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Trump Fires V.A. Secretary Shulkin, Nominates White House Physician; Trump Slams Amazon & Jeff Bezos; Funeral Underway for Unarmed Sacramento Man Killed by Police; Boy in Viral Photo Missing After Family's SUV Plunges Off Cliff. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 29, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:01] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And another cabinet secretary shown the door by President Trump. This time the president fired his Veterans Affair chief, David Shulkin. White House official saying Shulkin had, quote, "too many distractions that interfered with the president carrying out his agenda."

With Shulkin out, the president has now tapped his personal doctor, his M.D., Ronny Jackson, as his replacement. Jackson, you may remember, had a memorable media appearance when he gave the president an exceptionally clean bill of health.


REAR ADM. RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN: There's no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues. The president, you know, he's very sharp, very articulate. A lot of energy, a lot of stamina.

Look at his vision. He's 75 years old and can drive if he wants to without glasses.

He washes his hands frequently. He uses Purell.

The president's health is excellent. His overall health is excellent.

He has incredible genes. I assume, I think he will remain fit for duty for this remainder of this term and even through the remainder of another term if he is elected.


BALDWIN: We should point out Dr. Jackson has served several previous administrations. He has been apolitical.

Apparently, the president was so impressed with the doctor's appearance, later said this at a fundraiser.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's like central casting. He became a Hollywood star. He's going to leave and go make a movie.


BALDWIN: Jackson has been part of the White House medical team since the Bush 43 administration. If confirmed, he will go from overseeing one patient to overseeing nine million of them.

So, let's talk this over with CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, and CNN senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, who earned a Peabody Award for his 2015 -- I'm sure before then -- investigation into delays in Veterans Affairs hospitals that sparked major personnel changes and congressional investigations into the V.A.

Drew, with that, let me just start with you.

You've read these quotes and these different folks from veterans affairs organizations that jumped all over the doctor's lack of management experience. With your familiarity with the V.A., how essential is that in this role?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: In my opinion, what the V.A. actually needs is somebody like a Donald Trump to step into it, and if it is going to survive, to completely shake up the entrenched bureaucracy that has run this particular department into the ground. Dr. Jackson's attributes as a medical physician, I'm sure, are excellent, but, like you said, he has a patient load of one person. It doesn't appear, number one, that that will lead him to any kind of success. He's not going to be treating patients at the V.A. He has to treat the sickness of a bureaucracy, not just in the V.A. hospitals and clinics, but across all spectrums of what the Veterans Administration does. It is a huge bureaucracy that has undermined the authority of, I believe, the last three of its secretaries.

BALDWIN: Of course, we don't want to take away from his expertise as an M.D. Nor do I want to take away from his great service as a member of the Navy, to this country.

But, Admiral, as to why Dr. Ronny Jackson, you heard the president say he's like central casting, like a Hollywood star. Trump loved his performance when he boasted about his excellent health and incredible genes. Is that something that you need to look at when determining if someone is qualified to be a cabinet secretary?

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: No, not at all. Those are not exactly the qualifications you want to look at for somebody that's going to run this big, cumbersome bureaucracy. We also don't know if there were other factors in the president's mind as he made this decision. Look, I agree with Drew. I don't want to say he's not going to succeed. One thing I've learned in 30 years of service to the country, sometimes people succeed the most that you think will succeed least. That they really get chalk on their cleats and grow into a job. I certainly hope he does. He will have to surround himself with good, competent people that can help him break through this bureaucracy and really lead it out of the direction that's been heading lately.

BALDWIN: What are some of the hurdles, Drew, if it is Dr. Jackson or the next secretary, he or she would face?

GRIFFIN: The biggest hurdle, now that the secretary of the V.A. now has the power to fire some of the very poor-performing managers, the question is, how do you attract good talent, excellent talent, talent that the V.A. needs, into this government bureaucracy that really can't pay at the private hospitals' rates? Recruitment has been a big problem for the V.A. You have antiquated computer systems that haven't been updated or brought into the 21st century. Like I say, he may be an excellent physician with the patient load of one. At least on his resume, I do not see the experience necessary or needed to turn this ship around.

[14:35:08] BALDWIN: To your point, thus, the conversation about privatization. I want to read what former Secretary Shulkin wrote in this opinion piece in the "New York Times." As he says he was forced out because he opposed privatization. He wrote, "The private sector is ill prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war. The department's understanding of service-related health problems, its ground-breaking research, and its special ability to work with military veterans cannot be easily replicated in the private sector."

Admiral, how do you see it? It seems like the indication from the White House, vis-a-vis the president, they may be in favor of privatization. Is that a good thing?

KIRBY: No, it's not. I agree with Drew, there's lots of problems at the V.A. It's not all about medical care. They do other things, too, and there's entrenched bureaucracy there. The V.A. medical system, though there's a long way to go, they have learned to grapple with the unique challenges that particularly this generation of veterans, combat veterans have returned home with. Traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress and prosthetics. They have a unique insight into the needs of men and women returning home from battle that I would hate to see lost. I don't believe that the private health care system out in this country can handle that. Even if they could, I don't think they could do it with the same level of expertise that the V.A. has started to develop.

BALDWIN: Gentlemen, thank you very much for both your perspectives on that.

Let's move on to this. Just in, FOX News host, Laura Ingraham, now apologizing for mocking a school shooting survivor as more and more advertisers quit her show. We'll talk about that.

Plus, president versus Prime. It's no secret Trump has a massive beef with Amazon, but are these latest attacks personal or simply business? CNN sets the record straight.


[14:41:17] BALDWIN: President Trump again today, on the attack against Amazon, tweeting this morning, "I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state and local governments, use our postal system as their delivery, causing tremendous loss to the U.S., and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business."

After taking a hit following the president's criticism, Amazon stock seems to be winning back some of its loses.

Let's go to our CNN senior reporter, Dylan Byers, with me now.

We'll explain maybe why he's irked with them, why he says he is, and why he really may be. This is a Republican president, Dylan, who tax law benefited Amazon. He is calling for more taxes on an American business. Fact check this attack for us.

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Sure. You can go through that tweet and almost every claim he makes is not true. People around the country can order something and have it in two days or, in some cases, two hours. Yes, that has had an effect on retail, but there's plenty of data to show that it has created more job than it has destroyed. Amazon does pay quite a bit of taxes. There's some frustration among state and local taxes as to whether Amazon is paying city taxes. I look at this. Based off conversations I've had with my sources at and close to Amazon, there's a feeling here that this is just a personal slight. President Trump's frustration with Bezos, even President Trump admitted himself, it goes back several years. I don't know if, you know, he feels like Jeff Bezos slighted him. I don't know if he's jealous that Jeff Bezos is the wealthiest man in the world but --


BALDWIN: Connect the dots for people watching Jeff Bezos over Amazon, and also over what Trump affectively referred to as the Amazon "Washington Post."

BYERS: Right --


BALDWIN: This is the guy number-one on the Forbes billionaires list, so.

BYERS: Trump's classic anti-media angle here as well. He owns the "Washington Post," one of the wealthiest -- the wealthiest man in the world. You know, look, I think there's -- if there's anything unique about this attack from the president, it's that he's finally punching up as opposed to punching down.

Look, the big picture here, Brooke, is that despite all this conversation about whether or not the president of the United States will go after Amazon, everybody I've talked to in Silicon Valley, no one believes that Trump is actually capable of imposing significant regulation on Amazon. So this whole thing sort of feels like a lot of hype maybe to drive down Amazon stock price for a few days or a few hours, and maybe, you know, get under Jeff Bezos' skin. I doubt this will do anything to affect Amazon's long-term performance. BALDWIN: Dylan Byers, we want to remind everyone, now that we see you

on TV, check out his newsletter called "Pacific." It covers what's happening in the world of tech, media, innovation.

Dylan Byers, thank you so much.

BYERS: Thanks, Brooke.

[14:44:20] BALDWIN: Staying in California right now. In Sacramento, family and friends are saying their final good-byes to Stephon Clark, the 22-year-old man shot and killed by police officers. Holding a cell phone in his grandmother's backyard. We'll take you to Sacramento, coming up next.


BALDWIN: Right now, in Sacramento, California, hundreds of mourners are gathering for the funeral of Stephon Clark. Live pictures inside the Bayside of Sacramento Church. Clark was a 22-year-old unarmed man shot by Sacramento police officers in his grandmother's backyard. The killing has reignited massive protests and national outcry over the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police. Emotions have been running high. Angry protests have erupted across the state's capital, at the district attorney's office, city hall, and the Sacramento Kings arena. A new security plan has been devised ahead of the game tonight. A third day of protest is expected.

CNN's Nick Watt is outside the church where services are just getting started.

And people across the country are mourning for the loss of this man.

[14:49:56] NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. This service, as you mentioned, about to get under way. Organizers

say they were expecting around 500 people. I would guess we saw a lot more than that. There are still people standing outside in line, trying to get in.

I spoke to a few of them. Some said, listen, we do not know Stephon Clark, but we feel it's important to come here and pay our respects. Another man, I asked about what his mood was in the city. He said this isn't a time for politics, this is a time to mourn a young man, 22-year-old man with two kids, who is now dead.

Details of the case, as you mentioned earlier, he was 22 years old. Police were responding to a call of somebody breaking windows in the neighborhood of Sacramento and found Stephon Clark in the backyard of his grandmother's house. Two police officers opened fire, killing him. And he was not armed at the time. He had a cell phone in his hand.

During the protests we've seen all week at city council, the district attorney's office, the King's basketball game, a lot of people have been holding cell phones. His grandmother has come out and said, listen, why didn't you shoot him in the arm or the leg? He was not armed. She says, "We want justice. We want justice." That is what many of the protesters here are saying. They want the officers to be charged with murder.

There is, of course, an internal investigation going on the incident. The two officers who were involved are on administrative leave and the Sacramento district attorney's office will oversee that internal police investigation.

As I mentioned, people here want justice. This is the third man of color who has been shot by police here in Sacramento since 2016. In the previous two cases, they were investigated, and it was determined that justified force was used. Now this case, he was armed only with a cell phone.

Now, the Police Officers Association here recently came out with a statement saying that the officers perceived that he was holding a gun and that he took what they describe as a shooter's stance. Many people here do not believe that, think that that is not true and are challenging that and are asking for a full investigation, asking for justice.

Right now, they are inside that church mourning a 22-year-old man who died 11 days ago -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Today is about honoring Stephon Clark's life. You'll be watching closely the scene in Sacramento ahead of the basketball game this evening and potentially more protests.

Nick Watt, thank you so much for that, in Sacramento.

Back to our breaking news here, Russia retaliating moments ago against the U.S., announcing plans to expel dozens of U.S. diplomats. Will this tit-for-tat continue to escalate?

And a heartbreaking story in California. SUV plunging over the cliff into the ocean. Among those now missing, a little boy who made national headlines in 2014. Do you remember this photo? He was photographed hugging a police officer during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri.


[14:57:19] BALDWIN: The little boy in this photo, shared all around the world, is now feared dead after his families' SUV plunged off a California cliff along a coastal California highway. Devonte Hart was holding up a signed that read "free hugs" in the 2014 protest shortly after a Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury refused to indict a police officer in connection with the death of teenager, Michael Brown. The photo of Devonte hugging a Portland police officer touched millions of hearts across the country.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is with me for more on this crash.

Miguel, what happened?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, this is a really bizarre and utterly sad story. Five members of the Hart family are confirmed dead. Three others, Devonte, that then-12-year-old, now 16, his sisters, Hannah, Sierra, 16 and 12 years old, they are still missing, possibly dead, though. It's tough for police to hold out hope on this one.

Their SUV was discovered Monday. It had gone over the edge of the Pacific Coast Highway, this gorgeous stretch of road along the Pacific coast. Very, very rough. It's very steep cliffs in that area. About 100 feet down, it was found, off the roadway. Police say there was no indication of intentionality or foul play. They found no braking or skidding either, though. They're not sure what happened with this car. They're trying to get divers into the ocean there. It's very tough to do. Not been able to do that. Still have about a dozen people have been combing the area along the rough rocky coast there.

Devonte came to national attention when he was 12 years old at that protest in Portland, Oregon. The police officer, the Portland police officer, Sergeant Bret Barnum, he spoke about that moment that went viral.


SGT. BRET BARNUM, PORTLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT: As I sat there with a colleague of mine, we noticed Devonte, you know, 10 or 15 feet away from us. He would turn periodically toward us. I noticed he was crying. And looked at my colleague, Brian, and said, is that kid crying? We kind of went from there. And I said I'm going to call him over and do what I do, as not a police officer, but just a human being.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN ANCHOR: And what was his reaction, Devonte's reaction when you called him over?

BARNUM: He was a little hesitant at first. He mustered up the courage and energy to come over and talk with me. At that point, it kind of broke the ice a little bit. We talked about life. We talked about travel, summer vacations. We talked about -- he enjoys art. And we broke down those barriers and we talked about it, just as a person to a person.


MARQUEZ: They were about 500 miles away from their home in Woodlawn, Washington, a place called West Port, California, just north of there.

Another bizarre twist is in this whole story is that Child Protective Services in Washington State had been out to the house last Friday and Monday and Tuesday --