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Kennedy's Retirement from Court; Anti-Media Rhetoric; Reforming the Criminal Justice System. Aired 8:30-9:00a ET

Aired June 29, 2018 - 08:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:33:01] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has learned that the White House is putting their search for the next Supreme Court justice really into overdrive with the hopes of announcing Anthony Kennedy's replacement by July 9th.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst, "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman.

And, Maggie, look, there's been so much news in the last 24 hours, it's hard to keep track. But the Supreme Court justice nominee in the next ten days. And you have a story in the paper which I think is fascinating which talks about this quiet, indirect influence campaign from the president and the White House to Anthony Kennedy. I guess the way to describe it would be, to make him feel safe to retire. Explain.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. So -- and this was largely reporting by my colleague, Adam Liptak.

But essentially there was an effort to let Kennedy know that there would be an effort to continue in his tradition, to find somebody who he would be comfortable with to replace him.

The president, as we know, faced a lot of skepticism during the campaign as to whether he would actually appoint conservatives to certainly the Supreme Court but to any courts. He came up with a list of 25 people that he was -- that he worked on with Don McGahn, who's now the White House counsel, and other advisers, and that is the list that he has stuck to. That's the list that he's expected to stick to as he's replacing Kennedy.

And so you had -- look, there is some affinity, as it was described to me by one person, between the Kennedy family and the Trump family. There was some connection to Kennedy's son, who had worked at Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank --

BERMAN: But people who want to find conspiracies in everything --

HABERMAN: Right.

BERMAN: Will say, hey, look, Anthony Kennedy's son worked at Deutsche Bank. Donald Trump's organization got a lot of money from Deutsche Bank. HABERMAN: That's right. And we're not -- and we're not alleging a

conspiracy. We're just sort of laying this out.

BERMAN: Right.

HILL: Right.

HABERMAN: There -- there are other connections, though, that were made. And I think among the messages that were sent to Kennedy was, it's better to do this now when Don McGahn is the White House counsel. Don McGahn has really been the architect of Trump's judicial prospects. And he has gone about trying to remake the courts all the way down the bench.

You don't know whether Don McGahn will be there next year because McGahn has made very clear to people he doesn't know that he's going to last past the midterms. So better to do it now.

There were other messages quietly sent. If you're not going to retire now, best to wait until after 2020.

HILL: Right.

[08:35:05] HABERMAN: And so I think that -- I think that all of that put together, I don't think that there was an effort to push Kennedy. I don't even think that would have been well received. But I certainly think there was a message sent to, you know, this is going to be fine if you go ahead with this (INAUDIBLE). That's part of why you want to see -- you're seeing the White House want to move quickly on this.

HILL: And we will -- part of that messaging, that massaging, almost, we'll make sure that this protects your legacy, your judicial legacy.

HABERMAN: That's right. Right. Correct. And I think that you are going to see that in whatever choice the president makes. I mean, you know, again, there's this list of, it's now 24 people. I think that the actual number of candidates he's looking at right now is less than a handful.

BERMAN: Name names. Do you have --

HABERMAN: They -- I don't -- I'm not even interested in naming names --

BERMAN: OK.

HABERMAN: Only because I think that at this point, knowing Trump, he will throw out something that, you know, makes no sense or that you haven't heard from before. I do think he will stick to that list. I think that Tom Hardaman (ph), who had been considered last time, I think is still unlikely. That's the one that I would put aside.

I think that Judge Kavanaugh (ph), who is seen very favorably by a lot of people, he was George W. Bush's staff secretary, and I think that is going to strike a note of concern for a president who has been somewhat paranoid about the Bush family. Beyond that, we'll see. I think there is pressure to name a female

justice because they know there's going to be a difficult confirmation hearing.

BERMAN: That will be an interesting dynamic if they do, for sure.

Can I ask one question because, again, there's been so much news.

As far as we know here this morning, there are still 2,047 children who have been separated from their parents by the U.S. government. Inside the White House, do you get the sense that there's an active, aggressive effort to get them reunited, or are they focused on a different aspect of this?

HABERMAN: I think that they are focused on other aspects of this. I think this is largely taking place at the agency level, or the department level, where you are seeing a lot of cross currents as to who thinks -- who has -- who has wide responsibility for what. I think that they disagree with this court injunction, which is saying reunite everybody as quickly as possible. I don't think they can even begin to process exactly how they want to do that because the volume of children separated is so large.

BERMAN: All right, Maggie, stick around. We've got a lot more to talk about.

We're going to take a quick break. We're going to talk about the news of the morning. "The Capital Gazette" in Annapolis, Maryland, they published this morning, despite the fact that five journalists, five people who work at that paper, murdered. We'll have much more on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:41:22] HILL: President Trump has repeatedly called the media the enemy of the people. After yesterday's deadly newspaper attack, the president was peppered with questions at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Any words about (INAUDIBLE) in Annapolis?

(CROSS TALK)

QUESTION: Mr. President, can you comment on the (INAUDIBLE)?

(CROSS TALK)

QUESTION: Mr. President, can you react to the shooting in Annapolis?

QUESTION: The Annapolis shooting, sir?

QUESTION: Will you please talk to us about the dead reporters in Annapolis?

QUESTION: Mr. President, why -- will you keep talking about enemies of the people?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) condolence to the families, Mr. President!

QUESTION: Why are you walking away?

QUESTION: Why won't you come and talk to us about that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: The president did offer his thoughts and prayers to the victims in a tweet later.

Let's bring back in CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman.

Look, we can't say that this is definitely connected, right? And we've been talking about this all morning. We don't know. We don't know the motivation of this attack.

What we do know is that there has been heated, charged rhetoric for some time. We do know the press has been called the enemy of the people. And there is a concern about where language like that could lead. Again, not directly connected that we know of.

HABERMAN: As far as we know, the alleged shooter had a very longstanding grudge against the newspaper.

HILL: Yes.

HABERMAN: So I think that's really important and that he would not be the first person in history to have a longstanding grudge against a newspaper.

But I do think -- and you cannot -- I cannot connect it to Trump in any direct way.

HILL: No.

HABERMAN: However, there is -- this is an adversarial job that we do. The president is certainly not the first person in history to take issue with media coverage, but he is the first president that I know of to publicly say from essentially a bull horn that the press is the enemy of the people. Possibly, this took place in earlier -- in earlier decades, but certainly not in the last 100 years.

And, you know, John would have probably more to say about that than I do. But does it create a dangerous climate? Absolutely. I mean I just don't see how you can argue that that is not at risk of inciting someone.

AVLON: Certainly we've never seen an American president --

HABERMAN: That's right.

AVLON: In -- say --

HABERMAN: That's what I'm saying here, yes. AVLON: Enemy of the people.

BERMAN: Is that the staggering sentence in and of itself.

AVLON: Yes, it is.

HABERMAN: Well, I mean --

AVLON: And it is meant to be. But this individual, according to our earlier interview with the county executive, seems to have been disturbed mentally and emotionally, as well as with the grudge against the paper.

But, Maggie, certainly you know, as we all do, but you perhaps even more than most, the tenor of the threats directed at reporters today, via social media, is different. It's vicious. It's empowered in a way that is different. And I guess part of the question is, you know, are we seeing an epidemic and is the president and the group think in partisan media encouraging that?

HABERMAN: I think certainly you risk seeing a permission structure being created, right, by the president of the United States.

AVLON: Yes.

HABERMAN: And, again, I want to say it for the third or fourth time --

HILL: Yes.

HABERMAN: That we do not know what happened specifically in this case.

AVLON: Correct.

HABERMAN: And it seems like this alleged shooter made it as difficult as possible to be identified, let alone have people figure out why he was doing what he was doing.

But I don't see how the president's rhetoric is helpful. I think we have heard a lot of commentary in the last week about civility. There's been a lot of anger on the left in particular about people who were upset that Sarah Sanders was asked to leave a restaurant. There were people who were upset about Maxine Waters suggesting that people should get in the faces of Trump administration officials.

The reason that the Waters rhetoric is dangerous is because it risks someone getting hurt. The reason the president's rhetoric is dangerous is, he's the president, and it really risks someone getting hurt.

BERMAN: Right.

Can I just say, Sarah Sanders --

HABERMAN: Yes.

AVLON: Yes. BERMAN: Insofar as she is part of this story, put out what I think was a very moving statement about the attack in Maryland, where she said, and I think the important sentence here is, an attack on innocent journalists doing their job is an attack on every American.

HABERMAN: Right. I guess that -- and so -- and I believe that Sarah is absolutely sincere in that. And I don't -- I don't think that she would call for violence.

[08:45:04] I do think that there is a general tone of hostility with this White House and the press that is public-facing. I'm actually not talking about the behind the camera or the behind the scenes interactions --

HILL: We've seen (INAUDIBLE).

HABERMAN: But it's just the public facing piece of it that it's hard to ignore and how not to wonder how it doesn't escalate.

BERMAN: Can I -- before we go and leave this segment, I just want to say one thing that is great about the world today, which is "The New York Times" crossword puzzle, and I expect that Maggie was part of this, this morning at "The New York Times" this morning.

HABERMAN: Boy -- boy, that's a -- that's an (INAUDIBLE) --

BERMAN: One of the clues -- one of the clues, if we can put it up -- if we can put it up. I just one to see it here. One of the clues -- and I can't read that small -- but I think one of the clues, 37 down is, TV journalist Hill. And the answer is --

HILL: Erica?

BERMAN: Yes, you got it right. You're in "The New York Times" crossword puzzle.

HILL: I was very excited. My friend (INAUDIBLE) texted me this morning and said you're in the crossword puzzle. I thought, no way, "The New York Times's" crossword puzzle.

HABERMAN: Yes.

BERMAN: Yes.

HILL: That's pretty fantastic. My grandmother used to do it every day. My Grandmother Ruso (ph), I'm named after.

BERMAN: George Costanza would declare victory and walk out of the room because, after that, what else can you do?

HILL: Done. It's been good. See you later, John!

BERMAN: Maggie, thank you so much. Thank you for getting her name in the paper this morning too. Appreciate it.

HABERMAN: Sure. HILL: Maggie, I owe you one.

BERMAN: All right, coming up for us, an unvarnished look at the criminal justice system. "American Jail," CNN's special series. We'll have a preview.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: This Sunday nights on CNN, CNN Films presents "American Jail." This takes a provocative look at the United States criminal justice system, what's working, what's not, and how to fix it. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's inevitable to end up here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the jails were filled with white kids from the suburbs and then they were making those white kids work for no money, how long do you think that operation would be allowed to last?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The criminal justice system in this country's only real function is controlling poor people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I went away as a kid, it taught me nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He co-sponsored a bill that addresses prison reform, the first step.

[08:50:02] Congressman Jeffries, thanks so much for being with us.

We've had a chance to talk about this issue before, and I think it is one of the most important issues facing the country, and it's a unicorn right now, because an issue that really most people agree on. There is bipartisan support for prison reform. There was bipartisan support in the House for your first step legislation. It passed the House. Why isn't it past the Senate?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Well, we're hopeful that it's going to move forward in the Senate in a bipartisan way.

As you indicated, John, mass incarceration is a uniquely American problem where we send more people to prison than any other nation in the world. When the failed war on drugs began in 1971, there were less than 350,000 people incarcerated in America. Today, we imprison approximately 2.2 million, a significant number of them non-violent drug offenders.

And so mass incarceration and over criminalization in our country, it's not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem, it's an American problem. That's why in the House people on the left and on the right, progressives and conservatives, came together. And so I expect that the Senate will do the same thing. BERMAN: It is something important to address. And there is some

support within the administration as well. Harder to pin down where the attorney general is on this, but the president and his family, I know, feel, along with you, strongly about this.

Explain for our audience, because I do think this gets lost for some who aren't familiar with the discussion, the difference between prison reform, which is the legislation you passed, and sentencing reform, which deals more directly with what you just spoke about, which is mass incarceration and over sentencing.

JEFFRIES: Well, it's a great question.

We have a situation in our country where we have a broken criminal justice system at every aspect of the continuum. Sentencing reform relates to front-end reform, which is the inputs into the system. Why are we overly criminalizing individuals as a result of things like mandatory minimums, three strikes you're out laws, lock them up and throw away the key policies, stripping away judicial discretion? And so we believe that sentencing reform is going to be critical to bringing down mass incarceration over time.

Prison reform essentially relates to those incarcerated individuals who are currently in the system, who have been victimized by unjust laws, that without hope, without opportunity, without a meaningful shot at a second chance, and it's designed to make sure we provide those individuals with the education, the vocational training, the substance abuse counseling, the mental health treatment necessary to ensure that they can meaningfully re-enter society.

BERMAN: Sentencing reform happens to be more controversial as well and may be harder to pass legislation than prison reform, which is why I know you started with this first step legislation where there is more agreement.

I want to play you a little bit of a clip from the film, which deals with both things, and how this system impacts directly the minority community.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, opponents of mandatory minimums or tough sentencing say that it disproportionately affects minority communities, but what they don't mention is the minority communities are the ones most disproportionately impacted by drug traffickers targeting those communities, and the crime in those communities. Those -- they are the victims, ultimately, and that's what we're trying to stop. Tough on crime ultimately benefits the communities that is victimized by crime the most.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: And that's an argument you hear sometimes against sentencing reform. What's your response?

JEFFRIES: Well, that's a misguided approach. In other words, what we saw was that you had 100-1 difference for decades between the penalties for crack-cocaine and powder cocaine, even though there's no pharmacological difference as it relates to the impact that those drugs have on individuals. What was the difference, John? That crack- cocaine was the drug of choice for poor, working-class African- Americans and Latinos in the midst of the crack-cocaine epidemic. Powder cocaine was used by more affluent individuals.

We even see a distinction drawn in terms of what's taking place as relates to how we respond to the opioid crisis. Many of us in the African-American and the Latino communities are pleased that there is a level of enlightenment as it relates to dealing with the opioid crisis, which impacts everyone, those in rural America, suburban America as well, that involves approaching this as a public health crisis that did not exist in the midst of the crack-cocaine epidemic in the 1980s. And so we should deal with this not as a law enforcement issue. These are non-violent drug offenders largely who have been locked up for 10, 15, 20, 25 years in ways that are unproductive for themselves, their communities, and our economy.

BERMAN: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thanks so much for being with us.

Again, I encourage everyone to take a good look at this issue because there is an unusual level of broad agreement here and an opportunity.

[08:55:03] We do appreciate you being with us.

JEFFRIES: Thank you. And we're thankful that CNN has put together such a powerful film.

BERMAN: Indeed. And be sure to tune in. The CNN Film "American Jail" premiers this Sunday at 8:00 p.m. only on CNN.

And, of course, as we go today, we want to honor the victims of the shooting, the five reporters and workers killed at "The Capital Gazette."

And I want to read a tweet from "The New York Times'" Adam Goldman, who just put this out, and I think this is so poignant. Adam writes, you know what everyone should do today to honor those killed yesterday at "The Capital News"? Do journalism. Hold people accountable. Write and publish stories. Make it happen. Do journalism.

AVLON: Make it happen. You know, that we might be better citizens. That's the whole point of it.

BERMAN: That's the opinion page in that paper today.

HILL: Yes. They did a lot, and a lot will be -- continue to be done in their memory, in their honor, and because it's so important to do journalism every single day.

BERMAN: CNN will stay on that and all the other news this morning. CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow picks up after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

"The Capital Gazette" is on doorsteps and newsstands in Annapolis, Maryland, this morning, which should not in itself be news, but it's been barely 18 hours since a man opened fire with a shotgun in "The Capital Gazette" newsroom, killing five of its staff and leaving survivors. In the paper's own words, speechless.