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Rosanne Barr Fights Back; Racism in Trump Era; Death Toll in Puerto Rico; Trump Tweets About Sessions; Melania Trump's Health. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired May 30, 2018 - 08:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:33:20] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Roseanne Barr has been up all night really fighting back after being fired by ABC from her hit show after a racist tweet about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. Roseanne Barr blamed that tweet on Ambien, then delete it. She's also claiming to be the victim of her support of President Trump.

Here now to discuss really the bigger issue surrounding all of this, CNN political commentator Van Jones.

And, Van, before we get, I think, to one of the more serious questions is, just on the Ambien thing, because I think her most recent comment, she's been up for like the last 20 hours writing on this --

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

BERMAN: She basically wrote, I blame myself, not Ambien. Stop lying. That's before, of course, when she did point to Ambien, suggesting --

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, she was trying to give an explanation. She -- I think she has said, I did this, guys. Please don't -- she has said a couple -- here we go. I did something unforgivable and do not defend me. It was 2:00 in the morning. It was Ambien tweeting. It was Memorial Day too. I went too far. I do not want it defended. It was egregious, indefensible. I made a mistake. I wish I hadn't. But don't defend it, please.

So, I saw the Ambien thing as just an explanation because when I read originally, before ABC fired her, I thought she is not a mentally well person, the fact that she's on all of these conspiracy theories and retweeting this. It begged some questions. It was so outlandish.

JONES: Well, I mean this -- first of all, I checked, Ambien does not make you a racist. I mean that's --

CAMEROTA: That's not one of the side effects.

JONES: That's not one of the side effects. I don't want anybody to be concerned and whatever. That said, listen, mental health is a serious issue. I don't know enough about her situation to comment on that.

What I can say is this. You know, she's been doing this for a long time and ABC did something that was maybe brave but foolish. They recognized, correctly, that red state America does not have enough voices on the air, that you could look at sitcom after sitcom and you'd never see that perspective. It was brave to try to put someone on the air to fill that void. But it was foolish to pick Roseanne Barr because Ambien or no, for a very long time she has been saying stuff that's offensive, that's rude, that's crazy, that's not grounded in fact. And at some point this was going to come to a head. And so it came to a head.

[08:35:24] I applaud ABC for trying on the red state question. But we need more worthy -- I'm from Jackson, Tennessee, proud of it. We need more worthy voices than Roseanne to represent us on the air.

BERMAN: Valerie Jarrett, someone you know very well.

JONES: Yes. Yes.

BERMAN: You know, a lightning rod for some or -- people have criticized her for years. In a sense I guess I wasn't surprised that she was the target of Roseanne -- what Roseanne was saying.

JONES: Well, I -- for me, I think they picked with the -- they picked on the wrong human being. Valerie Jarrett -- look at the contrast here. You have a classless Roseanne Barr, and then Valerie Jarrett, the consummate class act. I worked for Valerie Jarrett. I was in that White House. She held the standard for that entire building. People were more concerned about offending Valerie Jarrett than the chief of staff or almost anybody else in that building because of the way she approached the work, the respect that she had. The dignity that you talk about with the Obamas, even people who don't like the Obamas say, what a dignified couple. Well, if they were the king and queen, she was the queen mother. And the level of respect that people -- anybody that's ever worked with her, they respect her, they fear her and they love her. Those are three hard things to get out of a leader, and they do.

So when -- when you go after her, you pick on the wrong person. I think people who have worked with Valerie Jarrett across the board, across corporate America said, this is just too far.

CAMEROTA: She seems to be responding with equanimity.

JONES: Class act.

CAMEROTA: So let's listen to how Valarie Jarett responded last night.

JONES: Class act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALARIE JARRETT, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment. I'm fine. I'm worried about all the people out there who don't have a circle of friends and followers who come right to their defense. The person who's walking down a street minding their own business and they see somebody cling to their purse or want to cross the street. Those ordinary examples of racism that happen every single day. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: That is Valerie Jarrett. Eyes on the prize. Mission focused. She left the White House. She's out there still doing mentorship, supporting causes.

And I think people get depressed when they see a Roseanne Barr and you see the president not saying anything. But let's not forget, the good news is, you got good people out there, whether it's the people who came to her defense, or Valerie Jarrett herself, who's actually worthy of that kind of defense.

And we need -- and we need red states voices on the air with the same kind of class and dignity that you see from a Valerie Jarrett, not a Roseanne Barr.

CAMEROTA: Well, she talked about this being a teachable moment and John and I are experiencing that this morning because we've had all of these conversations this morning about what this means. What does it mean that corporate America seems to be having a zero tolerance policy while the White House certainly does not have a zero tolerance policy about conspiracy theories and, you know, what -- what so many people hear as dog whistles for racism?

JONES: Yes. There's been a collapse in our political culture. Three years ago, Trump came down the escalator, said stuff that was completely offensive to -- in the ears of most people around -- about the Mexican community. And we've just been in free fall ever since. And usually you want the president to draw the line. The president crosses the line every day. So it does seem that corporate America and the culture are stepping up to fill that void that has been left by this collapse in our political system.

BERMAN: So people are also suggesting, though, that Roseanne Barr was somehow empowered by the existence of President Trump. Is that true, even though Roseanne Barr has said stuff, you know, offense before President Trump became president?

JONES: Look, it's hard to know. But I hear anecdotally from people -- just, I mean, regular people who say, listen, on the job, I've got a section of people now who feel emboldened to say stuff, to throw stuff out there that they would have never done two years ago, three years ago in the earlier political environment. So something is happening. Whether, you know, Roseanne Barr wants to blame Ambien or whether it's the overall Trump effect, something is happening in our culture that makes people think that the line is way out there now and they can say whatever they want to. And, fortunately, corporate America is saying that's not true.

CAMEROTA: And, by the way, it's not just anecdotal. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have track this and have found that since the president's election, a Pandora's box has been open. There is a 65 percent increase in hateful incidents, of graffiti, of, you know, nooses, of rhetoric and violence against people of color. JONES: Let me just say this. I mean to the extent that you hear people

from the right often say, I think sometimes usefully, that these cultural icons set a bad example. If you've got, you know, a rapper or an actress, somebody out there doing bad stuff, it sets a bad example for the kids. Well, if that's true, then the president of the United States, who's on TV every day, multiple times a day, certainly you can't say that a rapper has, you know, catastrophic effect on the culture and the president has none. That makes no sense.

[08:40:09] BERMAN: Yes, he's no Charles Barkley. The president can't say, I'm not a role model. The president has to be a role model.

Van Jones, great to have you here with us. Thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Van.

A new study says the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria is more than 70 times what we were told from the government -- the government's original estimate. So we have more on this staggering revelation in a live report for you, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: OK, you need to hear this update. A new study reveals nearly 5,000 people died in Hurricane Maria and its aftermath in Puerto Rico. That's more than 70 times the government's original number. The official death toll in Puerto Rico has been the subject of substantial scrutiny since the storm devastated the island in September.

And CNN's Leyla Santiago has been covering it all for us. She is live in San Juan with more.

These new numbers are staggering, Leyla.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Alisyn. And when I asked the governor of Puerto Rico, as well as the secretary of public safety, the men in charge of the death toll, if they were questioning in any way the validity of this study, both of them responded, no. No, they are not questioning the validity.

[08:45:14] So let's talk about how exactly this worked. I spoke to a researcher that worked with Harvard on this and he told me they surveyed 10,000 people. More than 10,000 people visited more than 100 barrios and they reached a range of somewhere between 800 to 8,000. Based on the trends that they saw, they believe that that number, the death toll, should be something more like 4,600 and they believe that's on the conservative end. The governor says he welcomes this study. He wants to use it in his analysis.

But, you know, I spoke to one woman who lost a family member. She believes as a result of Maria when power went out. The machine that her father used to breathe at night stopped working. And she says that it's a shame. It's a shame that it took an institution like Harvard to shine a light on what the people here have been saying all along.

I've got to say, I really haven't found too many people that are surprised to hear that the number is higher than what the government is saying, which right now that death toll stands at 64. And the timing of this is very interesting. We are just days away, June 1st is the start of the next hurricane season.

John.

BERMAN: Leyla Santiago in San Juan. You've been reporting from the very beginning that the official death toll was nowhere near the actual number.

Thank you, Leyla, for being with us.

A key Republican lawmaker upending President Trump's debunk claim that the FBI planted a spy in his campaign. Does it finally put that conspiracy theory to rest? We'll get "The Bottom Line."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:50:51] CAMEROTA: All right, President Trump has just broken his Twitter silence to talk about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The president has just tweeted moments ago, Congressman Trey Gowdy, I don't think so. I think what the president is doing is expressing frustration that Attorney General Sessions should have shared these reasons for recusal before he took the job, not afterward. If I were the president, and I picked someone to be the country's chief law enforcement officer and they told me later, oh, boy, by the way, I'm going -- I'm not going to be able to participate in the most important case in the office, I would be frustrated too. And that's how I read that. Senator Sessions, why didn't you tell me before I picked you? There are really lots -- am I still reading the same tweet?

BERMAN: Yes, this is still --

CAMEROTA: OK, well, I don't even know what's happening here.

BERMAN: Strings (ph).

CAMEROTA: There are lots of really good lawyers in the country. He could have picked somebody else and I wish I did.

BERMAN: That's the finale. That's not in quotation marks. That's President Trump flat out saying --

CAMEROTA: So he was quoting Trey Gowdy for the large part there.

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: But he himself is saying, I wished id' picked somebody else.

BERMAN: So this doesn't even -- that -- those words there doesn't even do justice to what the president of the United States just says. I just says, I wish I picked someone else to be the attorney general of the United States.

So let's get "The Bottom Line" with CNN political analyst David Gregory. David, you know, look, he's been on the attack on the attorney general

since last summer. It's been nearly a full year of this. This, I believe, is the first time the president has flat out said, I wish I had picked someone else as the attorney general of the United States.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So what Trey Gowdy is saying, and this is important, what -- he's quoting Trey Gowdy's response to "The New York Times" piece where Trump was trying to get Sessions to change his mind about recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

And from the president's perspective, he has an attorney general who very quickly recuses himself from what becomes this dominant law enforcement matter against the administration and there's no question that that's frustrating for him because, in his mind, he wants somebody who's a political ally, who's in that job, who I think, in his own mind, this is the president's, is going to make sure that all this goes away, whether that's the right or the wrong thing to do. And he's disappointed that Sessions hasn't done that.

Sessions has taken very seriously being attorney general and understands that it's a job that's bigger than himself and he's actually maintained his integrity on all of this despite what you may think about him politically or even his agenda as attorney general in other matters.

The other complicating factor in all of this is, Trump apparently believes that this was all clear at the time that he gave him the job. I don't know that it was. There was certainly a question about the investigation. But, you know, you don't have a special prosecutor until the president decides to fire the FBI director. And it was -- I guess it was before then that Sessions actually recused himself.

So long way of saying, I think the president's probably right. This is what Trey Gowdy is saying to be -- to have some frustration that he's got an attorney general who has to sidelined himself. Maybe that should have come up before.

BERMAN: But the thing is --

GREGORY: It's not clear to me how they could've had that conversation when he got the job.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BERMAN: But sort of the new part of this is the, wish I did -- I wish I did. I wish I had a different attorney general.

GREGORY: I'm sure he does.

BERMAN: He can do something about that.

GREGORY: Yes, he could.

BERMAN: It turns out the president can do something about that. So this, you know, constant Twitter taunting of him is really just cruel. If he wants to fire him, fire him. And, by the way, Jeff Sessions, you know, where are you on this? Your boss just told you that he wishes someone else had the job.

GREGORY: Well, I have a slightly different take on that. I mean, I think, yes, there's -- yes, he's taunting him. This is what the president does, unfortunately. But I don't think we should be, you know, baiting him to fire the attorney general. I think that would be completely inappropriate because the attorney general recused himself, did the right thing on this investigation because he's conflicted. He was an early supporter of Donald Trump, the candidate. I think Sessions is doing the right job and doing the right thing in this particular instance and I hope and expect that the president views the firing of the attorney general under these circumstances as completely inappropriate given his recusal and given where things are with the investigation. I would hope that there is enough good sense prevailing that he doesn't want to do that and he can express himself as he so often does on Twitter.

[08:55:01] CAMEROTA: David, next topic. There's a Melania mystery. She -- the first lady has not been seen in public for 19 days. And this is after she was in the hospital being treated for what we were told was a benign kidney issue. But she did stay longer than at least Dr. Sanjay Gupta or other medical experts thought would be necessary. And now there's been all sorts -- you know, various White House events that she hasn't been seen at. The last time I think was when the American hostages from North Korea were released.

Do we -- can we ask questions about the first lady? Do we -- should we know where she is?

GREGORY: Well, I mean, certainly we should ask questions and find out how she's doing and how she's recuperating. Presumably she's out of sight because she's resting or recuperating. I don't know if there's anything to make of it beyond that, but it's certainly fair to ask the question.

CAMEROTA: I mean I guess I'm saying, like, should the White House explain where she is, or are we getting into sort of private territory?

GREGORY: Well, I mean, she's the first lady. I think, you know, her health is relevant, not to the functioning of the country, but certainly to, you know, to people who would be concerned about her and want to know what our first lady is up to and if she's doing OK.

BERMAN: We can all hope that she's doing OK and the recovery is going well, right?

CAMEROTA: I hope so. I mean, I would love to have some information, just that, only that.

David Gregory, thank you very much for "The Bottom Line." Great to see you.

GREGORY: Thanks.

BERMAN: All right, CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and Brianna Keilar picks up after a quick break.

CAMEROTA: See you tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:00:09] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington.