: I watch you every Saturday morning as I'm getting ready for work.

ROWE: Your taste is impeccable.

LEMON: Yes. So how do you - how do you defend what Walmart is doing, and your -- the working class guy, I'm sure you never thought you'd be in the middle of this.

ROWE: Actually, you know, "Dirty Jobs" is funny. You can look at it and you can see a straight tribute to hard work and skilled labor. But you can also look at it and see the same tribute to entrepreneurship and risk. It was really a tribute to work, right? And so - but, yes, I get your point and I understand my identity -

LEMON: People are saying it's a drop in the bucket what they're doing and they're surprised that you are lending your name to a company that has issues when it comes to labor relations.

ROWE: Yes. Believe me, I woke up the next morning and there's 7 million people on my Facebook page talking about this. But to me, a quarter of a trillion dollars is a pretty good sized P.O. to write to the U.S. economy. I don't care where it's coming from. In fact, if Walmart is serious about this, and I hope they are. Look, I'm not their spokesman. I narrated that spot because I have a foundation that shares a lot of real estate with them.

LEMON: Do you regret doing it?

ROWE: Oh my goodness, no. Look, I'll do another 50 if they ask me to.

LEMON: All right.

ROWE: I don't -- look, the country has to talk about the business of making things. We can talk about why this company's good, why this company's bad. But if you're against $250 billion in U.S. product commitments, I'd love to know why.

LEMON: When you say $250 billion, it sounds like a lot. Walmart spends more than $350 billion a year to stock its stores. And that is compounded over 10 years. That's $3.5 trillion. A commitment makes up about 7 percent of Walmart's spending. That's a very small amount.

ROWE: So maybe we shouldn't do any and that would be better.

LEMON: Maybe we should do more and that would be even better.

ROWE: So what do you want to do? Do you want to start with, you know, a quarter of a trillion or start with nothing?

LEMON: Right.

ROWE: Look, what if the CEOs of Lowe's or Home Depot or Best Buy -- run down the Fortune 500. What if they're sitting home watching our show right now. Hey, guys, how's it going? Wouldn't it be cool if they said, you know something, in relative terms, let's match it. Let's go in. We're not -- we're talking about investing in American suppliers. So honestly, Don, I get the controversy. But the question I would ask back is, what hope does the country have of reinvigorating manufacturing if the biggest retailer on the planet isn't involved? How does that work?

LEMON: So then since -- you have found your -- you said I am not a spokesperson for Walmart, but you're sort of, you know, an accidental one, much as your career has been accidental. Now you're an accidental spokesperson for Walmart. What is your challenge to them because, again, if this is only 7 percent -

ROWE: Yes.

LEMON: Of what they're doing in the next 10 years, do you have a challenge for them? Do you feel an obligation to make a challenge to them and say -

ROWE: Look, since 2008, I've been behind my own very modest PR campaign for hard work. It's called "Work is Not the Enemy." Walmart has a campaign called "Work is a Beautiful Thing." I want to see them succeed. My challenge so them is to do what you said you're going to do. Because the American people aren't going to accept anything other than that, right? I'm not going to. Everybody's watching.

I'm standing there yesterday at Tulsa Welding School. That's down in Jacksonville. Those guys right there are being trained, as we speak, for 800 jobs that one of the biggest ship builders in the country can't fill. Don, the opportunities to work are everywhere.

LEMON: Yes.

ROWE: And the thing that annoys me and the reason I love this campaign is that for 10 years on "Dirty Jobs," everywhere I went, I saw the same sign. It said "help wanted."

LEMON: Yes.

ROWE: It's not the kind of jobs people necessarily aspire to and dream about, but they're real opportunities and somebody's got to shine a light on them.

LEMON: All right. And we're going to talk more about that and talk about your book. But again, even if - I know that you challenged Walmart. I'd like to challenge Walmart.

ROWE: Do it.

LEMON: To do a lot more. My mother shops at Walmart every single day. It's her community. I don't go there, but my mother does. I challenge you, Walmart, to make a bigger difference and to -

ROWE: And challenge everyone else -

LEMON: And everyone else as well.

ROWE: That's working with American suppliers.

LEMON: We're going to talk about your book in just a little bit. And you said the fact that a four-year college degree is only one path to success. I want to ask you about that right after the break.

And then also, do you remember this? Check this out.

ROWE: Oh, come on!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Mike Rowe, the author of the new book "Profoundly Disconnected," joins me now.

Here is the cover of the book. You're reading your book.

ROWE: I'm reading -- somebody had to.

LEMON: That is really self-absorbent and pretension.

ROWE: Thank you. Thank you. That's what I was shooting for.

LEMON: What is this book all about?

ROWE: If you were to take all the lessons from "Dirty Jobs," distill them into the one biggest lesson for me - and, honestly, "Dirty Jobs" was, you know, it was a - it was a forced field trip in social anthropology. But I think the biggest thing for me was reconnected with a sense of gratitude for a lot of the jobs I had taken for granted.

And my theory simply says that if we're more grateful in general as a country for cheap electricity and indoor plumbing and all of things that make civilized life work, then a lot of things we define as problems, like a skills gap or a crumbling infrastructure, even currency devaluation and some of the things you guys talk about on your show, I think those problems become more symptomatic and maybe solvable.

LEMON: You also talk a lot about getting a college degree and that we don't value the, you know, old fashioned, old-time jobs. Because my dad was a pipe fitter -

ROWE: Yes.

LEMON: And did very well.

ROWE: Right.

LEMON: That was a skill - I mean, you know, they're probably look -- they look for pipefitters and plumbers all the time.

ROWE: Every day.

LEMON: Yes.

ROWE: Look, it's really tricky right now but -- because if I argue about all of the great opportunities that don't require college degree, people will come out and say, oh, that Mike Rowe, he's anti- college.

LEMON: No.

ROWE: I'm not anti-college.

LEMON: College is not for everyone.

ROWE: It's not for everybody. Look, there are over 3 million jobs right now that are available. Eighty-two percent of them do not require a degree.

LEMON: Yes.

ROWE: And so shining a light on those jobs is important, I think.

LEMON: All right, I've got to - before I get -- that is really your mom in the commercial with the -

ROWE: Absolutely.

LEMON: OK.

ROWE: And my dad.

LEMON: So, listen, I had to - I auditioned for QVC back in the '90s, probably when you were - had to sell a necktie. You auditioned. What was your audition?

ROWE: Yes. I had to - I had to - I had to sell a pencil. If I could talk about a pencil for eight minutes.

LEMON: We have video of you on - we have video of you on -

ROWE: You're going to pull -

LEMON: No, of you on QVC.

ROWE: Well, I saw me singing before, but, I mean, it's -- LEMON: How did you sell a pencil for that long?

ROWE: It's called a feature benefit, Don. So never ever talk about the feature of the thing without also talking about its benefit. So if you're talking about a pencil and it happens to be yellow -

LEMON: Or a pen, right? Right.

ROWE: Like you don't say, OK, it's a yellow pencil for sale. You say it's yellow and that's important because when you open up your cluttered drawer on your desk, yellow pops out. You don't just say it's number two, you talk about the difference between number three and number one and Madagascar clay.

LEMON: (INAUDIBLE).

ROWE: Hey, look, you asked. I could do this for eight minutes.

LEMON: Did you wear the same thing every day, because every clip I saw, you had the same tie on?

ROWE: Pretty much.

LEMON: Yes.

ROWE: Pretty much.

LEMON: Mike Rowe.

ROWE: That was before the hat, too.

LEMON: Thank you.

ROWE: By the way, look, it's just - I still have the hair.

LEMON: And speaking of a man who has a lot of hair -

ROWE: Yes.

LEMON: Wolf Blitzer. He's next.

ROWE: Like hair - like fur on a weasel, that guy.

LEMON: There you go. "Wolf" starts right now.