Steve King appeared on CNN's AC360 and attempted to defend his racist statements comparing the black farmers' settlement to slavery reparations and calling President Obama "very, very urban". King's dog whistles are about as subtle as a fire alarm,
December 2, 2010

Steve King appeared on CNN's AC360 and attempted to defend his racist statements comparing the black farmers' settlement to slavery reparations and calling President Obama "very, very urban". King's dog whistles are about as subtle as a fire alarm, but that didn't stop him from feigning ignorance when called out for them by the founder of the Black Farmer's Association, Dr. John Boyd.

For some context on King's prior remarks, you can read more over at TPM -- Steve King: Black Farmers' Settlement Is 'Slavery Reparations' (VIDEO) and at Mediaite -- Controversy Alert: Republican House Rep. Steve King Calls Obama “Very, Very Urban”.

Transcript via CNN.

COOPER: We begin, as always, "Keeping Them Honest."

Tonight: the congressman who says a billion-dollar federal program for settling African-American discrimination claims is full of fraud, was pushed by what he calls a -- quote -- "very, very urban" Barack Obama, and amounts, he says, to slavery reparations.

We're talking about Steve King, Republican of Iowa. You're going to hear from him in a moment.

At issue is a program just passed in Congress to extend payments to African-American farmers who have been discriminated against by the U.S. government. Now, the government, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in this case, admits they discriminated against black farmers, unfairly denying them federal loans, for instance, loans they needed, as all farmers do from time to time, to stay afloat.

The USDA also admits that, for years, they ignored or even threw away discrimination claims made by black farmers. A farmer named Pigford sued. It became a class-action suit. The government came up with a settlement and now a new settlement for farmers who missed the filing deadline of the first one.

Congressman King objects to this latest round of payments, saying there is widespread fraud. He's alleging three-quarters-of-a-billion dollars were wasted in the first round of payments. And, this week, Congressman King spoke on the House floor for an hour attacking the process and President Obama for sponsoring a bill supporting it when he was a senator.


REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: Figure this out, Madam Speaker. We have a very, very urban Senator Barack Obama who has decided to run for president, and what does he do? He introduces legislation to create a whole new Pigford claim.


COOPER: Congressman King did not point out then-Senator Obama was representing the state of Illinois, some 80 percent of which is made up of farmland.

The congressman went to equate these payments with slave reparations.


KING: We have got to stand up at some point and say, we're not going to pay slavery reparations in the United States Congress. That war's been fought. That was over a century ago. That debt was paid for in blood, and it was paid for in the blood of a lot of Yankees especially.

And there's no reparations for the blood that paid for the sin of slavery. No one's filing that claim.


COOPER: Well, just for the record, President Obama is on the record as opposing reparations for slavery, said it several times. I asked him even about it during a CNN/YouTube presidential debate three years ago.


COOPER: Senator Obama, your position on reparations?


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the reparations we need right here in South Carolina is investment, for example, in our schools. That's the kind of reparations that are really going to make a difference in America right now.

COOPER: Is anyone -- is any...


COOPER: So, point one, President Obama's not for reparations. But the president's motivations aside, though, what about Congress -- Congressman King's claim that the first phase of the Pigford settlement was full of fraud?

He says 94,000 people have submitted claims, but only 18,000 African-American farmers could have qualified, and that the vast majority of those claims were fraudulent.

Here's what he said Monday night about a federal claims processor he talked to.


KING: One of those individuals -- and I have had anecdotes from several, but one of those individuals felt the burden of the corruption and the fraudulent claims that were coming forward in front of him, that he copied a box of applications, a literal box of applications, which I'm really sure that would not have been very constructive to him maintaining his job with the USDA.

But it bothered his conscience so much. And when he came back to Iowa, he wanted to make it a point to make sure that I knew that these applications that he was dealing with, were, he believed, a minimum of 75 percent fraudulent -- 75 percent fraudulent.

Now, if you just apply that to the $1.05 billion in claims that were paid out, if he's right in that number, $750 million were wasted paying people that didn't have it coming.


COOPER: Seven hundred and fifty million dollars out of $1 billion wasted, according to the congressman.

Now, if true, obviously, it's a shocking amount of fraud. But he gets that figure by extrapolating from, at most, several people. We asked the USDA. They gave us this statement.

"All allegations," they say, "were forwarded to the OIG" -- that's the Office of the Inspector General -- "who in turn referred them to the FBI." It goes on to say, "The FBI prosecuted a total of three individuals. With approximately 20,000 claimants, three prosecutions means that 0.015 percent of the claimants were determined by the FBI to be serious enough to merit prosecution."

Congressman -- Congressman King also says that there have been more than -- more claims than possible farmers. The USDA says, in a nutshell, that, in the 15 years covered by the current bill, farms changed hands. So, according to the department, the 44,000 African- American farmers in 1996 were not all the same farmers in 1981, hence the additional claims, and that many farmers were driven out of business by discrimination.

I spoke with Congressman King a few moments ago, along with John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association.


COOPER: Representative King, you liken these payments to slave reparations, but just factually speaking, how can you say that? These payments are -- are not for anyone descended from slaves. They're -- these are payments, they're -- they're not even for black farmers who were discriminated against all throughout the 1900s.

They're payments specifically for black farmers who the USDA admits were being discriminated against between 1983 and 1997. So, how are these slave reparations?

KING: Well, I have sat on the Judiciary Committee for eight years. I sat through slavery reparation hearings that were held by Chairman John Conyers, and, of course, through the hearings here on the Pigford farms claims.

And the motivation that comes From this looks to me like there's no resistance on the part of the proponents to hold back or look for fraud IN this. They just simply seem to be content with every black farmer that would apply would get what was defined as Judge Friedman and his -- in his opinion as virtually an automatic payment.

COOPER: Dr. Boyd, though, let me just ask you specifically, though, staying on this -- on this topic, Representative King has talked about a hypothetical Johnny who was born on a farm, but -- quote -- "went off to the city, became a...



COOPER: "... a drug addict, and now wants the $50,000..."

BOYD: Well, first of all...

COOPER: "... that comes from the USDA under this claim."

How strict is the vetting of these claims?

BOYD: Well, first of all, I think that -- that statement has a terrible, terrible racial undertone, and very, very offensive to our black farmers.

And -- and we need to forget here, we help feed -- we help feed the country. We help feed the world. And we paid our price to be in this country and to own land. And what the government done to -- done to black farmers is wrong.

COOPER: How strict is the vetting? I mean, Representative King is saying just about anybody who is African-American can claim to have been a farmer or...


BOYD: Oh, that's not true. That's not true.

COOPER: So, how strict is it?

BOYD: The consent decree says African-Americans who farmed or attempted to farm between 1981 and 1997.

And the reason we use that definition is because the Civil Rights Office at USDA was closed under the Reagan administration. And we went in and found -- and investigated and found thousands of black farmer civil rights cases that had never been processed. And that's what this case is about.

COOPER: Yes, Representative...

BOYD: This case is not about fraud. This case is about bringing justice and equality and fairness to a group of people who deserve it. And it's long, long overdue justice.

COOPER: Congressman -- Congressman King, it is pretty shocking when you start to look into what happened in the USDA. I mean, they were literally throwing out discrimination claims, just dumping them in the garbage in some cases.

You said -- you claim 75 percent of the claims now being made in this program by African-American farmers have been fraudulent. You say an unnamed person working for the USDA gave you that estimate.

USDA says that percentage is complete nonsense. The FBI has investigated. They say it found only three cases of fraud. Where's the proof of this 75 percent claim you made?

KING: Well, and John Boyd says that there's no fraud. The FBI -- or the USDA has reported that the FBI came up with three cases that they prosecuted.

Now, what is the level of fraud here? I have said that I had a...

BOYD: Well, I'll tell you.


KING: ... district director who was deployed to Washington, D.C., to help administer the distribution of the first $1.05 billion under Pigford.

He came back, he among others, with stacks of copies of the documents, sick at heart. And he said at least 75 percent are fraudulent. And so we can't say that there's no fraud here.

Here's what we know.

BOYD: But let me -- well, Anderson, let me jump in here.

KING: Judge Friedman put in his decision -- he wrote 40 acres and a mule in his decision. So, I'm not making this part up about reparations. That's the words -- that's the code words for reparations. And he also said...


COOPER: No, but wait.


COOPER: But wait a minute. Wait a minute.


COOPER: Sir, I have read that -- I have read that...


COOPER: I have read that decision.

And he just...


COOPER: Sir, I have read that decision, and he just used that in a -- in a recitation about the history of the interaction between African-Americans and -- and the U.S. government and the USDA. He wasn't -- he wasn't equating 40 acres and a mule to this program.

BOYD: Well, and, also...


KING: Let me say, though, Anderson, that -- that he laments that he can't fix all the wrongs of slavery and -- and segregation in one civil rights case. Now he's got a second one in front of him.


COOPER: I want -- I want Dr. Boyd to be able to respond.


COOPER: Dr. Boyd?

BOYD: Let me talk here.

The farmers deserve this restitution. It's long, long, long, long overdue for the black farmers. This is not a -- a rush to judgment. Mr. King has known about this issue. I have testified before -- before him many, many, many times before.

And this case is about African-American farmers who farmed or attempted to farm who were discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture. And I can tell you about discrimination, because I had a county official to spit on me and to tear my application up and throw it in the trash can.

And I begged and pleaded with the committee to have that person fired. That person was never fired. He was transferred to another county office to continue -- to continue to -- to work out his service for the United States Department of Agriculture. And they gave him a big party, a big retirement party. So, I can tell you that this discrimination is real. And I invite Mr. King to walk in my shoes and other black farmers' shoes around this country before he pass judgment and refer to them as Johnny or some -- or someone that has a drug problem.

And I will tell you that, Anderson, these farmers have proven their case, and they deserve to have their cases heard based on its merit. And Mr. King needs to stop with that kind of rhetoric and -- and -- and making racial undertones, because, when you do that...

KING: I'm not going to sit here and allow you to call...

BOYD: ... and, because, when you do that -- because, when you do that...

KING: ... me a racist or misrepresent the language or tell people how I voted.


BOYD: ... you are rolling back the clocks of justice in America.

KING: I voted for a bill that put a $100 million cap on this thing.

BOYD: That's right.

KING: And that's what the chairman of the Ag Committee says.

And either -- either -- either he misrepresented it, or you did, John.


BOYD: ... voted to bring justice...


KING: Now, which one is it?

COOPER: Let Congressman King finish.


COOPER: Sorry.


COOPER: Congressman -- Representative King, just finally, I just want to give you a chance to respond. A lot of liberals have been attacking you because you described President Obama this week as -- quote -- "very, very urban." They have said that's a euphemism referring to the president's race.

KING: You know, we had to go look this up and try to figure out anybody could hypervigilant over calling the president a very urban, actually, a very, very urban president -- or very urban senator at the time.

He comes from a very urban area. It's not something that would ever occur to anybody in my background that that would be something that would some kind of a racial pejorative. It's just simply he comes from the city. That's urban. You come from the country, you're rural. I would say John Boyd is rural.

And I would say, also, in spite of the way that he has insulted me, I still support your claim, John. I just don't support the fraudulent ones.

COOPER: Congressman King, I appreciate your time, Dr. John Boyd, as well.

Thank you very much, both of you.

BOYD: Thank you. Thank you for having...


KING: Thank you.


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