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Blinken on Middle East Tour; New York State Police Increase Presence after Jewish Attacks; Louisiana Officer in Greene Case Didn't Report Camera Footage; Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) is Interviewed about the January 6th Commission; DOJ Appeals Order to Release Trump Memo. Aired 9:30-10a ET.

Aired May 25, 2021 - 09:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas just hours after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Not a particularly comfortable meeting. Blinken is on a three day tour through the Middle East following a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. During a press conference with Netanyahu, note his framing of the more than 200 lives lost during the 11-day conflict.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Losses on both sides were profound. Casualties are often reduced to numbers. But behind every number is an individual human being, a daughter, a son, a father, a mother, a grandparent, a best friend. And as the Talma (ph) teaches, to lose a life is to lose the whole world, whether that life is Palestinian or Israeli.


SCIUTTO: CNN's Kylie Atwood has been covering this from the State Department.

And, Kylie, that framing, probably difficult for Netanyahu to stand next to, but also discussions of the Iran nuclear deal.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there was a lot that came out of these statements today from Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

I do want to dwell on the fact that first and foremost they were focused on the violence that occurred in Gaza, in Jerusalem and the West Bank over the last few days. Prime Minister Netanyahu underscoring that he was thanking President Biden for continuing to support Israel's right to defend itself. Secretary of State Tony Blinken again reiterating that Biden has said that he fully supports Israel's right to defend itself, particularly against Hamas.

The second thing that they spoke about is the support that is needed now to try and push forth peace, to try and get humanitarian support to the Palestinians. Secretary Blinken said that is an urgent need and that he will work with regional partners to make sure that that assistance doesn't get into the hands of Hamas. And we should be hearing more about that today.

And then, as you said, Iran also came up. This is an area where the two leaders, of course, don't really agree. The Biden administration is trying to get back into the Iran nuclear deal. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel does not want that to happen.

Listen to what they said about that.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I can tell you that I hope that the United States will not go back to the old JCPOA because we believe that that deal paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We'll continue to strengthen all aspects of our longstanding partnership. And that includes consulting closely with Israel, as we did today, on the ongoing negotiations in Vienna around a potential return to the Iran nuclear agreement. At the same time, we continue to work together to counter Iran's destabilizing actions in the region.


ATWOOD: Obviously, a bit of tension there between these two leaders as they try and work on maintaining this cease-fire between Gaza, between Hamas and Israel. That is first and foremost. But this Iran issue is going to remain front and center in U.S./Israel relations.

SCIUTTO: No question, their opposition clear.

Kylie Atwood, thanks very much.

New York State Police are ramping up their presence at synagogues, schools and other Jewish community facilities, this after a recent rise there in anti-Semitic attacks.

HARLOW: And this comes as the NYPD is making and has made another arrest in connection to an attack on a Jewish man near Times Square last week.

Our colleague, Shimon Prokupecz, is in New York this morning with more.

What should we know about this latest arrest?


So the latest arrest is a number -- is part of a number of investigations that the NYPD is conducting. They made an additional arrest in that attack near Times Square of that Jewish man. They have now arrested two people. They are looking for three more individuals in connection to that attack.

Of course, all of this comes as the governor, yesterday, announcing that given the rise in attacks against Jewish individuals, he's directing the New York State Police to increase patrols and security across Jewish institutions, across the state and across the city. In a statement, the governor saying that because of these anti-Semitic hate crimes, he is proactively deploying state troopers and other security measures because simply he says that hate has no place in our state and that Jewish New Yorkers and New Yorkers of all faiths deserve to be safe.

Now, also the NYPD has also increased security across the city, stepping up their patrols at synagogues and educational institutions as well.

HARLOW: Horrible to see this continue to happen again and again.

Shimon, thank you for the reporting and thank you for the update on the arrest.

Well, startling and disturbing new reporting this morning. This involves the death in 2019 of Ronald Greene, a black man, while in police custody.


Louisiana State Police now say the senior officer on the scene of Greene's deadly arrest did not initially report his own body camera footage, even though he was involved in this. All of this is just fueling allegations of a cover-up.

SCIUTTO: Greene died after what police described at the time as resisting arrest, a struggle with officers. If you've seen the video -- you really must because it's difficult to watch, frankly, and tells a different story. His family says they were originally told that Greene died in a car crash after a police chase.

CNN's Nick Valencia joins us now.

Nick, that senior officer's body cam footage, one of nine videos released by Louisiana State Police just on Monday. Describe for our viewers what it shows us.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it shows Greene moaning, it shows troopers -- their decision as to why they say they continue to hold him down and not sit him upright because they say that they were afraid that he would spit up blood on them. It's really brutal arrest video to watch.

But before we get into that, you know, Greene's family has insisted that there has been a cover-up in this investigation. And this latest development that body cam footage from the top ranking trooper at the scene -- at the arrest scene, that it was not part of the original investigation, just adds speculation that there's inconsistencies in this case and Greene's family wants answers.

We did reach out to Louisiana State Police yesterday and in a comment to CNN a spokesperson told me that, upon continued administrative review of the incident, personnel discovered three videos utilized in the internal affairs investigation were not part of evidence submitted to the district attorney with the original case report.

And we were just getting into that video, guys. If we can bring that up back on the screen there to show our viewers. These videos were released just recently, just a few days ago. And, again, were from the top ranking trooper at the arrest scene that were not part of the original investigation.

We also reached out to Governor John Bel Edwards office this morning to see if, you know, they had comment about this new development. They're not commenting this morning, but it goes, you know, we should mention also with context here, guys, that the governor has had multiple controversies that he's had to deal with, with Louisiana State Police while he's been governor, including back in 2017, a very disgraceful exit of then-Colonel Mike Edmonton, who left under his own controversies.

We asked the governor's office this morning if he plans on taking a closer look at the Louisiana State Police. A spokesperson said that they're always taking a look at the conduct. He has a media availability at 2:00 p.m. local time.

And just really quick, guys, the family attorney for Greene, they want a criminal investigation. They want criminal charges brought against these officers involved in Greene's arrest and death.

Jim. Poppy.

SCIUTTO: At a minimum those videos tell a very different story of the initial police encounter in that case.

VALENCIA: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia, thanks very much.

VALENCIA: You bet.

SCIUTTO: Well, top Republican senators are digging in when it comes to their opposition to a bipartisan proposal that would create a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th insurrection. What do House Republicans who voted for that legislation, there are 35 of them, think about their colleagues' stance? I'm going to speak with one of them.



SCIUTTO: Well, Senate Republicans are poised to block a bipartisan measure to create a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate January 6th's attack on the Capitol. The House approved the bill, which was negotiated, we should note, by a Democrat and a Republican, by a bipartisan majority last week. But top Senate Republicans, they are opposing it now.

Joining me now is one of the House Republicans who voted to approve that commission, Representative Don Bacon of Nebraska. He's also a 30- year veteran of the Air Force.

Congressman, thanks for taking the time this morning.

REP. DON BACON (R-NE): Hey, Jim, good to be back with you. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: So in voting for the January 6th commission, you said Democrats, quote, basically gave us, Republicans, what we wanted. This week, Senate Republicans, it looks like they'll likely filibuster this. I wonder, in your view, are they letting the American people down?

BACON: Well, I think it's -- a lot of Americans don't understand that this was -- this is a bipartisan commission, half Republican, half Democrat. For four months we tried to get a bipartisan commission versus a commission that was run by Democrats. And I just think we have to keep communicating that.

I don't -- on the Senate side, some of our Republicans, they, for good reason, also want to talk about other things. They want to talk about crime rates, the border, inflation and unemployment, but I think they're missing the opportunity. If we have a commission, Congress can focus on these areas that the American people also want us to tackle. So I think it's a missed opportunity.


One of the missed opportunities really is to delve into what happened on that day, including conversations with the White House between the GOP leader, Kevin McCarthy, and the president. I wonder, do you believe Kevin McCarthy and others should be testifying under oath to a commission like this?

BACON: Well, I think anybody gets subpoenaed in a bipartisan commission should to include also Nancy Pelosi. She also oversees security (INAUDIBLE) and Congress. So I think it should be anyone that had a hand with security in the breakdown that day.

And we had a breakdown. We had three hours of folks, you know, defacing the Capitol, 140 policemen were injured. And I think anybody that had a hand in that or -- (INAUDIBLE) why did the security fail so badly? That's -- so that's why I supported the commission.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

Looking ahead now, as you know following the insurrection there was a security review led by another retired general, Russel Honore. That recommended a whole host of things.

[09:45:02] I mean hiring hundreds of more Capitol Police officers, a quick reaction force so National Guards men and women can get there quicker in the event of something like this. It just passed the House, but not with -- without a single Republican vote, including you did not vote for the measure as well. And I wonder, given the need for greater security, why? Why no Republican support for those measures?

BACON: Well, there was some areas I could have supported. We do need to hire more Capitol Police. And I think the training is also needed. But right now the Capitol Police don't -- there are not enough of them to do training and also provide security for the Capitol.

But it was also a $200 billion bill. I had concerns with that. And standing up a permanent guard unit for a quick reaction force, I also had concerns. And there was a giant slush fund that Speaker Pelosi gets to control. So I would prefer having this commission and having an objective review of what we do need and then determining what we need to have for added security. But I thought the bill was too much.

SCIUTTO: I want to talk, if I can, more broadly about the Republican Party right now. You come from Nebraska. Trump won your district in 2016 by about two points but he lost it in 2020 by six. A big swing there. One of those many districts that swung and helped swing the election in 2020.

I wonder, as you look forward to the midterms in 2022, but also the next general election in 2024, is his message a winning message for the Republican Party?

BACON: When it comes to issues and policies, I believe it is. But when it comes to name-calling and the decency factor I'll call it, it is not. But when it comes to policies, I think -- I ran on a conservative message, and I won by just under five points or four and a half, 4.7 I think it was. And so I think the policies are good. But in suburban areas and particularly Omaha, folks want decency, they want civility and I think that's also important. And I think that's what was, at least in suburban areas, was probably the deciding factor in this election.

SCIUTTO: Speaking of decency, your GOP colleague, Marjorie Taylor Greene, she's doubling down on this really just unbelievable comparison between vaccination and other health measures and the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. I'm not going to repeat the tweet right now.

I'm sure you've seen it and others have. But the GOP leadership is still silent on this. You're calling for decency. Do you believe that Kevin McCarthy and other members of the House leadership should take a stand on this and say that this is not the GOP's message?

BACON: Well, I do think her message is bizarre at best, reprehensible, in my view, to compare, you know, what's going on with COVID and the vaccines with the, you know, the treatment of Jews under the Holocaust, it really is a strange comment.

But I think it's more important that you (INAUDIBLE) to talk about what's going on with anti-Semitism today in New York and other cities where all these -- our Jewish Americans are being physically beat up by those, you know, coming after the Israeli/Hamas conflict here. I think that's probably more important.

But, yes, we should say it's wrong, but what Marjorie Taylor Greene has said is wrong.

SCIUTTO: I want to talk about the border. You just returned from a trip to the southern border of Texas. My team and I, we went to the border at Arizona a week before.

I just wonder, you know, it strikes me that when you speak to those closest to the issue, including Border Patrol agents, you know, that they talk about a combination of solutions, right, to this Congress, you know, a guest worker program, a path to citizenship, as well as enhanced security. And I wonder, why do attempts -- given that general agreement on those big-picture issues, why do attempts to come to an agreement always fail on this issue?

BACON: I think both sides want 95 percent or better on this particular topic and you're not going to get 95 percent and get a bill passed through the House, through the Senate and to the president.

I'll give you an example. I voted on three or four different compromises. We couldn't get a single Democrat vote for -- if it had one mile of wall in the bill. And granted, you know, President Trump made it a priority. In fact, there's whole sections of wall put in by President Obama but we couldn't get a single Democrat on that or if we had anything with DACA, we lost about 40 or 50 Republican votes. And we have to be able to meet somewhere in the middle to make this happen.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

Well, we're hoping for it. I'm sure you are, too. And to your credit, you've done your best to meet in the middle, including on the January 6th commission.

Representative Don Bacon, retired general in the Air Force, thanks so much for joining the broadcast this morning.

BACON: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: The Justice Department is now appealing the release of the full 2019 memo on whether then President Donald Trump obstructed the Russia investigation.

HARLOW: Our Paula Reid is in Washington this morning.

Paula, this is confusing but important and something that's going to upset a lot of Democrats who were hoping to get a lot more transparency here.

What have we learned?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Poppy, this is going to be disappointing for watchdog groups and Biden administrational allies in Congress who have been pushing for more transparency about alleged wrongdoing during the Trump administration.

But just because the Biden Justice Department is trying to block the full release of this memo, it does not necessarily mean that this administration supports or agrees with the decisions that were made during the Trump administration in regard to the Mueller investigation.


This is all about precedent. There is a long standing tradition by leaders of both parties inside the Justice Department of trying to protect internal documents at all costs. And whatever happens with this case could potentially influence future public records requests.

Now, in this case, a watchdog group that's been very critical of the Trump administration sued to see this memo arguing that the public had a right to see the legal reasoning that the former attorney general used in deciding not to pursue charges against former President Trump, even though the Mueller investigation found strong evidence that he repeatedly tried to obstruct the investigation.

Now, earlier this month, a federal judge agreed and she ordered this memo to be released. And she really took aim at the Trump Justice Department's reasoning for why this should have been kept secret. They argue that, again, it was legal reasoning, it was a legal rational, it should be kept private. She said, no, it wasn't legal reasoning. She said that the attorney general knew exactly what he was going to do already before this memo hit his desk. And now they've released portions of it, but we're unlikely to see it until this litigation resolves.

HARLOW: Paula, thank you for explaining all of it to us, precedent trumps everything else, I guess, again. Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: And lots of unanswered questions remain.


SCIUTTO: A somber anniversary today as the nation marks one year since George Floyd's murder. Up next, where things stand on the police reform bill named in his honor. Could there be progress?