Activist and CNN commentator Van Jones had a contentious interview with some of the hosts of The View on Friday morning as he sought to promote his new documentary, which he co-produced with co-host Meghan McCain.
Jones worked closely with the Trump administration and son-in-law Jared Kushner on the controversial First Step Act, which helped secure the release of thousands of people from federal prisons. He praised Trump repeatedly throughout his tenure. Yet, he cried tears of joy on when Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.
“Now Van, you do spend a lot of time threading the middle and trying to unite people. But there are those who accuse you of being a political opportunist—a chameleon, so to speak—who provided racial cover for former, disgraced, twice impeached President Trump,” Hostin said.
“Yet just recently you cried on CNN when Joe Biden was elected the 46th president, and you said it’s easier to be a parent now, character matters now, truth matters. You even mentioned George Floyd and said a lot of people felt they couldn’t breathe. People in the Black community don’t trust you anymore. What is your response?” Hostin asked.
Jones was frank and direct in his response, accepting the criticism he has received for working with Trump but told the audience that Republicans control much of the country and have to be worked with in order for changes to be made.
In his work with organizations like Reform Alliance, Jones said he was proud that they were able to work with “anybody to get folks home,” adding that “at a certain point, we gotta stop focusing on rhetoric and look at results.”
“By working with Republicans at the local, state and federal level, and yes, including the Trump administration, I have helped to pass 18 bipartisan bills. We got 14,000 people out of the federal prison system with the First Step Act and there are more to come. We got 70,000 human beings who were suffering in jails and prisons under COVID, released under compassionate release, working with Republicans and Democrats,” Jones said.
“Black Lives Matter but math matters too. Eighty percent of Black folks are locked up in states that are run in part or whole by Republicans in red states and purple states. The people behind bars are not sitting up here worried saying ‘Get me out of prison Van, but whatever you do, don’t talk to Republicans.’ They’re saying ‘Get me out,'” Jones added.
He said social media often took his comments on CNN out of context but added that he would not apologize for working with Republicans to get people out of jail.
Jones said it was naive of people to think that anything could get done without working with Republicans and implored people to look beyond political differences in order to get tangible things done.
“People may not like everything I’ve said on television and I try to be balanced. But look at what I have done. Who among my critics have been able to get people together to help folks at the bottom? When we fight like this about everything and you can’t give anybody even a little bit of credit for anything, who it hurts is not the politicians, it’s not the pundits, it’s regular folks who don’t have anything,” Jones said.
“I’m never going to apologize for putting the interest of people at the bottom first. People need champions. Whoever is in that White House, you have a responsibility to go in there and advocate and try to get people home out of prison. I’m going to keep doing it, whoever is in that White House,” he added.
Despite his impassioned response, the other hosts were not moved.
Co-host Ana Navarro, a former Republican leader herself, continued to bash Jones for his work with Trump, criticizing him for legitimizing the work of Trump, Ivanka Trump and Kushner.
She noted that Jones was targeted by Republicans when he was part of former President Barack Obama’s administration and added that Kushner asked for him to be fired from CNN in 2016.
“Sunny is right. You’ve lost a lot of people who trusted you and who saw you as a voice because of the positions you took during Trump. Then, all of a sudden, you show up working with nepotism Barbie and nepotism Ken and showing up in pictures with Eric Trump and Candace Owens,” Navarro said.
“So I think there are people who wonder, and I’m one of them, how did that evolution happen? How did you go from being this very principled critic of the Trump administration as I was to all of a sudden, being in the White House celebrating with them?” she asked.
Jones reiterated many of the comments he made to Hostin, saying that he was willing to do whatever it takes to get people out of federal prison. He again refused to apologize for working with Trump and said there was not “evolution” in his views on the former president.
Jones was an integral part in getting Trump to sign the First Step Act in 2018 after Trump nearly backed out. Republicans were concerned about a “Willie Horton moment” according to CNN, referencing the racist ad campaign launched by former president Ronald Reagan.
Reagan managed to tank the chances of the Democratic nominee that year, Michael Dukakis, by tying him to the case of Horton, who was granted a weekend furlough and raped a woman while out. Trump feared the same would happen after signing the First Step Act, and Jones was imperative in getting the former president to change his mind.
“He was afraid. He was concerned someone would get out, hurt someone and that would be the end of his political career,” Jones told CNN at the time, noting that he and Kim Kardashian West personally spoke to Trump and reminded him of the good press he got after he helped secure the release of Alice Marie Johnson.
“We just kind of circled back, Van and I, in talking to the President to explain: But you have Alice now, and Alice is your legacy. She really opened up his heart and his eyes,” Kardashian West told CNN.