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Trump: Never Said Anything Derogatory about Haitians; Trump Honors MLK Jr Amid Racist Remark Controversy. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired January 12, 2018 - 11:30   ET



[11:33:27] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And we are keeping an eye there on the White House because, any moment, President Trump is expected to sign a proclamation honoring Martin Luther King Jr Day. We are going to bring that to you live.

This all comes with the president now denying, sort of, that he made vulgar or derogatory comments about Haiti, in particular, or demanded Haitians get out. He said this: "I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians," he tweeted. This is happening as the country is about to honor Martin Luther King Jr, a day with particular significance until nation's capital where King marched and outlined his dream for the country."

I want to bring in Karl Racine, the attorney general for Washington, D.C.

And I want to talk to you about what some of this rhetoric means to this city, but also want what is really an amazing story you have. You were born in Haiti, you emigrated to the United States as a kid, your dad was the mayor of a small town in Haiti that you were from. He and your mom decided to come to the U.S. so she could finish her graduate work and then they sent a little later for you and your sister so that you could join them. You know about this change in protected status for Haitians. You've heard the reporting on the president's comments. What is your reaction?

KARL RACINE, (D), WASHINGTON, D.C. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm outraged by the president's comments. I think plain and simple the president displayed his racist ideology and his racist animus towards immigrants.

[11:35:00] KEILAR: And critics are certainly calling this racist. Some people supporting Donald Trump say, look, look at some of his policies that are supporting all Americans. We just had one supporter of Donald Trump's on who said economic policies that are helping all Americans. What do you say people who are backing Donald Trump like that?

RACINE: What I say to those people who are backing Donald Trump is to think about what makes America great, from many come one. It's the immigrant's story that has really shaped and created America. Immigrants, regardless whether they're from Scotland, Ireland, Australia, Haiti, or Africa, they come here and by and large have embraced our values and contribute immensely to the country, whether they're broadcasters, lawyers, state attorney generals or street sweepers. They work hard and they're honest. What I am particularly concerned about, is what we see represented by the president's words or actually also reflected in the president's immigration policy.

KEILAR: So if it -- the rhetoric on its own if he had a potty mouth, so to speak, that wouldn't be as much of a problem for you? It's that you're looking at the policies and you see there is a marriage between the rhetoric and between -- and between the policies? Because this was a policy discussion where he said this.

RACINE: There's no doubt about it. We're talking about immigration and what the president decided to do was focus, once again, on people of color, in this case Haitians and folks from the continent of Africa. Not unlike what the president has done disparaging Mexican- Americans and disparaging others. Why is it that only people of color are disparaged in the way in which this president routinely does it?

KEILAR: It's happening also in the city in Washington, D.C., which is -- it's of note, you are a prominent official in a city with a rich black heritage, a big black population, what does it mean to a community, really the president's backyard, a community like this, to hear language like this and these policies?

RACINE: Well, I think when the president expresses concern about crowds at his inauguration or crowds at something like the lighting of the Christmas tree, you wonder why people stay home. People in the District of Columbia and the metropolitan area to include northern Virginia, they embrace immigrants, they abhor racism and sexism and see that stuff coming out of 1600 it makes local officials double down and make clear to the residents of their states that we're with you, not with the president of the United States.

KEILAR: This is a big event today, as the president is supposed to be honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. This couldn't come at a worse time for what he has said. How does the comments that he made behind closed doors, how does that -- actually, hold on, Karl. We will listen to the president, who is now at the White House.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank Secretary Carson, along with Isaac Newton Farris Jr, and many distinguished guests for joining us here today. It's a great honor.

Earlier this week, I had the tremendous privilege to join Isaac and Avita to sign into law legislation re-designating the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park. The new law expands the area to protect it and historic sites for the future generations of Americans are becoming so important and this is a great honor for us and a great honor to Dr. King.

Today, we gather in the White House to honor the memory of a great American hero, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on January 15th, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He would go on to change the course of human history. As a young man, Dr. King decided to follow the calling of his father and grandfather to become a Christian pastor. He would later write that, "It was quite easy for me to think of a God of love, mainly because I grew up in a family where love was central." That is what Reverend King preached all of his life, love, love for each other, for neighbors and for our fellow Americans. Dr. King's faith and his love for humanity led him and so many other heroes to courageously stand up for civil rights of African-Americans. Through his bravery and sacrifice Dr. King opened the eyes and lifted the conscience of our nation. He stirred in the hearts of our people to recognize the dignity written in every human soul.

[11:40:30] Today, we celebrate Dr. King for standing up for the self- evident truth Americans hold so dear that no matter what the color of our skin, or the place of our birth, we are all created equal by God. This April we will mark a half century since Reverend King was so cruelly taken from us by an assassin's bullet. But while Dr. King is no longer with us, his words and his vision only grow stronger through time. Today, we mourn his loss, we celebrate his legacy, and we pledge to fight for his dream of equality, freedom, justice, and peace. I will now sign the proclamation making January 15th, 2018, the Martin Luther King Jr federal holiday and encourage all Americans to observe this day with acts of civic work and community service in honor of Dr. King's extraordinary life. And it was extraordinary, indeed, and his great legacy. Thank you, God bless you all, and God bless America.

And with that I would like to ask a great friend of mine, secretary Carson, for remarks and then we're going to be signing the very important proclamation.

Thank you very much.


BEN CARSON, HUD SECRETARY: Thank you, Mr. President. It's an honor to be here today celebrating this solemn occasion. And I thank you for signing legislation to designate the birth place, church and tomb of Dr. Martin Luther King as a national historic park. His monumental struggle for civil rights earned these places in his life, faith and death, the same honor as Mt. Vernon and that famous humble log cabin in Illinois.

This April, we will observe the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination. I remember so vividly that day as a high school student in Detroit. Far from silencing his dream, death brought him immortal in the American heart. His message of equality, justice, and the common dignity of man resounds today. Urgently needed to heal the divisions of our age.

Today, we honor the legacy of the man who marched on Washington for jobs and freedom, achieving both for millions of Americans of all races and backgrounds. But his legacy also calls us to remember where these ideas, equality, freedom, liberty, get their power. Our good efforts alone are not enough to lend them meaning. For what shall I be called equal to another man. It cannot be by wealth. For there will always be one richer than me. It cannot be by strength, for there will always be one stronger than me. It cannot be success or happiness or beauty or any other pieces of the human condition which are distributed through prove dense. So perhaps prove dense alone is the answer, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator, with certain unalienable rights with these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With these words, our Declaration of Independence recognizes the true author of our common dignity, one that is beyond every human law and institution. If we forget this source of our fundamental quality, then our fight to recognize in our society will never be fulfilled.

[11:45:00] This is a truth that Dr. King carried with him from Selma to Montgomery, from a pulpit in Atlanta to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, from a cell in Birmingham to the entire world. This year, we will not remember his being slain as the ending, but a beginning, as the moment when his truth rose stronger than hatred and his cause larger than death, as a moment that he called to new life with his creator before whom all men shall one day stand in equal rank, bearing with them no riches, but the content of their character. If we keep this conviction at the center of our every word and action, if we look upon our countrymen as brothers with a shared home and a common destination, then instead of meaningless words rolling off of our tongue, we will truly create one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

We're going to have a word from Pastor Isaac Newton Farris, the nephew of Dr. Martin Luther King -- Dr. Martin Luther King.


ISAAC NEWS, PASTOR & NEPHEW OF MARTIN LUTHER KING: President Trump, Vice President Pence, and to all assembled here, if my uncle were here today, the first thing he would say is, what are we or what are you doing for others? And that's why it was so important that my aunt, Coretta Scott King, return to the Congress now about ten years ago and asked that the meaning of the holiday be changed. We did not want the King holiday just to hero worship. As his nephew I certainly think that he was one of the greatest Americans that we've produced. But it should not be a day of hero worship. That's why the Congress agreed with my aunt and also made it a day of service. So that we on that day -- as a matter of fact the King center we refer to it as a day on, not a day off. Not a day to hang out in the park or pull out the barbecue grill. It's a day to do something to help someone else, and that can be as simple as delivering someone's trash or picking up the newspaper for that elderly person who can't get to the end of the driveway. Bottom line, you're doing something that benefits someone other than yourself. That's the proper way to remember my uncle, and the proper way to celebrate the King holiday.

So, President Trump, thank you for taking the time to acknowledge this day. Thank you for remembering that we're all Americans and, on this day, we should be united in love for all Americans.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Thank you, Mr. Vice president.

Thank you.


TRUMP: This is a great and important day. Martin Luther King Jr federal holiday, 2018, by the president of the United States of America, a proclamation.

Congratulations to him and to everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, will you give an apology for the statement yesterday?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, are you a racist? Mr. President, can you respond to the serious questions about your statement, sir.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, are you a racist?


[11:50:10] KEILAR: I want to bring in CNN senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, at the White House for us.

This event was long planned marking a very important person, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This is against the background of the president's comments. You heard it yelled at him twice, "Mr. President, are you a racist?"

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Peppered with questions there. Very interesting also that in that room it was filled with African-American leaders, conservatives, Republicans. There was no direct reference to the president's comments last night. The only people in the room were reporters who were asking the president questions about it. I couldn't tell whether he had responded or not. What's clear I think and you are absolutely right. This is a significant event because it's a 50th anniversary event in the history of Martin Luther King. Fifty years ago, he gave, for example, his last sermon right here in Washington, D.C., over at the National Cathedral. It's a big landmark, but it was suddenly pushed to the front of the headlines because of the president's remarks and he spent the morning on Twitter clarifying them, first denying the language and last clarifying that he was not talking about Haitians. Interesting and now the president drives off to get his physical examination.

Back to you.

KEILAR: Joe, it was the comments by Ben Carson. That really captured the significance of this anniversary. Listening to President Trump, what he said at one point this is about -- Martin Luther King was about "standing up for the ideal that is no matter what the color of your skin or place of our birth, we are all equal."

That flies complete low in the face of the remarks that he made in this meeting with a number of lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, where he spoke as he did. How does the White House handle this? The fact that here he is on this day by his own words honoring somebody in ideals that are completely counter to what he himself has demonstrated.

JOHNS: You definitely had to get their messages in synch. Last night the impression we here at the White House got was that the White House message machine was essentially saying they were standing behind the president's remarks. They did not deny the president's remarks. They even suggested that the president would be backed up by his base and they would support him for those words. Then the whole thing changed and the president now denying especially what he had to say about the Haitians. Brianna, this is also the eighth anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti which makes the president's statements if you believe he said something about Haitians an issue.

KEILAR: It certainly does.

Joe Johns, at the White House, thank you so much.

I want to bring in my panel to discuss. We have Elise Labott, as well as Chris Cillizza, and a Republican strategist, Shermichael Singleton. And back as well with Karl Racine, the A.G. of D.C. And also, we have Josh DuBois, a CNN contributor who worked on faith, race, and community partnerships under the Obama administration.

Josh, first to you.

As you listen to that event. What was your reaction?

JOSH DUBOIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: My reaction was that Dr. King worked and advocated and changed this country was not the Dr. King reflected in these remarks. Dr. King would have matched on people and advocating against this White House. You don't have to believe me. You can listen to the words of his own daughter, someone who spent as much time with him as anyone. The only people in the country haunted by white supremacy, would a sitting president feel comfortable degrading Africa and Haiti while praising Norway. Dr. King said Trump is perhaps one of the greatest threats to civil rights he has ever seen. We heard one thing in the nice presentation from today. What I read about with people who love and knew him would have a lot to say about Donald Trump.

KEILAR: I don't have a lot of time left, so I want to get your reaction to what we saw.

Chris Cillizza?

[11:55:09] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT- LARGE: He went through with it. That's about as much as I think you can say. Given the last 24 hours. Donald Trump knew what kind of questions would be shouted at him. He did it. Again, what he said privately in a meeting and had comments similar to what was made last night versus in a public setting, one is more reflective of his broader belief system than the other.

KEILAR: What did you think, Karl?

RACINE: Actions speak louder than words. As offensive and racist as the president's word. His actions and promulgating the travel bans one, two, and three. They were ethnically and religiously based. Rescinding DACA and Mexicans were religiously or ethnically based. We have a dangerous time. A president is mixing racist ideology with official action.

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's easy to destroy, but takes a lifetime to build. Donald Trump should recognize that. Listening to his remarks in compare to Dr. Carson's remarks, he captured the spirit, everything that Dr. King represents. I still have faith in this country. I do. I recognize that presidents come to go. And while Donald Trump is here, once he leaves it, we as people have to begin the process of rebuilding and coming together again and trying to chart a course where we all have benefit.

KEILAR: Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPOND3ENT: Today, at the State Department, they have to do clean up around the world. At U.S. embassies, ambassadors are being called in to their host governments, "Am I in a shithole country?" Today, the State Department diplomats are being given guidance to tell the host country to reaffirm the U.S. commitment in the countries they have the honor of serving. And Secretary Tillerson, in previously planned remarks, that resonated today and had a new meaning, said values matter. And talked about the difficult history that the U.S. has with slavery and said the nation is not imperfect, but we strive to be better. Those remarks taking on a greater meaning today for diplomats serving around the world.

KEILAR: Thank you to all of you. I appreciate your insights on an extraordinary day.

John King will pick up after a quick break.