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Questions Raised About VA Nominee's Qualifications And Positions; Unrest Continues In Sacramento As Stephon Clark Is Laid To Rest; Korean Leaders To Hold Historic Summit Next Month. Aired 7:30- 8a ET

Aired March 29, 2018 - 07:30   ET


[07:31:57] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So, what exactly do we know about V.A. secretary nominee Dr. Ronny Jackson? The Iraq War vet and the White House physician ardently defended the president's health during a memorable White House briefing. Watch this.


DR. RONNY JACKSON, NOMINATED AS SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: There's no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues. The president -- you know, he's very sharp and he's very articulate.

The president's health is excellent. It's called genetics.

And I told the president that if he'd had a healthier diet over the last 20 years he might live to be 200 years old. I don't know. I mean, he has incredible -- he has incredible genes.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: (Audio gap) -- to the president, telegenic. He should be the head of the 377,000-person organization.

CAMEROTA: Good news, he's about to be.

CUOMO: All right. Joining us now is CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And obviously, I'm being sarcastic for a reason. What do we know about Dr. Ronny Jackson other than being a doctor and an admiral, obviously, that makes him qualified to run an organization of this scale and complexity?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not much, which I think you're alluding to. He obviously has the ear of the president.

I think -- look, when it comes to the V.A., Ronny Jackson has military experience, clearly; medical experience, clearly. He's very supportive and loyal to the president.

But this is a large organization and you know, it's interesting. You have nine million-some patients now who rely on the V.A. for their care, so a lot of patients, 170 hospitals around the country, 1,000 clinics. It's a big managerial job. It's just a big job of having to run something.

Now, I don't think that he has any experience in actually running a big organization like that. We don't know where he stands on some of the biggest issues that are confronting the V.A. right now.

You've got patients that are coming out of two wars right now. The numbers are likely to increase. These patients are very unique. They suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, they suffer from traumatic brain injury in high numbers.

There's a lot of issues going on and it's just not -- we just don't know much about that part of Ronny Jackson's life.

I will tell you I spent some time with him because I was in that press conference that you were just showing and he clearly -- he's clearly able to answer questions and answer questions quickly.

I think -- I was struck by the more hyperbolic tone that you were just showing. I was really struck by it in part because I get it. It's a colloquial way of presenting things.

The problem is when you're talking about facts and data and science, and in this case the president's health suggesting that look, could he live to 200 years? Who's to say? You know, I put my hand and I'll say -- I'll say he's not going to live to 200 years.

But, you know, it's just how is he going to blend that hyperbole with these -- with the questions that he's going to get about running the system.

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, I remember that. I remember you being in the press briefing room. And didn't you take issue also with some of Dr. Jackson's findings about the president's health?

GUPTA: Yes. One of the things I was most concerned about was there was all this -- there was a -- about -- started the press conference with about 10 minutes of the lab results and all the various testing results that the president had.

And one of the -- one of the big tests that was performed was a -- what's called a coronary calcium scan of the president's heart. It's an important test. It's a test that he had done in the past and he just had done again.

[07:35:10] That was not revealed by Dr. Jackson at that press conference. It was not revealed in the formal documentation that was then handed out to the reporters as part of the president's medical record.

That's a big -- that's a big study. That's something you would reveal. If it was normal or abnormal, regardless, you would reveal that the test was done and what those findings were.

It concerned me that the test results were not done and it concerned me that if you looked at those test results it showed that the president had some evidence of mild heart disease. It's just something that you gave all these normal test results. Why wouldn't you give this one as well?

I don't know. It's going to be a question I imagine that Dr. Jackson will get again.

CUOMO: Maybe at the confirmation hearing.

GUPTA: That's right.

CUOMO: I mean, I think what -- you know, one of the ironies is what made him favorable to the president on one level -- how glib he was in doing it. He's going to get questions about what he said, whether it was accurate. I even think the weight is going to come up. I really do.

CAMEROTA: All right.

CUOMO: Sanjay, thank you very much, bud.

GUPTA: Thanks, guys.

CUOMO: Always appreciate having you on.

GUPTA: Thank you, take care.

CAMEROTA: All right.

Meanwhile, police in Sacramento are bracing for more protests today as an unarmed man who was gunned down by police is laid to rest.

The lawyer for Stephon Clark's family brings us their message, next.


[07:40:00] CAMEROTA: Stephon Clark, the young, unarmed black man shot and killed by police last week, will be laid to rest today as protests continue in Sacramento.

CNN's Dan Simon is live in Sacramento with more. What's the scene, Dan?


We are at the church where the memorial service for Stephon Clark will be taking place this morning. Rev. Al Sharpton delivering the eulogy. As many as 500 people are expected to attend. It is open to the public.

In the midst of all this grief though there is still a heightened sense of anxiety on the streets.


PROTESTORS: Stephon Clark, (INAUDIBLE). SIMON (voice-over): Sacramento on edge --

STEVANTE CLARK, BROTHER OF STEPHON CLARK: We are going to recess the council meeting.

SIMON: -- as protesters disrupt the City Council meeting. This is Stephon Clark's brother whose interruption forced the mayor to halt the forum.

PROTESTORS: Say his name. Stephon Clark. Say his name. Stephon Clark.

SIMON: Protestors also blocking the Sacramento Kings arena, all part of escalating tension in the past week after the police shooting death of an unarmed black man.

POLICE OFFICER: Show me your gun.

SIMON: It all began with this.

POLICE OFFICER: Show me your gun -- your gun. (Five shots fired)

SIMON: Two Sacramento police officers, one of them black, responding to a report of someone breaking car windows, fired 20 shots at Stephon Clark in his grandmother's backyard.

Police firing after thinking the 22-year-old was pointing a gun at them. Instead, only a cell phone was found nearby. Activists seized on that troubling fact.

BERRY ACCIUS, FOUNDER, VOY, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST (holding up a cell phone): Direct your cell phone to the council. Does this look -- as you point this to our council, does this look like a gun?

SIMON (on camera): Bottom line, were the officers justified at all in the shooting?

DANIEL HAHN, CHIEF, SACRAMENTO POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, that was what this investigation has to come to a conclusion of at the end, and until all the facts are in and until we finish that I can't answer that.

SIMON (voice-over): Sacramento's police chief has pledged complete transparency, announcing that the investigation will be overseen by the state's Department of Justice.

PROTESTERS: Say his name. Stephon Clark. Say his name. Stephon Clark.

SIMON: Part of the community anger stems from a puzzling moment caught on the body camera video.


SIMON: Moments after the shooting the officers turned off their microphones. It's allowed under department policy if officers, for instance, have a confidential conversation, but it's unclear why they would have shut the mics off here. The chief acknowledging it raises suspicion.

HAHN: It might be, and probably is, a time to not allow that anymore.


The family has hired high-profile civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump. All they say they want now is justice. A wrongful death lawsuit will most certainly be coming --

PROTESTERS: Shut it down.

SIMON: -- while protesters continue to take to the streets.


SIMON: The Sacramento Police Officers Association is defending these officers saying that Stephon Clark basically got into a shooting stance and so the officers perceived a threat.

Here's a brief part of the statement. It says, "Even as tragic as this event it, we cannot ignore the fact that the shooting was legally justified under the law, within police policy, and in accordance with training."

Alisyn, more protests are expected tonight but they may not be going back to the Sacramento Kings. The Kings announcing that they've developed a partnership with Black Lives Matter Sacramento to help find opportunities for black youth -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Dan. Thank you very much for all of that reporting.

Joining us now is Benjamin Crump. He's the attorney for Stephon Clark's family.

Mr. Crump, thanks for being here.


CAMEROTA: So, the Sacramento police chief quickly released that body cam video. Does that give you faith that the investigation that they're now launching will be fair and transparent?

CRUMP: Well, even though they released the video to try to get transparency, that was only one aspect of what happened.

The next morning after the tragic shooting where he was shot at 20 times, Alisyn, in his grandmother's backyard -- she sleeps five feet from where he was executed every night in that house -- they told them the reason they had to do that was because he had a gun, and then they had to walk that back.

And then the next day they said it was because he had a toolbar or crowbar, and then they had to walk that back. And then finally, they had to admit that all he had was a cell phone.

So, Stephon Clark's family is very distrustful of anything that the Sacramento police does or says from that point because they were not honest, at least they believe, at the very beginning when they asked why did you have to execute him.

CAMEROTA: One of the other pieces that shows a lack of transparency is that the officers muted the microphones on their body cam shortly after the deadly encounter.

Here's what the police chief said about why that's allowed -- why they might have done that. Listen to this.


HAHN: In the officer's training, there's a couple of type of instances where they are told that they can turn off their -- mute their body cameras. Those are things like if they're having a personal conversation, if they're talking to a confidential informant, or a confidential matter.

[07:45:04] Now, whether they were or weren't doing that is part of the investigation so we'll determine that.


CAMEROTA: Mr. Crump, what do you think -- maybe they were having a personal conversation?

CRUMP: Well, it seems like a very suspicious time to do that. And the family believes that that was when they started to try to conspire to try to cover this up and justify -- and justify shooting.

And number two, members of the Civilian Review Board contacted my office saying they were outraged because this issue had come up in meetings before with the police leadership where they said officers aren't allowed to turn off their body cameras, and they wanted to make sure that was clear and they were told yes.

So now, when they see this video stuff on Clark and they're muting their microphones they said that was the very issue they wanted to prevent because they wanted transparency.

CAMEROTA: So at least five minutes passed between the time that Stephon Clark was shot and the time that the officers approached the body. Have they explained that to you or the family?

CRUMP: They have not and that's an important observation because not only did they not give him any warning, they did not identify themselves. That the police gave Stephon Clark no humanity after they executed him as they let him lay there dying in the backyard before they tried to attempt to give him assistance.

And from the video, it seems that they handcuffed him when they approached him. That's also troubling on many, many levels for Stephon Clark's family and so many others around America who have watched this video.

CAMEROTA: Look, the video is obviously very disturbing to watch somebody to be shot and killed. But in the video don't you hear the police saying show us your hands? And they thought that he -- when he turned around or whatever, help up the cell phone, they thought that it was a gun.

CRUMP: Alisyn, it is less than 17 seconds from the moment that they interact with him until they make the decision to execute him. Now, it's so problematic because they are barking orders but it doesn't seem like they give him any time to comply with their orders.

And this is just here in Sacramento but when you look at it on a larger scale there have been 73 civilians killed by police bullets since 2015 and it is shocking to some but not to all of us who follow civil rights in America that 70 of those were African-Americans.

So why is it that people can kill children in schools, can bomb homes in Austin, Texas -- the police followed them, observed them, don't shoot one bullet, but an African-American man with a cell phone is shot at 20 times?

It is a national issue and we have to deal with it and quit trying to exonerate police officers for this dynamic because we're losing our people at an alarming rate to the people who are supposed to protect and serve us.

CAMEROTA: Mr. Benjamin Crump, obviously, we'll be watching everything that unfolds in Sacramento today. Thank you so much for joining us.

CRUMP: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Chris --

CUOMO: All right, international news.

North and South Korea set to meet in a matter of weeks. What does it mean for President Trump's possible summit with the North Korean leader? State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, next.


[07:52:42] CAMEROTA: An historic development on the Korean Peninsula. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and South Korea's president will hold a summit next month. The two nations have only held talks twice since the Korean War in the fifties.

This comes as President Trump prepares for his own summit with Kim Jong Un. The president tweeting in part, "There's a good chance Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting."

Joining us now is State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. Good morning, Madam Under Secretary.


CAMEROTA: I'm well. Now with your promotion, I can no longer call you Heather as I have for 15 years.

NAUERT: You may always call me Heather.

CAMEROTA: Thank you and congratulations --

NAUERT: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: -- on that.

OK, let's talk about North Korea because so many interesting things are happening, OK? So today, we get this announcement that Kim Jong Un is going to be meeting with the president of South Korea. Of course, this comes right on the heels of him having gone to China and meeting with President Xi.

So look, a lot of our foreign policy experts give President Trump big kudos for breaking all of these stalemates, but is the State Department now concerned that Kim Jong Un is someone triangulating the United States out of these alliances and meetings?

NAUERT: No, not at all. I mean, we are so closely linked up with the Republic of Korea. They've been one of our strongest allies for decades and decades, along with Japan. So the fact that South Korea is having talks with North Korea, that helped get us to this point.

We are closely linked up with them. We talk with them constantly about these upcoming meetings so we're pleased to see this development. They share information with us, we share information with them.

You saw them, in fact, go out at the White House and announce that President Trump would be speaking with Kim Jong Un. We don't have a date for that just yet. We look forward to that possibly happening sometime in the near future. But I think it just shows how closely linked up we are with the Republic of Korea.

CAMEROTA: Do you see the meeting in China with President Xi as President Xi trying to re-exert its influence over North Korea after feeling blindsided by this summit that President Trump is going to have with Kim Jong Un?

NAUERT: Well look, China has a tremendous amount of influence with North Korea. That is not in doubt in any way. China has been helpful to the United States and many other countries in the maximum pressure campaign that the president constructed -- that our president constructed just last year. So we continue to ask China to use its unique leverage on North Korea to get North Korea to come to the table.

[07:55:15] North Korea has said through our interlocutors that it is willing to denuclearize. That is the -- really, the capstone of our policy -- getting North Korea to denuclearize. Not only does it make the region safer but it makes the entire world safe. CAMEROTA: How certain are you that the meeting with President Trump and Kim Jong Un really will happen?

NAUERT: Yes, look, we're hopeful. We are going forward planning in the event of a meeting with a full-faith good effort. We don't have a date set just yet but we hope that this will take place.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's move on to Russia.


CAMEROTA: President Trump expelled 60 Russian diplomats. That struck many foreign policy experts as uncharacteristically tough on Russia after some of the things that the president has said.

Is the State Department concerned that because of that tough action it will be harder to pull off President Trump's long-stated goal of improving relationships with Putin and Russia?

NAUERT: Well look, here's the thing.

The United States and Russia, two very large powers and those two countries -- our two countries have to have areas of cooperation where we can work together. Counterterrorism is one of them.

So that's just part of it. That is the reality of the world that we have to be able to work together.

But we are tough on Russia where it is necessary. We have consistently called out Russia. I have from the State Department, as have many of my colleagues, for its activities in Syria, for example.

You have Russia involved in bombing campaigns -- sustained campaigns bolstering the regime of Bashar al Assad, responsible for killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians and that is still going on to this day. So we consistently call out Russia for its destabilizing activities in Syria, in Georgia, in Ukraine -- all across the world.

And, of course, the latest thing -- what we saw -- the poisoning of two British citizens -- one of our allies. And so, the United Stets strongly backs the U.K. in this effort. We kicked out -- announcing we're kicking out 60 diplomats and closing down the consulate in Seattle.


NAUERT: And then this has been matched by many other significant actions on the part of our allies across the world.


NAUERT: Not just in Europe, but we've also seen it in Australia and Canada.

CAMEROTA: Yes. NAUERT: And by the way, let me just say Georgia has just announced that it is kicking out one Russian spy and that's significant. They're right in the background of Russia.

CAMEROTA: And yet, of course, you know the complaint that President Trump has not called out Russia for its actions in destabilizing the 2016 election.

Here's what Sen. Richard Blumenthal told us on "NEW DAY."

NAUERT: Yes. I would -- I would take exception with that thought, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Well, tell me.

NAUERT: You know, look, the president has spoken about Russian meddling in the elections. He's spoken about that consistently, including --

CAMEROTA: He's also called it a hoax though, Heather.

NAUERT: -- with Vladimir Putin. And I know a lot of media organizations like to keep going back to this.

This administration has been tough on Russia. In fact, tougher than the previous administration.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean --

NAUERT: We are keeping a hold on -- we are keeping a close eye out for Russian attempts to meddle in our midterm elections and we also see what Russia is doing in other country's elections right now. We see the fingerprint. Elections coming up in Moldova, in Mexico they've been involved.

All around the world. It's not just the United States calling them out. Many other countries are as well.

CAMEROTA: Well, I'm interested in that perspective because obviously, there have been lots of opportunities for President Trump to say that we're never going to see this again from Russia. That, in fact, it is definitive that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, and he hasn't said that.

And, in fact, lots of Intel chiefs have said that they haven't gotten strict marching orders from the White House about how to prevent future meddling. I mean --

NAUERT: Well, I can tell you from the State Department we have gotten strict marching orders not only from --

CAMEROTA: And what are those?

NAUERT: Not only from the White House but also from Congress, and that includes calling out Russia for its disinformation and propaganda campaigns. That's just one element of it. The Department of Homeland Security has been extremely engaged in trying to toughen up our overall election security.

Now, what we do at the State Department is internationally focused, not back here at home. We don't have the mandate to protect things here in the United States because we are the State Department. We work with other countries.

The Department of Homeland Security, FBI, other departments and agencies from the federal government are keeping a close eye on what's going on in this midterm -- upcoming midterm election.

CAMEROTA: OK, last, I want to ask you about the change at the top --

NAUERT: Yes, a big change.

CAMEROTA: -- at the State Department -- for sure. So, Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo has, we know, been already over there and sort of trying to get acclimated.

What do you think will change in terms of diplomacy under him?

NAUERT: Yes. Well, I had the chance to sit down with the secretary- designate earlier this week. He's visited the State Department a few times in preparation for his confirmation hearings. We hope that those confirmation hearings will start up in the next few weeks and we're also hoping for a quick process.