Return to Transcripts main page
Trump Questioned If He's Racist During MLK Event; Source: Trump "Loves" Controversy Over "Shithole" Remark; Global Outrage Erupts Over Trump's "Shithole" Remark. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired January 12, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thanks for being with me.
Moments ago, the kind of history was made that no nation should be proud of.
[14:00:05] Seconds after the president of the United States proclaims the day for Martin Luther King Jr., reporters in the room shouting out questions asking the president if he's a racist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, will give apology for the statement yesterday?
REPORTER: Mr. President, did you refer to African and Haitians as --
REPORTER: Mr. President, are you a racist?
REPORTER: Mr. President, will you respond to these serious questions about your statements, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
REPORTER: Mr. President, are you a racist?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: This is the controversy president Trump has created after he called African nations, quote, "shithole countries", according to a source. That kind of vulgarly condemnation from every part of the globe including the president's hometown paper right here, look at that.
Beyond Africa, the source also says the president also insulted the nation of Haiti, asking, quote, why do we need more Haitians? He was just told they are under what's known as temporary protected status. At first, the White House made no denials. But today, President Trump did deny it, saying he used his words, tough language and that he said nothing derogatory against Haitians. However, at least seven other people were in the room, including Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, whose account, if true, means that the president's denials are a flat- out lie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), HEARD PRESIDENT TRUMP CALL AFRICAN NATIONS "SHITHOLE": As Senator Graham made his presentation, the president interrupted him several times with questions, and in the course of his comments said things which were hate filled, vile, and racist. I use those words advisably. I understand how powerful they are. But I cannot believe that in the history of the White House, in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.
You've seen the comments in the press. I've not read one of them that's inaccurate. To no surprise, the president started tweeting this morning, denying that he used those words. It is not true. He said these hate filled things. And he said them repeatedly.
The most disheartening thing to me is my belief that that was the first time words that hateful had been spoken in the Oval Office of the White House. I think back of presidents throughout history, and I cannot imagine a moment where a president sunk to that depth. That's what breaks my heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: First time words that hateful spoken in the Oval Office.
Here she is, April Ryan, CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks.
April, we played the clip. We didn't see you. We heard your voice. You were one of a couple of reporters shouting out the question to the president of the United States.
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
BALDWIN: Are you racist?
BALDWIN: This is where we are in 2018.
RYAN: Yes. Brooke, it was hard to really ask that question, particularly as this president was trying to celebrate, if you will, Dr. Martin Luther King, the dreamer, the man of quality, the man of peace for all people in this nation and globally. You know, listening to the president talk about Dr. King and then Ben Carson and the nephew of Dr. King, I felt bad that I had to ask this, but the day before was really big.
I mean, this president is accused of saying this repeatedly. So I had to ask the questions that I did today. I mean, in a moment like this, you have a great moment, then you have to go to the reality of the day and the time, allegedly the president is saying Africans, El Salvador and Haitians come from s-hole places. I had to ask the questions.
BALDWIN: You know, we are hearing Gloria Borger has a source that says the president, as he's been obviously keeping track of all this coverage of this controversy of the words, he's apparently chosen to use, and that the source is saying the president loves it. Loves it.
RYAN: He loves this? OK.
BALDWIN: What are you hearing?
RYAN: Well, what I'm hearing, well, as you say the president loves, there is collateral damage. I've had more people calming me yesterday, HBCU presidents, presidents of historically black colleges and universities who are very upset. They are now saying they have to go to their students and reassure them that they are OK, that they are safe, that we want you here.
[14:05:01] Many of these HBCUs, historically black colleges and universities, have international students. For instance, Tennessee State University, I talked to the president there, Dr. Glenda Glover, who says she has 10 percent of her student body coming from the Africa or Caribbean and she says they do very well. She says that's they're in engineering, and different programs there, and they do very well, get degrees and come back for more degrees.
And many of these schools depend upon students to help them to continue to go, and international student population is huge. And for this president to say this, they are now having to go back, and they are very concerned. They are galvanizing and trying to talk about this right now. There is collateral damage within the black community. You know, you hear the NAACP giving the definition of racist.
I asked Hilary Shelton of the NAACP last night, what is the definition of racist? And he said when there is racial prejudice and when there is power that comes together. And that begged the question today, there is power in this place, the highest office in the land, and then the question of racial prejudice. So, when those two come together, that's one of the reasons why we -- I asked the question today. I guess I was the only one that asked that question repeatedly today.
BALDWIN: It's a sad day that the question has to be asked, period.
April Ryan, thank you so much there from the White House.
RYAN: Thank you.
BALDWIN: From what we know, Senator Durbin was the only Democrat in the room when the president called these African nations "shithole" countries. The question we are asking is, well, what about the Republicans? What are the Republicans saying?
Two quotes, two senators I should say, Tom Cotton and David Purdue, they are saying, quote, we don't recall. So, that's what we are getting from them.
As far as the leaders, as far as the leaders of their party, it's taken more than half a day for House Speaker Paul Ryan to respond. But here he was this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I read those comments later last night. So, first thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate, unhelpful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: With me now, Republican David Jolly, former congressman from Florida, and CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill, host of BET News and a professor at Temple University.
Gentleman, David Jolly, first just to you. You heard the speaking saying unfortunate and unhelpful. Unfortunate and unhelpful, these are the adjectives that he's using for this. You saw Senators Cotton and Purdue with we don't recall.
We don't recall? What is that?
DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: Look, Brooke, let's be honest, this is an embarrassing day to be a Republican. And for rational Republicans you should be angry today.
I believe the president's comments, if they were made, were racist. But even if you do not, if you are a defender of Donald Trump, here's the important thing. We know our president through word and deed over the past two years has certainly expressed an ideology based upon a certain social hierarchy, a construct, where white people of European descent, particularly those of wealth, have a different place in society than poor people of color. We know that. We have seen that through word and deed.
And why it is important? Forget about what he said in the Oval Office, it's important because this is someone directing the policy of the United States. And he is crafting legislation with the Hill that will affect millions of lives, particularly poor people of color. As a Republican Party, we went from a leader in Bush 43 who challenged, challenged the soft bigotry of low expectations, to a president in Donald Trump who peddles the hard bigotry of no expectations for people of color.
Let me read one more. This is from a Democrat, Marc. This is Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, released a blistering statement. Part of it reads, if the president can't control himself and lead this country with authority, dignity and leadership it requires, then he shouldn't be the president. There is no room for racism in the Oval Office. That was one quote.
There was another quote up on the screen, which I'm happy to read if you want to throw it back up. You can see more of what Senator Feinstein has said.
You know, Marc, the thing is, he, as I mentioned with April, he's saying that he's loving this controversy. He's loving all of this swirling around him. And it's astonishing to me we are at a point the president doesn't realize the hurt in his words. MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Or he doesn't
care. I mean, we also have to allow for the pocket that he's fully aware of the hurt that he's causing and simply in different to the suffering of other people. I mean, there is long history in Donald Trump's presidential life and just this year, much less his entire life, where he has consistently shown indifference and actual angst and actual anger and actual hatred toward people of color around the world.
So, this is no surprise to anyone. I agree with Senator Feinstein that if he can't be a leader he shouldn't be there. And he has clearly demonstrated that he doesn't have the capacity to lead with dignity, with humanity and with any sense of fairness.
[14:10:05] This is stunning. You know, it's not stunning. Let me not say -- it's not stunning. This is entirely consistent with everything else he's done. I'm not surprised.
The only thing I'm surprised at is that he would say it with that many people in the room he would allow it to leak. I thought he'd be a little more discreet. I don't think he'd be less racist, just more discreet.
BALDWIN: Less racist, but more discreet.
But isn't -- I feel like we are almost stuck in Groundhog Day, right, where the president says something insane, and we are all looking for Republican leadership to respond. Sometimes they do. Sometimes it's just so loud in their silence, and then it goes away. And then he says something else. And it's like this, David Jolly, it's this cycle.
BALDWIN: It's the denials. He says it's lying. He says I should start recording my conversations.
JOLLY: Sure. Look, these last 24 hours is very similar to when he stood in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson with Native American code talkers and used the term Pocahontas. His base loves that. They laugh at it.
You -- all you have to do is take the transcript, and whether he used specific words or not, it is clear the concurrence of those in the room, what he was trying to say, which is, we don't want to welcome people from certain nations because they are lesser people than we are.
Brooke, that is a Donald Trump rally. That is Donald Trump's GOP. This is the hijacking he has done to the Republican Party.
BALDWIN: But I want to challenge you on that.
JOLLY: Sure, please do. Yes.
BALDWIN: He's saying that, you know, yes, rallying the base, but at the same time, you know, some of the Trump defenders are saying, well, the president is saying what all of us are saying out loud in bars and restaurants across the country.
BALDWIN: But is that really fair? I mean, let me just ask that.
JOLLY: No, it's not.
BALDWIN: Is that fair to Trump voters?
JOLLY: Well, I actually think it's fair to a large contingent. Look, what Donald Trump is doing is using the office of the presidency to get permission for Americans to listen to the lesser angels among us. No president has done that before.
BALDWIN: Go ahead, Marc.
HILL: I mean, the truth here is if you voted for Donald Trump, you either voted for him because you agreed with the racist statements that he made consistently throughout the campaign, or you were indifferent to it. You were willing to sit back idly by and allow a racist to win. So, in either way, you are complicit in the racism that we're seeing prevail right now.
And as far as Donald Trump and his base goes, yes, Donald Trump is speaking to his base and, yes, those people do sit in bars and say racist things, they do make racist jokes at home. Yes, they do call Africa a shithole. That's what they do.
But that's not everybody who voted for Trump. But it's enough of them to matter.
HILL: And the key of this point though, I think, is that he may have jumped the shark. There are moments where people say, OK, well, he's going to put a ban on Muslims and some people sit idly by and allow Islamophobia to prevail.
But at this moment, when he stands up and says something so explicitly and egregiously racist, I think there are people who say, you know what, I can't stay on this ride anymore, I'm going to finally leave. Not all of them but enough of them to make it difficult for Donald Trump to govern and to make it to difficult for Donald -- I mean, you have Republicans who would lie with do Donald Trump and said I don't recall.
I mean, you would remember something like that in a meeting. So the fact they are punting off saying they are falling off the bandwagon. BALDWIN: I know. The House speaker is saying unfortunate and those
two Republican senators are saying, I don't recall. I don't know how you don't --
HILL: Unfortunate and unhelpful like it's a rain cloud. This is a pretty big deal. Like this isn't something unfortunate and unhelpful.
BALDWIN: Yes. Marc Lamont Hill and David Jolly, thank you both very much.
JOLLY: Good to be here.
BALDWIN: You know, reading all of this and listening to too many different opinions, you know what all of this made me think of, maybe think of that poignant speech given at the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School last year. You remember this?
The superintendent, the Lieutenant General Jay Silveria, he gathered all the air force cadets and didn't mince words. And that turned out the racial incident he was responding to, that turned out to be a hoax. But his words have never rung truer than today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. GEN. JAY SILVERIA, SUPERINTENDENT U.S. AIR FORCE: So just in case you are unclear on where I stand on this topic, I'm going to leave you with my most important thought today. If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you can't treat someone from another gender whether that's a man or woman with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can't treat someone from another race or different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Mr. President, the world is watching you. The choice is yours.
Next here on CNN, the global reaction to the president's words. Multiple countries, including close allies to the U.S., are expressing outrage.
[14:15:01] We'll discuss the long-term impacts of these key relationships.
Also ahead, the State Department is giving U.S. diplomats guidance on how to handle this firestorm. This as one U.S. ambassador explains why he is resigning, citing differences with the Trump administration.
And trip canceled, the unusual reason President Trump is calling off his planned visit to London next month. The mayor there saying he knows the real reason why.
You are watching CNN. We'll be right back.
BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
President Trump's vile comments have triggered global condemnation, disbelief and outrage. And now, we're getting word that the U.S. ambassador to Panama, John Feeley, is stepping down from his post, citing differences with the Trump administration.
[14:20:03] But to be clear this resignation letter came last month. The news is just actually confirmed to us today by the undersecretary of state, who said, quote, everyone has a line they don't want to cross.
Meantime, the U.N. calling the president's words shocking and shameful and undeniably racist. Governments around the world scrambling for their own official responses. In fact, the African nation of Botswana swiftly releasing a formal statement, asking the U.S. if it is one of those "shithole" countries.
And as Haiti prepares to commemorate eight years since an earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of people, it has summoned the top U.S. diplomat there to discuss the remarks. Haiti's former prime minister tweeting shame on Trump in big capital letters and calling it a new low in U.S. history. The sitting government calling it abhorrent.
And now, a staggering move by the U.S. State Department.
So, for more of that, Elise Labott, CNN global affairs correspondent, she's joining me. So is Jonathan Katz, the former "A.P." bureau chief in Haiti and author of "The Big Truck That Went By".
And I know, Jonathan, you spent years and years in Haiti.
But, Elise, first to you, just on commercial break, we have noticed that Hillary Clinton has now tweeted. Let me just read it then we can respond. She tweets: The anniversary of the devastating earthquake eight years ago was a day to remember the tragedy, honor the resilient people of Haiti and a firm America's commitment to helping our neighbors.
But listen to this line, instead, we are we're subjected to Trump's ignorant racist views of anyone who doesn't look like him.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I mean, obviously, Hillary Clinton was President Trump's running mate -- you know, competitor in the 2016 election. But before that, she was the U.S. secretary of state and was really credited with improving the image of the U.S. around the world and restoring ties with U.S. allies after many thought was really damaged during the Bush years.
So, I mean, you know, in addition to the Clinton's history with Haiti, President Bill Clinton, an envoy to help the reconstruction there, clearly, Secretary Clinton, you know, chooses when to speak about comments regarding President Trump. Today I feel like she thought she couldn't stay silent.
BALDWIN: Yes. And, Jonathan, to you, you know, we've been seeing backlash from Haitians online, tweeting photos showing the Haiti that they know and they love. And I know during the quake eight years, you were bureau chief for "A.P.", you lived there, you speak Creole. You know, here on the eight anniversary of the deadliest event to rock the island nation, what do Trump's comments mean to you and to the people of Haiti?
JONATHAN KATZ, FORMER AP BUREAU CHIEF IN HAITI: I mean, the timing of it is absolutely devastating. This is a really, really charged moment. January is also -- January 1st is the anniversary of Haitian independence, its Independence Day, and then, you know, eight years exactly since that horrible day in 2010. I think emotions would have been high anyway.
And to have a comment like this, to have him reportedly have said something that ugly, I think that -- and on the heels also of his previous comments about Haitian people, saying that they all have aides and other slanders like that, it's hard for me to even imagine how much that must hurt the people who heard this.
BALDWIN: You just take a minute, tell me about the Haiti that you know and love.
KATZ: Haiti is a really complicated place. It is a beautiful country. It is full of all the people that you would have in any country. So there is beautiful and strong and amazing people, and there is other people too. It's a complicated place.
And I really love Haiti. I lived there for three and a half years, including during the earthquake. And I had all kinds of really important life experiences there.
But what I remember most is that experience immediately after the quake, the way that people came together and were working with one another and helping each other and digging each other out of the rubble with their bare hands. And people who had very, very little, giving what little they had to their neighbors, sometimes people they didn't even really know, so that everybody could get through it together and stay alive.
And it's a place that has a very special place in my heart, and I think it has a very special place in the hearts of a lot of people in the world.
BALDWIN: Sure. So much of this is about Haiti, but obviously, Elise, this has global implications. You know, we mentioned a second ago about the circumstances surrounding U.S. ambassador to Panama, what's the story there?
LABOTT: Well, I mean, as you said, this came in December. And the U.S. Ambassador Feeley said in alert to the White House in December that essentially he could not serve this administration, could not serve this president. [14:25:06] When he joined the foreign service years ago, as a junior officer, his mentors told him, you know, you are bound to serve any president regardless of party, and if you can't do that, then the time is for you to resign.
And he writes in his resignation letter that that time is now. You know, it says he's leaving the embassy in good hands. The Panama relationship is strong but felt he just couldn't serve this president, and the State Department essentially saying, you know, we respect that you have lines that you can't cross, we appreciate that you have a moral compass and you needed to do what you feel is right.
Look, this is part of the problem with the foreign service today, ambassadors doing cleanup around the world, the State Department giving them instructions to go into the host government and we affirm the U.S. commitment to your country, to Africa. So many officials -- State Department officials have tried to, you know, keep it out. But having a hard time, Brooke.
Elise, thank you. Jonathan Katz, thank you. Nice to have you on as well here.
Moving the conversation, let's talk about London. President Trump calming off his planned visit there next month, blaming the Obama administration over a bad embassy deal. Does that excuse -- is that even true? We'll talk to the former U.S. ambassador to Britain who was involved in that very embassy deal, next.