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Hawaii False Alarm Fallout; Is President Trump a Racist?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 15, 2018 - 3:00   ET




BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: This takes you back, doesn't it?

Their hits were the hallmarks of '90s alternative rock. A tragedy struck today, when the lead singer of the Cranberries died suddenly. Ireland's Dolores O'Riordan was in London for a recording session when she passed away.

No cause of death has been revealed, but the band soared to international fame with hits like "Zombie" and "Linger" and "Dreams." They had split in 2003. They were reformed in 2012, but last year they ranked future tour dates because Dolores was dealing with -- quote -- "ongoing back problems." She was 46 years old.

We continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

President Trump just a couple of hours from returning to Washington, D.C., after spending Martin Luther King Day at his Florida estate. It has been a day without a single MLK event on his public schedule, as he's had to answer a question no president had to face so intensely since the holiday was created: Is he a racist?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No, I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That, I can tell you.


BALDWIN: That is more of the fallout from reports that President Trump called African countries an obscenity and that he preferred immigrants from places like Norway.

Now two Republican senators, Tom Cotton and David Perdue of Georgia, seen on the right side of the screen there, have come forth certain the president did not say these things, backing the president's denials.

Now, at first, the senators said they did not recall. But, today, to counter that, Democrat Senator Dick Durbin said this: (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: Listen, politics ain't bean bag. And when you get into tough, complicated, contentious issues, sometimes, rhetoric gets very fiery. If you don't have a tough skin, this is not a good business to get into. I know what happened. I stand behind every word that I said.


BALDWIN: Also today, you have Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

He talked to a South Carolina journalist. Citing this tweet from "The Post and Courier" -- quote -- it says: "Lindsey Graham declined to confirm S-hole countries comment, but tells: "Me my memory hasn't evolved. I know what was said and I know what I said."

Let's start down in West Palm Beach with Kaitlan Collins, who has been following the president there.

And so, Kaitlan, beyond this vulgarity, the substance of what the president said, the White House has not disputed that.


And the president denying he used that language, citing the senators saying that he did not say that specific remark, also does not change the sentiment of what the president expressed during that meeting with lawmakers about immigration.

He's not denying he expressed that sentiment about African countries or about Haitian immigrants or about how the United States should take more people from places like Norway. It all comes down to semantics of them denying the president used that specific obscenity with discussing immigration with these lawmakers.

And this also raises the question of, if the president didn't use that specific term that created such outrage at the end of last week that has only continued to grow over the Hollywood weekend here in West Palm Beach, why wouldn't the White House just come out and deny that the president said it initially?

Because after "The Washington Post" first reported it and several outlets confirmed it, the White House offered a vague statement that defended the president, but they did not deny that he used that specific wording.

And you think that if they believed he did not say it, they surely would have denied it immediately. And it's also important to note, Brooke, that the president spent that night calling his friends, his allies, staffers to see how they thought the reaction to the remark was playing out in the press, quizzing them, seeing what they thought about the reaction.

And another White House official told my colleague Gloria Borger that the president was loving all of the controversy surrounding the remarks. All of those denials really raises the questions about why wouldn't they have just denied it if they didn't believe the president had said it in the first place, Brooke?

BALDWIN: If you can read my thought bubble, it's saying, this is ridiculous, OK? Kaitlan, thank you so much.

Let's have a bigger conversation.

I'm just being real.

I have with me CNN political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson and CNN political analyst Brian Karem, who is also executive editor of Sentinel Newspapers.


BALDWIN: Brian, this whole -- how shall we put it? A couple of Republican senators go from, I don't recall, to, no, he didn't say it. Is it S-hole countries, is it S-house countries?


But yet the president is bragging about it and not denying the substance and the sentiment behind it. Lindsey Graham said he said it via -- I could go on and on and on.

BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, we could write volumes. We could be here for two hours discussing it.

But there's a couple of really big points to make. First of all, I wish every Republican and, for that matter, every Democrat were as honest when the camera is on them as they are to us when it's off.

Now, the Republicans specifically say the president was elected for his authenticity, his earthiness, his honesty. And they don't even carry that out when they're on TV. They come out here and defend him. And then, when they get off, they all say, well, I wouldn't let my kids say that. I know he said it.

BALDWIN: Which is what Lindsey Graham said.

KAREM: That's the garbage that you're putting up with.

Yes, that's the garbage you put up with every daggone day. And then let's go to the sentiment behind what he said. You know, give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.


KAREM: Look, I'm the grandson of someone who came from this country from one of those countries he wouldn't want to take today.

And, you know, my grandfather became a circuit court judge. My two uncles become lawyers and, hey, representatives in government. My father mentored hundreds of children through a football program. I'm sorry, but that's so anti-American. He only wants people from Norway? Well, where has he been living? He lives in a fantasy land that doesn't exist. Like you said, it's absolutely ridiculous. And it shouldn't be tolerated, not in this country, not today.

And people who say that what he said was racist really miss, I think, the point. What he is, you're allowed to hate, you're allowed to believe whatever you want to believe. But you're the president of the United States, and you cannot have racist policies. And his policies speak to that.

And when you have got David Duke coming out tweeting, hey, I love you, you have got a problem, pal. And that's a huge problem, and it's not going away.

BALDWIN: That we have a president who is having to say -- and, by the way, we have a whole mash-up of him saying it , not just today, but in the past because of other issues he's come upon -- "I am not a racist."

I want to hear Nia on this, but "I am not a racist."



And we were all out on the road during this 2016 campaign. And I was always struck by, when I would talk to people of color, how concerned they were about this president's, then candidate Trump's views on race.

People talked about things that he said about President Obama, questioning his place of birth, wondering if he would be a president that would take us back socially and racially and really widen the racial divide.

And so you here now have this president on Martin Luther King Day, the eve of Martin Luther King Day, having to address what I think is a widespread concern among people of color particularly and other people as well. And it's probably the most consistent thing I hear about this president when I just talk to folks who recognize me or whatever. They come up and they want to talk about this president.


HENDERSON: And that is deeply concerning, that you have maybe 50 to 60 percent of the population, certainly African-Americans in that 60 percent or so, worried about what that means.

My dad worked with Martin Luther King, grew up on the South Side of Chicago, grew up on welfare. By the time he was 26, he had his Ph.D. from Northwestern. Right?

BALDWIN: Incredible. HENDERSON: In some ways, when you have a president who is writing off people based on where they are from, maybe that doesn't just include folks from these kinds of countries.

You think that this is a president who doesn't really believe in upward mobility, believes in this idea that you can be anybody who you want to be based on your potential, based on your hard work. It's a -- I think it's a devastating claim that this president is making and deeply anti-American.


KAREM: It's very divisive. It's horribly divisive.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Brian.

KAREM: And the problem with it is, is, you spoke to the point, but the divisive nature of this particular administration was underscored and underlined and put in exclamation marks when, on Friday, on Martin Luther King, the proclamation was given, and he had members of the African-American community who supported him there.

They would not take questions out on the North Lawn when I asked them. Specifically following up on what April Ryan asked about the president being a racist, they wouldn't talk about it. About the president being a hypocrite, they wouldn't talk about it. About the comment that he made about a human solid site waste disposal project in a hole, they wouldn't speak to that either.

But when April Ryan, who is an African-American reporter, walked out of -- on the North Lawn and was accosted by an African-American clergyman, how divisive are we now? On the day we're celebrating Martin Luther King, we can't even -- that was -- to me, it was an eye- opener as to how divisive this president, this administration is.


And it's frightening on many levels. And it is a constitutional crisis that we deal with every day. And this man, if he doesn't get -- if he's not reined in, if there's no checks and balances on him, we're looking at a big problem, a huge problem.

And the simple fact of the matter is, the Republicans and the Democrats both have to get a stiffer backbone and don't take this. We can't take this.

BALDWIN: On the Republicans -- and, Nia, let me ask this of you, because isn't the other part of the story is, where are the Republicans on this? Yes, we got a bit of a comment from the House speaker on this because he was asked.

But then you have Mitch McConnell, right, the most powerful Republican in the Senate, crickets.

HENDERSON: Yes. And the person who has been most out front on here on this issue is

Mia Love, right, Haitian-American? She's a Republican congresswoman. Republicans very much, when they want to tout diversity, here's Mia Love, this is an example of their diversity. But she's alone on this one, by and large.

Not many of her colleagues are really speaking to what they, you would think, would find very troubling remarks by this president. And let's face it. Republicans have had this issue. They have had a race problem for decades now. If you think back to 2005, Ken Mehlman, who was at that point the head of the Republican National Committee, he went before the NAACP and apologized to essentially African-Americans for the Republican Party's history of playing politics with race and really seeking to benefit from...


BALDWIN: So, then especially because of that, where is the Republican leadership saying, this is wrong?


KAREM: They won't say it.

HENDERSON: Because they know that, by and large -- and this is a president who has the party with him. And certainly that base seems to be with him on that.

He's a person who knows his base. Right? And he came out to say this will play well. He's taking a victory lap over these racist comment. And that's a terrible commentary about Republican voters.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Brian.


KAREM: The reason why the GOP won't come out is, as I have said before, the president is a vehicle that they are using to get their agenda passed.

So as long as the president will sign whatever legislation they pass, they are going to support him. And they have put party above country.

BALDWIN: Political calculation.

OK. Brian and Nia, thank you both so much for that.

HENDERSON: Thanks, Brooke.

KAREM: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, speaking of Republicans here, speaking of Republicans who are speaking their mind, Senator Jeff Flake, he is preparing to give a speech denouncing President Trump's treatment of the media, even insisting he is not trying to compare Trump to the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. More on that and what he will and isn't saying.

Also ahead, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying Kim Jong-un is actually pretty clever. Clever is the word she uses. We will talk about that.

And, ahead, the president marking MLK Day with a video message on Twitter, and then hit the links. Should he be doing more to honor the legacy of the late civil rights leader?

Back in a moment.



BALDWIN: Day after tomorrow, a member of Trump's own party is expected to deliver a scathing speech from the Senate floor.

Republican Senator Jeff Flake will criticize the president's attacks on the media and make reference to Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.

Let me read for you just one portion of his remarks that we have -- quote -- "It is a testament to the condition of our own democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase enemy of the people that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of annihilating such individuals who disagreed with the supreme leader."

Moments ago, Senator Flake talked to Christiane Amanpour and he actually denied his speech is meant to compare Trump to the brutal Russian dictator.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I'm in no way comparing President Trump to Joseph Stalin. Joseph Stalin was a killer. Our president is not.

But it just puzzles me as to why you would use a phrase that is so loaded and has such steeper meaning, the press being the enemy of the people. hand so that is a big concern.


BALDWIN: Let's start there.

Julian Zelizer is with me. He's a CNN political analyst and historian and professor at Princeton University. And Douglas Brinkley, who is a CNN presidential historian.

So, gentlemen, thank you both for being here.

And Doug Brinkley, just starting with you.

You heard the sound from Senator Flake sort of trying to clarify, but it sounds to me, nevertheless, though, he does plan to invoke Joseph Stalin's name in speaking about our president from the floor of the Senate, which I still think is pretty darn remarkable.


But, you know, Donald Trump has had people compare him to dictators before. Any time you want to annihilate the press, call the press the enemy of the people, that's what fascist dictators around the world do, and that's the point Jeff Flake wants to make.

It's always a slippery slope, as Julian notes, when you do analogies to Mussolini or Hitler or Franco or Stalin. And that's why you saw Flake walking that back a little bit.

But the idea is also here by choosing Stalin and saying the language is similar, it raises the Russia probe stories, that Donald Trump is so influenced by Moscow, by Putin and he's kind of more mentally aligned with Russian thinking than traditional American love of the First Amendment.

BALDWIN: Well, we know, as a result of some of the words apparently used by the president recently, we know that some House Democrats, Julian, went to censure the president, which is essentially a public admonishment, no political consequences, but a very public slap on the wrist. Has this happened to presidents past?



Andrew Jackson was censured in 1834. And there were also discussions of censuring other presidents, including Bill Clinton as an alternative to impeachment.

So, it would still be a very notable moment if Congress went ahead with doing this. But, as you said, this is the weakest of all kinds of punishments.

If Republicans were willing to go along with a censure -- and I'm not sure they would -- in some ways, it's a mechanism to give cover, say, this is wrong, we don't agree, this is an embarrassment to the president, for a president who is not really embarrassed, but we're not going to go any further.


And I also just wanted to ask two of you. Here we are. It's a holiday, right? It's MLK day. And it's a federal holiday. And we know that the president and every other president has designated this day as a day of service. It goes back to 1994.

We should point out the president put out a tweet with an MLK Day video message. But the only other thing that we have noticed, at least publicly on the president's schedule, is he was playing golf earlier today and flying back to the White House. No community service that we know of. Doug Brinkley, is that odd to you?

BRINKLEY: Well, leave it Donald Trump to botch Martin Luther King Day.

You know, he botches all of these kinds of special events, because he has no real understanding of Dr. King. He has not -- he doesn't read King's writings. He might remember bits and pieces from the "I have a dream" speech. So, to him, it's just a day off today. It's not a day of reflection on civil rights, on the long battle for equal justice in the United States.

So, to me, I wouldn't expect anything less of Donald Trump. And worse yet, history is going to be talking about Martin Luther King weekend, when we're dealing with that whole shithole controversy and his denouncing African countries and Haiti and the like.

So, it will all be morphed together in history as Trump showing a continued insensitivity, at best, to the plight of people that aren't white in the world.

BALDWIN: I mean...

ZELIZER: I mean, I think it's not surprising

BALDWIN: I don't even know what to say.

ZELIZER: But it is upsetting.

And it's a president who now has a year on his record.


ZELIZER: And much of that year has been about elevating rhetoric, about racial politics, about immigration politics, which is the antithesis of what Martin Luther King fought for.

So, to hit this point, to have the president not really, really commemorate this, reflects...

BALDWIN: But, especially after the weekend, to Doug's point, it is MLK Day.


ZELIZER: I think it says a lot. I don't think it's unintentional.

And I think there's a lot of evidence to suggest this is where the president stands, and this is not an issue that's of the highest concern. And so that's why it's not surprising.

BALDWIN: It's a problem.

Julian Zelizer, Doug Brinkley, thank you both so much.

ZELIZER: Thank you. BRINKLEY: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Coming up next here: state officials in Hawaii apologizing for that false missile alert over the weekend that terrified people in that state for 38 entire minutes. What is being done to prevent it from ever happening again? And what this whole thing reveals about our preparedness for an actual emergency.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I realized we have absolutely no idea really what we were supposed to do. We were already in our house. So, we didn't know what the procedures were.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was with my two little girls, who are 8 and 10. So, the kids are crying, and nobody really knew what to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put the baby in the bathroom. Didn't know what else to do, and the stroller, in case we had to run.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For at least two hours afterwards, I was shaking. And it was just -- it was scary. Very scary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Immediately notified the hotel that I wanted to check out and head to the airport, because I didn't want to stick around to see if the place was going to get blown up or not.




BALDWIN: For 38 minutes, the people of Hawaii were paralyzed with fear.

Some were huddling in bathtubs and praying and crying, saying goodbye to their children, some running for shelter for 38 excruciating minutes here. Thousands of people thought they were about to die because of this, this emergency alert on their phones.

This is what it read: "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."

Well, it turns out it was a drill. This highway sign in Honolulu there -- you see this -- showing the unthinkable correction. And now the worker responsible for clicking the wrong button has been reassigned, not fired, reassigned.

Many officials, including the president, want answers.


TRUMP: Well, that was a state thing, but we're going to get now involved with them. I love that they took responsibility. They took total responsibility.

But we're going to get involved. Their attitude and their -- what they want to do, I think it's terrific. They took responsibility. They made a mistake.


BALDWIN: With me now, Sara Sidner, live for us in Honolulu.

Sara, the question, how on earth did this happen?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, we talked to the head of the Emergency Management Agency, who said, look, there are drills that are done on a daily basis really.

Usually, that information and those messages are just sent within the Emergency Management Agency. This time, one of the warning officers hit the wrong template and then sent that message out to the public. He says, this will never happen again.

But it did happen, and it did create fear and panic here in Hawaii.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. Pacific Command has detected a missile threat to Hawaii.

SIDNER (voice-over): At 8:07, the warning message went out on television, on radio and via text message, saying: "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek shelter. This is not a drill."

State Representative Matt LoPresti's family was enjoying a relaxed Saturday morning. Suddenly, they were worrying about nuclear annihilation. The family gathered in the bathroom and began praying.