Victor Blackwell of CNN –
A fine reporter,involves himself in yet another Mainstream Media execution – This time a Black Pastor named Mark Burns
BY: JEFF KOOPERSMITH
Editor Emeritus – American Politics Journal (www.americanpolitics.com)
Yesterday I witnessed another well deliberated lynching of an added Trump campaign representative – Pastor Mark Burns
Yet, this time I was shocked to see CNN’s Victor Blackwell, a pioneer who broke open firm ceilings still present in the television news business through years of his hard and fine work starting at Howard University’s public television station WHUT-TV. and continuing as a reporter and fill-in anchor at WHAG-TV in Hagerstown, MD followed by named weekend anchor at WTLV/WJXX in Jacksonville, and the first black main anchor at WPBF in West Palm Beach, Florida.
At the outset let he tell you that over 40 years of close involvement with politics and policy I neither support Trump nor Clinton as of this writing, but include in my own political history my own support for both parties, Republican and Democrat, and their contenders at all levels of elected government.
Victor Blackwell first joined CNN in 2012 based at CNN’s southeast bureau. In 2013, Blackwell’s exclusive reporting on the strange killing of teenager Kendrick Johnson led to investigations by the Georgia secretary of state and the US Attorney for Georgia’s Middle District. In January 2014, Blackwell was promoted to co-host of New Day Saturday and Sunday with Christi Paul. However we could not find any discussion by CNN of the potential culpability of the police officials in not coming close to a discussion of what appeared to be destruction of evidence, disappearance of Kendrick Johnson’s vital organs, and loss of video recordings for the time period during which Kendrick’s death occurred.
Victor Blackwell remains an accomplished favorite on CNN and I for one rarely miss his appearances on a daily basis.
This past Labor Day weekend, where the East Coast of the U.S. was keeping a wary eye on Hurricane and Tropical storm Hermione I tuned into CNN to see what was up in the American political arena when I happened upon Mr. Blackwell interviewing Pastor Mark Burns who leads Donald Trump’s attempts to attract African Americans to vote for him rather than Hillary Clinton who contemporary polls show has between 85 and 92 percent backing from Black voters for Mrs. Clinton.
I have watched Trump closely on this issue because of my own interest in American institutional and societal racism which has grown worse in the wake of Fox News and other media outlets and internet print beating a malevolent drum of “far too much aid and support ” directed to Black Americans and other complaints from these sources against any program that might favor the poorest, the badly educated, people of color, and the huge unemployment planes within these group of American citizens.
Today, because of the revealing psychosis of former Fox Chief Roger Ailes, CNN has grabbed the benefit of disgusted Fox viewers who became tired of the non-stop Republican Party commercial that Fox news has been for its entire history. Yet is seems to believe that because a Black Pastor, Mr. Burns, hyped his resume, this is proof that the Trump Campaign chose him specifically and/or because he was relatively unknown.
I must ask myself whether Victor Blackwell has appointed himself – as a Black Gay man – to harm the reputation of Pastor Burns, who like millions of others polished his internet resume and history to include lies and stretched truths to make him more appealing when he opened his little church and began broadcasting on television. More important, it struck me as odd that Blackwell was chosen to target Burns because of this, and because of his work and then cessation of work on the Kendrick Johnson death.
I have always championed CNN because of it excellent world-wide coverage and its “father” Ted Turner who I have admired from many points of view over these decades.
Yet, I have noticed that as CNN attempts to grab at least some of Fox News viewers since Fox took and held onto the honor of being the most-watched cable television news channel.
The changes at CNN cannot be said to be subtle, openly challenge Donald Trump’s daring to run for president yet careful to pay lip service to Trump as a realistic challenger of Hillary Clinton for President of the United States while at the same time severely criticizing Trumps every move and every word – never once tipping their hats re Trump without out quickly adding other overriding problems with that candidate from stupidity, to inarticulacy, lying, and worse.
This moved me to pay more attention to CNN and its wholly sweeping support for Hillary Clinton. While pointing out her troubles far more casually, CNN continues to use a lenient glove on her campaign and her – while following any recognized puffery by others regarding Clinton with a discount shot against Trump.
So, much to my surprise, I watched with a slightly fragmented emotion as Victor Blackwell wittingly set out, in a one-on-one interview with Pastor Mark Burns to destroy him – going so far as to leave a label stuck to Burns as a liar about his background complete with video shots -more than a little backstabbing that include photos of his tiny church and its elementary video studio from which the Pastor mightily preaches and from where Blackwell must have intentionally filmed his prosecution, to fold in the lackluster appearance of the talented pastor’s deportment as Trump’s religious emcee to African American audiences.
Blackwell must have already known the answers to the insulting questions he shot at Pastor Mark Burns with a machine-gun tempo. This was not an interview to show the Pastor’s strengths and weaknesses including his unforgettable preaching ability – a fine example of the best African American preaching this writer has heard.
Blackwell did not mention a single positive about Burns – but instead read a list – ala prosecutor poetry – including what seemed to be everything on the Pastor’s resume that was either overstated. made up, or untrue.
Now, Pastor Mark Burns is not a widely known Black pastor among the political elite. Of course, this is for the reason that successful Black preachers are today strongly linked to Democrats and the Democrat Party which took the lead for African American rights after Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas) supported and passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act which in part was the end of Southern Democrats who theretofore were consider well-practicing racists from the 1950s on.
When Pastor Mark Burns began to preach he had few followers, and today has only a small “congregation” compared to some of the best known Black pastors such as Creflo Dollar who is worth between $30-50 million earned from his television program Changing Your World; wealthy Eddie Long of Georgia, Bishop T.D. Jakes, or Charles Blake of Los Angeles who preaches to 20 thousand members weekly. Blake is said so earn $900 thousand a year.
It may be that all the top preachers I mention here are supporting Hillary Clinton – and no doubt Hillary Clinton has done much to openly and strongly support civil rights movements throughout her life, but remains somewhat injured in this arena by Bill Clinton’s actions during his presidency which caused severe reductions in funding for the poorest children and the current warehousing of Black Men especially for light felony and even misdemeanor convictions for selling drugs – and is now a focus of great embarrassment and apology from the Clintons and their supporters.
Pastor Mark Burns during the Blackwell “interview” which I might label an indictment, did mention, far too late, that he thought the talk was “off the record” in a weak and frightened attempt to call off Victor Blackwell that failed. Blackwell, in fact became angry at this suggestion and said “the cameras are rolling and you are on the record.
Minutes later Pastor Burns, so humiliated by that point, walked out of his studio and drove off.
Again, It’s time the mainstream media and the rest of the crowd to stop this mobbing of Donald Trump. He may not be the best choice – for that I have no answer. But to replace tens of millions of voters who seem to support Trump with a massive quiver of unexplored and uninvestigated missiles from CNN and most other large media outlets simply negates all those votes and supporters of Trump with an indecency worse than that which they slyly claim Donald Trump is guilty.
I present the CNN transcript of the Blackwell confrontation below as provided online by CNN. This transcript covers approximately an hour of air time much of which is devoted to declaring Trump too shabby for the presidency.
See what you think.
To see part of this interview:
SOURCE: CNN NEWSROOM – BELOW IS THE FULL TRANSCRIPT – I THINK IT IMPORTANT TO SEE WHAT LED UP TO THE INTERVIEW AND WHAT FOLLOWED. jmk
(SCROLL ABOUT TEN CLICKS IF YOU WANT TO READ ONLY THE BLACKWELL INTERVIEW – IT IS TITLED IN CAPS)
Trump Visits Detroit, tries to Woo Black Voters; Trump Visits Ben Carson’s Childhood Home; Questions on Black Pastor That Is Trump Surrogate; Tropical Storm Hermine Hits East Coast; FBI Report on Clinton E-mail Server Released. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired September 3, 2016 – 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: CNN ANCHOR: Bishop Edgar L. Vann, thank you for your time.
BISHOP EDGAR L. VANN, PASTOR, SECOND EBENEZER CHURCH: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Appreciate it.
Hello again, everyone. Thank you for joining me. I’m Fredericka Whitfield.
Donald Trump in Detroit right now, attempting to shore-up his support among African-American voters. He is touring African-American neighborhoods, including — he just visited Dr. Ben Carson’s childhood home just moments ago. Trump’s visit started this morning at an African-American church where his trip has met with fiery protests outside before Donald Trump even made it inside. Inside, quite the contrast, he was welcomed with open arms. Trump was warmly welcomed by the congregation, and he used the opportunity to stress cooperation and economic prosperity for the black community.
DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our nation is too divided. We talk past each other, not to each other. And those who seek office do not do enough to step into the community and learn is going on. They don’t know. They have no clue.
I’m here today to learn, so that we can together remedy injustice in any form. And so that we can also remedy economics so that the African-American community can benefit economically through jobs and income and so many other different ways.
Our political system has failed the people and works only to enrich itself. I want to reform that system so that it works for you. Everybody in this room. I believe true reform can only come from outside the system. I really mean that. Being a businessman is much different than being a politician because I understand what is happening. And we are going outside of the establishment.
Becoming the nominee of the party of Abraham Lincoln — a lot of people don’t realize that — Abraham Lincoln, the great Abraham Lincoln was a Republican — has been the greatest honor of my life. It is on his legacy that I hope to build the future of the party, but importantly, the future of the country and the community.
WHITFIELD: I want to bring in CNN’s Jeremy Diamond.
Jeremy, a busy day. You were just talking with Dr. Ben Carson, who was advocating for Donald Trump, who showed him his childhood neighborhood, and who also impressed that he thought the message that Donald Trump brought today for that church will resonate.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That’s right. We are right outside of Dr. Ben Carson’s childhood home, as you can see it right over my shoulder here. Donald Trump came here with Dr. Carson for just a few minutes. They walked a couple steps here, talked to some local neighbors. And Dr. Carson told Mr. Trump about where he grew up and what it was like growing up here in Detroit.
Listen to part of my interview with Dr. Carson.
DIAMOND: What is his plan to address crime in the inner city? He talks about bringing jobs back and all of that stuff. But it doesn’t seem like there’s enough concrete specifics.
- BEN CARSON, (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & RETIRED NEUROSURGEON: There’s not one specific thing. It’s a host of things. For instance, using a lot of the trillions of dollars that are overseas, repatriating that money and incentivizing it to come back and then using a portion of it, because the stipulation would be we’re not going to tax you, but 10 percent of it has to be used in enterprise zones, to create jobs for those unemployed and under employed and on welfare. Really, what that does, it’s two fold. First of all, it would be the biggest stimulus package since FDR’s New Deal. Number two, it gets businesses and corporations once again interested in reaching out to the communities and helping people in the communities, which is what they used to do, before the government took over it. And the government has plenty on its hands without doing things that we, the people, should be doing for the people.
DIAMOND: Right. It seems like what Donald Trump has is an economic plan for the country, but is there something specific that he needs to do to address the problems that are different for the inner cities of America that is more than just stimulating economic growth in the country?
CARSON: A large part of the problem is economics, you know. It’s like in a marriage. What are the two things that make marriages go bad? Economics and sex. We’ll take the sex out of it.
But economics, it’s the same kind of thing for a society. When things become tense, economically, it creates a lot of other problems that don’t need to be there. And you look at a city like Detroit, which was once a hub of innovation and entrepreneurial risk taking, and you look at what has happened because of the enormous number of regulations that stifle that creativity, that’s not helpful to us. We Americans have been creative people, the “can do” attitude. We don’t want to trade that “what can you do for me” altitude because that always runs out. All of the societies that have gone that way end, up looking the same way, with a small group of elites at the top who control everything, a rapidly diminishing middle class, and a vastly expanded dependent class. We don’t need that.
[13:05:49] DIAMOND: And so there you have part of my interview with Dr. Carson.
We’re still in front of the home and Dr. Carson has been going around seeing some of the neighbors here. Of course, he has come back to this home from time to time to see the people of his old neighborhood community.
But Donald Trump, going into the African-American community. A little different from the past, almost three weeks of his outreach to that community and to minority communities in general where he spoke largely before predominantly white audiences. And today, he did something a little different, which was go to a predominantly black church and come to the neighborhood where most residents are African- American, speak with Ben Carson, and try to discuss the problems affecting cities like Detroit and African-American communities.
WHITFIELD: Jeremy, we’re looking at the picture of Donald Trump talking to the woman, who now lives in the home that Ben Carson grew up in. What about interacting with others? Ben Carson is still there, but did Donald Trump — has he been taken to another location or has there been interaction that you all could see with other people besides this young lady?
DIAMOND: Well, there were the neighbors next door, who also said hello to him. Donald Trump came here and nobody knew that he was coming. When I got here, the lady that owns the house here actually didn’t know that Dr. Carson and Mr. Trump were coming. That was for security reasons. But I spoke to the woman off camera, and she said she’s supporting Democrats for president and for Congress. She’s not supporting Donald Trump but she respected the fact that he was able to come here. And she spoke with him respectively. She said he’s a guest in our city, so she treated him as such.
WHITFIELD: Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much, in Detroit there.
Let’s talk more about the visit of Donald Trump to Detroit there. Joining me is CNN political analyst and national reporter for RealClearPolitics, Rebecca Berg; Washington correspondent for “Time” magazine, Jay Newton-Small; director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, Larry Sabato; and CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.
Good to see all of you.
NIA MALIKA-HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Good to see you, Fred.
WHITFIELD: OK. Did this meet or exceed expectations? Larry?
LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: I thought it went well. I think it was a good thing for him to do. He had two objectives. One was for more African-Americans to support him. He failed on that score. But this was also designed to send a message to mainstream Republicans, suburban Republicans, especially women Republicans, who don’t want to vote somebody with the image of being a racist, I think he helped him on that score.
HENDERSON: I think that’s right. I think it was a standard issue event. You see Republicans running for president historically go into black churches, go into these kinds of events. And George W. Bush did it and even Newt Gingrich in 2012 went in to a black church when he was competing for the Republican nomination. I think his problem, Donald Trump, although he has a trapping of what other presidential candidates have done, he’s got this enormous baggage and Larry afflicted this. 30 percent of Americans think he equates to bigotry. When he was in Philadelphia, he met with a small group of African- Americans there. I think he is — he really has a mountain to climb as do most Republican candidates. He has not been able to get the rest of African-Americans who have historically voted for Democrats. Black Republicans, he hasn’t been able to get the bands back together. Typically, that 10 percent of the African-American electorate writ large. That’s his problem. I just talked to some black Republicans and they think this is too little too late. They want to hear policy. They want to hear real policy. A lot of those folks have sat on the sidelines waiting for reason to come out because at this point they don’t feel like they want to be backing someone who has spoken about the African-American communities in these ways.
[13:10:08] WHITFIELD: Rebecca, on one hand, if some are saying “too little too late,” would it be worse if it were not at all?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I would actually it may not be too late. Although we are approaching Labor Day here this weekend going in to the fall, most voters don’t actually pay the election until after Labor Day. Some get their first impression of the candidates during the debates, which the first debate, of course, is not until the end of September. So there is plenty of time when we’re talking about undecided voters, persuadable voters, to make an impression. And as others have noted, a big question mark for Trump is whether he can shore-up his vote among white college educated voters, many of whom at this stage may feel concern about his campaign rhetoric, his tone. Some of them think of him as a very divisive candidate. So if in the next few weeks he can go around and show a more unifying image for his campaign, he might change some minds. Right now, we’re talking on the margins which decide elections. So if he can change a few minds, it makes a difference. WHITFIELD: Jay, what about the timing of this holiday weekend and trying to make an impression or maybe trying to introduce himself for the first time to some audiences.
JAY NEWTON-SMALL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, TIME MAGAZINE: This is — he has nowhere to go but up. He’s polling at 1 percent, 2 percent nationally among African-Americans. Any effort can only be sympathetic to him in that sense. At the same time, his message is still very patronizing. It’s still — even today, speaking at the church, he was talking about how they’re so downtrodden, how they’re so in need of jobs, they’re suffering economically. Certainly, especially among black Republicans, and some I’ve been talking to, as well as Nia has been — black Republicans are very wealthy. There’s a large middle class, upper middle class of African-Americans that are Republicans, who believe in small government, believe in lower taxes. Those are the people he should be appealing to, if you’re trying to appeal to African-American voters. Instead, he goes to these communities and says all African-Americans are downtrodden and economically needy, which puts off the Republican black voters, who say I’m not downtrodden, I’m not needy, and I don’t appreciate being lumped in with my entire race as suffering and poor. And so I don’t know that he’s doing himself any favors with his outreach.
WHITFIELD: Ladies, so much more to talk about. Let’s take a short break and resume our conversation after this.
[13:15:42] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Donald Trump is still in Detroit. Want to talk more about his visit to Detroit, talking to the congregation at the Great Faith Ministries International Church.
I want to welcome back, ladies, and gentleman — sorry, Larry. Forgot to point out the gentleman in the house — CNN political analyst and national reporter for RealClearPolitics back with us, Rebecca Berg; Washington correspondent for “Time” magazine, Jay Newton-Small; director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, Larry Sabato; and CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.
Is this a case of assessing the many faces of Donald Trump? Once again, we saw today a scripted Donald Trump. He was almost whispering, instead of the more vocal, bombastic delivery of Donald Trump. He was cautious but still talking in broad terms as it pertained to economics, to jobs, education, and even saying he wanted to defend the right to worship.
Larry, you first.
How do voters assess the different faces of Donald Trump?
SABATO: He’s got around 66, 67 days to change part of his image, because it’s just too hot for most people to handle. And remember, he is the first in modern times who is losing white college educated voters. That’s the group he was really aiming for by going to the black church. He realizes that he’s not going to get much of a percentage out of African-Americans. I think he’s better low key. His base is absolutely rock solid. We saw that with the immigration speech he gave in Phoenix last week. He’d be much better off doing a lot of events like this and actually could be a good president in the Oval Office.
WHITFIELD: So, Jay, you agree this serves him well?
NEWTON-SMALL: Certainly it helps him with the demographic that Larry was talking about, with suburban white women, who don’t want to be seen voting for a racist, who are on the fence about Donald Trump right now, and whether they could vote for him. And women are strong in elections since Ronald Reagan. They are an incredibly powerful voting bloc and married women have gone Republican solidly in every election in modern times. So it would be — if he did not win white, married women, he would be one of the first Republican nominees to not win that demographic. And he’s really only edging them out, winning them by a few points. He needs to shore those votes up. And that’s what I think you see him doing by going to Detroit and reaching out to Latinos and African-Americans. He’s sort of saying, look, I’m not racist, I’m not misogynist. I’m doing outreach to others, it’s OK to vote for me.
WHITFIELD: Na, is it the style, the content, all of the above that could make a difference for him?
HENDERSON: I think when you look at the internals and some of the poll data, going back to June of 2015, Donald Trump was behind by about 30 points among college educated, white women and you fast forward now and he’s behind 30 points among college educated white women. Some of this stuff is so baked in. You’re going to hear this “baked into the cake” for a while going forward, because voters make up their minds. As much as the — I think the narrative, this idea that people are just tuning in. I think in this kind of climate, this is the most-covered campaign in the history of American politics and people every day are going on to Twitter, going on to Facebook, they are, in some ways, being force-fed this campaign. And so I think people are more dug in than we think. Some of those undecided voters are oftentimes not likely to vote, and also very low information voters.
But listen, I think we have very much the two faces of Donald Trump. There is the establishment Trump, where we saw them down in Mexico, for instance, and then in this black church. And then there is Trump, right? The candidate who likes to throw red meat to his crowd, and those crowds of people are primarily working-class white voters, so I think we’ll see that. If you look, historically, this has been an age-old strategy. You can say one thing to one crowd and another thing to another crowd. That’s what Roger Ailes advised Richard Nixon to do. But guess what? Everyone can hear you all the time.
[11:20:16] WHITFIELD: Right.
HENDERSON: Because there are so many outlets and so many folks covering this. WHITFIELD: And that’s the difference.
So, Rebecca, everyone sees every side of, you know, the issue, or how you present it. So how does that — how is that advantageous for him?
BERG: Well, it could be advantageous. It could not be, if they are worried if he’s being authentic or consistent or there are questions about how consistent he’s being, whether he’ll say one thing to one group, one thing to another. A really interesting statistic in the recent “USA Today” poll that came out measuring up Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was that they are in the same place right now on the measure of honesty and trustworthiness. We talk a lot about Hillary Clinton and her problems with that measure, but Donald Trump is just completely failing on that measure with voters. And so the question is, can he present himself in these different ways to different groups and still convince people that he’s going to be an honest candidate and present the truth to them. Truth-telling is a cornerstone of his campaign.
But I would like to just go back to what Nia was saying about this being baked into the cake at this point in the election. Certainly among voters who support Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, they firmly support them. There are no question marks in their minds. But we see one of the most undecided electorates ever, in part, because of the two of the most disliked candidates ever, two of the most unpopular general election candidates of all time. And so a lot of people —
WHITFIELD: And that’s the part that’s really so hard to believe, isn’t it, that there are that many undecided? It just seems like —
WHITFIELD: — it’s pretty clear who you’ve got.
BERG: Right. You have two candidates who, for many people, are completely unpalatable, so they’re putting off their decision until the very last minute.
WHITFIELD: OK. We’ll leave it right there.
Thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.
WHITFIELD: One of Trump’s most outspoken champions in the black community accused of taking liberties with the truth now. When he was asked to clarify some things about his past, well, things go a little awkward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK BURNS, PASTOR, HARVEST PRAISE AND WORSHIP CENTER & DONALD TRUMP SURROGATE: This is from my page, but what I’m saying is, obviously, this has been manipulated or either hacked or added.
(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: CNN’s Victor Blackwell joining us with more on that, next.
[13:26:11] WHITFIELD: All right. Donald Trump is making an appeal to black voters today, particularly in Detroit. Trump spoke at a service at the Great Faith Ministries International Church and he was interviewed by the church’s pastor earlier, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson. The man who helped arrange all of the meetings in Detroit is Pastor Mark Burns, out of South Carolina. But there are now some concerns about Burns’ background.
CNN’s Victor Blackwell joins us with reporting on that.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This pastor, Pastor Mark Burns, has been one of Trump’s key surrogates as the candidate tries to reach out to black voters. Burns also spoke at the Republican National Convention. Most recently, though, you’ll remember he made news for posting this tweet, a cartoon depiction of Hillary Clinton in blackface. He later took it down and apologized.
But as questions about him rose and his background as well, Burns sat down with me for an on-the-record, on-camera interview, but as you will soon see, he quickly wanted to take that conversation off the record.
BURNS: We need a warrior, we need a champion, we need a winner, and that is Donald.
BLACKWELL: He’s a small-town preacher who has become a major surrogate for Donald Trump’s campaign for president.
BURNS: The last thing I wanted to do was draw away from Mr. Trump’s police —
BLACKWELL: Pastor Mark Burns, frequent cable news guest, the crowd favorite at Trump rallies, even a speaker at the National Republican Convention.
BURNS: From the great state of South Carolina!
BLACKWELL: Before the campaign, he was virtually unknown.
BURNS: I think Donald Trump is a great judge of character, you know. You would think he would just choose the greatest names but Donald Trump values character more so than popularity or name. I fall in that category.
BLACKWELL: Pastor Burns’ Harvest Praise and Worship Center in Easley, South Carolina, has a small operation, just a few folding tables, chairs and cameras for his televangelism.
BURNS: — of the Lord Jesus Christ. BLACKWELL: After attending Trump’s November meeting with black pastors in New York, Burns says Corey Lewandowski asked him to speak on Trump’s behalf at Bob Jones University, and he’s been a favorite of the campaign ever since.
BURNS: He just came out of the blue.
BLACKWELL: Virginia Beach Navy veteran, Damon Davis, says he’s a Republican but had never heard of the fiery southern pastor. Neither had his friends.
DAMON DAVIS, KAPPA ALPHA PSI MEMBER & NAVY VETERAN: They looked him up and he had web pages up and they saw one of the claims was he was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi.
BLACKWELL: Davis, who is a member of the predominantly African- American fraternity, says he first saw the claim in Pastor Burns’ bio on his church’s website. Davis says he captured this screen grab in July just days after Burns spoke at the RNC, then he started investigating.
(on camera): What did you find?
DAVIS: There’s no one named Mark Burns, John Mark Burns, or any variation thereof in the fraternity ever.
BLACKWELL (voice-over): Davis says he contacted Pastor Burns. Soon after, Davis says the web page disappeared.
CNN called Kappa headquarters, too. There is no record of him. When we sat down with Burns, we asked about that.
BURNS: I did, without question, say that I had crossed — I’m not crossed. I started the process of being a part of that organization. But that’s focused about that.
BLACKWELL (on camera): Is that the bio of your website?
BURNS: It is. But it’s not — it is the bio but this is not an accurate depiction of the bio. The information has obviously been added. I’m pretty — I own up to any mistakes that I’ve made, but obviously in this case, that’s not —
BLACKWELL: So this is not from your page?
BURNS: No, this is from my page. What I’m saying is, obviously, this has been manipulated or either hacked or added.
BLACKWELL (voice-over): CNN asked the site’s host, Wix, about possibility that someone could have tampered with the church’s web site. The company tells CNN there is no evidence of a hack.
And CNN obtained the pastor’s full bio through an Internet archive.
[13:30:00] VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So this is not from your page? MARK BURNS, PASTOR, HARVEST PRAISE AND WORSHIP CENTER & DONALD TRUMP
SURROGATE: No, this is from my page. What I’m saying is, obviously, this has been manipulated or either hacked or added.
BLACKWELL (voice-over): CNN asked the site’s host, Wix, about possibility that someone could have tampered with the church’s web site. The company tells CNN there is no evidence of a hack.
And CNN obtained the pastor’s full bio on the church’s website through an Internet archive.
(on camera): You also claim that you served six years in the Army Reserves? Is that accurate?
BURNS: Yes, it is.
BLACKWELL: OK. We called the Army and they said that you had no active Army or —
BURNS: No, no. I never part of that. No, no. I wasn’t part of that, the South Carolina National Guard.
BLACKWELL: I asked you about Army Reserves. That was my question. You, in this bio, claim six years in the Army Reserves.
BURNS: Which is — it is Reserves. It is the Army. The Army of South Carolina National Guard is Reserves.
BLACKWELL (voice-over): In is statement, the U.S. Army says Burns served in the South Carolina National Guard from 2001 to 2005, was discharged in 2008. He has no active Army or Army Reserve service time.
(on camera): Did you attend North Carolina University?
BURNS: I did attend North Carolina University.
BLACKWELL: Did you graduate?
BURNS: No, I didn’t obtain a degree at North Carolina University.
BLACKWELL (voice-over): In fact, the university tells CNN he was here one semester.
(on camera): Again, the bio on your website claims that you earned a Bachelor of Science Degree. Did you make that claim?
BURNS: I actually, just a moment ago, as we were opening up this — and first of all, I said we were off the record.
BLACKWELL: I didn’t agree with that.
BURNS: Yeah, but I did, I did.
BLACKWELL: We’re still rolling and I’m asking you questions on the record.
Did you make that claim –?
BURNS: I’m off the record.
BLACKWELL: — that you graduated from North Carolina University?
BURNS: I’m off the record because it’s not fair — this is not fair that you. This is not fair at all. This is not what I agreed — I thought we were doing a profile and, all of a sudden, you’re here to try to destroy —
BURNS: — my character.
BLACKWELL: I’m not coming here to destroy your character. These were claims made on your website that were lies while you were speaking at the Republican National Convention. My question is, are those claims accurate?
BURNS: I understand this is what the media does and I understand when you find someone that is speaking out their heart and speaking out their desire to bring people together and to get past a political correctness of society that the job of the investigative journalism or, in this case, is to try to destroy the character of the individual so their voice is silenced.
What I’m saying is this. In reference to my website, if there’s — if there is inaccurate information on there, that — that can easily be manipulated by other people and can be manipulated by hackers. People can do and say and do and create whatever they want to create.
BLACKWELL (voice-over): Again, the website’s host says there’s no evidence of a hack.
BURNS: I don’t feel comfortable at all. This is not —
BLACKWELL (on camera): You also claim to be —
BURNS: This is —
BLACKWELL: — studying at the Anderson Theological Seminary.
BURNS: Theological Seminary. Yes, I did.
BLACKWELL (voice-over): Currently working on his master of theology and pastoral leadership, according to the church’s website.
(on camera): We called them, and you are not enrolled. You were enrolled in 2008 and never advanced. BURNS: Right. You know how old this is? This has been up there — I think there’s an updated — there is an updated profile of me on the website.
BLACKWELL: So is it old or is it tampered?
BURNS: These are old information. This is extremely, extremely old information.
BLACKWELL (voice-over): Seconds later —
BURNS: This is a — thank you, thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming. You just take this.
BLACKWELL: Pastor Burns walked out, leaving us in his church.
BLACKWELL: He actually walked out to his van and drove off.
You heard in that interview that Pastor Burns blamed that information on hackers and Photoshop and then the media. He’s now released a statement. Let’s put it up. “As a young man starting my church in Greenville, South Carolina, I overstated several details of my biography because I was worried I would not be taken seriously as a pastor. This was wrong. I wasn’t truthful then and I have to take full responsibility for my actions.
But since that time, I should have taken steps to correct any misrepresentations of my background. We all make mistakes, and I hope that the measure of my character and the quality of my work speak for what kind of person I am.”
He also went on to say this: “I do also want to set the record straight about why this attack is happening — because I’m a black man supporting Donald Trump for president. For too long, African-American vote have been taken granted by Democratic politicians, and enough is enough. It’s a shame that the political insiders and the media choose to attack me because I’m not going to stay silent about Hillary Clinton’s pandering to our community. Instead, I’m going to tell people that there is another option, an option that represents a positive vision that will unify our country. That’s why I have and will continue to tirelessly support Mr. Trump.”
That’s his full statement.
I want to bring in now Boris Epshteyn. He’s a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.
Boris, good afternoon to you.
BORIS EPSHTEYN, SENIOR ADVISOR, DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Good afternoon, Victor. How are you?
BLACKWELL: I’m very well, Boris.
Let me ask you this question here, how did the campaign vet Pastor Burns?
[13:35:05] EPSHTEYN: I was not affiliated with the campaign when Pastor Burns started. He was not an employee of the campaign. He was a volunteer. He was not part of the campaign so I can’t speak to that. But we have very strong vetting in place now. And there was a story out yesterday I believe about the fact that we have all people affiliated with campaign sign NDAs. That’s a question for folks — but here’s what I’ll tell you —
BLACKWELL: Bit let me ask you this — I’ll let you finish that answer but I submitted this question about vetting two days ago. When the campaign offered someone to answer questions, my hope was that they would be able to answer the only question that I asked.
EPSHTEYN: My answer to you is everybody who becomes affiliated with the campaign very thoroughly and we know everything about them and now —
BLACKWELL: What does that entai1?
EPSHTEYN: What does that entail, Victor?
EPSHTEYN: Well, that entails going through the background, et cetera, et cetera. Again, Victor, we’re 35 minutes in to this hour. You spent about eight minutes destroying the career of this individual, of this volunteer, and you haven’t once focused on the fact that Hillary Clinton has been lying to the American people, lying to Congress —
BLACKWELL: Boris, listen, we’ve only got three minutes together and this is 24-hour news network —
EPSHTEYN: Well, it’s interesting because you just spent eight minutes —
BLACKWELL: — this is a six-minute story.
Let me get to the next question. How has Donald Trump responded?
EPSHTEYN: Donald Trump doesn’t have to respond to this. This is about the two candidates, about Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump. Donald Trump is in Detroit today, reaching out to African-American voters, with whom, by the way, he’s doing better than any Republican presidential candidate in recent history. We should be talking about the issues facing the African-American community, not the background of volunteer.
BLACKWELL: Did you say Pastor Burns is with him?
EPSHTEYN: Pastor Burns is not in Detroit, as far as I’m concerned.
BLACKWELL: OK. So Pastor Burns helped facilitate this. When the announcement came out that Donald Trump would be going to Detroit, he — this came from Mark Burns through the campaign. Mark Burns has been, by definition of the word surrogate, a surrogate for the campaign, actually sitting on the Faith and Family forum in South Carolina.
EPSHTEYN: As a volunteer for the campaign.
EPSHTEYN: He was a volunteer for the campaign. He was not employed by the campaign. He was not part of the campaign.
BLACKWELL: All right. So will he stay on as a volunteer, flying on the jet, speaking at the rallies and going to events with Donald Trump?
EPSHTEYN: Again, you are doing a disservice to the American people, my friend. They want to hear about Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is sipping cocktails right now with Bon Jovi or Jimmy Buffett while Donald Trump is out there —
BLACKWELL: We have an unlimited amount of time here.
EPSHTEYN: I know. That’s why I want to talk about the real issues at hand.
BLACKWELL: This is a man who has sat in your seat defending Donald Trump on this network and several others —
BLACKWELL: — and has introduced Donald Trump at rallies. He spoke at his convention. He’s flown on the jet. And he announced this big day for the campaign through the campaign’s website, released a statement from Pastor Mark Burns.
EPSHTEYN: And, Victor —
BLACKWELL: This is someone who is close to the campaign.
BLACKWELL: Will he stay on in that role?
EPSHTEYN: He just put out a statement that he’s made mistakes, he’s apologizing for those mistakes. And again, we should go back and talk about the real issues here. 26 percent poverty among African- Americans, over 8 percent unemployment, double that of white people, those are the real issues that need to be fixed, and will only be fixed by Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton has already failed and that’s why she’s staying home, as she usually does and not campaigning.
BLACKWELL: Boris, that’s a fair point. But we came here specifically to talk about this. This is someone that the campaign has relied upon. Will he continue to have a role in the campaign after the exposure and his conversation that he lied about his military service, lied about his —
EPSHTEYN: Listen, he’s put out a statement. He’s put out a statement. He’s apologized.
BLACKWELL: I hear that. Will he continue to be part of the campaign?
EPSHTEYN: And as far as what happens from now on, you’ll have to look and see. But here is what will definitely happen. Donald Trump will continue going to all cities, all communities in this country, while Hillary Clinton will continue to concentrate on raising money and taking bribes.
BLACKWELL: Listen, that statement that you read, he did, indeed, say that it was wrong, that he was not truthful. He did not apologize to the voters. Do you think he owes an apology to the people he misled?
EPSHTEYN: Are you talking about Pastor Burns?
EPSHTEYN: Victor, come on. This is getting ridiculous. You should be talking about Hillary Clinton lying to Congress about turning over her e-mails.
BLACKWELL: Boris, you knew what the topic was when you agreed to come and sit down here.
EPSHTEYN: She said she used one device. She used 18 devices. You’re concentrating on a volunteer. Talk about the candidates.
BLACKWELL: Listen, we have several hours. Fred is here for several hours more. And we’ll get to those documents.
EPSHTEYN: You play this segment on the hour every hour. I’ve been watching.
BLACKWELL: That is not accurate so you have not been watching.
EPSHTEYN: And I congratulate you on this story. It’s probably good for your career.
BLACKWELL: Boris —
EPSHTEYN: But the bottom line is you’re not concentrating on the candidates. That’s what the voters want to see.
BLACKWELL: I’ve asked you three questions and you haven’t answered one of them.
EPSHTEYN: I’ve answered each question.
BLACKWELL: Will he stay on the campaign?
EPSHTEYN: That will be determined going forward. He’s a volunteer so he’s not part of the campaign.
BLACKWELL: Boris Epshteyn, I’ve put the questions to you and we have your answers.
Thank you so much.
EPSHTEYN: Yes, you do.
Have a great day.
BLACKWELL: You, too.
[13:40:09] WHITFIELD: So, Victor, Boris is essentially asking why put under the microscope people surrounding Donald Trump. Donald Trump has said from the very beginning of his campaign that, if elected, he’ll surround himself with the best people.
BLACKWELL: With the best people, yes. He said that he will choose the best people. And this goes to the question of, how do you choose those people? Mark Burns told me during that interview that there was no vetting. I asked him was there any survey, any questions asked? He said, no, they simply liked my message and liked my character. There was a meeting with 100 black pastors in November. After that, he said that Corey Lewandowski simply called him because Donald Trump couldn’t go to the Faith and Family forum at Bob Jones University, and he slipped in there in South Carolina and has been part of the campaign ever since. After he’s admitted to these misstatements, and I think people take him at his word here, as a young man who made a mistake. But at this point, for the campaign not to be able to say, yes, he will stay on, we forgive him and he’ll stay, or he won’t, I think that’s something people deserve to know.
WHITFIELD: And Boris didn’t answer the question, but did anyone else supporting Donald Trump say whether Donald Trump himself has reached out to Pastor Mark Burns, because when there have been other advocates for Donald Trump who have gotten in trouble or their character or their track record has been criticized, Donald Trump has been quick to defend them. Has Donald Trump in any way reached out to Pastor Burns, or has he, in any way, shape or form, publicly said something in support of Donald Trump directly —
WHITFIELD: — I’m sorry — in support of Pastor Burns?
BLACKWELL: What you saw there was the first response from the campaign. I put that singular question of vetting to the campaign on Thursday and have not gotten a response, and Boris came on. My hope was that he would have an answer beyond, we look into their background, et cetera, et cetera. He says he wasn’t with the campaign at that time. I understand he was a supporter who became the senior adviser, but we still would like to know, what is the vetting process for the supporters that these campaigns send out to speak for the candidate.
WHITFIELD: Victor Blackwell, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
WHITFIELD: We’ll have much more right after this.