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Russian Spy Poisoning; Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite on the Power of the Blues. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired March 30, 2018 - 00:00   ET


[00:00:00] ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: This just in the Newsroom live from Los Angeles ahead this hour. Russia retaliates and Moscow responds to massive expulsions of its diplomats around the world.

Star power legal help with two Reuters journalists also reporting on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. Plus music that makes a difference. Grammy award winner Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite are here to talk the blues.

Hello to all our viewers all around the world, I'm Isha Sesay and Newsroom L.A. starts right now.

Well Russia is retaliating. The Kremlin has order the U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg to close and is kicking out 60 U.S. diplomats. Russia's (ph) move comes after the U.S. expelled 60 Russian diplomats this week. More than 20 U.S. allies have also told Russian envoys to leave. The interaction follows the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain. The U.K. says Russia was behind it; Moscow says it wasn't.

Well Jill Dougherty is a former CNN Moscow Bureau Chief and now a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. She joins us from Seattle, Washington. Jill, always get to see you. So, U.S. officials right now saying that this move by Russia was not unanticipated but that's not to say the impact of closing the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg with is Russia's second largest city and expelling all those diplomats won't be felt by the U.S.

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF AND PRESENTLY GLOBAL FELLOW AT WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Oh definitely true. I mean recently anticipate this is because this is what Russia has been doing and actually kind of the United States but especially Russia. These mirror-image reciprocal steps, what the United States does, Russia will do tit for tat and precisely. And I think, you know Isha, there's a message here.

It's not only, let's say retaliating and doing the same thing but it's also setting Russia up as the equal of the United States. That's really what it does want to be; wants to be a major player on the world stage and the country it is always fixated on is the United States. So what they're saying is you do this to us and we will do it to you because we have every right.

I was just looking at some of the quotes, a mockery the west behavior. The foreign Minister Lavrov was saying it's a mockery of international law. So that really is the message. The Russians are very angry and I think probably pretty worried now that you have how many countries? Twenty some, more than 25 I think it is at this point who have kicked out their diplomats. And so it's a very big move by a lot of countries. It's not good for Russia and Russia feels very much under a siege right now.

SESAY: Well the move by Russia, obviously got an response from the United States. Listen to how the State Department spokesperson responded.


STATE DEPARTMENT FEMALE REPRESENTATIVE: We reserve the right to respond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To respond to their response?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So in other words this is not over, it's not necessarily over. We could see an escalation beyond this?

STATE DEPARTMENT FEMALE REPRESENTATIVE: I'm not going to predict anything that could happen but we certainly have the ability to do so.



SESAY: And Jill, back to your point, the tit for tat and the real question is where will this end?

[00:05:00] DOUGHERTY: You know I don't think anybody knows because after all eventually you run out of diplomats. I mean really unless you want to close the embassy, stop diplomatic relations. But they're not going to do that. I think this is really sending messages but eventually it can be very dangerous. And the reason it can be - the people that work in embassies are the way that the United States and other countries communicate, a lot of times person to person with that country.

They carry messages, they present and explain policy. And to have the lack of communication that is going on right now, there is very little communication between the United States and Russia and that can get very dangerous. There can be miscalculation, misinterpretation, and also this kind of - as I was pointing to watching the Russian media, watching the statements, a real healing I think in Moscow of being under siege.

I just checked one Russian website for example, a news website, (inaudible), the top story that they have is a picture - video of the test of a new missile, the Saramat missile that Russia is very proud of. It's a story not too far into the website on claims in the Russian parliament that the United States is trying to carry out a color revolution in Russia. So this is the type of mentality that's going on right now and it's very angry. And I think on both sides it's quite vituperative and very angry.

SESAY: And Jill I just want to pick along this point that's being made by Russia's foreign minister and he's saying over and over again that this is something that was, this move by multiple countries to expel Russian diplomats was basically forced upon them. And help me understand why Russia is doubling and tripling down on this line that basically countries beyond the U.S. and U.K. did this unwillingly.

DOUGHERTY: Oh well, start with the basic premise of why all this is happening right now which would be the poisoning of the Mr. (ph) Skripal in London and Russia has vehemently denied that they had anything to do with it. So in their view of reality, all of this is just really unfair, being put upon them and they have to retaliate. This is very --

SESAY: -- why wouldn't they just, why make the assumption that all these other countries, all these other E.U. NATO countries, why make the assumption that they aren't do thing because they believe that Russia is responsible. Because that's Russia's position and they don't want to do this because either they don't believe that Russia is responsible, they're just being forced by the U.K. and the U.S.

DOUGHERTY: Oh, I see what you're saying. Yes, that's kind of another way that Russia usually go to bat explaining why the allies do certain things. And that is because the United States, the big heads (ph) in them, is forcing them to do this either militarily, economically, or whatever it is, but if they're not doing that of their own volition. Now that is the approach that Russia takes, very frequent.

What it mean? I think it's a good bargaining chip I suppose to say that. It's a good move to say that but is it real? I mean these countries, certainly the U.K., the United States, and many of those others who took the step really do agree that Russia has gone too far. Now Russia thinks that it hasn't and then let's say with Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, et cetera, these are things the west and western allies are bringing up.

The Russians deny everything and saying that they are abiding by international law. And in fact, I say it's important Russia now says that it is calling for a meeting on Tuesday by the organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and that is significance because they claim they do not - they do not have this weapon, this chemical, nerve agent that was used against Sergei Skripal.

So again you have Russia pushing back very angrily and aggressively and saying we want to get to the bottom of this.

SESAY: It's all fascinating. Jill Doughterly joining us there from Seattle. Jill, always appreciate it. Thank you.

Now President Trump is spending the Easter weekend at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida but he didn't go quietly. He spent part of the day in Ohio talking about his plans for a border wall with Mexico, his decision to fire the Veteran's Affairs Secretary and a host of other topics. CNN's Jim Acosta reports. [00:10:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN REPORTER: President Trump was finally spotted saying goodbye to his outgaining communications director, Hope Hicks. After days of staying away from the cameras and avoiding the questions dogging his Presidency.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you every discuss pardon?


ACOSTA: The President broke his silence in Ohio using what was billed as an official speech on infrastructure as something of a campaign rally to do some repair work of his own.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now I've proven you've got a friend in the White House.


ACOSTA: The President defended his record in office touting the unemployment rate for African-Americans.


TRUMP: Remember I said, what do you have to lose? What do you have to lose?


ACOSTA: Vowing to build a wall on the border with Mexico.


TRUMP: And we're getting that sucker built, and you think that's easy?


ACOSTA: And holding up his looming talks with North Korean Dictator, Kim Jong-un as a foreign policy success.


TRUMP: Maybe it will be good and maybe it won't and if it's no good, we're walking--

ACOSTA (voice over): At one point the President seemed to acknowledge that he may be better suited for the real estate business.

TRUMP: I think better than being President, I was maybe good at building, like you people, you're good at building. You know, I think maybe I'll be better at President.

ACOSTA (voice over): Mr. Trump also talked up his efforts to clean up the nation's system for caring for U.S. veterans.

[00:15:00] TRUMP: That's why I made some changes because I wasn't happy with the speed with which our veterans were taken care of.


ACOSTA: One day after he fired David Shulkin as the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shulkin who believes he was ousted because he opposed to privatizing the VA responded in a scathing Op Ed writing the environment in Washing has turned so toxic, chaotic, disrespectful, and subversive, that it became impossible for me to accomplish the important work that our veterans need and deserve.

The President's replacement, White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, is perhaps well known for his glowing assessment of Mr. Trump's health earlier this year. Jackson's performance, one White House official said, played a part in the President's decision to tap the doctor.


DR. RONNNY JACKSON, PHYSICIAN TO THE PRESIDENT AND THE NEWLY-APPOINTED DIRECTOR OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: You know I told the President that if got healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old, I don't know. I mean he has incredible genes, I just assume.


ACOSTA: The President did not mention Russia in his speech despite the Administration's move to expel 60 Russian diplomats this week. Russia responded in kind today kicking out the same number of U.S. officials as well as ordering the closing of the consulate in St. Petersburg.


ROSEANN CONNER: The important thing is that you're voting.


ACOSTA: But the President did find time to talk about his phone call with Roseanne Barr, whose sitcom is geared toward Trump voters.


TRUMP: Well look at Roseanne, I called her yesterday. Look at her ratings. Look at her ratings, they were unbelievable, over 18 million people and it was about us.


ACOSTA: Jim Acosta, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.

SESAY: Well Peter Matthews joins me now here in L.A. and he's a Professor of Political Science at Cypress College. Peter thank you for being with us. [00:15:00] PETER MATTHEWS, PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT CYPRESS COLLEGE: Good to be here Isha.

SESAY: That was a speech, the speech the President gave in Ohio on Thursday, supposedly about infrastructure and it turned into a freewheeling, wide ranging campaign stump rant--

MATTHEWS: And don't forget Roseanne Barr and the wall.

SESAY:A What did you make of that?

MATTHEWS: I think that first of all his infrastructure plan that he had was so woefully adequate, $200 billion of federal money to supposedly leverage another trillion dollars of money from the states and private sector. Furthermore something he's really focused and hope he doesn't expect to get it this year before the midterm election. He rambling all over the place, he's campaigning still for 2020 and he brings in Roseanne Barr because her audience, and the way she was - her character - seemed to focus on how (inaudible), why she voted for him. So I think he's using this as a political play and they all say that's a normal standard of operation, he wonders all over the place, right?

SESAY: Just stick with infrastructure for a second. I mean to your point there's not much appetite for this on Capitol Hill. I mean, as far as lawmakers are concerned, they've got other things to deal with this year going into the midterms--

MATTHEWS: And you've got a majority Republican Congress.

SESAY: Indeed. But if you've got a President that's supposed to be out there selling it and he can't be bothered to sell it, he's busy talking about Roseanne Barr and the DMZ and the war. I mean--

MATTHEWS: A, It's unfathomable. He's just - unbelievable that he would not even focus on that, at least try to sell the plan that he has.

You know President Roosevelt, FDR, in the 30's, he spent $580 billion, $580 billion infrastructure and hiring people directly and building roads and bridges and electricity plants and that was something that we're to be doing now but American society is a society of civil engineers. They say we need $5 trillion of infrastructure spending to rebuild infrastructure.

Here's President Trump and can't even sell an adequate plan. He can't even - he didn't want to sell it.

SESAY: Well he's committed - determined to sell the wall. That hasn't changed, take a listen to some of what he had to say about that.


TRUMP: We've made history by massively reducing job-killing taxes.


And we didn't have one Democrat who voted for that. They want to raise your taxes and they want people to come in from the border and they want, I guess, want. I can't imagine they want, but certainly drugs are flowing across borders, we need walls.


SESAY: As once again, that's kind of the untruth. You know, the merging, the blending of his - what he considers to be his facts with what we know to be true of what's happening at the border and once again painted a picture that Democrats are soft on crime, soft on immigration and don't want to keep this country safe.

MATTHEWS: Yes, and that we're being invaded by these immigrants. And he said its like - fear mongering. You know he's a protecting style leader who stirs up fear in the hearts of his followers and then he offers them protection by building this wall, by keeping the foreigners out. I think that's a fear tactic to remain in power, shore up his base, which by the way is only about 35 percent of the voters, and he thinks he is going to win again with that, but he's not.

So it is very unfathomable why he wouldn't focus more on plans that could bring in some compromise like the infrastructure bill where both parties want some rebuilding my roads and bridges are falling down. So this President is just all over the place. He's not focused. This is very dangerous for our country right now and for even both parties. And I'm wondering when the Republicans will wake up and see this.

SESAY: Well the other big story on Thursday was the news that broke about Rick Gates, who as you know was part of the Trump campaign and it emerged from CNN reporting and from court documents that he is helping Bob Mueller and the Special Counsel with his central mission of investigating, seeing what level of connection if there was one, contacts between the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort the campaign chairman, and Russia.

This is pretty major news when you consider Rick Gates, he himself wasn't close to Trump, he's very close to many people in that inner circle.

[00:20:00] MATTHEWS: That's right and he's been with Trump a long, long time; much longer than Manafort in fact and he knew exactly what was going on when Manafort was around and other people in that circle - Trump's inner circle. He could just tell all to Mueller, and he probably has told quite a bit in return for a lenient sentence.

And that's where the President should be concerned considerably and yet Mueller is going full force forward to see what is Gates' connection with the possibly the Russians intelligence agent, which has been found to be the case now and if there was a connection, that agent could have been working for the Russian government at the time. So that was a greater connection possible potential connection between the Trump Administration and the Russian government possibly. SESAY: Which you would think, looking at the facts takes this whole line from the Trump President's supporters, that there is no connection here, that there has been no establishment of a connection here. Does that lie die on the vine now?

MATTHEWS: It certainly has been weakened considerably and it could be falling by the wayside pretty soon as Mueller goes forward and I think they have to rethink their strategy at this point. That's all they were doing was denial, denial, denial, it didn't work.

SESAY: Well Peter Matthews, always a pleasure. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Mine too. Take care, thank you.

SESAY: All right now, a top Chinese envoy will meet Friday with South Korea's President. That envoy arrived in (inaudible). They met with a number of officials. Among the topics to be discussed with President Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader's recent trip to Beijing and that upcoming summit between Moon and Kim. That comes as U.S. President Trump threatens to slow down the trade deal with South Korea as leverage in his upcoming summit with North Korea.

Our Alexandra Field is watching all of this from Seoul. Alexandra, pleased to have you with us. Let me ask you this, how are president Trump's comments about holding up the U.S. after a trade deal going over. How are they playing where you are?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN REPORTER: Well look, South Korean officials in general do take a fairly moderate and a cool tone when they respond to some of the statements that President Trump makes and some of the tweets that he makes. We haven't heard any direct response to that exactly but they have responded in recent days to attending to see if President Trump to a couple issues of security with trade. They have always said that they trust the U.S. and their alliance with the U.S. and that they believe that these things are separate issues.

Look, we're talking about a trade deal that was revised earlier this week, that's when the announcement about it came. President Trump lauded this as a great deal for both South Koreans and for Americans. You mentioned that he is now talking about the idea of using this deal, holding it up for leverage until he gets a deal done with North Korea. Not entirely clear why President Trump would feel that he needed leverage from South Koreans again. These are two countries that are close allies and they have publically stated that they are very much on the same page when it comes to dealing with North Korea. They are both seeking the same goal which is denuclearization.

That said, we know the presidents of these two countries take very different approaches. President Donald Trump, a tough talker who has spoken in very blunt terms to North Korea. You've got President Moon here in South Korea who has always advocated for greater engagement. Both of these men, however, have agreed to sit down with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Before those summits happen though, we are seeing South Korea making some major strides for trying to improve relations with North Koreans. That starts this weekend with a large delegation of South Koreans headed over that border. (BEGIN VIDEO)

FIELD: (Voice Over) North Korea had never seen anything like it. History made in 1985 when South Korean performers headed north and North Koreans headed South starting a sporadic tradition of cultural exchanges across one of the world's most heavily fortified borders.

It's been 16 (ph) years since (inaudible) and his legendary South Korean rock group performed in Pyongyang.

How did the people in the audience in the react to you, to your music?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was awkward.

FIELD: Awkward?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Awkward because they never experienced about Korean rock music before I think.

FIELD: When the band arrived in 2002, heads turned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Interpreted by Field): He says our guitarist hair was yellow. The North Koreans talked about his hair and said we could not perform so it wasn't easy from the beginning but he believed the performance won hearts.

(Inaudible) group, the YB Band is getting ready to do it again, part of a carefully collected delegation of South Korean performers heading north. Among them famous singers, a hit K-pop band, and YB guitarist Scott Hellowell, one of the few foreign nationals on the trip.

FIELD: This is not a normal tour stop. How do you feel about going in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I talked to my mom the other day and told her and then she had a kind of reaction, then she was like, wow, that could be such a good experience. It could be pretty amazing. So.

FIELD: Could they tone (ph) of the relationship between Koreas are changing rapidly. Last year's barrage of North Korean missile tests and nuclear development, giving way to plan for historic talks between the leaders of north and south Korea and between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump himself.

The falling tensions started in last February when North Korea sent a delegation to the Olympics in South Korea. Performers from both sides shared one stage, a moment that moved the audience.

Yoon (ph) couldn't hold back the tears the last time he performed in Chongyang. On his mind, his grandmother, whose family is in the North separated from her for decades by war, by that border.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And before I go, she asked me can you find my family? So I imagined my grandmother, and I couldn't resist but, you know, I cried.


FIELDS: Those South Korean performers will take the stage in Peyonyang on Sunday night. They will hold another concert on Tuesday night, when Isha, they will be joined by North Korea artists as well. It should be another moving moment for all those on stage, all those in the audience, and certainly a lot of people who will be watching it. Isha.

SESAY: Absolutely, very, very memorable. Alexandra Field joining us there from Seoul. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Time for a quick break here and coming up next, why to journalists land in a Myanmar jail have a reason to be hopeful.


SESAY: Hello everyone, Amal Clooney, a well known human rights lawyer will represent two Reuters journalist jailed in Myanmar. She says with a doubt the two journalists are innocent and should be released immediately. Prosecutors in Myanmar accuse the two journalists of exposing fake secrets. They were arrested last year while working on stories about the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State. Clooney says the journalists are being held simply because they did their jobs reporting the news.

Well journalist Poppy McPherson joins us now from Bangkok, Thailand. Poppy, good to have you with us again. What does the addition of Amal Clooney to the defense team of these journalists mean for their case?

[00:25:00] POPPY MCPHERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well it's a huge win for the Reuters case. They have one of the most famous lawyers in the world working on their behalf. The case has been kind of dragging on and on. The reporters have been detained since December now and we're still in the pretrial hearings. So there was a danger that the case could simply fade from the headlines and obviously have Amal Clooney now talking about it whether she'll be on the ground or rather just sort of doing international advocacy. To have her name associated with their cause is just such an enormous - it will throw attention back; it will keep attention on the case.

SESAY: Let me read her statement - the statement released by her office. "Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are being prosecuted simply because they reported the news. I have reviewed the case file and it is clear beyond doubt that the two journalists are innocent and should be released immediately." The outcome of this case will tell us a lot about Myanmar's commitment to the rule of law and freedom of speech. And that's the crux of this Poppy, the outcome will say a great deal about those two issues - rule of law and freedom of speech - and it will send a message to journalists who want to cover what's happening in Myanmar.

MCPHERSON: Exactly. Well, I mean even among people in Myanmar who don't necessarily sympathize with the Rohynga, this case is generating sympathy because it's just so suspicious. It's two men who were investigating crimes allegedly committed by the military. They're locked up over their reporting. In the courts, during the trial, during the hearings, there have been numerous discrepancies pointed out by the defense.

In the prosecution's case, including some very strange developments like one of the police who arrested these men and he said in part that he couldn't produce his notes from the arrest because he had burned them. You know not just displaced them, not misplaced or lost them, he'd actually burned them. And that's a very strange development and he couldn't explain that. And then the prosecution produced a witness who contradicted a police account where the men were actually arrested.

So I'm sure Amal Clooney will kind of highlight these huge flaws the defense is pointing out in the case.

SESAY: As you say, it's a big boost for those two journalists. We will see how it plays out. Poppy, before I let you go, I want to turn my attention to the Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh in the world's largest refugee camp. As we know the monsoon rains are fast approaching. I want to ask you about this plan by the Bangladesh authorities to move at least 100,000 of them to low-lying flood prone island, Bhashan Char, and they're refusing to give access to journalists who want to tour the area to see what's happening with this development. Why do you think that is?

MCPHERSON: Well, there's been a lot of criticism of this plan for months and months people have been saying this shouldn't happen because this island is known to be prone to flooding and people have died in natural disasters there, floods. So Banglidesh is probably worried about having more obsecurity on this plan and there's a lot of fear about monsoon and there is this urgency to provide much better shelter for the people living there. This plan to move them to this island is rather bizarre and there hasn't been much information coming out about it. The government's being quite secretive even with - until recently even with U.N. and other agencies. A lot of secrecy sort of shrouding the plan. So, we'll see. I mean there was a lot of doubt that it would go ahead and there's still a lot of doubt whether it's actually going to happen.

SESAY: Yes. We do need more details about it. But they aren't forthcoming just yet. We'll see what comes out in the days ahead. Poppy McPherson there in Thailand. We appreciate it, thank you.

MCPHERSON: Thanks for having me.

SESAY: All right. Coming up, good news for the daughter of a former Russian spy poisoned earlier this month. The latest on her condition just ahead.




ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay. The headlines this hour:


SESAY: The hospital treating Yulia Skripal says she's doing better and she and her father, Sergei, have been in critical condition the past days since they were exposed to the nerve agent earlier this month. Nima Elbagir has the latest on their conditions.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Finally, some respite in the case in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury. The National Health Service in the U.K. has said that Yulia's condition is improving.

Dr. Christine Blanchard, the medical director for Salisbury Hospital, said in a statement, "I'm pleased to be able to report an improvement in the condition of Yulia Skripal. She has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day. Yulia's father, Sergei, is still in a critical but stable condition."

This comes after the British prime minister, Theresa May, had warned that the pair might never recover. All this as the focal point of the investigation into the pair's poisoning narrows further.

British police say that the door is where they have found the largest concentration of the nerve agent. There is speculation that perhaps it was the door handle that was used to inflict the poisoning on both father and daughter.

On Wednesday, Ireland became the 24th nation to expel Russian diplomats. The diplomatic tit-for-tat continues to escalate as Russia says Britain is barring them from Sergei and Yulia Skripal's bedsides and that it is their right to be allowed access.

As all of that rolls on, though, for the family of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, this is a moment to contemplate -- Nima Elbagir, CNN. London.


SESAY: Coming up, John Vause will join me as we get immersed in the blues. Grammy award-winning artists Ben Harper and Charles Musselwhite discuss their new album and the power of music.





JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody, it's been said the blues ain't nothing but a good man feeling bad. At its best, the blues are raw melodic emotion from unbridled joy to deep sadness and that's what you get with legendary musicians Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite and their follow up album to their Grammy award-winning "Get Up."

SESAY: "No Mercy in this Land" is the smoldering title track on their new album, where blues, past, present and future come together.



BEN HARPER, MUSICIAN: These days I speak in whispers, travel only to and from. Come close you'll see the red of a well bitten tongue. The righteous and the wretched the holy and the damned. There's no mercy in this land, no mercy in this land.


SESAY: Well, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite join us now right here in Los Angeles.

Welcome, gentlemen, welcome.

HARPER: Thank you for having us.


SESAY: What a tremendous sound. Just that little clip we just played there.

We love this album, Ben, we love it. It's raw. It's gritty. You said that blues is sacred, it's the most sacred form of music out there. Just explain to me the sound you've captured in this album.

HARPER: It's the sound, the blues is the sound that brought me to make music. And Charlie is a huge part of that soundtrack and growing up, hearing his music, growing up with his music. So to get to collaborate with him in the genre, that, to me, is the most sacred of all, is a lifetime accomplishment in and of itself.




SESAY: And Charlie, talk to us about the power of the blues, what you're always trying to get across and bring out in the listener.

MUSSELWHITE: Well, I think in answering your question what I'll say, for me, blues is more than just music. It's got a whole other thing going on. I call it your buddy in good times and your comforter in rough times. It's always there for you. It will get you through. And the spirit of it is, no matter how bad things are, we can do it.

VAUSE: So Ben, last time you were here was almost two years ago and we were talking about your album back then, "Call It What It Is," and this is a protest album. And it was protesting treatment of African American men by police, essentially police shooting of African American men in this country, which was an epidemic and still seems to be an epidemic, because in the last couple weeks, there was a shooting in Sacramento, an African American shot dead in his grandmother's backyard, he was unarmed.

In Houston, same thing again, African American man shot dead by a police officer, unarmed.

It just seems that, since that album, it ebbs and it flows, you feel like the album made a difference, when you look at what's happened over the last two years, do you think --


VAUSE: -- much progress has been made there?

HARPER: Not fast enough. And the through line between "Call It What It Is" and what you bring up and Florida, well, I want to incorporate gun laws into this process. But gun laws and police brutality are their own lanes. And trigger happy police, is just -- it's -- I would -- if a goal is change within the system --

VAUSE: Right, yes.

HARPER: -- that should be paired with a shift in consciousness. And how those are implemented culturally and within a police force, that's beyond my job description and above my pay grade.

But both -- but it's crucial that we keep the dialogue alive.



HARPER: These days I speak in whispers, travel only to and from. Come close you'll see the red of a well bitten tongue.


SESAY: And Charlie, what do you make of the times we're living in right now?

MUSSELWHITE: I want to go start over again.



MUSSELWHITE: This is we're on a different track. I want to go back to that point and get the train back on the track because this ain't making sense. This is not civilized.


(MUSIC PLAYING) MUSSELWHITE: Father left us down all alone. My poor mother is under

a stone. With an aching heart and trembling hands, is there no mercy in this land?


MUSSELWHITE: I just hope it's a bump in the road and that people will wake up and will get back to a civilized society, where everybody treats each other like they'd like to be treated, the Golden Rule.


VAUSE: Ben, on this new album, you sing about Charlie's experience, right?

How much of a difference does it make to put those stories sort of on the record in music accessible to everybody?

HARPER: I just think it's very important. If you're going to step to the blues, you step to the blues in a way that is as sincere as you can possibly pour onto the page and pour out of your instrument.

And Charlie and I tell each other stories through our instruments, through our playing, through our production of these records. It's a great privilege. And my highest life accomplishment working with this gentleman here, to get --



HARPER: -- it's what it is. And I think in a hundred years they'll be celebrating, be continuing to celebrate this man's sound and, hopefully, I will have played a small role in that.

VAUSE: Sounds like there could be a third album.

HARPER: You got that right.


HARPER: You're the first person who asked when is the third one coming out?

We don't even have the second one out yet. So thank you for giving us a little time.

VAUSE: Well, we look forward to it.

SESAY: We look forward to it. It's such a pleasure.

VAUSE: Thanks, guys.

HARPER: Thank you.

VAUSE: Thanks for coming in. MUSSELWHITE: Thank you.

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