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Trump Made Some Changes at VA Because Wait Times Too Long; White House Calls Deadly Police Shootings a Local Matter. Aired 3:30- 4p ET

Aired March 29, 2018 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Moments ago, the president spoke out publicly for the first time on why he fired Veterans Affairs secretary, David Shulkin.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a 25-day wait, there's a six-month wait. Guys are in line and women, they're vets. They're great. They're our greatest people. And they'll be -- we got a problem. And it could be fixed. By the time they see the doctor, it's over. It's over. Not going to happen. We're going to have real choice. That's why I made some changes, because I wasn't happy with the speed with which our veterans were taken care of.


BALDWIN: Shulkin's departure had been rumored for months. But the President's choice to replace him came as a surprise. Trump's personal doctor, Ronny Jackson, who memorably attended the White House press briefing and said this about the president's health.


DR. RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN: There's no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues. The President, you know, he's very sharp. He's very articulate.

[15:35:00] A lot of energy and a lot of stamina. You know, look at his vision. I mean, he's 71 years old and he can he drive if he wants to without glasses.

And he washes his hands frequently. He uses, you know, Purell. The President's health is excellent, because his overall health is excellent.

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


BALDWIN: Now, the President insists Jackson is quote, highly trained and qualified despite the fact that he has no real management experience. Today some officials are raising concerns. Quote, this is a very challenging job for even experienced managers. It could be a disaster for vets. What has this guy ever managed? Can he really take on one of the toughest jobs in government? We are all headed into the deep unknown now.

If confirmed, Jackson will go from overseeing one patient to overseeing 9 million. Let's get the perspective of Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann, a retired Green Beret. Sir, good to see you again. You know, this is a man who served since the Bush 43 administration. Do you think he's qualified?

LT. COL. SCOTT MANN, FORMER U.S. ARMY SPECIAL FORCES GREEN BERET: Yes, I think by the fact that, you know, he is a physician for presidents. The fact that he wears the uniform and, frankly, all the comments you just read, Brooke, said we need a manager. I think the managers are what got us into this mess. What we need is a leader and he strikes me as a leader.


MANN: First of all, I mean, if you listen to even the way that he gave his assertion that President Trump was fit for duty, I mean, he demonstrated that that's the same way that we would probably articulate it for a fighter pilot, or a green beret. I mean, he clearly understands the elements of what it takes to serve in the military. What it takes to serve the military veterans and the community just by virtue of the fact that he's ascended to the level that he has as a physician for presidents. And that he still wears that uniform. I mean, I'm willing to suspend disbelief based on the fact that he wears the uniform and give the guy a chance. I mean, I bet there's a better chance that he's a leader. And, again, that's what we need at the VA, a leader, not a manager. I think it's the bureaucratic management that's got us into this kind of mess in the first place.

BALDWIN: You know, we played some of the clips from that White House briefing where he was talking about the president's health and later we learned that the president loved his performance there in front of the cameras. When he boasted about his excellent health and incredible genes. I would never want to take away from this man's service to this country but is that a qualification for selecting a cabinet secretary?

MANN: No, that's not a qualification certainly not to lead the Veterans Administration. I would go one step further on that one, Brooke. As a veteran, as a retired officer, I would say that we need to remind ourselves of what's really at stake here. I mean, these are men and women who have gone off and put their personal lives on hold, so we can live ours. Now it's time for them to come home and be healed and recover.

There was a time in this country that we agreed on that. That regardless of political affiliation that the veteran came first, and we honored that promise. And I think the fact that we're even having this conversation at a larger political level about whether or not Trump likes him, or he said something, I think we're putting the veterans second. And that's what's happened with the VA. And I think that's why guys and gals are waiting in line for, you know, seven months to get care.

BALDWIN: Which is a massive, massive problem. You know, the veterans should come in first.

MANN: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: And part of the issue is how to attract extraordinary doctors, nurses, staff to VA centers all across the country where they can go next door at a private clinic and make a heck of a lot more. And there's this whole conversation about privatization. So, let me just read what former Secretary Shulkin said when he wrote this piece in "The New York Times" today. He said 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.

Colonel, if Dr. Jackson works to privatize -- which is what the White House has signaled the President would be in favor of -- how do you see that moving forward?

MANN: Well, again I think the larger narrative, Brooke, of putting the veteran needs first and then look at functionally whether or not that the smart thing to do. For example, on the way in here --

BALDWIN: Do you think it should be privatized?

MANN: Yes, I think in some cases it does. I mean, I spoke with 17 combat veterans over the last couple of hours, Brooke. And you know as well as I do the kind of sacrifice many of our combat veterans have made. Of the 17, 16 of them were dealing with some kind of PTS or TBI issue, traumatic brain injury issue. And all of them cited it is very tough to get one on one time with a psychiatrist, or a mental health specialist in the VA. And they said privatization in that sense may be good. But in some cases, the VA does have the edge on certain things. We should leave it there. At the end of the day, needs of the veteran should be what drives the leadership to go private or stick with the VA.

[15:40:00] And again, I don't hear that it all. What I hear are kind of self-agendas or politicized agendas instead of putting the veterans first. And that really concerns me from a narrative perspective. There was a time as Americans we knew better. And I think we've got to get back to the fact that we take care of our veterans first and do what's right by them. If it's privatization for one particular thing, then we do it. One other thing I would say, Brooke, just real quick. This is not going to be a home run. It's going to iterative and it's going to take time. No agency ever hits a home run. I followed my floor if they did. It'll be multiple leaders over the period of time. But we've got to put the veterans first.

BALDWIN: Colonel Mann, thank you.

MANN: Thanks. I appreciate it.

BALDWIN: Just in, President Trump touting his phone call with Roseanne about her high ratings. Hear why he is taking credit for it.

Also, Stephon Clark's family and friends saying their final good-byes there in Sacramento. His shooting death at the hands of police officers has sparked massive protests. The White House, when asked about this, says it's a local matter. We'll discuss that.


BALDWIN: I want to take you live now back to Sacramento, California where family, friends and people from the community are celebrating the 22-year-old life of Stephon Clark. His memorial service began about an hour ago. You know his story. He was the young man who was shot and killed by Sacramento police last week in his grandmother's backyard. He wasn't armed. He was holding his cell phone. The officers were responding to a vandalism call. Clark's brother, Stevante, just spoke to the congregation.


CROWD CHANTS: Stephon Clark.

CLARK: Louder. Louder.

CROWD CHANTS: Stephon Clark.

CLARK: Louder.

CROWD CHANTS: Stephon Clark.

CLARK: Now listen. You all love me? OK, mama, I love you more. This is the NAACP, Al Sharpton, we're going to do Coliseum's for Stephon. We going to do libraries. We're going to do resource centers. Stephon is going to live for generations to generations to generation to generations. The Clark family will never die.

BALDWIN: The Reverend Al Sharpton blasting the response from the White House that deadly police shootings across the country were local matters. Let's start there. Angela Rye is with me, CNN political commentator and former Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus. Ken Cuccinelli is with us, CNN legal and political commentator.

Ken, let me begin with you. You know, off of what we heard from the White House yesterday, this is a local matter, should be handled by local authorities. Listen, we know that this is a national issue. But if you can put the legal issues aside, you know, isn't it a moral issue? I mean, don't you risk an answer, like we heard from Sarah Sanders at the briefing yesterday, that sounds dismissive?

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There's no question that while technically true that overwhelmingly the management, even in these situations that are tragic with someone shot and killed, of police departments and sheriff's departments is local and state, the federal government has a role, they have a civil rights role for one. And they have a potential role of sort of putting together best practices and trying to remove them around the country. But to sound that dismissive from the podium wasn't smart. It wasn't wise. And it wasn't very compassionate, of course. But as a practical matter, the responsibility for dealing with police departments and any bad action actions by police is overwhelmingly local and state.

BALDWIN: Angela, how do you see it?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I see that Barack Obama in his administration had a far more effective response to decades and centuries of police violence. Barack Obama in December 2014 issued executive order 13684 which was setting up a task force on 21st century policing. Their last report coming out in the middle of 2015 where they went into the field to talk to local communities who had been impacted locally by people dying who looked just like them locally.

But there was a federal response. There was a Department of Justice, not a department of injustice that looked into every single one of these brutal deaths that were suffered at the hands of police violence. So, when Donald Trump's administration says that it's a local issue, I would read back some names.

In Illinois, Laquan McDonald and Rakia Boyd. In Texas, we had Sandra Bland, in Ohio we had 12-year-old Tamir Rice and John Crawford. In New York, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Akai Gurley, Amadou Diallo. In Michigan we had 7-year-old Aiyana Jones, in Maryland Freddie Gray, in North Carolina we had Jonathan Farrell. In South Carolina we have Walter Scott. In California we had Ezell Ford and most recently Stephon Clark. In my home state of Washington, Charleena Lyles. And that is just a sampling of how it is not a local issue. It is a national disaster. It is a national problem. It's reminiscent of everything that black and brown people have experienced with law enforcement since the beginning of their establishment. It is a national problem.

BALDWIN: So, given the list in agreeing it is a national issue, why, when we look, Ken, at what the president choose to weigh in on issues. He weighs in on the national anthem and taking a knee. Why not take a stand on black and brown people in this country being killed by police?

[15:50:00] CUCCINELLI: First of all, the question to Sarah Sanders was about the Sacramento shooting of Stephon Clark. There were two police officers one was white and one was black. That's true, one was white, and one was black. You mentioned Baltimore and Freddy Gray, the police officers were black and white, I mean --

Who's brought up race?

CUCCINELLI: -- to what they perceive -- let me finish please. They were responding to what they perceived as the threat, not responding to the race of the victim.

Rye: Can I respond to this, Brooke, just momentarily? Not one time in my list, not one time many my comments about Barack Obama establishing an executive order and a task force to look into police violence, have I brought up the race of officers. Here's the challenge that we have with systemic oppression and systemic racism. It doesn't matter who the immediate actor is, it's about how they are trained to perceive black people. That is the problem.

So, when your initial framework for establishing law enforcement and their engagement with people of color in this country is to hunt and down return to their masters, runaway slaves, that is the paradigm. You see black people as inherently violent and criminal in all of your actions going forward centuries later. That paradigm has yet to shift. And it is incumbent upon responsible citizens in the country. We would hope that that would starts with the commander-in-chief in saying we know there's a problem in the ways in which law enforcement interacts with certain people. There's those we are there to protect and serve, and those who are we are prepared to shoot and to kill. That is a problem with the framework, and it has to change.

BALDWIN: Quick response?

CUCCINELLI: That's just not right.

RYE: It's accurate.

CUCCINELLI: That assumes away -- it's totally illogical. It says it doesn't matter that one of the shooting officers was black. It's still a racist incident against black people in general, and that just defies logic.

RYE? Have you looked at the data? It does not defy logic.

CUCCINELLI: Yes, I have. So, the "Washington Post" --

RYE: So, then you should see that disproportionately black people are killed by the police.

CUCCINELLI: I haven't interrupted you yet. Can I please finish?

RYE: I interrupted you twice to correct you.

CUCCINELLI: Oh, I really appreciate that, and you were wrong.

RYE: No, I'm not wrong.

So, "Washington Post" set up a data base -- OK, that's four interruptions. The "Washington Post" set up a database to track police shootings in the last couple years. And one of the things they have found is that the overwhelming proportion of people shot by police are white, not surprisingly. But about 26 percent have been black, and about 75 percent --

RYE: Which is disproportionate. CUCCINELLI: It is disproportionate to the population, double. It's

lower than the proportion of arrests. And I would also note that this year, 2018, so far there's been 18 police officers shot and killed as it's not a big data pool, but so far, nine of the 16 were shot by black offenders.

RYE: OK. So, again --

CUCCINELLI: The other seven were not.

RYE: -- it's the interactions with the criminal justice system. Have you also looked into the numbers of people who have been shot and killed by the police? You brought up the 18 officers. What about the thousands of people to the and killed by the police this year? We are disproportionally black.

CUCCINELLI: Yes, that was database I was referring to the "Washington Post."

RYE: We are disproportionately black. We are disproportionately brown. I know but you should -- it's really important how we frame our data. We have a responsibility in the news to report things accurately and to be fair, so what I'm telling you about systemic racism.

CUCCINELLI: And I just said it was disproportionate to the population and lower than the proportion of arrests.

RYE: It doesn't matter who the actor is systemic -- so, now we're talking over each other, so you may not count that as an interruption, but I do. The fact of the matter is as defensive as we might be. As in our feelings as we might be, these are the facts, and they hurt, and they have to be challenged from the foundation of the country. Ken, it's a problem and I would urge you, given your legal background, given all that you've seen as a former elected official to use your platform responsibly and to tell the whole truth. Systemic racism in the country is a problem.


CUCCINELLI: Yes, so --

BALDWIN: You have 10 seconds, Ken and I've to go. Ten seconds.

CUCCINELLI: OK. In Sacramento, we are seeing an evolution of how these events are analyzed. They have body cameras. We're going to have a lot more information when the investigation is complete to make policy decisions. Because it is an important issue. I agree with you about that. We should never stop trying to make this better, but there's no one else in the society we ask to strap on a gun every day, put lives on the line to protect the rest of us other than law enforcement.

RYE: They don't protect us all.

[15:55:00] BALDWIN: Ken, Angela, thank you, both for the discussion. I just wanted to sit back and listen to both of you. I appreciate it. We need more of that.

Coming up, as Hope Hicks departs today, why are some telling Trump he could be his own communications director and his own chief of staff?


BALDWIN: A convicted murder whose case was highlighted in the serial podcast may get another chance of freedom. Today, the Maryland court of special appeals ordered a new trial for Adnan Syed upholding the lower court's ruling. In 2016, a Baltimore judge vacated Syed's conviction ruling that his former lawyer botched the trial by failing to cross-examine an expert witness. Syed is serving a life sentence for the 1999 killing of his ex-girlfriend.

I'm Brooke Baldwin here in New York. Thanks for being with me. Let's go to Washington. Jim Sciutto in for Jake Tapper, "THE LEAD" starts right now.