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ISIS has Established a Caliphate; U.S. Releases Documents Seized from Obama Compound; What Hillary's Emails Reveal; L.A. Votes 14-1 in Favor of Minimum Wage Hike. 9-10a ET

Aired May 23, 2015 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish. Welcome to the program.

ISIS terrorists made stunning advances this week. Taking control of key territories in both Iraq and Syria. And now the terror group reportedly controls more than half of Syria. As a result ISIS is not only in the position to continue its murderous rampage but also to destroy centuries old artifacts as it had done in the past.

Now the debate here at home has intensified as to whether the U.S. strategy is failing. Some are calling for U.S. boots on the ground in the region. Let's dig deeper with an expert.

Joining me now is Richard Clarke. He is the former White House counter terrorism advisor who spent 10 consecutive years in the White House advising three consecutive presidents. He just published his fourth novel. It's titled "Pinnacle Event" and he joins me now. Is this what a caliphate looks like?

RICHARD CLARKE, FMR. WHITE HOUSE COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISOR: Yes, they've done it. The call themselves the Islamic State, they created an Islamic state. It's a huge chunk of land. They have five or six major cities, probably two million people under their control. They have a government with ministries, they're issuing license plates. This is a caliphate.

They're established. There's no near term likelihood of them being evicted from big cities like Mosul which is still a city of over one million people.

SMERCONISH: OK. So why should we care?

CLARKE: I'm not sure. I think that's the key issue. We went in there, into Iraq and we lost thousands of Americans, killed and tens of thousands wounded and still suffering. We spent $1 trillion. The American people voted for a presidential candidate who said he would get out, and he did.

Now people are saying well maybe that was a mistake and maybe we should go back in. I think we have to be very careful. If we do go back in, we need to understand why and what the probability of success is and exactly what we're going to do and what the limits are.

SMERCONISH: What does go back in mean to Richard Clarke? Something more military advisors?

CLARKE: We have 3,000 troops on the ground. But we have boots on the ground. They have advisors but they're special forces for the most part. They could easily become people at the front advising units in combat and calling in air strikes.

The problem today is we don't have anybody at the front to call in air strikes. And so our planes very often return to base with the bomb still on them. We're not running very many sorkies a day and we could do a lot more damage. We could also harm the people out there who want to fight. You know, the people who were fighting in Ramadi ran out of ammunition. They didn't have weapons.

The Kurds in the north who want to fight ISIS don't have weapons. These are policy issues. But the first policy issue is what you say, does it matter? It matters then ask for five, six, seven point plan to increase what we do within certain parameters. One of those for me is no U.S. military major combat units. Don't put a brigade back, don't put a division back, use special forces, use predators, use air strikes and arm the people out there.

SMERCONISH: It's also complicated. You can't buy into that old adage of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Not in this case. I mean it seems like we're on the same side as Iran when we're in Iraq. It seems that the more that we do against ISIS in Syria, the more that we're assisting Bashar al-Assad.

CLARKE: So we have to figure out who the enemy is at any given time, right? If we think that ISIS is as we call it here in the United States is a threat to the United States, to the homeland, then they're the enemy. If working with Iran in this one instance is what we have to do, then let's do it. I mean, hell, in World War II we were back in the communist, we're back in the Soviet Union because they were willing to fight the Nazis. So if the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq are willing to fight ISIS, let's give them air cover.

SMERCONISH: Here's another subject on which you're uniquely qualified to speak. You were on President Obama's five member panel relative to the NSA. As you and I are here at the end of the week, you know what's being going on in Washington, this battle between the House and the Senate relative to meta data. First of all, have any terror attacks been thwarted because of the collection of that bulk telephone information?

CLARKE: No. Flatly, no. There were 50 some incidences where they used the information but I looked at each one of them. In no case would the result have been any different if that program didn't exist. So no, the program is not useful.

SMERCONISH: Does that mean we should get rid of it?

CLARKE: Yes, it does, in the form that it's now constructed which is the government holding all these records about every time you make a phone call and the government being able to look at it without a search warrant. All that's got to go away. That was over reach, the law that they're operating under the Patriot Act Section 215 doesn't say anything like that.


SMERCONISH: But are my civil liberties in jeopardy where the content of those calls is not known to he or she who is looking at the matrix?

CLARKE: Not yet and not at this time. But we know in the past that the FBI and other organizations in the United States government abused civil liberties and went after people unjustifiably. That could happen again. It happened in my lifetime, in your lifetime. Who's to say it couldn't happen again. So we don't want government agencies overreaching like that.

SMERCONISH: Why do we write novels to make serious points? "Pinnacle Event," very serious book, entertaining book. It's your fourth novel. Did something come over you where Richard Clarke said you know, I think I can win more hearts and minds about very serious issues by turning to fiction?

CLARKE: So I've written three non fiction books. They were successful I think. But fiction reaches a different audience. If I'm in an airport, I want a spy fiction book, I want a thriller for that flight to California. I think a lot of people do. If I'm laying on the beach, I'm not reading a wonky policy book.


CLARKE: So it's a different audience. The challenge I gave to myself was can I write a thriller, a page turner that's fun but that educates people about what the world really is like. I read these thrillers that I pick up in the air. I get halfway through and say this is not realistic.

SMERCONISH: Do your books, do your novels need to get screened by the intelligence community?

CLARKE: They do and they all have been. I try to make them as realistic as possible without revealing information obviously that shouldn't be revealed.

SMERCONISH: Richard Clarke, thank you. Best of luck with the new book. Appreciate your expertise.

CLARKE: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, inside Bin Laden's lair, newly released secret documents give us the closest look yet inside the Al Qaeda leader's mind. One of my next guests toured Bin Laden's before it was torn down, another of my guest wrote a book that was found on Bin Laden's bookshelf.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back. Osama Bin Laden's secrets revealed. This week, U.S. intelligence officials released a treasure trove of documents taken from inside Bin Laden's hideout during the deadly U.S. raid in 2011. There's a lot to be learned from what was on his bookshelf. Nobody knows more about Osama Bin Laden than my next guest.

In 1997, Peter Bergen produced the first television interview with Bin Laden. It aired right here on CNN. He's the author of the definitive book about the takedown of Bin Laden, it's titled "Manhunt" and he toured the Abadabad (ph) compound after Bin Laden was killed.

Peter, thank you for being here. When you toured Abadabad, what was left behind?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it was really like a crime scene, Michael. They had not let a lot of people on the site. I toured it two weeks before the whole compound was demolished. What I saw and obviously I didn't know that this was going to be controversial many years later, was evidence of a real fire fight that took place at one of the smaller buildings on the compound.

There was other smaller exchanges of fire that happened elsewhere. There was broken glass in almost every room. When the SEALS come into your compound, it's not a visit from the Red Cross. I mean this was a very violent event.

SMERCONISH: When you got to the room where Bin Laden was killed, was there blood all over the place?

BERGEN: I didn't see blood all over the place. I did see a large black kind of spatter on the ceiling of Bin Laden's rather low bedroom ceiling. The people that took me around said that's where when Bin Laden was shot - he's a tall guy, 6'4", so blood splattered up on the ceiling and congealed into this black kind of substance on the ceiling.

SMERCONISH: I have recollection of your reportage after you toured Abadabad (ph) revealing that there was some type of a natural form of Viagra that you saw left behind in his medicine cabinet. Correct me if I were wrong, were there periodicals, were there reading materials that were also left behind?

BERGEN: No. I saw some medicines left behind. But any of the SEALS picked up all the computers, all the thumb drives that they could pick up. And then after that the Pakistani intelligence service also went in and picked up number of documents. So there was nothing like that left when I toured.

SMERCONISH: Peter, this week we learned that approximately five months before Bin Laden was killed, he was apparently writing, making correspondence saying that he thought he exhausted the patience from a security standpoint of his hosts in Pakistan and that he was thinking of leaving Abadabad (ph). Do you think that five months prior to the take down of Bin Laden, we had a sufficient line on him that had he left we nevertheless have been able to kill him?

BERGEN: You know, it's one of those counter factual that's very hard to - Michael as you know throughout the 10 months that - from August 2010 to May 2011, there was never any certainty that Bin Laden was there. Over time some of the doubters may have changed their mind. It was always a circumstantial case.

If he had left five months before - there was no 100 percent certainty he was there. It's always a circumstantial case. People who knew him best were convinced that he was there. People that lived through the weapons of mass destruction fiasco in Iraq were pretty skeptical or had some reasons to doubt this circumstantial case.

SMERCONISH: Peter Bergen, thank you. We appreciate you being here.

BERGEN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: One of the many things revealed in the now declassified Bin Laden documents is his choice of reading material. He had a massive collection of English language books. My next guest is the author of one of the books found in Bin Laden's stash.

Michael Scheuer wrote "Imperial Hubris," the book found in Bin Laden's compound. He's also the former chief of the CIA's Bin Laden unit "The Alex Station." He led the hunt for Bin Laden from 1996 through 1999.

Michael, thank you for being here. Help people understand, you're a man who hunted Bin Laden and yet he was recommending your materials, your books even before he was killed. Why?


MICHAEL SCHEUER, AUTHOR "IMPERIAL HUBRIS": Because I had listened I think, Michael, to what he had said and in my books have correlated what Al Qaeda did and the correlation between words and deeds was extraordinarily high. I think in some ways he may have been relieved that someone in the west was listening to what he said and trying to understand it.

And as it turns out, the book based on his words could be read today by people who are treated by their leaders to lies about the motivation of our enemy. The one thing that's very unusual here in these documents that they keep releasing now - this is the second or third trench - is that it undercuts both administrations, Bush and Obama about the motivation of the enemy, about the degree to which Bin Laden was in charge of his organization. The fact that it was growing rather than shrinking. It is really an extraordinary thing but the lie is very durable.

SMERCONISH: Well, Michael, let's go there. Because initially in aftermath of September 11, we were told it was because of our lap dances, and our Gap Jeans and our Starbucks coffee. They "hated us for our freedoms." What is it that you say has been revealed in this treasure trove that comports with what you were saying about Bin Laden and Al Qaeda all along?

SCHEUER: Well, at least in so far as I've pursued all the documents that they've released, there's nothing about a motivation to attack America because we were depraved or debotched because of women in the work place or pornography or whatever. Liberty, elections. They frankly, Michael, didn't give a damn about what we did in North America.

The motivation for Bin Laden and for the people who followed him and for those who are attacking us now is the U.S. government's relentless intervention in the Muslim world, it's support for Israel and for Arab tyrants. That's the bottom line.

SMERCONISH: Do you think that the reason that he had your book on his shelf and the reason that he had said in a statement before he was killed - by the way, let's make something clear. If Michael Scheuer had the chance, you would have killed him with your bare hands while he was alive, right?

SCHEUER: Well, I would have tried, sir. We tried very hard. I had some wonderful officers who gave Mr. Clinton enormous chances to kill him. Mr. Clinton was reluctant.

SMERCONISH: OK. I don't want CNN viewers to be mistaken in the way in which you held contempt and still do for Bin Laden -

SCHEUER: We treated him with kid gloves, sir. We had been his main ally throughout this war.

SMERCONISH: What I'm taking away from you is that you believe that Bin Laden - you studied him. It was your job to study him - you believed him to be transparent. He said what he meant and did what he said he was going to do. Frankly, that's all you needed to understand about the guy. Somewhere along the way our political leadership maligned what he was all about, is that fair?

SCHEUER: Yes, sir. We demonized him. Which is fine, it's easier to kill somebody if you demonize him. But you should understand the threat that he poses. I'll bet you there's no one in the senior levels of the Bush government or of the Obama government that has read his words. If they could, if they did, they can't read very well.

SMERCONISH: OK. I know you read his words. Let me ask you. Now taking a look at what's going on in Iraq and in Syria today, is this what he wanted? Did he want to establish a caliphate? Or did he only want the United States off what he regarded as the Arabian Peninsula?

SCHEUER: He absolutely wanted a caliphate. He believed it would come but he was not eager or did not believe the time was right, Michael. What came out of these documents is that he had a very structured plan. First drive the Americans out of the Middle East. Then destroy Israel and the Arab tyrannies. Then settle scores with the Shia. His biggest worry was that the Shia confrontation would come too soon. One of the engines for doing that would be to set up a caliphate too soon.

So what we're seeing right now is his worst nightmare. Sunnis versus Shias. And if we were smart, since we can't beat them with our military, we should let them kill each other.

SMERCONISH: Was there anything that surprised you about his eclectic reading lists? If I had said to Michael Scheuer when you were hunting him, what do you think the guy has got on his shelf. Would you have come up with a list like this?

SCHEUER: I would have come up with books about the United States. I'm not sure if I would have come up with this list. I probably would not have, Michael. But he focused on us. He knew us far better than we knew him because we didn't take him seriously. It's like not taking Hitler seriously when he wrote "Mein Kamp."

SMERCONISH: There was no pornography that was revealed by that which was released from the SEAL raid and yet at that time, we heard that he had a porno stash. Do we know anything about that?


SCHEUER: You know there's a tremendous amount of pornography amongst the Islamist groups. Some of them use it for, you know, stimulation. But they're not dumb people. They know how to hide information in movies, in pictures, on maps in order to transfer it without being discovered. Pornography is a useful way. We took many, many piles of pornography from people that we captured and some of it was just pornography, some of it had material hidden inside of it. There were CIA officers that had to sign releases to say that they were aware of the nature of material they're going to look at and wouldn't be offended by it.

SMERCONISH: Crazy stuff. Michael Scheuer, thank you for your expertise.

SCHEUER: Michael, it's always a pleasure. Thank you kindly, sir.

SMERCONISH: The State Department releases the first batch of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. What they tell us about the deadly attack in Benghazi.



SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

Turning now to politics where Hillary Clinton is facing new questions about those 55,000 pages of e-mails that she gave to the State Department from her home server. The State Department released the first batch of those e-mails yesterday, some 850 pages.

So far, no smoking gun, but a lot of interesting nuggets including what she knew about the deadly Benghazi attack in 2012 and when she knew about it. Here to break it all down with me is "New York Times" presidential campaign correspondent and CNN political analyst, Maggie Haberman. Maggie, what did we learn in that document drop on Friday from the State Department?


MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We learned not a whole lot new. We learned a little bit as you said about the time line of events after the Benghazi attacks. There were e-mails including her talking about the movie trailer that had led to some of the protests.

There was one e-mail forward about Benghazi was Obama's 3:00 a.m. wake-up call. This was reference to 3:00 a.m., the infamous Mrs. Clinton aired during their primary race. It was a very, very tough ad, questioning whether he was ready for foreign policy.

But in terms of new real information, anything that changed the dynamic here about our understanding about what happened after Benghazi or about really how she ran the State Department, there's not a lot. What this will do is provide new fodder for when she testifies before the House committee.

SMERCONISH: What do you think concerns the Clinton campaign more, the release of Benghazi e-mails and other e-mails that will be forth coming in this drip, drip toward 2016 or revelations about the foundation, revelations about foreign governments or individuals that hired Bill to speak with contributions being made to the foundation? Between the two, which is more troublesome in the eyes of the campaign?

HABERMAN: The latter. If you've seen the polling, neither one is really sinking in but the e-mails, in particular, have been very, very focused on and gone over. They have not sunk in on polling. If anything, you got two voters trying to absorb two different strings of information.

One is that she deleted the e-mail server which is something that some of her advisers are worried about but the fact that a lot of these e- mails are going to be released before the campaign really gets into effect next year means that on one hand she deleted the server and yet here's all these information and e-mails. So I think voters will have trouble sympathizing those two things. Because they're still at odds even though inferior easy to explain.

The foundation piece is a lot more complicated. The foundation piece goes to the heart of overlap between their personal lives, between how their lives are subsidized, between their allies, politically and in terms of their foundation which is a charity. But there is a nexus between these issues. I think the bigger concern for a lot of people around her, inside the campaign and her allies outside of it, is not so much as there will be some bomb shell or a smoking gun that she did very little vetting in advance of this campaign? So a lot of this is being done in real time and they don't really know exactly what's to come. SMERCONISH: I think to your point, if you and I were strategists

trying to convert either of these narratives into a 30-second negative or even a 60-second negative, we'd have a hell of a time doing it because of the complexity. For that reason, if there's something to either of them - and I'm not saying that there is - but it just might not resonate.

HABERMAN: Look, what Republicans are trying to is build a character case against her. That's what the e-mails are about, that's what the foundation is about. They're not finding a smoking gun per se. As a strategist once said to me they think they're finding a lot of led that they can put together and put into a narrative. Character questions have dodged the Clintons and dogged the Clintons since their White House days. Mrs. Clinton campaigned for Senate in 2000, the question against here was all about character. That's what the carpet bagger issue was all about. You saw this come up again in 2007 in the form of the Iraq war vote among other things. She's been in the public eye for so long, it's not clear it will take hold. The bigger question I think for here is how this takes hold with younger voters who are less familiar with the Clinton years.

SMERCONISH: Switching now to the Republican side of the aisle, one of the interesting stories from this past week is how the party along with debate sponsors including this network are struggling to come to terms with how to fit all the candidates on the same stage. Who benefits? Who loses?

HABERMAN: People who are polling well certainly for one of the debate do well. People who are not polling as well lose. For one of the debates I think it's segmented into different categories. Any time that you have, you know splits in debates, it's really not going to benefit anybody, especially the lower polling candidates who use these debates for breakout moments. But if you have 18 candidates and we're looking at possibly that and maybe many more on stage, at one time, you're going to have maybe three minutes of air time for each one. So nobody is really going to break out.

You saw Newt Gingrich choose debates in 2012 as a way to really volt himself against Mitt Romney, especially in South Carolina. You saw Michele Bachmann have a breakout performance in June of 2011. Mitt Romney used the debates to really eviscerate Rick Perry. So these debates can really matter but when they are parsed this way, and broken down this way, it's not really sure how it's going to go.

SMERCONISH: Rick Santorum, George Pataki, Martin O'Malley all expected to get in this coming week.

HABERMAN: It's going to be an interesting week. I think that the biggest question is going to be Martin O'Malley who has so far trying to frame himself as something of the anti-Hillary Clinton, without actually really talking about her very much.

[09:30:05] He's trying to draw a very sharp contrast on issues.

There's no question there's some energy on the left for an opponent. But it's not clear that it's more than just wanting to see her sharpened in a primary. A lot of polling is showing she's in pretty good shape. This is not really looking like a repeat of 2008. But we'll see.

SMERCONISH: You know, one of the takeaways has to be that you win even when you lose, so longs as you put on a respectable race. Otherwise, you wouldn't have so many admittedly second tier candidates willing to jump in.

HABERMAN: Well, on the Democratic side, you don't really have that many candidates willing to jump in. We're looking right now at a field of about four. Huge contrast to the Republican side, which is I've said before 18 and then some.

But, yes, look, we saw in 2012 Republicans used the debates -- remember there was no primary in 2012, Obama was the incumbent. You saw a lot of people using sort of the combination of book tour and campaign.


HABERMAN: You saw some people seeming like they were auditioning for television shows. So, you do have that dynamic at play here. It's less clear what Martin O'Malley is hoping to get out of this if he loses.

SMERCONISH: Maggie Haberman, thank you as always.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: The minimum wage debate taking another turn, this time in favor of the works. Los Angeles voting to raise minimum wage. Will this set the tone for the rest of the country? I'll speak to the only L.A. councilman who voted no on the measure.


[09:35:27] SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

You know, often things that begin in California eventually migrate across the rest of the nation. And I'm not just talking the hula hoop. Consider that no-fault divorce began in California. The decriminalization of pot took off there. Most recently, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the nation's first prohibition of plastic bags.

So, when the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to increase minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, making L.A. the largest city in the nation to adopt a major minimum wage hike, the rest of us have better pay attention.

The lone councilman who voted against the bill, the only Republican, did not speak during Tuesday's meeting. So, I want to get his perspective on the matter.

Joining me is L.A. City Councilmember Mitchell Englander. And also here is fellow councilmember, Curren Price, who co-wrote the minimum wage proposal.

Councilman Price, do you worry that Los Angeles just created a wage island from which businesses will now flee?

CURREN PRICE, LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCILMEMBER: No, not at all. In fact, income disparities and poverty is a big issue in California, cost of living is up, housing prices are up. Yet, the median wages are down and have remained stagnant. And so, we think it's the right thing to do, increasing the wage to $15 an hour and be mindful, we're talking only about $33,000 a year. So, it's very difficult for a family more than two or three to exist. In fact, the people I represent are working three and four jobs just to make ends meet.

SMERCONISH: Councilman Englander, why did you vote against it?

MITCHELL ENGLANDER, LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCILMEMBER: Well, you know, I raised by single mom who worked three jobs. I understand full well how difficult it is out there to make ends meet. But you would ask the question, in fact, your opening segment said California experimented with opening the marijuana laws.

In Los Angeles, we experimented with that as well, and we turned around. And we had 1,000 of them. We had to quickly try to figure out what's a reasonable number in undoing that. We're never going to pull back this wage again.

There are a number of issues and one of the ones you brought up was, are they going to flee? We have 30 cities that surround Los Angeles City, and a lot of these studies were done on the county.

And my concern is that we're simply putting this on the backs of local businesses. These are thin, small margin business, small mom -- you know, mom and pop type shops that barely make ends meet on their own. So, we've got to balance the equation with the businesses as well, not just move the pie around. We should put our own skin in the game.

We have a draconian, archaic gross receipts tax. We should be able to give tax credits, create our own enterprise zones, fund technical training and job training programs to give more skilled workers an opportunity to advance.

And then, we've got to look at the ripple effect on this as well. We're looking at a 100 percent increase to the businesses. No cost to the city but cost to the businesses. And that ripple effect for the people who are making just above that, they're going to have to give them raises as well. That's about 150 percent increase.

So, we've got to help businesses stay open, attract businesses, retain those businesses, so they can provide the jobs here in Los Angeles.

SMERCONISH: Councilman Price, some of those who are supportive of raising the mandatory minimum wage say this doesn't go far enough because we're talking the next five years will see the growth to the $15 an hour. And when you consider for inflation, who knows what the value of $15 will be in the year 2020?

PRICE: Well, that's true. It won't be $15. It will be even less.

You know -- but let me say, businesses certainly have benefitted from very aggressive pro-business atmosphere and attitude that our council has had. We're providing incentives to hotels. Downtown is exploding like it never has before with the new businesses, shops and stores.

But we can't neglect the workers at the bottom of the pile. And so, raising the wage is the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do in California. We're discussing it in Los Angeles, of course. L.A. County is looking at it. So, the notion that this is just going to be isolated, that it will be

an island, I think is not accurate at all. Indeed, this is a national trend, and California is at the forefront. And I'm proud to be a part of it.

SMERCONISH: Well, that's why I wanted to talk to the two of you. As I said at the outset, often that which begins in California people snicker initially and then it takes place across the country.

Councilman Englander, I often hear individuals, libertarians and conservatives say we ought to let the market dictate. But the market doesn't seem to be doing enough for folks. I read a statistic that 46 percent of the workforce is right now below $15 an hour in Los Angeles.

So, can we trust the market to square this up?

ENGLANDER: Well, Michael, I think there's a happy medium. And we've got to balance that. We've got to partner with businesses not let the market or us dictate. It can't be the policy makers just simply saying we're going to create an unfunded mandate on businesses. That's unrealistic based on their profit margins.

We've lost major industries in Los Angeles from aerospace, the runaway production issue we're finally getting back now, financial, biotechnology, and engineering, light and industrial manufacturing and the apparel businesses have said they're going to flee and go to surrounding communities because of this cost.

We should give them a tax break, give them an opportunity, give them a seat at the table to ensure that we protect entry level jobs and the opportunity to train those workers as well so they can move up the ladder and make even more money and be successful for all of us here in Los Angeles.

SMERCONISH: Councilman Price, you can have the final word. Let me just say that I like what's about to take place in California for this reason. It's a lab experiment. It's going to take us out of the classroom and finally, on a large scale, we're really going to see what happens when there's an increase in the mandatory minimum wage.

Councilman Price, go ahead and take the final word.

PRICE: Well, you know, it is an experiment, but it's one that we've given a great deal of thought to. We've had a number of hearings. We've had three reports. We've heard from hundreds and hundreds of citizens, including businesspeople and others who expressed their concerns. I think we've adopted an approach that is responsive to that.

SMERCONISH: Mitchell Englander, Curren Price, thank you, gentlemen. We appreciate you being here.

ENGLANDER: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Coming up: sexism on Capitol Hill, does it exist? One journalist did some digging and the results are pretty shocking. Find out why some female staffers say they can't meet with their male bosses one-on-one.


[09:46:19] SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

Capitol Hill may look like a virtual boys' club with the majority of Congress being male. And a new survey may give a little insight as to why.

"The National Journal" conducted an anonymous survey of female staffers to find out about their experience on the Hill and what kind of obstacles women faced in a male-dominated industry. The result, several female aides reported they were never allowed to be one on one with a congressman or senator for fear that others would get the wrong impression.

The issue isn't widespread, but it certainly exists and it leads me to wonder if workplace discrimination is at play.

Joining me now is Sarah Mimms. She's a correspondent for "The National Journal". She conducted the review and I'm glad to have her now.

Sarah, is it because they worried about the appearance or are they trying to protect themselves against claim of sexual harassment by having a potential witness in the room?

SARAH MIMMS, STAFF CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL JOURNAL: That's what's interesting about this. I mean, I think that we saw both. We conducted survey and had three women report to us out of 500 that they'd experienced this in their offices. I followed up with as many offices as I could reach out to and spoke with many women and men who had experienced this in congressional offices.

And the reasons are two-part as you suggested. One is that they're concerned what other people think particularly outside of Washington D.C., where this kind of stuff is normal. And the second is, yes, they're concerned about what might happen behind closed doors and how it might be perceived later.

SMERCONISH: And the reason that it's of significance, to state the obvious, is that it's more difficult therefore for a female to advance because if she can't get the ear of the member of Congress, the House or the Senate, and instill a trustful relationship, then she's going to be passed over for perhaps the administrative assistant position.

MIMMS: Oh, yes. I mean, that was the biggest question I had going into this, is how could you rise to level of chief of staff if you're not allowed to be alone with your boss? That just doesn't seem possible.

A lot of women I talked to in reporting out this story said that they did leave those offices because they knew that there was no way that they were going to advance. They saw very junior staffers being advanced over them because they were male and they could attend these kinds of events and have these kinds of meetings that the women just couldn't.

SMERCONISH: Does it take place as well when the elected official is a female and the staffer is a male?

MIMMS: That's what's really interesting. So, I talk to Susan Collins, who was a congressional staffer in the '70s and '80s. She said she didn't experience this herself.

She found it laughable that this is happening, because she has numerous male staffers and female staffers. And she spends one on one time with them. She has them drive her around the district. She said if she couldn't have her male staffers drive her around or go to evening event was her, it would be difficult for her to do her job. She said it never occurred to her that anyone would think anything other than these are two people who work together.

SMERCONISH: I discussed your piece on Sirius XM, as you know, and then we did a call segment. And I was overwhelmed with callers from across the country who said, well, it's not just the Congress. You know, the military has shades of this as well. The private sector and others called and talked about a university setting, academia, where a professor doesn't want to be alone with a coed, you know, after hours.

MIMMS: Yes, universities are definitely one example I've heard a lot about since publishing this story. Certain doctors, OB/GYNs, will often, if they're male, have a female nurse in the room when they have a female patient. So, yes, there are definitely instances in the private sector.

I spoke with Deborah Katz, who's an employment discrimination lawyer here in D.C., about this issue, though, and she said she had never heard of a case like this. It seems like, particularly from the response I've gotten to this story is this isn't something entirely widespread but it I happening. At the same time, it's something people don't talk about. I'm happy to have had the conversation and talked to people that have experienced this.

[09:50:04] SMERCONISH: And I think we can also add to the list of military, university, members of Congress, OB/GYNs, evangelical leaders because I've since come to learn that there' something called the Billy Graham Rule on this very issue. He wouldn't travel alone in the company only of a female.

MIMMS: Yes, I've heard about that as well. That was definitely brought to my attention after this story came out.

SMERCONISH: So, it got a huge reaction is what you're telling us?

MIMMS: Oh, it absolutely did. Yes, this is has been probably the biggest story I've ever written. Keep sending emails, I'd like to hear more.

SMERCONISH: Sarah Mimms, thank you for being here. We appreciate it.

MIMMS: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, Apple's CEO Tim Cook did it, so did Michelle Obama. So did George W. Bush. They all gave memorable and inspiring graduation commencement addresses, I wasn't to give one. But I'll deliver mine here, next.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

It's graduation season and many familiar names are attempting to leave an indelible imprint on the minds of graduates.

At George Washington University, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke about the idealism of Steve Jobs and his drive to change the world.


TIM COOK, APPLE CEO: Graduates, your values matter, they are your North Star and work takes on new meaning when you feel you're pointed in the right direction. Otherwise, it's just a job, and life is too short for that.


SMERCONISH: Former President George W. Bush offered some words of encouragement at Southern Methodist University, and he poked some fun at himself.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, award and distinctions, I say -- well done. And as I like to tell the "C" students -- you, too, can be president.


SMERCONISH: Not to be outdone, actor Matthew McConaughey,, after being paid $135,000 for his charity and afforded the use of a private jet, he told graduates at the University of Houston, "Never apologize for playing the bongos naked, walk about in Peru, and use the truth as a pillow."

Well, nobody asked me to deliver a commencement address. But here goes: Register, change, sign, mix, and run.

Register. According to the United States Election Project, the turn- out among eligible voters in the last national election, 2014, was a dismal 36.3 percent, the lowest in 72 years. Please register.

And vote every year. And if you're not pleased with your majority party choices, well, consider joining the 43 percent who told Gallup this past January that they are independents, not Republicans or Democrats. Change. You know, the only television choice your parents had was

between VHF and UHF. Don't ask. Today, you have 500 channels to choose from, not to mention Internet, satellite radio, Twitter, Facebook and more. You're in total control of where you get your news and entertainment.

Exercise some choice. Too many rely exclusively on outlets defined by their ideology. And that's not healthy. It stifles legitimate debate. Sample alternative points of view and every once in a while change that channel.

Sign. You know, anonymity breeds contempt. People say things to and about others via blog postings that they would never say if their identity were known.

My advice is that you become knowledgeable and active in the affairs of your community, your state and your nation. There's no substitute for reading the news. And then, having become informed, go ahead and express yourself. Be passionate. But sign your name.

Mix. Bill bishop is credited with coining the phenomenon known as the big sort. It's a pattern of social disengagement in the 1960s. We stopped joining the elks and bowling leagues and supporting our local newspapers and when we reengaged in the computer era, it was among more narrowly drawn associations where our access to people of differing backgrounds and viewpoints was greatly diminished.

Income inequality and class segregation of the type described by Charles Murray in "Coming Part", and Robert Putnam in "Our Kids", has only made things worse. Hey, that's no way to go through leading a full life. Go out of your way and seek experiences with individuals who don't look like you and don't see the world the way that you do. Good things will result for you and for society.

And finally, run. Never once have I regretted running unsuccessfully for the state legislature when I was just 24 years old. There's no such thing as losing if you seek elective office when you're young. No matter what you do in life, you won't succeed alone. And there's no better way to gain an appreciation of the differences among people than by knocking on a few thousand doors and having to introduce yourself.

If running isn't your thing, we'll find a different way to serve. But if you're willing to enter the arena, you just might win. And we'd all benefit from new blood in the system. Good luck.

Thank you so much for joining me. I want to wish our veterans a very happy Memorial Day. Don't forget, you can follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish. I'll see you next week.