Return to Transcripts main page


Texas Democrats Urge Biden, Congress to Pass Federal Protections; Flynn Denies Suggesting a Myanmar-Like Coup in U.S.; Florida Police Searching for Gunmen in Deadly Club Rampage. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired June 1, 2021 - 13:00   ET


ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, and thanks for joining us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Forgotten no more, hidden no more. This hour President Biden arrives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he will soon deliver remarks on this 100th anniversary of the city's race massacre. A century later, Biden is set to become the first U.S. President on hand to commemorate the nation's worst single event of white violence against black Americans. May 31st to June 1st, 1921, a white mob descended on Tulsa's Greenwood district, a prosperous, thriving community known as Black Wall Street. They went block by block killing black men and women, burning down their homes, destroying their businesses. Hundreds were killed. Thousands were left homeless. And the wounds are still being felt today.

Survivors and their families want action. And soon President Biden will meet with them in hopes of addressing the roots of their pain. He is set to unveil a plan aimed at bringing some accountability to the injustice as black Americans have faced and still live with today.

CNN anchor and senior political correspondent Abby Phillip is standing by in Tulsa ahead of the President's remarks. Abby, it is a significant day, a somber day, a long overdue day.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, it's enormously significant for President Biden to be coming to Tulsa here today. He's the first President to acknowledge and commemorate this massacre that happened 100 years ago, something that is rarely taught in American schoolbooks. But as we stand here today, there are still three living survivors of this massacre, each of them over 100 years old. And Biden will be meeting with them today as he tours the Greenwood Cultural Center, which is in a part of the city known as Black Wall Street that was burned down 100 years ago.

But what you'll also hear Biden's talking about today is what can be done to rectify the racial wealth gap that has only expanded in that 100 year period, not just because of the massacre that occurred here in Tulsa, but also because of decades of racism, systemic racism that was instituted through government policies. So he'll be talking about increasing the federal contracting with minority owned businesses. He'll be talking about establishing funds for infrastructure and for transportation for low income communities. And also about addressing housing inequality for minority individuals and enforcing some laws that are already on the books.


Some of this, Ana, is going to require congressional action, but the intent here from the White House is to signal that they are doing more than just talking, more than just commemorating. They want to address the lingering problems that have resulted from racism in places like here in Tulsa but really all across country.

One thing though that you hear from black residents of this city to this day is that they still feel like there is a need to address the real harm that was done to individuals, the descendants of that massacre. That still hasn't been addressed in either Biden's policies or in anything happening at the state or local level. There's a big push here for reparations for those victims and for their descendants here in Tulsa. And I think that's going to be a big discussion as Biden lands here in the next few hours.

CABRERA: And I will be speaking with one of those descendants whose grandfather survived the massacre more than 100 -- well, exactly 100 years ago. Abby Philip, thank you very much for your reporting.

We turn now to Texas, where state democratic lawmakers are calling on Congress to do something, this after they successfully delayed a vote on a restrictive voting bill, that state Republicans were poised to make a law, and as Republican Governor Greg Abbott threatens their paychecks.

Ed Lavandera is live in Dallas. First, how are state lawmakers now responding to this funding threat?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they're waiting to see what the governor is going to do and there's real question, even Republicans and Democrats, questioning whether or not this is a real threat or just kind of a shot across the bow, and see what exactly Greg Abbott is going to do.

But, essentially, the move would defund the legislative branch of state government. And it's not just hurting lawmakers, and clearly there's a feeling among some Republicans of anger toward the Democrats that walked out of the legislative session in the last hour-and-a-half and essentially blocked that voting bill, state lawmakers here are paid about $7,200 a year for their work. It's a part-time job. But that threat does possibly punish thousands of staffers' salaries that work -- nonpartisan staffers that work in the legislative branch of state government.

The governor ended his tweet by saying stay tuned, so we'll see what essentially he does. But, really, the major part of the focus, Ana, is people trying to figure out exactly when Governor Greg Abbott here in Texas is going to call the special session that would bring state lawmakers back to Austin to re-litigate, essentially, this voting bill, and try -- get another stab at it to see if they can essentially pass that. They would have 30 days in that special session, and it's not clear when the governor of Texas is going to call those lawmakers back to Austin to do all of that. Ana? CABRERA: Ed Lavandera, thanks for the update.

Joining us now is Texas Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro. Congressman, good to have you with us.

Democrats in your state may have been able to delay this voting legislation, but it's not going away. The governor says elections reform will be part of a special session. He's now threatening to withhold lawmakers' pay over this. What is your message to the governor?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): Well, that he should stop assaulting our democracy. What we're seeing not only in Texas but in places like Arizona and Florida and other states is a systemic dismantling of democracy by conservative Republicans who are now acting in service, solely of Donald Trump, and if there's anybody's pay that should be docked or vetoed, it's the governor's because he let -- he failed to do his job during the snowstorm and hundreds of Texans died. He botched his COVID response and thousands of Texans died. So it's ironic that he would be threatening somebody's paycheck right now.

CABRERA: A resounding message we're hearing right now from Texas state Democratic lawmakers is we've done our part, now you, Congress, do yours. I want you to listen to a couple of Texas lawmakers on our air yesterday.


TREY MARTINEZ FISCHER (D), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: Walking out last night is the equivalent to us being on our knees begging the president and the United States government to come up with a federal response, please give us a For the People Act, please give us a John Lewis Act, please give us a federal response when it comes to elections in America.

SARAH ECKHARDT (D), TEXAS STATE SENATE: We've bringing sunshine to this, and you all putting this on the national stage is so incredibly important to getting that federal legislation passed so that states like mine can't suppress mostly black and brown voters, but frankly they're suppressing all voters.


CABRERA: As you point out, what's happening in your state is just one example of the assault on voting. President Biden says democracy is in peril, but federal action right now is stuck in the Senate. So what should Congress do right now?

CASTRO: Well, first of all, my friends in the state legislature in Texas are absolutely right.


This is a now or never moment for American democracy. Either the United States Congress is going to take action to protect people's right to vote or Republican state legislatures around the country are going to strip people of their right to go vote, which is what we're seeing in Texas and in other places.

And it's clear now that Republicans at this point will pass any law they have to to take away people's right to vote, particularly black and brown people's right to vote. All the Congress has to do, all the Senate has to do is waive not a law but a custom, the filibuster, in order to protect that right to vote.

And so the House of Representatives, as you know, has passed HR-1. I'm confident that we'll pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, but the Senate has to decide that it's going to waive the filibuster, at least to protect democracy, even if you don't do it for anything else, even if you say, we're not going to do it for jobs, we're not going to do it for immigration, or health care, for anything else, to protect the integrity of our democracy, the Senate needs to waive this filibuster.

CABRERA: My understanding is Manchin has not even been on board with the legislation itself. So even if you had him on board with that, you know, then you have the element of the filibuster coming in. Manchin recently saying this, taking bipartisan action on voting reform would go a long way in restoring the American people's faith in Congress and our ability to deliver results for them. How do you respond to that?

CASTRO: Well, I mean, first, I think he's right. Bipartisanship would certainly help. It would be very helpful if we could find ten Republicans who would help pass HR-1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. But if you look at what's going on in the United States Senate and quite frankly what's been going on for several years now, it's clear that it's very unlikely that those ten folks are going to step forward. They are deathly afraid of Donald Trump going in and endorsing somebody else in their Republican primary, and then their career in politics is over.

And so there is too much at stake for us to rely on the theoretical good will of ten Republicans to come forward. And I would just ask the United States senators to consider that. They know that I get along with all of our Democratic senators over there, and even some of the Republicans, but I would ask our Democratic senators to really consider what's at stake for the nation.

CABRERA: Is it time for President Biden to maybe change his strategy? His priority right now appears to be infrastructure. We know he wants bipartisanship. But how could he, as president, help get voting rights legislation through the Senate?

CASTRO: Well, he talked about it during the campaign, he's talked about it as president, and even in the last week, as you've mentioned, he's given, I think, two high profile speeches where he's talked about the need to protect the fundamentals of our democracy. And so, you know, I think he's going to continue to emphasize that and he's going to push it even harder.

But at the end of the day, it's not Joe Biden who's going to vote in the Senate, it's the United States senators who have to decide that this issue, protecting our democracy from this assault is important enough to waive a custom, not a law, a custom in the United States Senate. CABRERA: What if they don't?

CASTRO: Well, my fear is that if they don't, then our elections in 2022 and beyond that, in 2024, are not going to look like what they used to look like in 2018, and 2014, and before that.

I mean, consider this, what's going on in Arizona, how crazy that is with these folks convening this audit to look for the -- I don't know, the third or fourth or fifth time, wanting to count votes, convincing themselves, under some delusion that there was voter fraud, even though nobody can produce it. It's just crazy. It's crazy. So if we don't do anything, we're essentially turning over the future of our democracy to these people who are delusional.

CABRERA: Before you go, I do want to ask you, because you serve on the Intel Committee, about Michael Flynn, former President Trump's first national security adviser, he appeared on Sunday to endorse a Myanmar-style coup in the U.S. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can't happen here.

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: No reason, I mean, it should happen, no reason, that's right.


CABRERA: You heard it all right there. But a message that was posted to a Parler account used by Flynn yesterday claimed Flynn's words had been twisted, that he was not calling for a coup. How do you see it and should action be taken against him?

CASTRO: Well, I think the Department of Justice would certainly review not only his comments but any other actions he's taken against the United States government. I mean, let's be clear, he's asking for the overthrow of the United States government a few months after you had an insurrection at the United States Capitol to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election.


And I don't know -- to be honest with you, I don't know what happened to Michael Flynn. I met him once in Dallas. And for a general, a former general who had a distinguished career in the military, to advocate for the overthrow of the United States government that he served for so many years is, in some ways, shocking and also disgraceful. But that's what we're dealing with at this point.

And, increasingly, the price of admission into the Republican Party and the price of admission to success in the Republican primaries is to be crazy like that, and to be delusional like that. And the way that we counteract that is by passing laws to protect our voting rights. The Senate has got to act.

CABRERA: Congressman Joaquin Castro, I appreciate your time, thank you so much for joining us.

CASTRO: Thank you.

CABRERA: And my next guest says this is not the first time Michael Flynn has gone down this road and that he should be arrested immediately. We'll discuss.

Plus, they found the getaway car, but the shooters are still out there, the desperate search for these three people who apparently shot up a Florida club.

And for the fifth time this NBA post-season, an unruly fan is busted for being a jerk. What is going on and how does it stop?



CABRERA: Let's talk more about Michael Flynn and his comments when asked whether something like the coup in Myanmar could happen in the U.S. I want to play for you again what former President Trump's one- time national security adviser said at an event in Dallas. This was on Sunday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know why what happened in Myanmar can't happen here.

FLYNN: No reason, I mean, it should happen, no reason, that's right.


CABRERA: No reason, I mean, it should happen here, no reason, that's right, he said.

Flynn, who is also a retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Army, is now trying to walk back that comment. A message posted to a Parler account used by Flynn yesterday now says, quote, there is no reason whatsoever for any coup in America.

Context here, Flynn made the initial comment at an event made up of QAnon supporters. And for months, QAnon and pro-Trump online forums have been filled with comments supporting the deadly coup in Myanmar and calling for the U.S. military to do the same.

It is also important to remember what is actually happening in Myanmar. The military overthrew a democratically-elected government, has killed scores of civilian protesters, and it's all but ground the economy there to a halt.

Joining us now is Richard Painter, he was the chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush. He now teaches corporate law at the University of Minnesota and is author of the book, American Nero, about the destruction of the rule of law in America. Richard, thanks for being with us. First, your reaction to Flynn's comments, and his walk back.

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, Ana, this is a call for a coup. And this is not the first time that Michael Flynn has done this. Back in November after the election, he met with Donald Trump in the White House and they talked about having a military takeover with the United States military would enter Pennsylvania and other states to redo the election.

That was sedition. And I wrote at the time that that was sedition and should have been criminally charged as sedition by Michael Flynn and also perhaps Donald Trump as an accomplice.

Michael Flynn has repeatedly called for a military takeover of this sort. This is sedition and this can be prosecuted as sedition of the pattern of conduct, particularly the overt acts in the White House back in November. It's not just one statement here.

Second, General Flynn as a retired from active duty, subject to the uniform code military of justice and he can be court-martialed, he should be court-martialed. And I can assure that if a former general had said this during the Bush administration, they would have him in Leavenworth, Kansas, by now and ready to face court-martial.

This is extremely dangerous for a former general to be calling for a military coup. This cannot be accepted in the United States of America.

CABRERA: So, is he protected then by his statement that he issued after the fact? You're obviously not buying the walkback but he did put out the follow-up statement.

PAINTER: He did because he knows that he's crossed line under criminal conduct both under the sedition statute and under the uniform code of military justice, which does apply to him, retired from active service.

So the bottom line is that this is part of a continued pattern. This didn't just happen once. So he's got a lot of explaining to do, including what happened in that White House meeting with President Trump and others where they were planning and discussing the possibility of a military takeover to redo the election. And this should be prosecuted by the Justice Department or by the United States Army.

But I want to emphasize that it's critically important that Congress investigate what happened on January 6th, what happened at that meeting in the White House in November with General Flynn. We cannot tolerate insurrection, military coups, sedition in the United States.


And General Flynn is part of a much broader problem that absolutely must be investigated. And if the Senate has to break a filibuster in order to do that, they need to go right ahead.

CABRERA: How do you prove sedition?

PAINTER: Prove sedition, by showing that there was a plan to undermine the United States government, to overthrow the United States government. And there's some acts taken in furtherance of that plan. I believe that White House meeting was enough, where they were trying to persuade the commander-in-chief to deploy federal soldiers into various states to redo the 2020 election.

This goes beyond mere talk to a bunch of (INAUDIBLE) supporters. This is a concerted effort that then revived again in January 6th of this year, when President Trump and others encouraged a mob to invade the United States Capitol. This is a broad pattern of conduct over several months since Joe Biden won the election and it is a pattern of conduct designed to overthrow the United States government. We have to take it seriously.

CABRERA: Let me ask you a quick question about the January 6th insurrection because, obviously, Congress voted down -- the Senate specifically establishing a bipartisan commission. Congressman Gerry Connolly was on CNN last night calling on the president now to appoint a presidential commission to fully investigate the Capitol attack. Is that the way to go now?

PAINTER: Well, I agree with Congressman Connelly that if Congress will not act, there does need to be a commission and the commission would be appointed by the president. The preferable course of action is to break the filibuster in the Senate and pass a law by majority vote, that's what's provided for in the Constitution, majority vote, not supermajority, the House and Senate to pass the statute and establish this bipartisan commission, and that's what they need to do.

Americans are tired of the filibuster in the Senate that was used to hold up civil rights in the 1960s and is now being used to support sedition and a cover-up of the insurrection of January 6th. So, however we do it, there has to be an investigation. We need to get to the bottom of who was involved on January 6th, and also, once again, that meeting in the White House in November, where General Flynn and others urged President Trump to stage a military coup and have the military redo the election.

This is extremely dangerous, what's going on? We have to take it seriously or our democracy is going to be in grave risk.

CABRERA: Richard Painter, thank you for sharing your perspective and expertise with us, thanks.

PAINTER: Thank you very much, Ana.

CABRERA: Time may be running out for the killers who sprayed bullets into a Florida concert crowd. Miami-Dade Police telling CNN they are now following several tips and watching certain people after finding the getaway car in a canal. More next.


[13:25:00] CABRERA: New developments in the mass shooting investigation in Florida, police say they have recovered the stolen car used in the shooting. It was pulled from the bottom of a Miami-Dade Canal. As seen on surveillance video, three gunmen jumped out of that white SUV early Sunday morning, they opened fire on a crowd outside a concert, killing two people and injuring 21 others in just ten seconds. Look at how quick that happens.

CNN's Leyla Santiago joins us now from Miami-Dade County. Leyla, what's the latest on this manhunt?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, police are telling me the investigation today, and this is a quote, is very active, but still no arrests. Meanwhile, where we are right now, where the shooting occurred over the weekend, a memorial has popped up and it's really kind of become a place to mourn, right behind me.

I want you to listen to the pain that we've heard here today.

Ana, this was a young woman who spent about an hour sobbing, clearly distraught. I could see she was visibly shaking as she mourned the death of a loved one. We've also seen community members come by here, just to pay respects -- pay their respect, rather, at this site.

You know, what we know about the victims, we know one of them was 26- year-old Clayton Dillard III. And his father interrupted a press conference yesterday to express his frustration, his anger as he is mourning the death of his son.


Police have not released the identity of the other victim.