Black Trump Supporter Pastor Mark Burns vs. CNN: "You're Here To Destroy My Character"


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN: This hour Donald Trump is visiting an African-American church in Detroit. The man who helped to arrange the meeting is Pastor Mark Burns. He's been one of Trump's key surrogates as the candidate tries to reach out to African-American voters. Burns also spoke of the Republican Convention. But most recently, he made news for posting this tweet, a cartoon depicting Hillary Clinton in blackface. He later apologized, took it down. But as questions arose about him and his background, Burns agreed to sit down with us for an on the record, on camera interview. But as you will soon see, he quickly wanted to take that conversation off the record.


PASTOR MARK BURNS: We need a warrior, we need a champion, we need a winner. And that is Donald.

BLACKWELL: He's the small town preacher who's become a major surrogate for Donald Trump's campaign for president.

BURNS: The last thing I want to do was draw attention away from Mr. Trump's policy.

BLACKWELL: Pastor Mark Burns, a frequent cable news guest, a crowd favorite at Trump rallies, even a speaker at the national convention.

BURNS: From the great state of South Carolina.

BLACKWELL: But 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. And I think that I fall in that category.

BLACKWELL: Pastor Burns' Harvest Praise and Worship Center in Easley, South Carolina, is a small operation, the church just a few folding chairs, tables, and cameras for his televangelism.

BURNS: Help us to receive the wisdom of the lord Jesus Christ.

BLACKWELL: After attending Trump's November meeting with black pastors in New York, Burns former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski asked him to speak on Trump's behalf at Bob Jones University. He's been a favorite of the campaign.

DAMON DAVIS, KAPPA ALPHA PSI MEMBER: 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.

DAVIS: So they looked him up. He had webpages up, and they saw one of the claims he was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi.

BLACKWELL: David, 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 day after Burns spoke at the RNC. Then he started investigating.

What did you find?

DAVIS: There is no person named Mark Burns, John Mark Burns, or any variation thereof in the fraternity ever.

BLACKWELL: Davis says he contacted Pastor Burns. Soon after Davis says the webpage disappeared. CNN Called Kappa headquarters too. They have no record of him. So when we sat down with Burns we asked about that.

BURNS: I did without question said I had started the process of being a part of that organization, but that's the furthest I've gotten.

BLACKWELL: Is that the bio from your website.

BURNS: It is but it is the -- it is the bio, but this is not an accurate depiction of the bio. Information has obviously been added. I'm pretty -- I own up to any mistakes I made like I did with my tweet. Obviously, in this case that's not --

BLACKWELL: So this is not from your page.

BURNS: No, this is from my page, but what I'm saying is, obviously, this has been manipulated or either hacked or added.

BLACKWELL: CNN asked the site's host, Wix, about the possibility someone could have tampered with the church's website. The company tells CNN there is no evidence of a hack. And CNN obtained the pastor's full bio from the church's website through an Internet archive.

You also claimed 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: I was never -- I was part of the South Carolina National Guard.

BLACKWELL: I asked you'd 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's the army South Carolina National Guard is reserves.

BLACKWELL: In a statement to CNN, the U.S. Army says Burns served in the South Carolina National Guard for 2001 to 2005, was discharged in 2008. He has no active Army or Army Reserve service time.

Did you attend North Greenville University?

BURNS: I did attend North Greenville University.

BLACKWELL: Did you graduate from North Greenville University? BURNS: No, I didn't complete the degree.

BLACKWELL: In fact the university tells CNN he was here one semester.

Again, the bio that's on your website claims you earned a Bachelor of Science degree. Did you make that claim?

BURNS: I asked you'd just a moment ago as we were opening up this -- first of all I said we were off the record.

BLACKWELL: I didn't agree with that.

BURNS: But I did.

BLACKWELL: We're still rolling. I'm still asking you questions on the record.

BURNS: I'm off the record. I'm off the record. This is not fair. This is not fair at all. This is not what I agreed to. I thought we were doing a profile, and all of a sudden you're here to try to destroy my character.

BLACKWELL: I'm not coming here to destroy your character. These are claims that were made on your website that was live while you were speaking at the Republican National Convention. My question is, are those claims accurate?

BURNS: I understand this is what 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 that -- of the investigative journalism, you know, 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 inaccurate on there that can easily be manipulated by other people. And can be manipulated by hackers, people can do and say and create whatever they want to create.

BLACKWELL: Again, the website's host says there is no evidence of a hack.

BURNS: I don't feel comfortable at all. This is not --

BLACKWELL: You also claim to be studying at the Anderson Theological Seminary.

BURNS: Yes, I did.

BLACKWELL: Currently working on his master of theology and pastoral leadership according to the church's website.

We called them. You're not enrolled there. And you enrolled in 2008 and never advanced.

BURNS: Right, do you know how old this is? This has been up there -- I think there's an updated profile on me that's on the website.

BLACKWELL: So is it old or is it tampered?

BURNS: These are old information. This is extremely old information.

BLACKWELL: 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: The pastor got into his van and actually drove off. You saw there in the interview he blamed potentially a hacker, blamed Photoshop, blamed the media. Now we have a statement where he admits to lying in his bio. Let's put it up. He says "As a young man starting my church in Greenville, South Carolina, I overstated several details of my biography because I was worried I wouldn't be taken seriously as a new pastor. This was wrong. I wasn't truthful then and I have to take full responsibility for my actions. 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 works speak for what kind of person I am."

He goes on to say this, "I do also want to set the record straight about why this attack is happening -- because I am black man supporting Donald Trump for president. For too long African-American votes have been taken for 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 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."

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