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South Carolina Church Massacre Reignites Gun Debate; Interview with Senator Lindsey Graham; A Second Chance for Brian Williams: Will His Apology Be Accepted? Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired June 19, 2015 - 08:30   ET



[08:32:06] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Charleston, South Carolina, in mourning after nine people were shot and killed at the historic Emanuel AME Church. The tragedy reigniting the debate about gun control laws and other big issues. We want to bring in now Republican Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina. He's also a 2016 presidential candidate.

Senator, thanks so much for taking the time for us.


CAMEROTA: Did I hear right, did your niece go to school with this gunman?

GRAHAM: Yes, my sister called yesterday and I talked to her just a few minutes ago that Emily, my niece, was in the eighth grade with this guy in English class and he sat right in front of her.

CAMEROTA: What were her impressions?

GRAHAM: Strange, quiet. The only time he ever talked, every Monday the teacher would ask you to explain what you did over the weekend and apparently he came up with some pretty bizarre stories. And she rode the bus with him, so she knew where - where he lived. And it's just one of those really weird things. He was very withdrawn, very shy. He was dressed kind of strange.

CAMEROTA: Wow, it just speaks to how many people in South Carolina know each other. I mean we've been hearing that -

GRAHAM: It's a small state. It really is.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely.

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: President Obama yesterday expressed great frustration with gun laws that allowed this killer to get his hands on a .45 caliber gun. What do you think about revisiting gun laws now?

GRAHAM: Well, one, President Obama called me yesterday to express his sympathy to the people in South Carolina and Charleston. I appreciate that.

Really the last thing on my mind right now is a political debate. My job is to be here and to show solidarity with my community and my state. But if you want to have a debate, we'll have it. I don't mind debating gun control. And I want the American people to know that the solutions to problems like this are probably not one law away.

CAMEROTA: But how is it possible that someone who was charged with a felony was able to get his hands on a gun? Doesn't that mean something needs to be fixed?

GRAHAM: Well, 80,000 people failed a background check last year or two years ago. Nine thousand were felons on the run from the law and not one of them was arrested or prosecuted. Absolutely, if I get to be president of the United States, you fail a criminal background check, you try to buy a guy when you're not supposed to, you're going to meet the law head on.

CAMEROTA: Why isn't that happening now?

GRAHAM: I don't know. Lack of resources. Lack of dedication to the effort. Eighty thousand people failed a background check. Nine thousand of them were felons on the run and not one of them was picked up.

CAMEROTA: OK, so clearly something needs to be changed with the gun laws.

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: Are you one of these people who believes we have enough gun laws, nothing needs to be changed, or do you think there's room for modification?

GRAHAM: I think - well, I'm open-minded about modification, but how do you fix a system by adding more people into a background system that doesn't work? How can you have a system where 80,000 people fail the background check and 9,000 of them are felons on the lamb?

Let me give you an example here in Charleston. There's a lady called Alice Boland who pled not guilty by reason of insanity trying to kill President Bush and a Secret Service agent. She was put in a mental health institution by the court, served her sentence, came back to South Carolina, went to Walterboro, bought a gun, went to a private school here and tried to shoot the superintendent and the gun misfired. How in the world is her case not in the system?

[08:35:07] CAMEROTA: I don't know.

GRAHAM: I don't either.

CAMEROTA: But, I mean, you know, as - as -

GRAHAM: Millions of people like that.

CAMEROTA: But there are all sorts of very law-abiding, safe gun owners -


CAMEROTA: Who say the problem is not the guns. The problem is not us. The problem is when unhinged people -

GRAHAM: No, this isn't - no, I - you know, I own a bunch of guns and I haven't hurt anybody. But there is something wrong with the background system. So what South Carolina did is they passed a law that anybody who's been adjudicated a danger to themselves or others, that our entire file will go into the national background system. There's probably a million people who have been adjudicated by a court to be mentally unstable whose records are not in the national background system.

CAMEROTA: Yes. The problem is, is that he wasn't adjudicated yet. He was charged.

GRAHAM: No, that is the problem. He was charged. See, that's exactly the point. How far do you go?

CAMEROTA: So would you be - right, how far do you go?

GRAHAM: How far do you go? I don't know.

CAMEROTA: How far would you go as president? Would you be comfortable taking away the guns of people who are charged?

GRAHAM: I tell you what, you know, yes, I think I would. I think if you were pending charges, we would - you're presumed to be innocent, but we're going to let the adjudication of the case go. That makes sense to me.

But look at the system. I mean you've been adjudicated. You're a felon on the run. You apply - one, you're a dumb crook. If you're a felon on the run and you go and try to fill out a form for a gun, we should catch you because you're so stupid.


GRAHAM: But at the end of the day, this system completely is failing.

CAMEROTA: Something is wrong.

I want to ask you about another story that's come out in the past 24 hours, the U.S. flag and the Palmetto state flag above the state capitol in Columbia -


CAMEROTA: Were lowered to half mass. However, the confederate flag was not lowered.

GRAHAM: Yes. Yes.

CAMEROTA: What's that about? GRAHAM: I don't know. The compromise years ago, the black caucus in

South Carolina, and Republicans and Democrats came up with a compromise to take the confederate flag off the dome of the capitol, we'll build an African-American memorial on one side of the capitol. There's a confederate wall memorial out in front of the capitol and they put a flag behind the war memorial. I don't know what the laws are about lowering it.

But here's what I do want to say. We're not going to give this guy an excuse about a book he might have read or a movie he watched or a song he listened to or a symbol out anywhere. It's him. it's not - it's not the book, it's not the movie, it's not the flags, it's him.

CAMEROTA: But given that we're in a new era of race relations and we're certainly trying to be in a new era of race relations, is it time to stop flying the confederate flag?

GRAHAM: Well, at the end of the day, it's time for people in South Carolina to revisit that decision would be fine with me. But this is part of who we are. The flag represents to some people a civil war and that was the symbol of one side to others as a racist symbol. And it's been used by people - it's been used in a racist way.

But the problems we have in South Carolina and throughout the world are not because of a movie or symbols, it's because of what people - what's in people's heart. You know, how do you go back and reconstruct America? I mean what do we do in terms of our history?

CAMEROTA: And what is the answer? What is the answer today for race relations?

GRAHAM: I think the answer is that we move forward in a balanced way, that we make sure that the compromise in South Carolina works here. That we look and see what is going on that involves our -

CAMEROTA: No, meaning the compromise of being able to still fly the confederate flag because it's part of the proud tradition for some Carolinians -

GRAHAM: Yes. There's a confederate war memorial out front and there's an African-American memorial.

CAMEROTA: And that works for you?

GRAHAM: It works here. That's what the state house agreed to do. But you could probably visit other places in the country and there's some symbol that doesn't strike you as quite right. What's wrong with America, I think, is hope and opportunity is the word President Obama uses. There are 11 African-American counties, predominantly African- American counties, called the corner of shame here in South Carolina -


GRAHAM: That have poor schools. But when you put a kid in a poor school with no job, you're going to get the outcome in Baltimore. And we've got our own problems here. Economic opportunity and better education is what we all should pursue, I think.

CAMEROTA: Senator Graham, thanks so much for being here.

GRAHAM: Thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: And we're thinking of your state today.

GRAHAM: Thank you. Thank you very, very much.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for joining us.

All right, what's your take on all of these issues? Love to read them. You can tweet us using #newdaycnn or post your comment on and I will read all of those as I know Chris will.

Let's go back to Chris in New York.


All right, so, Brian Williams, he's coming back and speaking out for the first time this morning. What is the gig and how does he explain what happened? Answers ahead.


[08:43:17] CUOMO: Time now for the five things you need to know for your NEW DAY.

First up, the gunman confessing to the Charleston church massacre. This man tells police he killed nine people to start a race war. He is expected in court today.

The massive manhunt for those escaped prisoners in upstate New York is entering the 14th day. Richard Matt, David Sweat now on the U.S. Marshals most wanted list.

The president's signature fast track trade bill now in the Senate's hands. The House passing the measure, but its future uncertain without passage of another bill to help impacted workers.

The feds are expected to unveil new emission rules today on big rigs and heavy duty trucks. The regulations don't kick in until the 2019 model year and the industry does get to weigh in before any changes take effect.

The streets of Oakland, California, overflowing with Warriors' fans today. The NBA champions honored with a parade and rally. Golden State winning its first NBA title since 1975. When you run out of fingers and toes, that's 40 years.

For more on the five things to know, go to for the latest.

So, another headline for you today, Brian Williams is back. Where? Why? What does he say about it all?

[08:44:39] We have those answers for you, ahead.



MATT LAUER, HOST, THE TODAY SHOW: Did you know when you went on Nightly News that you were telling a story that was not true?

BRIAN WILLIAMS, FORMER NBC ANCHOR: No. I -- it came from a bad place. It came from a sloppy choice of words. I told stories that were not true over the years. Looking back, it is very clear, I never intended to.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Will that wash as an apology? Of course Brian Williams apologizing for those exaggerations that have ultimately led to his removal as anchor of NBC Nightly News. However, he is not gone. Mr. Williams is headed back to MSNBC. Lester Holt is going to assume the Nightly News duties full time.

So, let's discuss this move with Brian Stelter, CNN's senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES." And Mr. Bill Carter, he's a long time television reporter at "The New York Times," author and now making his first appearance as a CNN contributor. The pinnacle of his career, joining the CNN family.

Gentlemen, hello to both. I start with you, newbie. What do you think? Does it wash as an apology? Does the move to MSNBC, is it enough? What does it mean?

BILL CARTER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think all of this plays on two levels, with the critics, with the journalism professors, et cetera, nothing but skepticism. I think the public kind of likes this guy and probably wants to go along with this and accept it. I think all along that's been the big break. I think if NBC had probably done something right at the beginning to get him to apologize, they might have pulled this off. But now, everybody kind of suspects everything about this, that, you know, it's all being manufactured.

[08:50:09] CUOMO: With the benefit of time, Mr. Stelter, where does this size up in terms of gravity of sin, transgression by Brian Williams? How serious was this as an offense?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN, SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I think it's as serious as it gets for television news anchors, you know, because this was pretty obvious he was exaggerating, puffing up, misleading people, but he says it wasn't intentional. And through this interview, the court of public opinion is now officially open because we've heard his side of the story for the first time.

I am seeing a lot of mixed reactions this morning, but I agree with Bill. A lot of people like this guy as a person. They want to see him back on television. And so, when he gets back on MSNBC, then, I think, we'll see the votes pouring in every day for him.

CUOMO: So, this comes down to whether or not the apology will be accepted, right?

CARTER: Right.

CUOMO: It's only worth anything if it's accepted. Here is what he said that takes him closest to that challenge.


WILLIAMS: I was reading these newspaper stories, not liking the person I was reading about, wanting, I would have given anything to get to the end of the story and have it be someone else, but it was about me, these statements I made. I own this. I own up to this. And I had to go through and see and try to figure out how it happened. Looking back, it had to have been ego that made me think I had to be sharper, funnier, quicker, than anybody else, put myself closer to the action, having been at the action in the beginning.


CUOMO: Some heavy thoughts. No, "I lied," in there.

CARTER: No. I think he's having a lot of trouble using that word. He's --

CUOMO: Does he have to....


CARTER: ...use the word embellish, which I think is the right word. In this case, it's not a guy who took a story and totally fabricated it. It's like, there was a little piece of it and then he blew it up into something bigger, which, I guess, is not as big a sin probably as a guy who came on the air and totally -- he didn't actually come on the - the other thing is, a lot of this was done on late night talk shows, not really on there air. So, there was a little bit of that difference. But yes, he's obviously reluctant to say the word I lied to the American public.

CUOMO: Now, is that because he didn't or is that because he can't say it? Brian?

STELTER: He, you know, I wish we could talk to him. The problem he faces now is he hasn't answered all the questions we want to hear the answers to and he's only talked to people at NBC. So, will he give outside interviews, and will he go into detail about the times that he says he unintentionally misled people? It sounds like he's not going to. He was given the chance this morning to say, here are all the reasons why I told falsehoods, you know, why I lied...

CARTER: And the other stories.

STELTER: ... and he didn't do it.

CARTER: He didn't address the other ones that are supposedly floating out there, and Lauer gave him two chances to answer that, and he didn't do it. CUOMO: Tough spot for Matt Lauer, too.

STELTER: And there's a lot of cynicism out there for that reason. You know, there's a lot of reason to be skeptical of him for that reason. I'm hearing a lot of journalists who watched this interview who were very unimpressed. But like I said, I think viewers are more likely to give him a second chance.

CUOMO: And also, I think as Bill and both of you pointed out, the media, the insiders, negative is a proxy for insight, it's become more and more of a currency for us, he shouldn't be looking for any easy treatment. But with regular people, they often recognize and apology is owning what you did, being really contrite, and really asking to do it better again.

All right, so, we discussed whether he did that the first part. You'll have to tweet us and let us know if it's to your satisfaction.

Here's a quick play of how he feels about his new start.


WILLIAMS: I am fully aware of the second chance I have been given. I don't intend to squander it. I have strong feelings for the folks who tuned in all these years, folks I asked to put their trust in me.

LAUER: And to that percentage of viewers out here who says, he doesn't deserve my trust, what do you say to them?

WILLIAMS: I'll work every day for it. I would go door-to-door, if I could.


CUOMO: Now, Bill Carter, Brian Stelter, Chris Cuomo, we are media. This isn't something that we have to judge. This is about you, so you tell us. Get online and let us know whether you think he deserves the chance, whether or not his apology was right, and whether you are going to watch.

Thank you very much to you, and to you, Brian.

STELTER: Thanks.

CUOMO: And The Good Stuff is next, and, boy do we need it today.



CUOMO: You know, when you see situations like South Carolina, what happened in Charleston, it makes you think, is this who we are? No, it is the worst of us, and that's why The Good Stuff is about showing you the best of us.

And we have two babies alive today thanks to the bravery of people who did what most would not, and they are just kids.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I ended up going in there to get these kids out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We came back over here as the dad was getting more kids. He said, no. After that, I called 911.

CUOMO (voice-over): Can't really understand them, that's because they are 10 and 11. That's Isaiah Francis (ph) and Jeremiah Grimes (ph). They rushed into a burning Florida mobile home and fished out an 8- month-old and 1-year-old without thinking twice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's amazing. You know, adults wouldn't want to go in that fire, it's amazing a kid would jump in there like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A 10-year-old and an 11-year-old going into a burning building, they are heroes in my eyes.

CUOMO: Of course they are, and they are also a reflection of what we can all be. We could all be that human at our best.


CUOMO (on camera): So, that's The Good Stuff. Back to you two there.

Mick, Alisyn, you are dealing with the hard stuff down there.

CAMEROTA: Yes. It is true, and as Michaela can tell you, you know, people here have welcomed us with such warm hospitality, even in their darkest hour. And Michaela, I look forward to you and I coming back here sometime on a brighter, happier day.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: I've never been to the South Carolina area before and I'm sorry that it's under these circumstances, but the thing that I've learned about this tremendous building behind us that has already been through so much adversity, fought through it, rebuilt, there is resilience in these people and they will rebuild, and they're going to link their arms together to do it

Chris, Alisyn.

[09:00:39] CUOMO: And we will do our best to watch that process along. Very good job to you both.